When the pod landed, it was a ball of fire in the sky that drew the eyes of every animal in the forest, including the gorilla tribe.
Only the oldest female of the silverback’s troop was brave enough to investigate, though.
He watched her go down into the crater, oblivious to his low hoots of warning, and blew air out, smacking the ground as the rest of the troop watched from behind his back, making distressed grunts and pants. He didn’t trust the sky fire, or the way it fell. No one liked the smell of it, either—it was burning still in their sensitive noses. Acrid, strong. Not a leopard smell, but not good, either.
But the female was curious. She thought she’d heard an infant’s wailing, and, having recently lost one of her own, she was of the mind to be dogged. She made her way slowly, knuckles brushing the scorched ground, and sniffed. Ah. There.
There was a click, and a hum, which alarmed her, and she hooted at it, chuffing air and scraping dirt, backing quickly away. But the thing only slowly opened, revealing the warm, pinkish bundle that squirmed and squealed. It had golden fur at the top of its head, instead of her own lost baby’s lovely dark brown coat, but otherwise it was naked, like a rodent.
It looked sickly. Maybe it had come out wrong. The female turned to go, but the infant rolled, wiggling free of its wrapping. And it began to squall, because it was cold. The tiny chest, exposed to the air, stretched and arched and wailed, heartbreakingly.
Every mother, no matter the species, knows that cry.
The male issued a low warning, blowing out his breath threateningly. But the female ignored him. There was no threat here. Just a baby thing that would die of cold and fear and loneliness before night’s end, if the leopard did not get him first. Her great, solid heart twisted in her chest, and her finger grazed the edge of the wrappings.
The baby, cooing in interest, grabbed at her finger, twice the size of its chubby fist. Grayish-blue eyes looked up into the dark face of the female gorilla, and the baby chirped, raising its arms to be held.
Carefully, with the gentleness of a creature half her size, the female gathered the wrappings up, and nestled the baby to her chest with one arm. She made her way out of the crater, picking silently over the smoking ground, and ignored the indignant grunts of her mate. He would get used to it. A new baby was good for the troop, anyway. Everyone loved babies.
Later that night, in the nest she had made of folded branches and flattened leaves, the gorilla lay back with the baby on her chest, and encouraged it to suckle. The baby nudged and mouthed against her breast, and she pushed her nipple into it’s seeking mouth. When the infant latched and began to nurse, she sighed, contentedly, and settled on one side, stroking the delicate curls of blonde fur with one giant finger.
If it lived, she decided she would name it Ka-Ra.
The Golden One.
“Lena! You know you’re not allowed in Papa’s study!”
Lex grabbed her by the back of her pinafore, but she wrenched free, leaving him clutching a taffeta bow. He stamped his foot on the hallway rug. “You wretched little hobgoblin! Mother will tan your hide!”
Lena threw a face at him and sprinted for the door, ducking around the edge just as Lex’s fingers reached for her. She tumbled onto the thick, green carpet and crawled behind one of the stuffed bears, giggling.
“Lena!” Lex hissed, trying to keep his voice low, even as his schoolboy’s voice cracked. He had only presented as an alpha two weeks before, and was taking his role very seriously already.
He spotted her behind the bear and hauled her out by one ankle. “There you are, now you’re in for it—“
“What’s all this then?” The elder Luthoer alpha peered over the edge of his golden spectacles, examining his two pink-cheeked offspring.
“Sorry sir.” Lex dropped Lena’s ankle and helped his sister to her feet, brushing down her pinafore as he tried to re-fix her bow. “She’s supposed to be in elocution lessons. Mother said for her not to bother you.”
“My children are not a bother. Lillian should know that by now.” Lionel told his son, benignly. He swung his chair out and patted his lap. “Come here, Lena darling. You too, Alexander.”
“Papa!” Lena went to her father’s open arms and clambered into his lap. He kissed the silken top of her dark brown head, and she nestled into his chest, which smelled, as always, of tobacco and musky leather. Lionel absentmindedly smoothed down the bow in her hair as he held her close, showing her the map spread across the desk as he beckoned Lex closer.
“See here, children? This is an island just off the coast of Africa. And here is where your Papa shall make his fortune ten times over.” Lionel chuckled and nudged Lex with an elbow. “Enough to keep your mother in opera furs for the rest of her life, and then some.”
“She’d like that.” Lena said, solemnly, and Lex giggled.
“Why this island, Father?” Lex asked, intelligently, as Lena’s chubby finger followed her father’s across the map to the tiny dot in the Indian Ocean. “Are there diamonds?”
“Son, there are diamonds in every crevice of Africa. But the Belgian King has already begun looting, and soon after there will be not much to be claimed.” Lionel’s laugh was rich with dark knowledge. “No, this contains something far more valuable. A meteor. A metal from space. One fell about five years ago, and no one has yet had the gall to go looking for it.”
“Space?” Lena asked, tilting her little chin up at her father’s glowing smile. “How did it come from so far away?”
“It fell, dear heart.” Her father kissed the top of her head. “It fell from the sky. And with it, in that island, rests all our hopes and dreams. Can you imagine that?”
He placed her tiny hand over the island on the map. “A star that fell from space.”
“Magic star.” Lena whispered, looking down between her spread fingers at the longitude numbers. “Magic.”
The child Ka-Ra lived. And grew.
Golden-haired and bright eyed, she was taller than a gorilla, and definitely larger than a rodent, by a long shot. She was strangely pink, gawky-limbed, and got cold easily, so she had to use the wrapping she’d been found in—a soiled blue and red that stood out in the forest like a target for predators—tied around her waist like extra fur. She also didn’t walk well on her knuckles, preferring to half-stand, half-stoop as to fit in. Still, she ate the same food, and spoke their language, and slept in their nests, so most of the troop accepted her just fine.
The silverback had his reservations, though, and they were only reinforced by her strength. Ka-Ra was strong. Even at an early age, she could throw another juvenile twice her size over her shoulder without the slightest bit of effort. She could pull up a tree and hold it one-handed while the troop picked out squirming grubs at their leisure. When the elephant tribe had one of their calves stuck down a ravine, Ka-Ra simply hauled him out by his tail, lifting him without even grunting in exertion.
Unfortunately, though, this great strength was not without drawbacks. Ka-Ra grew to juvenile stage, and, even in her naive innocence, began presenting as a challenge to the silverback. She smelled of testosterone and musk, and when she had a bad day, she could haul gorilla-sized boulders out of the ground and fling them around at will. Though she never directed her ire at the dominant male, the silverback did not like having such an aggressive force in his troop. He constantly displayed at her, knocked her over, put his canines in her face and roared. But no matter what Ka-Ra did, she could not appease him.
Until one day.
The troop had been feeding on some new shoots in the clearing made by the elephants a few weeks before—when the bull had gone through the woods in a musth-drunk haze, looking for the herd and the females. His dung had made potent fertilizer for the saplings, and their green growth was what the troop was feasting on now, silent and focused. There had been four new infants among the younger females this year, and the group needed all the calories they could get, with so many more mouths to feed. The silverback had his attention drawn by a particularly tasty root, and had a momentary lapse in concentration, allowing his exhaustion as a father to overweight his alertness.
Which was, of course, when the leopard struck.
One of the youngsters had strayed too far to the edge of the clearing. His inquisitiveness and youth had led him into a nice patch of mushrooms, and he hooted eagerly, stuffing his face before the rest of the troop could find them. Duly engrossed, he did not notice the flash of dappled hide behind him in the thick brush.
But Ka-Ra did.
The leopard bowled the youngster over, claw raking down his shoulder, and he screeched in mortal terror. The group looked up as one, and the silverback roared to life, galloping toward the the terrified juvenile, pinned down by the giant cat. But he was going to be too late, he wasn’t going to—
And then a blue and red flash tackled the leopard to the ground, and Ka-Ra grabbed the cat by its tail and swung it around her head like a vine. She screamed and slammed the beast to the ground, and beat her chest with both hands, hooting her dominance to the open corners of the clearing. The leopard, dazed and probably bleeding internally, flattened its ears, hissed and beat a hasty retreat, as Ka-Ra flung up dead tree limbs and hurled them after it.
The silverback caught up to the scene, and inspected the still-shivering, panicked juvenile. He had a big bloody claw mark on one shoulder, and was howling for his mother—who came scampering down to him, panting and grunting at his distress—but he was otherwise unharmed.
He would have been eaten, if not for Ka-ra, who was still beating her chest at the direction of the cat, daring it to return.
The silverback went over to the young alpha, and calmed her, grunting gently as he patted her back heavily. She looked at him, wide-eyed in surprise, and he gave her the sideways look of gorilla approval, before adding his own chest-beating. A final insult to the leopard, and a signal of fatherly pride.
That night, the silverback let her take first watch, while he rested, safe with the protection of his chosen deputy.
And Ka-Ra sat amongst her family while they snored and slept heavily, and looked up at the stars overhead, and wondered where she came from.
The ship that bore Lena to her destiny wasn’t a large or glamorous vessel.
The Merry Ida had seen many a better day. Her sails were battered in salt, and she had a tendency to list to one side. She was more of a fishing sloop than a passenger vehicle, but it was the only seaworthy ship with a drunk enough captain that Lex could convince to try making land on the island. The bay was littered in the corpses of other ships who had tried, but somehow, either by providence or the loose-judgement-luck of the captain, they had made it to safe anchorage.
And now, her brother was refusing to let her go ashore.
“Lena, I let you come along on this voyage out of misguided sentiment for your memories of Father, but really, you cannot expect me to allow you to traipse around the forests of darkest Africa just because our dear dead pater put your hand on a map fifteen years ago.”
“It was his dream.” Lena argued, putting her laced boot firmly down on the deck. “He wanted both of us to be there. He said exactly that, several times, before he died.”
“Darling, I really do agree with your brother.” Her fiancé-of-a-kind, Morgan Edge, inserted his opinion, as always, whether it was wanted or not. He was eating an apple, and threw it overboard before he’d finished more than two bites. “The wilds are no place for a civilized woman, and certainly not a highborn omega such as yourself.”
“What difference does my status make to whether a leopard will eat me or not?” Lena asked, simply, and rolled her eyes at the lock of shock on both alpha’s faces. “Look, you’re both wasting your time. I’ve told you already, you can’t keep me here. I’ll jump the side if I have to.”
Lex sighed, and ran a hand through his thinning brown hair. “She will, you know.” He told Edge, ruefully. “We’d better let her come.”
“What if there are tribes of savages?” Edge protested, indignantly. He lowered his voice and looked significantly at Lex. “Her virtue could be at stake.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake.” Lena put her hands on her hips. “You cared very little for preserving my virtue each of the seven nights you tried to enter my cabin on this voyage, Mr. Edge.”
Lex shot Edge a dangerous look, and her would-be suitor turned a bright red and rubbed his neck furiously. “Ah.”
“Yes, very eloquent.” Lena folded her arms. “Well. Are there any more objections or shall we go to shore now? Daylight is wasting, gentlemen.”
They went to shore.
The men busied themselves over-directing the sailors at setting up camp, but Lena was itching to explore the crater. She had changed from her sea-stained skirts into a more suitable explorer’s frock, without a petticoat, and she ignored the few indiscreet looks she was receiving from the busy crew for how the fabric clung to her legs as she examined her father’s maps, comparing them to the landscape she could see from their beach.
When she cupped her hands to her eyes, she could see that there was a tall ridge in the distance, almost a mountain—the edge of which could lead down to a crater, if one existed. Her father had seemed to think it was there. And Lena wanted to believe in the memory of her father...even if the unpleasant reality of her family sometimes got in the way.
As well as alpha societal expectations.
“No. No, you cannot go alone into the jungle. I let you come along, but at this I will put down my foot.” Lex seemed inclined to mean it, judging by the narrowed expression he was giving his omega sister. “You must wait until we have finished setting up camp. And then we shall mount our expedition formally.”
“Just a little walk, Lex.” Lena was more than indignant. “I won’t even leave the campsite borders.”
“That is an outright lie, and you know it.” Her brother regarded her, unblinking.
“We can go together.” Morgan declared, smiling foolishly at her as if she would have already forgotten his earlier transgressions. “I have an eye to start tracking the game trails before dusk. That way I can get a start on bagging a leopard before the expedition’s end.”
The alpha hefted his rifle, giving it a meaningful stroke that was lost on neither Lena nor Lex. “And you’ll be assured of my thorough protection.”
“Perfect.” Lex blithely declared, even as Lena grit her teeth, releasing her most unwelcoming of scents. “Go with Mr. Edge, sister.” He instructed, outright ignoring her glare. “Be sure you’re both back before sundown. I shudder to think what primitive terrors the nights may bring in that jungle.”
There was a strange scent on the wind.
Ka-Ra had been lifting her nose all morning. While the rest of the troop fed on figs, contentedly snuffling amongst themselves, she sat on lookout in a banyan tree, high up enough to see a strange cloud on the horizon. It looked...stationary. And there was a strange tree, standing almost in the middle of the ocean. She didn’t know how it could have possibly gotten there.
It was fascinating. But also concerning. She looked down at her family, gorging among the figs, and frowned. No one was paying much attention. To the troop, it was mostly like any other day.
But Ka-Ra was used to being the only one interested in the unusual.
She herself was strange, to most other animals in the jungle. Waterbucks and antelope alike snorted in alarm at her alarmingly-naked skin, her weird upright gait, and her watchful, thinking eyes. Her strength was terrifying, isolating. The general consensus was that she was to be tolerated, but not, as a rule, encouraged. Her troop protected her, and she protected them, but they were not above thinking that she was a weird thing, too. It was clear that she would always be different. A strange, naked thing that fell out of the sky.
And now there were strange clouds in the sky. Sitting, or more like squatting right in the bay. And Ka-Ra wondered if perhaps the scent that had her prickling along her skin might possibly belong to more unusual beings from the sky, waiting to be disgorged from the billowing whiteness like raindrops.
It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. Ka-Ra herself might have come to the jungle this way. Often she would sneak away from the troop and go examine the crater, high on the mountain where she had been found. It was no one’s territory now—the area smelled weird, to most animals, and even the chimpanzees didn’t want to feed there—and they weren’t normally picky about anything, as a rule. Ka-Ra could take handfuls of figs on her way down, and she would gorge as she looked into the empty pit that had been her entry into the world. No overgrowth touched the edges of the silvery thing that she had come from. Instead it sat, glowing and humming with an uneasy familiarity. K-Ra never quite knew what to make of it.
These clouds felt like that.
The silverback whuffed at her when she swung down from the top of the tree, offering to share his figs, but she politely declined, grunting quietly. There were other things on her mind. He turned his back on her, showing his trust in her, and went to play with one of the newer offspring from this year, showing his massive canines as he boxed with the youngster. Kara watched for a time, comforted by the pleasant routines of her simple life. But the nagging impulse kept returning, so eventually, she turned from her family and went in the direction of those clouds.
She wanted to follow this strange scent, and see where it led.
For all that Edge had boasted of being ‘the best tracker this side of Cape Horn’ it seemed the island’s jungle would not yield easily.
The alpha had been sweating and hacking with his brand-new machete for the better part of two hours now, and they were no closer to making headway through the thick brush than they had been at the outskirts of camp. The ‘game trail’ Edge claimed they were on was so tightly forested that it was hard to even squeeze out a drop of sunlight, let alone find a solid path. But Edge insisted he knew what he was doing, so Lena was forced to follow along, wincing as chunks of vegetation slashed past.
“Shan’t be long now, Lena dear.” Edge assured her, red-faced and puffing. His shirt was torn and he was bleeding in the upper arm, but Lena didn’t offer to patch it. She wrinkled her nose at the heavy smell of him, sweating and irritated. “This blasted brush is some of the worst I’ve seen, but I’ll have it down in a trice. You’ll see.”
“Perhaps we ought to return to camp.” Lena offered, trying her best to tread lightly on the alpha’s hair-trigger sense of masculine pride. “It is getting close to dusk now, and I don’t think we shall make very much headway by nightfall.”
“No.” Edge’s face flushed a deeper red. “Don’t be silly. You omegas are all so bloody impatient. Just wait there, on that log, and I’ll clear a path for you so your feet won’t get muddy.”
“I could hardly care—“ Lena protested, but the alpha had already turned his damp back on her, ignoring her as he whacked deeper into the brush.
Well, this is getting us nowhere. Lena sighed, and cupped her hands, looking back down the rough path that Edge had hacked out. It was haphazard and twisting—hardly a proper walking trail. But Edge wouldn’t be told what to do by an omega, even one as highborn as she, so Lena decided to leave him to it. He didn’t even turn his head as she started back down the path, determined to at least get to a place with a better view of the mountain so she could make a sketch before dark.
Edge’s path cut close to the river that wound down from the mountainous ridge to mingle with the sea. It was the only landmark easy to follow—the sound of rushing water was prevalent the closer one got. Lena made her way towards it, muttering to herself about alpha pride as she picked her way carefully down, holding her dress aloft with one hand and keeping the sketchbook tucked firmly under the other arm. She was so focused on not turning an ankle that she almost missed the tree—it was only when she lifted her head to squint at the sun’s position again that she saw it.
The tree was leaning out over the ravine and the plunging waterfall below. Its branches spread wide, almost cradling the sun, and it was the only thing breaking the surface of the canopy for what looked like miles. If she climbed out onto those sturdy-looking limbs, she should be able to get a clearer view of the mountain. And a nice place to sit while she sketched.
Mind thusly made up, Lena hitched her skirt higher and began to climb.
Unfortunately, it was only once she was precariously off the ground that she realized her mistake. Those ‘sturdy-looking’ limbs creaked dangerously even under the slightest pressure, and she was already looking for a way back down when something rustled in the foliage above. Lena looked up, startled, into the curious brown eyes of a marmoset, blinking at her as she held her sketchbook pinched between two fingers, trying to angle her foot down to the next branch without letting go of the trunk. The marmoset made a chirr ring noise, and tilted its little be-whiskered head. Lena groaned when she realized what had drawn its attention.
“No, no, not that, don’t—“ was all she got out before the little creature made a grab for her sketchbook. Lena flung out her arm to shoo it away, thoughtlessly, and the sudden jerking movement sent her pinwheeling, flailing backwards as she fought desperately to stay upright.
But to no avail.
She fell, too panicked to even make a sound, right into the churning waterfall below.
Ka-Ra heard the splash and didn’t think twice before she dove after it.
She had been tracking the sky people for some time. It wasn’t hard. They were very noisy. There was a male and a female, and the male had a shiny thing in his hand like a tooth that he was using to hack away at the undergrowth. He stunk , and Ka-Ra wrinkled her nose in disgust as she watched.
The female, though. She did not stink. She smelled... nice. Like a new fruit, or a bud about to flower. Something ripe and tender. Sweet.
Ka-Ra was slightly in awe of her. She had never seen another female of her own kind before, but this female did not quite seem to be her own kind. There was a sharpness about her, a fire. Her hair, piled up on her naked neck, was dark, unlike Ka-Ra’s golden curls, and her eyes were strange—two different colors, grey and green. She had a flowing pile of fabric around her legs and waist, and it made this most delightful swishing noise whenever the female walked anywhere. Ka-Ra had been following that noise, pleased by the sibilant sound and the appealing scent that was making her feel things she didn’t quite understand, when the female had veered off the path and made a sudden climb up the marmoset’s old dead tree. Ka-Ra whuffed in alarm, looking worryingly up at the ancient branches, but the female didn’t seem to hear. She didn’t seem to realize that marmosets only nested in hollowed, dead trees.
Instead, the female had climbed. And then. She fell.
Ka-Ra dove after her without thought. The female was one of only two of her own kind that she had ever seen, and there was no way she was going to let one drown in the space of a single day. The waterfall carried her over just as her fingers closed on the bunched fabric at the back of the female’s waist, and she gripped tightly, drawing them close together as they went plunging into the pool.
When they came up, Ka-Ra dragged the female to shore, swimming hard against the current. Even at her strength, it was a challenge to do so one-handed, but she had to keep the female’s head above water, gasping for air, or she feared that the other would drown. The female clung to her arm, shuddering in the cold water, and her eyelids fluttered, but she made very little effort to swim. Her kicks were sluggish and weak. It took a strong effort to pull her out.
Ka-Ra pulled them both onto the bank of the river, and grunted, shaking herself, as the female breathed raggedly into the sand. The red wrapping she wore was soaked, and she’d need to dry it or her protection against the cold would be gone. Same for the female’s strange garb. Ka-Ra cast a look at her. She was still face down, breathing heavily. Her skin was so pale.
There was a heavy, thumping feeling in her lower body when she looked at the dark shape crumpled on the sand.
The female moaned, eyes fluttering as she rolled over. Kara tilted her head curiously, moving closer to examine, but her posture stiffened when she realized the female was definitely hurt. Her skin, which was already pale, was an unhealthy grey around her cheeks, and her breathing was labored. There was a bluish cast to the skin around one of her ankles, and her forehead had a reddish scratch.
Ka-Ra lifted the female as gently as she could, easing her limp body over one shoulder. Night was coming, and it would be a good idea to get somewhere dry and warm before too long, or the female might not wake up. Ka-Ra knew how to make fire—she had seen lightning strikes and had gleaned the idea slowly but surely—but she needed to do it somewhere where the wood would be dry. Not in the undergrowth. Her chin tilted up, and she looked for the mouth of the cave, far up ahead on the slope of the mountain. That would do.
Lena awoke to a crackling fire, and the soft warmth of a naked body behind her own.
Her vision was still bleary, and her heart was sluggish, slow to react, so she blinked several times before she realized she was awake.
And, improbably enough, alive.
The last thing she remembered had been the rushing swell of the water overtaking her senses. Her ears, her nose, her mouth. It had been terrifying. It felt like the end.
And yet, she was alive, aching and sore in many places, her ankle throbbing and her head pounding—but she would survive.
And— she was not wearing any clothes.
That was a bit alarming, but the sudden shock of it was muted. She shifted, experimentally, but her head seared and she had to close her eyes against the pain. As she did so, an arm pulled around her waist, tightening, and a soft grunt behind her told her she was not alone. Judging by the feel of muscles and the distinctive scent, she was being held by an alpha.
A strange, naked alpha.
Lena should have wanted to run. And there was a small, logical part of her brain shrieking alarm bells under the fog, but she was too tired and sore to listen. Her body was warm and the alpha wasn’t harming her. There was instead, a strange comfort to the strong arm around her midsection. Perhaps a familiarity. The scent of the alpha was dense and humid in her nose, like the scent of the jungle itself.
Her eyelids drifted closed, and she nestled into the arm embracing her, sighing softly as the fire spat and sizzled.
Lena felt she might have sustained a serious concussion during her fall and thus was having a prolonged hallucination. That was the only explanation for the vision she awoke to. A tanned, blonde Adonis of the jungle, crouching with a concerned brow over the remains of an ashen fire, looking at her while she slept.
