Author's note: Please forgive the length of time it's taken to post this. I had been waiting for my beta reader to be in the right mood to reread the whole saga so far, but I have given up for the time being. I glanced at the file after looking by chance at a PM from someone asking me to update, and discovered that I'd written a great deal more than I'd remembered. I hadn't thought there was enough to bother posting, but I was mistaken. Rereading it after some months was like reading it for the first time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, egotistical as that sounds. I can't apologize for enjoying my own writing.

Fair warning, however: this is all that's written at this moment. Every word. I hope to get back to this one soon, I know what happens next in general outline, but I have many projects going at once, and there's the ever present problem of Real Life. Nevertheless, this should not be the last posting for 15 months, as it appears the current gap has been. I will publish more sooner than that, I promise.

Chapter 20

Teela stared after Adam in absolute shock. "He can't," she said. "Dorgan said he was fine. He can't be dying!"

She felt it as Marlena turned her and pulled her into her arms. "He's going to be fine," the older woman said soothingly. "He's just . . . I don't know what he's on about."

There was enough worry in the queen's tone to add to Teela's apprehension. "I won't let him!" she growled, her voice thick with emotion. "He's not allowed to die!"

"I agree wholeheartedly," the queen said.

The door opened and Dorgan came in. Teela launched herself at him. "Is Adam dying?" she demanded.

"We're all dying," the healer said. "From approximately the age of six."

Teela grabbed his shoulders. "Dorgan, no witty remarks, no games. I mean it. Is he dying?"

Dorgan's eyes widened and he gazed at her. She gazed desperately back. "Teela, calm yourself," he said, gently disentangling himself. "He is in danger, I can't deny it, but I don't understand this sudden panic."

"He won't marry me!" Teela moaned and sank into the chair, burying her face in her hands, her heart aching miserably. She'd wasted three years. Wasted. If he died, she'd always know that they could have had three more happy years if she hadn't been such a shrewish bitch.

She was vaguely aware of Dorgan and the queen talking, but when she heard her name repeated several times, with increasing volume, she looked up. Marlena was gazing intently into her eyes. "Teela, if Adam sees you like this, or hears you, it will upset him."

Teela's heart contracted painfully, and she let out a little squeak of dismay. She stopped her tears instantly. The queen was right. Adam would be worried, and that was the last thing they needed right now. She fished in a pocket for a handkerchief, but Marlena was quicker. Teela took the cotton square and scrubbed at her cheeks.

"Gently, Teela," Marlena said, taking the handkerchief from her and wiping her eyes with a softer touch. "Now, let's go get you ready for the concert. Come on, let's get back to your room."

Teela nodded and let the queen guide her out into the infirmary. Once in public again, she straightened her shoulders and put a good face on it. She had to learn how to keep an even better lid on her emotions if she was going to . . . but Adam didn't want . . .

Teela cut off that train of thought before it went anywhere emotionally distressing.

"Adam, what was that about?" His father asked.

Adam stripped off his tunic and started the water in the shower. He didn't have anything to say, so he didn't say anything.


Leaning in, Adam tested the water temperature. It was still too cold. He stripped off his pants and tried to ignore the way his father was looking at him. This wasn't a conversation he wanted to have.

His father reached out and took his arm. "Son, talk to me. What was that about?"

"Nothing. I just think . . . I . . ." Adam shook his head and tested the water again. "I need to get cleaned up," he said, deciding that cold or not, he was getting into the shower. He stepped in and suppressed his reaction to the lukewarm water, pulling the screen across to separate him from his father and began soaping himself up.

"Adam," his father said in a slightly louder voice. "You can't just say things like that and then expect us to ignore them."

Adam pretended he couldn't hear him, lathering up his hair. When the hell had marriage come into the thing? Marriage was . . . how could he marry anyone in his situation? How could he ever ask someone to depend on him in that intimate, personal way when he couldn't tell them the truth about himself? Besides, he still didn't even know if he was going to live to be king of Eternia. And Teela wouldn't want to be princess, much less queen.

But the thought of being married to Teela, of their joining in that kind of a permanent and public bond, the thought of making babies with her, both the process and the result, thrilled him. He wanted to be with her always, but it wasn't fair to her to ask her to join him in a relationship that would have to be so one-sided. A relationship that would have so much of hardship for her.

