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 2


March 14, 2202

At 1145 on Sunday Mark knocked on Carina’s door.  Sandor was being shipped out within the next few days, and Nova had invited them over for a bon voyage meal.  Carina was clipping her thick red hair back as she opened the door and stepped aside to let him enter.  “Hi – come on in,” she said.  “I wasn’t expecting you quite yet.  I just have to finish pulling myself together and I’ll be ready to go.”


She looked pretty pulled-together already, he thought as he watched her cream-colored dress swirl around her hips, but women probably had different standards for themselves.  He looked around her apartment curiously.  It was a mirror-image of his own, but she had made more of an effort to personalize the space than he had.  Colorful throw pillows and blankets brightened the drab furniture, and the walls were hung with family photos and scenic images of Earth from before the Gamilons had attacked.  An electric piano against the wall held a vase filled with fresh flowers.  The place definitely had a feminine touch.  “Your apartment looks nice.  I’ve never done anything with mine.”


“Well, you haven’t spent a lot of time there.  Maybe now that you’ll be stationed on Earth for a while you’ll spruce it up a bit.  You’ve already added those sharp curtains.”  She spoke from the bedroom.  When the video phone chimed with an incoming call, she emerged and her eyes filled with concern.  “That’s my dad.  It’s 2130 hours over there.  I wonder what’s up.”


 “Do you want me to go in the other room?”


“No.”  She touched his arm nervously as she answered the call.  “Stay here for a minute?”  He nodded as the image came up, revealing a pretty but sad-looking young girl with dark hair, bouncing up and down on her toes.  “Kate?  Where’s Dad?  Is everything OK?”


“Cricket…” the girl sniffled, and Mark thought, Cricket?  “Dad’s fine – he’s asleep.  But I wanted to talk to you.  I had such a bad day, Cricket.  The girls from school are so mean.”  As Kate began to cry, Carina turned to Mark and quietly asked him to go to the kitchen and take the muffins she had made out of the oven.  He was more than happy to comply – the last thing he wanted was to get involved with the social problems of a nine-year-old girl.


After a few minutes, he could hear that Katie had calmed down and cautiously stepped back into the living area.  Carina extended a hand to him and he joined her.  “Kate, listen,” she was saying, “I have to go to my friend’s house for brunch.  But you have a vacation coming up soon, right?  Maybe Dad would let you come out and visit me that week.”  The girl brightened at the suggestion, wiped the tears from her face and finally noticed Mark standing with her sister.  Her eyes went wide.  “Katie, this is my friend Mark,” Carina said.


“Nice to meet you, Kate.  Carina has told me a lot about you.”  He smiled at the girl, who was staring at him with her mouth open.


She nodded.  “She talks about you all the time, too.”  Mark grinned at the look Carina gave her sister, who stammered, “I mean, it’s nice to meet you,” and then turned to Carina and mouthed, “Well, you do!”


“We really do have to go, Kate.  But ask Dad if you can visit me during your vacation, OK?  And don’t worry about those mean girls.  There’s nothing wrong with you.”


Mark nodded.  “You tell those girls you have friends on the Star Force.  If they won’t leave you alone, we’ll take care of them.”  He winked at the girl, and she giggled.


“I will,” she said, looking at him shyly.  “Cricket, I’ll ask Dad if I can come see you.”


“Well, don’t wake him up.  Ask him in the morning and call me tomorrow, all right?”


“OK.  Goodnight, Cricket.”


“Goodnight, Kate.”


After she hung up, Mark raised an eyebrow at her.  “Cricket?”


Carina sighed.  “My brother Georgie was only about two-and-a-half years old when I was born, and he had a hard time saying ‘Carina.’  It came out more like ‘Crinka,’ and eventually it morphed into ‘Cricket.’  No one outside of my family calls me that.  No one,” she repeated with emphasis when she saw the look on his face.


 “I like it,” he teased.  “I might not be able to help myself.”


Glaring at him, she said, “If you call me that in front of anyone else, I will have to kill you.”


“I won’t.  I promise.”


He followed her into the kitchen, where she picked up the basket of muffins, then out the door.  “Your sister is sweet.  It will be good for her to visit you on her vacation.”


“Oh… Yeah.” she replied.  “Thank you for being so nice to her, by the way.  She has a hard time sometimes.  But I wasn’t really thinking when I invited her out here.  Her vacation is in early April, and with the automated fleet I don’t think there’s any way I can get time off.  When she comes out in the summer, I have someone watch her while I’m at work, but she won’t be available.  I guess she can sleep during the day, and I can hang around with her at night.  That will minimize the upset to her sleep schedule, at least.”


