Author's Notes: Well, everyone should notice that the "romance" genre has been added to this story now. So that really starts in this chapter. Also, out of this entire story, this chapter and the next one are where this fic mostly gets its' title from: Catharsis, an intense emotional experience leading to release (paraphrased by me from several dictionaries). Mara's is Cochise missing after the plane crash, and Cochise's is the events of episode 9 (season 3 spoilers follow). Last chapter, both Cochise and Mara needed a reality check, to realize the road they are heading down, and possible consequences. Now they have to decide if it's worth it.
And lastly, I introduce another OC of mine in this chapter, the indomitable Dr. Michelle Jefferies. I'm still deciding how much of a role she will play in this story or if she will just get her own, but I certainly have plans for her.
Warning!: Language. Dr. Jefferies can be a little vulgar. Please note the rating level has been changed to reflect this.
Disclaimer: I still don't own Falling Skies or Cochise or Tom Mason, but I do lay claim to Mara Schrader and Dr. Jefferies.
There were rumors flying around Charleston, rumors that President Mason had left the city. This was quite normal, gossip seemed to be the one thing an alien invasion couldn't disrupt. But this time the seriousness of the rumors was worrying. What on Earth could be so important to call the President away from the only safe place they knew about, the only twelve city blocks where he was the President? When she had heard the rumors, Mara had also found them odd, but aside from that she had paid them no mind at first. What Tom Mason did or did not do was not her concern. It wasn't until she hadn't seen Cochise for four days that she recalled the rumors in a different light: if Tom Mason had indeed left Charleston for some mission, had the volm gone with him?
But Mara was loath to ask anyone about it, or if they had seen him, with the memories of her recent attack still so vivid in her mind, giving her nightmares when she slept. She'd known from the first moment she'd smiled at the tall gray alien that she was one of the few people in Charleston who would care about his whereabouts. Humans just didn't trust aliens. She wasn't entirely sure if she would trust another volm besides Cochise, and the rebel skitters freaked her out. Still, part of her wanted to follow him around even more, not despite her attack but because of it. He could protect her, with his volm technology, she was sure of it. She had a fleeting thought that perhaps, since no one had seen them together for a few days, her attackers would think she had learned her lesson, but in reality Mara knew better, and she was left constantly looking over her shoulder. It left her feeling a bit abandoned, that Cochise was so suddenly gone.
Mara couldn't help but heave a sigh as she climbed the stairs out of the cafeteria and stepped out into the misty afternoon. She leaned against the wall for a moment, suddenly feeling drained. She hadn't seen the volm in days. Until he was gone, Mara hadn't realized how much she relied on his presence. She was lonely.
Usually, even if they did not speak, she would at least catch sight of Cochise from afar, normally with President Mason. Her immediate assumption was that he was avoiding her, because of what had happened in the dark. Only nothing had happened, except a thought that she hadn't acted on, and he had sought her out that day in the fields afterwards. Was he avoiding her because of her injuries? The purple bruises were mostly faded now, and Dr. Delgado said she would remove the stitches soon. Mara was being more careful now, avoiding being alone and not straying so far in the dark. Was Cochise keeping his distance because he blamed himself for what had happened to her? Well, if he thought that would solve anything, he was underestimating humans again. Now that Mara was being more observant, she noticed how a fair number of people looked at her: warily, with a glance behind her like they expected to see the volm trailing her. It seemed she was firmly tied to Cochise in everyone's mind but her own. Mara felt blind and stupid to not have noticed the attention she had attracted sooner.
But if he wasn't avoiding her, and was simply away with Tom, that was different. She was annoyed that he hadn't told her where he was going, but then again, he didn't answer to her, nor was she anyone significant in Charleston. Obviously it was important. She would just have to wait and see what happened. Still, not knowing if Cochise was safe or not worried her, gnawing at her whenever her thoughts wandered.
Yes, she had been wondering if she wanted to be seen with him anymore after being attacked. But she didn't much appreciate having the decision made for her, especially since now she was swinging the other way. During the day, she had no one else to talk to. One of the only other friends she had made was Dr. Michelle Jefferies, the resident veterinarian, who took care of all the animals in the city and was hence busy, and so Mara tried to avoid bothering her during work hours. She also knew Jeannie Weaver pretty well, but the girl was nearly twenty years younger than her and had lots of other friends. Without Cochise about, her life felt a bit empty. Mara hadn't realized how much she had depended on him. Talking to him was worth it, she decided. It gave her something interesting to think about, something to look forward to everyday, and without that she didn't have much. Maybe avoiding him would be safer, but she was terribly unhappy, and being attacked had shown her that her sense of security was a farce anyway. Mara wanted to talk to Cochise, and at this time, the people she wanted to talk to were few and far between. She was determined not to let her attackers scare her away from one of the only good things in life right now. The fact that she hadn't been attacked again was bolstering her confidence. Besides, she was sure Cochise could figure out a way to keep her safe.
