Rated PG-17 for explicit m/m sex and m/f sex, too, so if'n that sort of thing bothers ya'll, then best skedaddle:):)
Lar, Part Two: The Rest Of The Story
A Legion Tale Of Retribution by Dannell Lites
"You'll hurt yourself, Tinya," he told me in that maddening, calm voice he uses all the time. As if I were one of his admirers and not the woman whose lover he'd stolen. Sprock him! Nothing touches him. Nothing!
"Now, that's not quite true is it, Tinya?" I mocked myself. "Jo touches him. Jo touches him all the time, now ... Yes, he does." And then, nass him, he had the nerve to throw the name at me.
"I'm not like Jo, Tinya. I can't turn my invulnerability on and off. If you hit me you'll only hurt your hand. Not me."
No, nothing hurts you, does it, Mon-El? A thousand years in the Phantom Zone didn't teach you patience; it only made you greedy. Shady wasn't enough for you, was she? Oh, no. You had to have Jo, too. Why couldn't you just leave him alone? Why? He was enough for me. Jo Nah, Ultra Boy, was all I ever needed or wanted. But you, you sprocking ... you took him away from me.
"No, he didn't, Tinya," I berated myself again, "you gave him away. Remember? When he came to you, tried to explain, begged you to understand, you told him to get out. Where in grife's name did you expect him to go? And how long did you know, really know, how he felt about Lar? A long time, wasn't it? You just never expected him to do anything about it. You thought he'd just light-sail along, continuing to ignore his feelings because he loved you and that's what you wanted. And everybody knows Jo always does what you want him to, doesn't he?
"Well, you thought wrong this time. What a surprise.
" So there he was: Lar Gand, Mon-El, great Daxamite hero, the backbone of the Legion of Super-Heroes .. thief of the heart of one Jo Nah, Ultra Boy of the planet Rimbor. My former lover.
What I couldn't understand was why he didn't look happy.
Jo always made me happy. Lar sat down heavily in a chair in the now-empty Legion Rec Room. At first he couldn't meet my eyes, but after a minute the silence grew too oppressive and he broke it.
"He's miserable, Tinya," he said quietly. "He never smiles. Remember how everything used to make Jo smile? Nothing does anymore. He's like a ghost ... " His voice lowered until he was whispering. " ... like a phantom in his own private Phantom Zone ... And he hasn't laughed in weeks. Nothing brings him any joy without you. Not even me. We haven't ... I - I can't ..." He lowered his head and stared at the floor.
"He needs you," he said when he looked up again. His voice was stronger, now. "He wants to come home but he doesn't know how. He thinks you hate him; that he's hurt you too badly to deserve forgiveness." He stared down at his hands and then back at me. "You were right all along, Tinya. I should never have touched him or let him touch me."
"How can he be unhappy, Mon?" I thrust at him, bitter and hurt. "He's got you, now. Isn't that what you both wanted?" He looked away.
"No, it isn't." He turned to me once more, his eyes shining. "Are you happy without Jo?" he asked. My face tightened and Lar almost smiled. "Then why do you think he'd be happy without you? He loves you. More - more than he loves me. Is that what you wanted to hear? And he doesn't need me. Not the way he needs you. Without you he can't survive."
My heart gladdened to know that he still loved me, but it was painful to think of Jo's unhappiness. Had I really done that? I hadn't meant to hurt Jo had I? Yes, I realized, I had. As badly as he hurt me; pain for pain. I never meant to do that but I was so lost in my own pain, my own grief that I'd never thought about his pain, his grief. Mon-El was watching me, waiting.
"Oh grife, of course I don't hate him!" I blurted, my eyes threatening tears. But were they tears of joy, tears of sadness ... or tears of anger? Mon only nodded and at my side my hands balled themselves into fists. Gods, I'd have given anything at that moment to be someone else. As a general rule I like being me; Tinya Wazzo, Phantom Girl. But right then I'd have sold my soul to be Clark or Dev-Em, anyone who could hurt Mon-El. Anyone who could make him pay for what he'd done.
