The Cottage at Aunt Laurie's, sunrise
The single interior room of the cottage was silent, the charred floor smoldered peacefully. Thin, wispy columns of the lightest smoke rose slowly, silently from various spots, highlighted by the shafts of bright sunlight streaming in through the windows along the eastern wall. The air had a gray patina that outlined each shaft of light distinctly. The glow of the sunlight on the curling smoke had the texture of golden dye swirling in a tank of still water.
The floor was charred so severely in some places, that some floorboards resembled coal more than they did the original wood. The walls and ceiling were burned black in spots as well. Their surfaces were seared, but the black streaks from the intense heat stretched horizontally, not the usual vertical signs of rising heat. Only the surface bore the signs of fire. The rest of their structure remained untouched, except for the drapes, which had all been carried away and consumed by the energy cyclone the first night.
Every piece of furniture that had once resided peacefully in the room was now only splinters. A few surviving pieces of the old cabinet doors were piled in one corner, but those were the only large, recognizable pieces of what was once a huge, sturdy structure of oak and iron.
At the center of the floor was William. Flat on his back, his eyes were closed as he slept soundly. His arms and legs were extending out at odd angles, as if he had suddenly fallen into position without his conscious knowledge, which indeed he had. Lying sideways across his torso was Lillith. She was face down, her legs pulled under her in such a way that her slender butt extended awkwardly into the air. Her hair completely covered her face as the side of her head rested on the floor, distorting her lips slightly. Her arms too seemed to be uncomfortably sprawled out from her sides indicating that she had probably fallen just as suddenly and just as unknowingly as her lover. Fallen instantly into the deep sleep that she now enjoyed so completely.
There was no sound, no movement, and no reason for either.
It wasn't until the sun rose sufficiently to slant the beams of sunlight across his face that William responded. He moved slightly, peering at the brightness through squinting eyes as he awoke to the new dawn. For a moment, he wasn't sure where he was. But only for a moment.
"Lillith?" His voice was raspy, the name weakly spoken. His mouth felt dry, as if he and Lillith had been on a bender.
"Hmm?" she croaked weakly, still caught up in sleep.
"Lillith, we better get up. We've been out here all night." Lillith's arm twitched. Soon, her blonde head tilted up slightly as she pulled her arms into a more comfortable position. Her blue eyes glanced up at the light causing her to groan slightly. Blindly, she patted the area around her, looking for something that her confusion told her should be right under her. Finally, one of her delicate hands found William's arm and slid up to his chest. A sleepy Protector pivoted to follow her hand, voicing a long protest as she slid herself along him to wrap her arms around his neck and bury her face under his chin. Her voice still sounded rough and very weak.
"Oooooooooooooooooo, I don't wanna go. I wanna stay here with you." She buried her face deeper into his neck and sighed. A signal that she was going to fall into sleep again. William took her into his arms, her warmth felt so good.
"Alright, kitten, a little longer. But then we check in at the house."
"Ummmph...." She shifted slightly to get more comfortable. William stared at the ceiling in thought for a while before he spoke. He could feel her warm breath on his neck.
"Honey, I'm not sure what happened last night, but it was amazing."
He felt her head nod.
"I'm glad we were here when it happened. I mean, at home it would have really been something not to know anything about this."
Again Lillith nodded, this time faster.
"Kind of amazing that Aunt Laurie knew about this `Gift' thing."
Lillith's voice struggled, as if to speak took incredible energy.
"She knows lots `bout......she......" The Velorian Protector of Tetra had just fallen asleep again.
"Lillith, are you going to get up or not?" She jumped slightly at the sound of his voice.
Lillith's head shot up instantly.
William could only smile as he cleared her hair from the now enthusiastic face. His fingers moved the golden hair gently, lovingly.
"Well then, let's get up and I'll see if we can get some pancakes for breakfast. How does that sound?"
"Wharphles?" William could barely keep himself from laughing about the way Lillith said waffles. It seemed to be difficult for her, causing her sexy mouth to distort oddly as she forced the English word out of her Velorian mouth. One of the few English words she still had trouble with.