Which inevitably led to her next line of thought, the one that had first occurred to her in the dark while stargazing: actually kissing him, and not in any sort of platonic way. Alright, Mara had admitted to herself that she was fond of the volm, alien or not. She might as well dive in all the way. There was no one else in Charleston Mara liked better than Cochise. She already saw him as a friend, and when she had been leaning on him, he had felt strong and masculine, all muscle. Sure, his face was a bit odd, with those large, wide set eyes that let him see better than her in dark, but she wouldn't know if he was a good kisser or not until she tried. He was polite, and if she found him attractive, why did it matter if no one else did? Except that she knew nothing about how volm felt about that, either, or what he thought about her looks. It was not a subject they had spoken of, save in reference to her past divorce. All this worry and thought could end up being for nothing, and now that she had reached a decision, she very much wanted to act on it. Waiting around like this was killing her. She wouldn't know until she could ask him.
"Come on, you big alien idiot," Mara muttered as she found herself near the riverbank, where her feet had inevitably carried her. The blonde woman stared across the river at the volm ship, pulling up her hood when the mist turned to rain. "Come back here so I can talk to you. Dammit Cochise! Where are you?"
The plane was flying low, affording a clear view of the world below. Now that the sun had risen and there was enough light to see by, the landscape was rather interesting. Of course, with the volm technology, Cochise had seen it from the air before, but each planet was different and he liked seeing things with his own eyes and drawing comparisons. Much of what they flew over, wide swathes of forest and brush between the blackened remains of residences—houses, he remembered Mara telling him—appeared untouched by the alien invasion. It was heartening, to see such life flourishing, a place where humans could potentially find resources for rebuilding. He wasn't a fool, however, he knew the espheni had taken over every inch they could of this planet. Even so far away from cities as this wilderness was, espheni forces could be all over this territory within an hour. But it stirred hope in him, the thought that there were still untouched places, possibly safe places, and somehow the fact that it was Mara's planet made that little victory that much sweeter.
The twin engines were loud in his ears, drowning out any other sound or hope of conversation, and that left nothing to do but look out the window. He wondered how the humans could stand it, with their more sensitive ears. He seat was also dreadfully uncomfortable. Not that Cochise was one who needed comfort; he was quite used to surviving without any luxuries. But the cabin and seats had certainly not been designed with someone of his height and stature in mind, much less with a volm's bulkier muscles, and the long flight was beginning to make him stiff and edgy. Still, the plane was flying, and rather smoothly, despite his earlier qualms. He would admit, while taking off, he had been dreadfully nervous, not really trusting the human technology. Cochise could just imagine how Mara would have laughed to see him clutching at the armrests, had she been there. They'd never talked about planes before, but she'd ridden in cars so he assumed planes had been common once too and she was probably used to them.
For him, the realization that they were flying without any sort of inertial dampeners had been very disorienting and concerning at first, but humans had never developed that technology even for their few spacecraft. The humans with him didn't seem to notice the bumps and jolts from turbulence the plane passed through either, so it was obviously normal. Yet another thing he simply had to adjust to. The volm shifted in his seat yet again and stared down out the window. He would have engaged Tom in conversation to pass the time, but even if he could have heard anything, the man was up front, in the cockpit with their pilot. The other two humans traveling with them were likewise not nearby. The man with the long hair slouched sideways in the back was frankly outright glaring at him, and the female lieutenant had followed Tom and was sitting closer to the front. He wished Mara was here, to tell him about what he was seeing, but she wasn't. Cochise hadn't talked to her in four days, not since seeing the injuries she had suffered. He hoped she was alright, but he had to remember his promise to not speak to her anymore.
That was harder than he had expected, though. Cochise knew he needed to stop, to put distance between them and protect both of them, but he enjoyed her presence. She was one of the only humans who made him feel welcomed, and Mara was good at answering his questions. And he worried about her, wondered if she was healing, or if something worse had befallen her. Sitting bored on a plane, his mind had nothing to do but wander through what-if scenarios. The alien hoped that after no one saw them together they would leave her in peace. It was strange to him, that members of the same species, living and working together, would so callously attack one of their own. Cochise had known that the humans weren't typical to the species they had liberated before, considering how often their behavior had surprised him in the past, but that seemed above and beyond anything he could have ever expected. Those thoughts made him nervous, however. His instincts told him that his distance from Mara would be enough to keep her safe, but they were instincts based on facts that might not apply to this situation. He worried that the memories of humans were longer than that. If so, his leaving her alone was not a wise decision if he valued her safety—and Cochise found that her safety was, in fact, very important to him.
