Hunted (UC,Mi/L,ADULT) Interlude - Michael 7/18 [WIP]

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Re: Hunted (UC, AU, Mi/L, ADULT) Chap 11, pg. 7; 1/17/10

Post by Ashita » Sun Jan 17, 2010 8:27 pm

Kris - Glad you liked that little twist. I have a few more surprises to come and hopefully you'll like them just as much. Thanks for the feedback!

Whims - Haha! Thank you my wonderful beta and sounding board for helping with this story. Damn, it's so hard to keep my comments limited to this past chapter given our conversations. You've been an amazing help at keeping my thoughts clear and concise as well as pointing out potential pitfalls. I agree it's a shame Isabel is one of the last to know about the Future Max debacle, which is why I wanted to make her the second to know. Michael does indeed know everything and this will be addressed at a later date. As for Michael being slow on the uptake with Isabel/Kyle...well...he is a guy, can't fault him too much. ;) And since you loved the glimpse of Kyle and Isabel, you'll be happy to know that they'll get more screen time next chapter. :) Glad you're liking the story and thanks again for your amazing beta and sounding board services!!!

Elfangel01 - I know, I do have a lot of loose ends don't I? And you're right, I am going to tell you that the questions will be addressed through out the story. Sorry. ;) Tess will be in it, but probably not quite as you expect. She won't make an appearance for a while though. As for what Max thinks...well we get a taste of him this chapter but you'll have to wait until chapter 13 for the full reaction. Yeah...I'm terrible.

Jan - Always love to see your comments and I'm so glad to have you as an avid reader. And that I made you like Michael/Liz. :) But we'll call that one a draw since you made me like Max. I can't believe it. Bah! Yes, I am teasing you and I'm afraid it will continue to be a tease as we only get a glimpse of Max in this chapter. BUT I promise you that Chapter 13 is the scene you've been waiting for at long last! I have to dedicate the next chapter to our lovely Incrowders and to deal with some more foursquare complications before we get there. My apologies! (Well actually...if it keeps you reading maybe I'll just hold off...kidding! Just kidding!) And thanks for the congrats!

sablaine - Yes, she has been a great help as I move from pure smut to plot, especially with all the help refining that plot, seeing potential plot holes and keeping me from ripping my hair out as I try to figure out where the hell this story is going. She is a Goddess as well!

AN: I apologize for the length of this posting. Damn...I'm long-winded today. I try to keep the chapters shorter but for some reason my characters were very chatty. In fact, the little scene I had planned with Max turned into a 3-page dialogue in Word. The man just wouldn't shut up and I was ready to kill him myself by the end of the conversation.

Italicized text is Michael's dream sequence. They will be speaking in Antarian with a translation following it. Sorry if I botched your grammar terribly sablaine. I looked in the file but didn't see any rules so I just did a word for word translation for the most part because I'm not the Goddess you are! That said, special acknowledgment to sablaine for her language skills!
Complications and Reincarnated Kings

What day is it? And in what month?
This clock never seemed so alive
I can't keep up and I can't back down
I've been losing so much time

'Cause it's you and me and all of the people with nothing to do
Nothing to lose
And it's you and me and all other people
And I don't know why, I can't keep my eyes off of you


“F-four…square?” Kyle stuttered, gulping at the unexpected answer to his question, running a hand through his light brown locks in agitation. Just when he thought his life couldn’t get any weirder, the aliens always found a way to prove him wrong. He winced when he felt a sharp nudge in his ribs and found Isabel glaring at him indignantly. He shrugged his shoulders, brow furrowing in confusion uncertain what about his comment had set her off this time. “What?”

“I heard that,” she replied, still watching him with a piqued expression, the barest hint of hurt reflected in her golden brown eyes. She knew he was still adjusting to the bond and his potential emerging powers, but she didn’t think any of it should be termed weird.

“Heard what?” he asked, confused at the hurt she was vainly trying to hide from him. He didn’t understand why his question would cause that reaction in his mate, unless she picked up on his underlying panic, but she knew that he was still adjusting to all the changes in their lives and relationship.

“That crack you made about how we always make your life weird,” she snapped. Surely he couldn’t be that dense, even for a guy. Shaking her head, she tried to stand but found her legs wouldn’t hold her for long and staggered to a chair, sitting down heavily as the world dipped sickly. Placing her head in her hands, she took several deep breaths until the dizziness passed.

“Huh? I didn’t say that,” he responded, wondering how she knew that before pursing his lips in annoyance at her crack about men. Women made absolutely no sense. If they would just actually say what they meant instead of hinting and hedging enough to drive a man insane, there’d be fewer problems. “And I’m not dense.”

“Actually, you did man,” Michael replied, shaking his own head to clear the lingering buzz of power floating through it and bit the inside of his cheek to keep from snorting over his response to Isabel’s crack about men. He may have agreed, but he was smart enough not to say anything out loud. He had to hand it to the leprechaun, he had some serious balls to say something like that in front of the girls.

“Ow, Liz! What the hell was that for?” He winced as he felt a smack on the back of his head and scowled at his mate, lifting his hand to rub his stinging scalp.

“For agreeing with him,” she smirked, glaring at both men for their comments, standing slowly and pressing her hands to her hips. Idiots, the both of them. “We do so make sense. Just because we don’t speak in grunts, snorts and scratching is no reason to mock our communication skills. And get over the weirdness already, Kyle. It’s a little late to be griping.”

“I didn’t say anything!” Kyle bellowed in exasperation, his frustration mounting as he started to wonder if he’d been dropped into an alternate universe or the Twilight Zone because the whole lot of them were hearing things.

“Idiot? Wait, what do you mean for agreeing with him?” Michael asked, looking down at his mate with slight confusion, understanding beginning to dawn as he listened to his squabbling friends. Liz’s eyes flew to his questioningly at his comment and he cursed under his breath as the pieces started to build a damn interesting picture and unforeseeable complication.

“You did, just admit it, Kyle,” Isabel spat, so focused on her mate and his comments that she missed the looks passing between the other half of their foursquare. Standing up, she walked over and stood in front of him, looming over him slightly and crossed her arms. “And so help me, I will zap you into the Twilight Zone myself if you make another comment like that again.”

Liz?” Michael thought, staring at his mate while he experimented with an idea, hoping that she’ll catch on when she didn’t see his mouth move. He couldn’t help his palpable excitement over the usefulness of a mind connection with the four if they ever had to go into battle.

Michael?” she mentally gasped, eyes widening incredulously as she stared at him, reeling with confusion for a moment before it shifted into scientific fascination as her mind adapted to having his thoughts in her head. “Foursquare perk?”

“I didn’t say anything!” Kyle insisted once again, pressing his hand to his face in aggravation, his head throbbing due to the constant chattering going on around him. He still hadn’t fully recovered from the foursquare merge and they were already trying to drive him mad. “And what’s a perk?”

“Whatever,” Isabel sniped, growing impatient with his insistence of innocence and turned her back on him, pressing fingers to her throbbing head. They really needed to work on the controlling the connection so it didn’t drain them of so much energy next time – if there is a next time. “And according to you, the perk is being driven mad.”

“Jesus, what the hell is going on?” Kyle snapped, finally reaching his breaking point and thoroughly confused as to why she kept repeating his every thought. “Do you suddenly have permanent residence in my brain?”

“Actually, I think that’s exactly it,” Michael replied stoically, scratching his brow in agitation as the other couple blanched and ceased their bickering. “Uh, Liz and I just did a little experiment where I called to her in my thoughts and she answered. Not only that, but you heard our exchange as well when she asked if it was a foursquare perk.”

“Are you saying that we’ve been reading each others minds this whole time?” Isabel asked quietly, shoulders slumping with exhaustion and rubbed her temples, trying to ease the tension building behind her eyes. She sighed as Liz looked at her and nodded slightly. “So what, from now on we’re going to be hearing each others thoughts?”

“I don’t know,” Michael replied, rubbing the back of his neck, scowling at the chatter still running through his mind. Although, it had muted to a dull roar when he focused on something other than the thoughts themselves and he rubbed a hand over his face, wondering what other weirdness was going to result from this merge. “Maybe it’s just a lingering affect of being so connected and will fade.”

“See, I’m not the only one that thinks all of this is weird,” Kyle cried, feeling vindicated when he heard Michael repeat his initial thought that had gotten him into trouble in the first place. Even with everything he had seen over the past two years, this was still weird by his standards. He hoped to Buddha that this wouldn’t be permanent, shuddering at the idea of being privy to Michael or Liz’s private fantasies or worse, them privy to his….

“Don’t even go there, Valenti!” the alien man growled, glowering at the shorter man with consternation, cringing at the idea of seeing his sister naked, even if it was just in the hobbit’s fantasies. No, he wasn’t allowed to think of her period. Bond be damned. “You aren’t to think of my sister like that, ever!”

“Too late for that one,” his friend muttered under his breath, smirking as the taller man shot him fiery glare, knowing that his actions were like badgering a caged wild animal, but couldn’t help himself. It was his nature after all and he rarely saw his friend display more than his typical stoic disinterest. “In fact…”

“Will you two quit the pissing contest and get back to our discussion on hand,” Isabel snapped, glaring at both men, shaking her head in exasperation and sighed. “I'm too tired to deal with this right now.”

“Why don’t you go lie down in the guestroom, we’ll talk about this later,” Liz suggested sympathetically, feeling drained herself after their little pyrotechnic display. Wrapping an arm around the taller girl, she turned to the guys and smiled as she walked towards the rooms. “You too Kyle. I think we all could use some rest before we address this some more. We expended a lot of energy today.”

“Bloody hell,” Kyle muttered under his breath, his own exhaustion catching up to him and followed Liz and Isabel, deliberately ignoring Michael’s annoyed grunt and scowl. Reaching the room, he walked in as Liz was walking away from the bed and saw Isabel curled up in the center, facing away from him. Heart heavy with remorse over the hurt feelings radiating from his mate, he turned to Liz and smiled weakly as she closed the door. “Thanks, Liz.”

“No problem,” she said softly, closing the door and leaving her friends to talk. Turning back to Michael, she grinned at his unease with his sister sharing a room with the other man and walked over to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and sinking against his chest, teasing him gently. “It will be okay, big brother.”

He grunted, disbelief etching his face and made a mental note to have a ‘discussion’ with the midget as soon as possible. Looking back at the woman in his arms, his face softened and he wrapped her in his arms, burying his face in her hair for a moment before he pulled away and took her hand.

“You need rest too,” he chided, cocking a brow when she opened her mouth to protest and placed a finger against her lips to quell her arguments. “The diner can take care of itself. We have a good team this morning and if it will make you feel better, I’ll walk down and check things out.”

“You need rest as well,” Liz pointed out, smoothing a hand along his cheek, lightly touching the lines of exhaustion around his eyes. “You expended just as much energy as the rest of us. Probably more since you acted as the focus.”

“I know,” he replied, turning her around and leading her to her room, helping her onto the bed before he sat on the edge, pushing her hair back softly. “And I’ll be right back. I just want to take care of a few things.”

“You’re going to talk to Max, aren’t you?” she guessed, watching him with quiet apprehension as his eyes darted away from hers. It would just be like him to try and talk to Max alone and take the brunt of what she knew was going to be an ugly scene, protecting her at any cost. She sat up, trying to move past him, not about to let him face that alone. “You are. Damn it, Michael. You aren’t doing this without me.”

“Liz…” he started, grabbing her around the waist and holding her in place, fearing what Max might do when he found out about their bonding. He was still uneasy about his actions in the desert healing and didn’t trust him in the least. He’d remembered far too much about Zan and his machinations to believe what happened was a coincidence. “I need you to be safe from harm. If anything happened…”

“No,” she said firmly, pushing against him, fighting his hold on her while glaring at him in exasperation. “Not going to happen, Michael. I know what he did scared you, but I’m not letting you face his wrath alone. I’m going with you.”

Aiba…baby,” he whispered against her temple, letting his wall fall further so that she could see his fear and unease, his protective nature going into overdrive as he held her against his chest. He was not one to plead, but in this instance it was worth it. Her safety was more important than pride. “Please.”

“No, Michael, we are doing this together,” she refuted firmly, moving to straddle his lap and cupped his jaw with her hands, looking deeply into worried whiskey eyes. “We are a partnership in all things or this doesn’t work. I’m going to be there even if I have to follow you.”

“I could seal the door,” he retorted arrogantly, lips pressing in a thin line, his stormy eyes heating up as he frantically tried to fight the panic welling inside him, his fingers digging into her hips. “Make you stay here.”

“But you won’t,” she replied confidently, tracing the lines in his brow, placing a tender kiss on his forehead before resting hers against it. Pressing her fingers to his mouth lightly, she traced the soft skin as she met his intense, steady gaze stubbornly. “You aren’t doing this alone.”

“Fine, but not now,” he replied, lips pursing with annoyance, wanting to shake her for her obstinacy. “You still need rest. I’ll have him come back tonight.”

“Promise me, Michael” she responded, watching him seriously, sinking her fingers into his soft waves and holding his head to hers, their breaths mingling, noses lightly touching as they stared into each others eyes. “Promise you won’t talk to him without me.”

“I don’t like this,” he griped, shaking his head at her stubbornness. “What if I can’t keep you safe from Zan…Max? He’s not going to accept this without a fight and I don’t want you in the crossfire.”

“I can protect myself,” she retorted stubbornly, leaning back a bit but keeping a heated gazed locked with his equally fiery expression. “And you’ll be there by my side.”

“But we don’t know what he’s capable of yet,” he argued, frustration lacing his voice, his back tight with tension as he loosed his hold on her hips, running his hands up her sides, and cupping her jaw tenderly, his large hands dwarfing the delicate lines of her face, brushing a thumb over her lips softly. “We don’t know how much he’s remembered.

“All the more reason that you shouldn’t confront him alone,” she refuted, crossing her arms over her chest, frustrated with his stubborn insistence on keeping her in a safe little bubble. “We’re better, stronger together and you know it! It will be harder for him to take two of us down rather than one alone.”

“Damn it! You’re a pain in the ass, you know that?” he grumbled, knowing deep down that she was right in her assessment of the situation, but still balking at the idea of her being anywhere near Max. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he sighed in agitation and grudgingly admitted, “But you’re right.”

“What? Did you just say I was right?” she snorted incredulously, looking towards her window as if searching for something. Grinning at his questioning look, she snickered softly and continued. “Just looking for flying farm animals. Never thought I’d live to see the day that you’d admit to being wrong, Guerin. They must be snowboarding in hell right now.”

“You’re a riot, Parker,” he growled playfully, tossing her off his lap and pinning her to the bed, running his one hand over her ribs teasingly while the other held her hands stretched over her head.

“Michael, stop, please, stop!” she gasped, squirming beneath him while she tugged on her wrists and bucked, trying to dislodge him from her body, her eyes dancing with laughter.

“Don’t be a smart ass next time,” he smirked, stopping his torture and letting her hands go, sighing when they wrapped around his neck, pulling him down so that their foreheads leaned against each other once more. Bracing his weight on one arm, he trailed a finger over her cheek before leaning over, stoic once more and pressed a soft kiss against her lips.

“Promise me you won’t confront him alone,” she whispered, watching him with serious coffee-colored eyes, a hint of a frown marring her face. Brushing his hair back from his face, she marveled at its thick, silky texture, her breath catching in her throat at the thought that something could happen to him. “Please.”

“I promise,” he whispered, his skin shivering with apprehension as he made his vow, wishing he felt confident that he could keep her safe from Zan…Max. He couldn’t help the helpless fear churning in his gut. He was worried there was more to the desert ritual than Max told Liz and Kyle and he had a bad feeling things were going to get worse before they got better. “I won’t talk to him without you there. Can I go, now?”

“Yes,” she whispered, brushing her lips over his softly, smiling at his slightly disgruntled look and toying with a soft wave near his ear. “But hurry back.”

“Nothing could keep me away from you for long,” he rasped, swallowing thickly, a slight shudder trickling down his spine as her fingers trailed over his neck, down to his chest to cover his heart. Tipping his head slightly, he pressed a kiss to her brow and pulled away, climbing out of the bed. “Get some rest. I’ll be back in about five, ten minutes tops.”

“I’ll be waiting,” she smiled, watching as he grabbed his shirt from yesterday and threw it on, wrinkling his nose slightly at the stale fried food scent clinging to the gray fabric and walked towards the door. “There’s some shirts in the office downstairs. Grab one of those.”

“Thanks,” he smiled as he walked, closing the door behind him and quickly made his way through living room, scowling briefly when he heard muffled raised voices behind the guestroom door and made another mental not to talk to the dwarf.

Descending the stairs into the diner, he popped into the office and grabbed a shirt, quickly exchanging it for the one he was wearing and heading back out the door to the kitchen, waving at one of the waitresses as they hurried out to the diner. It still felt weird to him that the Parkers trusted him to co-manage the place with Liz, but he was glad for their trust nonetheless.

“Hey chico, what are you doing here so early?” Jose called as he wandered into the kitchen to check the supplies and smiled at the older man. “You’re not on until closing.”

“Parkers are out of town and Liz wasn’t feeling well this morning, so she called me in to check on things,” he lied, keeping his tone even and bland as he headed back out of the kitchen and went towards the grill. “Think you can hold down the fort here for the morning? She said to give her a call upstairs if you need her, but she just finally got back to sleep and I don’t want to disturb her if at all possible.”

“Sure thing, chico, I hope it’s nothing serious,” the Hispanic man frowned, his lips pursed with worry. He’d been working for the Parkers since he was a kid and Liz was like family to him. “She going to be ok?”

“Yeah, man, she’s fine,” Michael replied, clasping the other man on the shoulder to reassure him before walking towards the dining area. “She just didn’t get much sleep last night and wanted to sleep in a bit this morning.”

“Well let her know I’m thinking of her if you see her,” he called, turning back to the grill and working on the next orders.

“Sure thing,” he shouted back, heading out the door to speak to Claire, Erin and Jessica, the waitresses on duty this morning. Erin was still new, but Claire had been here for years and Jessica joined the staff three years prior. He knew that between the two of them, they could help Erin and keep the dining room running smoothly.

“Hey Claire, can I talk to you for a moment,” he asked as he walked up to the pretty brown-eyed, redhead, pulling her aside to talk with her privately. Glancing around the diner, he noticed Max walk in the door, his brow pinching with annoyance when he saw him. He held up one finger and let him know he’d be with him in a moment.

“Sure, what’s up?” she queried, surprised to see Michael in the diner so early since she knew he worked the grill tonight. Furrowing her brow with concern, she noted that Liz had yet to make an appearance, which was unusual when her parents were out of town and hoped nothing had happened to the girl she liked so much. “Is everything all right? I haven’t seen Liz this morning.”

“Yeah, she’s okay, just a little under the weather this morning,” he reassured, biting back an annoyed sigh when Max hovered nearby, trying to hone in on their conversation. Turning his back on him, he directed his next comments to Claire. “She’s going to spend the morning resting. Can you handle the girls? She said you can call upstairs if necessary, but she just got back to sleep and…”

“Not to worry, Michael,” she replied, giving his arm a light squeeze as she started to walk away and help one of her customers. “Tell her we have everything under control and we’ll see her later if she’s up to coming in.”

“Thanks Claire, we really appreciate it,” he replied, bracing himself for the inevitable bombardment of questions Max was sure to have about his absence last night as well as why Liz wasn’t downstairs this morning. Turning back to the dark-haired king, he schooled his face into a mask of indifference and nodded his head towards the back of the restaurant. “Maxwell.”

“Michael,” Max greeted with reservation, watching the taller man’s back stiffening slightly as he walked towards the break room. “You didn’t come home last night. Everyone was worried.”

Michael barely refrained from snorting at that comment, all too aware that the only people that were likely concerned were Max and Maria and them only because they felt him and Liz slipping from their grasps. Shrugging his shoulders, he pushed the door to the back room open, waiting for Max to walk through, not comfortable with having the man at his back.

“Something came up,” he replied cryptically as he shut the door behind him and leaned against the wall, waiting for Max to get to the point so he could usher him out the door and get back to Liz. His energy was finally starting to flag and he desperately needed to get some sleep.

“Where were you?” Max asked tightly, his jaw ticking slightly at Michael’s blasé attitude towards his unasked question. Lately, Michael had been keeping more and more to himself and he didn’t like this new development, especially coupled with his apparent close relationship with Liz. Their spending so much time together made him uneasy.

“Here and there,” Michael stonewalled, shrugging his shoulders once more and fixing the other man with an inscrutable look. It was too bad one of his powers didn’t cover mind reading because he’d really like to know what was going on in the fearless leader’s head. He’d been getting bad vibes from his ever since Tess had shown up.

“Don’t you think you should have informed us of your plans,” Max griped, getting tired of his pseudo brother’s lack of response to his questions. It was almost as if he knew, but he didn’t understand how he could have started retrieving his memories unless he bonded. Which would explain the new level of calmness in his demeanor. “What if something had happened?”

“Nope, it was personal, not alien related,” the taller man replied, staring over the brunette’s shoulder in apparent unconcerned boredom, although he was really trying to read the other man’s body language and figure out what had him so agitated. He had never been overly concerned with his comings and goings before. Of course, he hadn’t been after his ex-girlfriend before either.

“Still, Michael,” the would be king commanded, crossing his arms over his chest as he studied the other man, knowing he was hiding something from him. There was something different about him this morning, some change in his powers that hadn’t been present the day before. “You need to be more careful.”

“Worry about yourself, Maxwell,” Michael retorted, rolling his eyes at the other man’s audacity. It never failed. Every time he felt one of his minions slipping away from his control, he tried to bring them to heel as if they were nothing more than heedless puppies. “As you can see I’m fine. I can take care of myself.”

“Where’s Liz?” Max asked suspiciously, having overheard Michael’s conversation with one of the waitresses and wondering how and why he would know how Liz was feeling this morning, given he hadn’t been home last night. “I heard one of the waitresses saying something about her missing too.”

“She’s upstairs, Maxwell,” Michael snorted, all too aware of his obvious play for information regarding his mate and his possible involvement over her absence. He was not about to play into his games. “Where else would she be if she isn’t feeling well?”

“Maybe I should check on her,” Max replied, watching the sandy-haired alien skeptically, still wondering what was going on with his former friend.

“She’s sleeping and doesn’t want to be disturbed,” Michael replied, shrugging his shoulder negligently once more, careful to keep his face blank despite his worry. The last thing they needed was Max to go upstairs and discover everything. “She’ll be down later.”

“How do you know this?” the dark-haired man asked, jealousy all too apparent on his face as he shifted with agitation, his anger growing every minute he didn’t get the answers he wanted.

“She called me,” he responded stoically, trying to prevent raising Max’s suspicions any higher. There was nothing more he wanted to do than to tell his royal highness exactly where he had been last night and why, but he had promised Liz that he wouldn’t tell him anything without her.

“But you weren’t home,” Max pointed out, thinking he finally found a chink in his story – a story he didn’t believe in the least. He could feel the new level of power radiating off the other man and knew there was only one thing that could have caused it.

“Cell phone,” Michael replied with a careless shrug, knowing the other man was trying to catch him in a lie, which wasn’t going to work.

“Since when do you have a cell phone?” Max asked suspiciously. Michael hated talking on the regular phone, preferring to simply speak with the others in person, so he couldn’t imagine him with a cell phone.

“Since Isabel went all Nazi on me after I got the bike,” Michael casually stated, cocking his brow at the other man in amusement. “She didn’t like the idea of me riding around without some way of contacting people.”

“And you couldn’t call to let me know you weren’t coming home last night?” Max growled, irritation growing.

“Slipped my mind,” the other man smirked, knowing he was getting to the wanna-be king. “I don’t report to you, Maxwell.”

“Well, maybe you should,” Max bit out, clenching his fists at his second’s caviler attitude about everything. He was more convinced than ever that something was up just by his evasive answers.

“Maybe you should back off,” Michael grated, finally getting annoyed with the interrogation. “While I’d love to play twenty questions with you, I have a diner to run and things to do, so can we get to the point?

“By all means” he replied in a clipped tone, jaw tightening further at the other man’s insolence. “Get to the point.”

“I need you to come by the Crash tonight for a meeting,” he sighed, his head starting to throb, body aching from earlier events. “There have been some…developments.”

“I thought you said last night was personal?” Max inquired, cocking his brow, lips thinning with agitation. “That it wasn’t alien related.”

“It is personal,” Michael grunted, pinching his nose in exasperation. He’d already been gone longer than he intended and was worried that if he didn’t shake Max off now, Liz was going to come looking for him, upset that he had broken his promise. “Look, I don’t have time for this. If you want to know about last night, be here after closing. If not, that’s your problem.”

Michael gestured to the door, waiting for the other man to leave so he could get back to more important matters, knowing without a doubt the control freak wouldn’t miss the opportunity to find out what’s going on. He followed behind him, walking him to the swinging door, still uneasy with his actions of late.

“I’ll see you tonight then,” Max replied, walking through the door. He was itching to make his way up to Liz’s apartment, but knew there was no way he’d make it past Michael without a fight. Maybe he’d sneak around to her balcony and see what was going on from there.

“See you tonight, Maxwell,” the tall alien responded, watching him until he made his way out of the diner before heaving a sigh of relief and turned to head up to the apartment, taking the steps two at a time, unaware of a pair of angry eyes watching him in his haste to get back to Liz.

Slipping into her room quietly, he smiled to see that she was indeed sleeping and quickly moved to the windows to reinforce his seals and black them out. He was glad he had thought to close the blinds last night, as it’d just be like Max to come around to the balcony and confront Liz.

Slipping out off his clothing, he crawled into bed, pulling her into his arms and sighed with contentment when she snuggled into him, murmuring his name under her breath. Sinking his face into her hair, he breathed deeply, taking in that soft vanilla and strawberry scent that clung to it and gave into the pull of slumber and dreams.


Steam rose from deep red ochre soil, curling lazily in the humid summer air to mingle into verdant, moss-covered branches of all shades of green – emerald, pine, forest, hunter and spring – their broad, fan and fern-like leaves dripping condensation. Three boys raced down a shaded, rocky path, panting as a hot summer breeze kicked up, scenting the air with damp earth and the sweet, spicy, jasmine-like flowering vines clogging the path.

Ripping through the vilondra, the boys tore away the foliage that had grown since their previous summer’s trek to their favorite watering hole, desperate to beat the damp summer heat. Looking back at his younger counterparts, the eldest boy laughingly taunted them as he slid through the loamy red earth, kicking up rocks and clumps of red earth in his wake, calling behind him.

“Natakna iri kiempa eina vortmar! [Last one there is a vortmar!]” Dusan laughed, nearly stumbling in his haste and caught himself just before he fell face first in the rich, damp soil beneath him. Pushing off the ground, he threw a clump of mud at his brother, catching him in the chest and continued at a full out run through the rainforest surrounding their palace, breathing heavily as he tried dragging the soupy air into his lungs.

“Ur eina kilma, Dusan! [You’re dead, Dusan!]” Rath grunted, scooping the loam off his bare chest and threw the mud to the ground as he doubled his speed, tawny waves whipping behind him, silky blue shorts hanging on his hips precariously as he tried to catch up with his elder brother.

“Tromeri noua, Rath! [Rath wait up!]” a young boy with platinum blond hair and blue eyes gasped, brushing his hair out of his eyes as he desperately tried to keep up with his older counterparts. “Dia tayagu taihan! [Not so fast!]”

“Pasae Khivar! [Hurry, Khivar!]” Rath called, turning to run backwards and wait for his best friend, who was smaller than either of the Silerius brothers. Grabbing his hand, he pulled him along as they burst through a densely covered area into the clearing beyond it, ripping off shoes and clothing as they entered.

“Urani eina heso sa Obijwa conopida [You both are slower than Obijwa drool],” Dusan smirked, pulling his long dark-blonde hair back with a tie, flashing the other two a mocking grin as he rested his hands on his hips. “Vilandra tel auhia undrea sa urani. [Vilandra can run better than you.]”

Rath scowled at his brother, glaring at him menacingly for his unfavorable comparison to a mere slip of a girl that spent all her time playing Aswani and prattling about the boys at court. Exchanging an evil grin with his friend, he nodded slightly and turned back to his preening brother.

“Arhara iche! [Take him!] he yelled, as his friend let out a war cry and they ran straight for Dusan, launching themselves into him, all three boys landing in the periwinkle waters behind him, laughing as they broke the surface.


Khivar and Rath were walking though the school joking about their last class of the day, making their way through the maze of blue walls to their dormitory to get ready for Baji practice when they noticed a small crowd near their dormitory.

Exchanging a puzzled look, they walked over cautiously to find the Crown Prince of Antar holding court. Rolling their eyes at each other, they tried to walk around the arrogant prince and his minions, but were waylaid when Zan stepped in front of them.

“Ueda heu nui urangi, Rathin, [Good to see you, Rathin]” Zan greeted, sending a smug glance to his entourage knowing that the other prince despised him but couldn’t blow him off due to etiquette.

“Zan,” Rath returned, keeping his voice and face neutral despite his irritation at having to play these political games with the spoiled, self-centered prince. If only his father had not signed the betrothal papers, making them allies and worse, family once Dusan married his sister Vilandra.

“Khivar,” Zan greeted dismissively, purposely ignoring the other boy to rile him. Turning back to Rath, he smiled coolly at his chief rival for all things academic, athletic and social. While people tolerated him because they had to, they genuinely liked Rath and that grated his nerves.

“Lo da eina dia kisiechuu ia Ahrensa, [If it isn’t the parasite of Ahrensa,]” Khivar snarked, referring to Antar’s reliance on his and Rath’s home planet, Ahrensa, for valuable resources and smiled at the idiot prince coldly, glad he didn’t have to play the diplomatic games his friend did. “Amenki da bissau utem okoro. [Sorry, that’s your father.]”

“Utem supia cless kauna rahi piioli, [Your friend needs a lesson in manners,]” Zan addressed Rath, staring at him coldly, again pointedly ignoring the other boy.

“Trovia urangi indal nera cluera piioli, [As if you know anything about manners,]” Khivar spat as Rath grabbed his arm and drug him away from Zan and his pack of monkeys before things got anymore heated.


“Rathin Varik Silerius, lo esdla ur tena punia ta kamir… [Rathin Varik Silerius, if you don’t stop pulling my hair…]” Vilandra threatened, pulling her ponytail out of his hand for the fourth time as she rolled her eyes and smiled at Dusan, reaching for his hand as they sat talking in her quarters.

“Uryeh es amar? [You’ll do what?],” he smirked, reaching over and tugging on her ponytail once again just to get a rise out of the girl who’d become a sister to him. At least he could tolerate her much better than her spoiled brother.

“Esdla ur hahi heu indal, [You don’t want to know,]” she glared at him, smacking his hand away from her hair once more, pinning him with her best haughty expression.

“Tu nunavik, Aizui, [I’m scared, Princess,]” he snickered, reaching over and yanking on her ponytail once more before jumping up and running from the room, the blond girl in hot pursuit.


Moonlight streamed through the thick canopy of trees, as Rath watched a petite girl with rich mahogany hair and cerulean blue eyes as she stared up at the clear sky, sighing longingly as she listened to the strains of music coming from the ballroom just beyond her private garden.

Breath hitching as a warm summer breeze molded the gauzy purple material of her dress to her slight frame, he stepped onto the balcony, so entranced by the sight he inadvertently upset one of the pots, knocking it over and startled the young girl out of her trance.

“Pareva raspunde setsuna? [This a private moment?]” he asked quietly as she spun around, her face lighting up when she saw who it was. His heart pounded in his ears, throat clenching as she walked over to him and took his hands.

“Rath,” she replied, her face glowing with happiness as she took in the face she had come to love so much in such a short time. He’d only been gone for a month this time, but it had felt like years. “Ur eina sola. [You’re home.]”

“Tu teldla wanosope kuu, Lareena [I couldn’t stay away, Lareena]” he whispered, brushing a finger over her cheek softly, before dipping his head to capture her lips.


Rath walked into the ballroom, glad to be home after the three-month mission with the federation military that almost kept him away from his brother and Vilandra’s Declaration of Intention Ceremony, where they made their betrothal known to society. Although the betrothal had been common knowledge for years, a family never officially announced the impending bonding until the girl was eighteen.

Smiling, he caught sight of the glowingly happy couple surrounded by friends, his brother and his soon to be mate talking animatedly, all the while sharing soft, loving glances. They were lucky enough to be one of the all too rare love matches among royalty and he couldn’t be happier for them.

Striding past his brother, Rath wrapped an arm around the blond at his side, pulling her into an affectionate embrace and placed a kiss on her cheek, smirking at his brother’s mock outrage as he dragged her from his arms.

“Mdaalo dia heu hupia, Lannie, [Welcome to the family, Lannie,]” he whispered, smiling at the sweet, pretty girl that held his brother’s heart, happy that whatever streak of meanness that ran through her brother skipped over her. “Uryeh hahabu srili aiza. [You’ll make a wonderful queen.]”

“Veda, Rath, [Thank you, Rath,]” she replied, beaming as she stared at Dusan, her golden brown eyes sparkling with happiness and love. “Che hahabu da amada dia munui ichemay. [He makes it so easy to love him.]

“Da eina dla nolka tonu dia mai,[It’s not too late to renege]” he teased softly, knowing full well that his brother was listening to their conversation and couldn’t help but poke at him. “Tu indal dia osieri heu undrea oletasu. [I am known to be the better brother.]

“Tena opokopen ta baipia, Rathin, [Stop hogging my girl, Rathin,]” Dusan growled playfully, swooping in and yanking a laughing Lannie from his arms, kissing her on the cheek. “Sio iri utem ia penhalagon! [Get one of your own!]

“Cha chiparos, [Not a problem,]” Rath laughed, walking away from the grinning couple and heading for a shy brunette hovering on the edge of the dance floor.


The sky was clouded over, damp air hanging heavy and still, crushing the lungs of the mourners, dressed in royal blue, as they watched a shrouded figure being lifted into the Royal Burial tomb, wails of grief punctuating that oppressively heavy sky and tears streaming over most of the faces present as they laid Crown Prince Dusan Laris Silerius to rest.

Staring at the cold marble box that would soon hold his brother’s remains, all because of a stupid, unforeseen accident, Rath’s heart thudded dully, tears choked in his throat as he somberly waited for the ceremony to be over. Dazed, he and Khivar each wrapped a comforting arm around Lannie, squeezing her shaking body softly as she poured out her grief at losing the man she loved heart and soul.

“Umiki es tu pacal wakwael ichemay?[How do I live without him?]” she choked out, pain dulling her typically vibrant eyes as she stared up at the two of them, tears coursing down her cheeks as she took a shuddering breath.

“Tu esdla indal, [I don’t know,]” he whispered hoarsely, clenching his eyes against the prickling tears that were fighting for release and squeezed her tighter, pain lancing his heart as the officials gave their final salute and sealed the tomb. “Juha tu sinpia ewiges osieri cona ur sempra. [But I’ll always be here for you.]”


Rath stood in the royal balcony, Lannie cold and somber at his side, clinging onto his hand as if it were her lifeline, shattered disbelief crossing her face as Zan smiled at the gathering crowd. He shook his own head in disbelief at the last few days of his life, heart heavy, furious that his brother hadn’t been properly mourned before Zan made his move.

Looking down from the balcony, he met a pair of cerulean blue eyes, bright with unshed tears, hiding on the fringes of the crowd and his heart ached, helpless fury coursing through his veins. He’ll never forgive Zan for forcing him into this travesty, forcing him to honor the betrothal because of a technicality in wording – Lannie had been betrothed to the Crown Prince of Ahrensa, not Dusan himself.

And since he was now crown prince because of Dusan’s unfortunate death, he was obligated to go through with this farce of a marriage, damning both he and Lannie to a life of unhappiness. After all, royalty doesn’t marry for love – at least not the Crown Prince. Dusan and Lannie had been a rare exception.

Meeting his love’s eyes again, he pleaded for understanding, although she had already given him her benediction, knowing that he no longer had control over his life. She nodded softly and gave him a watery smile, pressing shaky fingers to her mouth and sending him a kiss as she waited for the death toll of their budding relationship.

Swinging enraged caramel eyes over at Zan, he prayed that one day, he too would know what it was like to have to walk away from the one he loved for a destiny he didn’t want. Zan smirked, seeing the all too apparent fury in his old rival’s eyes and turned to face the crowd, waving his hands for quiet.

“Tu intriaba dia searoi ta kletapia Vilandra Arelli lehali dia heu Epli Zanui dia Ahrensa, Rathin Varik Silerius![I’m pleased to announce my sister, Vilandra Arelli’s, betrothal to the Crown Prince of Ahrensa, Rathin Varik Silerius.]” Zan announced, stepping aside to let him and Lannie pass.

His gut churned sickly as the crowd let up a half-hearted cheer, murmurs of discontent and anger over Zan’s audacity vaguely heard over the cheering crowd. Looking at Lannie, he saw she was watching her brother coldly, the seeds of hate stirring in her eyes and he shivered in apprehension, wondering what was going through her head.

Ripping his eyes from his new betrothed, he looked over to where he last saw Lareena, catching her beautiful blue eyes one last time, heart shattering at the tears slipping over her pale cheeks as she blew him one last kiss and turned to walk away.



Michael woke with a start, heart pounding in his chest, gasping at the lingering pain that twisted his gut from his last batch of dreams. Swiping a hand over his face, he was surprised to find his cheeks wet, having shed the tears he hadn’t allowed himself in his previous lifetime.

Gathering Liz in his arms, he hugged her to him tightly, letting her soft energy fill him and chase the demons away. Kissing her on the head softly, he traced their seals, vindicated that this time, Zan wouldn’t be able separate him from the one he loved.
Last edited by Ashita on Fri Feb 12, 2010 11:32 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Hunted (UC, AU, Mi/L, ADULT) Chap 12 2/14/10

Post by Ashita » Sun Feb 14, 2010 5:12 pm

Kris - Yeah, Zan was quite the bastard as we will continue to see through the dream sequences and flashes between our couples, not mention his emerging personality in Max. Just as we'll see that destiny was misinterpreted and some of it blatant lies to further Tess and Nasedo's plans. As for Max's reaction, well the time has finally come and will be revealed next chapter. :) Glad you like the chapter and thanks for the congrats and kind words on my writing.

Whimsy - Love your reviews. I really do, they keep me on my toes and remind me of things I've yet to address. :) Yeah, Michael is very worried about Max showing signs of Zan's emergence and has come to suspect that he knows more than he lets on, which is terrifying in itself. But don't expect Michael to just give in to Liz's demands, he will weasel his way into keeping her safe, crafty strategist that he is. She only thinks she's won. Glad you like the past worlds I'm building, we'll see more of those in this chapter. And I just had to make that destiny crack. Michael will soon get to throw it in Max's face. And to answer your question on e-mail here, since people might be wondering, no Liz is not Lareena reincarnated. But there are similarities between the two. As for powers, well we've already seen the manifestation of two of them, they just don't know it yet. More will be revealed in a couple of chapters when they start training together.

Jan - I'm glad you enjoyed this last chapter and sorry to make you hate Max/Zan, but he fully deserves it in this universe. He is a smug, spiteful man used to getting his way. And yes, it does help explain the animosity between Max and Michael, as well as why Isabel sided with Michael opposed to Max as she usually does. As for the Maria/Max kiss, yeah they really shouldn't be upset considering they hadn't been with Liz or Michael for over a year, but rarely does the heart listen to reason. That out of the way, you do know what next chapter will bring, right? Yup - the big confrontation *insert ominous music* . Thanks for the votes and congrats. :)

Barbara - I'm glad your enjoying the story enough to have read it multiple times. It thrills me that people have taken so well to this story given it was never supposed to branch out this far. But I have to admit, this story has taken on a life of it's own, to the point that I have to force myself to work on the other stories. Thanks for the congrats and bump. :)

Carrie - Thanks for the congrats and noms. I'm beyond thrilled for the recognition. :) I hope you enjoy this next chapter in what has changed from a short PWP to what is going to become an epic piece.

AN: Sorry it's taken me so long to get an update up. Unfortunately, we had an unexpected death in the family, not to mention my classes have started back up again and greatly impacts my writing time. On top of that, my chapters are growing in length as I merge their past lives with their current lives, which again takes more time as I research and create these new worlds. So my updates may not be as frequent as they once were, but I am hoping that the chapters will be worth the wait. Once again, the italic text denotes dream sequences. The beginning lyrics to You and Me belong to Lifehouse.

AN2: Thanks once again to everyone who voted for this story!
Antarian Dreams

One of the things that I want to say just aren't coming out right
I'm tripping on words
You've got my head spinning
I don't know where to go from here

'Cause it's you and me and all of the people with nothing to do
Nothing to prove
And it's you and me and all other people
And I don't know why, I can't keep my eyes off of you

Kyle stood in the middle of the room, staring at the dark blue carpet for a moment as he gathered his thoughts, trying to figure out how to make up for his hurtful outburst from earlier. It had been a natural reaction, but he hadn’t meant it the way it ‘sounded’ and couldn’t help but feel bad for hurting his mate.

Isabel played the part of Ice Queen well, but that’s all it was – an act. Of all the aliens, he knew she was the most sensitive, especially after learning of her former role in the fall of her planet. Being blinded by love was no excuse for turning on her family in her book, even if Zan hadn’t deserved her loyalty in the end. She was having a hard enough time reconciling her past memories with her current life without him adding to it with his thoughtlessness, no matter how justified.

With everything that has happened in the past two years, he’s never been so confused in his life. He never expected it to get so complicated. He remembered a time when his only goal was to excel at sports and get good enough grades to get a scholarship so he could get the hell out of this town. Nowhere in his imaginings did he see himself already settled down, mated to an alien princess and adjusting to emerging alien powers.

It was surreal. And he couldn’t be happier.

Since Isabel and the others had entered his life, it had been so much more fulfilling and worthwhile. And to have the love of the beautiful princess lying on the bed, was an overwhelming gift. He must have done something right in his previous carnation to deserve such good fortune. He still had a hard time believing she had chosen him, especially after everything that had happened with Alex.

Funny enough, it had been Alex that had brought them together. After Tess had blasted off for space unknown, the group had fallen apart. Max pulled into himself, mourning not only the loss of his son but his loss of control over Liz when his friend finally wised up to El Presidente’s less than savory attributes and told the little psycho where to shove it.

Maria, bouncing between wanting to be part of the alien abyss (well actually she just wanted to get into Michael’s pants) and wanting to stay as far from the alien mess as humanly possible, had ran off to New York and was gone for months trying to “find herself.” She had returned only a couple of weeks ago because she felt creatively stifled by the label and expected things to be the same despite a three month absence, draping herself all over Michael at every turn.

Michael to his credit, didn’t fall for her games and avoided her at all costs, to the point he even requested a shift change at the Crashdown. Although, now that he thought about it, maybe it wasn’t so much to avoid Maria as the proximity to Liz that prompted the change. In fact, all the times he stumbled on Michael over those few months, Liz wasn’t far behind. Seeing his seal, his fixation on the brunette made a lot more sense.

Usually, he would have turned to Liz to help him when the memories of his part in Alex’s death slowly returned and haunted him night after night, but she was busy avoiding the stalker king. And apparently, getting to know Fabio on a much more intimate level if their embrace said anything this morning. He shuddered, quickly quelling those thoughts.

With no one to turn to, he did something he never expected – he went to the cemetery to talk to the man himself and pour out all the guilt festering in his heart, hoping that by apologizing to Alex, he’d find a little more peace of mind. And that’s where his princess found him with tears in his eyes as he begged his friend’s forgiveness for never seeing what a manipulative bitch Tess had become.

She’d knelt before him, slipping an arm around his shoulder and reassured him that Alex doesn’t blame him and had never blamed him, mentioning that she talked to ghosts or something. He had thought she had finally gone off the deep end at first and teased her mercilessly about seeing dead people, until Alex did his hocus pocus act on him, scaring the hell out of him one day.

He had blanched and nearly fell over Alex’s tombstone, babbling like an idiot when Alex popped up beside him and yelled boo much to Isabel’s great amusement, sending the pretty blond into gales of laughter for the first time since his death. It had almost been worth it. Almost. Alex was lucky he was dead and he couldn’t kick his ass for that little stunt.

It was through their communing with Alex that Kyle had finally gotten to know the standoffish girl and realized her Ice Princess façade was just that – a well thought out and planned act. The real Isabel was a warm, caring woman with more insecurities than a food addicts anonymous group. One that he grew to love every day they met at Alex’s grave and later, when they began to hang out as friends.

He fell and fell hard.

There really had been no choice, especially with Alex egging him on, pointing out that he was gone and she deserved all the happiness in the world. Shaking his head, Kyle couldn’t help a small snicker under his breath. How many people could actually claim that their dead friend’s ghost played matchmaker and set him up with his future mate? The same guy who was his current girlfriend’s dead boyfriend. He had definitely left reality behind and had entered the Twilight Zone.

Lifting his head, he walked over to the bed, sitting on the edge quietly, staring at her back, desperately searching for the words to soothe her hurt feelings and failing miserably. He’d really stuck his foot in it this time. Reaching over, he stroked her arm, a sliver of hurt trickling through him when she flinched slightly. He knew she was back in self-preservation mode, her walls firmly in place.

“Isabel, Isa, you know I didn’t mean it that way,” he started, watching her back for any sense of her reaction to what he was saying. She held herself stiff, refusing to turn and he sighed heavily, swallowing thickly at her non-reaction. “It was just me thoughtlessly running at the mouth again. You know I speak before I really think. I didn’t mean it.”

She let out a soft snort of agreement, but continued to stare the wall, worrying her bottom lip as she tried to quell her hurt feelings. She knew she was being sensitive, but couldn’t help it. His reaction had struck a raw nerve, playing on the fears she had always held, thinking that people would never accept her if they knew who and what she really was.

“Isa, I never meant to hurt you,” he continued, weaving his fingers through her soft, silky hair, guilt chewing away at him inside knowing he had inadvertently played on her biggest fear and kicked himself mentally for it. Of all the idiot things to do. Watching her quietly, he realized that she wasn’t in the mood to talk to him and figured it was best to give her some space. “Okay.”

Isabel continued to mull his words over, wanting to turn and wrap him in her arms and let him know that she knew he didn’t mean it, that she had forgiven him long ago, but years of holding everything in made it difficult. She wasn’t used opening up to anyone, letting them in and knew it was something she had to work on.

“I’ll just…go then…and let you get some rest,” he whispered dejectedly, shoulders slumping slightly with disappointment when she didn’t respond to his overtures. Sighing, he shifted slightly, scooting towards the edge of the bed, when the bed suddenly shifted and she launched herself at him, crying out softly.

“No, don’t leave me,” she whimpered, her icy demeanor breaking as she threw caution to the wind, rolling over and latching a hand on his wrist, stopping his upward momentum, pulling him down onto the bed with her. Running a hand over her cheek, he gave a reassuring smile and pressed a kiss against her pinched, sweaty brow, pushing her hair over her shoulder.

“I’m not going to leave you, Isa,” he rasped, his voice full of suppressed emotion as he trailed his lips over her temple, pressing them lightly to her cheek and he inhaled the soft rain-like scent of her, his lips curving when she pressed closer to him. “I was just going into the living room so you can get some sleep. I’ll be right outside the door.”

“No, don’t leave me,” she whispered, pulling him down next to her on the bed, pressing her forehead against his, her eyes filled with remorse and worry that if he left, she’d never see him again despite it being an irrational fear. “Please.”

“I won’t,” he promised, pulling her into his arms, resting his cheek against the top of her head as she snuggled into him, burrowing her head against his neck and he bit back a groan as her breath feathered over his neck, her lips whispering against his skin enticingly. “It will take more than a little disagreement to send me running. After all, I’ve seen you at your Christmas Nazi worse and I haven’t run down the street screaming yet.”

Isabel giggled softly, a gentle brief sound that let him know that everything would work itself out in time, and he moved his head to look at her, smiling contentedly when he saw the corner of her mouth twitch with humor despite trying to look offended at his comment.

“What? You don’t scare me, Princess,” he chuckled, wrapping a long golden strand around his finger, giving it a gentle tug when she narrowed her eyes at him, pretending outrage at his declaration. He grinned, running his fingers through her hair, resting his hand against her neck. “I’m not afraid of anything.”

“So that less than manly squeak when Michael came after you was nothing more than what? A cry of delight?” she snickered, her eyes dancing with laughter when his brow furrowed and he attempted to look wounded at her assessment of his earlier behavior.

“Squeak? Squeak? I’ll have you know, woman, that I do not squeak!” Kyle declared passionately, affronted by the mere suggestion that Kiss reject scared him in anyway. “Squeak? I’m insulted! I’m outraged! I’m…”

“Shutting up?” she smirked, as she reached her hands between them, letting them slide down his chest to cup him through his jeans, and giggled when his words ended in a pained hiss as he gasped for breath, fiery blue eyes meeting hers before he yanked her into his arms and crushed his lips to hers, sinking against her upturned mouth as fire shot over both their nerves.

“Yeah, that, definitely that,” he muttered breathlessly, claiming her mouth in a searing kiss, tracing his tongue over the crease over her mouth before delving into the heat that lie behind her soft, wet lips. Moaning, he deepened the kiss, sliding his tongue against hers languidly, swirling and engaging it in a soft, erotic battle for dominance. He shuddered has her warm, damp breath rushed into his mouth and she reciprocated, meeting his insistent tongue with equal fervor.

Slipping his hand over the soft curve of her back, he pulled her against his body firmly before rolling her over on her back and pinning her down on the bed, sliding between her legs, grunting as she rocked against him, the pressure shooting lines of electricity over his nerves. Soft puffs of air brushed against his lips as her mouth opened further, inviting him in, their tongues meeting and swirling around one another, caressing, tasting, committing each other to memory.

Pulling away, he trailed his lips over her neck, getting lost in silky skin sliding against his mouth as he placed hot, wet kisses over her pulse point. Following it with a gentle scrap of blunt teeth, he bit down on the tender skin and smirked at the violet bruise left behind, marking her as his before he swirled his tongue over it, laving the sting away. Sinking lower, his mouth closed over the swell over her breast and he licked the soft curve, groaning softly at the sweet, spicy taste of her skin.

She arched into his mouth, a low burning ache building in her body as his hands slid under her tank top, sliding against heated skin and she moaned, wrapping a leg round his waist and pulling him deeper into her body. Gasping as rigid denim scraped against linen, she bit back an urgent cry when his tongue dipped teasingly under her shirt, lightly flicking her nipple, sending white-hot lines of fire radiating through her veins.

Delving her fingers into his soft, short tresses, she pulled him up, latching her mouth with his, their lips meeting time and again, tongues tangling urgently, insistently in kisses that were all thrusting tongues, teeth and blinding passion. Sliding her fingers over his chest, she whimpered in the back of her throat when he seemed to pull away, growling with frustration as he looked at her panting harshly.

“Ah, for the love of Buddha,” he muttered, engaging her in another hard, passionate kiss before he pulled away, running his hands over her body softly to try and cool the fires burning between them. Groaning with frustration, he really wanted to continue, but knew that between all the energy they spent earlier and their location, now wasn’t the right time. “We can’t Isa. Liz and your brother are just in the other room.”

Isabel groaned, sobering instantly as she recalled their surroundings and knew he was right. This was hardly the time and place for them to get carried away. And she sure as hell didn’t want Michael barging in while they were in the middle of something. Shuddering, that thought held enough ick factor to cool the fire burning inside her. “I know,” she whispered unhappily, her stare promising all flavors of wickedness later.

“I’ll hold you to that, Princess,” he smirked, reading the all too apparent promise in her eyes and pressed his lips to hers once more before he rolled onto his side, tucking her into his chest and stroked her back softly, enjoying just laying with her. Kissing her on the temple, he smiled, contentment spreading through body. “Get some sleep.”

Isabel sighed, draping her arm over his waist and pressed her face into the curve of his neck, drawing in his subtle sent of desert and the faint traces of his cologne, her eyes fluttering heavily as her body gave into the rest she so desperately needed.


Perched on a plush violet stool, a low white table set with miniature china in front of her, a five-cycles-old Lannie’s shoulders hunched dejectedly and her eyes brimmed with disappointed tears as she realized that he had forgotten once again. Heaving a heartbroken sigh, she should have known this would happen. He was a very busy and important man.

She twisted the napkin in her hands nervously, biting her bottom lip as she wondered if she should seek her father out and remind him of their play date or just accept she’ll never be as important as Zan. Her father never forgot him. Taking a deep breath, she set her napkin down and slid off her stool, creeping out of her room quietly and walked along the massive golden halls of their place to her father’s study.

Lingering in the shadows, she watched her father talk to a man with golden blond hair and bright brown eyes. Judging from the crown on his head, she assumed he was one of the other planetary kings. Peeking from around the corner at him shyly, she startled when his gaze swung her way and he smiled at her, gesturing her forward.

Paling at being caught, she turned worried eyes towards her father and swallowed hard when she saw a flash of disapproval cross his face before he motioned her forward impatiently. Shifting her eyes back to the man shyly, she smiled at him tremulously, her tiny fingers twisting in her pink gown as she came to a halt in front of him and curtsied.

“Parev eina Zan Tenoche, Lannie, [Lannie, this is King Tenoche,]” her father rumbled brusquely, impatient with his daughter’s interruption and wanting to move on with business at hand, but not wanting to offend the other man since he would one day be Lannie’s father-in-law. Smiling impersonally at his youngest child, he stiffened when Teno bent over, picking the little girl up and settling her on his lap.

“Mhoro, [Hello,] Lannie whispered shyly, blinking owlishly when he lifted her into his lap and settled her against his chest, surprised at the unexpected attention lavished on a mere princess. Staring at him curiously, she reached up and touched his crown hesitantly, smiling once more when he slipped it off his head and placed it on hers, preening as her heart warmed, falling immediately in love with the jovial man.

“Tayagu parev sricomni huana baipia eina Lannie, [So, this pretty little girl is Lannie.]” Teno smiled, staring at his son’s betrothed approvingly, amusing the little girl with finger games as he talked with her father, Ranivir. “Ru supta jaru su nui Dusan ganoso tayagu ocles tel indal bellimi tiormi, Ran. [We should introduce her to Dusan soon, so they can get to know each other, Ran.]”


Lannie ran down the hall, panting as she tried to outrun her brother, shiny gold wisps pasted to her damp brow as she flung a panicked glance over her shoulder. Zan was in a particularly bad mood after failing to meet standards in his Baji practice, blaming her for breaking his concentration when she unwittingly walked in unannounced.

Personally, she knew his failure was due to his own laziness and lack of practice, but was far too wise to point that out knowing it would rile him further. She could never understand what it was about her that Zan disliked so much. He had long been the favored child and didn’t understand his competitive need to best her. There simply was no comparison – he was crown prince and she only a princess.

Still looking over her shoulder fearfully, she gasped when she ran into a taller figure, struggling when firm hands wrapped around her arms to keep her from falling over. Breathing harshly, she looked up at a tall boy with tawny hair and concerned hazel eyes, terrified when he frowned down on her.

Looking over her shoulder, he caught sight of her red-faced brother barreling down the hall with single-minded determination and narrowed his gaze, nodding to his sandy-haired companion and pushed Lannie behind him before turning to face her brother. She peeked around his side cautiously, watching with some trepidation as her brother skidded to a halt in front of her protectors.

The two boys stared at Zan for several minutes, no words necessary as the elder one fixed a hard, menacing glare on her shorter brother, making him squirm slightly before he huffed, throwing her a cold stare and slinking back down the hall when her savior cleared his throat pointedly.

The boy continued to watch her brother until he was long out of sight, taking her small trembling hand into his cool, firm grip before dropping to one knee, his warm, assuring hazel gaze meeting her wide, startled eyes. Drawing a sharp breath, she stared at him, enraptured with the most beautiful, kind eyes she’d ever seen and smiled, ducking her head shyly when she realized she’d been staring.

“Ur zin osieri, Lannie, [You must be Lannie,]” he greeted, his smile lighting his features and she couldn’t help the slight flutter in her heart when he reached up to smooth a strand of hair from her face, merely nodding in confirmation, tongue-tied in his presence. “Tu eina Dusan otu parev eina ta oletasu, Rath. [I’m Dusan and this is my brother, Rath.]”


“Tu esdla hahi ur nui qua, [I don’t want you to leave,]” she whispered, eyes glassy with unshed tears as she watched Dusan pack his bags for school, not sure how she was going make it through the next two cycles without her friend. Ever since he had stepped in front of Zan five years ago, the two of them had spent every moment they could together. Something that pleased her father for once.

“Tu indal, juha tu kubi nui nasva, [I know, but I have to go,] he replied sadly, stopping his packing to sit with her where she lounged on his bed, brushing his fingers over her cheek softly, his breath hitching as a tingling warmth suffused his body. Sighing, he fought the urge to touch his lips to hers and took her hand instead, pressing a light kiss on the back of it.

He knew at 12 cycles to his 16, she was far too young to be interested in him as a mate, but he couldn’t help his reaction to her. He’d been half in love with her from the moment she slid trembling fingers into his that fateful day in the hall, before he realized she was his betrothed.

“Va yeh tu shuni nui dinisba Zan igual iche inustia pakaha? [Who will I turn to when Zan lets his demons run wild?]” Lannie worried aloud, twisting a long strand of golden hair between her fingers, raising uncertain toffee eyes to his and chewed on her full bottom lip.

Reaching over, Dusan gently tugged on her lip, pulling it from her clenched teeth and rubbed the soft flesh gently, his hazel irises sparking when he saw something warm flash behind her own. Startled, he dropped his hand, closing the distance between them and pulled her into his arms, pressing his lips against her temple, breathing in her scent

“Rath sinpia osieri sempra, [Rath will be here,]” he promised, closing his eyes as she leaned against his chest, biting back a groan when she snuggled deeper into his embrace. God, had she any idea what she was doing to him? Drawing a shuddering breath, he tried to distance himself from her innocent allure and remember that she wasn’t ready for this yet. “Ur tel ewiges shuni nui ichemay. [You can always turn to him.]”

Lannie watched him through her lashes quietly, wondering if there would ever come a time that he would wake up and love her as much as she did him. She was young, but she knew even at that age what she felt was rare and precious and could only hope he’d return those feelings some day.

“Tuyeh ur niipoi, [I’ll miss you,]” she murmured huskily, battling back her tears so he could leave without worrying about her too much. She knew that he was having a difficult time leaving home as it was. She didn’t need to add to the strain.

“Tuyeh ur niipoi, Iotia huana, [I’ll miss you too, Little Light,]” he replied, kissing her on the cheek softly before he disentangled from her embrace and rose to finish his packing, his heart aching at the thought of being separated from the light of his life for the next two cycles.


Lannie sat on her bed, staring out the window of her dormitory wistfully, her electronic tablet lying forgotten on her lap, still mulling over Dusan’s last letter. He had finally returned home from the university and she was stuck here in isolation. His, Rath and Khivar’s letters were the only thing that made attending refining school bearable. She couldn’t wait until their visit in two weeks.

Sighing heavily, she returned to the electronic missive in her hands and smiled as she re-read the sweet words he’d tacked onto the end of his note, tracing them softly, her heart fluttering knowing that he would become her mate in two years. She doesn’t know what she’s ever done to deserve his love and devotion.

Looking over at the wall counter, she pursed her lips in annoyance recalling that her new housemate should be joining her any time and clambered off the bed, reluctantly dragging herself into the living area to meet the latest insipid, vacuous, prattling debutante forced upon her. She smirked when a small, dark-haired girl popped into the house, talking to a petite blond behind her in a bright, bubbly voice and barely refrained from rolling her eyes.

Observing the other girl with interest from her perch at the kitchen counter, she smothered a laugh when the blond valiantly tried to break free from her bright and oh so cheerful tormentor, flicking exasperated blue eyes at Lannie. Finally breaking free, she smiled sweetly and then promptly slammed the door in the other’s face, heaving a loud sigh as she shook her head, blond curls swinging around her face.

“Tayagu va hahia nui tel dia ur raietia? Okoro? Oletasu? Quape? [So, who wanted to get rid of you? Father? Brother? Intended?]”, she asked, looking Lannie over curiously as she walked over to the counter, a faint smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Apai tu yarigai utem?[I beg your pardon,]” Lannie gasped, brow furrowing at the small girl's blunt breach of etiquette, snapping back in surprise. This was not the quiet, dull mouse she’d been expecting. Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“Intriaba, bissau amar Labeyrie eina sitam cluera, [Oh, please. That’s what Labeyrie is all about,]” the other girl smirked, giving Lannie a frank once over before plopping on the other stool, resting her elbows on the counter and propped her chin in her hands. “Ocles wela daeina reigi shule juha khanda danpu terre cona quili piaka’a con padne culoare ocles alita. [They tell us it’s etiquette school but it’s really a dumping ground for the royal daughters until they can prove their worth by marrying well.]”

“Okoro otu oletasu,[Father and brother,]” Lannie smiled appreciatively at the other girl’s boldness, warming to her depreciating humor and decided that this would be a good year indeed. “Quape eina nui cortol tu lal. [My intended is trying to set me free.]”

“Diafendis tu, [I’m jealous,]” she laughed, sticking out her hand out flat in front of her by way of introduction. “Dobre tu, Amaravati Svoboda, Aizui dia Lahti, jahu chiamata Ava. [I’m Amaravati Svoboda, Princess of Lahti, but call me Ava.]”

“Dobre tu, Vilandra Loliyekar, Aizui dia Antar, [I’m Vilandra Loliyekar, Princess of Antar],” Lannie grinned, pressing her palm flat against Ava’s lightly, marking her with a swirling greeting sign before pulling away. “Jahu tu chiamata, Lannie. [But you can call me Lannie.]”


“Va eina amar?[Who is that?]” Rath asked reverently, his glass of Uso forgotten, suspended in midair, completely entranced by a petite brunette standing next to the gazebo talking to Ava and Khivar.

Lannie nearly laughed when he licked his lips, all but drooling as he watched the other girl toss sable curls over her shoulder and he visibly shuddered when a lilting laugh carried on the wind. She knew girls from all over the federation would mourn tonight as she watched her dearest friend fall head over heels.

He was doomed. She knew it the minute bright blue eyes met his, a faint pink blush staining the lovely brunette’s ivory complexion as she smiled shyly at Rath’s obvious interest before turning back to her conversation.

“Ta mina reigi, Ava, [Ava, my schoolmate,]” Lannie teased, purposely misunderstanding to give him a hard time and force him to admit his admiration of a girl he’d known all his life, but obviously didn’t recognize as she’d changed considerably in the years he’d been away at school.

“Suila dla, [Not her]” Rath scoffed, throwing his friend an annoyed glance before turning back to the girl who had grabbed his attention. “Ujuhido, ti. [The brunette.]”

“Amar Lareena, ta tarjuman, [That’s Lareena, you dolt,] Dusan snickered, whole-heartedly amused by his brother’s preoccupation with a girl he used to mock on a daily basis. “Ipaki ta, Romus otu Dajai piaka? Ti baipia aua tomalu tu xina wanasoma? [You remember, Romus and Dajai’s daughter? The girl you used to tease as a child?]”

“Cha…ifu moden opad. [No…she’s grown up.]” Rath murmured in disbelief, shaking his head in wonder as he finally saw traces of the little girl that used to follow him around years before. He barely recognized her. Grinning at Lannie and his brother, he saluted them with his glass and hurried off, chasing down the girl in question as she walked towards the royal gardens. “Yarigui ta. [Excuse me.]”

“Kubi ru missal ichemay, [We’ve lost him,]” Lannie smiled, her eyes sparkling with happiness for her friend, hoping he would find the joy she had found with his brother. Turning back to Dusan, her breath hitched to find him watching her intently, hazel eyes glowing with love.

“Bo, ichemay munui taalu, [Yes, he’s been love struck,]” Dusan murmured, pulling her over to him gently, raising her hand to his mouth and pressed a soft kiss against her palm. She gasped softly, heart fluttering, cheeks heating under his smoldering gaze and licked her lips nervously when he dipped his head to hers, rubbing his nose against hers playfully. “Ur indal ich Silerius nusu’a, irili ru semga ti iri, daeina sitam natakna. [You know us Silerius men, once we meet the one, it’s all over.]”


Lannie hurried through the halls, heart pounding, blinded to the opulent furnishings and trappings around her, only one thought swirling in her mind – to get to Dusan as fast as possible. Dread curled in her stomach as she recalled Rath’s ominous tone when he teleconferenced her and told her to get to the palace immediately. By the Granilith, let him be all right.

As much as he tried to hide it, Lannie still heard the worry and fear leaking through Rath’s emotionless accounting of Dusan’s aircraft crashing during tactical maneuvering practice. He’d been landing the hovercraft when something had gone terribly awry and the craft careened out of control, ramming into the hangar wall with alarming force.

Doubling her speed into a run, she took the steps as fast as her legs would carry her, hiking her skirts to her knees, panting harshly as she quickly made her way to her betrothed’s suite of rooms. Rounding the corner, she spied Rath leaning against the wall outside Dusan’s room, head tipped to the ceiling, staring at some invisible spot sightlessly.

Hearing her approach, he tipped his face toward her, pained disbelief etching his face and whispered her name, the sorrow and grief lacing those two syllables saying everything there was to say.

Grief ripped through her body, freezing her in place and she shook her head in stunned disbelief that she’d been too late. This couldn’t be happening. Not two moons before her bonding ceremony. Staggering, she stared at him blindly, her legs wobbling unsteadily and buckled, the thick carpet rushing toward as she fell to her knees, a keening wail clawing it’s way out of her throat, barely aware of strong arms wrapping around her.

“Lannie, Lannie, tu eina tayagu novotokoi, Lannie, [Lannie, Lannie, I’m so sorry, Lannie,]” Rath murmured, voice cracking, tears slipping over his cheeks and he rocked her back and forth as she clutched his shirt, shuddering, heartbroken sobs ripping from her throat harshly, pain radiating through every vein.

“Cha, [No,]” she whispered desolately, shaking her head in denial, tear-drenched eyes meeting his pained whiskey gaze, praying there was some misunderstanding. Her face crumpled, pinching with agony when she read confirmation of her initial thoughts swimming in glassy irises. Her body convulsed in torment, slumping against his chest, still shaking her head in denial. “Cha, che telda osieri kilwa. [No, he can’t be dead.]”

“Lannie,” he whispered helplessly, uncertain how to console his friend when he didn’t even know how he was going to live without his brother. Squeezing her against him tightly, he gave a choked cry, his own pain getting the best of him, and broke in her arms.


Zan stood before her, smiling smugly as Lannie stared at him in stunned disbelief, aghast at his announcement and his blatant disregard for her feelings; his blatant disrespect for the mourning she and the entire federation were observing. Had he completely lost his mind? Wars had been started over lesser affronts than this.

“Ur teldla wototo telatela nui mlap ti lehali nui Rath parev ganoso, [You can’t seriously mean to force the betrothal to Rath this soon,]” she gasped, blood-shot eyes widening incredulously, her stomach lurching sickly as she contemplated his callous actions against her and her friend, both deep in mourning. Pressing her lips into a thin line, she fixed her brother with a hard glare, shaking with unrestrained fury at his audacity and shook her head firmly. “Cha, tu nkosi fumeyio paki Dusan. [No, I won’t dishonor Dusan’s memory.]”

“Ur imoni trovia ur kubi lapa, umiki trehiri, [You act like you have a choice, how cute,]” Zan purred, an icy, cruel smile sliding over his face, amused that she thought a mere girl, especially that of a royal princess, had any say in the matter. They were such useless, weak, emotional creatures that needed to be kept firmly under one’s thumb. “Esdla jahan va gigui ti epli, Lannie. [Don’t forget who wears the crown, Lannie.]”

“Uryeh tayagu novotokoi, Zan [You’ll be sorry, Zan,]” she spat, snapping back as if slapped and stared at her brother’s retreating back hatefully, clenching her hands so tightly, blood welled in the half-moon cuts she left on her hands.

“Amar eina ur nasra nui es? [What are you going to do?]” He mocked, looking over his shoulder sardonically, laughing off her threat. “Hualqui tu nui kilwa? [Talk me to death?]”


Kyle pressed a soft kiss on Isabel’s brow as she slept, lost in dreams and smoothed back her golden strands before he rose off the bed, slipping out of the room, quietly closing the door behind him so he didn’t wake his mate. He knew she hadn’t been sleeping a lot lately, worrying over how to tell her brothers about their bonding and combined with the alien voodoo – which had him more shaken than he liked to let on – from earlier, she was wiped out.

Truthfully he was as well, but his mind was racing far too much for him to relax and his body was still twitching with otherworldly mojo. If he weren’t so worried that this new tie to Liz and Michael would send him popping and crackling like tin foil in a microwave, he’d think his newfound powers a blessing. Whatever they might be.

He hadn’t really begun to change quite yet, but had felt something shift when Isabel and he had bonded, something primal and not quite human that hovered in the background just waiting to take over, the same something that had unwittingly been tapped during their little fireworks display when they shared power this morning.

And he couldn’t decided what terrified him more, that he was about to become super human plus or that he was now in some weird way metaphysically bound to an irritable, at times psychotic, hair band reject. Jesus, when did his life get so damn complicated?

Oh, that’s right, when King Paranoia did his little hand trick and brought him back from the brink of death because he couldn’t leave well enough alone, stalking Liz when he couldn’t believe she chose Dumbo over him. It was his own damn fault. Mostly. Okay, completely. The girl had tried to warn him away, but he had always been too stubborn for his own good.

Running a shaky hand through his hair, he let out a pent up breath and tried to relax. Stressing out over an event that hadn’t yet occurred wouldn’t do any good and as his wise master always said, do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

And at the present moment, he was bonded to a beautiful, wonderful woman with a great heart who for some odd reason appreciated his sense of humor. That in itself was worth its weight in gold and is worth dealing with cranky, sarcastic alien warriors. Although, he had to admit the wookie seemed much calmer now that he was bonded to Liz. Hopefully a steady dose of superhuman-to-alien loving will tame the beast.

Sighing, he startled when he heard a slight rustle to his right, tensing imperceptibly as he really wasn’t ready to delve into what happened this morning. He had purposely waited until he heard Michael come back up and join Liz, giving him enough time to settle in before leaving Isabel’s side.

Turning, his brow pinched, taking in Liz’s open bedroom door and the blond standing before it looking into the room, her hands fisted, body swaying subtly as she pressed one fist to her stomach and the other against her mouth in an effort to hold back a whimper. Striding over to her, he clamped a firm hand over her arm and spun her around, staring down into cold, furious green eyes.

“What are you doing here, Maria?” he asked, his voice tight, trying to be understanding of the blond girl given her feelings for Michael but upset to find her violating his friends privacy.

Maria stared up at Kyle blankly, not really sure why or how she got there and blinked back the tears glossing over her eyesight. She vaguely remembered coming back in the backroom after sitting in the park for an hour mulling over everything Liz and Michael had said, unable to make sense of how someone who was supposed to be her best friend could betray her trust.

Their words had revolved around her head tauntingly on a continuous loop, adding to the mounting pain and fury building in her heart, seething, searing through blood boiling under tight, hot skin, prickling as if she’d been bitten by thousands of fire ants. It whipped through her with blinding intensity, aching to lash out, erupt in an explosion so fierce and destructive, they’d feel it all the way to Antar.

There had to be a misunderstanding. Liz wouldn’t do this, she couldn’t. She had always been the noble one; the one willing to sacrifice her happiness to save the damn world. She was so damn selfless it had been sickening at times and she often wished the woman would grow a damn backbone. But why did it have to be now and with him? Wasn’t it enough that she had an alien king all but stalking her, did she really have to go after Michael as well?

Panting harshly, she stood up, pacing agitatedly back and forth as anger, pain and jealousy ate at her heart, burning her insides like the deadliest poison and her stomach plummeted as she continued to think it over. And Michael, God, how could she have been so wrong in her assessment of his intentions? She’d love to blame Liz for this new development, but she couldn’t kid herself. Michael wouldn’t have been there unless he really wanted Liz.

God, he really wanted Liz. How could this have happened? She fought her rising panic unsuccessfully, head swimming as she shook her head frantically, trying to deny her bubbling rage an outlet, cramming it back down inside, the turbulent emotions building in the small cavity like a pressure cooker with a jammed relief valve, constricting her chest in tight bands. Shaking with fury, her fists clenched, knuckles blanching as she dug her nails into the soft pads of her hands and she let out a primal scream of pain and rage, blood dripping from half-moon cuts embedded in her palms.

Drawing in short, gasping breaths, she swung her head around blindly, oblivious to the stares of the other park inhabitants and stared in the direction she had came, narrowed cat-like eyes glittering with anger. She deserved more than that half-ass explanation Liz had given her. You can’t choose who you love. Scoffing, she turned around abruptly, stalking back to her friend’s apartment to demand answers and this time she wasn’t going to be put off by insincere platitudes.

Storming through the backdoor, she drew a deep breath, squaring her shoulders and prepared to head upstairs but stopped, observing a rapidly advancing Michael, all but running up the stairs in his haste to get back to his supposed mate. Pain ripped through her body, her back nearly bowing with tension, anger crackling along her nerves.

Frozen, vision hazing as their earlier words ran through her mind tauntingly, she had no idea how long she stood there staring at the apartment door blankly before one of the waitresses came bouncing by, tearing her from her anguished reverie. Shaking her head to clear the red haze from her vision, she stalked up the stairs and burst through the door, brow pinching when she didn’t see either Liz or Michael in the living area.

Inhaling sharply, she looked towards Liz’s door, tightly closed and closed her eyes, tears leaking from the corners as a fresh wave of pain overtook her body and she walked over to the door, opening it quietly, the sight before her slamming into her already overwhelmed senses. There was Michael, wrapped around Liz, both blissfully content as they slept in one another arms. It was breathtakingly beautiful and excruciatingly heartbreaking at the same time.

