Someone was shaking him, and he didn’t want to wake up. At first he couldn’t remember why he didn’t want to wake up, but the feeling was really, really strong and he held on to unconsciousness as hard and as long as he could.
“Dee, wake up. I know you can hear me. Wake up… pleasse.”
It was the hiss that did it. The hiss made him think of Sys, and, although his lips began to curve into a smile, the memory of what had happened in the last minutes before he passed out slammed into him.
“Sys,” he cried, as if the word hurt him, and sat bolt upright, very nearly smacking heads with the startled boy who leaned over him.
“Dee… oh Dee, you’re alright. I’ve been sso sscared.” Luke threw himself into his arms and he tightened them around him.
“It’s alright, Luke. I’m alright. Everything’s going to be alright.”
While he hugged the trembling boy, he looked around and was very surprised to find that he was indoors. The room was large and bright, but bare, with just a bed, a chest and a rail for hanging clothes on. There were no clothes on the rail. Neither were there any clothes on Dee.
“Where are we?” he asked Luke. Luke sat up, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. He sniffed.
“I don’t know,” he said, his lip trembling. Dee’s heart contracted. He looked just like his father and he was, after all, still only a child. Automatically he reached for him and pulled him back into his arms, hugging him tightly. Luke took a deep breath. He was shaking but, when he spoke, it was calmly.
“It wass all crazzy. When I heard the bang I jumped back over the gate and… and fathther wasss… I… I had my arrowss and I sshot ththe man you were fighting, and another one, but there were sso many. And then one shshot you, but I got him for you,” he said proudly, then sniffed again.
“And ththen Jo’el came. I heard him calling me, and ththere was a bright light and lotss of people. Ssomeone came and made me go with ththem. I didn’t want to. I wanted to sstay with you and fathther but… Ththere wass… they came ththrough a portal and the man pulled me ththrough it. The next ththing I knew, I wass here. It’ss a big housse, with lotss of roomss. I haven’t explored. I’ve tried but… It’ss not that they won’t let me but… I didn’t want to leave you, or fathther, jusst in casse ssomething happened. I’ve been sso sscared.”
Throwing his arms around Dee’s neck, Luke buried his head in his shoulder and started to cry. Gently Dee rocked him, his mind numb, unable to process and make sense of everything that had happened. There was something nagging in the back of his mind, but most of him was ignoring it, telling him that being numb was good. Being numb stopped him feeling the pain.
The problem was, that he couldn’t ignore it. He couldn’t hold on to the numbness, because all he could hear was the crack of the gun and all he could see were those beautiful golden eyes closing - over and over and…
“Luke?” Dee pushed Luke away, probably a little too hard, but he wasn’t thinking clearly. “You said you didn’t want to leave me – or Sys – Is he here? Is he…? Is he…?”
“Yess. He’ss not awake yet. They ssaid he was hurt worsse than you. But he’ss going to be okay.”
“He’s not dead?”
Luke shook his head. “No. They weren’t real gunss. I mean… ththey were real but… they didn’t shoot bulletss. It was ssome kind of… Oh, I don’t undersstand. But ththey don’t kill you, anyway; they jusst knock you out. Fathther was hurt more becausse he banged hiss head when he fell. But ththe doctor ssaid he’ss going to be fine. I’m not ssuppossed to bother him… or you… but what did they expect? I’m only a kid.”
Dee grinned and pulled Luke into another, quick, bright, hug. “You may be a kid, but you’re a wonderful one. I’m so proud of you Luke. Your father’s going to be, too.”
“He iss going to be okay issn’t he Dee? Only… well … I knew you would be alright becausse you’re - well, you. But… but fathther… I’m sscared.”
“Your father is tougher than he looks, Luke, a lot tougher. If the doctor said he’s going to be okay then you can be absolutely sure that he will be. I’ve never met anyone as strong as he is.”
“Shall we go see him?”
“Both of us. You can show me the way.”
Eagerly, Luke jumped up and grabbed Dee by the hand, pulling him off the bed. Dee was expecting to feel faint or sore, but he actually felt surprisingly good, as he stood up and dug his heels in, to stop Luke dragging him from the room naked.
“Woah, there fella. I’ve no idea where we are and I’m damned sure that I’m not going to be wandering around stark ass naked. I’m not stepping through that door until I have something covering my bits.”