Also, completely lacking in clothes to cover her nude body.
Lena shrieked when she came into more clarity, grasping her hands to her nakedness when she realized that she was also unclothed. She scrambled hurriedly as far away from the hulking alpha as she could, scooting her bare bottom across the cold stone, even as a flare of pain screamed up from her swollen ankle. She ignored the searing sensation, and struggled to cover herself with her closed legs and twisted body position. A woman of her age and social status was never this naked with anyone , not even her own self, regardless of whether she was married or not. Lena was unmarried, and this was a strange alpha.
The alpha grunted at her, low and deep like an animal. She moved closer, scent filling Lena’s lungs and making her head swoon with dizzy, frighteningly submissive thoughts.
“Don’t!” Lena held one hand out precariously while using the other as a diagonal shield across her naked body. “You stay right there or...or I shall scream!”
And who exactly will hear me? Her brain asked in a somewhat sardonic tone, but she ignored that, and the uncomfortable knowledge that she was probably miles away from camp. Even if she did scream, though, if Morgan were to find her in this state...well, he’d likely be even less help than this beast of an alpha, if he didn’t get flattened first. Those broad shoulder muscles looked very foreboding and made her clench in girlish, uncomfortable ways. She swallowed, hard, and felt terror thumping in her pulse.
Silly, scared omega. You should have never strayed from the path.
The shaggy blonde head cocked at her, eyes moving with unabashed curiosity over her heaving frame. Lena tilted her face away, closing her eyes against the shame of it. She waited for the sudden, wrenching grasp on her ankle or wrist. To be dragged across the floor and…..Lena prayed it would be swift, at least—-but the expected assault never came.
Instead, she opened one eye to see the alpha sitting on her heels on the other side of the fire. When she saw Lena look at her, the alpha made a strange, soft grunt, and held a bundle out to her.
It was her clothing, dried from a night in front of the fire.
“Oh.” Lena felt immediately foolish. She reached her fingers out, tentatively, and the alpha deposited her ragged dress and torn chemise into her hand. Her knuckles were scarred so heavily they almost looked white. “Th-thank you. I didn’t realize…”
But, if the alpha was offended, she said nothing, only continued to steadily regard Lena with those piercing blue eyes. She made no move to cover her own body, either, even as Lena hesitantly pulled her chemise over her head. The dress was sadly too torn to function anymore, and it hung open at the shoulder, so she left it off. It was hot in the jungle anyway, and hotter still with the way the alpha kept looking at her. It was as if she had never seen a naked woman before—but she made no move to try to claim Lena.
Curiouser and curiouser. Lena blinked. She could certainly have me in a trice. Those muscles don’t look underused. Oh hell, now I’ve gone and stared too long.
“Do you—do you live in this place?” Lena asked, aware the silence had stretched beyond appropriate limits. Her upbringing had conditioned her to avoid such awkward pauses. “I apologize. I don’t remember how I came to be here.”
Instead of responding, the alpha moved around the edge of the fire. Lena, instinctively nervous around a strange alpha like this, turned with her, but the blonde circled her slowly, apparently without malicious intent. Still, innocent or not, her gaze was as heavy as a hand and Lena felt it distinctly on her breasts and her legs. She flushed, feeling largely off-kilter and uncomfortably on display.
“Are you alone here?”
No answer again.
“Do you speak English? Parlez vous Français? Sprechen sie Deutsch?”
Still no verbal response, but the alpha cocked her head again, seeming to acknowledge the languages in her own silent way. The easy, predatory grace of her movements was slightly unsettling, and Lena was glad when she turned around to face front once more. “Have you lost your ability to speak, perhaps?”
And then, as the alpha continued to unblinkingly stare, it hit Lena like a sudden wave. “Oh. Or do you not speak at all?”
Ah. As Lex would say ‘that is the correct hypothesis’.
Lena was unable to look away from those sharply intelligent blue eyes, but her heart twinged, a bit, at the thought of her poor, foolish brother. Morgan’s attention she could live without, and her mother didn’t pay her more than a fleeting thought at the best of times, certainly, but Lex would miss her terribly if he thought she was lost or harmed. They were all each other had left of their father, after his ship had sank.
She scooted closer to the fire, wincing as her ankle dragged on the stone. “My name is Lena. Do you understand?” The alpha watched her hand extend and then rest on her chest. “ Lena .”
To her immense shock and surprise, the alpha lifted a hand, slowly and carefully copying her movement with clear, focused intent. Lena almost scrambled back to the wall when the blonde spoke—so startled was she.
“Ka-ra.” The alpha’s voice croaked out, gravelly with what was clearly it’s first use. Her palm thumped on her chest, faintly. “Ka-ra.”
“Kara.” Lena breathed, trembling a little. The sudden revelation of the alpha’s voice was still setting in. “I see. You’re Kara.”
The alpha frowned at her and repeated again. “ Ka-ra .”
“Yes.” Lena didn’t know what more that she could say. She nodded desperately. “Kara. Yes.”
“Kara.” The alpha’s frown faded as she worked her mouth around the way Lena pronounced her name. She seemed enthralled by it. “Kara. Lena . Kara.”
Lena was even more surprised to find how delighted she was to hear her name issue from those bruised lips. “Yes. I’m Lena .” Her hand hovered over her chest and again she pointed to Kara. “And you’re Kara .”
The alpha jerked her head and grunted. “Kara.”
Another frown. And then a concentrated effort. “Y-es.”
Lena’s eyebrows flew up. She couldn’t help it. Despite the pain in her ankle and the instinctive fear in her body, she scooted even closer. “You’re learning fast. Quite the thinker, I see.”
The alpha only blinked at her, impassively waiting, and Lena scrambled. “Oh. Yes. Uhm...Fire?” She pointed to the ashes, still smoldering.
“Fi-re.” Kara repeated, dutifully.
“Yes.” Lena encouraged that with a smile, and for the first time, the alpha’s expression changed slowly to mirror hers. It wasn’t so much a smile as a grimace with teeth, to be fair, but it did seem to be a start. She was surprised at how charming the strange alpha’s effort was.
“All right, student of mine. I suppose I’ve got no plans for my day. Let us play Pygmalion for as long as you fancy.”
Ka-Ra was learning a lot, the more time she spent away from her troop with the strange female.
Firstly, she found she much preferred how the female called her name. It was far less deep and throaty, and Kara liked how her name sounded, now. The female—Lena— had names for everything, it seemed, whereas Kara had spent most of her life communicating in low pants and hoots with some grunts and whines interspersed. Instead, Lena seemed to want her to use her teeth and tongue a lot. And she was learning what to call her teeth and tongue.
She learned many things, as she brought the female some collected figs and let her sip rainwater from her cupped palms. Firstly, Lena's lips were soft, and she made pleased noises when she ate, closing her eyes if the taste was right. And then she also learned the names for the figs, the water, and the trees. She learned that Lena preferred that she wind her red wrappings around her body again, covering herself more fully.
And Lena placed her hand on her own chest, and told her she was an alpha and then, softly, did the same to her quivering, beating heart and told Kara the word omega.
That made sense. The troop had similar roles, but Kara had never really seen herself as a silverback. Until now. When she looked down at Lena, feeling the heartbeat under her hand go thump-thump, Kara understood. The need to protect Lena was as strong in her body as it ever had been to protect her troop, but it was…. different . She wanted to nest with Lena, to feel her soft skin at night, and climb the highest trees for her in the day so she would get the youngest fruit. Lena made her want to beat her chest, stomp her feet, sing out a warrior’s song into the jungle deep. They were alike, but different . She absorbed all of that in a flash instant, and learned that Lena was compatible with her in a way that no one in her adopted family group ever would be.
And also that Lena did not appreciate Kara attempting to lift her skirts to smell her more closely.
“ Absolutely not!” The female shrieked, kicking out with her injured ankle. “No! No , Kara!”
Kara huffed, feeling more wounded by the rebuke that she only half-comprehended, than the foot in her chest. And Lena was going to hurt her ankle more if she carried on like this. She grunted and dropped the light covering the omega wore, albeit begrudgingly.
How am I supposed to smell if you’re more deeply wounded? Or if you’re available or in season? Are you telling me that other creatures like me just...guess?
“Smell Lena.” Kara explained, haltingly, using her afternoon’s worth of vocabulary. “Lena hurt.”
“Lena is hurt.” The omega corrected, and moved to pull her foot away from Kara’s lap, but the motion made her hiss. “Ah. Yes. Definitely hurt. But you don’t... smell people like that!”
“Lena is hurt.” Kara repeated, and put her fingers gently on the swollen bulge of the omega’s ankle. It looked angry and uncomfortable. One of the troop’s youngsters from last year had twisted his wrist like this. Kara had fixed it, but she wasn’t sure if Lena could take the same treatment she’d given the gorilla child. She’d need to be careful. “Kara….help Lena hurt?”
“I’m not sure how you can. This ankle probably needs a doctor.” Lena grimaced, ruefully. “And that bloody ship’s medic is more like a barber surgeon. Oh, I hate to think of what he’d do to me.”
Kara understood about a tenth of that, but she ignored it and persisted. “Kara help .”
Her fingers slid up the smooth ball of the omega’s ankle, resting on her calf, and she could feel how Lena’s heart rate increased in tremulous pulses. She raised her eyes and found the brilliant green-grey of the omega’s gaze looking right back at her, contemplating.
“Oh, all right.” Lena said, somewhat shakily, after a stretched-out pause. “Go ahead. Can’t be worse than that medic.”
Kara grunted, half-listening. Her other hand came to rest on the omega’s heel, cupping the ball of her foot, and she encouraged the ankle to extend. Lena hissed, quietly, but allowed Kara to move her foot without complaint.
“Hurt.” Kara warned, carefully, and stroked the side of Lena’s calf as a pre-apology gesture.
Little hairs there lifted to her touch, and Lena’s voice had gone all breathy and strange. “ Hhha- all right. I understand.”
Kara frowned. Lena didn’t seem to be hurt, but her eyes were all shiny and dark, and her cheeks were flushed. She was watching Kara’s fingers on her calf like they were fascinating. Kara imitated her words, rounding them carefully over her tongue. “All right.”
Then, with a sudden, savage twist of her hands, she set Lena’s ankle joint back into its socket.
Lena yelped in pain, rolling on the floor of the cave, and her hand rose up instinctively to strike Kara, before falling helplessly to her side. “ Ow! You—what did—“
“Hurt.” Kara said apologetically, stroking Lena’s throbbing ankle to smooth out the pain. Her dexterous, calloused fingers found the ankle joint safely resting in its socket again and she breathed easier, knowing that after a day or so of rest, Lena would be walking without aid. “Kara help.”
“You did.” Lena’s breath was still pained, but she looked down at her ankle in wonder. “Thank you, that was—well, that was clearly necessary.”
Kara wrinkled her brow. “Nest-sary?”
“Very needed.” Lena nodded at her, and then dropped back onto her elbows. “Oh good Christ, I might pass out but I think that was nest-sary indeed.”
Kara kept her hand steady on Lena’s calf, and slid her other palm up to cup Lena’s knee. She kept close, waiting patiently. Eventually, one grey-blue eye opened to regard her, watchfully. “What are you doing?”
Kara didn’t have words for what she wanted. Instead, she settled on: “Smell Lena.”
“Oh.” Both the omega’s eyes widened, and she rose up further on her elbows. “Ah. Well.” Her cheeks were pinkening. “I suppose you did help me a bit.” Then her dark eyebrows knit on her face and she narrowed her gaze. “But don’t touch, understand Kara? No touch, smell only.”
“No touch, smell only.” Kara agreed, patiently. She didn’t understand why Lena seemed to be frightened of the idea. All she wanted to do was get to know her better. Wasn’t this how people in her troop communicated?
As she moved gently between the omega’s trembling legs, she suspected probably not.
Lena had her face turned away as Kara let her nose drift up and down her body. Her cheeks were flushed and red, and her pulse was thudding violently in Kara’s sensitive ears. Her whole posture radiated tense nerves—not quite fear, but something similar. Kara’s nostrils flared, drinking it in, as she dipped her nose close to the omega’s quaking center.
There, she drank in the lovely, plush scent of Lena, a well-fed, rarely-stressed female who smelled of lushness and abundance. Kara breathed her in slowly, processing. She could tell that the omega had been born in a place far from here, and had never done very much work. She could tell that Lena had never borne any pups, and that she was often in the presence of a related silverback ( alpha , her brain corrected silently) but not mated to anyone.
She could tell Lena was fertile , and that she had never been bred before. Kara didn’t know why that information had become so important, but it had. It excited some unknown, deeply held part of herself that turned over in its cave and raised its blinking head to the wind. Lena is available to mate.
Trying not to pant with her sudden delight, Kara withdrew slowly so as not to frighten the omega, who was heaving like a trapped animal under Kara’s careful nose, and continued scenting up her belly, to her neck, moving a little closer so she could keep herself from touching Lena while she assessed to smell if there was any further injury. She couldn’t see one, but thoroughness was all on her mind at the moment.
The omega’s closed eyes fluttered, and she swallowed, but said nothing. Her scent had warmed, though, and Kara found herself sucking it eagerly into her lungs as her breath moved over the pale, tightly-held shoulders, and up the smooth, unmarked side of Lena’s neck. She could hear Lena’s pulse much louder now, and the noise of it was almost like a song to her ears. Sweet and persuasive.
Kara could see the little hairs on Lena’s neck rising to the warmth of her breath, and she liked to see them dance.
“W-well.” Lena’s voice came out husky and strange. She cleared her throat, and then it was much more high-pitched. “What’s the verdict?”
Kara didn’t understand that, but she did understand that Lena was asking her a question. It was just hard to sum up her thoughts into new, clumsy words. She closed her eyes, tilting her head against Lena’s temple. “Lena smell good.”
“I most certainly do not .” Lena’s laugh was lower, and her breathing was still all fluttery. One of her hands came up to stroke Kara’s arm, and the touch made everything in Kara’s body sing like a bird. “I smell like two days of jungle sweat and dirt. But….thank you.”
“Kara smell good?” The question was followed by a quick nudge to Lena’s side.
Lena laughed again, and her hand moved higher, squeezing Kara’s bicep. “Yes. You silly, strange thing. You do smell very nice. Somehow.”
“Nice.” Kara tried out the word. “Nice.”
“You’re very nice.” Lena told her, and her eyes looked liquid-y and very close. “To me. Especially.”
Kara grunted, not having the proper vocabulary to express herself. But oh, she wanted to. She wanted to tell Lena that her scent was as lovely as her face, and her hands and her eyes and her absurdly tiny feet. She wanted to tell Lena that she would protect her from the biggest leopard in the jungle if it meant she was close to that scent every day. But she couldn’t say any of those things, so she just looked, instead.
Lena shivered, hard, and her voice went somewhere high and tight. “Oh. Dear. Ah . Is it night again?”
Kara frowned. If Lena was cold, she could catch a chill, and then she would be sick. A sick mate would not bear healthy pups. Kara had to keep her warm. “Lena cold. Kara help. Make fire.”
She pulled away from the omega in an instant and went to the mouth of the cave to go collect more tinder, when a soft, throat-clearing sound stopped her. Lena was clutching her hands around her body, eyes luminous in the dark. Her scent had...deepened somehow.
“Be careful, all right?” Lena cautioned, drawing a bit closer to the mouth of the cave, arms around her pale shoulders. “Be safe. Safe, Kara.”
“Kara strong.” To prove it, she showed Lena how much her arm muscle could stand out, and that provoked a strange response—the omega barked out a sudden piercing laugh and clapped her hand over her mouth, cheeks reddening. “See? Strong. Safe.”
“I see.” Lena sounded somewhat strangled, and now Kara frowned again, concerned that she was getting sick. “You are strong. But….be safe anyhow, won’t you?”
Lena had drawn close enough now to touch, and her hand came shakily out, easing onto Kara’s cheek as if drawn there. Kara closed her eyes and nuzzled into the touch, heart ecstatic at this display of interest from her prospective mate. Lena’s breath was uneven, and her heartbeat even more erratic than usual, but she leaned in and pressed her lips to the crown of Kara’s head.
And that—that soft, dry press of her mouth—Kara’s heart was thumping huge and heavy in her chest and she looked at Lena with wanting eyes.
“Come back to me.” Lena said, softly. She withdrew back into the cave, and Kara’s body already howled at her loss. “Be safe and come back .”
“Yes.” Kara told Lena, with all the fervor she felt, and climbed down the edge of the cave mouth to the jungle below, feeling all the while like she was floating.
This rightly should have been an update around Christmas but better late than never, eh?
It was three days before Lena’s ankle had healed well enough for her to leave the cave, and by then, she had already started to fall in love with the jungle.
The trees stretched, ageless and expansive, into the far green distance in every direction, until she cupped her palm and could see the blue glint of the ocean. They were taller than the steam towers of London, taller than the masts of her father’s old great galleon, taller than the steeple of the cathedral in her childhood memory which had once seemed to her to be a finger into the very eye of God. Now she could see they were all but saplings compared to these ancient behemoths, little children hiding below the skirts of their mother. These trees were grandmothers .
Great, girthy things they were, with trunks as wide across as an automobile, and all choked about with lianas and creeper vines. The air between them was close, and hardly any light penetrated below the spread of their wide, reaching branches, leaving the forest floor like a dark sponge, covered in decay and smelling (rather pleasantly) of old rotting leaves and earth. Higher up, the light bloomed in wider swaths, giving way to bromeliads and bright spots of color. Flowers the size of Lena’s whole face and shaped like gramophone trumpets. Explosions of tiny buds in dewy bunches dangling from branches like children’s rattles. Little frogs hopping about, painted in lurid, dangerous color, stalked everywhere by quick green snakes. Trundling, marching lines of ants, braceleting the branches, stretching across gaps. Higher still, and the branches widened, and gave way to troops of monkeys, marmosets, bands of parrots—raucous, delightful, chaotic, and noisy.
Then, at the very tip of it, the world opened up over the sea of green, the sky was close enough to touch, and the wind was alive and running all over, rippling like a tide. Wonder beyond wonder. A Serengeti in the clouds.
In this strange and eerie place where life existed in stages of light, nothing was as it seemed. The vines were the highway of the forest, not the floor—indeed, down there one could hardly move in between fallen logs, twisted hummocks of brush, and dense crops of greedily-crowded ferns—and they were the only way of passing through the canopy. It was on the fourth day in the jungle when Kara showed her exactly how that worked.
“Oh. Oh goodness, no.” Lena balked away from the wide brown palm patiently outstretched to her. “You can’t be serious.”
“Lena. Trust.” Kara repeated, calmly. She had hardly blinked a lash since taking Lena halfway up a massive banyan and then grabbing hold of an absurdly-thin-looking liana as if she intended to leap off the twenty-foot branch into the air. And apparently, she expected Lena to join her.
“Lena does trust, but Lena does not trust the strength of that vine.” The omega felt sick to her stomach, edging closer to the tree’s broad trunk with her feet careful on the damp moss. “That looks far too thin to hold you , let alone both of us. Have you ever done this with two people?”
Kara only gave her a characteristic low puff of air that Lena had come to learn was rather derisive. “Strong enough for two. Trust .”
“Kara, I really don’t—“ Lena started to protest further, but then her backing foot slipped on a wet patch of lichen or slime mold, and her breath caught on a high, terrified noise as she started to fall, hands grabbing desperately for anything that wasn’t the horrid emptiness of air.
All the breath left her lungs when Kara’s arm made contact with her midsection. The alpha had leaped easily from the branch, one hand on the still-thin-looking liana, and the other tucked Lena close to her body as they dangled, their weight easily supported by the deceptive vine. The wrinkle on her forehead spoke both of worry and also exasperation. “Lena trust now? ”
“Yes.” Lena wheezed, pathetically. “I do see your point.”
Kara beamed at her, looking far too pleased in her words to be worth being mad at for being right, and crushed Lena closer to her body. With an easy swing, she propelled them forward, and Lena was treated to not only the dizzying rush of sudden gravity defiance, but also the good clean sweaty scent of Kara and her fast, thumping pulse, smashed against Lena’s face while they swung through the air.
It felt like flying, the way Kara travelled. It was like magic, the kind Lena had believed in as a child and had long ago abandoned to the cruel and weary weights of the world. This was not weighted. It was weightless . It was swinging up with a breathless, stomach-dropping arc, and then hurtling downward in the jealous pull of gravity, only to have their bodies jerked into safety by Kara’s hand finding another vine, swinging them over another branch, sliding them along creepers, until Lena wasn’t afraid anymore and she was holding onto Kara tightly from wonder and delight, laughing giddily as Kara swung her across the canopy faster than a cable car.
And it was magic, the whole place was magic. It was apparent even in whizzing views past Lena’s overtsimulated eyes. She knew that from the first day here. It was a wild, glorious place, untouched by the hand of man, abundant and fertile, and the largeness of the trees and the flowers wasn’t the only thing that was of wonder in the jungle. There were gatherings of creatures here that she had never seen—brown hairy forest elephants, smaller than the ones she had ridden as a girl in India, but no less fearsome than the massive grey beasts usual to Africa. Forest antelope with twisting horns and rich, russet fur, painted with white stripes across their eyes like bandits. Brightly colored birds who bobbed and danced on branches, and made elaborate nests in hollows of trees. Creatures strange and unusual, things no book had ever described to her—neither the hoariest tome in her father’s great study, nor the library at Oxford had ever contained such wonders.
All of it was here , thriving in the wave of the fallen star. And maybe that was the source of the wild magic here—some vague part of Lena’s brain wondered that. But, when she looked at Kara’s oddly intelligent, fierce blue eyes, she forgot all about falling stars and could only think of the tight feeling in her chest and the dense beat of her heart.
And maybe the jungle wasn’t the only thing Lena had fallen in love with, after three more days.
Kara was...unlike any alpha Lena had ever known. And it was breathtaking, how simply that fact caught at Lena’s heart. Lena had only known alphas from school, and the circles she frequented back in London. They were, to a rule, arrogant, boorish and constantly focused on that one thing. Lena had immediately thought that a primal form of an alpha would be those hateful qualities distilled, magnified into overpowering prescience. But that was not the case. Could never be the case, with an alpha like Kara. Yes, the alpha was feral and strange, but she was also silly, and sweet, and endlessly kind .
And that was the strangest thing of all.
Watching Kara move through the trees, her capable hands wide and outstretched to catch the next handful of ropey vine...Lena felt the heat from more than just the sun. The muscles that rippled under her bronzed skin were hard as iron, and when Lena held on tightly to the alpha’s shoulders, she could feel the way they bulged and shifted in easy accordance with her motion, and it made the omega blush and tense in her lower places.