Which lead her to this moment and Kyle staring at her accusingly for daring to interrupt their peace. Interrupt their peace? Interrupt their peace? What made them so damn special? Glaring at her friend warningly, she ripped her arm from his firm grip, about to tell him to mind his own business when something caught her attention in her peripheral vision and she stopped and stared at his wrist, noticing the foursquare tattoo and cried out with pain.

“You too?” she whispered hoarsely, renewed anger and jealousy bubbling up her throat, coating it with bitter desolation as she realized she’d been left out in the cold once more. Grabbing his wrist, she stared at the mark hatefully, noting that the rose and sword from Michael’s seal in two of the foursquare slots was joined by two other symbols – a fancy staff or rod of some sort and what looked like a lotus. “You and…?”

“Isabel,” he responded quietly, still watching the angry girl in front of him warily as she hadn’t answered his question. “Me and Isabel.”

“Ha! Great! Just great!” She choked, a hysterical, bitter laugh exploding over her lips as she dropped his wrist as she’d been scalded, her lips twisting in a cynical smirk. “You’re all just one big happy family now, aren’t you? I’d ask where Max fits into to this alien orgy, but I happen to know from the horses mouth that he’s as clueless as I am to these developments.”

“You talked to Max?” he choked, grabbing her wrist once more and prayed he misunderstood her. He’d never been as adept at Deluca babble as Alex and Liz had been since they’d never been friends. He bit back a sigh of relief when he saw the mocking light of her eyes, flinching at the rage dancing in her eyes when she wrenched her wrist away once again. “I repeat, what are you doing here, Maria?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” a cold, controlled voice bit out from one of the figures on the bed, startling the combatants, their heads whipping around to see frosty caramel eyes leveled on the blond girl as the man covered Liz’s body protectively. Hovering over his mate, Michael slowly maneuvered it so that she was behind him, a wary glance fixed on the other girl.

Maria narrowed her gaze, green eyes flashing as her heart shattered once more, the shards ripping into her chest like broken glass and all the anger she’d repressed bubbled over at Michael’s simple action of placing himself between his mate and the person he perceived as a threat – her. It was sickening really.

Letting out a primal growl, she launched herself at the couple, claws extended, ready to tear into fragile, tender skin and inflict on them the pain that was eating her up inside – only to meet nothing but air. Fighting Kyle’s grasp around her waist, she struggled fruitlessly, ripping and scratching at his arms that bound her to the man tightly and keeping her from reaching her quarry – the petite brunette that had stolen all her dreams.

Grunting with anger, she turned her attack on Kyle when it became obvious that she wasn’t going to get to the traitorous little bitch anytime soon and pummeled him with her fists as he dragged her away from the couple and headed towards the front door, forcefully ejecting her onto the front steps.

“Tell that bitch this is far from over,” she spat, spinning on her heel to march down the stairs knowing she wasn’t going to be getting anywhere near Liz for the rest of the day if Kyle or Michael had anything to do with it. But she could bide her time. Her heroes can’t watch over her every moment of every day.

“Get out,” he rasped harshly, fixing the pissed girl with an equally irate gaze, unease trickling over his spine at the vengeful glint in her eye. Rubbing the beginnings of bruises on his arms and chest, he warned her softly before he slammed the door in her face. “And stay the hell away from Liz.”

Striding back into the room, he looked at Michael, wondering if he should mention the threat Maria had made on parting and realized from the pinched, furious look on Legolas’ face that he needn’t say a word. Damn alien hearing. He was doubly glad that he hadn’t let things go too far with Isa with her brother in ‘earshot.’ Meeting his friend’s intense gaze with his own quiet intensity, he pressed his lips together and stated the obvious.

“Antar, we have a problem.”
Last edited by Ashita on Thu Mar 04, 2010 6:29 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Re: Hunted (UC, AU, Mi/L, ADULT) Chap 13 4/6/10

Post by Ashita » Tue Apr 06, 2010 6:15 pm

Whimsy - Yes, this went AU towards the end of Season One, although some events from Season two did happen, for example - Alex's death and Tess's betrayal - although things aren't always what they seem. I completely scrapped Season three other than the idea of Liz getting powers. (And Michael's hair...cause I do love him with long hair) Glad you liked Kyle's perspective and the bit with Alex. It had to be my favorite part of the chapter. And I wanted to contrast Vilandra's youth with Rath's, so glad you liked her flashes. We'll see more as the story unfolds. And Maria...well all I'll say is there is more than meets the eye there. Thanks for your beta work on this last monster chapter!

Kris - Yeah Maria does seem a bit off doesn't she? A complete change around one might even say. I wonder why that is...hmmmm... Thanks for the feedback as always! :)

Elfangel -Haha! I'm glad you enjoyed that last installment so much that I left you speechless for the moment. Thanks so much for reading the story and your feedback!

Barbara - Glad you liked the last bit! Thanks and I hope you like this one as well! :)

Jan - Hmmmm...yes Maria might just do that. And I agree that her behavior is odd, but then, we are dealing with aliens and who knows what is the real truth. Haha! I'm so glad people liked that moment with Alex. It cracked me up as I was writing it. Definitely a favorite part of mine. Aaaaannnd your begging has come to an end. ;)

Jenna - glad that you liked this chapter. That last line I have to thank one of my dear readers for because she suggested it in lieu of my original line.

Yasmania - Sorry to keep you waiting so long, but here it is. Be forewarned, it's a monster chapter, but ask and ye shall receive. :)

Dziumka - Thanks for the feedback and I'm glad you're enjoying the story! :)

AN1: Ti Heika Sirili means The Great Strategist, a title given to Rath while in school for his unparalleled military campaigns during war games. The title followed him throughout life as he showed the same promise when he went away for military training before Dusan’s death. Amaravati is pronounced Ah-mar-ay-vah-tee. Katrona vilonia = wildflower.

AN2: Also the part with Tess at the end is a little shorter than I originally intended because this chapter was already approaching 25 pages and to fully develop the scene would have taken another 10 likely. Tess will have a chance to tell her side in more depth in another chapter. My beta might have killed me if it pushed up to 35 pages. Sorry!

All hail Whimsy for her awesome beta job! She deserves a huge thanks for putting up with my long chapters cheerfully and without hunting me down and killing me! You rock Whims!

There's something about you now
I can't quite figure out
Everything she does is beautiful
Everything she does is right

'Cause it's you and me and all of the people with nothing to do
Nothing to lose
And it's you and me and all other people
And I don't know why, I can't keep my eyes off of you

“Staring out the window won’t make this go any faster,” Michael chided softly, leaning out the order window and watching as Liz chewed on her lower lip, eyes transfixed on the quiet street beyond the Crashdown’s door. She was obviously worrying about the coming conversation with Max. He would have rather spared her this confrontation, knowing it was bound to get ugly, but she stubbornly insisted on being a part of the proceedings. “He’ll get here, when he gets here.”

It was typical of his majesty to keep the peasants waiting. Zan never did care if he made others wait indefinitely, and Max certainly had the same arrogant, I-am-king complex of late. He didn’t doubt that this was an intimidation tactic, meant to keep them uneasy and on edge, wondering how much he actually remembered. And it worked to a degree.

Liz had been anxiously pacing since she had finished cleaning the dining room after closing the diner early so they could prepare for the meeting. And it was driving him to distraction.

“I know,” she responded, turning away from the door, skirting the tables between them as she walked over and came to a stand still in front of him, leaning her hip against the low counter, her features tight with concern. She had been antsy since this afternoon when Maria had her meltdown. “I just wish he’d hurry up, so we can get this over and done with.”

Michael studied her pinched expression, noticing the dark circles under her eyes from a lack of sleep, and wanted to wipe the lines of worry from her eyes, to protect this beautiful girl from what was to come. His girl now. His heart swelled, awed that she was finally his, that he was finally able to wrap her in his arms without guilt. A rush of sweetness welled in his throat, constricting it and his body flooded with an emotion he couldn’t quite place but embraced nonetheless.

My queen.

He jolted at that thought, heart thudding and his breathing quickened as he realized the truth to those words. She truly was his queen because of their bond. Watching her bent head, whiskey eyes alight with wonder; his mind whirled with the implications. He’d never really thought too much about their roles in his society, hadn’t had time to reflect on the last batch of flashes.

He’d known there was more to his life than being a mere second in command to Max no matter what destiny declared, but he never dreamed that it was this important. He had been a prince from the House of Ahrensa, crown prince following Dusan’s death. His face clouded and a sharp stab of pain lanced his heart that he’d discovered and lost a brother in the space of a day. And Lannie, she really had been like a sister him.

Head spinning, slightly overwhelmed with his new position, he sucked in a deep breath and pushed the new knowledge away for later examination, when he and Liz where alone and not waiting for the deposed king of Antar to show. God, he was a king. It was a role he never wanted in either lifetime.

Shaking his head to clear the metal chatter, he refocused on Liz’s bent head, trailing thoughtful eyes over the long, shining ebony strands that cloaked her face in shadows and touched her arm, stroking it softly, finding peace in the familiar thrum of energy caressing his skin soothingly. He knew in that moment he could do it as long as she was by his side. His heart skipped a beat as he mentally tried out her title.

Queen Elizabeth of Ahrensa. He liked the way that sounded.

His lips quirked slightly, the beginnings of a smile brightening his face before it shadowed once more. This development made it even more vital to discover what Zan remembered, given his prior actions with both Liz and Lareena. A surge of fierce possessiveness rippled through his body, cementing what he already knew – no matter what happened with Zan, he would complete his claim to this woman tonight. He wouldn’t lose her like he lost Lareena.

Stroking her arm absently, he startled when her head popped up and coffee-tinted eyes met his, worry and unease reflecting in those shining irises. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, his breath quickened as he rubbed her check gently before dropping his hand and nodded, tugging on her arm lightly.

“Come here,” he commanded gruffly, gesturing for her to follow him into the back, out of prying eyes sight and away from the windows that held her captivated. He would have gone to her, but the urge to wrap her in his arms and touch soft, silky skin, to brush his lips over the thrumming pulse at the base of her throat, was far too tempting. She always made him forget who, what and where he was. Who needed alcohol when the taste of her lips was enough to send his body into a tailspin?

He couldn’t help but feel a little lost and intoxicated when she was near, and they couldn’t afford Max stumbling onto that scene. It was bound to be a strained, hostile meeting, without adding to the tension because he couldn’t seem to keep his hands off his mate. But he also needed to feel her in his arms to reassure him that she really was his to hold.

Liz met his eyes, swallowing thickly at the intense, warm brandy-colored gaze caressing her upturned face and took a shaky breath as her blood simmered under the hot, probing stare trying to penetrate her skin and ferret out all her deepest secrets and desires. He was addicting and never had she felt this kind of heat before. She couldn’t help but wonder if this was a bond quirk, or just a Michael thing. And did she really care?

Dragging her gaze from his, she walked to the door feeling slightly giddy, almost drunk on that one look alone, and slipped in to the back, completely forgetting about the meeting to come. How could she focus on something so mundane when he was near?

Pushing through the door, she followed him into the break room and gasped softly when he turned, his brandy irises smoldering with desire and something else she couldn’t quite make out, reaching out with one hand to pull her in his arms.

Sighing softly, she melted against his body, laying her head against his chest and smiled, a sweet ache building in her heart when he pressed his lips to her temple. Sinking into the comfort and security of his embrace, she pressed her nose into his neck, inhaling the earthy spice of his skin, tension melting from her shoulders.

Michael tightened his grip around her slightly, stroking her back lightly and rested his check against the top of her head; his breath hitching slightly when the energy from their bond flared to life, humming along his skin. The currents melded, cocooning them in its velvet warmth like a blanket and gave off a faint aqua pulse, barely discernible to the human eye, as the energies converged fully.

Stroking the back of her neck softly, he held on for dear life as the energy built and sent its power rushing over them in a soothing wash, a slight breeze stirring the fine hairs on the back of his neck. Lifting his head, he cupped her jaw, tipping her chin up and pressing his lips to hers lightly, their energies whispering reassuringly to one another. Pulling back, they stared at each other peacefully before he rested his chin on the crown of her head and thought back to earlier that afternoon.

“Antar, we have a problem,” Kyle deadpanned, his eyes locking with Michael’s, intense fear and worry flickering briefly before he quelled it as he looked over Michael’s shoulder and Michael realized the midget didn’t want to worry Liz any further. Leave it to the midget to understate the problem.

Michael turned, pulling the shaky brunette into his arms and holding her close to him, stroking her hair softly as she continued to stare out into the living room distractedly, her dark eyes haunted and hurting for the girl who had just left.

As if he wasn’t worried enough about the impending meeting with Max and all of the merging changes between the four of them, not to mention being bombarded with memories of his previous life every time he closed his eyes. Now they had to do damage control with Maria. He prayed that she wouldn’t find Max before they could talk to him themselves, as he had no doubt that that was her first stop after leaving Liz’s.

“That’s the understatement of the year,” Liz muttered under her breath, not surprised that Maria had come back to confront them, as she had warned Michael that they hadn’t seen the last of her. Maria tended to work herself into a fine temper, blowing hot and furious, but usually worked it out of her system fast. But her supposed best friend’s actions and vehemence stunned even her today. She just hoped that Maria would cool down enough to realize that they never intended to hurt her.

“She saw the foursquare mark,” Kyle revealed quietly, knowing both of them had missed the first part of the confrontation because they’d been asleep. Rubbing his glowing wrist softly, he met Michael’s annoyed gaze and shrugged his shoulders. “I wasn’t expecting to see her standing there or I would have disguised it until we had a chance to tell them.”

“Fuck,” Michael muttered, scowling as he dropped his chin on Liz’s head and squeezed her to him tightly, still shaken by the uncharacteristic rage Maria had displayed. Yeah, he knew she’d be hurt and maybe, even slightly angry over the bonding, but this was over the top for even her. It didn’t sit right.

Her reaction, given the fact that they hadn’t been together for a quite some time and her shared kiss with Max, didn’t make sense. Especially given the huge turn around in her demeanor from the slightly hurt girl that left them that morning, to the creepy stalker act and inexplicable fury. It was almost as if she were two different people. Furrowing his brow at that thought, he filed it away for later consideration and focused on Kyle’s revelation.

“Fuck,” he repeated, scratching his brow deliberately, dread curling in his stomach as he recalled the latest memories revealed in his sleep. Every little flash of memory made him all the more wary of Max, and he hadn’t wanted that new development to get out yet. “She’s going to head straight for Max. I was hoping to keep this under wraps until we found out more about his abilities and how our own have changed.”

“Why?” Kyle asked, rubbing his temples and sighed, his stomach sinking as he realized his life was going to become even more complicated. Sinking back on the doorjamb, he looked up at his friends and flushed slightly, realizing for the first time Michael was sitting there in nothing but his boxers and Liz in a light blue tank and bikini panties. Looking away hastily, he shifted uncomfortably and focused on an unseen point in the living room, missing Michael’s amused smirk. “I mean, you’re planning on telling him about you and Liz tonight. Why hold back on the foursquare?”

“Memories,” he replied cryptically, picking up sheet and wrapping it around Liz and himself as he stared off into space warily.

“Want to be anymore secretive, Aragorn?” Kyle asked dryly, cocking a brow as he flicked his gaze back to his stoic friend. He smirked when the cranky man fixed him with a fiery glare for his latest nickname. He did love getting under his skin. “Do you mean the memories you’ve been getting because of the bond? What? Isabel has been getting them too since we bonded.”

“Not a bright idea to remind me of that when I’m in a bad mood and you’re in zapping distance, stubby,” Michael retorted, quirking his own brow and shifting to fix the shorter a sardonic glance, an evil grin spreading over his face.

“You’re in a bad mood?” Kyle replied in mock surprise, splaying a hand on his chest and staggered back in astonishment, then snickered, cocking his head to the side. “Sorry, I still can’t decipher the subtle differences between your scowls, Rumblebuffin.”

“Oh you’re a riot, Tumnus, shouldn’t you be off frolicking with little woodland animals or something?” Michael countered, smirking at the other man’s surprised moue. “What? Didn’t think I’d catch the reference, Mighty Mouse? It was required reading.”

“Bravo, Fabio,” Kyle snorted, crossing his arms over his chest and grinning unrepentantly. “Nice to see all those hair products you heaped on your head sophomore year didn’t cause too much brain damage.”

“At least I don’t…” Michael began, but his comment was cut off when Isabel entered the room, cocking a well-manicured brow at her brother, and he wisely swallowed the rest of his retort. His banter with Kyle was a welcome distraction from the situation, but they needed to focus on the issues at hand. “Getting back to business, what are we going to do about Maria? She’s bound to run into Max and I don’t think she’s going to keep quiet about this.”

“Actually, she won’t,” Isabel replied, shaking her head in negation as she chewed on her thumb nail thoughtfully and crossed her other arm over her stomach, resting her elbow against it. Blind to her brother’s bewildered expression, she dropped her hand and sighed, resting it against her stomach, still shaken by the memories she’d experienced this time around. She really needed to sit down with Michael and ask him what he thought. She was having a hard time reconciling her past life with the current.

“Isabel?” Liz asked softly, noticing the other girl seemed to be lost in thought and worrying about something. Concern filling her face, she watched as the blond jolted and flicked a guilty look over at the three of them and made a mental note to see what was bothering her. Despite the fact they’d never been close, they were now bound to one another and it was time she put more effort into their relationship.

“Sorry. He’s got some sort of appointment today,” she replied distractedly, threading a hand through her long, tangled hair and took a deep breathe, trying to shake the cobwebs from her head. “He just called me and said that since everything was fine with Michael, that he was going to head to Las Cruces and to tell you he’d be back in time for your meeting. What meeting?”

Michael frowned, fixing his sister with worried gaze and mulled that little tidbit over. Max never mentioned anything about an appointment earlier and had been leaving for mysterious meetings, alone, since he returned for New York. It made him uneasy. “Did he say where he was going or what it was about?” he asked suspiciously.

“No, he didn’t,” Isabel replied impatiently. She wasn’t going to be deterred by his question and was heartily sick of her brother keeping information from her out of some false sense that he was protecting her from the other. “What meeting, Michael?”

“Liz and I are going to tell him tonight,” he replied absently, still pondering Max’s disappearances, searching for a pattern. Max had been growing more and more unstable as time went on and he wondered if these ‘meetings’ were the trigger, or a symptom of his recent behavior.

“Do you want us to be here?” Isabel asked, relieved that he told her and that she didn’t have to worry about hiding the change in his and Liz’s relationship. It had been hard enough keeping Kyle’s and her bond a secret from everyone.

“No, we can handle it,” he reassured, looking up in time to see the flash of hurt and temper flash through his sister’s golden brown eyes and shook off his distraction, quirking his mouth in a half-smile to soften his answer. “Until we know more about the foursquare bond, it would be better to keep it under wraps.”

He knew his sister had been unhappy with his request and felt he was being overprotective, but he was already worried about Liz being a part of the meeting and didn’t need additional stress of Isabel and Kyle’s presence. Whether she believed it or not, it was best that Isabel wasn’t present for this meeting.

She was already torn over Max and having a difficult time reconciling her brother of now with the brother of the past. He didn’t need to deal with divided loyalties on the chance that Zan acted out as he was expecting. Fighting off the certain dread that things were going to go poorly, he refocused his attention on the brunette in his arms, all too aware of her anxiety over the night to come.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this,” he murmured, pressing his lips to her ear and pulling her even closer, content to just hold her for the moment and let her presence calm his own jangled nerves. He’d been on edge all day despite outward appearances.

“What’s that?” she asked huskily, her muscles slowly uncoiling as his energy washed over her and the tension she’d been holding onto all day released. Teasing the fine hairs at the back of his neck, she pressed her face back into the crook of his neck, brushing her lips against the tender skin.

“Holding you in my arms,” he returned simply, resting his forehead to the top of her head, threading his fingers through silky, espresso strands. They stood there quietly as he trailed his fingers over her neck and shoulders and sighed when he heard the faint jingling of bells in the front.

“He’s here,” he commented wearily, pressing a light kiss on her lips before allowing her to pull away and head for the dining room. Holding her back slightly, he met confused chocolate irises and made a request that he knew would irritate her, but needed to be said nonetheless. “Be careful. I don’t trust him and if I tell you to move, do it.”

“Michael.” Liz protested, knowing that he was still looking for a way to keep her out of the confrontation and she wasn’t going to let that happen. Her lips thinned with annoyance as he cocked a brow and continued to hold her there, waiting for her confirmation. “Fine, but I don’t like it.”

“Noted,” he smirked, caressing her wrist with the pad of his thumb and yanked her over for a short, hard, passionate kiss before releasing her and smacking her on the ass as she walked towards the door. “I’m going to change and then I’ll be right out. Try to avoid being too close to him until I get there.”

“I could stay and help,” she teased softly, turning to him as she placed her hand on the door, watching him with a wicked twinkle lighting her eyes. Grinning at the hitch in his breath, she giggled when his eyes heated once more and he sent her a mischievous smile. Batting her eyes innocently, she smirked and continued. “Then you wouldn’t have to worry about me being near him.”

“As tempting as that is, woman,” he replied in a low, warm voice, lips twitching with humor as he leaned shoulder against the door and fixed her with a slow, sensual once over, licking his lips appreciatively “If you help, we’ll get distracted and while it’d be an effective method of informing his royal pain the ass of our change in status, I’d rather avoid giving him a cheap thrill.”

“Your loss,” she quipped, smiling impishly, her eyes sparkling with laughter, the light banter working wonders toward easing her tension over the coming confrontation.

“I’ll take you up on that later,” he vowed, pinning her with a fiery glance filled with dark promises and wickedness. He smiled ferally when her breath stuttered, a low, seductive chuckle rumbling past his lips, and then he turned and sauntered back into the break room, all too aware of the smoldering coffee gaze fixed on his back. Point for him.

Liz followed his retreat with smoky, dazed eyes, licked her lips nervously, and then pushed through the door to head into the dining room. Flicking her eyes up, she smiled at Max thinly and shuddered, the air in the room rife with palpable tension as he stared at her coolly. Something about his demeanor alarmed her and made her stomach clench in dread, so rather than head over to him, she headed to the coffee pot for something to do.


Max walked into the Crashdown surprised that the room was clean and quiet, Liz and Michael nowhere to be seen. Given the fact that the diner had closed no more than thirty minutes before, he expected them to still be straightening the room or at the very least waiting for his arrival. He didn’t like the implications of their absence.

Drumming his fingers impatiently against the countertop, he scowled that his attempt to shake the two would have fallen flat. He should have expected this move as both Michael and Rath never cared for political games. And even on Antar and Ahrensa the stubborn, irreverent prince, had been a brilliant strategist and outmaneuvered him on more than one occasion. It’s what made him an amazing general but a terrible diplomat.

Except for Lareena. That was one scheme even Ti Heika Sirili couldn’t avoid and had been his greatest coup, forcing Ahrensa’s future king into an alliance and killing that little dalliance all in one fell swoop. It had filled him with deep satisfaction as he watched Lareena, the girl who loathed him and avoided him at all costs despite several attempts at drawing her from Rath’s side, walk away in tears, effectively bringing Rath to heel.

Such a shame; she would have made an unparalleled queen with her quiet, kind, and diplomatic nature. She had been the perfect foil to Rath’s more passionate, brash demeanor and his strategic nature. Between the two of them, Ahrensa would have entered a golden age and continued to soar while his planet descended into darker ages. At some point, the other prince would have outstripped him once more and the people would have clamored for his removal as head of the Tamadori Alliance and appointed Rath in his place.

Especially with his insipid sister, Lannie, and the all too crafty Amaravati campaigning on his side. He knew about their pathetic, underground movement to gain support for Rath’s ascendance and his removal. He had spies everywhere. But he hadn’t concerned himself until he heard they went before the council, seeking his removal from not only the alliance but his own throne, setting up that traitorous bitch Lannie to rule after him.

He couldn’t let that happen.

Voices echoed in the back room, a female and a male, snapping him out of his thoughts, and he narrowed his eyes contemplatively. Given the fact that they closed tonight and the Parkers were gone, he assumed that it was Michael and Liz on the way to meet him. It was about time, he still had things to do tonight and didn’t need them wasting his time. He couldn’t afford to be late to this meeting.

His head shot up when he heard laughter and warm voices through the door, irritation coursing through his blood that they seemed to be ignoring him. Was Michael purposely baiting him? It would be like the other man to make him wait to get under his skin and retain control over the meeting.

Although, the biggest mystery weighing on his mind was what was going on between him and Liz?

They had been inseparable the past few weeks and wherever one was, the other was sure to follow. At first he wrote it off as Michael’s obvious infatuation, but Liz wasn’t putting him off and seemed to be welcoming his presence. It was unacceptable. He’d have to make sure he reined her in soon before things got out of hand.

He had hoped that by feeding Maria’s obsession with his second in command, she would have managed to drive a wedge between the two, but thus far she had been unsuccessful. He should have known better than to send a useless female to do a man’s job, but she was the only one willing to do his bidding that could get close enough to meddle.

Pasting a welcoming smile on his face as he heard Liz’s voice drift closer, he smoothed out the fierce lines in his face and waited anxiously for the pretty brunette to come through the door. Until recently, she’d been the perfect, submissive woman, and he had seriously considered making her his queen until they pointed out that he had to take Ava to wife for his claim to the throne to be legitimate. But he still planned to have her, one way or another.

He frowned as a peal of masculine laughter reverberated through the back, fading away into the depths of the restaurant and he tensed as the door creaked slightly as it was pushed open. Good, maybe he’d have a few minutes alone with Liz to charm and reinstate his control over the girl. She’d been avoiding him since Tess’ duplicity had been revealed and he’d had a hell of a time getting her into a position where he could manipulate her emotions.

Staring at the girl as she entered the room, he jolted, his skin crawling as energy seeped over it upon her entrance and his nose flared, scenting a familiar essence radiating off her in palpable waves. Biting back a roar as his suspicions since the night in the desert were confirmed, Max saw red, rage rushing through his veins, as Michael’s bond became evident by the melded aura surrounding Liz. They took it to the next level.

Gritting his teeth, he clenched his hands to his sides and watched the pretty brunette he had intended to make his most treasured concubine saunter into the room, oblivious that he was onto her and her mate’s dirty little secret.

Narrowing his eyes, his blood began to boil at the thought of Rath claiming the treasure that was rightfully his; it was obvious they’d mated. She wouldn’t reek of this level of power unless they had completed the first part of the bonding. Stomach roiling, he began to shake as his rage peaked.

How dare Rath touch the one he’d marked? He had made it clear early on that she moved something in him, and that she was off limits to the man. Rath had no right and he’d pay for that transgression.

Watching Liz, he smirked as he thought of how frustrating it must have been for his pseudo brother to see the fire dying in this girl as he pulled her deeper into his web. It had given him an even deeper satisfaction when his memories returned and he was startled to see the resemblance between Liz and Rath’s former love.

He couldn’t deny the perverse thrill he got that she looked so similar to Lareena. It would have amused him to no end to watch the other prince fume and squirm when he made her his pet, bedding her just to spite the man. Rath had always been attracted to shy, sweet, intelligent brunettes, and he’d seen the way he’d watched Liz over the years. Claiming her would have been the perfect revenge for being outshone by the other man in every way in their former lives.

It was moot now.

She was sullied and wasn’t fit for his harem, treasured or not, since she was tainted by Rath’s mark. Their combined aura filled the air, grating along his nerves like nails on a chalkboard, raising gooseflesh along his arms and delving under his skin, adding to the fury bubbling in his gut. He should have claimed her when he had the chance. Fixing her with a hard glare, he watched her with chilling contemplation as she moved toward the coffee pot and wondered how far they’d gone in the bonding process.

Maybe all wasn’t lost. If they were in the lehali period, then that claim could easily be ignored. Smiling coldly, he rolled the thought through his mind and realized that it could actually be beneficial to him; not only was she broken in, but it would be that much more devastating to Rath to lose her after having a taste. Yeah, he liked that thought even better and then he’d punish her for daring to give herself to someone else.

Sneering disdainfully, his lips pressed into a thin line, his nose flaring and eyes glittering as his anger at their blatant defiance rose, rouging his cheeks and pumped animosity into his blood stream like snake venom burning through his veins.

Only one way to find out.

Stalking towards the unsuspecting girl as she moved from behind the counter, he smiled at her startled expression and weak attempt to get away, backing away toward the door to the back room. But he knew she was no match for him.

“M-max?” Liz stammered, backing up slowly as she watched him warily from the corner of her eye, moving towards the back of the restaurant quickly, hoping to avoid Max’s reach. She didn’t trust the predatory waves washing over her senses as he approached her. Her stomach jumped as he moved quicker and she let out a startled cry when his hand wrapped around her wrist, swinging her around to face him. “W-what are you doing”

Forcing a connection, Max sought for the link he knew had to be there and growled low in his throat when the taint touched his senses, wrapping around him tauntingly. Grabbing her wrists in one hand, he pinned her to the wall, reaching over to her shirt and fumbled with the neckline to seek out the mark on her upper chest, ripping at the material as she let out another strangled shriek.

“Liz!” Michael cried as he flew into the room, fury whipping through his body when he saw her trapped against the wall as Max yanked at her shirt and roared, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and jerking him away from his mate. Throwing the other man across the room, he smirked when the man flew into a table, knocking it over and moaning as it slammed onto him. “Are you okay, aiba?”

Taking Liz in his arms, he frantically checked her over for any injuries, his eyes narrowing in rage as he noticed faint bluish-purple marks circling her wrists. Shooting Max a venomous glare, he crushed her to his chest and pressed his lips against her cheek softly, rubbing her back soothingly as he watched the other man struggle to remove the table from his chest, whispering for her ears only. “Forgive me.”

Confused, Liz looked up at him questioningly and gasped in outrage when he pushed her behind him into a corner, throwing up a shimmering blue shield, effectively trapping her in the corner by wait station. Banging her fists on the shield, she fumed quietly as Michael spun around, staring furiously as the other man struggled to his feet and sent out another blast, knocking him back onto the door.

“Get up!” he demanded, stalking over to Max and yanking him to his feet roughly, smirking at his grunt of pain and then shoving him up against the window, holding him there with one hand wrapped around his throat. Fighting back the temptation to squeeze, he pinned the man with a fulminating glare. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You could have seriously hurt her.”

“Your concern over your whore is touching, Rath,” Max sneered, trying to prick the man’s temper in the hopes that his loss of control would give him the upper hand. But as the fire drained from Michael’s eyes, chilled by the ice replacing it, frosting the air between them. Max’s breath spluttered as he realized that he’d overplayed his hand with that comment and hastily continued. “So this is what you wanted to tell me? Rub it in that you managed to claim this one and I couldn’t stop you?”

“Watch yourself, Zan,” Michael warned in a dangerously low voice, tightening his grip on the man unconsciously and trying to quell the urge to punch his smug, pugnacious face. Clenching his teeth, his eyes met and held the belligerent man’s gaze, staring him down and daring him to pipe up once more so he could give into the chilling temptation whispering inside. “That woman is the only thing standing between you and a severe beating.”

“You forget your place, Rath,” Max warned in a low tone, pressing his lips together and using the opportunity to fish for information and see how much the other man had recalled. The bonding had to have been fairly recent because he hadn’t felt any change when they were in the woods. “Mind your words, soldier.”

“That won’t work, your highness,” Michael snorted, cocking his brow mockingly and loosened his grip while still holding him to the glass, heartily amused that he was even going to try talking down to him. It might have worked two years ago, but he’d learned too much since then and he bowed down to no one. “I think we both know that my other title supercedes my position as second in command of the alliance.”

“You’ve changed,” Max commented conversationally, and shook the other man off as he walked around the fallen table, righting it nonchalantly as he kept Michael in his line of sight. So he knew. Contemplating him disdainfully, he flexed his hands power flowed through the room, brushing against his skin as it whispered softly between Michael and Liz and realized he was feeling their bond. An icy smile cracked his face as he got the answer he wanted by the taste of that power – they hadn’t cemented yet. “She centers you, tempers your brashness and keeps you from acting impulsively.”

“It was bound to happen,” Michael shrugged, eyes leveled on Max as he quietly stepped around the scattered chairs towards his shielded mate, keeping his body between the two. Anger crackled over his nerves in an almost audible wave, filling him with a restless, ice-cold fire. Crossing his arms over his chest, he stopped in front of Liz; feet planted shoulder-width apart and faced his nemesis stonily.

“When did you figure it out?” Michael inquired darkly, intent on getting a few answers and knowing to what degree Max had retrieved his past self. Because it was obvious he had. Pursing his lips thoughtfully, he watched the other man smirk knowingly at his protective gesture and fervently wished reading minds was one of his gifts. “About the bond.”

“I suspected she had started bonding before the desert healing,” Max smirked, all too aware of Michael’s intent to keep him away from Liz. Shrugging nonchalantly, he picked up a saltshaker, toying with it as he turned his back on him. “I foolishly believed it was me she had bonded with and went out to the desert to complete it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the energy worked against rather than with me and I couldn’t get it to cement. The energy wasn’t compatible.”

“But you pressed on anyway,” Michael spat, tension rippling through his arms and shoulders, his palms glowing lightly and itching to blast the irreverent bastard. His blood chilled as he realized Max’s actions had been deliberate. He had hoped that it had been ignorance spurring him on. Brandy-tinted eyes crackled with rage when the other man shrugged carelessly and refused to comment. “You could have killed her Zan! Bonds aren’t meant to be broken once they’re forged! How could you endanger her life like that after everything we went through to keep her alive?”

“She wasn’t in any danger,” Max scoffed, turning back to Michael and fixing him with an unreadable expression, setting down the shaker and sinking his hands into his jacket pockets. Flicking his eyes over to Liz, he almost snickered at the bewildered expression on her face as she chewed her lip, but remained quiet despite her obvious questions. He did like quiet, biddable women. Frowning darkly, he leveled burning amber eyes back on the man that stolen the prize right from under his nose and vowed they’d both pay. “I had everything under control.”

“Are you delusional? You know as well as I that bonds are permanent…” Michael roared, staring at his former friend incredulously, seething at the man’s arrogance. Heart pounding in his ears, he closed the distance between the two of them, only stopping short when Liz’s gasp drew his attention and cut off the flow of his words.

“Oh my God,” she whispered, gawking at Max with horrified fascination, her body quaking as a memory flashed across her mind and suddenly made sense. Eyes widening, she rubbed her arms to quell the gooseflesh dancing along them and turned to Michael, her mouth slightly agape. “That’s what that meant.”

“What?” he asked, his anger melting into apprehension as he took in her expression, knowing he wasn’t going to like whatever she said. Max’s head shot up and a frown crossed his face when Liz spoke up, his confidence finally flagging as he recalled the flashes that passed between them in the desert. She remembered. Shit.

“What?” Michael demanded, walking towards his mate, trying to snap her out of her stunned stupor, worried as he saw her mind working double time analyzing whatever it was she remembered. Liz continued to stare at the darker-haired boy in disbelief. “Liz!”

“He can,” she murmured cryptically, her voice filled with dread, shaking her head to clear the image emblazoned on her mind and shuddering at the implications. Turning to Michael, her mouth opened and closed soundlessly as she tried to put her thoughts into words and failed miserably.

“He can what?” he bit out impatiently, his tone harsher than he intended due to his mounting tension and the obvious fear radiating from his mate, crashing over him in palpable waves. He whipped his head around, pinning Max with a warning glance when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye, raising his hand defensively.

“Break bonds, Michael,” she replied softly, finally choking the words past her numb lips before licking them nervously, her pupils dazed and dilated, a mirthless laugh bubbling out. “He can erase uncompleted bonds if the person is willing or unable to fight him. It’s one of his powers.”

“How do you know this?” He asked quietly, his face darkening dangerously, lips thinning as Max’s confidence and caviler attitude became all too clear and tugged on a memory in the back of his mind. Max certainly looked less than smug now. In fact, he was watching Liz with cold, slit eyes as he clenched his hands at his sides.

“Because I saw him do it in a flash when he tried to ‘heal’ me,” she accused softly, eyes misting as she recalled the pain of the girl she had seen in Max’s mind, so reminiscent of her own in the desert. “And even if I hadn’t seen the flash, I felt his intentions. He wasn’t planning on healing me; he was trying to break the bond. The only reason he wasn’t successful was that I had no desire to be separated from you.”

Blood boiling and his body shaking with rage, Michael growled low in his throat as he remembered what Liz told him about the healing, and how much Max had hurt her. He threw up his hand, blasting the other man and knocking him to the floor. Charging him, Michael slammed Max into the tiles forcefully and smashed a fist into his jaw, a sickening crack ringing through the room as it landed.

Wrapping his hand in the neckline of the other man’s shirt, he jerked him up and using Max’s stunned senses as an advantage, slammed his fist into his face and stomach several more times with blind fury, before scrambling up and dragging him to the door. Shoving him against the door forcefully, his eyes glittered with rage as he warned under his breath.

“You come anywhere near my mate again,” he grated fiercely, teeth gnashing as he met the bleeding man’s eyes, pulling him back slightly and slamming him against the door once more, Max’s head snapped back and cracked the window with the force of the blow. “This will seem like child’s play compared to what I do to you, Zan.”

Michael’s breath came in harsh, raspy pants as he held the man suspended while waiting for his words to sink in, Max’s feet scrambling for foothold, and then released him, stepping back as he crashed to the floor. Dusting off his hands, he backed up, bracing himself for an attack that surprisingly didn’t come.

“You think you can stop me?” Max taunted, pulling himself up off the ground, staggering to his feet and wincing at the twinge in his lip as he swiped a hand over his face, coming away with blood. Amber eyes burning, he clenched his fist and held back his attack knowing he was no match for the man physically. But he could make him pay in other ways. “You couldn’t stop what happened with Lareena.”

“Yeah, but this time the roles are reversed,” Michael needled, smirking at the anger flashing through the disposed kings eyes at the reminder that he’d been too late to stop their bond from forming, and he couldn’t resist twisting the knife in a little deeper. “I have the woman I’ve always wanted, while you got stuck with the murderous bitch.”

Max’s jaw ticked, but he remained silent, panting harshly as he held a hand to his nose, wincing as stars burst in front of his eyes and realized it must have gotten broken when Michael hit him. He’d love nothing more than putting him in his place, but he had to save his energy for healing and the meeting to come.

“Tell me, Zan, how does it feel to have Destiny thrown in your face?” Michael queried silkily, staring at the red-faced man, his brow arched sardonically as he smirked, seeing the all too apparent fury in his eyes, fury that mirrored his own when he was forced to give up his Lareena because of a spoiled King’s decree. Flicking his eyes over his former friend disdainfully, he turned and walked toward Liz, meeting her irritated eyes, knowing that he was going to have a lot of explaining to do with his mate.

“No!” Liz gasped, her eyes widening as a movement caught her attention and forced her gaze from Michael and onto Max, throwing her hand up in horror, causing Michael to look back over his shoulder. His heart sped up as he saw the power building in Max’s hand and flinched, bracing himself for the blow as he threw his hand up to keep the blast from damaging vital parts, growing puzzled when the blow never landed.

Whipping his head up, he was surprised to find himself standing by Liz, the shimmering blue shield surrounding her now wrapped around him as well. ‘Well, that’s interesting,’ he thought, filing the anomaly away for later since he knew he hadn’t invoked his shield, wanting to keep Liz safe for as long as possible.

Looking at his mate contemplatively, he had to wonder if this was yet another of those foursquare quirks they had been discovering all day. But that could be addressed later. Swinging his head back to Max, his gaze narrowed, ice cold anger flowing through his veins, its former trickle engulfing him, pervading his soul and crystallizing his hate, freezing whatever small touch of goodwill he might have held for his former king. The lines had been drawn.

Max stared at the two lovers, his eyes glittering and face beet red with anger, not happy with tonight’s development. Sliding a scathing look over Michael, he smiled smugly and flexed his hands, walking towards the door as he realized he wouldn’t be getting past them tonight. But he had plenty of time.

“This is far from over,” Max warned smoothly and watched them, a mocking light glimmering in his eyes as he let them lazily drift over Liz, licking his lips slowly. Max still wanted her; Zan wanted her, and he never let anything stand in his way of what he desired in his past life and he didn’t see that happening anytime soon. Meeting Michael’s eyes, he smirked as he stepped closer to Liz at his implied threat. “Bonds can be such fragile things. So…breakable.”

“You lay one hand on her, I will kill you Zan.” Michael warned, stepping forward and cursing the fact that he was behind the shield and couldn’t beat the hell out of the man. Fear skittered down Liz’s spine, her heart roaring in her ears as Max’s eyes landed on her and he gave her one more desirous look before turning around and heading for the door.

“Who says I have to touch her? There is more than one way to render someone incapable of fighting back,” he laughed as he paused at the exit, throwing a cold, calculating smile over his shoulder and met Liz’s eyes knowingly, an implied threat dripping from every movement and taunting word that left his mouth. “Sweet dreams, Liz.”

Stepping back into Michael at his words, an icy chill coursed through her body as she watched him push through the door and saunter out, pausing momentarily to stare at them coldly before walking down the sidewalk.

Michael wrapped his arms around her protectively, moving between her and the door instinctively and stared Max down, whiskey orbs burning furiously as he felt a fine tremor run through her body. He kept the shield up until he was certain Zan wasn’t going to return and then dropped it, crushing her against his chest as the implication of Zan’s threat sank in – he couldn’t let it happen.

Pressing his lips to her temple, he squeezed his eyes shut as fear began to trickle through his cold wall of anger and his heart caught in his throat. There was only one solution; one way to make sure Zan couldn’t take her away from him. They had to bond tonight before she fell asleep and Zan slipped into her dreams, a place where he could hold her captive and erase the bond they started.

Damn, how could he have forgotten that particular ability? It had caused so many problems in their past lives and was pivotal in the falling out between him and Khivar. If Liz hadn’t gotten that flash, that oversight would have cost him greatly.

Liz slid out of his arms, wrapping her own around her torso as she walked over to the door and threw the lock, staring out at the dark apprehensively. Rubbing her arms softly to ease the gooseflesh crawling along her skin, she shuddered as her mind whirled with everything Max had revealed with that last statement. When did he obtain the ability to dreamwalk? Was it always there and he hadn’t bothered to share it with his family, or was it a newly acquired skill?

Her heart thudded, speeding up with every new thought that crossed her mind and her breath quickened, panic-stricken as his voice rang through her ears once more. “Sweet dreams, Liz…bonds can be such fragile things. So…breakable.” Squaring her shoulders, anger coursed through her veins, squelching the fear welling in her heart as she narrowed her eyes and watched his retreating back hatefully. Bastard. Who was he to threaten her? Well if he wanted a war, she’d be happy to give it to him.

Spinning her heel, she faced her mate and smiled grimly, her lips thinning as she remembered his earlier actions. She knew he tended to be over protective of them all, but she needed him to realize that she wasn’t weak or helpless. She wasn’t going to fall into the same bad patterns as she had with Max, playing the damsel in distress perched precariously on her pedestal or worse, placed in a box out of harms way when it was convenient for her temperamental mate.

They faced this together, or not at all.

“So that was interesting,” she commented noncommittally, fixing a quiet gaze on Michael where he leaned against the back wall, watching her contemplatively. Cocking her brow at his blank expression, a flare of irritation flowed along her nerves as she thought of how he threw her behind his shield as if she were made of spun glass and couldn’t defend herself against Max. “Didn’t know you could shield like that.”

Michael noted the frustration simmering behind those cool, collected ebony eyes, and bit back his own sigh of frustration. He knew his actions were going to grate on her independent nature, but it had been a gut reaction to protect his mate at all costs, even at the risk of angering her. He’d rather have her raging mad than lying broken on the floor. Which would have happened if he hadn’t gotten there when he had.

He’d felt the hot, thick, oppressive power pooling, choking the air the moment he stepped through the door. Zan wouldn’t have stopped at ripping her shirt open to find his seal. He had already crossed the threshold and would have hurt her if he hadn’t thrown him away from her and shoved her to safety. He would do anything necessary to protect his queen, whether she liked it or not.

“I never tried it before,” he shrugged, his brow furrowing thoughtfully, before chalking it up to one more change due to the bonds they’d recently forged. They really needed to get out to the desert and figure out what has changed before something potentially dangerous cropped up. He startled when Liz cleared her throat pointedly and his head snapped up to find fiery chocolate-brown eyes pinning him to the wall. Oh yeah, she was pissed. “I didn’t know I could until it became necessary.”

“Necessary?” Liz fixed him with a hard stare, quietly fuming as she met his unrepentant gaze and narrowed her eyes. “How could you do that Michael?” she asked, eyes flashing with irritation and crossed her arms over her chest, tapping her foot slightly. If they weren’t faced with such a serious problem, he’d chuckle at the cute, ruffled appearance she made. “You promised.”

“And I kept my promise,” he pointed out stubbornly, cocking his brow in challenge, daring her to disagree with him. Okay, so he fudged on the details a bit, but he kept his word. He hadn’t wanted her there in the first place. He knew he was digging his own grave here, but if it meant that she was unharmed, he’d deal with the cold shoulder happily. After they bonded. “You were here. I never said anything about you being involved.”

“That’s splitting the hairs a little thin, Michael,” she griped, pacing with agitation and knowing that most of her anger stemmed from the cold fear sliding down her back from Max’s threats. She was overreacting, but given everything that had happened in the space of a few days, she was entitled to feel a bit overwhelmed.

“Thin or not, I did what I had to do to keep you safe,” he retorted, crossing his arms over his chest as he watched her anxious movements, realizing she was scared and overwhelmed and taking it out the only way she could at that moment since she couldn’t confront Zan. “And I’ll do it again if I feel the need.”

“No. No, Michael,” she refuted, her frustration evident as she ran a hand through her hair and stared at him, brow furrowed with exasperation. He was so damn stubborn. “I need to know that you trust me to take care of myself and that you’re not going to come running to the rescue every time there is a hint of danger.”

“I do trust you!” he snapped, irritated that they were fighting over a moot point when there were other things they needed to be worrying about – like Zan’s obvious threat to enter her dreams and eradicate the bond they’d been forging. It’s not like he could just change the way he was and stop protecting his family; it was the way he was programmed, not through engineering but because he cared about them. “It’s Zan I don’t trust!”

“Have a little faith in my abilities!” she demanded, stalking up to him until they were standing toe-to-toe, and tipping her head up to stare at him angrily. “Promise me you’ll stop this Michael.”

“I can’t promise that,” he countered firmly, his quiet, controlled voice belying the maelstrom raging under his stoic gaze as his jaw ticked with suppressed chagrin. He wouldn’t, couldn’t promise that he would look the other way if she were in danger. It was unrealistic and went against every gut instinct he had. Helpless anger coursed through his veins as Zan’s words resounded through his head once more. No. No way was he promising that. “I won’t.”

“I am not some helpless little girl who can’t take care of herself,” Liz spat, glaring at her mate, pressing her self further into his space. “I think I’ve been doing a pretty damn good job of staying alive and well over the past two years without your help and I don’t need you breathing down my neck. I don’t see why you can’t…”

“Because I can’t lose you,” Michael interrupted heatedly, wrapping his hands around her arms and pulling her up so that they were almost face-to-face. Pressing his forehead to hers, stormy whiskey eyes stared into startled chocolate orbs as his harsh breath fanned over her face and he cupped her cheek, stroking it softly. “I can’t…couldn’t bear if you got hurt. I don’t know what I would do...”

Weaving his fingers through her hair, Michael closed his eyes as his voice trailed off and his breath caught, choking him as he recalled Lareena’s tear-filled blue eyes when she was forced to walk away because of Zan’s machinations. He couldn’t, wouldn’t lose Liz to his schemes as well. Zan would have to go through him to get to her. This wasn’t Antar, or Ahrensa, and he didn’t owe him any allegiance in this lifetime.

Liz watched the fear flash across his face briefly before it was shoved behind his quiet mask, and her anger broke, tension draining from her body. How could she stay mad at him when faced with his very real demons? Sighing softly, she tangled her fingers into his soft, tawny waves and pulled his head down, brushing her lips over his lingeringly.

“I know,” she whispered against his lips, her eyes softening and irritation melting away at his unexpected confession. Pulling away, she took a deep breath and sunk into his chest, lightly fingering their seal through his shirt, smiling when his familiar energy washed over her, soothing her nerves. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little on edge.”

“I know,” Michael said, wrapping his arms around her, burying his face into her hair and reveled in the warm wash of energy that flowed through them, a faintly visible turquoise cocoon protecting them from the world outside until they could regain their balance. Inhaling deeply, his head spun slightly as the soft scent of strawberry and vanilla teased his senses. He wanted this moment to last forever. “Me too.”

Pulling back, he slid a finger under her chin and tipped her face to his, lips slowly lowering to graze hers in a heady, sweet caress, lightly flicking his tongue over her bottom lip, seeking permission to deepen the kiss. Her lips parted instinctively, a soft puff of breath feathering his skin and he moaned softly, dipping into her mouth for that taste of honey and spice he desperately craved. It was a taste that would always haunt him, knew he’d never tire of, and had the power to send his emotions into a tailspin.

Cupping the back of her head, he crushed her to him gently, his tongue exploring her mouth gently as all the emotions he couldn’t name before came crashing down on him in a strong tide of need, tenderness and love, drawing him under into her depths. Sinking into her mouth, he slid one hand down to the small of her back to press her deeper into his body, groaning when their bodies brushed against each other softly. She moved him, touched him, in ways he never thought possible and he was lost.

Wrapping her arms around his neck, Liz pulled herself up, melting into his body as close as she could muster and surrendered to the heady feelings simmering in her blood, wanting to crawl inside his fire, passion and…love, such a deep love unlike any she’d ever felt before. Meeting him kiss for kiss, each one deepening a little more than the last, she gave a little breathless cry as he lifted her off her feet and carried her to the counter, sitting her down on the countertop and stepping between her legs without relinquishing his hold on her mouth.

Gasping at the feel of his body pressing intimately to hers, she drew a deep shuddering breath as he nipped her bottom lip softly before pulling away from her mouth to slide his lips over the curve of her neck and sunk his teeth into the juncture of her neck, nibbling at the tender skin. Trembling, her head swam as their connection deepened another level and she was lost in him, uncertain where either of them began or ended.

Soothing the subtle sting with the rough pad of his tongue, he captured her lips once again, sliding his tongue against hers gently, enjoying to light play of her mouth beneath his and knew he could easily die a happy man in this moment. Pulling back, he rested his forehead against hers; eyes closed in bliss and took several deep, rasping breaths, trying to get his rapidly thrumming heart under control.

Opening his eyes, his breath hitched at the love and acceptance that radiated in hers as they met and he couldn’t help the sweet smile that spread over his face, awed that she could feel the same way. Cupping her jaw, he pressed his lips to hers softly once more before pulling back and bumped her nose with his, a sweet fire spreading over his limbs.

“Zan…Max is going to try something tonight if we don’t prevent it,” he whispered softly, running his fingers through her hair, hating bringing up the night’s events, but determined to keep her out of Zan’s clutches. Contentment thrummed through his veins softly as he felt her own echo through their connection. He pressed his lips to her forehead and rubbed his cheek against hers before resting his brow back on hers quietly, hoping that she would be okay with taking their relationship to the next level so soon.

“I know,” she murmured, nudging his nose affectionately and brushing her lips against his as her head still swum, her heart swelling with happiness as she read the echoing emotions in his eyes. Her heart thudded softly in her chest, aching and wondrous at the love, passion and contentment pouring from him through their still open connection.

“Be my mate in truth?” he asked, regarding her seriously, letting down his guard momentarily to let his vulnerability shine through. His heart sped up, pounding painfully in his chest and he held his breath as he waited for her answer, quaking with uncertainty. “Bond with me tonight.”

“Always,” she replied with a smile, resting her hand on his cheek and kissed him sweetly, letting the acceptance shine in her eyes. “Yes.”

“Good,” he murmured, relief coursing through his veins and he slid his eyes shut, crushing her against his chest. Pressing his lips to her temple, he couldn’t stop the next words from tumbling over his lips if he tried. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she responded, eyes misting as her heart swelled with the love that she’d kept quelled for so long in order to make everyone else happy. But she no longer had to hide it. Tonight would make him hers in truth.


Tess ran through the streets quietly, keeping to the edges of the path in the shadows, praying she’d make it out of the city before Khivar’s men could catch up with her. Breathing harshly, she clutched her ribs, trying to ignore the burning stitch in her side. Her heart roaring in her ears, she could make out the clacking of boots against the stones and continued her hurried pace through the underbrush, cringing when a twig snapped underfoot. The pain in her side was nothing compared to the years of pain she’d suffered at the hands of her so-called protector.

Brushing back matted blond curls from her face; she cursed Nasedo for putting her in this position – a murderer and betrayer of her friends and family – all for naught. His plan began to unravel at Alex’s death, when Liz, far too intelligent to accept the illusions she created, wouldn’t believe her friend killed himself, or that he died in a car accident, and rightfully so. If the roles had been reversed, she wouldn’t have accepted the accident at face value either. She couldn’t help but feel a grudging respect for the brunette for her tenacity despite the fact that it meant she had returned to Antar a failure.

Catching her foot on uneven forest floor, her ankle twisted painfully and sent her crashing to the ground, the gravel biting into her palms as she threw them out in front of her to brace her fall, ripping delicate skin, the stinging tears welling with blood. Grunting as her right shoulder and hip collided forcefully with the dirt, sending sharp pain radiating along her side, she pushed herself up and scrambled to her feet, panting harshly. Her heart pounded in her ears as fear snaked down her spine. She couldn’t afford to stop to evaluate her injuries.

Biting back a cry of agony as she put weight on her ankle, she continued her hurried pace, gnashing her teeth against her bottom lip, blood trickling from the rents in her skin and inhaled sharply as she wrapped an arm around her bruised ribs. Her life wasn’t supposed to end up this way, a fugitive reviled by those she loved, and sought by the man who wanted to own the baby in her womb so he could have an uncontested claim to the throne.

She’d been running for her life, and the life of her unborn child, for the past two months after landing on Antar. At least she thought it was Antar. The planet certainly wasn’t anything like she expected, looking more like a tropical rainforest opposed to the towering buildings, cold metal and tarnishing chrome that she recalled through her memory sessions. This land wasn’t the tired, spent ground and austere plains lacking vegetation she’d seen, but lush, organic and breathing.

It confused her, this contradiction to everything she’d been told, but she hadn’t had time to dwell on the differences as the soldiers had appeared immediately and she’d fled, terrified of what would happen when Khivar learned of her failure. Life with Nasedo had taught her all too well what it meant to defy the man, her small acts of rebellion and spirit crushed in an instant and ending with her blood, tears, and screams no one heard.

Shuddering as she heard footfalls closing in on her, she let out a small sob and knew her time was running short. She couldn’t keep ahead of them with her injured ankle. Increasing her speed slightly she slipped through an opening in the foliage, pushing back some flowering vines to reveal a soft loamy path and fled down it, the moist red soil softening the impact in her burning ankle and muffling her footfalls.

Hope surged through her veins as she heard the clatter of boots continue down the other path and she sighed, slipping through the dense brush and broad fan-like leaves draping from the surrounding trees. She didn’t slow her pace however, wanting to put some distance between her and the men seeking her. Tossing a worried look over her shoulder, she gasped when she ran into a solid object, knocking the breath from her lungs as she bounced back and crashed to the earth once more. Shaking her head slightly to get her bearings, she flinched when she saw a tall figure in front of her.

“Amaravati?” a male voice whispered hesitantly, forcing Tess’s head to shoot up in fear, her body trembling as she met piercing blue eyes slightly hidden behind wheat-blond hair and inhaled sharply, recognizing the boyish good looks and chiseled jaw of the man she’d been desperately trying to avoid. Nasedo didn’t know she remembered his face as she’d stopped telling him of the flashes of memory that didn’t fit into his pre-ordained plan for her self-preservation. “Eina da urangi? [Is it you?]”

“Who? What?” Tess asked, brow furrowing as she frowned, unable to understand what the other man was saying. Shaking her head in confusion, she turned bewildered eyes to his and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t understand.”

Shaking, she continued to stare at the man’s angelic good looks, his lips curving up in surprise as he knelt before her, staring at her in wonder in the low light. She tensed as he reached out and brushed back the tangled mass of blond hair from her face, flinching when his fingers brushed over a scrape on her cheek. Watching him warily, her mouth dropped open when she felt a warm brush of power as he began to heal her injuries with a gentleness that belied the stories she’d been force-fed. This was not the heartless, vicious predator she’d been expecting.

“It is you,” Khivar said slightly perplexed at her use of English, an Earth language, but knew it had to be her and addressed her in her spoken language with growing confidence, relief coursing through his veins as he realized that at least she was alive and well. He’d all but given up hope that they had survived. Brow puckering at that thought, his eyes darkened and looked around, noting she was alone. “Where are the others?”

Taking a shuddering breath, fear shooting through her veins, Tess bowed her head, confusion and anxiety warring in her heart, wondering how this warm man could be the monster and killer Nasedo had made him out be. But then again, he didn’t know of her failure yet and was likely pleased that she had brought Zan’s child and the others back.

“They…aren’t here,” she choked, a tremor running through her body as she braced herself for the inevitable blow that always came with failure from Nasedo, who, according to his stories, was a saint compared to the man crouched before her. Cringing as a hand stroked her cheek, sliding along her neck gently, she sobbed, realizing that it was over and waited for that deceptively gentle hand to wrap around her throat and crush the life from her. And she welcomed it; anything was better than the pain she lived through every day.

But the blow never came. Instead, his hand slid over her shoulder, caressing her arm gently, wrapping around it to pull her closer to him. Tensing as he pressed her to his chest lightly, she peered up at him, cerulean eyes misting with bewilderment as she wondered what the hell was going on when he combed his fingers through her hair.

Toying with her, he had to be toying with her.

“Are they dead?” he asked emotionlessly, his heart seizing as he realized his plan might have failed, and it was too late to recreate them once more. Too much time had passed and the magic and science needed to create the hybrids took a lot of resources and energy. He wasn’t sure if he could afford another attempt. Squeezing his eyes shut, he sighed heavily, wondering if he had lost his best friends all over again. “Are you the only one left?”

“N-no,” she whispered, terror clouding her eyes as she confessed her failure, watching the man before her wearily, just waiting for when he would turn and become the violent sociopath she expected. And for some reason, it broke her heart as something about him tugged on a buried memory. “I have failed you, sir.”

Khivar snapped his head down to the young girl cradled against his chest, his eyes widening at her announcement and grabbed her by the arms, pulling her away slightly, squeezing a little too tightly in his excitement. Was it possible that they had all managed to survive? Noticing her wince, he eased his grip on her arms and frowned at her last words, wondering why she seemed so terrorized.

“Are they alive Ava?” he demanded in a controlled voice, not wanting to get his hopes up until he had gotten verbal confirmation from her. Oh, god, she was here, alive and she knew where the others were. It was more than he had hoped for over the years. “ [Tell me. Are they still alive?”

Tess winced at the change in his demeanor, his cold, controlled voice washing over her like an ice bath, sending a chill trailing over her spine. So this was how it ended. Sending a mental thought of apology to the unborn child in her womb, a tear trickled over her cheek as her heart and lungs constricted, panic fluttering in her stomach as his hands tightened on her arms once more, giving her a little shake.

“Ava, this is important,” he continued, his tone harsher than he intended, but he needed to break through whatever held her in thrall and find out where the others were before Zan’s supporters could get to them. When the pods had disappeared from his safe house twelve years ago, he had been certain that they’d been destroyed. “Are they alive?”

“Yes!” she cried helplessly, her fear getting the best of her and making her babble in her attempt to explain, praying that by at least coming back with Zan’s child would forestall her death long enough for the baby to be born. “I tried to get them to come back with me, but they found out about the plan to execute them and stayed behind! I tried to keep the deal together, but once Nasedo died everything unraveled too fast for me to do anything…”

“Execution?” Khivar returned, shock crossing his face as he dropped her arms and jerked away, realizing that Zan’s supporters must have been closer to them than he thought and had managed to somehow turn the girl. “Nasedo? What does your father have to do with this? And what deal?”

“The deal Nasedo made with Nicholas,” Tess replied, lips trembling as she watched the other man, confusion marring her face. He had pulled back as if burned and was watching her with equal amounts of horror and bewilderment. “To get pregnant with Zan’s child and bring back the other three for execution.”

“Of course, they would say that,” he muttered under his breath, heart aching that he’d lived under the pall of the Royal Four’s death for the past twelve years. Zan’s supporters had begun a smear campaign immediately after he was found in the throne room with the four dead royals, claiming he had killed in a fit of jealous rage and a desire to take over the throne. It was why he’d been living in the shadows on Ahrensa since their deaths, trying to find a way to clear his name. “This way you would fear and wouldn’t trust me when we met up again.”

He stood, running a hand through his straight, shoulder-length hair, pushing it back from his face as he mulled this information over. Making them fear him made sense if they hadn’t gotten their memories back as planned, but what had they hoped to gain by turning Ava against the others? Of course, being pregnant with Zan’s child meant that she would have been forced to mate with him once they returned. And he didn’t doubt that they planned to execute Lonnie and Rath for their part in Zan’s downfall. Zan really wouldn’t care if Ava hated him after he got what he wanted.

Actually, it made sense in a way. Zan could confront him, making him out to be the bad guy and kill Lonnie and Rath, then pin it on him while Zan miraculously escaped with Ava, setting himself up as her savior and hero. His stomach turned sickly at the thought. The people would fall for it too, considering the rumors about his involvement with their deaths, and would be out for his blood. He’d be declared a traitor and executed on sight without a trial as no one but he and the royals knew the real events that lead to their deaths.

“It’d be the perfect set up,” he muttered, almost awed by the little weasel’s maneuvering. It was almost worthy of one of his and Rath’s campaigns.

“What?” Tess asked, growing more bewildered and apprehensive the longer the man held off her punishment. She wished he just get it over with and end the mental aguish she going through. Nothing made sense. “I don’t understand.”

Khivar turned back to the quivering girl, her nerves suddenly apparent with his current knowledge – she was afraid he was going to kill her for failing to complete her mission. Kneeling before her once again, he reached out to take her hand, his eyes glinting darkly when she flinched at his touch once again. He could gladly kill her father and Zan for using this girl as a pawn once more.

“They lied Ava,” he informed her, meeting her terrified eyes sadly, wanting desperately to pull her in his arms and hold the woman he’d loved for so long, his heart pinching when he realized they had taken her from him once again. This time with cruel lies rather than a betrothal contract. “There was no deal. At least not with me.”

“ No,” she whispered hoarsely despite reading the truth in his eyes. Shaking her head violently, she ripped her hand away and scuttled back in a crablike retreat. Staring at him in horror as he crawled after her, a beseeching look on his face, she swallowed harshly, desperately wanting to deny the words reverberating through her head. “No, you’re lying.”

“Don’t you remember me, my Amaravati? My katrona vilonia?” he murmured quietly, cupping her cheek softly, moving slowly closer so he didn’t scare anymore than she already was. His heart broke further when she stared at him blankly, her indoctrination to deep for soft, sweet memories of the two of them. “I guess you wouldn’t if they never unlocked your memories or superimposed them with others, would you. But at least I can give you this.”

Bringing his other hand up, he stared into her eyes and forged a connection, gasping when he felt her familiar spirit surround him once more, his body filling with bittersweet heat. He hadn’t dared hope he’d ever feel her like this again. Probing deeper into her mind, a warm golden light surrounding him, he was gratified to learn that despite making a child with Zan, the other man hadn’t forged a bond with her, and felt the faint whisper of the bond they had started years prior still marking her soul, welcoming him happily.

Ignoring the teasing call to reform that broken bond, he gently prodded until he came to her memories, drawing a deep breath when he saw the scarring that told him they had been repressing her memories for years. The damage would have killed a weaker person. Delicately, probing the area, he gently and carefully lifted the scarring piece by piece, allowing the tissue beneath it to breathe freely.

They both drew a collective breath as the binding broke free and memories flowed over them both as he coaxed them from the deepest vault of her mind. Tess’s hands flew up to cup his and held on for dear life, a fine sheen of sweat covering her brow as the memories flowed and bombarded her with little bits of information, nearly overwhelming her entirely.

Letting out a startled cry, she pulled away, breaking the intimate connection, panting shallowly as her mind whirled with information, growing dizzy as it tried to decipher, encode, and store the information flashing before her vision as fast as possible. Looking up, she startled to find familiar, and beloved, face staring down at her and took a stuttering breath, her eyes filling with tears.

“Khiv?” she whispered, still trying to make sense of everything that had been revealed. Lifting her hand to his cheek, she stroked the skin lightly, her breath catching in the back of her throat when he pressed his cheek into her palm, his fingers brushing away the tears slipping over her cheeks. “Is it really you?”

“Yes, my Ava,” he replied softly, watching her intently and wondering where this left him with her conflicting ‘memories.’ His heart fell as her face crumpled, losing the soft awe it had after her memories hit and shifted to horrified anguish as her true memories reconciled themselves with the false information she’d been fed all her life.

“By the Granilith,” she gasped, her stomach swirling sickly as her life and actions came crashing around her. Bile burned a path up her throat as she yanked away and threw herself to the side just in time to heave, and retch up what little she managed to force in her stomach that day. Pressing her sweaty head against a tree stump, she flinched, as she felt strong, gentle hands rubbing her back and continued to dry heave, whispering over and over between heaves. “It was all a lie, it was all a lie, it was all a lie….”

Grinding her hands into the soft red loam beneath her, her head swum sickly as the lack of food, sleep, and the rush of memories overwhelmed her weakened senses and she yanked her head up, screaming to the heavens in agony as her vision blurred, graying around the edges as she blacked out.

“It was all a lie!”

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Re: Hunted (UC, AU, Mi/L, ADULT) Chap 14 6/12/10

Post by Ashita » Sat Jun 12, 2010 9:29 pm

Barbara - Glad you liked the twist on this one with Tess and Khivar. :) I like making the bad guys the good guys and vice versa sometimes. I'm sorry you were missing it. And then this chapter took me a while as well for various reasons. Hopefully this next chapter won't be so long in the making. Thanks!

Kris - Thanks for the comments and bumps! Sorry to leave you hanging for so long. Yeah, the Tess/Ava and Khivar story has been my favorite twist to this story. And this Max, yes, he's not all together there.

Yas - Yes it's possible that Maria isn't as mental as I made her in that one chapter. Not to say she's not furious about it but I guess we'll have to wait and see how it plays out. :) I like happy Tess stories to. I thought her to be an under valued character that could have been interesting if they hadn't made her the convenient scapegoat. Thanks!

Jan - Haha! Glad you liked this chapter, as I know you had been looking forward to this one in particular. :) I'm glad that I'm getting a good reaction to the Khivar/Tess thing, especially as so many people love to hate Tess. It's not to say she's all good in this fic, but she isn't outright evil either. Very misguided and yes, manipulated in both lifetimes. Thanks as always for your comments!

Book-tv girl - I'm glad you're liking the story so far. I love an equally intense Michael and Liz, as well as rebuilding the foursquare differently. Thanks for the feedback!

Kiara - Thanks for the bump!! Sorry it's taken so long to get this chapter posted...but real life got in the way, not to mention the muse was obsessing with Spoils for a bit. Hopefully with the next part partially written, it won't take too long for Chapter 15.

Carrie - I know you responded on RH, but I'm never sure where you'll read this, so I wanted to add a thanks here. Wow! Thanks so much for the feedback and compliments! They really made my day when I read them. I too like a good villain. And I didn't want to down play Max's intelligence. I mean, I may make him an OOC heartless bastard in this fic, but I am trying to keep him an interesting heartless bastard at least. :)

Storyteller - I know you don't comment here, you lurker, but I wanted to say thanks here as well for listening to me babble incoherently while I try to put things together and putting up with reading incomplete scenes, and my obsessing over every little detail (Yeah, I know...I'm completely anal). I really appreciate all our e-mail "chats" late into the night and your funny comments make my day!

Whimsy - Thank you so much for all your comments (on e-mail), guidance, listening to me whine, helping me plot and putting up with my insane chapter lengths, not to mention the fast turn around in getting this chapter to me. You rock! I couldn't do this story without you. If they had an award for best Beta, you'd so get my vote! This story wouldn't be what it is without your support!

AN: So I didn't expect to post so soon, but the Goddess known as Whimsy did an awesome job in getting this back to me so quickly. We all should send her chocolate for the fast turn around! Or her chosen poison. :) So, this part is rated ADULT if you get what I mean and is NOT safe for work. LOL! There is a fairly explicit sex scene. If that's not your thing, you can skip it as it doesn't affect the plot in any way. But I did promise Plot with Plenty of Smut. If you're going to read, be of age! Lyrics to When You Say You Love Me belong to Josh Groban and the respective writers, records, etc., etc., etc.

Another long chapter...what else?


Like the sound of silence calling, I hear your voice
And suddenly I’m falling, lost in a dream
Like the echo of our souls are meeting, you say those words
My heart stops beating, I wonder what it means

Swallowing thickly, Michael stared at the vision standing before him, his throat working soundlessly and his mouth bone dry as the low light glimmered on mocha skin and shiny ebony hair. She smiled at him tentatively, her coffee-colored eyes meeting his shyly as she stepped out of the other chamber clothed in a short white robe marked with his symbols in silver stitching.

His breath hitched and he silently drank her in as she glided across the Granilith chamber floor, keeping her eyes anchored with his, her smile broadening as she noted the heavy rise and fall of his chest and knew that he was entranced. Shifting on bare feet, he inhaled sharply, dragging air into his starving lungs as Liz came to a standstill in front of him, his dazed, wondering gaze traveling over her body reverently.

“You’re beautiful,” he stated quietly, reaching out a hand to pull her closer, his fingers smoothing along the sleeveless shift, gathered at her shoulders with jeweled pins, the silky material rough in comparison to the skin it encased. Pearlescent cloth draped to mid-thigh, swaying gracefully against her legs and clinging to the soft swell of her hips, teasing his already enflamed senses.

Hair drawn up in a loose chignon with chocolate brown tendrils kissing her cheeks and neck, she was reminiscent of one of the Greek goddesses he was forced to study in grade school. A modern day Athena, only far more radiant and ethereal; was this lovely woman really his?

Watching him through her lashes, her breath stuttered as his fingers trailed over her arm and his arm snaked around her waist, pulling her into his body. Splaying her hands on his chest, she bit her lip and drew her fingers over the bare ripples and dips softly, staring at toned, pale skin appreciatively.

“So beautiful,” he husked, watching her with smoldering intensity, drawing her ever closer until mere millimeters separated their bodies, the silk of her attire brushing against his bared chest and white ceremonial pants embroidered with the same silver symbols. Cupping her cheek, he tipped her head back and stared down into smoky orbs, his other hand sliding up her back slowly to cradle the back of her head.

Brushing his thumb over her lips, he dipped his head and captured them, slowly stroking his tongue over the pale pink flesh as the hand cupping her cheek slid over her arm and wrapped around her waist, crushing her body against his possessively. He deepened the kiss, plunging his tongue between the soft, plump petals when she gasped softly, her mouth parting of its own accord.

Delving her fingers into silky, tawny waves, she rose up on tip toe, pressing her body into his as their lips and tongues mated, each kiss deepening and flowing effortlessly into the next. She purred, her breath rushing out and mingling with his soft, short breaths, and arched under his soft caresses, keeping their mouths fused in a searing kiss. Dark chocolate and cinnamon danced over her palate, drawing a low moan past her lips as his tongue stroked hers skillfully.

He shuddered, gripping her tightly as their tongues twined, a sweet, heavy ache infusing his body as her teeth scraped against his skin, easing a deep rumbling moan from his throat. They tangled, smoothly, languorously and without hurry; just soft lips and sweet words whispered until their lungs burned with the need for air. Parting when they could no longer withstand the fire, they sucked air into their lungs jealously and leaned their foreheads against one another, eyes melding.

"You ready?" he whispered, holding her gaze as he took each of her hands in his, entwining their fingers together and bringing their clasped hands to his mouth, brushing his lips over the tender skin over her knuckles.

Sighing contentedly, she nodded her assent as he dipped his head to caress her mouth once more, unable to get enough of her taste, and moaning as her tongue flicked over his lips before delving into his mouth to tangle heatedly with his. Keeping their fingers entwined, he growled low in his throat, devouring her mouth and wrapped his arms around her, pressing their clasped hands into the small of her back forcing her body into an arch against his chest.

Mouths melding, he dropped her hands and slid his fingers up over her arms, leaving a trail of goose flesh in their wake and smiled against her lips when she shivered, sliding her hands up over his chest softly to clasp behind his neck. Pulling back, he held her gaze, breathing heavily and traced the lines of her face softly, cupping her jaw before sliding his hands back down her arms.

“Let’s do this,” he whispered, entwining his right hand with her left, pressing their foursquare marks together, and gasping softly when the first flare of power slid along their skins. Breathing deeply, he met her eyes and smiled, dropping a light kiss on her lips as he slid his hand up to touch the seal glowing on her left breast bone.

Liz inhaled sharply as the electrical thrum of their combined energies swept up along their entwined hands, suffusing her body with gentle warmth that rippled from the inside out over her skin. Opening her mouth under Michael’s instinctively, she participated in the deepening of their kiss as she mirrored his actions and slid her fingers over his seal, quaking when the power flared higher, fusing them together in a burst of energy.

Pressing her body to his, she shuddered as the heat flared between them and their connection snapped in to place, the intensity of all that was Michael wrapping around her until she was nearly overwhelmed. Breath hitching as their lips parted, she opened her heavy eyes and met his equally hooded gaze, pressing her forehead to his.