"Yes, darling, maybe we can get waffles. I know you like them. Let's go."
William started to move when Lillith quickly stopped him.
"No, darling, no.......wait." Her hands cupped his face as she looked tenderly into his eyes. She said no more, she only held his eyes with hers. Yet she was speaking clearly to him, saying so much. Her left hand caressed his cheek so lightly he could hardly feel it. William was caught in her silent spell, the emotion in her eyes had such depth, such reality, such truth to it that he could not, would not turn away. He saw and felt everything. His whisper broke the silence.
Her mouth slowly curled into a smile so warm the he couldn't resist joining her. She lowered her mouth to his into what felt to William like their first kiss. It moved him so deeply, the emotion within him was almost overwhelming! He didn't feel that he deserved such a loving woman, didn't deserve for her to feel the way she did about him. He may not have understood why she loved him so completely, but one thing he did know. He would devote the rest of his life being a man worthy of that love, worthy of her, and never would she have reason to regret choosing him as her mate. Silently, to himself in the instant her lips touched his, he made that irrevocable pact of honor with himself.
Just as their kiss ended, Lillith suddenly remembered something.
"Oh, wait. Let me check your pulse! You check mine!" William chuckled.
"What are you talking about?"
Lillith was pressing his neck with two fingers as if she were trying to find a button in the dark. "The Khant'r, darling, the `Gift'. If all the rest was true, then this must be true too!"
William started to speak, but Lillith hurriedly shushed him. She had finally found his pulse. As Lillith felt the subtle pulsing in the vein in William's neck, she called out the cadence.
William got the idea and did the same as he finally found a spot on her neck where the pulsing was evident.
Their eyes widened with surprise as their voices sounded in unison.
In their chests, their hearts were beating simultaneously.
The door of the cottage swung freely in the light morning breeze, eventually rotating in one direction long enough to find its latch. As it had for so long in the past, it closed once again upon an empty cottage.
With their arms around each other, her cheek gently nuzzling his shoulder, the two lovers slowly walked unsteadily toward the house across the lush green lawn. The morning dew felt as cool and good on their feet as the new sun felt as warm and wonderful on the rest of their uncovered bodies.
"When we get home, would you do that thing you did, you know, on my thighs? Would you do that again?"
William faked confusion. "Was that me that did that?"
Lillith squealed and playfully bit William on the shoulder.
"HEY!" He hugged her tightly, picking her up off the ground enough to swing her around himself once, ending the orbit with a deep kiss, muffling her steady stream of giggles. When their lips finally parted, he cooed to her. "Pleasing you is all I've ever wanted, darling."
Lillith felt incredibly happy as she coyly kissed the spot of her nibbling attack to make it all better. "You won't forget?"
"I won't now!"
In the kitchen of Aunt Laurie's home
The noise of the shrill hinges of the back door made Aunt Laurie jump a bit. She had anticipated the return of William and Lillith, but had been so busy in the kitchen that she hadn't taken a recent moment to perform her usual check of the cottage through the window of the kitchen. William and Lillith surprised her completely, more so since they were both naked. The realization of his nudity had an immediate effect on William as he entered the familiar room. As William tried to cover himself, Lillith flung her arms up in the air gleefully, raising up on her toes in a burst of enthusiasm.
"Hi-eee!! It's just us! Mmmmm, coffee smells good! Do you have a wharphle thingie?" Behind her, William slinked quickly through the kitchen and up the stairs, intent on getting some pants on. Lillith looked perplexed. "Where you goin', Will'm?" Aunt Laurie guessed what William might be feeling and stepped in to help.
"It's probably just that he doesn't feel good about being nude around me, dear. After all, I raised him and all." Lillith shrugged and brushed some soot from around her left nipple.
Aunt Laurie stepped closer and whispered. "So, tell me Lillith, how was the `Gift'?" The question made a smile grow quickly on the beautiful Protector's face.
"It was ...wow!"
"Good! I'd hate to think that the Ancient Ones were pikers. It looked like really something from here too!" Lillith was excited to talk about her experience.