Yeah, or…”  Mark thought for a minute.  “My mother might be able to help you, a couple of days at least.  I can ask her if she’d mind picking Katie up when Jordy gets out of school.  We wanted them to meet, right?  Jordy sometimes has problems with mean kids at school, too.  It might do them both some good if they become friends.”


 “That’s what everyone used to say about us, remember?”  She smiled sweetly at him and his heart melted.  “I wouldn’t want to impose, but if you don’t think she’d mind, that would be amazing, Mark.”


“I’ll ask her and let you know,” he said, unable to resist the urge to run his hand over her back, gratified when she leaned into him briefly before stepping away.  He was trying to think of something charming to say when they arrived at Nova’s apartment.  Nova opened the door right away, Wildstar at her heels.


“Hi, guys.  Come on in.  Sandor and Alex are already here,” Nova said, kissing Mark’s cheek and hugging Carina.  Wildstar followed suit, shaking Mark’s hand.  “Carina, it’s nice to see you again.”


“You too, Captain Wildstar.  Welcome home.”  She turned to Nova.  “Sorry we’re a little bit late.  My sister called in a tizzy just before we were going to leave.”


“Not a problem,” Nova replied.  “Is your sister –“


She was interrupted by the clatter of feet running across the floor and a high-pitched, excited voice.  “Uncle Mark!”  It was Sasha, looking older than she had even the last time Mark had seen her, less than a week ago.  He scooped the small girl up and spun her around.  “Hey, how’s my girl?”


“Fine!”  She squirmed out of his arms and grabbed his hand.  “Come and see Daddy.”


“OK, sweetheart,” he said, throwing Carina a helpless look as he followed the blond head down the hall.  Sasha pulled him into the living room where Sandor and Alex Wildstar were sitting, drinking cups of coffee.


“Daddy, Uncle Stephen, Uncle Mark is here,” the girl announced before running back down the hall to join the women.


The two men stood to shake Mark’s hand.  “Venture, good to see you,” Sandor said.  “I hear through the grapevine that you have a new command.  Congratulations.”


 “Thanks, Sandor.  I’m only sorry you won’t be here to give me technical advice.”  He turned to Alex.  “Alex, how are you?  Sasha is quite the little hostess.”


“She’s much more social than her father,” Commodore Wildstar agreed.  “After all the time I spent alone with Starsha on Iscandar, I’m finding Earth a little overwhelming.”


“Come on, brother, isn’t it good to be home?”  Derek had entered, led by Sasha and followed by Nova and Carina.


“Sure it is, Derek, and it’s wonderful to see Earth green again, but Iscandar was much quieter.  Sasha’s had an easier time this week than I have.”  He noticed Carina for the first time and straightened, returning her salute.


Nova spoke up.  “Alex, this is Lieutenant Clark.  Carina interned under Sandor when we were at the academy together.”


“Welcome home, Commodore.  I’m sure your adjustment will be easier when you’ve settled into a routine at HQ,” Carina said.  She turned to Sandor and gave him a quick hug, followed by a playful punch in the arm.  “Stephen, you couldn’t have called me?  I swear, you Star Force men, leaving a girl hanging.”  Mark raised his eyebrows innocently at the look she gave him.  When she stepped back beside him he whispered in her ear.  “So you salute Alex Wildstar now, huh?  I’m still waiting for you to show me that respect.”


“Rise up a little higher in the ranks and you might get lucky, Space Jockey,” she whispered back.


He chuckled and moved to put his arm around her shoulder, planning to tell her that “get lucky” might not be the phrase she was looking for, but when he saw Nova watching him he covered the move lamely by stretching and yawning instead.  Nova arched an eyebrow at him – Really?  Do you think I couldn’t see through that?and announced that brunch was ready.


Mark found himself seated between Nova and Sandor.  Carina was on Sandor’s opposite side and immediately engaged him in conversation about the technical aspects of the automated fleet.  Since Derek and Alex Wildstar were also head-to-head about something, he turned to Nova.  “Where are you going to be stationed next, Nova?  Are you going back to the hospital?”


She nodded.  “I’ll be splitting my time between the hospital and the Commander’s office, actually.”

“Really?  That’s quite an honor.”


“I don’t know about that – it will be mostly clerical work, I think, but at least it’s a chance to show the brass what I’m capable of.  Has Sandor told you where they’re sending him?”


