general disclaimers, etc.

I hoped you would come to me, first. My days were spent training with soldiers and officers, learning strategy and skill to earn my place as heir. My days were measured in reverse, counting down from the unknown time of our inevitable victory. Though I hurrahed with the rest, part of me believed your arrival would stall the warships and stop the clocks, the way your image stopped me in my tracks. I wanted our engagement to end the war without weapons. I wanted you to come to me, first.

As I grew up, and our prospects grew grim, my hopes grew desperate. Our union would stop my world's rampage; it would open my mother's blind eyes; it would sate my father's bloodlust. As the casualties mounted, I gathered my courage beside my fears, until I asked my father about you. I asked if you were coming.

He told me it seemed unlikely. I wanted to ask why. Had you forgotten me? The idea was terrifying. Before it could solidify, my father shrugged and told me it was possible your parents had lied. Though he took promises seriously, he was apathetic about the possible betrayal, as the coordinates had proved accurate and he considered Majesdane far more valuable than Earth.

I meant to ask him more. I opened my mouth to speak. The Commander walked in to inform my father of another wave of attack, and my father left with him to command the fleet. This was a routine occurrence. My father would die in the attack, and my mother with him.

Once I was told, I left control of the Imperial Army with the Commander. I had to find you. You were the key; you would save us all. My father had given me a book with instructions to find you: your name and energy signature, and your last known whereabouts. He had an old photograph of you from your parents. As I had waited for you, I had filled the blank pages with my hopes for us. I took the book and a ship and left my life behind.


I had no idea you were so far away. I entered your data onto the ship's tracing device, wondering how a string of numbers could describe the indescribable. The faded picture did you no justice, either, but from its shapes, I thought I could imagine your loveliness. I was wrong, of course, but I was right about the numbers.

Alone on the ship, I downloaded all our records of Earth. Your customs and figures were strange to me, as my training had included nothing of your planet. As with most things, a Skrull should be able to adapt. My skills should have prepared me for my future with you. Admittedly, my private coaching aboard my craft crossed the bounds of Skull propriety. We aren't taught to bend to the desires of others. Even so, I ached to do so for you. I wanted to ease your way. Knowing I would ask you to enter a world of violence and death and destruction, I couldn't bear forcing my strange customs upon you.

I wanted you to love me like I loved you.

To save enough energy for a speedy return journey, my craft traveled slowly from my home to yours. The book told me your parents were actors in Los Angeles, so I began to learn English and Spanish from tapes. As I became versed in the tongue, I imagined what your voice might sound like. Again, I was wrong, of course, but thoughts of you comforted me so… and how could I have predicted you, as you are? I had never known anything as marvelous as you.

I spoke aloud to myself to practice. As I did, I looked through images of humans, and practiced forms alongside my words. Skrulls look so different from humans, and I worried you would find me fearsome. I looked at thousands of pictures as I spoke to myself. I wondered what you would like.

My forms changed as my words did. I felt English sounded too light on my tongue, and I had been raised to value intimidation and might over all else. I didn't want to sound weak in any language, and never in front of you. I wanted to make you happy about our betrothal; I wanted you to see my potential as a husband, a partner and protector, and I wanted to show my strength. I crafted sentences in new ways, until I began to sound more like my father and less like a child.

Human skin looked strange to me. Of the two photographs of you, one showed you in human form, pale in all ways. Pale skin suits you beautifully, but on my body, the blue veins and pink knuckles felt unnerving and vulnerable. I disliked the sight of my insides. The Earth pictures showed me I could safely darken it, and I did. I found a face much like my own, and moved it until it felt familiar. Even with short ears and my body wrapped in brown, touching my cheek was a close approximation in size and shape. I saw warmth in the eyes of the man in the photograph, and hoped mine would hold the same when you looked into them for the first time.

Once I had found a form I liked, I practiced my words, over and over, forcing new arrangements and phrases. I wanted to sound like a natural to you. I wanted to make everything look easy. As I spoke into the silence of the cabin, I stretched my limbs or lit them afire; I made the Thing's great fists. I slipped in and out of my façade, denying even to myself how nervous I was to show you my true form.

As I worked with my abilities, I wore my human shape more often. I reminded myself that if you had grown up in exile, I should anticipate your discomfort with Skrull looks. I prepared to appear human full-time, and wore the shape for days. It grew familiar to me, until I could sleep and awaken still wearing it.

More than once, I imagined waking beside you. Though my future seemed foreboding, filled with war and suffering, it grew brighter with the thought of you beside me. I woke once with your name on my lips, and I felt ashamed to have grown so dependent on a stranger.

I wanted you to like me.


It went wrong so quickly. I thought you were teasing me, at first. Even your glare was beautiful.

Again, I was wrong. I had never considered why you hadn't sought me out; an honest appraisal would find I was afraid of the answer. I feared my father was right, and our arrangement was a hoax, as was the possibility of an end to the war. Perhaps even more, I feared you yourself had declined the engagement. I feared I had disappointed you without even having met you.

What I mistook for banter became an attack. For a moment, it felt like an impromptu training exercise, and I relished the opportunity to test my strength after so much time confined to my craft. I spoke with my father's voice, harsh and unyielding, but beneath, I was amused. Even the machine proved an entertaining opponent. Though the group was no Great Trial, it refreshed me.

My enjoyment dissipated when the hatchling breached my defenses. I responded with instinct and anger. You surprised me, then, by calling them your friends. Your life was so far beyond my imagining. And yet, my surprise didn't surprise me; beside the horrors of my youth, everything about you was unbelievable and beautiful. Why should your past be any different?

When I awakened, alone with the earthling constables and with no sign of you, I admit my frustration overcame me. For you, I would have played any game, but I felt slighted that you refused to share even the rules with me. Once I evaded the officers and followed your craft, your dismissal had chafed, and I behaved rashly.

It wasn't until we landed and your friends walked out behind you that regret began to leach away my anger. In my sudden shame, or embarrassment, I forgot myself and begged for a moment alone with you.

You declined. It was then I felt the first real sting of love, like a blade in my belly. At that moment, glorious and ablaze, you could have brought me to my knees. You had no idea.

Again, I forgot myself. I asked forgiveness. I tried to explain. My deeper sadness escaped me as I spoke of my home, and of our parents. I told you of the war and watched my sadness spill across your face.

You listened to me. You were listening to me. I fell to one knee, as I had seen in pictures. I offered my hand, palm upturned in submission. I had nothing else to give.

