The Gift


Brian W. Antoine

October 31, 1993

"Boss, would you please stop pacing back and forth. You're acting like a cat in a cage that's too small."

"Not a cat, a wolf." Penny's comment completely broke my train of thought, so I plopped down on the couch and tried to relax. "The least you could do is get my totem correct." I hadn't felt this nervous since I'd climbed into the back of that camper years ago, when I'd left home to go to college. The butterfly's in my stomach had long since given way to starships with heavy weapons.

I looked at my watch for what had to have been the third time in the last minute. I had once again agreed to escort Kalindra around my world, on the one night when her presence would be least likely to cause a riot. She was supposed to have met me at 7:30 so we could head to the party that I had wrangled invitations to. I was now almost 8:00, and no sign of her. "Trust a female to be late. Are you sure she didn't send a message..."

"She's at the gate and signaling for you."

I swallowed, and felt the battle in my stomach kick into high gear as I stepped up to the gate and keyed it open. Standing there, looking like something out of an erotic dream, was Kalindra in her costume. I absently noted that she had decided to handle her own illusion this year as she stepped through the gate and snickered at the expression on my face. We had agreed to go as an Arab sheik and his exotic slave for our costumes this year. Looking at her as she stepped to the center of the living area made me think that erotic slave was a little closer to what she must have had in mind.

With a twirl that left silk veils floating in her wake, she turned and smiled at me. "You like? Penny helped me work out a few of the smaller details."

Smaller my ass. While her height was about the same, she had used an illusion to appear as a human woman. Her waist length hair was the same reddish brown of her normal pelt, and the figure that kept flashing in and out of view behind those veils was going to turn heads anyplace we went. Even the starships had screeched to a halt to watch her as she moved around the room.

"I think he's in shock Kalindra" came the snicker from the wall monitor.

She danced her way up in front of me and looked up into my eyes. "Soooooo... You like my costume?" she asked as she snuggled up against me. I was still in shock and couldn't respond. "You may be right. Maybe I over did it," she said as she twirled around me and back over to the living area. "He doesn't have any medical history concerning a weak heart that you should be telling me about does he?"

Finally, my brain kicked back into gear. "There is nothing wrong with my heart, but you just ruined seven months worth of eye surgery. Let me guess just what kind of advice my sister gave you on your costume." The two of them just giggled to themselves as I tried to reclaim my dignity. They had been planning this for several months, and I'd been set up royal.

"No guessing allowed, just relax and enjoy the evening. First of all, sit yourself down and open your present." While I sat down, Kalindra pulled a small gift wrapped box from beneath her veils and handed it to me. "I know it's a day late, but Happy Birthday."

I turned the box over in my hand and shook it gently before placing it up to my ear. "Isn't ticking and it's kind of small for a bomb anyway." I was shaking the box to see if it rattled, when I got swatted from behind.

"Quit playing with it and open it you big goof!"

I arched my eyebrows at her and started to peel the paper off of one end as slowly as I could. I could see her frustration growing as I took my own sweet time playing with the package. All those years of watching my cousin open Christmas presents was paying off. Finally, I removed the paper and smoothed it out on the table before turning my attention to the small box that remained. It was hinged like a small jewelry case, so I turned it around and opened it.

Inside was a small golden ring in the shape of a wolf. It was designed to look like the wolf had walked up and curled around something and gone to sleep. One of the wolf's eyes was open as if it was checking to see who had disturbed it's rest, and it sparkled in the light from the tiny ruby that stared back at me. The rest of the figure was antiqued to make it look almost life like. I'd been talking about having something like this made for quite awhile now. It seems someone had been listening.

When I looked back up at Kal, I was trying real hard not to show what I was feeling inside. The little wolf I held in my hands was perfect in every detail. Someone had gone to one hell of a lot of effort for a simple Birthday present. "Thank you, it's..." and my voice died in my throat.

"Penny, I think he's crying. Did I do something wrong?"