He shook his head. It wouldn't work. It couldn't work. And why did his mother seem to favor it so? 'You're not married yet,' she'd said, just as if she expected that event to take place eventually. He rinsed his hair and yanked the screen open. His father was sitting on the bench outside the shower. At this sudden change he jumped to his feet, eyes wide with surprise. Adam grabbed a towel and stepped out of the shower.

"Have you and Mother been matchmaking?" Adam demanded abruptly.

His father blinked at him. "No, son, we really haven't seen the need to. We rather thought you and Teela were doing fine on your own."

Caught in the upswing of a tirade against interfering, busybodies, Adam gaped at him, startled. "Did I really look like I was courting her?" Adam asked.

Randor shook his head reassuringly. "No, it looked as if two people who had loved each other for a long time had finally come to realize the fact." He sighed. "Adam, you do love her, and I know you want to be with her."

"It won't last. She's bound to realize that she's made a mistake."

His father shook his head. "Adam, Teela loves you."

Adam shook his head. "How can I count on that lasting?" he said. He shrugged, drying off hastily. "Half, if not more than half of what she's feeling now is based more on guilt than on any solid foundation. Once she gets past that, she'll realize that I'm still the same man I was two weeks ago and wonder what came over her. If we're married by then, it would be disastrous."

"I think you misjudge her, son," his father said, and Adam found himself giving the king a dour look that he strove to repress before his father could read it. From the expression on his father's face, he failed dismally. "We have made mistakes, son, both of us, but please, try to forgive us our failings."

"Father, I don't think she's going to go back to the . . ." He grimaced. "There's no way to put this politely, to the shrew she's been the last few years, but I do think that she's overcompensating. She acted like she hated me for three years, and the Elders know how long she'll feel this way, but I'm not trusting anything till she's settled down a bit. If this lasts longer than a year, maybe then I'll believe it, but the fact is it's a lot easier to be mean than it is to be nice." He pulled on fresh undershorts. "I'm just not willing to . . ." He swallowed and shook his head.

"There's no reason to rush anything, Adam," Randor said with a smile. "None at all."

"Except for the ever present need for heirs," Adam pointed out with a grimace, and his father's eyebrows knit.

"Somehow, that's not high on my list of priorities, Adam." Their eyes met for a long moment, and Adam actually believed him. Randor was more concerned about Adam than about Adam's potential offspring.. Obviously, his father had lost his mind. A kingdom without heirs was an unstable kingdom by definition. His father pulled Adam out of his thoughts by putting his hands on his shoulders. Adam swallowed, wondering what revelation was coming now. "I want you to be happy, son," he said. "And I want to rebuild our relationship if that's possible."

"Anything's possible," Adam said, breaking away and scrubbing at his hair again to get it dry. When he saw his father's face, he regretted his flippancy, but it was too late to retract the words. He turned his back, hiding his reaction. "It's hard, Father, I'm sorry."

"What are you apologizing to me for?" his father asked. "I'm the one who's been so hard on you for the last five years."

Adam shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he said, trying to make the words an apology for his earlier offhand remark. Randor turned away. "Do you know when we're due to go to the concert?"

"In about twenty minutes," his father said gruffly.

"Wasn't Mother going to send in some clothes?"

His father shrugged. "Sit down and let me comb your hair." Adam did as he was bid and found a great deal of comfort in the sensation. And the closeness.

The door opened and Man-at-Arms came in carrying a pile of clothes. Adam looked up and all the relaxation he'd gained fled instantly. His father stilled briefly in the combing, then continued, and Adam wondered if he'd be asking about that later.

From the way he straightened, Duncan recognized Adam's sudden tension, too. He cleared his throat. "Your mother sent me, your highness," he said solemnly. "She asked me to bring you some clothing."

Adam stood up and took the garments, stepping away to change. He heard his father talking quietly with Man-at-Arms, but he couldn't hear what they were saying. They were probably discussing him and his foibles, and Man-at-Arms was not telling his father what the source of it all was. Adam pulled on his tunic and trousers and turned around to look for his shoes, pretending not to notice the conversation going on by the door.

He pulled on his shoes. "We ready?"

"Of course, Adam," his father said.

"I'd better get back to work," Duncan said. He bowed slightly to Adam and left.