Smiling reverently at one another, they lifted their entwined hands up to the Granilith crystal, hovering over it for a moment as their gazes locked and they took a collective breath, then they each pressed their palms to the tip of the crystal. Bodies bowed softly as their powers melded with the energy humming under the surface of the crystal and they gasped, clutching one another as electricity pulsed through their blood, thrumming over their nerves. The current between them and the great crystal arched and exploded into a wash of silver-blue light as they sank to their knees still clinging to one another.

Eyes clamped shut, they panted harshly, faces pressed to each others necks as waves continued to thrum over their skin, a million little prickles of warmth caressing it. Crushing Liz to his body, Michael captured her lips shakily, a sweet ache flowing through his heaving chest as he marveled at how unbelievably connected he felt to her – as if they shared one breath and one heart beat. He’d never felt this connected to anyone.

Pulling back, he rested his head on her shoulder as they sagged against one another, still riding on the ecstasy of their merging. Trailing his fingers over her shoulder, he gasped as he felt an echoing touch on his own skin and he clutched her even tighter to him, sweat-slicked skin sliding together at the movement. Both gasped as the action sent their energies humming through and over the other. God, it was like they were really one.

What could it be, that comes over me
At times I can’t move, at times I can hardly breathe
You’re the one I’ve always thought of, I don’t know how
But I feel sheltered in your love, you’re where I belong

A light breeze wafted around them, the faint scent of jasmine teasing their noses. Its cooling fingers glided over tight, hot skin and soothed the lingering sizzle of electricity crawling over it. Tension melted from their muscles as the breeze swept over them, teasing them out of their locked stance. Expelling a pent up breath, Liz lifted her head and opened her eyes, gasping at the sight that greeted her.

Michael’s head shot up, his eyes popping open at the wave of apprehension that thrummed through their still wide-open connection and his mouth dropped as he stared at a clearing he knew only from his dreams. Licking his lips, he swallowed thickly as his eyes danced over the spring his brother, Khivar and he spent many an afternoon playing as children and later, hanging out and talking about girls when they became too old for imaginary enemies and war games.

Disentangling themselves, Liz and Michael slowly stood, staring at their surroundings, the slightest hint of confusion pinching their brows as steam curled from deep ochre soil, the musky scent of earth mixing with the spicy jasmine-like pink flowers dotting bright green vines. Tipping their heads in sync, they took in the rainforest-esque canopy of dark trees snaking towards the sky, their branches hung with broad feathery leaves, reminiscent of a large fern, condensation dripping off its spidery greenery.

Walking around the clearing carefully, Liz drew in the heavy, humid air, swiping a hand over her damp temples and shivering as a warm, fragrant breeze danced along slick skin, sending gooseflesh marching over sensitized flesh. Lowering her head, she looked over as Michael crouched near a periwinkle pool of water fed by a trickling waterfall cascading over pale reddish brown rocks. Striding to his side as he dipped his fingers into the water and pulled them out rubbing his fingers contemplatively, she slid her fingers along his neck, needing their connection to calm her in the unsettling situation.

“Wow,” she breathed, taking in the beauty around her with apprehensive awe, her heart thrumming softly and breath stuttering as Michael stood, wrapping an arm around her. Meeting his eyes questioningly, she grew even more puzzled as she saw recognition flash through his eyes with everything they lit upon. Taking a deep breath, she gestured to the natural alcove and asked the question burning in her gut. “Where are we?”

“Home,” Michael whispered reverently, staring off towards what he knew was the hidden entrance of the clearing, now covered by overgrown vines and foliage, expecting to see the doppelganger of his younger self and his companions bursting through at any moment. A sense of peace and contentment washed over him as he drew her into his arms, pressing his lips to her temple. “I used to play here as a child.”

“The granilith sent us to Antar?” she queried, surprise lacing her voice as her head shot up, meeting glowing dark amber eyes and flushed, breath hitching as his gaze drifted over her attire lingeringly. Chewing on her bottom lip, she watched him from beneath her lashes, smiling when his own breath hitched as their bodies slid together. Wrapping a silky tendril around his finger, Michael opened his mouth to respond when a rustling in the foliage made him tense and tighten his arms around Liz protectively.

“Not quite,” a low female voice lilted as a strawberry-blonde, dressed in a long, aqua chiton, stepped out from the vinery hanging near the pool of water and glided towards the couple. Her green eyes twinkled merrily as Michael pushed Liz behind him and stepped in front of her, keeping her carefully concealed. Rath hadn’t changed one bit. “You’re still on Earth, just in a different plane.”

“Did you bring us here?” Michael asked warily, studying the woman as she halted just on the other side of the clearing, having sensed his unease and not wanting to provoke him. Tensing as Liz slid hand on his waist and stepped around his back to stand at his side, Michael tipped his head down to frown at her, biting back a sigh when she shook her head at him and looked at the other woman curiously.

“No, you did that yourself when you merged your powers with mine,” she replied quietly, sending them a benign smile and gliding towards them, an air of serenity and peace enveloping her. Michael’s muscles relaxed slightly as her warm, soothing voice slid over them, but gathered Liz protectively in his arms nonetheless. The blond halted once more, a light, lilting laugh rippling over her lips, as if his actions amused her or she held some secret he hadn’t yet deciphered and she cocked her brow at him, dipping her head to stare at the pool of water to his right. “I have no control over the place; that was all your doing, Rath. Or do you prefer Michael?”

“Michael,” he affirmed, his brows pinching together as he studied her profile, the faintest spark of recognition fluttering in his gut, although he’d swear they’d never met. At least in this lifetime. He hadn’t even gotten a flash or dream about her and yet, he had a niggling feeling they’d known each other once before and felt as if he’d known her all his life. And that in itself unsettled him, setting his protective instinct on edge. For all he knew, she could be influencing his emotions to lull him into complacency.

“As you wish, your highness,” she smiled, tipping her heart-shaped face up to his, sparkling teal irises meeting suspicious bourbon, and nodding softly. Her cheek dimpled at his continued scrutiny and she gathered the end of her gown, turning her gaze to the scenery around them. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this place. It’s far more beautiful than I remembered. I’ve missed it.”

“Who, what are you?” Liz queried, watching the petite, fey woman carefully, unsettled by her cryptic comments and intense interest in Michael. Wrapping her arm around him possessively, she frowned slightly as the woman seemed to find amusement in their actions, almost before they did or said anything, as if she was anticipating it. She didn’t like to be toyed with and it was quickly wearing on her nerves.

A lilting, crystalline laugh rang through the clearing as the woman turned back to them, and she held up in her hand in greeting, smiling when Michael’s rose instinctually to mimick the gesture before dropping his hand in confusion. His eyes widened suddenly as recognition flitted across his face. “I’m…”

“Serena,” he whispered, his mouth parting in surprise as a memory of a small blonde girl with pigtails and elfin features, running after him and Dusin flashed across his mind. His adoptive sister.

“Yes and no,” Serena smiled, turning back to him and nodding softly, her youthful features taking on a mantle of maturity, her eyes glimmering with an ageless wisdom that hinted at much more. A soft glow suffused her skin and she reached up, smoothing fingers along his forehead, marking him with a familiar sign of blessing before turning to Liz and performing the same actions. “I’m not really your sister. I just took her form so that you’d more comfortable.”

“But you’re…you look…” Liz stammered, her eyes widening as comprehension dawned and she stared at the slight figure in front of her in awe, her face flushing at her earlier uncharitable thoughts, and swallowed thickly, squirming under the woman’s knowing look. It wasn’t everyday one came face to face with a deity.

“Like you? Of course….were you expecting green skin, bulbous eyes and misshapen heads?” Serena joked lightly, a half-smile touching her lips and shook her head in response. “Wrong planet. Our species is very much humanoid. Why do you think they chose Earth to hide the Royal Four? It’s easier to blend in. Michael looks very much like he has always looked.”

“We were told by our protector that we looked different, that we were human-Antarian hybrids,” Michael replied cautiously, although he knew this to be false from the dreams he’d been having lately. There had been nothing alien about the people in his dreams, although he wouldn’t have ruled out the possibility that he was just substituting humanoid forms as they were familiar.

“Yes, well as you’ve guessed from your returning memories, things aren’t exactly as you expected, your highness,” Serena sobered, looking at Michael pointedly and raising her brows, sighing as he nodded with equal sobriety. Nodding softly, she smiled knowingly and clasped her hands together, studying her children. “But that is for another time and place. It’s not what you came here for, is it?”

“No,” Michael agreed, meeting gentle aqua eyes and shelving the mystery of his origins for a later date. He had a feeling that this was only the first of many visits with Serena, and while he had several burning questions he wanted answered, there were far more serious matters to consider. Like keeping Zan away from his mate. Drawing Liz into his arms, he “We have chosen to bond.”

“You both are certain?” Serena asked, watching them seriously and searching for any doubts. She already knew the answer to the question since they were here, but it was customary to ask and state their intentions as part of the official ritual. “There is no going back from this step.”

“I am.” Michael and Liz replied in unison, certainty ringing through voices as they turned and smiled at one another, linking their hands. Michael lifted his hand to her cheek, stroking the skin softly before he gently brushed his lips over her, sliding his eyes shut as he savored the feel of her mouth under his, his heart speeding up as he realized that she would soon be his in all ways.

Cupping the back of his neck, Liz returned the sweet caress, her stomach fluttering with the nerves of a bride on her wedding day, but had not a doubt in her heart. She had made her decision months ago when Max tried to free her of Michael’s bond and her heart and soul fought his ministrations. The connection with Max had been thrust upon her without her consent, but with Michael, it had always been her choice. She wasn’t going to change her mind now.

Breaking apart, they smiled as their seals glowed with an ethereal light, so wrapped up in each other they had briefly forgotten their audience. Michael dipped his head, pressing his lips to her ear, brushing them lightly over the lobe as he whispered, “I love you.”

Rubbing her cheek against his, Liz nuzzled his neck and ear with the tip of her nose, her heart fluttering madly at his words and she smiled against his skin, inhaling the scent she’d come to associate with him – a complex blend of spices and desert air. Brushing her lips over his lightly, she murmured in return, “And I love you.”

“I accept your petition and stand as witness.” Serena smiled as they turned back to her, waving her hands over the ground and stepping back as a ceremonial sword, an exact match to the sword in Michael’s seal, appeared on a deep blue silk cloth along with a silver chalice, inlaid with what looked like a white rose in mother of pearl, and two shimmering lengths of silver rope.

Kneeling before the cloth, Serena grasped the sword by the hilt and blade, holding it out in front of her, and looked toward Michael, inclining her head in invitation, waiting patiently as he released Liz and strode forward and kneeled before her. Bending over, the petite blonde pressed her lips to his forehead in blessing and placed the sword into Michael’s outstretched hands.

“The mark of your office, Your Majesty,” she murmured, drawing her hands away from the weapon and placed her hands on his shoulders, her hands glowing lightly as she incanted a blessing, “Abencoad’a eina elu amhain zu ti drevni merkki dia numa; iglas pacal ti tiesa zan dia daoine sydan’a. [Blessed is the one chosen to bear the ancient mark of favor; long live the true King of the people’s hearts.]

Michael swallowed thickly, his heart thudding in his ears as the words took hold in his soul and struck a chord, the faint hint of memory of a similar ceremony and offering made a long time ago. Breath quickening, his eyes widened as understanding dawned and his mouth dried at the mantle she laid upon his shoulders. Staring into space as he contemplated the vow he was about to make and he couldn’t help but wonder if he had the ability to accept her charge.

His eyes snapped back to Serena when she cleared her throat pointedly and he met her knowing gaze, inhaling sharply as she nodded quietly with a serene smile, her voice reverberating through his head, ‘I wouldn’t ask this unless I was confident you could bear the charge. You made this promise once before, so lets just call it a renewal of vows.’

Tightening his hand on the hilt, he strengthened his resolve and pressed the sword across his heart, staring into her eyes as he vowed, the words coming to him without thought. “Tu gealltanas ta pacal nui riot otu ta kraujas nui daoine.” [I pledge my life to thee and my blood to the people.]

Abencoad’a sou uragi, ta pitit, [Blessings upon you, my child.]” Serena murmured, marking his seal with a sigil of power and stepping back, gesturing for him to rise. Turning back to the cloth, she dipped down and grasped the chalice, fingering the mother of pearl rose, the ancient symbol of queenship as she turned to Liz. Nodding to her, she waved her forward and held her hand out the petite brunette, smiling reassuringly when Liz stepped forward hesitantly.

Tromeri, ifu esdla indal, [Wait, she doesn’t know]” Michael said, worry puckering his brow and wanting to protect Liz from promising something she didn’t completely understand yet. She didn’t even know the full weight of his position as they hadn’t had a chance to talk about his past. “Ifu gali dla a’thusient… [She might not understand…]”

Seva anima indal’a otu cheana amhain, Michael, [Her soul knows and has already chosen, Michael,]” Serena reassured him, resting her hand on his arm as he stepped forward to prevent Liz’s movement. “Daeina jahu da senbolik bissau seva izvele. Tu yehdla juatat dia seva mitaan if voisidla entregar otu tu voljadla tocan da lupuas asti seva eina zinoti. [It’s but a token that cements her choice. I wouldn’t ask of her anything she couldn’t deliver and I will not exact a promise until she is aware.]”

Serena gestured for Liz once more, taking her hand and placing the chalice into her palms, closing her fingers around the slender gilt stem. Placing her hands on her cheeks, she pressed her lips to Liz’s brow and whispered her blessing. “Abencoad’a eina ti dama amhain ti tiesa zan za kaytella ti lann dia pacal. Iglas pacal ti azia dia ta sydan otu anima. [Blessed is the lady chosen by the true king to wield the cup of life. Long live the queen of his heart and soul.]”

“I will do my best to live up to this pledge, my lady” Liz whispered, not completely understanding the intricacies of the ceremony that she’d just witnessed but knowing enough to realize Michael had just pledged himself to the deity before them. And she assumed that as his mate, this pledge would extend to her as well. She figured she must have said something right when the blonde smiled and looked at Michael approvingly.

“I know you will, child,” Serena replied, dipping her head in acknowledgment as she stepped back behind the cloth once more and addressed them both. “I ask you to make three pledges to each other – one of the heart, which rules emotion, one of the blood, which represents family ties and one of the spirit, which represents the true self. The words themselves are unimportant as it’s the intention that matters.”

“The lengths of rope symbolize you as individuals, two separate entities that will soon join as one,” she continued, gesturing to the ropes still lying upon the cloth. “And its ties will represent the bond that tie you to one another for life – heart to heart, blood to blood, spirit to spirit.”

Having said her piece, Serena stepped back and gestured to Michael, knowing his natural instincts, and the memories hovering so close the surface, would take over from there. She watched the uncertainty drain from a boyish face and a new confidence bloom, filling out the firm lines of a self-possessed man as his eyes lighted on his chosen mate.

Michael watched the petite brunette quietly, his sword gripped firmly in his hand before gliding over to her with a commanding catlike grace, the faintest hint of remembrance prickling his senses, stirring long forgotten memories and rituals. The air around him swirled with determination, a new fearlessness radiating from every move he made. Keeping a predacious gaze anchored with hers, he sank down on one knee in front of her, resting the flat of the blade against his chest, his voice deep and husky voice, thick with emotion. “My heart, I offer to you.”

“I accept your offering,” she whispered, jaw flexing and throat tightening at the primal air surrounding him. A delicious shiver of anticipation snaked over her spine as she stepped forward, pushing back damp waves tenderly and she cupped the back of his head, running her fingers through thick locks briefly. Tracing the serious, sharp lines of his cheekbones, her breath hitched as a spark of heat ignited between them and she slid a palm over one strong, squared shoulder to rest against his seal.

“By my blood,” he continued fervently and slid the blade over the foursquare mark gracing his dominant wrist, hissing when blood welled from the shallow cut. Plunging the tip of the blade into ground, he presented the wounded arm palm up for her acceptance, smiling when Liz instinctively set the chalice down and cupped the wrist in her hands, her fingers caressing his forearm, watching him intently as he made his vow. “I pledge my troth to you.”

“I accept your pledge,” she replied, her body jolting, fingers clenching around his wrist unconsciously and her heartbeat raced as a warm stream of power flooded through the whole of them, the thick, heavy air crackling with electricity with each vow made and accepted. Swallowing thickly, breath ragged, she traced the foursquare mark, smearing blood along its lines and met burning whiskey irises, her own warm and glowing.

Breathing heavily, Michael reluctantly dragged his arm away, missing the intimate kiss of her power the moment she dropped his wrist. Grabbing the two lengths of rope Serena had set before him while he was caught up with Liz, he tied two of the ends together and marked the knot with his blood, sealing and melding them together with a bright flash of silver light. Holding the now continuous rope in front of him, he faced Liz once more, his eyes gleaming with a very male satisfaction, her huntsman and warrior shining in their depths.

“With my spirit, I bind myself to you.”

“I hear and embrace that tie,” she responded, smiling softly as she placed her hands in his, shivering slightly as the energy crackling between them flared once more, lines of aqua electricity tangling around their joined hands. Michael’s lips quirked, his eyes intently following her every move and he rubbed the backs of her hands as she sank to her knees in front of him, bright, molten chocolate meshing with hot, ravenous brandy.

Serena came to stand to their side, unnoticed by the enraptured couple and took the rope out of Michael’s hands as Liz pulled her hands away, grasping the chalice in her hands and she gasped softly as it filled with an unknown liquid. Palming it, she held it before Michael, tipping her head to meet his eyes ardently, throat convulsing as their bodies swayed together and offered him the first sip. “My heart, I offer to you,”

“I accept your offering,” he murmured, his hands trapping hers, bringing the cup to his lips and tipped the cup, drinking deeply of the sweet, berry-like liquid. Lowering the chalice, he guided it to her own lips and his breath hitched, a sweet warmth filling his chest as her lashes drifted closed, resting against flushed, sweat-kissed cheeks; and her lips parted, the silky liquid sliding over her tongue, staining her mouth a light cherry red.

Slowly setting the cup down together, he couldn’t resist capturing the sweet, red flesh, between his lips in an impassioned kiss, his tongue flicking out to catch the last drops of juice suspended on soft, plump skin. Running callused fingertips over her cheeks, he splayed a hand on the base of her skull, crushing her mouth to his demandingly, deepening the kiss with a tangle of tongues and teeth before pulling away, smoldering caramel orbs screaming of their possession. Panting, they stared at each other for several long, heated moments before Liz shook herself off and continued.

“By my blood,” she rasped, her breath heavy as she turned the sword sticking out of the ground next to the and winced as she ran her foursquare mark over the blade lightly, a small drop of blood sliding over the cut. Offering her left wrist up to Michael, they both jolted when a warm sweep of power slid along their skin as he traced the lines of her mark.

Meeting her gaze intently, Michael clasped her wrist, his fingers closing around her forearm as hers closed on his, the seals flaring as they merged, an electrical current whipping through their arms as forces converged and kicked up a hot wind, their hair dancing as the cuts and marks fused together blood-to-blood. “I pledge my troth to you.”

“I accept your pledge,” Michael rasped, throat convulsing, bourbon orbs aflame as a searing wash of power and life crawled along his body, his blood burning with an impatient, predatory fire. Bowing slightly as the current binding them intensified to an almost painful degree, he grunted low in his throat and licked parched lips, fighting the primitive urge to claim his bride before the ritual completed.

An edge of dark passion shot through Liz as their eyes clashed, her breath stuttering at the deep, blatant hunger plainly written across Michael’s face. Wetting her lips nervously, she inhaled sharply and gripped the joined cord proffered by Serena with trembling fingers; unable to tear her gaze away from her mate long enough thank her.

Draping the rope over their conjoined arms, she quickly wrapped the silver-blue strand around them, forming the symbol for infinity and gasped as the ends melded together in a wash of silver light as they touched, cinching and completing the circuit. Skin tingling with an ancient, primal energy, their hearts throbbed in sync, rapacious gazes melding for a moment and then the very air, and their forms, stilled by some unseen force as she finished her vows.

“With my spirit, I bind myself to you.”

Fiery whiskey locked with startled espresso, hearts stalled and their breath caught in their throats and his words of acceptance were lost as Serena came to stand beside them once more, placing her hand over their joined wrists, sending out a pulse of power. The current snapped Michael and Liz back into animation as the physical ties binding their wrists melted and a more permanent bond forged. They inhaled sharply as energies joined and merged, each and every empty space filling and locking down, severing a connection forced upon her years previous.

“Offered in heart, pledged in body and bound by spirit, I accept you my children. The blessings of the Granilith upon you,” Serena finished, touching each of their sweaty foreheads with a seal before stepping back, cocking a brow and smiling knowingly at Michael. “I believe the saying on Earth is, you may kiss the bride?”

Needing no further encouragement, Michael stood, impatiently dragging Liz with him, closing the few inches separating them and claimed her mouth with a deep, hungry kiss as the power continued to swirl around them. Plunging his tongue into the hot, wet cavern of her mouth, he feasted on her lips and tongue as if he were trying to crawl inside her and eat her alive, both completely oblivious to Serena’s laugh and hasty exit.

And when you’re with me, if I close my eyes
There are times I swear that I can fly, for a moment in time
Somewhere between the Heavens and Earth
And frozen in time, oh when you say those words

“You are mine,” Michael commanded huskily when he finally pulled back, sherry irises drifting over her possessively, his heart thrumming wildly as a primitive part of him ached to lay claim to his bride. Pressing parted lips to her hot, damp temple, his breath snagged as the heady mix of vanilla, strawberry and Liz teased his senses. Unable to relinquish his hold on her after the intensity of their ritual, rough fingers scraped over the back of her neck to cradle the back of her head, blood simmering as she shifted deeper into his arms.

He stilled, fighting to hold onto what little was left of his rapidly dwindling control as soft, silky, sweltering skin molded to his. Electricity shot through his veins as her hips nudged against his teasingly, snapping his restraint and he crushed her to him to still her movement, slowly bringing his mouth to her ear, his soft growl making her blood jump. “Mine, always.”

Sliding lips over her jaw, he captured her mouth savagely, prying her lips apart with an insistent swipe of his tongue as rough, impatient hands raked over her body, drawing a strangled cry over her lips. Plunging his tongue between the soft flesh, he slid his hands over her hips down to her ass and cupped it as he slid a thigh between hers, jerking her up against him, grinding her core against his leg. Breath harsh, he dipped and cupping her thighs, lifted her with ease and thrust her against the nearest tree.

“You know, I’ve always had this little fantasy when I was growing up here,” he rasped lowly against her ear, moist lips teasing the soft flesh, nipping the lobe gently, his warm, damp breath rushing over her ear as he pinned her between the trunk and a hard, hot, obviously aroused body. Liz shivered as he rocked against her suggestively, breath hitching at the predatory air surrounding her mate and wove shaky fingers through his thick, silky waves, heart beating staccato as his lips whispered over the curve of her cheek.

“Really, what’s that?” she breathed, head swimming as her lids drooped lazily before slowly opening to fixate on the full, warm lips hovering a scant inch from her own, the damp heat of their tightly compressed bodies swirling around them, searing her skin. Pressing closer, her breath froze as his head lowered centimeter by centimeter, his eyes glinting dangerously and breath fanning over her face, he rubbed his lips over hers, slowly teasing, sending a hot surge of electricity zinging through her veins.

Inhaling sharply at the light glide of his tongue over her lips, her eyes fluttered shut and mouth parted invitingly, nuzzling together for a few seconds before he dipped his tongue into the sweet recess over her mouth, stroking, exploring the humid, silken cave as his hands slowly slid over her body, branding the skin it touched. Her thighs gripped his hips, tightening instinctively as his weight bear down heavily, his hands cradling the back of her skull, fisting into dark molasses locks as he deepened the caress, the velvet rasp of his tongue sliding over hers insistently, and hissed when her nails bit into his shoulders.

“Oh, I think you can guess,” he murmured silkily against her lips as he pulled away to drag air into constricted lungs before capturing them once more, teasing, mating in a demanding dance of tongues and play of lips. Nipping her bottom lip, he laved the sting away, swallowing her strangled cry down his throat before relinquishing her mouth and slid a searing path of open mouthed kisses and bites over her neck, latching greedily onto the thrumming pulse at its base.

Liz tipped her head back, lips parting with ecstasy, her nails scraping against his scalp and fingers tightening in tawny strands as she clutched his mouth closer to sensitized flesh, a breathy moan bubbling out. Raking her fingers over his neck and back, she smiled when his breath stuttered and he growled low in his throat, sinking his teeth into the juncture of her neck and shoulder, rubbing into her core in an unrelenting motion in retaliation, drawing the ever present electricity dancing under their skin to the surface.

“Mmmm…maybe,” she teased, gasping softly as she slid her mouth over his jaw, the taste of sun, earth and male sweat gliding over her tongue. Their blood burned as their connection came into play, building a sweet, fiery ache in the pit of their stomachs that curled in, out and around the other until it fused them together. Breathing harshly, impatient hands slid over sweat-kissed flesh, molding, caressing and worshipping as hard planes melded to soft curves, not even a millimeter of space between their forms. “But it might be better if you demonstrate.”

“Mmmm…yeah,” he lofted breathlessly, gripping her ass and crushing her against him as he ground their bodies together, back bowing slightly as flames shot over his nerves and a fine tremor possessed his body when her hips rocked against him in turn. His hands flexed softly, heart jumping when soft, wet lips pressed against his chest, followed by the hot flick of a small, pink tongue, murmuring huskily as teeth scraped over firm flesh. “I’m definitely more of the show not tell sort.”

Pulling out the pins binding her hair, the scent of strawberries teased his nose as he coiled fingers into espresso-colored strands and pulled her head back with gentle force, mouths melting together, lips meshing fluidly. Bracing her with his hip, his hands slipped over her hips to caress bare thighs before gliding up the skirt of her short chiton; kneading the silky flesh under the pads of his fingers.

Rough, callused palms continued their slow, teasing ascent, gliding over her hips and he ripped his mouth away, gasping in surprise when his fingers met with nothing but bare, smooth skin, not a trace of satin or lace anywhere. “Aiba, commando?”

“I figured I’d make things easier,” she smirked, sly coffee-tinted eyes meeting darkening whiskey, chuckling softly when he grunted his approval and removed his hands, one anchoring at her waist as the other cupped her jaw. Crushing her mouth to his once more, he sealed them together as his tongue rolled over hers teasingly, his palm splaying against the delicate bones of her jaw and fingers wrapping around the nape of her neck, trapping her firmly against his lips.

“God, I love you,” he whispered heavily into her mouth, following her retreat when she tried to separate their mouths for air, bringing her lips to his over and over in deep, hungry, devouring kisses. Sliding one hand over her back, the other cradling the back of her neck in order to keep their mouths fused, he lifted her away from the tree, murmuring as she wrapped her legs around his waist. “I need to feel your skin against me.”

Pulling away from her mouth, he searched the clearing with heavy-lidded brandy eyes and grimaced at the hard packed ground surrounding them. Breath hitched and labored, he recalled something Serena had said about how he was the one who had chosen the place. So if he controlled the setting, he certainly could change a couple things.

“This place is what we make it, right?” he muttered more to himself than Liz, but she nodded dazedly, breath equally as labored, her mouth running dry as fiery whiskey drifted back to her, his hot, heavy gaze sliding over her skin like warm maple syrup. Waving his hand over the ground, he slid his eyes over her covetously as he slowly lowered them, tumbling her against the thick bed of pale pink petals and flowers that had appeared beneath them.

“Nice touch,” she whispered against his lips as their legs entwined, a sweet burn flowing over her body as his weight settled against her, pressing her deeper into their fragrant bed, his mouth claiming hers forcefully. Taking a shaky breath, she writhed against him as strong, callused hands slid over her skin, tracing lines of fire over her thighs as he impatiently pushed aside the thin material of her dress so he could notch himself tighter to her body.

“I try,” he drawled, capturing her lips hungrily as he rocked against her core, grunting when their slow, torturous rocking shot electricity humming along his nerves, his muscles contracting and a deep, ravenous craving erupted in the pit of his gut. Sliding his hand further up her thigh, he cupped one cheek, pressing her deeper into his body and shuddered, as their bodies slid together like two interlocking puzzle pieces, brushing, quivering with each minute roll of hips.

Staring into chocolate irises, he trailed the back of his hand over her cheek slowly and his heart jumped, chest aching with so many emotions that he couldn’t quite place just any one. All he knew is that she had the power to move him in ways no other person had in either lifetime. She was beauty and grace, strength, grit and determination, fire and passion, yet so soft and dreamy. She is every dream, every want and every desire he never even knew he had, actualized. His wife never ceased to amaze him.

Wife. His mind tripped over the word, stunned and reverent and blessed and so thrown he didn’t know how to react. God, she was his in all ways now. His.

Inhaling deeply, Liz met her husband’s eyes wondrously, her eyes sparkling with love and happiness as the warmth of his love washed over her, filling her with a giddy joy. It was so pure and straightforward, just like her mate himself and left her aching, wanting to bathe in him for eternity. Tracing a finger over his lips slowly, she caressed his strong, stubborn jaw and reveled his silent adoration, meeting him with equal fervor.

Surrounded by Michael, her breath stopped in her throat as she tried to find the words to describe him, but nothing did him justice. He was just Michael – proud, determined, impulsive, strong-willed, passionate and too beautiful for words.

And hers. All hers.

“I love you,” she sighed, cupping his jaw and drawing his lips to hers, kissing him softly as their emotions swelled and burst through their lingering connection, filling them in ways neither knew possible. Curling her fingers into his hair, she tugged on the silky threads, drawing a low, lazy purr from his throat and giggled slightly when his kiss deepened, his tongue seeking her insistently.

“I love you too,” he murmured, their caresses slipped from sweet to heated in seconds, returning to their earlier wild abandon. Nipping her lip in playful retaliation, he pulled away, determined to seal his claim and feasted on the vanilla and honey-tinged skin at the base of her throat, swirling his tongue over it. “God baby, you taste so good.”

“Michael…” she murmured, purring in the back of her throat, a pleasant jolt shaking her body as she slid her hands over his back, slipping under the edge of his ceremonial pants and dug fingers into rounded, firm flesh, grinding into him. She smiled triumphantly when his back bowed and he hissed as his mouth ripped away from her neck, teeth sinking into his bottom lip. “Mmmm, I’m not the only one who went commando.”

“Tease,” he rasped as caramel irises studied her with smoldering intensity and her breath snagged at the gamut of raw emotion flitting through that predatory gaze – desire, possession, ferocious hunger, love – his feral smile promising all flavors of wickedness with a subtle swipe of tongue over his lips. Swallowing thickly, her heart hammered against her breast and mouth dried as his eyes drifted over her lazily and he caged her in, holding her willing captive to his every whim.

“So what are you going to do about it, Parker?” he smirked as she squirmed under his voracious gaze and slid his hands up her body languidly, fingers feathering over her breasts with a tortuously light touch. Pausing at her shoulders, he toyed with the straps of her gown, a slow, wicked smile quirking his lips as he gripped creamy silk and shredded it down the middle, drawing a breathless gasp past her lips as he bunched the material at her waist, exposing sleek, golden skin to his hungry perusal.

Sucking air back into her constricted lungs, Liz shivered, her limbs melting, becoming boneless and jellylike and her body ached mercilessly as his eyes and palms raked over it. Cupping her breasts, he squeezed the soft flesh gently, pinching the aching tips and dipped his head, smiling wolfishly as she gasped in pleasure, pressing his lips to her ear to whisper roughly, “I’ve been wanting to do that since you walked out in that robe.”

“Oh, God, Michael,” she moaned breathlessly as his fingers continued to torment the rigid tips, sending a wave of heat rippling over her body, pooling white-hot fire in her core.

Trailing hot, damp lips over her neck, he slid them over her collarbone, sinking his teeth into the soft flesh spread before him. Laving the sting away with a rasp of his tongue, he sucked her skin in greedily, gasping as a rush of sweet heat, love and desire flooded through his body. She was exquisite.

Mouth watering, he traveled lower, flicking the tip of his tongue over rigid flesh before sucking the soft globe into his mouth, humming with satisfaction, alternatively suckling and nipping, fire spiking through his blood at every tiny noise she made in the back of her throat and arch of her body. Inhaling deeply, he moaned as her scent filled the air – musky, fresh and feminine, so Liz.

“God, I love the feel, the taste of you,” he mumbled, the velvet rasp of his tongue swirling over mocha flesh once more before he turned his attention to her other breast, running his mouth along the curve, latching onto her nipple and nipped it between his teeth. Laving the subtle sting, he closed his mouth over her breast and sucked, pulling back every so often to scrape his teeth over hot, aching flesh, fingers splaying against her ribs as he moved down her body. “Love your smell. It’s addicting. I can’t get enough.”

“So sweet,” he murmured, sliding his lips over her ribs, swiping his tongue over the soft swell of her stomach, nipping the tender flesh with blunt teeth and smiled against her skin when she bucked under his ministrations. Flicking molten caramel eyes to hers, he trailed his mouth over her stomach, brushing hot, wet lips against her hip as his hands slowly slid up and down silky thighs and calves, his stomach tightening with desire with every new taste, scent and texture he discovered. “Like that did you?”

“Ye-eeess,” she hissed breathlessly and wrapped her fingers into his hair, dragging his mouth back to hers, raking nails over his back. Gasping as the firm planes of his chest scraped against the soft mounds of hers, she slid her hands under the edge of his pants, shoving them over his hips and thighs before hooking her feet into pants and sliding them down his legs as far as she could. She needed the feel of his skin sliding against hers; lived for the heavy weight of his body on hers, wanted salt-tinged flesh under her mouth, to love, to worship, to possess. “I love touching you.”

“Ditto,” Michael growled, lifting his body and kicking the tangle of material away impatiently, reaching for the remnants of her robe and shredding the thin material from her body with pure brute strength. Yanking her in his arms, he grunted as soft, silky, vanilla-tinged skin slid against his as he settled between her legs and grinned with pure male satisfaction when she gasped at the friction. Capturing her mouth in a searing kiss, he ground against the slick, wet folds of her core and moaned helplessly when her hips flexed instinctively, breaking the kiss to demand raggedly, “Go-od, do that again.”

Cupping the back of his neck, she pulled him down, lips meshing perfectly and flexed her hips against him, enjoying his long, low groan as she opened her mouth, inviting the invasion of his tongue eagerly, their tongues tangling and dancing wantonly. Her blood sang, bubbling hotly under his soft caresses and humming with pleasure, she pushed against his chest and flipped him, rolling him onto his back and smiled as his mouth gaped slightly, his surprise evident.

“You always get the upper hand. My turn.” she whispered against his lips as she straddled his body, smiling wickedly when his eyes widened in anticipation before darkening with hunger. Rocking her hips against his tauntingly, her lips widened triumphantly as he hissed and his body tensed under hers, but it was short lived as fiery sherry-tinted eyes met hers in challenge.

Digging his fingers into her hips, Michael held her gaze and grasped her hips, pressing down harshly and swiveling her body against his erection in retaliation, sending a bolt of electricity racing over her skin. Crying out, her back bowed and she dug her nails into his shoulders as the movement sent small spasms coursing through her, waves of bliss shooting down her nerves as a small, mini-orgasm shuddered through her body and she slumped, panting against his chest.

Rising after a minute, Liz looked at down at her far too smug mate and licked her lips, leaning over to brush her lips against his ear, smiling when he shuddered slightly. “You’ll pay for that,” she vowed darkly, fixing smoky eyes on him as she grabbed his hands and entwined their fingers, pressing them into petals on either side of his head and brushed her lips over his teasingly, relishing the heartfelt groan that bubbled over his lips.

Sliding her lips over his throat, she smirked in satisfaction when she felt it convulse under her open mouth, his Adam’s apple jumping slightly as he tried to swallow and she drug her open mouth over the sensitive flesh, tongue flicking it lightly. Humming with need, she scraped her teeth over his pulse, loving the way it jumped in tempo under her tongue.

Nibbling at his neck, she trailed her mouth over his collarbone to his shoulder, teeth scraping and nipping at the firm, defined skin spread before her, her tongue licking, laving, tracing each ripple and indention, breath hitching as the hot, salty taste of him danced over her palate. Moaning softly, she inhaled deeply, the scent of his skin filling her senses and driving her own arousal higher.

Sitting up slightly, she ran her fingers over his chest lightly, scraping small nails over the his nipples and gave an awed half-smile as she watched the muscles bunch and ripple under her ministrations, his chest heaving, eyes hooded and desire-laden and cheeks crested with an aroused flush. “Beautiful.”

He was so beautiful, sensual, sexy and he didn’t even know it.

Michael’s breath hitched at her pronouncement, his heart leaping at the admiration shining in dark, ebony eyes. Swallowing thickly, he ran a finger over her cheek, tracing soft, flushed flesh before trailing it over her jaw and sliding his hand over her neck, pulling her down to him, needing to feel her lips against his.

“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are too me?” she whispered as she leaned over and captured his lips, brushing their mouths together softly, sucking wantonly on his bottom lip before tracing the warm fold of his mouth thoroughly. Relinquishing her hold, she sighed, her own breath growing shallow and raspy as she continued exploring his body. “How much you turn me on? How you drive me crazy; to the point where all I want to do is push against the nearest surface and feel you under my mouth.”

“Mmmmm,” he murmured incoherently, tangling his fingers in her hair as eyes slid shut under her assault. Breath snagging, he rumbled with pleasure as her mouth latched onto one nipple and her small, pink tongue drew circles around it before white teeth nipped it sharply, her fingers pinching the other at the same time. Jolting as electricity shot down his spine, he dug his fingers into her scalp, fighting the desire to grab her and throw her on her back and writhed subtly, his breath coming in short, choppy bursts as she continued to torment him with hot, open-mouth kisses and light bites.

“I love the feel of your skin pressed to mine,” she murmured, pressing their bodies together and rubbing sweat-slicked skin together, moaning quietly to prove her point. Sliding his hands over her back, his blood burned in his veins and he struggled to respond, but couldn’t, too lost in the sensations her mouth and body were creating. “Love how we fit together just so. Love how your body seems to be made for mine.”

Smoothing lithe fingers over his body as she slowly crept down, she met his hot, ravenous gaze, hands wrapping around his erection and caressed the rigid skin, stroking with slow, sure touches. Heart thrumming, her blood flowing under sweltering skin like liquid fire, she explored him slowly and thoroughly, finally getting the chance to find out what exactly did make him sigh, what made his breath catch and what made him purr in the back of his throat.

She loved the little rumble he made when she cupped him in her hands, the hiss and catch of breath when she grasped him bit more firmly and his long, drawn out growl when fingers smoothed over stiff, sensitized yet curiously smooth and soft skin. But what she liked most? The strangled cry the bubbled over his lips as she met dark, intense amber orbs, her own shining with feminine knowledge before flicking them down coquettishly and bit her lower lip, slowly lowering her head to hover over him, her lips curving in a half-smile of anticipation as she licked her lips.

“Jesus…Liz…” he choked, arms and back rippling with tension as hot, damp breath wafted over him, his blood rushing through his veins, every nerve screaming for release as she slowly licked the length of him. Desire exploded through his system, burning him with a heat so intense, it made a nuclear blast seem like nothing more than a roman candle and the burn of rocket fuel nothing more than water.

“Mmmm…love the taste of you,” she rumbled as she stared down at him with rapt awe for a moment before leaning over, her breath snagging as the scent of aroused male swirled around her. Breathing ragged, perspiration dotted his forehead as he fought the instinct to surge forward when she swirled her tongue over his erection, slowly sucking him into the warm, wet folds of her mouth and reflexively curled his hands into dark silk as she worked over his flesh until she held in her mouth as deep as she could.

“Liz, you don’t have to…oh God,” he rasped softly, his heartbeat speeding up as her mouth slid over stiff skin and she ran her tongue over the length of his shaft as she pulled away, sucking on the head softly, bobbing shallowly before releasing him, licking away a drop of salty liquid. Whatever happened to his shy brunette? “Jesus.”

Her body flushed with desire as she looked up his body, her breath hitching as she watched his face clench in pained bliss when she stroked him in her hand. Smiling mischievously, she kept her eyes locked on his face as she lowered her mouth, brushing her lips against him teasingly, but pulled away when his hips rocked up instinctually to meet her mouth.

Growling in frustration, Michael’s eyes snapped open and he glowered at his beautiful tormentor, eyes vowing retribution as her own flicked up, glinting devilishly and holding his hot gaze, she took him back into her mouth, sucking on him gently. He squeezed his eyes shut again, thighs trembling with strain, back bowing as she set a slow teasing pace that had him whimpering in the back of his throat. God she was going to drive him insane.

Fisting his hands into her hair, he gently guided her mouth over him, his hips rocking ever so slightly in response, body swimming in pure bliss and heart pounding as muscles coiled and heat raged through his blood, spiking with every glide of lips and tongue. Drawing a strangled breath, he emitted a harsh cry as her ministrations picked up speed, his nerves humming and panted as he neared release. “Liz…God…baby, please.”

“Begging, Guerin?” she rasped teasingly, pulling back long enough to frustrate him slightly, laughing softly when a tortured moan bubbled over his lips and he swore vengeance under his breath before resuming her teasing caresses. Feeling him tense under her, she scraped her teeth over him lightly, the sensation pushing him over the brink and he cried out hoarsely, his breath ragged and head reeling.

Pulling away from him, Liz smirked at her handy work, feeling slightly full of herself as she watched her mate drag air back into his lungs, his tawny waves matted to his head and face slack, soft with the euphoria still running through his system. That is until fiery bourbon eyes cracked, staring at her predatorily for a moment before he slowly pushed himself up, keeping that heated gaze melded with her and gathered her into his lap, her legs straddling his hips.

Dipping his head, he nudged her nose with his, whiskey-tinted fire searing trembling, pink lips as his gaze latched onto them and held as he drew his fingers over her hips, to the small of her back and over the expanse of skin to her shoulders, crushing their bodies together. The heat of their bodies rose between them like a sauna and hot, damp breaths mingled, his lips hovering just a hairsbreadth away from hers making Liz’s breath stutter and her blood pound in her temples.

“My turn,” he demanded hungrily, his voice cracked and throaty as he sank his lips against hers, clutching her waist tightly and flipped them over with lightening reflexes, smirking when her breath rushed out in a squeak as her back hit the ground with a soft thud. Pressing his nose to her temple, he inhaled deeply, bathing in the scent of warm, vanilla and sweat-tinged skin and let her scent, her essence surround and brand him as his hands traveled her body.

Scraping callused hands over the tender flesh over arms, he grasped delicate wrists gently, pressing them into their makeshift marriage bed as he drug parted lips over the crest of her cheek and down the line of her jaw, licking the damp, salted-vanilla flesh greedily. Sinking blunt teeth into her neck, he gave a sharp nip, rumbling with predacious satisfaction as her skin purpled faintly and she bucked against him, a breathless moan easing past her lips.

Drawing back slightly, he met hazy, molten chocolate with smoldering toffee eyes and tightened his hold on her wrists, grunting when her irises flared and dilated with dark passion. “Don’t move,” he commanded, giving one more subtle squeeze to her wrists, waiting for her acquiescence before dragging his fingers over her body to splay against her shallowly rising ribs and stomach.

Gliding his open mouth over her breasts, he laved the stiff peaks with his tongue, nibbling, licking and sucking on the flesh for a moment before traversing lower to his true destination, his breath hitching as the scent of her arousal filled his nose. Flicking his tongue over her navel, he caressed the insides of her thighs with the pads of his fingers, kneading the tender skin gently and nudged them apart, sliding his arms under her knees, her calves draping down his back.

Giving slight jerk, he knelt between her legs, dipping his head over her soft, glistening folds and inhaled sharply, breathing her in as he place one light kiss at the apex of her thighs, the neatly trimmed hair tickling his skin. Warm, damp air rushed over equally damp skin as he exhaled, sending a jolt of awareness through her body and she shivered as he hovered, his breath wrecking havoc on her senses as he rubbed his nose over the skin just under her navel teasingly.

“I love your scent,” he murmured, his breath ragged, head swimming dizzily as he continues his soft teasing kisses, sliding hot, wet lips along the inside of her right thigh, nipping the skin occasionally before soothing it with the rough pad of his tongue. Switching sides, he repeated his actions on the other side, watching her flushed face intently, taking in every sigh, flutter of lashes and silent cry greedily and feeding the rampant lust raging through his body.

“S-so you’ve s-said,” she whimpered past dry lips, jerking slightly as his tongue traced the juncture of her thigh and the sensitive flesh he’d studiously avoided, wanting to slowly build her pleasure before giving in to feast on sweet, pink flesh laid before him. Clawing at the ground beneath her, she squeezed her eyes shut, body humming with desire and muscles tensing tighter with every second that passed without fulfillment.

“It’s intoxicating,” he rasped, moving closer to his goal, breath rushing out as he flicked his tongue over her lightly, avoiding the bundle of nerves she craved he touch. Her sweet, spicy moisture clung to his lips and tongue, a sucker punch to the gut and he couldn’t resist another, deeper swipe against the warm, wet flesh, twirling the tip of his tongue over her folds. Breath rasping harshly, Michael closed his eyes briefly as her flavor coated his palate and grit his teeth, trying to rein his desire in, rambling helplessly before delving into her folds again. “But your taste…ah, God…your taste drives me crazy.”

“M-mi-iiichael,” she wailed brokenly, writhing under the skillful sweep of his tongue, squirming as he nibbled at the tender flesh, teasing and playing with her, his flicks and touches slow, methodical and unhurried, firm enough to drive her mad but too soft to fully satisfy. Whimpering with frustration, she reached up to grab his head and force him to give her what her body desperately craved, but was thwarted when he moved and grabbed her wrists, pressing them back against the ground with a warning glance, chuckling when she growled at him.

“Not so funny now, is it woman?” he taunted against her ear, reaching down to tweak a nipple playfully and nipping the lobe of her ear, his other hand slipping between their bodies, his thumb flicking her clit softly. She bucked against him slightly, whispering his name as the pressure continued to build in her body and her thighs clenched around his shoulders unconsciously as one finger drew lazy circles over her flesh.

Moaning, Michael tried to hold himself in check, fighting the desire to grab her hips and drive himself into her hot, welcoming heat and pulled away, jerking her hips against his chest as he dipped his tongue back into that heated flesh, laving it from top to bottom. Latching onto the little nub he just been tormenting with his finger, he sucked it into his mouth, alternating tiny bites, scrapes of teeth and the lightest flicks of his tongue until she squirmed beneath him.

Tossing her head to the side, Liz mewled in the back of her throat, all of her muscles contracting and body bowing as the fire and pressure reached a peak and her breath suspended for a moment as their eyes met hotly just before he gave one last deliberate flick of his tongue and scrape of teeth and the dam in her body broke. Her body clenched, back bowing as fire erupted in her womb and shot over her nerves, her body exploding in waves of bliss, her mouth parting in a silent cry of pleasure.

Watching her come undone with rapt attention, Michael swallowed thickly as desire whipped through body and his restraint snapped. Grabbing her hips, he nudged her thighs wider and slid into her core, groaning as hot, wet walls, still quivering in the aftermath of her release, surrounded him and he bit down on his inner cheek to keep from plunging on without care. Holding very still as her body adjusted and she caught up to him, he studied her intently and smirked slightly at her dazed, sated expression, whispering throatily, “So beautiful. I want you more than anything or anyone in this lifetime or last.”

Darkened brown eyes fluttered open meeting molten gold and she shuddered softly as he possessed her slowly, humming with satisfaction when he moved just slightly, stretching her internal muscles and filling her completely. Arching under that very slight movement, her hips flexed against his, drawing a growl and pent up breath past his lips and his fingers tightened unconsciously as his body strung tight, eyes squeezing as exquisite heat rippled through him, searing him from the inside out.

“Gooood,” he breathed, panting as he opened his eyes, lowering his body slowly, staying deeply embedded in her core and pressed their chests together, a sweet rush of love and desire bursting through their connection as their skin slid against one another. “You feel so damn good. So hot, perfect.”

Brushing his lips against hers, he hissed when her arms wrapped around him and nails raked over the slick, taut sinew of his back and he clutched her tighter, smiling as she gasped when their chests rubbed together, her nipples tightening with each graze of flesh.

“You’re good at that,” she sighed, heat washing over her skin, the fire in her womb starting to build once more as he began to rock against her shallowly with slow, controlled thrusts. Squeezing her hips against his, she tangled her fingers in sweat-dampened waves, dragging his mouth to hers for a deep, searing kiss and met each of his slow, languorous strokes with her own, mumbling against his lips teasingly. “I’m starting think you’ve done this before.”

“Not in this lifetime,” he murmured back, drinking her down as he found a steady rhythm that drove them both insane with desire, increasing his pace slightly as her nails dug into his low back, pushing against it to drag him deeper into her body. Grunting at her blissful expression, lids fluttering and lips parted in rapture, he slid one arm around her waist and the other around her shoulders, crushing her to his body as he vowed. “Never with anyone but you.”

Clutching her tightly, he rolled over onto his back, wrapping his hands around her hips and grunted with pained bliss as the action deepened and changed the penetration, breathing harshly when her back bowed and she dug her nails into his chest, seeking purchase.

“Oh, god…” she whispered blissfully, shifting against him before looking down at him uncertainly and rocking her hips slightly; writhing, back arching as the new position had him touching places she didn’t know existed. Biting her lip nervously, she met smoldering sherry and traced the muscles of his chest hesitantly, not sure what she was supposed to do and what he’d like. “Michael…I don’t…I’ve never…”

“Shhh,” he whispered, seeing her uncertainty and knowing all to well she’d never done this and guided her hips gently, sliding one hand into her hair to cup the back of her head, weaving his fingers into long, shiny tresses as he thrust into her soft, warm flesh. Dragging her to him for a brief kiss, he whispered huskily, “Just do whatever makes you feel good, I…ah, Jesus…am going to be happy no matter what you do.”

Crushing his lips to hers in a fervent kiss, he released her and rested his hands on her waist to steady her, rocking against her shallowly until she pressed her hands into his chest for leverage and caught the rhythm, swiveling her hips against his in slow, deep thrusts. Joining her subtle rocking, he gasped as electricity crackled over his skin, moaning breathlessly as she leaned over to capture his lips, maintaining the sinuously slow strokes of her body as she plundered his lips.

“Oh, God, more,” he growled, digging his fingers into her hair, fisting the cool silk as he crushed their lips together and tired of the slow, teasing motion of their hips, thrust against her impatiently. Glowering when she laughed softly, he tightened his hold on her hair and tugging slightly in retaliation, demanding roughly. “More.”

“Michael!” She cried, digging her fingers into his shoulders as fire shot over her nerves and she quickened her movements as the pressure and heat built painfully in her womb, drowning in the sensation of him. Inhaling sharply as he sat up, crushing her to him so that she was now pressed to him fully and straddling his lap, she wrapped her arms around him as their lips met in an insistent, passionate dance.

“Oh, God, Michael,” she babbled mindlessly, her fingers grasping at him blindly, digging into his back as hot waves of pleasure built, their strokes becoming deep and fast, skin scraping together, the friction adding to the sensations curling through and around them. “Michael…”

“Liz,” he begged, a savage groan ripping from the back of his throat as her nails raked over his skin. Unable to take it anymore, he threw her on her back, caging her in and barely hesitating in their frenzied movements, impaled himself in her body with one solid thrust, taking over their sensual dance. “God, so good, so unbelievably good. I’ve wanted this for so long…dreamed…fantasized…not even close.”

Sensing her impending release, Michael grabbed her hips and bucked, penetrating as deeply as he could as he crushed their mouths together in a stormy, explosive kiss, swallowing her cries of ecstasy as the fire finally erupted into an inferno and exploded around them. A keening cry echoed through the clearing as he thrust into her fiercely once more and her spine bowed, muscles clenching around him as they found release together.

Bodies trembling, they rode that blinding edge of bliss as they pushed the other to unsurpassed pleasure, gasping when their connection flared wide open, bathing them not only in their own but the other’s pleasure. Hearts pounded in sync, breath merged and became one, minds touched, souls bound and they floated, as wave after wave of heat, desire and fulfillment crashed over their bound bodies.

Shivering, they rode out the moment for several minutes as their power and connection washed over them, leaving them suspended in a warm blanket of love, tenderness and rapture, humming with life before they came down slowly, bodies wrapped around one another. Panting shallowly, they kissed softly and exchanged soft, languid caresses, sliding into a deep, peaceful slumber as he whispered next to her ear.


And this journey that we’re on,
How far we’ve come and I celebrate every moment
And when you say you love me
That’s all you have to say, I’ll always feel this way

Nuzzling her face in Michael’s chest, Liz drew a deep breath, waking slowly and smiled when he rumbled in his chest, tightening his arms around her to hinder her soft movements and keep her anchored to his side. She laughed softly when he sleepily buried his face into her neck, kissing the soft skin as his fingers skimmed the length of her back and rolled her to her back, pressing her into the bed of fragrant petals.

Trailing soft kisses along the line of her jaw, he smiled against her skin as she purred and bent to capture her lips, the meter of his heart thrumming wildly as her fingers caressed skin still glowing faintly in the aftermath of their bonding. Wrapping his tongue around hers teasingly, he drew it into his mouth, stroking it languorously as his fingers trailed over soft, golden skin, delighting in the fact that she was his for life. No one could part them now that they had the blessing of the Granilith.

Relinquishing his hold on her mouth, he brushed his lips over her nose teasingly before bumping it softly with his. Lifting his face he watched her quietly, eyes soft as a smile teased his lips and a warm glow suffused his body as she smiled in return, tenderly brushing tawny waves back from his face. Turning his head slightly, he pressed a gentle kiss in her palm as he ran his fingers through silky espresso strands, twirling the locks around his fingers absently. He leaned down to press his lips to her once more when a light glow caught his attention.

Looking down at her breastbone, he ran his fingers over her seal lightly, noticing for the first time that it had changed since their bonding. The sword and rose were still there, but now intersected two linked crowns, one delicately wrote and decidedly feminine, the other thicker and more masculine. He had felt her connection with Zan snap shut at the time of the bonding, but hadn’t been aware of the other changes. Tracing the edges with wonder, he smiled with satisfaction as the mark showed the world they were bound, mated – she was his alone.

Zan couldn’t do anymore damage.

Cradling her into his arms, he crushed her against him possessively, relief washing over his body as he pressed his face into her hair, his lips resting against her temple. His muscles tremored slightly as he pulled back, but kept her anchored against him and met startled chocolate irises, smiling shakily to try to reassure her. He couldn’t explain the feelings coursing through him because he hadn’t been aware until now, just how worried and scared he’d been that he would lose her to forces against his will.

Zan’s willful and calculating destruction of his and Lareena’s relationship as well as Ava and Khivar’s bond had disturbed and shaken him more than he let on.

“Are you okay?” Liz whispered, touching his cheek gently, her brow furrowing as she studied his pinched face, confused as to the sudden change in his demeanor. He’d been light-hearted, and even playful, just moments before some dark thought seemed to steal away his contentment. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he smiled, his darkened face lightening as he looked at her, laying her down on the bed of petals and smoothing a finger over her brow, tracing her features gently. Chuckling at the skeptical quirk of her mouth, Michael dropped a light peck on her lips and lay down at her side, propping his chin on his hand. Plucking a flower off the ground, he teased her stomach with the soft petals, smirking when she squirmed and giggled. “Nothing now.”

“Great, you’re going to be even more cryptic than usual,” she smirked right back at him, rolling her eyes with exasperation and pulled the flower out of his hand, pressing it to her nose lightly before plucking the petals one at a time. Meeting amused tawny eyes; she wrinkled her nose delicately and tossed the empty stem at him. “I thought this bonding thing meant opening up and sharing our thoughts and feelings.”

“A zebra can’t change its stripes, Aiba,” he snorted, laughing when she stuck her tongue out at him and rolled over, presenting him with her delectable back, pretending to pout.

Eyeing her appreciatively, his arm snaked out and he yanked her against his chest, peppering playful nips and light kisses over her neck and along her spine, smiling when she giggled and snuggled her back into his chest. Pushing her hair back over her shoulders, he sighed happily and placed a soft kiss on her shoulder, his fingers grazing the soft swell of her stomach. Wrapping his arms around her tightly, he buried his face into the curve of her neck and held her, contented for several minutes.

“I was just remembering Zan…Max’s actions and I’m glad we bonded before anything bad happened,” he replied quietly, lifting his head and studying her with quiet intensity when she turned in his arms, understanding dawning in her eyes. Watching him soberly, she splayed her hand on his chest, fingering the new seal absently, a faint glow catching her eyes and they sharpened, honing in on the two crowns pensively.

Chewing on her bottom lip, Liz studied the mark they’d only had for a couple of days, but yet it felt like such a part of her, that she didn’t even flinch at the sight of them. Most people would have thought that they had rushed things, but really the past two days had been the culmination of forces that had been in the work for years.

“Our seals changed,” she murmured, fingers feathering over his chest gently as she met his intent gaze once more, the hint of a question touching her sober gaze. Tracing the two crowns, a touch of apprehension simmered in her stomach and wondered why they made her feel so uneasy. “What do they mean?”

“It’s because I’m king,” he replied, touching her cheek softly as he studied the beginnings of confusion manifest in her face and sighed, knowing it was time to face the music. He’d been dreading this conversation since he had gotten more of his memories back. God, was it just earlier today that this all happened? So much had changed in the space of a few hours. Tensing as he felt her withdraw slightly, he pressed on despite being fully aware of the can of worms it would open. “Which makes you my queen.”

“K-king?” she stuttered, eyes widening at his announcement. She focused on a spot over his shoulder and blinked, her mind whirling with questions. Running a shaky hand through tangled molasses locks, she met his eyes once more, the faintest hint of panic and anger simmering in her eyes. “You’re king? But I thought the orb… Max’s mom said…wait, how is this possible? The orb said Max was the King and you were his second.”

“No, the orb said he was the leader of our people and I was his second,” Michael sighed, running a hand through his own hair, slightly frustrated and unsure of how to explain what he meant. Even he didn’t understand all the intricacies of his culture and his position in the federation, as his memories were spotty at best, showing him only a glimpse of his past.

Scrubbing a hand over his face, he grew quiet and pensive, now knowing that an entire planet’s well being resided on his shoulders. He didn’t even know how he felt about his position and truthfully hadn’t wanted to address it quite yet, because every time he thought of himself as king, his stomach fluttered nervously and panic trickled over his spine. If he, someone that had always been aware he had a destiny, had a hard time accepting it, how could he expect anything different from Liz?

Not to mention, he couldn’t help but wonder if this had all been a long, strange dream that he was bound to awaken from at any moment. Even in his wildest fantasies, he’d never imagined his life playing out this way; never considered that he was more than a soldier. Never imagined that he’d be lying next to this beautiful woman, bonded, married by the rites of his people; that she’d want to be bonded to him in turn. It still shook him to the core that she’d not only agreed, but also embraced his heritage enough to pledge her life to him and his people.

“Right,” Liz said, shrugging her shoulders and nodded her head in acknowledgement, vividly remembering the words that set them onto this eventual path. She knew that his mother had never actually uttered the word king, but there were others who had. Of course, now that she thought about it, the emissary worked for the other side, so who’s to say they were being truthful. “And then it was confirmed he was king by the emissary while he was New York.”

“Confirmed that he was king of Antar, yes,” he agreed, sighing once again when she stared at him blankly. He couldn’t really be upset with her not following his explanation, as he knew he was fumbling it a bit. Taking a deep breath, he gathered his thoughts and plunged on with the frustratingly little information he’d gathered through his dreams and flashes. “Aiba, there are four other planets in our system, each set up with a royal house. I was born into one of those, the Royal House of Ahrensa.”

“The emissary and the orbs lied?” she queried softly, heart thudding in her chest as the impact of his position hit home. Oh, God, this made her queen as they were as good as married because of their bond. She had walked away from one king because he held higher destiny than she could ever hope to compete with, only to entangle herself with another. The small trickle of panic burst into a full-fledged tidal wave as his announcement sunk in. What was it with her and alien kings?

“Not lied per se, just misinterpreted. I am also second-in-command of the alliance there,” he explained as he watched her shut down and barely bit back a grunt of disgruntlement. He had a bad feeling she was going to do this. He knew that she was worried she was interfering with his destiny, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

He and Lannie had never wanted to be with each other and the only other girl he had loved, thought he was dead and was likely bonded by this time. And it was the truth, Rath as Lareena knew him was dead. Michael was a completely different person and irrevocably in love with the stubborn, self-sacrificing brunette in front of him. Sitting up he pulled her into his arms, cupping her jaw softly. “Think about it, Liz, do you honestly think that I would have been betrothed to Vilandra if I were nothing more than a soldier?”

“No,” she whispered, lips and cheeks paling, quaking as the reality of their actions came crashing around her. She had been fine with the idea of being the wife of a general, perhaps even a nobleman, but crown prince, a future king? She didn’t know anything about running a country, let alone an entire planet. He needed someone who had been trained from birth by his side.

Michael watched the uncertainty and doubts flash across her face, her dark eyes filling with panic, and bit back an oath. He remembered that look all too well. He’d seen it during her quick shut down after Max had found out his destiny and his biggest fear had been that she’d try the same with him. There was no way he was going to let that happen. Not after everything they had been through to get to this moment.

“Michael, I can’t be queen! I’m not royal. I’m not even of noble birth,” she cried, shaking her head emphatically as she pulled away from him, frantically searching for an escape from their chamber and choking back a strangled breath when she remembered they were still stuck wherever the Granilith had set them. Facing him, fear tinting her eyes, she shrugged helplessly. “I’m as common as they come and you need someone by your side that knows how to lead your people.”

“Not of royal birth, yes,” he agreed readily, nodding his head in confirmation. There was no refuting that. Crawling over to her, he cupped her chin once more and tipped her face to his so she couldn’t look away. Stroking her cheek soothingly with his thumbs, he relaxed slightly as the hard edges of panic softened in her eyes and her more logical mind kicked in. “But not common by any means, Liz.”

“But…I’m not capable of leading…” she stammered uncertainly, the fear of never being enough still thrumming through her blood and blinked as his eyes heated up, cutting off her words in mid thought. Swallowing hard at the strength, conviction and…belief in her staring at her in the face, she dropped her gaze for a moment to pull her thoughts together and get her breathing under control. Control. She needed control and to think rationally.

“Yes, you are,” he firmly refuted, nearly sighing in relief as her head snapped up once more and he saw the stirring of acceptance in her eyes. Pressing his fingers to her seal, he pointed to it to illustrate his argument. “This would not be possible if you weren’t. The Granilith would have never sanctioned our union if She thought you unworthy.”

“What?” she asked, her eyes clouding with confusion, but definitely much calmer than she’d been when she first got the news. Her eyes danced over his face inquisitively as she wrapped her arms around her middle, a slight chill running over her spine.

“I told you in the beginning, true bonds are rare among my people,” he explained, trying his best not to get exasperated, trying to be as understanding as possible when it came to her very real fears. He couldn’t blame her, because he held similar fears of his own abilities. “They are only possible by Granilith sanction. It’s why we connected to her and what the ceremony with cup was about. That she presented it to you speaks volumes of your abilities.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about all of this in the beginning?” she asked, a hint of hurt and anger lingering in her tone as she met his equally frustrated gaze, disheartened that he seemed to be withholding information to protect her once again. She knew it was in Michael’s nature to act first and then explain himself later, if she was lucky, but he needed to remember that there were two people in this relationship.

“I don’t know. I was more concerned with keeping you safe,” he responded defensively, clawing at his eyebrow and fidgeting under her exasperated glare. “And I’ll do it again if I feel it’s necessary. Not to mention that this memory thing isn’t exactly a science. I didn’t even remember some of the details until today.”

“So this was about protecting me,” she queried in a deceptively neutral tone that set the hairs on the back of Michael’s neck on edge and he bit back a groan, pressing the pads of his thumb and forefinger to his eyes. Swiping a hand over his face wearily, he forced a retort back down his throat and watched her warily.

“Yes…no,” he returned, struggling to find the words to explain what he meant and his reasoning. I needed to protect you. If Zan, were to take you away, I don’t think I’d survive. I can’t imagine waking up without you by my side; can’t imagine a life without you in it. I don’t know when, but you’ve come to mean everything to me and I love you so much, I can’t think straight. But none of the words would come out. “Part of it?”

“Is that a question or an answer?” she retorted, still slightly irritated, but the helpless, yet warm emotions swimming behind his eyes were a balm to the sting his actions caused. Eyeing him contemplatively, her lips pursed in a little bow as she chewed on the inside of her cheek and weighed his words in her mind, fighting the urge to throttle her overprotective husband.

Husband. Mate. Her King.

Her mind tripped over the words, heart thrumming softly, a slight trickle of panic still echoing through the wonder, yet, she couldn’t help but think of how right those words felt in connection to him. Of course this didn’t let him off the hook completely; she still wanted answers, but those words filled her heart with a soft warm glow and she couldn’t help but soften slightly knowing all to well that the stubborn man couldn’t help himself sometimes.

Tonight was about them and their union; the rest could wait.

“Uh, answer?” he replied hesitantly, scratching at his brow thoughtfully while kicking himself internally for holding off on this explanation. He knew Liz didn’t like information kept from her, but it hadn’t been intentional. At least, not this time. Between everything that happened with Maria, Max and the foursquare bond, he had had little time to analyze or reflect on the news himself. He’d been too busy reacting.

“Hmmmm…” she mused noncommittally, running a hand through hair, the tension slowly melting from her body as she watched her mate ruefully, an exasperated, but loving smile quirking the corner of her mouth. Shaking her head, the rest of her irritation drained away at the love and concern reflected in caramel eyes, belying the stoic resolve etched in his face. “You’re so…so…exasperating, you know that?”

“And you love me anyway,” he quipped, his face lightening, lips quirking slightly as humor returned to her eyes, confident that they had pushed past the worst of her worries and insecurities. Grabbing her wrist, he dragged her over to him and wrapped her in his arms, pressing his lips to her forehead softly before pressing his cheek to the slightly damp skin, rubbing back and forth.

“We will discuss this later,” she stated firmly, her discontent dissolving under his persistent seduction, sighing softly when his lips trailed over her hairline, placing light, sweet kisses along it.

“Of course,” he agreed soberly, pressing his lips to hers, sighing with contentment as she returned the light caress before pulling away to rest her forehead to his once more, her eyes clouding slightly and brow pinching as she met his eyes.

“What if I can’t do this?” she asked quietly, a niggling, residual fear whispering through her heart as she clung to him uncertainly, burying her face into the crook of his neck. Humming with contentment when his hands ran through her hair and over her neck and shoulders, she wrapped her arms around his chest, hands splaying possessively over his back.

“You can,” he affirmed, pulling back and meeting her worried gaze with assurance as he gently lowered them against the petals, cradling her head as he lowered his body onto hers, careful to keep most of his weight on his elbows as he watched his wife.

His wife, his queen.

Brushing his fingers against her cheek gently, he ran a finger along her hairline, pushing back thick chocolate waves softly as he leaned in and kissed her tenderly. Smoothing his hands over lithe curves, he entwined his fingers with hers, brushing his lips over the back of her knuckles before pressing her fingers to his steadily beating heart.

“I thought of you as my queen long before I found out. Maybe something inside me knew, maybe not,” he continued seriously, dark bourbon irises flicking over her face, stroking her hair lightly. “But no matter what I thought or felt, the seals would not have appeared unless you were, are, worthy of the position. You are more than my queen; you are my life mate. My match in every way.”

She watched him quietly, sober chocolate eyes searching for any minute hint of doubt in his face and her heart swelled, humbled by the utter faith, belief and love reflected in his eyes. Touching his cheek softly, her eyes misted and she smiled at him hesitantly.

“I love you,” she whispered, running her fingers through the soft, cool waves framing his face, smoothing them along high cheekbones, rubbing her palm over the rasp of stubble along his jaw and her breath stuttered when he shifted his head to place a feather light kiss on her fingertips.

“Ditto,” he smirked, trying to lighten the moment and laughed when she rolled her eyes at his less than romantic, but completely Michael response. Smiling at him grudgingly, her eyes crinkled at the edges as she glanced at him flirtatiously from beneath her lashes. Eyes growing smoky as she became aware of all that smooth, very naked skin pressed to her, she wiggled her body against his teasingly, grin widening when he hissed and pinned against the their makeshift bed, smoldering sherry drifting over her lazily.

“Mmmph, seems like Little Mikey is happy and ready to play again,” she taunted, leering at him salaciously and fought back a snort at his indignant expression, his eyes widening incredulously before they narrowed in challenge. Losing her fight with hilarity, she giggled helplessly as he caged her in and buried his face into her breasts, peppering her body with kisses and nips.

“Little? Little?” he snorted, sliding his hands over her thighs, grabbing a handful of her ass and ground the offended appendage against his mate tauntingly, smirking when she writhed and a low moan ripped from her throat. Capturing her lips in a searing kiss, a sweet rush of desire rippled over his body and he set about proving just how gifted he was as he grumbled “I’ll show you little, woman.”

When you say you love me
The world goes still, so still inside
And when you say you love me
For a moment I know why I’m alive
When you say you love me
Do you know how I love you?

~When You Say You Love Me, Josh Groban
Last edited by Ashita on Sat Jun 12, 2010 9:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Hunted (UC, AU, Mi/L, ADULT) Chap 15 9/12

Post by Ashita » Sun Sep 12, 2010 6:41 pm

Whims - Thanks so much for everything - the beta work, the plotting, the refining and allowing me to bounce new ideas off you for this story. More, thank you for helping me solidify where to take Maria in this story as I was still so up in the air as to what to do with her. You so rock!

booktv-girl - Thank you so much for your feedback. :) I love this Liz and Michael as well. They just hold a special place in my heart. And you made me blush with your words. Sorry for the delay in this chapter. :)

Kris - Thanks so much! Michael is pretty awesome in this story I think. But I am a bit biased. Glad you liked this chapter. Hopefully this next one will live up to the other chapters. :)

Barbara - Well ask and you shall receive. :) We don't see Max's plans for Liz in this chapter yet, but we do get a look into his thoughts and some of his actions. And I'm glad the chapter was worth the wait. Hopefully this one will be worth it as well. :)

Jan - Well you know me, I have to hide little nuggets of humor and sweetness in all the steam. It's really those moments that make a relationship. Steam is good but what is life without laughter and a little gooey, sweetness? And we do get a glimpse at the fall out in the beginning of this chapter.

Des - Wow! Again I'll say that I'm thrilled and flattered that you liked the story so much that you went searching for it. I hope you enjoy this chapter as much as the others and that it has been well worth joining the site and the wait for a new chapter. :)

Jenna - Thank you! I'm happy to see that you still enjoy the story reading it another time. I'm always thrilled to know that people like my stories enough to read them a second time. :) Sorry for the long delay in chapters, but I do hope you'll enjoy this one and that you'll continue to enjoy the developing relationships and story line.

AN: My apologies as always with the delay in getting this out, but you know how it gets in the way, research is needed and sometimes the muse just chooses to be uncooperative or gets far to hyper focused on other stories. Thanks for sticking with me though and I hope that this chapter makes up for the long wait! Enjoy!


Max stared out over the desert quietly, hands clenching and unclenching as he held onto his fraying temper by a thread, still seething about the developments three nights prior. Shading his eyes against the bright New Mexico sun, he flinched as a residual burn radiated over his nerves, bringing back a full blast of phantom pain in his gut that had him sagging against the pod chamber, the memory almost sending him writhing to his knees in complete agony.

Damn Rath. This was all his fault.

Gritting his teeth, he pressed his sweaty brow to the crumbling rock wall, inhaling shallowly in an effort to quell the rising tide of nausea in his stomach. He’d been fighting the results of their bonding for the past three days and this had been the first time he’d seen the light of day, having spent the entire time lost in fevered dreams, weak and helpless against any potential attack. Thankfully, Rath was far too busy playing house with his new mate to seek him out and exact revenge for his actions that night. He’d been a sitting duck.

Just went to prove that the other man was as weak as he initially thought. If it had been him, wife or not, he’d have hunted the other man and disposed of him while he was down. But then again, Rath always held to a strict code of conduct for himself. It was what made killing him so easy the last time – that innate sense of honor was just far too easy to prey upon.

But no, he was wrapped up in Liz, enjoying the fact that her parents trip had met with unforeseen delays and they were forced to stay in Las Cruces for a couple more days, giving the ‘newlyweds’ a chance to have a mini-honeymoon before they had to face reality. It would have been sickeningly sweet if it didn’t make his blood boil and bile rush up into his throat, coating his mouth in bitter acid; if it didn’t make him want to blast them both into oblivion for daring to challenge him.

“Fuck,” he grunted, turning around slowly, his head swimming dizzily as he clenched his eyes shut, pain ricocheting throughout his skull, and gasped as his knees buckled, his back crashing against the stones jarringly. Giving up, he sank to the ground panting as he tried to block out the searing ache in his joints and cursed the other alien once again. Once he was able to move without feeling like his body was on fire, he was going to make the other man pay.

He should have stayed in bed, but he couldn’t afford to miss today’s meeting considering he’d failed to make that night’s due to his unconsciousness. He’d forgotten the toll such a bond could wreck on a foreign and unknown connection; had forgotten that the power building between the bonding couple would see that connection as a form of attack and retaliate, shoving the other person out forcibly. Such superficial connections, like the one forged with Liz when he healed her, were usually mutually severed before the other bonded to prevent those adverse complications. Not that he would have, had he known what they were planning. He'd have found a way to prevent it.

