STAR BLAZERS, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, and all related names and elements are copyright by Voyager Entertainment and Leiji Matsumoto. Star Blazers is a registered trademark of Jupiter Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Huge shout-out to Annie and Eva, who gave me the courage to let strangers read my writing!



Chapter 9


December 2, 2202


Two-and-a-half months.  Not so long in the grand scheme of things, but it felt like an eternity.  Carina supposed it had been worse for the men flying back from space – at least she’d had more to keep her occupied than tedious training exercises.  She thought back to the night she had come home from the hospital, the last night she’d had an unrestricted conversation with Mark.


Nova stayed with her after her father and sister went to bed to help her and make sure she was settled in.  Mark had called and they had all talked for a little while; after hanging up they retired to Carina’s room, where Nova changed her dressing and helped her into bed.  “Do you want me to stay until you fall asleep?”


“Would you mind?  Just for tonight.  It’s strange being back here.”

“I don’t mind at all.”  Nova sighed.  “My other option is going to my mother’s house, and she’s been harassing me non-stop to tell her what happened when I was with Alphon.  I really don’t want to tell her.”


“Oh.”  Carina grinned sheepishly.  “I was going to ask you about that, too.”


You I don’t mind telling.  But Mother is…  Well, you know how she is.”


She did know.  Nova’s mother was the most overbearing woman she had ever met, and Carina always got fidgety in her presence.  While Nova wasn’t exactly what you’d call rebellious, Carina suspected her insistence on fighting alongside the boys was at least partly backlash against her mother.  She simply said, “Yeah.  So tell me what happened.  There were so many stories flying around – even in the hospital I heard them.”


“You can’t believe everything you hear,” Nova said, shaking her head.  “I was never tortured; nor did I have Stockholm syndrome.”  She pulled a chair up beside the bed and sank into it, running a hand over her face wearily.  “You know that I was shot in the shoulder when I tried to get to the escape pod with the Star Force.”


Carina nodded.  “Wildstar beat himself up pretty badly.  Mark said he had a complete breakdown when he couldn’t hold onto you.  He was so afraid the worst had happened.  We all were.”


“Alphon was the officer who saved my life.  He nursed me back to health.”  She looked out the window.  “Alphon took good care of me.  He said he was impressed by my fight to live at first…  And eventually he fell in love with me.  Or so he claimed.”


Carina put her hand on her friend’s arm.  “You know that’s not your fault.  I’m sure you didn’t do anything to encourage him, and you didn’t share his feelings, did you?”


Nova looked startled.  “Of course not!  Alphon knew Derek was the only man in my heart.  But as far as we knew the Star Force didn’t survive and he…”  She rubbed her forehead as though she had a headache.  “He made me a proposition.  He would give me the information Earth needed if I would sleep with him.”


Carina blinked.  “But you didn’t.”


NovaCry“No.  But I was tempted.  It seemed like the only option to save the Earth.  But I couldn’t…”  She buried her face in her hands to cover her tears.  “I couldn’t believe that Derek was dead.  How could I have faced him again?  How could I have faced God after I betrayed Derek?”


“Nova…”  Carina tried to reach out to her, but she found she couldn’t pull herself into a sitting position.  “Nova, it wouldn’t have been a betrayal.  Don’t you think God would have balanced out the millions of lives you saved against one night?  Don’t you think Derek would have told you to do it?”


“I guess.  Anyway, Alphon let me go when he saw how the idea affected me.  He was actually very kind.  When we tunneled over to the bomb, I told myself I could kill him if I had to – he’d promised me the information to disarm the bomb if he was overthrown – but I don’t think I’d have been able to shoot him.  I’ll admit I felt a sense of loss when he died.  He told me how to save the Earth and it should have been a triumph, but instead it was painful.”


“That’s understandable.  He treated you well, and he was also the only person you saw for nearly a month.  It’s only natural for you to have warm feelings for him.  You weren’t betraying Wildstar.  Even if you had agreed to Alphon’s proposition, you would have been faithful to Derek in your heart, and that’s what matters the most.”