Kara seemed blithely unaware of her girlish foolishness, thankfully enough. The alpha was as unmoved by the sting of an insect or the piercing of a thorn as she was by Lena’s well-bred fluster. It took her a few days but Lena finally caught on— Kara simply paid no concern to anything that wasn’t essential. There was no room for error in her world. She moved with innate, careless confidence, as if always trusting that the vines would be there when she reached. Lena had no idea how she did it.
Kara was patient with Lena’s inexperience, and proved a gentle—although exacting—tutor. She guided Lena away from the still water where the omega had leaned to cup her palm to drink, and showed her the place where the stream ran swift and clean, watching the omega exclaim over the cold with something like mirth in her blue eyes. Kara showed Lena which fruits were edible, and, through a grotesque pantomime, which would make her stomach quite unsettled, and Lena laughed and laughed at how alpha mimed the action of vomiting with her eyes cartoonishly rolled. Never in her life had she belly-laughed like that in the presence of another human. Every day she felt like Kara was peeling away the layers of her life—first the tatters of her impractical dress, and then the pieces of Lena’s conditioned propriety.
And it was startling, how little she found she missed it.
It wasn’t as if she had no regard for her brother. She thought of him often, in the childlike excitement over some massive new fruit or flower, or the awe in seeing the elephants move silently through the forests, like ghosts. She was certain he’d love it all as much as she did. But thinking of Lex for too long invariably led her back to thoughts of going back to camp...and that was one trail she did not want to go down. Not yet.
She knew it would be a relatively easy thing, to return. The camp was on the shoreline, and she remembered that the sun had been behind her shoulders when she set out. It would be a matter of a scant half hour or so to navigate there with Kara swinging her on the vines, tightly-pressed bodies in an easy glide across the tangled forest. No time at all, really. But still, she hesitated. Lingered , perhaps was the better word.
At first, the ankle proved a fine excuse. The joint was tender for many days, and even though Kara’s brute tactic with the twisting had worked quite well, it was still sore to walk on, much less hobble back to camp. Kara had stayed close in the cave then, and studiously kept the omega busy teaching her new words, while sometimes allowing Lena on small jaunts to collect figs, or watch Kara collect water. Every day she strengthened, and Kara moved them further and further from the safety of the cave, deeper in the jungle, and now the ankle was no more a problem to her than a minor buzz of pain every now and again, and her head had healed just fine, but there was no rush in her body, no desire to return to the shore.
Especially not when she thought of what else awaited her at camp.
The impending marriage to Morgan Edge had not been Lena’s idea. Not in the slightest. But the Edges were well-to-do nouveau riche and Lex was interested in Morgan’s savagery in the boardroom, so the courting had a sort of inevitability to it. Gravity of a more somber, unpleasant kind than the thrill of the vines. The Luthors no longer had much to their name aside from the name itself, after her father’s ship sank—and all their largesse with it. It was necessary that, as the only omega daughter, Lena make some sacrifices to allow her brother to succeed. They’d agreed upon this. And it wouldn’t be terrible—at least Morgan was young and decently handsome, compared to some of the matches that had been arranged for her friends. There had been days—before the long voyage and the grating irritation of his constant presence—that Lena had even considered that she might be lucky in that the tiresome alpha might prove a halfway decent lover, judging by his stamina in arguments and the way he sat a horse. She knew her duty. Morgan was a perfectly acceptable part of it.
But every night, Lena slept in the curve of another alpha’s body, and dreamed of rough hands touching her bare, private skin—Kara’s hands, and decidedly not Morgan’s.
It was a predicament. And not made easier by the sleeping arrangements, truth be told. But the first night they’d spent away from the cave, Lena had tried to make a fire only to have Kara put a hand sharply over the flint she’d found, frowning and shaking her head. The alpha clearly pantomimed a fire, and explained in her rough tongue that the ground was too wet for that. They were not in the cave anymore, with its rough, dry stone. But the night was cold, and the ground was soggy and uncomfortable, ill-suited for sleep. Lena couldn’t see how it would be done.
Instead, Kara scaled the nearest tree, easily as a monkey, and made a kind of rough nest in the wide branches toward the base, of folded banana leaves and palm fronds. It was fascinating, how quickly and efficiently she did it—as if it were something she’d done every night of her life—and Lena was so engrossed in the process that she had barely moved when Kara finished. The alpha grunted with pleasure at her success, and then, swinging down to the ground, she pulled the startled omega up the tree, tugged Lena into the nest, and into her embrace , with hardly the batting of an eye.
At first, Lena was so taken aback that she went stiff as a board, certain this was a precursor to some kind of more intimate act. Her polite voice broke out on a high, thin noise of protest, but Kara only grunted at her, and made a low whuff as if to say ‘ quiet down I’m trying to sleep’, which made her blush in foolishness. Lena lay rigidly for a time, tensed in anticipation and unsure of how to arrange her limbs so that she didn’t risk them tangling with Kara’s. She didn’t know how to sleep with her body so close to that of a stranger’s....and it was in the midst of that confusion, somehow, that she drifted.
And when she woke, her legs had slipped hip-to-thigh with Kara’s and the alpha was holding her again, arm across her chest with a kind of careless sweetness, snoring lightly. The night was chilly around them, and the jungle echoed with strange sounds, frightening shrieks and grunts. But Kara was warm and solid as a tree trunk, and if she was asleep, perhaps that meant it was safe. So Lena had laid her head back down, closed her eyes, and banished one of the lingering gasps of polite protest in her brain as she snuggled into the alpha’s body as shameless as a trollop, aware that none of the clucking tongues in London could see her anyhow.
And that was how they slept, every night.
Tucked together in the reedy, fresh-cut-grass smell of the nest, close as lovers. Lena’s head resting on Kara’s broad, oddly comfortable chest, warming each other with their bodies. It was remarkably effective—and not just because Lena’s cheeks would flush, every night, at the nearness and the muskiness of alpha scent, thick from a day of traveling the vines. The folded leaves seemed to trap their body heat, keeping the nest a toasty, comfortable little furnace...but only if she stayed close to Kara. If she rolled away, in the morning she’d find herself chilled to the bone and covered in a spiderweb blanket of dew. It was far nicer to stay close, and risk a little embarrassment at her shameless quest for Kara’s warmth.
It wasn’t like the alpha was going to shame her—Kara would probably have preferred much less fluster, if anything. But it felt bizarre and wholly alien to surrender herself to the bare vulnerability of sleep in the presence of a strange alpha this way. Nothing in her polite, country estate upbringing had prepared her for this, certainly, and even without a wagging finger under her nose, Lena knew this was treading on the line of some boundary between alpha and omega that was best left untouched. Sometimes she wondered if Kara really would give in to those primal instincts in the night….and the most shameful part of her wanted the alpha to.
Kara, as always, seemed to understand so much without being told, and assuaged both Lena’s fears and her private longing. The alpha appeared to spend most of her night half-awake, on the alert for anything like trouble to the nest and its occupants. Whenever Lena’s drowsy eyelids raised, Kara was almost always already awake, on guard. And that was….oddly touching. And comforting. In its own, primitive way. So she slept in Kara’s arms soundly as a babe, knowing she was safe, and didn’t think much about the duties and realities of her life, awaiting her back at the camp.
But that didn’t mean she didn’t remember that they existed, in the back of her subconscious mind, and as the days ticked away in the jungle of idyllic idolatry...the guilt began to nag more and more at her consciousness.
Kara had never, ever, been this happy.
Her life in the gorilla tribe had not been unpleasant, of course, but more or less just...comfortable. Content. Leaps of emotion had been rare, and usually unwelcome. Gorillas did not particularly enjoy intense displays—that was the purvey of the chimpanzees, generally, and the whole forest feared and disliked them for it. Kara had not uprooted a tree or thrown a boulder in tantrum since childhood, and such frivolous spending of emotion would shame her now.
Kara had learned, long ago, to settle into the simple pleasures of her life. The taste of a young shoot. The firm grip of a vine. The pleasant warmth of seeing her family group all arrayed on a fig tree, eating to their heart’s content with no predators about. These things were calm waves. They had never raised a storm in Kara’s heart, for good or for ill, before.
But now, every day was a different kind of bliss, and it made her want to tear up trees and fling boulders around in joy instead.
Every day, she showed Lena the qualities and offerings of her home. The fruits, loamy crops of mushrooms, many small prey animals, good clean water, fine nesting materials, and high, sturdy trees. The area was rich in resources, plenty to be shared with a veritable brood of offspring, and there was no drought, no seasonal shortage to pose a risk to their tribe of two, even if it grew to more. Kara was certain that a capable and intelligent female like Lena would be impressed with such abundance, and, to the delight of the alpha’s heart, she was .
Kara took the omega to the very top of the canopy, and to the lowest dripping cave. She showed her where the butterflies gathered to sip minerals from the iron-ruddy ground, and where the elephants danced. She showed Lena the secret watering hole used by all of the forest’s animals, glittering and clean, and felt a shiver in her bones when the omega lifted her cupped palms to take a drink and spilled some water down her front.
Lena made Kara feel that way often—itchy, shivery, suddenly restless. There was a hot flare every time the omega leaned in close, or put her warm hand on Kara’s arm. And at night, when Lena curled into her chest, Kara felt like her body could heat the entire island on sheer pride alone.
Lena was a constant source of joy, and more than that—a new way to view the world. Kara had never used her face or her vocal chords to communicate as much as she did now, and it was strangely natural. It was good to be around another of her own kind, and better still to be able to converse outside of simple grunting and gestures.
At first though, smiling had seemed threatening and unfamiliar—a baring of teeth or a casual display of strength—and she struggled with the strange high sound of Lena’s laughter, which often was often sudden and startling. Chimpanzees were given to these chaotic displays, and they were unpredictable and violent. Gorillas avoided them, as a rule. It was unsettling that Lena would behave like one of the chimp tribe, because Lena, certainly was not a chimp. Kara didn’t know what to make of it, at first. As the days went by, however, Kara learned that Lena’s happiness was conveyed in these noises and facial gestures, and, frankly, that was all she needed to consider them precious.
Slowly, language and thought began to form in Kara’s brain, arranging itself alongside the things she knew. There had been no word for ‘vine’ in her mind—just the feeling of it, the green heft in her palm, the grabbing feeling. Now she could see it, as clearly as she could feel the arc of its swing, and the feeling was strengthened by the word. She looked at the vine and thought ‘vine’ . And that experience, as simple as it was for others, was a world apart for Kara.
Looking at Lena wasn’t so simple to define. There was ‘Lena’ , and ‘omega’ , yes, but also ‘warm’ and ‘good’ and ‘smart’ , and those were words that combined in a way that represented Lena even better than the word of her name. Kara didn’t quite understand how one person, human or animal, could mean so many different things at once, but it was dazzling, even as it was confusing. She wanted to learn all the definitions Lena had to offer. To memorize them as cleanly as she had memorized ‘fig’ and ‘flower’ and ‘footprint’ .
There was also the problem of the word ‘mine’ . It was coming up a lot, whenever she looked too long at Lena’s green eyes. It was thudding in her chest and thumping in her veins, buzzing all around her ears. It wasn’t enough of a word to describe how she felt, not enough at all , but that didn’t stop her from thinking it. Often.
With that word nagging at her heart every time her eyes lingered, Kara decided on a risk, and took Lena to meet her foster family. The gorilla tribe had moved higher up the mountain since Kara had last been with them, but they were easy enough to track, leaving a wide swath of foraging path behind. It still took Kara and Lena the better part of a day to find them.
At first, it did not go well.
The silverback hooted gently when Kara emerged from the undergrowth, but bared his canines immediately and rose up on his hind limbs as soon as Lena tentatively stepped out. The omega sucked in a tight, fearful breath and clutched at Kara’s arm, but the alpha only hooted back, resolutely returning the call of ‘family, safety ’ despite the group’s obvious concern. The silverback banged his chest at her, gripping a fistful of grass in alarm when he dropped back down to his forelimbs, backing up to a kapok tree. He didn’t seem to be taking the message to heart.
“Kara—“ Lena started, quiet and tense.
Kara shook her head at the omega—a newly learned gesture— and turned back to the gorilla group. Using a low tone that was only just audible to human ears, she calmed her foster father, assuring him that Lena was no threat. Her body language helped to usher this sentiment along further, dragging her knuckles on the ground and deliberately looking unconcerned up and away.
The old silverback let out a low grunt. He scuffed at the ground in front of his massive frame, his knuckles also dragging in the dirt, but much quicker and with more reticence than Kara’s gesture. He pulled himself into a sitting position and half-turned his back, regarding the alpha over one shoulder as if to say okay, but you’re in trouble, kid.
Kara ignored him, tenderly. The male was a good defender of his troop, and only wanted the best for them, but he did tend to be overly paranoid. Some of the youngsters had already taken the cue and started to approach, rustling the undergrowth as they popped out of hiding. At her side, Kara heard Lena take in a low, awed breath.
“Oh my .” The omega’s grip loosened at Kara’s arm, and slid into her hand, twining the fingers there. “Is this your family?”
Kara gave her a fond glance and encouraged a younger gorilla forward with an extended hand. “Yes.”
“They’re beautiful .” Lena told her, eyes shining with her sincerity, as the group slowly converged on them in open interest at the strange newcomer.
And that only made Kara’s great heart beat faster inside her chest, blood pumping away as she gave the omega a foolish chimpanzee grin.
Introductions with the rest of the troop went smoother, even with Kara’s foster mother, a now-middle-aged female with kindly brown eyes and a tender demeanor. The huge gorilla female took to the omega human with none of the reticence of her mate—she hooted lowly and gave Kara breathy ‘haha ’s of excitement when Lena tentatively came closer, and the great bristled hairs of her hand brushed Kara’s cheek, gently, before she reached out and did the same to Lena’s. The omega was breathlessly quiet, and maybe a little overwhelmed, but she squeezed Kara’s hand tightly in her own as the gorilla female gave her a welcoming sniff and a careful once-over. After she was done, she pulled Lena into her embrace, and although the omega gave a squeak of surprise, her delighted laugh rang out soon after.
It was a good day. A very, very good day.
At dusk, the troop began to split off, gathering nesting material to take to the trees for the night. Kara grunted a fond farewell to her mother and her newest ‘sibling’, as they retreated for an old marula tree—one of favorites of the gorilla family for it’s wide spread of branches. When she turned back to the omega, Lena was peering down the side of the mountain, brow knitting.
“Kara, however are we going to get back to where we were before nightfall?”
“We stay here.” Kara told her, pulling the omega close and pointing out the marula tree. “Home here. Good sleeping tree.”
“Home?” Lena wrinkled her brow further, her scent questioning and slightly querulous. “You mean for us to stay here?”
“Yes.” Kara could have hesitated, but her lack of language forced her to put it more bluntly. She gave Lena’s waist a gentle squeeze. “Kara home is Lena home, too.”
Lena frowned, and her hand came up to rest on Kara’s chest. “Kara, this isn’t my home. You know that.”
“Could be home.” Kara coaxed, carefully. Her fingers dared to brush Lena’s cheek, whispering across the unmarked surface of her skin. “Could be.”
Lena’s lip quivered. Her eyes were glossy in the glow of sunset. But then she shook her head, resolute. “Kara, no. I have to go back. To my brother, and to—-to Morgan. You don’t understand.”
Now it was Kara’s turn to frown. “Kara is better alpha. Stronger. Lena safe here. Kara protect.”
“I don’t need to be protected.” Lena wrenched suddenly away from Kara’s arms and the alpha let her go, startled. “You alphas are all the same, whether you grew up in London or the middle of the bloody African jungle! I’m not some frail butterfly, you know. I can do for myself!”
“Lena—“ Kara’s lack of language was failing her, horribly. Of course she knew Lena didn’t need to be protected, but—that was what she could offer, wasn’t it? What else could an omega need from her but protection and loving devotion? Kara could offer those things in spades. If only Lena could see….
She reached out again, only intending to touch the omega’s hand, but Lena flung it up in furious indignation.
“Leave me be, you great nursemaid! I don’t want your help. I want to be alone and think .”
And with that, the omega started down the hillside, slapping the brush out of her way and muttering to herself as she went. Kara watched her go in silent alarm, well aware of how easily one could get lost on the mountain, and cast a despairing look up at the dimming sky. She had two choices—stay here and give Lena her way, or follow and risk the omega tearing into her like a ripe fruit.
Swallowing hard, Kara chose the second option, mentally cursing herself for her inability to communicate effectively.
It was getting altogether darker and more dangerous the further down the mountain she went, following the easy trail that Lena had crashed through the undergrowth, and Kara’s nerves were rising by the minute. She was scenting the earth, picking up traces of the omega’s lingering anger fading into something like misery, when there was a sudden rapid rustling of leaves about thirty paces downhill to her right, followed by a wrenchingly-familiar high-pitched scream.
Lena is in trouble!
Kara didn’t think beyond the sudden terror those words invoked. She dove headlong down the hill, heedless of the scratches of thorns. The alpha put her head down and barreled through the brush, chest pounding with compounded fear and worry and frustration. Her cannonball momentum carried her over the hillock and down into a sudden gulley where a dead stream sat, sullen and swollen with leaves and muck, hanging about with gnats in the thin light. Kara’s bare feet splashed through the mud, touching down, and she whipped her head in all directions, trying to catch the scent.
It only took a second to locate Lena.
The omega was down, half-covered in mud, arm raised up to defend herself as she backed hurriedly away, scrabbling with one hand reaching behind her. Advancing slowly on her, teeth bared and hide rippling with scars, the leopard came on, it’s lean body showing the deficit of it’s advanced age. It had not fared well in the years since its last encounter with Kara—there was a limp to its paw and its hips stuck out like tree stumps. A pink-skinned, defenseless human like Lena would clearly be an easier kill than an antelope buck, and perhaps one of the last it would be able to muster before the grim fog of death covered its eyes. Gathering its muscles below the rosetted coat, the leopard bunched and sprang, claws extended.
Lena dropped her arm to cover her face, helplessly, and screamed again, high and terrified, as the leopard launched toward her prone frame.
But Kara got there first.
The alpha had never known true speed until that moment. Her feet hardly seemed to leave the ground. Her body felt weightless, and her strength immeasurable. When she moved to leap in front of Lena’s defenseless form, it was hardly half a blink before she was there, hand up on the leopard’s throat, keeping the raking claws inches from her face.
The spotted cat spat and snarled, swinging with all its might for Kara’s face, and, behind her, she heard Lena’s gasp of terror. Kara grunted and caught the heavy paw with her free hand, forcing the claws away, but the beast wriggled like an eel in her grip, hind paws coming up to pummel at her chest. Kara dropped the cat’s paw, wincing as massive claws lanced into her skin, but there was no hot spurt of blood. Instead, the leopard only wrenched on her shoulder like a hand, yowling in her grasp, and failed to gain any purchase. Kara roared the deep bellow of a silverback in full challenge, and when the leopard swatted her again, she crushed its throat with a powerful flex of her hand, feeling the spine crunch below her fingers in a sickening rattle of fractured bone.
The leopard dropped like a stone from her hand, dead at last, and Kara beat her chest, drumming out a roaring victory over the defeated enemy to the coming night. She gave throat to her conflicted feelings of glory and remorse and protective fury in one long, rising howl that came from deep in her sternum and went out through the gullet like an exhale.
When it was done, she panted over the leopard’s corpse, and felt the myriad of emotions wash over her like rain. Her blood was still pounding in her ears, hot and heavy, and she hardly noticed Lena behind her on the ground...until the omega touched her leg, and she whirled, so startled that she stumbled. And fell.
Kara landed half on top of Lena, crouched over her with her arms braced into the mud and leaves, lower body fit snugly between the omega’s open thighs. The sudden heat of contact forced a noise from both of their lips—Lena’s was a sharp, breathy thing that raised all the hairs on the back of Kara’s arms. The omega’s eyes were a wide, violent shade of dark green, and her lips were flushed red with her panting, heavy breaths. She put a hand up on Kara’s chest again, but this time her palm slid further up, curling around the alpha’s neck.
“You—-you saved me.” Lena’s voice had a strange, mesmerizing lull to the whispered words. Her eyes were so open. Her lips were so red. Kara found she was leaning heavily closer. “I was a fool, Kara, and I almost killed both of us, again .”
Lena let out a high, strange laugh, and pulled on Kara’s neck, urging her even closer. “I suppose I will always find a way to be stupid when it comes to you.”
Her lips were so close. The heat of her breath was damp. Kara closed her eyes. She wasn’t even sure what they were doing, but the closer Lena got, the more her heart raced, and the more she felt like she needed to—-
A sudden sharp crack in the underbrush on the far left side of the gulley had Kara’s ears pricking up, eyes shooting open and her head swiveling round, teeth bared in a protective growl as she arched over Lena’s chest. Her heart was still hammering from her fight with the leopard and her emotions felt sharp-edged. And then a voice echoed out.
There were two alphas at the far end of the gulley. One was smaller, and looked vaguely like Lena, in the eyes. He was the one who had called out. The other was larger, and carrying some kind of metal stick. When he saw Kara hunched over Lena, he raised the stick, and aimed at them both. Kara didn’t know what he was doing, but she knew a threat when she saw one.
Snarling, she launched herself over the omega’s prone, muddy body toward the alphas just as the end of the metal stick exploded into fiery light.
Hello hello! It’s been a bit, hope you all had a good Valentine’s and are staying warm despite a massive infrastructure failure across America! I have had major brain fog, but updates are resuming shortly, thank you for bearing with.
Lena’s heart was in her ears, or perhaps blocking her tongue. She didn’t know. It felt like the rapid thumping was going to swell and swell until it tore her body apart. One moment before, she had been feeling hot-blooded from her rescue and the possibility of an impending kiss, and now she was being torn in two, rent asunder by the screaming of her own lungs.
Morgan had a hunter’s aim, and it was true. The bullet exploded into Kara’s chest, as the alpha swung upright from the mud, snarling like a lion. Lena screamed —but there was no blood.
No blood at all.
And Kara did not fall. Or stagger. Or even pause.
And Lena did not have time to settle into her relief and surprise, because Kara was still moving. Kara charged into Morgan, bowling him over as easily as the tree root had upended Lena earlier, and grabbed his rifle before the startled alpha could even scream. Growling deep enough to shake the sodden ground, Kara raised the rifle above her head, and twisted it. Just….bent it in half. A lethal weapon hammered out on the iron of industry made into a useless hunk of metal in a sudden savage grip of Kara’s hands.
Lena blinked. Seconds earlier those hands had been gently touching her face as if she were the finest of porcelain. The same hands that had held her close, each night, in the tree nest. Those hands. Her heart wouldn’t stop pounding, and realization was hitting her like the lapping waves on the side of the Merry Ida.
The alpha dropped the ruined gun to the ground, and hammered her miraculously-unbloodied chest over Morgan’s stunned face. Her roar was loud, and long, and echoed into the fading light.
