Chapter 1: Dread
After only a single glorious month with Jupiter, his humble and beautiful queen, his steps are hesitant and he has that dreadful sinking feeling in his stomach. She's the one human who trusts him and maybe even believes in him. The time with her in her role as earth's quiet, anonymous protector and the love of his life has been too short, and he knows things are about to change with the news he carries. Why couldn't he have just a few more days before he has to become only a guard in her shadow again?
Forcing himself to take each step to bring her the report feels like going to face his death sentence. Never the less, she relies on him as her protector and sole contact with the universe beyond Earth. It's imperative that he let her know. Clenching his fists in determination, he ignores the echoing, empty sound from his boots pounding on the hall floor and makes a beeline to the Aegis ship that will take him back to Her Majesty's presence on Earth.
Just like every time before, she's anxiously awaiting his arrival. Upon sighting the shimmer from the cloaked ship, she starts excitedly waving and runs toward the hatch as soon as it's open. Her arms are open wide and she has that happy innocent look on her face as she barrels toward him. It makes him swallow hard and curse the report he carries.
Shouldn't he start distancing himself from her? He'll let himself embrace her just one more time. If she suspects anything, it will only make her question, instead of getting on the ship and focusing on what she'll need to do.
Upon impact, he embraces her tightly - taking in her scent, the feel of her against him, the tickle of her hair on his cheek, the softness of her skin, her fingers playing with his hair, her exuberant joy at seeing him, her needy kiss. When she says, "Oh God Caine, I missed you so much!", it almost undoes him and he buries his face in her shoulder, crushing her to him, unable to speak. Still bubbling over she adds, "I want my family to meet you."
A throat clears behind them and they both look up to see Stinger in the entry. "Catch up on all of that later. We aren't here on pleasure," he gets to business in his gruff manner that hides his care.
She turns back to Caine, with a questioning look in her eye.
Standing at attention to report, he mentally puts distance between them, "Your Majesty…"
Her eyebrow raises with deepening suspicion. She knows him well and how he usually speaks to her. Those two words are the same, but the tone is different. Taking his hands in hers and locking eyes with him, "Don't get all formal on me now, Caine. Just spit it out."
"Titus is contesting his mother's will. If you don't attend the proceedings, it may appear that you are in contempt of court. Aegis has decrypted communications of possible attempts on your life. You're not safe as long as you're here, and you will need to start acting like the royalty you are to deal with the proceedings," he reports quietly to keep control of his voice and pulls his hands from hers. "Stinger and I will accompany you to Orus."
"You're acting like when you first found out I was royalty, and I'm having flashbacks of the seal official saying 'My condolences'," Jupiter pouts. When his gaze drops from hers, it's her confirmation. Grabbing his arm she fumes, "Caine! Seriously?"
Stinger interrupts again, "Getting her off this planet right now is in her best interest."
With his free arm he gestures toward the ship.
She mutters, "So much for meeting my family today", as she jogs up the gangplank. "Can I at least call home to let my family know I'll be gone for a while?"
"Be on speaker phone with me, so they can at least hear your voice. They want to meet you," she pleads, not giving up on him or on having him get to know her family. But he gives no answer.
Stinger volunteers, "Your Majesty, would you like to call them from the ship? Then we can get out of orbit without fear of losing the signal."
She hears the phone ring on the other end and Vladie picks up, "Hello?"
"Vladie, I won't be there tonight. Put it on speaker phone so we can talk to the whole family at once, please."
"You're ditching us? Must be a really hot date!"
"Just put it on speaker phone, ok?"
Silence, then the murmuring din rises as the whole family gathers in the room.
"Jupiter, why aren't you bringing your beau tonight?" Her mom sounds a little worried.
Caine shakes his head and gives in, "This is Aegis Lieutenant Caine Wise. We had hoped that I could meet you all this evening, but a matter of Her... Jupiter's safety has come up. My captain and I are taking her to a safe place until the matter is resolved."
A strongly accented male protective voice pipes up, "What are you CIA or something? Where are you taking our Jupiter? Why is she in danger? ..."
"Uncle Vassily, I'm fine," Jupiter interrupts. "They're special agents. They can't tell you any more than that."
"Captain Apini here. Folks, she's safe and we need to keep her that way. We'll bring her back to you as soon as we can, and explain it all then," Stinger interrupts.
"Jupiter," her mom's voice pleads. "Be careful, dear."
"We will, Mom. And I'll bring Caine with me then."
"You both promise?" Her mom asks.
"Promise," she says, but Caine looks at her rather dubiously.
When the call is done, he gestures to his ears and wings, "And how are you going to explain these?"
"If you really want, the ears can be covered with a hat. The wings, well, they're how you catch me when I jump off the tallest skyscrapers of Chicago," she zings a sassy response and charming smile, closing in on him again.
He rolls his eyes, "Like that would go over well. Now if you'll excuse me, Your Majesty."
She blocks his escape. "Caine, stop it! Stop pushing me away. I'm still me, and I will continue to be ME. I need you." Caressing his cheek she continues, "I need you because I love you and also to help guide me and keep me grounded through this court fiasco. Remember I'm new to this 'there's a whole galaxy of worlds with people' thing."
"You have to become one of the entitleds to win this. Don't you see that?" he counters in a growl before pushing past her.
"You're giving up on me?" she whispers as she watches him head down the hall.
Stinger, right behind her, puts a reassuring hand on her shoulder, "I'll have a word with him later, Your Majesty. Know that he needs you more than he needs the air he breathes. He and I also know the prejudice against us as splices. We're seen as disposable and not trusted."
"So are humans and royalty, from what I saw. Thanks for talking with him, though."
He gives her a slightly lopsided grin before following Caine.
The screen showing earth retreating behind them catches her attention, only adding to her growing forlorn mood as she stands alone on the bridge.
Clutching her pillow and blankets from her bunk, she plops down in front of Caine's doorway. She'd tried several times to get him to answer and she couldn't find him anywhere on the ship. Stinger hasn't said that he'd talked with him yet. So this is where she'll stay, until she can confront him again.
"Damn it…", Caine bites his lip in frustration. "Your Majesty... what am I gonna do with you? You can't keep doing things that make you look like a peasant." He's not sure he can handle being close to her when she has to behave like the royals he detests. And she isn't making it easy for him to distance himself, to help her become what she needs to save her world. They'll eat her alive in court at this rate.
Kneeling down, he moves a lock of hair out of her face, then gently picks her up. She mumbles something to the effect of 'Where were you?' and snuggles into his shoulder.
Scanning for options as he carries her to his bunk, he realizes this wasn't the best choice. He won't be able to put her down and retrieve his own covers at the same time. Sighing, he resigns himself to a cold sleep. He kisses the top of her head and strokes her cheek before snuggling in beside her and wrapping his free arm around her, covering them both with a layer of feathers. His thoughts plague him, how in the world will they both be what they need in order to deal with the mess ahead?
Finding herself alone in an unfamiliar room, she swears she remembers arms around her and the solid comforting warmth of him next to her. But where is he, now?
After stretching and rousting from her toasty cocoon, she muffles a yawn and shuffles down the hall to investigate.
Their words echo in the hall, verifying that Stinger, true to his word, is having that talk with Caine.
"You can't play with her like this. Trying to put distance between you two to protect her, then sneaking out of the room you two shared. You're going to confuse the hell out of the girl," Stinger reproaches.
"She was sleeping in my doorway! You would have done the same thing and she was asleep the whole time. Nothing happened!" Caine's defenses are up.
"She'll know you were there, so it wasn't 'nothing happened'. Despite what you say, you can't make yourself truly step away from her and only watch over her, can you? Boy, don't make me knock some sense into you for pushing away the best thing that ever happened to you because you think she might let go. She needs YOU by her side." Stinger's retort has bite even for Jupiter's listening ears.
Guilt for eavesdropping sets in for Jupiter, and she decides to go to her own quarters and wait this out. But in her not fully awake state, she stumbles over her own feet. She recovers, but the squeak that snuck out gives her away. Hearing Stinger calling her to come in, she meekly shuffles in to the bridge.
"Sorry. I just woke up and was looking for you Caine... I couldn't help overhearing. Is there breakfast anywhere? I can eat while you two finish your talk," she offers.
"What was needed was said," Stinger motions for her to follow, so Caine can have time to think.
Author's Note: Stinger was working with Aegis in the movie. I figure Caine would leave the Legion and Stinger might recruit him.
Chapter 2: Courthouse
"Does this whole planet consist of longer and longer lines?" Jupiter laments as she and Caine stand in their 3rd multiple hour consuming queue. "You'd think they'd want to speed people through."
"Speed isn't as profitable. Fewer lodgings, fewer meals, fewer 'I survived the lines at the Orus courthouse' souvenirs. This planet defines red tape. Do you need something to eat, while we wait Your Majesty?" Caine offers.
"Do they have coffee here? I'll consider the planet uncivilized if they don't have coffee," Jupiter pouts halfheartedly.
A chuckle escapes him, "Coffee is one of the few things your world does better than anywhere else. Don't expect much. Maybe I could get to Earth and back before your number is called."
His wry humor cheers her and she takes the torment of waiting better after that. He does find something, but it's most assuredly NOT coffee.
"You really like this?" she wrinkles her nose at the steaming purple frothy drink.
"If Your Majesty isn't pleased with your drink, perhaps you'd like to find your own?" He gestures to the myriad of stalls setup along the lines. All of the signs are in a different language.
She smiles and shakes her head.
"Didn't think so. Though there is a competition each week here to find the oddest flavor that can be sold to a customer. Your Majesty may have just gotten the winner with passion fruit avocado gensing cocoa chai. It's considered quite the honor."
That causes her a fit of giggles into her dreadful drink and she almost ends up spitting it out. Recovering from her embarrassment, "You're in rare form today. What's mellowed you, since yesterday? Is it that you can teach me something new? There's so much for me to learn and you grew up with all of this."
He fidgets a bit. "Stinger was right. Waiting here with you is easy - like it was in the Chicago tower."
"When I was pointing a gun at you?" Her quip earns her a rare grin.
"No. That Your Majesty relies on me simply for companionship, instead of expecting some service. "
Quietly she sips her psuedo-coffee and considers his words. Did he just say things were back to normal?
When they reach the front of the line, the teller closes his stall and goes on a long break. Waiting for him to return will be more expedient than getting into another line. But the grumbling grows loud behind them. Caine is on alert and much less talkative.
Finally the teller returns, but he's in a nasty snit. "No your name is not on this court's list. Can't you read? It says 'interplanetary disputes'. You want 'PLANETARY disputes'. Now stop wasting our time!"
Fuming at her treatment, Jupiter elbows her way through the throngs in the courthouse. All she wants to do is get back to the ship. Caine maintains a protective distance, giving her room to vent.