“I know that.  But I want Derek to be the only man who ever touches me that way.  I want our wedding night to be special, and I don’t want anything to spoil it.  You can understand that – you wouldn’t want to give yourself to someone other than Mark, no matter what the reason, would you?”


“No.  You’re right.”  Carina felt herself blush.  “I just hope you’re not worried about how Wildstar will react to the situation.  He trusts you completely, Nova.  He’s not the jealous type.”  She smiled, trying to lighten the mood.  “I can see why you don’t want to talk to your mother about it, though.”


Nova chuckled.  “Yeah, can you imagine?  Listen, just don’t tell Mark the gory details until I’ve had a chance to talk to Derek, OK?”


“Sure.  Of course I won’t.”  She sighed.  “I can’t believe they won’t be home for three months.”


“I know.  I still can’t believe the Star Force is out there without me.  It’s wrong on so many levels.”


“We should throw a dinner party when they get home.  Mark and Derek, Stephen, maybe the other bridge guys.  A night for them to relax.”


“That’s not a bad idea.  They could unwind, and I could catch up on everything I missed…  And you could spend some quality time with Lover Boy.”


Carina grinned.  “You’re just jealous because the Hotshot isn’t romantic.  Your place or mine?”


Her recovery time had passed fairly quickly, and on her return to work Carina was asked to train Jim Gilman’s replacement, a tiny British lieutenant named Violet who was a few years older than Carina.  They had gotten along very well so far; Violet was smart and fit in well with the group with her dry, relaxed sense of humor.  She was quite pretty, too, with enormous blue eyes and long blonde hair that she liked to streak with color.  This week it was purple.  Carina knew that Violet wasn’t dating anyone, and in the back of her mind she had an idea about Stephen Sandor.  She suspected the two would enjoy each other’s company.


Her return to the office, the training schedule and adjusting to her new rank had helped to move the fall along and now the Star Force was returning to Earth two weeks earlier than expected, with most of Earth Defense planning to watch the Argo’s landing.  Carina pretended to work, but really she had spent the morning mentally writing and rewriting the speech she planned to give Mark when she saw him tonight.  She found herself constantly tapping her toes with nervous energy.


Late in the morning the colonel rapped on her door and Carina ducked her head sheepishly, feeling a little guilty although she was sure he already knew that she wasn’t focusing on her job today.  “Hey, you ready to go?  The Argo is about to come in.”


“Yes, sir!”  She sprang from her seat immediately.


He laughed.  “You should try to show a little more enthusiasm.  Those guys have worked hard.”


“I’ll do my best, sir.”


Being the colonel’s right hand had its advantages – since he had business to discuss with the Commander at the Argo’s landing, they stood in the prime spot to watch the crew disembark.  Carina’s stomach did a dance as the enlisted crew exited the ship first, each with his own group: fighter pilots, gunners, engine room personnel, and the navigation, science and living groups.  She bounced up and down on her toes as Doctor Sane filed by, followed by Homer, Dash and Eager and finally the bridge’s officers – Pat Orion and Stephen Sandor first, with Mark and Wildstar bringing up the rear.  Each group was solemnly saluted by the Commander; Carina stood back quietly until Mark approached, when she straightened and saluted him in the formal military style, open hand to forehead, as the Commander did.  Mark’s mouth twitched and he raised an eyebrow at her (it’s about time) but he managed to maintain a serious expression until Salutehe was past Singleton.  With a broad smile on her face she watched the men file into the decontamination chamber, jumping when Col. Okajima put a hand on her shoulder.  He and the Commander were both grinning at her.


“Captain,” he said, “take the rest of the day off.”




“You heard me.  Tomorrow, too.  You’re dismissed.”


She looked blankly from the colonel to Cdr. Singleton, who nodded.


“Go take care of that boy.  He’s going to need a little TLC when the medics are through examining him.”


“You don’t need to tell me twice, sirs.  Thank you!”  She saluted sharply and ran off as the men laughed.