Rubbing a shaking hand over his face, Max breathed harshly, tipping his head against the cave in exhaustion and pressed his fingers to gritty, stinging eyes, chuckling mirthlessly. He had to hand it to Rath. Completing the bond that night was a brilliant, preemptive strike against him. Damn his own arrogant belief that they wouldn’t take such drastic measures; for thinking they’d want a longer lehali period before committing fully.

He thought he knew Liz, but apparently many things had blinded him over the years. She’d never have acted out this way before Michael got his hooks into her, just one more point against his former friend. Before Rath, Liz had been easy to manipulate with a few well-placed words, tears and silly, romantic gestures. Up until New Year’s Eve, he’d thought he’d been wearing down her resistance. Obviously he was wrong. He should have recognized Rath’s taint on her then.

Tell me, Zan, how does it feel to have Destiny thrown in your face?

Lareena. It always came back to her. He knew that enforcing the betrothal between Rath and Lannie would destroy any shred of potential good will, or at the very least civility, that the other prince had shown him, but he’d been willing to pay that price to ensure that his planet would survive. Some things were more important than popularity.

Although, now that he had foresight, he did realize he could have handled the situation better, reminding them of the contract privately but refraining from a public announcement until a proper mourning period had passed. They would have been easier to manipulate then and Rath wouldn’t have had the public’s support in getting him dethroned due to misuse of power among other things. Lannie wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on in her bid for the monarchy.

He’d made a lot of mistakes back then.

Snapping his head up as a car door tore him from his reverie, he cursed softly as his senses swam and pain skittered over raw nerves once more. Yes, Rath was going to pay for every moment of his sickness. Blinking his eyes to clear the haze, he bit back his annoyance as a dark head popped into view and headed up the slope at a brisk, no-nonsense pace. It was about damn time he got here. The soldier should know better than to keep his king waiting. If this kept up, he was going have to think seriously of replacing him with another in his contingent.

Glancing at his watch, he grit his teeth as he realized time was slipping away quickly and if they didn’t hurry this along, his absence would be noticed and the last thing he needed was Isabel or Maria to come searching for him out of misplaced concern and stumbling on him talking to him. Yes, the general was getting out of hand and it was time he seriously considered a replacement, making him a public example to those who dared toy with him. He may have been a weak-willed boy before their initial meeting, but since his memories had been unlocked, he wasn’t going to tolerate this insubordination.

Rising, he stuck his hands in his pockets and watched the sour-faced male come to a standstill in front of him, not even bothering to greet his ally as he studied him carefully, irritation flaring over his nerves at the insolent smirk that graced his face. Yeah, smirk while you can little boy, because your days are numbered. I have no need for you anymore. Fixing a tolerant smile on his face, he waited for the brunet to speak, putting on his weaker Max mantle to keep him from guessing his true thoughts until he was good and ready to end his leadership.

“It’s about damn time, Zan,” his adviser griped, rubbing the back of his neck as he stared at Max balefully, his lips twisted into a derisive sneer as he studied the wanna-be king standing innocuously before him. Narrowing his eyes, he sneered when a flash of annoyance sparked in his king’s eyes and he cocked a brow, lips thinning as he realized that Zan was taking Max over a little more every time they met and that he’d have to watch him carefully. Zan was known to serve only one person faithfully – himself, and everyone else were just pawns in his latest game.

“I did my best to get here,” Max replied, his voice tight with the effort to hold back a scathing retort, gritting his teeth when the other man flicked an assessing gaze over him before looking away dismissively, unwisely turning his back to his seething king. He definitely needed to see about replacing the impudent little weasel.

“What the hell took so long anyway?” the brunet griped, crossing his arms over his chest as he stared Max down, his dark eyes cold and unfriendly. He might serve the man before him, but that didn’t mean he actually liked him, and the only reason Zan held his loyalty was that his rule had benefited him greatly and he rather liked his life as it was on Antar. Something that would rapidly change if Rath ascended in the federation. “You were supposed to meet me three days ago.”

“I had problems crop up and couldn’t make it,” Max responded icily, his tone controlled, breath quickening in agitation as he leveled a hard stare on the other boy, clenching his fists and reminding himself that he needed to keep his temper in check. He still needed this little pipsqueak until he learned the location of the next summit meeting and then he could make his move.

The other boy stared right back, the back of his neck prickling with unease as he stared at Max and knew without a doubt he had to watch him closer. Zan was closer than ever and if they weren’t careful, his arrogance would cost them the throne once more and the whole point of this was to show people that Earth had changed the king, so he’d be reinstated. He’d already cost them a great deal by goading Rath into bonding fully with his human mate, not to mention that a new foursquare had been forged.

The last one sent a chill over his spine as he realized it struck too close to an old prophecy his mother would recite to him as a child, of a king that would be reborn in a foreign land and bond to the reanimated queen of his heart. Together they and the other bonded royals would merge into a power of four and bring peace to the federation. He’d thought they had always meant the Royal Four as they knew them, but he now had his doubts.

“They bonded,” he accused abruptly, his voice tight with irritation as he turned back to Zan, his eyes frosting over with icy disdain and he pressed his lips together as he waited for some explanation, his muscles tensing when his king frowned menacingly, the air crackling between them. Dragging an agitated breath, he clenched his hands and planted his feet shoulder-width apart, bracing himself for anything. He didn’t think Zan was stupid enough to kill him yet, but then again, he didn’t think he had been stupid enough to get himself killed on Antar either and look where they were now.

“And?” Max countered in a deadly quiet tone, striding over to his companion and hulking over the smaller boy menacingly, his brow pinched with barely suppressed anger. Who the hell did he think he was reprimanding him? Narrowing his eyes, his lips thinned as he relished the idea of snuffing the little bastard’s life out right then and there, but reined the straining threads of his temper in. “So they’ve bonded. I can deal with it.”

“You were supposed to prevent that,” he griped, getting in Max’s face, his temper getting the better of him at the other boy’s flippant reply. He did not put in all this time with the self-centered brat to have him fuck everything up now. “Along with the foursquare merge. Do you have any idea how detrimental that is to our cause?”

“Foursquare merge?” Max grated, surprise flaring in his eyes briefly before melting into a molten fury as the other taint he picked up in Michael’s power became all too apparent. No wonder the other man had bested him so easily the other night. His stomach bubbled with rage as he realized that with Tess gone there was only one other person that he could have merged with. “What foursquare merge?”

“What, you mean there is something that the great Zan isn’t aware of?” the other boy snarked, a malicious smile spreading over his lips as he watched disbelief and then anger cloud Max’s face. This was exactly as he feared, Zan’s obnoxious, arrogant attitude blinding him to the gathering factions around him. “Surprise, surprise, Your Majesty. I’d keep better tabs on your sister if I were you. Wouldn’t want a repeat of last time.”

“I think, I, of anyone know just how bad of a situation that puts us in. After all, it’s my throne that’s being threatened,” Max snapped, his on temper flaring as he pressed back, not about to back down to the other boy this time. It was time to stop hiding behind his Max persona now that the cat was out of the bag and Michael knew of his transformation and Isabel proved to be the treasonous bitch she was back on Antar. “You forget yourself, soldier. You may have awakened my past memories, but do not think that gives you any power here. I am King, not you.”

“Bravo. Spoken just like Zan. He was an insufferable ass too,” his companion lofted sarcastically, smirking as his mocking round of applause made the prince’s teeth clench and his ears flame beet red. Dropping his hands, the momentary amusement faded as an icy smirk slid across his face. “Remember this, Your Majesty, without me and those who follow me, you’d be nothing more than a sniveling, teenage boy playing king. Whether you like it or not, you need me, so I’d watch the attitude.”

“The fact that I need you, is the only reason you’re still breathing,” Max threatened silkily, flicking his informant a cool look, full of disdain as he turned away from him and presented him with his back, showing him that he didn’t find him to be a threat. “But don’t fool yourself into believing that you are in any way indispensable. There are plenty in your little organization that would kill to have your position. Quite literally.”

“Touché. I’m impressed. Your merge with Zan is almost flawless,” the brunet conceded, all the while devising a plot to keep Max in line and make sure he never got the opportunity to dispense of him. It was good to have so many shapeshifters on his side, especially mindless soldiers that would do anything for him. Smiling at that thought, he cooled his anger and needled. “If it weren’t for your obsession with the little human, I’d say it was dead on. Although, maybe not. After all, you were just as obsessed with Rath’s Lareena and they aren’t so dissimilar.”

“Leave Liz out of this,” Max grit out, whipping his head around and pinning the brunet with a furious glare, his body going tense as power flared through it, aching to be unleashed on the smug, little bastard, his knuckles cracked audibly under the strain. He couldn’t wait to kill him.

“Oh yeah, that has to grate. Lost out in love to Rath twice,” he continued with mock sympathy, blatantly disregarding the low growl that ripped from Max’s throat as he paced, staring at his nails in apparent disregard before flicking his nemesis a mocking grin. “Well, he always did excel in everything. I wonder what little Lizzie would have to say about how you rate in comparison to your biggest rival. Oh wait…I don’t have to do I? After all, the fact that she fought your attempt to break the bond months ago says it all. You always did fall short of the mark.”

“Couldn’t even keep your own wife in line. How is Ava anyway?” he finished icily, watching the other man’s rage bloom until his chest was heaving with harsh pants and his ears turned a mottled purple. So he wanted to play games did he? Fine by him, he had years on this planet to hone his survival instincts and knew this wanna-be-king was no match for him. “I heard she fled the planet without you. How did that happen? With the lies she believed and being pregnant with your child, we were well on our way to the throne. What the hell happened, Zan?”

“I don’t have to justify my decisions to you,” Max grated, his eyes aflame and jaw ticking with rage. Licking his lips he stalked over to the boy, his blood pounding hotly through his veins and his nerves sizzling as the power grew nearly unbearable. “It would have looked suspicious if I left, given that I was supposed to be playing Ava’s witless dupe. How was I to know they’d figure things out and come running to the rescue, convincing both Michael and Isabel to stay behind? I could not risk them coming into their memories and coming back to Antar to finish their mission.”

“Too late now, Your Majesty. They’ve both bonded, gotten some of their memories and formed a foursquare. Congratulations, you’ve given me yet another mess to clean up,” the informant snarked with a sly twist of his lips, cocking his head as he left him with one last thought before walking away. “It’s only a matter of time before they remember at whose hands they died and then where will you be?”

“The location of the summit, soldier,” Max demanded, ignoring his parting taunt, salivating for the moment he wouldn’t need this retched traitor’s help any longer. Crossing his arms over his chest, he watched the boy descend to his waiting ride and commanded once more. “Where is the summit being held?”

“Oh, you know, I can’t remember,” the brunet lofted, smacking his hand to his forehead as he faced Max once more and sent him a triumphant little grin when he bellowed in rage. Shrugging his shoulders, he cocked a finger at him and smirked, winking mockingly. “I’ll get back to you on that.”
Pushing through the swinging door, Michael entered the dining room quietly, a cup of coffee in one hand and a gym bag in his other, his eyes scanning the room instantly for any sign of trouble as well as looking for his queen. She had reluctantly left him an hour ago for her afternoon shift, allowing him to continue napping after they got home from school since they’d been up most of the night talking about everything that he remembered from Antar and Ahrensa and, well, trying to calm her down in what was probably their first real argument. He didn’t want any more secrets between them.

Of course that also came with an intense, passionate round of making up that took up the rest of the night, them only seeking slumber just as the sky started lightening.

Breath hitching at the thought, soft, caramel eyes lit on the pretty brunette distractedly, a half-smile tugging the edges of his mouth as he watched her flit from table to table, his smile warming whenever he heard her laugh and joke with one of their regulars. He couldn’t help the surge of possessive pride and love that flowed over him when she tipped her head towards him, feeling his presence as soon as he walked into the room and wondered yet again how he had gotten to this point.

Licking his lips, he slid his eyes over her slowly, still marveling that she was his mate and that he was finally allowed to love this woman-child openly and freely, rather than smothering all those feelings in a dark place, never to be examined. Flicking his eyes back to her face, his smile widened as he noted a delicate pink tint to her cheeks, her gaze studiously focused on the pad in shaky hands and it took all he had in him not to stride over and press a kiss on those serious, bow-shaped lips.

It did his ego good to know that even irritated with him, she was still affected by a single gaze and he looked down for a moment, walking a couple of steps toward the counter, where Kyle sat rolling his eyes at their absorption. Flicking his eyes back up, his heart stuttered as her eyes slid to his, a bronze fire swimming in chocolate depths momentarily before she shook her head and went back to her job.

Shuddering as her power sang out, her aura radiating through the room, seeking the soft touch of his, he tossed the bag on the floor and sat down on the stool next to his friend. Ignoring the midget, he watched as his girl smiled at the customers a little stiltedly, squirming as she felt his gaze rest on her once more and she drew a deep breath, squaring her shoulders as she headed his way with determination. Flicking him a quelling look, she walked past him without so much as a nod and handed Jose an order with a tight smile, running a shaky hand over her hair.

Spinning around, she met his gaze pointedly, cocking her brow in challenge and pressed her lips together, her eyes alight with exasperation and steely resolve. Licking her lips, she opened her mouth before closing it and shook her head, stalking off with one last irritated moue. Wincing as she brushed past him, his eyes followed her through the room, squirming in his seat as he realized that he was in for a long night. Maybe he could smooth the waters a bit with a night out since they didn’t have to hide their relationship any longer.

Scratching his brow thoughtfully, a plan began to form in his head and he made a mental note to talk to Isabel and Kyle and see if they’d mind helping him out with it; and see about setting up their planned double date for another time. Caught up in his plans he missed the amused glance Kyle shot him as his eyes danced back and forth between the silently feuding couple with a cocked brow.

“Damn, what did you do to deserve that look, wookie?” Kyle snickered, nudging the tall alien with his shoulder as he watched Liz go through the motions of her job, although it was fairly obvious, at least to him; that her attention was totally for the man by his side. And not necessarily in a nice manner. Turning back as Michael startled, he snickered as the sandy-haired man barely met his gaze sheepishly before turning back to his mate. Geez, he had it bad.

“Long story,” he murmured as his eyes followed Liz through the room quietly, not even bothering to feign disinterest. The sooner it got out that she was his, the better. Then he wouldn’t have to kill the guys currently staring at her ass. Looking at one guy in question, he frowned menacingly until he paled and looked away. Glaring as the guy, Paulie something or another, whispered to his friend, he cocked a challenging brow as the guys watched him curiously and smirked when both hastily looked away, whispering frantically amongst themselves. “Safe to say, while not exactly on her shit list, she’s not too happy with me.”

“I’ll say,” Kyle snorted, barely biting back a laugh at Michael’s little display of jealously, and glanced over at his former friends’ table, watching Liz rolling her eyes in exasperation and frowning at her mate heatedly. Give it up Lizzie girl; you’re so not going to win this particular battle. Shaking his head, he watched as the couple’s eyes clashed and battled before Liz conceded with a slight huff, her expression souring further as she stormed through the backdoor. “Even Max didn’t get that look.”

“Yeah, but then again, I did throw her behind a shield to protect her from Max,” Michael conceded as he watched her agitated departure, clawing at his eyebrow and cursing in his head, knowing he was in deeper trouble with his lovely mate. Sighing, he finally turned to Kyle with a shrug and looked at him blandly, rolling his eyes as the man winced at his explanation and shook his head.

“Ohhh, bad move there,” Kyle replied with a low whistle, holding his hands up defensively when Michael scowled and opened his mouth to retort, fixing him with a placating smile. “Hey, I may agree with what you did, but you know Liz. She doesn’t like to be kept in a bubble.”

“Yeah, not to mention at least she was there when Max found out his destiny,” Michael muttered, his gaze swinging back toward the break room contemplatively, wondering briefly if he should go back there and try to smooth things over before deciding to let her cool off first. Every time Max came at her when she was in one of those moods it ended badly and she felt stifled. He didn’t want to crowd her when she needed her space.

“What does that have to do with it?” Kyle asked, slightly confused as to what Michael meant for a moment before it clicked. Of course, she was there for the cryptic mom-o-gram, which didn’t really explain anything when it came to the aliens’ heritage and ended up being seriously misinterpreted based on what he gleaned from Isabel.

“Max isn’t the only one who is a fearless leader,” Michael shrugged, his stomach fluttering slightly as he said the words, still uneasy with the idea that he was king of an entire planet, or crown prince at the very least. Swallowing thickly, he took a deep breath to stem the jangling of his nerves and licked his lips nervously, his head sliding to the door just before Liz came back through, looking a little less rattled than when she left, concern flashing through her eyes as their gazes met. Waving her off, he turned back to Kyle.

“Right, the whole royalty bit,” Kyle nodded, watching the color come back to his friend’s face and knew it had to be daunting to realize that not only was everything you accepted about yourself a lie, but that now you shouldered the fate of so many people.

“You knew?” the alien asked, his brow furrowing slightly, his eyes clouding with bewilderment as he stared at his friend, his eyes narrowing when Kyle squirmed and his eyes darted away guiltily. Frowning as understanding dawned, he sat back into his chair and fixed the man with a baleful stare.

“Uh…Isabel…bond…memories…do we really need to go there again, Rapunzel?” Kyle joked weakly, all too aware that reminding Michael of his bond with his sister wasn’t the wisest move to make, especially given that they were about to play basketball, which wasn’t a contact sport traditionally, but could get sketchy with the right circumstances. Like knowing your opponent is sleeping with your sister.

“No,” Michael grunted emphatically, fixing the blue-eyed man with a hard gaze and pressed his lips together, ignoring Liz’s curious gaze as she looked up from taking an order having felt the tension rippling over him through their connection. “Bad idea to remind me that I’ve yet to discuss that with you, Tinkerbell.”

“Whatever,” Kyle scoffed defensively, winging a defiant brow at the man and fixing him with a pointed look before his gaze swung to the irritated brunette hovering near the wait station, wondering if she should interfere. Smirking, Kyle turned back to Michael and leaned back into his seat, slouching in it as if he didn’t have a concern in the world. “At least I’ll be getting some tonight, while you’re stuck in the dog house.”

“Nah, won’t happen,” Michael smiled lazily, watching his friend carefully as he too reclined in his seat, the tension draining from his shoulders as his sandy-haired counterpart watched him suspiciously. Licking his lips slowly, he tipped his head back, a satisfied smile slowly sliding over his face and crossed his feet with a shrug. “She may be irritated with me, but tonight I’ll have her purring like…”

“Whoa! Enough…I get it,” Kyle cried softly, sitting straight up in his chair as his face scrunched up in disgust. True, at one time he had been on the opposite side, fantasizing about the pretty brunette and wondering that exact thing, but times had changed. He had changed and she’d become a very good friend and almost like a sister in a way. He so didn’t want to hear this. “You don’t tell me yours, I won’t discuss mine.”

“Wise, ewok,” Michael stated laconically, flashing him a slow, bland smile that was somehow even more threatening and intimidating for all its benign quality. Shifting his gaze, he met Liz’s quiet, contemplative one for a moment before the jingle of the door drew his eyes to his entering sister, reminding him that he needed to make other plans for tonight.

Kyle’s head swung around immediately, his face lighting up as he spied his mate and a goofy grin split his face as she came over, wrapping her arms around him, snuggling against him slightly as their lips met for a light kiss. Rolling his eyes, Michael swallowed the last of his coffee and clambered off the stool, walking behind the counter to pour another cup, his face set in a grimace as he unsuccessfully tried to ignore the show of affection between Isabel and Kyle.

Stirring cream and sugar into the bitter liquid, his lips quirked slightly as he heard his sister laugh at something the midget said and kissed him lightly before she walked over to Liz and they disappeared into the backroom to discuss tonight’s plans he assumed. Leaning against the counter, he shook his head as Kyle’s eyes followed the two girls into the back and had to wonder if he looked half the sap when he was watching Liz earlier.

Waiting for Kyle to slip out of his Isabel-induced stupor, he flicked a glance over at Paulie and Derek, frowning when he caught them watching him again. Setting his cup down, he met the blond’s contemplative gaze unflinchingly and grunted when he looked away once more. Scrubbing his hand over his face, he watched them silently for a moment longer, making a note to keep an eye on the two. He didn’t like the way they had been staring at Liz earlier; it bore watching.

Fixing his gaze back on Kyle, he caught the concerned glint in his friend’s eyes as his gaze bounced back and forth between the other table and Michael, finally picking up that the alien’s tension was more than common jealousy. Waving it off, he indicated he’d talk to him about it later. He was curious to get Kyle’s assessment, especially as he knew that he was once friends with the guy. Filing it away for later, he smirked at the other man and nodded toward the back of the diner. “If you hurt her, you realize I’ll blast you, right?”

“Noted. Same with Liz,” Kyle nodded soberly, rolling his eyes as Michael cocked a curious brow at his statement, obviously wondering if he had developed some powers in the past few days. Running a hand over his hair, he shook his head in the negative at the alien’s silent question and smirked right back at him, responding quietly so others couldn’t hear. “Well, the human equivalent of blasting.”

“I couldn’t if I wanted to,” Michael murmured, his voice barely audible as he stared through the order window absently, catching sight of Liz and Isabel talking animatedly and smiled as she laughed at whatever his sister said. Tearing his gaze away, he caught Kyle’s surprised, yet interested gaze.

“Because you completed the bond?” he asked, his brows shooting up questioningly, curious if this was a side affect of completing the bond since he and Isabel were still in the lehali period and had yet to cement. They had wanted to wait until everyone knew before taking the next step, although he had a feeling they’d be doing it soon with how unstable Max had been growing. He didn’t want anything happening to Isabel.

“Because it’s Liz,” Michael stated simply, with a small shrug of his shoulders, his eyes darting away from Kyle when the brunet man stared at him in awe, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck with discomfit as he hadn’t planned on being that open and honest about his feelings. Squirming as the silence drew out for a couple of moments, he looked down at his coffee with exaggerated interest, hoping that the hobbit would just ignore that little confession and let it drop. Of course, he could never be that lucky.

“Wow…did we just have a moment here?” Kyle asked with exaggerated, hushed awe as he continued to stare at the gruff, quiet man in front of him, a grin splitting his face and he laughed as Michael flicked him an impatient look.

“Fuck off, Valenti,” Michael grumbled, downing the rest of his coffee self-consciously as he avoided Kyle’s amused gaze and took his cup over to a bus tub that had been left on the counter behind him. Sinking his hands into his pockets as he looked over the other man’s shoulder, shifting uneasily at his friend’s continued scrutiny.

“Just curious, ‘cause, if this is going to happen on a regular basis,” Kyle snickered, getting a perverse thrill out of the stoic man’s discomfort as he swung around on the stool, clambering to his feet as Michael made his way over, swallowing audibly as the man loomed over him, but couldn’t resist one last crack. “I need to know so I can bring the tissues.”

“Let’s go, so I can murder you on the courts,” Michael replied in a low, controlled tone, a sinister smile spreading across his lips as the tables turned and Kyle squirmed under his avid scrutiny. Pulling back he sauntered over to the swinging door to say goodbye to Liz and talk to Isabel, lofting over his shoulder succinctly. “If you meet with an accident there, Isabel can’t blame me.”

Snickering as the midget paled, he strolled into the back lazily with Kyle following at a safe distance and his heart sped up as his eyes landed on Liz, his lips curving in response to the laughter shining out of her eyes. Damn, he hadn’t smiled this much ever; he was definitely getting soft, but she was worth it.

“Hey, I’m off,” he whispered as he came up behind her, slipping his arms around her and pressing his lips to her ear, brushing the tender skin softly and his smile deepened when she shivered at the light touch and sunk into his chest. Pressing his lips to her temple, he inhaled deeply, her soft scent washing over him enticingly and he murmured in contentment, “You know I love you right?”

“I know, I love you too,” she murmured, turning in his arms and pressing her head to his chest as his arms cradled her against his body, unable to deny him these little moments even if she was irritated with him. Tipping her head back, she watched him from beneath her lashes and warned quietly. “But you’re still in trouble.”

“Didn’t expect any different, ta aiza huana,” he responded softly, laughing when she crinkled her nose at his reminder of her title, but didn’t see the point to tiptoeing around the obvious. It was something they would both have to get used to in time. Dipping his head, he brushed his lips over her experimentally, grunting when her lips parted instinctively and he deepened the kiss, tracing her bottom lip languidly.

Sliding his tongue into her mouth, he moaned as hers curled around his, stroking it with soft, lazy strokes, their mouths fusing together in a sweet, tender caress that had his head reeling and the breath stalling in his lungs. God, he couldn't get used to the feel, taste and scent of her. Pulling back, he brushed his lips over hers lightly several times before he pressed his brow to hers, content to just revel in her closeness, smiling at the light tint of pink staining her cheeks and the hazy look in her dark eyes.

“As long we’re on the same page,” she rasped breathlessly, pressing herself up into him for another lingering kiss, her heart thrumming wildly as their mouths meshed together in several languid caresses before she drew away this time, her breath falling in shallow pants. “Go on, leave before I get all gooey and forgive you,” as she left his arms reluctantly, squeaking slightly when he dragged her back against him, pressing a hard, fervent kiss onto her upturned mouth.

“Good, my plan is working,” he replied, brushing his lips over hers once more, groaning inwardly at the idea of having to let her go, but knowing she still had to get back to the diner and the midget was waiting. Releasing her reluctantly, he dropped a kiss on her nose as he moved away, turning to Kyle and Isabel. “Come on, Valenti, stop molesting my sister and let’s go.”


“Thanks for inviting me over,” Isabel said quietly, a small, shy smile sliding across her face as she plucked at Liz’s comforter, watching the petite brunette, who had been thrust into her life when Max saved her, curiously. For a long time, she had remained aloof from the girl, a part of her slightly jealous at the attention her brothers lavished on her, and partially because she had never had close connections with other females.

Followers, yes, she had always had followers that had told her everything she wanted to hear, constantly hovering around her because of an image she projected and basking in the attention she brought them. But true female friendship had been an element that had been absent in her life. True, she had always had her brothers to talk to, but it wasn’t the same as giggling with a girlfriend late into the night about a new crush while listening to music and eating ice cream.

Watching Liz and Maria and their closeness the first year had caused an endless ache and yearning in her heart, and she’d been exceedingly jealous over the way they seemed to know what the other was thinking with one look or smile. She envied that and for the first time, she realized she had missed out on a lot of girl things because she held herself off from her female classmates. And she hoped to remedy that now.

“Of course,” Liz replied, a warm smile spreading over her face as she sat down on the bed in front of Isabel and shrugged, feeling a little shy and uncertain herself since she and Isabel had never been close. For a long time, she avoided the tall blond, as she’d always felt she disapproved of her and resented the chaos that Max's saving her had brought to her life. Isabel, more than the boys, had always wanted a normal life and she felt bad that she had been the catalyst for the upheaval in the other girl’s life.

Biting her lip, she looked away from the tall girl, frantically searching for something to say to fill the awkward silence that had descended around them and ran a hand through her hair as she looked back with a small smile, prodding hesitantly. “So you and Kyle, huh?” Her smile widened as she saw the other girl’s eyes light up at the mention of her mate’s name and pushed on with a bit more confidence. “When did that happen?”

“Oh, well, it actually started with Alex,” Isabel admitted shyly, flicking worried eyes up at the girl, hoping that this wouldn’t cause her pain as she remembered everything Liz went through when her best friend died. Sending the girl a worried glance when a dull pain flashed through her eyes, she unconsciously reached for the brunette's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze before she could think about it.

Liz looked up, eyes shining with unshed tears and smiled weakly, squeezing Isabel’s hand back reassuringly and took a deep breath, her heart aching for her lost friend. Licking her lips, she averted her eyes, closing them for a second to gather her thoughts before meeting Isabel’s sad gaze once more and cleared her throat, inquiring hoarsely, trying to lighten her tone as much as possible. “So how did it begin with Alex?”

“Well, I would visit his grave a couple times a week, you know, to talk to him and one day I found Kyle there, broken down because he was eaten up with guilt over what happened with Tess,” she replied quietly, her voice rough as she remembered those first few weeks without Alex. Biting her lip, she flicked glassy tawny irises up to the brunette warily, concerned over how her news would affect her. “He was asking for Alex’s forgiveness for what had happened.”

“Oh, God,” Liz choked softly, her eyes widening with horror as her cheeks and lips blanched, her hand flying up to cover her mouth as she closed her eyes, a tear leaking over her cheek at the other girl's answer. Swallowing harshly, she looked away uneasily and ran a hand though her hair, guilt shining dully in her gaze as she turned back to the elegant blond, whispering. “He never said anything, he never told me…oh God, of course he’d feel that way. I never bothered to ask him…I’ve been a terrible friend.”

“No,” Isabel refuted firmly, shaking her head in negation, her heart aching as she watched the other girl begin to get caught up in a useless and destructive blame game. “No, you had your own grieving to do; Kyle understood that, which is why he purposely didn’t tell you.” Smiling wanly, her eyes misted and she swallowed thickly, rubbing Liz’s hand slightly, giving a watery chuckle. “You know the guys; they tend to think they know what’s best for us.”

“Tell me about it,” Liz replied with an exasperated snort, her voice thick with emotion as she swiped at her eyes as she reached for the box of tissues on her nightstand, grabbing out a couple and handing one to Isabel as she dabbed at her nose. Swiping a stray strand of hair behind her ear, she squeezed Isabel’s hand and nodded, indicating that she was okay. “So, you were there for him. I’m glad he had you.”

“Anyway, we took to meeting there together,” Isabel continued quietly, blushing at the brunette’s words and smiled tenderly as she looked at her hands self-consciously, recalling the sweet, quiet moments she shared with Kyle. Twisting the tissue in her hands nervously, she looked out the window, her smile widening as she got lost in thought. “We started with sharing stories and memories of Alex which eventually led to talking about everything else and before I knew it, he was there in my thoughts all the time.”

Liz smiled at the blond’s absorption, her tears clearing and a bittersweet warmth spreading across her heart as she realized how well the two meshed, and mentally kicked herself for not seeing the changes in their relationship sooner. Pursing her lips thoughtfully, she felt a twinge of regret and wondered just how much more she had missed while wrapped up in her own problems. Isabel and Kyle should have never had to deal with Alex’s death on their own; they should have banded together, grieved together.

Nodding her head decisively, she realized she couldn’t change what had happened in the past, but there was nothing preventing her from forging and strengthening those bonds now. They had lost so much faith in themselves this past year, but they were a unit and it was time to start acting like it.

“You know, it was Alex that got us together,” Isabel continued hesitantly, something in her tone and the way she said it perking Liz’s ears and she shot her an inquisitive glance, curious as to why Isabel squirmed and looked away, an embarrassed flush spreading over her cheeks as she muttered. “God, I don’t know how to say this without sounding crazy.”

“Isabel, I was shot and healed by an alien king, am bonded to three other people for life in a power circle, and just went through a metaphysical marriage to another alien king,” Liz quipped dryly, cocking her brow in amusement and giggling when the other girl snorted and flashed her a grin. “I doubt anything you say would shock me these days.”

“Touché,” the blond conceded, a little laugh bubbling over her lips as she looked away and gathered her thoughts, searching for the best way to explain her and Kyle’s experiences. “I’ve seen Alex’s ghost. Actually, I’ve more than seen him, I’ve talked to him extensively.”

Isabel paused and looked over at Liz hesitantly, her brow slightly pinched as she wondered if she’d see disbelief or worse, amusement on the brunette’s face and sighed in relief when the girl only raised her brow in interest, plunging on. “Kyle’s seen him too. Actually, Alex snuck up on Kyle and yelled boo because he didn’t believe me when I told him I had been talking to Alex and that he didn’t blame anyone.”

“That sounds like Alex,” Liz chortled, her eyes filling with tears of the bittersweet kind and looked away, only the smallest twinge of hurt and jealousy flaring in her heart that her friend hadn’t come to her as well. Suppressing that, she turned back to the blond and smiled weakly and waited for her to continue, since this wasn’t about her and she was sure Alex had his reasons for going to Isabel.

Isabel studied the girl before her quietly, picking up on the injured feelings she was desperately trying to hide and flashed her a quiet, sympathetic smile, taking a deep breath as she continued.

“He had a message for you this last time, when we finally said goodbye,” she admitted, her voice breaking slightly on the last word, her heart pinching as she closed her eyes, tears leaking from beneath her lashes before she opened them and drew a steadying breath. “He told me to tell you, that his death wasn’t your fault. You only did what was necessary, and Tess was ultimately responsible. And he said that if you don’t stop with the guilt, he was going to come back and haunt you and you wouldn’t like him ‘cause he’d sing that song that Maria obsessed about in freshman year over and over again.”

“Oh, God, anything but that!” Liz snorted, dissolving into a choked laugh, shaking her head in remembered mirth, the idea of Alex warbling My Heart Will Go On breaking through the pain and making her shudder in horror. God, how they had hated that song.

“He said he would have come to you himself, but you weren’t ready to hear it and you already had someone watching out for you,” Isabel continued with a half-smile, watching the other girl’s eyes light at that memory. Sobering, she studied the brunette quietly; humbled by everything she had done without their knowledge. “Why did you never tell us about my idiot brother’s request?”

“What good would it have done?” Liz countered quietly, her own eyes sobering as she met Isabel’s eyes stoically, then shrugged one shoulder and stared over her shoulder to gather her thoughts. “I didn’t want to at first. I fought it, got dragged into it. In the end, it was you and Michael that changed my mind, made me see that this was bigger than what I had with Max. It was worth it. I would not be where I am today if I had chosen differently.”

Silence descended over the room as the two girls studied each other quietly, each measuring the other’s reactions and weighing the other’s words before nodding in acceptance. Isabel looked over the brunette’s shoulder for a moment, before turning back to her, her eyes alight with a touch of wonder and softly replied. “Thank you, for everything.”

Liz nodded in acknowledgment, unable to vocalize her thanks as her throat constricted with emotion, a warm glow of gratitude echoing through her body and drawing a deep breath, she smiled and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Isabel tipped her own head in acknowledgment as she stared at her hands, a shy smile flitting across her lips.

“So, you and Michael?” the blond inquired slyly, tossing the brunette a teasing glance and smirking when the other girl blushed, her turn to squirm under her friend’s scrutiny. Snickering, Isabel cocked a brow, a genuine smile spreading across her face as the brunette’s face softened, lighting up with happiness at the mention of his name.

“Yeah,” Liz replied shyly, plucking at her comforter, looking away for a moment, her eyes growing distant and dreamy, her cheeks flushing further at the blond’s delighted laugh. Flicking her eyes back to Isabel, she chewed on her lip for a moment and her lips quirked into a half-smile, shrugging delicately. “Who would have thought?”

“I would have,” Isabel replied seriously, tipping her head to the side thoughtfully, her dark brown eyes assessing her brother’s wife and smiled again at her surprised expression. “As much as it didn’t make sense a few days ago, after thinking it through, I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before. Truthfully, I think you suit him better than Maria ever did. You…compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And you bring him a level of peace I have never seen in this lifetime.”

“He does the same for me,” Liz admitted quietly, fiddling with the wadded up tissue in her hands, her eyes lowered and swallowed thickly as a multitude of emotions bubbled inside. Licking her lips, she looked at Isabel and cocked her own head, her face sober and thoughtful. “Thank you, for being there for him; for supporting us. It means the world to him.”

“Of course,” Isabel said without hesitation, shrugging her shoulders as she sat back. “He’s always been there for me, in both lifetimes and is my brother as well as Max. How could I do any less for him? Besides, all one has to do is see the way he looks at you to know that he is unbelievably happy. And that is all I’ve ever wanted for him in both lives.”

Again silence descended over the girls as they assessed each other quietly and smiled. This wasn’t the afternoon they had planned, but in a way, it turned out better and deeper than the light-hearted bonding they thought would happen and for the first time, they saw the potential for the beginning of a very good friendship.

Glancing at the clock, Isabel grinned, sliding a sly look over the petite brunette and clambered off the bed, heading for Liz’s closet while her new friend watched her with the slightest hint of trepidation. Laughing at her worried expression, she sifted through her clothing until she came across a few items that held potential and watched the brunette with barely suppressed glee. “Makeover time.”

“Oh…um…I don’t know…” Liz started but trailed off as she caught the blond’s pointed look and bit back a sigh, knowing that her protests would fall on deaf ears. She watched Isabel with wide eyes as she took one of her conservative jean skirts and with a quick wave of her hand, shortened the knee-length by three inches and changed it to a soft, chocolate suede.

“Well I do,” Isabel stated firmly, looking Liz over with a critical eye as she paired the newly morphed skirt with a soft, creamy lace camisole and a pair of three-inch, strappy sandals, changed to match the skirt. Setting them aside, she walked over to Liz briskly, taking down her hair from her clip and assessed it thoughtfully, murmuring absently to herself. “Now for your hair, I won’t change the length because God knows that Michael would kill me, but I think maybe a few long layers would give it a little more shape and bounce.”

Overwhelmed, Liz just sat in stunned silence as the girl went to work with a single-minded determination that made her realize just how apt her Christmas Nazi nickname was as she adjusted, tweaked and readjusted her hair until the blond smiled and nodded approvingly. Turning to her mirror, her eyes widened further to see her hair falling in a mass of tangled, sexy layers and gasped at the difference. Touching the waves hesitantly, she grinned and decided that maybe the alien woman had a point. “I love it, Is.”

“Good. We are just getting started,” Isabel beamed, rubbing her hands together as she reached for her make-up case and sat down in front of the petite brunette. True, she could have down the make-up with her powers, but this was her first chance to be a true girlfriend and she wanted to savor every moment. Sending Liz a sly glance, she cocked her brow and smirked, pulling out her make-up brushes. “By the time I’m done with you, my brother isn’t going to know what hit him.”


“So what’s the plan tonight?” Kyle prodded as he slouched against a concrete pillar, his brow cocking with amusement while watching Michael strangely as the other man looked at the glass-enclosed displays in bewilderment. When they left the Crashdown, he never imagined that he and the Not-So-Jolly Green Giant would end up here.

“About that, I already talked to Isabel, but Liz and I are going to bail on you,” Michael muttered, scratching his brow as he stared at the store’s offerings with more than a little confusion. This had seemed a great idea in the beginning, but now he was lost and the midget was absolutely no help. Maybe he could call Isabel and get her advice. “We have something to do tonight.”

“Oh Buddha, haven’t you two spent enough time in bed?” Kyle groaned, rolling his eyes as he slunk into the concrete, pinning his friend with a pained expression and shaking his head in disgust, complaining. “I swear you two are like the Energizer bunny.”

“This isn’t about sex,” Michael grunted, looking around to see if there was a salesperson that could direct him into the right area, but the only girl he saw was busy writing up a sale. Turning back to Kyle, he caught his disgusted moue and couldn’t resist needling him slightly, lofting with a wicked grin. “Or, well, not totally about sex.”

“Something otherworldly come up?” the other man asked, pointedly ignoring Michael’s last jibe as he pushed off the pillar and followed the shaggy-haired man down the jewelry bays, cocking a brow at him questioningly as he looked around to make sure no one was within earshot.

“No, nothing like that,” Michael assured, leaning over to look at some rings, immediately dismissing them as too obvious and likely to cause problems or at the very least garner questions that he wasn’t ready to face from Liz’s parents. Hell, they didn’t even know that they were dating, so finding out they were as good as married would be a bit much for any parent to take, no matter how much they liked him.

“So?” Kyle prodded, his brow winging as he watched Michael study the rings before the alien shook his head and kept moving through the store and couldn’t help but wonder what he had planned and whether he could glean a few ideas. After all, Isabel was still slightly sore at him for the whole mind reading fiasco; maybe he should be taking a page out of Shaggy’s book and finding something for his own mate.

“So, what?” Michael asked absently, running a hand over his neck with some discomfit, getting antsy the longer he waited for help. If it weren’t for the fact that he knew that this would mean more coming from him, he’d have begged Isabel to come in his stead. But if there was one thing he learned from his sister, it was that this had to come from the heart.

“Why are you bailing on us?” Kyle persisted, throwing up his hands with exasperation when Michael tossed him an irritated glance and pointed to him in accusation. “Hey you’re the one who canceled our basketball game to drag me to the mall, of all places, I think that I deserve some explanation.”

Sighing, Michael shrugged his shoulders, muttering under his breath as he realized that Kyle wasn’t going to let up in his interrogation any time soon, but hoped to forestall the razzing he was sure to undergo. Flicking an impatient look at the salesgirl, he was about to ask if there was anyone in back when the other man distracted him once more.

“What was that Inigo?” Kyle sniggered, knowing he was just asking to get his ass zapped by the tall, irritated alien next to him, but unable to resist pushing his buttons. Especially since he looked so uncomfortable with the whole situation. “I left my mumble to English dictionary at home today.”

“I’m making dinner tonight,” Michael snapped, glaring at the gaping man at his side, completely missing that the salesgirl had said goodbye to her customer and was heading toward the two of them with an inquisitive expression.

“Did you just say you’re making dinner tonight?” Kyle snickered incredulously, desperately trying not to laugh as Michael’s cheeks flamed and the alien’s eyes narrowed further in annoyance. “Jewelry and dinner? When did you turn all sensitive?”

“Hey, I can be sensitive,” Michael groused, lips thinning in his irritation as he eyed the other man and cracked his knuckles loudly as he wondered if Isabel would miss him too greatly if he decided to murder him anyway.

“Hello, can I help you today?” a perky voice asked, startling him out of his thoughts and he turned to the tall redhead with a thin, impatient smile, all the while shooting Kyle an evil look from the corner of his eyes.

“Yeah, I’m looking for something for my…friend,” Michael replied, stumbling over the words as he almost called Liz his queen. While most women would probably simper over his use of the word, he didn’t see the need bring too much attention to himself.

“Oh, okay well, what are you and your…” the salesgirl grinned, a knowing smile sliding over her face as she looked back and forth between the two boys and winked. Michael’s face colored further and bit back an oath as he realized just how close Kyle was standing next to him, cringing when the elf’s face lit up with understanding, a wicked grin splitting his face. Christ. “…Friend looking for? We have a nice selection of men’s rings down here.”

“Oh, honey, you shouldn’t have,” Kyle bubbled enthusiastically, waving his hands excitedly in the air before pressing them to his face in mock surprise and leaned his head against Michael’s shoulder, fluttering his eyes at the agitated alien. “You know, I’ve always wanted to get matching rings, don’t you think it would be just so cute…”

“Get off me, Valenti,” Michael griped, clenching his teeth and shrugging the other man off his shoulder impatiently as he focused back on the salesgirl, desperately wishing that he and the midget were alone so he could slag him with his death ray. “Actually I’m looking for something a bit more…feminine. Like a necklace, maybe with a sapphire…”

“Oh, that would go sooooo well with my eyes and that cute little negligee I saw…” Kyle gushed, fluttering around Michael excitedly, cocking his head and preening at the grinning salesgirl as he squeezed Michael’s arm with both hands.

“Valenti, if you don’t shut up, you won’t be getting any tonight,” Michael growled, wincing at his unfortunate choice of words when the girl snickered. Fixing her with an exasperated moue, he shoved the short stack away once more and smiled thinly as he addressed her. “And not for the reason you’re thinking. He’s not my boyfriend. I’m looking for my…wife.”

“Your wife…of course,” she giggled knowingly, winking at him sassily as she turned her back and shook her head, walking toward the jewelry bay that held their sapphire collection with a smirk on her face. “Well we have several pendants over here.”

Smiling thinly, Michael fixed his short, sandy-haired companion with a murderous glare, looping an arm around his shoulder and squeezing as tightly as he could, warning in a low dangerous voice as they followed the girl, barely quelling an evil chuckle when Kyle audibly gulped. “You are so fried when we get out of here…honey.”


“Wait? What’s going on?” Liz asked hesitantly as they pulled up outside Michael’s apartment, tossing Isabel a bewildered look, her brow pinched and eyes clouding as the blond turned to her with an enigmatic smile. Cocking her eyebrows suspiciously, she pursed her lips into a bow and wondered what exactly that smile meant. “I thought we were meeting the boys at the restaurant?”

“Correction, I told Kyle I’d meet him at the restaurant,” Isabel lofted, a wide smile spreading across her face, as she turned to the brunette, pointing to her and nodding her head towards the apartment complex. “You on the other hand are expected elsewhere.”

“What…” Liz began to ask, quieting with the other girl pressed her lips together and feigned zipping and locking them down, indicating she’d get no answers or clues from that direction. Turning her eyes back to the apartment building, she chewed on her bottom lip contemplatively, although Isabel’s makeover now made sense. She wouldn’t doubt that Michael had conspired with his sister to keep her occupied so he could put this together, whatever this was.

“Don’t make me drag you to the door,” Isabel threatened lightly as she watched Liz, laughing at the girl’s trepidation and tugging her friend from her thoughts. Waving her hand over her face to repair the damage she’d done to her lipstick, a pale glossy pink to go with the dramatic, smoky eyes she’d created, she then shoved Liz lightly toward the car door, knowing Michael was likely watching at the window. “Go, he’s waiting for you.”

“Yeah, I’m going,” Liz murmured as she flicked her eyes back to the apartment before shaking her head to clear it and then smiled brightly at the blond at her side, a subtle warm glow spreading inside as she realized the trouble her mate must have gone through today. Reaching over to Isabel, she took her hand, her smile widening when the blond looked surprised for a moment before smiling back when she squeezed it gently. “I had fun today. Well, after…we should do this again.”

“I’d like that,” Isabel replied quietly, a small smile quirking her lips as she squeezed the brunette’s hand back before drawing away and averting her gaze, slightly overwhelmed with the genuine warmth in Liz’s eyes. Flicking her eyes over Liz slyly, she grinned and teased lightly. “Besides, you still haven’t told me how you and Michael got together. I want the details.”

Liz cocked a brow at that statement, her smile taking on a wicked gleam as she slanted her own eyes knowingly and laughed when the blond closed her mouth hastily, growing queasy as she realized what that could mean. Shuddering slightly, Isabel held up a quelling hand and glared at her playfully, “Just not too many details; there are things I never want to know about my brother.”

“Noted,” Liz laughed, her eyes dancing with mischief as she reached for the door handle, opening it as she tipped her head to the other girl. “I’ll call you in a couple of days. Maybe we could go shopping.” Liz snickered when the other girl’s eyes lit up with an almost fanatical gleam and continued. “You know, maybe help me select a few new additions to go with the new look you created, do some lunch and maybe a movie?”

“I’d really like that. Maybe Saturday if you don’t work or after you work,” the blond replied, a hopeful lilt to her tone as she studied the other girl, just the slightest hint of trepidation sliding through her eyes before it disappeared. “And then maybe we can actually make that double date happen?”

“Works for me,” Liz said without hesitation, smiling at Isabel reassuringly and nodding her head before she glanced back at the apartment building as she caught a flicker of light out of the corner of her eye. “My parents owe me a little time off since they’ve been gone for the past few days. I’m sure I can talk my dad into giving me the day.”

“Great,” Isabel smiled, dragging her gaze from the petite brunette and nodded to the building in front of them. “You better get in there before he starts pacing a hole into the carpet and wondering if I’m planning to kidnap you.”

“Yeah,” Liz nodded, swinging the car door open further and placing a foot onto the pavement, scooting over the seat to climb out when she turned around and fixed her friend with a questioning glance. “So do you have any idea…”

“Nah uh, you’re not getting anything out of me. Leave,” Isabel commanded in a non-nonsense voice, waving the girl off and laughing when Liz huffed in exasperation before climbing out of the car and walking up the stairs to Michael’s apartment and she couldn’t help but grin when her brother threw the door open before the brunette could even knock. He had it so bad. Shaking her head, she picked up her phone and called Kyle to let him know she was on her way, her lips curving happily as she drove away.

Liz walked up the stairs quietly, wondering what Michael had up his sleeve tonight and stood before his door for a moment before raising a hand to knock, startling when the door flew open before she could. Mouth dry, her heart sped up as Michael came into view, dressed in a slate blue button down shirt, hanging over a pair of loose jeans, his hair framing his face carelessly, feet bare and staring at her with equal intensity.

Taking an instinctive half-step back, she swallowed thickly, her throat constricting as she met smoldering whiskey eyes. Inhaling sharply at the predatory heat that radiated from his entire being, her stomach jumped as he slid his eyes over her lazily and licked his lips slowly, stepping back to allow her entrance, his hand wrapping around her waist possessively as she stepped through, her nerves sizzling as his fingers stroked the curve of her stomach.

Licking her lips as their eyes held, her heart hammered, barely managing to tear her gaze away from those glowing irises to slide captivated eyes over him appreciatively, a soft moan drawing her back to his face. Breath snagging, she bit her lip as whiskey-tinted fire rained over her skin in a slow, appreciative, hot gaze of his own and she shook at the intensity of his desire. Splaying a hand over his stomach, she loved the way his muscles tensed, jumping under her fingers as Michael drew her deeper into the curve of his body.

Breath hitching, Michael dragged her into the cradle of his body, his heart thrumming as he shut the door and crushed her to his frame gently, sighing when soft curves melded against him invitingly. Inhaling deeply, he grunted when warm vanilla teased his nose and dipped his head, capturing her lips softly, burying his hand into the sexy, tangled waves cascading over her shoulders, completely lost in her scent, feel and taste. He so needed to thank Isabel for this.

Delving between her soft, parted lips, he curled his tongue around hers languidly, exploring her mouth with deep, delicate strokes, tracing the soft folds hungrily, unable to resist sucking and nibbling at the pale pink flesh, drinking her down voraciously until his lungs felt they would burst. Drawing back when air was a necessity, he pressed his brow to hers and smiled, humming with pleasure as their bodies brushed together and their noses bumped, rubbing together affectionately. “Sorry, couldn’t resist. You look beautiful.”

“I’m not complaining,” Liz murmured, running her fingers through his slightly damp, tangled waves, pressing a soft kiss along his jaw and curled her body against his, sliding a hand under his shirt and along his back, her skin tingling as it brushed against his. Pressing her face into his neck, she inhaled deeply, smiling when his body shuddered softly and his pulse jumped under her lips.

“Come on, dinner is ready,” he rasped huskily, keeping an arm wrapped around her as he reluctantly pulled away and ushered her to the table, ignoring her quirked brow when he pulled her chair out. Smirking as she sat down, he slid into his own seat, handing her a bowl of salad as he served up the lasagna he had just set on the table, biting back a chuckle at her assessing glance, knowing that her mind was working double time trying to figure this evening out.

“This looks wonderful, Michael,” Liz smiled, adding a small helping of salad to her plate, grinning and shaking her head as Michael skipped over it completely and went for an extra large helping of lasagna and bread instead. Cocking her brow at him questioningly, she gestured to the table and tried to play her query off nonchalantly, frowning when he just continued to smile enigmatically. “What’s the occasion?”

“I just felt like making dinner,” he smiled mysteriously, nearly laughing as her eyes narrowed thoughtfully and she fixed him with a disbelieving moue, quirking her brow suspiciously. Shrugging, he returned her glance innocently and went back to eating his dinner, leaving her to wonder quietly what he had planned.

Michael moved about the kitchen efficiently, biting back a snicker as his mate pretended to listen to some music she put on while he cleaned, all the while assessing him out of the corner of her eye. She’d tried several times to pry his intentions out of him, huffing and rolling her eyes each time he cryptically told her that he just felt like spending some time alone with her or that he thought she’d enjoy a home-cooked meal as opposed to something from a restaurant. She never liked mysteries; preferred to have everything spelled out and in neat little boxes and he so loved ruffling her feathers on that quirk.

Leaning against the counter, in the shadows and out of her line of sight, he studied her quietly, stomach jumping as he gathered his thoughts. He had finally found a pendant, despite the ribbing he’d endured from both the midget and the all too cheerful and helpful salesgirl, and morphed it into a gift he hoped would show her how much she meant to him, but now that she was here, he was starting to get nervous.

What if she read the gesture wrong and thought he was only trying to bribe her out of being mad at him; that he was trying to manipulate her into giving into his whims? Max had played that card so often, he worried that she’d mistake his intentions and end up angrier at him than she’d been the other night.

Drawing a deep breath, he rolled his eyes at his thoughts and shook it off, swiping his hands along his jeans. He knew better, knew Liz knew him better than that; she would never think he was trying to buy himself out of his mistakes. Squaring his shoulders, he quelled his unfounded nerves and strode out to the living room, his stomach still twitching with nerves but his head in a better place after his little pep talk.

Running a hand through his hair nervously, he sank onto the couch next to her and stared at his hands for a moment, rubbing them together absently. Fidgeting uneasily, he looked up, catching her confused glance for a moment before averting them over her head, his heart stuttering as he once again marveled that she was actually his mate. Okay Guerin, it’s now or never, you already have the girl. You’re giving her a necklace not facing a firing squad, so suck it up and get it over with.

Inhaling deeply, he looked over to find Liz watching him strangely, the beginnings of worry touching her eyes as he struggled internally and smiled at her weakly when she rested a hand on his knee, rubbing it softly. Barely quelling the urge to laugh at himself, he wondered why this seemed so much more difficult than asking her to be his mate. Why was it always so difficult for him to express himself?

“Michael?” Liz asked hesitantly as he sank down in front of her, her heart speeding up as he pressed a finger to her lips and he licked his nervously, averted his gaze as if gathering his thoughts. Taking his hands, she tipped her head questioningly, her breath catching as he turned his gaze back to hers, his face softening in the face of her confusion.

Michael lifted a hand to his lips, their eyes clashing as he pressed a soft kiss against her palm, rubbing his thumb over the top reassuringly and nodded to himself, finally finding the words that were always so elusive to him.

“I know I’m not the easiest man to deal with, I sometimes say the wrong things and act without thinking,” he said, looking down at her hands for a moment before looking up, nearly sighing in relief when confused ebony orbs softened, lighting with compassion and understanding as he drew a deep breath and continued with a shrug. “I’ll likely frustrate you on more than one occasion with my protectiveness and you’ll want to scream, maybe even kill me on occasion.”

Liz’s lips quirked at that comment and opened her mouth to respond, only to have him place his fingers over her mouth once more, silencing her before she could say anything. Cocking her head curiously, she studied his face thoughtfully, seeing the hidden plea in his eyes and nodded, waiting for him to continue. Inhaling deeply, Michael nodded as her read acceptance to his silent request, looking away for a moment to gather the courage to press forward.

“But I will also love you with everything I am and everything I have to give,” he vowed passionately, his words falling out in a tumble as he met her gaze once more, holding her gaze for a long, drawn out pause before wetting his lips and reaching into his pocket. Pulling out the velvet, jeweler’s box that had been burning a hole in his pocket all evening, held it out in his hand, smiling as Liz’s eyes fell on the box and widened, a gasp spilling over her lips as her gaze flew up to his in wonder.

“I can’t give you a ring, as that will garner more attention than we’re ready to face,” he said regretfully, reading the unasked question in her eyes as he placed the container into her hand, closing her fingers over the soft velvet case, his larger hands enfolding around hers. “But I wanted to give you something to remind you of the vows I made to you.”

Sitting back on his haunches, he released her hand so she could open the box and held his breath as her eyes met his for a long quiet moment before flicking to the box, trembling fingers opening the midnight blue box slowly. Lips curving, she stared at the pendant, her eyes misting as they met his and her throat constricted slightly at the thought he had placed into this gift. Sliding forward on the coach, she gently lifted the necklace out of the box, holding it so it caught the light, the white gold gleaming softly.

Catching the dangling jewel, he cupped it in both of their hands as he began to explain the various symbols. Tracing the rose, he looked at her and whispered, “Your seal.” Finger shaking slightly, he turned his attention to the sword, sliding his fingertip over it as he continued haltingly, his heart strumming a staccato rhythm, “My seal, our seal.”

Pausing for a moment to catch his breath, he met her eyes and swallowed thickly, squeezing her hands as her eyes filled, shimmering slightly in the low lighting. Licking his lips, he pointed to the delicate crown the sword intersected, a small sapphire gracing the middle he continued, “The crown to represent your position to my people and in my heart. The sapphire for your birthstone here on Earth, but also to represent Ahrensa as on my planet, it symbolizes love, power and healing.”

Liz swallowed thickly, unable to say a word through the whole presentation as emotion filled her throat, cutting off her ability for speech. Heart pounding, she watched him silently and swallowed to dislodge the lump in her throat, her eyes filled with dazed wonder, a sweet, warm ache spreading over her body. How had she gotten so lucky?

“More, they once called this the stone of destiny,” he rushed on, taking the necklace from her hands and opening the clasp, slipped it around her neck, closing the clasp once more. Touching the charm as it rest in the hollow of her throat, he swallowed harshly, clearing his throat as he rasped. “This is my promise to you, that no matter what my family or people had planned for me, we make our own choices, decide our own path and no matter what road I take, every one leads me right back to you.”

Reaching for her hands once more he slid forward until they were inches apart and tangled his fingers with hers, drawing one hand to his chest and laying it over his rapidly beating heart, promising quietly. “It’s yours for as long as you want it. I am yours for as long as you’ll have me. And I will love you until my last breath.”

“I love you too, always,” Liz smiled shakily, cupping his jaw tenderly and pressing her brow to his, her awed, overwhelmed gaze dancing over his face for a moment before she kissed him, a happy laugh bubbling out of her throat. Sinking her hands into his hair, she toyed with the soft strands as she deepened the kiss, gasping as his tongue slid along hers, stroking languidly before he pulled back to drop a tender, lingering caress on her mouth, bumping her nose with his affectionately.

Closing her eyes, she leaned her forehead against his once more, a sweet, blissful smile spreading over her face as he pressed his nose against her temple, brushing his lips over the thin, sensitive skin lightly. Smiling when he hummed with contentment, she slid a hand to the nape of his neck, toying with the strands that kissed the back of his neck and inhaled deeply, murmuring distractedly as his scent filled her senses. Pulling back, she met bright sherry-tinted eyes and sighed happily, her eyes drifting over his features lovingly as she brushed her lips against his.

“You know, you make it incredibly difficult to stay mad at you when you’re like this,” she murmured huskily, giggling slightly when he grinned knowingly, shrugging his shoulders and she shook her head at how well he got under her skin, her lips quirking at his unrepentant expression, protesting half-heatedly. “It’s not fair.”

“I don’t like when you’re mad at me,” he confessed softly, his eyes sobering as they met hers, squirming slightly and averting his gaze at her surprised expression then shrugging, leaving it out there as it was the truth. Meeting her gaze, his lips quirked at soft glow that emanated from chocolate irises and was glad he said it when her lips curved sweetly.

“No more secrets,” she commanded quietly, her own gaze sobering as she said it, cocking a brow and softening her no-nonsense, assessing moue with a half-smile as she dragged him closer, so that he was leaning against her knees.

“No more secrets, I promise,” he vowed, nodding his head slowly, meeting her pointed look unflinchingly. Sighing when her smile widened and she nodded her acceptance, he nudged her knees apart, gathering her in his arms, sinking against her body.

“Good,” she whispered leaning into his body as well, wrapping her arms around his back and closing her eyes, her cheek resting against his thrumming heart, letting it’s steady rhythm wash over her and hummed with pleasure as his hand slid over her back, his fingers stroking the back of her neck absently.

“So,” she drawled, tipping her head back to smile at him teasingly and cocked a brow as she recalled his earlier conversation with Kyle and couldn’t resist making him squirm a little more, biting back a laugh when he cringed slightly at her next words. “Purring like a kitten, huh?”

“Heard that did you?” he winced, his body tensing slightly as he fixed her with a sheepish grin, groaning when her grin widened and she pulled away, moving around his body and scooting over the couch, away from him. Damn, he was so in trouble.

“You weren’t exactly quiet about it, Michael,” she replied drolly, snickering as he looked away guiltily and stood quietly, moving around the couch desperately trying not to laugh at his chagrined expression. Lips quirking, she crossed her arms over her chest and quirked a brow waiting for his reaction.

“Guess that means I’m sleeping on the couch tonight…” he muttered, running his hand through his hair with agitation and mentally cursing his inability to hold his tongue. Lifting his head, bourbon eyes narrowed thoughtfully and he was assessing how much it would take to convince her to overlook his hastily spoken words, when her next words caught him off guard.

“Actually, I’m expecting you to put your money where your mouth is,” she murmured slyly, her eyes twinkling as she met his stunned gaze, a husky chuckle spilling over her lips as she quickly whipped her shirt over her head and tossed it at his head as she sauntered towards his bedroom.

Michael gaped, staring after his mate for all of one second before her words clicked and he scrambled to his feet, scurrying after laughing Liz, whispering fervently, “Oh God, I love this woman.” Scooping his lovely wife into his arms, he slung her over his shoulder and all but ran to his bedroom, kicking the door shut behind them.
Last edited by Ashita on Wed Sep 15, 2010 2:15 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Hunted (UC, AU, Mi/L, ADULT) Chap 16; 3/30

Post by Ashita » Wed Mar 30, 2011 9:59 pm

AN: Thanks to everyone who previously left feeback! Sorry for the long break in this story and my others, life got really busy and this chapter gave me fits because getting into Tess/Ava's head is difficult at times. Hopefully the next chapter won't take as long. Italics denote dream/memory sequences. Bold Italic is past dialogue. This chapter has lines and scenes taken from Cry Your Name and Departure; I do not in any way claim those line as my own, just using them to set up the story line. Ta Katrona Vilonia = My wildflower; parvenue = social climber. No Polar or In Crowder this time around. Sorry!

AN2: I wanted to take this time to thank those who submitted this story for the following awards.


Also Nominated for:

I never Read UC Until This Fic
Best Unconventional Couple Fiction
Best Lead Character Portrayal in UC Fic - Michael
Favorite Lead Portrayal of Michael Guerin

As always, I am beyond thrilled for the nominations and wins. Your support means the world to me! Thanks! And on that note, onto to chapter 16. Plus Happy Belated B-day Jan! I know this is your favorite fic so this one is for you! ;)


Flinching in her sleep, Tess whimpered in the back of her throat, a fine sheen of sweat pasting limp, blond waves to her pale cheeks, her brow pinched as she tossed restlessly against ice blue sheets, voices and images assaulting and holding her captive on the dream plane. Curling her fingers into the sheets, a tremble wracking her form as she gasped as if in pain and flipped on her side, burying her face into her pillow to escape the conflicting visions and taunting words that filled her mind.

You did this to me!

Nervously chewing on her lower lip, she stared at the frantic dark-haired boy for a moment before scanning the room agitatedly, her stomach sinking as she realized that he was breaking her mind control and her plans were unraveling. Flinching as Kyle joined them, she pleaded with the boy to let her fix the damage, panic sluicing through her veins as he grew more aggravated, throwing out his accusations angrily and her heart pounded painfully as Kyle’s eyes widen in horror, demanding to know if it were true.

You destroyed my mind! How could you do this to me?

Steeling herself, she stared at Alex with grim determination, her stomach clenching sickly at what she was about to do, but she had no choice; freewill had been taken out of her hands years before when Nasedo shaped and molded her into the perfect weapon. She had begun this path long before she knew the people standing before her, before she realized that you can derive loyalty from love and acceptance, rather than fear, and it killed her to use this boy that had never done a thing to her, to treat him as nothing more than a pawn. But her path was set and she reached out one last time, horror washing throw her body as she felt that delicate thread in his mind snap, leaving him staring at her blankly from the floor.

No, you can't mindwarp me. NO!!!!


Tess killed Alex!

She spun around, fear flashing through her being as she met the cold, hard eyes of her accuser, swallowing thickly as she watched Michael step protectively in front of the petite brunette and Max swung his head back and forth suspiciously, not quite yet believing the bitter, hateful words that poured out of her mouth. Backing up slightly, brow pinched with pain as the four friends faced her, their eyes filled with angry disbelief, betrayal and a firm resolve, she knew that it was over; the only thing standing between her and death was the man in front of her, but that was fleeting too as he rounded on her, his eyes flashing murderously.

You lived in my home; you were like my sister!

Breath hitching, body shaking like a leaf, she tipped her head at Max defiantly as she screamed at her, darkened amber eyes filled with rage and a slight fanatical gleam as he ordered everyone from the room, his form taut with tension as he advanced on her. Cringing internally, she tossed him a disdainful look, disgusted by the way he so easily turned on her and their heritage in favor of a pipe dream, because there was no way his pretty little princess was going to take him back after all the pain he had put her through. But of course Liz always won out no matter how much she tried to be the queen of her former life, and he spat at her hatefully, running to his obsession’s defense without thought.

Life matters Tess!

Enraged by his carelessly tossed words, each hitting her heart like a well aimed arrow, she played her final card, desperation coursing through the whole of her as he advanced, his eyes taking on a curious light as his cool mask slipped and her stomach jumped, a faint edge of memory dancing along her spine as his lips thinned, eyes filled with malicious intent. Scrambling away from him hastily, she cast her last card, the one thing she knew would get through that cold, malignant shell that rapidly fell over his features – his unborn child resting in her womb. While the fact that it was in danger was a lie, it was a truth neither of them can refute, no matter how sick it made her to carry his child.

Spitting the words out hatefully, she blanched when for a moment it looked as even that wouldn’t break through the homicidal rage flickering over his face and she braced herself for the coming blow, flying to that internal place that blocked out the hundreds of like blows from her so-called protector over the years.

But it never came.

Instead he clenched his hands so tight, that they popped audibly as he tersely told her to leave, his cheeks red with anger and chest heaving as he fought for control, his lips curling in a strange, smug smile for just the barest second and sending a ripple of confusion spiraling through her core before it disappeared into a carefully crafted mask. Reaching up to the crystal, she hesitated for a moment, wondering why this all suddenly felt wrong and that she was playing into an elaborate game, where she didn’t really know the rules, before she placed her hand on its surface, Max’s words ringing in her ears before she shot off to a fate unknown.

Go. This isn't over, Tess.


Are you the only one left?

Shuddering as she heard footfalls closing in on her, she let out a small sob and knew her time was running short. She couldn’t keep ahead of them with her injured ankle. Increasing her speed slightly she slipped through an opening in the foliage, pushing back some flowering vines to reveal a soft loamy path and fled down it, the moist red soil softening the impact in her burning ankle and muffling her footfalls.

Hope surged through her veins as she heard the clatter of boots continue down the other path and she sighed, slipping through the dense brush and broad fan-like leaves draping from the surrounding trees. She didn’t slow her pace however, wanting to put some distance between her and the men seeking her. Tossing a worried look over her shoulder, she gasped when she ran into a solid object, knocking the breath from her lungs as she bounced back and crashed to the earth once more. Shaking her head slightly to get her bearings, she flinched when she saw a tall figure in front of her.

Amaravati? Is it you?

Shaking, she continued to stare at the man’s angelic good looks, his lips curving up in surprise as he knelt before her, staring at her in wonder in the low light. She tensed as he reached out and brushed back the tangled mass of blond hair from her face, flinching when his fingers brushed over a scrape on her cheek. Watching him warily, her mouth dropped open when she felt a warm brush of power as he began to heal her injuries with a gentleness that belied the stories she’d been force-fed. This was not the heartless, vicious predator she’d been expecting.

“It is you,” Khivar said slightly perplexed at her use of English, an Earth language, but knew it had to be her and addressed her in her spoken language with growing confidence, relief coursing through his veins as he realized that at least she was alive and well. He’d all but given up hope that they had survived. Brow puckering at that thought, his eyes darkened and looked around, noting she was alone. “Where are the others?”

Execution? It’d be the perfect setup…

The blow never came. Instead, his hand slid over her shoulder, caressing her arm gently, wrapping around it to pull her closer to him. Tensing as he pressed her to his chest lightly, she peered up at him, cerulean eyes misting with bewilderment as she wondered what the hell was going on when he combed his fingers through her hair.

Toying with her, he had to be toying with her.

Ava, this is important. Are they alive?

Bringing his other hand up, he stared into her eyes and forged a connection, gasping when he felt her familiar spirit surround him once more, his body filling with bittersweet heat. He hadn’t dared hope he’d ever feel her like this again. Probing deeper into her mind, a warm golden light surrounding him, he was gratified to learn that despite making a child with Zan, the other man hadn’t forged a bond with her, and felt the faint whisper of the bond they had started years prior still marking her soul, welcoming him happily.

Ignoring the teasing call to reform that broken bond, he gently prodded until he came to her memories, drawing a deep breath when he saw the scarring that told him they had been repressing her memories for years. The damage would have killed a weaker person. Delicately, probing the area, he gently and carefully lifted the scarring piece by piece, allowing the tissue beneath it to breathe freely.

They lied, Ava. There was no deal.

They both drew a collective breath as the binding broke free and memories flowed over them both as he coaxed them from the deepest vault of her mind. Tess’s hands flew up to cup his and held on for dear life, a fine sheen of sweat covering her brow as the memories flowed and bombarded her with little bits of information, nearly overwhelming her entirely.

Letting out a startled cry, she pulled away, breaking the intimate connection, panting shallowly as her mind whirled with information, growing dizzy as it tried to decipher, encode, and store the information flashing before her vision as fast as possible. Looking up, she startled to find familiar, and beloved, face staring down at her and took a stuttering breath, her eyes filling with tears.

Khiv? By the Granilith…it was all a lie!


She’s better off this way.

Gasping, she doubled over, her arms clenching at her stomach, pain radiating from her womb and rippling out over her muscles in sharp, stabbing waves as a warm, thick liquid trickled over her thighs, sending a flash of fear searing through her veins. Pulling her hand away, she blanched as blood coated the appendage, her head swimming dizzily as the cramps worsened and she cried out, bringing the guards and Khivar rushing into her room as she slowly sank to her knees in agonized pain.

Ava, you’re bleeding…

She cringed as panicked words and commands swirled over her head, shaking it softly in denial, praying that it wasn’t what she thought, all the while knowing in some deep dark recess of her mind that she was losing the baby. Lifting her head, tears coursed over her cheeks, falling unchecked as her sight grayed around the edges and spots danced before her as she met terrified blue eyes, his worried frown the last thing she saw before slumping to the ground and everything went black.

Nothing left to remind her of…Zan’s duplicity.


Get a healer!

She blinked lazily, feeling numb and detached from everything going on around her as someone scooped her up and ran down the hall, slipping into a cool, sterile room that vaguely reminded her of a lab or hospital room, the lights blinding her for a moment as the entered. Looking around in a daze, shock reverberated throughout the whole of her as she looked down, her pale, broken and blood-covered body lying beneath her, as people rushed around the room and Khivar ripped her pale nightgown, using the soft material to staunch the blood as he shouted to one of the guards, his hands shaky and blood-stained.

Quickly, we’re losing her!

Tearing her eyes away, she flinched, as the light grew brighter around her, making her raise her hand to block the glowing for a moment while she adjusted to its luminance, her eyes rounding as woman stood before her, a peaceful, loving smile touching her lips as she ran her fingers over her tangled hair. “Mother?” she whispered, her throat clogging as the smile widened and she was kissed on the brow by warm, curving lips. “My daughter, it’s good to have you home. But you’ve work to do; it’s not your time.”

The woman pulled away, smiling sadly as she signed her forehead with a sigil of blessing, before squeezing her hands and then disappeared as she pain hit her once more and she was torn away from the soft, fuzzy glow.

Don’t you leave me, ta Katrona Vilonia.


She’s barely talked to anyone…maybe if you…?

She stared blankly out over the gardens, her arms wrapping lightly around her stomach, her hands touching the flat of her it as she pressed her head to the against the clear wall, a resounding hollowness ringing through her heart as she wearily lifted a hand to her throat, choking back the tears that rose in it far too often. Lips thinning, the scene before her blurred as her rampant thoughts careened through her head, taunting her with past and present recriminations. If only she had known then, what she knew now; things would have played out so differently.

Blames herself. By the Granilith, I could kill that worthless…

She would have fought harder against Nasedo, would have gone with her gut when it screamed out that everything she had learned was wrong, would have broken away from the plans that her overly ambitious father. She never would have taken up with Max, let herself seek him out at her most fertile time, let him and coaxed him to have sex with her, so that she’d end up with a child; or thought she had.

She had been the pawn in a game she didn’t even know the rules.

Closing her eyes, she lifted a hand and pressed it to the cool material, thick and resilient as metal, but with the transparency of glass on Earth, the light from their sun refracting through it into prisms like a crystal. How had everything gone so wrong?

I deserve to die…

Inhaling sharply, Tess shot up, a barely repressed scream clawing at her throat, her hands flying to her tear-streaked face as she drew large, gulping breaths of air into constricted lungs, her heart hammering against her breast bone as she looked around frantically, the taunting words and scenes receding to a dull roar as they circled in her head. Shoving a hand through sweat-dampened curls, she dropped her head in her hands and sobbed quietly, her shoulders slumping wearily as the dying words continued to echo in her ears, a hopeless, helpless burn filling her chest, crushing that far too fragile core.

Blood. Blood on her hands.

Invisible, but it’s there just under the surface, tainting her heart and soul, a permanent brand she can never erase, a mark that she would carry with her for the rest of her life. She made no excuses for her actions; there were no justifications for the way she handled things. She took a life; accidentally true, but it was still a life, a trusting soul that had believed in her for a moment until her secrets and lies crashed around her shoulders, cementing her downfall and wrenching him from the world.

Staring at the trembling appendages, as if trying to detect the taint that would haunt her eternally, she shuddered, a hollow ache filling her heart as she flopped back onto her bed and stared at the ceiling blankly, wondering what it was that was so important about her survival. Dropping an arm over her eyes, she whimpered as a flash of pain skittered through her temples, setting into a low, throbbing ache across her eyes as she thought back to the night she woke up from losing the baby, Khivar staring at her with relief as he clasped one of her hands in his.