Lex hardly moved. His eyes were rounded and moved between Kara and Lena as if calculating at the speed of light. He raised his palms, carefully, and Kara whirled on him, snarling with her eyes red. Lena suddenly knew, with frantic terror, that Kara could rip her beloved older brother in half with quite a considerable bit of ease, so she surged upwards, staggering in the mud, and called out.
“Kara! Stop ! It’s my brother. My family.”
Somehow time slowed long enough for her to stumble to Kara’s side, touching the alpha’s heaving flank with a tentative hand. When Kara turned to her, eyes blazing with white-red edges, she almost shrank back to the filthy ground, insides curling in fear, but managed to stay upright with a soothing hand on the alpha’s inner elbow, petting and stroking. “Kara. It’s alright, I promise.”
Gradually the familiar, welcoming blue filtered back, and the alpha blinked down at Lena. “This...your brother?”
She gestured at Morgan, still half crouched in the mud. Lena couldn’t help it—she made a desultory noise that had her swiftly covering her mouth at his wounded, angry look. “Him? No. Not him. He’s a….friend.” She waved at Lex, hurriedly. “ That’s my brother.”
“Charmed, I’m sure.” Lex had his usual half-smile firmly back in place, but Lena could tell by the beads of sweat on his brow that he was just as in awe of that impossible feat of strength as she was. And that was not good. Lex being in awe of things generally led to…. trouble . “Lena dear, are you... alright?”
Are you intact was the question he was really asking, but polite wordage was just as blunt, somehow. She flushed, suddenly angry at his priorities. “Yes. I’m quite fine. As you can see, Kara has been keeping me safe.”
At that, Kara gave her a pleased look that had that familiar heat rolling through her body again. She put her hand more firmly on the bunched muscles of Kara’s arm and looked up into her eyes, searching. Kept me safe, yes. And I never even questioned for a moment how easy it was for her to do so. No, I only wanted to swoon every time she’d carry me, and all the while she was apparently bulletproof and strong as ten apes.
Lord, what on Earth have I found here?
“Kara.” Lex sounded out the name, and Kara’s head swiveled to him, cocking in recognition. “Well, that’s a lovely name. And where did you—“
“Will someone help me up?” Morgan’s exasperated raised voice interrupted Lex’s gears turning. “This bloody mud is like tar, and that savage bent my rifle in half!”
“Well, you shouldn’t have raised it at my sister, you dolt.” Lex retorted primly, and extended a hand with a wrinkled lip of distaste at how Morgan pulled him off balance to clumsily jerk upright. Her brother wiped his hand on his vest, irritably, but he never took his eyes off Kara, even as he spoke to Morgan. “Far too close for comfort, I say man. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking she was under attack.” Morgan protested, haughty as ever even as he only succeeded in smearing mud all over his fine white jodhpurs. “We’d spent the better part of three days hacking about in this godforsaken jungle before we heard a scream, and legged it up this hill to find her under a—“
“Mr. Edge .” Lena interrupted him, finger closing firmly on Kara’s arm. “The scream you heard was indeed mine, and I was indeed under attack. From a leopard. Which, as you can see—“ Lena gestured to the broken dappled corpse lying in the mud only a meter or so away—“Kara had already managed quite handily by the time you arrived.”
“By Jove .” Lex exclaimed, coming forward to examine the leopard’s body, just as Morgan’s face twisted sourly. “That is the biggest ‘pard I’ve ever seen . It has to be the size of a bloody Bengal tiger. How on earth did you manage to kill it?”
Kara looked startled at being asked to speak, and perhaps, just a bit shy. She even toed the ground a bit, like a naughty child. It was oddly endearing, even after what Lena had just seen. “It old. Not strong. Easy kill.”
“Well that has to be quite the understatement—“
“Impossible.” Morgan’s snort had them all turning. He looked sullen and half his hair was dripping with mud which made his pallid face look ugly, rather than handsome. “No one could kill a cat that size without a gun. It must’ve died earlier.”
“I would venture to say we’ve seen Lena’s friend do a great many impossible things already. Morgan old chap.” Lex hadn’t taken his eyes off of Kara’s broad chest, but the implication was not sexual. His intent, hawklike gaze had zeroed in right where the bullet wounds should be...but they weren’t there. “I would definitely not put it out of the realm of probability.”
Lena felt her gut twist at the keen, eager way he was examining Kara, but there was nothing for it now.
“Come.” Lex opened his arm to her. “Let us return to camp. Kara is welcome to join us, of course.”
Of course. Lena didn’t think he’d give his prize up now for all the world. Kara was interesting and that was the worst thing of all to be around a Luthor.
But Kara was looking at her in askance, so she had no other choice but to nod, and force a tight smile. “Yes. Let’s go.”
“Here.” Morgan stepped forward, removing his outer jacket. It was stained horribly down the back but otherwise intact. “Protect your modesty, Lena dear.”
Lena wanted to laugh, even as she took the jacket and let the sodden weight settle around her shoulders. Modesty . As if she hadn’t been sleeping in Kara’s arms every night for the past days. Still, she suspected, as she watched Morgan eye the strange alpha up and down, sizing her up, that was exactly what Morgan feared. And she could hardly go to the camp in her shimmy, anyway. She gripped the dense houndstooth and felt a shiver in her body that was not from cold or damp.
Kara looked at her, cautious as ever, and she forced herself to smile again, even though it was now Lena who felt she needed reassurance. There was a sudden, wild urge to tuck herself into Kara’s arms again, to beg her to grab a vine and get them away . Back to the peace of the gorilla family, to the sanctity of the cave, to the quiet, wonderful life so far from her own world that it had seemed a dream. Now, she was waking up, and remembering why it had been so easy to slip away from. But there was no going back.
It was all going to change, now.
And indeed, change it did.
Kara made quite the impression on the journey back, swinging overhead. Lex kept an eye on her progress above them as they followed Morgan’s crudely hacked trail in hampered, slow steps down the mountain. His questions came thick and fast. “Where did you find her?”
“She found me.” Lena explained, somewhat begrudgingly, picking her way over a fallen log without the assistance of her brother’s hastily offered hand. “I fell into a river and went over the waterfall. Kara pulled me out.”
“And there are no others like her? Where is her family?”
Lena shrugged. “She showed me a tribe of gorillas. They must have raised her. I think she’s the only other human on the island.”
“Remarkable.” Lex was speaking mostly to himself now, eyes never leaving Kara’s swinging shoulders. “But how certain are you that she is a human at all?”
Lena wanted to retort to that, but found her tongue had turned to ice water in her mouth, trickling down her spine. “She must be.”
But that argument was thin and weak, and Lex knew it. He turned half to her, smiling briefly. “Must she be? Sister, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of many humans who can repel rifle fire at point blank range and twist said rifle into a pretzel directly afterwards.”
“But what else could she be?” Lena fired back, immediately defensive over Kara.
“That’s a very good question.” Lex said, with a slow, contemplative smile, and Lena let her mouth shut with a snap.
Foolish . It was foolish to let him consider. The truth of it was that Lena had wondered herself, all those nights in the alpha’s solid embrace. Where did she come from? And why, of any place, would she be here ?
But Kara’s mystery had appealed to her as much as the myriad life of the jungle, and she had been content to let it unfold before her—made lazy and almost supine by her days in the blooming undergrowth. She had allowed herself to be complacent with the idea of time to get to know Kara, time unimpeded by Lex or Morgan or a crew of rowdy camp porters. She didn’t quite want to relinquish that time, either, even with her admittedly-new and sudden fear of the alpha’s strange, miraculous strength.
Biting her lip, Lena hunched deeper into the jacket around her shoulders and watched Kara move through the canopy with a confused, protective heart.
At camp, the blonde alpha caused quite a stir when she arrived before the rest of the party on foot. Lena heard the yells long before she could see Kara, but she ran to catch up anyway. When she arrived, Kara was looking bemusedly down at the end of a long fish gaff pole, and the other end was held by a posse of ferocious-looking Irishmen who had no clear intentions of dropping it.
“And just where in the hell do you think you’re—oh! Miss Lena!” The demeanor of the camp immediately changed as Lena came into view, and the gaff pole dropped, several shoulders straightening.
“At ease, gentlemen.” Lena stepped closer to Kara, half behind her in fact, feeling almost naked for the first time in days. She tightened Morgan’s hunting jacket around her chest. “This alpha is my rescuer . My brother will be along shortly with Mr. Edge. Would you be so kind as to direct me to my tent?”
Kara accompanied her, staying close as ever, and her eyes were wide as they moved through the camp, taking in the barrels and boxes and the Merry Ida moored in the bay just beyond.
“Is that Lena home?” She asked, tentatively pointing at the ship.
“The ship?” Lena almost laughed, but gathered herself at the seriousness of Kara’s face. “No, it’s just a….a way to travel across the water. Like vines.”
Kara studied the ship for a moment longer, chin jutting out in sharp focus. “ Big vines”
“Yes. Many , too.” Lena did laugh, then, and allowed herself to slip a hand into the crook of Kara’s elbow, tugging her to the tent. “Come along, I’ll show you how it works later.”
Once inside the tent, though, surrounded by her trappings of home and her maps and her silly pith helmet, Lena felt suddenly shy. A bit frivolous, even ridiculous. She wondered what Kara would even think of her, an omega from an entirely different world. Perhaps it would not be the same.
But Kara seemed, if anything, enraptured. She put her hand tentatively on the map on the canvas wall, as if afraid her palm would go through it. A sigh escaped her and she traced a path with one finger over the outline of a mountain.
“That’s a map of this island. My father made it.” Lena explained, and then expanded at Kara’s raised eyebrow. “It’s...how we find our way around.”
“Map.” Kara sounded the word out, absently, still looking. “This mountain is old place. Not gorilla place.”
“You’ve been there?” Lena could feel her gullet rising in both excitement and a deep twinge of fear. The mountain was where the crater was supposed to be, and if her brother knew or even suspected that Kara was in any way connected to that crater, then he’d—-
“Mmm.” Kara made a non-committal noise and moved around to finger the lace of one of Lena’s petticoats, sticking out from her wardrobe. “Pretty.”
Lena flushed. She watched Kara’s thumb slide back and forth over the slick fabric, and felt it low in her body, as if the alpha’s hand was touching her instead. She cleared her throat and aimed to look stern. “Don’t touch those, they’re private.”
“Private.” Kara echoed, and turned. The size of her in the small tent was suddenly very large and very close .
Lena swallowed. She knew beads of sweat were appearing on her brow. “I—it means not for other people. Just...yourself and maybe...maybe one other person.”
Kara’s grunt of understanding puffed out the hair against the side of her head—that was how close they had suddenly become in the still heat of the tent. Her heavy, calloused hand slid under the loose sleeves of Morgan’s jacket, and pushed them to the floor, leaving Lena’s shoulders exposed and bare. The omega barely repressed a shiver, unable to stop looking up into Kara’s bright blue gaze, sharp as ever. Her hand stayed on Lena’s bare shoulder, cupping the vulnerable ball joint there, stroking with her thumb down Lena’s exposed collarbone.
“Private.” Kara repeated, low and heavy with intent, and Lena closed her eyes, tilting her chin up slightly.
“Lena? Are you dressing in there?”
Lex’s booming call had Lena’s eyes slamming open, moment ruined in a swift, efficient shatter. She disentangled herself from Kara as quickly as she could, hurrying to button close the tent flap before he could approach further. “Yes!” She half-squeaked, and cleared her throat. “Just...getting into decent clothing now.”
“Ah, yes. I’d imagine you’d want that.” Lex sounded not the least bit fooled. “Is Kara with you?”
Lena closed her eyes in defeat for a split second. Damn him. “Yes.”
“Good. Come along to my tent when you find something suitable, will you? I’ve a few questions to ask your savior.”
Of course you do. Lena tightened her spine. “Yes, we’ll be there shortly.”
The sound of his retreating footfalls made her heart relax. She didn’t know what she was going to do about Lex’s troubling interest in Kara, nor why it bothered her so, but she knew it was already easier when he wasn’t around. That was possibly a very bad sign.
Putting that uneasiness from her thoughts as best as she could, Lena began the process of pulling a fresh chemise and dress from her hampers. Kara watched her with interest, eyes widening as Lena pawed absently through piles of silky fabric. When she had selected a suitably modest option, Lena gave Kara spinning motion with her finger. “Turn around please. It’s rude to stare while someone puts clothing on.”
“Private?” Kara asked, over her shoulder as she obligingly faced the wall.
Lena flushed as she pulled her ruined chemise over her head, feeling thrillingly naked just inches from Kara’s warm hands. “Yes. This is private, too.”
“Just for one person?” Kara probed, gently. Even with her back turned Lena could see how she was parsing this out.
“For one person. And maybe one other. Like you.” Lena’s nipples tightened in the air, and she hurried to change into undergarments, feeling as hot across the chest as if Kara was watching her.
“Mmm.” The noise Kara made was contemplative. “Thank you.”
‘Thank you’ had been a recent addition to her repertoire of language, but an entirely welcome one. Especially now. Lena hastened to put her dress on, suddenly struck with the urge to kiss Kara’s rough cheek. “Yes, well. You’re...welcome.”
The clean fabric of fresh clothing felt oddly foreign as she fluffed her hair out, settling the dress over her hips with care. She’d picked a cornflower blue one, almost by accident, and only now had it occurred to her that it was very like the color of Kara’s eyes. Heat swelled in her lower belly and she cleared her throat. “Thank you for turning. You can look now. It’s not….private anymore.”
But when Kara turned, the way the air felt suddenly still and close again with the heat of her eyes on Lena’s body was definitely more private than acceptably public. She only barely managed to sidestep the alpha’s hungry eyes for the tent flap, but it was a near thing. The tension between them remained, shimmering like rising hot air.
It was sufficiently doused by the chill in Lex’s tent when they arrived. Morgan was sulking in the corner, his arms folded in Lex’s camp chair, feet up on the table. An untouched glass of whiskey was at his elbow—Lex had clearly been attempting some conciliatory alcohol for Morgan’s wounded pride, but judging by the level of the glass, it didn’t seem to have been working very well. Her erstwhile-suitor gave Lena a morose and angry look as they entered, his accusatory eyes landing squarely on Kara.
Lex bustled past them immediately, with hardly a second glance at the frosty tension in the room. “Be right back!” He called gaily, and disappeared before Lena could protest.
Which left them alone with Morgan Edge’s bruised ego.
Luckily, Kara was blithely unaware of the alpha trying to subtly challenge her across the room. She was too busy putting Lex’s own pith helmet on her head to try it on. “Heavy!” She exclaimed, delighted.
Lena hid her titter of charm behind her palm. “Yes, it’s a helmet. Protects your head.”
“Not that she has much need of that, with being bulletproof.” Morgan commented, tinged with jealousy.
“She’s not bulletproof.” Lena felt her heart clench, even as she once again looked searchingly at the soiled red wrapping wound across Kara’s chest and down her loins. “Perhaps your gun misfired.”
Morgan guffawed, angrily. He glared at her over the edge of his glass, finally lifting it to his lips in a desultory salute. “Omega folly. My gun fired true. That beast just absorbed the hit.”
Kara seemed to realize she’d been insulted as she set the helmet down. Her lip curled and a low growl echoed across the tent as large bronzed shoulders squared at Morgan’s general direction. He withered almost instantly, clutching his glass, and Lena felt a fine stab of both arousal and satisfaction.
But whatever rebuttal she was going to manage was dashed when Lex returned to the tent, brandishing an all-too-familiar roll of parchment in his hands. “Here it is! Let us compare notes.”
Lena’s heart suddenly thumped in a heavy, uncomfortable way. “Is that Father’s map? You took that from my tent!”
Lex hardly even glanced at her, waving a hand as if to shush her quiet as he spread the map out over his folding table. “It belongs to both of us. Now, Kara, if you would be so good as to show me—“
“You had no right to do that!” Lena’s voice suddenly went louder and more shrill than she intended. All pairs of eyes turned to her. “Father’s map was left to me.”
“Lena.” She hated how Lex was looking at her. As if she was an unruly child again, messing up her pinafore. “Don’t be upset. I shall return it momentarily. The sooner we can settle this matter, the better, don’t you agree? After all, this is why we came all this way.”
Kara was looking between Lena and Lex as if figuring out how best to be helpful in this tense moment. “Kara will help. Show map.”
“See? She wants to help.” Lex looked far too triumphant for Lena’s tastes. He beckoned Kara over to the table. “Look here, Kara. We’re looking for a crater. A...big hole, see? It would be on a mountainside, or a hill. Somewhere not easily visible—“
“This mountain.” Kara interrupted firmly, and Lena’s heart sank 10,000 leagues below the sea as the alpha’s blunted finger traced again over the mountain at the center of the island, just as she had before. “Crater here. Kara come from.”
There was an audible sucking of breath in the room. Kara, naive to their excitement, turned to face Lex’s bright, oddly eager face, and Morgan, who had leaned forward with serious interest now that the crater was being mentioned. No. Lena thought, hands clutching at the rim of the table, desperate to cut Kara off before she did something foolish like offer—
“I show you.”
Hey! It’s finally spring! And we’re getting into some Sexy Conflict now, how fun.
I have to say, this story has been more enjoyable for me than I expected and I’m really glad to see that it resonates with some of you folks too. Thank you for indulging this little slow burn! I promise there will be kissing soon.
Kara was having a splendid time learning all about how to be a human.
The camp was lively, bustling and loud . Louder than even the most raucous chorus of the canopy. Always there was someone yelling about something, someone fighting, someone grunting while carrying something heavy or shouting commands. It was a constant symphony of noise. She had never been to a place that was so….talkative.
Nor had she been somewhere as bright , either. The tents all came complete with gas lanterns made of glass that burned hot to the fingertips but contained lovely balls of blue-orange flame. Kara couldn’t figure out how they did it—trapping fire like a living thing behind the glass— until Lena showed her the little knob to control the feed of odorless gas, which raised and lowered it, making the fire dance before her eyes. She spent the better part of an evening fiddling with the knob until a porter came to complain that they had only so much gas for the trip. Then she was sheepish. But only for a bit.
There was simply too much to see. Boxes of hardtack and cans of food and piles of rope. Unfurling sheets of snapping canvas, white as clouds. Men hauling nets from the sea, splashing with fish that sparkled in the sun.
Smells, too, with the rank odor of the latrine, or the rotting fish behind the cook tent, and the smell of sweat and musk, the spill of alcohol, the strangely-sweet-but-acrid tang of the green ink Lena used to show Kara the words her pale hands could create. She loved them all. It was all novel, all new, even the sudden shift into hormonal territory. There was the hot stink of other alphas assaulting her nose constantly, mingled with cool, neutral beta, and the sweet allure of Lena’s omega perfume, like a visible trail no matter where she went. Kara found herself hanging her mouth open like a jackal in rut, processing everything with her slavering mouth more than her flaring nostrils. She had to concentrate to snap her jaw shut when Lena came into view, but it was a difficult thing.
With so much to see and do in camp, Kara was still deeply aware that the omega was unhappy about something, and had been ever since they’d arrived. There were several excited discussions about going into the mountain, but since the humans were slow travelers—not like Kara—they apparently needed to plan and make provisions. Porters were sent into the jungle every day to start hewing a path into the brush of the mountainside, their big knives swinging like flashing teeth. And every day Lena’s brother, the slim, pale-eyed alpha she called Lex, was out instructing the crew at camp on what items to stack into neat boxes and rolls of tarp.
It was all very fascinating to Kara, but somehow Lena seemed troubled. Several times, Kara caught her talking to her brother with her voice raised high and frustrated, her scent ringing alarm bells. When she went to Lena’s side on these occasions, the omega always looked almost...fearful. Her body language was stiff and uncomfortable. Kara worried she’d done something to offend her potential mate, and, concerned, would make careful entreaties; bringing the omega small treasures she found on her excursions around the camp—a candy wrapper from a sailor’s pocket, a shiny rock, a feather, a knob from a gas lantern. And then Lena would smile and laugh and tell Kara their names, and ask where she’d found them, and everything was alright again.
But just momentarily.
Still, Kara was distracted, and her distractions kept her from examining Lena’s distress too closely. There wasn’t only her roaming about the camp to entertain herself with—now she had lessons too. Every day, Lena would show her books, and maps, and drawings. Kara was fascinated. There were pages of words, and pages of images, and Kara couldn’t understand at first how they’d been trapped. She turned the books upside down, trying to shake the words free, until Lena caught her hands and gently-but-laughingly explained.
But once she understood, there was a kind of magic to it. The first thing she was captivated with was a painting of a beta woman with her arms outstretched over her head, her toes pointed, dressed in something like a frill around her midsection. Kara could see that the woman was dancing, but she was frozen, her arms caught in a perfect halo above her head, her feet forever pointing. When Kara traced her clumsy fingers over the figure, the woman didn’t move. It was magic, then. To see how color and shape and form could make Kara feel the movement of the woman’s dance.
And Lena was magic, with her knowing smile, and her careful glances, showing Kara the world contained in yellowed slips of paper.
Lena was her world, and her world was growing every day with her love for the omega. It was thick in her chest, warm in her heart, and thumping in her ears whenever Lena looked at her, or gave her that lopsided smile, or crossed her path with her nose stuck in a book. Lena was the greatest gift of all the human world. Kara was sure of it.
If someone could have explained to her then, that the feeling she had for Lena was shared by thousands of other alphas all over the world for their own omegas, she would have never believed it. It felt too newborn, perfectly crafted. A brand new thing that was created only for the two of them. Only for Lena, and her blue-green eyes, and her warm hands.
Kara was vaguely aware that another alpha considered himself a contender as Lena’s future mate. Morgan, the man she’d send tumbling into the mud on the first day she’d met him, seemed determined to push his way into Lena’s path at every instance he could think of. But she did not truly consider him a threat. The way Lena reacted to his scent was clear—she was not interested in mating with him—and yet the alpha continued to linger. Kara didn’t think it was a particularly useful way to spend time, but she didn’t worry over it, either.
Perhaps she should have.
Originally, Morgan was the one who made the biggest fuss over the sleeping arrangements. The first evening at camp, as the night began to creep in, Lex had looked up from pouring over the map with a stencil in hand, and blinked.
“Ah, it will be night soon. We should have the porters set up a tent for Kara.”
“There’s no need.” Lena’s voice was smooth, but Kara watched, perplexed, as all the hairs on the omega’s neck raised, one by one. “Kara can share my tent.”
Immediately, Morgan made a noise. “That’s hardly appropriate.”
Lex looked largely disinterested. He shrugged. “They’re both women, my good man. And Kara is all but an ingenue, aside from her status.”
“An alpha is an alpha.” Morgan stubbornly insisted, fingers curled around the glass sloshing with brown liquid. “And that savage is not as innocent as she appears.”