After showering in the decontamination chamber, Carina knew, Mark would have a quick medical exam and then would be debriefed for at least a couple of hours before being allowed to go home.  His mother and Jordy were planning to greet him when he got there since Carina was scheduled to work a full day, and she was to bring him supper after he’d had a chance to sleep.  The extra time off gave her the opportunity to do some last-minute shopping.  Two weeks ago had been the American celebration of Thanksgiving; she thought he would enjoy the traditional meal of turkey with all the trimmings and hoped that focusing on food preparation would take her mind off the excited flutter in her stomach.


After she chopped the vegetables and put the turkey in the oven, she took her time showering and dressing.  Her hair was getting pretty long, she noted as she gave herself the once-over in the mirror – she usually just pulled it back and hadn’t cut it since the war began – but Mark had always enjoyed playing with it and would probably like the length.  The thought sent a tingle through her body and she smiled to herself.  I’m like a sixteen-year-old with her first crush.  She applied her makeup carefully and slipped into the new dress she had bought for the occasion.  It was a little chilly in December for sleeveless silk, but she knew it flattered her figure and Mark would keep her warm.  In fact, just thinking about him kept her warm.


Being all dressed up with nothing to do but wait made the minutes feel like hours.  When Carina couldn’t stand sitting at home anymore she grabbed a book, packed the food into a carton and drove it to Mark’s apartment to finish cooking it there.  He would still be asleep, but somehow the idea of waiting at his place was more palatable than the idea of waiting at hers.  She let herself in the kitchen door silently and put the turkey breast in his oven, then spent the next half-hour wandering between the kitchen and the living room, trying to read but unable to focus, her heart jumping at every sound that came from the direction of his bedroom.  Finally it was time to put the vegetables in their pans on the stove and she found herself rattling them nervously.  The sound must have awakened him; she heard the bed springs creak as he sat up.  Her heart beat faster as she listened to his steps shuffle down the hall, and her stomach did a funny little flip when he appeared in the doorway.


It was obvious that he had just woken up – he was dressed in a plain tee shirt and a pair of plaid flannel pants; his hair was rumpled, the curls standing in different directions; his cheeks were darkened with stubble; and he leaned on the door jamb with one hand over his head while the other hand rubbed at his eyes sleepily.  It seemed to take a moment for him to realize what he was seeing; when it sank in that she was standing in his kitchen, he blinked and his dazed expression morphed into a smile.  She had taken a single step toward him when he rushed forward and scooped her off the ground, spinning her around in a great bear hug.


B4EverHug3When his arms closed around her, Carina felt all the tension rush out of her body.  His chest was so solid, so warm, his arms so strong… and he was home.  This was home.  She buried her face in his shoulder and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply.  He smelled of sleep, warm and comforting, and of the disinfectant spray of the decontamination unit.  Too soon he set her down and stepped back.  His eyes scanned her face, his hands cupping her cheeks tenderly for several B4Everkissseconds until he slid one hand around to the back of her head and pulled her in for a kiss.


His lips were soft and moist as they gently met hers.  Months of separation had increased her longing for him even more than she had realized and she melted into him, running her hands up his sides and over his back.  A pleasant ache spread into her chest as his fingers ran slowly up and down her spine.  By the time his lips skimmed across her cheek and he pulled her into a tight squeeze, her legs were shaky and she clung to him for support.


After a few seconds he leaned back to look her in the eye and she struggled in vain to remember even a small part of the speech she had worked on so diligently that morning.  Instead she made the only coherent statement her brain could muster: “Hi.”


“Hi,” he smiled at her, sounding as breathless as she felt.  She searched again for appropriate words.


“Welcome home.”


“Thanks.”  He kissed her again.  “It’s good to be back.”


She had regained her footing and brought her palm to his cheek.  “I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispered, pulling him to her for one more kiss.  The oven timer rang as their lips met, and they groaned and pulled apart.


“Why didn’t you wake me when you got here?  When I smelled the food cooking I was half-expecting to find my mother in my kitchen.  How did you get out of work so early?”  He had followed her to the stove with his hands on her shoulders and slid them down around her waist as he spoke.