Your friend interrupted, insisting my pledges were lies. Lucky for me, your hesitation had a different source: one I might actually soothe. "I like girls," you said, whispered like a secret.

I wanted you to like me.

When my body shifted, growing leaner at limbs and waist and softer between, you looked at me with shock. I knew you wouldn't accept my proposal in such a state, so I quit my begging and tried to bargain.

"At least take a trip with me," I said. My voice broke on trip, higher and tighter than the male voice I had practiced with. As your astonishment faded into guilt and curiosity, relief loosened my new muscles.

You agreed. I swallowed my delight, though delighted I was. Though you didn't feel for me what I did for you, you had given me a chance. I had begun to lose hope for even that little.

It overwhelmed me. I assured your friends of our communication abilities, but then I stole away into the ship. Your farewells were as warm as sunshine. I couldn't bring myself to intrude. I waited in the shadows, just inside, as your expression morphed from resolved to heartbroken. By the time you followed me inside, I wondered if you were near tears, and I worried I would be unable to comfort you.

As I moved the ship away from its mooring, you looked back at them. I could feel you turn toward me; the heat of your eyes warmed the back of my neck and scalp. I busied myself at the control panel and focused on the unfamiliar brush of long hair against my shoulders.

You came up behind me and stopped several inches from my back. You stalled there, not wanting to touch me. "Can I send a message?" you asked in a small voice, as if I might deny you.

As I manipulated the dials, I asked if you would dictate for me. I wondered if you would trust me with your words. As it was, leaving had sapped your courage, and I doubt you would have challenged me.

Still, I felt honored when you told me yes. You gave me your message, and I sent it. When I finished, I glanced at you.

"We're always running," you told me. I found my mouth dry; my head empty.

"Then I'll run with you," I promised.


You stood behind me for a long time, watching the stars through the window. Suddenly, I realized I had forgotten the Earth manners I had cultivated, and jerked forward out of my seat. "I apologize," I said, locking the controls and hurrying around the chair. "I should have given you a place to sit."

You tried to tell me not to, but I had already unlatched the closest folded seat from the wall. It snapped down into place and I pulled the armrests out. You trailed behind, retracing the three steps from zeroshield to the side panel, and held your hands together at your waist.

"Would you prefer to sit outside the cockpit?" I asked when you didn't sit. Perhaps you were uncomfortable around me. Perhaps you disliked me already.

You shook your head, but I had already turned to the panel door. I opened it and stood aside for you to see the room, but I immediately regretted showing it to you when I realized how sparse and bare it must seem. "It's not much," I admitted. My arm relaxed of its own accord and let the door swing partway shut.

Instead of mocking me, or recoiling from such poor facility, you moved forward and opened the door again, brushing my fingers with yours. The heat of your flesh lit fire through my blood. I shivered and watched you look at the quarters: a twin bed, with barely enough floor space to walk alongside it. I had made it in the military fashion in anticipation of your arrival, but I realized too late that crisp sheets couldn't disguise its small size.

"You may use it tonight," I told you as you leaned against the doorframe. I felt foolish. "I'll need to keep our course, anyway."

You turned to me. I couldn't tell what you were thinking, but concern showed in your upturned brows. "You haven't slept since you left?" you asked. You sounded worried and doubtful at once.

I looked aside. I could feel a blush warm my cheeks, and I hoped my façade would hide it. "I did. I used autopilot."

You didn't answer immediately. I peeked at your face and saw your tiny smile. Despite its size, your smile made my breath swell in my lungs. "I won't kick you out of your bed," you told me. You crossed your arms and tucked your hands underneath.

"I won't have you sleep in the chair," I said gently. I had talked you out of your home. You deserved to sleep in a bed.

"I didn't realize it was so small," you said as you twisted away. You looked around the small ship, as if to verify that the cockpit and bedchamber were its only areas. You noticed the bathroom stall tucked against the wall on your right to form the tight hallway. "Is that—"

"The restroom," I confirmed. Shame warmed my cheeks again. "I apologize, my love; this ship hardly suits you."

You turned back to me sharply, and I realized my mistake. I opened my mouth to retract my words, but my voice failed me, and my eyes drifted from yours.

Instead of scolding me, you gave a nervous laugh and touched your streaming hair. "We live under a tar pit museum. Compared to that, this is, like, the Ritz."

"The Ritz?"

You shook your head again. "I just mean… this is fine."

Again, I wasn't sure what to say to you. I lost track of myself looking at your face, your hair. The stardust felt light against my skin. I noticed you looking out the zeroshield, at space.

"I can't believe how much you can see," you murmured, as if you could feel me seeing you. "In L.A., the smog pretty much ruins any stargazing."

"You are more beautiful than any star," I told you. My throat felt thick as I speak. You looked at me in surprise, as if no one had told you before.

For some reason, your surprise sparked my remorse. "I'm sorry," I said. I looked down at your shoulder. "I don't mean to make you uncomfortable…"

"No, I…" You shuffled in the doorway, looking as unsure as I felt.

As I avoided your eyes, mine wandered into the bedchamber again. "There's a window in here," I said suddenly. I slipped inside, and you propped the door open with your foot as I edged to the far end of the bed. I slid open the shutter and revealed our ship's trail and a wide scattering of stars. I could see a glimpse of your blue planet far behind us.

In an instant, you were behind me, looking over my shoulder. Your warmth made me shiver: another mystery that thrilled me.

"Sorry," you said, misinterpreting. You took a half-step away, but we were trapped by the narrow room and the edge of the thin mattress. I smiled helplessly as you shuffled back into the cabin.

As I followed you, I explained, "I only meant that you can still watch them from there, if you don't… if you wish to be alone."

You gazed at me then, longer than you had. It rooted me to the floor in the doorway. Your sunlight skin drew me toward you. The metal ship hadn't felt so cold during the months spent on my own.

"Thank you," you said, breaking the spell. I swayed and stepped out of the way. As you moved across the threshold, you looked at me with new eyes, appreciative or grateful.

You shut the door behind you. I crossed slowly to the chair, my love for you a growing weight across my shoulders.

I touched my chest and found my heart beating wildly.


I had dozed off in my chair. I awoke to the heat of you, sharper where your fingers touched my cheek. I was sleepy and then startled. You smiled at me sheepishly. "I'm sorry. You were asleep, but… I think it's morning."

