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Arcadia, in Three Parts (an ASATS one-shot)

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I

Late March brought with it the year’s first bout of warm weather.  The thin layer of snow that had blanketed the long grass around the farmhouse swiftly melted, and almost immediately little green buds appeared on the trees.  When Meredith emerged onto the back porch, she took a deep breath of the crisp air; she smelled damp earth and the promise of flowers.  Deep in the woods, a bird was singing cheerfully as evening descended.  It felt an appropriate season for her mood.

"Come on, Fox," she called through the open door.  "The stars are already coming out!"

"Here I come," the man replied as he ducked through the low doorway.  He sucked in a big breath as well, then beamed down at her.  "Nice to get some fresh air again."

"Sorry we had to stay cooped up for so long," Meredith replied, reaching to weave her fingers into his.  "That winter was a weird one."

"Doesn't bother me in the least.  We prefer colder climes, in fact."

"Well, not me.  I don't have all that body hair."

Eros laughed, turning his face skyward.  "Good and clear,” he said approvingly.

"I wish I hadn't let my telescope at my parents' house," Meredith sighed.

"Don't worry about that," Eros replied.  "I am fully equipped with our own technology."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yes- but I'd bet we would see better from the roof."

She laughed a little.  "Don't be silly.  There's no way up there, unless I went and found the ladder."  But she had barely finished the sentence before he was leaning to scoop her up- and they were headed skyward.

"Right," she said, "you can fly."

He was soon depositing her carefully on the cool tile roof, one hand pressed to her back to steady her.  "Look, we've got a much better view up here."

He was correct, of course- all but the tallest of trees were below them where they were perched between the high eaves.

Meredith stood for a moment marveling at the number of stars.  There didn't seem to be an inch of the heavens unoccupied- a hundred billion pinpricks of light that seemed to appear all at once from the growing darkness.  She could see Orion, the Pleiades, Ursa Major, Canis Minor.  Venus twinkled fiercely close to the horizon.

"Which way?" She asked Eros.  He had removed a small device from somewhere on his person and was proffering it.  It looked like a square piece of glass with minuscule numbers etched along the sides.  She took it carefully in her hands.

"Better than a telescope," Eros said, pointing up.  "Try it out.  Hold it out in front of your face."

She did as instructed.  Aiming it at bright Venus, she watched in wonder as the screen flickered for a moment, and then displayed an image of the planet in high resolution before her.  She could see the swirling clouds of its acidic atmosphere, and occasional flashes of lightning.

"Wow," she murmured.  "Is this real?"

"As the nose on your face!" Eros replied with a laugh.  "This device taps into an elaborate system of satellites and space stations all over the galaxy.  The footage you're seeing is being broadcast from one of those."

"You mean your people have satellites we don't know about?"

"Not my people.  The Nova Empire.  But to answer your question, there are a lot of things that your people don't know about."

Meredith frowned a little.  "But why not make friends with us?"

"Many have tried.  Let us say that your people have not historically been very welcoming, and leave it at that."

She sighed dreamily as she turned her attention back to the image of Venus.  "Okay," she said.  "Show me your home."

"I'm afraid it won't look like much," Eros said as he took the device carefully back.  "Our planet is kept under an elaborate system of disguises to hide us from prying eyes."  That being said, he held the device out and swung around, focusing on a spot in the sky where nothing especially noticeable stood out.  Meredith stood on her tiptoes to peer over his shoulder.  The screen was displaying a pale, gray-green planet, with a glimpse of Saturn's massive ring visible in the background.

"I wish I could show you its true splendor," Eros murmured.  "Someday we'll go see it in person."

She smiled, and for a long moment they stood in silence, watching the planet in its lonely stillness.

"This will display stars, too," Eros said eventually.  He turned to face west, aiming just below the horizon to follow where the Sun had set.  The device flickered once more, and was soon showing the great star in its fiery golden glory.

"It may seem terribly large, but in fact it is only a fraction of the size of other stars in our galaxy.  Take, for example, this one."  He turned again.  Meredith followed the screen with her eyes.  Now it was showing a magnificent red orb, which Eros pointed excitedly to.

