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 7


May 22, 2202

Carina reflected as she and Mark flew inland from the coast of Maine.  They had arrived in DC on Monday night and had spent four days working with the air traffic controllers on the automated fleet.  The training had gone well, and she and Mark were acting almost normal with each other.  Almost.


He had stayed with her again last Friday night and most of the day Saturday, keeping an eye on her and making sure she took her medications, but she had slept through most of it.  On Sunday she felt better, both physically and emotionally, and he had taken her to church and then come home with her to talk about their trip – he had planned out the training schedule without her while she was recovering, and wanted to run it by her.  He’d seemed nervous now that she didn’t need him to take care of her, acting like he was walking on eggshells with her.  She knew they needed to have a rational discussion about the things they had fought over, but she hadn’t been ready for it yet and they’d talked about very little other than work.  He had mentioned, however, that he was planning to stay an extra day in America to fly up to Maine and take a look at the land where the Star Force officers’ housing was being built.  Wildstar was going to be home for a few days and he and Nova were going to visit the site on Sunday; Mark wanted to fly home Sunday morning, but had talked to Nova about meeting her and Wildstar for dinner on Saturday night somewhere on the coast.  Carina was a little surprised when he invited her to come with him.  She was even more surprised when he suggested they stop to visit her family on the way to Maine, but she agreed to both readily enough.


Things had still been a little awkward between them on Monday when they flew over – Carina thanked Mark profusely for everything he did, while he carefully avoided saying anything that might upset her – but over the course of the week they had relaxed.  Having the soldiers with them from first thing in the morning until after dinner every night was helpful, especially at first.  They acted as a buffer between Mark and Carina, relieving them of the tension they might have felt if they were spending more time alone together.  Instead that time was limited to a few minutes in the morning, when he gently helped her apply makeup to cover the bruises that were still apparent on her face and neck and she helped him to hide his black eye, and their nightly private meetings to discuss the plan for the next day.  As the week passed their friendship got back on solid ground; although earlier in the week they held their nightly meetings in the hotel bar, last night when they needed to put together a summary report they had spread their documents and computers on Carina’s bed and ordered food and drinks from room service, working and lounging together comfortably for several hours.  She had even hugged him when he left her, kissing him on the cheek somewhat shyly.  It was the most contact they’d had since the night she’d been attacked, and he had seemed surprised but pleased by the gesture, holding her tightly for several seconds before saying goodnight.  Still, they had avoided saying the things they needed to say to each other, which hovered like the elephant in the room, preventing them from being completely at ease with each other.


This morning had been pleasant – Carina had laughed and joked with Mark, excited to spend the day in her native New England.  She had told her father that they’d be stopping by, and was surprised to find that he had invited her brothers, along with Richie’s wife and Georgie’s fiancée, for lunch.  She had worried that Mark might be overwhelmed, but although he had been oddly jumpy all day, he had responded positively to the family, and especially to Katie, who had been thrilled to see him again.  There had been only one questionable incident: Mark had been in the kitchen getting a glass of water when her brothers had looked at each other and followed him, not allowing her to join them.  Mark had looked amused when he emerged from the kitchen, but he refused to tell her what the boys had said to him.  She would get it out of him later.


After lunch they had continued to Maine and checked into a hotel on the beach, and were now on their way to the lake where Mark’s house was going to be built.  They were more relaxed together than they had been in weeks, but there was still something strange about his behavior.  She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but he seemed nervous – he kept tapping his fingers as though he was having trouble sitting still – and something in the way he looked at her when he thought she wasn’t paying attention was making her stomach feel funny.  It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation, but she wasn’t quite sure what he was thinking and it made her a little nervous.


He was looking at her that way now, reaching over to squeeze her hand.  “Do you want to tell me what you’re thinking about?”


She found his tone of voice a little disconcerting, but smiled at him, determined not to ruin the good day they were having.  “Just thinking about the week.  I’m glad you invited me to see your land, Mark.  This will be fun.”


“I think so.  And I’m glad you’re happy.  I hope you like the lake, Carina.  I think it will remind you of home.”


“You haven’t seen it yourself yet, have you?”


“Not in person.  We’ve seen pictures.”


“Well, I hope you like it, too.”