“No.  I get the impression it’s top secret.”


“Yes, that’s what I thought too.  Maybe they’re developing some new sort of weapon?”


“Maybe.  Doesn’t look like we’ll get an answer out of him today, anyway.”  Sandor and Carina were deep in conversation.


Nova  laughed.  “No, you’re right.  Sandor has his technical soul mate there.”  She put her hand on Mark’s arm and leaned over to him.  “So how are things going?”


Mark didn’t need to ask what she was referring to.  “All right, I guess.”  He sighed.  “We promised each other before I left that we wouldn’t rush into anything, but we had dinner together last night, and after spending one evening with her, Nova, I’m right back where I was when we took off.”

“Mark, you need to talk to her.  Tell her how you feel.  I can almost guarantee you she feels the same way.”


Sasha had been making her way around the table and chose that moment to climb on his lap and kiss his cheek.  Mark kissed her head and gave her a bite of his eggs, noticing that Carina was watching him interact with the little girl, a guarded look on her face.  When she squirmed off his lap and went to sit with Derek, he leaned closer to Nova so they could talk privately “It’s not that simple.  I wish it were, but there are other things to consider.”


She looked at him doubtfully, but nodded.  “If you say so.  But don’t put it off too long.  You both deserve to be happy.”


“Thanks, Nova.”  He suddenly felt tremendous affection for her.  Nova had always been there for him, his advisor and friend, and he couldn’t imagine life without her.  He nudged her playfully now.  “You’re a fine one to talk about putting it off.  We were almost all the way to Iscandar before you and Wildstar finally got together.”


 “That wasn’t my fault, believe me,” she laughed.  “I tried, but Derek wasn’t too quick on the uptake.”


“Well, there were plenty of us who would have gladly stepped in if you’d given us half a chance.”


“I know.”  She considered him and touched his arm again.  “Mark, you know I love you with my whole heart, don’t you?  There’s no one I love more, other than Derek.  But you and I wouldn’t have made a good couple.”


“You’re right about that, Nova,” he said, covering her hand with his own.  “We would have been happy enough for a while, but I think…  When I met Trelaina I realized there should be something more to love than that.  A sort of – a spark – that you and I never had.  You have it with Wildstar, and I felt it with Trelaina, and…” His eyes drifted to Carina, who was now holding Sasha in her lap.  It looked like Sandor was reprimanding the little girl.  Mark redirected his attention to Nova.  “I’m glad we never tried it, Nova.  If we had, it wouldn’t have worked and I don’t think we’d be as close as we are now.  I wouldn’t trade our friendship for anything.”


“Thank you, Mark.”  She leaned over and kissed him on the lips, her hands on his face.  When he got over his initial surprise, he realized that kissing her made him feel…  Nothing.  It was like kissing a sister.  It was anticlimactic, after all the times he’d fantasized about it, but it was also a relief.  He could finally let go of the guilty feelings he’d carried around, as though he were betraying Wildstar, or Trelaina.  Or...  His eyes flickered over to Carina once more.  She wasn’t looking his way, but the expression on her face made it clear that she had seen what just happened.  He would talk to her about it later.


Wildstar had apparently seen it, too.  “Hey,” he said with mock anger, “what was that about?”


Nova tossed her head at him.  “That’s between me and Mark.  If you were paying more attention to me, it wouldn’t have happened.”


Grinning and stretching elaborately, dropping his arm over Nova’s shoulder, Mark added, “That’s right, buddy.  You snooze, you lose.”  The others laughed – watching Carina, Mark thought she might be a little less enthusiastic than the others.  The comment broke the ice and the friends began talking across the table instead of to their seating partners.  Derek spoke first.


“So Sandor, are you going to tell us where they’re shipping you off to?  There are rumors flying around, but no one seems to know for sure.”


Sandor shook his head.  “I can tell you I’ll be working on improving warp functionality, but that’s all I can tell you.  The specifics of the location are being kept secret even from me.  I suspect they’re worried that the assistance we gave Leader Desslok may come back to bite us.  They want to keep our weapon and fleet development as hush-hush as possible.”


Mark was startled.  “Does the Council expect an attack?  Do they have intelligence that we don’t?”


“I don’t think so, but I think they’d rather be safe than sorry.  That’s why, I feel, they’re rushing the release of your automated fleet, Venture.”