"Skietra! It was wonderful and all night it lasted and we never grew tired! We just kept going and going all night with the whooshing lights and everything and Will'm was so wonderful, the way he did everything was so incredible! It never felt like that before! It was a billion times better than ever! Skietra! A billion-billion times!" Lillith bounced on her toes during the last part.
"Lillith, dear, you two were out there longer than one night."
Lillith's eyes opened a little wider, blinked, and her whole face took on a confused look. "All day too?" Aunt Laurie slowly shook her head.
"No, dear. Four days." Lillith's mouth dropped open as wide as her eyes did. Just as William reappeared in the kitchen from the hallway, now dressed in jeans and an unbuttoned plaid shirt, Lillith spun around, jammed her hands on her hips, and glared at him. William sensed that he might be in trouble again.
Aunt Laurie finally came to his rescue.
"No, Lillith, don't blame him, it's not his fault. That's the normal length of the `Gift'. You two did fine. Besides, remember the M'atra Zar. That's why it was so long."
Lillith immediately looked like she was about to panic as the realization set in that she had just lived through the reality of something that she had always believed was just myth! Immediately, rituals took on the importance of reality! A new importance that Lillith didn't feel ready to meet. She seemed to be more than lost in thought as she nervously buttoned up William's shirt, she was a bundle of nervous confusion. Instantly, another thought occurred to her.
"Huh! The M'atra Zar! Skietra! We didn't do the M'atra Zar, Will'm!"
"Hell, we did everything else", William mumbled as he watched her frantically button faster and faster. Lillith blushed a little at the thought, but Aunt Laurie simply shrugged and peered back at the coffee pot.
"Sounds to me like you two didn't need to recite poetry. Coffee's ready!"
As Lillith spun around, bounding toward the counter and the coffee, William noticed that she had just buttoned his shirt with the button holes off by one button. He began to undo the buttons to do it all again, mumbling something about the attention span of Velorian women.
Aunt Laurie just finished pouring the third cup when she put her finger to her lips to silence the two lovers and motioned for them to follow her. The three quietly approached the study where ancient popular music could be heard. Peering around the door, they saw Phil in the middle of the floor, looking through a book while he moved and gyrated in time to the rhythm of the music. Suddenly, as if on cue, Phil joined in with the singer, simultaneously wagging his big fuzzy bottom in time.
"Cause every girl's crazy `bout a sharp dressed ma-an!"
The sight was too much for Lillith as she accidentally let out a squeal. Phil froze in mid-gyration then made a wild dash toward the radio. Tripping once along the way, he frantically shut the music off. With one leap he was back on the floor to resume his position over the book. He tried very hard but rather obviously to look much more scholarly than he had been just a few moments before. His hearing was focused back at the door, expecting someone to enter the room any moment. Phil was sure they would certainly see just how intellectually focused he was.
Out in the hall, William was silently scolding Lillith as she collected herself. The three of them nodded agreement and calmly strolled into the study.
"Ah, Phil! How are you today?"
"Sir! The warmest of good mornings to you! And to you, Mistress! It is good to see you have returned!"
"Hello, Phil! It's very nice to be back. Would you join us for breakfast?"
"That would certainly be most welcome, Mistress! Would you give me a moment to replace this book to the shelf?"
"Certainly, Phil. We'll meet you in the kitchen."
"That would be most delightful, indeed!"
After such a proper and cordial exchange of greetings, Aunt Laurie, Lillith, and William turned to return to the kitchen. Just as they went through the doors of the study, all three burst into song together and wiggled their butts.
"...cause every girl's crazy `bout a sharp dressed ma-aaaannnnn!"
Phil groaned and slumped down on his belly in defeat. He sighed heavily and moaned to himself, "They will never let me forget about this."
Lillith swayed in her chair as she chewed, displaying her pleasure at having `wharphles' for breakfast. Aunt Laurie had located her old waffle iron and even showed Lillith how to make the batter. On Tetra, William had done his best to make a waffle iron which he heated with his heat vision. But these were true, honest-to-Skietra waffles and the Velorian Protector was gobbling them up as fast as Aunt Laurie could make them.
There must certainly be waffles in Velorian heaven, or so Lillith was convinced.
