Since the alien’s messy passing, she had been trying
off and on to structure her thoughts into an organized whole. The task of getting the Life Support systems back online, the
required medical checks of personnel, treatment of the few - luckily very few, and minor - injuries sustained while restoring
the base to normal operations…all this had necessarily dominated her attention for the past three-plus days. There had
been precious little time for rest or thinking. Finally alone at last in her shower, she let the recently returned hot water
sluice over her tired shoulders and down the tight muscles of her back while she tried again to make sense of the episode.
Two scenes, vignettes really, kaleidoscoped through her mind, separate but unavoidably conjoined. The first
remained haunting and confusing every way she examined it: that night in her quarters, John’s double, cold as glass
to the touch, maintaining a steely grip on her wrists and imprisoning her body against the wall with the considerable strength
of his own, allowing her to feel his sexual arousal and his anger…but choosing to forego what had almost certainly been
his original purpose and leaving her quarters as abruptly as he had arrived. Their encounter had left her fearful and shaken,
but on his part, no serious physical violation, no reprisal for her suspicions.
She was glad for his change of heart, though she still didn’t get it. But what preoccupied her most was
the memory of the bewildered, and thoroughly human, look in his eyes as he stood so close to her, the emotional struggle she
could feel warring within him…Part of him had meant to harm her, she had no doubt, but some other part...some reachable
part had been unable to carry out that intent. Perhaps he was somehow more than just the relentless automaton his directive
had intended him to be. Maybe the absorption of pieces of John’s experience brought with it just enough of John’s
essence to prevent him hurting her. Or was there something else? The questions had no easy resolution and she disliked dwelling
on them as much as she was because try as she might to deny it, the truth was she felt sorry for the alien. In his own way,
he was as much a casualty of choices made by others as they themselves were on their runaway moon. She wasn’t sorry
he was dead and gone and could trouble them no further, but she felt sorry for what had been his lot in life.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, swirling just as dizzyingly through her brain was the scene that hadn’t
happened: the fantasy, the honest admission that if it had been John, her John, holding her as the alien had, so forcefully,
so possessively, so aggressively…her response would have been quite different, and fear would not have played a part.
‘You like it rough once in awhile, don’t you?’ the alien had hissed in her ear…and she did. Maybe
rough was not precisely correct; passionately enthused was the way she preferred to view it. She smiled. Semantics aside,
when she was with John, the one man who could make her feel safe and secure no matter the occasion, the man whose lightest
touch could send every nerve ending in her body careening off into complex sensual realms that only he controlled…yes,
she liked it when they got a little rough once in awhile. It was easy to let go like that with him. She trusted him with her
body, with her heart, with her love.
She sighed and stepped lithely out of the shower, grabbing a towel from the rack. She trusted John with the
most important facets of her being. Why then, did she so often mistrust his mind, his decisions, his orders? Running a comb
through her wet hair, she knew the short answer was, in a word, their ‘situation’. Their uncanny, tentative day
to day condition frequently made for untrustworthy appearances and behaviors, and John was far from being the only victim
of weird circumstance. She herself had certainly been fooled before, or used as a means to someone else’s end. She would
have had to sit down and count how many times she’d been taken captive in some fashion, usually in an attempt to manipulate
Alpha’s stubborn commander. Really, she and John were pretty even in terms of how often they’d been exploited
one against the other, but just because she could define the issue intellectually didn’t make her more at ease with
Under what she used to think of as normal conditions, the idea of distrusting the person she loved would not
have been a part of a good or healthy relationship. It would never have occurred to her to questions Lee’s actions with
the frequency she questioned John’s…but then, she and Lee had not been marooned together on a floating rock, constantly
in peril and encountering one disaster after another. Somehow, she and John had survived it all and the choice to be with
him felt more right than any other decision of her life. They had each come to terms, she supposed, with having to doubt one
another from time to time. Indeed, it seemed to be almost a requirement of their survival and it did help that the doubts,
when they arose, were never projected in a personal way. They were both, thankfully, secure enough in their commitment to
each other to understand that.