Carina nodded.  “I wish we had more time to work out the kinks before handing it over to you.  There will have to be an extended training period while we continue running tests, as well.  But since the battle at Saturn, we don’t have the manpower to patrol Earth’s immediate vicinity while the fleet is being debugged.”


For the first time, Mark felt a twinge of doubt about his new command.  “Is the fleet that buggy, Carina?  I was under the impression that construction had gone smoothly.”


“In theory, yes.  But we know we’ll find issues.  Earth Defense still hasn’t come up with a way to get around that funny radar blind spot directly to the rear of the ships – Stephen, I wish they would put you on that project – and we’ve just finished working up the interface.  With any luck we’ll never need to put the fleet to use, or at least we’ll have plenty of time to test and train before it’s needed.”


Mark nodded, but was left with a bit of an unsettled feeling in his stomach.  Carina gave him a piercing look and changed the subject.  “Commodore Wildstar, where are you staying?”


“Right now we’re in VIP housing on the base,” Alex replied, and Mark shot Carina a grateful smile.  “But Commander Singleton tells me there’s a small house nearly completed on an island owned by Earth Defense.  He’s going to let me stay there, at least until I’ve made the transition back to civilization.”  He looked at Derek.  “I’m sure it will be nothing compared to the homes they’re building for all of you.”


Carina looked around.  “What’s this?”


“Didn’t I tell you about that last night?” Mark asked, but she shook her head.  Oops.


Nova rolled her eyes at him and took up the story.  “Earth Defense has offered the survivors of the Comet Empire War special housing at no cost to us.  The officers and bridge crew of the Argo will be the first to take advantage of it.  The military has purchased a huge plot of land around a lake in the US, in Maine, I believe, and they’re going to custom-build homes for us, for use either for vacations or year-round.  It’s really a very generous offer.”


Sandor nodded.  “This first group of houses will be for the Argo’s bridge crew and Dr. Sane.  The others will follow, probably in different locations around the world.  They told us about it at one of our debriefing meetings last week.”


“So they’re going to build…”  Carina did a quick calculation in her head.  “Nine houses on this lake?”


“Eight,” Nova corrected, laying her hand on Wildstar’s.  “Derek’s and my plots will be combined.”


“When are you getting married?” four voices asked in unison.  Sasha, who had been starting to droop, perked up and giggled.  She looked around for a likely lap to rest on, headed for Mark and climbed up.  He gave the little girl a couple of pieces of fruit and let her snuggle against him.


“We’re going to wait to get married until we’re satisfied that the Earth is safe,” Derek told them.  “We want the fighting to be over before we settle into married life and start a family.”  Mark disagreed with this philosophy, but knew from experience that arguing the point would do no good.  “Anyway, there will be our house; Venture’s and Sandor’s houses, of course; Yamazaki’s and Doctor Sane’s; and then Homer, Dash and Eager will have smaller plots.”


Carina nodded, taking this in.  Mark could see that she was watching the baby curled in his lap.  He could guess what she was thinking about, and tried to redirect her thoughts.  “Speaking of Eager, Carina tells me that he’s got himself a girlfriend.  Isn’t that right?”


She met his eyes briefly and nodded.  “It’s true.  My friend Jenny from the jazz band seems to really like him.”  She sounded a little reserved, he thought, although no one else seemed to notice.  When Nova began questioning her about the couple she responded with a smile, but Mark still thought she seemed distracted.  In fact, as the afternoon went on, she became more and more quiet.  He tried to think of what might have upset her.  Was it when Nova kissed him, or did it have something to do with the baby?  He would try to find out when they were alone together again.


After a couple of hours, Sandor stood, announcing that he had to finish packing and preparations, since he was shipping out in the morning.  Alex Wildstar also had some things to take care of, and asked Derek to come along and help him.  When Carina offered to stay to help Nova clean up, Mark volunteered as well.  Carina sidled over to him.  “Do you really want to wash dishes, or is this part of your new plot to never let me walk anywhere by myself again?”


“Little bit of both,” he said, patting her on the head condescendingly, relieved that she didn’t seem to be upset with him.  “Someone has to protect you from yourself.”


She made an aggravated sound and carried a stack of plates into the kitchen.  It took the three of them only a few minutes to load the dishwasher and wipe down the table and counters.  “Thanks for inviting me, Nova,” Carina said.  “Brunch was great, and I’m glad I got to spend some time with Stephen before he ships out again.  I’m sorry he won’t be here when the fleet goes live.”