I saw Mon and Clark fight once way back in the early days of the Legion. No, I don't mean a shouting match or threats or any such innocent thing. I mean with their fists. A real serious fight where they meant to hurt one another if they had to. It was so awful. Beast Boy meant what he said: The winner of that fight was going to die. But along with the rest of us angry captives, the loser got to live.
"Damn it, Kal!" Lar hissed, "Stay down! Don't make me hurt you, please! Just ... stay down ... " I remember the sound of his voice so plainly and I'm not likely to ever forget it, either, even after all these years. After all, I'd never heard him beg before or since. Not for anything.
"No!" cried Clark through bloody lips, "I won't let you die! I won't!" I think I was the only one close enough to see the look on Mon-El's face when he hit Clark again and sent him sprawling.
We'll never know who would have won that fight, if anyone ...
And no one was going to win this battle, either. No one.
"What do you want from me, Tinya," Lar demanded softly. I stared at him.
"What do I want?" I managed. For someone so intelligent, Mon can be incredibly dense. I closed my eyes. "What I want is ... " I paused to get a grip on my growing anger so that I wouldn't shriek at him. I was rather proud of myself. My answer was at least coherent. "Once, just once," I said, "I want to see you suffer. I want to see you hurt like the rest of us mere mortals. That's what I want, Lar." He fell very still for a moment and his face lost all expression like a cup on the brink of running over.
"Is that all?" he asked. There was a tiny half smile fluttering around the corners so his full mouth, now. "All right, Tinya," he whispered, "just for you, then ... just for you ... " With his hands he covered his face as if he were deeply ashamed of something.
And when he pulled his shielding hands away, Mon-El was gone. It was Lar Gand who was staring back at me, now; Lar Gand whose bright blue eyes burned into mine. It was like watching a wall crumble or Brainy's impenetrable force field flicker and die. Suddenly there was nothing, nothing at all between Lar Gand and I. The real Lar Gand. The one that only Shady ever sees, I think. The Lar Gand who can't stand to be alone; who hates the cold and the dark because it makes him think of places he'd rather not remember; the Lar Gand whose anger constantly boils just beneath the surface of all that calm reserve. It's no accident that when he loses his control, the thing that emerges first is fear and rage. The Lar Gand whose hand Shady has to hold anytime he uses a transporter because the thought of being nonexistent - immaterial - for even a few seconds frightens him.
The Lar Gand who loves Jo Nah.
Space take him, I didn't want to see that! Why? Why now? For all the years I'd known him he'd been content to be Mon-El; calm and reserved, capable of handling anything from Brainy's exploding labs to Mordru the Merciless. Why did he have to pick now to show me it was all a sham? That he was just as vulnerable as any of us? Why now? With a stab of pain I realized that I'd answered my own question.
Because Lar Gand loves Jo Nah.
"Here I am, Tinya," he said to me. "I'm right here. This is the only part of me that you can hurt. Do whatever you want to me. But you don't need to hurt Jo anymore. He's innocent."
He must have seen my understanding in my eyes. When I fled from him and his exposed heart he didn't try to stop me or even follow me. He let me go. Because he's usually quiet and does too much of his thinking with his fists, most people think he doesn't understand others very well. That his powers make it hard for him to relate to the rest of us. I think he understands others really, really well. Maybe it's that having x-ray vision makes him used to the idea of seeing beneath the surface of things, I don't know. But I did know he knew what I was going to do. Even if I wasn't ready to admit it to myself just yet.
He was trusting me to make Jo happy.
Damn you, Mon-El! You were supposed to be the villain here.
Not one of the victims.
Jo was so nervous the first time we all three made love that I just had to smile. He'd been with Lar, of course, but I, Tasmia Mallor, Shadow Lass, was a still unknown quantity. He's such an endearing man, it's easy to know why Lar loves him. He tries so hard to find the proper thing to say, the right thing to do. It was clear he didn't want to make any assumptions. He kept glancing at me and then Lar from the corner of those wide brown eyes and then glancing away quickly before he thought either of us could notice. With an exasperated smile I took both their hands and lead them into the bedroom, making my intentions plain.
