Tonight, she concentrated on the image of Jesse’s body trapping hers against the theatre wall, I thought I’d finally found someone who cared for me. Me, not the silly girl who works for Jill at the J occasionally or the superhero of G-force. A man who treats me with kindness and respect and listens to what I have to say. Jesse doesn’t just hear the words, he remembers them. I know we’ve just been friends up until tonight, but something changed in him. I could feel it. I enjoyed it. I wanted more of it. He focused on me.
The devil’s advocate, the sensible part of her intelligent and logical brain reared its ugly head. What about Mark? It asked. You’ve always had deep and abiding feelings for him. While he might not say anything, it’s the little things he doesn’t say that mean so much. It’s the reason you’ve never looked at anyone else.
But, the romantic girl, enjoying the foray into feeling loved and needed argued, I need more than a promise of years in the future. I’m eighteen and Kallan’s right. I have feelings and desires that need to be satisfied. If Mark is unwilling or unable to make any kind of commitment, then maybe I need to start looking elsewhere.
Jesse Rigel, Princess’s conscious supplied, is he really the one? Fifteen years older, much more experienced? He’ll eat you alive for breakfast. When you can’t please him anymore, he’ll move on to the next woman who catches his eye.
He understands my work, my hours, my drive to rid this planet of Spectra and he’s fine with that. Besides, I’ve looked him up on the ISO database. I know he’s capable of loving a woman enough to marry her. His first wife died in the same accident as his son. Unable to keep the internal dialogue going, Princess transmuted and pushed her machine to a higher speed.
‘What happened,’ Mark greeted her, softness in his tone Princess had never heard before.
‘Nothing,’ she stated, needing the comfort and warmth his outstretched arms offered. The unusualness of the gesture lost on her as the rest of her words became lost to a puddle of tears.
Feeling like a fraud, he’d listened to every word Jason said last week. Then he’d done his homework. Reading countess books, blogs and websites on women, romance and the psychology of love, Mark finally understood what the Condor meant. By some act of fate he been given the opportunity to start over with the woman he could finally admit he loved.
‘You wouldn’t be crying on my shoulder, Princess,’ he allowed a slight smile, ‘if it were nothing.’
‘I’m eighteen,’ she sobbed, ‘and tonight I finally thought a man who liked me might give me my first kiss.’
His heart thumping at this unexpected news, Mark moved them inside his shack. Sitting Princess down on his old, tattered couch, he fell into the seat beside her.
Pulling the woman back into his arms, he whispered, ‘You’re shivering. Do you need a blanket or cup of hot chocolate?’
That brought a sad smile to her face. Looking up, Princess asked, ‘do you even have the fixings for a cup of hot chocolate?’
‘That poor, struggling mail courier routine is getting old,’ he returned. ‘I only live here because it gives me room to keep my planes.’ Planting a platonic kiss on her temple, Mark reluctantly rose. ‘I’ll put the milk on then get you a blanket. When I get back, my ears are all yours.’
‘Mark,’ she called as he started to walk away, ‘what’s brought about this change?’
‘I’m not sure you’re ready for the answer to that,’ he allowed a sad smile to play about his lips.
‘Try me,’ Princess answered, bewildered.
‘Not tonight,’ he shook his head. ‘Tonight is about you, about how you’re feeling. I think a lot went on you need to talk about.’ Watching her astounded reaction to his thoughtful words, Mark took it a step further. ‘If you’d prefer, I can call Kallan or someone else if you don’t what to say anything to me.’
‘Would you mind,’ Princess allowed a serious expression to cover her features. His consideration astounded her. This wasn’t the intense, stoic commander she’d become accustom too.
With a sad smile and heavy heart, Mark acknowledged the request. Lifting his bracelet to his mouth, the Commander of G-force hailed Kallan. When she didn’t respond immediately, he tried again.
‘Mark,’ Anderson’s voice echoed over the open line.
‘Chief?’ stated the astounded Eagle.
‘Channel four,’ he stated before signing off.
Reaching for the remote, Princess turned on the screen. The media made quick work of arriving at the old theatre. Jesse stood, surrounded by a large crowd. Kallan and Dylan on one side of him, Grant and JJ on the other, the team might have enjoyed a night out together. All dressed in civilian clothing, they faced a barrage of reporters.
Turning up the sound, Kallan smiled for the camera’s, working them as she hung onto her husband’s arm. ‘It’s a hard for us,’ she glanced to the reporter who’d obviously just asked a question, ‘to cope with. Back at Acrology, only our families and closest friends knew.’
‘Why did you keep your marriage a secret?’ questioned a reporter.