“I’m glad you were able to come,” Nova replied.  “It was funny, wasn’t it, watching Sandor interact with Sasha?  I wouldn’t have expected it, but he’s great with her.  I wonder if he’ll ever settle down and get married.”


Carina chuckled.  “I think he’s happily wed to that ship of yours.  He could never devote himself to an actual woman the way he does to the Argo.”


Mark chose to be more optimistic.  “You never know.  There could be an understanding woman out there who’s willing to accept a flying mistress.”


“I guess,” Carina conceded.  “Good luck to her, whoever she is.  Nova, I’ve got to head home, but thanks again for arranging brunch, and for including me.”


“Of course.  You may not be a member of the Star Force, but you’re one of us now,” Nova said.


Mark smiled as the two women he loved the most hugged each other goodbye, then stepped in and kissed Nova’s cheek, picking up the basket Carina had used to carry her muffins.  “See you later, Nova.”


“Right.”  She squeezed his hand as they left.  “Don’t forget what we talked about.”


“I won’t.  Thanks.”  Carina gave him a questioning look as they started back toward her apartment, but when he didn’t elaborate she looked away without comment.  She still seemed a little off.  He put his hand on her shoulder.  “Hey, are you OK?”


“Huh?  Yeah, I’m fine.  Why?”


“It’s just that you’re awfully quiet.  You look a little – I don’t know – preoccupied.”


“Oh.  No, I’m just tired.”  She gave him a weak smile.  “I couldn’t get to sleep last night, and I had to get up to play the early Mass at the hospital this morning.  I guess all that good food left me sort of comatose.”  He squeezed her shoulder and let it go, not quite believing her but also speculating.  He hadn’t slept well last night, either – she had been on his mind after their evening together, and he had tossed and turned for hours, replaying the night in his mind.  Was it wrong for him to hope she’d had the same problem?  She spoke again.  “Stephen’s not the only one who’s surprisingly good at handling Sasha.  You’re wonderful with kids, Mark.”


So that was it.  He wasn’t sure what to say – he hadn’t figured this part out yet.  “Carina, that doesn’t mean—“


“Mark,” she interrupted him, “I’m not fishing for… anything.  Really, I’m not.  I’m just making a comment.”


He started to respond, but thought better of it and nodded at her instead.  “You’re good with them too, you know.  Your sister obviously adores you, and so does Jordy.”  She smiled faintly, and Mark remembered something.  “Hey, what was Sandor lecturing Sasha about while she was sitting on your lap?  Looked like he was making her cry.”


Carina paused.  “You saw that, huh?  Do you promise to keep this between us?  I don’t think Wildstar even knows about this.”


“I promise.  What’s up?”


She hesitated another moment before telling him.  “Apparently EDF’s solution for keeping Sasha out of the public eye is to send her off to wherever Stephen is going.  He’s going to raise her this year, and then bring her back to Earth as an adult.  When she climbed on my lap, she told me she was ‘going to take a trip with Uncle Stephen tomorrow.’  He was lecturing her for letting it slip.”


“Wow.”  They reached her apartment while they were talking, and he followed her inside without thinking.  He accepted her offer of a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table.  “And Alex is OK with that?”


“I guess they all decided on it together – Alex, Stephen and the Commander.  They’ll be in constant contact, and Alex trusts Stephen.  That’s all I know, and like I said, I think it’s pretty hush-hush.”

“I won’t say a word.”  She brought him a cup of coffee with plenty of cream, apologizing in advance for its quality since she wasn’t used to making it.  He took a sip and smiled.  It’s fine, love.  And anyway, after a few months on the Argo, anything is an improvement.  Believe me, you couldn’t possibly make worse coffee than Nova’s.”


She smiled as she sat opposite him, but fidgeted nervously with the cup of tea she had made for herself.  “Mark…  Can I ask you about something?”


“Of course.  What is it?”  He thought he already knew: the other thing that was bothering her.


“You and Nova.”  Right.  “She told me…  When we first met, she told me that you had romantic feelings for her at one time.  She thought that was all over with when you met Trelaina, but I know how close the two of you are, and I guess – I guess I’m just curious.”


She was blushing brightly.  Mark reached across the table to take her hand.  It was an awkward conversation, but it felt like a tentative step forward, as though she was trying to feel out their relationship.  “Carina…  I love Nova very much.  I do.  But it’s…  It’s a different kind of love.”  The corner of her mouth twitched, and he knew she recognized that he was quoting from the talk she’d had with Jordy about their own relationship back when Mark was in the hospital.  “That’s what we were talking about this afternoon – how glad we are that we never tried to be anything more than friends.  We weren’t meant to be more than that.  There’s no…  There’s no magic between us.  That was confirmed for me once and for all when she kissed me today.”


