She expected to see Norquay when she showed up in the kitchen, alright she hoped to see him, but he wasn’t there. Instead, she found an older male there.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“You must be Red,” he held his hand out for a greeting. “I’m Teak.”

“Nice to meet you. I didn’t know that Norquay lived with someone else.” She would have known if she hadn’t hidden in her room like a child for a year. What? No, stop that. There is no being mean or abusing herself. She did what she needed to do to be able to function. There is nothing wrong with that.

“I am glad you are feeling better. Breakfast?”

She waited for the sneer or the snicker to come. Where was the polite cough covering up the smile?

“Yes, please.” How long had she been standing there waiting for the male put down?

“Red,” Norquay walked into the kitchen with a smile on his lips and his eyes lit up reminding her of the stars at night. “I hope Teak hasn’t been telling you stories of when I first started working on the ship.”

“No, I was telling her about when you were a snot nose kid needing someone to take you in hand and love you.”

Teak winked at her, Norquay got a panicked look. She laughed. It was her first real laugh, and it came from her belly. Why hadn’t she come out of the room sooner?

“Sit,” Teak gestured to Norquay I’m making breakfast.

“Are you feeling better?” Norquay sat at the island next to her. He had that look when you don’t know what to say.

Was she feeling better? She forced herself out of the room and was talking and laughing. Somehow that look on Norquay’s face helped to make her better. He wasn’t smug, and he knew that nothing he did was going to make it better so she didn’t have to pretend that if he smiled right her world would be okay.

“I… it’s there crouched in the shadows like a monster waiting for the dark to pounce and devour me. I know it’s there, so I have the defense of knowing on my side. I think because I know it’s there, because I don’t deny it, I can come out of the room and sit here. Right now, that’s as good as it gets.”

“Right now, that’s all you need. Tomorrow or even an hour away is too far away to worry about. Take this moment and get yourself acquainted with it. The next moment will take care of itself.”

She looked at Norquay the male she had a silent crush on and knew that he understood. She didn’t know what he went through, but it was there in his eyes. A glance at Teak showed his pride in Norquay.

“I hope I’m not being rude. Are you father and son?”

“I wish,” Teak told her. “I consider him the child of my heart.”

“That sounds all kind of sweet until he starts bossing me around like I’m eight.” His grin grew bigger as Teak laughed and placed plates in front of them.

She ate in silence listening to Teak and Norquay banter. When she was done, she pushed the plate back.

“I need to find a new job, probably clear out of here.”

“Why?”

She stared at Norquay wondering about his sharp tone. “The government doesn’t take kindly to its workers going MIA for a year.”

“Then it’s a good thing that you were deep undercover for us.” Jade walked in looking regal in the pantsuit she was wearing. “I just came back from talking to the general. I swear I want to strangle that man most days. I’m glad you’re back you can start running interference again. I’ll brief you on what you were doing for the past year.”

Red’s mouth dropped open.

“Look, I get to make some changes to the government I grew up with. I am learning not all changes are good, but in the porcoyan government we do not throw our people under the bus.”

“My queen,” Teak executed the perfect bow.

Was she supposed to curtsey? Red got up and realized her body wasn’t going to do that.

“That’s what happens when you spend a year doing nothing. Go ahead make my day.” Jade’s eyes twinkled in amusement, but Red caught the chastisement behind the words. She bowed her head to the queen. No matter what it took she was never going to handle everything on her own again.

“Thank you for insisting I talk to someone.”

“Your welcome. I was thinking of inviting her to come up.”

Reds shrink was older and as she learned through the hours they talked, alone. She could see her with someone like Teak or maybe one of the older males, that’s if she liked alien males. Hell, Red did. Wasn’t there some unwritten rule if you were abused you abstained from sex for the rest of your life? Eff that, she still didn’t know if the stuff could feel good. One day… Yeah, one day was all she had.

“Red, let’s go get you briefed. The general has made it clear that if he doesn’t see you in a week or sooner, he will, and I quote raze this compound to the ground looking for Juliette his favorite liaison.”

“Did he have to look at a notecard to remember my name?”

“Honestly, I think it was a teleprompter.”

She threw a look over her shoulder and Norquay gave her a look that promised they would talk. That was more than she ever got from the male before this whole thing happened.

 

“What are you going to do about that young lady?” Teak asked when the queen and Red were gone.

“Allow her to live her young life.”

“Because you’re that old?”

“Next to her yes.”

“We are old next to any of them. Show me the oldest person on this planet and they are but a child compared to us.”

“After what happened to her, she won’t want me.”

“You should allow her to make that decision and you don’t know what happened to her.”

He didn’t know what happened as far as her describing it, but he knew and understood she experienced pain that couldn’t be shaken off.

“Remember we all process pain differently. If you care about her even as a friend, you won’t make decisions for her. Part of getting over traumatic events is taking your life back for yourself. That’s hard to do when everyone is treating you like a broken child.” Teak left him sitting in the kitchen.

