Nickolai stood in the back of the room with his arms crossed. He had tried to stand quiet for the past half hour, hoping that he would avoid attention, but that was not to be. Elizabeth beckoned to him with her one free hand. "Kolya, come, look."
He thrust himself away from the wall with a shrug of his shoulders and approached her and the child. He had worried that he might have to force himself to grin, but looking down on the pair a joy he could not control tugged the corners of his mouth into an honest smile. It was the first time he had actually looked at the child and the first time he realized that he had finally become a father. The old fashioned way. "He's beautiful. Do you have a name for him?"
"I was thinking about naming him Valinach, you know, Val for short. I figured I should give him a Pendorian name since you and your beloved are so Pendorian these days. I don't want him to forget that he has that kind of blood in him. I was thinking about it but I hadn't decided yet. I wanted to ask you." She looked up at him and he could see in her eyes the love and concern that had grown between them in the ten months they had been on Ritacha together.
"It's a good name," he commented. "Can I?" he asked, reaching out to touch the child. She nodded her approval. His hand touched the back of the baby's head, stroking the bare skin. Val, having had his fill of her, now slept through all the attention. "Being born must have been a lot of work."
"For me, too," she commented. His feelings passed over his face and she saw them clearly. "You want me to stay, don't you?"
He shook his head. "I don't want you to forget me, but no, I don't want you to change the agreement we came to." He glanced back at the closed door, then back to Elizabeth and Val.
She nodded. "You do what you think is best."
"Look, um, you must be tired." She nodded. "And I have someone to talk to. When are you leaving?"
"The next ship is pulling out of orbit in four days. I'll probably be going then."
She nodded. "I could delay, but the next one isn't until a month later. I can't do my job here very effectively without help and I've got a lot of stuff saved up back home for Val. I'd rather head home early than late." She left unspoken the message that Nickolai was not to volunteer to be that help.
He nodded. "You have two new suits of armor and a baby. What more could you ask?"
"Right," she said. "We're lying to each other, aren't we?"
"We're good at it." He leaned over and hugged her. "Goodbye, Elizabeth. I love you."
With her free arm she returned the hug. "Thank you, Kolya. I love you too."
He stood back, blew her a kiss, and left to find Jofuran.
He found her in the attic of one of the smaller libraries. This space had once belonged to the library administrator of the entire university and he had used it as a collection space. Some of the books found in this room had been nearly a thousand years old before the war began.
It also had once had a large, circular window that had looked out on a small corner of campus, an intersection where students had walked between classrooms, dorm rooms, and an exercise facility further down the hill. The window had been replaced with a dense plastic that lacked the subtle construction of the original. The original window had broken centuries ago, and although some of the books, the ones buried in deep piles and hidden under fallen bookshelves, were salvagable even after all those centuries, many had been utterly destroyed by the invasion of snow.
She stood staring out the big window, watching wind blow the snow about. Little snow actually fell on Ritacha anymore. Mostly it was picked up and carried aloft by the fierce winds to be deposited somewhere else until the wind changed direction again. Shattered by the years, it really wasn't what most people thought of as snow, either. The little flakes had disintegrated into millions of motes of icy dust.
He walked up behind her and placed both his hands on her shoulders. She reached up and touched his hand. "How are they?" Furry asked.
"They're both doing very well."
She took a deep breath, held it, released it. "And how are you?"
"I'm doing okay too." He bent over, as he always had to hug her, and wrapped his arms around her chest, his hands straying down to her belly where their own child, now three months pronounced, was just beginning to show. "You?"
"My back is already starting to hurt. Doctor Kifal thinks she's going to be a big baby. And she's bouncing on my bladder once in a while."
Nickolai straightened up in surprise. "You can feel her moving already?"
"I think so," she said. "I'm not sure yet. I do know that I have to go to the bathroom more often than I did a month ago." She turned to look up at him. "You're going to miss her, aren't you?"
He nodded. Deep in his heart he wished he were two men, one capable of supporting Furry through her time and the other staying with Elizabeth. Yet Liz was determined to raise Val on her own, to take Val back to the family and friends she had on Terra (or was it Unity now? Kemen? What was the term of the week for the new ring?) and bring the child up as a Terran. "Can't very well put her out of my head, y'know?"
