AN: I'm sorry this update took so long! What happened was, I didn't want to make the first chapter too short, so I ended up putting all of the scenes I had into the first chapter, and then I had to get more inspiration for some more scenes, so it took a little while. Also had to deal with final exams and fun school stuff.
Alright, so I am increasing the rating on this fic up to Teen, because I want to include some bad language. It might go higher still, I don't know yet. As always, I am always looking for suggestions! Please let me know what you think or if you want to see something happen! I am trying very hard to keep this from turning into the usual, OC-centric or insert story. I'm trying to keep the spotlight on Cochise as much as I can. I was hoping not to include too many other characters, but I think Tom Mason is just a natural part of this story. So expect to see him keep popping up. I have a few more ideas that I didn't include here because I want to keep the chapters close to the same length, so hopefully the next chapter won't take as long as this one.
Disclaimer: I do not own Falling Skies. This is just for my own amusement.
A few days later, Cochise was near the horse stables, waiting for the President and the rest of his entourage to arrive, when he turned and spotted Mara nearby, watching him with a small smile, which widened as he finally caught sight of her. Still seeing no sign of Professor Mason, he strolled over to her to speak for a few minutes. The weather was much more pleasant, although still overcast, than the day before, and hence she had discarded her jacket and stood leaning against a parked truck in only her sweatshirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. The woman's arms were crossed over her chest as she relaxed before her next shift. Due to the fact that she currently had a rifle slung over her shoulder by the strap, he assumed she was about to take over sentry duty. Helping defend Charleston was the only sort of fighting that she agreed to.
"Cochise," she greeted warmly with a smile as he stopped a few feet in front of her. "What are you up to? Riding with the President again?"
"Indeed," he said regally, clasping his hands behind his back and offering her a smile of his own. "Professor Mason has confided in me that there is some mistrust of the volm and has advised that I participate as much possible."
Mara nodded, her face showing her distaste. "Yeah, I've heard some of that talk," she agreed with a sigh. "You can't blame people though, after everything the skitters and espheni have done." She looked off to the side, working her jaw back and forth as she contemplated the situation. "I do wish they were a little more open towards you though, and I'm glad Tom Mason has been so keen on working with you. I know what the fishheads did, I was there. But I've also seen a lot of humans act just as terribly since this damn war started. You would think we would try to get on good terms with the more advanced, powerful alien beings," she ended with a hint of sarcasm. At least, Cochise thought it was sarcasm. He was still struggling with that particular human trait as well. Mara scrunched her face in anger and distaste as she stared away across the courtyard, then she sighed and let it go and looked back up at him. "Did you have to deal with this on the other planets you fought the espheni on?"
It was a very good question, and he paused for a moment in thought. "No," he conceded finally, and for the first time Mara caught a hint of resignation in his voice. She shifted her weight to her other foot and gave him a sympathetic look. "The other worlds I have landed on have ever heralded our arrival with relief and joy." He inclined his head towards her. "Your race is certainly an unusual one, Mara."
She gave a light chuckle, then became serious again. "Don't let the rumors get to you," she said firmly, reaching out to gently touch his upper arm, clearly trying to be supportive. "People are just scared. Sometimes people try to ignore something as much as possible, as if it will just leave them alone. They are worried about the future and trying to protect those they love. It will be alright."
Cochise cocked his head, brow furrowing in confusion. At least, that was the expression Mara assumed he would have made had he been human. "Yet Professor Mason and your military leadership are very keen on fighting the espheni."
Mara pulled her hand back and heaved another deep sigh. "Humans have lots of different occupations, Cochise. Some people feel called to protect us, and some like me take no pleasure in fighting. Sometimes when people are afraid they feel powerless and lash out, and words are their only weapons. Don't worry about them." She glanced over his shoulder and crossed her arms again, and Cochise turned to find Professor Mason walking towards them.
"We're ready to go now, Cochise," he said when he reached them, looking curiously first at the volm and then at the human woman he was talking to, smiling at them both. Cochise knew enough about human conversations by now to know it was his turn to speak.
"Professor Mason, have you met Mara Schrader?" he asked, gesturing to her with a hand, though a part of him appreciated the irony of him being the one to introduce two humans. The woman immediately pushed herself off the truck and straightened her sweatshirt.
"I don't believe I have, no," Tom said, stepping forward and holding out a hand. "Tom Mason."
"Mara Schrader," she repeated, meeting him halfway and shaking the offered hand. "Your reputation precedes you. And Cochise has only good things to say about you," she added, smiling first at Tom and then at the volm, who gave a nod of his head.
