The call of the seabirds was mournful in the grey dawn. Almost as mournful as Lena felt. She wrapped herself in her arms against the chill and watched the waves break against the rocks below the cliffside.
“How is he?”
The question was low and sudden, from just behind the rough crop of brush to her left, but Lena didn’t startle. The alpha’s scent comforted her, even without turning around.
“Better. His arm will heal if he can keep it clean with brandy instead of drinking it all.”
Kara gave a short laugh. “Lex likes brandy. Tell the captain to lock the storeroom.”
“That won’t stop him. He learned to pick the lock on Father’s liquor cabinet while he was still in short pants.” Lena could feel that Kara had crept closer while she was talking, and the warmth of her solid chest was a welcome reward when she leaned back into the embrace. Two bronzed arms came to encircle her waist, and she closed her eyes against the tears.
“I’ll make sure he stays out of it. Even if I have to sit on him.”
The birds called again and again, over the crashing of the waves. Down below, on the narrow strip of beach, there could also be heard the faint yelling of the porters, moving to and fro like busy ants among a pile of boxes and barrels. The tide was coming in soon, and the crew of the Merry Ida wanted to be off with it when it went back out. Somewhere, down there on the beach, was the trunk with Lena’s fine dresses and soft shoes—all the impractical things she’d never worn in the jungle. They were going back to London, where they belonged.
And soon, so would she.
“I don’t want to go.” Lena turned in Kara’s arms, seeking the comfort of those large blue eyes, a far more welcome sea than the one waiting for her. There was a tide coming for those eyes, too. Salt and warmth gathered there, but to her immense credit, the alpha only crinkled her face into a smile and refused to let the tears fall.
“I know.” Kara said, softly, and her arms tightened. “But the boat is leaving. And Lex is leaving.”
Somewhere down there on the beach was also the urn containing the ashes of Morgan Edge. That was leaving too, but neither of them remarked upon it. It was an unremarkable thing, after all. Death in the jungle was just another part of life.
Tell me to stay. Lena thought, with the force of hidden desperation. Command me. Tell me you will accept no other mate. Tell me I am yours and yours alone.
But of course, Kara would not do that. Not her. It would never be that way, with this alpha. And Lena was beginning to understand what that meant…just as it was being ripped away from her by the steady inevitable course of the tides.
There would be no alphas like Kara in London. Nor would they be summering at the French coast. Or on holiday in the Alps. Nor anywhere that Lena could go—not that she would be going to any of those places much more herself, now that the family fortune was indeed lost for good, and that thought should have sobered her more than it did, but it did not. There was a greater loss at stake.
There would be no one like Kara in all the world. Not except here, on a tiny sliver of land off the eastern coast of Africa, asleep in a jungle nest with her arms under her head, under stars that seemed brighter and more alive than any Lena would ever see below the smog in London. She would be here , and Lena would be there , and the painful, simple fact of that was like a hollow ache under the omega’s rib cage. She knew already that it would last a lifetime.
But yet—she had to go. Her life was in London. Her friends—such as they were, vapid socialites, the lot—were nothing to her but the life she meant was not the one spent tittering over croquet balls and dining on cucumber sandwiches at the club. Lex would be in London. Even if they were penniless, at least they’d have each other. She could not abandon him to scrabble and beg for loans from his former club mates alone. This was Father’s debt, yes, but it was both of their desires to go on this expedition. She had to make sure it was not in vain, even if that meant taking on the onerous task of a marriage for money again. She had to.
And, by all equal tokens, Kara had to stay. Her home was here, as was her family , who had guarded her with their lives when she was incapacitated and imprisoned. She could not abandon them any more than Lena could abandon Lex…even if his choices weren’t always as noble as the gorillas. Not much ever could be.
As if reading her mind, Kara’s arms unfolded around her, and the alpha tipped her chin up with two strong fingers. “Promise me you’ll be safe. No let…. don’t let anyone hurt you. Or push you around.”