"If you want it to be, my—" I cut myself off and closed my eyes. In a second, panic set in, and I surreptitiously touched my arms to check what form I was in.

"It's okay," you said softly. I must have rippled my shape. "You're not… you don't have to worry."

I did worry. I peeked around your glowing wrist to see my hands. They were dark, human, but too large. I shifted my features slightly into female form. I had already forgotten what model I had created in haste the night before.

Finally, I looked up at you, afraid of what I might find. You looked puzzled. "Do you…" You bit your lip, looking at my hands. "Is it weird, changing… bodies like that?"

I moved to sit upright. My new body felt the stiffness of the old one. I wasn't sure how to answer you. "It is our way."

You took your hand away and held it with your other behind your back. I missed your warmth, though you still stood close. "I just… I can't believe you just switched like that, for me. On the spot."

It seemed there was another question hiding in your comments, like your homeworld hiding in a star. "You said this was what you liked," I recalled. Had I misinterpreted?

"Oh, I do," you assured me, almost rushed. "You're—" Pink stardust bloomed in your cheeks. "I mean, you're beautiful like this, I just mean… weren't you, you know, raised like a boy?"

I gripped the armrests. Your questions seemed sincere, but I couldn't discern your meaning. "I was raised a prince, to inherit control of Tarnax VII and the Imperial Army."

"Does it bother you, looking like a girl?"

"No…" I squirmed below you, begging for a signal. "I thought this was what you wanted."

You bit your lip again. You looked conflicted. "But what do you want?" you asked me.

I blurted the only answer I had to give. "I want to marry you."

You melted, like I had held flame beside a wax face. "But—"

"I know you may not want that," I said, nervous that you would turn me down. "I just want you to take a trip with me." The words had worked before; why not now?

You exhaled slowly and looked out the zeroshield. "If the war's as bad as you say…"

"It is," I said quietly, "but I don't… want you to marry me for that." You turned back toward me, and I drank in your beauty. I found I had a thirst for it; I wondered what would become of me if you abandoned me for your blue planet. Still, my tongue and heart betrayed me. "I only want you to marry me if you love me," I said.

"Xavin," you said. You said my name beautifully. "If you and I have a chance to stop the killing, I think we should do it."

I swallowed. "Please don't answer me yet," I said too quietly. The quiet made it a plea. Yet, for all my father taught me about being a warrior, I could never stop myself from weakening before you. "Please just wait. Give me a chance to show you."

"Show me Majesdane?"

I shook my head. Nerves shook my hands. "Show you I love you."

Your lips parted, and you sighed again. "Xavin…"

"Not yet," I begged, standing from the chair. My back ached with my heart. "Karolina, please, not yet."

You sighed, but you quieted. I reached out uncertainly, and you let me take your hands in mine. I tried to think of something wise or smart to say, but instead, I asked if you were hungry. You smiled, small and cute, and said that depended on what I had to eat.

I loved you more with each passing second.


You picked at the food, more curious than tentative, and swiveled the pilot chair. I cradled my plate on my knees in the foldout chair and wished I could grow to deserve you.

I asked if the food was to your liking, when you continued to look without eating. You smiled at me, looked at me, and I felt your sunlight despite the space between us.

"If I can eat raw fish, I can eat this," you told me. Your eyes and cheeks told me you were joking, though I didn't understand the joke. You recognized my empty smile and seemed embarrassed. "I just mean, my parents really liked sushi. Hollywood thing. I haven't had it in a while, though."

I swallowed my food and asked what your life was like, now.

Then, so easily, you shrugged and began to tell me. You spoke quietly at first, about the braying tar pit museum and your safe haven. You grew more confident as you described your friends. It amazed me, the sorts of people you had befriended: so varied and strange. Among their number, you listed a cyborg and a creature stolen out of time; a mystic and the mighty hatchling. For the first time, I glimpsed your generosity of spirit, and I wondered how I had missed it earlier, when you forgave my attack so graciously and agreed to leave your life for my new one.

You fell silent, your beautiful face drawn and thoughtful as you remembered your friends. As I watched, you nibbled your food and murmured, "They're like my real family, you know?"

And though I didn't know, not at all, I wanted so badly to be counted among their number. I wanted to be part of your family, my love. Your real family. I stared at you, and you stared at the stars, and I asked how long you had known them. How long must I wait?

You smiled at that, at a memory I could not share. "Long enough," you said. Pensive, private, you absently chose a berry from your plate. The taste brought you back to me; you looked at me curiously and asked what it was.

"T'hanja berries," I told you.

You repeated the word, watching me. Although your pronunciation was passable, I reacted with unveiled surprise. "Yes," I said, as your mouth opened to ask. "Just like that."

That pleased you. You ate another, happily, and I saw your fingertips brush your lips. "Why are you looking at me like that?" I saw you say. Your voice was soft.

Your shyness made me shy. "You're magnificent."

The rose stardust colored your cheeks. I felt bad for embarrassing you, but I couldn't make myself speak. I looked down at my plate and the T'hanja berries that would forever remind me of you.

"What about you?" you asked. I glanced up.

"What about me?"

You smiled again, but this smile was for me. "I don't really know anything about you," you said, "and here I've just been, like, talking your ear off."

"My ears are fine," I said to you. "They like to hear your voice."

Your look turned strange, and a small, sparkled gasp escaped your lips. Before I could decide to apologize, a sweeter smile spread across your face, and your hands twitched against the rim of your plate. "I'd like to hear yours," you told me quietly.

"You need only ask," I said. As you sat in my chair beside the zeroshield, putting all the galaxies to shame, I could not have denied you anything.

You asked me to tell you about my life. I took a deep breath to brace myself; I saw you do the same, as you remembered what I had said about the war. Though I didn't wish to belabor the politics or warring, they were impossible to omit entirely. I told you of my father's warlord past, his lust for plunder, and his dogged inquiry after Majesdane's hiding place.

"His Moby-Dick," you told me then. I paused, thrown off course, and smiled stupidly at you. "It's a book," you explained in a rush. You seemed embarrassed to have interrupted.

I gladly traded my voice for yours. I asked you to tell me. I could tell you hurried through the story, to allow me to resume mine, but I enjoyed your summary nonetheless. An old man obsessed with the unreachable; his destruction by his own desires.

Borrowed or otherwise, your wisdom awed me. "That is my father precisely," I admitted for the first time. As I looked into myself, I found I could not look at you. To my bent knees, I recalled my parents' deaths in battle; how my father finally whetted his bloodthirst with his own life. I recalled leaving word for the Commander and escaping to the blue planet to find you.