"There it is.  The largest star we know- near the center of our galaxy.  Isn't it beautiful?"

"It is," Meredith replied, eyes growing rather heavy as she stared at the star.  "What's it called?"

"It goes by many names, but the Titan people simply know it as Lord of Stars .  Its light provides power to countless systems."

Meredith nodded, although by now her mind was elsewhere.  She had spent all evening waiting for the perfect moment to give him her news, and now seemed a good a time as ever.  She rested her head against his strong arm and said, "I'm pregnant."

For a moment, Eros did not respond.  He lowered the device and turned to look down at her.  "You're certain?"

She nodded, smiling.  She watched his face light up.

"Oh, Meredith!" He exclaimed.  "This is such good news!"  He pulled her into an embrace, rumbling with delight.  She pressed her face happily into his chest, breathing his musky scent.  He stroked her hair.

"My love," he said.  "My sweet woman.  How blessed I am to have you!  And soon, I'll blessed with an heir, as well."

"A little prince or princess."

"Yes, and more importantly: another Titan!"  He released her, taking a step back to look down at her with almost overwhelming warmth.  "Oh, Meredith- I only wish I'd met you sooner!"

Her face was hot with happiness and embarrassment.  Eros leaned in to kiss her.  Then, holding her at arms length, he looked her over with a gleam of joy in his eyes.

"How long have you known?"

"I took the test yesterday.  Then I took another one today, just to be sure."

Eros let out a huge, happy sigh. “To think! My Earth-Fire, having my child.  We should celebrate.”

“Good idea.  I can't drink, now, so what do you say we go inside and get a little frisky? ”

“My heart,” he exclaimed, smirking now. “It's like you read my mind.”

 

II

 

He was a strange boy from the first. When he was not attached to Meredith's breast, he was making all manner of strange sound and wriggling about like a fish out of water. For days after his birth, his eyes remained firmly shut. When she held him, he grasped her with hands that seemed unnervingly strong. He did not cry, and while this should have seemed a relief, she found that it disturbed her. She looked to Eros. “Are all Titan children like this?”

“Oh yes,” he said, and she was somewhat reassured. She tried to appreciate the big, plump thing for what he was- her own beautiful child, half-alien, strange and otherworldly as he was dear to her, but his odd noises and sharp little nails made her ill at ease. She swaddled him tightly to avoid being scratched and pinched.

“We simply cling as infants,” Eros said now, cradling the baby in one strong arm. “I would suggest you accustom yourself to it, because he'll be hanging off of you for years to come.”

She stood by his side and looked down at Peter's velvet-pink face. He was purring- like a kitten!- at his father's touch. Eros smiled warmly. “He is as perfect an heir as I could have hoped for,” he murmured. “I thank you again for giving him to me so willingly.”

Meredith kissed his ear. “You're very welcome.”  She drifted into a daydream as she watched Eros croon to his son.  She remembered the first time she had seen him; dressed like he had just stepped out of turn-of-the-century London, he had been standing in the rain outside of the diner she worked in.  He had been looking lost and very alone, and her heart had immediately gone out to him.  She had spent the rest of her shift fixing him dinner and chatting with him.  Poorly chosen disguise notwithstanding, he hadn't seemed terribly out of the ordinary; just a drifter with nowhere to stay.  The natural option was to invite him home with her.  He hadn't left her house since.

Peter keened suddenly for milk, and Eros handed him to her carefully. She arranged him at her breast, and stroked his fuzzy head while he nursed. His hair was as flaxen-fine and soft as cornsilk. Suddenly it seemed a shame to her that she couldn't go showing him off, to the girls from her book club and the other employees at the diner, because he was so beautiful- the prettiest baby she'd ever seen, with his flawless skin and his button nose. He nearly glowed, she thought, full of heavenly radiance!- but she knew that folks would ask questions of her that she was not prepared to answer.  She carefully freed Peter's hand from his swaddling and let him grasp her, although it smarted. “Peter Jason,” she whispered to him. He gurgled.

He slept, most often, as newborn creatures tend to. Meredith found great peace in sitting by his cradle and watching the slow rise and fall of his tiny chest, while Eros sat close by and murmured sweet nothings. She was glad of being free to make love with him again, although she was insistent about protection now. One little god-child was enough.