“How about a pillow casse? Oopss no, I meant a ssock.”
The fact that Luke was bouncing back, and regaining his sense of humour, did more to calm and reassure Dee than anything else. He gently cuffed him across the head and strode across the room, to lift the lid of the chest. Fortunately, his clothes were there, neatly folded, along with the unopened backpack.
Quickly pulling on jeans, shirt and shoes, Dee hurried out of the room, following Luke.
Outside the door was a hall. It was high ceilinged and painted pale green. It could have been a hall in any public building, anywhere. Along the hall, were doors, and Luke led him to the last one, before a set of plain steps led downward.
The room was very much like the one Dee had woken up in, except that this one was so much better and so much brighter… because it had Sys in it.
Instantly, the world faded; nothing else existed except Dee and the beautiful man he’d thought he’d lost. Sys seemed to be sleeping peacefully, his eyes gently closed, a slight smile on his lips and his breathing deep and even. He was so beautiful; more beautiful than ever.
“He’ss been assleep for agess,” Luke whispered. “Sso were you. We’ve been here two dayss. I wass afraid neither of you would wake up.”
Dee gave his son a one handed hug and kissed his hair. “It’s okay now, sweet boy. We’re here with you now. Everything’s going to be fine. Why don’t you go find Jo’el, or someone who can tell me what the hell’s going on? Tell him where I am and that I want to talk to someone. Maybe you can get the doctor to come up and give us both a once-over.”
“Okay,” Luke whispered, his eyes on his father. Then, he seemed to draw himself up and, with a grim expression on his face to cover the trembling of his lips, he nodded. “I’ll get it ssorted. You can count on me.”
“I know we can count on you, little person. If it hadn’t been for you, we’d have been sitting ducks at the cabin when the hunters came, and who knows where we’d have been right now. You saved us, and I couldn’t be prouder of you.”
The grim look disappeared, and Luke grinned broadly, then slipped from the room, leaving Dee alone with his love.
“Oh, Sys,” he breathed. “I thought I’d lost you. I don’t want to live in a world without you. It would be no life at all for me.” He stroked Sys’ hair, avoiding the stiff, white, bandage around his temples, and took the limp, lifeless hand in his.
“I love you so much, Sys. Wake up now. It’s time for you to come back to me. I really can’t handle all of this without you. And Luke… he’s been so brave, but he’s only a little boy and he’s frightened for you. It’s time to come back to both of us, now.”
Dee bent over Sys, and tenderly kissed his lips. The lips were warm and soft under his and, after a moment, they twitched and parted for him. “Sys?”
Pulling back, he looked down into Sys’ face as his eyelids fluttered, and then rose over dazed eyes.
“Dee? What…? Where…?”
“Ssh, it’s okay. We’re safe.”
“Ssafe.” Suddenly the vague, dreamy expression in Sys’ eyes disappeared, and he sat bolt upright. “Luke.”
With a groan, Sys’s hand fluttered to his head, as he fell back. He looked rather green.
“Are you okay? Are you going to throw up?”
“No. I… I mean… I’m fine. I’m not going to ththrow up. What happened to Luke? Iss Luke alright?”
“Luke’s fine. He was here a moment ago. He went to find someone who can tell us what’s going on.”
“Good. I guesss Jo’el came to the rescue, then.”
“I guess so. After you went down, I freaked out and went a little wild.”
“A little wild?”
“I think I killed one of them and I’m pretty sure I took down another one before they got me. Luke was fantastic. He shot at least two, that I saw.”
“Iss he alright?”
“Relax, Sys, he’s fine.”
“I know, I know… I jussst…”
Dee leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. Sys closed his eyes and sighed, breathing in his smell. “How long have we been here?”
“I’ve no idea. They got me too. I only just woke up myself.”
Sys’ eyes were instantly soft and concerned. He raised a hand to stroke Dee’s face. “Are you alright?” he breathed.
“I’m fine. I didn’t do a stupid thing, like hitting my head on the way down.”
“Oh,” Sis touched the bandage and winced. “Yess. Hurtss.”
“You deserve it for worrying me so much.” Dee said, smiling tenderly into the beautifully familiar face, which was smiling back at him.