It didn't take him long to grasp the idea, it's certainly true. I chuckled at the eager look in his eye, Lar swept us both up and we all ended up in a tumble on the large bed in our quarters. Lar can't bear to be restrained or restricted and he's a restless sleeper, so we need a large bed indeed. It was certainly going to come in handy now. Reverently, I offered a quick prayer to the Ancestors for the bed's inertron reinforcements. Those were going to a good thing too, I suspected. The look of surprise on Jo's face when Lar thrust him into my waiting arms and settled back to watch was a complete delight.
Jo lost no time in startled surprise, thoiugh; none at all. Within moments we were deeply entwined with each other and I could feel him straining against me. When he filled me, I buried my hands in his hair and hung on. With a shrill cry I met his thrust and pushed him deeper inside me. His mouth covered my breast, suckling, nipping and lapping until I could scarcely breathe. My head spun, so I closed my eyes against the dizziness. For a fleeting second, I realized that this is how Lar must feel; this sense of overwhelming pleasure and comfort. And then I stopped thinking at all. My body rang like a bell with the rhythm of his. Time after time my hips moved, greedy, wanting more and more of him until I arched beneath him and felt Jo explode inside me, hot torrents of his life connecting with mine. As my fulfillment took me, I locked my eyes with Lar's, crying out my pleasure.
And what I saw in his eyes ...
What I saw there was the most naked desire I'd ever before seen on his face. Desire and the smallest bit of envy. I've known for a long time that Lar doesn't allow himself to be totally lost when we make love. He can't. Always there's some tiny part of himself held back; some part that must be careful and cautious. Otherwise he might seriously injure me. We've never talked about it. What's to say? It just is. It's not important. But Lar can never bring me to such a shattering climax as Jo had just done. And he knows it.
Kneeling beside us, I saw the proud arch of his hard flesh, the hooded cast of his eyes and knew that he needed to totally abandon himself. To be completely free. That was something I couldn't do for him.
But I knew who could.
I pulled him close, caressing his straining length with quick hands.
"Show me how much you love Jo," I whispered in his ear. "Show me."
I watched them wrestle with each other, Lar's mouth pressed against Jo's in a bruising kiss, tongues entwined in a mirror image of their bodies. Thier naked flesh touched and pressed in every possible place, their hands grasping at flesh - any flesh, all flesh - in an urgent effort to prolong this moment of passion beyond its time. Lar lifted his mouth from Jo's and his tongue flickered out, snakelike to lick the line of Jo's jaw, his neck. He bit Jo's tanned shoulder, harder than play, gentler than reality, without the control that's second nature to him. Bit by bit, I watched his reserve slip joyously away from him. The sapphire blue of his eyes darkened until they were almost as dark as his lover's.
He slid down Jo's body and gently took him into his mouth. His busy fingers drew tiny circles on his lover's skin, long elliptical patterns like orbiting moons. Jo gripped Lar tightly with his thighs, viciously pulling on Lar's long hair, tangling his fingers in the inky mass as if he wished never to let go. Groaning in need, Jo rolled over and offered himself to Lar, body trembling in anticipation. With a loud cry Lar plunged himself ito Jo's body, clinging to him tightly, almost as though he were afraid of losing the writhing body beneath him. Lar's climax took him hard, violently, shaking him like a small creature caught in the jaws of a larger one. Jo's fingers dug into the sheets of the bed, ripping them like gossamer spidewebs. They cried out together. Such music those strong voices raised in passion! I found that I had never been more aroused in my life, watching them.
I barely had sense enough to keep Lar from falling off the bed, easing his head down onto the silken pillow. The name my people have given the physical act of love translates into Interlac as "the little death" and Lar's proof positive of its aptness. Aching, I held Lar until he was with us again then took him with a vengeance.