Leaning back against his chest, she told him that the Commander had sent her home.  “I wanted to let you sleep a little longer.  I also wanted to surprise you.  But go take a shower and get dressed, and dinner will be almost ready when you come back.”


“I don’t need a shower.  I’ve been through decontamination,” he protested.


She kissed him and turned him toward the hall.  “Uh huh.  And you smell like a medicine cabinet.  Go.  I’ll make you some coffee.”


Carina couldn’t stop smiling as she stirred the vegetables on the stove, listening happily to the sounds of the shower and his electric shaver while she made coffee for him and tea for herself.  A few minutes later she heard him fiddling in the living room, and soft music filled the air.  Old jazz tunes – her favorite.  She turned as he entered the kitchen, her heart giving another flutter when she saw him.  In a white button-down shirt and a pair of black dress pants, his hair softly ruffled from the shower, he was the most handsome man she had ever seen.


“Have a seat,” she said, stirring milk into his coffee to force herself to stop staring at him.  “It’s going to be another few minutes before it’s time to carve the meat.”


She set the coffee on the table and kissed his cheek before turning toward the stove, then jumped and turned back in surprise when he swatted her bottom.


“Aaah,” he sighed as he sat.  “This is what a man likes to see when he comes home: a pretty girl waiting on him hand and foot.”


He was leaning back in the chair, his hands behind his head and his eyes closed, a smug grin on his lips.  Stifling a smile, she smacked the back of his head and said, “Keep up the attitude, Space Jockey, and you’ll never see it again.”


“Ouch,” Mark laughed, rubbing his head with one hand while grabbing her wrist and pulling her into his lap with the other.  “What I mean, of course, is that I can’t believe how lucky I am to wake up and find you here.”  He pulled her close.  “I don’t deserve it.  Thank you.”


She snuggled warmly into his chest, whispering, “That’s better.”


They sat that way for several minutes, Mark’s hands running up and down Carina’s arms, her fingers tracing patterns on his chest, before he murmured into her hair. “Do you have any idea how much I’ve missed you?”


“I think I might have some idea.”  As much as she hated to move, she could smell that the food was ready to serve and dragged herself up.  “But we’ll have to talk about that later,” she said, kissing him.  “Can you carve a turkey breast?”


“I can try,” he sighed as he let her go, resigned.


He perked up when he saw the dishes she had prepared.  “Cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes?  My mouth is watering, but aren’t we a couple of weeks late?”


“Maybe, but I have a lot to give thanks for today.”  She kissed his cheek and pulled out her piece de resistance – a pumpkin pie, ready to go into the oven.  “This can cook while we eat the turkey.  Genuine New England pumpkin, courtesy of my sister.”


As they sat she pulled her chair close enough to his that their legs were touching; when they began to eat and relaxed into more normal conversation she was profoundly aware of the pressure of his thigh against hers.  “You had a hard time on Dezarium, didn’t you?  I still can’t believe what happened with Sasha – it must have been so hard on Wildstar.  Maybe even harder on Stephen.”


Mark sighed.  “The situation with Sasha was tough.  Hell, the entire situation there was just so bizarre.  They went to such great lengths to fool us, to make us believe we had landed on Earth 200 years in the future.  I’m still not sure I understand why they did that.”


“Yeah, that was strange.  Did you believe they were telling the truth?”


“Wildstar really did, I think.  I couldn’t accept it, and neither could Homer or Orion.  I thank God for their quick thinking – they proved to everyone that the whole thing was a set-up.  Sasha’s sacrifice was a tragedy, but without her the human race wouldn’t have survived.”


“Without Sasha and Nova,” Carina amended.


“Nova, of course, she was incredibly brave,” he agreed, “but I think Sasha was even more so.  She was so young, but she gave her life willingly – almost gladly – to save a planetful of people she had never even met.”


Carina put her hand on his arm gently.  “Something about those space women, huh?”  He looked at her for a second, then covered her hand with his.  “I’m sorry, Mark.  About all of them.”