A week passed by in blissful quiet- mother, father, child. Once both had healed from the birth, Meredith brought Peter onto the back patio and sat nursing him under the stars, perhaps because some small part of her wanted to introduce him to his true home as quickly as possible. That got her thinking on many things; how long would it be before Eros took the boy and left, to bring him to his ancestral home and groom him to be king someday? Would Meredith be able to come with them, or would her frail mortal form keep her on Earth for the rest of her life? She didn't think she could bear the thought of parting with the tiny creature she had so recently brought into the world. She thought of her father, who would have to know sooner or later. She thanked the stars above that Eros would be around for at least a little while, to help her through homeschooling the boy and protecting him from the cold, judgmental eyes of the world. “I won't let them hurt you, baby,” she whispered. Peter grunted.

As a week became two, the baby grew swiftly. As Meredith sat with him on the sofa one early morning, cleaning his little face and hands with a warm cloth, he opened his eyes. They were milky and leaked opaque tears, but through this she could see they were a limpid blue. She felt a thrill and for a moment rose, stepping away from him. An alien, she thought, laying on her couch, being bathed and caressed and adored by her. A tiny, beautiful alien in a cloth diaper. She returned to him, chiding herself for being so shocked by him. She cradled him and kissed his head. “Look around, Peter,” she whispered. “This is your home.”

Eros celebrated the development, and to Meredith's great amusement kissed the boy's eyes over and over. “It's a wonderful thing,” hummed the big man. “The first-sight. They say when the baby first opens its eyes, it sees only the world of spirits. But look here, our little one sees his parents, too.” Peter grunted and clawed at his father's face.

The following morning, Peter woke his parents with a bloodcurdling shriek. It was not the cry of a normal, human child, drawn out and warbling, but a single, piercing note. Meredith flew to his cradle, alarmed, but could find nothing outwardly wrong. Eros rose and followed, saying, “It is alright, my love. His ears have come now, too. You would be startled, as well, to suddenly hear the world.”

Meredith scooped Peter up and cuddled him fiercely nonetheless. As her heart slowed to a normal pace, she realized just how frightened she had been by her son's apparent distress. Is this what I'm in for , she thought, having a heart attack every time he cries out? In her heart she knew that she loved him above all other things, then. She would die to protect him.

 

 

III

 

Peter grew at a breakneck pace. By the time he was two months old, he was double the size he had been at birth and very strong. Meredith found through careful experimentation that if she allowed him to cling to her blouse, he could support himself there with no apparent struggle. He held his head up on his own, and his eyes had come into focus. He took the world in greedily, squeaking and purring. Still he did not cry.

Meredith knew that she would have to leave him soon to return to work; she had been out for almost eleven months and her funds were dwindling. She hated the thought, although she knew Peter would be safe in his father's care. She dreaded the long days of waiting to get back to her son, to nurse him and hold him close.

“He is strong,” Eros sighed tonight, while Meredith sat by the fireplace and contemplated this. He was sitting cross-legged with Peter in his lap, while the baby's little hands groped eagerly at the world around him. Eros looked kingly even in such a casual pose, his red-blonde hair aglow in the light from the fire behind him. His golden eyes were twinkling with pride as he watched his tiny son. “I do look forward to the day when I may present him to my parents, as my rightful heir,” he said.

“They won't mind that we aren't married?” Meredith asked, scootching closer to stroke Peter's silky hair.

“Such formalities matter little to my people,” Eros replied, her gentle hinting lost on him. “We care only that he has my blood in him.”

Privately Meredith thought that there could be no doubting this. Peter was in many ways the image of his father, even so young. The baby had the beginning of his father's exquisite features, the deep eyes and wide cheekbones, and soft full lips. He had her nose, though. He grunted and reached for her suddenly, and she lifted him carefully. He nestled happily against her breast, fingers pulling at the fabric of her blouse. She smiled and buried her nose in his hair. She had always scoffed at those who insisted they loved the way babies smelled, but lately she had begun to understand.