Lena’s lips caught at the pads of her fingers and she kept them close with a cupped palm, turning into her cheek. “You know I won’t. I—-“ she hesitated. I want to stay. Tell me to stay. No. Ask me to stay.
“I know.” Kara kissed her knuckles with the most breathtaking tenderness from someone who could break a mountain in half. “You’re going home.”
My home is with you. My home is in these arms. On this island. Wherever you are.
“I—“ Lena hesitated again, tongue thick in her mouth. Why couldn’t she just say it? She didn’t know. It was maddening.
Kara stepped away from her, and immediately her body felt the loss like a blow to her midsection. She sucked in a breath, as the alpha looked back down the trail. “I should go back to the camp. I have something to get for you….before you leave.”
No Kara, stay, stay, stay, ask me to stay— Lena fought the rising desperation in her gullet as the warmth of the alpha’s body left her. It was too soon and yet time already. Lena wasn’t ready. She felt sure the terrible snap of this parting would break her inside, like a shattered sapling.
But, as always, the alpha seemed to surprise her when her thoughts turned darkest. Kara’s shaggy blonde head swiveled back and shot her a careful, measured look. “If I asked you to stay, would you say yes?”
“Kara, I—“ The sudden directness of the question was a second blow, this one higher up. Air seemed to squeak from her throat and she froze.
Kara nodded, as if this answered it, and gave Lena the faintest of smiles. “I know. Not fair to ask that. Not now.”
And then she was off, back down the trail to camp with the silent speed of someone who never needed to touch the ground. Lena’s jaw was still working before the leaves stopped rustling to signify her passing. She wasn’t quite sure when her heart would catch up, either.
Damn you, tides. Lena cast her futile anger in a wide net, aimed at the sea below. I wish I could make you still as a millpond.
She turned down the trail, telling herself she needed to pack the trunk of her books, but her heart wasn’t in it.
Kara’s heart was heavy as she flew down the trail, but her feet never touched the ground.
Why did I ask her? I know the answer. She can’t stay. She has to go.
Still, the secondary internal beratement was correct. Kara knew Lena had to go—she knew it. There was no way to entwine their two worlds, no way to bridge the ocean of both literal and metaphorical distance between them. How she wished they could stay as they had been in the fragrant, leafy embrace of the trees, with their bodies warm in a nest of their own making.
But even ape could know that was not to be.
And maybe, after all, Kara was more ape than anything else. Certainly not man. Not alpha. Not anything but a member of her tribe, a silverback to the family who needed her more than ever now. That was where her thoughts should be—not with a human woman who belonged to a world that would never be hers, and a heart that could never belong to her own.
Kara clenched her jaw fiercely against the tears that wanted to fall. She had come so close to letting them loose with Lena in her arms, and thought that crucible had passed, but now it seemed her vision blurred at every turn—and not just because of her speed.
She could not forget Lena. Even if she could, even if she should. And she would always think of her. That much was certain.
Of anything else—she was less sure.
She almost fell over her own feet when she arrived at her intended destination. Flying was a newly-acquired skill—one she delighted in practicing, but still one she’d yet to master. Half of the trees on the island were looking ragged at the tops from being clipped too close by excited landings. Flying was good , and that was helpful. Flying lessened the pain of Lena’s leaving. At least, for now.
The crater had begun to crawl back with life as Kara approached the gravelly pit at the center, where the steely-grey pod had once lain. Colobus monkeys loped easily away from her sudden crashing fall and then chittered their scorn at the edge of a fig tree, where last year’s young were busily devouring the loaded branches. The crater was alive again with bird song, too, as the little singers were always the boldest and first to try out something new. The predators—large and small—would come later, slinking in only when the routines were well established and the prey resting at ease. That was the way the jungle reclaimed its own order, as it always had done, and always will do.