He nodded.  “War is an ugly business – we all know that; we’ve all lost friends and loved ones.  Doesn’t make it any easier, though, does it?”  They looked at each other for a few seconds, communicating silently, before he squeezed her hand and cleared his throat, lightening his tone.  “Anyway, you’re here, and you’re healthy, right?”  He had kept close track of her recovery during their weekly talks.


“More or less.  And I told you I’d be here waiting when you came home.”


“You had me very worried for a while there.  Don’t ever do that to me again, OK?”


“Anything you say, Commander.”


“I like your attitude, soldier.”  He leaned over to kiss her before changing the subject, asking her about her family and then about his own, and about what had happened on Earth during the war.  It was a somber meal as they rehashed the battles he had fought and the work she had done for the resistance, and the people who were lost.  He asked her about Nova over dessert, but he had heard the basics from Wildstar and she didn’t elaborate.  Mark sighed heavily.


“When Nova didn’t make it to the escape ship, we all panicked.  That day was…” he didn’t finish.


“I know.  I’ve had so many nightmares about that night the Star Force left – about you not making it to Heroes’ Hill, or the escape ship not getting away…  I think this war was harder on a lot of people because of the way it started.  The Gamilon War came on kind of gradually, over the course of a few years, and we all knew about the Comet Empire before it reached Earth.  But these guys blindsided us.  That day made everyone realize just how delicate our situation is.”


“Everyone including me.”  Mark’s expression had changed.  He was looking at her with a strange intensity that made her stomach do a somersault.  “Carina, leaving you that night was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”  He gripped her hands.  “I hope to God it never happens again, not that way, but if it does, I can’t stand the thought of there being any distance between us.  I want us to be a part of each other forever.”


She felt tears well in her eyes even before he slid down on one knee.  He swallowed heavily, a terrified expression on his face.  “I love you more than I’ve ever loved anything in my life, Carina.  Will you marry me?”


Her heart was in her throat and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to speak, but she took a deep breath and tried.  “Yes,” she managed to choke out through a combination of laughter and tears.  “Yes, of course I’ll marry you.”  At some point he had reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring, which he clumsily slipped onto her finger.  He was holding her hand up, watching her expectantly, but it seemed her brain had shut down and it didn’t even occur to her to look at the ring until he prompted her, asking if it was all right.  She blinked to clear her head and looked away from his face.


It was a simple setting, but lovely: a small diamond with a sapphire and a smaller diamond chip on either side.  It looked to her like an antique, but she would ask him about it later.  Right now she smiled and smoothed his hair.  “It’s beautiful, Mark.  I love it.”  He was still kneeling, and she slid her arm around him to pull him toward her.  “And I love you.  So much.”  He opened his mouth to speak, but she whispered “Shhhh…” as she leaned down and kissed him.  Their lips met tantalizingly and she felt her desire for him swell.  After a minute he finally stood from the floor and pulled at her hands.


“Come on,” he whispered, and led her toward the living room.  They didn’t make it to the sofa – the song that began playing as they walked through the room was one Carina’s favorites; she turned him around to dance with her.  It took him a moment to understand what she wanted, but when he did he pulled her close and began to sway with her, pressing his cheek to her forehead.  Carina closed her eyes and leaned into him, listening to the lyrics which had just become even more meaningful to her.


Kiss me each morning for a million years,

Hold me each evening by your side.

Tell me you’ll love me for a million years,

Then if it don’t work out,

Then if it don’t work out,

Then you can tell me goodbye.


As they danced Mark’s hand moved up and down her back.  When her breath grew shaky she pressed her head into his neck, taking in his warmth and his scent and the feeling of his arms around her.  It had been so long – far too long.


She was only vaguely aware of it when the song ended, but the next one that started held special meaning for both of them – at least she hoped it did – and she smiled.


Kiss me once, then kiss me twice,

Then kiss me once again.

It’s been a long, long time…


She pulled back a little to look at him.  “Do you remember when I sang this song to you?”


His smile was charming, and his voice was husky and as unsteady as hers.  “Were you singing to me?  I never knew for sure.”  He kissed the bridge of her nose and pulled her close again, nuzzling at her ear as he whispered to her.  “Of course I remember.  I also remember how badly I wanted to kiss you that night.  But you wouldn’t let me.”