Carina wasn’t ready to let it go yet.  “So, if Wildstar was out of the picture…”


“That wouldn’t change anything.  Nova and I are friends, that’s all.  You have friends who are boys and friends who are girls, right?  But you don’t feel like you want to marry all the boys you’re friends with, do you?


Her smile finally reached her eyes.  “OK, point taken.  I can’t believe you remember that entire stupid speech I gave your brother.”  It was obvious to him, though, that she was flattered that he did.  He thought that was a good thing.


They sat for a few more minutes while he finished his coffee.  “I’m feeling pretty heavy from that lunch.  I think I’m going to go for a run.  Want to come with me?”


She stood and picked up his mug.  “Thanks, but I really don’t feel that great.  I’m going to lie down for a while.”  She was pale, and her eyes looked tired and strained.  He ran his hand gently across her forehead and cheek as she had done so many times to him.  He thought she felt warm; he also noticed the way her eyes closed when his hand touched her face.


“Do you need anything?  I can stop at the drugstore for you.”


“No – I think I just need sleep.  Thanks, though.  Will I see you this week?”


“I’m not sure.  Things could be hectic with the new assignment, but I’ll call you when I can.  Oh, and Jordy keeps asking me about you.  Would you like to have dinner with my family next weekend?”


“Sure.”  She grinned.  “I miss Jordy.”  They looked at each other awkwardly until she stepped forward and put her arms around him.  “I’m sorry I’m being so weird today.”


“Don’t worry about it, love.”  He didn’t care if she acted strangely, if it gave him the chance to hold her.  When he had put his arm around Nova earlier, he had noticed how tiny she felt.  Trelaina had also been so small, almost fragile, but Carina…  It wasn’t that she was fat – far from it – but there was something softer and rounder, more substantial, about her.  The way she fit in his arms was so… sensual, he thought as his body began to stir, full of promise.  He didn’t want to let her go; the desire to run his hands over the curves of her hips was almost overwhelming, but he knew that would be a huge mistake.  Instead, he traced his fingers up her spine to caress the back of her neck.  At first she seemed to relax into him and he rested his cheek tentatively against the soft cloud of her hair, but after several seconds he felt her stiffen and dropped his hand again with a sigh, resigned.  Too soon.  She cupped his cheek and pulled back just enough to look him in the eye.  “Thank you, Mark,” she whispered.  She looked nervous, like she was afraid he’d be angry with her.  He struggled to come up with the right thing to say, something that would express what he was feeling but wouldn’t scare her off.


“I love you, Cricket,” he said finally, and she laughed shakily and backed away.


“It’s so unfair that you don’t have a ridiculous family nickname I can use,” she babbled, steering him toward the door as though she wanted to get him out as quickly as possible.  “I’ll have to grill your mother for embarrassing information.”  She touched his cheek again as she opened the door, her voice unsteady.  “I love you, too.  See you soon?”  He nodded and stepped outside, kissing her forehead as he left and promising to call.



Mark ran frustrated hands through his hair as he walked home.  Magic?  Yes, there was magic between them – so much that he was surprised he didn’t go up in flames every time he touched her.  If he didn’t think she’d run away screaming, he would declare himself to her right now, but it was obvious that he had to be very cautious with her.  He understood where her hesitation came from.  In the short time he’d been back on Earth, he had opened his eyes to the undercurrent of hostility – most of it subtle, but some of it quite blatant – that was displayed toward women who were sterile.  It had to be frightening to be in that position.  And he was good with kids, although that didn’t matter nearly as much to him as she seemed to think it did.  He didn’t have strong feelings either way about raising a child, and he certainly didn’t have a driving need to “spread his seed” and pass on his genes.  His male ego wasn’t that large.


Still, he thought, it was a potentially life-altering choice and it did bear consideration.  He knew instinctively that this wasn’t a girl he could make out with on the couch a few times and then back away from.  If they took the next step, there would be no turning back.  And if it went wrong, he didn’t think they could be friends again for a long, long time.  He wasn’t willing to lose her friendship; he needed to be absolutely sure before he approached her, of her feelings as well as his own.  In the meantime, a run would do him good, and there were always cold showers.  Lots of cold showers.