Kara’s fingers brushed the rocky ground that had once cradled her first resting place. The pod was gone—resting in its abandoned sling back in Lex and Morgan’s old camp, where it would likely remain. No one was left to move it back to its original place. The ground still held its shape, where the creepers and ferns had been unable to move in, but they would again soon. The dry season was almost over and the wet would soon begin. Everything would grow over this space in green as thick as Kara’s arm, and the bushbucks would come in their dozens to gorge.
Eventually, even this crater would be filled in. And perhaps Kara would be here to see it. Alone. The thought was a strange cold finger down her spine.
Well. It would not fill for a time yet, at least. Not after what Kara meant to do. She turned her attention back to the depression in the ground, where the pod lay, and zeroed in her vision, tuning it as carefully as she’d seen Lex do with the dials of his navigational instruments. What she was looking for was not far below the surface—at least, not here, in the crater. Elsewhere she imagined it would be much more difficult—particularly for humans, who seemed to lack the ability to break through stone with their eyes.
She readied herself with a breath, and then began.
Lex was drinking brandy when she found him, but Lena could hardly fault him when she saw what he was doing.
Her brother was slumped morosely over a folding camp table, nursing a glass and rubbing his head with the same hand as the porters busily worked all around him. On the camp table was the urn of Morgan Edge, and pinned below it, with a hasty, fresh look to the ink, was the letter that Lex had undoubtedly just finished writing to the poor bastard’s parents. Lena didn’t like imagining what colorful excuse he’d come up with for Morgan’s untimely death—it was likely to be something fanciful and unpleasantly racist involving ‘jungle savages’. The Edges would buy that for a penny a pound, and both she and Lex knew it. She shuddered, quietly. To think she’d almost been saddled permanently to that awful family.
It was a fate that Kara had saved her from. In so many ways. Once again, her heart thumped heavy in her tightening chest, and she cursed it for its constant reminders. Thinking of Kara made the tears well up in her eyes and the breath linger in her throat,and her brother would see that right away. It would do no good to come to Lex with a teary eye over Kara when he had so many other problems. No good at all.
So she resolved herself before she approached, and felt a little better for it.
“What did you manage to tell them?” Lena took the bottle from Lex’s drooping fingers and took a swig herself, biting her lip against the sudden rush to her head.
“Jungle savages. Set fire to our tent while we slept. Paid two porters to sign witness statements.” Lex replied, half muffled by his hand as he plucked at the letter with the other finger. “With the hangover I have I should’ve told them I took a bloody hatchet to the face myself.”
Under the complaints, Lena could sense his genuine malaise. Lex felt guilty over few things, but none of this venture had gone the way he planned. Or how any of them had planned. She put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, brother.”
Lex heaved a sigh and then patted her knuckles—-the closest the Luthor siblings had to a tearful hug.
“It isn’t your fault. Edge was a blithering idiot and his idea would have never worked. If I hadn’t been so depressed and gin-soaked over the blasted crater being useless then I would’ve seen it myself. One slip and Kara would escape and ruin us faster than a fire at P.T Barnum’s.” He cast her a sidelong, evaluating look. “And you’d never forgive me, of course.”
“Of course.” She kept a straight face, but she was sure her eyes told him the truth of it—-they’d come narrowly close to that very outcome. Lex sighed again, slowly this time, as if he knew.
“Blithering idiot.” He said again, softly. Lena knew who he was talking about. She squeezed his shoulder. Just once, but tightly.
“It’s past us now. We must look to the future.” Lena handed the bottle to a passing porter with a nod, ignoring Lex’s protesting whine and reaching fingers. “Starting with the drinking. Or do you want to end up like Mother? She’s half pickled already.”
“Mother’s got the right idea.” Lex thumbed past the letter to the open book of their accounts, and groaned. “We may as well ask the Merry Ida to take us to the Amalfi Coast with her, and run the last of our savings into the hands of a hotelier for a few months. I don’t see what we can do otherwise.”