A smartly dressed splice in Rococo attire and a powdered wig steps in front of her, and Caine is instantly at her side. Bowing gracefully, the stranger explains himself, "Forgive my intrusion Your Majesty. Her Grace Chouli Risa, the Matriarch of the Cordun, Valice, Natu, and Phreeze Galaxies, would have an audience with you."
Jupiter glances at Caine for his take on this. He tries to motion to her to make her own decision.
"Sure. What time would her Grace like to meet?" Jupiter tries not to mess this up.
"Her Grace awaits you at this very moment. She knows Your Majesty has much ahead and does not wish to detain you for long." The servant ushers them into a levitating carriage.
#Danchu, the Palace of Chouli
A mile away, Jupiter first spots the expansive structure that reminds her of Versailles, but a much more grand scale. Sculpted gardens, water fountains, hedgerow mazes, gazebos, a space dock, sculptures, and robotic servants fill the grounds.
Caine and the servant watch her astonishment with amusement.
The carriage transforms around them to an open hovering platform and they are flown quickly through the enormous arch of the palace gate and entrance.
Caine offers his hand to help her down. But keeps a respectable space after that. It's so hard for her not to gawk. The last thing she wants is to fall on her face here.
When the servant opens the door to the matriarch's sitting room, they find her lounging on a settee sipping a drink. Her red curls cascade over her bare shoulders, accenting her perfect pale skin and flowing midnight blue gown. She rises to greet them holding out her hands to clasp Jupiter's. Her voice is deep and clear, "Do come in Your Majesty, there's no need to stand on ceremony in my home. You may call me Chouli, especially since in one aspect you are my superior."
Servants quickly seem to spawn from nowhere. "Would Your Majesty and companion like a drink. After your trials at the courthouse, you must be parched."
Gratefully they both accept and Jupiter sits, while Caine takes a watchful position behind her.
As Jupiter sips the sweet golden nectar, Chouli probes, "So what are your plans for this Earth? I have my own reasons for asking and can not reveal them, until I know your intentions."
Jupiter tries to put grace in her reply, but it still comes off a little sour, "Then we may be at an impasse."
"Let me tell you what I know, and this may allay your fears." After a nod from Jupiter, she continues, "I know you are Jupiter Jones from Earth and hold its title, and that Titus wishes to wrestle it from you, especially after you jilted him at the altar. I am unsure if he intends to follow through on his declaration to stop the harvesting or just utilize the publicity for his own gain. He's obviously just gone through regeneration recently and he's known to be a lying scamp. You are looked upon as an ignorant backwater waif who just happened upon a title that you have no idea what to do with, since you've been twittering away your time on your precious little planet."
Hearing Caine's guttural growl at the insult, she soothes, "Your companion need not be tense or take offense on your behalf. I was simply relaying the general public thought, so you are aware and can take steps, if you wish. It does him as a splice credit to be so loyal to you. He's a fetching one and must be very pleasing in bed."
The blush that comment brings renders Jupiter speechless and she stammers, "Uhm...I...Uhm... Can't respond to that last statement." Caine pretends to examine the ceiling and clears his throat, as he endures the embarrassment.
Jupiter's reaction brings a hearty chuckle from Chouli. As Her Grace recovers she apologizes and touches Jupiter's arm, "Forgive my intrusion and my laughter. It wasn't at your expense, but it was from your precious innocence. It's been millenia since I've seen a blush like that one. Such experiences are rare for me, you see. Thank you."
Chouli sighs with contentment and continues, "You will need someone to guide you and teach you decorum and proper procedure here. They will not look fondly upon a splice guiding you, especially him."
This gains her a raised eyebrow from both of them.
"Yes, I'm aware of your reputation, Lieutenant."
Jupiter looks from Chouli to Caine. His posture has changed ever so slightly and his arms are crossed now, adding a touch of menace to his physical cues.
Chouli doesn't miss a beat, "You're fond of him, so ask him of his past and get it in detail. Your association with him could be a slight disadvantage or a major advantage depending on how you play it. You'll need to decide if he's your consort, adviser, or your protector. He knows he can't play the role of all three. Two will be difficult enough to juggle. Am I right Lieutenant?"
A grudging nod is all he relents.
Caine's tension is practically electrifying the air and it spreads to Jupiter. "Chouli, you know so much about us. But we know very little about you. We're at a severe disadvantage."
"Yes. It is regrettable. But until I know your motive with the planet, I cannot offer more. While you have one planet at stake, many are under my care."
Pinching the bridge of her nose, then turning to Caine for his thoughts Jupiter gets another disaproving look from him.
"Your Majesty, he's telling you with that delicious scowl that you can't look to him for approval. Dear, it makes you look weak. If you are unsure of me, please say so and I'll tell you who can vouch for me."
Jupiter sucks in a breath, "Very well. I'd like to know if we can trust you. But I don't know what I'll believe, after what I've been through."
"I know just the solution. Please have the lieutenant contact his fellow officer Captain Apini," she smooths it over.
Stinger answers Caine's comm, "Waiting to get into see someone. What's up?"
Hearing the voice, Chouli pipes in, "Stinger, dear, it's been far too long."
"Yes it has, Your Grace. How'd they get to see you before I do?"
"I'll let you in, after I get my answer from Her Majesty here. It's of vital import. But she is hesitant to answer."
"Ah. Yes. Your Majesty, Her Grace has my full confidence and trust. Tell her anything you need and I await the pleasure of yours and her presence."
Jupiter sits up a little straighter and puts her hands demurely in her lap. "Well, I'm unsure. I only know I want to protect my people from harvest. I'll have to educate myself on the possibilities."
"That is what I needed to know." Ringing a crystal bell beside her, she commands, "Please let him in." Turning her attention back to Jupiter as Stinger enters, "I would like to offer an alliance. While it is currently of more benefit to you, your interests align with mine. In return, I have a proposal for you to consider." She sees the interest and explains, "I will need to train my replacement. I do not plan to rejuvenate at the end of my cycle. You'll have time to consider this as we get to know each other. In this, you would have to care for worlds beyond your own and be a champion for the downtrodden. You see, I pushed your Caine to test you both. None of us chooses the station we are born to. We're all given life - human and splice."
Stinger picks up from here, "Caine, you know full well you should have been executed for murder. But it was Her Grace that was able to get our sentence reduced. She strives for equality with humanity for our kind."
Caine's demeanor softens and he walks over to her.
"Lieutenant, there is no need. Know that I believe that your killing of Drantab Abraxus was justified. The man was a dreadful, murderous beast."
"Thank you, Your Grace," Caine murmurs.
"That's why you were leary of me at first, isn't it?" Jupiter fits the piece in the puzzle.
He gives a tight, curt "Yes." Since he's right beside her, she slips her fingers into his.
Stinger gives Chouli a knowing look, and she covers her grin with the back of her hand before commenting, "I see Your Majesty has chosen Lieutenant Wise's role. But is he ready to change his role? This whole situation will require much adjustment from both of you. Most royalty won't offer a splice a choice. But you did. You would indeed make a good replacement for me. What do you say to our alliance?"
Jupiter's eager grin answers for her. Caine squeezes her hand to assure her she's done well.
'Excellent! It would be an honor to have Your Majesty as my personal guest." Ringing her bell once more, Chouli summons her secretary. "Touran, see that her Majesty here is appointed an official queue monitor. She shouldn't have to wait in line. We have much to discuss. Also, ensure she and her retinue have attire suitable for court. They won't take her seriously if she appears as a royal in an Aegis uniform. And one more thing, prepare quarters for Her Majesty and her retinue. I'd like her to have the Ivory Suite, so she can have more privacy and a proper sitting room to receive guests. Have her belongings brought to the palace. Her following will expand, so I know you'll take that into account."
Addressing her guest again, "Now if Your Majesty will excuse me, I have to prepare for a dinner. Would you care to accompany me, or do you need rest?"
"Thank you, but I think I just need to collapse," Jupiter confesses.
"Understandable my dear. I will convey your regards to Titus Abraxus then," Chouli gives a mischievous wink. Seeing Jupiter's eyes go wide, she elaborates, "Dear, as royalty you'll need to get used to meeting on good terms even with those who may be your enemy. You will gather tidbits you couldn't otherwise gain from your spies... I bid Your Majesty a good evening."
Chapter 3: Discretion
Touran guides Jupiter and company to the west wing and the Ivory Suite. It actually turns out to be much more grand - with many suites interconnected. Jupiter's is the lone ivory room, and it's walls and ceiling interlaced with gold and silver. The furniture is so exquisite that Jupiter is worried about actually sitting down.
"Your Majesty, our ladies in waiting investigated your current wardrobe to get a sense of your style. Your simple attire is perhaps a tad to underdressed for your upcoming engagements. But the ladies have striven to provide a few starting garments that we hope you will feel comfortable wearing and will allow you to be presented properly," Touran explains.
"But we just started down the hall a few moments ago..." Jupiter's puzzlement shows.
The servant glows at her astonishment, "We pride ourselves on our efficiency. Now... Your Majesty's lady in waiting will be Nallin. She can answer any questions you have on the room and attend your needs. If Your Majesty will excuse me, I'll show the other guests to their suites."
Jupiter gives a little nod, like she saw Chouli do earlier and goes back to investigating her new quarters.
Next Touran guides Stinger to a suite down the hall. Stinger happily falls back into his plush four poster bed with appreciation.
Finally, Touran guides Caine to the suite adjacent to Jupiter's. Caine figures it's for her protection and doesn't think twice, even when Touran shows him the hidden door. That is until Touran says, "For discretion."
Caine's confused look turns to embarrassment and he runs his hand through his hair. "I see."
Touran soothes, "You are Her Majesty's chosen. Surveillance is turned off when that door is open. Her Grace insisted on that for a new queen unused to a lack of privacy. Nallin will explain this to Her Majesty."
"Her Grace thinks of everything," Caine humbly begs off from any more information. His mind is already filling in too many details.
"She does Lieutenant, that she does. And Turnbe will attend your needs." Touran takes his leave then.
After Jupiter's lady in waiting helps her into something for dinner, she hears a light knock at the main door and she bids the caller in.
Caine is stopped in his tracks at the sight of her in a white tunic with slitted sleeves that set off her arms and shoulders, matching short skirt, thigh high boots, and high collar choker that all the royals seem to wear. Her hair is up and a few curls frame her face.
"Do you think it's too much?" she asks looking a little worried.
"N... no. Your Majesty will stop everyone in their tracks." Caine appreciatively circles her.
"You're not just saying that?"
Still taking her in, "There'll be a line of admirers miles long."
"Will you be first in that line?" she hopes as she cups the side of his face.
"If it's what Your Majesty truly wants."
"But is it what Caine Wise wants?" her brows furrow and her voice drops as she puts her finger on his chest.
"It matters to me."