She had blinked hazily, her mind still trying to catch up with everything before the events hit her, her eyes welling with tears as her hand fluttered to her now empty womb, a vast emptiness overtaking her senses as she automatically tried to connect to her child and came up with nothing, the phantom pain hitting her once more. Closing her eyes against the hot prickle of tears, she startled when he leaned over, brushing his lips against her temple and whispered comforting words in her ear, making something achingly sweet and indefinable rock through her soul.

And it yet, it made her feel all that much more worthless given her actions.

Sliding her arm onto her bed, she propped herself up on one hand, wincing as the muscles protested after being clenched with tension all night long and tossed back the comforter, gingerly sitting up in her bed with a sigh, her head settling into a dull ache as she stared out the full-length window. Grimacing at the bright light streaming into her room, the rays burning a path over her skin and the light playing along sensitized nerves, she shoved herself out of her bed, pressing her fingers to her temples lightly and sent a small pulse of healing energy through them, relieving the constricted capillaries a tad.

Standing before her closet, she wondered why she bothered getting up to only hear the sorrowful, sympathetic whispers from most, and not-so-veiled jabs from some, knowing who she was and how she had been manipulated by the people meant to love and care for her, but she refuses to give into those taunts. As broken as she is, she is a queen and she refuses to let them see her cry.
Sighing heavily, she closed her eyes and tipped back her head, warm rays of energy from their sun filtering through broad, fern-like leaves and playing lightly over her face as she reached out her senses, allowing the quiet wrap around and soothe the turmoil always roiling just under the surface of her skin. Leaning her head against the bench, she opened her eyes and stared out over the deep, violet waters of the lake, a faint smile tugging at her lips as she watched two duck-like creatures glide through the gently, rippling waters.

Ndegi maga.

A water bird indigenous to the Tanginaera region of Ahrensa, the royal katai, or state as one would deem it on Earth, her current home, she thought idly. The second most powerful planet in the Tamadori Alliance, home to the second-in-command of said alliance and king in his own right of the planet, Rathin Silerius – her friend, benefactor and the best friend of the man she once loved heart and soul. It was amazing how much had come back to her in the short time she’d resided at the palace, the memories that Max and Nasedo had been repressing for years had finally crystallized and sorted themselves out into a somewhat orderly manner in her head.

Those memories haunted her, reminding her all to well of what she had lost in both lifetimes as an unwitting pawn to the man that replaced her father and had manipulated her brother, Larek, her mother, Anallsa, as well as herself after her father Fricis went missing and was presumed dead after an ambush on his ship. Stavros had always been a cold, overly ambitious man and she had no doubts that he was directly responsible for her father’s disappearance; even at the tender age of eight cycles, when the man cruelly ripped her brother from her mother’s side, she had seen the fanatical, covetous fire burning in his eyes and recognized him for the parvenue that he was.

She hadn’t trusted him since. And with good reason it seemed given what she had learned over the past month about his and his lackey Nasedo, or Javan, as he was known then.

Watching the two crimson and gold birds skim the waters, she pursed her mouth, twisting her lips in disgust as she recalled the long conversations she had with Khivar once she had regained consciousness that made it all too clear that Nasedo had not been the protector she once thought, but really her step-father and Zan’s toady. Her innate distrust of the shapeshifter, the way her skin crawled whenever he was near, now made a lot more sense after Khivar had unleashed her memories. She should have realized there was more going on when Nasedo used to invade her mind with the supposed intention of unlocking her memories, but rather used the opportunity to impose Javan’s and Zan’s will.

Clenching her hands, her stomach lurched sickly, sending a deep, burning anger coursing through her veins like acid at the thought of being their dupe twice over, falling into their plans without thought or question, leading her to betray her best friend, a man who was like a brother to her and the man she loved all for someone that was a fabrication. More she had lied, manipulated and even went as far as to kill any that stood in the way of the end goal for nothing; all to put a spoiled, corrupt king back on a throne he didn’t deserve.

She should have known that there was more to the story than the pretty lies she’d been fed all her life; after all, people don’t usually revolt for a reason and in terms of war, there isn’t usually a clear cut, black and white or right or wrong. Usually the blame falls somewhere in the middle.

Leaning her head against the cool, wooden post of the gazebo, she exhaled harshly and rubbed her temples, desperately trying to calm the cacophony of thoughts swirling in her head, seeking some semblance of peace from the constant burn of guilt and anguish that were her never-ending companions. As much as she’d like to change the past, she couldn’t; all she could do was go forward and find a way to atone for her sins.

She would fix this somehow – even if she had to die trying.

Drawing a deep breath, she tensed as she heard footsteps approaching behind her, relaxing only when the familiar scent of wood and spice wafted over her, Khivar’s silver blue aura washing over her senses like a gentle balm to the unruly thoughts that had haunted her since she’d woken up this morning. Lifting her head, she turned to him and offered a wan smile as he sat down on the bench across from her, his quiet, gentle nature already wrapping around her as he used his limited gifts to dull, buffer and soothe the chaotic emotions swirling inside.

“There you are; I’ve been looking for you,” he greeted softly, a small smile flitting over his lips as he studied her carefully, bright-blue eyes shadowing with concern as he noted the dark circles under the petite blond’s eyes, as well as the tight, pinched mouth. Reaching out for her hand, he squeezed it gently and looked away, knowing that she often grew uncomfortable under close scrutiny. “Figured you’d be here though. You always loved this area and sought sanctuary here when troubled.
He studied the area for a moment, sending out his senses to soothe out the rough edges enveloping her, using his natural inborn talent of manipulating emotions and thoughts to bring her some much needed peace and quiet. He didn’t much like his gift, and in a lesser man, that charisma could have been a dangerous tool, but on occasion, he didn’t mind wielding it if it brought peace and comfort to one he loved.

Flicking a contemplative glance back at the quiet, troubled woman-child in front of him, his heart jumped, a possessive, protectiveness surging throughout his body as he fought the urge to draw her in and never let go. It was so tempting to forget, to pretend that she was the strong, sassy girl he knew years before, but trying to recapture what they had before everything went to hell would do a disservice to them both. Although he had seen flashes of the old Ava, she was an entirely different person, and a very confused one at that; sighing, he smiled gently and asked, “How are you feeling today? You look tired.”

“I had trouble sleeping,” she smiled weakly, she plucked listlessly at her skirt as she stared off into the distance, shivering when a light breeze picked up and whispered over the back of her neck, sending her shoulder-length curls dancing. Pulling her hand away, she sunk her teeth into her bottom lip and shoved an errant strand behind her ear before picking up her shawl and wrapping it around her shoulders.

“More nightmares?” he queried gently, resting his hand on the back of the bench, knuckles blanching as he clenched his fingers around the wood slats and looked away helplessly, barely quelling the instinctive urge to comfort her. It went against every engrained instinct when it came to her, but he no longer had the right to act as if they were the lovers of old; he was a stranger to her and she was far too broken yet for him to even consider pushing past the tentative truce they’d forged.

“Maybe,” she shrugged listlessly, rubbing her hands over her arms to ward off the slight chill in the air as cerulean irises shimmered with moisture, darting over the landscape nervously in an attempt to avoid his probing gaze. Licking her lips, she dropped her gaze into her lap, staring fixedly as her fingers continued to fidget and toy with the edges of her shawl. “But what does that matter?”

“I can help you with that,” he offered, unconsciously reaching out a hand to push a stray lock of hair back, halting when she flinched slightly and he dropped it into his lap, a frown pinching his brow as he leaned into the bench before gesturing to her head with his free hand helplessly. “Give you some peace of mind.”

“But I don’t deserve it, do I?” she chuffed dispiritedly, disgust, resignation and self-loathing lacing her tone as her lips twisted derisively, her gaze growing cold and haunted as she lifted her head and sought is own unhappy stare and holding it for a long drawn out moment until her shoulders slumped, her inner steel softening and wavering under the barrage of thoughts and memories that question inevitably brought.

“What they did to you was wrong, Ava,” he refuted angrily, clenching his hands into fists in an effort to quell the hot, burning, rage ripping through his system as he stood hastily and began to pace, running an agitated hand through his golden-blond spikes as he desperately tried to reign in his temper. He was a typically a fairly even-tempered man, but every time he recalled the metaphysical scarring on her made him understand Rath’s vengeful side a hell of a lot better; if he ever got his hands on Zan…he couldn’t guarantee his survival. “It’s a crime tantamount to rape here in our system and I swear they will be punished for their actions against. It’s mind control.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she spat, shooting up from her perch on the bench, her fists clenched and chest heaving as she spun around and faced him, her eyes burning with anguish and self-hatred. “I took a life! The life of a friend and ally. I set him up, manipulated him; covered up my crime with an accident. Me, my actions, my choices.”

“But you weren’t in your right mind,” he replied, his voice and face softening a touch as hers grew splintered and brittle and ran a soothing hand over her arm, gentling her as if he would a scared, wounded animal, two pairs of blue eyes shining intently as they clashed. “They mind raped you, Ava; imposed their will on you. I saw the metaphysical scarring myself when I undid their bindings in your head…”

“No excuse,” she choked, shaking her head in negation as she pressed trembling lips into a thin line and tore her gaze from his to stare out over the rippling waves, pulling her arm away as she walked to the opposite side of the gazebo, her arms clenched around her stomach as she intoned harshly. “Life matters. I have to rectify this somehow.”

“Ava,” he rasped, reaching out for her instinctively before he halted and ran his hands through his hair before dropping them to his sides in frustration, barely quelling the growl growing in the back of his throat as he fixed an impotent stare on the back of her head.

“I have to,” she refuted firmly, her tone growing soft and forlorn as she cast a resigned glance over her shoulder, the life draining from her face once more before her features firmed, steely determination flashing through her eyes as she turned back to the serene scene before her, cold assurance ringing through the glade as she declared. “I’m not sure what or how yet, but I will make this right somehow.”

He watched her silently, fear and a fierce pride washing through his body, setting his heart racing as she morphed into the fiery, warrior queen he always knew she could be if given the chance, rippling out of her like water over the rocks in his, Rath and Dusan’s favorite hideaway. Inhaling sharply, he fought the pull and longing she evoked in him, mentally cursing the way his body tightened with desire as the soft scent of citrus blossoms and exotic spices swirled around him, teasing his senses.

It was – she was – breathtaking to behold.

“You were looking for me?” she husked, pivoting slowly and walking over to stand before him with a wan smile, her features drawing into an indifferent mask once more as she leveled cool eyes onto him, her arms still clasped defensively around herself, but her muscles relaxing slightly under his quiet, contemplative expression.

“You wanted so answers about the past before you took ill,” he nodded, licking his lips as he pushed aside the faint disappointment and frustration curling in his gut at her less than subtle attempt to shelve the topic. Facing those feelings were tantamount in the healing process, but he didn’t want to force her into acceptance or discussing the situation given the way she’d been manipulated over her lifetime; he needed gain her trust first, starting with some much needed answers. “I figured now might be a good time. Walk with me?”

“Where we going?” she asked, falling into line with him hesitantly as they headed back to the palace, its cool, regal, stone walls gleaming in the fading sunlight as they wound their way through the foliage surrounding it, the majestic green-veined, off-white building built into the side of a natural marble like mountain, as much of the planet was. One thing she recalled, and come to admire, about Ahrensa, was the inhabitants built into and around the natural resources, replenishing them as they were used unlike Antar, who culled and raped their lands until they were barren and unable to support itself.

It was why Ahrensa and the other planets were developed in the first place. At one time it, and the remaining three planets, had been nothing more than colonies to Antar; the latter’s population having grown far too expansive for the planet’s resources to support. Over time, the colonies broke away and formed their own royal houses, but the empire had left its mark, leaving a common language, law system and culture between the planets, allowing for peace trade and alliance up until Zan’s father’s reign.

“My study,” he replied, offering her an arm and snapping her out of her musings, tucking her hand in the crook of his as they walked down the stone laden paths he’d ran through as a child. “I have a few things there that might help with explaining your…our past, not to mention it will be much more comfortable since I’m sure you have a lot of questions given…the images I saw burned into your mind…excuse me.”

Khivar halted as they stepped onto the place steps, halting a passing servant, talking rapidly in Antarian, or the local dialect as it had evolved on Ahrensa, asking for her to see to a tray of refreshments and having it brought to his office, smiling when a flash of recognition flitted through Tess’s eyes and her brow furrowed thoughtfully. “Sorry about that. Just wanted to make sure we had something to drink as this will likely take a while.”

“How do you know English?” Tess blurted, confusion evident in her face as she tried to puzzle out something that had been bothering her for the past month in Khivar’s household. From the intel she’d gathered, Khivar never intended them to be sent to Earth, so his knowledge of English and other Earth languages left her bewildered and uneasy.

“Well, we know most of the dominant languages on Zemlja, or Earth as you call it,” he smiled, running his hand over the side of his head nervously. “We’ve been studying the planet for over a thousand years, watching it’s evolution in the background to see if it will advance to a level that it can be a potential ally to the federation.”

“We keep tabs on any civilization that evolves similarly to our own,” he continued as they entered the palace, leading her down a long hall off to the right, which she knew housed the library and his study. “Thus the necessity of learning enough of your languages in order to blend in and probe the amicability of a potential alliance. Unfortunately, the planet is still not ready for that, not only in technology but mentality and we have strict laws that prevent us from interfering with a planet’s development. I’m a scholar and researcher of that particular system.”

“A thousand years?” she murmured, her voice a touch awestruck as she mulled that tidbit over in her mind, her mind boggling that her world had been in contact since the eleventh century; she could only imagine at how the histories would match up between what was recorded here and what trickled down throughout human history, whether it would be more or less unbiased in its accountings. “How did you even find us…the planet?”

“We share a common ancestor, or so we believe,” he said, placing a hand on her lower back as they navigated the halls and slid into the cluttered study and he grimaced at the papers and books stacked haphazardly all over the room. Scrambling to clear her a space, he shuffled some books from one chair to another, handing her into the armchair when done. “An ancient, extremely advanced civilization colonized several like planets, leaving the inhabitants to fend for themselves; a science experiment if you will, to see how each colony would develop without the benefit of their technology. Lucky us right?”

“So you have, what, a map or something they left behind?” she queried, looking around the room curiously, noting the multiple star charts and maps of lands that teased the back of her memory, but she couldn’t quite place. She had only been in this room once, soon after her discovery, just before she collapsed and lost the baby. Shuddering at the memory, she turned back to him and pushed back the sting of loss to deal with when she was back in her suites alone.

“Not a map exactly, but yes something left behind,” he hedged, sitting back into this chair and pausing as the girl he’d talked to earlier came into the room with a carafe of Uso and what looked like little sponge cakes and a preserve made of an sweet-tart fruit that reminded her of marmalade. Nodding his thanks, he waited until they were alone once more before continuing. “You have one there too. We call it the Granilith.”

“The Granilith…” Tess trailed off, confusion lacing her voice as she recalled the false information she’d been fed on Earth and trying to reconcile with the new information swirling in her head since Khivar had unleashed her previous memories. It hadn’t been a seamless melding of information, but more chunks came to her at times, usually triggered by something she saw or something someone said. Shaking her head to clear the fog, she asked. “You mean the transport that brought me here?”

“Sort of…” he said, hedging once again and staring off into space as he tried to figure out the best way to explain something even he didn’t quite understand. “It is capable of travel, but it’s much more complex than that. It is a portal that allows us to travel between worlds, but it also acts as a marker for them, whoever they may be. I know they’ve made contact with the federation once we reached a certain technological capability, but that information is top secret and only known by the royal families and top federation officials. But the true Granilith is still stationed on Earth. ”

“So is the ability to use it as a portal why the Skins are looking for it?” she asked, pouring a glass of Uso for them both in the attempt to keep her busy as she filed away the new information, allowing bits and pieces of memory floating around her head to crystallize and finally make sense.

“Partially,” he agreed, sipping at the sweet-tart drink she set before him before continuing, studying the girl before him as she stared into her glass. “But the Granilith is more than a portal and marker; it also has an artificial intelligence that is almost omnipotent, some people even worship it as an almost deity, including the Skins. Its technology far surpasses anything that we have ever seen or created to date and even we don’t understand its full capabilities. It can be a weapon, a portal both of place and time, a marker or beacon, a super computer…”

Lifting her head at his pause, Tess’s brow arched at his hesitance, brow furrowing further when his features grew drawn and pensive, a curious haunted light shining out of his usually serene gaze as if he was remembering something particularly unpleasant or painful. Compressing her lips thoughtfully, she waited him out, not wanting to intrude on his reflection, but shifted impatiently in her seat as the minutes dragged on, snapping him out of his dark thoughts and eliciting that gentle smile to which she’d grown accustomed.

“But by far, its biggest draw is its ability to create life from where there is none,” he continued, his lips quirking when her mouth gaped slightly, before her lips rounded in wonder and a stunned azure gaze flew to his as he dropped the next bombshell. “It’s the reason you and the others exist today.”
A laugh rippled in the air, tinkling lightly over red-tipped bushes as a small blond crashed through the foliage, twinkling blue eyes filled with devilment as she tossed her curls and grinned at her brother impishly, a shrill squeal piercing the glade as they ran towards their mother’s resting place. Swinging back around, the sprite giggled impudently as she hid behind the other woman, peeking out mischievously as a disheveled, mud-encrusted Larek scowled at the little girl, grousing with irritation as he licked at the deep brown soil on his clothing.

Stifling a smile of her own, the queen shook her head at her youngest child’s antics and smoothed a hand over her tangled, matted locks, working out bits of leaves and snarls with a wave of her hand before tapping the girl on the tip of her nose and softly chastised her. “How many times have I told you, Ava, a princess is supposed to be the model of decorum and grace, not a dirty little urchin? What am I to do with you?”

“Larek doesn’t have to, so why must I?” Ava groused, sticking her tongue out at her snickering brother as she sat next to her mother and pouted, rolling her eyes when he stuck his fingers in his mouth and stretched his lips wide, flicking his tongue back and forth when their mother turned away. Smoothing her skirts, she plucked at the grass absently and sighed, her brow furrowing as she tried to comport herself properly as her golden-haired brother plopped to the ground unceremoniously. “He’s crown prince; shouldn’t he have to behave as well?”

“Yes, but boys will be boys,” her mother returned softly, a small smile flitting over her face as her tomboy daughter growled under her breath and huffed, yanking at the grass with a little more agitation, frowning as she stared at the sparkling lilac waters flowing over gray and white rocks. Rumpling her daughter’s hair, she remembered when she too chafed under the strict rules that governed women on their planet and sighed, hoping that the rumblings she heard where true and change would soon be in the air. In the meantime, liked or not, rules were rules. “And little girls are little girls.”

“Then maybe I don’t want to be a girl,” she replied petulantly, clambering to her feet and wandering over to the small stream, her bared feet chuffing the soft, sage-colored moss clinging to the bank and flicked a determined glance over to her mother and Larek, her lips curling in a far-away smile, ignoring their indulgent laughs as she stared into the distance and stated with confidence. “One day, when I am queen, I will change those rules; that way little girls can do just as little boys would if they choose.”


She cowered behind the chair her mother was sitting in, her pretty face wan and pinched as she nervously tugged at her stiff royal blue mourning dress, her eyes brimming with tears and horror at the conversation swirling around her and nibbled on her bottom lip absently as the handsome, dark-haired man tossed her mother a cold smile. Swinging her head back and forth between the two adults, her stomach clenched and burned with anguish as Stavros gave her mother an ultimatum, tearing apart her little world just a bit more as he demanded her mother hand over her only son and the crown prince.

How could he do this now, her father lost and presumed dead for no more than a few months, before ripping their grieving family apart a little more?

Shuddering, she watched her father’s second-in-command pace the room, his cool, calculating blue-eyes shifting to her briefly and smirking when she returned the gaze hatefully before her nerves failed and she huddled behind her mother further. She had never liked her father’s top advisor for some reason, his words and actions striking her as false, not to mention that the flavor of his aura was off-putting and bitter, like a redkaiv root, not to mention the sickly green swirls of envy that dotted it.

“You knew this day would come, Anallsa,” Stavros shrugged carelessly, ignoring the pained looks between parent and siblings as he laid the royal decree on the table in front of her mother, signed and sealed by the head of the federation, Zan Ranivir, stating that Larek was to begin training for his position immediately under Stavros’ tutelage. Flicking his eyes over the young prince in question, the man continued derisively. “He is the crown prince and third in line for the federation; he must be educated on the role he will play in the future. He has grown too complacent in this soft, country life.”

“He is just a boy,” her mother protested, bristling at the man’s censure of a life she and her husband had decided for their children, wanting them to be aware of all walks of life on their planet and not just the privileged few, as their planet was founded and built by those hands. Eyes flashing, her mother’s lips thinned into a grim smile, her cheeks flushing pink with anger as she stared at the papers in front of her. “And he just lost his father; he belongs with me. There is plenty of time for him to learn his place in life. He’s not supposed to go away to school for another two years.”

“Given the circumstances, and Fricis’ disappearance,” Stavros replied coolly as he sat on the chair opposite her mother, he waved his hand at Larek dismissively before fixing her mother with an unreadable glance. “Ran has made a special allowance to send to send him to school and training ahead of time so that he will be ready to take over the throne when he comes of age. He’ll be training directly under his own son’s, Azzan, tutor. It’s an honor we cannot afford to ignore.”

“You mean command,” her mother spat bitterly, closing her eyes wearily as she absently touched the necklace softly, the slight glimmer of tears gathering at the corner of her eyes making Ava’s fill as well, her heart hurting for their lost father. “I don’t see why this couldn’t have waited a few more months.”

“Classes begin in a few days,” he said, his aura brightening with an ill-disguised impatience and setting Ava’s blood boiling at his cold, callous manner. “They would prefer that he begin with the rest of his classmates, opposed to starting months later and getting behind. What choice do we really have?”

“He can start his studies here,” Ana refuted stubbornly, her eyes dancing with anger that they would take her son away so soon after the news of her husband’s ambush came through. Shaking her head at Stavros’ implacable expression, she continued furiously, “I am more than capable…”

“Mother, please,” Larek interrupted, coming to stand by their mother and taking her hand gently, his eyes somber and far too grown up as he tried to reassure her. “I want to go. It will be fine and I’ll be back for holiday before you have a chance to miss me.”

“I will always miss you, my son,” her mother whispered brokenly, clenching his small hand in hers as she raised it to her cheek, her other hand clenching into a tight fist as she turned a heated gaze onto the man that sought to separate the family and rule the planet through the inexperienced hands of her young son.

“And I will miss you, mother. You and Ava both,” Larek swallowed thickly, the faintest hint of apprehension sliding through his gaze as he studied the man across the room before looking back at his mother and sister, a weak smile flitting across his lips. “I have to do this. It is my place.”

Wrapping them in his arms, Ava sobbed quietly as she buried her face into her beloved brother’s neck, pain slashing through her body as she turned her face toward Stavros, a cold, ripple of fear dancing down her spine and worry puckering her brow as she took in his smug countenance. She had a very bad feeling about this.


Seething internally, she flicked a cold glance over the blond-haired, blue-eyed man in front of her, her stomach swirling sickly as he met her gaze unflinchingly, his expression stoic and unmoved by the obvious fury radiating from every pore of her body. She didn’t even know the man before her, so different from the slightly irreverent, jovial boy she grew up with and definitely nothing like the warm, peaceful father that she had lost over five years prior. Her brother had become a stranger.

“I don’t see why this is necessary,” she refuted slowly, her eyes flicking between Larek and Stavros contemplatively, wondering what game they were playing at this time and why it was so pivotal for her to attend this school when they had all but ignored her existence for years. “I have kept up with my schooling here and see no need for me to attend a school for the rich, spoiled and brainless when my tutor’s are the best on our planet. I’m quite content with my life here.”

“You are a princess, Ava,” Larek continued smoothly, flicking at an imaginary speck of dust or lint from his long-sleeved tunic, a slightly bored expression gracing his face as he looked at his fuming sister, lips thinning grimly at her stony façade. “It is important for you to mingle and make friends with people who are your equal, not trudge around in the country like some peasant.”

“You mean, it’s important for me make alliances that better your position,” she snorted bitterly, rolling her eyes contemptuously as she turned on her heel and strode over to the window, staring out at the quiet, peaceful country she had grown to love in the years of her concealment. “You have no concern for my well-being or happiness and haven’t for years, so don’t even begin to pretend that you do. If you had any true feeling for me at all, you would leave me to my life and go back to your political games.”

“Your children will one day rule at my side,” her brother replied quietly, his stoic gaze flickering slightly and allowing that softer side of his to filter through for the barest minute, so that he resembled the brother she once knew, making her heart pinch and waver as he admitted. “I cannot have children, Ava. That means your sons will be heir to my throne.”

Ava turned around, her heart in her throat, compassion and remorse filling it as she turned to her uncharacteristically vulnerable brother, her eyes softening and flashing with pity as they met hers and she hoped for a moment that maybe they could break past the wall that had built between them, only to bristle when his eyes hardened and he continued spitefully. “I will not have you waste away in the country, marrying someone who will not benefit…”

“A shame for you to be sure,” she interrupted stiffly, her tone unforgiving and steely, hardening her heart to his pleas when he reverted back to the cold, callous man that she’d known for the past three years. She couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to him in school and in Stavros’ house that had leeched all the joy and love from his heart. “But what do I care of your plans?”

“Stavros was right,” he sneered, a touch of hurt flitting through his eyes at her barbs before they grew steely and distant once more, belying the tumultuous emotions she felt coiling under the surface of his obnoxious smirk. “I should have taken you away years ago before you turned into a willful, hard-headed, selfish…

“Oh please, Larek, tell me how you really feel,” she goaded silkily, crossing her arms over her chest as she stared at him coldly, shaking her head softly before she made a low, mocking curtsy as she sniffed haughtily, a low derisive chuckle spilling over her lips when his eyes flashed with anger. “Don’t hold yourself back.”

“If you don’t do this Ava,” Larek vowed, walking over until he stood nose to chest with his younger sister, forcing her to crane her neck in order to watch him and narrowed his eyes into slits as she swallowed thickly and watched him warily. “I will banish mother to a remote place known only by me and the few people needed to care for her and you will never see her again so help me.”

“Fine, I’ll go, ” she conceded thickly after a few moments, a resounding sense of loss filling her heart as she stared at the brother that once teased her gently, yet was first to defend her against the other boys, sickened by what he had become in so few years. “But as of right now, unless I have to speak with you in public, you are dead to me. Father would be so disappointed with what you’ve become.”

Shaking her head with disappointment, she turned on her heel and headed toward her suite of rooms, pausing momentarily when she reached the door to look over her shoulder and make her own quiet vow, cerulean irises sparking defiantly. “Remember this day, dear brother, for you will rue it. I promise you that, Larek.”


Snickering softly, she watched as Lannie’s friend Rath hurried after a petite brunette, his face rapt, and a little awestruck, as he stared after Lareena with an intense stare, his long strides eating up the distance between himself and the only other girl in the school that she could stand. She had been wondering when he would cave and actually talk to the girl he’d been covertly watching since he, his brother, Dusan, and his best friend, Khivar had arrived yesterday for the annual Pertunangan social, an antiquated event that allowed the cream of society to flaunt and parade their daughters like prized sapi.

One of the most eligible bachelors in the federation, second only to the high crown Prince Zan, the young prince had eyed the prattling and preening ladies swirling around him, hoping to entice him with into an advantageous match with their obviously displayed charms, with an air of boredom and disdain before spotting Lareena. The tiny brunette, long weary of the court games, hadn’t bothered to dress the part or even make nice with their illustrious guests, being the beloved only daughter of a open-minded, liberal father who catered to her every whim, including her choice of mate.

She envied the girl for that freedom.

Of course it was her choice not to stand out that made her the focal point of the very man she was trying to avoid given their past childhood foibles, and he’d been burning a hole into her back ever since. Ava actually thought it was adorable that she and Rath had been childhood playmates, in and out of each other’s homes since the time they were five cycles, only to have him fall head over heels for his former pig-tailed nemesis. And Reena wasn’t as immune to him as she tried to project either.

Shaking her head in amusement, she turned back to the tow-headed man at her side, the gleeful smile pasted on her lips slipping slightly when she met with intense blue eyes watching her like they were trying to see into her very soul. Blushing a delicate pink, she dipped her head, clasping and unclasping her hands as she tried to remember the last time she had been on the admiring end of someone’s gaze before she looked up and quipped. “So, five larus says that by the end of the weekend Rath will no longer be on the marriage market.”

“No way am I taking that bet,” Khivar chuckled heartily, sipping his Uso as he stared after the rapidly retreating back of his best friend as Rath hurried after the girl Khivar knew he’d secretly loved since they were kids. Not that Rath would ever admit to it. “Not only is it bad form to bet against my best friend, it’s a sucker’s bet. I knew they’d eventually make a match of it the first time he pulled her pigtails.”

“You’re no fun,” she pouted mockingly before she grinned, fluttering her lashes comically, her dark-blue eyes glinting mischievously as she turned toward a passing servant and took a glass of berry punch in hand, her stomach jumping as Khivar’s laugh rippled over her senses and he offered her his arm, smiling when she tucked her hand in the crook without thought. “Whatever are we going to do about that?”

“Well, I guess I’ll just have to prove you wrong,” he lofted, pulling her into a stroll towards the gardens, flicking a glance over to where Dusan and Lannie were chatting, heads bent and oblivious to the world around them before dropping his gaze back onto the golden-haired girl at his side, a tingle of awareness coursing through them both as their eyes met and held before they looked away and continued their walk.


She sighed happily, leaning her head against a wooden post of gazebo, her eyes dancing over the sparkling violet water, a faint salt and mineral tinged breeze rippling through her long golden waves as she waited for Khivar to finish his meeting with Rath and Dusan before they met up for a private dinner here on the terrace. She never thought she’d be this happy after the past few years locked up in that cold, remote school, away from her mother and the countryside, the planet she loved so dearly.

She did it for the sake of her mother, so she could live out her days in peace in the remote country house she’d spent her youth, but she hadn’t realized how alone and lonely she had been until she was reassigned to Lannie’s dorm, the other girl’s friendship going a long way in healing the damage down to her heart. And adding in Dusan, Rath and Khivar to the mix when they had come for the annual debutante ball two weeks later cemented the path she was on, had made her confinement at Labeyrie, and the separation from her mother, bearable.

She really wished that her time here on Ahrensa would last, but she knew it was only a momentary respite, a brief interlude and summer would soon be over, forcing her to return to the cold, sterile halls of her school, this time without her friend and savior as she was set to bond at the end of the season. But at least the festivities and fanfare surrounding Lannie’s union with Dusan in three months had spared her a quiet, boring summer spent in the institute’s summer house since there was no way Stavros would allow her contact with her mother at this date.

The rumblings and stirrings of discontent between the planets had everyone scrambling to strengthen and forge alliances in the case that skirmishes, or worse, war, would break out and drag every last one of them down. She was actually growing suspicious of Stavros’ actions lately, his feigned kindness and almost solicitous attitude towards her raising her hackles and made her wonder what he had up his sleeve, especially as he had been spending a lot of time in Antar’s royal house.

“Everything okay?” a low, warm voice whispered next to her ear, startling her out of her morose thoughts and eliciting a bright grin as she spun around in surprise, her eyes lighting on the love of her life as he grinned at her in turn. “You seemed like you were miles away there; you didn’t even hear me walk up.”

“Sorry,” she smiled, slipping into this arms as he held them out, humming with satisfaction when they enveloped her, pulling her softly against his chest and dropped a tender kiss against the curls gathered at her crown, having swept the sides up and off her face for the evening. “Just feeling a little homesick; I miss my mother.”

He murmured quietly against her hair, running his hands over her back soothingly, knowing just how badly she wanted to see her mother, but fearing that if she attempted contact her idiot of a brother would catch on and follow through with his threat and promised that once they were wed, Larek and Stavros wouldn’t have the power to hurt her every again. They had almost reached a tentative agreement between the two of them, but Stavros was hedging on the last arrangements, which concerned him.

Sliding a finger under her chin, he tilted her head to meet his, smiling gently as he pressed his brow to hers, dipping down to brush his lips over her nose, chuckling when she scrunched it lightly before tilting her head back further to fit her lips on his in invitation. Sighing against his lips as strong, tapered fingers cupped the delicate lines of her jaw, she hummed in pleasure when he deepened the kiss, his tongue flitting over the bottom swell as his arm tightened around her waist, anchoring her firmly against him.

Parting her lips, she hummed softly as his tongue slid against hers languidly, a small gasp bubbling over her lips as electricity danced over her nerves, building to a warm tingling through out her body and heating her blood. Breaking the kiss, she opened her eyes hazily, her mouth gaping slightly when she noticed the faint purple flickers of electricity dancing over her skin, mingling with bright aqua, eliciting a gentle shudder as she turned stunned eyes to his, a little in awe at what was happening.

“Ava,” he whispered in awe as their energies sparked against one another, combining into a webbing of power that coiled into and around their hearts and souls, cementing into a bond that neither had expected, but one wholly embraced. “Be mine forever?”

“Always,” she murmured, rising on tiptoe and throwing herself into his arms as his mouth descended, sealing together with a small burst of power, a small smile sliding over her lips as sparks exploded behind her eyes. When had she last been this happy?


“It is an auspicious day, daughter,” Stavros greeted congenially, striding into the room with an almost peppy air, instantly raising Ava’s hackles as she stared at her nemesis balefully and compressed her lips in suppressed rage at the interruption of her vacation.

“You are not my father,” she stated coldly, barely quelling the blazing temper that rippled through her veins as the pompous, smug man came to a standstill directly in front of her desk, where she had been writing to her mother of Lannie’s coming nuptials and the amusing accountings of Rath’s chase after Lareena. “Do not address me as such.”

“I’d watch it if I were you, Ava,” he rebuked, his gray eyes chilling as he studied her contemplatively, his lips pursing with displeasure when she sniffed delicately and turned back to her missive, pointedly ignoring the infuriating man. “Wouldn’t want to disrupt your mother’s peace now would you?”

“What do you want, Stavros?” she queried tightly, cocking an impatient brow at him as she set down her electronic missive and crossed her arms over her chest, narrowing cool cerulean orbs suspiciously as she knew that he wouldn’t leave her in peace until he had spewed whatever poison had him grinning like a madman.

“Why nothing more than to bring glad tidings, Princess,” he smirked, his tone bland and innocuous as he rocked on his heels; a tone that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end and a shiver tripped slowly down her spine as apprehension swirled sickly in her stomach. What was he up to this time?

“What are you talking about?” she asked suspiciously, tensing when a sly smile slid over his face and making her wish that she had something sharp that she could impale in his black heart as she was certain that nothing pleasant ever fell over those lips.

“News of your impending betrothal,” he lofted smoothly, giving a nonchalant shrug when she stared at him incredulously, a hard glint sparkling in his eyes when she shook her head in bewildered denial. “It is a quite the coup.”

“Betrothal?” she snorted, her lips curling in disbelief as she sank back into her chair, her eyes sharpening as she studied him dubiously. “Betrothal to whom?”

“To His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Azzan Loliyekar,” Stavros declared smoothly, eyes flinty when she laughed in his face and clenched his fists and she sobered, her features blanking as se realized he was completely serious.

“What?” she whispered, her face draining of color as she rose to her feet shakily and shook her head in negation as she stumbled back, eyes widening in horror, as she took in his harsh, triumphant grin at shaking her cool, calm demeanor. Licking her lips, she wrapped her arms around herself protectively and tore her gaze away to stare out at the room blankly, her stomach churning sickly when he nodded in confirmation.

“We signed the agreements just three days ago,” he continued coolly, casually flicking a non-existent speck of dirt or lint from his shirt and then pulled a sheaf of papers from behind his back as he stalked over to her desk, throwing them carelessly onto the smooth, dark surface, a cruel smirk twisting his mouth.

“No,” she protested, reaching out a shaky hand towards the official documents and tracing the edging of Antar’s royal seal before snatching her fingers away as if it had burned and clutching at her throat as shallow, harsh breaths rattled in her chest.

“You’re expected on Antar within the month,” he commented as if she hadn’t said a thing, overriding her protests with a flick of his hand and disregarding them, knowing there was nothing she could do stop the proceedings since Larek, her legal guardian, had signed the documents insuring her cooperation.

“No!” she shouted, distress and pain ripping through her heart as Khivar’s kind, loving face flit before her eyes, the feel of his soft touch and sweet kisses burning in her soul as she shoved the offending documents away from her, sending them fluttering to the floor in a haphazard heap.

“I’ll be sure to inform your mother so that we can begin the preparations,” Stravos smirked, tsking her actions under his breath as he headed towards the door, flicking a calculating grin back over his shoulder when she let out a little scream of rage.

“No, it’s not possible,” Ava refuted, eyes sparkling with angry tears, her chest heaving as she curled her fingers into tight, little fists, knuckles blanching under the strain, lips compressing and nose flaring as she hissed. “I’m bonded to Khivar Gearailt.”

“Not to worry,” he replied, flicking her an unconcerned glance as he paused by the door, the enigmatic smile spreading over his lips sending a shudder of apprehension down her spine as he lofted airily. “That little inconvenience will be taken care of soon enough.”


“You look lovely, my sweet bride,” Zan whispered in her ear as he came up behind her, eliciting a shudder of revulsion, slipping over her spine like a cool wind as she picked up the faintest touch of malice and discontent in his tone. She supposed most women would be thrilled to have caught the handsome prince’s eye, thinking him to be the catch of their generation, but compared to Khivar’s warm, passionate kisses, Zan’s left her cold and sick to her stomach.

The only reason she was even going along with this farce was her contract was legally binding and she knew that Larek and Stavros wouldn’t hesitate to take out her impudence and rebellion on her mother. Clenching her eyes shut, she cringed when Zan ran a proprietary hand over her arm, sliding his fingers over her skin in what she assumed was an attempt at seducing her, but only made bile rush up her throat in protest.

Gritting her teeth, she curled her hands into tight little balls and tensed imperceptibly as he slid his hand around her waist, pulling her subtly into the curve of his body, his hot, rough breath rushing over her ear as he pressed an unwanted kiss to the lobe of her ear, forcing a gasp of disgust over her lips

“Unhand me,” she hissed, her voice tight and controlled as she locked her muscles in an attempt to hide the trembling his closeness elicited, although this was hardly the warm, sweet trembling that Khivar invoked in her, but really the cold rush of fear and despair at the unfairness of her situation.

“Why should I?” he smirked, tightening his hold on her as he pressed deeper into her back, breathing harshly against the shell of her ear as he pressed his lips to it once more, rasping mockingly when she shivered in disgust. “After all, you belong to me.”

“We are not mated yet,” she spat, wrenching away and whirling around to fix him with flashing, infuriated eyes, her chest heaving with shallow, sharp pants as she ripped her gaze away, searching the room for the quickest escape away from her detested betrothed. “So you have no right…”

“I have every right, Amaravati,” he replied silkily, pointing to the contract sitting on her desk, sitting as innocuously as a coiled viper. “This paper says that your very life is mine to do as I choose; you’d do well to keep that in mind.”

“Maybe in name,” she sneered, flicking the tall, dark-haired man in front of her with a disdainful look, her lips curling derisively as she reminded him once again that he was not her choice, and never would be. “But I belong to one man and one man alone.”

“Khivar has no hold here,” Zan reminded her, his ears and cheeks flushing hotly at her smug, content smile, his stomach churning acidly and fists clenching so hard that his knuckles popped when she gave a dismissive sniff, sending his rage to newer heights.

“What ever helps you sleep at night,” she taunted, her voice taking on a singsong quality as she brushed him off lightly before her tone and eyes hardened once more as she turned towards the door. “You may separate us, you may force me into this union against my will, but you will never own my heart. And you can never be anything but a shell of the man he is.”

“You will be mine,” he grated, giving a little growl of rage as he stalked over to her, his fingers wrapping around her wrist like a vise and yanked her roughly back into his arms, slamming her against the wall with bruising force, his face mottled with rage. Crying out as her head snapped back and smacked the wall forcefully, Ava shook her head dizzily and drew a deep breath, trying to quell the rising nausea rolling through her body at impact.

Scratching at his arms helplessly, she gasped when Zan ruthlessly grabbed her wrists, pinning them to the wall with hand, covering the flat of her stomach with the other and sent a jolt of electricity searing through out her body, burrowing deep into her core where the fragile ties to Khivar resided. Shuddering when she felt his powers stroke the faint, silver bond nonchalantly, a scream ripped through her throat when that sinister hand wrapped around the strand and wrenched, tearing it in two.

Sobbing as pain radiated through out the entirety of her body, she slumped, her eye-sight graying around the edges as wave after wave of fire and anguish burned through out her core like acid, spilling hotly into her bloodstream, tremors wracking her form as she collapsed into herself, falling to the floor. Lying boneless on the floor, she took a rattling breath, despair and emptiness washing over her senses as he spat coldly before everything went dark,” I may not hold you metaphysically, but never cross me, my love. You can never win.”
Last edited by Ashita on Thu Mar 31, 2011 10:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Hunted (UC,Mi/L,ADULT) Chap 17; 11/8

Post by Ashita » Thu Nov 08, 2012 3:50 am

AN: As I said in my other postings, I apologize for the long delay in updating this story as well as my others. However, as I stated before, personal reasons prevented me from writing and my muse is just finally starting to talk to me again. Also, just to let you know how this is going to happen. I’m going to focus on three stories at a time instead of trying to update the many I have open. As I complete one, I will then pull from the incomplete stack and continue in that same vein until they are all finished. Hopefully.

Thank you for continuing to read and support this fic and my other shared and individual stories, as well as the nomination for Best UC author. I was tickled pink that I had been remembered despite my long absence.

A huge thanks to Yas for looking this over for me and correcting a couple of typos; also to the ever wonderful Whimsicality that found some time to look it over despite her impacted schedule. I live for your comments!

Chapter Note: In the beginning of this chapter, I vacillate between the use of Rath and Michael; this is not a mistake and, is in fact, purposefully done for reasons that will become clear as the story develops further. The same with Max and Zan, Ava and Tess, Isabel and Vilandra; each are mentioned deliberately.


A Dream Within A Dream

Sunlight splashed across the meadow, a faint, perfumed breeze ruffling his hair as he turned towards the raven-haired temptress laughing at him, her pale pink lips tilted with happiness as crystal blue eyes danced with mischief. Feigning a frown, belied by the subtle twitch of amusement at the corner of his mouth, Rath lunged at the taunting girl, cursing under his breath when she chortled and slipped from his grasp like a curling mist, causing him to fall into a graceless heap at her feet.

“Dryska, ur’yeh iya cona bissau, (You’ll pay for that, minx),” he growled playfully, scrambling hastily to his feet and giving chase, shunting aside the hanging vines cluttering his path as he hurried after Lareena, her mocking laughter trailing tauntingly behind her.

“Ur’yeh engiena lawiki tu ahamo ta gobela, tiwili, pentru loccreh, (You’ll have to catch me first, my big, bad, brave warrior,)” she snickered, skittering to the side as she artfully dodged grasping hands, the damp, rich soil flying beneath her feet and smacking him on his legs as she reversed her flight. Chortling at his feigned cry of irritation, she darted behind some trees and continued her mad caper through the rainforest, tossing a gleeful glance behind her and challenged smartly. “Lo tel ur. (If you can.)”

“Adhyhakiwe trel ur tel, lisycca, (Mock while you can, vixen,)” he snorted, effortlessly gaining on her due to his longer strides; she may be quick and nimble, but he had plenty of training and it was only a matter of time before she tired, not to mention he had a better grasp of the surrounding vegetation. “Juha indal parev – ur’eina mgodi dinisha tu sio ta pohohasa durust ur; ota kayam ur ataona iya, ota iya wapwenzi, cona utem kejeli. (But know this – you’re mine when I get my hands on you; and then you shall pay, and pay dearly, for your mockery).”

“Hualqui, hualqui, hualqui, (Talk, talk, talk,)” she laughed, hopping lightly onto a rock, grimacing when her slipper shifted under her slightly, setting her off balance. That was going to cost her and she knew it, but was determined to continue her set course. He couldn’t always have his way. “Bissau eina sitam ur eina, Silerius – kwa juha hualqui. (That’s all you are, Silerius – nothing but talk.)”

“Da einadla alelo hualqui dinisha tu tel nyumma da noua, ta Aiba, (It isn’t just talk when I can back it up, my Sweet,)” he smirked, launching himself forward and snagging her around the waist, chuckling when she gave a girlish squeak and flailed as he yanked her from her precarious perch. Turning her in his arms, he swooped down, pressing firm, warm lips against a soft, pink mouth, curved in shared mirth, moaning silently as heat pooled in his stomach and gradually erupted into a quiet, sweet burn that drizzled through his veins like honey, catching each blood cell and nerve-ending aflame.

Inhaling sharply through his nose, he pulled back, lips tingling and damp from the hot press of soft skin against his and leaned his forehead against Lareena’s, a sigh of contentment falling and mingling between them. Smiling down into her upturned face, he startled slightly when the features in front of his blurred, morphed and softened, revealing soft, golden skin and dancing chocolate-tinted eyes. Blinking lazily, he was surprised when a bright, melted gaze twinkled back in amusement, but shrugged it off as unimportant, his heart swelling with emotion when the love of this lifetime charmingly scrunched up her nose and kissed the corner of his mouth.

“Looks like you caught me,” Liz laughed softly, a warm breeze stirring ebony strands and setting them dancing around her shoulders, the ends tickling and teasing against his neck as she rose on tiptoe, whispering huskily against his ear in warm invitation. “Now what do you intend to do about it?”

“Well, I don’t know,” he drawled playfully, pulling back to tap a finger against his chin thoughtfully, sweeping a hot, covetous gaze over the lithe figure, dressed in a filmy white skirt and gauzy, white shirt that slipped enticingly low over one shoulder. Dropping his hand, he trailed a finger over the swell of her shoulder, smirking faintly as she shivered in reaction and pulled her closer, his stomach jolting when heat flared between them. “What would you have me do?”

“Well, I was thinking,” she murmured breathlessly, brushing her lips over the lobe of his ear before catching it between her teeth and biting down softly, smiling against his skin when a low, helpless moan rumbled in the back of his throat. No one had ever made him feel like this, not even Lareena. Hers had been an innocent love – sweet, untried by hardship and untainted by betrayal; one that might not have withstood the test of time now that he looked back. Liz had long since learned that life wasn’t perfect and that love can hurt, but it was a risk well worth taking.

Lips sliding over the line of his throat drew his attention back to the girl in front of him, and he slid his hands down to her hips, gripping them tightly, smiling when her breath caught and voice trailed off into nothing. “That maybe…”

“Maybe?” he prompted softly, unable to resist teasing her slightly before he caught her mouth with his, sliding his lips over a slightly damp, parted mouth, in a slow, sweet kiss that sent a frisson of electricity running over his nerves and he bit back a heartfelt groan as slim hands slid over his back to clasp at his neck, fingers tangling in the fine waves at its nape. It never failed to amaze him how one touch from her could rock his world, send it careening out of control, his pulse racing wildly and skin prickling with an almost unbearable, but welcome heat.

Deepening the kiss, he traced the tip of his tongue along the seam, tasting a hint of chocolate and honey left over from their meal and groaned in truth this time, crushing her fully against his body as he dipped into her mouth, their tongues tangling languidly in a slow, drawn out, erotic dance. Feather light touch, soft breath and the little kittenish noises she made in the back of her throat, sought to drive him slowly insane. And he found he didn’t mind it one bit.

Closing his eyes, he pulled back and drew a deep, erratic breath, his heart pounding in his ears as he tried to get his body under control and frowned when the air around him cooled, a chill prickling at his arms. Opening his eyes once more, he gasped when the world swirled around him, the dense foliage of Ahrensa’s rainforest fading into a cold, barren plain with thick gray clouds hovering in the sky ominously.

‘Antar…’ his subconscious whispered, although where the knowledge came from, he wasn’t positive; all he knew was he was standing in the middle of what once was the Bauhinia Forest, once one of Antar’s richest resources, now depleted because of greed and the ever expanding population. It was once filled with Nepelli trees, coveted for their fruit, which made the favored drink, Uso, as well as it’s dense, rose-hued wood. But after centuries of mishandling, the land was a dry wasteland, where nothing but ebina, a common, reddish, grass-like weed, grew.

A storm hovered, gathering in the distance as the wind kicked up, blowing his hair back from his face and bit at his exposed skin, leaving it prickling with unease. Rubbing his hands against his arms, he frowned when he caught a glimpse of a blurred, shadowed figure, cloaked in black walking just ahead of him. Squinting against the dim glare, he tried to make out who it was, but the mists rising up from the ground cast it into obscurity and sent a deep foreboding washing over him as the man plunged into the mists.

Licking his lips nervously, Rath…Michael turned in a circle, looking for whence the man might have come, but all he could see was miles of vast, empty fields on all sides. Looking back towards the disappearing figure, he took a step forward, halting uncertainly when a voice called to him, whispering beckoningly on the wind.

“Heru ta xoyan…(Come with me…)”

Looking around nervously, he shook his head stubbornly and was tempted to turn face and head back the other direction, but some force wouldn’t allow him to do anything but move forward. Huffing impatiently, he tried to shake the feeling off, irritated that someone was trying to force his actions and once more turned around and started walking, a trickle of fear sliding over his spine when he just ended up walking in a circle and heading back the other way, and heaved a frustrated sigh.

Frowning unhappily, his footsteps forced, he continued his trek across the land, the ebina making an almost, wet squelching noise beneath his feet and startled when a faint, melodic laugh rippled in his head, followed by a lilting voice gently chastising his reluctance, causing him to pause once more.

“Ur eina norè sempra, mkaidi’iri. Kwa yeh gungari nui ur. Vina heru ta xoyan…
(You are safe here, stubborn one. Nothing will happen to you. Now come with me…)”

Studying the cool, faded terrain surrounding him, he scratched at his brow absently, giving up the fight and started off in the direction the hooded figure had headed, keeping a careful distance between them once he caught sight of black, swirling cloth. The figure paused in the middle of what seemed like more empty plain and raised his arms, palms pressed against the sky into a wide v-shape, as if embracing the whipping air and uttered a low, complex incantation that he couldn’t hear.

The mists deepened, swirling and eddying around his body, obscuring vision to everything but the immediate surroundings and darkened the sky into an artificial twilight. His breath caught in his throat in apprehension. This kind of power, magic or whatever you wanted to term it, was forbidden. To mess so blatantly with nature was taboo given the precarious balance on Antar and that one would mess with it so openly sent a shiver of dread snaking over his skin and raised the fine hairs on the back of his neck.

This couldn’t lead to anything good.

The air shimmered ahead of him, opening a portal of some kind, and another figure, equally disguised, in a purple cloak this time, slipped between the mists to stand before the original masculine form. The purple struck a chord in him, teasing along his memory, but he couldn’t quite place where or when he had encountered it. A breeze stiffened, pressing into his back with cold fingers, nudging him gently forward until he was all but on top of the two…men, yes he could tell they were men now being close enough to hear the low murmur of their voices and observe their body language.

“Heu ota indal… (See and know…)

The wind whispered solemnly, a sadness clinging to the edges as a finger touched the center of his forehead, initiating a bright flare of white light across his sight that briefly warmed the skin as the scene crystallized and the voices became clearer. Blinking away the lingering spot of light, his heart hardened and he sucked in a surprised breath when the purple-cloaked held out his hand, a silver-like armband glinting in the center of his palm. It couldn’t be. How would they have been able to obtain it?

The band, about a half-inch in thickness, was made of miatayl, a precious metal similar in property to white gold and was ringed with byxti, a violet crystal-like stone that burned with a deep cyan fire, similar to that of an opal. He knew that if he were to pick it up and look on the inside of the band, he would find protective runes etched into the metal. He should know it, as it was a family heirloom passed down from crown heir to crown heir in the Silerius royal family, gifted to them on the founding of their kingship by the Granilith.

What puzzled him, was just how it made it here, in the hands of someone not of the royal blood. It was protected by family magicks and kept in a vault that should have been impenetrable to anyone other than his immediate family. He knew the cloaked figure wasn’t anyone of the royal family, because, although their power signature felt familiar, it wasn’t ‘family.’ Pursing his lips, he stifled a cry of outrage and his stomach sank as the black-cloaked figure’s fingers curled around the band, a triumphant chuckle bubbling over his lips as the band flared a cool, sapphire blue before glowing dully.

It accepted him. It should not have accepted him.

“Aundi, umata ota semobia… (Listen, observe and learn…)”

Rath quelled the anger bubbling in his gut, closing his eyes for the briefest moment as he inhaled a deep breath and then continued to observe the scene. He assumed that he was viewing a moment in his past, although, he also knew that he had never actually seen this scene prior to this moment. So he took it for what it was meant to be – a warning, a gem of knowledge that would ensure a better understanding of past events. Although, why they couldn’t just come out and say it instead of all the subterfuge, he didn’t understand.

The wind chuffed him with an indulgent amusement, the words ‘papara’iri (impatient one)’ ringing through his ears for a moment before the being laughed and let him be.

“Ti byanna ceoyl xinu urangi koho’ad, otac, (The band as you wished, sire,)” the purple cloak rasped, the voice niggling something in the back of his mind, but again, like the cloak, slipping away without full comprehension. All the subtle jabs and lack of definitive answers was really beginning to annoy him.

“Iebo, (Yes,)” the black cloak rumbled appreciatively, satisfaction dripping through the sibilant notes as he lifted the torque, the jewels catching the faint light and releasing their inner fire. He could almost see the smug grin that had to be etched on the other man’s face, and again it struck a note that slipped away before it could be fully assimilated. “Saoil. Silerius yeh kubi tuagez dicimbri nui zaustikwi taya’a vina. Nolog tu es da amar. (Perfect. Silerius will have little chance to halt things now. Tell me what it does.)”

That voice, he knew that voice. It taunted him and yet, to his utmost aggravation, no clear picture came, nor would place it; it was almost as if something were clouding his senses.

“Da urani reheh ota povecatei la parsa’n asili vipaji’a, otac, (It both protects and enhances a person’s natural talents, sire,)” the traitor replied with a deferent nod. “Xinu tayagu xinu, svasa ti sihamian la tari halibi’ad eluisuukwia. (As well as, gives the bearer a few added perks.)”

“Halibi’ad eluisuukwia? (Added perks?)” the other man, a noble or royal if he were to go by the title, drawled as he place the band on his upper arm, admiring the craftsmanship before turning back to his informant.

“Lo urangi kierei da nui ti kopala, lan asiyetonewan mkuma yeh dokujo utem bikahl. (If you twist it to the right, an invisible shield will surround your body.)” Rath vibrated with rage, as the man demonstrated a quick, quarter turn with his hand, showing the proper alignment of runes and stones, but held his tongue, knowing this was the past and nothing could change it. “Da nkosi tenab la kilwa misui, juha da’a la halibi’ad safui ia amrua bissau yeh tenab etsana hauna osemytilak pau mandko inexba. (It won’t prevent a death blow, but it’s an added layer of protection that will block most small stunners, or minor injury.)”

“Fruabaer, (Fantastic,)” the black cloak whispered as silver-blue light poured over his body before disappearing into an invisible second skin. “Tu ewiges xalak’ad umiki bissau niyalma gaurinn anuia’ad nui pakaha inexba plela amada’d. (I always wondered how that slippery bastard managed to escape injury so easily.)”

“Xoyan sitam niya hasdeu, otac, (With all due respect, sire,)” the traitor hedged, eyes shifting nervously as he stepped back, his body taut as if expecting a blow. One he fully deserved for handing out his family’s secrets in Rath’s opinion. “Igual tu wera ucompsa’d? (May I speak freely?)”

“Nasra suero, (Go ahead,)” the royal invited tersely. Rath’s lips quirked with a touch of wry amusement; obviously the man was no fan of his and he likely wouldn’t care to hear that Rath was quite talented in the field and had no need for protection in most instances.

“Esdla morado Rath, otac, (Do not underestimate Rath, sire,)” the purple cloak warned softly, visibly flinching when his master hissed, but continued on. “Che eina la zwadi’ad loccreh ota che nadra’d gigui’a ti byanna ceoyl. Da eina la muinaunen sivahl ota yeh uri osieri kuajiri’ad rahi la kubwa tuikyia. (He is a gifted warrior and he rarely wears the band. It is an ancient family artifact and would only be employed in a serious event.)”

“Iebo, tu indal alelo umiki vipaji’ad che eina, (Yes, I know just how talented he is,)” the black cloaked muttered under his breath before biting out impatiently. “Siglo ia Rath. Nolog tu amar nana eluisuukwia tu tel honuku. (Enough of Rath. Tell me what other perks I can expect.)”

Rath noted that and shook his head; such adverse feelings could be exploited if the man weren’t careful.

“Kierei’ad nui ti tuwe, arha eshel raedhrik ota ilifloi rahi ti comia ota talal. (Twisted to the left, brings clear sight and warmth in the cold and dark.)” Again the proper positioning was demonstrated and Rath hissed his displeasure. If he ever discovered whom this traitor was, they would meet a quick end on the tip of his sword.

“Sricomni. (Lovely.)”

“ Imba’is ti duahl,
gobekli teltel’a, ota kalalaga’is ti hitahiana jiwe yeh povecati ota gobekli utem asili teltel’a ota vipagi’a noua nui kumi hatli’a. (Uttering the incantation, expand abilities, and touching the middle stone will enhance and expand your natural abilities and talents up to ten times.)”

“Simbagui. (Nice,)” the master hummed as warmth rushed over him, dispelling the chill in the air. He did a slow turn as he tested his sight, his face obscured by the hood of his cloak and chortled smugly before turning back to his informant with a sly smirk. “Eina bissau sitam; tu kubi habyarii da kubi la socair watoto. (Is that all; I had heard it had a different purpose.)”

Rath froze, his heartbeat picking up in rhythm as a cold sweat broke across his brow. There was only one other function, and it was a closely guarded secret. If they knew…the ramifications couldn’t even be comprehensible.

“Ti natakna tuzo, ota telatela ti uvumi’ad shihuan urangi matamata, (The final prize, and perhaps the rumored power you seek,)” the traitor nodded, spilling the secret that none but the royal family and top most advisors was privy to; which narrowed the purple cloak’s identity to no more than a couple dozen people. “Eme imba’is,
holryki shihuan, ota piramalia kalalaga’is ti hithiana jiwe, urangi tel holryki la tiama ai utem lamu’n shihuan msingi, atatoa’is ocles tsaja rahi dolerreim. (By uttering, drain power, and again touching the middle stone, you can drain a portion of your opponent’s power base, rendering them vulnerable in battle.)”

Rath eyes closed, fear splashing over his body, chilling him to the bone, and his stomach bottomed out, swirling sickeningly and his head swam at the implications; everything clarified in a terrifying way and suddenly it became all to clear just what had happened; what had been his planet’s and allies downfall. They wouldn’t have stood a chance.

“Fruabaer, (Fantastic,)” the royal crowed softly, and Rath’s unease grew as the brace glinted, glowing in the low light before it faded from view, now invisible to all eyes but its bearer, sealing its allegiance. It should not have done that. Turning towards the traitor, the black cloak crossed his arms and nodded. “Parev eina nicual’d amar tu piron matamata’is; urangi kubi es ueda. Ota vina nui utwm walipa. (This is exactly what I was seeking; you have done well. And now to your reward.)”

He got the impression that the purple cloak was pleased, proud that he had made his master happy, but it was fleeting. Before the man could react, the noble touched the center stone and whispered ‘holryki shihuan,’ making the other pale. A whispered ‘gobekli teltel’a’ followed and a hand was thrown up, giving the traitor a split second to throw up his arms in defense before a burst of red power shot out with laser-like precision, throwing the purple-clad figure to the ground, dead before he hit.

The black-clad form stood over his former ally indifferently, stroking the armband reverently before allowing it to go dormant once more, stating without remorse. “Ta novotokoi. Kwa binafsi, urangi heu, juha urangi piron la dihmia iri teldla kumundui. (My apologies. Nothing personal, you see, but you were a liability one couldn’t afford.)”

Other than wishing the traitor had fell by his hand, Rath felt no remorse for the fallen figure. That he had betrayed his family so thoroughly…well, he got what he deserved. Then, it was just as the cloaked figures faded into the thick, swirling mist that Rath sighted something out of the corner of his eye and recalled the significance of the purple-cloaked form as it lay broken on the cold, barren plain, forgotten.

Seshadri. King of snakes. So aptly named.

“I piron kubi la kohu ai piramalia’is tel iri eina lawaki hawaajui…
(The past has a way of repeating if one is caught unawares…)”

The voice whispered through his ears again, its mournful tone like the sounding of a thousand funeral dirges, making his skin creep, the chill clinging to him as darkness plummeted around him. It was a black thicker than tar, impenetrable, a complete absence of light that made the soul ache and wonder if it would ever feel warmth again. He shuddered violently, a lead weight in the pit of his stomach as he struggled against the consuming night that surrounded him, all the while knowing that it reflected a grievous wrong that could never be righted.

It is always darkest before dawn…

Swallowing thickly, he ceased his struggles when complete blackness began to gray around the edges in his peripheral vision, and the room swirled in muted colors, just out of true sight before it drastically brightened. Wincing at the sudden brilliance, coming out of opaque darkness, he blinked rapidly, moisture gathering at the corners of his eyes as they teared and tried to focus. Closing them to get his bearings, he opened his other senses to gather other much needed sensory information to detect where he might have traveled while his eyes adjusted.

The silence was absolute, as if he existed in a void, but in reality, nothing is ever truly silent; there is always some sort of white noise – like the ticking of a clock, the crackle and humming of electricity, the spitting of a fire, the sigh of a wind. They were sounds no one ever noticed because the mind can only process so much stimuli without it being overwhelmed and most sounds are deemed as unimportant, unnecessary and they are never processed into memory.

His training allotted for a finer consciousness to these small subtleties than most because one never knew when that seemingly unimportant stimuli could save one’s life – like the snapping of a twig on the hunt, the scuffle of a footstep, the quiet hiss of steel against leather as the enemy draws a weapon. Which was why this total silence unnerved him.

An acrid smoke filled the musty air, making the fine hairs in his nostrils twitch and burn as he drew a deep breath, nearly choking on the sharp sooty scent that clung as if it had permeated it year after year, century after century – built into the very walls themselves. And yet there was an almost contradictory dampness to the air and a hint of mildew, moss on stone, and a mineral tinge, like rain-dampened concrete.

Opening his eyes, he froze as the room wavered and spun, crystallizing before his eyes. It was a throne room, built of a strong, yet porous white stone, ran through with silvery-gray and black veins. The walls rose into a high, vaulted ceiling, supported by the rich, coveted red-tinted Nepelli wood that was prevalent in most noble and royal Houses in the federation. The wood was far too dear to be used for ‘common’ building. At least according to those stuffed shirts that ran the Council. Personally, he was disgusted with their mercenary attitudes and snobbery.

Shaking his head to clear it of the random information (he really hated when that happened), he became aware of voices to the side of him addressing a person that he could barely make out. His vision was impaired by something, blurred, making it difficult to figure out just who was addressing whom. Frustrated, he glanced to his left, making out a man with blonde hair and clear blue eyes, horror and fear etched on his face as he addressed another man. A trill of apprehension exploded in his gut as his eyes swung back to the slightly sinister, hulking form on the other side of the room, but from his vantage point, he could only see parts of the other, as he was blocked by a beautiful blonde girl that reminded him of Tess. Traitor.

Although, it looked as if she were distressed and being held against her will, a shield to whomever was cowering near the purple and gold-gilt throne. Sneering at the ostentatious display, he took a step forward grabbing their attention and a sick feeling swirled in his gut as he watched a blast of silver-blue energy flash across the room, striking the blonde in the middle of her chest, throwing her back violently into her captor. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion and yet he knew it had all been split second.

The man beside him crumpled, an agonized wail bubbling over his lips as the small figure slid to the ground, lifeless blue eyes staring at the ceiling as her captor hunched, obviously winded from the impact. The twin feelings of disbelief and rage crashed over him as he whipped around, intent on striking down the her captor, when a silvery glint caught his eye, and fear spread through his veins like ice water, chilling him to the bone.

The amulet!

Staring at the armband in horror, a wave of unease flowed over him as he met dark, smirking eyes, so familiar, and yet, so foreign as well, as the man incanted a familiar phrase and Rath felt his life’s energy sapping slowly from his body, leaving him cold and defenseless against this faceless enemy. Swinging his head around the room, he noticed another downed figure for the first time, long, golden blonde hair spilling across the floor – Vilandra and the blonde at the other’s feet could only be Ava, which meant that the person next to him was Khivar, his best friend and supposed betrayer…but, that didn’t make sense. Why would he be mourning Ava?

And if that was Khivar, torn apart by his fallen supposed enemies, then who was the true enemy they faced?

Snapping his head back, his breath ripped from his lungs as a blast of energy caught him in the middle of his chest, searing the skin, leaving the acrid scent of burned flesh behind as he flew through the air and slammed against the wall, his last thought of Lareena and Liz and that this wasn’t what he had expected as he slid to the ground.

“Artehari vreba, Rath. Urano cless nui utemtaa’a cona ti oluja ukoha nui heru; kumai utem nupia’a ueda. (Danger lurks, Rath. You need to ready yourselves for the storm yet to come; guard your women well.)”

Michael came to with a gasp, scrabbling at his chest as he noted the lingering ache in his chest and sighed with relief to note that he was whole despite the lingering stench of ruined skin that permeated his nose. Dragging a ragged breath, he looked around, frustrated to see he was once again lost in the mist of this unknown world or dimension or dream and he had no idea how long he’d been under, nor how long he was expected to remain here. Just when he thought he had all his questions answered, yet more filled their place, making him doubt everything he’d ever been told.

Breathing rapidly, his temper spiked, making his blood rush and heart pound, as he stood and spun in a slow circle, his voice hard and coarse as he cried out his frustration –

“What do you want from me?!”

The words echoed through the void, leaving him feeling cold, empty and slightly afraid, which only ended up pissing him off even more. He hated feeling vulnerable and that last vision had felt all too real; he was certain it was a big clue to their past and yet it left him with more questions than answers and he was getting seriously tired of this guessing game. If they had something to say to him, he wished they’d just get on with it and stop messing with his head with cryptic hints and dreams that could be interpreted a hundred different ways.

“Answer me!”

The air wavered in front of him, the mist morphing into an indistinct shape that grew clearer and more solid until he was facing Serena once more, or at least the physical embodiment of Serena. He was pretty sure, from the eyes drenched in old wisdom, that no matter how much they resembled his adopted sister’s, he was facing the Granilith once more and this time he hoped he would get a few more answers.

“I can’t help you more than I have already, young one,” the strawberry-blonde murmured sympathetically in slightly accented English, commiserating with his frustration and need for positive action. “Even something as advanced as I, has its limitations and I have given you all the tools that you need to figure out the puzzle amongst your foursquare. You have but to put the pieces together.”

Michael gritted his teeth, praying for patience as he faced the…deity? front of him, cursing under his breath about cryptic gods and their puzzles that made no sense, when the being in front of his chuckled, her lips quirking in amusement at his words.

“Deity I am not,” she laughed, gliding towards him with something cupped in her hands. “I am but an artificial intelligence that has seen far too much and holds far too much knowledge from a race that is far more advanced than you can ever imagine. I can guide, but I cannot lead. I can give you the tools, but cannot show you how to fight. I can give knowledge, but I cannot instruct you on how to utilize it.”

“Well, what can you do then?” he bit out sarcastically.”

“Give advice,” she smirked, lifting a bemused brow as she took one of his hands, placing something in it. “You need to form your foursquare and discover its strengths and limitations, you need to hone the individual powers you are granted and learn how they benefit you as a team, you need to come together and pool your knowledge, tools and resources to discover the old lore, because in only resolving the past, can you find the future. The answers have always lain inside of you, if you but look.”

Michael gave a frustrated snort as she faded away, the mists swirling around him once more, caressing his cheek for a moment before they eased away. It left him back in the throne room, although the others were long gone and it was covered in a layer of dust, cobwebs clinging to the corners as if it hadn’t been used in years. Glancing down at his hand, he held the armband of his other visions, the metal gleaming in the low light, the stones catching with a deep inner fire that matched the burning in his lungs and heart.

This was significant, he thought as the edge of his vision grayed and wet black, a haunting voice whispering in his ears as he drifted back towards consciousness.

“Cona utem aiza (For your queen),”

Michael woke with a jolt, his heart hammering, breath trapped in his throat as he scrambled once more, his hands flying to his chest in remembrance. That had been far too real for his comfort. Lifting a hand to run through his hair, he halted staring in bemusement at a familiar band of silvery metal, purple stones with a cyan fire and protective runes etched around the band. The amulet was similar to the armband of his dreams, but was much more delicately wrought than the previous charm, as if for a more feminine bearer; which, made sense given Serena’s parting words that it was for his queen. Tracing the runes, he looked around nervously, wondering just how real the vision had been and what exactly this meant for him and his allies.

Mind reeling with all the new information, he placed the armband on the nightstand next to his bed and swiped his hand over his face in exhaustion; he’d have to call a meeting with everyone and get them all on the same page. He had a feeling things were about to pick up and start unraveling faster than they expected.
Jeff shuffled through some papers in his hand, quietly observing his daughter from the corner of his eye, his brow furrowing in concentration as he saw her flitter nervously through the room, her eyes continually darting around it as if searching for someone. Frowning gently, he looked up, his eyes taking the same route and found nothing out of the ordinary and certainly nothing that would make the girl so twitchy.

Clearing his throat pointedly, he cast a questioning glance as Liz met his gaze, frowning further when she shook her head and flushed, moving to the back of the room and out of his line of vision. He sincerely hoped she wasn’t looking for that Max boy, because he had made it strictly clear that the boy wasn’t allowed in the diner any longer and he thought his daughter had understood that when she seemed to give Max the cold shoulder lately. Then again, he was dealing with a headstrong teenager, and he remembered his own rebellious nature all too well.

Sighing, he rubbed a hand over his face tiredly, sure his mother was up in heaven laughing at him. She had warned him years ago that he’d understand what it felt like when he had children himself, but a teenager then, he scoffed and thought there was no way he’d face the same situations. Sins visited upon thy father indeed.

And to think, he actually thought having a girl would be easier.

Usually he wouldn’t interfere with his daughter’s love life, as he knew that by telling her she couldn’t see someone was an open invitation for defiance, but there was something about that Max boy that struck him wrong. He didn’t like the way he looked at his little girl – with a covetous possessiveness that rankled his nerves and made him want to take him out for a long, secluded drive into the desert and dispose of him.

Surely no one would miss the obsessive, little prick.

Standing, he shuffled to the backroom, smiling at a couple of regulars along the way; he knew Michael should be arriving at anytime and he wanted to talk to him about the last few days, see how he and Liz managed, as well as see if he knew what was wrong with his daughter. He was certain something happened in his absence, but Liz was closed off tighter than a clam, which, given her natural effusiveness, only meant trouble.

Pushing the door in, he paused in surprise when he saw Michael stumble in, looking harried and slightly unnerved; it usually took a great deal to rattle the stoic young man and that didn’t do anything to dissolve the lump of lead sitting in the pit of his stomach. If anything, his ruffled attitude only cemented his suspicions that something had happened over the previous days.

Leaving the door cracked, he narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, barely stifling a grunt of bemusement as he watched the normally tetchy and stand-offish teen stride into the room and wrap Liz in his arms, pressing his nose to the top of her hair. The boy inhaled deeply, the tension in his shoulders melting away as he held his daughter for a few moments, as if reassuring himself that she was okay, before he stepped back and brushed a gentle kiss across her lips.

Well, when did that happen? Last he had heard, Liz had been pining for Michael’s best friend and barely knew the other boy existed. Biting back a sigh of frustration, he wondered yet again when he had lost touch with his only child’s life so much that such developments blindsided him. At one time, Liz would have told him anything.

Mourning the loss of his little girl, Jeff stood at the door, watching the fairly new couple, his heart heavy in the knowledge that he was truly an outsider in his daughter’s life. Getting ready to push the door open, he paused once more when he heard Liz address the taller boy for the first time.

“Michael, what’s wrong? You seem jittery tonight. And I haven’t seen you all day.”

Jeff knew that eavesdropping on the teenagers was unfair, and certainly something he would have hated himself at their age, but concern over his daughter’s secretiveness lately had him brushing the thought aside. He was certain that if he wanted any real answers, he had to be less than ethical in his approach. She may hate him for it in the end, but he would do anything to keep his baby safe – even breaking her trust.

“I had a few things to take care of…something…came up last night…a dream…and I needed to check it out; we need to meet with Isabel and Kyle about it later,” Michael rambled, again, atypical for the boy. “Besides, with your parents back, I knew you’d be busy settling back into your routine and filling them in on what was happening at the diner and…other things.”

“Yeah, about those other things, I haven’t said anything to them yet,” Liz hedged, biting her lip and twisting her fingers in her apron nervously before she continued. “I thought we should sit them down and tell them together over the next few days.”

“You didn’t tell them what happened with Max?” Michael exclaimed, his lips pressing into an obviously displeased frown as he scratched his brow in agitation. Max. He knew this had to do with that obnoxious little psychopath.


“No,” she mumbled, squirming under the other teen’s hard gaze. Jeff couldn’t help but wish his looks were so effective on the girl. “I haven’t…I didn’t know what to say.”

“Damn it, Liz, you can’t avoid this and you know it! I don’t trust Max around you. They need to know.”

Well that was a surprising bit of information. He had known that Michael and Max had been inseparable since they were kids and for the boy to change his view so drastically in the matter of weeks, it made Jeff uneasy. Especially as it seemed as if his intuition had been right and Max had caused some sort of trouble in his absence.