He rang the chime to let her know he was there then used her private code to let himself into her quarters without
waiting for her answer. His double, he knew, had used the command override on the commlock when making his intrusion on her
privacy, unaware, uninformed or just uncaring of small points like personal codes. There were many details the double had
overlooked, things that had been the kernel of his downfall; knowledge that he had been unable to tap, or that had been so
foreign to his experience he simply hadn’t recognized the danger.
John sighed. The sooner the memory of this episode faded the better. He’d been feeling like some psychic
voyeur ever since the alien’s demise, as if an unnerving residue of the Other had been left behind inside his skull,
or some small shadowy pocket of himself had been borrowed, used and returned to his custody at the moment of that discomfiting
‘brain freeze’ episode. He had no grasp of the alien’s thought processes or what he’d felt; yet, first
in small foggy flashes of insight, and lately in full-blown near-memories, John was acutely aware of things the doppelganger
had done in detail beyond what was contained in any private reports. John knew every action he had taken…and every way
the bastard had touched her. He didn’t know how he knew each and every move the mirror creature had made, particularly
with regard to Helena, but he knew it with precision…and he hated what he knew.
The thought of that thing, that copy of himself, having the audacity to touch her absolutely infuriated him.
He would have been outraged at the attempted mistreatment of any woman on the Base, but this…this was personal. This
had taken advantage of the most important, intimate piece of his life. It had specifically endangered the woman he loved.
If he could go back and kill the intruder once more, this time in slow motion so that he could be sure the horrifying sensation
of each and every cell being ripped apart was felt to the core of the creature’s soul, he would. That the thwarting
of the alien’s plans seemed to have also likely destroyed the Kalthon civilization’s means of resurrecting itself
bothered him not at all. That he might be presumptuous to make such an irrevocable choice about an entire civilization’s
existence was not going to keep him up at night, not when that same civilization had been prepared to destroy all he knew,
all he loved.
In addition to the oddly transferred moments of recall, he had read the private sections of Helena’s report
multiple times, growing angrier each time, both at the alien’s abusive acts and at his own carelessness which had enabled
the offenses. There had not yet been time for discussion. A few stolen moments here and there as they pulled the Base back
to full function, a too-short nap together last night… fully clothed, curled exhaustedly in each other’s arms
and both asleep within seconds of their heads hitting the pillows…were all they’d had so far. It wasn’t
enough. They needed time to talk, to stabilize…and so much more.
He glanced up as she exited the bathroom clad only in a fluffy towel of Alpha blue. John smiled as he let his
eyes roam. So much satiny bare skin open to his view; nearly all of her long, beautiful legs, then arms, shoulders, neck…only
that damned towel in between needed to disappear. He moved toward her, his own long legs making fast work of the distance
separating them. Within seconds they were wrapped in each other’s embrace, mouths fused together in an essential, needful
His fingers glided over her back. She felt steamy, the warmth of the shower still radiating off her, the scent
of body lotion sweet in his nostrils. Her damp hair brushed against his nose as he nibbled her ear. He ran his tongue around
the outer curve, then began trailing down her neck toward her shoulder alternating slow licks with light bites. He smiled
as she sighed and tilted her head back to give him more access.
Last night, as he’d enclosed her in his arms to sleep, he’d felt her stiffen at his touch and he
knew she was remembering the last time she’d been in her quarters with someone who looked like him. Her reaction was
fleeting - it passed in a second - and understandable, but he hadn’t liked it and he wanted the uninvited third party
evicted from their relationship as soon as possible. To his relief, he noted not a flicker of hesitation this evening. If
anything, the eagerness she was showing with her lips was setting a fiery pace, and as she backed slightly away and pulled
him along with her toward the wall behind her, it dawned on him exactly what she needed to get past her own bad memories of
the alien’s visit.
