It didn't seem to matter much that I had spent the last three weeks eating three meals a day and showering regularly. It didn't seem to matter that P'nyssa had been by my side the entire time, or that the autodoc had examined us completely over and over and every report had come back the same. I was in perfect health, well fed and cared for. It didn't matter. I felt tired. I felt completely, bone-wearingly tired.
I had paced the open floor of this Mark 454 Starcruiser, much like the one we had crashed in seven months ago (or fifty years ago, depending on who you asked), at least a dozen times today when Vega came up the small stairway leading to the bridge to find me. "Less than twenty minutes, Ken," she said, smiling.
"Thanks, Captain," I replied, sighing. "Aaden's supposed to be on board the Eldarfaroth, isn't he?"
She nodded. "It was my understanding that your coimelin hates space."
"Then he must love you very much, to come this far to be with you on your return."
I smiled. "Yeah, I guess he does. I know I love him, but there isn't much that frightens me the way space frightens him." I heard footsteps behind me, and P'nyssa and Thera came walking in from the cabin area. "Hi," I said, taking P'nyssa in my arms and hugging her tightly.
"Hi," she replied back, smiling. I don't think it was my imagination that her smile was as weary as mine. I reached out with my hand to touch Thera's shoulder; she startled a little, them covered my hand with hers.
"You look tired, Thera."
She laughed. "I think that's the theme of the day, Kennet. We are all tired. We all want to be home."
Vega looked up from her controls, her Tindal eyes smiling. "And home wants you home, guys. We've missed all of you for too long."
Thera smiled. "You mean they missed Ken and P'nyssa and Pan. The rest of us are not so important."
"You were all important," Vega replied. "No particular priority was given to Ken or anybody else. A higher priority was put on a defensive rescue ops because when the Sinox heard you were missing they went completely berserk. We had sixteen defensive operations the first year you were gone."
"Sixteen?" I asked, incredulous. "There were only four last year!"
"Fifty years ago," Vega corrected me again. I felt like I was getting a headache. Traveling forward in time fifty years had completely disoriented me. And there were people on Pendor who did this all the time! Vega continued, "They returned to normal levels after three years, but intelligence was constantly aware of their immense interest and intensive resource effort in finding you. Occasionally they would claim to have captured or killed you, but we never gave up hope and the details they gave were never very accurate."
"Surprise that. A species almost too stupid to be spaceworthy."
"Actually, they're very intelligent. When it comes to relegative processes, the Sinox are actually superior to all the Pendorian Races."
"With one exception," Dali, the ship's AI, interrupted.
"Well, yes, with one exception. Anyway, the Sinox don't suffer intuitively because of it, either. They're a very straightforward and functional race. They're just so completely homocentric that external competition is anathema to them. Internal competition, they believe, just makes them stronger."
"Kinda makes sense why they think I'm their Great Evil incarnate, then," I mused quietly. "Not only do I represent competition, but I created varieties of competition that are actually superior to myself."
"I am not superior to you, am I?" Thera asked, looking confused.
"Actually, you were," I said casually. "You're a lot more survival-worthy than your base Terran Human. I was one once, remember?" She nodded. "Over the years, I've made modifications to myself that, as far as I can tell, bring me up to your standards. But in the beginning all my children were more survival-worthy than I was."
"Dropping out of Hawkwind drive," Dali announced calmly. "Transit to the Eldarfaroth in four minutes."
"There it is," Vega announced, pointing out the window. People tend to forget that there is very little light in deep space; about as much as a starlit, moonless night on an undeveloped world. Our solution was to place large LED panels on strategic points, thus outlining the ship. The Eldarfaroth was covered almost completely in them; it gleamed like a golden offering.
My heart beat faster; I could almost feel what little magickal training I had strain to pull me from my body, to let me get to the Eldarfaroth ahead of the Starcruiser, to be with Aaden NOW. I wanted to hold him, to hug him again. I told myself to be still.
The docking facility for the Eldarfaroth is on the top of the ship; Pendorian design philosophy doesn't have the enclosed shuttle garages that Terran ships do, but rather puts the docking hardware entirely on the outside of the vessel and control of the landing entirely in the hands of the pilot. It allows for five vectors of escape instead of one, which is all the Terran design permits.
I cursed inwardly, wondering why in Hell I was thinking about starship design philosophy when what I wanted was Aaden. I thought about all the things I had left back home, that I hadn't had my hands on in almost a year for me, but five decades for them. Ress, Bawr, Jahn, Brieanna, Paul, Carroll... who was I missing? Them, or just Aaden?
Gods, I missed him. I felt the Starcruiser clang and thunk against the hull of the larger starship. What had happened in fifty years? Was he still living at home, or had he moved back into his house at Rhysh? Did he still love me? Did he have someone else?
I waited, my heart racing. A hand, no, a mitten slid across my shoulders, startling me as the lift activated and dropped the ship into the holding bay. "Ken?"