“I know that,” Liz replied hesitantly, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. Always a bad sign. “And I plan on telling them, but I prefer to have you here with me just in case I forget something. They’ll take it better coming from the two of us and it will make them feel better knowing that you were here to protect me.”

“Fine, but we will tell them,” Michael insisted, sending Liz an implacable glare. He really was becoming fond of this boy. “I don’t want him anywhere near you if we can help it and if that means banning Max from the premises permanently or getting a restraining order or binding him some way, then I want it done. I don’t trust him.”

“Fine,” Liz spat, her natural mulishness coming to the fore as she glared at her counterpart, her own lips thinned in consternation. “I’ll talk to them tonight and see if they have time tomorrow to talk about it while we’re not on shift.”

“Good,” Michael nodded, ignoring his daughter’s churlishness as he had apparently gotten his way. “In the meantime, you’re not to go anywhere alone. You will take me, or Kyle, or your dad, or Jim, or someone. I want someone with you at all times.”

“I can take care of…” Liz protested, only to be cut off by a dark look.

“No,” the boy shook his head, arms folded over his chest as he faced down a fuming brunette. “In a perfect, fair world, yes, you can take care of yourself. But Zan….Max isn’t playing fair, he’s playing to win, which means he isn’t above fighting dirty and I won’t allow him to hurt you.”

Zan – who or what the hell was a Zan?

“You’re too important to me,” Michael continued, walking up to his child and cupping her jaw in his hands gently, his thumbs tracing gently circles along her cheekbones as he tipped his head and rested his forehead against hers. Jeff’s chest ached for a moment, realizing he’d yet again missed another milestone in his baby’s life; yet, he was happy because this boy he could approve of – the way he looked at her was the same way he looked at Liz’s mother all those years ago.

Of course, that also meant he was going to watch them like a hawk because he did remember exactly just what he had gotten up to all those years ago.

“Fine,” she agreed, her lips twisting distastefully. “I don’t like it, but if it will make you feel better, then I’ll make sure I’m not caught alone. God, I can’t wait until this is over.”

Michael nodded, not bothering to reply. Wise kid; better to merely acknowledge the agreement without gloating otherwise he’d have an irate female on his hands and his girls’ tempers were notorious when appropriately riled. That was definitely a trait his Liz had gotten from her beloved mother. He had learned very quickly not to tweak the Parker women’s tails if he wanted to live.

Clearing his throat, he hid a smirk when the teens jumped apart, shooting guilty looks at one another; Liz looked down at her toes, scrunching her apron between her fingers and Michael rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably as he shot worried looks between Liz and Jeff.

“Liz, Erin is ready for her break,” he admonished gently, fighting his continued amusement at their obvious unease.

“Oh, uh…yeah, Dad,” She replied, shooting Michael a worried glance as she hurried over towards the door, chewing on her lip nervously as she noted the assessing look leveled between the two men. Skirting around him, she fled. “I’ll…um…just get right out there.”

Shooting an entertained look out at his shifty daughter, Jeff shook his head and grinned. Well, at least he had some affect on her, to a degree. Turning back to the stoic boy in front of him, he entered the back and nodded his head towards the break room, waiting for the teen to lead the way before he entered.

“Mr. Parker,” Michael greeted quietly, his face blank of emotion as he likely waited to be lambasted for his familiarity with his daughter. And given the way Jeff had acted about Max, he couldn’t blame the kid.

“Michael,” he greeted, gesturing to a chair, as he too sat down at the table they had added. He studied the boy…no, man before him and liked what he saw. This was someone he felt he could trust, and while he wouldn’t open up about everything, he also wasn’t one to blatantly lie to your face.

“How was your trip?” Michael asked, obviously trying to break the silence.

“It went well despite the delays,” he replied, shooting the kid a harried glance and smiled ruefully. “We came back with several ideas for the restaurant; Nancy and I wish to run them by you and Liz later to get your input.”

“Um, sure, Mr. Parker,” Michael replied, still on edge. “Uh, just let me know when it works for you.”

“How about tomorrow after school?” he offered, knowing that the teens had the day off since he was back.

“Sure,” the teen agreed, flicking a look over at Liz, who had come in on the pretense of getting something before turning back to Jeff. He should have known his nosy little girl wouldn’t leave well enough alone. “Liz and I needed to talk to you anyway.”

“Good,” he nodded, and figuring he wasn’t going to get much out of the kid with his daughter hovering nearby, he offered an out. “We can address that tomorrow as well. Now, I think Jose is just about done with his shift, so I’ll let you go back to getting ready.”

“Yes, sir,” Michael nodded, getting quickly to his feet in apparent relief.

“And Michael” Jeff called, watching as the teen froze in the doorway at his chiding tone and turned slowly, a touch of anxiety in his eyes. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I have no idea what happened yet, but for what it’s worth, thank you for being here to keep Liz safe. She tends to think she’s invincible and I’m glad that she has you watching over her.”

Jeff smirked as his daughter let out a choked huff, glaring at him over her shoulder and then spun around, going deeper into the kitchen. Chuckling softly, he shared a small knowing smile with Michael.

“I…of course, sir,” he replied, obviously trying to hide his own amusement, before he stated seriously. “Um, I…care about her a lot; I won’t let anything happen if I can be here to prevent it.”

“Good, then I’ll let Nancy and Liz know that we’ll talk tomorrow,” he nodded, rising himself. “And, Michael, it’s Jeff. You should know that by now.”

“Yes…Jeff,” the boy nodded, a rare smile curling at the corners of his mouth.

Yes, great kid that one, Jeff couldn’t help but think as he watched Michael walk toward the kitchen; exchanging a quiet look with Liz, raising an eyebrow as she flushed and hurried out, then turned toward the stairs of their apartment, heading up to tell his wife what he had found out and about the coming meeting.
Maria gazed at the water dazedly, the shimmer of sunlight nearly blinding her to the murky, gray-blue as she tried to sort out the last few days in her mind. Everything was clouded and unsure, as if she had woken from a disjointed dream. She remembered everything that had happened, so it wasn’t as if she was completely lost, she thought, but the memories, thoughts and emotions conflicted with one another. Almost as if one set of memories or feelings were imposed over another set, one feeling truer than the other.

Sinking onto a low rock, she drew her knees up to her chest, clasping her arms around them, and her fingers bunched the sleeves of her sweater as she scrunched her brow in thought. The haze banding her head left her unsettled, distressed her, and honestly left her slightly scared. It felt unnatural and she couldn’t make out how much of what happened was real and what was a dream.

Chewing her lower lip, she tightened her hold on her legs, a shudder sliding over her spine as she closed jade-green eyes, and laid her aching head on top of her knees, letting go of the cold, haunting voices that echoed through it, leaving her cringing and feeling less than balanced and focused on the facts she could grab onto.

She remembered walking into Liz’s apartment, worried that something had happened to Michael. Max had told her that he had never shown up at his apartment the night before and she’d panicked after a quick search had shown he was still missing, rushing immediately to Liz to inform her. Although, how Max knew that he hadn’t shown up was unclear. After all, it’s not like he was living with Michael any longer now that he made peace with his parents.

She remembered Liz’s worried expression as she paced back and forth, sniffing her cypress oil in order to quell the sick, swirling in her stomach as she babbled incoherently at her best friend, hoping that the cool, practical brunette would be able to calm the fears bubbling inside her like a fountain. She had completely missed her friend’s discomfort and darting looks toward her bedroom until she heard said bedroom door open, revealing the alien she had just searched half the town for, her stomach sinking further at the all-too-domestic scene.

She remembered hyperventilating as she took in his state of undress, his annoyance when his head shot up and he noticed her standing in the middle of the room; her friend shooting him a helpless look as she shrugged her shoulders and the sick feeling that spread out from her stomach, curling through her veins, chilling the blood and constricting her chest as realization dawned.

She remembered her voice rising as she demanded answers from them both, her heart shattering at the implications, and the argument that ensued – Michael coldly informing her that what was going on was none of her business, tinged with Liz’s distress and exasperation at his lack of tact at first, then her fierce possessiveness and her own shocked, quiet denial and outrage – before she fled.

She remembered entering the park, sitting down, her head spinning with everything she learned and then…black. Everything after that was blank. She couldn’t remember anything from the time she sat down on that bench to the time Kyle found her standing in front of Liz’s bedroom door, staring at the entwined bodies of her best friend and the boy she’d been crushing on for the past year or so.

But even that felt wrong. It’s true that she had developed a crush on Michael and that she’d hoped that something more would develop, she was hurt when Michael walked away after they’d found out the aliens so-called destiny, but that summer had gone a long way to healing her heart and she had started to move on, and then….

Another wall; another blank space.

Opening her eyes, she studied the rock formations in the distance, knowing one of them had housed the aliens seemingly for years according to Tess and Nasedo, but given their alliances in the end, who was to say that was accurate? For all they knew, it could have been a set up by their enemies to misdirect them.

Leaning against the stone wall behind her, she loosed her arms, laying one on top of her knees as she rested her aching head on the sandstone, and looked up into the bright blue desert sky absently, allowing the weak sunlight to filter over her and warm her chilled skin. Raising a hand to rub across her face, she sighed and frowned. Something was nagging her in the back of her mind, but she couldn’t recall just what…dropping her hand, she rested it against the rock beneath her and absently drummed her fingers.

Something wasn’t right.

She felt furious with Michael and Liz, but she really had no reason to be. Michael was right when he said that a few kisses didn’t make a relationship and he had been blunt in telling her it wasn’t going anywhere. The emotions she was experiencing were foreign to what she knew. And that made her feel guilty because of what happened when Kyle snapped her out of her mindless staring.

Closing her eyes heavily, her stomach swirled sickly, the ache spiking as she pressed harder at the void in her head, frantically trying to remember how she had even gotten to Liz’s house the second time. The last thing she remembered was sitting in the park and getting angrier than she’d ever been in her life and then…Kyle was throwing her out the door. Once again she was drawing a blank.

It was like her body wasn’t hers to command any longer. Nothing made sense to her these days. True she’d been hurt and angry when she left, but to snap like that, losing time; it worried her. Scared the shit out of her if she were to be completely honest, and given how much she had experienced since Michael, Max and Isabel had entered her life, that was saying quite a lot.

Shifting uncomfortably, the niggle of…something…knowledge? memory? grew, her fingers still tapping out their indistinct rhythm as she pushed her way through it, almost grasping it before it faded into a steady pulse of pain throbbing across her temples. Sweat beaded her forehead as she gave it up for ghost and got back to the matter at hand.

Michael and Liz were together. It was solid fact; or as solid as anything in her mind these days. It hurt, but not enough to instigate her previous actions, and her fear mounted at that realization. She had threatened her best friend. The girl who had stood at her side through everything – her father’s leaving, her mother’s wacky schemes, the boys that came and went without thought or care.

Her sister in everything but blood.

What…why on earth would she even consider getting that upset and over a boy of all things. They had promised long ago that they’d never allow that to happen, and yes, while she had every right to be sore at Liz for a bit, it should never have escalated to the point of her physically attacking them or Kyle tossing her out of the apartment.

Shaking her head gingerly, she glanced down, freezing as she recognized the absent tapping of fingers and her blood chilled, a cold sweat breaking across her brow as she stopped the sinister movement. Staring at her hand in horror, she clenched it, pressing it to her chest as thoughts and scenes from last year flit through her mind.


Alex lying on his bed, drumming his fingers absently on his guitar as they talk.

Kyle tapping his fingers at the Crashdown.

“Larek. He says his name is Larek, and he's an alien. Who is Larek? And he's taken over this whole place. And he's holding us hostage here with a gun. He's pointing a gun at my daughter. He threatened my daughter.” Her mother tapping out the same rhythm against the stove.

Kyle again. He begins looking around his bedroom. He suddenly starts tapping his fingers on the dresser. “Sorry, nothing.”

Liz insistent. “Kyle, it could be really close, so keep looking, keep trying.”

Kyle looks around, his face blanking for a moment as the memory comes and horror flashes across his face. “I carried his body. She made me think it was luggage. She killed him. Tess killed Alex!”

*end flash*

Scrabbling up from her perch on the rock, Maria glanced around nervously, her heart pounding in her chest as she considered the implications. Mind warping. Why hadn’t she thought about that? It would make sense. The erratic behavior, the fluctuating emotions, the blank spots, the time lapses – they all seemed to fit.

Tess had used it quite frequently to get them and, more so, herself out of trouble; she killed Alex by holding him under continual mind control; she convinced Kyle to carry his body and load him in the car as if he were luggage, her mother – who was to say she hadn’t been working on her as well?

Although, making her focus on Michael so single-mindedly seemed counterproductive to the destiny line she spewed, and it didn’t really explain the park…but at least she had a potential lead as to what was happening to her. Tess’ departure didn’t rule out the possibility of mind warping, however, as she knew there were other aliens running around town and who knew what powers they possessed.

Body shaking, she startled when the slam of a car door caught her attention and she watched Max approach warily, wondering just what she was doing here. The smart thing to do, would be to somehow extradite herself from this mess as soon as possible and perhaps convince her mother that they’d be better off somewhere far from Roswell, in a place that had never heard of aliens preferably.


Max pulled up to the quarry, silently fuming at recent events, and still physically smarting from being forcibly ejected from his and Liz’s bond. It had gotten easier over the past couple of days, but the burn was still present, fraying his nerves. Compiled to that was the knowledge that Rath, Liz, Vilandra and Kyle had forged a foursquare; an event he had managed to prevent last time by breaking apart Rath and Lareena and Ava and Khivar.

He hadn’t realized the merging with their former selves had gone beyond a few petty memories, and potentially shared dreams if Vilandra had been able to put aside her insecurities about fitting in and had actually started honing her mental skills. The merge was rather advanced and he hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary in the terms of their power growth. Which made him wonder if the Granilith was speaking to Rath again, as it had often did in the past. Yet another thing he hated about his nemesis. He had been the high king, so if anyone were to bond with the Granilith, it should have been him, not Rath.

Smiling thinly, he quelled the rage bubbling in his gut and closed his eyes, breathing deeply as he shoved the thoughts away. He couldn’t act on that information yet as he was already skating on thin ice with Ava’s desertion. Had he been able to hand over Rath and Vilandra while keeping Ava under his thumb long enough to provide an heir, things would have been different. Even if he still had Ava, he could have crushed the other two; but Ava was currently holed up on Ahrensa with Khivar, pregnancy terminated. Or so that was what the latest intelligence said.

Rubbing a hand over his eyes, he opened them, focusing on the girl that was supposed to be his backup plan. Grimacing in disgust as he took in her nervous fidgeting, he wondered just when he had sunk this low – his kingship resting in the hands of a pathetic, spacey human who couldn’t seem to focus long enough to get the blasted job done. She was supposed to have distracted Rath, keeping him busy and tied to Earth; keeping him from questioning Max’s actions or looking at the information too closely.

After all, he supposed she was a pretty bit of fluff; certainly persistent in her pursuit at first, and despite her differences to Lareena (purposefully done so it wouldn’t knock loose dreams and memories of the brunette), a worthy enough distraction he thought. But Rath resisted and honed-in to a direction he hadn’t wanted and everything fell apart. That avenue was now closed to him, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t use the blonde to cause dissent among the newly formed group.

Inhaling sharply, he barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes when he saw the blonde scramble to her feet, staring at her hand in horror before looking around nervously, a panicked light glinting in her eyes. Sighing at his lack of reliable resources, he opened the door and climbed out, slamming the car door behind him.

Time to bring the peasants to heel.

Pasting on a half-hearted smile, he waved to Maria as he approached, shunting aside the flash of annoyance that flickered at wary glint in her eyes and glad that he could blame his haggard appearance on Liz. At least the happy couple was good for something despite their screwing up his carefully laid plans. Maria’s smile faded as he came up to her, her brow furrowing with concern as she took in his ragged appearance.

Perfect. Sympathy led to malleability.

Allowing his hand to shake just a touch for added believability, he came to a standstill near the rock the blonde had perched, and bent slightly as if winded, which he was since he was still recovering, but it didn’t hurt to ape it up a bit. Smirking internally when the wariness dropped from the girl’s eyes and they filled with a sweet compassion, he leaned against the rock wall as if propping himself up, watching calculatingly through his lashes as Maria scrambled over her perch in an effort to make her way to him.

“Hey, are you okay?” she asked softly, striding over to where he stood swiftly and placing a hand against his damp forehead, slightly hurt when he flinched from her touch impatiently, brushing her hand away. Sinking back into her heels, her frown deepened and she cocked her head, commenting stiffly. “You don’t look so good.”

Queen of understatement she is.

“Yeah, just haven’t been sleeping well since…” he replied, biting back his impatience and sending her an faux apologetic smile, before shifting his eyes away to look out into the desert and letting his voice trail off pathetically, just the right touch of heartbreak filling his voice as he swallowed thickly and closed his eyes for affect.

It seemed to work like a charm as when he looked back at Maria, he saw that her frown had softened into a sympathetic smile. He tossed her a weak smile of his own and relaxed, gloating internally that she hadn’t figured out enough to make her a liability and she was still within his influence. One never knew when he’d need an ally, or better yet, a dupe to do his dirty work. And she set herself up so well earlier when she had her little meltdown and tried to attack Liz.

“Since you found out?” she prodded gently, her face softening further, an understanding smile flashing across her face as she squeezed his shoulder gently. Grimacing as her light touch raked over his still burning nerves and sent pain radiating through his body, Zan nodded and pulled free of her grasp. Fuck. He hated when she touched him; he put up with it because he had a role to fulfill even if his cover was blown with Rath and his foursquare. Max being the model son and student allowed him a level of movement that he wouldn’t have if he were, say, in Rath’s position.

“Yeah,” he grunted, eyes watering as he shifted away and put a little distance between him and the blonde, not wanting to suffer the physical affects of her well meaning comfort would have on his fried nerves. Gritting his teeth, he stared out into the distance and took her hand, squeezing it lightly and nearly sighed with relief when she smiled and squeezed back, but refrained from any other friendly gestures.

“Me neither,” she frowned, her eyes misting slightly and Zan knew that he could use that to build a bridge. “I can’t believe that they’re together. I thought…well, I guess I thought wrong. It’s not like he hadn’t been telling me that he wasn’t interested all along.”

Humming under his breath noncommittally, he grit his teeth, his mind flying through possible things to say that would sound appropriately sensitive, yet would work into his favor. He couldn’t have the girl giving up while he still had some use for her.

“The only reason I kept pursuing it was you kept telling me that was his way because he was too scared to admit he cared for someone. Guess we were both wrong, girlfriend.”

“Apparently,” he agreed slowly, mentally cringing at her little nickname she had derived for Max, before he had integrated with Zan, one he hated with a passion, but allowed in an effort to remain close despite wanting to crush her every time he heard it. That bridge thing again. “But maybe you should talk to him; maybe it’s not as serious as you think.”

“Please Max, even I’m not that far into denial,” she scoffed, flicking him a look of utter disbelief, but softened with a smile to say he was hopeless. And truly, Max had been that exact blind romantic. Luckily Zan wasn’t as susceptible to such romantic nonsense; not since he gave his heart to a girl, only to watch her walk into the arms of his rival. “They’ve bonded; sounds pretty permanent to me. I’ve already acted foolish enough. God I can’t believe I…well it’s done with.”

“Right,” he agreed flatly, irritation singing along his nerves at the defeated tone. Not that he actually thought there was any chance in hell of her breaking the two of them up now, but he knew that if she stood no chance of gain, she’d be less likely to interfere. After all, for all her hurt feelings, she genuinely loved her best friend. And he was hesitant to alter or mess with her mind too much given what happened with Tess and Alex.

Who knew that human minds were so much more fragile than his compatriots; they evolved from the same race and were remarkably similar in evolution. Who knew those minute differences made all difference in the world.

“And then with the foursquare thing with Isabel and Kyle,” she sighed, wrapping her arms around herself protectively as he perked up.

“Foursquare thing?” he queried, feigning confusion at her comment, but secretly delighting in her slip; now this he could use to his advantage. He had managed to just barely rein himself in from confronting his sister and Rath when his informant dangled the juicy tidbit before him, taunting him when he knew he couldn’t act on it. But he couldn’t help it if it fell right into his lap by a reliable source. Studying the dazed girl from beneath his lashes, his lips twitched and he corrected himself – somewhat reliable source. He just loved it when the peons handed him such delicious information.

“What foursquare thing?”

“The foursquare mark, I saw it on Kyle’s wrist. He said he and Isabel were bonded too, that the four of them…” Maria trailed off when she noticed his perplexed expression and her hand flew to her mouth as she cried out. “Oh, God…I thought you knew.”

“No, I didn’t,” he murmured, shaking his head slowly as he leaned back against the rock wall as if stunned and winded from her revelation, mentally steeling himself for the embrace that was likely to come; well, that too could be useful to despite his utter distaste for soft, weak emotions like compassion. Grimacing, he wrapped an arm around the her when he predictably ended up with an armful of blonde, his face for once truly showing his misery. “But then again, I haven’t talked to anyone lately. Been pretty much keeping to myself.”

“Oh, well, they’ve apparently joined some way,” she replied, explaining what she had seen with the markings and how she found out. He didn’t really need her explanations, after all, he was quite aware of everything it entailed having his memories awakened long ago, but he allowed her to babble on inanely while he secretly went to work; solidifying that faltering connection in that fluff she called a brain.

He stroked her hair gently, he dragged his fingers over the scalp lightly in a seemingly soothing gesture as she rambled, allowing him to breach her pathetic mental defenses and strengthen the barely flickering mental bond he had initiated during the summer Liz was gone and Maria had felt abandoned. The same summer he had met…well his allies, who had so graciously taught him everything he needed to manipulate the people around him. It really didn’t take too much – a tweak here, a stroke here and they all fell at his feet, the perfect fall guys for when his plans came to fruition.

Time to cause a bit of mischief and misdirect. Humans were so easily manipulated.
Isabel sucked in a breath, the dark nearly overwhelming her as she scrabbled to her feet, her head swimming dizzily, her senses reeling sickly and disoriented as if she had been thrown against a wall or some other equally dense material, but she couldn’t recall how it might have happened or how she ended up here, in this vacant, soundless room. The last thing she recalled she had been dreaming of love, one lost to a tragic accident, fracturing her soul and leaving her feeling cold and hollow, only to find that same soul here on Earth, waiting for her all these years later, smiling out of sky blue eyes, capped with sandy-brown hair.

But it couldn’t be, could it?

He couldn’t have been reincarnated. They were different species, weren’t they? They hadn’t even been born – or recreated – on the same planet. It didn’t make any sense and yet, she couldn’t help but feel that small frisson of hope that somehow, against all odds, he
was here. And yet, she was a afraid to give into that niggling hope. She didn’t think she would cope if it turned out to be nothing more than a mirage or a pleasant dream. Things like that just didn’t happen for her. On the other hand…

She also knew that her family had found a way to clone
them, duplicating and saving their essence through some mysterious ritual or scientific method she couldn’t even begin to fathom – she, Max, Michael and Tess were evidence of that – but she often wondered, since learning of Dusan through her memories and dreams, why hadn’t they utilized the same option for him? Why hadn’t he been important enough to clone and resurrect? Hadn’t he been the crown prince? Why didn’t they save him as well? A deep well of resentment lashed through her as those plaintive questions echoed through her mind once more. He had been just as loved by his people; more so than her selfish, twit of a brother and more, he was loved, so very loved by her. Why hadn’t that been a good enough reason?

Why bring the four of them back and not him?

Her stomach swirling uncertainly, she leaned her aching head against the cool, slick wall behind her, her breath uneven and labored as sorrow and pain washed over her, shredding her heart with unanswered questions. She had come to the conclusion that maybe they hadn’t invented or refined the procedure enough at the time of Dusan’s death or the need to save him wasn’t as dire since they had Rath to fill the role and thus any pleadings on hers and his loved ones part, had fell on deaf ears. But what if there was a greater reason behind it; what if they had been denied because his essence had been reserved for a greater design?

But, then that would have meant some greater being or civilization had been playing God with all of their lives and had foreseen years in advance that their own civilization would fall, leaving their people without direction and they would need his grace and guidance once he had been ‘awakened.’ And that thought was even more unsettling. She wasn’t sure how she felt about having a true destiny and some, perhaps benevolent, or perhaps malicious, being having a firm hand in her life this way. They had all seen how destiny had panned out in Tess’ hands.

Pressing a chilled hand to her throbbing temples, she shook her head gingerly, wincing when a flare of pain ripped across the backs of her eyes, making her vision blur around the edges and white out for the briefest moment. Gritting her teeth against the onset of nausea, she hesitantly began to probe at her body, noting any tender areas and shuffling those perplexing thoughts aside; she had plenty of time to delve into a philosophical debate later, once she discovered where the hell she was and just how the hell she had gotten there. What exactly happened? She knew she had been dreaming of Dusan and Kyle, when she felt this violent tug on her consciousness, and some unknown force had yanked her from her pleasant dreams, dumping her into this void.

Opening her eyes, she looked around the darkened room, her ragged breath the only sound echoing off the walls as she pushed away from it and spun in a tight circle. She would wonder if she had been sucked into another of the Granilith dreams, if it weren’t for the cold, sterile chill to the air. Every time she had been granted a dream, or vision, from the Granilith, while they left her slightly unsettled, she still felt warm, cared for…loved. Almost as if a kind, benevolent hand guided her, keeping her mind and body safe while she traveled the dream plain. And, often, the Granilith came to her in the guise of her mother, Nalini’evanthe, filling her with a soft, motherly glow that she felt distinctly lacking in this space.

There seemed to be almost a virulent, malevolent aura throbbing through the room, sending her heart skittering uneasily and it made her skin creep, leaving a lead ball sitting heavily in her stomach as she warily probed at the darkness with her senses. Darkened eyes flicked through the room relentlessly, seeking out that presence that flitted just beyond her peripheral vision, hovering menacingly on the fringes on her consciousness and observing her coolly, as if they were seeking out her strengths and weaknesses from a safe distance, which angered her.

Coward. Why not come out and fight me like a real man?

The air rippled around her, almost vaguely amused at the disdain pouring off her body, the unvoiced contempt for her captor flooding the room in a palpable wave that knocked into the invisible force that was holding her in this windowless, soulless room. Sneering at her ghostly foe, she reached out a hand, and pooling a bit of her power into a silver-blue ball, lit the room so she could see to some degree, jolting only a bit when a bodiless voice whispered drolly from the corner of the room.“Well, my dear cousin, I see you’ve been busy.”


“Perhaps,” she replied haughtily, swinging her head in the direction of the voice, her lips compressing in an impatient frown when the apparition danced just outside the edge of her light field. Flicking her eyes when she caught movement to her left, she cautiously watched the shadowed form pace the length of the room before sneering sardonically. “Although, what’s it to you…cousin?”

A mocking laugh rang through the room, eliciting a slight shiver of disgust at the other person’s obvious scare tactics. Honestly, where did he get his ploys, from bad horror movies? It would take more than a disembodied voice and a few snarky, well-placed laughs to make her cave.
Show me something worth my time, coward, or let me leave your sick, feeble, little, mind, she sneered mentally, knowing that her words and feelings would be projected since they were on the dream plane.

“Tsk, tsk, that wasn’t very nice” the voice chided mockingly, and Isabel barely fought off the urge to roll her eyes at his grandstanding. Crooking a slim brow inquisitively, she pasted a bored moue on her face as her would-be tormentor (although, honestly she was less than impressed with his act) continued. “Hasn’t your mother taught you better manners?”

“Of course, she has,” Isabel replied, equally derisive as she folded her arms over her chest, rubbing them slightly to ward off the chill and smirked knowingly. “But she also taught me there is a time and a place for proper manners; and definitely a time to overlook the niceties. Somehow, I seriously doubt that she will scold me for being less than pleasant to someone who is holding me against my will. The question remains, however; are you going to be man enough to confront me face-to-face or will you continue to hide behind smoke and mirrors.”

“Touché,” the man said, stepping into the light for the first time, a faint smirk painted on thinned, full lips. Isabel studied the face before her, trying to place it – a strong jaw, slender nose with a slight tilt at the end, high cheekbones framed by golden blonde hair and bright blue eyes that were almost cat-shaped. It was an interesting mix of features and a face that niggled at the back of her mind, one that spoke of familiarity and parties, picnics and friendships from long ago. And yet…

Biting the inside of her cheek, she loosened her stance as he came closer, feigning disinterest and a lack of concern, while still remaining alert enough to move onto the defensive if necessary – a trick she learned from Dusan and Rath during all those defense classes her family knew nothing about. Much more progressive in their thinking, the Silerius men thought it short-sighted not to give their women the tools necessary to protect themselves. If only Zan knew just how skilled she was in combat; she knew he’d be envious that she surpassed him in many ways, spoiled, arrogant heir that he was.

Studying the approaching man, she noted that his thin, tall frame spoke more of scholar than trained warrior; he was trim, and seemed fairly fit, as if he exercised regularly, but there was a softness that came from sitting in libraries, surrounded by dusty tomes opposed to the hard, disciplined body of a man used to long hours of training and sun-drenched days out in the field. And again she was struck by a sense of familiarity; she knew this man and if she pushed at her memories hard enough…

Khivar, her mind supplied. But the aura was all wrong.

She should feel fear and apprehension at that name. He was, after all, supposedly the reason her people fell, the reason she and the others had been murdered; but it didn’t set off any alarm bells other than something felt off about the person in front of her. She remembered Khivar…his aura was blue, edged with a soft gold and tasted of comfort, hot chocolate on rainy days and long confidences buried deep in his inner sanctum when Dusan was away at school. This man’s aura was violently red and spoke of betrayal, suppression and the metallic tang of blood spilled over stone.

This could not be the man that once held her with tenderness, soothing away real and imagined hurts; who supplied her with a sanctuary from her brother’s brutal cruelty.

And as she thought that, the image began to waver, like waves of heat on a blistering hot New Mexico summer day and she saw the truth of the image hiding underneath, momentarily superimposed over the face of the genial savior of her youth. Triumph flashed through her as she noted the darker skin, hair and eyes of one she also would know anywhere – her nemesis, her tormentor, the vicious, lying bane of her existence.

“Nice try,
brother,” she spat, placing emphasis on the true relationship between them and drawing herself back a couple steps, unwilling to let the other man anywhere near her if she could help it.

“You were always far too observant for your own good, Vilandra,” Zan frowned, halting his advance as his façade melted away, revealing his pugnacious face and she took a defensive stance, daring him to come closer so that she could finally inflict all the years of pain and terror that she experienced at his hands in her past life unto him.

“What can I say,” Vilandra smirked, dark eyes glittering with hatred as she circled her opponent, wondering just when he managed to pull off this power. Someone else had to be helping him; there was no way that he cultivated this talent on his own, especially as he had always been weak in mental abilities. Never saw the point since he was planning on poaching Ava from Khivar. Shaken by that insight, she blinked a moment in surprise, before shelving it for the moment and continued scathingly. “I learned over time not to believe in appearances and first impressions. A lesson
you taught me all too well. But enough of the so-called niceties – what do you want, brother, that couldn’t be addressed in real life? Why accost me in my dreams?”

“Confirmation,” Zan replied, smirking when she frowned at the cryptic response. “A little birdie told me that you had gotten yourself bonded, that you entered a
lehali with Kyle, but I told myself that couldn’t be right. My dearest sister wouldn’t hide something like that from me. I thought we were so close.”

“We might have been at one time,” Isabel replied, watching the man in front of her warily, wondering just who had said something for a moment, before recalling that Maria had seen the markings and must have ratted them out to his royal prissiness. “But that was Max, before Zan took over. Max would never have hurt me; Zan on the other hand, is a cold, sadistic bastard for whom I claim no kinship.”

“Oh, Lannie,” Zan sighed, feigning a hurt expression as they continued to circle one another, assessing weaknesses in each other’s defenses. “You wound me. When have I ever wanted anything but the best for my baby sister?”

“The best? Ha!,” she spat, halting her movement to stand her ground as she stared hatefully at the dark-haired boy that had tormented her as a child, suppressed her as a teen and then forced her into a betrothal agreement mere days after the love of her life had died in a tragic accident. Her eyes burned with unshed tears, recalling how he dishonored Dusan with his actions, and then broke up an alliance between Rath and Lareena to further his own agenda; she was damned if she was going to let him control her and her loved ones this time around. “Only when it suited you; it won’t happen this time around. This time you’re outnumbered.”

“Of course only to suit me,” Zan smirked. “After all, for what other reason were you born than to further father’s and my political agendas. It’s the only use women have – marrying into another family in order to solidify alliances and birthing the heirs that will keep the family line thriving. You’re all useless creatures otherwise. And I have to say, I’m disappointed in your choice of suitor. This won’t do.”

“You’re too late this time, Zan,” Isabel retorted, a small niggling of apprehension spreading through her veins as more memories bombarded her, whispers of a power that could potentially threaten the fledgling bond that she and Kyle had developed, but she pushed on nonetheless. “We’re stronger than last time. And I refuse to give into your demands. Kyle is my bonded; deal with it.”

“You know it’s not as simple as that, darling sister,” Zan rebutted, his face flushing with temper when Isabel continued to watch him as if bored and seemingly completely unaffected by his threats. “Bonds are…”

“Fragile things and can be broken, blah, blah, blah…” Isabel rolled her eyes contemptuously despite the fear that trickled down her spine. Throwing out her mental probes in a desperate attempt to leave the dream plane, she hoped to find a weakness she could exploit, allowing her a quick escape; she didn’t trust her brother as far as she could throw him. “Is that the best you can do Zan? I mean, really; you’d think by now you’d have diversified your tactics and actually come up with something a bit more creative. But then again, that would mean employing a form of logic and actually learning from your mistakes, which we all know has never been your strong suit. You always were a bit…one-note.”

Zan growled under his breath, finally pushed to his limits, and leapt at her, barely missing her by mere centimeters as she pushed through a small crack in his dream bubble, ripping it wide open and pelted down a long, dark corridor in the hopes of putting distance between them. Inhaling sharply, she cried out as something hit her in the back, sending her sprawling gracelessly toward the ground, but she managed to wrench her body to the side, falling into a practiced roll instead of face-planting as the man behind her was likely hoping.

Rolling to the side, she gasped as hands tangled themselves into her hair, wrenching her head back and dragged her across the floor as she let out a pained cry, her powers lashing out and knocking her brother to the ground, as well as sending out a pulse of distress throughout the dream plane. Breathing heavily, she rolled over, hoping to find a foothold and attempt fleeing once more, but she was knocked to the side, an invisible hand flattening her to the ground on her back. Clenching her eyes shut, she braced herself for the inevitable blow, frantically weighing her options…but it never came.

Shaking due to the adrenaline coursing through her body, her eyes popped open when she heard a masculine cry followed by grunt as a body collided into a wall or the ground. Scrambling up on all fours, she gaped as Michael stalked across the hallway and stooping, grabbed Zan around the collar, lifting him effortlessly off the ground and slammed a fist into his jaw, the bones crunching sickly as he crumpled to the floor once more. Gasping, she looked up and to the side, startled when she saw Kyle and Liz standing sentry over her, waiting to see if Michael needed any help.

Looking back at the combatants, she winced when Michael tossed Zan across the room carelessly, a loud cry of pain spilling over the dark-haired boy’s lips as he impacted and disappeared from sight, presumably ejected from the dream plane. Turning around, Michael smiled grimly, striding quickly over to their group and knelt beside Isabel. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he and Kyle helped her to her feet, his hand cupping her jaw to tilt her head to the side, his lips compressing in displeasure at the bruise she was certain was forming.

Turning away, he studied the corridor, which had lightened considerably now that Zan had departed, before turning back to study his three dazed and slightly confused bondmates, obviously trying to figure out what just happened before he pulled a shaken Liz and Isabel into his arms, commanding firmly. “Meeting, my place, now.”


Liz awakened with a gasp, sweat beading her forehead as she shot straight up in bed, her heart thrumming wildly in her chest as she stared out into her darkened room, expecting to see a bruised Isabel, infuriated Michael and a pissed-off Kyle hovering over her bed, but only saw her empty, cold room. Shivering with apprehension, she flopped down on her bed to catch her breath, brow furrowed as she tried to make sense of her dream…if it had truly been just a dream. Swiping a hand through her hair, she froze, breath stilling in her lungs as she noticed her foursquare mark flaring a faint silver-blue, pulsing along with the beat of her heart and making her skin crawl as if a thousand ants were roaming just under the surface.

Touching the mark gently, she pulled her fingers away when the skin seemed to burn under her fingertips and her heart accelerated as images of the dream crashed through her brain, Michael’s parting words echoing through her head. It hadn’t been a dream…but how on Earth did they all get pulled into the dream plane with Isabel? As far as she recalled, none of them had developed those abilities outside Isabel. Unless of course this was just another foursquare perk.

Actually, that made a great deal of sense; when Isabel was threatened, she likely sent out a call through the bond links and that led Michael, Kyle and her into the plane with her. She wondered if this was just something that happened in the dream plane or could they potentially teleport themselves to the one in danger in reality as well?

It was something that definitely needed further exploration and testing.

Throwing off her blankets, her heart pounding and breath ragged, Liz hurriedly threw on the closest clothes to her, uncaring as to whether they matched or not and quietly made her way to her bedroom window, raising it slowly. Wincing as it seemed to screech through the room, she paused for a few moments, waiting to see if her parents had heard, and then let out relieved breath when it became apparent that they were still sleeping soundly. Slipping out the window, into the cool night air, she tiptoed across her balcony to the fire escape hanging from the ledge and quickly made her way down the steps, jumping down the last couple of feet before hurrying off to Michael and hopefully an explanation of what just happened.


Kyle startled awake, fury burning a fiery path through his blood and pain flaring through his now open bond to Isabel; hand flying to the glowing bond seal on his chest, he flinched when it throbbed under his fingers, an acidic burn radiating through over-sensitized nerves. Gritting his teeth, he pulled himself out of bed unsteadily, wincing as his muscles cramped and ached in sympathy to the girl’s who had been attacked just moments prior in his dream. Stumbling shakily to the bathroom, he flipped on the light and exhaled harshly when he could see the visible, irritated glow of his seal through his thin t-shirt and the soft, iridescent glow of his foursquare mark.

What the hell….

Closing his eyes, he drew in a couple of deep breaths, desperately trying to calm his rapidly beating heart, only to realize that the panic, anger and pain wasn’t coming from him, but was spilling down the line from his open bond. Isabel’s angry thoughts swarmed in his head like a thousand angry bees, filling it with an almost excruciating cacophony of sound that left him reeling and clutching at his head as he forced the open bond into submission, reluctantly shutting it down a degree in order to get his thoughts straight. Fuck, just when he got his head wrapped around all the freaky alien shit, they threw another loop at him.

Grimacing at the angry, non-verbal chattering coming from his mate, Kyle turned on the tap, splashing cold water onto his face in an effort to erase the sleep still clinging to his fuzzy mind. Rubbing his face wearily, he shut off the tap and grabbed a towel, drying his face as he left the bathroom and headed back to his bedroom, tossing the towel onto the bed as he arrived. Grabbing a sweatshirt, he threw it on as he slid his feet into his sneakers before grabbing his wallet and keys and headed for the door, halting only when his dad popped his head out of his room sleepily.

“Isabel,” he mumbled incoherently, rubbing his face as he opened the door. “Alien stuff. I’m picking her up and then we’re headed to Michael’s for a bit.”

“Need any help?” his dad asked, leaning against the door with a yawn.

“Nah,” Kyle replied, shaking his head in negation as he paused at the door. “We got it.”

“Stay safe,” the sheriff replied hesitantly, obviously wanting to know more or, more likely, to go with him, but holding back as he also didn’t want to pry. “Let me know if there are any problems or if you’re going to be out all night. And call me as soon as you both get to Michael’s so I don’t worry that something has happened.”

“Yes, dad,” Kyle drawled, rolling his eyes slightly, but smiling nonetheless at his father’s concern as he headed out the door. “I promise; we’ll be good.”

“I believe that when I see it,” his dad called as the door shut, making Kyle chuckle as he headed to his car, soothing the anger just lying under the surface that Max had attacked Isabel so blatantly. Hopping into his car, he grimaced as an echo of residual pain skittered down tense muscles and vowed there was no way the little psycho was going to get away with it this time as he pulled out of the drive and headed to Isabel’s house.

If Michael didn’t put him in check, he was sure he could arrange a little run in for King Nothing; he was certain his buddies fists would love to reacquaint themselves with Max’s face.


Isabel jolted into consciousness when a piercing scream rent the air, her head and body throbbing as her eyes flew open, the low light in the room sending a stabbing pain through her head as she drew in a deep, shuddering breath. Hissing in pain, she gingerly sat up in bed, the low moan in the room adjacent to hers making her smirk slightly as she heard, what she presumed were her parents, footsteps hurrying down the hall. It served the little bastard right for attempting a power not native to his physiology. She felt no sympathy for his pain after that blatant attack.

Slowly easing the blankets from her body, she climbed out of bed, wincing as her muscles protested, and touched her throbbing jaw, a flash of anger flaring through her as she detected the beginnings of a bruise. She was going to make him pay for hurting her if it was the last thing she did. Anger welled up inside as she recalled all she learned tonight and it took everything in her not to march into Max’s room and belt him across the jaw to see how he liked being kicked while he was down.

Actually, she might just do it anyway, parents be damned.

Drawing a deep breath, still fuming at his treatment, she noticed Kyle’s sluggish thoughts in her head as he came to, his confusion at the events as well as having her thoughts in his head palpable. Snorting at his rambling thoughts as well as his annoyance at finding yet another alien quirk to contend with, she poked him mentally, slightly indignant at his commentary on ‘freaky alien shit,’ before heading over to her closet to pull out jeans and a sweatshirt and smirked to herself when he threw out a hasty apology and shut down his end of the bond a few degrees.

Honestly, she couldn’t blame his exasperation. All of these new developments were getting a bit ridiculous.

Quickly pulling on her clothes, she ran a brush through her, rolling her eyes at the fuss she could hear her parents make over the sniveling little runt in the other room. Frankly, she thought they should leave him to fend for himself seeing as it was his own damned fault that he was hurting in the first place. Of course, she realized they didn’t know this, but she wasn’t in the mood to feel charitable given the circumstances. If she had it her way, he’d be sporting more than the couple of bruises that Michael landed on him.

Wrapping herself in her robe, to hide her clothing, she slipped out the door and into the hall, silently watching as her mother cooed and fussed over her brother, wondering out loud at how he managed to bruise his jaw and bloody his nose. Shaking her head at her parents gullibility, she snorted, drawing his attention as Max reassured them he was fine and had just hit himself on the dresser when he fell out of bed.

Meeting his eyes coldly, she watched as he finally waved them off, again promising that he was fine and that he was just tired and wanted to go to bed. Exchanging worried glances, her parents sighed, but finally made their way back to bed, smiling weakly at her as they passed. Following them with her eyes, she waited until their door shut before sending her brother a icy glare, smirking when he sat there fuming, yet helpless to do anything about it since he knew it would only send their parents running back to his side. Staring at him for a moment, her smirk widened, taking on a flinty edge ad she relished in the flicker of fear that sparked in his eyes as she warned him quietly.

“Did you honestly believe that you could stop us? Your arrogance was your downfall the first time around, Zan, and it will prove to be so this time as well. You won’t win.”

Turning on her heel, she tossed her bathrobe on her bed as she passed and walked out the door to wait for Kyle, so that they could discuss this event with Michael.

Game on.
Last edited by Ashita on Sat Dec 08, 2012 5:19 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Re: Hunted (UC,Mi/L,ADULT) Chap 18; 1/17

Post by Ashita » Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:16 pm

AN: Thanks as ever to my wonderful betas Whimsy and Yas for editing and brainstorming with me! And Yas, I give you full permission to beat on Max whenever you choose. As for Isabel...well you know the answer to that don't you? ;) And no I won't mention it here.
Veiled Intentions

Storing her books in her locker, Liz sighed and ran a weary hand through her hair, fatigue clinging to the corners of her eyes as she wished that she were anywhere but facing another riveting day at school. But she also knew that if she'd given into the siren call of her bed and stayed home to sleep, she'd have to deal with two overbearingly protective parents prodding and poking at her, wondering why she was so rundown when she had been fine before she went to bed. Especially with no visible ailment other than fatigue.

Miraculously, they had remained unaware that she'd slipped their leash and went to Michael's a few nights before and she preferred to keep it that way so they didn't have another Max issue; the last thing they needed was overprotective parental scrutiny given everything that happened lately. She was, frankly, bewildered that nothing had come to light yet, but chose to believe it was because the majority of her parents' hyper-awareness was focused on all things Max, blinding them to certain unexplainable events. Like mysteriously appearing tattoos.

Maybe. She hoped.

Selecting the appropriate texts for her first two classes, she shoved them in her bag, tensing subtly when the back of her neck tingled with awareness, sending a flutter of unease through her body. Licking her lips, her heart rate accelerated as the fine hairs on her neck and arms stood on end and dread curled through her veins, sinking like a lead ball into the pit of her gut as she felt a heavy presence press against her back and curious eyes following her every movement.

Turning her head slightly to the right, wary, dark eyes scanned the hallway, her fellow classmates seemingly absorbed in conversation, walking to or standing by their lockers and generally getting ready for the day; but she couldn't pinpoint the cause of her unease in that direction. No one was paying undue attention to her, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she was the focus of far-too-curious eyes and she'd long ago learned to trust her instincts.

Trying to remain nonchalant, she slowly turned her head back to the left, as if she were idly searching for a friend or just absentmindedly observing the chaotic rush and flow of students and still found nothing out of the ordinary. But she didn't place much faith into that observation either. Everyone looked as if they were wrapped up in their own worlds, but she knew just how easily perceptions and thoughts could be manipulated if one had the appropriate skills.

Shuddering softly as a thin finger of fear traced its way down her spine, Liz allowed her gaze to travel the corridor one last time, and then rubbing her arms to unconsciously ward off the chill settling into her bones, she turned back to her locker and took a steadying breath, continuing to compile her school supplies. Just because she couldn't see them, didn't mean they weren't there; she could feel them, the oppressive weight of their aura wrapping around her, albeit neutrally, but still suffocating in its weight. The cool void of intent concerned her; it was as if someone were shielding their objective and that made her mind jump to a conclusion that set her heart pounding.

Closing her eyes, she leaned her slightly sweaty brow against the cool metal of her locker and tried to figure out what was wrong with her senses. She'd been feeling decidedly off and jumpy since the altercation with Max, and she'd brushed it away at the time as nothing more than heightened endorphins combined with the lingering hum of power contributed by the foursquare; but now, she wasn't so certain. After a few hours rest and 'grounding' themselves, she expected the phenomenon to wear off, yet it lingered, curling around her in a thick cloud, leaving her jittery and, she hoped, jumping at shadows.

Could this heightened awareness be side affect of being pulled into Isabel's dream plane?

Casting her mind back over the meeting that night, she had a bad feeling it was –

She'd immediately curled herself around Michael upon arrival at his apartment, all but crawling into his lap as they waited for Isabel and Kyle, closing her eyes in relief as the warm, solid body pressed against hers, and the slow slide of fingers through her hair, soothed the humming tension lying just beneath her skin. It was comforting despite the roil of palpable anger, hot and peppery at the back of her throat, spilling off Michael, bringing inexplicable tears to her eyes.

Sighing almost inaudibly, she burrowed her face into the crook of his neck, making a small noise of distress when that anger spiked and sent a frisson of discomfort skittering across her nerves and unconsciously stroked her fingers over the back of Michael's neck, trying to ease that crackle of emotion lurking under the surface. She finally allowed herself to relax fully when his tension drained away under her fingers, tempered by the rich, sweet roll of love and concern for her as he pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead.

The sweet, tender touch made her giddy, intoxicated, as if she were swimming in a pool of the tawny port her mother favored on the rare occasion that she indulged in an after dinner drink. The depth of the emotions made her head spin, drowning her in a honeyed rush that left her breathless and aching. Brushing her lips over his cheek, she snuggled down into his arms, allowing the soft feelings to wash over her and reveled in the ensuing calm that she knew would be momentarily broken by the arrival of their counterparts.

Minutes passed in silence, and she had almost been lulled into a contented sleep, when the brief rap on the door startled her back into awareness, and something dark and smoky wrapped around her senses. Shuddering as it played along her spine, she lifted her head and frowned at the dark moue that clouded Michael's face before he gently set her aside and stood, striding rapidly toward the door and opened it, stepping back to allow the newest arrivals through.

Standing swiftly, she crossed the room and pulled the tall blonde into a hug, closing her eyes as Isabel clutched onto her as she were the only lifeline in a boiling sea. Running a hand over Isabel's back, she sensed the same anger trembling through the other girl's body, but there was something more – some dark, dank undertone that tasted of mineral and smelled like wet concrete that she could only term 'sorrow.' Which made sense after the events that had occurred tonight, as well as the irreparable severing of a relationship with someone she'd once called brother. There was also a healthy dose of fear swimming in her veins, thick, brackish, metallic on her tongue, like the lingering taste of spilled blood.

Reaching up with one hand, she soothed fingers across Isabel's neck, as she'd done with Michael, allowing her concern and love to dull and melt away the sharper edges of the blonde's mood and sighed when it smoothed out to a dim hum. Relinquishing her hold when she felt Michael wrap an arm around his sister, she allowed him to take over the role of Isabel's comforter as she turned to Kyle and hugged him equally as tight, her breath hitching uneasily when his arms wrapped tightly around her, making her whimper quietly.

His anger was different from Michael's and Isabel's, still hot and peppery, but darker, richer, and smoky; something that had been fermenting for some time. It raked across her nerves, searing them with its heat. Dispersed within it was another smoky tone, like damp wood smoldering, and she called it worry, mixed with a dash of fear. Inhaling sharply, she unconsciously repeated her actions, rubbing the back of his neck, sending out a comforting vibe that had Kyle's shoulders relaxing minutely. The anger still boiled under the surface, but it was now contained, manageable.

Drawing away, for the first time since they'd arrived, she breathed easier, freely, the air cooling a degree around her and it didn't feel as thick or as oppressive, leaving her head reeling and her body shaking in relief. Pivoting on her foot, she went back to the couch and climbed onto it, unaware of the stares her actions had garnered her and sat down, drawing her knees to her chest. Wrapping her arms around them, she watched her bond-mates exchange a puzzled glance and then shrugging, move into the room and sat down in various places, their jitters visibly lessened...

Coming back to herself with a gasp, she turned once more, frightened eyes studying the corridor as she ran a dazed hand through her hair. Biting her lower lip, she watched as a classmate drew within touching distance, and surreptitiously, she turned, grazing her hand along theirs 'accidentally' in an effort to test her theory. Jolting when their skin made contact, her sight wavered, graying at the edges and a rich, buttery joy splashed through her breast, pouring into her veins like liquid sunshine and tasted like crisp, sun-warmed apples.

Jerking away as if she'd been burned, she hastily apologized when her classmate looked at her strangely and spun around, scrambling for support as she grabbed onto the edge of her locker, a sheen of sweat dotting her brow. That had been sharper and much more intrusive than anything she had gotten off Michael, Isabel and Kyle, but it did wonders to solidifying her what she'd begun to suspect deep down inside.

Emotion. She was feeling other peoples' emotions.

It was far more intense when she touched someone, but she could also taste them in the air – a low, confused hum of energy that set the fine hairs on her arms and neck on end. It was this constant stream of feedback that had her jittery and nearly jumping out of her skin as the feelings mingled and melded into a steady wave of stimuli that bombarded her already fragile senses. No wonder she'd felt off and had considerably worsened as she arrived at school – the place was a cesspit of erratic, seething emotion from literally hundreds of teenagers.

It was enough to drive someone mad.

Leaning her forehead against the edge of her open locker, she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, focusing only on the slow, steady, even breaths in an effort to quell the shaking running rampantly through her body. Allowing herself to fall into an almost hypnotic state, she'd nearly reached a manageable level of calm when something 'wrong' flowed across her nerves, coating them with an oily sludge that sent a ripple of apprehension shooting down her spine.

Opening her eyes, she looked to her left and started when she saw Maria walking purposefully down the hallway, her eyes fixed resolutely in front of her, her shoulders tight with tension and face completely blank, void of emotion. Licking her parched lips, Liz quietly, and warily, observed the blonde, not at all surprised when she walked past without a word; she had expected Maria's cold shoulder in the wake of recent events.

What she hadn't expected, was what she was currently feeling. Given the turbulent wealth of emotion she'd experienced thus far, she expected more of that hot, peppery anger to pour of the blonde, mixed with a dash of hurt, although, she didn't really know what that one tasted like as of yet; but that wasn't what she found. Instead, she got the overwhelming feel of thick, crude, black oil – as if there was nothing else underneath.

And that worried her.

Swiveling her head to the right, she frowned as she watched the other girl make a beeline for Max. That didn't bode well; especially given the fact that Michael had resoundingly beaten Max on the dream plane the other night. Or had it been the entire foursquare that made the difference and cemented their victory? It was quickly becoming apparent that what they had discussed a few days ago was a necessity.

“So...” Kyle drawled, rubbing his hands together uneasily as his eyes nervously darted around the quiet apartment. “Anyone want to explain what the hell just happened?”

Liz studied her friend silently, her eyebrows first raising into her hairline at his question and then furrowing, a tiny frown creasing the corner of her mouth as she took in his jittery demeanor; Kyle had always been a bit uneasy when it came to alien happenings, but she thought he'd resolved many of his issues when he and Isabel started dating.

Granted, she herself had been taken off guard by, and truthfully had never even noticed, the initiation of the bond between Michael and herself – that had been an utter surprise – so she could understand that Kyle might be a little leery. He might not have been expecting quite the level of commitment he'd fallen into either. Coupled with the recent spate of alien craziness that had developed within the past two to three weeks, and a foursquare bond, well, one couldn't fault him for his behavior. Even she felt a tad freaked out sometimes.

“Anyone?” Kyle prompted again when his question had been met with silence. “No one?”

Chewing on her bottom lip, Liz turned first to Isabel, who was sitting next to her, and was met with confused eyes, and then towards Michael propped against the wall and found much of the same. The two siblings shared a discomfited look, obviously neither wanting to admit that they hadn't a clue of what happened, but it was written all over their faces as they shook their heads in bewilderment. So they didn't know anything more than she or Kyle.

“You don't know,” Kyle guessed, closing his eyes and dropping his head into his hands in resignation, muttering nearly inaudibly. “Of course not. None of this alien shit ever makes sense.”

“No,” Isabel confirmed unhappily, shooting Kyle a concerned glance as his words seemed to echo in the quiet, and received a wave of reassurance, coupled with a weak smile in return. “At least nothing that I can recall. Michael?”

“No,” Michael refuted, scratching at his brow thoughtfully, and he gave a helpless shrug, his frustrated anger singing along their bond as he sighed. “I know nothing about this. Nothing has made itself known in my memories in regards to the foursquare.”

“We never got this far last time, remember?” Isabel continued, a haunted light coming to her eyes as memories from the past flit through her mind and she crossed her arms over her chest, rising to stare out the window. “Everything fell apart before we bonded with our chosen mates; and from what I can recall, Rath and Vilandra were never compatible in that way, so it wouldn't have formed.”

“So, we're shooting in the dark once again,” Kyle murmured rhetorically.

“Unfortunately, yes.” Michael frowned at the back of Kyle's head as he turned away, his gaze dancing back and forth between the shorter man and Isabel, seeming to pick up on the discordant undercurrents that Liz had sensed earlier. “But it does make a valid point.”

“And that is?” Isabel queried, turning away from the window with a curious arch of her brow, dropping back onto the couch between Liz and Kyle and clasped her hands, pressing them between her knees, making her look much like the insecure girl she'd tried to hide away.

“We still haven't a clue what we're doing power wise,” Michael sighed, slumping into the wall and letting his head fall back to stare unseeingly at the ceiling. “Or even what we are capable of individually or as a group. That needs to be rectified. If we are going to stand a chance against Zan...Max, we need to find out. No more shooting in the dark, as Kyle put it, and hoping that we hit our mark. We need to figure out as much as we can about our powers and then hone them. Because as we stand right now, we're sitting ducks.”

“And just how do you propose we go about this when we don't even know what we're doing?” Kyle retorted impatiently, the conversation and events of the night finally getting to him.

“We start with what we know,” Michael responded evenly, tossing the other man an irritated glance, but pushing through with his thoughts. “We know there are certain powers inherent in the alien physiology; things we can test – shielding, power blast, mind and dream control, healing, molecular manipulation, shape shifting – these are all things that we can try individually and as a group to see were our strengths and weaknesses lie.”

“That would help,” Isabel quietly agreed, her shoulders sloping slightly as exhaustion washed over her and smiled when Kyle leaned forward, wrapping his arms around her and pulled her back against his chest, easing some of the tension between them.

“And then we try connecting as we did before, first as a whole, then in different groupings to see how the absence of a member affects the whole,” Michael proposed, crossing his legs and humming thoughtfully. “And if we're really lucky, things will pop up out of the blue as they seem to do when we're connected and we'll discover something new.”

“It might be a week or two before we can do it,” she cautioned, joining the discussion for the first time, mentally going over the Crashdown scheduling in her head. The only time viable for working on such a project would be a weekend; unfortunately that was also the busiest time at the diner. “I have to see if Michael and I can get the time off.”

“But at least it's a working plan,” Isabel murmured tiredly, the battle with Max catching up with her as she laid her head against Kyle's shoulder. “It's more than we had before.”

“Well, then, we'll check the schedule and then give you two some prospective dates and you can let us know what will work for you,” Michael said, looking between the other three for their compliance or disagreement, and grunted when they all nodded their heads. “Now for a final item of discussion, I should fill you in on a dream I had last night.”

They spent the next thirty minutes discussing Michael's dream-vision from the Granilith, but no one could really offer any solutions or thoughts on the matter due to the fragmented information given in the dream. It had been valuable information, and they all had their suspicions about the people in the vision, but without actual proof or even a glimpse of the face, they couldn't act. At least not yet. The best they could do was observe the individual in question and wait.

Crying out when she felt a hand on her shoulder, she was ripped back to the present almost violently, leaving her head disorientated and swimming with confusion until she detected a familiar wash of energy and relaxed, turning to rest her brow against a firm, warm chest. Sighing when arms wrapped around her, she noticed that the buzz of emotion, that had swirled around her since she'd woke up that morning, had dulled to a steady, but bearable thrum.

“Didn't mean to startle you,” Michael rumbled, stroking a hand over her hair soothingly as she took a deep breath and tried to slow her racing heart. “But you seemed miles away.”

“Just thinking about the night Max...” She trailed off, answering the implied question and then drew away, turning back to her locker to finish packing her bag, instantly deciding to hold off on telling him about her new power until they had some privacy. Closing the door, she turned back about to request that he come over when Kyle and Isabel walked up. She closed her mouth, smiling at them weakly; it could wait for a few more hours.

Michael hummed, his eyes flitting to the end of the hall, his face darkening as he caught Max staring at them, talking in a low urgent tone with Maria. Frowning, he turned back to Liz and the others, his shoulders visibly stiffer and made a request she should have seen coming a mile away.

“I'm walking you to class.” Okay, it was more demand than request, but this was Michael. Holding his hand up when he sensed her protest, he continued. “No arguments. I'd prefer it if we all stuck together in a group or at least in pairs until we get a chance to implement our plan. Safety in numbers.”

“Fine,” she huffed, but secretly glad she wouldn't be meeting up with Max alone anytime soon; plus she'd long gotten used to her mate's highhandedness. It was almost endearing. Almost. And there were times that he couldn't be present, so...

“Good,” Michael replied, obviously relieved that she hadn't put up more of a fight, and slightly suspicious too it seemed as he studied her and his words for any potential loop holes. Cocking a brow at him, she smiled benignly, making his frown deepen and she knew she hadn't fooled him.

With one last glare at her, Michael turned back to Max and once again locked eyes with the other boy, this time maintaining the stare with an arched brow. They glowered at each other for several minutes before Max said something to Maria, and they began to walk down the corridor towards the tense and suspicious quartet.

Stiffening further, Michael tightened his arm around her waist, pulling her into the cradle of his body as he subtly shifted their positions so that he was standing slightly in front of her and Isabel, ever mindful to the Granilith's words of warning and maintained eye contact with his nemesis, noting his every move as the duet drew closer. Compressing his lips as Max and Maria pulled even with Michael and Liz, he just gazed at the other man evenly, neither cowed nor daunted by Max's intent study, and snorted when Max glowered at them all, trying to intimidate the four of them. Smirking knowingly, Michael stepped forward and challenged Max with his eyes and actions, daring him to pull something then and there, and knowing full well it would never happen because Max liked his good boy persona far too much to break from it.

Huffing, Max rolled his eyes and began walking once more, Maria his silent little automaton at his side, and kept his hard gaze locked on Michael until distance forced it away or risk him running into something. Michael kept his eyes trained on Max's back until he turned a corner and disappeared from sight; finally turning his attention back to her and slid his arm up around her shoulders, pulling her away and walking in the opposite direction with Isabel and Kyle in tow.

Sighing in relief, and happy the confrontation hadn't escalated into a full on brawl, Liz looked over at Kyle, wondering if he was doing any better than he had a few days ago, only to find him staring into a passing alcove with a small frown. Looking over her shoulder, she craned her neck to see what had grabbed his attention, but it appeared empty. Looking back at Kyle, she saw he was still looking into the empty space, his frown intensifying and a shiver ran through her body as she recalled the feeling of being watched. Turning back to the alcove, she frowned at the memory and tightened her hold on Michael, chilled to the bone and wondered what it was exactly that her friend was seeing.
A steady, calm gaze watched Liz from afar, taking in her ragged appearance and the shadows under her eyes that denoted a lack of sleep and frowned in concern, knowing that pinched, jittery expression anywhere having see it on his own face once before. Her powers had fully manifested and were much stronger than he had anticipated given the relatively subtle flashes of empathy they'd seen over the past couple years or so, when they'd started to come forward. Usually one could tell just how strong an Empath would become by those bursts of intuition or precognition, but nothing they had seen over that time would have hinted at a gift this large. Unless...something had interfered – like a Granilith that favored her.

It made sense actually, with the Granilith bonded to Rath in the past, and apparently speaking to him even now, and she being Rath's chosen, the Granilith's favor would naturally fall onto her as well; if one could call a gift of this magnitude a favor. It had to be the strongest since...well, since Lareena. And if he hadn't been well aware that his sister was sitting snug in the home of her mate on Savo, he'd wonder if what was happening with Kyle was also happening to Liz. But he knew it was impossible – old soul that Liz may be, she wasn't Antarian or from any other planet in the federation as far as he could tell.

Not that it mattered as they were all descended from a common ancestor.

Shaking his head, he refocused on the suffering brunette before him; it was subtle, and most people wouldn't have noticed anything odd unless they had experienced the symptoms themselves, but it was completely unmistakeable to his eyes. She was well within Phase I of her gift and if she looked this bad now, he shuddered to see what would happen if she entered Phase II without instruction.

Empaths as strong and talented as the brunette were often isolated for their own safety when they went through the transition to make it easier on them as their senses were laid bare. But she didn't have that luxury here – unless they made contact early and convinced the foursquare that it was best for Liz, as well as the rest of them, to come away for an intense training expedition. It would take some work, but with the Granilith's blessing, they could take them away for the necessary month or so and then spill them back out days or even hours later.

And it would be beneficial to Liz.

Chewing on his thumb, he nodded slowly and then raked a hand through the snarled, black mass he called hair, his agile mind trying on and discarding potential scenarios for this to work, oblivious to the other man creeping up on him. Startling when two arms wrapped around his waist, drawing him back against a solid chest, he looked up into amused blue eyes and scowled, scrunching his nose when his mate pressed a gentle kiss on it.

Sighing when the blond brushed his lips across his, he melted into those strong arms briefly, enjoying the wash of energy that played along their bond. He so rarely got to see his mate at school since they were in deep cover and their persona didn't exactly mingle with one another. It was only at home that they could drop all their pretenses and enjoy time together.

“You're looking unusually pensive,” the blond commented as he pulled away, slouching indolently against the opposite wall, just in case someone breached the 'screen' he'd set around himself before starting his observation.

“Watch,” he replied cryptically, nodding towards Liz and raked his hands through his wild thatch of curls in an attempt to put it into some form of order before giving it up as impossible.

The blond smirked at his attempt before shifting his eyes towards their quarry, frowning when he too picked up on her nervous fidgeting and the haggard expression as she leaned against the locker, looking as if she were in pain. She had her eyes closed and appeared to be concentrating deeply on something when she gasped softly and spun around, her eyes wide, frightened and panicked as they darted around the corridor. Latching her gaze onto an approaching classmate, she subtly brushed her hand across his palm and seemed to fall into a trance for a few seconds before jerking away and hastily apologizing.

“Oh,” the blond breathed softly, turning back towards him, his eyes clouded with concern.

“Oh, indeed,” he agreed dryly, exchanging a worried glance with his mate before returning his gaze to Liz, a lightly pinched grimace flitting across his face as he picked up a spike of fear from the girl. He couldn't really blame her for being frightened by the new stimuli, as feeling others emotions could be daunting. Sighing, he continued gravely. “We have to make contact.”

“I don't think that's a good idea,” the blond replied automatically, despite his apparent concern for the girl in question; and he knew without words what his mate's concern was – breaking cover could be detrimental and backfire spectacularly, but needs must.

“We don't have a choice,” he countered, swiveling his head to meet his mate's steady gaze, the seriousness in his making the blond's eyes widen, understanding coming to them, again without either of them having to say a word; but that was the benefit of years of being bonded. “You've seen her. Do you doubt my assessment?”

“No,” his mate shook his head, eyes flitting back to the cowering girl as she huddled against her locker for a moment before turning her head slowly to the left, visibly jolting when she caught sight of Maria walking down the hallway. “No, never that. I trust your judgment implicitly.”

“She's strong,” he noted, watching Liz study her former best friend with a frown, obviously sensing the darkness that surrounded the blonde girl. She was already tasting strong emotions without the benefit of touch; they had less time than he thought. “It needs to be trained, harnessed, or it will eventually drive her mad.”

“Then we make ourselves known,” the blond sighed, his face stoic, but he could pick up on his mate's reluctance as the other man swiped a hand over his face.

“Try not to sound so enthused,” he replied dryly, drawing a reluctant smile from his mate. He focused on the brunette, averting his eyes down the hall to see what held her attention and scowled; that didn't bode well. “The problem comes with how and when...”

“I say we just use the Granilith to nab them,” his mate offered with a Gallic shrug, taking in Zan and Maria's interaction with the intensity of a hawk, rubbing his fingers together as if fighting the urge to zap Zan; which he probably was after what happened to Ava. “Render them powerless until we can explain and be done with it.”

“Yes," he said waspishly, drawing the blond's gaze back to him and his mate arched a brow at his tone. “Because Rath has always been so reasonable when restrained and open to listening when riled. Honestly, sometimes I wonder about you.”

“Only sometimes?” his mate grinned unrepentantly, making him roll his eyes in exasperation.

“We can't go barreling in,” he refuted, a tiny frown creasing the corner of his mouth as he watched the topic of their current exchange stride impatiently down the hallway, obviously perturbed by something; his demeanor softened, however, when his gaze lit on Liz. “You can't just kidnap them and then expect them to cooperate because we say it's the best thing for them. This is a delicate matter and needs to be handled with careful precision and sensitivity.”

“And it could very well take them weeks to make a decision if we give them the option,” the blond pointed out, watching with a pensive frown as Liz jumped, then sank into Rath's arms. “You know as well as I do that she doesn't have that kind of time. She is already suffering needlessly and that doesn't bode well for what's to come.”

The blond turned to him, and his mate's frown deepened when he was caught grinning delightedly at the blond, and he couldn't help but chuckle as his mates eyes narrowed, his face growing cool as he arched a blond brow inquisitively.


“You're so adorable when you go into protector mode,” he couldn't resist teasing.

“Oh, fuck off,” the blond huffed, sniffing disdainfully when he continued to laugh at his mate and the blond muttered under his breath. “I am far from adorable.”

“You know,” he lofted with a smirk. “This place has been detrimental to your language.”

“Whatever,” his mate groused, although there was a hint of a smile in the tone. “Adorable...menacing maybe, but never adorable.”

“Nah, I think I'll stick with adorable,” he twitted, biting his lip to hold back the laughter bubbling in the back of his throat as his mate glared at him.

“Can we focus on the problem at hand?” his mate stressed, crossing his arms over his chest and watching as Kyle and Vilandra joined the scene.

“Yes, oh adorable one,” he smirked, getting in one last jab before sobering. “You make a valid point. I can see them dithering endlessly on whether to trust us or not; and I honestly can't fault them for that. But this must be done for her sanity. If left for too long...well, I shudder at the thought. And while I trust Rath to hold her best interests, he has always been a suspicious man. Doubly so now that they've been betrayed several times over.”

“We could appeal to the Granilith,” his mate proposed, his shoulders stiffening as Rath turned to Zan and their eyes clashed in silent battle. He could sense the flow of animosity between them, even hotter than their first rivalry, and it literally crackled over his nerves, making him inhale sharply.

His instinctive gasp brought his mate's eyes back to him, and the blond leaned forward surreptitiously dragging a hand along the underside of his forearm, connecting them enough to soothe the angry emotions bombarding him. Smiling weakly, he exhaled and took a few even breaths, nodding when he got his empathy under control, tamping it down to a subdued level.

“We could get its help,” the blond continued, slumping against the wall and he went back to tracking Maria and Zan like a hawk as they approached the foursquare. “Rath seems to be as open to it this time around as he was in the past.”

“That might actually work,” he replied, drawing a shaky breath and ruthlessly cutting the connection with his powers, turning them firmly off as he watched Zan pull even with the quartet, worried it was going to get ugly before he had a chance to shield himself. “It gives me an idea actually.”

“Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?” his mate quipped making him roll his eyes with exasperation. His mate claimed that he only watched the show to keep up appearances but he was certain that the blond actually enjoyed such nonsense.

“Let's get one thing straight,” he smirked, eyes sparkling with mirth when his mate faced him with an arched brow, then tilted his face towards the drama playing out in front of them, ready to intervene if necessary. “If there was a Brain in this partnership, it would be me.”

“I'm not quite sure how to take that,” the blond said slowly, his shoulders relaxing as Zan and his minion moved away from the foursquare and headed down the hall.

“With acceptance,” he replied with a saccharine sweet smile, laughing when his mate rolled his eyes and turned away from the scene, muttering something indistinct under his breath. “But at least my plans work.”

The blond snorted and they both grinned at each other, turning simultaneously to the departing foursquare. He jolted when Kyle's eyes met his, his gaze boring into his as if he could actually see him, and then flicked his eyes over to his mate, a puzzled moue on his face. Liz studied Kyle for a moment and then looked over as well, but it was obvious from her vacant expression that she wasn't seeing anything. Nonetheless, a haunted spark lit her eyes as she looked back at Kyle and they disappeared from sight.

“Interesting,” he breathed, surprised that they had been scoped out. Well, that might actually be beneficial in the end; but this was an equally surprising development that cemented his resolve to make contact with the group.

“What?” he mate asked, coming closer to him now that the royals were gone, standing mere inches from him and smoothed his hands down over his arms lovingly.

“Kyle saw us,” he replied breathlessly, and walked forward, sinking into his mate's arms much as Liz had done earlier with Rath, grounding himself in the power that laid beneath his mate's skin as he rested his head on his shoulder. “Despite the shield, he saw us for sure at the end. I'm not sure if he had noticed us before that, as I was more concerned with Liz.”

“Really...” the blond hummed, staring out of the alcove as he traced his fingers over the back of the raven's neck, soothing the frayed nerves that came from keeping his gift open for so long. His mate glanced around in surprise, but no one else seemed to be the wiser to their presence. “That definitely bears watching.”

“Yes it does,” he admitted, tipping his head back to look at his mate, sharing a significant look with him.

“I'll get to working on a solution,” the blond sighed, dipping his head down to press a soft kiss against his mouth, lingering for a moment as their bond thrummed happily, and his mate lifted a hand to cup his cheek, stroking his thumb over the apple. Pulling back, his mate brushed a chaste kiss over the corner of his mouth, murmuring quietly before he slipped away. “I'll see you tonight. We can discuss it further then.”

“Tonight,” he whispered, then drew a deep breath in order to get ready for yet another day of pretending to be your average teenage boy attending your average high school. Joy.
Kyle leaned against the tree under which he sat, Isabel at his side, his lunching sitting unattended on his lap as he mulled over the past few weeks in his head. He'd be the first to admit that he'd often thought that the alien shit from before had been weird, but now, it was downright freaky. And he couldn't help but wonder what he'd gotten himself into.

He'd always been uneasy around Max and Michael, and until he'd gotten to know her, Isabel as well; he couldn't help it given his family history with aliens and the fact that he'd spent years scoffing at his grandfather, and later his father, only to find out they really were among us. And frighteningly enough, they weren't green, slimy, and three-feet tall with bulbous heads; they looked and acted like your average human being and that led to a very pertinent question...

Just how many more were out there that they didn't know about?

It was crazy to think that he could be sitting next to one in class and never even know that this person was not of this Earth. And that, quite frankly, freaked the shit out of him. Then you add to it, the fact that he'd been sucked into the vortex of this alien abyss, at first unwittingly, and then by choice however reluctant at first, and you had one damned confused homo sapiens on your hands my friend. It was mind boggling.

He'd thought he'd done a pretty good job of covering his unease and distress, but lately...lately the alien 'perks' were just getting weirder and weirder and he didn't have a fucking clue what was going on. It's not to say he doesn't care about Isabel, love her even, it was much could a branch bend before it snapped? And as flexible as he was...he didn't think he was quite as bendy as Liz.