Helena felt his warm lips move to her ear, her shoulder, planting wonderfully hot kisses everywhere he could
reach. He wasn’t long out of the shower himself; his hair in back where it curled up his neck was still damp and he
smelled of soap and warm water. From reflexive habit, she brought the fingers of one hand to rest briefly over his carotid
artery, feeling his pulse rate reassuringly strong, and rising as he continued to kiss her.
She didn’t consciously realize they were moving, or that her own actions were orchestrating their movements,
until her back connected with the wall. It was only then she knew what she needed him to do to erase the copy’s presence
from her quarters, to eradicate the memory of that wintry touch on her skin…and as he removed her arms from around his
neck, as his hands traced down her arms till their fingers met and entwined, as he slowly, achingly slowly, raised their joined
hands up the wall and above her head, all the while matching her smoldering gaze with his own…she realized he knew precisely
what she wanted, too.
“I know what you need, baby,” he confirmed, catching her thoughts. A whisper, a sensual purr by
her ear, almost predatory in its implications, but this time the right voice, the right man…so terribly, perfectly right
she thought her knees might buckle as she felt his warm breath tickle against her throat, his arousal pressing against her
“I think you might be a little overdressed for what I have in mind,” he informed her then. Without
waiting for a response, he bent and grasped the top of her towel with his teeth, yanking at the spot where it tucked together
just above her left breast. “Much better,” he declared as the towel hit the floor.
His eyes glinted darkly as they raked over her, noting the immediate effects of the cool air on her pale skin.
“Too cold?” he murmured.
“Not as long as I have you to warm me up,” she whispered.
He chuckled and lowered his mouth to hers, tracing the outline of her lips with the tip of his tongue. Then
his tongue dipped between her lips, exploring the familiar, enticing warmth of her mouth. He sucked at her tongue, fenced
with it, expertly prolonging and deepening the kiss until she was almost panting for breath.
She felt him leisurely slide her hands back down the wall to her sides. He gave them a little squeeze to let
her know he wanted her to keep them there and just in case she missed his point, whispered, “You don’t move until
I tell you. Is that understood?” His sapphire gaze bored into her emerald one, daring her to tell him this wasn’t
what she wanted, the way she wanted it. He would have dropped the controlling fašade in an instant if she wished it.
Trembling, unable to speak from wanting him so, all she could do was nod her acquiescence…and hope he
decided to pick up his pace. Soon. Now. Yes, now would be a good time for him to move faster. But she knew he wouldn’t…and
Instead he stepped away from her to remove his jacket and belt, dropping them to the floor, all the while allowing
his eyes to appreciate her perfect naked form. Reminiscent of a classic carved marble she was, but there was nothing cold
or hard about her. God, she’s so beautiful. Slowly he removed his tunic,
observing her shallow breathing, her rising impatience, with humor. This was the only area of their lives where she was more
impatient than he was and it always amused him to see her display such impulsiveness. Only
with me. Boots and socks, trousers and briefs made their way to the clothing pile till he stood before her as naked as
she was, his own desire much in evidence and pointing out from his body directly at her. He struggled to maintain restraint
as he watched her looking at him with undisguised longing. Only for me.
He moved the few steps back to her, standing close, nearly touching. Her gaze hadn’t left his erection
since he’d unveiled it, that most fundamental symbol of his gender. She’d seen this part of him probably hundreds
of times since they’d first made love, and a few times before that on a professional basis, but she still found it endlessly
intriguing. His skin, so soft there, so smooth and warm, so vulnerable to harsh treatment yet so…vigorous when it was
in this mood. It grew even more pronounced as she looked at it. She wanted to touch it.
“Stroke it, baby,” he murmured, once more reading her thoughts. Admittedly it was what he wanted
her to do, but he knew she wanted it, too.
Uninhibitedly, both her hands clasped him, stroking, rubbing and caressing. Her eyes returned to meet his own
as she enjoyed the effect she was having on him. He was going to tell her to stop any second she knew, and she wanted to make
the most of the opportunity to transport him to the same level she’d already reached. They could make love right now
and it would be good. She was more than ready. It was almost what she wanted, but drawing it out, making each other wait,
would be even better.