"I thought Your Majesty would need protection again. Know that I will follow you to hell and back." His eyes try to look anywhere but directly at her. His avoidance of the actual question is heartbreaking.
"I do. Really, I do," she puts on a smile she hopes isn't plastic. Pressing gently for an honest answer, "But what is it that *YOU* want?"
Being such a private man, he lets the question process while she does her best to be patient for the answer, knowing that he doesn't talk about his feelings often.
"To be by your side, in any way you ask." His voice is a little husky.
"I need just one thing." Her eyes start to brim with tears. "I need my boyfriend back. It was like you disappeared and were replaced with a hollow look alike." She goes to give him a peck on the cheek, but he intercepts taking her face in his hands and kissing her deeply and enclosing them both in his dark wings, tickling her exposed skin.
Hearing a clink at the doorway, they see a maid trying to stifle a grin, as she tries to be unobtrusive while leaving the refreshments Jupiter had requested.
Caine has pulled Jupiter tighter in to his embrace and kisses the top of her head. She leans in giggling a little.
Closing the door and bowing as she backs out, the maid covers her mouth on the way out to keep herself quiet.
"Think we could get used to this?" Jupiter asks.
"Maybe. Not sure I'd ever be truly comfortable though."
"Same here. But I'll enjoy it for a while, since I have my beau back."
Chapter 4: City Center
At the midday meal, Chouli catches them up on her evening with Titus. She gathered that he's aware of the rumored threats to Jupiter's life and they aren't in his interest. If something happens to Jupiter, Earth will go to his sister. She couldn't extract his plans for the planet, though. If Jupiter doesn't have a lawyer, Chouli has a firm on retainer. They just need to work on a plan for the social side of the trial.
The public is taking quite a bit of interest in this young queen that may have taken a willing splice as a lover. This would bring an ally of the non humans, a low caste group but not without influence. Chouli again remains oddly neutral and quiet, not revealing her own thoughts. So Jupiter turns to Caine and Stinger, "While I know I need to be of my own mind, I'm still at a severe disadvantage when it comes to knowledge of the 'verse. In my mind I don't see either of you as anything short of amazing, despite what everyone else thinks. And I refuse to be motivated politically in matters of the heart, but would it hurt to let it be known that I do love you Caine? What do you two think?"
Stinger speaks up first, "I'm always skeptical of an entitled who says they care for one of my kind, with the exception of Your Majesty - of course. Your simple background, innocence and dedication are very rare."
Frowning as he thinks, Caine ponders every aspect of what she's asked. Jupiter squeezes his hand then goes back to her lunch while she waits. The others follow her example, hoping that Caine won't feel pressured to be quick about an answer. He's usually very insightful when he does speak his mind.
"It could be used to win a following. But I respectfully ask Your Majesty to wait. You don't need any negative media attention during your court battle," he speaks only to her, intent on making sure his words are what he wants.
"Thank you both of you for your thoughts, I know trust doesn't come easily to either of you," Jupiter smiles gratefully.
Chouli lifts her glass and offers, "To trust and friendship," leading them all in a toast. Then she mentions , "There's a matter I'd like to speak to Your Majesty about in private. Would it be convenient to chat about it while I take Your Majesty shopping in the city center this afternoon?"
"Sounds terrific!" Jupiter's eyes light up, she hasn't been able to just go shopping in so long.
#Sophtous City Center
In a private compartment of her flying coach, Chouli broaches the matter she'd alluded to at lunch, "So far our interests have aligned more closely than I could have hoped. As, I'm sure Stinger has told Your Majesty, I also had a slice consort."
Jupiter's surprise gives her away. "Actually he hadn't yet. But I'm glad to know I'm not the first. That will be a big help to Caine. And please, call me Jupiter. Sorry for interrupting." Jupiter reaches for Chouli in a sisterly fashion. She's becoming fond of this kind lady so quickly.
"Well, dear Jupiter. This test is one that will likely be more difficult. I'd like to know your thoughts on the regeneration process. Would there be any circumstances where you would utilize it? I guess why I'm asking, is that you've only seen the Abraxas methods. There are other options. I've mentioned I will not renew myself at the end of this cycle, but I have been through renewal on multiple occasions. Take your time to think it through, first with what you know. Then again after you learn about the other extraction processes."
A darkness flitters on Jupiter's face, but she nods ascension. "Just to be clear. There isn't a set time you need my answer by, right? I know so little about it," her expression turns to a pleading one.
"By all means, dear. Just start gathering your thoughts. I ask these things of you, because you will need to have your own mind of them at some point. It's best to not have them sneak up on you, like they did to me," Chouli looks a bit chagrined at having to admit that, but she squeezes Jupiter's hand and is rewarded with the same in return.
"So you're making me think these things out before I fall flat on my face... Thank you."
"Jupiter, you find the most colorful and direct ways to put your thoughts." Chouli giggles and it spreads to both of the ladies.
Taking delight in a new customer, Zjule the tailor and his assistants make a fuss over Jupiter, thanking Chouli for bringing her to them. They will provide Jupiter her first wardrobe on the house. When Jupiter questions it, Chouli reminds her that the outfits will be seen by many at court and the shop will gain more business than the clothes are worth. It's a win win.
Zjoule steps back from his latest customer and canvas to examine her and get his impression. He scowls at her comfortable Aegis uniform. He has Jupiter stand with poses imitating several attitudes, then asks her to turn around slowly. He takes digital samples of her skin, eye, and hair color. Then has her change into undergarments that are more suitable for royalty, 'not this' he mumbles as he holds up her old clothes as if they were foul smelling trash. She can't fathom what he sees is wrong with it and shrugs. Caine has his back turned and his pointed ears are a little red, only allowing himself to turn around when she has a longer camisole on.
Zjoule then asks if her male companion will be needing attire also. Before Jupiter can reply, Caine surprises her with a bit of boldness, "I will need to look the part to be by Her Majesty's side." Zjoule looks to Jupiter who gives a nod that has an approving twinkle in her eye. She asks with a wink, "Caine, you won't send me out when they fit you, will you?"
Taken by surprise, Caine fumbles a bit over his words, "I... would not deprive Your Majesty."
"Who would have thought the great hunter of the Legion would be so modest?" Chouli teases him gently, then does the same to Jupiter. "You'll have your work cut out for you, dear."
"He's worth it. I think I knew when he simply swept me up and stepped out a hundred story window into thin air with me clinging terrified to him," Jupiter's gaze on him is all admiration
"Oh? This is a story I must hear..." Chouli's interest is perked.
"That was before we both found out that I needed to claim my home world to save it. He was the only one who made it through the lines here on Orus with me to claim my title. He also dropped from orbit into the largest hurricane in my galaxy in only a Zero to save me from Balem." Jupiter beams at Caine.
Zjoule's eyebrow arches in surprise. Chouli offers, "I doubt there is greater loyalty in the entire 'verse, Lieutenant."
In a quiet determined fashion he elaborates, "She was trapped there alone with him as he tried to make her choose between her planet and her family."
"You two have been through a great deal together already, I see. No wonder the bond is deep," Chouli praises in a maternal fashion. "But I WILL have details later from both of you."
Jupiter teases, "You're as bad as my mother, Chouli."
When Caine's turn arrives to be evaluated for garb, Jupiter can't tear her eyes away. Watching him through each step especially the attitude transitions, feels like she learns something new about him. When he's about to exit the changing room, she asks if he'd like her to turn around for this part.
"That would defeat the purpose, Your Majesty." There's an ever so slight smirk on his face, that makes her stifle a little-girl-like laugh. Standing there at attention in just a pair of silk boxers, he meets her gaze like he's asking for her approval. Her heart is in her throat but she gives an appreciative meek smile and nod. As if that was just what he needed to know, he amuses himself by staring at the ceiling while she watches and Chouli fans herself. His wings are a bit restless, but otherwise he comes off very nonchalant as the tailor takes his measurements. Jupiter wonders to herself how he can be such a confusing mixture of cocky and humble. Will he ever return to being the confident hunter she first met?
They leave the shop in attire that suits each of their styles but is much more fashionable than when they entered. Zjoule picked a light butter yellow blouse, purple scarf, pine green leggings and green amber royalty choker, sandals and wide rimmed sun shades for her. For him, narrow shades, charcoal grey high necked shirt that buttons on the side, matching leather pants, and thigh length black leather jacket that conceals his holstered handgun. The rest of their wardrobe will be forwarded to Chouli's estate when it's ready.
She waits for Caine as he holds the door for both herself and Chouli, then slips her arm into his.
"Just look at you two. So charming together. There are gawkers all the way across the street, you know," Chouli chitters happily in their direction.
Reaching up to whisper in his ear she also kisses his cheek, "You're the only one who makes me feel like being royalty might be something special. Maybe even worth all the fuss."
"Your Majesty is the effect, not the result. Your presence affects all those around. Don't forget it when we go to court and they try to make Your Majesty feel inadequate, trying to tear you down. I will not be able to be on the witness stand with you. But the beautiful confidence Your Majesty has now, will blow them all away. Capture this moment in your mind for when you need it." He covers her hand on his arm with his own.
"He's right, Jupiter darling," Chouli pipes in. Jupiter had almost forgotten her friend was there.
Taking Caine at his word, she stops right where they are, closes her eyes and breathes in a deep breath - almost willing the moment to be a photograph in her mind. "Then we will be what is needed to win the day."
"That's the spirit!" Chouli takes her arm on the other side. They fill the walkway, making the crowd part for them as they meander back to the carriage.
Chapter 5: Court Day
#Court Day Morning
The warmth of knowing for sure this time, that he had been there holding her in his arms fills her with joy. Hugging her pillow she recalls his sweet tenderness and his refusal to take advantage of her saying she's not fully recovered. Sighing, she wonders when he'll be comfortable enough around her to give into his desires. For now, she'll revel in the fact that he actually stayed.
Thinking back to when she first met him and had been so offended that he'd removed her hospital gown to put clothes on her and how she'd chided him over it. It seems so long ago, despite being only a matter of months. Maybe the distance from where it happened makes her feel that way.
#Outside the Orus Great Courthouse
Caine leads her and their entourage of guards through the throngs up the walk to the opulent copper domed, high columned marble building. Behind them, Stinger keeps a tailing length.
The press of paparazzi starts to get on Jupiter's nerves. Why can't they just let her enter in peace and quiet? Caine does his best to fend off the most persistent of the media hounds, and murmurs quietly to her that he'd be willing to take any of them out, if it would please her. Her eyes go wide then she playfully hits him in the shoulder, "You're just distracting me."
"Does it matter?" he volleys.
"No. Just keep talking," she squeezes his hand. "It's working. You haven't been on this high an alert since we were at Stinger's house. So know that I'm tempted by your offer."
"Do you have any real idea of how much trouble I got in last time?" He deftly guides her around the latest media blockade.
"Was it worth it?" she tries to act as nonchalant as he looks. He opens up best with this type of banter like they had in the court registration lines.