William was stunned at her appetite. She always did eat like crazy, but this was beyond anything she's ever done before. Maybe, he thought, it's just the four days they spent out in the cottage. But then, why wasn't HE so hungry?
No sooner had she finally finished eating her last waffle, Lillith suddenly sprang to her feet, fluttering her hands frantically as if she were trying to dry her nails in an emergency.
"Ohhhhhhh! Kara! I forgot to call Kara! It's been four days! Oh, Wil'm! Kara! I forgot!"
William just shrugged. "Call her now, hon."
Such wisdom was not lost on Lillith.
As Lillith shuffled around the table to make the call, William answered Phil's quizzical stare with another shrug. Phil's face rotated to look up at Lillith curiously. He thought a moment, then returned to his waffle a little more perplexed than he had been before. Yet, some questions, he knew, were better left unasked.
Before the call could be placed, there was a minor technical glitch to overcome. Lillith stared at the telephone for quite a few moments, trying desperately to remember how to use it. Aunt Laurie picked up the slender handset, dialed the number for her, and turned to leave the room. Lillith thanked her sweetly, raised the handset, then swung around to Aunt Laurie in complete astonishment!
"How did you know that number?" Aunt Laurie simply smiled back at Lillith as she continued out of the room without a word. Nervously, Lillith was just tapping her teeth with her fingernail in thought when Kara answered.
"Kara? HI-EEEEEE!!!!! IT'S MEEEEEE!!!!!"
At the shrill sound, Phil accidentally dropped his fork.
"Yeah..what? No. Chicago! Yeah! You won't believe what happened! No....no way! Uh-uh.....nope.......Will'm!..... Yep!.... The Khant'r!... No really!...... Of course, with him!! It just sort of happened!"
Phil raised his fork to pose a question as he glanced at William whose eyebrows had raised then lowered into a scowl. William waved his question off. It would have to wait.
"No.....no.....no......wonderful! We just ate! Hm?..... Wharphles...... warphles...... WHAR....oh, never mind! ........Sure! Wanna meet here? Um, hold on." Lillith turned toward the kitchen and spoke loudly. "Aunt Laurie? Where's here?" Aunt Laurie's voice returned calmly.
"Just tell her `Laurie's house', Lillith."
Lillith thought a moment before returning to her telephone. "Kara? She says `Laurie's House'. Do you know where that is?.....You do?" Lillith crouched over the phone and lowered her voice. "Kara, who IS this woman? She knows about us and you and Velor and everything! She's wonderful and all, but who is she?.....uh-huh......uh-huh......no! Really?.......Wow! Who did that?.....The Arions? How much?........Skietra!......okay......uh-huh.....'kay.....See you soon! Bye!"
Lillith walked slowly into the kitchen, her big blue eyes wide open and riveted on Aunt Laurie. She quietly eased down into her chair at the table just as Aunt Laurie brought the coffee pot over.
"More coffee, dear?" Lillith nodded, never taking her eyes off the old woman. Aunt Laurie noticed her stare and smiled. "How much did she tell you, Lillith?" William sat up. Phil stopped munching and rotated his head slightly.
"Some. How long have the Arions had a price on your head?" William's whole expression instantly changed as he leaned forward to find out what these two women were talking about!
"Oh, that. It's been quite a while since anyone has tried to collect, Lillith. Maybe they forgot about it or maybe it's just no fun going after an old woman. Life is nice and quiet now." William's eyes kept going back and forth from Lillith to Aunt Laurie, looking to see if either one of them was going to explain what the hell they were talking about. For a few moments, neither woman said more. Finally, Aunt Laurie broke the silence.
"Did you say you wanted more coffee, dear?"
William reached the limit of his patience as his hand dropped loudly to the table.
"AUNT LAURIE!!! What's this all about? The Arions have a bounty on you? What the hell for? What did you do as a clerk!"
Lillith spoke excitedly. "She was not a clerk, Will'm!"
Lillith shook her head rapidly, making her hair dance a bit. Aunt Laurie rested her hand on his shoulder tenderly and began to explain.