Embarrassment washed over me. "Perhaps you are my Moby-Dick," I said quietly.

You reached out and touched my knee. I noticed my hands had turned green again; I checked the length of my ear and shifted back to human shape, horror and shame tearing at my gut. I began to apologize, but you spoke over me, asking how I found you.

I explained what information I had been given: your blue planet, your old picture, your energy signature, and your name.

Your eyes widened, as if you had just realized something important. "How long did you know about me?" you asked, near a whisper.

I watched you uncertainly. I wasn't sure what you had realized. "For much of my life," I said. "I knew I was promised to someone. I knew whom."

"Most of your life?" you repeated, incorrectly. I stayed quiet. "But you knew you were supposed to marry a Majesdanian?" you asked.


"But you were a warrior. In training."

I pressed my hand between thigh and chair. "I was a Super-Skrull in training."

"Training to fight Majesdanians." You watched as I confirmed this. "Wasn't that, I dunno, weird for you?"

Awash in confusion, I shrugged and shook my head. "I am a warrior. Warriors are trained to fight," I reminded you. "And while I hoped our union might pacify our enemy, I… worried." I swallowed to build my courage; I had hoped to wait longer before pointing this out. "I knew… marrying the daughter of exiles might not please them."

Your expression didn't change. It stayed hardened and hard to read. "Especially exiles who let the secret hiding place out of the bag."

I looked down at my lap. What food remained no longer roused my appetite. "Yes."

After a long moment, you said, "And if us getting married doesn't make them happy, you play war again?"

"I do not play at war," I snapped. "I am a trained military strategist, and heir to the mighty Prince De'zean. I bear no love for his fights, nor would I have started them, but I will finish them if I must."

My outburst ebbed from flame to smolder, and you watched me without flinching. Your eyes made me nervous as my anger eroded. "Finish them?" you eventually asked. Your voice as cold as my flight to Earth.

"I want it to end," I said. If it sounded earnest or desperate, I couldn't say. I met your eyes with all my bravery and quashed the urge to reach for your hand. "I did not lie, Karolina. I hatched in a world of blood. I wish to build a new world… with you."

Slowly, your gaze fell to the floor: the space separating us. You moved your empty plate to the dashboard above the control panel, and you took a moment to appreciate the stars before us. Eventually, as I trembled with the effort of holding still, you murmured, "Hatched?"

It took a moment to make sense of your question. "Skrulls are born from eggs," I said quietly. I wanted to say more, but I suddenly feared you would think me too unhuman for your taste.

To my shock, you giggled. I looked up to find you still facing the zeroshield. "I'm sorry, Xavin," you told me, so sadly I worried you had already chosen Earth. Instead, you explained, "I still have a lot to learn."

"Your parents should have taught you," I said, thoughtlessly.

You smiled a sad, strange smile as you turned to glance at me. "Now I have you to teach me," you said. I shivered.


You were eager to learn, though I knew little to teach you. When I told you as much, you dismissed my claims of ignorance. "Don't you practice, Super-Skrull?" you teased me. Like everything else, you teased beautifully.

"Super-Skrull in training," I reminded you, igniting flame about my hand with unfamiliar bashfulness.

"So train with me. I can practice shields, at least," you said, painting one in the air between us, your body positioned at the corner between the wall and the bathroom's panel door. "Show me whatcha got."

Dazzled by your shield and uncertain of the rules, I tossed small puffs of fire against the shield.

"You can do better than that," you goaded me, peering over the edge. I huffed and sent a single, larger fireball at it, where it sizzled against the stardust.

"Come on, sweetie," you sang. My fires went out. "Are you really gonna let this shield keep you from me?" you asked. In your blind, generic taunting, though, you struck a nerve.

Even the depths of space could not keep me from you.

Rocks rose from my forearms like huge orange blisters, until I clenched my huge earthen gauntlets into fists. As I stepped forward to breach the gap, I heard the sparkle of your shield crackle in my lengthened ears. I heard it crack far louder as my knuckles smashed against it.

You shrieked in surprise; hidden behind the shield, you had expected more light fire kisses. Your shield held, but your nerves gave out, and the shield disappeared as a beam of sunlight lashed from your outstretched palms. It hit me full in the chest and I flew across the cabin, hitting the metal wall with a loud clang and falling face-first on the floor.

Pain prodded me with insistent fingers. Aches ignited among my ribs and below my cheekbones. Over it all, I heard your voice, high and flighty. "Oh, God, Xavin," you whispered over and over. You knelt beside me and touched my face. Though the Commander would have expected me on my feet already, I granted myself a moment's pause to enjoy your touch.

You had barely touched me, before, and never as a Skrull. I frowned and shifted form. You brushed long hair over my shoulder and said, "You don't have to. God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you…"

You forgot yourself as you caressed my face. The warmth was much kinder than my bruises; I turned into it, and my eyes began to drift shut. "I will be alright, beloved," I murmured.

You realized then, I think, that you had touched me. Your hand disappeared, and I forced motion back into my limbs. As I rolled to one side to push upward, you gasped and said, "Careful."

"I'm not so fragile," I said as I stood. I managed a smile. "And you are not so strong."

You rose beside me, as light as a bird. You offered one last, embarrassed smile, and one last apology.

Trying to mirror your teasing earlier, I told you not to apologize for a job well done. It seemed you didn't expect me to say that. "You reacted well to an attack," I pointed out. "Your instincts are good."

You looked bashful still as you backed away from me. I didn't hide my curiosity; when you stopped near the corner, I warmed my hands with flames and asked, "You wish to begin again?"

You smiled more bravely and asked if I had already tired of practicing. You were testing my boundaries. I was happy to let you. I tossed a spark at you, high in the air, and slow. You zapped it with energy instead of shielding.

When I checked your face, you only shrugged. "Gotta keep you on your toes," you told me then.

It made me smile. For the first time, I longed to kiss you.


When your movements began to slow, I suggested we stop to eat. You agreed readily, and I nervously assured you that you could ask for food whenever you felt hunger. You promised that you would.

This time, you sat in the folded chair, despite my insistence that you use the cushioned pilot's seat. To protest, I sat on the floor between the chairs and began to eat without meeting your eyes. I knew if I saw them, I would do whatever you asked.

"You're being silly," you told me.

On a whim, I feigned ignorance. "I'm not sure what that means, but if it means insisting on your comfort, I will happily be such."

