The first thing I noticed was the headache. It wasn't the worst I'd ever felt, but that wasn't really saying much. It seemed to be accompanied by a loud, harsh roaring that made my ears ring. Opening my eyes cautiously, I found myself still in the warehouse on the side closest to the devastated alien hen house (eggs sunny-side up?). The thought of food made my stomach roll. I tried to move my hands, but they were bound above my head in metal bands. For that matter, I was standing up against the cement-block wall as well. And that roaring. I finally realized it was not coming from inside my head, but rather a few feet to my left.
Luar'ke-de, scourge of Bad Bloods everywhere, was in a similar predicament to myself. He was currently engaged in an argument with one of the Bad Bloods, his mask was off as was my own, and his mandibles were flared angrily. He kept jerking on the bands around his wrists and I was waiting for them to give, but they never did. Too bad. Would have been fun watching these bastards get what was coming to them.
I looked around at the ruin of the room and had to smirk. I have quite the talent for pissing people off, don't I? It was probably going to get me into a hell of a lot of trouble before all was said and done. And I had every intention of getting into just about as much trouble as possible. I was angry. Seething. And that always made me sorta stupid. Looking around again, I noted that only three of the four bad guys were present and accounted for. Two of them were done in dark blue, one slightly darker than the other, but the one arguing with Luar'ke-de was all rust and cream with brown patterning like that of a tiger shark. It was too bad they were all bastards because they really were pleasant to look at.
Lar'ja, like the last bad guy, wasn't here and though that could mean any number of things, I hoped it meant that the bad guy was dead and Lar'ja was coming to the rescue before I ended up saying something I would likely not live long enough to regret. Finally, I couldn't take the useless roaring anymore, "SHUT. UP! Jesus Christ! Honestly!"
The room went dead silent and everyone stared at me. The three Bad Bloods were inscrutable behind their masks, but Luar'ke-de glared. I don't think it was at me necessarily, but I could well imagine that everything about this situation would piss him off. The Bad Blood stalked closer and put his face right in mine. I glared back.
"You know, even through the mask I can tell you're one ugly mother fucker. Please back off; it might be catching."
Pain blossomed on the right side of my face and I tasted blood. The bastard had backhanded me almost casually, then grabbed a fistful of hair and yanked my head back, "Should not speak so to your betters. Ooman."
I glared and spat the blood onto his mask. He growled and I simpered, "You know, you're right. Sorry about that, Luar'ke-de. I'll try to mind my tone from now on."
"Do not think," said the Bad Blood, "that being trained by an Arbitrator and taken as the mate of a Hunter makes you special or even equal to me."
"You're right," I snarled back, "I'm much better than you."
He backhanded me again and snarled, "Just an ooman. You are nothing. Do not know why even an ooman sympathizer like Lar'ja-thwei would bother with you, let alone mate with you. Must be sicker than I thought."
I grinned slowly, seeing red, my hands shaking with rage. He dared? Insult me. Insult my people. Insult my Teacher. But do not insult my mate, "Ohhh, I see what this is about now. You're jealous of Lar'ja."
He jerked back and demanded incredulously, "Jealous? Of Lar'ja-thwei?"
I nodded slowly, ignoring Luar'ke-de shaking his head in a very deliberate "no" in my peripheral vision. My teeth were bared in a grin that might have been a snarl, "Yes. He's a better hunter than you. Better warrior. Has more honor, and can get any female he wants no matter what species. But you are a small, weak, cowardly little no-one, grasping for power and meaning from the shadows. No wonder you're angry with me. Did I kill the only bitch willing to let you near her? Is that it? I was wondering why the drones were so stupid. Now I know!"
He roared in rage, sending his fist into my gut. I felt more than heard ribs break and gasped from the pain. The other two had run forward to restrain him, but he thrashed in their hold. Whatever was happening, they wanted me alive. Perfect. The bastard that hit me threw one of his pals into the cement wall with a sickening crunch. Neon green stained the wall where he slid to the floor in a heap that didn't move. It would seem that no one was safe from this guy.
The last one backed off, one little human not worth his life, but I'd gotten what I wanted. One less bad guy in the room. Not the one I'd wanted to see die, but I'd take what I could get. I kept my eyes on the loose canon in front of me, but could see Luar'ke-de watch me incredulously. And perhaps with a little respect.
"You killed the Queen? Truly?" he said quietly while the bad guys argued.