He smiled at her in a way that made her heart leap.  She was beginning to suspect that she knew what was on his mind.  Was she ready for it?  Part of her felt like she’d been ready forever, but she still had lingering fears.


Anyway, there was no time to dwell on it now – they were arriving at their destination.  Although there were no construction crews at the site on Saturday, guards were posted at the entrance to the land.  When Mark showed them his ID, the enlisted men waved him through with a look of awe.


Carina smacked his arm.  “You’re world-famous.  Who knew?”


He chuckled.  “It has its advantages, but being a member of the Star Force is also a heavy responsibility.  I’m glad I don’t get the level of recognition that Wildstar gets.  You know what the press is like with me – it’s much worse for him.  Every kid on the planet sees him as a hero.”


“Well, you’re my hero.”  He looked at her intently and she felt herself blush.  There she went again, speaking before she thought.  She went on, embarrassed.  “And Jordy’s, and plenty of other kids’, too.  Remember, I’ve seen the amount of fan mail you get.”


“Oh, I’m not jealous of the attention Wildstar gets, believe me.  I want my life to be peaceful.  Come on.  Hop out and we’ll take a walk.”  He parked the aircar at the top of a hill and they stretched their legs.  The site was beautiful – the trees were sparse and young enough on the hill’s downward slope that the spot offered a view of the lake, the mid-afternoon sun and the green trees on the far side mirrored on its calm blue surface.  It was such a typically New England picture that Carina felt breathless.  She stood staring at it for nearly a minute, becoming choked up.  She hadn’t seen anything like this since before the first planet bombs had hit.


“Oh...”  Her voice was thick.  “It is just like home, Mark.  I feel like I’m having a flashback to my childhood.”


He had been watching her, an unreadable expression on his face, and now he blinked heavily and cleared his throat.  “Would you like to walk in the woods?  They’ve cleared and marked trails, from what I hear.  We’d have to work at it to get lost.  Come on.”  He put his hand on her back, guiding her toward the entrance to the trails.  Her stomach fluttered nervously as she stepped closer to him and he slid his hand up to her neck, squeezing it quickly before letting go.


They walked for an hour or so, exploring the rocks and streams and expending their nervous energy, until Mark finally led her into another clearing in a relatively level area, about halfway down the hill from where they had parked, telling her this was where his house was to be built.  It was already a lovely spot; she could imagine when the house was built and it was landscaped, it would be absolutely gorgeous.  She had already planned out the best spots to plant perennial flowers and vegetables before she caught herself.  Blushing slightly, she scanned the perimeter of the clearing and noticed another path entering the woods.  “Where does that lead?”  She asked.


Mark grinned and winked at her, and she again felt her stomach flip.  “Follow it and find out.”  She grinned back and entered the wood.


This path was less groomed than the marked trails, but it was still fairly well cleared, and wound through a combination of fir trees and leafy elms and maples, their leaves bright green in the late spring sun.  Carina smiled at the sight of the wildflowers that grew in the clearings – buttercups, wild clover and dandelions.  Weeds, no doubt, but they were lovely proof that the Earth was healing itself, regenerating plants which not long ago had been feared to be lost forever.  The thought calmed her, although she could feel Mark’s eyes on her as she walked and wondered again whether she knew what was going through his mind.


After about a quarter of a mile, the path opened onto a small sandy stretch – several feet of beach led into a clear section of the lake.  Reeds and cat-o’-nine tails grew in the shallows to each side, and Carina gazed out over the water, feeling strangely emotional.  “Mark, it’s perfect.  I’m so happy for you.”  She looked at him over her shoulder, trying to keep her voice light.  “And I’d better have an open invitation.”


He put a hand on her shoulder and turned her to face him, his expression serious.  “Carina,” he began haltingly, “I brought you here today…  I wanted you to see this place…  But I also wanted to talk to you.  It’s important to me that you’re happy here, that you want to spend time here.”  A breeze came off the water and blew a strand of hair across her face; he reached out to brush it back.  She closed her eyes as his fingers trailed across her cheek, sending electricity jolting through her.  When she opened them he had stepped closer and was looking at her with an intensity that made her heart beat faster.  “Carina,” he said softly, “You know how I feel about you.”