"I don't think you have anything to worry about. He reacts this way sometimes when he doesn't think anyone can see him. He's really quite emotional about some things. It's one of the reasons I keep him around."

I wiped my eyes on my costume. "I'm not crying. The lights are just turned up too bright in here and I caught some glare off this beautiful present."

"Yeah, right. And you have a bridge to sell me also?"

I glared at the screen on the wall and turned my back to Kalindra. Holding the little piece of jewelry behind me, I asked her, "Would you do the honors please?" She stepped up behind me and took it from my hand while she gattered my hair with the other.

"You're hair is still a little short for this. You're not eating enough vitamins or something again."

"Tough! It's a present, I love it, and I'm wearing it tonight. The first person to snicker gets a one way trip to Mars." I could feel her tugging on my hair as she gathered it into a short ponytail and closed the ring around it. When she had finished fussing with it, I reached back to take her hand in mine. "I mean it, thank you..." My training kicked in and I dove forward to come up with my shields ready to ward off an attack.

"What the hell?" Kalindra was still standing there, and looking at me like I'd grown an extra head. "Just who the hell are you?"

"What's the matter?"

It had registered on my sub-concious when I'd held her hand in mine and I was just realizing what had set me off. Illusions might be able to fool most of the senses, but they couldn't fool the sense of touch. That had been a Human hand I had touched, not a Velan. At the same time though, some deeper sense was telling me nothing was wrong. *Kalindra?*

*I'm right here,* she replied as she stared at me kneeling on the floor.

I didn't understand it, but I dropped my shields. There was no way to fake the mental signature I'd come to know so well over the years. "I don't mean to sound rude, but what the hell have you done?" She looked down at her hand and realized what had happened.

"Oh. Well I'd hoped it would be a surprise, but I wasn't expecting quite that kind of reaction. Penny and I thought you might enjoy the evening more if you didn't have to worry about someone seeing through the illusion that would have been protecting my identity."

I smelled a rat and her name was Penny, but now wasn't the time to say anything. "Would someone like to tell me what is going on here?" I suspected I knew what Kalindra had tried, and obviously succeeded in doing. The mental flexibility and effort needed to successfully shapeshift was something I'd never felt capable of messing with.

"Do you really want to know right now?" She stared at me and shifted her stance just slightly.

Now the costume, and the figure it alternatly tried to hide and reveal, made more sense. I could see now that those veils were going to be keeping me busy most of the evening. Penny had to have told her exactly what I thought my ideal women would look like. I was definitly going to have to talk with her about this tomorrow.

"I'd much rather we just enjoyed the evening and talked about this later. You promised to take me to a party, remember?"

I looked from her, to the wall monitor, and then back to her. "Ok, but somebody owes me an explaination before this night is over." I stood up and walked over to Kalindra. Now that I could pay attention to the feeling, I could feel the weight of my present pulling on my hair. It felt almost like I'd imagined it would, but was still going to take some getting used to.

"Fair enough. If by the time this evening is over, you still want an explaination. I'll tell you everything you want to know."

Somehow, that didn't make me feel much better. I had a nagging feeling that there were more surprises in store for me before this night was over and I was worried that I knew what at least one of them was going to be. Grabbing a cloak, I wrapped it around her shoulders. "Come on my princess, we have a party to attend."

"I thought I was to be a slave girl this evening?"

I reached back and straightened my little watch wolf. "You just got promoted," and I reached down with the other arm and grabbed her around the waist to hug her. "Hold on, one Holloween Party coming right up." She hugged me in return as I focused and we vanished into the night.

* * *

It had been quite a party and I wasn't feeling much pain as I lay down on the bench in Mark's back yard. I was resting my head in Kalindra's lap and humming a quiet tune to myself. Every once in a while, she would tickle my ear to let me know she was still there. It wasn't as if I needed much of a reminder.