The rest of the team watched on as Kallan worked the audience. When she finished answering their questions about her personal life, she stated, ‘I’m sorry, we have an early training session tomorrow morning. As you can appreciate, the team needs to be in top form.’
Together they moved off to a waiting car. Climbing in, both Mark and Princess noticed Jason acting as the driver. It ended the media circus.
‘I guess Kallan’s out,’ Mark lamented. ‘You’ll just have to put up with me.’
‘I guess I will,’ Princess answered, lost in thought.
Coming back with the blanket, Mark covered Princess’s legs. Placing the cups of steaming hot chocolate on his coffee table, the Eagle took a seat beside his friend and teammate.
‘Want to tell me what happened,’ he tried to keep the interested expression off of his face.
‘Not really,’ Princess sighed.
Feeling she owed him some kind of explanation, the Swan gave a brief synopsis of the events after the almost kiss. He didn’t make a comment even though she could see the story aroused his curiosity. Picking up the slightly cooled cups, they sat side by side sipping their drinks. Dumbfounded when the silence stretched on, she offered, ‘you surprise me.’
‘How is that,’ Mark asked.
‘I expected to get a lecture about being irresponsible for putting myself in that position,’ Princess confessed.
‘I considered it,’ he admitted, ‘until I saw your face. Whatever happened between you and Jesse before someone pointed him out must have caused those tears.’
Nodding dumbly, she couldn’t hold back the secret any longer. ‘I thought I’d get my first real kiss. I always wondered if it’d be you and me.’ A strangled half giggle, half sob lurched out of her throat.
‘You’ve fallen for Jesse?’ Mark asked quietly, reverently.
‘No, but I could,’ she confessed, ‘if we continued to see each other. He said,’ wiping the tears away, she managed to continue, ‘good bye tonight before pushing me away. I know it’s got nothing to do with the age thing. I could get over that.’
‘The publicity,’ Mark understood. Pulling her into his arms, he ensured the hold remained that of a brother comforting his sister. She’d lost hope tonight. Hope that someone saw her as a young, attractive, beautiful girl capable of being loved. ‘I’m sorry it’s turned out this way.’
‘Are you,’ Princess pulled away.
‘Not really,’ he sounded ashamed at the confession. ‘Jason’s been telling me what an idiot I am. I’m beginning to agree with him.’
‘Only beginning,’ she queried, the faintest smile lighting her face.
‘Afraid so,’ Mark returned the gesture with a shy grin. ‘Do you want me to drive you back to Jill’s?’
‘Do you think I could stay here tonight,’ she asked timidly.
‘If you’re sure you can put up with Jason raiding my cupboards in the morning for coffee,’ Mark mocked.
‘If it’s as good as you hot chocolate,’ Princess added, ‘order one for me. I didn’t know you could boil water or milk.’
‘That’s the problem,’ Mark lamented, ‘we live in each other’s pockets, yet we really don’t know all that much about one another.’
‘When,’ Princess asked, rising an eyebrow, ‘do we get a chance. As kids Chief Anderson scheduled our time to the minute with classes, martial arts, training and medical appointments. Then the war stated and we went active. Watching Kallan and Dylan cope with the fall out of their first combat, it reminded me how fragile we were at the beginning. Between missions we need to keep our cover stories. Without Jill to make sure “the block” remains free of anyone snooping, out covers might have been blown a long time ago.’
‘Don’t you wonder,’ Mark couldn’t help the whimsy, ‘wondering what we’ll be doing after this war is over. It’s not like we can convert to a rescue team like the Thunderbirds. Terra will always need them, but G-force, we’ll be defunct. The ISO will want to turn this land into something else. Everything we’ve worked for will be gone and our cerabonically enhanced skills useless.’
‘Jason,’ Princess commented astounded, ‘must have had a lot to say to you?’
Shaking his head, he couldn’t tell her it’d been Grant, the way he handled Security Chief Anderson that finally made him see the light. ‘I’ve grown up in the last three weeks.’ Sighing he put himself out there. ‘Let’s just say, when you’re in danger of losing the thing you care the most about in this world, it makes you take a long hard look at yourself.’
Nodding agreement, Princess took the cup out of Mark’s hand. Placing both of them on the table, she returned to her place at his side. Not feeling as bad about Jesse and the disastrous night they shared, she snuggled up to her Commander. Moving slightly to make them more comfortable, he didn’t care if Jason walked in on them in the morning. For now he had the woman he’d always cared about in his arms.
‘Good night, Princess,’ Mark sealed his promise to wait until she felt ready with a light caress of her dark locks.
‘Night Mark,’ she responded sleepily, warm and comfortable in his arms. In the back of her mind an imp whispered this felt much better than the moments she spent in Jesse’s embrace earlier the same night.