This did not sit well with him, because then he had left her exposed. The thought of more harm coming to the blonde woman made him more fiercely protective than he ever thought he would feel. The volm had a very important mission to accomplish here, and limited time to do it, and Cochise did not want to make promises to Mara that he could not keep, no matter how much he wanted to. At first, talking with her had been a welcome distraction, a way to learn about the humans. But now, he knew that their relationship had gone on for too long, from the way thoughts of her came to him unbidden. His second in command had gently expressed concern about the amount of time he was spending with her, not that he had neglected his work at all. The problem was he was attached to Mara. The thought of no longer speaking to her made him unhappy, a feeling he was unused to.
The volm had known from the beginning that he would not have forever to talk to Mara, that his commanders could send word for them to pack up and leave at any time, and he would never see her again. It had happened on other worlds before, and imagining seeing the same look of hurt and betrayal on her face that he had seen on the faces of too many others he had befriended cut him deeper than the others had. It had always bothered Cochise, having to leave some species to their fate when the volm arrived too late to help; when the losses the volm risked would be too high. He had known all this before, and yet he had been unable to resist seeing her. Mara was so open with him, so trusting and expressive and lighthearted that it encouraged him. It gave him something to fight for again, something that Cochise hadn't felt in a very long time and hadn't even realized was missing until he felt it again. He wasn't certain he could go back to the way things had been before Mara anymore. That was why he had avoided these thoughts over the past few months. Sure, her face was different than his, with thinner skin that did not protect her from the weather as well, and small eyes that sometimes made her face looked pinched to him. But whenever she kissed his cheek Cochise found her lips soft and warm, and though the volm had never admitted it before, he wanted to explore her skin with his fingers. He had only taken her hand once or twice before. It was an interesting texture, but he expected he would enjoy it. He was logical, and ignoring the fact that he had come to care for Mara more than was wise would not be productive. The humans had a saying that ignorance was bliss, and he found it the most despicable lie he had ever heard.
The news that Tom Mason and John Pope had returned to Charleston, almost in one piece, spread like wildfire through the city, mostly because they stumbled right to a sentry post and had to be carried to the infirmary on stretchers. Mara knew about it in minutes. However, the report was very clear: it was only Mason and Pope who had returned. Cochise was no where in sight. That caused Mara's worries to renew. Was the volm, in fact, avoiding her? Or worse, he had before only been coming to the city all these months to see Tom, and hence not left his ship while Tom was gone because Cochise didn't actually want to talk to her? Did he just see her as an alien pet, an interesting specimen? Their conversations had led her to believe he saw humans rather as equals, but if he had only been dealing with Tom because he had to, where did that leave her? The questions rolled around in her mind until her stomach was tied in just as many knots.
No, Mara told herself firmly, Cochise had sought her out several times, started the conversations himself, asked questions, displayed interest in her. Or was he just using her to gather information, the more easily to manipulate them? She would have to ask Tom. Everything hinged on asking Tom.
Except Professor Mason had been unconscious for the three days since his return. She went, timidly, to the infirmary to visit him the first day after he returned, only to discover that unfortunate fact. And John Pope, who was studiously guarding the Professor for some reason, was definitely on Mara's do-not-mess-with list. So she had been forced to leave it be and slipped out of the infirmary before anyone could notice her.
Finally, Mason was awake, and talking. And dead set on finding the missing Dr. Glass. But Mara was getting desperate. The moment she heard his voice in the halls, she abandoned her meal in the cafeteria, and followed him as he began hurrying about.
"Professor Mason? Tom, wait, please," the blonde woman called as she careened past some soldiers walking the opposite way down the hallway. For a man with a broken ankle, he was walking fast. Mason heard her and turned around, leaning on the cane given to him for his broken ankle. She hurried up to him.
"Mara," he greeted with a tight smile, which she returned, glad he had remembered her name. "I'm sorry, can this wait? I'm trying to find Anne and my daughter."
"I know, and I'm sorry, but I have to know," Mara rushed ahead, refusing to be thwarted now. "Did Cochise leave with you?"
At her question, his face took on a more serious expression, as if seeing her for the first time. He stared at her, hard. "Yes," he finally said, and she relaxed just slightly. He pulled her aside with his free hand and she felt her nerves rising again as he bit his lip, gathering his words. "We...went and met with another group of people," the Professor explained, in a tone that suggested he was not telling her all the truth, but he was telling her something, and that was what mattered. "Cochise and I...we got separated. The espheni found our secret meeting place. And...his plane crashed, Mara. Of course, mine did too and I'm still alive, but we couldn't get back to the wreckage. There were too many skitters."