The party had been thrown by an old college friend of mine named Mark. I had been to his parties before, and each one had had its own theme. This years party was rigged so that you had to beat one of the other guests at some trival game in order to get a drink. I'd played around guessing what was in sealed envelopes, and had 'guessed' correctly just often enough to make the evening pleasent. I'd also got my butt kicked at the dart board while Kalindra played cheerleader.

Velan's and alcohol don't always get along well, so Kalindra had settled for soft drinks and I'd had to kick her once when she started getting a little to good at 'guess what number I'm thinking of'. After that, she had switched to games of skill. With her dexterity, she'd had no problem getting a refill whenever she wanted one.

The party itself had been a trip down memory lane for me, and a chance for Kalindra to talk to several people I hadn't seen in years. She had made the most of her chance to find out what I had been like when I had been younger. A couple of my friends had gotten married, and most of the others had brought dates along. They were all kind of surprised to see me with someone, and I got a couple of comments to the effect that it was about time I came out of my shell.

I'd been right about her costume also. Several of the single, and even a couple of the married guys had tried to pick her up at least once. It was kind of fun to watch her reaction to their attempts, given what I knew of her own cultures' ideas on the subject. We had all gotten a surprise when she told one of the more obnoxious ones that she was willing to dance for him if he could beat her arm wrestling.

"I don't think this is a real good idea," whispered Mark as the two of us looked on. I looked back at him and snickered. "You don't know her the way I do. Jeff has bitten off way more then he is going to be able to deal with. If you want to warn somebody, warn him." The two of them had walked over to one of the tables and sat down nice and friendly. Jeff was being kidded by the crowd that had gathered, and Kal just kept smiling and ignoring everyone but Jeff. When they were ready, Kal turned and ignored Jeff so that she could stare straight at me.

"You call the start," and she continued to stare at me. I got the definite impression that this whole thing was for my benefit and she couldn't care less about poor Jeff. Jeff in the mean time had gotten a real smug look on his face and was telling his friends how much he was going to enjoy the dance. Kalindra damn near broke his arm when I smiled and said, "Go".

Whatever modifications she had made during the shapeshift, they had been surface only. Underneath that shapely little disguise, she had retained most of her natural strength and dexterity. Jeff never had a chance, and Kal wasn't feeling real generous with him after the crap he had been giving her. After that incident, Mark had pulled me aside and quizzed me about her.

"Where the hell did you manage to meet her?" We were both watching her win another refill by throwing darts backwards over her shoulder. "You were always the quiet type that needed a good shove just to get you to even go out with the gang on the weekends. Have you been holding out on us all these years?"

If he only knew. "Even us hermits have to leave our caves once in awhile. I met her by accident a few years ago. She needed help at the time, and I did my best. We've been good friends since then and she was in town for the holidays and wanted to enjoy herself. If I remember, she's leaving tomorrow to head home."

Kal had nailed the bullseye twice out of three throws. "And she's still single? Where the hell does she live, Antarctica?"

"Believe me, she's still single. No one seems to have caught her eye yet, and you saw how she deals with guys who try to force themselves on her." I nodded at Jeff who was still rubbing his arm as he watched her chatting with a couple of my friends. "Nobody makes her do anything she isn't already interested in doing."

"Well your crazier then the rest of us put together if you let her get away from you. The two of you seem to get along together, and I've heard some of the questions she's been asking about you."

"Yeah, I know," and I wandered off to try my luck at the video games.

It was a little after midnight, and the party was starting to wind down, when Kalindra leaned over and began to say something to me. Drunk or not, I recoqnized the introduction to the ritual I'd memorized during the last month. I startled her a little when I straighten up and put my finger to her lips to quiet her. I checked out Marks back yard, and sure enough there were about a dozen other guests still wandering around and enjoying the beautiful fall night and the full moon. She had her witnesses, even if they couldn't understand what she was saying.