Tom looked at the alien as he dropped her hand. "I'm sorry to interrupt but we're ready to go now," he said, and then looked at Mara apologetically, but she spoke before he could.
"We were just talking," the woman filled in quickly. "Nothing important. And I'm due for sentry duty, so I should go anyway. See you later," she added strictly for Cochise, looking at him. She gave them each a smile again and waved as she stepped around the truck.
"Probably not until tomorrow," the volm corrected quickly, raising his voice to be sure she heard him. Mara paused and looked back over her shoulder at him, giving a nod to show she had heard. Then she disappeared.
Tom and Cochise turned to walk back to the stable side by side. "I didn't know you knew many people in Charleston," Tom started nonchalantly, curious but not wanting to pry.
"There are very few willing to speak to me," Cochise agreed. "But Mara is not among them. She is interested in volm culture, and she has gladly explained points of your own that you did not have time to. I enjoy talking with her; she has a different view on things than you and the generals do."
"That's good," Tom said, pausing beside the horses. "I'm glad you have someone else to talk to. I'm not the most shining example of humanity."
In the end, Cochise did not see Mara again for a full three days. He had certainly kept an eye out for her as he went about his business in Charleston, but he hadn't spotted her anywhere, and since she was assigned to different work projects and chores all the time—apparently humans got bored if they did one thing for too long—she was never in the same place. It was chance entirely that Cochise finally found her. He was returning from yet another horse back patrol with Professor Mason, who seemed to think that it was important for the citizens of Charleston to see him being active in the community, when he spotted Mara. She was holding half of a long ladder and helping a human male set it up leaning against one side of a building. By the time he made it back to the spot, having seen the Professor inside and had listened as he met with his military leaders, Mara was up on the ladder, balancing a large round bucket with one hand while leaning over to smear a liquid of a pleasant light blue color along the wall of the building. Her back was turned to him but she noticed him after only a moment.
"Hello, Cochise," the blonde woman said, setting both hands on the ladder so she could turn around and call down to him.
"Is this a...safe activity?" he asked uncertainly, cautiously stepping closer to the rather thin ladder she was standing on to inspect it. Her laugh seemed to rain down on his head.
"We tested the ladder out, don't worry. And I'm not leaning out too far. Hang on a moment, let me climb down." The last part was said a bit distractedly as she gathered the bucket and brush in one hand so she could hold on to the other as she worked her way down, stepping down one foot at a time. The volm watched, still a bit anxiously, quite prepared to break her fall with his own body, as the ladder moved under her weight, but a moment later Mara was on the ground beside him, beaming up at him.
"Just a moment," she said quietly, and turned around. "Hey! Phillip!" she shouted rather loudly. One house over, a man standing at the bottom of another ladder, watching another human male work as Mara had been, turned his head and looked at Mara. She gestured to Cochise with one hand. "I'm going to take a short break! I'll be right back!" The human male nodded and waved in a shooing motion with his hand. Mara set the paint bucket on the ground and balanced the brush on the edge, and turned back to Cochise.
"Sorry, I'm not looking my best at the moment," she said abruptly, looking down at herself, as if suddenly remembering her appearance when she bent over. She was wearing a rather large, baggy shirt over her sweatshirt. There were various smears the same shade of blue that she was putting on the building all over the shirt, and as she wiped a hand across her forehead her finger left another blue mark on her skin. He decided not to mention it. "So how are you today?" she asked as she led him around the corner of the building to a table with bottles of water set out on it. She selected one and pulled off the cap absentmindedly as she looked expectantly at him.
"I am perfectly fine as always, Mara," he answered, slightly amused that she always asked that question first. He looked back at the building. "What are you doing? I haven't seen you do this before." Over the months he had run into her while she was doing all sorts of different jobs, but this was a new one. Mara swallowed a mouthful of water before she answered.
"Oh, the construction crews have finished repairing the houses that suffered the least amount of damage in the invasion," she started to explain. "We're painting them to make them look nicer. Cover any remaining burn marks, things like that. We don't really have a lot of colors to choose from, though," she added with a chuckle, looking at another house painted the same color. "Just whatever we found at the abandoned stores. Paint wasn't high on the list of survival supplies when the espheni invaded so it was left sitting there. But I think it looks nice anyway," she said, leaning back to admire the house.
"'Houses'," Cochise repeated, casting about in his mind for where he had heard the word before. "Ah. These are the dwellings humans occupied before the espheni arrived."