Poor guy – she really had tortured him all those months.  “It wasn’t easy holding back on you.  But you know why I wouldn’t let you, and I stand by that decision.”  She let go of his hand to stroke his chest.  “I’ll make it up to you.  I promise.


He grunted and kissed her hungrily, pulling her body to his, twining the fingers of one hand through her hair and sliding the other down her back to let it rest at the spot where her hips began to curve out from her waist.  He held her firmly to him, which was unnecessary since she was pressing herself as close to him as she could, letting her hands roam over every inch of his back and shoulders.  When his tongue slid through her parted lips and sought hers, she felt her body temperature rise again and moaned weakly into his mouth.


By the time he loosened his grip on her, breathing raggedly, a different song was playing.  “Carina…” he whispered, “Carina, stay with me.”  She hesitated, not sure what he would expect from her if she did stay, but he understood her uncertainty and stroked her cheek gently.  “I just want to be close to you, love.  I want to wake up knowing you’re here beside me.  You know I’ll never ask you to do anything you don’t want to do.”


She knew that – he was still the most honorable man she had ever met.  She gave him a half-smile and ran a finger over his lower lip.  “I’ll stay with you, Mark, but I do want us to wait until we’re married.  Maybe now more than ever.  It will make our wedding night that much more special.”  It was a strange but wonderful feeling, talking about when they would be married.


“Of course.  You know I want to wait, too,” he grinned at her, “although I’m not saying it will be easy.  Or that I’ll enjoy it.  But you’re right – it will be the best wedding present we can give each other.  And in the meantime, wherever you want to set the limitation is fine with me.”


“Can we just agree to take things very slowly?  We’ll figure it out together.”  She closed her eyes briefly as he kissed her nose, then followed him shyly toward the bedroom.  When they reached the door, he blushed awkwardly and rubbed the back of his head.


“Uh…  I only have one clean pair of pajamas.  Sorry, but I wasn’t planning on doing laundry until tomorrow.”


She considered this.  “How about if we share?  I wear the tops, you wear the bottoms?”


He opened his mouth as if to say something, then grinned and turned to his dresser.  What he pulled out were standard-issue EDF pajamas, navy blue with gold piping.  He tossed her the top and she retired to the spare bathroom, the one that was the size of a closet and contained only a toilet and a sink.  She washed up quickly and slipped into his shirt, then examined her reflection in the mirror.  She was afraid that her eyes would be red and puffy since she’d come close to crying several times that evening, but instead they sparkled back at her, her fair skin glowing against the blue of the fabric.


By the time she returned to his room he had folded down the blankets on the bed and stood beside it, fidgeting.  The nervous expression on his face melted into a smile when he saw her.  She felt a foolish grin spread across her own face as she approached his open arms, noticing with a blush that his eyes were sliding over her appreciatively.  She ran her hands slowly up his chest to his shoulders, kissing his lips.


“Mmmm.  It’s good to be home,” he murmured, sliding his lips down her neck as he sat on the edge of the bed and wrapped his arms around her waist.  “This is a good look for you, by the way.”


B4EverHug2She was about to respond when he hugged her more tightly and leaned into her.  His head pressed into her abdomen where her wound was still tender.  She flinched and gasped sharply.  Mark guessed right away what the problem was and let her go.  “I’m sorry, love.  You seem so healthy; I almost forgot that you were hurt.”  He looked and sounded frightened.


It’s fine, Mark.  It’s not that bad, really – you just happened to hit the sore spot.  Don’t worry about it.”  She stroked his hair to calm him.


 “Are you sure?”  When she nodded, he looked at her for a long moment and put his hand on her belly.  “Carina…  May I see your scar?”


He would see it soon enough, anyway.  She undid the two middle buttons on her shirt and spread it apart, showing him the middle part of the scar.  It was red and looked a little inflamed tonight, probably because her heart had been beating so rapidly and they’d had so much physical contact.  Mark touched her gingerly.  He opened the lowest button on the shirt and spread it open, letting his fingers skim the length of the scar and, to his credit, doing his best not to gape at the black lacy underwear she had bought with him in mind.