"Huh?" I asked suddenly. "Oh... Hi, Nyss."
"Your scared, aren't you?"
"Of a lot of things. I know you love me, P'nyssa, I'm not afraid of you disappearing anytime soon." I reached out to put my arm around her waist. "But I'm really scared he's not going to be there when the door opens."
"I don't think you have anything to worry about, Ken."
"But fifty years, Nyss? That's such an incredibly long time, even for us. A year or two or even ten I could do standing on my head, but to miss you or him for so long... I know I would have gone crazy."
She smiled and kissed my cheek. "He'll be there. He'd better be. Sometimes you two forget how much I love him."
"No," I replied as I felt the clang of the overhead doors sliding shut and the hiss of air being pumped into the shuttlebay. "We never forget that, P'nyssa. I know how important he is to you."
"Do you?" she asked, curiously. I nodded. She smiled and hugged me tightly in her tentacles. "I'm glad, because I need you to know."
"P'nyssa, I don't often say this, but you're more important to me than he is. But I'm so secure in my love for you, and you for me, that I don't express that love to you often enough."
She smiled. "I love you enough, Ken, to know I don't need to hear it every day. But I've had you every day since our crash landing, and he hasn't had you at all. Go with him."
The hiss ended, and I heard now, rather than felt, the sound of interior airlocks opening. Vega tossed a switch on her command panel, then walked to the ship's main airlock, punched the ATM button on the inner door, walked into the airlock and hit the button with the same label. The outer door opened a small contingent, five people, stood there. I recognized all of them, instantly. Etta, Katherine, Amanda, M'Vahn and... "Aaden!"
I ran out of the shuttle without a concern in the universe but for him. Decorum be damned! I ran into his arms, grabbed his fur and held him close. "Oh, Gods, I was so afraid you wouldn't be here!"
He was silent as I held him. He didn't say a word. A cold, frightened feeling started to spread down my shoulders. I pushed away from him just a little bit, looking up into his eyes. He looked down at me, a serious expression on his face, but there was that twinkle in his black and beautiful eyes that made me feel less scared for his love, but more for myself. I felt his right arm move up against my left, his paw sliding along the fabric of my shirt, his fingers sliding up under my hair. My heart would have stopped if it hadn't been so imperative that it keep beating.
His fingers closed into a fist, grabbing as much hair as he could possibly hold in his enormous paw. I felt my muscles freeze as he closed his hands further, clenching more, pulling nearly half the hair on my head so strongly it felt like he was going to tear it out by the roots.
I sighed and collapsed onto the ground at his feet, onto my knees. I wrapped my arms around his leg, his thigh, and held on, my eyes closed. "Get up," he snarled down at me. "On your feet!" He pulled on my hair, hauling me painfully until I was almost standing, then turned me viciously and threw me away from him, onto a low, mattressed platform that seemed unusual starship construction for a shuttle bay. I blinked.
And I smiled inside as I landed sprawling on the cabin bed. I had been so busy noticing my reception party and, most importantly, him, that I'd missed the SDisk he'd been standing on. He had planned this.
He jumped on my prone body, straddling me. He grabbed my hair and shoved my head down against the mattress, almost so I couldn't breathe. He snarled, "Do you know how much suffering you've put me through, Ken? Do you know how much I've missed you? Do you have any idea of what I've gone through? I'm going to give you a small taste." His right paw held my hair, his left hand grabbed the collar of my shirt. I heard a loud ripping, and then felt sudden pain sear out against my back as his claws tore both my shirt and my back to ribbons. I screamed, my brain going into immediate overload. I could feel the cold terror reaching for me again. His claws didn't stop at my pants, they tore along and down my right leg, slicing me open with such excruciating pain there was nothing I could do but thrash and scream. Coherence was out of the question.
He was kinder to my left leg, just slicing the cloth and tearing it off of me. Exposed and bleeding, with his hand still in my hair, I lay on the bed and tried to figure out how close I was to complete shock. I decided I was close.
I panted, breathing and desperate for surcease. "Aaden..." I managed to whisper to the huge, vicious creature that sat straddling my thighs.
"Oh, no," he growled, leaning over to whisper into my ear. "You haven't had nearly enough, Ken. You need to suffer. You're just in pain right now. I need you to suffer." I moaned. "And you know how you're going to suffer, Ken?"
I managed to find my tongue, thick and hazy. "How, sir?"
"Sufi and I made love three times last night, I was so hot to see you. I'm going to come once more, in you, before I let them have you again." I felt his left hand stray over my butt, and I felt him position his cock at my asshole.
He wasn't gentle. I tend to have a very tight hole, the result of lots of practice; Aaden once said that fucking me was at first like trying to shove his dick through a block of semi-dried clay. That didn't stop him this time. He shoved his way into guts with such force and violence that I screamed again, and he wrenched my head and shoved me face-down into the mattress to muffle the screams as he began fucking me.