Kara didn’t like him directing his ire so close to Lena. She made her feelings known by flashing her canines and growling from deep in her chest. Neither of these two alphas seemed accustomed to such an intense display—Lex averted his eyes immediately, and, although Morgan was more begrudging, he did it quickly enough as well.
“See? What did I tell you? She’s an alpha alright.” Despite his hunched posture not presenting a challenge, Morgan still apparently felt the need to express his displeasure at having lost. Kara lowered her growl, but kept her lip curled derisively over the whine in his voice. He sounded like an overconfident youngster who tried to beat his chest at a silverback, only to get soundly cuffed for his troubles.
Lex apparently felt similarly, judging by the contemptuous way he examined Morgan. “Edge, old boy, you’ve got to relax. You’re upsetting our guest. I’m sure Kara will be courteous to Lena’s virtue. Just as she has been for the past nights in the jungle.”
Lena flushed at that, and her scent went suddenly wild and hot, in a way that had Kara turning curiously to look at her, but the omega only cleared her throat and her scent dulled as quickly as it had flared. “Yes. She’s been the very image of a gentleman.”
Kara didn’t know what that meant. All she knew was that their discussion was silly. Of course she would sleep in Lena’s tent. To do otherwise would be ridiculous. Families always slept together, and Lena was her potential mate. That meant family, or Kara was a colobus monkey.
“Well, then.” Lex coughed, clearly wanting to move the conversation forward. “Shall we convene tomorrow after breakfast and begin our preparations? A good night’s sleep will serve that end.” He gave Lena what looked like a wheedling smile.
“I still don’t think—“
But this time it was Lex’s sudden look that silenced Morgan. “We all know what you think, Edge. But either you trust my sister’s judgement or you do not. I am not her keeper, after all.”
And that seemed to settle it. Kara had a newfound respect for the pale-eyed alpha after that—he was quiet, but effective. Morgan seemed to fear him, and he didn’t even need to growl. The subtle menace behind his broad smile was threat enough.
It was clear who was the true power in the camp. Still, Kara didn’t mind following a silverback’s orders. That was fine. As long as she had Lena, Kara felt quite certain she could tolerate any number of less-than-ideal circumstances.
At the tent, there were porters moving in and out. Strangers . Kara started up, bristling with a growl, but Lena put a slender hand on her arm. “Hush. They’re only setting up a cot for you. It’s where you’ll sleep tonight. Like your bed in the trees, but….on the ground, I suppose.”
The omega’s light laughter in the pale twilight had Kara’s chest beating like an unruly teenager. She felt absurdly delighted and yet shy when Lena laughed like this—and desperate for it to happen again. It was such a strange blend of things to feel, attached to such a sweet, tinkling sound. As usual her response was to toe the dirt, a gorilla’s bashfulness always at the fore of her behavior.
To her attested credit, Kara did try out the cot. She sat on it, springing up and down a bit on the taut surface of the heavy canvas, and watched as the omega set about lighting the gas and filling the lanterns with warm glow. That was the first night Kara became captivated with the light. Yes, because it was fascinating, but also yes, because of the way it danced on Lena’s face when she carried a lamp across the tent. Kara couldn’t look away.
The omega could clearly feel her staring. Lena’s cheeks were flushed with heat and her ears were red at the tips. Kara found that almost too perfect to bear. “Are you comfortable?”
Comfortable. It was a word Kara could guess at the meaning of. And yes, she did feel safe here. “Yes.” She told Lena. “Safe.”
“Safe.” Lena echoed, her mouth a sudden twist of sorrow. The omega’s eyes flickered to the tent flap, as if looking beyond. Kara turned her head to follow, but there was nothing there, and when she looked back at the omega, perplexed, Lena had dropped her gaze and was examining her hands. “Yes. You are safe with me.”
Kara nodded. “Lena safe.” That was a known quantity. Why did the omega look so sad about it? Kara could show her that she felt perfectly safe.
She swung her legs over the side of the cot, and stood up, giving Lena a soothing smile when the omega looked at her questioningly. She would show vulnerability. And she knew exactly how to do just that.
Kara pulled away the wrapping she kept wound around her chest and lower body, carelessly dropping the soiled red fabric in a slithering heap beside her cot. She spent most of her summers naked anyway, and this evening was particularly warm. They were bathed with the soft sea air down on the shoreline instead of the cold breeze high on the cliffs near the mountain. Still, her nipples were stiff, when the omega opened her mouth in shock, and the hairs on her thighs stood up like blonde bristles.
“See?” Kara said to Lena’s open mouth and stunned, rounded eyes. “ Com-for-table.”
“Oh my dear Lord.” Lena whispered.
Her eyes seemed to be centered down at Kara’s lower body, where her pubic hair hid the beginnings of her shaft. But the longer the omega looked, the more the alpha stiffened, until her cock was thick between her legs, almost fully engorged and pointing slightly toward Kara’s navel.
Lena swallowed. “Dear Lord.” She repeated, under her breath, as if stunned, or maybe just dizzy.
Kara frowned. “Lena alright?”
“Yes.” Then the omega screwed her eyes shut. “I mean. No. You should—-we should get you some clothes.”
Clothes? No, that was silly. That was the opposite of what she was trying to show Lena. “No clothes.” Kara moved closer, putting her hands on Lena’s waist. “Trust Lena.”
Lena let out a small strangled sound that was twisted in the omega’s throat. Her eyes were still tightly shut, as if she was refusing to open them but Kara could hear her heartbeat pounding away like a trapped bird. “That’s not quite what I mean, darling.”
Darling. Kara didn’t know what that word meant. But she could guess. The softness in the omega’s voice was inviting her closer, to dip her nose along the sweet pale curve of Lena’s neck. She inhaled there, drinking in the scent of her, and Lena breathed with her, letting out a little ragged sound—very much like a moan.
For a long, still moment, it felt like they were the only two people in the world.
The sound of a strange alpha had Kara’s every sense snapping to attention, growling and lifting her head over the omega’s shoulder at the tent flap where she could smell Morgan and see the outline of him against the canvas. She crushed the omega to her body, eliciting a quick gasp from Lena, and pivoted to position herself fully in between the two. How dare he intercede when she had already made herself known as the dominant alpha? Did he not learn from when she had rolled him into the mud? She would teach him a further lesson—
Lena let out a muffled squeak into her chest and pushed against her hold. Instantly, Kara released her, frowning and worried she’d accidentally hurt the omega, but Lena was gasping and stepping quickly away, actually moving closer to Morgan and the tent flap. “I’m in here! Do stay out, I’m—-I’m teaching Kara about changing for bed.”
Kara was confused and affronted. Lena should have let Kara handle this. Morgan was a defeated challenger. Why would the omega even want to speak to him? She growled again, but softer, without as much heart, and Lena shot her a quick, angry look. That was even more hurtful. What had she done? Morgan was the interloper here.
“Oh.” The alpha outside the tent flap seemed irritated and uncertain about that, and Kara wanted to growl at him again, every hair bristling on her body. Lena’s hand on her chest kept her from charging at him, but it was just barely. “Well, I suppose that’s in order. Only...I wanted to say goodnight to you. We haven’t had a moment together since the voyage.”
“ Hell .” Lena spoke quietly into her palm, but when she raised her voice it was directed at Morgan. “Of course. Yes. I’ll be along momentarily. Just let me—“
“Yes, yes, certainly.” The alpha stepped back. “I shall wait for you outside of my tent.”
“See you then, Morgan dear.” Lena responded, far too false and high in her throat, but even the faux-display of affection made Kara sting inside. Dear. Was that the same as ‘darling’?
Was it better ?
Kara didn’t know, and not knowing made her anxious. She felt clumsy and too large in the tent, as Lena distractedly fluffed her hair and neatened her skirt. “Lena going?”
“Yes. Sorry but—“ Lena bit her lip and cast her a distracted, sorrowful glance. “You won’t understand. I’ll just be a moment. Here,” she indicated to a pile of fabric on the bed. “Lex left you some sleeping attire. You can look them over and I’ll help you dress when I get back. Alright?”
She didn’t wait for a response. The harried scent of her rushed out of the tent with her swinging skirts, and Kara was left with a hot, anxious feeling in her chest and an unease that was beginning to grow. Part of her longed to return to the forest, just then. It was a sudden, wild impulse. But she didn’t.
Instead, she contemplated the fabric on the bed. She could dress herself, at least. That would show Lena that she was willing to learn about this strange new world. Even if it contained such unpleasant creatures as Morgan Edge.
The shirt went on easy enough, after a bit of confusion where her head should go, but she almost fell over pulling the pants up her legs. It didn’t seem practical. And it was stuffy and hot . But, when she examined herself in the pane of glass that was set up across from Lena’s bed, she could see that the clothing instantly made her look more at home in the camp. More like one of them. The other...humans.
Her blue eyes watched herself from the mirror. The loose neck of the shirt was baggy at her front, and the pants hung around her hips. Lex was taller than she was, and his clothes felt like an elephant’s skin on her own. She wondered if Lena would like it. She wondered if Lena liked Morgan Edge’s clothing better.
Just when those thoughts were beginning to lead down a dark path, Lena returned in a hasty bustle through the tent flap. “I’m back, sorry Kara, he just won’t be put off unless I speak to him, and he can be quite demanding—“
Morgan Edge’s scent was lingering on her, but not a lot of it, Kara found she was able to stomach it a bit better when she saw how the omega’s eyes rounded at her clothing.
“Oh—you dressed.” Lena put her hand to her mouth, lips brushing her fingers as she looked Kara up and down. “My. Don’t you look—“
“Good?” Kara offered, unable to stop herself from tugging at the nightshirt hem.
“Handsome.” Lena clarified, eyes a dark, shifting shade. She crossed closer to Kara, and, hesitantly at first, raised her hands to fix the neckline. “Although we will have to have these taken in. Clearly.”
“Handsome.” Kara repeated, quietly, as Lena’s fingers traced the line of buttons up between her breasts. The movement had her feeling almost bewitched. It didn’t appear she was alone in that, judging by the way Lena’s eyes had gone a dark, stormy shade. “Lena— you like?”
“‘Do you like it’,’ Lena corrected her absently, looking down at her thumb rubbing over the little pearl buttons. “And yes. I do.”
“Mm.” Kara found she was a little beyond speech. Her thoughts had narrowed down to where Lena touched her chest. But, there was a little of her jealousy left to speak for her, as it turned out. “Better than Morgan?”
Lena gave a short, barking laugh, even though Kara didn’t think she’d said anything funny. “Oh darling. You have no idea.”
Lena’s laughter seemed to leave her sagging into Kara a bit, their foreheads bumping. The omega closed her eyes. “You have no idea.” She repeated, softly.
Kara didn’t know what to do with herself. There was a thumping urgency to feel Lena close like this, to bring her closer. Her breath was spilling over Kara’s chin and it was sweet. She wanted to taste it. She wanted to crawl into Lena’s mouth and live there, in the wet, fruity heat of her.
Tentatively, carefully, with little idea of what she was doing and only the force of her desire as a teacher, Kara brushed her lips against Lena’s, dragging in a soft press that was as electrifying as it was slow.
When the omega tilted her chin up, and pressed her lips closer, Kara responded by licking her mouth, asking for entry, and the omega sighed to let her in, gasping quietly as Kara’s tongue slid past her lips. There was a long, wet pause. A slow, deep inhale. And when Kara opened her eyes and pulled back to check the omega’s reaction, she could see Lena was flushed and a little teary-eyed, but smiling.
“Oh Kara.” Lena sighed, and drew their foreheads together again. “My Kara.”
And that—to be Lena’s Kara—was almost better than the kiss.
They went to sleep on their separate, strange beds (that weren’t half as comfortable or easy to sleep in as a gorilla nest, in Kara’s opinion) without further words. Lena didn’t make Kara turn around this time when she pulled her dress over her head, and went to the bed in her white shift, so close to her skin that it made the alpha shudder, a bit. Kara watched Lena slip in between the blankets like leaves and draw them up over her pale body, and fumbled her way through copying the movements on her own cot, which was hard and springy.
The blankets were scratchy and thin, but watching Lena settle in, Kara was able to lay still for a time. Then she began to feel restless. How could she protect the omega from the ground, with her vision blocked off by this silly tent? How did the alphas of her kind ever keep anyone safe? And besides, this bed was cold, and itched terribly, and the clothing only made her feel strangled and stifled.
After a miserable half hour or so, Kara made up her mind. She stole out of the tent, pulled the shirt off her strangled neck, and found the nearest acceptable tree within a minute or two of searching. Up she went, and was already mostly finished with the work of bending branches into shape, when she saw a familiar white flash at the base of the tree.
Guiltily, she climbed down, expecting a reprimand from Lena, but the omega only silently lifted her arms, asking to be swung up into the branches. Surprised and pleased, Kara obliged, and drew Lena up against her chest and then down into the nest she’d created, covering them both with branches and leaves until the cocoon of body heat was pleasant and warm. The omega closed her eyes, and nestled into Kara’s chest, hand above her heart, and Kara’s whole body swelled with love. There was a way in between the camp and the jungle. A place just for them. Lena was showing her how to find it.
The next morning, early in the grey dawn, Kara and Lena awoke before the camp, and carefully climbed down from the nest. Lena encouraged Kara to dress herself again in Lex’s clothing, while the omega went off to attend to her morning ablutions by the river. When she returned, hair wet and toweling dry, Kara had managed to get the pants on, but was fiddling over the buttons of the shirt. Lena smiled and went to her, fingers moving with ease over the brass.
“Today begins your lessons, my darling.” Lena told her, with a determined smile. “I am going to teach you all I know of the world, and you are going to teach me what you know about that crater—before my brother can take us there.”
And Kara, who wanted nothing more than to be the type of alpha that would be a mate to Lena, smiled wide in her enthusiasm. “Teach me.”
Every day that passed in the heat of the African sun meant Lena knew deeper and deeper in her heart that she did not want to leave. That she was in love with Kara, and all the wonders of her strange, beautiful world. And that she would never marry Morgan Edge.
But that presented several problems, of course, all of them troubling. The first was Morgan himself. His pride had never recovered from the fall he’d taken in the mud, and, like any ill-tempered and sullen creature bred by nobility, he was waiting to be soothed and cosseted until he could fluff his feathers again.
The responsibility for this pampering would normally fall to Lena, but she was otherwise preoccupied with Kara’s English lessons, and Morgan himself was called every day to assist Lex and the porters with laying out supply caches along their laboriously-slow trail up the mountain. The progress on that was frustrating and often hampered by the terrain and unpredictable weather, and Lex was in no mood to play jolly old boy to a wounded alpha ego. So that left Edge, irritated and unattended-to, looking dangerously to Kara as the source of his strife. And the more time his betrothed omega spent in the company of the savage alpha….the more dangerous he became.
The second problem was the progress of the trail. Slow though it may indeed have been, there was progress. The men had made it almost halfway up the mountain, and although the going was slower now, they would be swifter once they crested the ridge. Lena was almost feverishly aware of this. Every night, when she lay in the trees, she could see the lights from the lanterns and hear the axes swinging away. It was discomforting, in the midst of the jungle, how that noise seemed to deaden everything else. The trail—and what lay at the end of it—was a daily creeping vine set to strangle Lena’s conflicted heart.
There was one thing that was not a problem. One thing that did not conflict her. And yet, it was the biggest issue of them all.
Kara’s presence in Lena’s heart was like a tree taking root. One day it was only a seedling—opening to the world, blinking in the sun and bowing under its own weight. The next, it was a sapling, shivering in the wind, only slightly above a stick, but starting to grow enough branches to gather the light close to its core. And then one day it was big enough to grow fruit, big enough that Lena’s heart had to move around it, rather than let it be moved. And then, sooner than she’d realized could be possible, it was a huge, branching thing that stretched its arms over Lena’s whole heart and softened her under the mossy, protected shade of its canopy. And she could no sooner cut the thick trunk down than she could cut out her own pumping blood vessels.
And that, of course, was a problem .
It was a problem of a kind that she had never encountered before, back in London. Of course, there had been suitors. One—a certain charming Jack Spheer—had even gotten close enough to press her through her skirts and kiss her neck, on a hot summer’s eve while their chaperones pretended not to look. But his middling fortune wasn’t enough to satisfy Lex, so he had been sent on. Lena had mourned his quick wit and his charming wiles, but nothing had flamed within her aside from desire when she saw him. Not like how she felt now.
There had been a girl at boarding school—Andrea Rojas, the Spanish Ambassador’s daughter—who had whispered hot secrets into her ear in a way that had made her body itch and her heart ache. But Andrea had only ever played the games of childhood—Spin the Bottle, Kiss the King, Beggar’s Cheek, and so on—and never the games of the heart. She didn’t think of Lena when she lay in her dorm bed, only a few deep breathing spaces away, with her mouth all twisted in a smile—she thought about her male alpha beau, Russell. And the pain of that silent, subconscious rejection that had hardened Lena’s heart against the whole concept of love, almost entirely.
Or so she thought.
“She sells sea-shells down by the seashore.” Kara repeated dutifully, sounding each sound out with careful diligence. Her brow crinkled and Lena wanted to press her lips to each crease, not to mention the pink lips drawn up in a contemplative moue . “Why would she do that? Plenty of shells at the shore anyway.”
The alpha’s rapid increase in vocabulary had to be down to exposure, Lena mused. Over the past week or so in the camp, she’d picked up pronouns, semi-proper verb usage, and many, many adjectives to describe how pleasing she found Lena’s dresses. There seemed no limit to the capacity behind those bright blue eyes. It was almost uncanny how fast Kara learned something once she was immersed in it. Almost as uncanny as how fast she’d learned to woo Lena’s heart with her burgeoning, newborn wit.
“It’s an old rhyme. I don’t suppose anyone ever asked why Sally didn’t just sell her shells in the town instead.” Lena replied, almost certainly already blushing by the time Kara winked at her in response. “Shall we try Mother Goose instead today?”
“Mm. No, thank you.” Kara’s manners were growing every day, but she still leaned presumptively close when she nudged the omega with a gentle foot to her calf. “Thinking we could practice letters . Go for a walk down to the stream?”
Lena knew exactly what the alpha wanted, and it was not an alphabet recital. She snapped the book of nursery rhymes shut and tried to look severe and not flushed when she reprimanded. “Kara, we’re only halfway done with our lessons.”
Judging by the lazy smile on the alpha’s face, Lena was not succeeding with her schoolmarm disciplinary practices. Which made perfect sense—after all, she was so fluttery in her lower belly around Kara on a daily basis that she was surprised butterflies didn’t spring from her mouth every time she spoke. Kara had that unsettling effect. Lena suspected it was one of her many gifts.
“Lena. You said the stream was ‘perfect place to think quietly’.” Kara countered. Even though her grin gave her away, she was still parroting Lena’s words back to her without much struggling over them. That was no minor feat. Every day she got better and better. “And I can show you all the plants I’ve learned.”
Those day-blue eyes were just so damn charming . Irrepressibly so. Every time Lena thought she could resist, her heart came clamoring up in her chest to tell her all the reasons why she should give in—it was impossible, really.
“Very well.” Lena allowed, slowly, and pretended not to notice the alpha’s woop of delight as she slid the book back onto her desk and unfolded her lap. “But only for a few minutes.”
Lena allowed herself to be led by the hand as they went along the path into the stream. No one was left in camp to see them, anyway, aside from the detail left to watch the ship—and they were too busy playing cards down on the sand. No one to see her slip away with the strange alpha into the jungle.
Her fingers felt like a key fitting into a lock when Kara laced them with her own. She couldn’t deny that. Nor the way Kara’s broad, brown thumb rubbing over her inner wrist made her pulse jump and dance under the thin skin there as the alpha pointed out flowers with their joined hands and repeated back to Lena the English and Latin names she’d learned. The careless, soft rubbing of her thumb...Lena would never be able to describe how arousing it was. It felt like Kara was touching her lower. Much lower.
The stream was a short walk, but Kara made sure to press her up against a tree not long into it. “Thinking about this all day.” Hot breath confessed over Lena’s collarbone, her pulse. She closed her eyes until Kara’s fingers slipped under her chin to lift. “Thinking about kissing you.”
“Then kiss me.” Lena said, in a strange, breathy voice that was not her own, but luckily it was swallowed right up by Kara’s lips.
Kissing Kara had evolved from the innocent press of lips in her tent. Now, she was the one being pressed, her back scratched by the trunk of a tree, or tickled by vine leaves. With the alpha’s confidence in her language, so too had grown her confidence in Lena’s body. She put her hand on the omega’s waist and dipped her tongue right past Lena’s open lips without a single question.
The electricity of the wet glide of Kara’s tongue against her own could have powered the whole island, and several struggling cities beyond. Lena was sure of it. Harnessing this kind of charge would be impossible though. Like bridling the wind. The flame inside her body when Kara’s other hand came up to cup the back of her head, thumb tracing over her jawline, her cheek—the heat of that was volcanic inside her body. A burst of unmasterable fire.
She had never been kissed like this before. She hoped she would never kiss anyone like this ever again. There was something about kissing Kara that made her know she would never enjoy it this way with anyone else. There was a kind of finality in that kiss. A beautiful kind. A frightening kind.
Either way, she gave into the fire, let it consume her whole, root and stem. Her body molded to Kara’s and she pulled the alpha closer by her neck, shameless as a harlot. The feel of her hot skin, her sweet, always-smiling mouth, her blunt, heavy hands. It was exquisite. A torture, of course, but one Lena had begun to readily accept. Even with a panoply of risks awaiting her, should someone ever see them trysting here, Lena threw caution to the wind and let Kara press her hips into her body as if trying to mold them together like clay.
“You smell good.” Kara told her in a panting breath slanted across her lips. Her inhale was deep and reverent.
Lena was reminded of the way the alpha had sniffed along her body on the first day they’d spent together in the cave, and her belly remembered too—fluttering and tensing with the heat of the memory. Sometimes, in Lena’s mind, the image changed, and she saw herself bending her knees, opening up for Kara’s mouth and her tongue instead of her nose. That was a searing picture.
“We should be working on your lessons.” Lena was helpless but to allow the cultured conditioning to guide her tongue at times, even if it didn’t guide her hands—-currently tangled in the alpha’s thick blonde hair and sweeping over her back. She cleared her throat as Kara nosed into her pulse, unheeding. “ Kara .”
“Am learning.” Kara countered, lips smiling against her skin. “Learning many things.”
Lena could guess. Her blood was so hot around the alpha that she knew a heat wasn’t far off and her skin would be singing with it, giving off the perfume of a needy omega. Whenever she closed her eyes, she felt her body warming, her pulse thudding in the rhythmic pre-heat build.
But she couldn’t give in to it—that would be disastrous. Morgan would want to be the one guarding her tent and courting her with his scent, and he would kill—or try to kill—Kara if she came near. And, according to the laws of her world, he would be in the right to do so, she was betrothed to him and therefore his to protect. But somehow she doubted Kara would see it the same way, and—more disastrous— a large part of Lena agreed. Still. A heat was the last thing her body needed to do right now, so she was desperate to forestall it for as long as possible.