"Yes. Everything I've ever gone through was worth the chance of meeting Your Majesty," he says as if there's not a care in the world while he scans the crowd.
"I think I'm going to start a journal of your quotes, Caine. But maybe I shouldn't read them too often, because my head won't fit through doorways," she nudges him playfully.
Pulling her to him and planting a smooch on the top of her head, he whispers, "You're doing well. They can't know how much this really means to you. They ripped Stinger and I apart at our trial."
Putting her head on his shoulder in a moment of sympathy, she continues the charade with him, "You're dropping the 'Your Majesty' now. What's up with that?"
"That a problem?"
"Maybe. You're the only one I ever really want to hear say it." She winks.
"Evidently I simply exist for Your Majesty's whim," he retorts.
In the next moment her world slows to a crawl. Caine whips her around him, shielding her and then shoving her to the ground as she hears one shot then another as Caine's mag field shield raises too late for his sake. He crumples across her trying to keep the shield up for her protection and the guards encircle them and pry her out from under Caine's now limp body.
Words don't register in her mind, but she hears a banshee wail that must be emanating from her own mouth. Fighting the grabbing hands with all she has, she clings to her beloved.
Stinger's voice finally processes in her mind as he struggles to get her away from danger, "JUPITER!"
Her breath comes in ragged heaves now and sheets of tears blur her sight.
"Your Majesty is everything to him. He and I discussed this possibility last night. Honor his wishes, please, and go with the guards. I'll stabilize him," Stinger grounds her for a moment with those words, but her look turns wild again. He puts a hand tightly on each side of her head, "THE CLOCK IS TICKING FOR HIM! DO YOU UNDERSTAND, YOUR MAJESTY?!"
A sob then a nod from her and she's whisked away with Chouli's guards. Stinger doesn't watch her go, he just faces Caine's vacant stare. Saying a prayer to whatever god or goddess might be listening, he pulls out the med kit and begins work on his friend. It's imperative to keep Caine alive, so the med crew can do more than lay a sheet over his corpse.
When the medi-lift arrives, Stinger's hands are covered in Caine's blood, but his friend is still breathing - barely. Why in the hell couldn't he find more of that black market Regenex after their talk last night?
#Tunnels under the dome complex
In their haste, the guards can't worry about her comfort. They've dragged her who knows how far underground. None of them will tell her where she is being taken or where Caine will be either. She keeps looking back, hoping to see Stinger bringing him. But with every lack of a sight of him, her heart threatens darker despair.
Finally the little contingent reaches a miniature subway system. An escape pod with an open hatch awaits her and they push her in as gently as can be done while hurrying.
To her unfortunate surprise, Titus is in the pod too and the door has just shut.
"Pounding on the door will do you no good, Your Majesty. It's sealed," he states flatly.
Curling up in a ball, she starts chewing her fingernails and it doesn't take long to draw blood.
"That's very unbecoming, Your Majesty," he leans in focusing his attention.
She turns to ignore him.
"I know I'm the last person you want to see right now, and that you're worried sick over your pet, Mr. Wise. But know that we're both headed to safety and that his old commander will take care of him."
"What's your angle here, Titus?" she demands.
It only gains her rolled eyes from him. "Entitlement certainly has gone to your head quickly, my dear ex-fiancé. But you must realize that not quite everything revolves around you and your little planet. You aren't the only one who might be in danger right now."
"Where are we headed?" Her complete lack of care that he might be in danger too is evident.
"You know, that's how the entitlement attitude starts. I know from millennia of experience." His lecture appears to fall on deaf ears.
She gives him a glare steely enough to bore a hole right through him.
"I know you can't trust me. That's fine. But we're both going to be stuck together for a while. Hopefully your new friend Her Grace will be in the bunker too, or our time could be most unpleasant."
"Why do you constantly mess up my life? You were going to kill me last time I saw you! I oughtta slap you into next..."
He interrupts her mid-rant. "Has it occurred to you, that if it weren't for my meddling, you would have never met your precious Mr. Wise?"
She pinches the bridge of her nose. "Will there be anything for a headache at this bunker?"
"Panel on your left. Red package."
What she needs is there just as described. "You've been in these pods before?" she asks finally starting to calm a bit, though the hole in her heart is still eating away at her and she won't last long.
"The last time was after the murder of my mother." He says it so resigned and calm, that it shocks her.
"I'm sorry for prying and for your loss," Jupiter backs off a bit. This isn't a picnic for him either.
"You have her spirit you know. Her independence and passion." He looks out the small window of the hatch at the slightly varying grey that is the only signal that they are actually moving.
"What was she like?" Jupiter has to ask, more to keep her mind off breaking down, than actual interest.
"I only had a few centuries with her. She did her best to raise the four of us to watch over those under us. Despite our family's business, she genuinely cared for those around her. Don't get me wrong. I can't put her on a pedestal. But your uncanny resemblance and behaviors are unnerving at times."
Silence fills the rest of their journey, and Jupiter curls up in a ball again and lets her tears flow.
Chapter 6: Tentative Peace
When they emerge, Titus offers her help out of the pod and confesses, "Thank you for listening. Hopefully, it was as much a distraction for you as it was for me. I loathe those cramped things. There's nothing like being shoved in one of those with only your confused and terrified thoughts to keep you company."
The quick tilt in her head clues him in to her train of thought. "Now, now, Your Majesty. Don't be thinking I've gone soft. There are always at least two advantages I get from everything I do. Otherwise it's not worth my time." Putting a finger to his lips, he reconsiders, "Unless there's sex involved."
Jupiter just shakes her head and walks toward the guards in front of the massive metal door. Is she really going to have to wait here with Titus? Caine is up there somewhere without her and badly wounded. How can she stay here?
"Your Majesty, Her Grace is unable to be here. She was taken to another shelter. But she wanted me to relay the message that she's safe and will meet up with you soon," the burly guard, holding a pike and armed to the teeth, relates.
"Please convey to her that Titus and I have arrived safely too. Has there been any news on Caine?"
"Last word is that Stinger is with him and he's being transported to Her Grace's private facility. For the moment he is stable. Your Majesty will be escorted there shortly."
Tension flows out of her but her knees feel weak. Caine is alive, but from the report - it must have been a very close call.
"Your Majesty is pale. Let me escort you," Titus takes her elbow to support her.
The guard opens the huge door for them and sweeps his arm, "Your Majesties."
Before allowing herself to be herded in, she inquires. "How long is soon?"
"As soon as he arrives at the facility. He anticipated Your Majesty would not allow herself to be holed up here for long."
With a bit of chagrin and a tear on her cheek she admits, "He may know me better than I know myself right now."
The creak and boom of the foot solid door closing seems so ominous.
After she sits down, she asks, "Titus, the guard said 'stable for now'. That means Caine's alive - but it's bad. I don't know the medical technology here or what options are available."
"Medical knowledge isn't my specialty. But usually the patient is put through regeneration to heal. The problem is, your Mr. Wise is a splice."
Jupiter gives him a dark warning look.
"Regeneration isn't offered to splices. You know the cost in human lives for Regenex. It's just not done for those genetically engineered." His matter of fact attitude has no malice in it. But it also lacks pity and that irks her.
Then a thought occurs to her. "Chouli knew this or similar might happen... That's why she asked... As an entitled, what options do I have to help him?"
Tapping his chin in thought, Titus offers, "Everything Your Majesty chooses will have political ramifications. So think carefully.
"It will be possible to arrange to have him renewed, just like a human. You two haven't blabbed to the 'verse of what happened at our last meeting. This speaks well of you. And I would be happy to offer you some of the best Regenex that money can buy in return for your continued silence. But you will be estranged from all entitled save possibly myself and Her Grace."
"Very costly for my planet and case against you. What are the other options?" Jupiter calculates. Every moment she has to weigh things like this against Caine's life it feels like it's eating a hole in her soul. So THIS is what Caine was afraid of.
Titus' nod concedes her point then he continues, "There are lower grades of the mix, but I wouldn't bother with that. Too risky. On the other hand, my facilities have been working on a new process. Still in the experimental phases, but all tests have been positive and the whole process utilizes volunteers."
Her eyes narrow and she crosses her arms at that last word.
A little put off by her assumption, he explains, "TRUE volunteers."
"And they just happily give up their lives for the sake of science and progress?" Her tone drips with sarcasm.
"Most do not. What I am trying to tell you, is this doesn't require taking life. Now if Your Majesty can get off her high horse, maybe I can finish."
Jupiter bites her lip. Caine's life is likely at stake and here she is arguing over semantics. Caine was right, she would become an entitled. Damn it. Focus, Jupiter - Caine is what's important. "Please, continue."
"The bad news is it will take time to code it for his specific splice configuration and you need to collect donations. But the good news is that since he is a splice, DNA donations can come from both humans and other splices."
Jupiter fidgets as she considers, "How many donations do we need?"
"I don't know the exact number. But it will be significant unless the samples are particularly pure. The more human donations the better."
Sliding the door open, the guard signals it's time to leave.
#Chouli's private hospital
Stinger tried to prepare her for this, but a gasp still escapes her. Gripping her arm tighter for support, Stinger guides her to Caine's floating body. The shot wounds are so fresh and ragged, still stained with his blood, that it turns her stomach. Thankfully, Caine is unconscious so he doesn't feel the pain. Her hand is shaking as she reaches to stroke his cheek. Stepping out, Stinger gives her some privacy, though the nurse stays to monitor her patient.
A weak choked voice is all that emerges as she speaks to him, "Hang in there. I love you so much Caine. I'm doing all I can. But I can't do this with out you. You were right about having to become an entitled. But I remembered your words. You saved me yet again. This time with your wise words." She strokes his forehead and wipes a spatter of red, before kissing him there. "God, Caine. I'd be so lost without you. You've been there with me from the beginning of this whole crazy mess. I need you in more ways than I can ever express. One of them is, in your own humble way, to remind me who I am and where I come from."
Delicately, a throat clears behind her. "Jupiter, have you had time to think through what we talked about? I hadn't anticipated you needing to decide so soon, but it's time dear." Chouli puts her arm around her and Jupiter leans on her friend.
"Titus told me of three options. One of which he felt isn't really an option. Are there any he didn't tell me about? I don't care if he gains from Caine being healed. But I want to make sure all the options can be considered."
With a squeeze, Chouli replies, "No. You're learning quickly."
"Titus admitted to having at least two reasons for doing anything..."
"He's been more forthcoming than usual. What are his motivations?" Chouli pushes Jupiter's thought process to completion.
"He'll gain publicity and have more volunteers and customers for his process. He'll be able to hold this over my head to keep me quiet about my first encounter with him. Hmm... Am I missing anything else?"
"The others are minor. But, he has a surprise planned. See where the strings are, then."
"I'll keep my eyes peeled," Jupiter notes.