Her eyes fell once more to Eros, who was gazing at her with such intensity it was as though she could read his mind. She rose and placed Peter gently in his cradle, where he cooed and wiggled. Eros, who had followed her into the bedroom, slipped his arms around her waist and pressed his warm lips to the curve of her neck. They simply stood together a moment, enjoying each other's presence. Then his great hand found the hem of her skirt and slid under it deftly, and she sighed contentedly into his shoulder.

It was several hours later that she woke and found herself alone in the bed. She sat up a bit, looking around in bewilderment. “Eros?” She said. “Where did you go?”

When he did not answer, she rose. She quickly pulled on a pair of silky lounge pants and a bra and stopped briefly at the cradle to assure Peter was still sleeping. His quiet inhale-exhale affirmed this, so she continued to the kitchen. There was no sign of her lover there, nor in the bathroom. She turned her attention at last to the back door, which had been left slightly ajar. Stepping into the chilly midnight air, she peered in the direction of the ship. It was hidden carefully with cloaking devices, but it distorted the shape of the trees and stars behind it slightly. “Eros,” she called. “Are you out here?”

He appeared suddenly at the foot of the ship, glittering subtly in the darkness. “My love,” he said quietly. “There is news.”

She stepped into the grass, crunchy with frost underfoot. “What do you mean? Is everything alright?”

“I have received a transmission from my friends in the Empire. My mother is dead- my brother killed her, and many others.  They say he was consumed by madness, and that he has begun to search for me now."

"Oh, Fox, I'm so sorry.  What are you gonna do?"

Eros was silent for a long moment. Then, he murmured, “I must leave you.”

“No,” she said at once. “You can't.”

“My darling, it will not be safe for me to remain here. My presence will put you and Peter at risk. I don't want to be anywhere near you if Thanos finds me... they say he acted without mercy or regard for consequence.”

“But-”

“I have lost too many loved ones already, Meredith.  I will not count my mate and child among them."

Tears welled up in Meredith's eyes at once. “But what about Peter? He needs a father. I need you!”

He came forward and took her hands between his. “I am truly sorry, my darling. I must confront my brother, and if it comes to my death or his, then that is the way of things. But until I am found he will continue to look, and leave a wake of destruction behind him."

She shook her head, the tears leaving hot trails on her cheeks. Eros put his arms around her and held her close. “When and if I am able, I will return for the you and the boy. But for now you both will be safest here.”'

Meredith shook her head again. “What am I gonna do without you?”

He kissed her brow, then her cheek. “You are a strong and clever woman, and Peter will grow to be great. Together you will survive.”

“When are you leaving?”

“I must go as soon as possible."

She closed her eyes against fresh tears.  “You have to say goodbye to Peter first.”

“Of course.”

He followed her inside, through the pitch-black living room and back to the bedroom. There he stooped low over the cradle and peered at his sleeping child. “I am sorry to you, too, little one,” he said. “I did not ever mean to leave you without a father.”

Peter stirred gently at Eros' voice. The big man cupped his tiny head in one hand. “Be strong, my beautiful boy. I will return for you someday.”

Meredith gathered Peter up and followed Eros back to the yard.  She had to resist the urge to hang on to the man, to beg him not to leave.  It seemed that he, too, could hardly stand to lower the boarding ramp of his vessel.  He reached out to embrace her again, kissing her long and hard.  As he withdrew, she saw that his face was wet with tears.

"I found Paradise with you," he said softly, "and one day I will be back- I swear it.  For now, my girl, be proud and brave.  Teach our son well."

Meredith nodded, clutching Peter close as she watched Eros board his ship.  She sank into a heap on the grass as it rumbled into life and rocketed skyward.  Within minutes it was a bright point that was all but lost among the stars.

She kissed Peter's head again and again, taking comfort in his scent and warmth. He grabbed sleepily at her breast; she nursed him and felt a bit better.

“Oh, Peter Jason, your daddy is in trouble,” she said quietly. “Just when we thought everything was going to work out."

Peter murmured softly through his greedy suckling. His eyes were beginning to change, she noticed as he looked up at her, from a pale sky-blue to a greenish hue.  She wondered if one day they would be gold like Eros', or a shade more like her own. She was not sure which she hoped more for.