"Before you go any further, I want you to be clear about one thing. While I certainly appreciate the effort and risk you went to for your disguise tonight. This is not the lady, who's cry for help started me on the greatest adventure of my life, and stood beside me to save her world. I love you for yourself, not what you might try to look like to please me." That said, I cast a short spell that simulated one hell of a fireworks display to draw everyone's attention away from where the two of us were sitting. While everyone was wondering just who had managed to stage such a display. I winked at her, cast a delayed version of the same spell just above where we were sitting, and teleported out. The last thing I saw was the look that appeared in her eyes as she realized what I had said.

* * *

My first jump was to my main lab. I figured I had a few minutes while she tried to find someplace out of sight of the people who would have been watching the fireworks. The librarian I had talked to had said that the duration of the chase was a sign of status with the Velan's. Ok, I planned on giving Kalindra a run she would remember as long as she lived. As soon as I appeared, I stepped up to my desk terminal and sent a message to my friend the librarian.

[You were right, the chase is on. Where do I send the money?]

That done, I opened the gate to Velar and stepped through it. Since the primary purpose of the chase would only have meaning on Velar, I was going to move the chase there. If I'd stayed on Earth, no one other than Kalindra and I would have ever know what had happened and that simply would not suit my ego. If she was going to ask me to become her mate, she was damn well going to have to work for it. At the same time, I wanted the people who would know what was going on, to appreciate it as only they could. With my next jump in mind, I stood on the Velan side of the gate and waited for her to appear. It took about 3 minutes before I felt the slight spacial twist that was the signature of her and Tan's method of teleporting.

"Over here! You're going to have to do better then that if you want to catch me. You getting slow in your old age?"

"I'll show you slow," and she leaped from a standing start, halfway across the lab and through the gate trying to catch me. Unfortunately for her, I vanished before she could grab me.

My first hop was to one of the central sub-shuttle stations on Velar. As soon as I appeared, I ran up to the dispatch desk. I got lucky in that the dispatcher on duty was male. "Quick, I need a small shuttle to Wilan, and I need it two minutes ago." The costume threw him off for a second, then he recoqnized me.

"What's the problem, you forget how to teleport?"

"Put it this way. In a minute or two, a short obnoxious and slightly pissed female is going to be after my hide, and I don't feel like being caught just yet." He gave me an odd look that said he hadn't understood me, but punched the request up and one of the single person cars worked its way over to the main loading area. I turned and started running for the car as I heard all hell break loose behind me.

"Where did he go? Brian, where are you, you plump hairless excuse for a half grown kit?"

I looked over my shoulder and spotted Kalindra working her way through the crowd towards me. She had reverted to her own shape and was looking quite pissed. The dispatcher spotted her also and I saw him realize why I had been in such a hurry. With a grin, he pointed at the car behind me and I saw him start to cycle the door closed.

"Get moving, I'll try to slow her down!"

The door was about half closed when I ducked inside, and it closed behind me a couple of seconds later. The car was just starting to pull away when Kalindra began to pound on the door.

"Come out of there right now! I've got something to ask you."

I put my hand to my ear and pretended I couldn't hear her. She had gathered a small crowd behind her as she had run to catch the car and they started laughing as they listened to her yelling at me. As the car pulled away, I sat back and figured out my next move. I had about 20 minutes before I reached Wilan, and teleporting into a moving shuttle car was damn near impossible. I had several options that I had scouted out during the last month and I ran through them in my mind as the shuttle dove beneath the planets' surface.

As expected, Kalindra was standing on the station platform as my shuttle pulled into the station. Of course, right behind it came two more shuttles, all radiating magic like the first had. All three pulled up to the platform and began to disgorge dozens of illusionary copies of me. I'd cast the same illusion on myself so I would blend in with the others. She was going to have to check out every one of us to find the real Brian.