When Doctor Mezzari comes in and asks what Jupiter's decision is, he warns that Caine doesn't have much time in stasis. If she chooses the experimental method she'll need to act quickly.
"If I choose the new process, can I be one of the donors?" she inquires.
"It may defeat Your Majesty's purpose. The process is quite painful. Subjects always choose to be put under for the procedure and recovery. It would impede Your Majesty's ability to ask for donations."
"What if I was awakened afterward?"
"We don't recommend it, Your Majesty. It's agonizing."
Chewing her lip, she weighs her options. She steels herself and demands, "How long does donation take? I need you to wake me up directly afterward."
"One hour for donation, and Your Majesty could in theory be awake within four. No pain relief, that will allow you to be coherent, is strong enough to dull it enough to be comfortable, though. The procedure goes into the bone marrow and major nerves to extract the newest cells." The doctor looks very concerned.
"I understand. Thank you. Titus said it would take time to adjust the procedure for Caine. Do I have to wait for that?"
"No, Your Majesty. We can take you in immediately. Your DNA, as an entitled will be of great help for your Lieutenant Wise."
Jupiter's expression is uncomprehending. So Chouli explains, "Dear, our DNA is considered to be of the most pure and perfect. That's why we are entitled."
"And why Titus' sister told me that DNA was part of the religion. So it's even more important that I be the first donor," Jupiter mentally places the piece.
An echoing clap comes from the far end of the room. "Bravo!" Titus continues his intrusive gesture. Jupiter scowls when she sees he's not alone, with a media hound in tow. "Now that we have what we need for the donation campaign, Your Majesty can safely rest in a blissful coma while donations pour in."
"Titus, there are days I want to choke you."
"And I come bearing a gift for Your Majesty's campaign to save Mr. Wise. Do I need to add a personal trainer in etiquette to the gift?"
Jupiter sighs, "No. I'm sorry, Titus."
"Never say sorry, my dearest ex. Never. It's bad form," he tuts, cues the camera man, and hands her a glowing tube. "My contribution to Your Majesty's cause. Each of the Abraxas household has a DNA sample taken for emergency purposes."
The doctor's eyes go wide, "Your Majesty's second pure donation. Very good omen indeed."
"Th... thank you, Your Majesty," Jupiter stumbles over her words as she calls Titus by his title for the first time.
"No need for such formality. Your Majesty knows me better than that," he puffs up with feigned humility.
"Same here, Titus."
"Excellent!" he signals the cameraman and the live feed is turned off again. "Now, I'll take my leave of you, Jupiter."
"Before you go Titus, who's DNA is this really?" Jupiter inquires rather bluntly.
Titus' eyebrow arches. "If you must know, it's Balem's."
Jupiter tips her head back and laughs. When she gathers herself, she sees his amusement that she put it together. "So you eliminate all means of having your brother return, and you get the good publicity for it yet again. Very, very clever Titus."
"Would you ever care to play chess?" he offers magnanimously.
"I might like that." She hugs the cylinder and adds, "Thank you again Titus."
Chapter 7: Sacrifice
Stinger and Chouli have been at her side every moment of her prep for the donation, until now. As she lays naked on the chamber table, she feels so alone and her nerves are starting to get to her. The drugs should take effect in a few moments though, soon it will be done and she'll have completed the most important part of helping her darling Caine. The last thing she remembers is the mechanical set of needles moving in place above her. Thankfully she's too drowsy to process just how many of them there are.
Upon waking though, it's pure hell. Everything burns. There isn't a bone in her body that isn't on fire. Each and every nerve feels raw, like it was recently severed. It hurts so much to breathe or even blink the tears away. Involuntarily she starts to moan in absolute agony.
"Jupiter, we're here," she hears Chouli's voice. "The doctor said we shouldn't even touch you right now, dear. Your nervous system is in shock and you must feel like you were just skinned alive."
Jupiter blinks twice as a yes. It's as much as she can move right now.
"Now that you're awake, they'll be right in with some pain killers to help your nerves settle down. Then if you're up for it, there's something you should see."
Doctor Mezzari himself enters with a wheelchair and hypo spray. The injection gives her blessed instant relief from her frazzled nervous system. On the negative side, now her mind cues in on the extreme ache in every bone.
"I won't bother to ask how you feel. I made that mistake with the last donor that insisted on waking early. If he could have moved, he would have tore my head off," the doctor half jokes.
She gives a ragged, "Yeah..."
Chouli and Stinger give each other a questioning look, unsure if Jupiter means that she understands or really would try to tear the physicians head off if she had the strength.
"May we put Your Majesty in a robe and wheel chair now? The gown is resting on your skin and you aren't screaming, so this is a good sign," Mezzari tries to encourage.
"I want to see Caine," she rasps.
Stinger sets her into the chair, and her breath is almost taken away with the pain of that movement. But when the chair is turned and she sees Caine still in stasis in the same room, the agony eases a little.
"You're as brave as they come, Your Majesty," Stinger puts a hand on her shoulder as he guides her chair to Caine's side.
"Being brave really sucks sometimes," she fusses.
He chuckles, "That it does. I won't be as brave as Your Majesty when I donate."
Stuggling against the pain, she isn't able to turn. But she manages to put her hand on his. "Thanks Stinger."
"You're both brave. My own obligations don't allow me to help in the same way. But that leads us to what Stinger and I wanted you to see. May we let them in?"
"O... kay..." she wonders what they're talking about.
The doctor strides to the door then slowly opens it, trying to keep whomever it is under control, "Her Majesty is awake. Do NOT touch her under any circumstances. She's still in quite a bit of pain. You may enter one or two at a time."
Zjoule and his favorite assistant enter first, followed by Titus' camera man, and Chouli explains, "Jupiter, when I contacted our wonderful tailor about your predicament, he eagerly agreed to start spreading the word. He testified readily to Titus' media station about how good you are to Caine and how you two are such a perfect match. He and his assistant will be donors three and four."
The splice tailor and assistant kneel before her. "It's an honor, Your Majesty. You are a jewel among the entitled."
It takes all her effort, but she leans forward to reach out to each of them. "I am indebted to you both. It means more to me than I have words to express." Tears of gratitude start up again, but she lets them stream down her cheeks. "Thank you."
Because of the sheer number of visitors, she isn't able to say much beyond thank you and Stinger has to help her reach out to them. It's exhausting. There are many more willing to donate than are needed to save Caine.
Stinger left to get in line to donate. A friend saved him a place so he could count himself as one that helps Caine today.
Barely audible because she's utterly drained, Jupiter asks, "Chouli, what would it take to setup a foundation to help any who need this procedure - human and splice?"
"Consider it done, my dear. Now rest. Soon Doctor Mezzari will be ready to treat Caine. If you want to be awake for that, you need to rest."
"Yes, Mom," Jupiter mumbles as her eyes seem to close on their own.
While she rested, Dr. Mezzari had snuck in some medications. This time waking isn't as awful. Chouli is there again, and she allays Jupiter's fears by telling her that she's blocked access to the room with the procedure. Titus' media hounds will not be allowed to enter.
The nurse wheels her in to the renewal chamber. Seeing Caine completely unclothed and so helpless, as he's lowered into the pool, feels a bit like he's being violated somehow.
Upon submersion, the glowing renewal solution is injected into the pool. To Jupiter, it seems much to long for anyone to be under water. It must be way past five minutes by now. Why aren't they bringing him back out? With a furrowed brow, she grabs the nurse's hand. The question is written all over her face.
"Just a few more moments, Your Majesty. It's going well, don't let yourself worry, now. The doctor is about to increase the infusion. Lieutenant Wise was injured so badly. And the infusion has to enter the system a little at a time."
Jupiter leans back in the chair, trying to get a little more comfortable as she waits.
As the glow dies down in the pool and the water starts to drain, uncovering Caine's healed flesh. The nurse moves Jupiter's chair into the pool next to him, and removes the seals from his nose and mouth. Finally his chest starts to rise and fall. She inquires. "Would Your Majesty like for me to leave the room, or do you need help to stand?"
"I'll manage. Is he ok?" Jupiter wants to be absolutely sure.
"Of, course. Dr. Mezzari is extremely thorough. Just say the word if Your Majesty needs anything," she winks at Jupiter and exits the room.
It takes effort, but she removes her robe and covers him. She doesn't want him to feel self conscious when he wakes. And besides, he's seen her in a hospital gown before.
As if on cue, his eyes fly open and he starts awake - bolting up with animal like grace to a crouching position. He looks around like a frightened bird with wings spread wide to make himself look more fierce, trying to place where he's at.
"Shhh. You're safe." She cups his face with both hands and forces him to focus on her. When he settles down enough to sit and return his covering, she runs a hand though his white blonde hair. "You gave us quite a scare."
He closes his eyes to finish calming his fast beating heart. When he opens one eye, he sheepishly states, "I'm a tad underdressed. So I suppose this means that you have just alienated yourself because of me?"
"Nope." She gives him her best impression of a Cheshire cat.
Rubbing the back of his neck, he affects that irresistible scowl of his. "I know I was just put through renewal. Don't lie to me, Your Majesty. Especially with a smile."
"Caine you don't know what I've been through, just to hear you say 'Your Majesty' to me again," she throws her arms around him and buries her head in his shoulder as she sobs.
Letting out a breath, he takes her in his arms. How can she go so quickly from grinning to crying? He hugs her tightly and nuzzles into the crook of her neck. The pressure on her ribs and collar bone causes her to wince loudly, "Gently! Please!"
Letting go, he quickly examines her. "Hospital gown. Wheelchair. Shit. I wasn't able to protect Your Majesty, even with careful planning. Tell me what happened. Now." His voice grows steely and menacing, but she knows it's not toward her.
"You can't protect me from my own choices, Caine. Now shush, then I'll tell you what happened. Deal?" She's sniffling now, but at least the tears have stopped.
"Deal." He purses his lips, sulking, but at least he'll listen.
"Help me up onto the table and hold me while I tell you. I've been through hell and I hurt everywhere," she commands, and knows he won't protest. When settled, she traces through each of the freckles on his now scar-less and tattoo-less shoulder as she recalls what transpired and how many came to his aid.
Tilting his head and holding her away from him, as if he's seeing her again for the first time, "Who would have thought simple little Jupiter Jones from a backwater planet would make such a strong queen?"
"I wouldn't be here without you. I think I'm going to actually thank Titus publicly for sending you after me," she snickers wryly, then kisses his cheek. He turns into the kiss and doesn't let her up for a breath, even when the nurse walks in and coughs for attention - blushing furiously.
In response to Jupiter's earlier jest, he banters as if they hadn't just been in the middle of a passionate lip lock. "Don't. He'll start a kidnapping escort service."
Her palm smacks her forehead, "Ghads! He would..."