"Oh, William, I had hoped I would never have to tell you or anyone else in the family." Aunt Laurie sat down in the nearest chair while Phil looked on fascinated. "First of all, sweetheart, what I'm about to tell you doesn't leave this room, alright? Not to Robert, not to anyone. Clear?"
William could feel the importance of what was happening and nodded. Aunt Laurie glanced down at the table, sighed, and continued.
"William, as you know, my maiden name was Vanderfelt, but I retired not as Laurie the clerk for the Bureau, but as Lt. Colonel Laurie Vanderfelt, Director of Alien Counter-terrorism and Tracking. I was Aerospace Force, dear, attached to Planetary Intelligence. I was responsible for setting up and running the entire alien tracking system on the planet, including `Dark Supremis' interception and liaison with the Velorian Protector."
William sat stunned. He leaned forward again to ask, "You're the one they called Steel Magnolia?" Aunt Laurie laughed.
"Oh, that. I hated that code-name. Some old Hollywood movie gave them that idea. You mean you heard that code-name when you were active?"
"Hell yes! We knew she, um, I mean, you were covert and we never learned your real name, but the stories about her, shit, you were something!"
Aunt Laurie waved the point away. "Argh, probably most of them were horseshit, William. I spent most of my time behind a desk in Cheyenne Mountain or sitting on top of some cold and wet rooftop someplace. I was happy to take early retirement and try to live a normal life. That's when I married your Uncle Todd.
"Did your husband fight Arions too?" Lillith couldn't wait to hear more adventures!
"No, dear, he made flat washers."
Lillith blinked twice. "Are those weapons?"
Aunt Laurie chuckled and rose from her chair. "No, not even close. My life was much quieter after that. Oh, once in a while some Arion would come sneaking around the place, looking to collect that bounty, but the folks from ACT were always right on their ass, so I got plenty of warning. Your sister would nail `em every time, Lillith."
Lillith sat up a bit straighter and much prouder. "T'aye! Kara is the best!" Phil nodded his agreement.
Something still bothered William.
"Aunt Laurie, why didn't you just tell us? I mean, why did you have to hide it from us?"
"Most of the operations were classified, William, but I personally didn't want you kids to grow up having to deal with the darker side of alien relations. Call it whatever you will, William, secrecy, protectiveness, I don't know. I just didn't want you all involved in that. There are things about dealing with Arions and Kintzi and some of the other bad guys out there that just aren't very pleasant. You kids didn't need that sort of thing. Now you're grown and you found out most of it all yourselves. Especially you, William. Now that you're with Lillith, you're right in the middle of it all. I'm just glad I'm out of it."
William wasn't buying that last part.
"I thought you folks are never really out of anything."
"Sure, I keep in touch. I even consult for them from time to time. It's nice to keep a hand in, but that's all."
William sternly nodded his head as he thought about what he was hearing. It changed everything he ever knew about his favorite aunt, the woman who raised him after his folks died. Now he found that everything had to be thought through again in light of this new situation.
"Then you didn't hurt your back in a car crash?" Lillith nearly jumped out of her chair.
"No, Will'm! It was an Arion! She had people on a roof and they were killed and she went to help but the Arion found her and she fought him and he...." Aunt Laurie raised a quick hand that silenced Lillith immediately.
"That's fine, dear. Yes, William, it was an Arion. But it was nothing. He just knocked me around a bit and..."
"Four places!" Lillith's eyes were big again. "Her back was shatt...."
"LILLITH!" Aunt Laurie's voice had enough sharpness in it to make Lillith retreat behind her long blonde hair, immediately looking down to her lap out of embarrassment. Aunt Laurie couldn't let her do that, it wasn't right or fair. Her voice became softer, more understanding. "I'm sorry, Lillith. You tell him. You tell him everything." With that, Aunt Laurie turned away and returned to her sink. Lillith leaned forward and somberly told William how the Arion had shattered the woman's spine in four places with a terrible blow. She told him how she should have been dead. She told him every detail, her amazement and even pride showing in every description of how Laurie recovered to become the architect of the Earth's detection, identification, and tracking system of alien visitors.
