The captain stepped out of the bislug-drawn carriage and squinted in the early evening light. It always took him a few hours to get used to sunlight after months in space. Paying the driver, picking up his one suitcase and slinging his captain's uniform over his left shoulder, he looked up at the two-story country house. It was situated in the middle-class district on the crescent of the Haniput Space Port, where the Interstellar Academy was located. Though he knew more people on other planets, he and his wife had decided not to move far after getting married. He grinned and his heart skipped a beat at the thought of his wife.

Young and reckless, their relationship had had a rocky start to say the least, but they had sacrificed much for each other, and he had grown to love her more than his own life. Every day of his deployment out among the stars, he could only wonder if she were looking at those same stars, if she was as lonely, too; they had failed to conceive a child before he left. He knew she would be preoccupied with her duties as an ambassador and keeping her social calendar, but he hoped she longed to see his face as much as he yearned for hers. His hand subconsciously reached for his face and the new scars there. He stared at the window to their bedroom, wondering if she would accept him now, as altered and blackened as he was.

The wars of the outer quadrants had changed him. He had killed more men than he cared to recall, and orphaned more children than he wanted to know. He had watched his friends die on foreign planets, and had even saved his first mate just to watch him bleed out in transit to the infirmary. The captain himself had suffered unnumbered injuries, many of which left marks on his body. He was battered and bruised, his soul even more so. Would she stick around to heal him?

His heart beat more heavily as his foot hit the first stair, his eyes fixed on the bedroom window, doubt and fear now mixed with his excitement and love. What if she had found someone else? What if she hadn't gotten any of his letters, and assumed he didn't love her anymore? What if she had given up on him, and decided to go home? (His rational mind didn't see how this was possible; her home planet was light-years away and they didn't have the funds to get her there, even with all their savings.) The captain had rejected two promotions and a knighthood in order to come home as soon as possible, but would she still want him? He felt his eyes sting as these possibilities came to mind. He looked away and he almost turned around; better not to know than to be broken-hearted.

Then, a movement at the upstairs window. A beautiful, red-headed woman drew back the curtains and looked up at the sky. Her red mouth smiled, but her eyes were sad. Then, her gaze strayed down to the front yard, and his breath caught as their eyes met. Her smile broke into a wide grin, even as her eyes brimmed with tears. His heart expanded with happiness so much he thought it would burst. In just one look she could convey how much she cared for him. She yanked up the window so hard that the frame hit the top of the sill with a loud thwack! His young wife leaned out of the window so far that he feared she would fall out.

"JIM!" She yelled down at him, he red hair blazing around her in the orange light of the sun. Jim grinned. He had been waiting to hear her say his name again for so long, and it was better than he ever could have imagined. He waved lightly, the sight of her weakened his knees and took his breath away.

She disappeared as quickly as she had arrived, and Jim knew she was headed for the door. He ran up the steps, only making it halfway before the front door was thrown open and she jumped into his arms. He dropped his bag and uniform unceremoniously in order to catch her, immediately burying his face into her shoulder, inhaling her floral perfume.

"Ariel," he whispered, running his fingers through her soft, ridiculously red hair. "Oh Ariel, you don't know how-"

"Don't," she replied. She withdrew her arms from around his neck to find his face and pulled him into a passionate kiss. He eagerly accepted her lips, teasing her mouth open to receive more of her, his strong arms pulling her so close she thought she would break. She held out, relishing his touch after such a long absence.

"I've been waiting four years for that." Ariel informed him when they parted for air, and kissed him again.

"And you still taste salty." He grinned, using his thumbs to wipe the tears from her face.

"Yeah, well it's not my fault-" she began, then she noticed the changes to her beloved's complexion. "Oh baby," she whispered. Jim winced, awaiting her judgment.

The young wife touched the scar tissue along his jaw and over the bridge of his nose gently, tears stinging her eyes to think of the pain they inflicted. Then, with a tenderness only a woman can accomplish, she drew his face down toward her and kissed the scars, both remaining silent as she pressed her lips to the pink marks on his face.

When she pulled away, he was crying.

"I will always love you, Jim," she told him sternly. "I gave up my family, my home, my royal life for you. You can't get rid of me with a few scars... and a really long ponytail." Ariel ran her fingers through the long locks of hair where Jim's small braid used to be.

He was quiet for a minute, trying to regulate his labored breathing. Finally, his grey-blue eyes met her sea-blue ones. "What would I do without you, woman?" He whispered. Ariel shrugged, picking up his uniform and roping her free arm around his waist. "Be miserable. Or married to a blonde."

Jim laughed and mimicked her actions, picking up his suitcase and putting an arm around her shoulder. "I've always liked brunettes, myself." Ariel frowned up at him. He kissed it off her face and amended, "but I love redheads."

Morph darted out of the open door at that moment, attacking his owner with his usual fervor. Jim chuckled at the alien's antics.

"How've you been buddy? Keeping my lady in line?"

"Keepinginline! Keepinginline!" The pink blob repeated, exploding into an array of fireworks then rearranging himself to lick Jim again. Jim grinned, then looked down at Ariel, who was smiling contentedly up at him.

"Shall we?" He motioned toward their home.

She nestled her head onto his chest and signed. "We shall."