The familiar panic rose within her, fighting her desire, but weakly, a faint echo of its old self, more a habit than anything else.  She could see that he was frightened, too, and sensed that his approaching her now was different than it had been in the past.  This time it was all or nothing.  She stepped away from him, trying to compose herself as she struggled to think of something to say.  “Mark, I – I don’t…  We can’t…”  She looked at him pleadingly, but his expression had hardened.  She was out of excuses, and they both knew it.  He made a frustrated, angry sound as all the unresolved issues from the past month, which had been buried so shallowly this week, suddenly broke through to the surface.


“Damn it, Carina, Stop running away from me!”  His voice was harsh, rough – he had never spoken to her that way, and it startled her.  “There’s nothing here for you to be afraid of!”


His anger fueled her own frustration and she squared off against him.  “Nothing to be afraid of?  Mark, do you listen to the stories that I tell you?  How can I not be afraid when I’ve seen girls torn apart, attempting suicide because their husbands decided they didn’t want to live with women who couldn’t give them babies?  Husbands, Mark.  The women in that group weren’t high school kids who couldn’t handle it when their boyfriends moved on.  They took their vows seriously and had every reason to believe the men they loved did too.  But they were wrong, because they were ‘defective.’”  Hot, bitter tears spilled over her cheeks as she spoke to him.


He clenched and unclenched his fists as he responded, sounding furious.  “Don’t you ever tell me you believe I think you’re ‘defective.  You are not those women, and I am not those men.  How can I make you understand that?  Do you really think I haven’t thought this through?  Carina, I’ve known about your situation almost as long as I’ve known you.  Do you think it never occurred to me that I should work it out for myself before I  Before I propositioned you?  Why do you think it’s taken me so long?  No, Carina, unless you look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t want to be with me, I don’t want to hear any more excuses.  We belong together.”


He was crying now, too, but she shook her head in an attempt to be strong.  “You know I can’t do that.  But it’s not…  It’s one thing to have fun and fool around for a while, but…  We wouldn’t be doing that, Mark.  It’s not just physical, what’s between us.  You know that.  And for me to take your future away from you, and end up losing you because of it…”  Her voice broke and she looked at the ground.  “It wouldn’t be fair to either one of us.”


His voice was no longer angry, although it still held its edge of frustration.  “How about letting me decide what’s fair to me?  I’m not some pampered young kid, Carina.  I’ve been to war.  I’ve watched my friends die.  Hell, I’ve died myself.”  She heard the dark humor in what he said and sniffled.  He approached her, tilting her chin so that she was looking at him again, his voice softer and gentler as he brushed the tears from her cheek.  “I’ve been agonizing over this for months, and the only conclusion I come to is that I don’t care.  I don’t care.  Having a child doesn’t mean anything to me if I can’t be with you.  I’ve been through enough to know what’s important to me.  And the thing that’s the most important to me is standing right here.”


She offered one final, weak protest.  “I just – it terrifies me, Mark.  I think about the devastation on those girls’ faces, and I freeze.  Because if you ever leave me for someone else, someone who can give you –“


His lips silenced her in mid-sentence.  His left hand was still on her cheek; she felt the fingers of his right twine in her hair, holding her face to his.  His kiss was soft, gentle yet passionate, and she responded to it immediately, her arms winding around his waist.  She felt the warmth of his breath mingling with her own as he whispered, “Never.  There will never be anyone else.”  After leaning in for another lingering kiss, so tender she felt that her heart might break, he slid one arm down her back and pulled her close to him, cradling her head to his neck, their tears mingling on her cheek as he showered her with light kisses.  She clung tightly to him, overwhelmed.  It was too late to turn back; instead of frightening her, she realized, the knowledge made her feel calm and happy.  She nuzzled at his neck, pressing herself to him.  “Oh, Carina,” Mark said, his voice trembling with emotion, “I’ve wanted this for so long.”


“Mmmm,” she sighed, “so have I.  As his fingers traced up and down her back, her heart filled with regret.  “I’m sorry, Mark.  I’m so sorry I fought you for so long.”


“It doesn’t matter, love.  It doesn’t matter anymore.”  He kissed the side of her head softly.