When Lillith was done, William stood and quietly stepped over to Aunt Laurie. The old woman was still standing with her back to them all, an unsure hope burning inside her. He took her by her shoulders and spoke softly to her.
"I'm glad you lived to raise me. Without you, I..." Aunt Laurie quickly turned and they embraced warmly. Through her tears, Aunt Laurie could barely speak.
"You were always my proudest moment, William. Nothing I ever did made me more proud than you."
Lillith beamed at them, sighing with complete contentment. Unfortunately, Phil had a problem.
"Mistress? Maple syrup appears to be persistent in fur and is a formidable adhesive. How does one remove it?" His attempts at cleaning had only resulted in so much shredded napkin stuck to his fuzzy face that he looked like a young kid who had shaved with a bad razor blade. Lillith stood and waved for the Tetrite to follow her.
"Come on, Phil, I'll clean you up."
Aunt Laurie would have none of that!
"If anyone around here needs to get cleaned up it's you, young lady! Go take a shower and I'll see to Phil."
William laughed as he returned to the table and his coffee. "Jeez, Phil, you look like a piñata!" Phil didn't have a clue as to what a piñata was but hoped for the best.
"Why, thank you, sir!"
Obediently, Lillith moved toward the stairs, but with an alluring walk. Pausing a moment, she looked back over her shoulder at William to give him her pursed-lips/come-hither look that William couldn't resist, but he was still teasing Phil and didn't notice. She waited and waited and, finally, abandoned her wait. Rolling her eyes, the sooty Velorian continued up the stairs to the bathroom alone.
Aunt Laurie, armed with a washcloth, never looked up as she wiped clean the struggling Tetrite's face.
"William? Don't you need to shower too?" William shrugged as he sipped his coffee.
"No, ma'am. I can shower later." Aunt Laurie didn't turn around, but her voice got much louder.
"William, don't you think you should shower NOW?"
The tone of her voice made William look at her for a moment. Suddenly he got the idea and bolted from the table. As he passed Aunt Laurie on his way upstairs to join his sensuous mate in the shower, he spoke quickly and quietly.
"You're not so old."
That made her smile. As William bounded up the stairs, Aunt Laurie quietly spoke to no one in particular.
"I was worried there for a second that you were."
Later that morning...
William had just come back into the house from the front driveway after checking that everything was still alright on the motorcycle for their trip back to the city. Except for a sticky fuel selector, everything appeared fine.
Walking into the study, he found Aunt Laurie, Lillith, and Phil together on the sofa, mesmerized by the television. Lillith was wearing one of Aunt Laurie's pink robes and oversized, fuzzy, pink slippers dangled from her feet. They were watching one the many home shopping network shows, something about gemstones. Phil glanced up at William as he approached the back of the sofa from the door.
"Sir, did you know that arythmacite is considered to be as optically pure as diamonds and can only be found in one mine on one of the islands of New Zealand? It is really quite fascinating."
"No I didn't, Phil." William studied the screen. "I see you can pick up a huge one for about what it would cost to subscribe to a magazine though."
Phil thought a moment about the relative worth of the stones.
"Perhaps the mine is rather large, sir."
As William shrugged, Lillith and Aunt Laurie shushed them into silence. A new announcer had appeared and she looked very enthusiastic!
"...and coming up, be sure to stay with us for the Cavalcade of Gold! Just look at this beautiful solid gold choker chain! Isn't that gorgeous! Just one of the great buys during the Cavalcade of Gold!"
The three watchers sat momentarily stunned, then burst into action! Lillith's little pink tongue appeared suddenly to make a loud blurt sound between her lips to show her disapproval. Aunt Laurie groaned loudly as Phil frantically looked around himself for the remote control. Freeing it from between the cushions of the sofa, he stabbed at the buttons repeatedly to change the channel quickly.
As William laughed loudly on his way out of the room, Lillith scrunched her face up with disgust at the thought of pure gold encircling any part of her Supremis body, weakening her and taking away her powers.
Aunt Laurie patted her knee to calm her.
"I know, dear, I know."
Shock of the Other continues......
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