“I’m ssorry for worrying you. I didn’t mean to. I wish I’d been ththere fighting right next to you. I would have torn ththeir throatsss out.” His eyes glittered and Dee shivered. He was very glad that he was not on the receiving end of that cold stare.
The coldness disappeared quickly and warmth flooded back, as Sys reached for Dee. “I’m cold. Warm me.”
“You’re always cold.”
“And you always warm me.”
Smiling, Dee, lowered himself gently to lie next to Sys, on the rather narrow bed. Sys cuddled into his side and hissed softly. Dee stroked his hair and stared into his face, unable to tear his eyes away from Sys’ smile.
“Mmm.” Sys rubbed his face against Dee’s hand. “It’ss nice here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Here, in your armss. You were right. The cabin doessn’t matter and my planet doessn’t matter. All ththat matterss iss that you are here and I am here and Luke iss here. Ththat’ss all I need; all I will ever need.”
“Dee tucked the heavy blue hair away, behind Sys’ ear and left his fingers there, playing idly with the soft locks. Resting his head on one hand he looked down, no smile on his face.
“What’ss wrong?” Sys asked, uncertainly.
“Absolutely nothing,” Dee said, still not smiling. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you but I’ll always give thanks for that day; the day I happened to take a walk in a snowstorm and found an angel.”
“I’m not an angel.”
“Oh yes, you are. You’re my angel; my guardian angel.”
Sys raised his hand and lightly brushed Dee’s lips with his finger. Dee let them part and drew the finger inside. Sys shivered, as he sucked and nipped gently.
“Dee… Dee I need… It’s been sso… hard…”
“It still is I think,” Dee purred as his hand stroked down over his shoulder and hip to where the evidence was swelling.
“Oh pleasse, pleasse Dee.”
“Is this really the time and place?”
“I neeed you Dee. Pleassse?” he begged, with his lips and his eyes and Dee was helpless.
Dee’s hand squeezed and Sys jumped, but when Dee’s fingers began to roam, Sys stopped him. “Not your handsss, Dee. Pleasse not your handss.”
Dee smiled and raised his hand again, to brush Sys’ face, while some of his tentacles crept under his shirt and began to caress his hot skin, roaming over his chest, stomach, hips, back… everywhere. Sys moaned and closed his eyes, arching against Dee. Dee lay down and put his arms around Sys, pulling him close. Sys clung to him and thrust his tongue deeply into Dee’s mouth.
He whimpered, when Dee’s tentacle wrapped around his balls and squeezed gently. The tentacles throbbed and pulsed against his hot skin, as they writhed and slid and squeezed. Sys’ eyes rolled.
Shifting his arm, so that Sys’ head could fall back, Dee released his lips, so he could nudge aside the hair and bite into his neck. Sys bucked and thrust against the tentacles, grabbing handfuls of Dee’s shirt and pulled him close. He buried his face in Dee’s shoulder, whimpering and moaning. He almost screamed when one of the tentacles probed deeper and slid into his ass. Making a strangled choking sound, he arched sharply, and came hard.
Dee withdrew his tentacles and held Sys close until the trembling stopped and his breathing evened out.
“Ththank you,” Sys whispered, relaxing against him. Dee raised his head on his hand again and watched him fall asleep, hissing.
He was half dozing, himself, when the door burst open and Luke’s anxious voice begged, “Dee? Dee, have you gone to ssleep again? Dee, are you al-right?”
“I’m fine, Luke,” he said, not turning. “Sys,” he murmured brushing the tousled hair from Sys’ sleeping face. “Darling, Luke’s here. He’s worried about you.”
Sys stirred and hissed quietly. His eyes fluttered open and he smiled, reaching for Dee. “Hun, Luke is here,” he repeated and, immediately, Sys came fully awake and sat up, only to fall back with a groan.
“I’m going to have to sstop doing ththat.”
“Yes, you are. At least until it stops hurting.”
Carefully, Dee disentangled himself from Sys and stood up. “Luke,” Sys said, with tears in his eyes. “I wass sso worried about you.”
“You were worried about me? Father, you were unconssciouss and I didn’t know if you were ever going to wake up.”
“Sssilly boy.” Sys reached out his arms and Luke threw himself onto the bed and started to cry. Hissing in what Dee called his ‘fathering hiss’, he stroked Luke’s back and smiled at Dee over his shoulder.