“It was because I was afraid.  It was never because I didn’t want to be with you.  You know that, don’t you?  The truth is, I can’t remember the last night I didn’t dream of this moment.”  Looking in his eyes with a soft smile, she added, “It is real this time, right?  It’s not a dream?”


He gave a choked laugh and said, “God, I hope so,” before pulling her into a longer, more urgent kiss.  Yes, it was definitely real – her dreams couldn’t compare to this.  She felt her nerves dance as he trailed a line of kisses across her cheek and down her neck, carefully avoiding the still-tender bruised areas of her throat.  He hadn’t shaved that morning; the sensation of the stubble on his face rubbing against her sensitive skin sent a shiver up her spine, and when he gave a light, playful nip at her neck, she gasped and felt him smile into her shoulder.  Nuzzling his ear, she breathed, “Oh, Mark…  Please don’t ever let go.”


A low moan escaped from his throat and he whispered directly into her ear, making her shiver again.  “I never will, my love.  Never.  I promise.”  He kissed her mouth deeply once more and the world disappeared.  She had no idea how long they stood locked in each other’s arms, kissing and whispering foolish things to each other, before he loosened his grip, taking a deep, shaky breath and kissing her forehead.  “I think we’d better head for home.”


“Oh, no…  Can’t we stay here forever?”  She ran her hands up his chest and gave him her most plaintive look, but he simply chuckled.


“You trust me more than I trust myself, love.”


She looked him blankly for a moment.  When his meaning sank in she blushed and dropped her eyes.  “You’re the most honorable man I’ve ever met, Mark Venture.  I trust you more than I trust me.”


He smiled and kissed her forehead again, taking a step back.  “Thank you, but at the moment I’m not so sure your trust is well-placed.”  He turned her around, running his hands down her arms, and she leaned back into his chest while they both waited for their breathing to steady.  After a few contented seconds she pointed to the clearing at the top of the hill in front of them, where they had parked.


“Wildstar and Nova’s house will be up there?  The prime location?”


“Yes,” he said, resting his cheek against the side of her forehead.  He pointed off far to their left.  “And Sandor’s house will be over there, on the other side of ours.”  Realizing at the same time what he had said, they looked at each other.  “I’m sorry,” he stammered, blushing and rubbing the back of his head.  “That was really inappropriate and premature.  Pretend I didn’t say it.”


She spoke shyly.  “No… it felt… right.  True.”


His eyes darkened and her heart beat faster again, but he gained control of himself and put his arm around her waist, kissing the top of her head as he led her back toward the aircar.  “Come on.  We’d better go now.  Anyway, we need to get cleaned up before dinner.”


She followed him reluctantly, knowing he was right but not wanting to leave this magical place.  When they reached the car, she caught a glimpse of a gift Katie had given her – an apron she had made in her sewing class – on the back seat, and a thought occurred to her.  “Hey, what did my brothers say to you when you were in my father’s kitchen?”  Now was probably a good time to get information out of him.


Mark chuckled.  “What makes you think they said anything to me?”  At her look he spoke again.  “OK.  They warned me that if I ever hurt you, I would have to answer to them.”  He took her hand.  “I told them that if I ever hurt you, I’d have to answer to myself first, then they could have second crack at me.”


Carina couldn’t decide whether she should be annoyed with the boys for interfering in her life, or amused by the idea of the two bespectacled civilian engineers taking on a trained soldier who had recently knocked out a large space marine.  She shook her head and made an exasperated sound.  “Well, I guess you’d better never hurt me, then.  It would be curtains for them.”


He laughed and kissed her before taking off.  “Never.  Promise.”


He grew quiet after that.  Carina thought he seemed lost in thought.  She rested her hand on his arm, hoping nothing was wrong.  “You OK?”


He shot a glance at her and then nodded.  “Yeah.  Yes, very, very OK,” he amended with a smile, and she grinned.  “I was just thinking.  Carina, you know that I loved Trelaina, right?”


An alarm bell went off in her head.  “Of course.  And I loved Daniel.  Mark, I would never ask you to forget her, or what she meant to you.”


“No, I know that, love.  That’s not what I –“ he fumbled for a moment.  “What I’m trying to say is, I loved her very much, but what we have…  It’s different, somehow.  Not that it’s better or worse, but it feels…  Older, maybe?  More mature?”  He glanced at her again.  “Am I making any sense at all?”