I almost broke out laughing when dozens of Kalindra's began to appear all over the station and started chasing my illusions. I had the advantage in that I didn't have to watch everything at once, while she had to watch for me to be revealed by her search. Word of what was going on had started to spread, and the crowd that had gathered was loving every minute of it. I could hear them cheering behind me every time one of my illusions was captured. I'd programmed them to die in spectacular fashion when caught. I had just managed to duck through one of the exits when one of the Kalindra's tagged me and began to yell.

"Over here! He's right over..." and it popped like a soap bubble when I poked it. It was time for diversion number two and I could hear the crowd heading my direction as I worked. The spell was just kicking in when Kalindra ran out the exit with a small horde trailing behind her.

"So you've come to your senses and decided to stop," and everything went dead silent. It took her a second to realize what I'd done and I stood there and smiled as she sputtered in silence in front of me. Tradition said she had to ask me in front of witnesses. The field of silence I'd brought up eliminated all sound and kept her from asking me anything.

Unfortunately, I hadn't reckoned on her determination and imagination. If she couldn't talk within the zone of silence, she would just leave it. Since she needed to talk to me, I needed to leave it also and she reached over and lifted me straight off the ground by my costume. With me thrown over her shoulder and yelling for everything I was worth, she walked until we cleared the zone. "Help! I'm being kidnapped by a crazy lady!" The laughs from the crowd told my I couldn't expect much in the way of sympathy.

Still holding me in the air, she told me shut up and launched into the ritual. I let her get a minute or so into it and then reached down and tweaked her nose. "Ok, you won this round, but the game isn't over yet." With my destination clearly in mind, I teleported out of her grasp, leaving part of my costume behind. This little show wasn't going to be over until I was sure she understood what it meant to me, and I'd had my fun at her expense.

My next stop was my mountain home where I picked up a few things I might need later in the chase. Coming here was kind of unfair as there was nobody around to act as witness if she followed me. I intended to give her the chance she wanted, just on my terms. When I was ready, I teleported to the town square of her home town and waited. I wasn't sure how well she could trace my teleports, but I didn't think it would take long for her to find me. After all, the idea wasn't to avoid her, just to make it difficult for her. Sure enough, about a minute after I arrived in the square, she popped in about twenty feet away.

The moment she appeared, I took off at a run, screaming as loud as I could. "Help me, she's lost her mind! Somebody call the hospital and have them send over the shrinks!" Kal is a lot faster than me normally, but I wasn't playing fair. I was using a low level flight field to boost my speed as she tried to corner me. Finally, she pointed at a couple of ladies that had stopped to watch the chase.

"You two. Please grab him and hold him as he goes by."

"Wait a minute. This is suppose to be between you and me. No fair!" And in seconds, most of the female members of the crowd started blocking my path.

"There is nothing in the rules against it. I need witnesses, but they don't have to be idle ones."

I almost got cornered by a lady I recoqnized as the owner of one of the local shops. "We female's have to stick together you know. No hard feelings?"

I snickered and decided to change the rules yet again. Reducing my weight with the flight field, I jumped over her head and landed about twenty feet up in one of the trees that lined the square. "Nope, none at all. I'll just have to be sure to help out the next helpless male that you decide to add to your collection. We men have to stick together also." Kalindra was standing below the tree and waiting to see what I was going to do next. When I seemed to staying put, she started her little speech again. With a clear view of the spot behind her, I teleported there, grabbed her arm, teleported to the other side of the square, released her, and teleported back into the tree.

"Funny, where did she go? I guess she changed her mind." About that time she started screaming from the other side of the square and ran back over to the base of my tree.

"That was not funny!"

The crowd thought otherwise. Since the ritual speech had been interrupted, she had to start over again. I let her get to about the same spot as before and teleported behind her again. It was a mistake.

"Gotcha!" And she held me tight with her arms wrapped around me. She had been waiting for my teleport and had spun the moment she had detected it. "You can quit struggling, you aren't going anywhere."