You rolled your eyes, but your cheeks grew rosy, like sunrise. "Come on; sit in the chair."

I looked up at you and pushed my jaw forward. "I prefer to sit here. You look different from this angle."

"Do I?"

I furrowed my brow. "Do you doubt me?"

You snorted. "Yes, silly."

"Everyone looks different from below," I said.

Your expression changed slightly. "I don't want you below me, Xavin."

My name on your lips weakened my resolve. "Then sit on the other chair," I asked you softly.

You watched me, but you finally sighed, rolled your eyes again, and moved to the pilot's seat. I slipped onto the foldout chair; as I went, you said, "But you're sleeping in the bed tonight."

I hovered over the chair. When I sank into it, I took a chance and said, "I will sleep wherever you want, but you will sleep in the bed tonight."

You narrowed your eyes. "You were stiff from the chair this morning," you said.

"I felt no pain." I frowned. Had you noticed?

Your narrowed eyes became a frown. "You wanna start our engagement with lies?"

I panicked visibly; I recoiled against the wall panel. "No!"

The reaction surprised you, but your frown returned when you sensed your advantage. "I told you, I don't wanna kick you out of your bed. It's your turn to use it."

"We're taking turns?" I asked, in a voice so meek my father would have slapped me.

You nodded firmly. "We're taking turns."

I raised my hand to my plate, but I couldn't help my stubbornness. "We'll see about that."

For some reason, I amused you. You smiled and nodded at my lap. "Eat your dinner," you told me.

I did.


As we finished our meals, your gaze was drawn back to the galaxies oozing away before us. When I stood and gently took the plate from your lap, you startled and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry," you said. "The stars are so beautiful… I guess it's distracting."

I looked into your eyes and admitted that I understood just what you meant.

That made you shy. I offered to leave you alone at the helm with the stars, if you wished. Your glance seemed guilty. "It's no shame, to desire to be alone," I told you quietly.

You twisted your hands in your lap. "You're being so nice to me," you said, out of nowhere.

The sudden turn piqued my defenses. "Would you prefer that I behave rudely?" I asked. I felt confused.

"No," you said. You bit your lip; your voice hung on the air, thin and trembling like an instrument string. "You're perfect," you said then.

You stole my breath. My mouth dropped open, dry and empty, and I shivered inside when you met my eyes. "I'm not perfect," I said.

You shook your head. You hadn't meant it that way. "I like that you're being nice," you said, "but like, if you were being mean, I'd have a reason to go back home."

Terror gripped me. I shoved it down, as I had been taught, and let it root my feet to the floor. I fought the instinct to shift into Skrull form. "You need no reason, Karolina," I told you. "I will return you if you ask. You're no prisoner."

I envisioned my heart dangling from a line high above, with jagged rocks below. I watched you turn back toward the stars.

"I tried going back," you told the zeroshield. You straightened your back, squared your shoulders, and became at once a Majesdanian diplomat. "It's time to try something new."

Whatever you meant by something new, it was not what I truly hoped to hear. I reeled my heart back from the cliff and clutched it to my chest. I said nothing and quietly retreated to the bedchamber.

"I'll be here, if you need me," I said, but you didn't seem to hear. I slipped inside, shut the door, and soaked in the darkness.


I awoke damp and distressed. I touched my arms and my clammy skin, still blind in the dark room. I felt for the shutter with my right hand and checked my ear with the other. In the starlight, I confirmed I had awakened as a Skrull.

Feeling heavy with sadness, I shifted to the form I had cut for you: the human female. Flashes of dreams bit at me: you yelling with my father's voice; you abandoning me in the room of corpses.

A knock came from the panel door. I scrubbed my hands over my face and invited you inside.

"I think I finally figured out the food thingy," you said. You held two plates in your hands. You edged along the shallow alley.

I drew my legs inward and crossed them. I asked you to sit.

As you did, you gave me one of the plates. "I'm not sure what it gave me," you said, "but it smells pretty good."

With a slight smile, I pointed to the foods on my plate and gave their names aloud. You repeated each with interest.

"Thank you," I told you, once we had begun to eat.

You glanced at the shut door between us and the zeroshield, and then you turned to the small window above me. Your eyes fell to my hands, dragging a piece of bread through a puddle of berry juice. "I didn't want to eat alone," you admitted.

"Then you won't need to," I swore. You smiled at me. I gazed at you until you resumed eating.

I did not challenge your silence. When I had finished my food, I slipped off of the mattress and gathered my plate. "I should check our course," I said. I had neglected the controls. "May I take your plate?"

You looked up at me and blushed prettily. "Sure."

I took the dish and felt a nervous smile on my face. "What is it?"

You smiled and shook your head. You glanced at my chest and said, "You do look different from below."

Though I wasn't sure what you meant, your stare indicated something intimate. "As I said," I confirmed, waiting for the trap.

You said nothing. I left with the dishes, but you didn't follow.

After I had washed my hands, you walked back into the cabin. I went to the pilot seat and brought up status reports, travel trajectory, radar, and all the rest. I had only begun when you walked up behind me.

"How long is the trip?" you asked.

I was surprised to realize I hadn't told you. "It is long," I apologized. "Perhaps a month and several days."

If the news disappointed you, you did not say so. "Perhaps?" you asked instead. "You're not sure?"

"It was longer the other way," I explained. "I'm not positive how much faster we will travel."

"I don't know a lot about space tech," you said. "I guess I figured it'd be, like, super fast."

"This is only an escape pod. Our ships are more powerful."

You hummed. When you fell quiet, I resumed my examination of the computer data. When I had checked the status of our craft, I moved on to course corrections, and I glanced at the stars through the zeroshield to verify our alignment.

"How do you know where we are?" you asked. I turned, and you elaborated. "The stars are awesome, but there's so many of them…"

"I have studied star charts all my life," I told you.

You blinked. You seemed impressed. For all my posturing, it was my knowledge of star charts that impressed you first. "I mean, I studied geography," you mused, "but that's, like, just one planet."

I looked at you until I realized you were growing uncomfortable. "Would you… like to learn?" I asked.

You demurred. "I dunno if I'd be able to remember all that."

"I will teach you anyway," I decided. You smiled at me.

I verified our course once more, to be certain, and then shut off the display screens. I beckoned you around the chair until you stood beside my knees. I hesitated.

"What's wrong, teach?" you asked.