Tonight she needed something beyond any of their standard routines and instinctively, John knew it as soon as
she did. She needed to have the shadow driven away, needed the passionate original to take her in his arms, not some cold,
plastic copy. Only this man knew her so well and only he did this to her, gave her this feeling her skin was made of quicksilver,
light and shifting and insubstantial. Only him.
She was trying to be pleasantly torturous with her movements, he knew. Teasing and pleasing each other was a
game at which they both excelled; they’d discovered that long ago in the earliest stages of their relationship. What
he wanted right now, almost more than anything, was to lower her to the floor,
cover her body with his and pound in and out of her till they reached exhaustion. They could both use the release, and it
would be just as pleasurable for him to have her that way instead of what they’d already begun. There was no denying
it turned him on immensely, those times they went at it hard and fast, and he’d known her to scream out a few words
he’d be willing to bet the rest of Alpha’s population wouldn’t have believed the reserved Doctor Russell
even possessed in her vocabulary.
But there was more to it just now than sexual gratification. This was an exorcism of sorts, a final riddance
of the Kalthon creature from their lives. John would do what was necessary to make sure he never again felt her stiffen in
his arms due to bad memories left behind by another. Only this woman was his match in everything, his equal partner in every
way, in his bed and in his life and she deserved to be held safe. Only she lifted him to formerly unknown heights of loving
expression he hadn’t even suspected existed. She could argue with him, dictate to him and make him feel like his bones
might melt inside his flesh when she kissed him. Only this woman. For her welfare,
he would face anything. To heal her, he would do anything and the healing she happened to require tonight was certainly no
“You need to stop now, baby.” His voice was hoarse in his own ears. He had nearly let her go too
long, but he could still preserve self-discipline if she stopped now. With a whimper of disagreement, she did.
He stepped closer to her, his hands tracing over her skin. Velvety soft flesh that she granted only him the
right to explore; her throat, her breasts, her belly, then lower still. His fingers gently sought and found her softest part;
wet, so silky wet already and oh so inviting.
He held back a laugh as he tried to sustain both his own control and the proper mood, but she sounded so sweetly
plaintive. He removed his fingers from between her thighs and took hold of her shoulders, turning her so she faced the wall.
Bracing her hands on the wall, she felt his arms slip around her, holding her powerfully, but tenderly, to his
chest. His mouth moved down beside her ear.
“I didn’t say you could speak,” he whispered.
“You didn’t say I couldn’t,” she replied mischievously over her shoulder.
He did laugh then. “You’re right, baby. I didn’t.” He kissed her deeply, letting the
heat grow between them till he felt her squirming in his embrace, raising his personal discomfort level several notches. “You’re
moving,” he reminded her, and pressed tightly against her until she stilled. “Do you feel what you do to me, baby?”
His speech was ragged with feeling and unadulterated want.
‘Dear God, how could I miss it?’ she wondered. ‘You’re not exactly small, John; it’s
hard to ignore.’ But the words stayed in her head. Real speech was
elusive and once more she could only nod. With extra effort she managed a squeaky little, “Hmm hmm.”
He began then to tell her what he was going to do to her, sparing no details. He did his best to ignore her
shaky breathing, the little moans that were escaping her lips.
Helena didn’t hear all he said; the blood was pounding too loudly in her ears to register the fine points.
It was enough that his discourse began with words like, kiss, stroke and lick, and ended with a promise that she wouldn’t
be able to stand upright or recite the alphabet by the time he was done. Somewhere in between was the number of times he planned
to make her come. If she’d been capable of getting any distance from her emotions and her body’s demands, she
might have laughed. He’d already nearly succeeded in making her come and he’d hardly touched her. He was accomplishing
it with words. Only this man.
Then his hands started to move, everywhere, all at once…and she thought her body would liquefy right there.
She felt sparkly and tickly and tingly. His fingers massaging, flicking, caressing, in and out, back and forth, circling and
figure-eighting and circling again, merciless in his tender, torrid, loving assault, the waves cresting and diving and cresting
again…and then he turned her round and knelt before her and started with his tongue…and every magical act his
fingers could perform, his tongue did even better.