She smiled.  She knew exactly what he meant.  “As a matter of fact, you are.  I feel like I was so much younger and more innocent when I was with Daniel, even though he’s been gone less than two years.  Maybe…  Maybe what we went through with them was meant to be a learning experience for us, to bring us closer.  That doesn’t take away from what we had with them, but maybe it adds to what we have with each other.”


He let go of the aircar’s controls long enough to bring her hand to his mouth and kiss it tenderly.  “You never cease to amaze me, Cricket.”


Blushing, she returned his hand to the car’s control stick with a squeeze.  “OK.  Keep your eyes on the road – we’re coming into town.”



An hour and a half later, Mark walked down the hotel corridor to Carina’s door.  He’d somehow managed to get himself all worked up since they’d gotten back.  What if she’d changed her mind, or worse, what if she’d only pretended to care for him so he would bring her back to the hotel?  His rational mind knew how unlikely that was, but after all, Trelaina had joined him on the Argo only because she’d wanted him to return to his post.  After he had gone to the bridge, she had escaped to Telezart without telling him.  It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that Carina would tell him now that she only wanted to be his friend.  She had certainly done it before.


Tapping his toes nervously, he knocked on her door.  She opened it with a smile.  “Hi!  Come on in.  I just need to find my good shoes – I’m not sure what I did with them.”  His brain took inventory of the situation.  She didn’t kiss him, even on the cheek, but at the same time, she was wearing…  Well, if she wanted his attention, she certainly had it.  A sun dress, he supposed it would be called, except that it was black and the low-cut bodice clung to her like a second skin.  She slipped on a matching jacket, making the dress more appropriate for their dinner with Wildstar and Nova, then perched on the edge of the bed and fished her shoes out from under it.


He sat beside her, trying to keep his voice light, but he could hear it shake when he spoke.  “So, no regrets, right?  Haven’t changed your mind about this afternoon?”


She gave him an odd look, as if she was about to make a joking reply, but her expression softened when she saw that he was serious.  As she fastened her shoe, she spoke softly.  “I told you – my only regret is that I pushed you away for so long.”  She curled her leg beneath her and turned to face him, putting her hand on his cheek.  “I’m never going to change my mind, Mark.  And I’m not going anywhere.”  It was almost like she read his thoughts.  Which she might have.  She usually did.  “I’m going to be right here as long as you want me.”


“I hope you mean that,” he whispered, his mouth close to hers, “because I’m going to want you here forever.”


“Forever sounds good to me.”  When she kissed him, he let his fingers wander up and through her hair.  The scent of it combined with the warm scent of her skin, and he sighed deeply as he closed his eyes, reveling in the feeling of her hands traveling over his back.


After what seemed like only a moment, she pulled back a few inches, running her finger over his bottom lip.  “Much as I’d love to stay here, they’re waiting for us.  We’d better go.”


Wildstar and Nova.  Right.  “Yeah.  I turned in the rental car, so I ordered a cab before I came to your room.” Mark shook his head to clear it and a thought occurred to him.  “Oh.  Carina, what do we tell them?”


He must have looked worried – she giggled as she stood, pulling him to his feet as well.  “Sweetie, we won’t need to tell them anything.  I guarantee you that Nova will know what’s up the moment she sees us.  Derek might not, but Nova will fill him in.”


“Are you sure?”


“I’m willing to put money on it.  Come on, let’s go.”



She was right.  As the maitre d’ led them to their table, even though they weren’t touching, Nova’s face split into a huge grin and she jumped out of her seat.  “Derek, I’ve got to go to the ladies’ room.  Carina, come with me?”  Carina elbowed him in the ribs and threw him a “told you so” smirk before joining Nova, smiling broadly.  Mark joined Wildstar at the table and shook his hand.


“Good to see you back on Earth, Wildstar.  How long are you home?”


“Just a couple of days, then back for another three months on patrol.”  Wildstar jerked his head toward the women.  “What was that about?”


Mark chuckled.  “Women have some kind of crazy psychic power.  Carina and I are – well, I guess you’d say we’ve started dating.  Carina said Nova would pick up on it right away.”  Started dating.  It seemed like an awfully trite way of explaining their relationship, but Mark couldn’t think of a better one.