The nurse rolls her eyes. "Doctor Mezzari has cleared Lieutenant Wise to escort Your Majesty back to the palace. With continued treatment, Your Majesty will be fully recovered in a few days. Clothing was provided by the tailor before he donated." She sets the folded garments down on a chair and ducks out of the room.
Chapter 8: Meet the Threat
One of Chouli's guards intercepts the small contingent as they're exiting the hospital. "Your Majesty and Your Grace, there's a demonstration bordering on rioting out there. We need to evacuate quickly."
Chouli demands more details, "Is it about the renewal?"
"Your Grace, it's a lynch mob out there. Shouting matches between the entitled and the lower caste will turn violent soon. They have the supposed assassin - a splice. She won't reach trial - she'll be drawn and quartered. And the authorities have their hands full city-wide. They're doing their best to get here."
Caine guides Jupiter's wheelchair the other direction toward the underground pods, and speaks to the guard, "Time to get these two to safety."
"What about the unconscious donors? Will they be safe? I don't think they can be moved." Jupiter's unwilling to go on until she knows.
Looking back in the direction where Stinger and the others that sacrificed for him are recovering, Caine mutters a string of curses. Frustration is chiseled on his face, then turns to a pleading - don't do this look. "Tell me Your Majesty is not thinking, what I think she's thinking."
She turns her chair around to face him. "My aunt said the night I was born, the stars were in alignment with the planet Jupiter over head as we floated on the sea. It meant I was destined for great things. I don't think that meant being an entitled. That's just the piece of the puzzle that got me to here and now - for choices like this. Will you still go to hell and back with me?"
The conflict clouds his face, but he sets his jaw. "Yes. I just wish it meant you'd be safe."
"Jupiter, please reconsider. There is so much you're risking," Chouli pleads.
"You'll take care of Earth, if something goes wrong, right?" Jupiter makes sure her one major responsibility is covered.
"Yes, dear. But what about your future?" Chouli counters.
"I won't make a good apprentice to you, if I don't have some guts and stand up for those who can't. Chouli, you taught me that." Jupiter draws herself up and meets her gaze.
Chouli's eyes drop and close, then reopen with a touch of mischief. "I'm going to have to teach you chess, so I can wager on you when you beat the pants off Titus."
Very unlady-like, Jupiter snorts loudly and cracks up. "Ooooowwww! Chouli!" she pants. "Don't make me laugh."
Chouli gives her a gentle hug before going with the guard, "See you back at the palace, Jupiter Jones."
Caine wheels her toward the elevator that leads to the lobby.
"Now Lieutenant Wise, we have some things to discuss," Jupiter goes into her banter mode and baits him.
"It will be difficult to plan for dealing with a crowd, Your Majesty. We'll have to play it by ear." Caine is solidly in protector state.
"I had a different topic in mind, actually..." There's a wily tone in her voice.
Caine's guard is up.
"The way I see it, there's something that needs resolved before we head out there... If you're heading to hell and back with me and enduring all the hardship, shouldn't there be some happiness for you along the way?"
"I exist for Your Majesty's whim. Is that not enough?" He tests the waters.
"That's not entirely true. There's still a part of you that holds back. Is it because you've been my "consort" in name only? If you exist for me, should I not for you?" Her parry and repost are quick and she hopes it hits the heart.
He circles around to see her expression, before crouching in front of her. With deep wariness in his eyes, he pleads. "Don't toy with me Your Majesty."
"I had to say it, in case I don't get the chance again."
"I'm here, as long as you want me to be. But, I'm just a runt of the litter splice that was sold at a bargain..."
She cuts him off by putting a fingertip on his protesting mouth, "And I'm just a back world broke illegal immigrant girl who cleans houses. You are one of a kind and amazing. But you don't feel like you belong. Like you have to live up to something more. You weren't that way when we first met or when we dated in Chicago when I was plain old Jupiter again. Would permanence help bring back your confidence?"
He takes her trembling hand and nuzzles his cheek into her palm.
"Take your time. I'm patient. And I'll be quiet now, before I say anything stupid like how I love dogs," the adrenaline is really rushing through her and the jitters are getting worse. She doesn't trust herself to speak more.
Her last line brings a chuckle from him. "I wasn't sure exactly how to take that, you know. But I was sure that when you found you were royalty, I'd lost my chance."
"But you stayed by my side..." she adds.
"When we were escaping Chicago and you told me you were nobody, I was going to prove you wrong. But..."
She pulls his forehead to hers and plays with his hair. "You did."
"I can't shake you. I've tried," Caine whispers.
"Then stop trying. I'm not going to change my mind. I'm yours Caine. Heart and soul and I can't do without you." Her voice matches his quiet intensity.
"Promise?" There's a hopeful light in his face as he kisses her finger tips.
She takes his hand and intertwines her pinky finger with his. "Pinky promise. It's unbreakable."
Leaving their hands interlocked, he drops forward to his knees, "Then I need you to do something."
"Anything. Name it."
"Your mark as my pack's alpha and my mate. There's usually a little more to this. But we'll improvise. I'm going to expose my neck for you to leave a bite. It needs to be enough to be seen clearly until I can get it tattooed." His expression is intense as he leans back into a kneel, then gently pulls her from the chair to straddle his lap, and turns his head away.
Her shaking was nothing compared to now. Fighting to control her hands as she traces below his jaw where the legion mark was, she places her lips on his neck there before sinking her teeth in.
It causes him to shudder, until she lets go. Then he moves her hair aside and kisses a trail down her neck. His tiny nip causes her to jump and let out a little yelp. As he wraps himself around her protectively, Jupiter can feel the tension drain from him.
"I am yours, all that I am and ever will be." Putting her hand over his heart, he holds her hand there so she can feel the racing beat under her touch. "And you, Jupiter Jones, are mine."
The crash of glass halts their sweet reverie. Jupiter butts her head into his shoulder, "We always have such impeccable timing."
He lifts her chin, to show his wide grin as he quips. "Wouldn't have it any other way."
Exiting the elevator, he's sprinting as he pushes her. They can hear the chanting outside rise in pitch and another window breaking. So, he puts his shield up to cover her as they enter the hot zone. Guards in riot gear file in around them and help them out the doors.
"Glad the boys in blue could see fit to join Her Majesty and I", Caine jests the riot police.
Two definite sides have formed. It takes Jupiter a minute to decipher their chants. The splices are practically foaming at the mouth for equality. Entitleds are going into conniption fits for justice. When the couple can go no further and are completely surrounded, Caine moves protectively to her side and puts a hand on her shoulder for comfort. "Your Majesty, there's no turning back now."
"Caine, help me stand. What little I had for reserves is about drained," she speaks quietly to conserve energy. He helps her up leaving an arm under hers for support just in case. Her knees start to buckle and he pulls her up against his side and gives her a questioning look.
"I'll manage," her voice is rough.
The crowd working itself into a fervor, parts and a lithe but very battered lycantant is kicked forward. Her wings have been picked almost clean, and her hands are bound behind her back, so she has no way to keep herself from landing face first on the pavement.
"QUIET!" Jupiter tries to shout but it's not effective.
Caine takes out his pistol and shoots into the air twice, then barks, "HER MAJESTY COMMANDED QUIET! She's exhausted and will not repeat herself."
She rasps, "Guards, help her to her feet."
The feral young woman spits in front of Jupiter and ignores Caine's deep menacing growl. "Think taking a defective splice as your lover will solve anything? You entitleds are all the same," her words mimic the hate in her last action, forcing the guards to tighten their grip on her.
"What you see as defective, I see how it made him stronger, braver and more cunning than anyone else. He's so much more than a set of DNA."
That brings a gasp from the crowd. Jupiter closes her eyes for a moment, did she just mess up royally? These people worship DNA, duh. Watch your words now, Jones.
"You don't mean any of it. You're an entitled, and your DNA gives you privilege. It makes you think you're better than us." Murmurs in the crowd rise to a crescendo again.
"Caine, would you please? I won't last long at this rate."
His hand with the pistol raises and the crowd quiets before he has to let off a shot.
"Help me forward, now, please." Caine warily brings Jupiter within striking distance of the she lycantant.
"What's your name?" Jupiter queries - short on words.
"Hunter 4-3-5-7-8. Those who know me call me Veyla."
"I can't process numbers righ...t now, so Veyla it is." Jupiter's words start to slur. "I wasn't born into privvvilege. Even after I became an entitled to save my world...from harvessst, I went back to cleaning hou-ses for the priv-ileg-ed. Ha-ve y..you ever cleaned a toi-let?"
Veyla shakes her head and turns her bruised face away. The words are hard to believe. Finally, she says to Caine, "Put your queen down, she's going to faint otherwise. I'll kneel to hear her judgment against me."
Jupiter whispers into Caine's ear as he picks her up and lovingly places her into the floating chair. Veyla makes her way unsteadily to her knees.
"Her Majesty would like to know if it was you or if you are covering for someone or being manipulated," Caine relays.
"Me alone, to pay the ransom for my pack. The Legion, as you are aware, does not pay ransoms."
Caine goes rigid. "Who gave you the bounty?"
"The same entitled who captured my pack and sold them to auction," Veyla looks truly tortured at having to answer.
"And you can't say who it is?" Caine pushes.
Veyla shakes her head as she bites her lip.
"There's no mark on your neck," Caine observes.
"I'm their unmated alpha." Her head hangs in defeat at the admittance. "I'd do anything for them." Raising her head to Jupiter she pleads, "Anything, Your Majesty," before exposing her neck.
Caine leans down to hear Jupiter's question, then decodes the gesture for her. "She's offering you her life, Your Majesty and expects death for her actions. But hopes you will take mercy and free her pack who were not part of the attempt on your life."
Leaning again to hear Jupiter's words, he nods as he answers, "Yes, that makes me Alpha too." ... "It can't be helped. But that's very appropriate. And no, it's not necessary to sell Your Majesty's wardrobe. We're not without means or connections. And we can't have Your Majesty parading around naked in public - in private is another matter." His teasing causes her a fit of giggles and she puts her hand up. He continues unperturbed, "Is Your Majesty sure? Because we'll inherit the pack." Her exhausted look with a raised eyebrow says he'd better not ask again. "Consider it done," he concedes.
Jupiter smiles as her eyes close and she drifts blissfully into unconsciousness and her head bobs to her chest.
Caine moves into Veyla's space. "Hunter 4-3-5-7-8, stand and receive the sentence of Her Majesty Jupiter Jones of Earth."
The entitled part of the crowd is chanting "Justice!" over and over. The slice part of the crowd is booing and growling.
Veyla closes her eyes and turns her head in submission as Caine bares his fangs. When she feels them sinking deep into her neck and then releasing, she winces but remains still, expecting more. But there isn't more pain, just Caine cutting her bonds. She touches the bite mark with her hand as the realization sinks in, and collapses to her knees with wide eyed astonishment. The crowd is stunned into silence.