Why did that male always have to make sense? Teak was far past his zenith. The knowledge he accumulated over his lifetime was massive, but it was the caring and the understanding that made him irreplaceable.

The feminine laughter on the wind caught his attention when he went outside. Over the past year, two of Jade and Em’s friends had come to visit and found abraza’s of their own.

“Where are you on your way too?” Jaydel walked up on Norquay.

“I thought I’d take a walk to our eastern border.”

“I hear that Red came out of her self-imposed exile.”

“She’s with the queen.”

“Em, is with them. I can’t imagine what Red went through, but I watched what my abraza went through. There are nights when Em wakes up shaking or when she cries out in her sleep. She killed him, but I wish he could die twice.” Jaydel’s hands shook before he balled them.

“My secret shame. I sat outside Red’s door. I sit there every night, so she won’t have to be alone. In the beginning, she would cry, and I didn’t want her to be on her own.”

“It’s not easy loving these women.” Jaydel walked with him in silence until they reached the east border a couple of hours later. “You realize you’re a historian and not a soldier.”

“I know, but don’t tell the male I’ve killed. Did you know that historically our borders were protected?”

“Isn’t that something parents told us to get us to sleep at night?” Jaydel looked at him with amusement.

“Yes. Have you ever wondered how much of myth is rooted in truth?”

“I’ve been too busy fighting to survive.”

“We seem to have that in common with humans and several other races. We’re on a strange planet, habitable, but strange. The Hydal are trying to eradicate us from history along with the humans. We can keep looking for the conventional, but it will only go so far.”

Jaydel stopped rubbing his hand along his jean-clad legs, thinking over what Norquay said. “So, you think that we should examine myth?”

“No, I think I should put my historian background to work. First question. How were the Hydal able to destroy our planet? Was that their first attempt? What was the reason no one knew the coordinates to our jump gate and how did we keep it a secret for centuries?”

“Aren’t those questions best asked when we’re free of the threat?”

Norquay prowled the border as he watched Jaydel’s face. Every time an inconsistency registered; he could see it on the male’s face.

“How long have you been wrestling with these thoughts?” Jaydel asked, the answers could devastate them all.

“Ever since I saw our planet get torn apart. We’ve been running from one place to the other trying to escape the nightmare attached to our heels. When we settled here, I had more time to think but dedicated a lot of that time to our queen and our third form. When Red…” He took a minute to breathe through the anger that attacked him when he didn’t shield against it. “I had more time to think. I also wondered how she ended up outside our border, this border.” He was standing in the same place where he found Red’s hover. That had never made sense. The hover was programmed to return home, but this wasn’t home for it. Why here?

“It was just a coincidence it brought her here.”

“That’s what everyone is saying. What luck. Luck a word we didn’t know before we came to this planet.” Norquay walked the border. He had done it when he couldn’t sleep, but he knew Red was asleep and wouldn’t need him. There was no way his sitting outside her door made her feel safe, but he couldn’t leave when she was up and pacing the floor or crying and screaming. Then she was cursing or asking God why. Yeah, he needed to be there even if there was the other side of a locked door.

“You’re looking for clues where none exists.”

“Have you noticed that our queen seems to know things she shouldn’t? She’s just a baby as far as we’re concerned and yet I swear she knows more at times than we do. What about Lyrek? When he was in charge, there was no doubt that he was a powerful male with immeasurable knowledge. Now that he’s king things are different. I walked past him the other day, it was like power exuded from him.” Norquay looked at Jaydel, but his eyes were distant.

“I just want things to be normal again,” Jaydel told him.

“What’s normal, when was the last time things were normal?”

“The last time we were on our world?” He couldn’t say it was definitely then. It was easy to look back with fondness and love ignoring everything that wasn’t right.

“I’ll take that, then I’ll remind you that Lyrek was being retired because his zenith was approaching, and they said he couldn’t handle it. Yet, he managed to handle it in the middle of the greatest crisis we’ve ever known.  Duqa was sent to our ship by his father because of what he may know. His father who had the same gift and must have used it countless times with the royals was ignored. We’ve been reacting, that makes sense. Now maybe it’s time to think and act. One day when the Hydal have been taken care of we will want our own planet. Before that we have to figure out how to save ourselves and the humans.”

“I remember when you first came to the crew. Good riddance was the thought going around in the circles that knew you. He’ll be dead in a year was the sentiment. I even heard the royals laugh about you once. I was ready to write you off, but not Lyrek. Then Teak happened to you. I was always in awe of you a fighter who wasn’t a fighter. There was one thing I heard that I never understood before now. It came from your mom before she died.”

“She was put to death.”

Jaydel bowed his head in acknowledgment. “She said softly ‘may the ancient one help you all, if my son ever gets his hands on a book.’ Those were her last words.”

“My mom understood what I am only just realizing.”

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