Wildstar leaned back with a devilish grin, his hands behind his head.  “So that’s it.  I thought you looked less gloomy than usual when you walked in.  It’s about time.”


“Hey, we’re not all smooth operators like you.  Remind me again when you and Nova are getting married?”


Derek was spared having to answer when Carina and Nova returned to the table.  Nova pulled Mark to his feet, hugging him tightly and kissing his cheek, while Wildstar shook hands with Carina and kissed her cheek as well.  Nova beamed at Mark.  “Congratulations!  I’m so happy for both of you.”


“Mmm-hmm.  It’s good news,” Wildstar added with a nod.


“Guys.”  Mark was a little embarrassed as they sat down.  “You’re overdoing it.”


“Seriously,” Carina said.  “This is technically our first date, and you’re acting like he’s already put the ring on my finger.”  She caught Mark’s eye as she said it, and they both blushed.  Already.  He didn’t think she’d intentionally used the word, which seemed to imply that she expected it at some point.  Honestly, the idea wasn’t too far from his mind, but Wildstar didn’t need to know that.  He was relieved when the waiter came to take their drink order.


Mark wouldn’t remember many specifics of the meal.  He knew that he and Carina kept grinning at each other, distracted, until Wildstar and Nova gave up trying to talk to them about anything serious or Earth Defense-related, and instead sat back to laugh at them as they rambled about how beautiful the lake was, what a wonderful day it had been and how delicious the meal was.


When they were ready for the check, Mark mentioned that he would ask the waiter to order a cab as well, but Nova shook her head.  “We passed your hotel on the way to ours,” she said.  “They’re practically next door to each other.  The clerk at our front desk told us you could walk along the beach to get there from here.  You should try that.”


“That’s not a bad idea, Nova,” Wildstar said.  “Why don’t we walk with them?  We can leave the car here overnight and –“


She interrupted him, putting a hand on his arm.  “Derek, let’s let them do it alone, all right?  Maybe tomorrow night.”


“Oh.  Right.  Sorry, guys.”  Wildstar chuckled as Mark and Carina glanced at each other and blushed again.


Nova laughed.  “See, aren’t you happier now that you’re more than just friends?”

“I don’t think we were ever just friends.  Not really,” Mark said.  “Were we, Carina?”


She shook her head and put her hand on his knee.  “Maybe those first few days, but that was it.  By the end of that first week, I think I was hooked.  It took a little while for me to admit it to myself, though.  Neither one of us was ready for it at first.”


“Well, your mother was ready, Mark.  She started asking me about you the first time she saw the two of you together.  She knew right away.”  Nova was smiling at them indulgently.


“Come on – everyone knew right away.”  Wildstar turned to Carina.  “In all seriousness, Carina, we were so glad when you came into Venture’s life.  Everyone was very worried about him until you brought him back around.  We knew then you were something special for him.”  Carina looked down, smiling, and Mark took her hand.


“Thanks, Wildstar.  But again, guys, no ring on the finger yet.”  Yet.  She had done it again.  She waggled her left hand in front of them, obviously embarrassed.  To get her out of the hot seat, Mark put his hand on her shoulder and flagged down the waiter for the check.


A few minutes later, they parted with more embarrassing hugs and congratulations from Nova, promising to meet for breakfast in the morning.  Hopefully by then they would be a little less giddy and would be able to carry on a conversation.  The host pointed them in the right direction, and Mark and Carina headed off down the beach.


It was a warm evening, and as soon as they hit the soft sand, Carina took off her shoes and draped her jacket over her arm.  Mark also removed his pea coat, allowing his eyes to rake over her figure as he did so.  “Have I mentioned… that dress?” he teased, taking in the amount of skin she was showing.


She smiled coyly at him.  “There might be a slight possibility that I was prepared to play the wanton seductress this week, if I’d worked up the courage.  Turned out I didn’t have to.”


“Too bad,” he sighed, lacing his fingers through hers and kissing the side of her head before leading her toward the hotel.  “I think I would have enjoyed that.”