"What's gone wrong between you and Duncan, Adam?" his father asked.

Adam took a deep breath and shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it, Father," he said, hoping he could leave it at that. After all, he could hardly tell him Duncan was part of the stress they were trying to alleviate without explaining why. And sending Duncan way, which would be the obvious solution, would definitely not help in this one. Adam looked pleadingly at his father, begging him to let it go.

Randor snorted. "What a surprise," he remarked, but he said it as a joke. Well, I suppose now wouldn't be the time in any case. I just worry. You two have always been thick as thieves."

"Let's go, Dad," Adam said. "We don't want to keep our guests waiting."

"We fly now!" Skeletor commanded, leaping a-griffonback. Evil-Lyn followed suit as did the others. She glanced over at Tri-Klops, but he was gazing forward. This was insane. Skeletor was determined to capture He-Man, again, though what he planned to do with the muscle-bound hero was anyone's guess. Kill him, she supposed, though that seemed almost too tame for the 'overlord of evil.'

He-Man hadn't shown up for the last two attacks they had staged on Eternian targets. Perhaps Skeletor thought that by attacking the palace, he could draw He-Man out of hiding. Little did he know that the man was on suicide watch in the palace infirmary.

She became aware of Skeletor's regard abruptly. "Evil-Lyn, I want you to immobilize as many of the Masters as you can. There is a concert tonight for the royal family, so I imagine a number of them will be there, and they'll probably be clumped together. Focus on keeping them out of the fight."

"Yes, Lord Skeletor," she replied, and he let out a cackle of laughter.

"If I can't get He-Man, perhaps I can seize Randor!"

Evil-Lyn watched him fly on ahead of her. If he did seize Randor, she had no doubt whatsoever that they would see a very angry He-Man shortly thereafter, suicide watch or no.

Teela sat beside Adam, giving him periodic nervous glances. His alarming announcement aside, he seemed to be having a very good time. His mother and father sat to the side, making this clearly Adam's concert, and Teela felt very much the center of unfriendly attention. A number of the court beauties were glaring at her, and she could almost feel the scheming from here.

Never mind, she thought. It doesn't matter. All that matters now is Adam. He glanced over at her and smiled uncertainly. She smiled back, and he relaxed slightly.

The music was lovely. Reisha was deft and sure on her instrument of choice, the harp. She sang in a mellow alto, songs of love and contentment, songs of melancholy loss, songs of joy. Teela wished she'd concentrate on the contentment and joy part and skip the loss. Adam didn't really need to be thinking along those lines just now.

Reisha finished a set and stood up to take a break. True to his orders, Adam did not rise to mingle with the court, and Teela stayed with him to keep him company. Not that there was any lack of company.

"Prince Adam, your highness, would you care to take a walk in the moonlight?" asked Lady Darla.

Adam smiled pleasantly up at her but shook his head. "I'm afraid I'm not to stir from this chair, my lady," he said. "Healer's orders."

"Are you still so ill?" she asked. "You look exceptionally well."

Teela managed to control her urge to roll her eyes at this blatant flattery. Not that Lady Darla was wrong, Adam looked marvelous in his finery, but she was laying it on with a trowel.

"At this point it's more a question of avoiding a relapse," Adam said. "And since I'm very bored with the infirmary, I think I'll do as Healer Dorgan says."

"The sooner he's satisfied, the sooner you're out," Darla replied, raising elegant eyebrows.

"Exactly." Adam's eyes widened and he leaned around Darla, who turned to see what was happening behind her. Two servants were bringing out an enormous floor harp. Up till now, Reisha had been playing a lap harp. Teela recognized this instrument. It was from the palace music room. She glanced over at the queen who was talking to the chamberlain. Adam smiled. "We're in for a treat," he said. "Mother invited her to practice this morning."

"She must be very skilled," Teela murmured.

"Mother said she sounded excellent," Adam said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Reisha returned, a hush fell over the room, and Darla returned to her seat. Reisha played an arpeggio that sent shivers down Teela's spine. Adam settled into his seat with an anticipatory sigh. Teela was glad to see him so happy.