She was holding her breath, staring at him in disbelief, not even really caring to ask when and where they had possibly found working planes. At her pinched expression, Tom's face softened and he laid a hand on her arm. "Mara, I want to believe that he's fine, that he just hasn't made it back yet. We were lucky and found a truck. On foot it would take much longer. But...I don't think he is, Mara. The other volm are looking, and if they can't find him, no one can." The woman slumped against the wall, breathless. His hand squeezed her shoulder. "I'm sorry."
She squeezed his bicep in return, numb. "Thank you," was the only thing she could think to say. Mara stayed there, staring at the floor, as he left. She had just figured out that maybe she wanted to spend some more time with Cochise, and now he was gone. The world was terribly cruel. Actually, Mara was surprised at just how sad the thought of the tall volm being gone made her. After a moment, she pushed off the wall and let her feet carry her out to the horse stables, where Michelle definitely was.
The older, brown-haired woman was in the swept dirt aisle, looking over a chart hanging on the wall as she ate from a bowl containing the spaghetti the kitchen was serving today. Typical Michelle, she would find a way to get food delivered to her so that she didn't have to leave her job, like the President did. The kitchen rules were stern about letting their prized few dishes leave the complex, but it somehow didn't surprise Mara that the veterinarian had managed it.
Michelle glanced up as Mara neared, and swallowed before talking, lips curving into a smile. "Hey, Mara. How's it going?"
The blonde opened her mouth to reply, but instead found herself bursting into tears at the kind face. It was only natural; since being attacked she hadn't been sleeping well, and she had been stressed the last few days since Mason returned without Cochise and she'd been waiting for news. Concerned, the other woman immediately ushered her friend into her office and pulled the door shut behind them. Mara was reluctant to tell Michelle anything about her recent thoughts, but now that Michelle was aware that something was wrong, she wasn't about to let Mara leave without getting to the bottom of it.
The older woman was shorter than her by three inches, but that always surprised Mara because the other woman was just so intimidating. Mara knew that she had unnerved even Cochise, back when the volm had first arrived at Charleston. She'd apparently refused to risk danger to one of her beloved horses and had insisted on teaching him to ride before letting him loose with Tom, including grabbing his foot and calf and manhandling them into the correct position. She had shown up in Charleston one day and simply assumed command of everything related to animal husbandry. Most people had deferred to her due to her expertise: at six years older than Mara, she had been a veterinarian for a substantial amount of time, and her brown hair was developing licks of silver already, though how much of that was stress from the alien invasion was difficult to tell. And she'd proved to be knowledgeable. People either loved or hated Michelle. She could be very difficult to get along with sometimes, since she believed she was always right, but Mara definitely liked her, because she was straight forward and practical and didn't hide her true feelings. They had first shared a room when Michelle had arrived in the city. She'd admitted before to Mara that having her normal routine with animals to care for again was the best thing to keep her going. Without it, she dwelt on her dead family too much. Unlike Mara, who had no idea where hers was, Michelle had watched them die one by one over the past three years.
The brunette listened attentively while Mara told her everything in between sobbing, the thoughts that had been haunting her for days bubbling out, despite her blushing as she had admitted she was attracted to the volm physically. The other woman's sharp eyes were almost too piercing, and made Mara squirm a bit. The vet glared at anyone daring to open her office door to ask her a question until they left, refusing to abandon Mara until she was certain she would be alright, and the blonde was touched by the gesture.
"He is pretty damn tall, isn't he?" the vet surprised her by saying at the end. The brunette rolled her eyes at Mara's dumbfounded expression. "Shit, girl, yes, I noticed too," Michelle breathed in an exasperated tone. "Does that make it less weird for you? It's not like he's one of those fucking eight-legged spiders. Cochise is pretty human." She hugged Mara again and sighed. "Darling, the world's been a bitch lately. Everyone is entitled to whatever bit of happiness they can get their hands on. If being with an alien makes you happy, who the hell is anybody to tell you not to? That's my opinion."
"But now he's gone," Mara said in a small voice, still a bit surprised at being so readily accepted.
Michelle snorted and raised an index finger. "For all that he is polite, that damn alien knows how to take care of himself. And he has the muscles to do so, I'm sure. I've felt those calves of his," she snickered, which made Mara giggle. A thoughtful expression crossed Michelle's face. "I wonder...he's got other volm in that damn ship of his, doesn't he? Surely some of them are single?" She began laughing uproariously at the shocked expression on Mara's face, and after a moment, The blonde joined in. She wasn't sure how serious about that Michelle was, but Mara felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, so she was eternally grateful to her friend.
AN: I would really appreciate any feedback on this chapter. I found writing from Cochise's point of view difficult. I tried to keep him in character but in truth we don't know too much about him as a person so if you could tell me how I did that would be great. Also, lucky you, it's a longer chapter! It was that or make it much shorter, so enjoy your present. And don't hate Michelle too much, please. She's just too much fun to write to leave out.