I glanced to him and gave a brief nod. Between the pain and me trying to make lemonade from some really damned sour lemons, I didn't have much left to spare. Apparently, the quiet admittance was the right response because he gave me a firm, proud nod and turned to watch our captors.
"Which is which?" I asked.
"The one you angered is Ka'vin'tek. The other that stands with him is Mah'te. The dead one is Yr'yin."
"Wherever he is, Lar'ja-thwei is as well."
"I hope Lar'ja feeds him his own damned intestines."
Luar'ke-de tossed me a grin, "Is unfortunate that you were born ooman. Would have made a fine Yautja."
I smiled, "But then I wouldn't be Lar'ja's mate."
"I admit, was surprised by his obvious attraction. Once had quite the appetite for the females of our kind. But then I met you. You and that shovel." He huffed in something that might have been humor.
I grinned weakly, the pain forcing me to take shallow breaths, "No, it was your head that met the shovel."
He chuckled quietly.
There was a dragging sound from the far left side where the other door stood open and clear. Luar'ke-de and I both turned to watch Lar'ja walk through, dragging a dead Ve'rin by his dreadlocks. It took a moment for Ka'vin'tek and Mah'te to register the new presence. When everything was silent once more, Lar'ja let the body drop and stood tall, proud. Ka'vin'tek looked first to the corpse, then to Lar'ja. He tilted his head.
"Had thought you to be blind forever, Lar'ja-thwei. Tell me, were you so recovered, why did you stay with the ooman?"
At first I was surprised he would bother speaking in English, but then it became apparent that he wanted me to know he was insulting me. I rolled my eyes. Lar'ja shook his head, "Owed a debt. Is something you will never understand. Will not waste effort explaining."
"Perhaps, but did your debt include mating with the animal?" Mah'te asked, laughing.
"Is no affair of yours."
They began circling him slowly, leaving room for maneuvering. I wanted to tell him that he only had the two to worry about, but it could wait. They thought he had his eyes and he had not disabused them of the notion. I wasn't about to ruin this for him.
"Such loyalty," said Ka'vin'tek, "Yet you do not greet her, your own mate, when she stands right here. Come, ooman! Say something to your Yautja lover! He won't even look at you! Maybe he does not care for you after all?"
"Just because he's jealous of you, Lar'ja, is no reason to go easy on him. Give 'im hell." I called. Lar'ja gave a firm nod, but kept his attention on the two circling Bad Bloods.
Ka'vin'tek roared at me, "Am not JEALOUS!"
He started to run at me, wrist blades leaving their housing, but Lar'ja drew his ki'cti'pa and leapt in his path, Mah'te close behind. There was a flash of sparks when the two weapons met and then Mah'te was there with his short sword. Lar'ja jerked the wrist blades away, spun his spear around and ducked the sword that had been aimed at his throat. It quickly became a complicated dance and it was very clear to me that up until this point I had been very, very lucky. Lar'ja's spear was little more than a blur that managed to always repel the attacks of the other two.
Mah'te growled in frustration and tried to sweep Lar'ja's feet from under him but took the blunt edge of the spear upside his head, knocking him aside, dazed. Ka'vin'tek roared, enraged, and rushed into Lar'ja's space, but Lar'ja kicked high, catching Ka'vin'tek in the jaw and knocking his mask askew. Mah'te, seeing what he believed was an opening, tried to take Lar'ja's back in a rush, arms wide. It didn't work. Lar'ja swept the other warrior's feet out from under him, then brought the tip of his spear down on Mah'te's chest. Pulling it free, he turned back to Ka'vin'tek.
"Is this worth it?" Lar'ja asked.
"One could ask you the same, Lar'ja-thwei." he snarled, fixing his mask.
"Am content. Truly, the day the seven of you betrayed me was the greatest of my life. Now I have my mate and I have no need of any other."
"She. Is. OOMAN!"
"She is. Is also worthy. Honorable. Has killed a Queen and had heard much of the battle from where I was. She is strong and loyal. All things I could never have said about any of you. Was betrayed. Now have love. It is worth it."
My jaw dropped and even Luar'ke-de's eyes bugged, mandibles slightly spread in shock. We silently exchanged a look, then looked back.
"You are sick! Love? For an ooman? Madness! When I have killed you, will tear her heart from her chest and eat it, still beating, in front of her dimming eyes!" Ka'vin'tek shrieked.