Reisha began a lighthearted tune that had Teela's toes tapping instantly, but then a momentous crash shook the palace. The hall was open to the night air with simple shields to keep insects and birds out. A bolt of violet energy fried the shield, and in flew four of Skeletor's henchmen on griffins. They jumped off and set to causing mayhem. Evil-Lyn immediately cast a spell that landed somewhere behind Teela. She reached for her staff and didn't find it. Somehow it hadn't seemed appropriate with a court gown. Instead, she flipped the skirt up and drew a blaster from a concealed holster as she turned to see all but one of the other Masters penned in by a spell of some kind. Evil-Lyn was standing ten feet away, very focused.

Court folk were screaming and running in all directions, no wonder, with Beastman looming to her left. The king crossed swords with Tri-Klops on her right, and a couple of the guards were helping Mekanek fend off Trap Jaw. She was dimly aware of Adam trying to calm folk and guide them towards the exits, and she wished he'd take one of those exits himself. He needed to be out of here. She could hear the sound of skysleds on the way, but the battle for her was here and now. She had her eye on Evil-Lyn. She took aim, but an idiotic man bumbled into her in his fear, nearly knocking her over. She kept her balance and the blaster, and managed to fend him off, but as she took aim again, she heard a cackle of laughter behind her and to her left. Whirling, she turned to see something that made her heart plummet.

Adam was draped over Skeletor's shoulder, clearly unconscious, and the skull-faced monster was flying away. Teela took aim, but she didn't dare fire for fear of hitting Adam, or of causing Skeletor to drop the prince to his death in the courtyard below.

Skysleds that had been heading for the hall abruptly changed course, but Teela wasn't surewhat they'd be able to do. She heard a nearby guard's radio crackle with her father's voice. "Injured Adam is better than no Adam. Don't let him be taken to Snake Mountain."

The griffins swooped back in and the henchmen leapt on. Teela watched them go with her heart in her throat. Her first opportunity to protect Adam from the evils of the world, and she had failed dismally. She didn't even have time to get to a skysled and go after him.

Duncan flew as fast as he dared, dodging bolts from minions. Ram-Man had Beastman occupied and . . . there, yes. Stratos was distracting Tri-Klops. That left Evil-Lyn and Trap Jaw. The witch cast spells over her shoulder at every opportunity. The other masters had been at the concert and would consequently be late off the mark if they were even able to join the fight. It had been a short attack, fast in, fast out. Only good fortune had gotten them there in time to see Skeletor winging away with his prisoner.

Now Skeletor dove into the Vine Jungle and Duncan followed. The skysled should make for easier maneuvering amid the close packed trees and vines. Too late, though, he saw Clawful and Merman rise, a net spreading between them. He leapt off the skysled in order to avoid being entrapped with the machine, then whirled to face the sea-going minions, aware that his chance of catching up to Adam was now sunk beyond recall. He had to hope that Ram Man, Stratos and the other guards would have better luck.

When Tri-Klops suddenly disengaged from the fight and leapt aboard his flying beast, Randor had no idea what had changed. He'd heard a cackle, but that was Skeletor's battle cry. He spun to see that all the minions had left. When he didn't see his son in the crowd, it didn't immediately alarm him. Adam ran from fights when he was armed. Surely he'd have the sense to flee when he was defenseless. His gaze, however, was drawn to track what everyone else in the hall was watching. His mouth went dry when he saw the figure of his son being carried away by Skeletor.

Teela shot past him towards the hangar, skirts held high, and he gave chase. She was lighter, younger and had healthy knees, so she was gone by the time he arrived. He was just taking off when he got a call from Duncan.

"Sire, we failed," he said, his voice flat with anger and worry. "Skeletor has reached Snake Mountain, and they are fortified."

"Have you any hope at all of getting him out as your forces stand now?" Randor asked.

"No sire," Duncan said heavily.

Randor took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Leave sentries to watch for any activity and fall back. We need to regroup and plan." He heard Duncan's acknowledgement and the orders posting the sentries, but his mind was otherwise occupied. Adam was in terrible danger, and in his current state of mind . . . he'd shown himself angry and impulsive with the people he cared about. How would he behave around Skeletor?

The other masters arrived in the hangar shortly after Randor had ordered the retreat. There they waited with their king. Teela was the first to return, naturally. Randor half expected her to be angry with him for calling the forces back, but she said nothing. She just paced. Randor envied her the release. Kings could not pace in public. Kings had to stand still and look stern.