As they walked along silently, Mark could feel his nerves humming.  Eventually they reached an undeveloped spot on the beach, hidden from the lights of both the restaurant and the hotel.  The moon was reflected on the ocean, the low waves shimmering silver.  When Carina stopped to take in the sight, he dropped his coat on the beach and moved his hands to her waist, his heart beating wildly.


“What a perfect night.  I don’t think I’ve walked on the beach at night in – what – thirteen years?  I’m glad we decided to come this way.”  Her voice was quiet, breathy.


Mark swept her long hair over her left shoulder, trailing his fingers over her neck.  “I’m glad, too.”  His breathing was becoming shallow.


As he ran his fingertips up and down her sides, he could feel her tremble.  “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”  The words were barely a whisper.


She was talking about the moon, or possibly the water, but from where Mark stood, nothing compared to the shimmer of her skin in the moonlight, so pale that it practically glowed when contrasted with the black of her dress.  He bent his head to nuzzle at her ear.  “So beautiful,” he whispered hoarsely, his lips landing on her ear before moving lightly down her neck.  A small sound like a whimper escaped from her throat as she reached up to wrap her fingers in his hair and turned her head to kiss him.  He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, and when she tentatively traced her tongue across his lip, heat exploded through his body.  With a groan he turned her to face him and wrapped his arms tightly around her.  He slid the tip of his tongue into her mouth; she met it with hers and the sensation and taste, hot, moist and sweet, set his head reeling.  He couldn’t think straight – all he knew was that he wanted to be closer to her, to feel her beneath him.  She didn’t protest as he pulled her to the ground to sit beside him, instead melting into him while his hand traced a path down her face and arm, over her hips and to her bare calf.  Her skin was soft and silky, warming as he stroked it.  He had reached for his pea coat so they would have a place to lay their heads when suddenly:




His stomach dropped and he froze, inhaling deeply, his eyes closed and his jaw set.  He had heard that tone once too often.  When he was sure he could control his voice, he opened his eyes and put his hands on her shoulders.  “If you tell me we can’t do this because it might damage our friendship, I’m going to throw myself on my sword.”  She put her hand on his cheek, smiling.


“First of all?  You don’t have a sword.  Second?  If I ever say that again, you have my full permission to run me through with your sword before you throw yourself on it.”  She kissed him and he felt himself relax.  “But before we get carried away… or… more carried away… I want to be up front with you.  I mean, I feel like maybe we’ve talked about this at some point, but I’m not completely sure whether it was an actual conversation we had or one that took place in my head, so I think we’d better have it now.”


Although he was amused by the idea that she had conversations with him in her head, he could tell that she was nervous and decided not to tease her about it.  Instead, he kissed her forehead.  “What is it, love?”


She looked uncomfortable.  “It’s just that…  I love you, Mark, so much, and it would be so easy to just let go and run with those feelings.  I don’t think I’ve ever wanted it more. ” So far he didn’t see the problem. Stroking his lower lip with her thumb, she continued.  “But… I’ve always believed that sex belongs within marriage, in a permanent committed relationship.” She added nervously, “I hope that’s OK with you.”


Was that all?  He smiled, relieved.  “So you and Daniel never…”  She shook her head but wouldn’t meet his gaze.  He stroked her hair gently.  “Carina.  I will never ask you to do anything you’re not comfortable doing.  And you’re right – we have talked about this.  Do you remember one night when I was still in the hospital, I ran off at the mouth a little?  I told you I believed that if you love someone, sex can wait until marriage, and if you don’t, it’s not even an option.  Remember?  That hasn’t changed.”  The idea that they may someday be each other’s “one and only” made him love her even more.  He leaned over and kissed her nose.  “Not that I don’t want to.  Very much.  I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t.”


As he spoke, she relaxed into him.  “So you haven’t…  With Trelaina, or someone else?”


“Never.”  He felt a twinge of unease as he answered her.  He had occasionally taken flak for his beliefs when he was at the Academy, and he didn’t want her to laugh at him.  “I know it’s strange…”


“No,” she interrupted.  “I’m glad.”  She kissed him again, her voice softening.  “I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Is that selfish?”