"Well, we had lots of different places we could live, but yes, houses were the most popular, around here at least. And really, there's just not enough room for everyone underground anymore. We're still getting more refugees, a lot of families, and now we have enough of a defense force to provide protection, as well as your weaponry and detection systems," she said, inclining her body towards him, "so it's safe enough up here. One of these could probably house two families, so they can stay together." She unscrewed the water bottle and took another long drink.
"Do you like...painting?" Cochise asked when it was apparent she had nothing else to say. "Where is your family?" he added quickly, suddenly aware that he had never asked before. How had they talked for seven months without that subject coming up? Perhaps she had avoided it because it was painful, he mused. He almost regretted the question as a dark look passed over her face and her smile faded.
But she didn't react violently or otherwise ask him to leave her alone. "I volunteered for the painting," she began, voice more solemn, but clearly willing enough to speak. "When I was young, I helped my dad paint our house. It's a good memory, and I guess I wanted to try to relive it. Besides, painting is something I haven't done for awhile, so I figured it would be a nice change of pace. And it has been." She fidgeted with her water bottle for a moment before she continued. "I don't really know where any of my family is," she admitted, resigned. "My parents separated—divorced—when I was about twenty. It didn't really affect me, because I wasn't living at home anymore. My mother moved away, all the way across the country—this continent—to California with my younger sister. I have no idea what happened to them. My father stayed here in Charleston with me. I...haven't seen him since the invasion." Her tone was sad and he caught the glitter of tears in her eyes that he knew occurred when humans were unhappy. She turned her face away for a moment as she grappled with her feelings.
Trying to remember what to do in this situation, Cochise reached out and set a hand gently on her shoulder. Mara ducked her head and swallowed, and then looked up at him with a small smile again. "What was your occupation before the invasion?" he asked, hoping to move onto a better topic.
The woman relaxed as her mind moved onto a less depressing subject. "I was an editor for a magazine before the invasion. A writer, basically," she explained, setting her water bottle back on the table. "Sometimes I wrote about exciting things that were happening, but I had a team under me that did most of the writing and I just checked it for mistakes." She shrugged; what that old Mara had deemed "exciting" no longer appealed to her anymore. "It was a good job, it paid well enough. And I do like to write."
"Recording things is important," Cochise responded, pleased that for once he understood exactly what she was talking about. Some of the descriptions she'd given him before about jobs humans had done had been rather confusing. It wasn't the volm's fault though, his species was much farther along the technology track and had computers for almost anything. "I have never been to my home world, but there are data banks on the ship filled with pictures and knowledge. It reminds us what we are fighting for."
Mara didn't make a comment. In truth, she was curious about why the volm were fighting, but she didn't have too much time to talk right now. The majority of what she had written about was art or fashion, but she didn't even want to try to explain that to him. Especially since most of the people were now dead and it really didn't matter. Human culture was doubtlessly being completely overhauled by this alien invasion. How much information, saved on computers, could never be recovered? How many skills would be lost? How much history? Things would never be the same again. And Mara didn't really think that was a bad thing, in some regards.
"I should probably get back to work," she said after a moment of silence. Cochise simply nodded; he knew that Charleston, while being pleasant, still required everyone to do their share of labor. He did not want to cause trouble for Mara.
"Of course. I shall leave you to it," he said, voice rumbling, with a nod. He needed to check in with his work crews soon. But before he could step backwards and leave she caught his arm, and he looked back at her and blinked curiously.
"Sorry," Mara exclaimed, dropping his arm, as she remember that he did not like to be grabbed suddenly. She rushed ahead before he could say anything. "It's just been awhile since the last time you taught me about the stars, so I was hoping we could meet again if you have time one night?" she asked eagerly. He immediately gave her the best smile that he could.
"Of course, Mara," he said, and her face split into a smile. The volm had not bothered her grabbing his arm. Since he hadn't turned his back yet, he'd seen her move, and this was Mara. He was more comfortable with Mara touching him than others. "I am pleased to tell you all I can, and that you are interested. Tonight I have to meet with my crew and inspect their progress, however. Will you be able to come meet me tomorrow night, or are you assigned to sentry duty?"
"Not tomorrow night, no," Mara responded quickly, excited. She had always loved stargazing, since she was a little girl, and she had done her best to memorize the constellations. And she had always kept track of the most recent scientific discoveries through the internet. It was a hobby of hers. "That's fine! I'll meet you near the south sentry post after the sun goes down then?"
"That would be best," the volm agreed.
Alright, there's chapter 2! I actually cut a little bit off the end so that it was close to the same length as the first chapter, so I already have a little bit of chapter 3 written! Hopefully the next chapter won't take so long to update. As always, reviews are loved, and they help me write the next chapter faster.