She reached up and touched his cheek with her fingertips. "Be mine?"
"For as long as my heart holds out," he agreed with a smile. He took her hands in his own and slowly began dropping to the floor. She took the hint and dropped down with him. A small ledge by the window provided a comfortable seat for the two of them, an excuse perhaps to not have to admit they were sitting on the floor. The floor was covered in a bulky carpeting cloth installed to insulate and warm the room. Nickolai had taken a particular interest in this room; reading ancient books had become something of a hobby with him, although his ability to discern the meaning of even archaic dialects of the local language had made him a consultant to nearly everybody on the team, Nix included. It sometimes seemed to him that he was on his way to a new career as a linguist, a talent he had never known before. With it, however, he had become much more valuable to Morrail and Helena, Jofuran's parents, who specialized in media recovery. "I hope that's forever."
"I do too," she said. He never tired of looking at her, not since the first day he had met her a century past. Her mouselike appearance, with a short muzzle bristling with long, twitchy whiskers, her almost solidly black eyes, tiny ears and small paws, had never quite put him off the way it did most people. It hadn't been love at first sight, he admitted to himself, but something more carefully built. It had grown out of knowing one another, learning about one another. She had shown him her Pendor by taking him out of some tacky tourist group and in doing so had let him teach her about his Earth.
He grinned. "For a moment there, all my memories of her were gone."
"I don't want them to go away," she said. "Elizabeth meant something to you a century ago and she means something good to you now. I just want you to want me more."
"It's not a matter of wanting you more than her. I made her a promise. No matter how much I want her, I will stay with you over her because that's the promise I made to myself. If I lose you or break with you, Jofuran, it will not be because of Elizabeth. She couldn't live with herself if that happened. And I won't put that kind of burden upon her."
"Even if you didn't love me anymore?"
"But I do love you, Furry!" He wanted to pull her into his arms, to hold her and hug her and somehow reassure her through a raw telepathy he didn't have that she was the most important part of his life now and forever. "But if I were to stop, it won't be because of her. She made me promise that. Loving you means staying. Loving her means letting go."
She smiled. "You don't make many promises."
"I learned. They're hard to keep, usually."
"And this one?"
He sighed and looked out the window for a while before answering. "Hard in some ways, easy in others. I want you, Furry. I don't want to hurt you ever. And I don't want to hurt Elizabeth either. The child will have a wonderful home, I'm sure, and grow up to be a fine, strong man."
She scooted across the quilted insulation to brush up against him. "And we'll have a fine, strong daughter."
"As beautiful as her mother," he said, easing an arm around her to hold her close. She murred softly and rested her head against his chest. He tightened his grip around her midriff slightly, holding her closer. He wanted to protect her from the storm going on inside his head, the powerful doubts that surged through him. He knew they were illogical, that for three centuries the notions of fatherhood and genetic parentage had been divided by a gulf as wide as death itself, but somehow the notion that he had a living child somewhere in the universe held his attention in a way he could only describe as instinctual.
His fingers strayed over her belly, feeling the subtle swelling there. Furry had always had large hips, although that was mostly the consequence of her bone structure and her Mussine heritage, but now her belly had begun to stick out over that pelvic cage, making room for the baby Markal girl inside her. She giggled softly, her belly jiggling under his fingertips. He knew better than to tickle her. His hands strayed up to her breasts, touching them through the shirt she wore. Her breath seemed to catch in her throat momentarily as he caressed her nipples. "I like that," she breathed.
"And if I keep doing it?" he asked.
"I'll want to make love to you where you sit." She raised her head to look at him. "So why did you stop?"
"Do you want... to... ?"
"I wouldn't say things like that, silly, if I didn't want to. What's gotten into you all of a sudden? For the past couple of weeks you haven't wanted to have sex with me."
"Guess I've had a lot on my mind."
"Is it my body? I don't look right, now that she's started to show? Kifal said it would be okay to have sex as long as I didn't hurt. It hasn't hurt yet, Nickolai, and you're not going to hurt her either."