Giving in to Kara’s clever hands and her hot, seeking lips would be the opposite of that goal, but oh….how hard it was to resist.
“ Kara… ” Lena’s voice was far too throaty, but she couldn’t help herself. The alpha’s lips had descended along her throat, and the flickering of her tongue under the omega’s earlobe had her gasping for air. “You feel so good.”
It wasn’t the protest she needed her words to be, but that didn’t really seem to matter. Not when the alpha’s hands scoped over her spine, cupping her the curve of her behind and pulling her even closer. Kara had none of the tepid courtesy of her former suitors, but it didn’t matter to Lena’s wildly beating heart. All she could think about was the strength of those hands and yet how paradoxically gentle they felt molding to her skin.
It was a dangerous, dangerous thing to be doing so close to camp.
A crackle in the distance had Kara’s head snapping up from Lena’s neck, her eyes narrowed in a split, sobering instant. The alpha’s lips peeled back over her teeth, baring them at something invisible further up the path, and she growled, low and threatening. It shivered across Lena’s throat, and made her feel weak and vulnerable, trembling with her fingers clutched to Kara’s broad arms.
“What is it?” She asked, breathlessly.
“Smelled something.” Kara said, but then her brow crinkled. “But….it’s gone now. Maybe it was nothing.”
“We should get back to camp, anyway.” Lena felt her ardor sufficiently dampen in the thought of being caught like this. She didn’t know what Lex would say—but she knew what Morgan would. Her breath caught in her throat and she gently pressed at the alpha’s broad chest, solid like an iron wall.
With some reluctance, Kara stepped back, releasing her hold, but she just as swiftly leaned in, and nosed Lena one final time, lips tracing briefly under her jaw. “Tonight.” The alpha promised, softly, and Lena shuddered, knowing exactly what she meant. “If you want.”
“Maybe.” Lena allowed, cheeks flaming with heat and body quivering with the idea of pressing close like this with Kara all night in the trees. “ If you behave and do your lessons well.”
Her schoolmarm guise was only a play tease, but Kara straightened up with a will, giving her a tender peck on the cheek before offering a hand to lead her back to camp. “To lessons, then.”
As they neared the crook in the path that led to camp, a voice hailed out: “Kara! Come tell us which of these fruits we can eat!”
Kara cast a quick, excited look at Lena and the omega laughed, releasing her palm. “Alright, but quickly.” The alpha was forever in her enjoyment of the cook tent and the men there were just as apt to spoil her with tidbits until her belly swelled and half the larder was emptied. “Come back in time for me to teach you the constellations. I’d like us to look for some tonight.”
“I will.” Kara promised, so tenderly that Lena knew she would, and raised her lips to Lena’s knuckles. It was a newly-learned gesture from some ‘off-lessons’ romance novel reading, and Lena could hardly deny that it was quite effective, albeit risky this close to camp. The alpha gave her a cheeky smile, and darted away.
Lena raised her fingers to her lips, and watched her go, heart full of love and, for the briefest moment, not one ounce of conflict.
And then someone grabbed her by the waist, clapped a rough hand over her mouth and hauled her into the jungle.
Lena screamed, of course, and kicked wildly, but her fine leather shoes barely made a dent in the dense undergrowth, and her scream was muffled into a gloved hand. She twisted and bit, trying to get free, only to have herself soundly shaken by the nape of her neck, like an ill-behaved cat. Her head rang and a voice gruffly echoed into her ear. “Quiet, you.”
That was an unpleasantly familiar tone.
“Morgan?” She gasped out into the muffling palm. Her heart plummeted when her lungs began to take in his scent, hot with ire.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” His hand slid away from her mouth only to pull at her dress, nearly dragging her off her feet. Lena tried to squirm away but he shook her again, angrily. “Did you think I was blind ?”
“ Mr. Edge .” Lena had never been manhandled like this by a member of society in all of her life. She was scandalized—and afraid. “Release me at once, you have no right to accuse—“
“Accuse?” He barked out a laugh, almost hysterical, and leaned in, taking a violatingly-intimate sniff next to her neck. “I can smell her all over you .”
Lena went stiff, guiltily. Her voice dropped to an even more glacial register. “Whatever you’ve presumed to know about—“
“I don’t need to presume anything. I know that savage is trying to have her way with you. And you’re letting her.” His spittle grazed her cheek as he shook her again, rattling the bones in her jaw in a heavy clank against her skull. “My god, what kind of whore are you? To lay down for a girl raised by apes ? Your brother has certainly sold me a lame nag.”
Lena slapped him, fierce and swift. She wasn’t well trained in the art of defending herself, though, like any lady of her station, and her blow landed harmlessly against his cheek, hardly more than a sting. Still, she quivered with indignation and righteous fury. “How dare you speak to me like that. I should tell my brother—“
“Your brother needs my money more than he needs your pride, poppet.” Morgan sneered at her. His handsome face did turn rather ugly when angry, and his breath was foul on her lips. “And half this expedition comes from my pockets. He wouldn’t dare upset me. You’d do well to follow his example, oh wife-to-be .”
All of that was true, Lena knew. She’d seen their ledgers. The Luthor coffers were near empty, and this expedition was running on the fumes of a good name and not much more. She had known her duty when she’d agreed to the marriage, and it had seemed like a simple business transaction at the time. Hardly more than a signing of papers. But now, it was anything but.
Lena lifted her chin. “And what if I will not?” She narrowed her eyes at his hands on her body. “You are hardly the suitor you advertised yourself as, if this is how you are to treat a lady wife.”
“You are no lady.” Morgan scoffed. “I’ve seen the way you sit a horse. Mother warned me that was a bad enough sign, but that can be forgiven. This—“ He waved a hand up the trail, where Kara was no doubt busily ensconced in a fruit eating competition of her own devices. “—little indiscretion can be ignored. Provided you prove obliging enough to me when the time comes.”
“And why would I ever do that?” She hissed at him, twisting in his grip, but he held her arm firm.
“Because I may not be able to hurt your little jungle pet with one bullet, but perhaps twenty will do the trick. Or thirty. Or a blast from the cannon. Or arsenic in her pudding.” He told her, simply, and Lena’s blood ran cold. “We don’t know that she can’t be killed. And even if she can’t, she can at least be wounded. All living things bleed .” Morgan’s smile was sharp and clear. “And I do believe I’ve found her very weakness.”
“Please.” Lena’s heart was in her throat, and there was no more rebellion in her body, as if her veins had been doused in glacial water. She relented in Morgan’s hold. “Don’t. Don’t try to harm her. She hasn’t—she isn’t anything to you. She’s only a savage. Please .”
“That’s better.” The alpha laughed, clearly pleased at her obedience and he shook her once more for good measure. “You’d do well to remember that. You behave, and save your heat for me, and I will do my part with your family’s finances. But if I find you’ve spread your legs for that filthy ape, then I’ll make sure you watch when I find the way to cut her throat.”
Lena felt a tear welling in her eye but she willed it not to fall. Her quivering was resolute, if also furious. “Yes.”
“Yes what?” His fingers closed tightly on the skin of her upper arm and twisted, painfully.
“Yes alpha .” Lena hissed between her teeth, forcing herself to stay upright.
“That’s good.” Morgan released her with a shove, and she stumbled. “See that you do. I don’t want to treat you unkindly, Lena—it isn’t sporting for a gentleman, but sometimes it is necessary. I can see that now.” He gave her a little pat on her hand, a conciliatory gesture. “Don’t fuss too much. I shall forgive you in time. But do try to avoid angering me again. It’s not seemly.”
“Yes alpha.” Lena repeated, dully, tears wanting to spring into her hot eyes. She blinked them away, fiercely.
Morgan nodded stiffly at her, as if uncomfortable with her display of emotion, and then stepped back. “I shall return to your brother in the base camp now. See that you come to me when it’s time for your heat—it can’t be long now. I’ll be waiting.”
With that, he brushed imperiously past her and disappeared around the bend in the trail.
Lena waited for what felt like an eternity, panting into the oncoming gloom of twilight, her arm still smarting where Morgan had pinched it. Then, she covered her mouth with her hands, and let out a short, muffled scream. Damn him. Damn him forever. He’ll never touch me again. Not as long as I shall live. I swear it.
After she had spent a few more moments on the path bridling her rage sufficiently enough to return to camp, dusk was already falling, and the camp was emptying out, going to the mess for supper and beginning the nightly rounds. Kara had returned to Lena’s tent, according to the cooks. When the omega pushed in the flap, the alpha smiled and lifted her head, spreading a hand over an array of sliced fruits. “Lena. Would you like to try—?”
Lena shook her head, breath caught miserably in her throat, and although she was moving to her, Kara was already up and taking the distressed omega into the broad strength of her arms before she could speak. Lena clung to her linen shirt—a hand-me-down from a porter more Kara’s size that fit better than Lex’s castoffs—and inhaled deeply, calming herself with heavy inhales of the alpha’s musk. Kara’s hands moved soothingly on her back, and her voice was a gentle rumble. “Lena? What’s wrong?”
Lena could already feel the heat building up to swallow her pupils when she raised her head and heard Kara’s careful intake of breath. “Make love to me, Kara.” She begged, her voice a rasping croak of pure desperation. “I need you. Tonight.”
Hello! I know, it’s been a bit. Turns out I got vaccinated, started dating and immediately fell in l o o v e so it’s been a summer. Hope you’re all eating good and living better <3
“ Make love to me, Kara.”
The alpha held the trembling omega close to her chest, as her pulse beat wildly against her skin. The heat of the day, long and supine, was concentrated now in the lazy dusk gathered in the tent, and the woman gathered in her arms. There was a steady, building heartbeat in Kara’s lower body, and a whispering, itching urge to push closer, press harder.
But she was trapped, both by her own inexperience and by the strong, unpleasant scent of Morgan Edge clinging to those shaking, pale shoulders.
There was a ravine widening in her chest, cracking her ribs apart. The urge to curl her lip and growl at Edge’s lingering scent was strong, but so was the urge to press her mouth to Lena’s and smother that foul scent with her own. Kara was naive to the world but some things are simple and true—and the truth of her own superiority over Morgan as a match for Lena was clean and pure as a running river. But it was muddied, swirling in confused eddies at the edge, over what she now knew of life beyond the trees, life in Human Society.
“Lena.” Her own voice surprised her with the deep, heavy bass of its rumble. She cleared her throat, as Lena tilted up to blink at her, eyes doe-like. “Why?”
Lena blinked again, but this time her brow furrowed in consternation. “Why what? Don’t you want to—“
Kara’s fingers were gentle, but the touch on her shoulders interrupted Lena mid-flow. Kara continued stroking, thinking of how to use her limited language to phrase this. There were many things she had learned in the past weeks, but not enough to handle something quite as complex. “Why now?”
When Lena only flushed and did not answer, Kara saw her opening as clearly as a buck leaping free of the leopard’s paw. “Now, because of...of me? Or because…” Kara hesitated over the way the strange words felt heavy in her mouth, and Lena turned to her with wide, comprehending eyes. “Because of Morgan Edge?”
The truth was a quick dart in Lena’s expression, a direct hit. Her bitten lip and sudden flash of fear was all the answer Kara needed, but the omega nodded, too. “You’re what I want.”
“But you fear him.” Kara couldn’t deny the little lift in her heart when the omega said that she was wanted , but she couldn’t have her prospective mate living in fear of another alpha. Her blood had begun to thump lowly, but now for other reasons. “He….touched you.”
Lena’s breath was quickening now— a telltale sign. Kara did not give any outward indication that she was angry, so as not to further stress Lena, but her blood was boiling at the helpless little tremble in the omega’s lip. “I’m engaged to him. We—in London we are to be married.”
Kara did not understand. Lena had not chosen Morgan, that was clear. Why would she mate with him? Him and not—
“But you fear him.” She echoed, uncomprehending.
The look Lena gave her was so fraught with helpless complexity that Kara knew instantly that her understanding was bested, once again, by Human Society. And the omega seemed bested by it too, if her hand-wringing and glistening eyes were any indication. “It’s complicated. My brother...he has no money, and Morgan has lots of it. We came here to rebuild our fortune, but we needed his help to get here. So Lex and I—“
“Lex and you?” Kara didn’t mean to interrupt, but she saw the flaw in that statement right away.
Lena swallowed, and the look she shot Kara was resigned. “Alright. Lex decided. I...went along with it. As I usually do. Morgan was not my choice. He would never be my choice.”
“How can Lex choose your alpha?” Kara knew she was behind in many areas, too many to list or explain, but this seemed so far beyond what she knew that it was impossible. Her brow was tightly furrowed, and her head felt like it might begin to pound soon. “You are the omega. You choose your mate.”
“It doesn’t always work that way. Back home.” Lena explained. Her voice was frustrated and pained. “I know it doesn’t make sense. It often doesn’t make sense to me as well. But I suppose I never questioned it until…”
“Until?” Kara prompted, wanting to hear Lena say the words, even if she only sometimes understood what they meant.
The omega did her one better. She raised her lovely, green-blue eyes to Kara’s searching gaze and leveled her chin, her scent giving no doubt about her desires. “Until you .”
That Kara could understand.
There was a swell of emotion in her body that led her mouth to crash right into Lena’s, seeking and finding her eager for the kiss. Her mouth was hot and her tongue danced like a slippery eel. They surged against each other, waves on the cliff side, and Kara felt everything in her body want to get closer, to feel Lena in a way that she had only ever guessed at, before. There was heat and there was pressure like she’d never known.
But there was also still the scent of Morgan, acrid and turning her nose, even as she burrowed into Lena’s sweet hair, and the thought of him itched at her mind.
“You don’t choose him?” She asked, throatily, lips a whisper away from Lena’s open, panting mouth.
“No.” Lena whispered back, teeth catching on Kara’s lip. “I choose you.”
There it was, the fire in her belly. Leaping, incandescent. Like the lightning storms in the summer that set the high mountain fields ablaze to later curl green with new life. She crushed their lips together again and moaned into Lena’s sweet fleshy mouth, fingers tight on the omega’s heaving ribs. All Kara wanted in that moment was to crawl inside her and live there.
“Let him say what he likes. Let him threaten...anything.” Lena’s breath was fervid on her lips, impassioned with nips of her teeth. “I don’t care. I’ll stop him before he tries to hurt you, I’ll think of something—“
“He...threaten you?” Kara stopped in mid-lick of Lena’s upper lip, body stiffening. Her hands left the omega’s rib cage to curl into fists and she felt each individual hair on her neck as they all rose, one by one. “Lena. Morgan...hurt you?”
The quick downcast of Lena’s eyebrows and the shift in her breath was all the answer Kara needed. As well as the telltale way her hand went to the skin of her upper arm and rubbed there, where a bruise was beginning to discolor the skin. “He...threatened me. Yes. But not to hurt me. To hurt you.”
Kara’s blood was hot from her kiss and thumping around her chest. It was one thing for this other alpha to play his silly games and try to use the papers and words of Human Society to influence Lena. But it was a different thing to imply that he could harm, or even defeat her, and quite another to do so to try to control Lena. Lena, who had chosen Kara .
Kara had seen a young blackback male try to challenge the group’s silverback one year. She had seen how that sullen young fellow had thrown dirt, twigs, tossed branches to make himself look bigger. She remembered how the silverback ignored his displays...until he began to bother the females. And then she remembered how soundly the silverback had trounced the young male, and how thoroughly that lesson had been learned.
She had been taught many things about Human Society in the camp, over the past weeks and now it was time, perhaps to do some teaching of her own.
Before the omega could protest—or, indeed, even move—Kara was up and out of the tent flaps. She had never moved so fast before. It felt like the scenery blurred, and one moment she was in the warm confines of Lena’s tent, and the next she was out in the chill dusk, scenting the air for Edge’s musk. She found the trail instantly, and when the scenery blurred again, she was moving down the path the men had created with their machetes, intent and silent like a leopard. The speed at which she ran was new, but it felt natural, somehow. As if she’d always known how to do this.
Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she could hear Lena calling for her, running after her down the trail with her heart thumping madly, but Kara felt that knowledge in a subterranean place, below her surface concerns.
Find the challenger. Defeat him. Teach him who Lena has chosen.
She found Edge right away. His scent was heavy and loud, as if he was sweating miserably as he swatted bugs and cursed his way up the trail, and the puffs of his breath were almost as unpleasant as his musk. He had stopped to breathe in his ascent, and the spot he’d chosen happened to be alongside the edge of the cliff overlooking the ravine where the river cut through, almost right on top of the waterfall where Lena and Kara had first met. The location was not lost on her, but Kara only cared for the man, now.
Her voice cut through the stillness of the oncoming night, and it obviously startled him. Edge whirled, panting, and his eyes searched almost wildly before resolving at the edge of the clearing where she stood. When they found her, they narrowed.
“Savage.” He spat on the ground, straightening. His eyes were slitted, and the sweat on his brow made his face ruddy and less handsome in the fading light. “What do you want? I haven’t the patience for your foolishness today. Nor any day.”
“You hurt Lena.” Kara had neither the words nor the inclination to bandy the point. She stepped forward from the edge of the woods, and the challenge began.
“Come to tell me off? More fool you, simpleton.” His snort was derisive, and it only hackled Kara further.
“Alphas do not hurt omegas.” Kara’s teeth felt heavy in her mouth, and the urge to bare them was growing stronger and stronger.
“Who are you to tell me what alphas do?” Edge scoffed. “That woman will be my wife . An alpha’s wife is his property.”
He circled to the left, so she veered right, eyes on his sneer.
Edge’s smug face rankled her, with every breath. “Although I suspect for an ape like you, such things are beyond understanding.” His eyes narrowed, though, when she snarled at him. “She is mine , though. Surely you understand that .”
“Not yours.” Kara’s eyes darkened, feeling weighty with something hot and intense behind her gaze. It itched. “Lena is Lena’s .”
Edge let out a short, ugly bark of laughter. “Lena is an omega , you prat. They belong to whoever has the cock and the coin to claim them.” His smile was full of teeth. “You have only one of those, I’m afraid, and a female alpha’s cock is almost as bad as no cock at all.”
Kara could only understand the gist of what he was implying but none of it sounded particularly acceptable to her ears. The growl was rattling loose from her lungs before she could curtail it, loud and low in the dying light of the jungle deep. Her lips curled over her teeth and she bared them, open in her challenge now as her steps circled closer and closer.
Edge laughed again, nastily. “I see that struck a nerve. You think you’d be able to satisfy her, don’t you? You child . A highborn lady of society, even a fallen one like a Luthor, is not some monkey you can rut into over a fallen log.” One of his hands strayed over his trousers and cupped at the front, viscerally illustrating his point. “Lena may find you a fantasy for now, but eventually, she will bend her knees for me. They all do in the end.”
Kara said nothing. Her limited vocabulary was gone, and the only thing that remained in her was the growl, which went on and on, issuing from behind her teeth as if on a stream of air. Her whole body was tightening and her fists were clenched, focused solely on Edge’s taunting expression. Part of her thought she might actually be able to set him on fire with her gaze alone—it felt so hot .
They were closer now, close enough that she could smell Lena on him, and the sweaty tang of his body odor. Lena’s scent on his skin smelled frightened, and unwilling, and it only enraged Kara further and further, picturing the frantic way Lena had kissed, and the tense curl in her hands when she clung to Kara’s shirt. Edge was responsible for that fear. That was not acceptable either.
“You are not an alpha.” The words left her on a deeper note, rumbling past her lips. Edge looked up, startled. “An alpha protects and the omega nests. Omegas choose alphas. Lena chose me. Not you.”
Kara had hardly spoken more than two sentences at once before, and this speech was a great effort, but she could see it was having the intended effect. Edge’s eyes widened and he snarled, spittle flying onto her face. They were very close now indeed. “You filthy, stupid bitch— “
Lena’s frantic voice rang out across the clearing and both heads whipped to the bell-like sound.
The omega came pelting up the trail, breath fast and skirts muddily hitched up around her knees. She was heaving for air, having clearly ran halfway up the mountain just to catch up, which was impressive itself, and Kara’s heart warmed instantly to see her, in that softening that was so familiar that it often ached . When Lena’s eyes met hers, she even smiled, just a little bit.
But that softening was the opening Edge had been waiting for.
His eyes darted quickly to the quirk of a smile on Kara’s lips, and then to Lena’s open adoration and worried, harried features. When he turned back, he had a smile of his own. But it wasn’t a kind one.
“Now she chooses nothing.” Edge said, almost pleasantly. And then he put both hands on Kara’s chest and pushed her right off the cliff.
In the turning circle of alpha challenge, Kara had put her back to the ravine. A fatal error. One moment the ground was solid underneath her bare toes, as it had been her whole life, and the next she was wheeling into thin air, feet untethered. Her mouth opened in a whoosh of surprise and her arms flung out with nothing to catch her.
Someone screamed her name. It was Lena, rushing to the cliff’s edge, hands desperately reaching. “Kara, Kara, no—!”
But Lena wasn’t falling away from her vision, like she should be. Lena was the same height, and Kara could see each of her individual freckles along her neck. Kara was the same height, actually, and when she looked down, although there was nothing below her feet, the air felt as solid as earth. She appeared to be standing in it.
Or rather, floating.
“ Kara .” Lena gasped, again, but this time there was no fear. Only wonder. “You….you can fly?”
Kara looked down. There was the ravine below her feet, plunging away with the churning water below. Nothing held her in the air. Experimentally, she pushed a bit at the ‘solid’ feeling and kicked up a few more feet, floating higher with ease. Laughing, she looked down again at Lena in delight at her crying, openly relieved face, and then her features sharpened and her laughter died when she raised her head beyond the omega to see Edge staring at her in base terror.
“She’s a demon .” He hissed, and Kara’s eyes narrowed further.
It was a matter of seconds before she was on him, bowling him over from the sky. Her body felt good flying—like swinging through the air on the vines, but better. As if her weightlessness, just like her newfound speed, was something she’d always had, or always known. Kara took one solid hand in Edge’s shirt and raised him to dangle ten feet in the air. “You will leave Lena alone.”
“What in the name of Hell are you? ” The alpha howled, twisting in her grip. She shook him and he stilled, rank with the sudden and distinct odor of urine. “Oh God, don’t drop me! Yes , I will, yes. Put me down .”
“Good.” That was enough. Kara was exhilarated from her newfound flight ability and wanted to be done with this hackling nonsense. She shook him one final time for good measure, and then floated back down to allow Edge to shake free of her grasp.