"Veyla, I deeply drew blood on you because you endangered my mate, and she had to make an extremely painful sacrifice to save me. I would have had no problem ripping your throat out. But Her Majesty is a Queen with a heart of gold. She'd been put through a similar situation, having to choose between her family and her planet. She knows you were forced into the attempt on her life. You will serve alongside your pack. As beta, you will be able to help them transition to new leadership. And Her Majesty's first order to you is to clean all the toilets in Her Grace Chouli's palace, then report back to her."
"But..." Veyla is still processing the event.
Caine towers over her. "Are you questioning your Alpha's judgment?"
"N... no." Veyla stammers. When she sees he's expecting something, she adds, "Sir."
"Then help me with this crowd. Her Majesty should be recovering comfortably, instead of passed out in a wheelchair."
Gathering Jupiter into his arms, Caine's ears twitch and his teeth grind when behind him, he hears the crowd's protests over a lack of justice and alternating ones over fairness for splices. He asks his beta, "Veyla do you feel your sentence is unfair?"
He receives a hearty, "Not at all, Sir!"
Dropping the tone of his voice, he addresses the entitleds, "It was an entitled who caused this mayhem in the first place. Rest assured, our pack will hunt this perpetrator. There will be justice - issued by an entitled."
Veyla checks with Caine as she starts clearing the way, "Sir, what is my new pack called?"
"That's yet to be determined, Veyla."
Her head tilts in confusion, then she sees the fresh mark on his neck and raises her eyes to the sky. "It was a close one for me wasn't it, Sir?"
"Very. Had Her Majesty not insisted on making me choose whether to be her consort or not before we came outside, she and I could have done little for you. It's a crazy ride with her - but it's worth every second." He pulls Jupiter in a little tighter to him and kisses the top of her head, making his way back into the building.
"Understood, Sir." Veyla shuts the broken door behind them and lets the guards close the gap so the trio can take shelter in the building.
Chapter 9: Pack
#Ivory Room, Jupiter is almost recovered
"That sounds so dark!" Jupiter fusses at the pack name Caine suggested. "What was wrong with the Jones-Wise pack?"
"There's nothing threatening about it. What about Jaeger Sigma Black Ops?"
"Why does it have to sound threatening? And who wants a name with B.O. in the acronym?" she counters.
"You can't name a military unit something like 'The Pink Fluffy Unicorns'! They won't be taken seriously! Come on, Jupiter..."
"Fine, then it's the Pink Fluffy Jaeger Sigmas," she sticks out her lip in a pout.
Caine gives her the pleading puppy eyes he knows melts her every time. Pointing to his expression, "Sometimes I think you disagree, just so I'll give you this look."
She pinches his cheek. "I can neither confirm, nor deny that accusation. But if I agree to keep disagreeing, would you keep looking at me that way?"
"Come here, you..." He wrestles her to him and drags her onto his lap, then nips her nose playfully as he explains, "This is a big change for the pack. They need a name they can be proud of after we retrieve them."
When she starts playing with his hair and kissing his newly tattooed alpha's mark, he has trouble remembering what the conversation was about. Whatever it was couldn't be as important as the here and now...
"I've got it!" Her exclamation totally derails him.
"Got what?" The headiness of her attention made his thoughts fuzzy.
"Jaeger Corps - the Shepherds, It says more of what they'll be!"
"Woman! How do you do that?" the exasperation is evident in his voice.
"How do I come up with good names? Well..." Her Cheshire grin is obnoxiously triumphant.
A feral growl substitutes for words until he can find the right ones. "How do you switch from being so into the moment with me to back to whatever it was?"
"You weren't thinking about names anymore - even though you'd just told me how important it was for the pack?" She leans back to see his face clearly, to be sure he's serious.
"You said I needed to be fully at your whim. That is EXACTLY what I was doing." He plays with her lip and pulls her back. "I think I like it though."
"Being at my whim?" She teases as she runs a finger down his nose.
Her annoyance makes him smirk with contentment - they're even now.
Shoving him and pinning his elbows back on the settee, she continues her mock tirade. "And you think I'M difficult?"
"Being at Your Majesty's whim is good..."
"Oh, NOW you're using the Your Majesty card?! Think that gets you a pass, buster?"
He lets her title drip like honey, "Your Majesty," and as he predicted it earns him a kiss of pardon.
#Pralt Auction House, Drastu System
Caine leads Jupiter and Veyla through the maze as quickly as he can. The pack is probably feeling rabid by now at the thought of being sold and left until last to be claimed. He hated to put them through it. But knowing Jupiter's tender heart, she wouldn't have handled seeing so many lives up for auction well at all. She would have tried to free every last one.
As it is, the extremely unconventional pack is growing in leaps and bounds. Five sargorn lizards joined yesterday. The day before two strigicanthrope owl men. Midweek it was three human teens with a falcothrope embryo they wanted to save. Caine wonders to himself how soon the pack is going to have before filling Chouli's palace.
A wicked stench fills the trio's nostrils as they make their way around corners and cages. The thought of the vast number of sentient beings that were held here, makes Jupiter ill.
Upon sighting the pack's holding cell, Veyla hangs back. She wants Jupiter and Caine as the new alphas to meet the group, before showing herself. It will strengthen their position in the pack's eyes - assuming Jupiter doesn't come across too soft. Veyla crosses her fingers and lifts her eyes to the ceiling to appease any deity that might listen.
Jupiter chose to wear conservative clothing that would show off her gold tattooed bite mark with Caine's initials. Seeing how the pack was treated, she's glad she listened to Caine instead of her tailor.
Caine takes her elbow before they round the last corner. "Remember what I told you. No insecurities right now. They're going to be feral and scared - very dangerous. Confidence or we lose them."
A moment of panic crosses her face and he caresses her cheek. "You can do this... Your Majesty."
"What is it about you saying those two little words, that makes me feel like I could do just about anything?" She gives him a quick peck, takes a deep breath and straightens her posture before striding out like she owns half the 'verse. Caine has to act quick or he'll look like he's an eager pup following her.
When they come in sight of the pack, the booing and cat calling starts. "Hoyty toyties spend a fortune to only forget us?" "Heard a prissy little royal bought us. You two must be the henchmen for her. We won't be bowing to some pathetic entitled." "There's only two of them and only one's seen military service. They won't last long. We can make a break for it." "I get the pretty one."
The filthy condition and gaunt faces shock Jupiter, but she sees their fierce pride. She tries on Caine's trademark steely glare before starting, "Your auction price has been paid in full. As to whom you will serve, that will be seen. I can put you right back on the auction block if it pleases me." She turns for them to get a gander at her tattoo. "What I've come to find out is if this ragtag bunch I see before me actually is the pack that pulled of that heist last year. I'm going to need the best of the best, and I'm not sure you're it."
A bulky black haired lycantant - more furry than Caine, pushes the others out of the way. "I'm Chymera, beta for the pack. Who are you, HUMAN?"
Caine crosses the distance to just outside of Chymera's reach. "She is Her Majesty Jupiter Jones of Earth. Because of her bravery and self sacrifice, I as her mate am here today. Upon capture your alpha told us of your plight. That incident sparked some serious growth for our pack - not even counting you pathetic lot."
Veyla's name and 'it can't be' are exchanged quietly before Chymera quiets them. "If what you say is true, our alpha is dead. And you two just traipse in here and think we'll happily follow you out of here. You've got another thing coming cubs. Go back to your mommas."
One of the females comes to the bars and thrusts out a lycantant pup toward Jupiter, "If Chymera won't be reasonable, take her. Please!"
Warily, Jupiter takes the crying child and ducks out of Chymera's reach as he lunges for her to try to keep his pack together.
"Freyl! Traitor! What have you done?" he rages.
"I gave my pup a chance! She's the only survivor of her litter!" she wails.
Jupiter addresses the female, "Freyl, she's beautiful. What is her name?"
Freyl sobs, "Kayda. Take care of my girl, Your Majesty."
Seeing Chymera raise his hand, Caine draws his pistol lightning fast and commands, "STOP RIGHT THERE CHYMERA! Lay a hand on her and you're dead."
"This is pack business, whelp."
"And Her Majesty and I are in charge of the Flying Wolves now. We thought you'd become part of the Jaeger Corps, but you're seriously making us reconsider. If you lay a hand on Freyl, I'll put you down myself." Caine levels the weapon at Chymera's chest.
Little Kayda can sense the tension and cries louder. Turning the baby from the scene, Jupiter kisses her head and watches Chymera raise his hands and back down.
"Chymera. If it's worth anything to you, Veyla is alive," Jupiter tries to switch his mental gears.
"She'd never allow us to be sold off," he argues.
"What if it was the only way she could save you? Her bounty attempt failed, and she was brought before me for judgment. Expecting death, she made a plea for her pack."
"You lie! She'd be here if she's alive!" Chymera starts working up his temper again.
"You blasted idiot Chymera! Your temper is why I never took you as my mate!" Veyla's reprimand booms from around the corner. "Her Majesty is telling the truth! She was exhausted from the excruciating process of donating her DNA to save her mate. But she chose to face a lynch mob crowd, against her mate's advice, in order to bring peace. I really did expect execution there as the royals in the crowd demanded justice for the attack I made on her! But she chose mercy after hearing why I did it." Veyla points to the red beta tattoo. "I will follow her whether you wretched excuses choose to or not!"
Hanging his head in shame, Chymera offers no retort in the stunned silence.
"Will you or will you not join our beta to become members of the Jaeger Corps?" Caine asks with finality.
Chymera mentally tallies the nods to him before answering for the group. "We will."
Caine hands a flask to Jupiter. "Your Majesty's constitution is still a bit delicate. Rinse your mouth out after each time."
Dubiously she takes it, "But, Caine, can't we give them the choice of a shower and meal first? That's what I'd want in their place."
Chymera tries to hold back a laugh, "You're a real priss Your Majesty."
Lowering her chin to level her glare, she hands off Kayda before she calls him out. "Chymera. Approach to receive your alpha's mark, before I assign you Veyla's punishment task. She hasn't had time to finish it."
Veyla goads him, "Go ahead and stand there you oaf. I'm tired of cleaning toilets."
"You made her do what?" Chymera is outraged.
"Nothing I haven't done myself, time and time again. For being slow, the chore is yours. Now, get your butt over here! You'll have to kneel for me to reach." Jupiter points at the ground and Veyla lets out a triumphant yip.
When he's done as he's told, and even leaned forward to make it easier for her, she gives him a good solid nip but not as much of one as she did for Caine. Then rinsing her mouth and spitting crudely, she slaps him on the arm and says, "Welcome to the pack. Atleast you don't taste as bad as the sargorns, no matter what you smell like. Now, outta the way for the others."
Chymera joins Veyla and with a submissive posture and sad eyes, asks her, "Why didn't you tell me? I thought I wasn't being hard enough on the pack, every time you looked at me with disapproval."