She got up onto her knees and knelt before him, slowly pushing him down to the cloth until she was on all fours completely covering his body. "Make love to me," she said. "Show me you still love me."
"I still love you. But I'm not ready to..."
"I can make you ready," she said. Before he could answer, she crawled down the length of his body to his waist, unbuckling his belt and unbuttoning the snap of his pants. "If you want."
"Oh, Fah, Furry... "
She grinned. "Is that a yes?"
"Yes!" he agreed. She opened his pants and took out his already solid penis. It thrust itself into the air proudly, the head mushrooming. She hadn't seen him like this in weeks and she wasn't about to let him get away from her. She gave the head of his cock one long lick, starting at the wrinkle where his foreskin bunched up when he was erect and ending with a plunge down the length of it. He gasped, his body going rigid and his hands grasping at her shoulders.
The head of his cock was throbbing against her tongue; she could feel his heartbeat in every tiny vein that rang the length of it. She would stop to allow her tongue to press against one, feel it pulsing, wonder in amazement at the force of it. Sometimes she wondered how his cock didn't explode, it seemed so hard when she sucked on it.
She grasped his testicles with her other hand. She felt them rolling around inside the sac. Such small things, and yet they had given Elizabeth her baby, just as some unknown donor out there had used his to give her hers. She felt the warmth from between his legs, inhaled the scent of his body and worshipped with her mouth the beautiful man who had given her so much.
He was lifting his hips off the floor. She recognized the sign as one of impending climax. Although she had fulfilled that desire of his several times, she greatly preferred to watch his face and had better positions for doing so. And she wanted his attention.
She crawled up the length of his body. "Taste me?" she asked.
"Yes!" he agreed, readily, crawling down the length of her body. "Waitasecond. Let's get out of these clothes." They hurried, laughing as they tossed off shirts, boots, survival belts, everything they had. Nickolai reached over to the ancient metal desk where the professor who had worked here had kept his own collection and dialed up the heat. "It'll take a minute or two. I've turned the blowers on, though."
"I'm sure you can keep me warm." She sat back down on the ledge, propping herself up with her arms and opening her legs. She could see the look on his face as he caught sight of her cunt. When she had been sucking on his cock she could feel it becoming moist, moreso even than she usually did, and she wondered if he would notice.
"You're glistening," he said, grinning up at her as he crawled towards her. "Are you excited?"
"Very," she gasped. "Eat me, Kolya. Please."
He immediately bent to the task. When she felt the touch of his lips on her mound, she almost swooned with desire. His tongue was readily between her lips, lapping at the wetness. She could not contain her whimper when his tongue stroked downwards over her hood.
Nickolai had always been particularly skilled at cunnilingus, and now a month without hadn't slowed him down in the least. His tongue glided over her cunt, finding her clitoris and sending powerful shivers up her spine with every flicker. She didn't know if she would last long. It had been too long since she had had his attention like this. Too much pent-up frustration came rushing out as his hands tugged gently at the outer edges of her cunny. He closed his lips over her clitoris and suckled, lightly, bringing her clitoris out into the open. A gentle flicker of his tongue was more than she needed right now. The tension bound up in her thighs until she had release with a snap and a whimper.
"Oh, Fah, Nickolai. You are so good... Fah, I love your mouth on me!"
"You came very fast," he said, crawling onto the ledge with her. "I guess I haven't been giving you enough attention recently."
"No," she said, "But I understand."
"It'll never happen again," he said, lightly. She decided to take him at his word on it.
"Are you hard?" she asked.
"Very," he replied, positioning himself between her legs. "Why do you ask?"
"Just curious," she said with a grin as he thrust himself into her. She arched her back with delight as she felt his cock penetrate her to the core, filling her and touching her cervix.
"Yes, Kolya, oh yes," she gasped. "More," she asked.
He took her request to heart and she was rewarded with the sensation of his body retreating, then filling her again, the weight of his body colliding with hers between her thighs. The friction of his cock as it slid back and forth against her opening, pressed up into her cunt, and then emptied her again, thrilled her to her core. She thrust back with her hips, rocking them in time with his own thrusts. She wanted him to come, wanted to feel his seed inside her.