Unfortunately for me, there was a good chance she was right. She had a solid enough hold on me that I wasn't going to teleport without taking her with me. Breaking her hold wasn't an option either. I'd seen her in action once this evening and this was her way of making sure I'd understood the lesson. Since I couldn't break free, I had to make her let go of me. Softly, so only she could hear me, I asked her to "Please let me go."

"Not until after I ask you something." Now she started the ritual again and we must have had about 50 people standing around acting as witnesses. I tried to break her concentration, but she just stared me straight in the eyes and worked her way through the ritual. The only reaction I managed to get from her was a slight pause when I bent over and bit her gently on the nose.

"You're going to be difficult about this aren't you." She just ignored me and continued. I didn't have much time left, she was about three quarters of the way through the ritual and I was going to have to answer her in front of everyone. Then the little voice in the back of my head came up with an idea. Expanding my flight field, I started to lift us both off the ground. The moment we began to move, Kals eyes dilated completely. "I'm sorry to have to do this, but I would like a few minutes by myself to think about this one last time." As we lifted about six feet off the ground, she released me. The moment I was free, I focused and teleported to one of the few tall buildings on Velar.

I really did need a moment to myself. I'd thought about this all month after it became obvious what she was up to. I was pretty sure what my answer to her question had to be, but I wanted one last moment to think it through again. No matter what I said to her, my life was never going to be the same again.

The tower I was sitting on top of was one of only three buildings on Velar that was over one story high. This one was the monument built when the Velan Central Library had been dedicated over 6 thousand years ago and stood about a hundred feet high. I was sitting on the walkway that ran around the top of the tower when I heard a commotion in the courtyard below me. I looked over the edge to see Kalindra looking up at me.

"What the... How did she find me here?" I got my answer when the little wolf holding my ponytail together moved and spoke to me. "You can run, but you can't hide." Jesus, no wonder she'd had no trouble tracking me as I moved around. She'd bugged me with my own present! I yelled down at her as my golden friend snickered to itself behind me.

"Now that's cheating!"

"Possibly, now come down here!"

"Give me a moment, I haven't finished working things out in my mind."

"Tough, no male is ever sure when his time comes." All the yelling had drawn a small crowd of the various people who had been using the library. "Now come down here and talk to me."

I didn't answer her right away. Rather I leaned back against the tower and listened to the female who wanted me for her mate as she yelled at me. She was right. Even now I wasn't sure just what I was going to say. I never got a chance to think it over because a second later Kalindra flickered into existence on the walkway beside me.

I'm not sure what made her do it, she had to know she wouldn't have been able to function that high above the ground. I was staring at her in shock and could see her eyes rolling back in her head as her surroundings registered on her. As I sat there, she went catatonic with fright and fell backwards off the side of the tower. I didn't even think as I dove over the side after her.

A hundred feet isn't really very high and I was acting on a combination of training and the over-riding need to save her as my partially formed flight field got me beneath her. I hadn't even started to slow us down when I hit the ground going full out. I hadn't quite passed out when I felt Kalindra slam into me from above.

* * *

I woke up in what looked like a hospital room, staring at a familiar face. "Hello Wythdantis, good to see you again." She just snorted in disgust and went back to what she was doing.

"Why is it that the only time I get to see you and Kalindra together, one of you has tried to kill the other. I would think you would either get it out of your systems, or succeed and be done with it."

I gave her a weak smile. "I don't think killing each other was exactly what we had in mind tonight. So Kalindra survived the fall?"

"Why don't you ask her yourself," and she nodded her head at the other side of the bed.

I tried to turn over, but had to settle for turning my head. What ever I had broken this time, it had made a mess of my insides. When I managed to get turned, I found myself staring into a set of bright green eyes. At every little groan I made, her ears tracked like a couple of tiny radar dishes. "Hi," and I grimaced as my entire rib cage lit up like it was on fire.

"You stupid nut," and she cradled my head in her hands. "Of course I'm all right. I had something soft to land on thanks to you."