“That’s why you have to stop drinking.” Lena’s counter was quick enough that her brother groaned again. “I mean it, Lex. You aren’t thinking the way you usually do. Letting Morgan lead you, being drawn into his foolish plans…that’s not like you. Where is the boy who figured out the weakness of every student at Eton? The boy who knew the locks to every key in Oxford? The boy who grabbed hold of a dying name and used it as a buoy into every club in London?”
Green eyes met grey and they sparkled together.
“You’re right.” Lex admitted fault rarely, and always very quietly. Lena had to strain to hear him over the bustle of the porters. “I haven’t been myself. But Lena, my dearest—“ here he paused, to give her a lasting look—“did you ever consider that was in your favor?”
Lena’s silence told him what he needed to know. Lex continued. “I watched you and Kara…and I said not a word about the wagging tongues of London. Let alone what Morgan would say. I watched you….and I saw you happy , Lena. And perhaps it was the disappointment of the jungle and gin, because I wanted you to be happy more than I wanted the fortune of our father.”
His cold, grey eyes were open and without guile for the first time Lena had seen, perhaps since he was a boy. He took her hands, and Lena wanted to tell him to stop, not to ask her, but it was too late. He was already saying the words.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“You can’t ask me that.” Lena blinked hard, wishing like anything she hadn’t given up that brandy bottle—for all her fine speech. “I—we both know I can’t stay here. You need me, first of all. You need to arrange another marriage so we can keep the house. Or we—I don’t know—come up with a plan to—“
“Lena.” Lex squeezed her hands. “You’re getting hysterical. You know I can’t stand a hysterical woman.”
She shot him an angry glare under one fierce eyebrow as her breathing slowed. “You know that’s an absurd stereotype.” But her heart had calmed, and with it, the clarity of her emotions. “You’re being kind, Lex, and I thank you. But it’s too kind. I can’t stay here, and we both know that I must help you. It’s the only way. Now come, help me decide which of my books to gift to Kara.”
“All of them.” Lex declared, rising from the table with the letter to Edge’s parents rolled up and stuffed into his coat. “They’re far too heavy.”
Together, brother and sister made their way across the busy, deteriorating campground to the trunk of Lena’s books.
They were in the midst of arguing over Faust, when Kara arrived in camp. They knew she was coming long before the blonde head appeared around the corner of the pile of books, because the noise of the camp briefly stopped, as the porters looked away in embarrassment and guilt. Some spoke softly to Kara—recriminations and apologies, mostly. Most were silent. The last time many of them had seen her, she’d been in a cage they’d built with their own hands. It was hard to speak again to a person after that.
Lena had no such guilt, but her tongue still stuck to the roof of her mouth when she smelled the clean sweat of the alpha, and inhaled the broad, grassy scent of her musk. It was impossible to know what to say. “Kara—“ she started.
But the alpha interrupted her by slinging a burlap sack over one shoulder, which spilled onto the copy of Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance in Lex’s lap. The contents tumbled onto his legs, and at first, they were so red that Lena thought they were bloody hearts. She gasped, and it was then that she realized they were rubies. Fist-sized, massive rubies, some as large as a man’s head, the smallest could still fill Lena’s palm. Her heart gave a double thump and turned over.
Lex was goggling as much as Lena, stammering and caught off guard for perhaps the first and only time in his life. “I—-Kara—what—“ He lifted an uncut ruby the size of his head and looked into it, before looking helplessly back at Lena, and then Kara again.
“These are all I could fit in the bag, but there are many more in a pile at the crater.” Kara’s enunciation had improved with huge leaps since her first days of trying to speak, but she still had to speak slowly and carefully with longer sentences. “I can bring them down before the tide is out. But that is all that I found.” Her eyes moved meaningfully to Lex. “Do you understand? This is all. I looked into the mountain myself.”
Lex was still caught on the fact that there were more rubies. “Another…pile? But, Kara this is a fortune beyond reckoning.” He looked at Lena and tossed her the ruby he’d been holding. “Already we can repay father’s debts with that one alone. You mean to tell me there’s a pile?”