"You will not."
Enraged, Ka'vin'tek charged, screaming something guttural. He must have been beyond angry. His attacks were rushed and, even to me, looked sloppy. More than once I heard Luar'ke-de snort in either humor or disgust. It was no surprise to me when Lar'ja swept his feet from under him and pinned him to the floor with his ki'cti'pa like a fly pinned to a board. Ka'vin'tek roared in pain and spat curses and insults in his own language. Lar'ja stepped on his hand and the pinned warrior snarled. Crouching down and reaching forward, Lar'ja unhooked the tubes connected to Ka'vin'teks' mask, pulling it from his face and tossing it aside. Then, he removed his own mask and let Ka'vin'tek stare into his blank eyes.
The Bad Blood went still, eyes wide when he realized that Lar'ja, very much as blind as had been thought to be, had killed all but one of them. Lar'ja waited for a full moment before shoving his wrist blades up under Ka'vin'tek's jaw. Pulling his blades free, he stood and hung his mask on his right hip, then retrieved his spear. Flicking it free of blood, he hit the mechanism to close the weapon and placed it back where it belonged.
"Very quiet, Baby Jess."
"What do you want me to say?" I grinned, tired. Now that the action was over, it was more than just my ribs that hurt.
He walked over to me, grinning, and lightly stroked my cheek. Every line in his face told me just how pleased he was at the moment. He pretended to give my question thought before grinning again, "Something sarcastic would be nice. Yes. Do not hear enough sarcasm from you."
I rolled my eyes, "Aren't you the funniest guy ever? Get my hands free and I'll be as sarcastic as you could hope for."
"Oh, and don't mind me." Luar'ke-de said with an irritated scowl, "Am only the elder male. But do not worry. I'll just wait here, yes?"
Lar'ja tossed him a cocky grin, "Do so."
It took a good ten minutes for Lar'ja to free us, partly because the bonds were made of something called dlex and it took Luar'ke-de describing the location of the lock mechanism in relation to our two very different heights. Once free, Luar'ke-de cuffed Lar'ja upside the head and wandered off. To where, I had no idea. Lar'ja tried to sweep me into a strong hug but thankfully ceased at my cry of pain.
"Baby Jess?" he asked, concerned.
I grimaced with a groan, "Just a couple broken ribs. No big deal."
He tilted his head, clicking, then went over to Ka'vin'tek's body and bent down. Taking a knife out, he cut into the flesh just under his chest, then reached in with both hands and the knife only to come back out with the heart. I was more than a little confused, and positively disgusted, when Lar'ja brought it back and told me to eat it.
"You want me to do what now?"
"Eat it, Baby Jess. Will help you heal. Will live as long as I."
"But it's a heart." I felt ill.
"Yes? You will make better use of it than he did. Besides. Fitting. Threatened to eat your heart. You eat his."
I wrinkled my nose, taking it gingerly, "Can't I cook it first at least?"
The look on his face said clearly he thought I was crazy, "No."
I spent five minutes working up the nerve and ignoring Lar'ja's taunts before I finally, hesitantly, took a bite. It was chewy and tough, springy, and very, very bloody. It was so gross. I shuddered in revulsion. I only ever ate my meat well-done. Now, not only was this uncooked, but it had belonged to a person. A bad person to be sure, but still. I never wanted to do this again. Stranger still was the weird tingling that started up five minutes into the ordeal ("Are you sure this is supposed to happen?"). And Lar'ja acted as though he'd never been exposed to anything quite so amusing.
"Not so bad, Baby Jess." he snickered.
I sat down on the floor, back against the wall, and forced myself to lick my fingers clean. What was a little more blood, after all? "You're crazy, Lar'ja. Absolutely certifiable."
He sat next to me, and gently pulled me against the warm comfort of his side, "Probably. But still care."
I leaned in to him, already in less pain than before, and let my head rest against him, "Do I get to hang the Queen skull when we're in space?"
He chuckled and pet my hair, "Yes, Baby Jess. Very important."
I yawned behind a hand, "I'm pretty damned tired."
"Sleep then, Baby Jess. Will wake you should there be a need."
I let my eyes close and listened to him purr, "Hey, Lar'ja?"
"Yes, Baby Jess?"
"I love you too." I said, then added affectionately, "You big, green idiot."
Then I fell asleep to the sound of humor and purring.