I glanced at the zeroshield. "It would be easier to point if you…" I gestured at my legs. I wondered if I had already stumbled past your boundaries.

To my surprise, your uncertainty melted into a soft, warm smile. You turned and sat carefully near my knees. You eased your full weight onto me, as if I might need to brace myself.

You felt warm, and you were so close. I could smell your starlight skin. Its glow had dimmed; we had yet to pass near another yellow sun. I breathed deep to brace myself and leaned forward against the armrest. I pointed out the nearest planet, passing my finger before your eyes so you would follow. I told you its name and what little I remembered of its people.

When I finished my summary, I frowned. "I received a military education…" I said. "I'm afraid I know little beyond the planet's strength and style of arms."

"That's okay," you told me cheerfully. "It's more than I know."

I worried you were veiling your disappointment, but when I paused to decide, you touched my arm and turned to look over your shoulder. "Where's the next one?" you asked, so gently, as you looked into my eyes. I felt your heat there, too, nearly as much as your body against my knees and your fingertips at my arm.

I breathed deep, again, and pointed to the next planet.


The fourth planet we passed was one my father had mentioned. I told you a joke I knew about how quickly their soldiers climbed over each other for the honor of surrendering to Skrulls. As I spoke, you scooted back along my legs, until you sat in my lap.

"Is that true?" you asked at the end, instead of laughing.

I frowned despite your closeness. "I don't know," I admitted to your back. You made a short noise while my heart raced. I felt it beat against my chest toward your skin.

"Have you…" You hesitated and shifted your body. Your left leg slipped between my knees; you sat almost sidesaddle, with your hips nestled in mine. "I know you were, like, trained to be a warrior, but have you… did they actually send you to war?"

I frowned, but my reaction was dampened by the heat and nearness of your body, and my own beating heart. "Of course. I have fought as a soldier and an officer, each many times."

"You must be really strong, to have survived all that." Your voice was quiet. When I looked up, I couldn't see your face.

I faltered. I was uncertain how to comfort you, but you seemed to need comfort. "It wasn't so bad," I told you quietly. My battles had been no worse than my training, or my childhood conditioning. "Most raids are more a chase than a fight. People fear the mighty Skrulls."

You glanced at me. I swallowed. "In other cases, it is not so easy," I admitted. "Your… your people are mighty, also."

You breathed slowly. I felt your lungs shift your body against my legs. I began to dread what you might say, so I suddenly said, "I can shift if this form is uncomfortable to sit on. I could…" I searched for a dignified way to offer to shape my lap into a cushion.

"It's fine," you said. You were looking at me so strangely. Then you twisted back toward the zeroshield. "Show me the next one," you said.

I pointed and gave you its name. As I spoke, you slowly leaned back against my chest.

If you felt my heart racing, you did not say so.


Eventually, after I had lost count of the planets, and after you had relaxed enough to tease me for my rigid language, you tucked your legs up between my thigh and the armrest and laid your head against my shoulder. You felt warmer than fire, and perhaps more dangerous.

My hoarse voice failed me. I swallowed, and my dry throat told me I had been speaking for hours.

"Oh, God," you said as silence settled, "your legs must be totally asleep." You peeled away and looked at our laps.

"Legs sleep?" I asked you, smiling.

You smiled back. "I'm all, like, squishing your veins. When you can't feel your legs 'cause the blood can't get to them."

"Karolina, I'm a shapeshifter." You frowned a little, and I chuckled. "I moved the veins, beloved. My legs are fine."

"Like your ears?"

I was surprised you had remembered my words. I nodded and played along. "My legs like you, also." I moved them beneath you, and you giggled.

I wanted to ask if you liked me. For a moment, I considered it.

But, as I allowed the moment to pass, you turned back to the stars before us. Softly, you asked me what would happen upon our arrival.

I was hardly certain myself, but I told you what I could. We would go to Tarnax VII first, to confer with my Commander, but we would also send word to the Majesdanian parliament. If they expressed disinterest in our proposal, war would continue regardless of our actions.

"You mean, regardless of whether we get married," you said. You had watched me while I spoke, but now turned back to the zeroshield.

"I do." I looked at your hair where it shifted along your back. I wondered if you felt me look at you the way I felt you look away from me.

Your head tucked to aim at your hands, intertwined in your lap. "But if they're cool with it, then…"

I kept my tone even as I answered, "If they are amenable, we would begin armistice in preparation to discuss peace terms. I admit, I have no notion of when the wedding would take place."

I wished I knew more to tell you, but I didn't. I touched your waist lightly, and you turned. "I meant what I told you. You must promise you will not accept my proposal out of obligation." I looked into your eyes.

Though you squinted, as if it pained you, you held my gaze. "Xavin… if it's as bad as you say…"

I shook my head. Your words drew sadness out in me, though I did not know why. "You must promise me, Karolina."

"I don't know if I can."

"We can find another way," I said, though I wasn't sure we could. You looked down at your lap, and I yearned to bring your eyes back to mine. I pulled my arm around and took your hand in both of mine. "Please, I cannot…"

My words failed me. Your face had come so close to mine. I could feel the heat of your skin. I could feel your breath. Madness flooded my mind; I wondered if you would kiss me.

You shifted in my lap. I swallowed and began again, searching for a reason that would conceal my weakness. "You said you would not live a lie," I reminded you quietly.

I saw stars gleam in your eyes. You understood me.

In acquiescence, you leaned away from me. You stared at our hands, tangled together by your knee. You turned yours upward and curled your fingers around mine. I hoped you would give me your promise, but instead you asked me, "Do you really love me, Xavin?"

"Yes," I said immediately. I could not imagine why you had asked. My ignorance left me terrified.

You lifted your eyes. Your gaze warmed my cool skin. "But you barely know me," you said. It sounded like a question.

If it was indeed a question, I knew no answer to it. When you only waited, watching me with expectant patience, I offered you a stupid smile.

Again, your expression grew softer. Your disbelief was overtaken by what looked like adoration. My heart began to push toward you again; I had never known happiness like I did then. Had you looked at me but once more in my life, I would have died satisfied.

You bit your lip. Your fingers twitched between mine. "Okay," you murmured. You searched my eyes: one and then the other. "I promise."

I fit my hands closer over yours. I wanted you to say it. "You promise?"

You nodded. You knew what I needed. "I promise, I'll only marry you if I… love you."

"Thank you," I said. I hated to ask things of you. "Perhaps you should rest," I suggested eventually, though I loved your weight against me and your hand beneath mine.