"I wasn't sure how you'd take it," she shrugs.
Absorbing the info, he observes quietly as the others are initiated into the pack, "What did Caine do to deserve such a hard bite?"
"Can't you see how proud he is of that mark with all the designs around each tooth indent? As you get to know them, you'll understand. She didn't ever want him to question that he's hers. Evidently, she had to work very hard to get it through his thick head." Veyla ribs him hard to make her point.
Caine and Jupiter try to make quick work of the pack initiation.
When it's Kayda's turn, Freyl takes her right up to Jupiter with no reservations. Caine steps away from his line of initiates and intercedes when he sees the concern on his mate's face. Deftly pinching a nerve in the little one's neck, he explains, "She won't feel a thing."
Despite the wooziness, Jupiter gives the tiniest of nips, and Veyla reaches over with a topical pain reliever before Caine lets go. Freyl looks with pride and awaits her turn. Jupiter is thankful Freyl's the last one. She almost didn't make it through marking the baby.
As she rinses for the last time, Caine wipes his mouth on his sleeve and pulls her to him and cradles her head in the crook of his neck. "Your Majesty looks a little pekid."
She just nods into his shoulder. The tension, the stench, and the horror of the facility took their toll on her.
"This might make it easier," he murmurs before sweeping her up like he did in the skyscraper in Chicago. Nuzzling her forehead, he offers her comfort. "You were a real trooper. The worst is over."
Caine turns his head and barks, "Jaeger Corps, Fall in! Her Majesty and I have business in another galaxy. Veyla, double time them to the ship. The pack needs food and showers."
Sidling comfortably into his arms she shares an observation. "I do believe your swagger has officially returned."
#Orus Media top story - Abraxas Forfeits
'His Majesty Titus Abraxus drops his suit against Her Majesty Jupiter Jones, the reincarnation of his mother, as his company's profits soar and her popularity does the same'
"Continuing the lawsuit would be counterproductive. Her Majesty and I came to an agreement that benefits us both. Besides, it just seems wrong to be suing her..." - Titus Abraxus
Her Majesty Jupiter Jones could not be reached for comment. Rumor has it that she's just gained an entire pack of lycantant in her following. Unheard of for a human monarch.
#The HMS Alley-Oop - Stinger's new ship
"They're taking shifts in such an orderly fashion. There's no arguing over who goes first." Jupiter shares her surprise with Stinger after she retired from the mess hall. Caine stayed to dine with his new pack members.
"Your Majesty, it's pack code. They have a definite rank and know their places. But the leaders who go first, also are very careful to make sure the last ones have enough. The pack always watches out for its own. All for one and one for all and that kind of thing. They're also nosy as hell. Don't expect an ounce of privacy."
While Jupiter rests in the cockpit, Caine is bombarded with questions and tries to return as many as he gets - hoping that he and the group will be comfortable with each other soon.
"Is your mate so tired because she's expecting a litter? I can help her through it," Freyl innocently starts off with one of the hard questions.
Caine sputters, trying not to spit out his mouthful of food. He knew the pack would be overly personal, but this is going to take some getting used to. The reaction earns him catcalls.
"Err... not yet." His voice is barely audible. "She's not quite recovered and Her Majesty's traditions are a little different from ours."
"After a possessive bite like that, you two really haven't?" the voice from the back speaks the question they were all thinking.
Veyla sees she's needed as beta to deflect for her alpha - AGAIN. "After the difficult DNA donation, she pushed herself beyond her limits to save everyone of us. Doc gave Caine and I strict orders to help her rest. We're headed to their wedding on her home planet. Entitled have to have everything 'official'. Doc says Her Majesty will be fully recovered by the time we arrive." But she can't resist giving Caine a bad time too. "Though, she confided to me that after the ceremony, she's not letting this guy out of her bed for at least three days. They have some catching up to do."
Slaps on the back, pounding on the table, and hoots and hollers only deepen the shade of crimson on Caine's face as he reflexively runs his hand through his hair. "She's worth the wait."
Back in the cockpit, Stinger remarks dryly to Jupiter, "They found out where we're headed. Just peachy. Now, I'll get to deal with a bunch of drunk lycantants on my ship..."
#A week later, in stationary orbit over Earth, stealth mode required
The video call to her family that she's back safe and has news for them went surprisingly well, considering that she shocked them with 1. She's getting married today. 2. She's marrying a non human alien with pointy ears and wings and in his customs they're already married 3. She's royalty 4. The event will happen in orbit on a spaceship 5. She has a large family of boisterous new brothers and sisters (all aliens) to introduce to her Earth family 6. Her alien sister, Veyla, is coming in a ship to retrieve them for the wedding 7. She has a very dear and powerful friend who owns entire galaxies who will be attending AND 8. Well, they aren't ready for 8 (that she owns Earth).
The whole affair is a simple Earth style wedding. Zjule expertly modeled her dress after her mother's wedding picture, adding just the right amount of modern flair. Titus sent his camera crew to cover the wedding as a gift. The sargorns are proud as peacocks to be included as the ushers. Stinger is the officiate (captains can still provide matrimonial services). Chouli is the maid of honor, and actually dresses down to not outdo Jupiter's simple style. Veyla helps little Kayda throw the flowers, though several are eaten in the process.
Uncle Vassily tearfully gives her away and Caine is completely gob smacked as he watches his queen walk up the makeshift aisle to him. Stinger keeps the vows simple knowing that the couple is too ga-ga over each other to be able to get through complete sentences. Inscribed on their glowing ring bonds is "Heart of my heart" in Cyrillic and the Earth date of their wedding. When they're pronounced man and wife, Caine dips her deeply and covers their kiss at first with his wings.
"I need to warn you about something," he pulls her aside before they head to the galley for the reception. "I won't get to carry you over the threshold. The pack has a tradition."
"Uh oh." Jupiter grimaces.
He stuffs his hands in his suit pockets and shuffles his feet. "Uhm... yeah. The pack puts the female to bed. Then they toss the male in the room and lock them in together. They won't let us out until..."
"You're not serious?... Oh, you are..." Jupiter's jaw drops and she doesn't know whether to laugh or run.
"Yep... Though, I've bribed Stinger to shoo them off our honeymoon yacht after we're locked in. It's covered," his look is reassuring now.
She grabs his lapel and pulls him into a deep kiss, then adding "It better be..."
To Jupiter's surprise, at the reception the pack and her Russian family get along as if they'd known each other all their lives. Vassily gets to brag about his time in the KGB and eagerly listens to their war stories, as he shares his 'good stuff' Vodka. Vladie is stuck with babysitting (as lowest in the pack). Jupiter's mom is ecstatic to have an instantly larger family and gives each and every one of the 20+ pack members the traditional kisses on each cheek. But with Caine, she is so happy to have a son-in-law who loves her daughter, she can't seem to stop kissing him in welcome.
When it's time to leave, the happy couple heads to the ship that Chouli gave them. Her protégé needs to be able to travel in style.
The pack does indeed live up to their threat, but Jupiter is relieved it's just the ladies helping her out of her dress.
Wearing only boxers and an ear to ear stupid happy grin, Caine is hurled in onto the bed with her and the door is bolted behind them.
Veyla raps on the door, and hollers "Get to it you two!" Then they hear Stinger reciting a 'law' he just made up on the spot about entitled privacy to get the pack off the honeymoon ship. The pack can join them for breakfast the next morning.
Poor Stinger, his ship - his pride and joy, is now the party barge for a bunch of rowdies. To keep the pack occupied and hopefully out of trouble, Caine and Jupiter left them with a boat load of nerf guns as a surprise.
#4 Weeks Later - Danchu Palace
Jupiter spots Caine and Chymera in conversation outside Caine's doorway. After throwing his hands into the air, Chymera vents his frustration by slamming his fist into the wall.
Despite knowing Caine can defend himself perfectly well, she can't help being drawn to his defense. Caine puts his hand on Chymera's shoulder in support, when she's spotted. She's committed now, and it's not even the fight she thought it was. Maybe some of that pack nosiness will actually come in handy?
"Chy, is everything ok?" Jupiter asks, even more concerned now that she sees how upset he really is. But he avoids her gaze.
"Ever since the auction house, Chymera's been trying to prove himself to Veyla. He was asking how we dealt with courting," Caine speaks for his distraught pack member.
"And you were telling him about how you swept me off my feet, then treated me like I had some dreadful plague?" Jupiter ribs Caine good naturedly.
"Hey! It wasn't like that! We found out you're royalty," Caine defends his actions.
"Felt more like the plague..." Jupiter pouts then puts her head on his shoulder to let him know he's forgiven. Directing her thoughts back to Chymera, "I think it's how Veyla feels now too. She told me you've been avoiding her. Hard to prove anything to her like that."
Chymera hits the point of his dilemma, "But it's female's choice. She said back at the auction house why she didn't choose me."
"Chy don't be dumb here. She's not chosen anyone else and has seen how you've changed. She's waiting for you. Give the girl some flowers, write her poetry, talk with her, or whatever. Just do SOMETHING that will show her you think of her. She's as confused as I was." Seeing him fidget, she gives him a final nudge. "Don't make me give you a detailed plan of attack. Get your butt over to her! That's an order!"
Chymera looks to Caine for confirmation, who just reiterates. "You heard Her Majesty. Get to it!"
"Y...yes, ma'am!" Chymera sprints off with a look of wide eyed wonder.
Caine slips his arm around her shoulder and kisses the top of her head.
"Isn't it funny to watch them?" She leans in, reveling in the presence of her mate.
"Yeah. I felt just like him."
Giggling, she grabs his shirt collar. "I think we have some catching up to do because of that, Mister..."
He swings her around into his room and shuts the door behind them.
#10 Weeks Later
Caine and his betas have been drilling and training the pack ad nauseam. The hodgepodge Jaeger Corps pack is functioning as a cohesive unit. They've split the large pack into three specialized sections that complement each other and enjoy a friendly rivalry. Caine with the Black Shepherds (the intelligence branch), Veyla with the Red Shepherds (the Zero suit units-picked up from an Aegis auction), and Chymera with the Blue Shepherds (the Sargorn marines and aves light fighters).
Jupiter has been raising capital. Starting exports of coffee from Earth is tricky. She can't pull too much of the product off planet with out upsetting the balance. So her compromise is to sell franchises with the specific coffee process she likes best.
Thankfully, her second planet (won in a game of chess with Titus) is more modern and used to intergalactic trade.
After her pack was safe, Veyla was able to reveal the name of the one who blackmailed her into the foiled assassination attempt - he's only known as Deep Echo, who was forced to leave Earth after his cover was blown in Chicago. No one knows his real identity, but he's an industrial spy - for those seeking to profit from illegal harvest.
The pack has his scent now.
But that's another story, for another time...
Song for this story: Halo by Starset.