“Yes. But that is all of them. There will be no more.”
Lex waved his hand at her, impatient. “Yes, yes I understand, you don’t want me mining your island. But you’ve done the work for me, old chap. You’ve saved me thousands and probably a dozen years of backbreaking work to mine the damn thing, and instead just scooped out the gems all in one go. I won’t look this gift horse in the mouth, you can count on that.”
Looking at her with a more serious eye, Lex added: “You have my word.” And offered his hand for Kara to shake.
Lena’s hand on her chest felt like it might be the only thing holding her body in place. She was trembling—deep core shakes that felt like they may knock her over. She didn’t trust her breath to speak, but when Lex gave his word, she let out a soft sigh, almost a half-sob. Lex did not offer his loyalty, as a rule. Truly, every moment on this island was a world much newer and stranger than any Lena had ever experienced.
It took her a moment of solid blinking to realize Kara was speaking again.
“Your father was right all along. There is a fortune here. He thought my pod was a….star metal—“
“Meteorite.” Lena supplied instinctively, and Kara nodded her thanks.
“Meteorite. He thought it would be worth money, but that wasn’t all he thought...”
Lex was catching on now. “Hell. You’re right. We’ve been fools, and Father knew best all along.” He lifted his eyes to Lena and opened his hands, miming an explosion. “The crater. That’s what was valuable. Kara’s bloody starship punched a hole so deep into the Earth that anything of weight—minerals, diamonds, or rubies— would be thrust up close to meet it. “ He swiveled back to Kara, giving her—for the first time—a rather admiring look. “You clever fox. You knew .”
The way Kara shrugged noncommittally was something she had learned from Lex himself. “Seemed silly not to dig, is all.”
“Too right.” Lex’s chuckle was tinged with the closest he could come to warmth. He clapped his hands together, rubbing them with naked greed as he looked into his lap at the pile of wealth there. “Well, this changes everything, you know.”
“It does?” Lena blinked, as if coming awake from a dream. She stared down at the ruby in her hand again, folding her fingers around the blood-red edges.
“Of course it does.” Lex said the words as soon as they appeared in Lena’s own mind, like an echo. “My god Lena, think. We’re no longer just a flimsy shield of a name attached to a mountain of debt. We could pay off and rebuild, remake even. We could actually afford to be something—a rail magnate, a coal baron—the Luthor name could be—“
“I don’t want that.” Lena said suddenly, surprising them all in the bustle and noise of the camp outside. The tent fell into a hush. She let the ruby fall from her fingers to thump on the warm sand below, and her body felt as if a great weight had suddenly been lifted from her shoulders. She exhaled, and smiled. “I don’t want that. Lex. I’m sorry, but I won’t be going with you.”
Now it was Lex’s turn to blink and goggle. Kara, on the other hand, had only registered as stunned for a moment before she was looking at Lena with a half-hopeful, half-knowing warmth.
“I won’t be going with you.” Lena repeated, stepping over the ruby pile to join with Kara on the far side. She hadn’t taken her eyes away from those joyous orbs of blue. Rubies meant nothing to her in comparison. “I’m staying in the jungle. Here. With Kara.”
“I—“ Lex was made speechless for the second time that day. Truly, a day of rarities indeed. “You can’t be serious. You’d cry out for your feather bed in a week.”
Lena didn’t bother correcting him that she had slept better in Kara’s tree nests than she had in all the four-posters in London. She was too busy basking in the love from the alpha’s pheromones, blasting over her in waves of comfort and welcome. Her heart was light and her mind was made up. She’d never felt so free and so sure, as her fingers wound their way into Kara’s hands.
“What about Mother? What about your silly feather-headed friends? Oh—stop it, alright I see. You’re in love.” He snorted, as if there was no end to the foolishness of women, but the way he cast a sidelong glance at their jointed hands made Lena aware that he was relenting, just a bit. “Well. More fool you. Don’t come crying to me when you’ve got lice in your hair and a pair of mud petticoats.”