Luke had not come alone and the other person in the room coughed pointedly. He had his arms crossed and was tapping his foot. “IF the touching father-son reunion is over, can we please get to business? I was, actually, doing something important when the half pint snake-ling came and dragged me away.”
“Hey Jo’el,” Dee said with a smile. He knew Jo’el well enough not to be fooled by the gruff exterior. Jo’el was clearly not human. Under five feet tall, he was thickset with massive, corded forearms and enormous shoulders. A wild mane of thick black hair stood out around his head and neck, tumbling, in a tangled mass, to his waist. The least human thing about him was the snout-like nose with a razor sharp tusk on either side. The effect was fearsome but the twinkle in his blue eyes was kindly and keen.
“You still like making an entrance, Dee. Nothing changes.”
“Oh, things change, Jo’el.” He turned his head to look at Sys and Luke. “Sometimes, things change so much you can’t remember how they were before.”
Jo’el snorted. “You’ve gone soft, Dee.”
“I’m not going to argue with you there.”
“There are worse things to go soft for,” Jo’el said, with a smile in his voice, and a glance at Sys. “You make a nice little family, although I still don’t trust snakes… they’ll bite you as good as look at you.”
“Only when you want them to, Jo’el; only when you want them too.”
“So, what comes next?”
“What do you want to come next?”
“I don’t care where we go or what we do; I just want them to be safe.”
Jo’el nodded, a grim smile on his face. “I’ve been making discrete enquiries. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Dee was startled. “There is? Who?”
“Follow me.” He turned and walked out of the door.
“I’ll be back soon,” Dee said hurriedly to Luke and Sys, ignoring their queries as he knew Jo’el wouldn’t wait.
“So, what is this place?” Dee asked as he followed Jo’el down the corridor.
“A halfway house. We’re miles away from anywhere, in the middle of the country. Out front we’re a half dilapidated, mouldy, rather pathetic, open to the public stately home. Up here and,” he nodded with his head to a staircase, “down there… well, you’ll see.”
Dee followed him down the narrow, dusty staircase, wondering with only mild curiosity. He didn’t really care what was going on as long as Sys and Luke were going to be safe. With Jo’el involved he knew they would be.
Downstairs, was a very different world than the one above-ground. They were in a basement of sorts but it was a LOT bigger than was actually possible for it to be. In the centre, was an enormous platform, with red rope around the edge. On the platform was a… well, the closest Dee could come to describing it was – a circle of light; purple light. While he had no idea what it was, Dee knew exactly what it did – it moved people.
As he followed Jo’el around the edge of the platform, a little group of people came out of a door on the far side. It was difficult to tell, because they were just about the least human aliens he’d yet seen, but they seemed to be a family unit; two parents and a child, with a baby in arms. They climbed, or rather, oozed, onto the platform and into the circle. After a few moments the purple light shot up to the ceiling, obscuring the family. When it fell again, they were gone.
This was one of the ‘clearing centres’; places dotted around the earth where stranded and abused aliens were taken and, either re located to safe places on earth, or returned to their own planets. As long as they appeared on Jo’el’s vast database of alien species, he could return them to any planet associated with them, or any of the other species listed.
“In here, Dee.” Jo’el startled him out of his reverie and he turned to enter the room that he was being directed into. There was someone in there. They were sitting on a chair with their back to him and all he could see was a mass of purple hair.
“Sysan?” Jo’el said, “this is the man I told you about.”
The figure rose and turned and Dee took a step backwards. If it hadn’t been for the colour of the hair, the vivid purple of his eyes, and the fact that he was considerably less slender, and more muscular, this man could have been Sys.
“What the hell is this?” He turned to Jo’el. “If you’ve betrayed us…”
“Eassy,” the snake-man said, holding up his hands, palm outwards. “I am not here to make trouble. I sswear.”
“I know the situation snake-man. I know that Sys was exiled and I swear to God that if you’re the bastard who betrayed him then, prince or not, I’m going to tear your heart out and feed it to you. And if you think you can drag him back…”
“No, no, you missundersstand. I… I have not come here to make trouble for…” his eyes flickered, as he frowned, “Ssyss. I am hiss brothther. I have come to tell him ththat the ssituassion iss changed. It iss ssafe for him to return home if he wishshess.” His accent was thicker that Sys’, and Dee had to concentrate to understand.