His eyes were pained when he looked up at her.  “Carina, I…  Honey, I’m so sorry I couldn’t be here for you.”  A tear flowed down his cheek, and she brushed it away as she sat beside him.


“There was nothing you could have done, sweetie.  I’m just glad you’re here now.”


He pulled her close and kissed her with an intensity she had rarely felt from him.  She understood where it was coming from – she’d had more than two months to get used to the whole thing: being shot, the slow healing process of an abdominal wound, the scar she’d live with for the rest of her life.  For him it had been abstract until now – seeing the angry red line across her belly had just made it real for him.  His kiss told her that.  She could sense in it his fear, his regret at not being by her side during her recuperation.  When she kissed him back, she tried to convey to him all the love she felt for him, how knowing he was coming home to her had given her the strength she needed to heal.


Slowly he eased her down onto the bed and climbed over her to lie beside her.  When she turned to face him he reached over and brushed a lock of hair from her face.  She closed her eyes, relishing the feel of his fingers on her cheek, and when she opened them again he looked very serious.  “You scared me half to death, you know,” he whispered.


“I know,” she responded, bringing her hand to his cheek.  “I’m sorry.”


His eyes filled with tears.  “If anything happened to you, Carina, I don’t…”


“Shhh…”  She reached up and silenced him with a kiss.  “We’re both here now, and we’ll be together forever, just like we’ve always said.  I promise you, I’m fine.  It only bothers me when I put too much pressure on it.”  She kissed him again and again until he finally relaxed and rolled her onto her back, hovering over her propped up on one elbow.


He kissed her lightly and murmured into her mouth.  “So it doesn’t hurt if I do this?”  His free hand slid down to her belly and moved slowly and gently over her scar, tickling her skin.


Carina could feel herself blush with pleasure.  “No, that’s good,” she whispered.


She felt him grin and then move to kiss his way along the open collar of her shirt – his shirt – over the button that remained closed and down until his mouth was at the edge of the scar, teasing her flesh.  “And how about this?”  Slowly, very slowly, his tongue traced along its edge, pausing every few centimeters so he could kiss her.  Carina gasped and arched her back to meet him, her heart beating wildly as his hands slipped beneath the small of her back to hold her even closer to his mouth.  He was awakening wonderful new feelings in her, and she heard a sigh of disappointment come from deep within her when he finished the journey across the tender flesh and began working his way back up toward her face.


“Mark,” she whispered breathlessly a few seconds later, one hand tangled in his hair and the other stroking his back, “Mark, I love you so much.”


His hand was caressing her side and now slid up to cup her breast.  “I love you too, Cricket.  Oh, I love you so much.”  As he kissed her he moved his hand further and undid the final button on her shirt, then spread it open and eased it over her shoulders.  “Is this OK?  Are you OK with this, love?”


Right – boundaries.  She nodded and pushed herself up on her elbows to slip the shirt off, forcing herself to think rationally.  “I can’t lie on my stomach yet.”  She smiled regretfully at him.  “And I don’t think I can have you lying on my stomach either.  So I guess my wound will act as a built-in chastity belt for us, at least for the next month or two.  And maybe by then we’ll have learned to control ourselves.”


“I can live with that.”  The look on his face made her blush again when he sucked in a deep breath as he gently eased her back down and ran his eyes deliberately over her body.  His expression darkened as he focused on the lingerie she had bought for his homecoming.  The matching set in sexy black lace was a far cry from what she normally wore, and she knew it set off her white skin beautifully as well as flattering her figure.  She squirmed under his gaze and felt herself blush even more brightly when he turned to her with a wicked grin.  “You had plans for tonight, didn’t you?”


“Maybe.”  She reached up to his shoulders, pulling him down to her.  “I figured you’d be pretty easy.”


“With a wanton seductress like you?  How could I help myself?”  He turned out the light, and she lost herself in his embrace.