Wow, did that put a disturbing image in his head.

Shuddering at the visual now branded into the back of his mind, he picked up his chips and shoved one into his mouth, smirking when Isabel sneered disdainfully at his lack of manners, but the twinkle in her eye softened, and even belied, the apparent disgust. Lifting her hand to his mouth, he pressed a small kiss to the back, then dropped it, tangling his fingers with hers, enjoying the light flush the action brought to her cheeks. Sharing a warm look, he waited until she turned back to her food before studying the other half of their quartet, and barely bit back a snort of amusement at the exasperated moue pasted on Liz's face at Michael's constant hovering.

She was valiantly studying for some test the next period, while Michael stared pensively at Max and Maria, who were talking in hushed, frantic tones across the quad, and Michael tensed every time one of them glanced at the group, his arms tightening around Liz's waist, making the brunette huff and elbow him so she could actually breathe freely. It would have been a supremely amusing scene if he hadn't had more serious matters on his mind.

For while Michael's eyes were all for Max and Maria, his were locked onto another student laughing with his buddies not more than ten feet away from the group, making him wonder if his placement was deliberate given everything that he'd observed lately. His friend had been acting oddly the past month, making comments that at one time he would have shrugged off, but now he paid greater attention to with his new position.

While the comments could have been viewed innocuously – innocuous, there's a word; Liz had obviously been rubbing off on him – they seemed a bit too pointed, and directed towards him for him to feel completely comfortable; especially after what he'd seen the past two days.

Studying his blond teammate out of the corner of his eye, he frowned when his friend glanced over at them and then skipped to Max and Maria, before going back to his discussion; only to repeat the same dance several minutes later. It was almost as if the blond knew something was brewing and was remaining alert to any potential problems, but the question was, why did he care and who was he concerned about? They'd always been friendly; good friends even before his life had become a never ending 'adventure' and he'd been forced to limit his interaction for their own safety.

Sighing, he crumpled up his bag and turned to the group, shaking his head as Michael continued to bore holes into the back of Max's head; when that boy was obsessive about something, he took it to a whole new level. He was surprised Max's head hadn't burst into flame with the heat of Michael's glare. Well, he best voice his suspicions; who knows, it might give Michael something new to obsess about.

“Paulie has been acting weird lately,” he commented, garnering the attention of both Isabel and Liz as he stared at his friend warily, smiling weakly when the blond looked up and waved.

“What do you mean weird?” Michael asked, not even breaking his staring contest with Max's head as he asked the question. You had to give him points for sheer determination if nothing else; he almost felt sorry for Max when Michael got his hands on him. Almost. After what happened to Isabel, the other boy was lucky to still be standing, because Kyle had desperately wanted to smear him across the dream plane.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, giving a small shrug as he turned back to the blond in question, still wondering at what he'd seen that morning. If he'd seen something. He'd noticed that Liz had also looked over to that alcove but it was clear from her expression that she hadn't seen a thing. “Just…weird,”

“Weird is a subjective term, Kyle,” Liz commented, looking back down at her notes with a frown and then picked up her pencil to correct something she obviously disagreed with. “Can you be a bit more specific? I mean, what you consider weird, may be perfectly natural to others.”

He stared at her in exasperation, while Isabel merely cocked a curious brow. Leave it to Liz to analyze the comment for meaning rather than focus on the crux of the issue. Besides, these days weird obviously stood as a code word for potential alien occurrence. It wasn't like he could bust out and say, 'Hey Liz, you know my good friend Paulie? The one that mysteriously appeared three years ago? Yeah, I'm pretty sure he's an alien or an alien sympathizer. You going to finish those fries? Thanks.' He was sure that would go over well.

“I mean consider us,” Liz continued, oblivious to the stares leveled against her. “Most of what we’ve seen, heard and done, and take for normal these days would be considered bizarre, if not downright certifiable, by most people.”

“She has a point,” Isabel agreed with a nod, turning back to her salad as she glanced at Kyle for clarification.

“Fine, point taken,” he huffed, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. So much for his attempt at subtlety; blunt force it was. “I mean suspicious weird, alien weird, I’m fucking concerned weird.

“No need to get testy, midget,” Michael replied, still burning holes into Maxi Pad's brain. You really did have to admire such single-minded focus, even if he had abhorrent taste in nicknames.

“Don't get started, you two,” Isabel shut them down before they could begin insulting each other. “I already have a headache and don't need nor want to listen to your version of male bonding. Now, what has you worried?”

“Well, a couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, he asks me, ‘You believe in aliens?’” He explained, a frown pinching his brow as he leaned his head back against the tree trunk. “And I laughed it off, and said 'sure,' playing it off like a joke. And then he gets all crazy intense and on me and says, ‘I think they are real and look a lot like us; just imagine, they could be walking round and living among us even now and we'd never even know it.”

Little did Paulie know, that in saying that, he had been voicing one of his biggest concerns.

“Okay,” Liz nodded, and bit her lip as she looked at Kyle thoughtfully. “I’ll admit that’s a bit odd, but hardly alarming given where we live.”

“Then, last week,” Kyle continued, lowering his voice a notch as some students walked by. “We were eating at the Crash, and he picked up a bottle of Tabasco, rolled it in his hands thoughtfully and then set it back on the table.”

“And?” Michael countered, his brow slightly raised in interest but his attention remaining primarily focused on King Nothing. Liz shot Michael a look and then nodded encouragingly, gesturing for him to continue.

“When I looked at him strangely, he made some cryptic remark about alien habits and how he always imagined that they liked extra spicy food.”

“That’s…weird,” Liz agreed with a frown, startling when Michael snapped his head towards them for the first time since they'd sat down, a deep frown marring his face.

“Then yesterday, he was messing around in English and drew this.” Kyle held up a drawing with four squares, connected with several lines and looking eerily like a modified foursquare symbol.


Isabel and Michael exchanged an alarmed glance before Michael bent over and plucked the paper out of his hands to study closer, his brow furrowing as he lifted his head and stared at Paulie with concern, forgetting all about Max and his minion for the time being.

“Um…well…” Liz replied weakly, obviously uncomfortable with the thought that another of their classmates might be a threat to them all. “Maybe he saw your foursquare mark and was just messing around with it?”

“We have them spelled invisible, Liz,” he reminded her peevishly. “So unless he has super, X-ray sight, which would be worrisome by itself, I’m pretty sure he’s never seen it.”

“Did you just use the word, worrisome?” Michael asked incredulously, looking away from the sketch to pin Kyle with dubious smirk.

“Shove off, Goliath,” he spat, frowning at the other boy heatedly, and silently debated whether or not to tell them what he saw this morning. Although, he wasn't even sure what he'd seen.

“Okay,” Liz cut in before either male could get wound up, resulting in a grateful smile from Isabel. “You’re right; it bears watching. Maybe if you subtly probe…”

“Paulie? Subtle?” he asked skeptically.
“Shortie? Subtle?” Michael quipped at the same time, hitching a thumb at Kyle.

“Point,” Liz replied wearily, refusing to expound on her words given the hot glower Kyle was leveling onto a smirking Michael.

“Just try to dig up what you can,” Michael replied, and he nodded his assent, knowing for all the alien's teasing, the other man was taking his concerns seriously. “And let me know if he does anything else out of the ordinary or if you notice him nosing around places he shouldn’t.”

“God,” Isabel groused, rubbing her obviously throbbing head in aggravation. He pulled his girlfriend into his arms, allowing her to rest her head against his shoulder as he rubbed her temples. “I’m so sick of this. It seems like our entire lives revolve around one alien crisis after another these days. As soon as I think we'll have a small break, something new pops up. It makes me want to...I’m just tired of all this…bullshit.”

“Isabel,” Liz exclaimed, seeming more surprised by the other girl's uncharacteristic use of profanity than the actual content of her rant. He guessed he wasn't the only one feeling worn out and torn by recent events.

“What?” Isabel snapped, taking Liz aback by the virulence of her tone, and the brunette opened and closed her mouth several times, obviously searching for something reassuring or inspirational to say, but fell silent when nothing came to mind.

Kyle felt a certain amount of pity for the brunette having been on the other side of Isabel's sharp tongue, but refused to offer his own thoughts on the matter as he didn't want to bring any more wrath down upon their heads. Things were tense enough without dealing with a tetchy Isabel. He'd learned the best way to deal with her moods was to merely nod his head, smile and then go out and buy the biggest chocolate sundae he could find.

“No,” Michael agreed, finally setting the etching aside and scratched his brow absently. “She’s right. We have been up to our necks in alien bullshit. It's been a rough couple of weeks.”

Kyle felt a small surge of vindication at those words; and they went a long way to reassuring him that there wasn't something wrong with his recent spate of thoughts and impatience with all things alien if everyone else was feeling burnt out. Granted, the other three had been dealing with this for much longer than he had, but he had feared that he'd been having second thoughts. And second thoughts weren't possible in this game unless he wanted to grovel before the King of Wishful Thinking and face unspeakable pain to break the bond.

Which he didn't. Not at all. He just wished...that they could have a period of peace, where they could actually live their lives rather than merely trying to survive day to day.

What they really needed was a break. A vacation from the drama and the fighting and the tension that seemed to be their normal these days. Unfortunately, none of them could afford that in any way, even if they could talk their parents into letting them take off for some week long sojourn. Somehow, no matter how much they liked Michael, he couldn't see Mommy and Daddy Parker allowing their baby girl to go off on a trip, alone, with her boyfriend. And while Michael was his own boss and he might be able to talk his dad into it, he doubted the Evans would feel any differently than the Parkers.

They could, however, do something small. Just to remind themselves that there is more to life than battles and alien hijinks.

“We should do something,” he piped up into the heavy silence, looking at his friends. Everyone turned and looked at him strangely, obviously trying to figure out if he was serious.

“No, seriously,” he continued with a smile, looking Isabel in the eye. “We all could use a break; even if it's just for the night. There is nothing viable that we can do about anything at the moment and when was the last time that we've done something that hasn't revolved around fighting aliens or breaking every local, state and federal law possible?”

Michael, Liz and Isabel all exchanged surprised glances as they seemed to take his words to heart. And the fact that none of them could come up with an immediate answer to his question, just proved how long it had been since they'd gone out and done something normal.

“Like what?” Michael asked, cautiously open to the idea of them doing something purely for fun.

“I don't know,” he admitted; he hadn't gotten that far ahead in his thinking really. He just liked the idea of forgetting the alien abyss for a while. “Something normal kids our age do – whatever that is....”

Liz and Isabel exchanged cautiously excited glances, both thrilled with the idea of a regular, ordinary date where they weren't interrupted by gunshots, alien illnesses or mysterious happenings. Ones where they could openly spend time with their respective partners and needn't fear that someone will separate them or keep them from showing their affection now that the new relationships were in the open. It was rather freeing for him as well.

“Well,” Liz replied, biting her lip as she looked at Michael and then continued when he shrugged. “Michael and I have a meeting with my parents this afternoon, but we are free after that. So...maybe dinner? Followed by the movies? Pool? Mini-golf? Any thoughts?”

“Starting with dinner would be nice,” Isabel murmured softly, her eyes lighting in a way they hadn't since Max's attack. “Then we can plan from there? Leave our options open and see what we want to do depending on our mood.”

“Works for me,” he nodded and then looked at Michael, who also nodded his compliance and then smirked when Liz squealed and clapped her hands together.

“Great!” Liz replied in a peppy tone, gathering her notes and books as the bell rang. “In the meantime, it's time for class.”

Both he and Michael groaned, clambering up as Isabel rolled her eyes and shook her head at Liz's enthusiasm. He didn't think any of them would ever understand why the brunette found school so utterly riveting.
“So Zanny boy,” a low masculine voice drawled, forcing Max from his reverie. Spinning around, he looked into the smug, smirking face of his informant and desperately wished he could smack it off. But he still needed the little bastard and couldn't afford to lose his and his kind's backing now. “Stun me with your superior ability to fuck things up irreparably. What have you done this time?”

“What makes you think I did anything?” he grit out between clenched teeth, his temper spiking when the boy snorted disdainfully.

“Please, Your Majesty,” the brunet mocked, his lips curling into a sneer as he closed the distance between them. “It's part of your nature. Your greatest flaw has always been that you rush into things, running with a plan that anyone with half a brain could see would end in utter failure. Well that, and your arrogance, and utter belief that you, and only you, were right. That's why we're even here having this conversation, after all – you're inability to take no for an answer.”

“You should be thanking me for that,” he growled, turning away to stare at the quartet piling out of Kyle's car and heading into the Crashdown, snarling when he saw Liz and Rath link hands, laughing with her father as they went through the door. That should have been him, not that trumped up usurper; he was the one that had saved Liz and he should have been at her side.

“Oh, I do, as does the rest of,” the brunet sneered, following his gaze to see what held him so riveted and tsked under his breath, shaking his head disparagingly. “You always did want what you could never have...Lareena...Ava...Liz... At least with Ava, you could have stood a chance had you used your brain and wooed her away from Khivar rather throw a temper tantrum like the spoiled little royal that you were and demanding her hand in marriage.”

“How I handled that is none of your business,” he spat, averting his eyes from the happy couple now cozily ensconced with her parents. It really galled him that Rath had always seemed to best him in everything. He was the high crown prince, it should have been him that was lauded and decorated, not the second born prince of a lesser territory.

“Suit yourself, King Maxi Pad,” the brunet snorted, saluting Max jauntily before he crossed his arms across his chest, relishing the flush beginning to creep into Max's face. “Did you know that was one of Kyle's nicknames for you? I find it endlessly amusing the various ways he comes up with to insult you. You really aren't his favorite person, are you?”

“Enough,” he snapped, his cheeks flaming as he turned blazing eyes onto his informant, annoyed that the little bastard pushed his buttons so easily. He'd love to end his existence, but he knew that if he were to do anything, the rest of his 'family' would turn on him. “I didn't call you here to socialize nor listen to your juvenile taunts.”

“Oooo...juvenile taunts, is it?” the brunet replied, amusement lacing his tone as he held up his hands in mock defense. “Someone has been studying his dictionary. Or is it the thesaurus? I do get those two mixed up.”

“Are you done yet?” he groused, clenching his hands into fists, fuming as the brunet just laughed his words off like the cocky teenager he appeared to be. But he wasn't fooled; he knew below that youthful appearance laid a deadly, hardened soldier that would feel no remorse if he were to snap Max's neck.

“Oh, of course, Your Majesty,” the brunet chortled, dipping into a mock bow. “How may I serve you today?”

“They are getting stronger,” he spat, staring at the four people that had been making his life a living hell the past couple of weeks. He'd hoped that by isolating one on the dream plane and rendering them powerless, he'd neutralize the foursquare; he hadn't expected them to have the ability to come to each other's defense. “Something must be done to neutralize them before they grow beyond our ability to cage and control them.”

“I'd forgotten how you adored stating the obvious,” the brunet sighed, annoyance flashing across his face when Max growled at him. “Honestly, you act as if this is a surprise or news to anyone but you. Did you really expect them to just sit around on their thumbs and just take whatever you dished out? At least your past self was smart enough to prevent the foursquare bond in the first place. You truly are a poor imitation of the real thing.”

“Don't try my patience,” he hissed, stepping forward threateningly, only to halt when he felt the sharp edge of a blade press between his ribs, placed there so fast, he never saw it coming. Staring into icy eyes, he swallowed harshly, reminded once again that this boy had no trouble gutting him if he felt it necessary.

“And don't try mine,” the brunet spat, pulling the knife away and twirling it in his hand for a moment before sheathing it quicker than the eye could detect. “I work with you because it's to my people's benefit, but never forget that we are smarter, faster and stronger than you; just as we were created to be.”

“What do you plan to do about this development?” he asked, ignoring the blatant challenge in the other boy's eyes, choosing to focus on one problem at a time; and the most important of them right now was solidifying his throne. He could deal with the others later.

“Not to worry,” the brunet smirked. “We have ways of making people disappear.
“So, how was the meeting with your parents?” Kyle asked, absently watching as Michael lined up his shot, his total focus on the striped balls on the pool table. The evening had gotten off to an uncertain, rocky start, the four of them feeling a bit odd and out of their depth doing something that didn't relate to aliens in any way, but after breaking the ice, had relaxed to enjoy their evening.

“Well...uh, it went great,” Liz replied uncertainly, scratching at the back of her neck as she went over the meeting in her mind, flicking a nervous glance at Isabel. She was a little hesitant at mentioning part of it as the blonde had declared the evening a no-alien-talk zone earlier. Not that she blamed her; the point had been to relax, but it seemed that they had a bit more trouble with that than they had expected.

“So, I was thinking about something,” Kyle said into an awkward lull in the conversation after the waitress had taken their order and left; they had planned this night enthusiastically this afternoon, but now faced with the actuality of a stress-free (read alien-free) evening, they were floundering.

“You were thinking?” Michael sneered, smirking when Kyle glared at him heatedly and then chuckling when the other boy subtly tossed him a vulgar gesture when the girls' backs were turned, smart enough not to attempt it in front of Isabel's eagle eyes. “Alert the press.”

“Anyway,” Kyle replied, not bothering to give the snickering alien the satisfaction of a snarky response, as well as sparing himself the headache of a tetchy Isabel. Growing serious, he frowned slightly and continued. “Tess had the ability to mind warp, right?”

It really wasn't a question despite the tone; they all knew full well that Tess had that ability and all had felt its sting when it took the life of a friend and a valued member of the I-know-an-alien club. They had yet to fully recover from the havoc that particular power had wrecked, effectively splitting the group into two factions long before the true breaking off with Max and Maria. But this question set up a more serious concern that had been weighing on Kyle's mind for the past month or so, once he had stopped reeling from a betrayal from someone he'd considered a sister.

“Yes, I think that became pretty apparent, Flimnap,” Michael replied, crooking a brow at the sandy-haired man, but keeping his voice subdued as he knew that the reminder would strike hurtful notes in both girls. “What's your point?”

“Will you can the names for one night, Gulliver,” Kyle replied, exasperated and then smirked when Michael's brows rose into his hairline at his rejoinder, answering the implied question. “Required reading. The point I was trying to make is, how do we know that the orbs gave you the real message? Or if they contained a message at all and didn't do something else? What if it was all a mindwarp?”

“That's...actually a good point,” Liz acknowledged quietly, her voice a little strangled, but nodded thoughtfully all the same. Shifting uneasily in her seat, she looked up and smiled wanly when Michael took her hand giving it a gentle squeeze. As painful as the subject was, it was definitely something to consider. “She could have easily manipulated the situation.”

“It is,” Michael nodded soberly, scratching at his brow and watching Isabel with concern as she drew a shaky breath. Alex's death had left them all reeling and scarred in different ways. “I'll admit, I hadn't thought about it myself, but after all the lies and half-truths she fed us and given her actions, what would be one more?”

“Maybe we could go out to the chamber and look at them again after we train,” Liz suggested, sitting back when the waitress placed her salad in front of her. “See if anything happens or if we can figure out how it use them?”

“All right, enough,” Isabel cried, pressing her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose and gave a small shake of her head. “We're supposed to be taking a break from this. How sad is it that we can't even go a few hours without talking about it?”

“Sorry,” Kyle responded somewhat sheepishly, especially as the night out had been his idea in the first place. “I just thought I should mention it.”

“It's fine,” Isabel sighed, pushing the salad around her plate before setting her fork down decisively. “And a valid point; but one we can discuss later. I am officially declaring this table a no-alien-discussion zone for the rest of the night.”

They all nodded as silence descended once again, an uncomfortable feeling settling over the entire table as they desperately tried to think of a subject that wouldn't wrap it's way back to the alien abyss, but it had taken over so much of their lives that it was difficult to separate themselves from it completely. While taking a break had been a wonderful idea, there were still government agents, Skins and other dangers lurking, it was almost impossible to relax their guards and just enjoy the evening.

“Soooo,” Kyle drawled, looking up at Michael as he tried to end the almost deathly quiet that surrounded the teens. “Did you catch the game last night?”

“Oh, God,” Isabel groaned, dropping her fork onto her plate with an audible clink, and dropped her forehead into her hand, shaking it disparagingly. “I'd almost prefer the alien talk to this.”

The comment brought a peel of laughter and nod of agreement from Liz, both boys looking a bit put out at their girlfriends' reactions, before chuckling ruefully themselves, effectively breaking the ice and easing the discomfort between them. Turning to Liz, Isabel struck up a conversation about some new show they both were fans of, falling into an intricate analysis of characters and plots, while the boys picked up their discussion on the previous night's game.

Maybe they still had it in them to be normal teenagers after all.

“Well for the most part, we discussed some potential updates for the diner,” Liz continued, deciding to skip over the Max attacking them in the diner and scheduling parts for now. As Isabel said earlier, they can be addressed tomorrow. It wasn't like they were very pressing anyway. “They want to add a couple of new menu items that they saw while at the convention and they've decided to hold a naming contest this time; a way to get the public involved.”

“That sounds like fun,” Kyle commented, smirking when Michael scratched on the ball he'd just pocketed, which set the alien cursing under his breath as he pulled out both the cue ball and the ball he had just pocketed, leaving them on the table for Isabel's turn.

“I think it will be,” Liz nodded, smiling as Michael came over and wrapped an arm around her waist, kissing her gently on the cheek as he moved out of Isabel's way. “And the winner will receive a twenty-five dollar gift certificate for the diner, of course.”

“Of course,” Kyle said dryly, watching as Isabel lined up the cue ball for an optimal shot in taking out the five ball, pumping his fist lightly when she sunk it and moved around the table for her next shot.

“I know,” Liz smiled wryly, looking up as Isabel came around the table, wondering if it were her turn, but when Isabel bent over the table, she turned back to Kyle with a shrug. “But what do you expect? It's to generate interest in the new menu items and they are planning to launch it to bolster business in the wake of the holidays.”

“Are they having problems?” Isabel asked, her brow wrinkling with concern as she stood up once more to study the table, obviously deciding against the shot she'd originally planned.

“Oh no, not at all,” Liz reassured with a subtle shake of her head. “Just, everyone seems to sink into that post Christmas slump and they're hoping this will be a bit of fun for the kids and will definitely bring in business as you can only enter once each visit.”

“Clever,” Isabel commented, quietly lining up her shot and let the cue fly, groaning when the ball glanced off the corner instead of going into the pocket. “And I can see the kids bugging their parents to go so that they can enter.”

“Exactly,” Liz confirmed, grabbing her cue stick from behind Michael, stealing a small kiss as she pulled away. “They were also talking about expanding, but I don't know how successful that will be.”

“Why not?” Kyle asked as Liz moved over to the table, studying it intently and he smiled as he could almost hear her brain calculating angles and the odds for the run of the table. Turning to Michael, he arched a brow, silently posing his question to the alien instead. “I mean, it's packed usually, isn't it? I don't see how it could hurt.”

“Mostly because it relies on us being able to find the room,” Michael continued as Liz took her turn. “And the only way to do that is to either take over the empty space from the store that just closed down next to us or to expand into the back, which would eat up space typically utilized by the employees, and to be honest, I'm not all that enamored of the latter solution. So really, the only viable solution in my eyes is the former.”

“Ah,” Kyle nodded, smirking when Liz chewed on her bottom lip uncertainly, then looked up at Michael hesitantly, beaming when Michael walked over to her and 'instructed' her on how to hold the cue stick once again. Honestly, how he couldn't see that he was being hoodwinked, he didn't know; but he knew damn well that Jeff had taught Liz how to play years ago. “Yeah, I can't see the employees being too happy about the latter.”

“Right,” Liz nodded, snuggling back into Michael's arms as they took the shot together, purposely flubbing the shot and then pouting prettily for Michael's benefit, glowing when he dropped a soft kiss onto the slightly protruding lip before biting it and answering. “The first idea would be dependent on price, and the second not feasible really. It's a nice idea...but...if we were to expand, I think it would be wiser to invest in another location.”

“Why didn't you mention that at the meeting?” Michael asked, his brow furrowing when Liz hesitated and frowned when she shot a worried glance at Isabel and Kyle.

“Well, for one thing, they haven't checked on the property next door,” Liz shrugged, leaning against the wall with a pensive frown. “And I wanted to hold off on mentioning the idea until they had a chance to check into the price and availability.”

“And the other?” Michael prompted, losing track of the game as he tried to pin down Liz's shifty behavior.

“What do you mean?” the brunette hedged, solidifying Michael's suspicions that she was hiding something.

“You said 'for one thing,'” Michael pressed, arching a brow when Liz's eyes darted away. “Which implies that there is more than one reason for not mentioning it.”

“Nothing important,” Liz stated weakly, turning her back on Isabel and Kyle as she caught Michael's eye and mouthed the word 'later.' Then turning back towards a confused and suspicious Kyle and weary, yet resigned Isabel, Liz smiled reassuringly. “We also discussed a couple of other things, but they were unrelated to the diner.”

“Like?” Kyle asked blithely, making Liz cringe slightly as she tossed Isabel a worried look. The rest of the conversation had been related to alien stuff, even if her parents weren't aware of it and the last thing she wanted to do was set off Isabel once again with alien talk.

“Um...we can talk about that later,” Liz grimaced, and understanding flashed in Kyle's eyes as he nodded, wisely dropping the line of inquiry.

“Oh go on,” Isabel groused resignedly, rolling her eyes at the blatant tap dancing around the subject and waved her hand towards Liz as she sank into a chair.

“We don't have to,” Liz protested softly, feeling bad for even saying anything when they had just gotten into a relaxed mood; but the alien abyss really did infiltrate every aspect of their lives and if they stuck to topics that didn't touch on it in some way, they were limited.

“No,” Isabel sighed, waving at her reassuringly. “I suppose it's a bit unrealistic to expect it not crop up in our conversation. It does touch most parts of our lives.”

“Okay,” Liz nodded with a rueful smile, coming closer to the group so they could talk lowly, glancing around to see if any of the patrons could overhear. “We told them what happened at the diner with Max. Sans alien details, of course, and he's been banned from the premises.”

“Well,” Isabel replied, crossing her arms over her chest and rubbing her arms as if staving off a chill at the mention of her brother. “You were expecting something like that anyway.”

“Yeah, we were,” Liz agreed, then bit her lip hesitantly before pushing forward. “I was wondering, however, if you could...perhaps...mention something to your parents? I don't want to cause problems, but I thought it might be a good idea for them to at least know that he's been banned. And, if you could tell your dad too, Kyle? I'd appreciate it. They may not be able to do much, but they could at least keep an eye out.”

“Sure,” Kyle said while Isabel nodded her compliance, an unhappy, but determined smile on her face. He still was her brother after all, and it had to be hard to admit that he wasn't the person you thought you'd always knew. “Dad could set up random patrols and even alert the deputies to be on the look out for anything suspicious.”

“Dad was also muttering about a restraining order...” Liz murmured, holding up her hand to ward off any comments when Isabel looked horrified. “I think I managed to talk him out of it for now. Not that I care much about how it affects Max, but if he were to violate it and get captured, it could open up a whole can of worms we don't want. The government could get involved and you know he'd squeal, leading them to Isabel and Michael.”

“And we don't need that,” Isabel replied quietly.

“No,” Liz agreed. “We don't. If it happens again, however; I'm not sure I'll be able to talk him out of it a second time.”

“And you shouldn't,” Michael said firmly, holding up a hand when the three of them were about to protest. “No. If he does it again, then you won't interfere. I'd rather you be protected more than anything. And if Max does violate it and get captured, we'll figure something out.”

“But...” Liz protested anyway, scowling when Michael held firm and then sighed, running a hand through her hair. “And then the final thing was talking to them about the scheduling; so we could go out and practice our powers and what not.”

“What did they say?” Kyle queried, wrapping a comforting arm around Isabel.

“We can't do it this weekend,” Michael replied, frowning thoughtfully. “Since it's only a couple of days away, there wasn't enough time to switch the shifts around, but we did get it potentially for next Sunday. Despite a busy brunch shift, Sundays are typically slow and it will be easier for us both to slip away.”

“That works for me,” Kyle replied. “I have nothing planned other than a riveting day of laundry and other household chores that I'm more than happy to put off.”

“Me as well,” Isabel nodded. “My parents usually like Max and I present at night for a family dinner, but I'm free otherwise.”

“Great,” Liz smiled. “Then I'll talk to my parents when I get in and we'll set it up for next Sunday...”

Liz's voice trailed off and she froze, visibly shaken, a cold, dark presence pressing against her back and shot a chill of apprehension through her body as she slowly turned, looking out the restaurant windows from the corner of her eye, not wanting to bring attention to it if there was nothing wrong. Gasping softly, she tensed as she noticed two familiar faces hovering outside watching their group intently, whispering back and forth frantically. Heart pounding she turned her face just a touch towards them, her eyes meeting with cool, dark irises before she was distracted by Michael gripping her arm.

“Is something wrong?” he whispered against her ear, dragging her back out of her reverie, the concerned expressions on his, Kyle and Isabel's faces making her realize that she had stopped in mid-thought.

“No, I thought I saw...” Liz whispered frantically, her eyes going back to the window and finding it empty, her frown deepening as she searched the surrounding area and coming up with nothing. “But they were just there. I thought...”

“Who?” Michael broke into her uncharacteristic babbling.

“I could have sworn I saw...” Liz trailed off, interrupted once again, but this time by a patron that had come over to their abandoned pool table.

“You done playing?” the man asked, gesturing to their aborted game.

“Yeah,” Liz nodded shakily, handing the man her pool cue as she faced the others, a sick feeling pooling in the pit of her stomach. “Yeah, we...can we just go? I'm not feeling too well.”

“Sounds good to me too,” Isabel replied with a shiver, not knowing what had set the other girl off, but knowing it couldn't be anything good as Liz didn't alarm easily.
Liz huddled in Michael's arms, a fine tremor still running through her body as she recalled the day's events, her mind swimming with new sensations and wondered what she was going to do about this new development. She knew she should tell the others, but with so many things already on their overcrowded plate, she didn't want to add to their worries. Besides, she, herself, hadn't come to terms with this new discovery and she wanted the opportunity to explore it a bit before saying anything. And she seriously doubted they could go anything to help her even if she were to tell them about her...empathy?

Closing her eyes, she sunk against Michael's chest, letting her guard down enough to allow his aura to wash over her senses, soothing the frayed nerves, and listened to the steady, calming rhythm of his heart, drawing peace and comfort from it. Relaxing for the first time in days, she drifted in the silent comfort of the cool night and the warmth of Michael's arms, and relished the slow slide of fingers over her back.

Michael's emotions still flowed over her, but they were muted, not as harsh as the others that had been swirling around her all day. It was a refreshing change from earlier, when her nerves and skin had felt as if she'd been jolted with a live, low-voltage wire on the rare chances someone had actually gotten close enough to touch her. She had been exceedingly careful about her movements since discovering her abilities, as she really didn't want to know what others were feeling; especially a bunch of hormonal teenagers that ran the gamut, swinging from highs and lows at the drop of a hat.

She had enough stress of her own without adding the world's.

“So, you want to tell me what has you so jumpy today?” Michael queried quietly, continuing to rub her back when she subconsciously tensed, his energy flowing over hers in soft, blue tendrils, curling around and soothing her own chaotic green energy. “What happened back at Senior Chow's?”

Liz paused, thinking about how much she wanted to reveal at this point. She knew that she definitely had to address the fact that she'd felt like they, and she in particular, were being watched, both this morning at her locker and then again at the restaurant. The group's safety hinged on this information, because, if they were watching her, then the likelihood that they were also observing the other members of their quartet was pretty much a given; perhaps even all the aliens depending on who the observers were.

After all, the government had been very interested in their actions, and infiltrated their school once when they sent Topolsky to spy on them to try and gain their trust. But her gut told her that this wasn't the government, which left only someone or ones with alien origins that seemed very interested in the foursquare in particular. Where this certainty derived from, she wasn't sure, but she'd bet it had something to do with the development of her new powers.

Which led her to an important question – what did she say about said powers? Truthfully, she should tell Michael at the very least; being her mate, he had every right to know if something was happening to her. But she wasn't even certain what exactly was happening to her. Nor did she know the full extent of what she could do. Just what little she had discovered would worry him, and would have him hovering over her every waking second, driving her insane and potentially alerting their enemies that something was wrong; that she was vulnerable and easy pickings.

She adored Michael, but he did have a tendency to overreact.

Her new powers, while uncomfortable, were manageable at this point in time. As long as she kept a healthy distance between herself and the people surrounding her, preventing the shocking violation of unwanted emotions, and especially with those she knew were just a powder keg waiting to explode, she would be fine. She hoped.

“I thought someone was watching us,” she explained, shifting to face Michael as he froze, obviously not expecting that answer. “I actually thought I felt it earlier as well; right before you came up to me at my locker at school this morning. I felt as if someone was watching and evaluating my every movement; however, I couldn't really see anyone that seemed to be paying attention to me. It's had me kind of jittery all day.”

“Why didn't you say anything earlier?” Michael frowned, his brow furrowing as he fixed her with a hard stare.

“Honestly? I was planning to,” Liz confessed with a weak smile. “But before I could mention it, Kyle had filled us in about his suspicions of Paulie and in the excitement over that, it slipped my mind. And then Isabel was feeling so suffocated by everything alien that when I finally remembered, I was hesitant to mention it and have it set her off anymore today. I figured it could wait until tomorrow when we weren't feeling so stressed.”

“But?” Michael prompted, knowing by her tone that something important changed her mind.

But, while we were playing pool, that feeling came back,” Liz admitted uncomfortably, shuddering at the thought that someone might be watching them even now. “This prickle of awareness fell over me, making the hair on the back of my neck raise and I glanced over to the window, and saw two faces looking in at us. But they were gone so fast, that I couldn't tell who it might have been. Or if they were really there at all. It could have been a reflection.”

Michael sighed, and swiped a hand over his face, massaging his brow as if feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on.

“While I do get why you didn't want to speak up at first, next time, tell me right away when something like this happens. I can't protect you, or the others, if I don't know what's going on,” he replied, holding up a hand when she opened her mouth to protest. “Yes, yes, I know, you can take care of yourself...but you shouldn't have too. And I needed to know regardless, as if something happened, we'd have a direction to turn. I don't want another...”

Michael paused, wisely biting off the words, but they rang unsaid between them nonetheless. 'I don't want another Alex.'

“I know,” Liz sighed, running a hand through long, tangled locks, her eyes shadowed by the memories that unspoken name had invoked, and the pain at how easily they had all been fooled by one of their own, so easily convinced he'd been in Sweden the entire time Tess mind-raped him over and over again for the answers to a book.

“Hey,” Michael called softly, pulling her from a cycle of vicious memories, gently brushing away the tear that had slid over the curve of her cheek. Pressing a gentle kiss to her brow, he whispered. “I'm sorry. I'm not upset at you and I didn't meant to remind you of bad things, I'm just worried by the implications and frustrated with the situation we find ourselves in.”

“I know,” she reiterated, sighing softly when those lips came back and captured hers for a sweet, slow kiss that did wonders for lightening her mood and reminding her that she had someone to stand at her back no matter how rough times had gotten.

... ... ...

After a quiet moment, Michael pulled away and stared at his mate, knowing that there had been something more than just their voyeurs bothering Liz; he could feel it in his gut and sense she was blocking something from him, but he wasn't exactly sure what she was hiding. And he didn't really want to push her into confessing when she wasn't yet ready to share with him; but it worried him nonetheless and he made a silent vow to keep a closer eye on her until she came clean.

“So, what was that back at the restaurant?” he asked, recalling how Liz had seemed to shut down the conversation about her parents plans for the diner, seeming to especially dislike the idea of them expanding. He hadn't noticed at the time, but now that he thought back onto the conversation and planning session with her parents, she had gotten unusually quiet and thoughtful when they talked about the idea of enlarging the Crashdown.

“What?” Liz asked, her face pinching in confusion as she looked up at Michael.

“When we were talking about the expansion,” Michael clarified, studying her quietly as comprehension dawned and she seemed to squirm uncomfortably, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth and nibbled on it thoughtfully before she straightened up and faced him straight on, her expression serious yet earnest.

“What's going to happen when we finally figure out how to contact your people and potentially travel back to Ahrensa?” she asked quietly, and he couldn't help but feel a flash of surprise at the unexpected question. “I mean, when this is all over, and we have the opportunity to go back to your home, what do you think is going to happen? You can't stay here; you have an entire planet's survival depending on you and your actions.”

“I...well, I hadn't really thought too much about it,” he admitted uneasily, still feeling a bit weirded out with his title.

“You need to,” Liz replied, sighing when he frowned and looked away. “As much as you don't want the title, you are crown prince, future king at the very least, if not outright king as we don't know if your father still lives or not. So what happens?”

“I'll have to go back,” he replied quietly, sighing as he finally started to understand the reason for Liz's reticence during their meeting with her parents and her lack of enthusiasm over the expansion.

“Exactly; we'll have to go back,” Liz replied, putting an emphasis on the 'we.' “Since I am bonded to you, I go where you go; and that will eventually include your home planet. So what happens then? My parents are doing this because they are thinking of the future. My future. And while they are aware that I have no desire to run the family business, they are hoping that my future husband or children might. But I won't be here.”

“We'll be on Ahrensa,” Michael finished with a sigh, realizing for the first time how much of a hardship this would be on Liz, who will be expected to leave behind family and the only world she knows. He had no ties binding him to Earth. He had Liz and Isabel, both of whom were planning to join him when they finally had the chance to go home. But Liz had parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and friends that will all be left behind.

“I accept that my place is at your side,” Liz assured, taking his hand and squeezing it. “I wouldn't have gone through the full bonding without having thought about it and taking this all into consideration. I never expected to stay nearby before this, having dreams of my own. But my parents don't know that; and whether it be in two days, or two weeks, or even several years down the road, I'm eventually going to disappear and I can't in good conscience allow them to plan for a future that will never come.”

“I...I understand,” Michael nodded, a sense of sadness washing over him as he too realized that in leaving the Parkers behind, they'd be saying goodbye to parents; ones that had accepted him for who he was, supported him and believed in him, something few adults had done. Sighing, he rubbed his brow thoughtfully; maybe they didn't have to do that, maybe they could tell them and they would consent to coming along. He really needed to think about this; it wasn't fair to uproot Liz, cutting her off from her family completely, when he was going to have his at hand.

“We'll figure something out,” he murmured inaudibly.

“Hmmm?” Liz asked, glancing at him inquisitively.

“Nothing,” Michael shook his head, smiling weakly as he tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and then leaned over to kiss her lightly. “You've given me some things to think about, that's all. And get that look off your face; you brought up a valid point, and one I hadn't thought about because I've been too focused on Max. It's good that you reminded me that there are issues beyond him.”

“I didn't want to add to your worries though,” Liz replied, chewing on her lip uneasily.

“It's not a worry,” Michael reassured, pulling her into his arms and pressing a kiss to her brow. “It's just something I need to consider among other things.”

“If you're sure...” Liz said hesitantly, her words cut off when Michael claimed her lips in lieu of answering, pouring all his thoughts and feelings into the caress and she sighed, relinquishing her worries, her eyes fluttering shut as she turned off her troublesome thoughts in favor of enjoying the moment.

Sinking his hands into thick, molasses tresses, Michael deepened the kiss, tracing her bottom lip with his tongue, nipping it slightly and took advantage of the tiny gasp that bubbled over her lips, to slip it past and stroked hers languidly. Cupping the back of her head, he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her into his lap, sighing in contentment when she met him with an equal fervor, tangling their tongues in a slow, sweet dance that made his blood pulse and his head to swim dizzily.

Startling when a clatter caught his attention, he pulled away just in time to see Jeff slide up Liz's window and poke his head out of it, a knowing smirk pasted on his lips. Flushing uncomfortably, he clawed at his brow and exchanged a look with Liz, his horrified gaze meeting decidedly amused, sparkling brown eyes. The wench was laughing at him. Glaring at her heatedly, he huffed in annoyance when a little giggle erupted, spilling over his girlfriend's lips.

“It's getting late, Liz,” Jeff reminded his daughter, shooting a warning glance between the two teens, the corner of his mouth twitching in obvious amusement as he noted Michael's red face and his amused daughter. “And you have school and work tomorrow.”

“Yes, Daddy,” Liz quipped, blinking innocently despite the impish grin on her face, and ignored her father's snort of disbelief as she nodded her compliance.

“Good night, Michael,” Jeff replied dryly, not buying his daughter's innocent act in the least; he had raised her after all and knew better. Sending her an admonishing look that said he'd be back if he didn't feel that she wasn't in soon enough to suit him, he nodded to Michael.

“Uh...good night, Mr...uh...Jeff,” Michael stammered, blushing furiously when the man only cocked a brow and then pulled his head back in and walked away.

“Busted!” Liz chortled, giggling madly at Michael's horrified expression, pressing a tiny kiss to the corner of his mouth as he continued to watch the window with mortification.

“Why do I get the feeling that we are going to be closely watched from here on out?” he asked dryly, scrubbing a had over his face and making a mental note that all amorous activities were now slated for his apartment alone – away from overprotective fathers with professional grade knives at hand.

“Because we will be?” Liz snickered, standing and pulling him to his feet, smirking as she stepped into his arms. “No need to be embarrassed, love. My daddy is just watching out for his 'innocent' baby girl.”

“Innocent,” Michael deadpanned, laughingly dodging her hand as she swatted at his head, nodding sagely. “Of course.”

Snickering at her mock affronted moue, he dipped his head and pressed a soft kiss to her lips, keeping it light, sweet and chaste so as to not invite irate daddies into chasing him away with very sharp implements.

“I'll see you tomorrow,” he whispered, kissing her temple as he rose, and then walked to the fire escape and slid down, looking up once more to mouth, 'I love you.'

'Love you too,' she mouthed back, blowing him a kiss as he turned and walked away.
Last edited by Ashita on Mon Feb 11, 2013 12:47 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Re: Hunted (UC,Mi/L,ADULT) Chap 18; 1/17

Post by Ashita » Sun Jun 02, 2013 5:54 pm

AN: In the first part of this chapter, it may seem to go in circles a bit on some of the thoughts and ideas; this is purposefully done, as I want to demonstrate how muddled and confused Isabel is feeling in the beginning compared to her mental place at the end of the chapter. Also, things are starting to heat up again after this chapter.

Power Play

Isabel sat in the middle of her bed, slowly leafing through her photo album, a moue of discontent painted on her pretty face, her thoughts whirling as she tried to assimilate everything that had happened over the last two, nearly three weeks. Even for them, constantly living in a heightened sense of fear and unease, it had been a harrowing time. Sighing internally, she studied the bright, happy faces that beamed out at her from the pages, the group together one final time before it imploded spectacularly with the death of one of its members and the betrayal of another. Although, she now had her doubts as to Tess' complete culpability given Max's own manipulative actions of late.

From her memories, not to mention Max's sloppy cover ups in the past few weeks, she knew that her brother was fully capable of duping Tess; duping them all for that matter, into believing that Alex had died by Tess' hands. Capable of setting her up as the fall guy and throwing her to the wolves if his manipulations wore off or were discovered. She didn't recall this particular talent when they lived on Antar; but she certainly could believe it of him. Zan had always been a secretive bastard, loving to lord over those who weren't as 'magically' gifted, and towards the end she had known he was hiding something significant, even if exactly what hadn't come out in her memories or dreams.

Sighing in earnest, Isabel traced the lines of Alex's face, soaking up the bright, shining blue eyes and brilliant smile, her lips quirking a touch in response before it faded, a familiar pang filling her heart. They had been so naive that night, thinking that the entire world stood before them; thinking that perfect moment of unity could last. All of them together as they should be.

How wrong they were.

A few short weeks later, they would lose the best of them at the hands of an ally, leaving the rest of the group broken, shattered beyond repair.

Looking away from their prom picture, Isabel turned towards her window, blind to the pale sunlight that filtered through the trees, cheerfully splashing over her mother's vegetable garden. Her biggest regret in this in this lifetime had been figuring her feelings for Alex out far too late. Had she admitted that the tall, quiet boy had wormed his way into her heart instead of lying to herself and rejecting him repeatedly in a warped attempt to keep said heart safe, they might now even be together. He wouldn't have had the chance to fall under Tess' spell because she would have questioned the changes in his personality and sudden trip before it had ended in tragedy.

A wave of guilt and pain washed over her and she let the album snap shut, unable to look at the bright, shining faces any longer, her eyes filming over at the memory. She still missed Alex every day, and occasionally, she would forget that he was gone and search for his face in a crowd, only to have reality crash around her once more, leaving that hollow pang echoing through her breast. It was so hard to believe that he was gone; even with the proof staring her in the face each time she visited his grave, and recalled the conversations they had about their non-relationship and Kyle and the dissolution of the group with his shade.

He had urged her to move on and be happy, but some days it was hard not to live in the past and wish things had turned out differently. And although it was getting easier, better every day, her guilt and grief flared every time she saw a tall brunet with sparkling blue eyes, so reminiscent of the boy who had given his life to the alien abyss, that void that seemed to suck them in further with every kooky alien event. She was beginning to hate the life she'd been 'born' into, for just as she was finally gaining ground, and felt as if she might have a life, something came up, reminding her that she wasn't an average teenage girl, but an alien princess with an entire past she couldn't recall but in bits and pieces.

And then the guilt would fill her again when she saw Kyle, a sense of disquiet would settle over her, making her feel disloyal (despite his patience and understanding) for thinking of another boy when he was all but married to her; tied to her in a bond only breakable at great expense to both people. For that broken bond would remain open, forever haunting both members of the broken lehali, clamoring for and urging them to reunite.

Granted, the bond had been inadvertently triggered without either of their knowledge, sparked by a brief, hesitant, but passionate kiss shared at the base of Alex's grave, and both seeking comfort, but there had to be something there to spark it. The bond never would have cemented had there not been something to build from in the first place.

And she did love Kyle.

Honestly, she did despite her muddled, confused emotions these days; she just wished that she had known what they were getting into before the bond had activated. Then she would feel reassured that Kyle had come to the union, the lehali, as a knowledgeable and willing partner rather than someone trying to make the best of an irrevocable situation.

Rolling onto her stomach, Isabel grabbed her pillow and stuffed it under her arms, laying her chin on top of them as she continued to ponder the growing mystery of Kyle. She had thought he'd made his peace with all the upheaval in their lives, but he had been acting decidedly off since the foursquare's showdown with Max on the dream plane. She realized that everyone had been a bit unsettled by this new manifestation of her (?) powers, their (?) powers, and not quite knowing how it happened in the first place, but he had seemed to distance himself a bit from her and she couldn't help feeling a bit hurt.

He had been edgy, his temper shorter than usual, and it worried her.

She couldn't help wondering if he was starting to regret his involvement with her, the bond drawing him deeper than ever into the alien abyss, as Maria so quaintly dubbed it. And truly, the blonde girl had been correct in her assessment – Michael's, Max's and her lives just seemed to suck in everything and everyone they touched into this great vortex of uncertainty, danger and darkness, leaching all light from any of their loved ones lives.

Or at least, that was how it felt some days.

Every time she approached Kyle, however, and asked him if something was wrong, he just smiled wearily and brushed aside her concerns, telling her that he was fine, offering up a multitude of excuses from being tired or worried about school to merely being stressed by whatever team he was currently playing or even simple hunger. But it wasn't that simple. She' been subjected to dozens of excuses, each ringing more hollow than the last in her ears. He forgot that she knew better – they were so closely bound these days, she could pick up on his uneasy emotions without the benefit of empathy. You couldn't live that closely tied to another individual and not have their stronger emotions overflow and trickle down the cord that bound them together.

And she was picking up on some disturbing thoughts and feelings during the past week, making her own uncertainty heighten with every passing day of silence. She knew if they just talked it out, she might be able to soothe some of his concerns and things would definitely get easier. Instead, Kyle had allowed it to build under the skin, festering like an untreated wound, tainting both their bond, and subsequently, their links to Michael and Liz.

It couldn't go on. Not if they were to complete the bond.

Because they were supposed to finalize the bonding ceremony soon, and in all honesty, she didn't think she could go through with it in good conscience, no matter that her instincts were clamoring for completion. Especially after their run in with Max. Some deep part of her remembered all too well what a broken bond had done to Ava and Khivar, and she really didn't like being vulnerable with Max running around with all these unknown powers at his disposal. She didn't care for being in the dark as to his capabilities and it was readily obvious he knew far more than he let on.

But to build a bond on a tainted lehali – when one or both members were riddled with self-doubt, or worse, doubtful of the union – it wasn't a wise move.

Huffing at her scrambled thoughts, Isabel climbed off her bed and crossed the room, sinking down onto her vanity and agitatedly pulled her hair out of the braid she'd gone to sleep in, then sat there studying the haunted brown eyes that stared right back at her. She couldn't afford these doubts. The foursquare couldn't afford her doubts. Not if they were going to be strong enough to neutralize Max and take down their enemies.

And if things weren’t confusing enough, there were the memories of Dusan that further muddied the waters.

She had tried not to put too much credence or thought into the memories that assaulted her on a nightly basis these days – the past was, after all, the past; and while she felt an echo of the love she recalled in her days as Vilandra, Lannie, she knew that it was a pale imitation of the true emotion. But it was difficult to shunt them aside. She knew he was gone; she had gone to the Granilith during that lifetime, pleading for the right to bring him back, but her request had been denied, with a cryptic comment she didn't understand being the Granilith's only response.

Of course, being the sheltered girl she had been, she doubted her past self could have ever imagined dying, only to be recreated and then sent to another planet to grow and discover her 'greater destiny.'

And she was beginning to think that the memories were affecting her waking moments more than she had originally thought, as they were starting to creep into and blur the edges of reality, to tamper with the present; or so she thought. It had to be that, because the alternative...that Kyle might just, she wouldn't even allow herself to consider that possibility. To do so would shatter all her beliefs on life and death; no to mention that if she were to hope, and then be proven wrong...well, heartbreaking wouldn't even cover the emotion.

Yet, how else could she explain some of the things she'd seen?

She could, at least in theory, understand how easy it would be to identify with and compare past loves with the current, unintentionally seeking out similarities in their personalities. Every person compares and contrasts from time to time in an effort to understand and justify the attraction they feel for another. It was only human...or, well, yeah. However, there were some things she was having difficulty in ignoring; quirks that Kyle had recently picked up or displayed that made her wonder if there was something more to that 'greater destiny' than she'd previously accepted.

Especially that one quirk – the one that screamed “Dusan' in her head, but was performed, unwittingly, by Kyle. Something he shouldn't know as she had never mentioned her memories of Dusan except for in the broadest sense.

It wasn't even the gesture itself, as many people tugged on their ear when they were thinking; it was one of those very ordinary, reflexive movement that no one thought much of - an instinctive gesture. No, what made this extraordinary was the way he did it; and the fact that he had never done it before. Not until a bit over a week ago, when she had inadvertently drew the other three of her foursquare into the dream plane, causing their powers to flare and merge.

Part of her stubbornly argued that it was only due to Kyle stumbling onto her memories during the merge, but the larger, rational side of her realized that thought was ridiculous; the gesture was done far too absently, too instinctively for it to be planned or anything more than it was – a habit. But, it wasn't Kyle's habit.

Pressing her fingers to her temples, Isabel rested her elbows on her vanity and dropped her head into her hands, weary of her confused and muddled thoughts; absently massaging the tension that had built in her head with each conflicting thought, she sighed, trying desperately to push aside the guilt that ate away at her insides. For as much as she tried to push Dusan out of her thoughts, he kept popping back up, and she hated that a tiny part of her hoped that what she was beginning to suspect was true. And that wasn't fair to Kyle.

Startling when she heard a brief, soft rap on her door frame, Isabel lifted her head and smiled weakly when she saw her mother standing just inside her doorway, a concerned smile on her lips.
Diane Evans made her way down the hall, a basket of laundry on her hip as she made her way to her daughter's bedroom, humming a tune under her breath. Used to being up early enough to make sure that her family was fed before they all raced off to school or their jobs, she rarely slept in on the weekends, opting to spend these quiet moments on her own while the rest of her family slept in; it gave her the chance to work on one of her cases uninterrupted or to plan her day out, or, lately, trying to figure out what was going on with her adoptive son and daughter.

She wasn't nearly as blind as her two beloved children liked to think she was; she saw the lies that flickered in their eyes, heard the faint notes of deceit that colored their tones, even as they smiled and assured her nothing was wrong. But she, as a mother, knew better. She'd known from the moment that she saw them in the desert, cold, trembling and clinging fearfully to one another, that there was something very special about them.

It was why she had foregone the visit to the hospital when they picked them up, cautiously opting to take them to a nurse practitioner friend for an exam, swearing said friend to absolute secrecy when things had turned out a little oddly, as she suspected they would. Her friend had secrets of her own, and had only nodded in agreement, hastily falsifying records for them both, making them appear up to date for the average six-year-old child. And they'd never spoken of it again, except for on the rare occasion Isabel or Max needed medical attention, and then her friend happily supplied it because she could never trust anyone else with her special children.

Then, she and Phillip, who remained blissfully clueless to this day, reported them, fighting tooth and nail to adopt their foundlings, so that she could make certain Isabel and Max remained close at hand and no one could exploit the gifts she'd seen manifest from time to time. Phillip hadn't even questioned her fierce protectiveness, chalking it up to her maternal instincts, and was just happy to have the children come home with them. They'd both been devastated to learn that she'd never have children of her own due to a childhood illness, and they both saw these two little angels as the answer to all their prayers.

And she'd loved them, protected them with a ferocity that surprised many people, chasing away anyone that got too close to her babies and their secret, tying those unwary souls up in so many legal knots, they were forced to give up or come right out and explain their unexplainable interest in two foundling children. Especially ones they had not familial ties to and were perfectly happy, healthy and loved in their current home. That would teach those busybodies for nosing around her kids.

And when poor Michael had joined the fray, she had watched over him as well, doing the best she could for him within her limited means – there had been a reason social services were out at the death trap that repulsive man called a home so often. She had seen the signs, the bruises and the look in the boy's eyes that spoke of an abusive home. Unfortunately, as with most abused children, Michael clammed up whenever the social worker would come around, his bruises mysteriously disappearing and he lied through his teeth, obviously fearful that he'd be separated from the only two people he considered family. And without the physical evidence, and corroboration from the victim himself, there wasn't much they could do.

It was why she had turned a blind eye for years when Michael came crawling into Max's room, seeking refuge from Hank's heavy hands and nasty attitude.

Sighing, she paused in the doorway of Isabel's room, studying her beautiful, complex daughter, her heart aching at the lost expression on her face as she stared listlessly out the window, her photo album open to the now infamous prom picture that showed their octet before everything fell apart when Alex had died and Tess left under some sort of cloud as the surviving group refused to speak of her. Although, she had clued into the fact that they blamed Tess for Alex's death after overhearing Isabel and the sheriff's boy, Kyle, talking.

How that had happened, she'd likely never know, because at that point, they'd come around the corner and noticed her cooking dinner and promptly clammed up, exchanging speaking glances as they smiled at her weakly and scurried off. She had smiled back, feigning ignorance of the entire event, but it niggled in the back of her mind on occasion, especially when she recalled Tess' visits and how every time she left, she had appeared distracted, almost spacey and dazed.

Startled out of her thoughts when the photo album snapped closed, Diane was about to make her presence known to Isabel, but held off when her daughter grabbed her pillow and stuffed it under her chin thoughtfully, stretching out full length on her bed with a sigh. The black cloud that had been hovering over Isabel's head for the past week concerned her, especially as she knew that Isabel and Max had fought not long after she and Phillip had gone to bed when Max had his nightmare. She didn't know what had been said, as their voices had been far too low, but the tone made a shiver run over her spine. She had never heard her daughter speak so coldly to her brother.

It also made her go back to her children's secret, her motherly instinct flaring for some unexplained reason and pointing in its direction.

She'd tried to bring her children's uniqueness up with both of them at different times, but after watching the fear spark in their eyes, she'd eventually stopped asking, instead choosing to trust that it wasn't anything dangerous as Max had assured her once, and that they would come to her if something serious was afoot. But now she had her doubts. After watching her shy, reserved son morph into someone she barely recognized, and her bright, poised daughter crumble under the weight of whatever was bothering her, she knew she was closing in on the time she would be forced to confront her children in the hope that she could protect them from whatever threat put those fears into their hearts.

Isabel quickly stood, scrambling off her bed with a frown and walked over to her vanity, seemingly miles away, and she sat down, undoing the plait she'd put her long, golden locks into the night before to prevent tangling with trembling hands. Diane silently rested her head against the door frame and watched as he daughter solemnly studied her features, the expression on her face out of place for someone so young. She shouldn't have that bone deep weariness or the haunted look of someone who had seen one horror too many at her age, and it resolved Diane's commitment to find out just what was wrong with her children.

Knocking lightly on the door frame, she smiled warmly as brown eyes flew to hers, and she realized she had been unsuccessful in hiding her concern when Isabel smiled weakly in a failed attempt to assure her that she was all right. But this forced smile wouldn't put her off this time. Moving into the room, she set the laundry basket onto Isabel's bed and walked over to her daughter, sliding her fingers through the thick, blonde tresses as Isabel tried to put on a brave face, her bright smile faltering when their eyes met in the mirror.

“Those seem like some pretty heavy thoughts weighing these shoulders down,” Diane commented softly, still running her hands over her daughter's mane, watching as Isabel struggled to come up with a plausible answer as tears filmed her eyes.

“Yeah,” Isabel whispered, looking away from Diane's far too knowing gaze and settling on a picture of she and Alex, standing next to several other pictures of friends and family. “Just thinking about Alex and Kyle and...everything.”

“Want to talk about it?” she asked, turning away and walking over to Isabel's bed to sit down when she noticed that Isabel was debating internally, struggling between her need for privacy and the need for comfort. It hurt to a degree that her daughter was so closed off, but she also understood given the circumstances. “Moms are known to be excellent listeners.”

“No...yes...” Isabel waffled, toying with a strand of her hair, running her fingers over it endlessly in a nervous twitch that she'd picked up as a child, her teeth sunk into her bottom lip. Lifting her eyes hesitantly, she turned around and studied Diane silently. “Maybe? I just...miss Alex still hurts.”

“Well, of course it does,” Diane replied softly, sympathy flooding her features as she watched her daughter's chest hitch. She knew this was only a fraction of the problem, but she hadn't been a successful attorney for no reason. Baby steps. “And you always will to a degree. You never truly forget your first love, especially when they have been taken at such a young age. But it does get easier with time, I promise. And, though you might doubt it, you will love again.”

“I know,” Isabel murmured, her fingers tracing over her brush absently, a far off expression in her eyes and Diane sighed, gesturing for her to come over, bringing the brush with her. When Isabel had settled on the bed, facing away from Diane, she continued. “I you think that he would have been upset about Kyle? I mean, that we've become so...close and serious in such a short amount of time?”

Diane dragged the brush through her daughter's hair, her lips pursing thoughtfully as that question spilled over Isabel's lips. She knew they were getting closer to the core problem; and while she didn't doubt that part of Isabel's fears and mood stemmed from Alex, she was certain that things went deeper than worrying about Alex's thoughts.

“Everyone grieves and moves on in their own way, sweetie; and I doubt that Alex would begrudge you your happiness,” she replied, still brushing her daughter's hair with slow, soothing strokes. She knew that this had comforted Isabel as a child and was sure it would now as well. “I'm sure he would want you to be happy. The question is, why are you thinking about this now? Are you sure this is about Alex? Or is it that you're feeling pressured or that you're dishonoring his memory, which I assure you, you're not?”

“I just...” Isabel trailed off, staring at her hands, clasped loosely in her lap. “It's just...not really. I know that Alex would want me to...find love again and I, I know I have.” Diane smiled gently at that confession; a mother was always happy to hear that her child had found such happiness. “But, it's happened rather swiftly, and recently, we've discussed taking it to the next level...”

Diane paused, her hands stilling as she pondered the meaning to that statement and wondered, before she could stop herself, just how serious the relationship between Isabel and Kyle had gotten and whether her daughter had inadvertently admitted that they were having or considering having sex. Shaking her head slightly, she continued brushing, biting her tongue on the instinctive question that welled in her throat and waited for Isabel to elaborate. Smirking when a flush suffused Isabel's cheeks when she'd realized what she had said, Diane laughed internally when Isabel hastened to explain.

“I mean, we've discussed becoming...exclusive,” Isabel stammered, obviously flustered at the previous implications of her words. “Dating exclusively that is.”

“Is this what you want?” Diane asked, wisely navigating away from the little bomb sitting in their laps, not at all certain she wanted an answer to the question preying on her mind. There were just some things a mother didn't want or need to know about her children. She'd taught Isabel right, given her all the information she needed to make an informed decision and she would just have to trust her daughter to know her own heart.

“Yes and no,” Isabel admitted, toying with the sleeve of her night shirt as Diane began to re-plait her hair, selecting a French braid this time around. “I mean, I do Kyle, and I do want to...cement...or well deepen our commitment to each other, but I'm wondering if it's too soon. We still have a lot to learn about each other, and sometimes I wonder if he's only offering because he thinks it's expected.”

“Well,” Diane said diplomatically, knowing that there was something more Isabel wasn't sharing due to her odd wording, but she respected her daughter's right to privacy. “There is nothing that says that you can't date exclusively, but keep things on a lighter note until you are certain you want to go further.”

“I suppose,” Isabel sighed, her face clouding as she tried to find the words to explain, but Diane could see that she didn't know how to and couldn't help but wonder if this had to do with that uniqueness that her children didn't want to reveal. Going with her instincts, she took a deep breath and tied off Isabel' s plait, turning her, now silent, daughter to face her.

“You know, I met your father at your age,” Diane began, smiling when Isabel's eyes lit with interest. “Times were different then – in some ways, it was a simpler time; and in others...well, for a girl like me, it was much more difficult. At least in all the ways that counted. Because I had a dream beyond being a housewife. And while all of my girlfriends were chattering on about weddings and babies, I knew that there was something more for me.”

Diane paused as Isabel turned around completely, pulling up her legs and crossing them in front of her, reminding Diane of that quiet, sad girl that she'd brought home so many years before; one that would follow her around and hang onto every word she said. Smiling, she brushed a stray lock of hair off Isabel's forehead and mimicked her stance.

“I was very much like your friend Liz in that way,” she continued. “From the moment I discovered law, I knew there was nothing else for me. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and did everything in my power to make it possible, even if it was frowned upon.”

“And then, I met your dad,” she smiled in remembrance of seeing Phillip for the first time, when she'd managed to talk her mother into allowing her to attend a community dance; he had been visiting a cousin at the time. “And for the first time, I realized that what my mother had tried to tell me was true. She said, 'Didi...' Yes, I went by Didi when I was younger; don't tell your brother.”

Isabel laughed as they shared a conspiratorial grin, lightening Diane's heart as the confession chased the storm clouds from her daughter's eyes, just as it was intended to do.

“She said, 'Didi, when you find the right man, your heart will know it. And from that moment on, there will be no other than him.' But I was a stubborn soul and wouldn't admit it. You, my darling girl, are so much like me in that respect. We don't allow people into our hearts easily.”

“What happened?” Isabel asked, a smile of pleasure flitting across her face at the comparison, and she pulled her knees up to her chest, resting chin on them as she listened with rapt attention.

“Your father was persistent,” Diane acknowledged ruefully, sharing a knowing grin. “I'll give him that. Equally as stubborn, tenacious to a fault, and more than a match for me. He wouldn't take no for an answer; I'm sure you've seen that particular trait in action.”

“Have I ever,” Isabel replied dryly, rolling her eyes as she recalled her father's unparalleled stubborn streak. “So what changed? How did he finally get to you?”

“Wily man that he is, he talked to my mother and found out that my dream was to go to law school,” Diane chuckled, caught up in the remembrance of her husband's antics. “A piece of information he cunningly exploited, seeing as he was pre-law himself at the time. He would seek me out and strike up conversations, telling me about his classes and the campus, and fully supported my decision to go away to law school.”

“That sounds like Dad,” Isabel murmured, her eyes sparkling with mirth.

“It does, doesn't it?” she smiled. “And from there, we became friends, and then I finally had to admit that I had fallen in love with him somewhere along the line. We started dating, and eventually got engaged, but we made a pact. He knew I had dreams of my own to pursue and he didn't want to hinder them. I was very lucky, actually, as most men wouldn't have been so understanding in that time. We decided on a long engagement, marrying only after we passed our respective bar exams. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

“I never knew that,” Isabel replied quietly, a small smile tugging at her lips. “I'd always assumed that you two had met in law school.”

“A common misconception,” Diane nodded, smiling at her daughter and noting that whatever she had said had eased the tension in her body. “The point I'm trying to make, my beautiful girl, is if he is the one, then your heart will know. But don't feel pressured into taking the relationship further than you're ready. If he is a man worth his salt, he will understand. And if he doesn't, then he never deserved this wonderful heart to begin with.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Isabel murmured, the tension visibly draining from her face as she leaned over and hugged Diane.

Diane wrapped her arms around her daughter, smoothing a hand over her head, thankful for the fact that for all her need to be seen as an independent woman, Isabel still turned to her for her problems when necessary. Pulling back, she stood, her hand still resting on Isabel's head, happy to see serenity in those far too mature eyes for once and reminded her quietly.

“You can always come to me, Isabel. I know there are things you are hiding, or feel you can't share with me, but I am always here for you. And I'll always accept you no matter what,” Diane said, smiling sadly when tears of gratitude filled Isabel's eyes. So young to have such a burden weighing on her shoulders. “Now, what do you say to a mother-daughter day?”

“Don't you have things to do?” Isabel asked, but Diane couldn't help noticing the way she perked up at the mention of some girl time. She'd noticed that Isabel had been distancing herself from her friends over the past two years outside the Parker and Deluca girls.

“Nothing that can't wait,” Diane replied with a smile. “Nothing more important than spending time with my favorite daughter.”

“I'm your only daughter, Mom,” Isabel laughed, rolling her eyes at the old joke.

“Doesn't mean you can't be my favorite,” Diane laughed, raising her brows in question. “So, is that a yes for a mother-daughter day?”

Isabel's smile widened and she nodded.

“Good, You get ready, and I'll go make breakfast before we leave,” Diane nodded, sending her daughter an exasperated look. “If I left it to your father, he'd likely burn the house down.”

Smirking as Isabel laughed quietly, and they shared a commiserating glance, Diane walked out the door, once again humming to herself as she planned out their day, shuffling aside the everyday, mundane chores that could wait. Seeing that sparkle back in her daughter's eyes and the bright grin on her face was more important than housework any day.
“So aren't you going to go put on your new clothes and give me a fashion show?” Phillip teased laughingly as Isabel rolled her eyes at her father, then sent her mother a pleading look that was at odds with the bright, happy grin painted on her face.

They had been sitting here for nearly an hour, regaling Phillip with their day, which started out with breakfast between the three of them. She had no idea if Max had been around as he never bothered to answer her call. From there, she had bundled Isabel up into the car and they had spent the morning power shopping, a feat that was, frankly, quite terrifying despite her daughter's flare for organization. She couldn't really remember shopping ever being quite that strenuous when Isabel was younger; or even when she had been Isabel's age.

But the smile that came after that trip had made the entire affair worth it. For the most part.

After shopping, they had a leisurely lunch at one of their favorite delis, Tinnie Mercantile and Deli; a must for Diane's tired, aching feet. She'd desperately needed a few moments to rest and recover after unleashing Hurricane Isabel on the poor unsuspecting shop keepers everywhere. She couldn't even recall half the stores they had visited, but the end result had been more bags of clothing than she thought either of them could ever wear in a year, let alone a single season. Although, she didn't doubt her daughter's determination to try.

They then went to the local day spa, Natural Alternatives, for a facial, manicure and pedicure before they finally managed to drag themselves back home, restored, refreshed and happier than when they had both woke that morning. It had been just what Dr. Mom ordered.

“Phillip, leave the poor girl alone,” she laughed when Phillip had begun to pout, obviously having failed in convincing Isabel to model her new clothing for him.

“But I haven't had a good fashion show in years,” Phillip whined playfully, sending Isabel into laughter once more as she shook her head good-naturedly.

“And you won't again until it's time for me to get a wedding gown,” Isabel grinned, laughing when her father paled at the mention.

“Yes, well, let’s not hurry that along any time soon, shall we?” Phillip coughed, choking on his own saliva when Isabel shot him a wicked grin.

“Oh, and here I thought you'd be excited to have Kyle as a son-in-law,” Isabel teased, her eyes dancing with laughter as Phillip turned slightly green.

“Sure, I am honey,” Phillip agreed feebly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Let's just push it off for a few more years, okay? Say, like, thirty.”

“You're no fun,” Isabel pouted, before breaking into a wide grin and leaning over to kiss Phillip on the cheek. “Don't worry, Daddy; I don't plan on getting married any time soon.”

“Thank the Good Lord for that,” Phillip sighed, shaking his head at Isabel's antics. “I really would've hated explaining to the sheriff why his son went missing.”

All three of them were still laughing at that comment when Diane heard the front door close, and she turned her head towards it, smiling when she saw Max standing in the doorway, staring at the three of them blankly. A chill ran over her spine as she watched him walk towards them slowly, something in his body language off as it had been for a while now – since the few days he went missing at the end of his sophomore year, an occurrence that he and Isabel tried to play off by saying he had been out camping with Michael. But she knew there was something more to the experience, as he came back wrong.

He now walked with confidence, something she'd have once been happy to see. She would have loved seeing her shy, almost self-conscious son gaining his feet, but this new found confidence made her cringe as it was mixed with an air of arrogance and expectation indicative of someone born to privilege and used to getting his way, something she had never instilled within him. His whole aura struck her as wrong in some way.

Swallowing thickly as the laughter died around her, she turned to Isabel, noting that she was staring at her brother with a thinly veiled disgust, her just laughing and sparkling eyes frosting over as they collided with Max's and it made Diane's stomach jolt and her suspicions cement. Glancing back at her son, she cleared her throat, frowning when he tore his eyes from Isabel and attempted to give her a sheepish grin, nodding quietly before he walked down the hall and went to his room, the door snicking closed behind him.

Meeting Phillip's eyes, she sighed when he frowned and shook his head, indicating that they would discuss it later, before he turned back to a silent, downcast Isabel and smiled.

“Well, I don't know about you two, but I am starving,” Phillip announced jovially, clapping his hands together and garnering Isabel's attention once more. “So, why don't you two go put on one of those pretty outfits you bought and let me take my two favorite girls out. I think I should at least get the chance to show you off since you spent the afternoon bankrupting me.”

Isabel giggled slightly and then looking at Diane, nodded silently and got to her feet, taking her bags with her as she strode to her room to get ready. Standing herself she turned to her husband of nearly twenty-five years and met his wary gaze. “What are we going to do?”

“I don't know,” Phillip admitted with a sigh, meeting her gaze soberly. “I really just don't know.”


Much later that evening, Isabel was sitting in the Valenti living room, watching a movie with Kyle, but her mind wasn't really engaged; it was instead, torn between the little stand off with Max before she and her mother and father went to dinner, and the distracting hum of nervous energy pouring off Kyle. She could feel through the lehali bond that something was preying on his mind, but even with her emerging powers, she was having difficulties ascertaining the direction of his thoughts. Unfortunately, it went against her nature. Mates were naturally resistant to each other's powers, as it would be considered an unfair advantage.

The bonds evened the playing field by dulling the effects of certain gifts, making certain that the couple didn't become lazy and rely on their powers instead of working at a healthy relationship, or in worse cases, used them to take advantage of their mate’s weaknesses.

In theory, it made absolute sense, but in practice, it was inconvenient and right this moment it really sucked as she'd love to know what Kyle was really thinking regarding the whole situation. For the past week, she had been picking up on vague doubts and unease, but as she had no frame of reference, it was driving her mad.

Was it just a general unease, sparked by the close encounter they had with Max; because their enemies were alive and active among them? Was it because of Max's total disregard for all of their safety, and his continuing reckless endangerment that brought them to the attention to the government, risking all of their lives?

Was it because of her?

Sighing, she knew that if she really wanted the answers to her questions, she should just come out and ask. It was the most direct approach and Kyle was typically blunt, almost tactless, to a fault. Which was likely why she continued to hesitate – did she really want to know the answers to those questions? Did she truly want to know exactly what was on his mind? And what would she do if he had changed his mind on their relationship? That the 'alien shit,' as he so quaintly called it, had just gotten to be too much for him to handle?

She wasn't quite sure how she'd deal with that.

At the same time, could she, did she really want to be irrevocably bound to someone that didn't want to be bound to her and all the alien madness that came with a fully integrated bond?

And she was giving herself a headache.

The only thing that did make sense to her at this moment in time, was postponing the full bonding until she was assured that this was something they both wanted; not because they felt they had to due to Max's interference. Michael and Liz had already done that, but in many ways, they had always seemed more settled, ready for that level of commitment. From the beginning, Liz had been much more accepting of the 'alien shit' than Kyle. Even when she had first cornered Max and probed him for answers, finding out more than she'd ever expected, Liz had only momentarily freaked out and then automatically switched to practical mode. Isabel was certain that it was her scientific mind that made her much more open to the possibilities.

Turning to Kyle, she studied him through her lashes; he turned and gave her a tremulous smile, his eyes darker than they used to be, as if they'd beheld troubles and horrors that he could never speak of – which truthfully, they had. Even with his father in the know, there was only so much of their lives he could share, as if anything was overheard, it would be detrimental. It made confessions and conversations with their friends difficult at best and impossible at worst.

After all, what could Kyle say when he and his friends discussed relationship woes? 'So, interesting fact, Paulie; I've managed to become bonded to an alien princess, and then in a weird twist of fate, I am now also bound to the crown prince of an entire planet, as well as his chosen mate. And then, if that wasn't weird enough, due to being healed by one, I am developing powers of my own, and now there is mind reading and dream walking's seriously fucking with my head. What do you think about that?'