“How do I know this isn’t a trick? That you’re not trying to get him back to your planet to punish him more, not that you could.”
Sysan winced. “I can undersstand why you would fear ththiss. Ththere iss noththing I could ssay ththat could make you trusst me and ththat iss ass it shshould be. You sseek to protect your mate and I honour ththat. If I could jusst sspeak to him. I know he will…”
“Will what?” a voice said from behind Dee. He spun to find Sys, his face white as a sheet and his eyes enormous, looking over his shoulder. “Leave my home and my family to return to ssomewhere that rejected me, punisshed me and ssent me away jusst becausse I made a misstake about who I fell in love with? Return to people who turned ththeir backsss on me when I needed ththem mosst?”
“Ssyththssuththssyss, we didn’t turn our backss on you. We fought sso hard for you. We couldn’t get anywhere near you. Fathther and I were ththrow into the dungeon for dayss and mothther wass sso upsset it made her ill. We did everyththing, Ssyththssuththssyss.” He glanced uncomfortably at me. “Sys,” he corrected himself.
Sys’ face softened. “You did? You fought for me?” Sysan nodded. “I ththought you… I ththought you had turned your backss on me; ththat you hadn’t come becausse you had bought into ththeir crap. I didn’t know… I didn’t know… All thiss time… I didn’t… know.”
Dee reached out to Sys, shattered by the torment in his voice, but Sysan was faster and pulled him into a rough embrace.
“We would never, ever turn our backss on you, little brothther; we love you. We have been ssearching for sso long.”
For a long time, Sys and Sysan simply held each other, desperately clinging. Luke, frightened, clung to Dee and he put his arm around him, pulling him close.
Finally, Sys pulled away, dashing his arm across his eyes and sniffing. His lips trembled. “I… I was pregnant, Sssysssanththesssyusss. I was having hiss baby.”
“Oh no…” Sysan stumbled backwards, hit the chair, and nearly fell. “Did he know?”
“Yess, he knew.”
“What… what happened to…?”
Sys turned and beckoned to Luke. “Thiss iss Luke… my sson.”
Sysan stared at Luke, his mouth hanging open. Then, suddenly he whooped and, grabbing Lukr, swung him up into the air, making him yell with fear.
“Sssysssanththesssyusss, put my sson down ththiss instant. You’re sscaring him.”
Sysan set Luke on his feet again, looking sheepish. “Ssorry, little man. I wass carried away. It hass been a long time. I missssed my brothther sso much and I didn’t know… if I had known… Mothther and fathther will be sso exssited.” Suddenly the smile faded and he raised his eyes to Sys. “You can’t bring him home. Or… or you can’t… you can’t ever tell who he iss.”
“Ththere’ss been a war… Sys. That’ss why I’m here. The royal family have been wiped out. There iss a people’ss counssil now. We have been petitioning for yearss. The exssile wass lifted but we had no idea where you were. If it hadn’t been for Jo’el… But… all of the royal family were exssecuted. If ththey knew… It would not be ssafe for him if they knew Luke iss the prinsse’ss sson.”
Sys swayed and this time Dee would have let no one get in his way, as he put his arm around his lover and steadied him against his side, before leading him to a chair and helping him sit down. Luke clung to both of them, looking scared.
“It’ss too much. Jusst too much. I can’t… I can’t think. I can’t…”
“I’m ssorry, Sys. I… I ththought you would be happy. I ththought…”
“I am happy, Sysan, I am. I jusst… I don’t know what to do, what to ththink. It’ss been sso long and I have… I have wanted for sso long… longed to…” He started to cry and Luke threw his arms around his neck, distressed that his father was in so much pain. Dee embraced them both.
“I think, perhaps, we should talk again later.” Dee’s look towards Sysan was no longer hostile but very firm. Sysan nodded.
“I’m truly ssorry ththat I have upsset you, brothther. I didn’t mean to. We have all been ssso worried. I will return to our family and give ththem ththe good newss. Let uss know when you are ready and we will come to you… or you uss. Whatever you want.”
Sys didn’t reply, his face buried in Luke’s hair and his shoulders shaking with silent sobs. Sadly Sysan turned and walked out the door. At the threshold he paused.
“We never sstopped loving you; never sstopped misssing you. But we will undersstand. Whatever you desside we will undersstand.”