“We’ll be selfish about it together, OK?”  He spoke into her mouth, putting his arms around her.  “You just tell me when you want me to stop.”  She murmured an assent, and their kisses deepened as their hands began a slow exploration of each other’s bodies, in some ways so familiar but suddenly so new.  This time she leaned back willingly as he guided her to the ground.  He positioned his chest on top of hers, keeping his hips and legs carefully to the side, and began to lose himself in her.  Something she said had lodged in his brain, though.  “Hey,” he teased, drawing a ragged breath, “did I hear you say you love me?”


“Maybe,” she retorted breathlessly.  “I’m a little put off because I didn’t get a response.”


“Do you even need me to say it?”  He ran his fingers through her hair.  “I love you, Carina Clark.  I love you.”


Her eyes burned as she pulled his head to hers.  “And I love you, Mark Venture.”



Sometime later he lay on his back, cradling her head against his shoulder.  Her fingers were tracing lazy patterns on his chest, a habit of hers he found pleasantly distracting.  He didn’t know what time it was, but the moon had climbed much higher in the sky.  It was dark enough on the beach that the stars were visible by the thousands.  Looking up at them, he watched an Earth Defense ship fly over.  It occurred to him how precarious this moment was.  Earth could be attacked without warning at any time.  He suddenly felt an overwhelming need to protect her and pulled her closer to him.  “It looks so peaceful, doesn’t it?  It’s difficult to fathom, but an enemy could launch from any one of those stars and destroy all of this tomorrow.”


“Wow.  Kissing me did wonders for your mood.”  She sounded a little put out.  He gave her a squeeze.


 “It made me realize that I have a lot more to lose today than I had yesterday.”  He kissed the top of her head tenderly.  “It would kill me if anything happened to you.”


She snuggled into his side.  “I know.  I dread the day you get called into battle again – I pray every night that it never happens.”  After a few silent minutes she stretched, looking up at the moon, then at her watch.  “I think we’d better head back.  It’s after midnight, and we have to be up early tomorrow.”


“Yeah.”  Reluctantly he sat up, took her hands and pulled her up as well.  They gathered their things and walked slowly toward the hotel, arms around each other.  He wasn’t particularly surprised when, after the intensity of the day, her off-beat sense of humor kicked back in.


“So…  Do you think I’m a big tramp for making out with you on our first date?”


He chuckled.  “I think you’re… surprisingly uninhibited.  Not that I’m complaining,” he hastened to add.  He had always suspected she would be a passionate lover, but he didn’t think anything would have prepared him for her… enthusiasm.  Although their behavior had been quite chaste, really – their clothing was barely even rumpled – she had responded to his lips and hands in a way he hadn’t allowed himself to hope for.  He teased her.  “And I was originally planning to spread the word around Earth Defense about you, yes, but then I figured this was closer to our hundredth date than our first.  You made me wait six months, which makes you less of a floozy.”


She considered that, trying not to laugh at his chosen word.  “True.  I wouldn’t have behaved so abominably with anyone else, you know.  And actually, if I’m being honest, I had a little crush on you when we had those math and astronomy seminar classes together at the Academy.  So technically it’s been more like six years.”


 “Wait – really?”  This was news.  “I thought you were pretty cute, too, you know.  Too bad I didn’t have the nerve to talk to you.  We could have saved ourselves a lot of time and heartache.”


They had reached the hotel and climbed the stairs to her room.  “I think it’s sweeter this way, don’t you?  Everything we went through – it made us who we are.  It’s why we fit so well.”  She turned to him with her sweetest smile, resting her hands on his chest.  “Here we are.  I’d invite you in, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”


“No, you’re right about that,” he murmured.  “I’ll see you first thing in the morning.”  He kissed her gently.


“Mmmmm.”  She slipped her arms around his neck.  “So if you don’t think I’m a floozy after what we did tonight, does that mean we can do it again tomorrow?”


He laughed out loud.  “You’re the best girlfriend ever.”  Kissing her one more time, he let her go.  “Good night, Carina.  I love you.”


“I love you too.  Good night.”  He felt her eyes follow him as he retreated to his own room, but didn’t look back.  After showering he fell into bed, exhausted but happier, he thought, than he had ever been.  She loved him – it seemed she loved him as much as he loved her.  They were together, and they would belong to each other forever.  He was sure of that.  He offered up a prayer of deepest gratitude as he drifted off into a heavy, peaceful sleep.