The need our passion prompted for the three of us - to be one, one body, one flesh, one person - drove us to try again and again to express ourselves through the body, the flesh. Again and again I took and was taken until at last we were all three exhausted, even Lar. Each time we tried to become one, the aftermath was that sadness that accompanies failure. But each time, we'd forget, and attempt it again, hopeful and passionate as children. When we parted with the morning light it was like losing part of ourselves, giving up a part of our bodies. I've rarely seen Lar happier. Saddened, I bit my lip and waited. My fears weren't long in materializing.
Two days after our tryst Jo came to our door, pale and shaken, looking for all the galaxy like the world had come to an end. And for him, it had.
"Got a spare grav-couch?" he quipped, but the joke fell very flat.
He wanted to cry, I could see that. It wasn't too hard to know what must have happened. Since Lar and Jo returned from that mission together hand in hand, I had known. So did Tinya, really. But, for her, if she refused to see it, then it never happened; she was safe. As long as she didn't acknowledge it, then it wasn't real. It wasn't happening.
It's no secret to me how Lar felt about Jo ... what Lar needed from Jo and Jo from Lar. Some things are too obvious to be worth belaboring. For Lar, Jo is proof that he's alive, that he is free. Jo makes him smile and even laugh. And Jo's faith in him, Ultra Boy's unwavering belief that Mon-El will find the answer and do the right thing lifts Lar above the anger he finds within himself. It makes him the hero he is. Jo sees Lar and knows that he has a purpose, that his boyish hero worship serves more than just to make him struggle to be better; a better person, a better Legionaire. Lar needs him and his laughter, his quick jokes and his brightness. But Tinya did a splendid job of denying all this.
Until that night, I suspected.
I'm sure it must have been Jo who forced the issue. Not for him, this business of creeping off nightly into the arms of a clandestine lover. Jo has more respect for himself than to do such a deceitful thing. More to the point, he has more respect for Tinya. He must have wanted her permission. From Jo's fragile state her answer was plain. Taking his hand, I drew him into the room and sat him down. He sagged into a chair float, staring at his feet.
"Is - is Lar home?" he questioned, his voice trembling a bit with uncertainty.
"No," I told him, offering him a Silverale. "He's on Monitor duty."
Yes, even the mighty Mon-El must take his turn at that burdensome task. Lar hates it. He hates anything that means he must simply sit and watch, helpless to act. He spent a thousand years in the Phantom Zone doing that. It's pure torture for him. He's always keyed up and frayed around the edges when he comes off Monitor duty. But he endures. I try to make sure that I am waiting for him when he returns.
Jo ignored the Silverale, his favorite drink. Forgotten, it languished on the table, slowly warming to room temperature.
"She wouldn't even listen to me," he mourned. "She just yelled at me and told me to get the nass out. Told me she never wanted to see me again." He leaned his head back in utter defeat, staring up at the ceiling. And now the tears did come, drawn from his overflowing eyes by the twin forces of gravity and misery down his flushed cheeks.
When Lar returned things got really ugly. He'd had an especially bad time on Monitor duty. That was easy to tell from the granite set of his broad shoulders when he stepped through the irising door. Damn. I'd meant to go and talk to him before he came home and walked in blind, but trying to comfort Jo and get him settled, I'd lost track of the time. Not good. Lar took one look at Jo and instantly knew what had happened. Cursing to myself, I watched guilt and pain erode the welcoming smile on his face like a storm-flooded river dike and settled myself in for a long siege. I couldn't have been more right, sadly.
So for the next six weeks, I watched it happen; the gradual, steady day-by-day descent into silence and their own private worlds of pain and mutual hurt. Beyond that first night of shared wonder, they never touched each other. Jo wouldn't budge off the couch and Lar wouldn't ask. When I did, Jo only shook his head slowly, biting his lip.
"I - can't," was all he could say.
In a way this was for the best. As much as they wanted to deny it, they both knew the future. Jo wasn't going to betray Tinya anymore than he already had. And Lar wasn't going to ask him to. He wouldn't let Jo see his pain. He was too proud for that.