John didn’t know whether he’d fulfilled his promise to her, but he was nearing his limits. As he
knelt before her, holding her in position, he knew it. The moment his tongue touched her, he knew it. As the silky, musky,
salty taste of her filled his mouth, he knew. This, oh this, was his very favorite thing to do to her. Even more than pleasuring
her with his body, he loved to pleasure her with his mouth. There had been days and there had been nights when he could have
done this for hours and not gotten bored. There had been mornings when he knew he had a difficult shift ahead; there had been
expeditions to other worlds that she’d not been part of, when this had been the last thing he’d done before he
left her. On some of those occasions, he hadn’t bothered washing her off him first, he’d just gone, taking her
memory with him. He loved the scent and the taste of her so much that sometimes he just wanted her near him while he was thousands
of miles away and it was as close as he could get to having the real thing.
But tonight…tonight was not going to be one of those ‘stay for hours’ kind of evenings. As
he felt her contracting around his fingers yet again for, he didn’t know how many times, he was done. He couldn’t
take anymore of his own imposed discipline. Rising to his feet, his hands landed heavily against the wall on either side of
her shoulders, his forehead came to rest against hers.
“Floor,” she whispered, breathless.
He shook his head slightly, eyebrows raised, questioning.
“Floor,” she repeated. She took hold of one of his hands and helped herself to her knees.
He joined her, carefully laying her back on the carpet. Lying beside her, smoothing her hair from her face,
he waited for her breathing to slow before he continued. “Okay?” he whispered.
She sighed contentedly. “I’m fine, darling. I just can’t stand up anymore. But, umm,”
she ran a finger boldly down his chest, heading toward his straining member. “You still have some work to do. I still
know my A-B-C’s.”
Lying in bed later, watching her sleep, John wondered how much longer they could go on this way…then chastised
himself for even thinking such a pointless question. As long as they had to, was the obvious answer…But…the guilt
he felt for the danger she often faced because of their involvement weighed heavier as the months rolled past…and he
had no solution.
This last adventure had left marks, literal ones. He thought of the fading bruises on her wrists; bruises made
by fingers just his size, though not his own. Shrugging, she’d assured him they didn’t hurt, they were only bruises.
They had already turned that nasty ‘old bruise olive green’ color; in another day or so they’d be gone.
With a heavy sigh, he wondered how long before they were forgotten. His sigh made her stir in her sleep. He pulled her closer
and kissed her hair and she settled immediately back into his chest.
She was worn out. The rebooting of the base had been tiring and time-consuming, and they’d just enjoyed
a very physical evening together…But she’d fallen asleep almost as soon as he’d carried her to bed. That
was unlike her. Sex usually kept her awake for awhile afterwards no matter how relaxed it made her. She needed a break, and
he had none to give her.
If they could just find some place…no matter how imperfect. He was well past looking for perfect in a
planet; it only had to be just good enough. Mediocre would do. Harsh winters, scalding summers; as long as there was a fresh
water supply and the soil could hold seeds, it would do. They could, they would, make it work.
He wanted to marry her. He wanted to revisit the baby discussion. He knew she wanted that, too, before it was
too late. Those moments yesterday, when he’d watched her dealing with Lily and Jack…He shouldn’t keep depriving
her, them, of that experience when he’d already granted permission to others. He was wrong to hold back, especially
when he knew what it would mean, not just to her, but to the Base as a whole. It would show everyone that even Alpha’s
cynical Commander believed in the future. But…he just didn’t know
if he could do it, if he could bear it. It was hard enough to know she was constantly in danger, to put his own child in that
position…a child that would be hers, too, a child he wanted, but…he just didn’t know if he could stand it
if something, anything, went wrong…
Beside him, she turned in her sleep and he turned with her, naturally spooning up behind her and holding her
to his chest. Maybe he’d have some insight tomorrow. There was always tomorrow.