Lena only laughed. Kara’s fingers squeezed tightly and she returned it. “I won’t.”
There was a silence as Lex regarded them both with his clear grey eyes. The wariness dimmed and he looked again into the pile of rubies on his lap, then back to Lena. “You’d truly….give up this?”
He wasn’t just speaking of the rubies, and they all knew it.
“I would hope that you would write me. Perhaps Kara would be willing—“ Kara was nodding right away, even before she’d finished. “—to carry me to the mainland once a month for supplies and to receive your letters. You might even come yourself, if you were inclined to visit.”
Lex harrumphed. “Visit? And stay in a cave, no doubt?” His face softened, though, under the scorn of his words. “I suppose there’s no convincing you both to come to London instead?”
Kara and Lena exchanged glances, but Kara surprised her by being the one to speak. “Maybe someday. I have more to learn, yet.”
“That you do, old chap. Be sure you aren’t led entirely by the nose by my sister here. She can be quite the galling insect when she feels the need.” Lex’s sigh was deep, and his shoulders rolled. He gave Lena a deep and regarding stare. “You’re sure then?”
There it was. The tacit Luthor admittance of acceptance. And defeat. Sometimes those things were hand in hand in their family.
Lena felt the warmth of Kara surge through her palm, and smiled as widely at her brother as she had since childhood, hoping to convey the depth of her feeling. “I’m sure.”
They watched the Merry Ida leave that afternoon from the same cliff side, waving until the tiny speck of Lex disappeared into a dot on the horizon, blotted out by the gleam of the sun on the waves.
Kara had stood back while the Luthor siblings had their goodbye on the beach. Perhaps she hadn’t wanted to intrude. It was easier to let the tears flow without her there, and Lena was grateful for it when she saw them reflected in her brother’s normally-emotionless grey eyes.
“Promise me you’ll write.” Was all she could manage to say. Not I love you, dear brother or be safe. But perhaps she said them anyway, with her eyes.
“I will.” He said to her, crushing his lips to her cheek, and then the porter called again for him to board the dinghy back to the ship, and her brother slipped away, like the tide.
The salt in the air stung the tears on her cheeks, but she didn’t feel the hurt now. There was instead a welcome and joyous lightness to her body. A weightlessness below her chest. No more expectations. No more wagging fingers, talking tongues. No more strings ever tightening around her wrists and ankles and throat.
Now she was, at last, truly free. And with the woman she loved.
There was only one thing that remained.
She could feel it thrumming in the air between them as she moved closer into Kara’s embrace, turning from the waves to cup her hand around the warmth of her alpha’s chin. The soft lips that pressed to her palm sent a tingle of delight through her core, straight to the join of her thighs. Now there was no need for any more shame. It was just them, and the island, and the swelling enormity of the future they could build together, as a mated pair.
“Lena, are you—“ Kara began, with all her gentle concern and usual devotion to Lena’s feelings, but the omega silenced her by removing her dress in two devastatingly slow shrugs of her shoulders.
“I’ve never been better.” She told the alpha, truthfully. “But I think you can assure that record is fully broken in the following minutes, my love.”
Kara’s scent broadcasted interest and excitement even before her eyes had finished widening. “Oh.” Was all she said, before Lena stepped to kiss her.
They made love to the crashing of the waves on the cliffside, as chaotic and gloriously violent as the ocean itself. Lena allowed herself to be victoriously mounted and fucked as full as she’d ever been, hips slapping her ass as the both of them cried out in deeper moans than the seabirds. Before she’d even finished coming to her glorious release, she found herself already claimed with a firm bite in her neck, Kara sinking in deeply and moaning her full feelings into the place where Lena’s neck met her shoulder. But before either of them were finished panting, she rolled over the still-hard alpha and set herself to ride them both into another oblivion.