Lar began to take as many away missions as he could, one after the other; anything not be be confronted with the specter of Jo Nah's haunted eyes. The Shades of Talok bless Jan Arrah. No one had to tell him what was going on. He just knew. Element Lad always pierces to the heart of things. In order to change one substance into another as he does, one must first understand them both. Jan is used to looking beneath the surface and understanding the core of a thing, whether it's a carbon atom or a person. He doesn't miss much. He kept Lar and Jo apart for a time, allowing them breathing space. And then he put them back together again. It worked, too.
They started talking once more and I breathed a hearty sigh of relief. Of course, I knew it wasn't over. Things are rarely that simple. But now I knew that Lar and Jo would part as friends, with something of their feeling for one another intact. I'd known almost from the start that the situation was hopeless. That sooner or later Lar and Jo were doomed to come to this pass. I know my friend Tinya Wazzo. And I know Jo Nah.
Don't mistake me, now. I love Tinya. After Lar, she's my best friend. But that doesn't make me blind to her flaws. Tinya is kind and generous, loyal to her friends, a brave and a true Legionaire. But if there's one thing in this universe that Tinya Wazzo will not share, it's Jo Nah. Jo is hers, make no mistake about it. And Jo can't survive without Tinya any more that I can survive without Mon. It's as simple as that. He loves Lar, but without Tinya ... not even Lar is enough to fill the void left in his heart.
Those earth-brown eyes of Jo's, the color of rich, Talokian earth are sometimes a barrier beyond which very few people are allowed to pass. More than once I woke to find Jo noiselessly slipping into the safety of the concealing night or returning from the shadows. Jo is fond of walking, I knew. "Everything is within walking distance if you walk far enough," he once quipped. Everything but peace. It was easy to imagine him prowling the night searching the nooks and crannies of Metropolis' dark underbelly for the answers he needed. I'm almost certain that Lar followed him once or twice to watch over him. As if Ultra Boy needed his protection. But my Mon is like that ...
I had to do something. But what? What could I do?
Oh, I knew the answer to that well enough. But like Tinya, I kept wanting to look the other way and ignore it. But there was no way around it. Lar was going to suffer. Deeply. The only thing I could do was try and see that his spirit survived intact. At last I had no choice, so I went to do what I knew had to be done.
It took Tinya some time to answer my vocomm summons to her door. Which didn't surprise me at all. Tinya had been notable for her absence from Legion affairs lately. She seemed to be spending most of her time firmly ensconced in her room and she wasn't budging. Brainy was only one of several Legionaires who got the rough side of her tongue when they tried to rouse her.
"Whoever the nass you are, GO AWAY!" she finally shouted through the door.
"It's me, Tinya," I said clearly, "Open the door. We have to talk."
Within seconds the door sprang open and Tinya flung herself into my arms, clutching at me for comfort. Herding her tenderly back into the privacy of her room, I sat her down on her couch and held her.
"Why?" she kept asking, "Why? Why is this happening? What did I do?"
"Ancestors above, Tinya," I rocked her like a child, "It wasn't anything you said or did. No one planned it. Least of all Lar or Jo. They both denied this thing for years. You know that."
She drew back and stared at me. "How can you stand this?" she insisted. "Aren't you hurt? Aren't you je-jealous?" I had to smile at that.
"Are you jealous of your eyes when you see a stunning sunset that makes you glad? Are you jealous of your ears when they hear beautiful music that brings you joy? Lar is a part of me like my eyes or my heart. How can one part of you be jealous of another? I confess I will never understand that." Wrenching herself from my embrace, Tinya threw back her long, dark hair and glared at me.
"I suppose that makes me a bitch, right?" she snapped. Throwing herself off the couch's wide comfort, her feet began pacing off the length of the small room, expending her anger in fruitless exercise. I shook my head.
"No," I told her truthfully, "it makes you different from me is all. You're Tinya Wazzo, not Tasmia Mallor. Your needs aren't the same as mine. You need all of Jo. That's plain."