He began thrusting in earnest, pushing her down against the insulation blanket. She could see after the teasing she had done earlier that he was desperate to come. She wanted him too. Little droplets of sweat had formed on his forehead and threatened to drip off his face. Mouth open and gasping for breath, she reached up and caressed his face, nodding to him as he opened his eyes. He nodded back, and then his face screwed up with unmistakable signs as he came, groaning loudly. She could feel his cock pulsating within her.
They remained there, frozen for moments afterwards as he tried to recover. He shook his head, his short, black hair sending beads of sweat flying in every direction. "Oh, God," he swore. "I don't believe how good that felt."
"I do," she said with a satisfied sigh. "I love you, Nickolai."
He looked at her and began to laugh. She recognized is as the kind of laugh you have to have when you feel too good to do anything else. "Oh, I love you, Jofuran. I love you so much!" He grappled with her, hugging her tightly, holding her.
She didn't want to break up the moment, but she had to. "Uh, Nickolai? Remember what I said about the baby pressing on my bladder?"
"Ooops," he said, releasing her. "I don't have a towel..."
"We'll manage," she said. "I'll only drip as far as the bathroom."
"Here," he said, "Use my shirt."
"I'll survive," she said, pulling her own pants back on. "Come on. Help me up. I gotta pee, now."
"Valinach Joseph Zofrani. What a name," Furry said, playfully touching the infant's nose before handing him back to Elizabeth.
"It was the closest we could come to Jofuran to do the christening," Elizabeth said, taking the child back. "I'm sorry I won't be here for your birth. I hope you both do well with her, though."
"We think we will," Nickolai said. "And Furry's parents are here. They've done this before so we'll have lots of good advice."
"I bet you will," Elizabeth said. "Do you have a name for her yet?"
"We were thinking Marane'," Furry said, smiling. "That or Elerina, if Marane' sounds too historical."
Elizabeth smiled wide. "Go with Marane', if you do decided to give the child one of my awful names. But I thought Fawn's name was in French, not Quen."
"I think you're right. But what's wrong with Liz?" Nickolai asked.
"That's what I mean," Elizabeth said. "Marane' is so much prettier than Margaret." Her sarcasm was heavy on the final word.
"I think it's a fine name either way," Furry said.
Elizabeth looked at Furry curiously. "That crucifix I gave you. Did you take it off?"
Furry reached for her throat, then nodded. "I'm sorry, Liz. It wasn't for me."
Liz nodded. "Giving it to you when you were confused was a bad decision. My beliefs comfort me in my times of weakness but I've always disagreed with the notion that the best time to evangelize someone is when they're in need of something, anything, to get them through the day."
"I asked for help," Furry said. "I wanted to understand." She wrapped a hand protectively around Nickolai's arm. "I have all the support I need for now." Nickolai blushed as a chime rang out through the Sdisk hallways. "There's final call. You should get going."
"Okay. Bye, both of you. Thank you for everything you've done. You keep that necklace, Jofuran. I love you both!" She gave them both quick kisses on the cheeks, then turned onto the Sdisk and teleported out of sight.
Furry took pleasure in a deep, final sigh as Elizabeth was whisked out of their lives. They started walking back to their quarters. She glanced out one of the repaired windows. "There's a storm coming," she said, pointing to the horizon.
"Yeah," Nickolai said, glancing upwards to where the sky was still clear. "But the bigger storm just passed. We survived it. I'm sure we'll survive anything else that comes our way."
She caught his meaning. "I'm sure we will."
The starship Oxford, a Terran vessel with room for about a hundred passengers on-board, including Elizabeth and her son, made its way out of orbit and took the usual slow path away from the planet. As it powered past one of Ritacha's two moons, a smaller object, barely the size of a man, likewise swept by it on its own path, headed for a smaller moon orbiting one of the Ritachan outer worlds. It scanned the Oxford as its programming accorded. A few hours, when confidence was high that it was unobserved, it fired its rockets and sped on its way.