I felt the familiar feeling of his huge cockhead hitting my prostate, of his strong body laying over mine. His fur was mixing into the wounds he had given me, and the pain blazed along my back. In my imagination, I saw him as an unstoppable engine, his huge shaft tearing me open and shattering my pelvis, a hot yellow light like a solar flare signaling the burning pain of my violated flesh.
He drove deeper into me, raised on his arms. "You're better hope I come soon, Ken," he snarled at me as he ravished me. I was helpless, even though I clawed at the bed to escape his agony. Tears streamed down my eyes; my legs had long ago gone into useless convulsions as his enormous cock used me to whatever ends he meant. "You're bleeding bad, and if you don't get help soon..." he didn't finish with words but with a single, howlingly vicious thrust of his cock that I swear I felt rearrange my insides.
I groaned and panted like an animal, praying it would never end as he raped and ravished and used me and reintroduced me to the depths of pain and heights of pleasure I had never been able to reach with anyone but him. My hands spasmed uncontrollably, unable to grip at anything no matter how hard I willed them to reach back behind me and hold him. I wanted to tell him to use me harder, to fuck me even more viciously if he could. Nothing but incoherent and guttural screams came from my throat.
His thrusting continued, feral and uncontrolled. There was nothing to us but need, need to reconnect like we had before. I felt the pain from the wounds on my back and thigh; I felt the blood from my torn buttock streaming down the crack of my ass and adding to the slickness of our sex. I felt his body possess mine with his violence, with his desire. His arms were at my sides, crushing me in his grip as his phallus tore me up from within.
I was starting to lose consciousness; I was starting to grey out. The pain, the bloodloss, the shock of it all was too much. My world was getting hazy, the fiery violence of his fucking the only thing I could feel, the last thing I ever wanted to feel. And then I felt him shove against me once so hard I imagined my bones cracking; I heard him scream so loud I knew that if I survived, I'd be deaf.
And then there was no more.
"Hey," I heard his voice say, gently and in the distance.
I opened my eyes. He was right above me, smiling down at me, his eyes alight. "Aaden..." I whispered.
"It's okay... I've had P'nyssa look you over. She dealt with the scratches, and you're going to be fine."
"Aaden?" I whispered, looking up at him. "Please... come here."
He lowered himself until he was just cents from my face. I thought about moving my arms, and much to my surprise, they obeyed. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him down against me. "Oh, Aaden... I love you."
I heard something like a sigh escape him, and then he shifted his body against mine, his weight pressing against me. He buried his face in my shoulder. And then he began crying.
I don't know what to do when people cry, except hold them. Which is what I did. He cried for a long time, holding me tight. "Oh, Fah, Ken, I missed you so much," he managed to gasp once as he held me. His crying went on for a while, and then he raised his head. "Don't you EVER do this to me again," he snarled. "You don't know how much I hurt. Oh, Ken, please don't ever do this to me again."
I reached up and scratched the top of his beautiful, furry head. "I didn't mean to this time, Aaden. I swear, I'll do everything I can to keep it from happening again. But I can't stay home, you know that."
"I know," he cried, tears dropping slowly across his muzzle. "I just don't want to lose you. You scared me so much. When I heard they'd found your signal, I'd almost given up hope."
"You could never give up hope," I whispered to him. "I love you too much, you know. You knew I'd come back."
"I did," he sighed, "But I didn't know how long to wait. You know, almost nobody lives at the Castle anymore. Without you, it's an empty place. I moved back to Rhysh." He looked up again at me, a small smile across his face. I reached up and brushed tears from his snout with a gentle hand. "I guess I'll have to move back, huh?"
"Guess you will. Aaden?"
"That was the most unbelievably wonderful homecoming I've ever had. Thank you."
"I was afraid I was too rough."
"You were. That's why it was wonderful. Thank you."
He nodded solemnly, then lay down by my side. We lay in the dim bedroom together, quietly enjoying each others' touch once more. Once again becoming familiar with heartbeats, breathing, luxuriant fur or soft human skin. A chime rang quietly.
"They're expecting you at dinner. Are you up to it?"
"I think so," I said. "It's a little bit of shock, to be honest."
"I thought it would be," he murmured softly. "Come on. That was the half-hour alarm. We need to shower first."
I nodded as he eased off of me and stood up. His black fur was matted down, my dried blood sticking it to it in one long, ragged line from his chest to his knee. "I guess we do," I whispered softly. "Wow."
"Yeah, I went a bit overboard," he said as he helped me stand up.
"Just a bit. Aaden?" I asked, looking into his face.
"Hmm?" he asked, nervously.
"I love you." I reached out and hugged him, still feeling a little dizzy and unsteady. He held me, tightly and reassuredly, and then led me into the shower.