She began to cry then and I knew that I had failed.
I comforted her as best I could and left her to her sadness. Admittedly, I had known that my mission was doomed with no real chance of success. Tinya can't change. It's not her fault. There's no fault for anyone here. She wouldn't be Tinya Wazzo if she weren't possessive of Jo. And the simple truth is that Jo likes belonging to Tinya. That's where his security comes from, just as mine comes from Lar and his from me.
No, I was going to have to do this the hard way.
I was patient. I waited, biding my time. Understand; I'm not generally a patient woman. No, I'm not. But with Lar I've leaned patience and that's been good for me. Not, I'll admit, that Lar is patient. Far from it. He's just about the most impatient being you'll ever meet. But like so many other things about himself, he hides it well. He forces himself to be tranquil when it's not his nature. Most people don't understand Lar at all, and that suits him just fine. They understand Mon-El perfectly. Not Lar, though. When he needs someone to understand Lar, then he flies to me. My poor Mon. So much fear.
Sun Boy once said to me, "But how can you be so in love with someone who doesn't need you, Shady?" Honestly, it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. Shades of Talok, I'm an honest woman if I'm nothing else. I need to be needed. And Lar needs me.
Almost as much as I need him.
Lar is my hope. He lets me know that Tasmia Mallor is the hero that she always wanted to be. The hero that she was born to be. He's the bravest man I've ever known. Oh, he's afraid; Lar is afraid of a lot of things. But he faces his fears, conquers them. A fearless man is a fool, not brave. Lar is the best, the strongest. And if someone like Lar loves me and respects me, then I really am a hero worth my name and my proud lineage.
When he returned from that mission to Bendor's World, I knew that my wait was over. Mon likes missions where he can use his hands, his body and strength. He's got a bright mind, yes, but thinking a problem through isn't as satisfying for him as doing something about it. The holopress sometimes wonders, since Mon's the strongest, why he's only been Leader once, and that briefly. That's why. It didn't suit him at all. He dislikes the limelight. In any Legion hologram or flatpic Mon is always the one standing in the back away from the holocams. And he won't make decisions for others. On Bendor's World he'd just finished a vast emergency reclamation project. A desert, once covering almost a third of the planet, was now fertile once more and waiting to feed the hungry people of that small world. He'd be relaxed and happy. That was important.
"Gods, I missed you," he whispered to me as I melted into his embrace. Then he spotted the half-empty bottle of Silverale sitting on the table where Jo left it and lost the beginnings of what might have been one of his rare smiles. I cherish those smiles. Clark and I are almost the only ones who ever see them, and to lose something precious like that ... I crushed a brief flash of anger at Jo and was ashamed of myself. Taking his hand, I led Lar to the couch, settling his head in my lap.
"Lover, we have to do something about Jo." He turned his face away from me with a shuddering sigh.
"I - know ... "
"Do you remember what I told you the first time we ever made love?" I outlined the curve of his jaw with my lips and felt him shiver slightly at my touch. So sensitive ... He tried to smile for me, he really did.
"To have and to hold ... and to let go ... " he said in a raw, hoarse voice that touched my heart like fire from the sun. "You told me I'd have to be the one to do it, because you never could." Nodding, I held him very tightly.
"It's time to let Jo go," I said.
For an instant I saw panic almost overwhelm him. But my Mon is a fighter. Grim, he beat it back into some small, dim corner of his mind to be dealt with later. He struggled with his anger and beat it down until it was a choking tightness in his chest that I could almost see, almost feel. In the end he was left with only the sadness. Seeing him it was hard not to hate myself for what I'd done to him. That grief could burn as pure as this was something that I knew. But I never wanted him to know it. And I could've stopped it all with a word. He'd never have taken Jo as a lover if I'd objected. Never. But it wasn't in me to deny him any more than it was in Tinya to share Jo.
Sitting up, he lay his head on his knees for a moment and I spread myself over his back like a blanket. Beneath my flushed skin, I could feel his muscles tense, rolling like coiled steel. Such a strong back ... But was it strong enough for this?