He couldn't. They couldn't.

It was partially why she had given up her friends outside Liz, Maria and Tess. Well that, and worrying about the latest fashions seemed so pointless when running for your very life. Too many awkward conversations and silences when her friends had asked her what was wrong, or worse, when she had to blatantly lie to them, had killed the relationships. Airheads that they may have been at most times, even they could see through her excuses, and nobody liked being lied to; they'd quickly distanced themselves and she hadn't stopped it from happening.

It was easier this way. It made her life so much easier not having to explain mysterious absences and her growing impatience with the petty things that made up their worlds – like having a bad hair day or who was the hottest boy in school or whether or not daddy would get them that thing they just had to have or they'd just die...

When held up against her very real, life threatening issues – government alien hunters, alien enemies determined to kill her and her loved ones, her own brother crossing to the dark side – she just couldn't bear their incessant chatter and mindlessness any longer.

Giving an internal shake of her head, she shoved away those unimportant matters and focused on what she could affect – the tainted bond. She wasn't sure just what had put those dark threads into it, entwining with the silvery-blue, but she knew if they didn't banish them, the ramifications would be great. Those dark parts could potentially cause more harm than a broken bond would, as they would corrupt everything they touched – her, Kyle, and subsequently, through the bonds added during the foursquare merge, Michael and Liz.

It was a weakness they couldn't afford; a weakness their enemies wouldn't hesitate to exploit.

Taking a deep breath, she knew it was now or never; she had to address this before things got too far and caused irreparable damage to all she loved.

“Kyle...” she began, startling when Kyle spoke up at the same time. “Isa...”

They looked at each other in surprise, both obviously not expecting the other to speak at that moment and then laughed nervously. Kyle rubbed the back of his neck, a spike of uncertainty flashing through their bond as he studied her thoughtfully, then tugged on his right lobe, the action making her inhale sharply at the all too familiar gesture as he waved her on.

“You first”, he smiled wanly, his hand dropping to his lap as he faced her. She observed him quietly, granting him a small smile of her own when he raised his brows in question. Ignoring the niggling fears dancing on the edge of her mind, the place where their bond resided, she plunged on. It wouldn't do to get distracted now.

“I...”she replied, pausing for a moment to consider how she wanted to approach the subject; flicking her eyes back to her lap, she knew that subtlety likely wouldn’t work with Kyle. He was very plainspoken, so blunt and straightforward was the best way to go. “I wanted to talk about the bond.”

“Me too,” Kyle admitted, relief flowing through the bond as his smiled evened and grew, making her pause once more to access the information that was filtering through her head. She hadn't expected his willingness, especially since it was combined with the fierce determination that coated his tone and his hardened face. “I was thinking we should consider cementing the bond.”

“You were?” she queried, puzzled by the complete turnaround in his thoughts; she had been expecting a very different conversation based on the few feelings she had picked up in their constantly chattering connection. It made her wary. “Why?”

Isabel could tell that the question threw him, left him gaping at her surprised and confused, but given everything that she had deciphered recently about his feelings and the things he had said this past week, she couldn't help doubting – not his sincerity, nor his commitment, never that – but whether he was really ready for the permanency. The ties were binding, irrevocable and once entered fully, couldn't be broken; to cement it with anything less than total acceptance was unthinkable, especially as they had unintentionally triggered the first part.

“Yes?” Kyle replied, the faintest questioning lilt in his tone despite his attempt to make it a statement; that alone confirmed her belief that he was still uncertain about everything. “With your brother attacking you, and subsequently the rest of us, in the dream plane, it made me realize just how vulnerable we are until the bonding is complete. And, I mean...we're going to do it eventually, right? So, why not? We'll only be...pushing things forward a bit.”

And there was the crux of his unease; she could feel it singing through the bond clear as day – he didn't want to leave them all vulnerable to a psychic attack, but he was still freaking out on everything that had happened with the newest ties and was worried that a new one would further complicate the emerging alien kinks. Kyle was more concerned with protecting her, and to a lesser degree himself, than any great desire to solidify the bond. And while she couldn't fault his conclusions, she'd rather fight Max in the dream plane on a nightly basis, something that still made her shudder, than enter the bond under duress.

“What do you think?” Kyle asked hesitantly, the bond singing with uncertainty again. Isabel considered the question, carefully picking her words before answering; she didn't want to hurt her bond mate inadvertently with her refusal.

“Actually,” she hedged, licking her lips nervously. “I was thinking that we should hold off a bit longer.”

“Oh,” Kyle responded softly, a bit stunned by her refusal if the emotions traveling over his face and in his heart were any indication, and Isabel instantly felt guilty when a thread of hurt colored that solitary word.

“It's not that I don't want to,” she clarified, smiling reassuringly when confusion twinged in her head. “I do; and the bond is clamoring for it as well, it wants to be completed. But I want this to happen because it's something we genuinely want and are ready for, not because we feel Max is forcing our hand.”

Kyle was quiet for a moment, a wealth of emotion swirling hazily in his mind, and subsequently hers, disorienting Isabel as she tried to process it all. His emotions seemed to be scattered, all over the place and at war with one another – relief, hurt, confusion, worry, fear, and a hint of anger – all fighting for dominance in his heart. But eventually that settled as the hurt she’d noted from earlier and confusion won the battle.

“You feel forced,” he said flatly. It was not a question.

“Perhaps that was the wrong word to use,” Isabel responded cautiously, her stomach clenching at his bleak expression. This wasn't going as she had planned. “I don't feel forced per se. I just meant that I don't want to cement the bond solely because Max has attacked us or due to any of his other actions. I won't give him that power over me. And if that's what's been bothering you lately, then you needn't worry and I apologize for not speaking up sooner. I have since taken...preventive measures. Max cannot affect me on the dream plane any longer.”

“He can't?” Kyle queried, his surprise evident in his face. And the hurt melted away under an overwhelming tide of relief.

“No,” she confirmed, absently running her fingers over a strand of her hair. “In one of my memories, I came across Vilandra...myself, working on how to erect a shield in my head to fend off mental attacks. Since that night, I have been practicing diligently, every day for at least two hours, until it became natural and a part of my subconscious defenses. Trust me when I say, that if Max dares to attempt that again, he'll be in for a very nasty surprise.”

They shared a nasty little smirk between the two of them, their slightly vindictive natures getting the better of them for a moment before they sobered and Kyle nodded absently.

“Good, good...” he replied.

“Plus,” Isabel added, wanting him to stop worrying about her so they could focus on the actual crux of the problem. “I think we've discovered that through the foursquare, we can come to each other's aid if necessary. Between those two – I'm safe from King Nothing.”

Kyle grinned at that comment, a soft chuckle spilling over his lips as he shook his head in mock despair. The bond had noticeably lightened, the blackened threads not quite as dark, but still there, just more of a faint gray tinge to them. Isabel could also sense some hesitance and distraction pouring off Kyle as well, even without the bond. But it was better than it had been since the night of Max's attack; as if some great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. And perhaps it had. He'd tended to brood about things, even before he was an active member of the alien abyss.

“Knowing that,” Isabel continued, clearing her throat and shunting her own roiling emotions aside in the intent of ferreting out his true feelings. “What do you honestly feel about completing the bond?”

“I think...” Kyle paused, his face sobering as he stared off into space, absently tugging at his ear again, making that wistful part of her yearn for something she only vaguely recalled. “I think waiting sounds good.”

Isabel shielded hard to prevent Kyle from noticing the pang of disappointment that suffused her heart, filling her with a bittersweet ache at the confirmation that he'd only brought the subject up because he'd been worried about Max. It was completely unfair of her to feel this way, as she too had already decided that waiting was their best option. They weren't ready – she wasn't ready. But emotions were hardly rational and she couldn't help feeling slightly hurt.

“No offense intended, Princess,” Kyle teased lightly, grinning unrepentantly when Isabel glowered at the nickname. “But I'm still trying to come to terms with all the new alien sh...stuff that we've been thrown recently. Your people don't so things by half measures, do they?”

“Well, no,” Isabel conceded, still glaring at her boyfriend playfully before sobering. “But do remember that typically, children grow up with this knowledge. They are trained and prepared for this all of their lives, so that, when it does happen, it doesn't feel rushed or overwhelming, as it has with us. It is a much more natural process. Unfortunately, we – due to suppressed memory or amnesia or whatever – have been thrown into the deep end of the pool.”

“You can say that again,” Kyle muttered under his breath, and Isabel couldn't tell whether he'd meant for her to hear the comment or not.

“Did you have any questions, or specific concerns...” Isabel probed gently, trailing off when Kyle shook his head.

“Nothing specific,” he assured, tapping his fingers on his thigh, a habit left over from when Tess had messed with his mind. “It's just...everything, honestly. I was just growing comfortable with our bond, when Michael and Liz were suddenly added to the mix, awakening powers that we still know nothing about. And then Paulie has been acting bizarre, as if he's trying to tell me something, but not just spitting it out, and just generally being weird and mysterious. And then we were hit with the Max thing – as Michael said, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. Especially for us weak, pathetic humans.”

“There is nothing weak, or pathetic about you or Liz,” Isabel staunchly defended, despite knowing that last part was said in jest. What was the saying – half in jest, all in seriousness?

“You know what I meant,” Kyle shrugged off, making Isabel frown internally. “In all seriousness, it's just been a bit much to take in; and I'd rather we know more about our current bonds, powers and their ramifications before we add another. I mean, if you're sure that Max...”

“I'm sure,” Isabel nodded; Max could do nothing to her now and she happened to agree with Kyle's points, so she let the topic drop for now. “And I do agree. Maybe...maybe once we've practiced and gotten a better group mind, as well as felt more comfortable with the foursquare, we can revisit the idea.”

“Works for me,” Kyle said, relief coating his words as he finally relaxed and sunk deeper into the couch, turning back to the movie, sensing that the conversation was at an end.

Isabel nodded, but her mind was already miles away, the doubts and fears she'd pushed away earlier in the conversation pressing to the forefront of her mind, sending a trickle of unease dripping down her spine. She knew she was overreacting (likely), but she couldn't help herself; it felt as if there was a small part of Kyle that was closed off to her and she didn't care for that feeling at all. She just hoped that they worked it out before it had a chance to come back and bite them all on the ass.
Michael stood off to the side, drinking a bottle of water, and watching as Liz tried to pull herself into the shadows as much as possible, a pained expression on her face. Frowning, he narrowed his gaze and studied his mate, her behavior tickling at something in the back of his head, but it remained stubbornly elusive, making him feel irritated and all the more determined to pin it down. A combination that was detrimental for him in most cases. He knew she was hiding something; he’d been getting far too many jolts of extreme emotion though their connection to deny it.

But just what it was, was a complete mystery.

Closing his eyes, he let his thoughts track over his memories, sifting through them carefully, hoping that something would jog that kernel of awareness. Slowing down when he got closer to his memories of Dusan’s death, he stumbled upon it and halted, dropping into the memory almost seamlessly, the images as clear as if he had been standing there just the day before,

Lareena was sitting with Lannie, talking to her softly, mindful to keep a healthy distance from the grieving girl given the strength of her powers. Ava had the other girl wrapped snugly in her arms, and was slowly stroking her hand over the top of the blonde’s head, desperately trying to quiet the sobs that spilled over her lips. Rolling his shoulders, Rath averted his gaze from the heartbreaking scene, fighting the prickling in the back of his eyes as Lannie’s tears nearly unleashed his own, and due to his new station in life, he couldn’t afford to openly grieve, brother or not. The people now turned their eyes to him and his family for comfort and guidance; to assure them in this tumultuous time that everything would be fine.

But it was difficult. As he was more than their prince; he was a brother who desperately missed his fallen sibling, and a son, who was the sole strength to an acutely grieving mother.

Swallowing thickly, he leaned against the gazebo railing, and startled when a hand landed on his shoulder. Turning to face his best friend, he nodded and smiled wanly when Khivar squeezed it; but it slipped when it fell on Khivar’s ravaged face and equally haunted eyes. Dropping his own hand on his friend’s, he squeezed it gently as Khivar silently pulled away and went to stand behind Ava, running a hand through her light blonde curls, and then snapped his gaze towards Lareena when she gasped.

“So much pain…”

Lannie had ripped away from Ava, colliding with Lareena as she stumbled away and tore down the stairs, blindly racing for the palace and, likely, the sanctity of her room. Shifting his concerned gaze between a fleeing Lannie and an ashen, shaking Lareena, Rath was torn between whom to comfort. Looking up when Khivar squeezed his arm, his best friend silently indicated that he’d follow Lannie and gently shoved him towards Lareena. Nodding in acknowledgment, he sat beside the pale, shaken girl, stroking his hands soothingly over her arms to quell the jumping, jangled nerves just under the surface, her empathy obviously running high.

“Are you okay?” he asked softly, his voice hoarse with suppressed emotion, thankful when his touch soothed her instead of making it worse, and she began to relax under his hands, and began to carefully rebuild her shields.

“Yes,” she rasped shakily, shuddering as she gazed down the path towards the palace, watching a rapidly disappearing Lannie with wide, pained eyes. “I just wasn’t expecting it. Usually I can shield better than that; but her pain… her emotions broke straight through my barriers. By the Granilith, Rath, she hurts so much… it’s overwhelming and… I don’t really have the words to describe the depth of it. It physically hurts to be near her.”

Opening his eyes, Michael stared at Liz once more, his frown deepening as she subtly shied away from Kyle. It wasn’t overt, nothing remotely noticeable, unless one was scrutinizing her every movement, and it sounded an alarm in his head. Raising the bottle to his lips, he finished his water in a couple of chugs, and then vanished the bottle, still amazed at the level of control he’d built in just one afternoon. His powers were innate, a tangible thing now flowing freely in his veins, and it seemed the only thing that been holding him back of the years was fear and his own insecurities.

Shaking his head free of those thoughts, he turned it back to the past few days, recalling several instances when Liz clung to him, avoiding contact with others if at all possible. Scowling, he clawed at his brow ad then wondered if he were imagining things; but Liz’s reaction was far too similar to Lareena’s to ignore, and were highly suspect. Turning to Isabel, he tapped into the bond that connected them and tugged, garnering her surprised attention and a raised eyebrow for his efforts.

Do me a favor,’ he commanded silently, breathing an internal sigh of relief when she nodded despite the irritation that crackled through their connection at his tone, alerting him that she had indeed heard his thoughts, a mode that was new to them.

Through hard work, and hours of experimentation that day, they had finally managed to replicate the group mind they’d experienced when they first forged the foursquare. It was only by accident that they’d discovered Isabel’s mind magic extended beyond dream walking. During a training session, Isabel had grown frustrated by their lack of connection and her powers momentarily flared in response, connecting her, Liz and Michael long enough to share their equally annoyed thoughts before she startled and lost the thread connecting them.

But it also seemed to make something in Isabel’s brain click, the missing pieces of the puzzle falling together as Isabel smiled grimly and focused on the previous feelings, and grabbed Liz and Michael’s hands, the group mind flaring to life instantaneously. After much practice, and an infinite number of partner swappings, they’d discovered that Isabel’s mind magic extended to thought reading, and while she could read anyone’s thoughts with effort, it was only when she connected with Michael that she was able to project and share them with others. He almost acted as a focus for the group, enhancing and channeling their individual gifts.

What do you need?’ she returned, tapping into the connection enough to broadcast her thought into his head without the other two noticing. Her power was largely unrefined and she was able to manage simple communication, but it was best to keep it to short, succinct thoughts, otherwise she lost focus and broadcasted to everyone surrounding her or couldn’t speak her thoughts at all.

‘Sneak up on Liz and try to touch her,’ he requested, shrugging one shoulder nonchalantly when Isabel shot him a bemused gaze at the odd request, before looking at Liz thoughtfully. He would go over ad touch her himself, but it wouldn’t prove anything as she seemed to ground herself in his energy. Frowning when she noted Liz’s haggard appearance, Isabel flicked a glance towards him and asked.


Michael rolled his eyes, a reluctant grin tugging at the corner of his mouth nonetheless. He should have expected that she’d question his every movement and motive despite their returning memories. Isabel wasn’t the timid, sheltered girl that Lannie had been at times, nor had she had it beaten into her head that she was lesser than anyone in this lifetime, building a staunch sense of self worth. Something he was supremely grateful for. By the time he had met Lannie in their past life, she had spent five years believing that she was a second class citizen despite her high birth, all because of her gender.

‘Why do you want me to touch her?’ Isabel prompted, dragging him from his thoughts with an impatient mental huff.

‘I just want to test a theory,’ he replied cryptically, smirking when Isabel rolled her own eyes and sent him an exasperated, ‘no, really?’ glance before crossing her arms over her chest and arching a brow. Yes, he was thankful that she was stronger than Lannie in every way. ‘It’s nothing bad…or, well, I hope it isn’t. She’s been acting oddly - avoiding others and clinging to me, isolating herself - and I think I’ve stumbled on the reason why, but can’t test it myself.’

Isabel nodded slowly and then turned back to Liz, her frown deepening when she noted the brunette’s off behavior, and then walked aimlessly towards his mate, seeming to go for the backpack near her. Michael held his breath as he studied the unfolding scene intently, smirking when Isabel stooped and pretended to rummage through the bag for several minutes, as if looking for something and then reached up, tugging lightly on the pale brunette’s wrist.

“Liz have you seen…” Isabel trailed off and watched with wide eyes as Liz nearly jumped out of her skin at the light touch, and then blanched, scrambling away almost instantaneously. Pulling back her hand as if burned, she turned questioning eyes back to Michael, who just shook his head, implying he’d explain later. Turning back to Liz, Isabel’s frown returned full force as she quietly asked. “Liz? Are you okay?”

Bingo. He hated being right.

Michael pushed off against the cliff face and strode purposely towards the conversing girls, deaf to the actual conversation as his mind whirled at the implications, especially as he recalled his and Liz’s talk just last week about feeling as if she were being watched. Liz tried to play off the entire thing as just over excitability and fatigue, but he wasn’t buying those explanations any longer. Not when her recent jittery reactions added up to an all too familiar picture. Stopping in front of the two squabbling girls, Michael stared at a startled Liz, his lips compressing when she flushed and looked away a bit guiltily and stopped all conversation with three simple, but earth shattering words -

“You’re an empath.”

His accusation rang out between the three of them, making Liz pale even further if it were at all possible and Isabel’s mouth round in surprise before comprehension dawned, drawing a thoughtful expression as she scanned her limited memories of Lareena and other notable empaths, including her own aunt. Liz opened and closed her mouth several times, as if she were trying to come up with a plausible denial, but couldn’t find the words, knowing from his implacable expression that such words would be seen as an outright lie.

“W-what?” she stammered, licking her lips nervously as she fidgeted, warily studying Michael from the corner of her eye, obviously stunned he had figured her secret out. “I don’t…I…maybe?”

Michael merely leveled a hard look on his mate, lips compressing further when she cringed slightly and stumbled over her explanation before giving up all denials as futile, angered and slightly hurt that she hid something so important from , not only the foursquare, but him personally. How was he supposed to protect her, and keep her from al harm, if he didn’t have pertinent information? Especially given the fact that they needed to bond and work closely together for the foursquare to be affective - the three of them had been touching her, and likely, overwhelming her weak shields all day in an effort to hone and refine how their gifts worked with and against each other.

Being shocked liked that repeatedly had to have been a strain, depleting her energy reserves each and every time they broke through her barriers - it was no wonder she looked as if she were ready to fall over at any moment.

Pursing his lips, Michael tore his gaze away from Liz and inhaled sharply at those thoughts, his throat constricting and heart aching just a bit that she hadn’t trusted him with this new development. He should have known. Meeting Isabel’s concerned gaze, he swallowed thickly and ignored the lump forming in his throat as he shook off her unasked question with a small jerk of his head. Nodding, she walked a small distance away, and set about distracting Kyle to given he and Liz some much needed privacy. She, of anyone outside Liz, would instantly be aware of the hurt coursing through him at this seeming non-verbal rejection, but wouldn’t push an explanation. Yet.

And he was hurt by Liz’s seeming lack of faith.

Closing his eyes, he clenched his hand into a loose fist, and was trying to figure out what to say, when arms wrapped around him, bringing a familiar scent and was of energy. Looking down into his mate’s tired , pinched face, he softened when he read the remorse etched into weary brown eyes, and pushed his own hurt aside in deference to hers. Deep down, he was aware that she hadn’t meant to hurt or reject him with her silence; and likely had a good reason for it. Stroking her hair softly, he widened their connection, allowing his tamped down power to flow freely, and was instantly rewarded the relaxing of tense muscles; and he couldn’t help wondering if the reason she was so worn and ragged was due to their limited bond interaction.

Usually they left that connection wide open, drawing comfort and strength from the never ending stream of emotional feedback flowing back and forth between them, but today, they had shut it down to a low level in order to test, and pinpoint individual gifts opposed to those they shared. Or even combined into an entirely new power altogether - like their shielding. Liz’s had been weak on her own, while Michael’s had been adequate at best, but combined, it was nearly impenetrable.

But seeing the relief flooding Liz’s face as their connection flowed freely, he had to admit that the lack of his power seemed to unbalance her, leaving her floundering when she couldn’t draw on his presence. Kissing her softly on the brow, he pulled her against him and soothed his hands up her arms, and down over her spine, letting her drink up his…essence, for lack of a better word, and vowed not to close down their connection again. At least, not until they had a better grasp of the strength and tilt of her powers, and just what she needed to maintain her balance.

“I was planning to tell you tonight,” she whispered into his chest, melting a little of that ball of ice that had taken up residence in his gut. Closing his eyes, he tightened his grip and nodded absently. “I…it hasn’t…I just honestly didn’t know what to say or how to…”

“We’ll talk about it later,” he replied gruffly, cutting her halting explanation short; he was curious as to why she hadn’t said anything, but at this point, he was more concerned with her emotional and mental stability. “I do however want you to sit out the next exercise.”

“But…” she protested, trying to pull out of his arms.

“No, you need to sit this out,” he interrupted, pulling back to study her fatigued face with concern. He knew their next test would be draining even under normal circumstances, but compiled with her exhaustion, he didn’t think she had the necessary power nor the concentration to attempt it today. They could always come back and test her at a later date. “You’re exhausted, and attempting to manipulate energy now would be detrimental. It’s better to try this when you’re fresh. You shouldn’t attempt anymore energy expenditure today.”

“I...okay,” Liz conceded reluctantly, nodding her head in resigned acknowledgment when he gave her a hard look, then flashed him the stubborn smile he had grown to both love and dread over the years. “But you will test me eventually. We need to know if I can defend myself and I won’t have you pushing me behind a shield again, while you play the overprotective ass because I look a bit tired.”

“Yes, dear,” he smirked, ducking his head when she reached up to smack him on the back of it for his smart comment, and then sobered. “Better?”

“I feel…less frazzled,” she agreed, stumbling over her words as she tried to come up with a suitable description for her emotions. “Less open? It’s hard to explain. The open connection helps a lot; I hadn’t realized just how often I draw on it throughout the day until it was gone. Now, I’m just tired. Worn out. As if I just ran a marathon emotionally.”

“Then we’ll keep it open,” he asserted firmly, looking up when he heard a soft crunch of sand; and smiled weakly when Kyle and Isabel came over.

“Everything okay?” Kyle asked, a worried glance bouncing between he and Liz, as if he sensed the underlying tension still running between the two of them.

“Yes,” Michael nodded, pulling away from Liz and leading her to a shaded outcropping, to sit and watch the rest of the exercises. Pulling out a bottle of water, he held it in his hands and focused, instantly chilling it before handing it over to Liz. Rummaging through the bag once more, he pulled out an apple and thrust it into the exasperated girl’s hands, relinquishing hold only when she huffed and put it up to her mouth to take a bite.

“Liz just overdid it today,” he explained as he turned back to Isabel and Kyle, staving off the inevitable questions with a flick of his hand as he stood fully and strode swiftly towards them. He didn’t want to explain why until he had a chance to discuss it fully with Liz. “She’s going to sit out this next round out as it takes a great deal of focus and power to manipulate energy into a weapon and she’s too fatigued to attempt such a maneuver safely.”

Isabel simply nodded, being well aware of the situation, but Kyle looked confused and wary, his eyes dancing between he and Liz continuously, as if he wanted to protest or demand that they end the practice now and take Liz home. Isabel exchanged a brief glance with Michael, and then touched Kyle’s elbow, shaking her head subtly when he looked at her, halting the words that wanted to pour from his mouth. Giving Liz one last concerned glance, Kyle gave a sharp nod, obviously not assuaged, but resigned that he’d get no further answer at that time, and then faced Michael with thinned lips.

“So, what’s next, oh fearless leader,” Kyle drawled, borrowing one of Michael’s coined phrases in reference to Max, and smirked when Michael sent him a withering glare. Flipping him off, Michael ignored the other boy’s chuckle and scanned the desert for a suitable target; he wanted something substantial enough to see immediate results, but not so dense that it would deplete Kyle’s energy in one blow.

“I’m going to test you for an energy pulse,” Michael replied, smiling when his gaze lit on a fairly large cactus within the vicinity. “I know that Isabel can manipulate energy, but she has difficulty pooling it into a…well, blast, for lack of a better word. Hers manifests as a push of air, rather than a…lightning strike? As mine does. I want to see if you have the ability to manipulate energy or matter that way.”

“Okay,” Kyle drew the word out as if unconvinced, but willing to give it a try. Of the four of them, Kyle was the least advanced, having been healed, and changed, several months after Liz. Not to mention, he didn’t have a link to the Granilith, or a fully cemented bond to egg on the transformation either. As a result, his powers had yet to truly manifest in a noticeable way. “So, tell me what to do, Obi Wan.”

“The first time I was able to do it, it was a life or death situation,” Michael coached, blatantly ignoring the Obi Wan in favor of reasoning out the best approach to this exercise. “Pierce was threatening to shoot us, and all I could think about was protecting us at all costs. I assume that triggered my fight or flight instincts; thus the ability is fueled by adrenaline. My guess is, you’ll have to simulate those feelings - extreme fear or anger - to trigger your own abilities.”

“Right, so piece of cake,” Kyle muttered sardonically, frowning when Michael merely turned him around to face the cactus, and pointed with a smirk.

“There is your enemy.”

Kyle stared at the cactus for several seconds, and then turned back to Michael an incredulous expression and replied dryly, “It’s a cactus.”

“Yes it is,” Michael agreed with a snicker, sobering and pulling himself together when Isabel sent his a withering glance. “But right now, it’s your opponent. It seems innocuous, even harmless to a degree; but remember, it could be an illusion. Our enemies can manipulate matter, and shape shift at will, and who knows what other little tricks they have up their sleeves. In a battle, never assume that anything is safe - that cactus could very well be a weapon in disguise.”

Kyle turned back to the cactus thoughtfully, seeming to turn Michael’s words over in his mind and then take them to heart as his expression hardened with resolve and he nodded quietly. Clapping his hands together and rubbing them, Kyle determinedly focused on the cactus about twenty to twenty-five feet away from their position and smiled grimly, gesturing to Michael to get on with it.

“I want you to close your eyes and imagine this scenario; all the while building the adrenaline, the energy inside and then let it loose when the time is right,” Michael said, waiting until the other boy complied. “Khivar and his army has invaded, seeking the Granilith and the Royal Four; and intent on subjugating the human race. He has killed multiple people - friends, family, foes - all in the attempt to prove that he and his followers are the superior race.”

Michael paused, watching the emotions flow over Kyle’s face - fear, worry, anxiety, anger - and then pressed on, building the potentially horrific scene.

“You’re in the middle of a battlefield, cutting through his ranks, trying to what’s left of your family, whom he is holding hostage in the hope it will weaken you. You’re worried, frightened to the core and furious as your mother’s scream rips across the field, followed by the pained cry of your helpless grandfather. And no matter what you do, it just seems like his forces keep growing in number, pushing you back from your goal.”

Michael stood back as he continued to weave and manipulate the fear building in Kyle’s mind, silently impressed by the flow of power multiplying in his friend’s hands and whipping the air around them as Kyle’s face tightened in anger.

“That’s when you notice something odd… that cactus, or what you assumed was a cactus, is an illusion - it’s actually a portal that the enemy is using to transport soldiers and renew its ranks. You feel an additional flare of rage and panic as your father falls to the ground, and in an effort to cut the enemy off from its seemingly endless supply of foot soldiers, you…”

Kyle’s eyes flew open at the image of his father falling to the ground, and letting out a growl of barely suppressed rage, flung his hands up and flung the gathering energy hurtling towards the cactus in question, a pale green flash of light exploding around it as it hit. Michael smirked and watched in satisfaction as the cactus pulsed and bulged and then burst…into flower?

Staring in disbelief as purplish-white flowers sprouted all over the cactus in front of them rather anticlimactically, Michael opened and closed his mouth several times, but no sound emerged as Kyle turned a dull red. And then blinking owlishly for several long moments, his lips twitched as the hilarity of the situation hit him, and he desperately struggled to keep his mirth in check given Kyle’s acute embarrassment, but failed miserably.

After two weeks of tension and stress, Michael simply couldn’t help himself; and all potential hurt pride and feeling aside, he threw his head back and howled with laughter. The helpless, hysterical guffaws rumbled through his gut, and felt almost rusty and unfamiliar as they spilled from his throat, but were welcome nonetheless after weeks of strife. Gasping for breath, he leaned over and braced himself on his knees as his mirth wheezed and rolled through him, that only made the sandy-haired man next to him scowl and purse his lips into an unbecoming pout; one that set Michael off into renewed peals of laughter.

“Fuck…fucking hell, Valenti,” Michael managed to choke out between chuckles, the moment helping to release weeks of tension in one hysterical swoop. God, he had needed that. “I told you to blast the damned thing, not decorate it.”

“Shove off, Guerin,” Kyle sulked indignantly, his face redder than a stop sign as he glared at the offending cactus, which continued to expand and flower, and then mature into prickly pear fruit as if it hadn’t dealt him a mortal blow to his pride.

“Or what?” Michael chortled, swiping at the moisture that had gathered in his eyes during his fit of hilarity, and couldn’t help snarking. “You gonna turn me into a rose bush?”

“Michael!” Isabel hissed, glaring at him menacingly, but it had little effect on the still snickering man in light of her still blushing boyfriend and his creation. “You’re not helping!”

“Sorry,” Michael apologized insincerely, snickering again when Kyle just continued to pout and stare the cactus. “I just…needed that.”

“Right,” Isabel huffed, although Michael detected a note of amusement sparkling in her eyes as well before she sobered and turned to Kyle. “All right, let’s try this again; but this time, instead of focusing on doing a blast of energy to destroy it, I want you to try something else.”

“Isa..” Kyle began, still embarrassed by his less than successful attempt to destroy ‘the enemy,’ but was cut off with a wave of Isabel’s hand.

“No, seriously,” Isabel continued, overriding any protest Kyle might have produced. “Everyone has different talents and this could be useful if appropriately focused. This time, instead of trying to destroy it, I want you to…well, make it grow. Expand its size in height and breadth.”

“Why?” Kyle whined, obviously done with this exercise. Michael, on the other hand, knew better than to question when Isabel was on a vein, and thus remained silent so he could see where she was going with this detour.

“Because, if you can manipulate plant life,” Isabel explained as patiently as possible. “I can think of several ways that can be useful - both offensively and defensively.”

Michael considered this without a word, even as Isabel continued to coax Kyle into trying out his powers once more, his mind flitting to the dense, rainforest-like foliage on Ahrensa and hummed thoughtfully under his breath as his mind churned over the possibilities. If Kyle could control and manipulate plants, there was any number of ways that could prove useful in the right setting - vines that grew and restrained enemies, tree roots to trip them up, flowers that could produce toxins - it had an endless wealth of prospects.

“She’s right,” Michael agreed, cutting into their…debate as he turned back to Kyle, much more sober now that he had given it some thought. “We should test how strong and far ranging your abilities may be. In a battle, it would certainly be an unexpected defense and any confusion on the part of the enemy is good.”

“Fine,” Kyle groused, but he looked marginally relieved, and a touch intrigued, by the Michael’s explanation. Frowning intensely, Kyle focused on the cactus again and pushed his power into it, keeping a slow steady flow this time rather than the violent outpouring of energy earlier. At first, nothing seemed to happen, frustrating Kyle, but gradually, the cactus began to grow, nearly quadrupling its size and developed thick, dagger-like spines.

Letting out an explosive breath, Kyle slumped and swiped a hand over his damp brow, exhausted by the use of so much power in such a short space of time. Walking over to the cactus, Michael examined it with a grim, but satisfied smile. Plucking one of the spines from the plant, Michael tested it, his grin deepening when he discovered they were razor sharp.

“Useful,” he murmured, taking the spine back to Kyle and handing it to him, smirking when the boy let out a low whistle before handing it to Isabel, both returning his satisfaction at the successful experiment. “Very useful.”

“Indeed,” Isabel agreed with a grin, and then cast a concerned look towards a slightly swaying Kyle, and a tired-looking Liz who had just joined the group. Turning back to Michael, they smiled and nodded. “I think we should call it quits for the day. We’re all tired and we still need to head out to the pods and check the orbs before it gets too late.”

“A closing then?” Michael asked, taking his place as anchor when they all nodded, Liz falling effortlessly beside him to the right. Isabel stepped into place before him, building the third rung and then Kyle entered, standing in front of Liz with purpose, closing the square.

Taking a deep breath, Michael closed his eyes and centered himself, grounding his flagging energy into the earth beneath his feet, drawing on that warm, golden pulse of life flowing through it. Holding onto that thrumming rhythm, he allowed its electrical vibration to fill him, altogether different from the green, sharp breath of Ahrensa, but just as intoxicating as it caressed and rejuvenated his core. Opening his eyes, he turned to Liz and reached out, with his hand physically, but also with that glowing turquoise cord that stretched between them, which flared as the connection cemented as their hands closed around one another.

The energy jolted, doubling in strength as it flowed between them, cycling in an endless loop, and strengthened Liz’s flagging energy. Meeting her eyes, he silently asked if she was ready to expand their focus and sighed when she flinched at first, but then steeled her spine and nodded. Turning to Isabel, he reached out his other hand, but it was unnecessary as his power recognized hers and instantaneously jumped, bridging the three and boosting the connection to triple its strength. Through Isabel came the fourth and final corner of their square as his power touched Kyle’s, closing the circuit.

As hands met in the middle, the power surged and reached zenith, and exploded to new levels as it circled and flowed around them, through them, above and below them, creating a violet bubble as the lines connected and forged an impenetrable shell around them. They reveled in the golden wash of energy that flowed out of the ground beneath them and mingled with their own, cycling and sharing as each being restored itself. And then just as quickly and brightly as it had peaked, the magic tapered into a soft, steady hum in the backs of their minds before it dissipated, flowing back into the refreshed vessels with a little burble of joy.

Panting, the four dropped hands and stared at each other in wonder, a faint golden sheen still tinting their skin as the residual power continued to flux and settle, each speechless in the face of such a significant raising of power. It was greater than anything they had produced to date and words couldn’t begin to cover what they were feeling. All they knew for sure was, it was without a doubt evident just why their enemies feared the foursquare.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that,” Liz commented breathlessly, and Michael couldn’t help but agree with that assessment as they began to quietly gather their thing headed towards their cars, each still lost in the wonder of what they had inadvertently produced.
“This place always gives me the creeps,” Isabel shuddered, looking around the dark, dank pod chamber with a hint of revulsion as they entered the ramshackle cave. “There just seems to be some darkness hovering over it every time we enter this place.”

Making a small noise of agreement in the back of her throat, Liz nodded and couldn’t help but agree as she studied the damp, dirty confines, a shiver tracing its way over her spine as that darkness leeched into her skin and covered it with a thin layer of psychic scum. Something in the air wafting through the area was off, a rancid, almost decaying scent coating her nose as she inhaled deeply, making her cough. It was almost as if something or someone had tainted the very cavern walls.

She’d disliked it from the moment she first stepped in it that ill-fated day Max, Tess, Michael and Isabel had heard their so-called destiny; but now, with her newfound abilities coming to the fore, the atmosphere was overwhelming, oppressive, and yes, wrapped around her much like that heavy, black cloud that Isabel had just mentioned. It was nearly suffocating in its intensity and left her feeling lightheaded and struggling to breathe.

Sometimes, despite how helpful the Granilith had been recently, she couldn’t help but wish that the chamber itself had been destroyed when Tess shot off to locals unknown. She had very few good memories of this place outside the time she and Michael had been there when they bonded. And even that particular time, she could have sworn that they had traveled elsewhere, to some other dimension beyond these walls where time didn’t exist.

“It does have an almost sinister feel to it,” Liz murmured, the icy well in her stomach building as she moved away from the door and walked deeper into the cave, desperately ignoring the bile that burned in her throat. This place made her feel ill. “Although, I’m not sure if that’s due t the fact that it’s a damp, dark cave, or if there really is something foul lingering in the air after our confrontation with Tess.”

“Neither,” Michael piped up from behind her, clawing at his brow absently as he studied the destroyed pods, gleaming almost menacingly in the background. “There is definitely something off about it though, and it isn’t natural; but the power signature isn’t familiar either. At least I can’t place it.” Exhaling heavily, Michael ran a hand over the pod framework and hummed under his breath. “The taint is recent. When we first discovered the pods, it wasn’t this omnipresent; not nearly this…dark.”

“Do you think that maybe Max…” Liz trailed off as she cast a surreptitious glance at Isabel, not wanting to upset the other girl with the mention of her brother, going silent when Isabel frowned.

“Perhaps,” Michael shrugged, glancing at Isabel as well, but not nearly as careful with his words as he knew that she had to face Max’s betrayal sooner or later. “Or someone that he’s brought here; but whatever it is, it’s not supposed to be here, that’s for certain.”

“How do you know that?” Kyle asked dubiously, rubbing a soothing hand over Isabel’s back.

“The Granilith told me,” Michael responded, frowning deeply as he picked his way through the rubble, his answer garnering everyone’s attention; especially Liz’s. She hadn’t heard of Michael having more Granilith dreams or visions or talks with the…being? Computer? What did one call a sentient machine?

“Did you have another dream,” she couldn’t help but asking, bringing Michael’s surprised gaze back to her, confusion clearly filling his eyes at the question before they cleared.

“No,” he responded, shaking his head and then floundering as he tried to explain how he had come about the information. “It…she…told me just now. I’m actually not sure how, as until now I’ve only seen her in dreams or when I touched the actual crystal. It was just…suddenly there in my head. It’s as if…the connection is growing, getting stronger.”

“So it talks to you,” Isabel said, a frown touching her mouth, and Liz could almost hear the cogs in her head whirring as she went through her memories for answers. It wasn’t really a question, but Michael answered, a bit uncomfortable with the intense scrutiny.

“Not exactly. It’s just…it shares what it thinks is important, valuable or necessary. As, I said before, it’s hard to explain.”

“Right,” Liz shuddered, and then refocused their attention to the chore at hand, wanting to take the heat off Michael as well as needing to get out of there. They could explore Michael’s connection to the Granilith later; right now, the orbs were the priority. “Let’s just find the orbs and get out of here, please. It’s getting dark and…we should leave as soon as possible. That is, if we can unearth them in all of this mess.”

And a mess it was. While the room hadn’t caved in when Tess had left, protected by the Granilith, there had been significant damage due to internal rumbling and everything had been scattered. She had no idea how they were going to find anything in the rubble.

“One is in the Granilith chamber, where Isabel threw it,” Michael responded absently, smiling at them sheepishly when they just stared. “And the other is hidden in one of the pods.”

“How…?” Isabel began, but quickly cut off her question as she looked over to Liz and saw that she was fighting the dark pull of the room. Sighing, she walked towards the Granilith chamber. “Never mind. I’ll get the one that’s in the chamber, but we do need to talk about this later.”

Michael nodded as she left and started searching for the other orb in the pods. Liz looked away, rubbing her hands over her arms to ward off the chill that clung to her flesh, growing more and more uneasy with each passing moment. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t put her finger on just what was bothering her about this situation. Just that a sense of foreboding filled her, making her throat constrict and her heart rate to pick up its pace, and she couldn’t help questioning the wisdom of their trek out here without even telling Jim their whereabouts.

Rubbing the back of her neck, Liz was trying to shake off the feelings, convinced she was just letting the pervading dark get to her, and was about to walk outside for some air, when Michael gave a small cry of triumph. Turning around, she felt a sense of relief as Michael pulled out a silver, elliptical device from depths of the lower, left-hand pod - the one that had been Tess’ if she remembered correctly. Her relief mounted when Isabel soon made her way out of the Granilith chamber with the second orb. She really couldn’t wait to get out of here.

“So, now what?” Kyle queried, staring skeptically at the two orbs despite this being his idea.

“I suppose we should do what we did before?” Isabel answered, walking over to where the three of them were standing by the pods. “Pair up and then place them together, concentrate on opening them to see if the message is the same? And then if that doesn’t work, I suppose we can go from there. Maybe even try connecting with it through the foursquare.”

“Works for me,” Michael agreed, coming to stand behind Liz.

Wrapping his arms around her, Michael held the orb out in front of them, waiting for Liz cup the device, before he then cupped her hands. Isabel and Kyle took up a similar stance at their sides, almost mirroring the scene at the end of their sophomore year. Taking a deep breath, all four looked at each other nervously and then closed their eyes, focusing their pooled energies on the two devices that they hoped held the answers to all of their questions.

Swallowing thickly as the air began to stir around them, Liz felt that momentary doubt once more and shifted uneasily as the earth began to tremble beneath them, a low rumbling that sent a spike of fear shooting down her spine. A feeling she would later wish she had listened to as the orbs began to hum ominously, vibrating in their hands as a blindingly white light shot through the room, flaring white-hot across their visions; and then everything went dark as all four vanished into thin air, the two orbs falling to the ground, spinning innocuously in the empty chamber.

Silence filled the house, his accomplice long gone to deal with something or another; he couldn't really tell what it had been about as he had long since stopped listening to his prattling, giving his explanations only half an ear as he contemplated the newest developments. He was certain the other man would be irritated him later, but at the moment, he couldn't quite muster up the effort to be concerned about it. Running a hand through tangled, dark hair, he paced the length of the room, his eyes constantly shifting the little, black device resting innocuously on the table, still quiet and unresponsive despite his wishes.

Scowling at the device, he stopped his pacing and walked over to it, glaring down as if expecting it to jump to his command, and actually do something, anything in order to break the tension swirling around him and end this waiting game. But it sat on, blithely ignoring his mental commands and pleas, and cursing under his breath, he resumed his pacing, hoping that his accomplice, who knew more about how the device worked than he did, would return soon; just so he could be certain that he'd set it up correctly.

It wouldn't do to miss the big event because he hadn't managed to set the device up correctly, or entered the correct commands, or hell, even forgot to turn the damned thing on. Sighing, he halted his trek once more, and scrubbed at his face impatiently, ready to check on the thing once again, when a cheep caught his notice. Looking up, he watched the device intently, his heart thudding loudly in his ears as it flashed and cheeped again, once, twice, thrice, before it began to shimmer brightly, drawing a pleased smile to his face.

Flipping open his cell phone, he hit a number he had on speed dial and then pressed the phone to his ear, uttering only three words when the other man picked up.

“It is done.”

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Re: Hunted (UC,Mi/L,ADULT) Interlude - Michael

Post by Ashita » Fri Jul 18, 2014 4:38 pm

AN: So an explanation for the delay on this. First, when I originally started writing this story, I had all the chapters planned and the dialogue written out, but as I got into the story, it began to grow more and more complex, and the chapters I had planned after Chapter 19 started getting that rushed feeling.

Concerned about that, I ended up adding three chapters to help slow the story down. This would have been fine except for the second thing - while I had Michael's part completed for this next chapter, I was only getting bits and pieces for Isabel and Kyle's parts. I kept holding off on the chapter on the hope that Kyle and Isabel would finally cooperate, and the next thing I knew months had passed again.

And finally I've also been recently consumed with how to turn this into original fiction.

So, this is my solution for now. I'm going to post what would have been one chapter in a series of interludes, hoping this will break the log jam in my head and the other characters will stop being s stubborn. And frankly, at this point, I just want to get something out.

So my apologies on the delay, and here is Michael's interlude.
Interlude - Michael

Michael's vision swam, graying around the edges as the dank, dark, desert cave faded from view and morphed into an oceanic scene unlike any he'd ever seen on Earth, either in real life or pictures. Purple water sparkled in the sunlight, flowing and ebbing as it swirled and foamed around his ankles like warm, liquid silk; its hues started from the palest periwinkle and gradually deepened into a saturated violet on the far horizon. Spinning in a slow, tight circle, he frowned, his brow puckering as silver-white sand, as fine and soft as baby powder, squelched between his toes.

Trees, reminiscent to the palms he'd once seen in a picture of some beach in California, lined the shore about a hundred yards from where he was standing; but they were short, squat and filled with brilliant, ruby-red fruit and salmon-colored flowers. The blooms and emerald-bright fronds swayed and danced in a fragrant, light breeze; one that ruffled his sweat-dampened hair and brought with it a sharp, spicy scent that reminded him of orange blossoms.

It was stunningly beautiful, but abandoned, quiet, peaceful, without a soul in sight; almost too much so as it instantly set his hackles rising, leaving him feeling testy and on edge. He despised being thrust into unknown situations, and silence had always been a precursor to very bad things happening in his life. In fact, rather than fearing Hank's ranting and raving, it had been when his foster father went silent that Michael feared for his life. Hank was always at his deadliest when he quietly brooded rather than ranted about how useless he thought his ward was; it meant that he was bottling everything up for something spectacularly painful and degrading.

Shifting uneasily on his feet, Michael cast a wary glance at his surroundings, swallowing harshly as he noted that his companions hadn't joined him on this sojourn and he, in fact, had no idea where his mate, or his other bonded, were; and he didn't like it one bit. It fed the icy sense of dread spreading through his gut, and sharpened the edge of foreboding that trickled along his spine. Pursing his lips, Michael narrowed his eyes and had to wonder just what was going on; typically when he was thrown into familiar, yet unfamiliar territory, the Granilith was present, if not in the physical, then at the very least in his head, guiding his movements.

“Where am I? And why am I here?” he muttered under his breath, not expecting an answer; which increased his surprise when a voice spoke next to his ear.

“You are on Pryalis,” the fey being remarked gently, causing Michael to whip his head to the right and glower as a familiar figure materialized in the air next to him. Strawberry-blonde curls danced on the wind as 'Serena' walked toward him, her unusual aqua eyes holding wisdom far beyond her years. “It's one of Ahrensa's smaller moons; privately owned by your family. You spent many a summer here with your parents, brother and foster sister. It's always been your sanctuary when you were troubled, or a retreat for your entire family when there was political unrest.”

Michael stared at the fey-like creature, memories slamming into his mind in rapid succession...


*Dusan running after a giggling Serena and Lannie...

*Khivar and him sleeping under the stars, chatting long into the night...

*His father, Teno, kissing his mother, Ana's, cheek as they danced in the courtyard of their manor...

*Dusan stealing a kiss from a blushing Lannie...

*Lareena peeking around a corner, laughter dancing in her eyes before she tore off into the gardens with him at her heels...

*Rain splattering on his face as he stood in the courtyard, staring at the violent purple-black waves, the world seeming to mourn Dusan's death as much as he.


Inhaling sharply, Michael rubbed at his chest, violently shaking off the sharp pang of grief that stabbed through him at the thought of his lost brother, one he had never had the chance to know in this lifetime.

Or had he?

The thought whispered through his mind, unbidden, before he shook it away as crazy, and then turned his face aside, hiding the tears prickling in his eyes; it was at times like this, when 'Rath' was closer to the surface, muddling reality, that he felt that loss acutely.

“Why...” he asked tightly, his voice hoarse from suppressed emotion, all the while growing more and more agitated the longer he was away from Liz and uncertain of her fate. Flicking his gaze back to 'Serena's' placid face, he cleared his throat and attempted again. “Why would you say that?”

“Because you feel threatened, mlindaji [keeper],” Granilith-Serena said with a small knowing smile, merely arching a slim brow when he growled under his breath and looked away, daring him to deny it. But he didn't; he

Chuffing at him affectionately, she smiled and continued.

“Your mate and friends are fine. They are actually in a deep restive state, in a concealed place, just as you are; but the connections I have with Kyle and Isabel are not strong enough to bring them here with you, and your Liz is far too overloaded with stimuli as it is; she would not do well here.”

Michael heard the barely veiled 'not yet' in the being's words, and couldn't help but wonder at, and feel wary of, the Granilith's interest in his mate. It was never good when sentient machines with an almost omnipotent presence, and an intellect that surpassed anything he was even capable of understanding, became interested in any human. But the Granilith hadn't steered him wrong, or endangered them as of yet, so he was holding off judgment and willing to hear 'her' out each time he was pulled into this other realm.

is my mate?” he asked tightly, clenching his fists when 'Serena' merely smiled at him, as if she knew exactly what was going on in his head; which she likely did.

“She is resting; right next to you actually,” Serena replied, waving her hand in the air and making a small window at her side, one that allowed him to see him and Liz curled up on a rather nondescript bed, slumbering peacefully. “She is in a bad way, and has slipped into a coma-like sleep so that her mental shields can mend themselves properly. With her being bombarded as she was with everyone's emotions, without the necessary training, she was starting to lose touch with reality, and needed this rest.”

Michael stared at the two of them, his heart jolting at thought of not being able to keep Liz safe; at the thought that she was so close to slipping away due to her gifts. Paling dramatically, he turned back to 'Serena' and asked the question preying on his mind. “Where are we?”

'Serena' arched a brow, and he waved her off impatiently, a little sick of the less than helpful answers he'd received so far. He had never been a patient man, and this little hocus pocus, cryptic shit was beginning to grate on his nerves. “I mean, out there. Where are we out there?”

“You are nowhere,” 'Serena' replied with a shrug, and Michael had to grit his teeth to keep from making a snide comment, not that he had any hope of the being not knowing exactly what he was thinking. This was her realm after all. “So impatient. You are nowhere; and yet everywhere at the same time. Think of it as limbo. A place where time ceases to exist. It was where you were meant to go before those who betrayed you interfered. Here you will meet your fate without the worry of outside struggles and influence, and without the added stress of time.”

“Where we were meant to be?” Michael asked skeptically, barely able to resist rolling his eyes at the non-answer, and was unimpressed by the being's lack of a straightforward answer.

“Did you never wonder at why, if you were recreated to serve a higher purpose, why so much time had passed?” 'Serena' cocked her head to the side and studied Michael curiously.

He refrained from answering; but yes, it had crossed his mind, that if they were so important to their world's survival, why had so much time elapsed?

“It was never meant to happen this way,” the being responded to his silent question. “This much time shouldn't have elapsed. After your deaths, you were remade, and your 'essences' placed into maturation pods. If they hadn't interferred, you
should have come to this place after reaching maturation and been trained. You should have unlocked your past, your memories, and then been sent back to just moments after everything went wrong. But that did not happen.”

“If this isn't the way things were meant to turn out, then why didn't you set things right?” Michael demanded. “You've implied that you can affect time; and you certainly haven't been shy about meddling in our lives. Why did this all happen then?”

“Did I say that this was
my plan?” 'Serena' smirked, making him huff with exasperation. “That was the plan of your creators. And I approved of it to a degree; but even then, I could sense that things would not turn out as they should. It rarely does when you mess with creation and time. And, my dear mlindaji, you forget that I am a machine. A great one. A sentient one; but a machine nonetheless. I have my limitations.”

“So, of course, this all falls back onto Tess and Khivar,” Michael muttered bitterly, and he couldn't help but wonder what the being wasn't telling him and how different his life might have been had he been raised as a prince and not as the barely tolerated foster son to the scum of the Earth. “It always comes back to that.”

“Things are not quite what they seem, Rath,” 'Serena' cautioned, her face growing pensive, her eyes distant for the first time of their acquaintance; as if she was seeing something far beyond the both of them, to something he couldn't see.

“Aren't what they seem?” Michael asked slowly, watching the being with a frown, one that continued to grow as she grimaced unhappily, her eyes still out of focus. “What do you mean that 'things aren't the way they seem? It seems rather straightforward to me. Tess all but confessed to everything. She admitted to Max...”

Michael stilled at that; a sick feeling swirling in his gut as he realized that he had absolutely no idea what Tess had actually said in the chamber after Max forced them to leave. She'd never admitted to anything in front of the group. In fact, she had been suspiciously silent during the entire accusation; no sane person would actually stand there taking that kind of abuse, guilty or not. Yet Tess had been as still as a stone statue, watching everything through furious eyes. He'd thought she was just that cold, just that unmoved by what she did, but...but what if it had been something else?

What if she
couldn't speak?

Reeling with that new thought, Michael cast his thoughts over the confrontation, remembering the subtle flinches, the wordless fury and he couldn't help but wonder if they'd all been spectacularly played. After all, they only had Max's word that she had confessed to killing Alex; and he was hardly a reliable source these days given that his secrets were slowly coming to light. Clawing at his brow, he turned to a silent 'Serena' and asked with a heavy heart.

“Why do you say things aren't what they seem?”

'Serena' made a small noise of distress, and Michael got the feeling that she had said more than she'd intended; a notion that was cemented when she said equally as grave. “You are not quite ready for that information.”

Michael scoffed, but quickly snapped his mouth shut when she sent him a chiding glance, making him feel akin to a scolded child.

“Focus on the here and now, child,” 'Serena' admonished, refusing to grant any more insight to her previous statement. "And what is necessary to defeat your enemies."

“And that is?” Michael asked skeptically.

“To learn,” 'Serena' replied with a small smile, running a fond hand over his hair before she pulled away. “To observe, learn and train. You must understand the past fully before you can cement your future; before there can be a future.”

“And just how are we supposed to do that?” Michael demanded, his impatience showing through once more as he stared after the rapidly departing and entirely irritating being.

“You will see,” 'Serena' smirked, then added cryptically. “The way will open when you are ready to see. It's all inside of you, Rath; you just have to tap into it.” Michael huffed and shook his head, heartily done with abstruse beings, and paused only when Serena turned back with one last comment. “Oh, and don't 'shoot' the messengers; remember, you have more allies than you even realize. And they do have a tough time of it.”

“What?” Michael asked, his confusion evident, before it gave way to wariness. “What's that supposed to mean?”

“So suspicious,” 'Serena' admonished, shaking her head disparagingly at him, before turning serious. “Caution is good, Rath; but do take care not to allow it to slip into paranoia. You can't do this alone, and if you trust no one, you
will fail. And this time, you will lose more than your life."

Michael stilled at those words, a deep foreboding shaking him to the core; especially as he studied Serena's troubled, distant gaze as she stared at churning purple waters.

"The tide is turning; be certain that you are ready for its shifting.”

And with that, Serena smiled wanly, her cheeks pale, and faded away, leaving a highly agitated and confused Michael in her wake. Michael let out the breath he had been holding and then turned to look at the beach once more, a part of him, the part where Rath hovered, mourning the fact that it wasn't real. And then his head spun, and his vision swam as darkness descended once more, taking all his thoughts with it.

... ... ...

Michael blinked his eyes open slowly, lashes trembling with the effort as he adjusted to the low light in the room, and then groaned heavily as he squeezed the dry, gritty orbs closed again in an attempt to wet them. His head swam sickly and his mouth was as dry as the Sahara, leaving him feeling dizzy, disoriented and ill. Taking several slow, shallow breaths, he tried to quell the bile pressing at the back of his throat and viciously muttered under his breath.

When he got his hands on whomever did this, he was going to maim them at the very least.

Pausing for long moment, Michael once again attempted to open his eyes, and frowned as he blinked away the spots dancing across his line of sight. What had happened? Scanning his surroundings, he jolted, and dread streaked across his nerves when the low light revealed a white room; one that seemed very, very familiar.

Cautiously, in an attempt to keep the pounding in his head to a minimum, Michael turned it to the left, and absently noted he was lying on a stiff bed, blindingly white sheets beneath him, in the middle of a small chamber that could have been pulled from his darkest nightmares. The room was small, only big enough for the bed with a bit of room on all sides; and bare, the exception being a single overhead 'light', which was nothing more than a bright ball of energy hovering in the middle of the room, casting the room into pale blue shadow.

It was...cold. Clinical. Stark.

And it made a shiver snake down his spine, bringing forth memories best left in the past. Shuddering again, Michael clenched his eyes shut, shoved that thought away, and forced his scattered mind into focus, bringing him to a much more serious and immediate problem, the thing that disturbed him most of all.

There were no doors and no windows, no portal of any kind to the outside world.

It was almost as if he were sealed in, entombed in a room that was barely larger than Isabel’s walk-in closet.

And that revelation chilled him to the bone.

Swallowing thickly, he tried to sit up, wanting to further explore his cell, but found he couldn’t; his limbs were heavy, weighted, uncooperative, as if he had been drugged or was being held down by some invisible force.

That realization sent his sluggish heart pumping a beat faster, but it wasn't enough to rouse him fully, despite the fear coursing a slow, insidious path through his blood like slow-acting poison; and he couldn’t quite quell a spike of panic. More he couldn't seem to keep his eyes open; as if all his efforts to clear his thoughts and remain alert were being subverted by the same invisible force.

And if that wasn't alarming enough, to top it all off, he couldn't even feel the power that usually tingled freely through his body.

That wasn't right; it was...unnatural and left him cold.

But he couldn't seem to rouse himself enough to do anything about it.

He should be reacting to that (at the very least); it should bring forth his naturally sensitive fight or flight syndrome, the reflexes and senses that he has honed over years of hiding what he truly is; of blending with a population that would be all too happy to experiment upon and dissect him as if he were nothing more than an animal that needed to be trapped, caged and studied for 'the betterment of mankind.' He should...

He's a soldier. His reaction should be ingrained.

And yet...

Unnerved, he desperately wished he had an outlet for the panic that those thoughts produced, now coiling just under his skin, begging for release; that insisted he rise up and hunt, to pounce, to maim, to kill the invisible enemy holding him down.

It crawled beneath his skin, screaming silently.

But all he could do was lay there and blink, and stare, and grow increasingly anxious at his predicament as his thoughts hazed and muddled and flit away seemingly without care.

This isn't right.

How had he ended up here?

He couldn't puzzle it out, couldn't remember anything leading up to arriving in the desert to practice his powers with Liz, Isabel and Kyle. There was a great, yawning, gray haze covering the relevant memories, which didn't staunch his anxiety in the least bit.

Michael lost himself in the haze, sharply poking at it in an attempt to get it to yield answers when he felt something brush against his arm, startling him and he snapped his head to the right to investigate. A supremely bad idea as it turns out, as pain shot across his temples, lancing through his head like a white-hot poker at the abrupt movement, whiting out his gaze. Blindingly hot stars burst across his line of vision and seared the synapses in his brain, burning out any train of thought he might have latched onto; and then his sight grayed, a familiar face hovering next to him for just a moment before it swirled into nothing.

... ... ...

The second time Michael pried his way into wakefulness, his head and body didn't feel nearly as weighted down, but lethargy still held him within its grip; and no matter how much he struggled, fought against its bonds, he couldn't seem to shake it. Blinking his eyes open, he stared at the same blue-white energy ball hovering above him and grit his teeth, exhaling forcefully around them as his temper spiked and prickled at his helplessness.

He hated this; absolutely loathed being controlled, being tied down, being...helpless.

Nothing good ever came from this kind of situation.

Clenching his hands into fists, Michael once again struggled to lift them, testing his range of motion and found them unresponsive, his muscles gelatinous, loose, and, in other words, completely and utterly fucking useless. And it made him want to blast things, made him want to maim things, made him want to break his captors down into so many pieces that they, whoever they were, would never, ever have another opportunity to recreate them, Granilith or no.

He really couldn't wait to get his hands on whoever was behind this.

Huffing, he laid back against his pillow (not like he had a fucking choice on that matter anyway), and then realized that something was off. Something was very off. Tensing, he cautiously swept a troubled gaze around the room, a perplexed frown pulling on the corners of his mouth, and desperately sought what had him on edge. The room was still blindingly white and clinical in feel, but there was something...something just beyond his reach and then...

And then it slammed into him all at once.

He was in a different room.

It was similar to the first in many ways, just larger, with room to move about, and small plain wooden wardrobe and a metallic table and chair set that had been added in opposite corners, all of which winked ominously in the dull blue light. It was still cell-like, without doors and windows, and far too close to the White Room for his comfort, but airier, more open, as if their captors planned on keeping them there for an indefinite period.

And he really didn't like the implications of that.

Frown deepening, Michael noted that the clothing he and Liz had worn into the desert, (from yesterday? the day before that? weeks before? time was muddled in his mind), was lying on the table top, all of it clean and folded in innocuous piles, with their shoes sitting next to each other beneath it. When had that happened? and then, glancing down, alarm flared throughout his body and iced his gut as he stared in horror, his mouth running hot and dry as he spied a strikingly familiar set of white surgical scrubs clothing his body.

The very same set he’d seen Max wearing when they busted him out of the White Room.

That thought was enough to cut through the haze swirling in his mind, sharpening his senses and brought with it a realization that had been hovering sluggishly at the back of his mind, but didn't surface due to whatever was interfering with his ability to move. Something that should have been obvious; that would have been obvious had his captors not suppressed his senses, his powers somehow.

He couldn't feel Liz.

Liz…where was Liz?

After months of feeling her on the peripheral of his mind due to the lehali bond, and then weeks of having her mind chattering in his head on a dull hum, the silence that now resided where her voice sat was deafening. Michael's heart stilled, freezing for a full beat before slamming back into motion as he tried to reach down through the bond, calling to Liz.

Liz, baby, can you hear me?

But the bond, like his powers, remained cold and unresponsive.

Sweetheart, Aiba, please answer me…

Licking his lips to moisten them, he jerked at his hands, his panic flaring anew as invisible fingers tightened, keeping him pinned helplessly to the bed. Jerking at them fruitlessly, he squirmed and fought the bonds with every ounce of listless energy he could muster, but nothing seemed to work. Panting softly, he eyes scanned the room wildly, his ire growing by the second at being trapped in this portal-less room (he did mention there were no windows, no doors, and not even a crack in the fucking walls, didn't he?), with absolutely no indication as to who their captors were or what they even wanted.


A raw surge of emotion and power, spurred on by his sense of helplessness, had him fighting the invisible bonds, and momentarily breaking them, but that burst of power came at an expense, shooting pain ricocheting through his brain; and then he slid back into that black nothingness, a gentle, invisible hand brushing across his hair as a soft voice commanded him to, “Sleep.”

... ... ...

The third time that Michael came to, he jolted rudely awake, eyes popping wide, breath labored and sweat plastering his hair to his face as demons and muddled, fragmented visions, each more horrifying than the last, chased him into reality. Clenching his eyes shut, he drew in several shaky, deep breaths, attempting calm the turmoil in his minds, brought on by his disturbing surroundings no doubt, and then opened them once more, deliberately ignoring the dampness of his lashes and the salt-water that gathered in the corners of his eyes.

Growling low in his throat, his heart slowly coming down from its frenetic pace, Michael cursed his reactions, his helplessness, his weakness under his breath and hoped that his captors were busy elsewhere. He hated giving said captors, of whom he was certain were observing them to a degree, any kind of opening to his soul, showing them any kind of hidden vulnerability.

It had always caused him nothing but pain until he'd learned to hide that crippling vulnerability behind a carefully constructed mask of indifference.

He'd had to, or Hank would have preyed upon it.

Shifting to get more comfortable, Michael was surprised when he was able to move unimpeded by the invisible force that had once held him captive. That was unexpected. But he certainly wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth for this new sense of freedom, minute as it was - he was still held captive, still trapped in a cell, in a cage like a lab rat, regardless of this new ability to move.

Sitting up carefully, Michael blinked and then winced as his head throbbed dully; his vision grayed, his stomach swirled and his equilibrium slid sideways as one would expect when sitting up after a long convalescence. Clutching his hands into the white blanket and sheets, he closed his eyes, blocking out the bluish-white light, and drew several shallow breaths into his lungs, keep everything on an even keel until his vision cleared and he no longer felt as if he wanted to toss up what little he had in his stomach.

Opening his eyes once more, he glanced around the room, and then made a small, choked noise in the back of his throat, not unlike a sob as he caught sight of a small body and a head full of coffee-colored hair. Staggering to his feet, not even caring about the uncomfortable, needle-like prickles stabbing throughout his legs as sensation returned, Michael stumbled over to the bed that held Liz, uncertain if it were relief or fear coursing through his veins. Perhaps a confusing, overwhelming mixture of both.

Sitting on the bed next to her, one disturbingly similar to the one he'd just exited, he took a moment to just study her upturned face. Her closed eyes were shadowed, great purple bruises pressed deep into the skin beneath thick ebony lashes, as they had been these past weeks as she attempted to get her newest power under control and failed. Making a small noise of discontent, Michael pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and tried to connect with the bond, and her once more.


But once again, as with his previous attempts, there was nothing.

Biting back a snarl at the absence of her mind chatter, Michael smoothed a finger down over Liz's cheek, and then sighed when Liz' lips twitched into a faint smile, her cheek almost seeming to lean into his touch. While her reaction, her unconsciously seeking out him out, was a relief in some ways, he couldn't help feeling somewhat troubled. Because, while he could see her, and he could feel her skin under his, he couldn’t feel her.

Mentally, they were blocked.

The bond was muted somehow, and it was only through supreme effort that he could even detect the faint hum of her presence in the back of his mind. And he couldn't figure out what was causing it. He didn't have these memories. His past, his memories of the powers he and his people were privy to, were nothing more than a muddle in his mind. Nothing but fragments.

If this was even alien to begin with.

He still didn't even know where they were, who or what was holding them captive, or even how they got here as his mind was still wrapped up in a haze.

Scowling at that, Michael mentally poked at the haze, slowly working through it and then inhaled sharply as the memories (finally) slammed into him with the speed and weight of a freight train; coming to him in a series of flashes that sat like lead in his stomach, and overloading him with information.


*“This is far from over,” Max warned smoothly, watching them as he stalked away, the mocking light in his eyes sending a chill over Michael’s spine, just knowing those words precluded something potentially horrific and painful…

*“Fine, point taken,” Kyle huffed, and Michael couldn’t help the subtle snicker that shook him as he heard, rather than saw his friend’s exasperation as he pointed out Paulie’s odd behavior. “I mean suspicious weird, alien weird, I’m fucking concerned weird…”

*“Tess had the ability to mind warp, right…“ Kyle pointed out as they sat for dinner, making Michael freeze to cellular level. “How do we know that the orbs gave you the real message? Or if they contained a message at all and didn't do something else. What if it was all a mind warp...”

*“This is far from over,” Max warned smoothly, watching them as he stalked away, the mocking light in his eyes sending a chill over Michael’s spine…

*“Maybe we could go out to the chamber and look at them again after we train,” Liz suggested as they wrapped up their discussion on the orbs, looking surreptitiously over her shoulder…

*“Is something wrong?” he whispered against Liz’s ear.

“No, I thought I saw...” Liz whispered unsteadily, her eyes going back to the window and searching it frantically. “But they were just there. I thought...”

*“This is far from over,” Max warned smoothly, watching them as he stalked away…

*“I thought someone was watching us,” Liz explained later, when he called her on her behavior in Señor Chow‘s. “It's had me kind of jittery all day...”

*“I think we should call it quits for the day. We’re all tired and we still need to head out to the pods and check the orbs before it gets too late...”

*“This is far from over,” Max warned smoothly…

*“It does have an almost sinister feel to it,” Liz murmured, the icy well in her stomach slashing violently across the bond, making Michael flinch, before it winked out. This place made them
both feel ill. “Although, I’m not sure if that’s due to the fact that it’s a damp, dark cave, or if there really is something foul lingering in the air after our confrontation with Tess.”

* Wrapping his arms around her, Michael held the orb out in front of them, waiting for Liz cup the device, before he then cupped her hands...swallowing thickly as the air began to stir around them, Michael grew concerned when he felt Liz shift uneasily and the earth begin to tremble beneath them, sending a spike of fear skittering across their bond. Snapping his head to her petrified face, he opened his mouth to ask what was wrong when the orbs began to hum ominously, vibrating in their hands as a blindingly white light shot through the room and flared across his vision, burning him with its intensity....

*“This is far from over,” Max warned...

*“You are nowhere,” 'Serena' shrugged. “So impatient. You are nowhere; and yet everywhere at the same time. Think of it as limbo. A place where time ceases to exist. It was where you were meant to go before those who betrayed you interfered. Here you will meet your fate without the worry of outside struggles and influence, and without the added stress of time.”

*"The tide is turning," Serena murmured, her troubled, distant gaze studying the churning purple sea before them. "Be certain that you are ready for its shifting.”

*“This is far from over...”


Michael inhaled sharply as he slammed back into himself and the memories came to a crashing halt, shuddering at the potential implications; they, combined with the Granilith’s parting words in his dream state, had thrown him further into confusion. The Granilith seemed unconcerned with their fate, but neither had she seemed reassuring, only cryptically stating things would work out.

What the hell did that mean?

Cursing cryptic, controlling beings under his breath, Michael studied Liz’s upturned face once more, his concern sharpening as he noted pinched lines around her eyes and mouth. She looked as if she was in pain, like she was battling something...and then he swore as it clicked. Violently shoving his tumultuous emotions away, (into that neat little box he'd created so long ago for his own sanity), he ran a hand through her hair, soothing it, and her, until the lines smoothed out.

The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her unintentionally.

Although, it was interesting that she was picking up on emotions still, when everything else seemed blocked; if that were indeed the case and she wasn't just having a nightmare.

But it wasn't something he really wanted to test at this point.

Pressing a kiss to her brow, he stood up and walked a bit away, refraining from touching her as that surge of protectiveness that always manifested around her (even prior to the mating process, something inside her just called to him) welled up and overwhelmed him, leaving him suffocating on bone deep terror. He knew he couldn't help her through this no matter how much he wanted to.

It left him feeling powerless, impotent, and God, did that just add to the fear and anger crawling beneath his skin just itching for a target, scrabbling to get out and...something, to do anything but this pointless waiting.

Turning on his heel, Michael pursed his lips and studied the room once more; if he couldn't help Liz with whatever it was she was battling, then the least he could do was try to find a way out of this cell and away from their captors.

Walking over to the far wall, he skimmed his hands over the smooth, white surface, flinching at the cold, glass-like texture, until he got to a place where it felt cooler to the touch. Knocking his fist against it, he frowned when it echoed back hollowly, as if tapping on metal over a recess in the wall; but he couldn't detect any seams. Sliding his hand over every inch, he paused when he came to a small depression next to the three by six-foot anomaly in the wall.

Pressing his fingers into the little notch, he startled when the wall in front of him swished open almost soundlessly, retracting into the wall to reveal an opening. Stepping through cautiously, he studied the smaller room carefully, figuring that this was some sort of bathroom given the fixtures that resembled a sink, toilet and shower, but had slight differences as there were no knobs or handles that he could see.

Crossing over to the sink, he studied it carefully, and absently nodded to himself when water flowed from what he guessed was the faucet - a clear tube, that looked like glass, but felt like metal under his fingertips - when he got within a certain distance of it. Everything was automated it seemed. Probably didn't want to leave any potential weapons available.

A nice weighted knob could easily knock someone out if thrown at the right area.

Running his hands under the water, Michael splashed some water on his face, scrubbing slightly to wash away the layer of grit clinging to his skin and then stepped away, the water shutting off automatically. Grabbing a towel from the nearest rack (again, smooth glass-like metal that seemed to grow out from the wall and fairly sturdy given how it held despite his yanking on it a few times) and dried his hands and face before setting it back on the rack, giving only the smallest of yelps when the towel disappeared into thin air. Another towel, freshly laundered, appeared in its place a few minutes later, again, coming out of thin air with no prompting outside of his using the previous towel.

That was...odd.

Quickly leaving the room, Michael noted that the door slid shut behind him with a soft hiss, melting back into a seamless wall. Staring at the area for a moment longer, Michael shook his head, his alarm growing at the weird happenings. Given the set up, he had almost convinced himself that the government might be behind their abduction (it wasn't that ironic...aliens being abducted by Earthlings?), but he wasn’t so sure any longer. He had never seen anything like this on Earth, and granted that might not mean anything given the government was known to be secretive on their discoveries, but this all had an otherworldliness to it that made him uneasy.

The question that remained was, were they friend or foe?

Although, he wasn't feeling all too friendly if they were allies; the whole locking him in a box thing certainly put a damper on any neighborly feelings, but he wasn’t ruling anything out.

Michael searched the rest of the room, but couldn't find anything that even resembled another opening; not that he expected it to open had he found a similar portal, but it would have been nice to know from which direction his jailer might be coming. Huffing out a growl of irritation, Michael stalked back over to the bed Liz was sleeping on and sat down, pulling in his troubled emotions as he lay down next to her. Pacing around the room wouldn't serve any purpose other than to agitate him further and he doubted he was going to find any answers anyway.

Letting out a harsh breath, Michael ran a hand through his hair, and then slumped, relaxing his muscles with visible effort before pulling Liz's limp body into the circle of his arms, and wrapping around her, providing as much of a shield as possible as she cuddled up to his chest. He might not be able to escape, but he could protect her as much as possible.

Sighing he closed his eyes and buried his nose into her hair, the scent of vanilla and rain and the warmth of her skin, the soft thrum of her heartbeat, instantly soothing his jangled nerves, and just held on for dear life, hoping for an end to this nightmare when he next opened his eyes.

Because there was nothing else he could do.

And never had he felt so God damned helpless.