"I'm going to have to stop doing that, it's getting a little hard on the old bod here." I faded for a moment, and when I opened my eyes she was still looking at me like she was trying to see inside my soul.

"I don't think you can. The day you stop worrying about me, will be because you are dead."

I could see her starting to cry as she talked. "Wrong, it will be at least a week after that before I stop." Still looking into Kalindra's eyes, I spoke to Wythdantis. "So how long to put me back together this time?"

"I would guess a week or so. The witnesses said you were still accelerating to get beneath Kalindra when you hit the ground. If you haven't figured it out yet, your back is broken on top of what you did to your insides. It's going to take a couple of sessions a day for the next few days to knit everything back into place and regenerate the nerves. I've got to go over some of the text books on human anatomy you donated to the library and figure out how to put you back together."

"Sounds like I'm not going anyplace for awhile," and I stared straight into those eyes that were watching me so closely. "I believe you had something you wanted to ask me? You're never going to get a better chance." The smile I got did more to make me feel better than all the healers on the planet. Setting my head back on the bed, she scanned the room to see who all was present. I wasn't real mobile, but I counted at least three people besides Kal and I, and even spotted one of Penny's remotes hanging up in the corner of the room.

"So they called you in too huh. Did I do good?"

"I've been watching most of the time when you were within range. That was quite a dive you took off the tower. I'd have to rate it a ten on almost any scale I could use."

Counting Penny, and she counted as far as I was concerned. There were just enough people present to act as witnesses as Kalindra stepped to the foot of my bed. She tried to start through the ritual, but had to stop to wipe her eyes. Then she started again in a clear voice.

"I Kalindra, being free of all obligations,

do declare in front of these witnesses,

my intention to establish a new family among my people."

"Such honor and strength as I possess,

I now use to defend this decision,

against all those who might speak against me."

"A new family requires two people

to speak for it at its beginning."

"Each shall be mate to the other,

and as such should be equal to the other

in honor and strength."

"The actions of each shall reflect on the other,

and the honor of the family will depend upon them both."

"At this time, I have selected the male

that I wish to share my honor, and my life with."

"I believe him to be worthy of both

the honor I wish to share with him,

and the love I have for him."

"This male will be Klizach of the family,

and as such will be as a father to my children."

"He shall be held above all other males in the family,

and shall rule in my absence as well as at my side."

"To him and only him,

do I now offer my honor,

my love,

and my life."

As she finished, she bowed her head and waited for my answer. I had memorized the words, but that still hadn't prepared me for hearing them spoken with me as the focus, or the intensity Kalindra had given them. She had also changed the ritual slightly to make it fit the fact we would never have children of our own. None of the witnesses made any comment on the change, and were staring at me as they waited. Clearing my throat, I started my reply. The moment I began, Kal's head snapped up in surprise. I don't think she expected me to know the formal reply.

"I Brian Antoine, being free of all obligations,

do declare in front of these witnesses,

my acceptance of the establishment of a new family."

"This female have I listened to,

and found to be both honorable,

and worthy of such a task."

"Such honor as I have,

and such strength as I possess,

I now dedicate to that family."

"At her wish,

I now accept the role of Klizach,

and pledge to defend the family with my life."

"Let no person come between me,

and she who will be my mate."


let those who would harm our children,

be ready to pay for such actions at our hands."

"Now let my mate chose the family name,

that it may be added to the records of your people."

"To her and only her,

do I now offer my honor,

my love,

and my life."

My voice had given out towards the end, but the person I'd meant it for had heard every word. I struggled to stay awake, but I could tell I was going to lose the battle shortly. Meeting her gaze, I lost myself in her eyes. Feeling safer than I had at any other time in my life, I smiled, said a final "I do", and slipped into a deep healing sleep.

In the heart of my soul, a tiny emerald spark of fire flared into existence. As I slept, a small voice whispered to me that I had nothing to worry about. I would never be alone again, so long as she lived.