The alpha immediately ran up the trail, panting. As he disappeared into the now-thick blackness of the night, following the gas lanterns on their posts like ghostly heads, Edge called back one final parting shot. “ Demon! ”
Kara had the sense that was an insult, but she didn’t care. The thrill of flying and the victory was pounding in her veins, pulling everything in her body into tight focus. She had defeated her challenger….for now. She had learned to fly. And Lena was staring at her from a hand’s width away with a bitten lip, an awestruck heartbeat and hunger in her eyes.
“You...flew.” The omega’s voice was a shaky, breathless thing, quavering into the night and barely audible over the rushing river below. The few stars blinking above caught the light in her hair and tossed it back into Kara’s gaze. “He...he pushed you. I thought I’d lost you. But you flew .”
Kara made a noise at the back of her throat. She couldn’t speak. There was the drumming in her veins coming louder and louder. And she could see it reflected in Lena’s eyes—could hear it in her heartbeat and the way her breath was damp and hesitant.
She knew what she needed.
Without speaking a word, she moved swiftly to the omega and lifted her up by the thighs, locking Lena’s legs around her waist. Lena’s arms went to her neck immediately, as if they belonged there, and her lips crashed to Kara’s on flawless instinct. They stayed there, deepening the kiss with each step, as Kara carried her out of the clearing and into the woods. Up against the trunk of a banyan tree, where the omega’s breathy noise erupted from her lungs when her back made contact with the gnarled wood. Kara soothed her with a kiss, and then greedy hands slipped from her neck to pull open the neck of her shirt, scattering buttons into the jungle.
“Please.” Lena begged, hips lifting as Kara pressed closer. Kara didn’t know what she was asking for, but her body did .
“ Lena .” Kara’s voice was somewhere between a rumble and a growl, still, but it only seemed to make the omega rise harder against the tree. When she did, the shifting of her eager hips pressed against the thickening part of Kara’s lower body that seemed to twitch and thump at her movements. It was hard, and Kara felt the pounding of her pulse in it, and the pressure began again in her belly, tightening and coiling. The fabric of her restrictive clothing was tight on her and she wanted it gone, along with Lena’s rucked-up skirts.
She wanted them naked, again, as they had been in the cave when they met.
She heaved her lips against Lena’s neck, and let her hands slide up the omega’s smooth thighs, bunching her skirts with the rough glide of her wrists. “ Mine .”
“ Ah .” Lena’s moan was sharp and breathy, and her nails clenched into Kara’s neckline. “Yes.”
Kara’s lips found Lena’s pulse, beating high under her ear, and sucked on it, hips moving slowly without her full knowledge. One of her hands left the omega’s thigh to
bunch at the material of the dress, pulling with no direction. She just knew she wanted it off .
“Here.” Lena’s hands guided hers, hurried and breathless. “Let me help.”
Together, they pulled apart the complicated machinations of Lena’s dress, gathered the edge of her chemise below and pushed the stained hem over her head. Lena emerged, gloriously pale in the moonless dark of the jungle, her lips a fervent red seeking Kara’s even as her hands were grabbing urgently at her borrowed clothes. Her sudden tenacity was intensely arousing, so Kara rushed to shuck herself free of the trappings that bound her skin from Lena’s, and pressed herself naked against the slim form of her love against the tree, in the velvet heated night.
The rush of skin on skin was a gasping, heady thing. Lena threw her head back and moaned when Kara lifted her hips again, kissing along her collarbone. The curling hair between her legs brushed into Kara’s belly and there was a wet, hot glide beneath. It thrilled her to scent along Lena’s pulse and smell that she wanted .
“God.” Lena choked out, almost wonderingly, when Kara’s mouth dropped down to her breasts, tongue laving worshipfully over her nipples in a sloppy pattern. “I do love you so .”
Kara had learned of love in many ways in the past weeks, but now she was learning it with her body, and her hands, hot and greedy on Lena’s fragile skin. She did not have the wherewithal to speak, but it was alright—Lena seemed to see it in her eyes, and pulled her up to kiss with slow, deep strokes of her tongue. Everything in the night around them felt alive and breathing with the force of their love.
Her fingers kept straying to Lena’s nipples, even as they kissed, without meaning to. She loved the weight of Lena’s breasts in her palms, and the pebbled surface rising to meet her thumbs. Every time she touched them the omega sighed and made little pleasing noises into her mouth, arching into her hands. It was intoxicating. Kara could feel the heat of wetness against her stomach, and it drove her on, seeking to push closer, press more firmly into the join of her omega’s thighs.
“ Oh .” Lena moaned, head dropping back against the tree when Kara’s hands brought her wetness down to slickly glide against the firm length of her erection. “Yes. I want you inside .”
Kara looked down between their bodies, where the pounding hardness of her cock lay nestled between Lena’s glistening lower lips. The glans on the head was shiny and slick, and when her hips twitched, an invisible strand connected between their bodies broke off into a dewdrop that landed right on the swollen apex of Lena’s cunt. The alpha swallowed, slowly, and Lena moaned.
Her cock felt thick and hard, like the widest of the banyan trees, and Lena’s entrance, when she shifted the head experimentally down against it, felt tiny and tight , despite how eagerly the omega’s moans increased when she pressed there. The ingress would be slow, and perhaps painful. Her brow furrowed. She didn’t want to hurt her omega, but Lena was clearly desperate for it, judging by the way her hands clenched and pulled at Kara’s hips.
Carefully, she bit at the omega’s pulse, and Lena cried out in something like a combination of delight and sudden shock. “Oh God!”
“Too big.” Kara huffed, her words lost in the mire of her arousal. “Might hurt.” Her eyes rolled carefully up to Lena’s as a hand slipped between their bodies to guide her cock carefully against Lena’s slick opening again. “Okay?”
“Yes!” Lena keened, pulling her still closer, head slamming back against the tree. “Fill me. Please .”
Kara growled. It was an unconscious sound, but luckily it didn’t seem to frighten the omega. The opposite, in fact. Lena’s eyes flew wide and her mouth dropped like a red fruit, open and wondering. Her cunt pulsed with heat and slickness dripped all over Kara’s reddened, swollen tip, coating it for the journey inside. Closing her eyes, Kara surrendered to her instincts, and buried the head with a smooth forward lunge as her teeth sank into the omega’s pulse.
Wet heat . Tight all around her and clenching, pulling her deeper , asking for more. Kara could only hold off with a long, significant moan muffled by Lena’s neck. Lena arched under her, a perfect frozen moment, and her breath caught as if pained. Kara held onto her mark, leaving the imprint carefully and with deep intent, but when she was done, she released her hold to nose at Lena’s chin, looking for eye contact. She found it when her hips shifted accidentally and the omega gasped, eyes lifting under her heavy lashes. The flash of green there was as brilliant as anything she’d ever seen in the jungle and Kara’s hips pushed involuntarily deeper into perfect swollen heat.
Lena cried out, and her hands tightened on the alpha’s neck, her body still and tight, throbbing warm around the first half of Kara’s cock. Bracing one hand on the tree, Kara held herself still with great effort, panting heavily into the omega’s sweat-streaked neck, but Lena tugged at her hips, dissatisfied . When she looked up, searching for permission, she found two murky dark pools of desire staring back at her, and a pair of white teeth closing on her lower lip. The demand in her eyes was clear, but her breathy voice spilled it out, anyway.
“ More .”
Welcome back to school/welcome back to the jungle ?
The dark of the jungle was filled with the noises of love—verdant and thick as the trees.
Lena’s hands were pinned by Kara to the tree, and the bark was rough on her wrists, but she didn’t care. Her hips were pinned there too, held open by the thrusting, the delicious stretch and ache plunging between her legs. Never before had she been so thoroughly hewn, but her body reacted to it as if she were being made anew. The pleasure of it was intense, almost painful, but the pressure heightened her nerves—and in the end it only made her clutch and shake and cry out more.
She didn’t know what Kara was feeling. There were no words. The alpha had her head down, buried in Lena’s neck, but the harsh, hot bath of her breath was like a balm on Lena’s skin, and even if she were speaking, Lena didn’t know that she would have been able to understand it.
It was no matter. The joining of their bodies may have been rough, but the ecstasy of it was beyond anything she could have predicted. Beyond the titters of her schoolmaid friends, beyond the crude whispers of the alphas when she thought they couldn’t hear. This was light inside her, erupting from every pore as if she would burst, and Kara was fueling it, fanning the flames. The conclusion of it seemed bombastic, certain to explode.
And yet Lena wanted it—yearned for that release of volcanic ecstasy more keenly than anything else in her so-far-unremarkable life.
There was some cognizant part of Lena still stricken with wonder at seeing Kara fly, and that part was blending with the part of her being pleasured, expanding upon both experiences. She was in awe, in shock, and the luscious feeling emanating from the heavy thrusting of Kara’s slick cock, back and forth inside her cunt. The feeling was flying inside her body. Like birds, like wings. She didn’t know how to process the magic anymore. She didn’t care.
The only thing she cared about was Kara .
“Lena,” Kara panted into her neck, lips desperate and hot there, just hovering above her skin. “Lena, Lena, Lena .”
With each exclamation of her name, the alpha’s hips thudded more recklessly into her own, pushing the thickness of her cock deeper. Lena’s mouth was forced open on a high wail that seemed to come all the way from the bottom of her belly. The angle of her hips pinned against the tree meant that Kara’s thrusts drove her right into some heavenly place on the inner wall of Lena’s contracting, slick cunt, and it felt so good that the omega thought she might be losing her mind. The savagery of it, the roughness of the bark against her back…it was all combining to build the pressure in her belly, reaching up to claw the very life from her throat.
She tried to answer Kara back with something like words, but when she threw her head back to cry out, all that came out was a garbled sob that could have been consonants. It didn’t matter. The pleasure was crescendo-ing, peaking in a desperate wave that made her whole body, from toes to temple, clench and flex against the alpha’s frenzied pummeling. Lena’s lips hung open, dripping with her own saliva, and she closed her eyes and melted into bliss as the noise inside her flung outwards once more.
The tightening inside her body was like waves, crashing and retreating only to come again. And again. Lena gasped in the throes of it, caught up, and twisted against the tree, pulling on Kara’s sturdy back with strident fingers. She felt the rush of wet between her legs and knew that this was release. Sweet and glorious, come at last. Lena almost wept at it.
But Kara, it seemed, was not done with her yet.
The snorting breath next to her ear had not peaked in its frenzy. Indeed, it seemed she would never stop, or tire. Her hips kept thudding Lena into the tree like the blows of an axe, and Lena felt sure they could topple even the mightiest of banyans at this rate. But there was something almost pained in the way Kara took her pleasure—almost desperate. Lena’s brow crinkled and, just as she thought to ask the alpha what was wrong, she felt it.
The brush of something heavy and firm attempting to breach her entrance.
Her knot. Kara is trying to claim me. Lena’s eyes flew open as the hot breath spilling over her collarbone suddenly took on a heavier sense of portent. Kara had formed a knot in her passion, even without a heat cycle to inspire it, and was trying with all her might to do as her instincts must be clamoring for her to do—to join their bodies and lives as one. To mate her.
Lena’s head was swimming with post-climactic hormones and the fervor over seeing Kara fly and there was definitely a part of her—a majority, even—begging for Kara to do it, too. Being mated to Kara sounded good to her omega instincts. Much better than being mated to—
But the thought of Morgan Edge, no matter how hated, jarred Lena loose from the fantasy.
She pushed at the alpha’s agitated, tense shoulders, murmuring soothing apologies even as she arched her body away. “No, no my love, you can’t. I’m sorry, you can’t. You must stay out—“
Kara let out a frustrated cry and her teeth scraped the fragile skin of Lena’s pulse, sending a brutally primal shudder through the omega that only made her insides wrench more to deny the alpha. But it had to be done. She pushed again, and, no matter how ineffective her tiny palms must have felt against the strength of those arms, Kara relented, withdrawing from Lena’s cunt with a growl.
Lena cried out with her—she couldn't help it. The loss felt sudden and unbearable, and the stretched ache of her cunt was searing without the warmth of Kara’s throbbing cock inside. Her body wanted Kara to stay inside; needed it, even. Everything in her instinctual, hormonal brain told her that this was the proper alpha choice, this alpha and no other. But, back in London, polite society had other ideas about what constituted proper for an omega, let alone an alpha, and Lena had been raised in that ton her entire life. She knew no other way.
So, it was with panting, longing breath she watched as Kara fisted her cock, still slick with Lena’s release, and began to milk herself out onto Lena’s exposed belly with crude strokes of her fingers. She didn’t seem well-trained in the art of self-pleasure ( more’s the lesson for me to teach , Lena idly considered, before shushing herself) but perhaps the build up was more than enough. Kara’s breath came heavy and her eyes never left Lena’s, as her fingers tensed over the rise of her knot.
Kara cried out when her seed spurted forth, covering Lena’s stomach in pearls. The pained look on her face was beautiful. It made Lena both want to soothe her and also to make her do it again—a conflicting emotional balance. She watched with wide eyes and a breathlessly-open mouth as Kara came onto her belly, and felt the desire to feel that heavy warmth spill into her cunt. Her insides twitched and Lena shuddered right along with the alpha, until Kara pitched forward and once again breathed into her neck—but this time with much less frenzy.
“I’m sorry.” Lena murmured, over and over again, stroking the sweaty golden curls away from her love’s face as Kara made a soft sobbing noise into her neck. She knew the alpha couldn’t help it. It was the web of instinct they were all caught in, like flies to the spider’s fangs.
But that didn’t make it any easier.
“I’m sorry, I wanted you to, too. But we can’t. Not…..not now.”
Maybe not ever. But oh—how I want you to be the one to do it. Mate me, take me, claim me. My heart is always going to belong to you. Only you. My wild, wonderful Kara.
She pressed her lips to the hot skin of Kara’s forehead and wrapped her arms tighter around the alpha, squeezing with all that her human strength could muster.
When Kara had recovered enough sufficiently that she could lift her head, the blackness of her pupils had retreated and her eyes were that glorious shade of vulnerable blue again, like a robin’s egg. Lena cupped her cheek, and the alpha touched her hand, lips pressing against Lena’s palm. And even though her first orgasm was still tingling in remnant pleasure along her thighs, Lena felt the thrill and shiver of lust course through her, once more. It seemed Kara would always have that effect.
“You flew.” Lena repeated, quietly, when both of their breathing had returned to normal. Her arms were still wrapped around the alpha’s shoulders, as if trying to stop her from floating away. Part of her believed Kara might. “My God, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I did not know I could do that.” Kara told her simply, and it was clearly the truth, but so plainly spoken that Lena burst into laughter. “What is it? Did I say something funny?”
“Nothing.” The omega wiped at her eye, filled with such inner delight that she felt she must be glowing. “Only…you are a miracle. That’s all.”
“Oh. Is that good?” Kara asked, with such timid sincerity that Lena sobered into loving response immediately.
“Yes my darling.” She sighed and pressed their foreheads together once more, and thought about taking Kara into her mouth the next time, so her seed wouldn’t go to waste. “It is wonderful .”
And it was.
Lex Luthor had largely spent his life alone, but for Lena.
Part of that was by choice. He misliked the company of most alphas his own age, even in boarding school. At Oxford he’d had few friends, joined only two clubs—and those under orders from his father. Lillian was also a bit of a harridan—always wanting him to make good with sons of her friends from bridge at the club. Lex found it all rather dull.
Lena, however, was not dull. Ever since childhood, when her penchant had been for mischief over pinafores, Lex had always found something engaging about his younger half-sister. Lena was bright, yes, but she was also witty, and observant about all the fools around her, and Lex liked that. Lex himself didn’t suffer fools fondly. So he had always found an excuse at any social gathering to retreat into a secluded alcove with his omega sibling, to smoke and comment together on the crowd. He found himself quite content with that, even if his parents did not, but over time, they grew to, perhaps, tolerate him.
But it was Lena, he’d always felt, who was the only one who truly understood him.
After Lionel had gone down with his ship—and their fortunes—and Lillian had retreated from reality into her gin-soaked daydreams, there was even less pressure on Lex to be sociable. Except now, that he was expected to run the household, and provide for Lena, to ensure an appropriate dowry, he was finding that he had to make friends. Or, at least, connections. In order to provide for his social standing and keep the house in their name, Lex had found it necessary to make handshake deals with many alphas about town. These were not men but lifeboats—keeping them all afloat—but these deals usually came with great social debts. Parties, dinners, gala events. Lex had learned he could tolerate it all so long as he had a stiff brandy and Lena to commiserate with, but the seas of London’s society could be just as rocky as those ‘round the Horn.
Morgan Edge, admittedly, was one of the least pleasant of these ‘lifeboats’ that Lex had accumulated, but he was probably the wealthiest. A marriage into the Edge credit line— nouveau riche as it was—could spell the end of a lot of Lex’s gladhanding. Debts could be paid, good names restored, and many of the other ‘boats’ could be drydocked.
The only price to be paid was Lena.
For a time, before they had embarked on this African adventure overseas, Lex had even believed it could be worth it. Convinced himself, rather. He had done the deal jovially enough—over drinks and cigars at the Huntington Gentlemen’s Club—and even his sister's initial distaste did not dissuade him. After all, he’d thought at the time—omegas were foolish, fickle creatures anyway, and who knew what they wanted? An alpha was an alpha, in the end. Lex had always found the opposite to be true, anyway, at least in his brothel dealings.
But Lena, who was bored by Edge and already displeased with his boorishness mere minutes into her first meeting with him, disagreed.
It had taken all of his brotherly coaxing then, to get Lena to come his way. She understood, in the end, because she always had. And there had been the greatest carrot on the stick to dangle in front of her eyes—Edge had agreed to finance their resumption of the failed Africa expedition. They could fulfill their father’s greatest dream. Lena had agreed on the spot, after that—but on one condition.
She had insisted on coming along.
And now, as he sat in his tent in the stinking heat of the jungle night, swatting irritably at flies and sipping a wine that was slowly turning to vinegar in his very hands—Lex knew he had made a massive mistake. An error more grave than any his foolish dreamer father had ever done. He had allowed Lena to come along, and so she had spent many weeks in Morgan Edge’s dreer company, and had learned to hate him almost as much as Lex himself had. And he had allowed Lena to see the island, to see the place where their father’s dreams landed, and in doing so, he had allowed her to see a life beyond. Another way.
Only, he had to yank it away from her, like a child jealous of a toy.
He had to.
The crash site was a treacherous place to investigate, and it had taken the men weeks to even reach the lip of the crater where it lay. The vines were so choked across the grown, the vegetation so heavy, that it felt like nature itself was trying to reclaim the objects as her own. The animals did not feed here, and the birds were silent, but the bugs—oh the insects were out in full force, and with no one feeding on them, the place was thick with whirring black bodies, stinging and biting. Two of the Irish alpha porters fell ill with malaria, one got a bite on his leg that grew so infected Lex feared their brutish quartermaster would want to amputate it.
The grumbling in the camps grew and grew and Lex was forced to spend many days gladhanding again, opening cases of whisky and promising more pay. Pay that he did not have. Pay that he would only have, in fact, if there was anything worth valuing in the crash site. And every day it looked more likely that there was nothing.
It was a maddening, ill-portended errand, this. The gleaming metal object at first seemed to spell promise, delightfully shiny and untouched by vines—even after all these years. The glow of it almost made a siren’s song. But, inside there was nothing. Nothing of value. Just a sleek pod with a container in it, as if for a baby or a very small child. They couldn’t crack open the metal to reveal anything else, and the more they tried, the smoother and smugger the surface seemed to be. Unmarred, even.
The only thing Lex had found, and the only thing he could see that was worth any notice had been a strange green-glowing rock. It had spilled from what must have been the engine area, surrounded by a pool of dark fluid that made the men hear noises in their heads when they touched it. Only with a set of tongs and a careful, sweating retrieval had Lex been able to examine it, but it was no emerald, or even a peridot. It was nothing of value at all, and yet it glowed with a lovely warmth. Lex had it on his desk as a paperweight, and rolled it idly around, wondering if he could sell it as a curio.
Perhaps that would pay for the coal on the return trip, if nothing else.
No, there was no salvation to be found in the jungle. No great golden hoard from the sky. He had no idea why his father had wanted to collect this object so badly, but it seemed a fool’s dream, after all. A fool’s dream that Lex had staked his entire family’s fortune on, and now it was all failing, once again.
The only option that remained for them, once more, was the same one they had arrived with. Morgan Edge . Morgan Edge’s money would provide for his sister, and replenish Lex’s coffers enough so that he could build on that good standing. And then maybe a marriage of his own, to secure further credit. It was all banal, and dull, and terribly painful to consider—especially given how he knew that the trip had changed Lena’s acceptance about the match.
But there was nothing for it. Nothing would save them now. Nothing but—
Morgan Edge burst into his tent, just as Lex was beginning to swirl the wine morosely in his tin cup. The sudden, harried burst of alpha scent, thick with fear and agitation, made him sit up and take notice. “Edge old boy? What’s the—“
“ Flew .” Edge spat at him, spraying Lex with a fine mist of spittle that made him seethe, internally, but the other alpha was clearly beyond caring about social mores. “The. Damned. Beast. Flew.”
“What?” Lex wiped at his face, already irritated. He imagined himself harnessed to Edge like a pair of mules, for the rest of his life. Poor Lena though, she was the one saddled. “Speak clearly, man. I can’t understand you.”
“ Kara .” Edge hissed out on a wheezing breath, biting the name out disdainfully. “She flew . I saw it myself.”
He sat without asking permission and took a pull of Lex’s wine straight from the bottle, dripping his chin in red. Lex watched in both disgust and sudden, burgeoning interest as the weight of Edge’s words sank in.
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am. I pushed her off the cliff myself, and she didn’t fall . Just like the bullets. She isn’t human, Lex.”
“You pushed her off the cliff?” Lex’s mind was still working, but this snagged on the rushing river of his thoughts like a tree branch. He frowned at Edge.
“It was an accident.” Edge said sullenly as a child, with the sudden drop of his eyes telling Lex that it had definitely been anything but an accident. “But the bitch lives. She’s cavorting with your sister right now. They took to each other right in front of me.”
Edge’s aggrieved expression indicated he expected Lex to do something about that, which— ugh . That was an even worse prospect to imagine yanking Lena away from her new lover at the end of this trip. He ignored it entirely, focusing instead on Edge’s wild claim. “You say you saw her fly . Not holding a vine?”
“No vines in sight. It was the edge of the ravine, where the river runs, nothing to grab. She simply stood in mid air. Hovered . I’ve never seen the like of it, not even in a circus or a magic show.”
“How is that possible?” Lex wondered aloud, leaning back in his chair. “She must truly come from space, then. She landed here and survived among the beasts, she’s bulletproof, and she can fly—“
“Does that matter?” Edge slammed the wine bottle down so hard that Lex frowned. “I tell you—the unnatural creature has bewitched my bride-to-be. She is fornicating with her. If you expect me to marry your sister while she’s—“
“Yes, yes. I know. I’ll speak to Lena.” Lex was uncomfortable even waving his hand about that topic, but he knew Edge must be soothed. “I’m sure she is just…. besotted by the jungle heat and the wonder of Kara’s abilities. Have no fear. I’m sure Lena will come running back to you once she realizes how little this savage bathes.”