This time, when she came, she fell onto her alpha’s broad, sweating chest, and planted her own mark in the mirrored spot, right on Kara’s neck. She could taste the joy in her mouth as Kara cried out, thrusting crazily as her knot found purchase. The stretch warmed and filled her, and sensations exploded behind her eyes—colors she had never even seen. Lena released her hold to throw her head back and howl a throaty primal release into the blood-red sky.
“I love you,” she gasped, when Kara began to move in her again. “I lo—oh!”
Kara had begun to thrust, but she paused to nose gently into her mate’s damp curls, tongue snaking around her ear. “I love you, my mate.”
And then there were no more words.
The night bloomed in the jungle behind them and neither of them even noticed or cared. They had other, much more important work to do.
Several Years Later:
There was a cold wind blowing outside the slats of the tree house that night, so Lena only wrapped the baby closer to her body with a length of cotton, and shushed her infant, rocking the bundle slowly against her chest.
Kara had gone to fetch another log from their store at the base of the banyan tree, and she felt, rather than heard, her mate’s whoosh of air as she returned through the trap door in the floor, ignoring the ladder in favor of flying directly upward. The air from her passing blew out the dying fire, however, so she frowned, tossing down the logs on the coals, and let her eyes glow white hot. The pile of wood danced to life with flame, and Lena had to sigh fondly, even if she had rolled her eyes earlier.
Kalla, their oldest, crowed in delight and clapped her hands at the show. She was not yet five, and fairly lived for glimpses of her sire’s power. Lena was certain she was a future alpha already. “Do it again Papa!”
“Again!” Crowed out Kiera, the second in command at three years old. She was her sister in miniature but for her curls—chocolate brown instead of Kalla’s white gold—and Lena was certain she shared the same alpha destiny. Together, the two of them spent half their time trying to turn their parents' hair grey.
Lena shushed Lily—six months and so far Lena’s only hope at an omega—and gave Kara a mock-threatening eyebrow. “See what you started?”
Kara gathered Kalla up into a bear wrestle-hug that ended with her eldest offspring growling and gripping her forearm with sharp little teeth. Kiera joined in the fight by giving a delighted baby war cry and launching herself teeth-out at her sire’s calf. “I—ow! Stop that, Kit! See what you mean, love. Down , Kalla. No, my little leopard cubs, remember what I taught you?”
“‘Only use powers in case of h’emergencies.’” Two little voices recited dutifully.
“Is lighting the fire h’emergency?” Kalla asked, cannily as Lex had been at her age. Lena had to repress a laugh at Kara’s strained look.
“Not—not exactly. Look, who wants Papa to tell them a story?”
“Good catch.” Lena whispered across the fire, winking fondly. Kara blew her a kiss.
“Story! Story! Story!” Both Kiera and Kalla had taken up the chant, and even Lily squirmed as if in unison.
“Pipe down, cubs.” Kara gathered them both close and tossed the skewer of antelope meat and root vegetables onto the turning spit. With the heat raising up from her neatly-lasered wood, dinner would likely be done soon.
Lena gathered up Lily and moved closer, snuggling in against Kiera’s warm little back as her mate turned to shoot her a grateful look. “What story do you want? The Leopard story? The Grandfather Ape story?”
Kiera saw how her parents were giving each other moon eyes and began to chant. “Mama story! Mama story! Mama story!”
“Yes! Tell us the Mama story.” Kalla agreed, nestling into Lena’s other side.
“You mean the story of how your Papa and I met? Surely you two don’t want to hear that old story again.” Lena teased, knowing full well that her offspring would clamor in response—which they did.
“No! We want the Mama Story! Tell the Mama Story!”
Kara leaned back to give Lena a soft, quick kiss. Then she straightened, and pulled all of them tighter as the wind whistled with the storm outside. “Alright. Listen well, my loves.”
“It all began with a falling star, and a dream across the ocean, thousands of miles from here….”