He lifted his head and climbed to his feet. I didn't have to ask where he was going or what he'd do.
Things happened rather quickly after that. Lar went to the gym and began exercising with the special equipment Brainy installed just for the two of them, Lar and Jo. He ran and he pumped and he fought and he practiced his unarmed combat skills in VR until I thought even he must be tiring. From the Monitor Board I watched him. Blok looked at me curiously when I offered to take the rest of his shift, but I only smiled and sent him happily on his way, looking for Mysa.
When Jo found him there events cascaded even more swiftly. The minute Lar saw him, he knew. Jo's eyes were shining, radiating happiness the way Sun Boy radiates light. Obviously, Tinya had taken him back into her heart and bed. But the price, too, was obvious. When he gazed at Lar his smiled wavered, then faded from sight. Lar released his exercise bar and for an endless second they only stared at one another.
"Lar - I - " Jo swallowed hard his fingers curling and uncurling in sad agitation.
Wordless, Lar reached for him. Like a falling oak, Jo Nah, Ultra Boy of The Legion of Super-Heroes, lowered his head onto my lover's chest. After a moment Lar raised Jo chin and smiled at him. Jo looked so stricken, I winced to see it. Lar and I both saw him gathering himself. Soon he was going to speak and wound himself with his favorite weapon - guilt. But Lar didn't let him. Mon's kiss was chaste, almost virginal, with nothing of passion in it. Confused, Jo waited on Lar.
"Go home, Jo," Lar whisper in his ear, "Go home."
Startled, Jo regarded Lar closely, searching for the truth. Lar dug deep within himself for the joy Jo needed to see. Like a fountain, it welled up and came spilling out Mon's eyes. Joy begat joy and the relief and happiness Lar and I saw mirrored on that flushed face was worth whatever pain that gave it birth. Lar's arms enfolded Jo and his hand curled around the back of his neck protectively. The gruffness of his voice masked deep gratitude and affection.
"We're not done yet, you know that, don't you? Still friends?" he demanded. Jo's smile blossomed back to life.
"We'd better be," he cracked, "You still owe me money, buddy. Dirk did hit on Shvaughn." Their laughter was sweet to my ears.
"You two set me up!" accused Mon.
And then Jo was gone as brashly as he arrived, without fanfare but not without the strength they have lent one another. Heart to heart. Warrior to warrior. Nothing can take that from them. Nothing.
I waited out the rest of Blok's shift and then I went looking for Lar.
Tasmia didn't say anything. Most of all she didn't tell me that things were going to be all right. She knew better. When she found me sitting on my solitary asteroid, staring into the heart of all the beauty surrounding the Fire Rings of the Beta Carinae system, she sat down wordlessly at my side. She hadn't had to search for me. There was no need. She knew exactly where to find me. She always does. Without effort, with the closeness of her body, she shouldered the burden of my guilt and sadness, giving me her strength. I cradled my head on her breasts, and I felt the soft kisses she rained on my hair. Then, lifting my chin she gently kissed my eyes because she knows that always leaves me breathless.
"You never do anything by half measures, do you, lover?"
Sometimes I wonder how it's possible for one person to know another as well as Tasmia knows me. But it doesn't frighten me. Not anymore. There are things about me that no one else will ever know; that I don't want them to know. Parts of me that I can't bear for anyone else to see. Things that I'm ashamed of. The vanity ... the violence ...
Tasmia knows them all. And she still loves me.
"Keritalyn?" I murmured into the softness of her pillowing breasts. Tasmia tells me that I have a terrible accent when I speak her native language. But the word for 'soul mate', the light at the heart of darkness, was one of the first Talokian words she taught me. She cupped my face.
"Always," she said.
When I die and they lay bare my heart to bury after Daxamite custom, they'll find Tasmia Mallor. When I feel sad, or happy, when I feel anything at all except the hollow, fleeting satisfaction that comes with spent anger, it's because Tasmia Mallor gave me my heart.
She is my heart.