You looked around, seemingly aimless. You looked at my face and shoulders, and then at the stars ahead. To my surprise, you exhaled quietly and leaned up against my shoulder, like before. I felt your face against my neck. "In a little while," you told me as you slipped your fingers between mine.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to burst. I wanted to hold you forever.


Later, I asked if you were hungry. You thought about it, as if you weren't sure, and then you shook your head.

You fell asleep curled against me. Your colors grew mistier then, without your thoughts to give them shape. Swaths of color swirled together and poured out along your limbs. Your cheeks grew rosy with every breath, and went blue when you sighed. The stars scattered along your body grew softer, as if seen through fog. Your flesh cooled, nearer human temperature. Your hair drifted down across your shoulders and my arm. A few strands tickled my neck.

I freed my left hand to wrap around your back. With my touch to steady you, you settled against me. I felt your lips brush my neck. My eyes drifted shut. You overwhelmed me.

When I finally slept, I dreamt only of sunlight.


You climbed off me while I slept. I opened my drowsy eyes to the sound of your gasp. The cabin lights had turned off, but your movement lit them again. "Are you alright?" I asked. "Did I hurt you?"

You took deep breaths where you leaned against the console. I struggled to sit upright and caught sight of my green hands. I apologized instantly; I felt my nervous heartbeat in my throat; I shifted back to human form.

When I looked up, you had already calmed. Your left hand lay flat against your chest. "I'm sorry," you said. "I'm okay. I just… forgot where I was."

You had awakened to the nightmare of my face. Anguish consumed me.

You spoke before I could beg forgiveness. You apologized again, for waking me. I said your name, but I could think of no way to express what I felt.

You looked at the floor. You seemed to think you had upset me. "I'm gonna go lie down," you said quietly.

You had gone into the bedroom before I could think of a way to stop you.


"I'm sorry about last night," you said as soon as you walked into the cabin.

I had slept only in spurts, and decided an hour before to stop pretending I would sleep. I had trained for half an hour with calisthenics before returning to the pilot's seat and attending to our course. When you spoke, I was looking at the message screen, wondering if I should notify your friends of your continued safety.

When I stood and turned in surprise, you continued as if you had practiced. "I didn't freak out because you were there—or, I did, but you weren't, like, why I was freaked out to begin with, and… it wasn't fair to scare you. And I don't want you to think I'm, like, afraid of you, because you've actually been totally sweet to me, and I don't want you to think…"

I was surprised to recognize my own anxiety painted on your face. I had been wearing the male form I'd grown used to, but I switched while you shrugged and struggled for the rest of your speech.

"I don't want you to think I'm… you know. Like that."

You seemed as frustrated as you were remorseful. My hand twitched at my side; I wished I knew how to reassure you. "I don't think you're," I said. I stopped there.

You waited a moment longer. A smile broke; then a laugh. You looked at me with relief. You turned toward the bathroom to wash your face and teeth. As you went, you said quietly, "Maybe I'll have to marry you, after all."

Though it sounded like a joke, your words made me nervous. I looked restlessly from screen to zeroshield and wondered what you meant.

When you emerged, you offered no clues. You walked toward me, and I glanced at the message screen. "Would you like to send a message to your friends?"

Though already smiling, you seemed to brighten somewhat. You nodded eagerly and jogged to me, but you could not read the Skrull writing on the keys.

"I will write it, if you like," I said gently, though I stood aside while you looked at the screen. You turned to me, and it felt like you could see my heart through the flesh of my chest. I crossed my arms to protect it and said, "Do you trust me?"

You looked sheepishly at the screen. "I do trust you," you said. "I just… I'm not sure what to say."

I had prepared to proclaim my trustworthiness, but for this, I had no solution. My arms and shoulders sagged. "Oh," I said. I hesitated, puzzled. "How can I help?"

You looked at me with a quick smile. "Maybe you could get us some food while I think?" you asked, as if I would turn you down.

I obeyed without a second thought.


After we had sent your message, relaying your continued well-being and affection, you stole your plate and ran to the pullout chair. I huffed, annoyed to see you circumvent my chivalry, but you nodded insistently at the pilot seat beside me.

I took it, unhappily, and you grinned at your success. When you looked downward at your food, you startled slightly.

I rose to a crouch above the seat and asked if you were alright. "My hands are all blue," you said.

It was true. They had faded to a pale blue, the color of your sky. I agreed. You looked at me, confused, and I pointed at the zeroshield. "You've gone days without the yellow sun," I explained gently.

Your lips parted to shape an o. "We will pass one soon," I added. "Later tonight, or perhaps tomorrow." I dropped my gaze to my plate. "As you said, tonight will be your turn to use the chair."

You were quiet for a long moment, though I felt your hot stare against my temples. "Will I get sick if I don't get sun?" you asked when I had my mouth full.

I covered my lips and gulped the food down. "Not for a long time," I said, "but your light will begin to fade."

You nodded thoughtfully. I hoped you would not ask how I knew. While I distracted myself this way, you asked me a different question: "Can I change the way I look?"

It took me by surprise, and it must have shown plainly on my face when I looked at you. "Why?"

You shifted in your chair. "Just my skin," you explained, your voice laden with guilt. "It's so bright when I sleep, and now it's fading… Can I make myself look human, like my bracelet used to?"

Of this, I was uncertain. I admitted as much. "If it's possible, I have seen no Majesdanians choose to do so."

"But my parents got the idea from somewhere…"

I shrugged. "I apologize, my love. I do not know."

You showed me an expression I had seen before, like my words had caused you slight pain. I looked away, unable to apologize for what I had said, and we chewed in silence for a time. Then, you asked me about shapeshifting.

I had never needed to explain it before, and I found I lacked the words. "It comes naturally, like moving your fingers," I told you at first, but you pressed for more. I tried my best to describe the sensation. As I spoke, I must have shifted subconsciously; I saw your eyes leave my face and realized I had changed to male form.

I changed back and apologized. "I do not wish to make you uncomfortable," I insisted, when you dismissed my apologies. "I only need more time in this shape. I will learn it."

You turned shy, inexplicably. "You don't make me uncomfortable," you told me softly.

"Please, don't be afraid to tell me so. I know it is unfamiliar to you."

To your plate, you said, "A few days ago, you were unfamiliar, too." You glanced at me, and I glimpsed a smile teasing your lips. "You're not, like, horrible to get used to, or anything."