She won’t. And I know it. But you need not know it.
“She had better.” Edge muttered darkly. “I do not intend to pay for a mare that someone else has bred.”
Lex bristled at the tone. Fortune or not, he did not like someone insulting his sister, and ice crept into the space behind his eyes. He found himself imagining, in many deliciously detailed ways, how he could make Edge pay for that remark, in the seconds before he spoke.
“I do not intend for you to so either, Morgan. But please, have some faith. I’m certain my sister’s interest is only a passing girlish fancy—“
For the second time that evening, Lex’s tent flap was flung open in a spectacular manner. This time, however, it was even more ill-timed.
“Lex, I cannot marry Morgan Edge.” Lena announced, striding into the tent with her hair bedraggled and her clothing clearly hastily rearranged. Behind her, stooping to enter the low flap, came Kara herself, glowing with the kind of post-coital pride only known to alphas. This was not unnoticed by Edge, none of it, and his eyes narrowed. Lex groaned, internally, even as his sister continued unheeded. “I have given the matter much thought and I—“
“You whore .” Edge hissed, his body drawn up with an accusatory finger leading the way. “I have promised to lift your family from ruins and you disrespect me in this manner?”
Lex had had quite enough of the insults to his sister. He stood up, palms slapping on the desk, and his green paperweight rolled off the surface to the floor in the middle of the room, unnoticed by him. “Look here, that’s gone too far—“
Lena was also clamoring to defend herself, eyes green slits and body drawn up to her full height. “ How dare you . If you had any ounce in your whole pitiful being even worth respect—“
But they were all interrupted by the sudden horrible noise that Kara let out, and then again by her lurching to the floor.
“Kara?” Lena was at the alpha’s side in an instant, hands on the golden head, face contorted with worry. Lex could see it there as plain as day—she was in love. Oh hell. “What’s wrong? Are you—“
Kara groaned and shuddered, coughing as green veins appeared on her face. Her broad, powerful body seemed to constrict in itself, making her seem as vulnerable as a little girl. She cried out in pain, and Lena’s eyes whipped to his in frenzied alarm.
For a moment, Lex did not understand what was happening. And in that slow confused state, it was Morgan Edge—of them all—who figured out the cause.
The boorish alpha’s eyes suddenly swung to Lex’s green paperweight, and he grabbed it, holding it aloft over Kara’s prone body. Kara cried out again, and the veins on her neck seemed to throb with green fire. Lena pulled the stricken alpha into her lap and hunched over her, as if to protect her from the stone that Edge waved at them. “What are you doing? It’s hurting her! Stop that!”
Edge ignored her. “It’s the stone!” He said to Lex over one shoulder, excitedly waving it. Each time he did, Kara convulsed further. “It subdues her!”
“Stop it!” Lena cried again, her voice a desperate plea. Her eyes flicked to Lex’s, and the pain there was wild. He couldn’t look away. “Lex, stop him—he’s hurting her!”
“ Burning .” Kara choked out, tossing in Lena’s lap. “Fire…inside me. Please .”
Lex could not look away from the way green veins were swallowing up the blue in her eyes. It was almost mesmerizing. But Lena’s pain was growing by the second, right along with it. He looked at Morgan again, and the other alpha had a triumphant, crazed eye.
“Don’t you see?” Edge waved the stone again. “ This is the treasure of the ship.” He held the green stone in his palm, cradling it almost gently as he fingered it. “We can use it to keep her obedient. Keep her quiet on the journey home. If we take her to London—a flying, bulletproof alpha from beyond the stars would make us more money than a chest full of diamonds.”
Edge twisted to look Lena in the eye as he spoke. “All of your family money woes. All of your debts could be paid. And there needn’t be a marriage anymore, of course. We need only sign a contract splitting the profits. Everything could be resolved for us all, in minutes. This is our treasure. This is what we came for.”
When Edge looked at him again, eyebrows raised with victory, Lex had a sinking realization that he was exactly right.
And Lena did too. “Lex, don’t .” She cried out, her hands clenched into the fabric of Kara’s damp shirt as the alpha tossed and groaned. “ Lex!”
“I’m sorry, sister.” Lex said, without looking away from the green stone. He couldn’t see her face right now. It would soften his already heavy-heart.
Instead, he briefly closed his eyes. “Edge, we found more of that stone in the crash site. Have the men fashion a cage.”
Oh hey would you look at that, I remembered how to hit keys again. ;)
(This story is now finished and the final part will be uploaded here next week. Thank you all for bearing with me.)
Kara woke in pain and fear and doubt.
The cage was crude. Fashioned of quick-cut sapling poles and vines, it was also mostly green. Especially with the chunks of green rock lashed to each of the four corners. Kara could only lay in the exact center with the bamboo poles rolling under her back, too far to reach her captors, if she wanted the pain to be bearable, otherwise the fire in her veins was too much. They had designed it this way.
The porters, the kind men who had given Kara snacks and patted her arms when she lifted their crates. They had done this. They averted their eyes from her now, when they placed the food just inside the bars. They turned their backs to her, and set a guard on the perimeter. No one looked at her. No one wanted to speak to her.
No one would tell her where Lena was.
Through the bars in the cage, she could see the stars. Infinite pinpricks of light. Lena had told her all about the constellations, and she tried to pick them out, but whether from the pain or the delirium, she couldn’t find any. For a long, painful time, she only stared into the blanket of sky, unable to move or even think beyond the force of her misery.
There was rage in her, alongside the pain. Morgan Edge had done this. He was no true alpha. An alpha was supposed to accept his defeat, according to all the stern books on nobility and honor that Kara had read in Lena’s tent. Morgan had not accepted anything. He was a coward and a cruel fool, and he had coerced Lena’s brother into accepting this betrayal, instead. Kara had seen blackbacks challenge a silverback and fail, and there was more grace and honor in their displays of submission than in any of Morgan’s greedy, grasping ways. A man was not a gorilla, and a gorilla was not a man. Kara had learned this lesson, perhaps too late.
As for Lena’s brother…Kara had never known anything to be less of a gorilla than Lex. Gorillas were easy to understand. Lex was not. He was kind at times, yes, but unreadable, unknowable. His pale eyes and jovial face were a mask—but what was behind it? Kara didn’t know. She wondered if Lex even knew himself. There seemed to be a choice roiling within him, just below the surface of his restrained features, but what choice would it be?
For now, the odds did not seem in her favor.
The pain was unceasing, but Kara was determined to survive it. Tears gathered in her eyes but she did not let them fall. Her teeth clenched and unclenched and her body seized on the ground, but she did not cry. The heat inside her was unbearable, though. It seared in her skin, itching and burning from the inside, making her feel as if layer by layer, she was being flayed alive. Her muscles cramped on themselves and flexed involuntarily, sending spasms through each limb, forcing her to curl into a ball to keep herself from touching the bars of the cage—which hurt worse than anything. The closer she got to the green rock, the worse it became, and it didn’t end when she closed her eyes and tried to sleep. The pain felt endless, unsurpassable. Kara began to hope she would die.
And then she heard it. The sweetest sound in the sea of her pain. The most familiar voice she’d ever known.
Lena. Kara struggled to turn herself over, wincing as she came in closer range to the green rocks. She lifted her head, and there, in between the painful slits of her eyes, was the omega she loved.
Lena was sobbing, her face lit by the glass lantern she carried, alive in a trembling flame. “Kara, I’m so sorry. I’m so—“ She reached a pale hand through the bars.
Kara reached out to touch her fingers, but just as the barest glance of soft skin whispered against her own calloused pads, the pain roared back into her skull, tearing at her skin and making her cry out and fall back.
“No!” Lena gasped, and clutched the bars of the cage, her fingers curling helplessly around the bamboo. “Oh Kara, what have they done to you? It’s all my fault. I should have run away with you. We should have never come back here.”
Kara tried to reassure her, as she painstakingly pulled herself back upright, but the noise that came out was more of a sharp grunt rather than a murmur of love. “Not…your fault.”
“It is. It is my fault.” Lena wiped tears angrily from her face, as if they were smarting her skin to feel the hot water fall. “I knew we should have stayed away in the jungle. You were happy there. We were happy there. But I misunderstood everything. I thought—“
She shook her head, and the scattering of tears flashed like stars in the pale light of her lantern.
Kara wanted to be closer, to hold her in her arms and wrap around Lena like a python, never letting go. She inched as far as the roaring pain of the rock’s proximity would let her, and rumbled deep in her chest, trying to comfort the omega as best she could with the ancient songs of alpha and silverback. Her body may have felt frail, but her love was as strong as a coming thunderstorm.
Lena felt it—Kara could see that she did, and it gave her some relief to know her love was known. The omega sank down against the bamboo bars, leaning against them with her tear-streaked face. “You shouldn’t be trying to comfort me. You’re the one trapped and tortured.” She sniffed and wiped her face, shooting Kara a tentative smile. “Great noble beast, you are.”
Kara did not smile back, but her rumbles continued, unceasing. She was in too much pain to speak much, but her body could do the work for her. Thankfully, Lena seemed to understand. Or else, she was only speaking to herself.
“I can’t believe Lex did this. I can’t believe he let Morgan convince him. We must truly be in dire debts, or he would not have even considered it, I’m sure. Damn him. He kept telling me things were well in hand. If only he’d told me how desperate our state was, but no of course not. ‘The alpha manages family affairs’ he would say. That foolish pride of his. Father would have—“
She stopped short and shook her head. Kara could see a similar pain in her dark green eyes, something coming from her heart. “Maybe I don’t know what Father would have done. It seems I don’t know my family, after all.” Lena’s expression shifted briefly into rage. “After all, Lex did this to you.” Something flashed at the corner of her night cloak, and she lifted a knife to the flickering light of the lantern. “But I am going to undo it.”
Kara’s heartbeat lifted in tension as the omega rose up, beginning to hack determinedly at the rope that bound a chunk of glowing green to the corner of the rough cage. She cleared her throat, trying to warn her to be careful, but her lips were dry and her voice was a rasp. “ Lena— “
“Hush, Kara. Once I get you out of here, we’re going to flee as far into the jungle as we can get.”
The sawing of the knife seemed impossibly loud to Kara’s ears, even in the dull throb of her skull. She winced at each cut, but Lena seemed not to notice.
“But if we get separated, I want you to run as fast as you can away from here. Do you understand? Leave me behind , Kara. You need to get away .”
I would never leave you. Kara knew that, but she also knew Lena would not accept it, so she nodded. The longer they dallied here, the higher the chance Lena would be caught, and Kara did not like the idea of what Morgan Edge might do to her if she were imprisoned in the camp. Her heart rate was pounding wildly, alive with thick anxiety and the heat of her ongoing, omnipresent pain.
Lena gave a delighted gasp. “Ah, there we go, almost got it—“
But that, of course, was when Morgan Edge grabbed her, and wrenched the knife from her grasp.
Kara’s senses were dulled, but somehow the tension had told her he was coming. Watching. Laying in wait. She roared and threw herself against the bars, pain screaming along her veins, and sending her staggering back, but she did not care. Morgan had Lena by the neck and the arms. His hands were filthy with the work of the camp, dirty palm on the omega’s muffled, screaming mouth. His eyes were yellow in the lamplight, like a leopard, and he grinned at her with a mouth full of teeth.
“No releasing the prisoner, Lena dear.” Morgan said, almost conversationally, even as Lena jerked and struggled in his arms, not listening. He wasn’t speaking to her, anyway.
He was speaking to Kara.
“Have you ever seen the circus, Lena? That’s where I’m going to sell your ape. Just another performing monkey.” His smile over her struggling head was pure malice and hate, and it was directed right at Kara. Lena bit into his palm and blood spurted between his fingers but the alpha hardly even winced.
Something inside him had snapped.
Kara knew that she was looking at a deadly adversary now. And his hands were so close to Lena’s throat. So very, very close. She fell back into the center of the cage, snarling even as her fear for Lena’s life forced her to submit. Morgan’s victory stank in her nostrils, heavy with smug, unearned confidence.
“That’s good. She’s learning. All beasts can be broken, if given the proper motivation .” Morgan shook Lena by the neck, as idly as if she were a napkin over his morning repast, and Kara snarled again, to no effect. Morgan’s gaze turned to Lena then, and the hatred in his eyes was almost sharpened by his smile. “I’m going to make your lover wear a green stone collar and give PT Barnum the whip. She’ll dance on her knees for the punters at the Old Vic, and you, my one-time-bride-to-be, you will watch .”
He released Lena’s mouth long enough for her to strain for a breath. “My brother will—“
“Your brother will go along with everything I say. If he won’t, I’ll sell your debts to the highest bidder and he knows it, too. That’s why he’s drunk as a lord in his tent. Too scared to tell you the truth.”
Morgan’s grip on her arm tightened, and Kara could see the bruise beginning to form in the florid way his fingers dug into her pale flesh. “And now there’s no one to save you, no great hero to come to your rescue. You will have to submit to me for once in your proud bloody life.”
Kara surged to her feet. “ No—!”
“What will you do about it?” Morgan sneered, even as Lena jerked and twisted, trying to get away. She was biting, kicking, but it did nothing. He was an adult male alpha, and though Lena was worth ten of him—it didn’t matter. He outweighed her, outmatched her.
And Kara was just as trapped. Helpless to watch as Morgan lorded his triumph through the yellow flicker in his eyes, the madness in his crazed smile.
“Roar away in your cage, ape. Don’t worry. I’ll let you sniff the scraps .”
He dragged Lena away, laughing all the while, and Kara threw herself at the bars, again and again, though the pain lanced through her like a thousand burning hot points. Lena was fighting too, but her heels dragged in the dirt, and her desperate screams for Kara to stop, to stay calm, were muffled into Morgan’s heavy palm. The last they saw of each other was the whites of each other’s eyes—rolling in terror and fear and remorse.
“ Lena!” Kara surged against the bars, again and again, but with no more effect than a marmoset leaping from branch to branch. The cage rattled, nothing more. Hammering, horrible pain roared in her eardrums and wrenched at her heart. She could hardly see through the blurriness in her vision, but still she desperately flung herself at the spot where Morgan had dragged Lena out of sight. “ Lena! No!”
The pain was paralyzing, blinding. Kara had never experienced pain before and it stunned over and over again with the cruel reality of it, the way it took hold of her and refused to allow her access to her normal strengths and resilience. The tears pattered hot on face as she slumped down, unable to stand any longer, but Kara hardly felt them. Her world was in agony—the strange, new agony of the helpless.
Perhaps she blacked out then. Seconds or minutes passed, she didn’t know. When her eyes lifted to the stars once more, she was on her back in the cage, arms splayed out.
She didn’t rise when the gorillas arrived. She wasn’t expecting them, certainly—the troop never foraged in the crater, as a rule. But they had gathered around her cage, silent and dark like a group of boulders, unseen in the dark of the jungle. Kara didn’t notice. Her senses were gone, shattered by the oppressive pain of the green rocks and the anguish of Lena being taken, and she did not hear them gently whuffing in alarm.
The troop did not like to see her captive, and it frightened them even more that she did not rise and greet them with a grunt, so they massed in fear for a while on the edge of the cage, hooting amongst themselves before deciding to act. It took a leathery finger gently poking at her thigh before Kara awoke from her misery to notice their presence.
The silverback’s breath bathed Kara’s side as he inspected her, reaching out through the bars. When she opened one eye, he grunted at her as if to say what a fool to let them cage you, but he opened his palm to her anyway— a gesture of fatherly concern. Kara was touched. She put her hand in his giant palm and winced when he squeezed. The silverback’s touch had never pained her before but everything in the cage seemed to be new and hurtful.
The group was agitated. They did not like seeing one of their own so clearly injured and kept caged. Her presence had drawn them here, in the place that smelled strange and foreign to them, and was crowded with men and their sleeping spaces. They did not like it. They wanted Kara to wake up and break free of this flimsy box. To come back with them to the jungle.
The silverback could see that Kara was not going to break the cage so he was determined to do it himself. He grunted, and twisted his arm, snapping the saplings apart. The rest of the group took his cue, and began pulling at the flimsy green branches. Each crack brought down a rock—the first one at the corner that Lena had weakened—and each time the green rocks rolled away from Kara, she felt the sudden rush of air returning to her lungs. She sat up, and watched as the silverback thumped his chest and tossed away the remains of her cage, desultorily wiping his feet after it as if to say that he was done with that foolish thing.
Air wasn’t the only thing Kara felt returning to her in a rush. Her body wanted to leap like an antelope buck at the sudden force of strength surging back through her veins. The pain washed away as if in a flash flood, and Kara’s body lifted clear off the ground, hovering in mid-air as she roared out the song of her return to the deepness of the night.
This was almost as troubling to the gorillas as Kara’s captivity had been, but to their credit, they stayed, whuffing in alarm more heatedly now as Kara hovered above them, looking in awe down at her own arms, as her eyes filled with some kind of heat. She wanted to thank them—her first and only family—for their devotion and rescue, but there was a more pressing issue at hand.
“ Lena!” Kara roared into the night, and sped off in the direction of Morgan, feet never touching the ground. She flew as easily as a bird.
And after her, blood riled up by the challenge Kara had issued to the rival, followed the silverback, thundering down the path with the whole troop in tow, determined to provide backup to his chosen child.
Kara could smell Morgan. She could hear Lena’s heartbeat, high and frightened like a rabbit. These things drew her like a rod to a spring, and she flew down the path, gaining in strength every moment she was away from the horrible green. Determination filled her. Determination…and fury.
Morgan had dragged Lena into his tent. It was a lavish thing, stupidly heavy and made too fine for the damp jungle—so the middle of it sagged drunkenly. It smelled of him, too, a smug unpleasant odor that soured the whole camp. A protesting cry came from inside the canvas, and Kara saw red.
In an instant, Morgan’s tent was on fire. The heat seemed to blossom from her eyes until it exploded like a ball of lightning. She blinked, suddenly unsure of where that had come from, but then her focus zeroed in on Lena as Morgan and the omega stumbled coughing from the burning doors, beating at their clothes.
“Lena.” The heat in Kara’s eyes was replaced instantly with the familiar warmth as she gathered Lena to her arms. “Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine. He didn’t—“ Lena’s words were choked half starts as she gaped at Kara in awe, grasping onto her face. “Kara, how did you escape? How did—“
Morgan’s yell of disgust was followed by the hoots of the gorilla tribe. They had followed Kara, of course, and now surrounded the camp. Some of the blackbacks had even begun to rise up and thump chests at the strange alpha and his awful smell.
Morgan’s frenzied gaze finally landed on Kara. “You! Who let you out?”
The white heat was building again. Kara could almost taste sulfur on her tongue as her vision blurred red. But behind her, the alpha male of her tribe, her father gorilla, gave a roar of his own. He did not like this smelly male challenging his child. The silverback scraped the ground, lowered his head, and charged.
Several things happened at once.
Everything slowed down, as if time was stalled in the eddies of its unending stream. Kara saw Morgan’s face change from a sneer of rage to one of sudden fear and dismay. She almost wanted to laugh at the panic, but then she saw his hand fumble at his coat. And, too late, Kara remembered the gun.
She wasn’t sure who cried out. It could have been her, or Morgan, or even Lena. But the night rose with one voice, and then a crack like a shot of thunder ripped across the air. And then all was still.
Kara watched, still sluggish and slowed by the way everything seemed to be moving, as the bullet flew from Morgan’s absurdly-large gun and impacted the silverback’s chest in a spray of red. The gorilla grunted, and stumbled, but kept on in his thunderous charge, barreling toward Morgan. It was too late, though. He fell, eyes rolling up in his massive head, one arm still outstretched to his foe, the other clutched to the blossoming wound on his chest, and was dead before he hit the ground.
“No!” Now Kara was sure she was the one to cry out. Her throat hurt with it, the ripping rasp of her anguish. In an instant, she was at the silverback’s side, holding his chest, trying to stall the bleeding…but it was too late. She knew it. The great heart had given its last mighty thump. The silverback was gone.
The gorilla troop let out a mournful chorus of hooting, and Kara raised her head, grief streaking her face in hot lines of tears. Morgan was still holding his gun, and it was trembling. His eyes saw the anger in hers, and he was afraid. Kara rose up, intending to make him more so.
Morgan swung the gun quickly. Kara was too young in her power, too unused to her strength or perhaps she would have been able to intercept him, but as it was, she was weighed down with grief and trauma and lingering effects of pain, so he was able to grab Lena to his side with a rough, hasty hand, and point the barrel of the gun at her breast with the other. “Don’t you dare . I’ll blow your whore to bits.”
Kara halted immediately, even as a growl ripped from her throat. Behind her, the gorillas only increased their hooting, agitated and full of feeling, but she stayed her hand, staring at the gun pressed to Lena’s chest.
“That’s it.” Morgan gestured with his chin. “Now. I don’t know how you got out, but you’re going to get back into that cage, and sit there until—“
“Edge?” Lex’s perplexed voice interrupted Morgan’s demands.
Lex had emerged from his tent, still clutching a wine bottle, and only dressed in his night clothes, but his eyes were bright. And they narrowed when they too, rested on the gun Morgan had shoved against his sister’s heart. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing with my sister? Let her go at once.”
“Your sister is a filthy ape fucking whore.” Morgan spat back, eyes never leaving Kara’s. “And she let the prisoner out.”
“Let go of her.” Lex insisted, quiet and cold, and Morgan’s eyes swung to him.
“You’re a coward.” Morgan sneered. “And as much a simpleton as this ape. You think I’ll pay your debts without something to show for it? Your father was a fool to come on this errand, and you are a greater one, but I shan’t be brought down with you. Oh no.”
He swung back to Kara. “No. I will be returning with a profit if I have to blow a bloody hole in your sister to do it. Nothing personal, old boy. Just business. Something I doubt your father taught you much about.”
Kara saw it then. The choice was made. Whatever indecision and choice of future paths that had been uneasily moving behind Lex’s eyes resolved into a bright instant. He gave a sudden yell, and knocked his shoulder into Morgan, tumbling them both over. A shot went off.
“Lex!” Lena cried out, but Kara didn’t hear her. She was waiting for her moment, and—when Lex rolled away from Morgan’s scrambling form, clutching his arm and looking pale—she found it.
Kara let the heat fill her eyes. She focused all her anger and her anguish and her pain into a fire that burned up her pupils into a white-hot explosion. And when, for the briefest second, Morgan Edge looked up and into her eyes, perhaps he knew then what a mistake he had made.
Hey, thanks for coming on this wild boat ride with me. I hope you all find the islands of your dreams at the end. <3
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….”