My eyes snapped open and I knew instantly that something was wrong. I stared up at a white ceiling in a white room. I was strapped down to a table dressed in white clothing that resembled scrubs. It was like being trapped inside a snowball. I had no idea where I was. The pain I had fallen asleep with was gone like it had never happened. I no longer felt the weight of the fang necklace. Didn't feel the strain of the ordeal or the warmth of Lar'ja at my side. I was confused and starting to panic. What had happened? Where was I?
The room's only door opened and a blond woman (nurse…) walked in with a fake smile that never touched her brown eyes, "Well, Ms. Michells. How are we today?"
I didn't like her, and not just because she was speaking to me as though I were five years old. I frowned, "Confused. Would you care to explain why I'm strapped to a table?"
"Because every time we let you up, you become violent." She said negligently, checking my pulse.
"Gee, I can't imagine why. Though I'm curious; just how long have I been here?"
"Three years, Ms. Michells. I'll let the doctor know you're awake."
With that, the unpleasant woman left. A few minutes passed before a man roughly twice my age breezed in, fake cheer all over his face, "Ah, Ms. Michells. Nice to see you awake. How are we today?"
"Confused, frustrated, annoyed, and I need to use the bathroom." I glared.
He laughed and I hated him, "Well, let's see if we can't take care of some of that, hmm?"
He stepped out and two big dudes walked in (bodyguard nurses…) and unlocked my bonds. They escorted me to the bathroom but I was not allowed to close the door, then escorted me back to my cell. I had no idea what was going on. Three years? Impossible! Where was Lar'ja? How did this happen? I felt inexplicably lost and more than a little hurt and lonely. I wanted his comforting presence, but I was stuck with cold, fake people who didn't really want to talk to me.
The doctor smiled when I walked back in to the room, and I just stood there, looking at him, waiting for him to show me something real, "Ms. Michells, you must be very distressed. Your sister is here right now though. She could probably tell you what's going on better than I."
Better than a doctor? I was having trouble with this, but nodded, "Please."
"Excellent. I'll have her sent in."
Again I was left alone, this time for almost a full ten minutes. My heart race. My anxiety slowly built. I wanted out. I wanted to leave. I needed to find Lar'ja. I wrapped my arms around myself and shuddered in growing misery. When had I started needing him so very badly? I knew I loved him. What else could that feeling of completeness and quiet joy be any time he was around? But this utter dependence… I hoped, for his sake, that he wasn't as lost as I was at the moment (though my heart didn't wish that at all).
The door opened and in walked my sister. She was roughly an inch shorter than myself with blue eyes and ginger hair, but there were a few more lines on her face than the last time I'd seen her. More than just a year could account for. She pulled me into a hug and I hesitantly returned it, "Savanna… What's going on? Why am I here? Where is here?"
"Baby, you had a nervous break down. You're at Mendota-"
"I'm in Madison? You put me in the psych ward in bloody fucking Madison?"
"Jessie, you'd completely lost it. Ranting about aliens and such…"
"I'm about to lose it…"
"Jess, You'd lost your mind. Seriously."
"Does Mom know about this, Savanna?"
She winced, "Baby… Mom died three years ago. Just before you snapped."
I felt my stomach drop and I stared at my sister in shock. She looked at me pityingly, as though she'd been forced to say these things many times. I was crazy? Then… none of it happened? I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't! I knew I wasn't crazy. I knew it! Tears of mounting rage filled my eyes. I had to get the hell out of here. I had to find Lar'ja. I needed to know where he was. Needed to know if he was alright. Needed to know that he wasn't as trapped as I was. And if he was, where was he being held? The thought of him being cut up for science twisted my stomach, froze my heart with anger, and I looked to the door, "Lar'ja..."
She shook her head, eyes closed, then hugged me and whispered, "He doesn't exist, Baby. He never did."
I trembled, angrier than I'd ever been before, my breath coming fast, tears falling. It must have looked as though I were supremely upset or something because my sister pulled back to look at me with compassionate eyes. I only had the barest moment to look at her before everything went dark. Seriously. Could this day get any better?
It might just be worth it to find out.
That's it! Revamped ending! Do those of you who have read this before approve? No? Maybe with further modifications? Please tell me!
This story continues on in Gray Possession, which also got revamped. I hope that everyone has enjoyed reading Black Garden as much as I did writing (and revamping) it.
I own nothing. *^.^*