Was it a compliment? I wasn't sure. You offered no clues while you finished your food. The moment I cleaned my plate, you took it from my hand. You disposed of them and suggested we train. Who was I to deny you?

"If a human disguise is possible, perhaps the Majesdanians would teach you," I suggested. You had turned away to fold the chair up into the wall.

"Yeah." You seemed to like the idea. Before I could think of more to say, you turned and shot two thin energy beams in my direction. An invisible shield popped up before me, and the blasts ricocheted against the plate wall behind you.

You flinched, surprised and impressed. I had impressed you again, and I smiled. "That was so fast!" you said.

I threw a small fireball at you, and you sidestepped it. "Speed is important, Karolina," I said. I shrugged. "Without it, you will not live to strike again."

Your skin grew stormier, and you frowned. "You don't say," you said, your voice low and determined.

So, we began.


You tired first, and when you went to make a drink of water, I switched easily to my own drills. I began with stretches, which I had neglected during our sparring. You returned from the restroom and found me tying scaffold knots with my limbs.

You gasped and spilled water over the lip of the cup. "What is it?" I asked, though I began to untangle myself. It took great concentration to stretch without shapeshifting, and your presence made me easy to distract.

"I never saw you do that before," you said. A giggle escaped you as I got to my feet.

I felt confused again, and nervous. "What is it?" I asked again.

You shook your head, but your eyes swept up and down my body. "Nothing, I just… forgot you had, like, superpowers of flexibility."

"Of course." I balanced my weight evenly. You still smiled at me. I admitted, "I do not understand. This is funny?"

You shook your head once more and walked past me, to the pilot's chair. You swiveled it to face the area I had chosen for my exercise. "What else can you do?" you teased, mimicking the tone of a customer purchasing an automaton.

I bared my teeth and added a centimeter to my height, though I managed to retain female form. The practice was helping. "I can do plenty," I said, although your grin made your goading obvious.

You sipped your water and watched me. You looked thirsty despite your drink. "Show me."

I huffed. I pushed stones from the flesh of my arms to form stone gauntlets; I braced my feet and did martial drills, punches and slashes, and leapt to drive my fists together into the floor. The panels absorbed the force, but when I rose to my feet again, I was panting and sweating lightly and you were looking at me, as cool as the drink in your hand.

I frowned. I built an invisible shield over the surface of the water; as you tipped the cup, nothing entered your mouth, and you startled. You inspected it with mounting panic until your gaze grew sly and slid to me. You tipped the glass upside-down, until my shield supported the water.

"My shields repel warships," I told you. I wasn't sure what you meant to prove, and it made me nervous. "I can support a bit of water."

"I know," you said mildly. Yet you held the glass before you.

We stayed, a frozen tableau, until I saw your shoulder begin to shake with the effort of supporting your arm. I glanced at your eyes, and then you winked at me.

Surprise slackened my face. My shield fell away, and the last gulp of water hit the floor.

I looked at your eyes again. A satisfied smile lingered beneath them. "Concentration is important, Xavin," you reminded me. "Without it, you'll end up all wet."

You were watching me attentively, and I could sense your plan surrounding me like a trap. I looked around your edges for a clue, but your beauty distracted me; I was staring wistfully at your lips when you gasped.

Sunlight had crept past the edge of the zeroshield as our course turned us slightly. The yellow sun against your skin must have given you relief, though you had not seemed to suffer before. "The yellow sun," I said stupidly as you adjusted.

Your eyes opened slowly, aglow and yellow as well. "Don't change the subject," you scolded me, though your tone sounded as bright as your skin.

"What subject?" I asked. I realized my jaw had slackened as well. My mouth and throat were dry.

Your face grew sadder as you looked at me, but with that same strange adoration I had seen before. The effect was less powerful this time. I wondered why I was the object of this melancholy. "You really do want to marry me, don't you?" you asked me, as if it were a tragedy.

I could not bear your gaze. My eyes dangled and stopped at your shoulder, and the strap of your shirt. "I have said so before."

You paused, perhaps to think, perhaps to sigh, but I could not look at your face. "I mean, you're really in love with me," you said quietly.

I frowned. I shut my eyes. Again, I felt your stare, hot enough to burn the heart from my chest; my hands shook at my sides as I struggled to keep them there. I could keep no secrets from you. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable," I told you instead.

You sighed. I waited for something: a shout, a slap, or a scolding. Finally, when the absence of reaction was becoming torturous, you said, "I'm getting kind of tired. It's my turn out here tonight, to soak up some rays."

Though I still hated leaving you in the chair to sleep, I could not bear to force my presence upon you when you wished to be alone. I slipped through the panel door and into the blackness.


Your knock and gentle voice roused me from dreams of battles long past. I was panting; I wiped cool sweat from my brow. I brushed long bangs behind my ear and realized what form I had taken in sleep.

"Xavin?" you said again. I invited you inside and sat upright.

"What is it, beloved?" I asked you. My voice scratched my throat. I rubbed my eyes.

You lingered in the doorway with your arms wrapped around yourself. Your color looked better; brighter. "I wanted to apologize." You gave a shallow laugh. "I've been doing that a lot recently."

"You have done nothing wrong," I told you.

You seemed to hesitate. "I kissed Nico, right before I left," you said.

I wasn't sure why you told me this. I felt jealousy knit together inside me and turn rotten. Instead of the urge to punish her or fight for you, I felt only misery. "You have done nothing wrong," I said again, when it seemed you awaited my response.

"Not that," you said. You sighed. "I just… you caught me at kind of a weird time in my life."

This time, I merely waited. You touched your hair and face nervously. You told me you had never been in love before. You told me you had once believed you had found it in this girl, Nico. You told me you now believed you had been wrong.

I wanted to ask what made you think so. I wanted you to say I had shown you something new. I still wanted you to love me back.

I sat, and said nothing. Your nerves made you ramble. You began to tell me about Nico, and the things you had liked about her. Before it could drive me to anger, you second-guessed all you had said, and explained that you had misinterpreted all of it. You told me a long story about how you had met your friends. You counted Nico among their number, and explained what had brought you so close.

By then, you had come to sit beside me on the small bed. You turned to look at me, and you fell silent for a long moment. I began to worry that you expected me to comfort you somehow.

You breathed slowly and looked straight in my eyes. You raised your hand to caress my cheek. "Then I met you," you said.

I swallowed and found I did not trust myself to speak. I stared back at you, terrified.

You kissed me.