For the first time in weeks – since his father had been killed – Princess had Mark in a place where he couldn't run away from her.
Zark had said Colonel Cronus had ejected safely, but nothing had been heard or seen – and no escape pod had been found.
She had watched Mark's stress levels grow. Professionally, he had been fine, but personally... He hadn't come near Jill's place for days. When she had been rescued from the flowers, he had almost been off hand – and yet Jason had told her he had tried to suicide.
After Changu – well, he had just vanished. Princess had been out to his place almost every day at various different times only to find it silent, his plane gone. They had seen him only when Anderson had requested their presence – which was, in a way, how they came to be here now.
Another hit from a missile caused the building to come loose, and they went tumbling into a wall which then became a floor. Mark caught her and cradled her against him as they fell.
"You OK, Princess?"
"As good as I could be. I'd rather not be here at all," she said, then grinned impishly. "Even considering the present company."
His laughter was good to hear – despite the circumstances, it was genuine amused laughter. To her deep disappointment, he shifted so that they were sitting back to back.
"Oh, I don't know. The present company I think makes up for a lot of the bad bits."
Princess wished she could have seen his face when he said that. They sat quietly for a while and they felt the building fall further.
"Do you think Anderson got out?" she asked.
"I hope so. The door to the file room is closed and I couldn't get it open. I have to assume he got out in the last sub – the one that left from C dock."
"Could I help you try?"
She felt him shake his head. "It's a cutting job – and I don't have anything to cut with. If Jason can get here in time we can use his gun."
Princess took a deep breath. If. Not when. She felt her chest tighten with fear. For the first time she realised that they might not get out of here. "You don't think they'll arrive in time, do you Mark."
"No. It doesn't look that way, Princess," he said slowly. "I've sent a homing beacon, but we've shifted a lot and I have no idea if we're on top or under rubble or even if they can get to us."
"It's been good working with you, Mark." She shifted her hand and their fingers touched. He moved his and they entwined. "You know I liked you best of all."
His fingers tightened on hers and he turned, pulling her to face him. "Same here," he whispered.
"Mark? I'm sorry about your father. I didn't mean to just blurt it out like that. But..." Her voice was hesitant, and he could hear the compassion in it and the sorrow for the pain she had caused him.
"I'm glad you did, Princess," he said squeezing her hands reassuringly. "You at least had the guts to tell me." He smiled again, a sad smile this time, and traced his finger down her face. "You've got more guts than the rest of us, you know. I just with I was as brave."
"But you are. Time and time again, you do what needs to be done. You do things that take courage all the time Mark. And when you get shot down, you get back up again. That takes real courage." She put her free hand on his arm, her voice vibrant with her belief in him, desperately trying to convey to him that he was worthy.
"When I needed it, Princess, I didn't have it. I know you've been trying to find me. I've been watching you from a distance. I didn't have the courage to face you. To face your kindness." He dropped his head as he spoke, unable to meet her trusting eyes; ashamed of his own actions.
"You can't keep it bottled up inside you, Mark. That sort of grief needs to be let out otherwise it will fester like a boil, and all you'll have is poison in there."
He understood what she was saying, but couldn't help shaking his head. "I know. I just… After all you've been through these past weeks; I couldn't put that burden on you with everything else."
"It's not a burden, Mark. Not to somebody who loves you."
He looked up. Her voice had been almost a whisper, but he had heard her. As her eyes met his, the expression in his eyes made her catch her breath.
"Do you mean that? I've hoped… Wanted… I've loved you for so long, Princess." Mark's voice cracked with emotion and he drew her closer; she willingly went into his arms.
"I mean it, Mark. I can't remember a time when I didn't love you." This time it was her turn to caress his face. "I hate it when you're hurting. Not when I can help you bear the hurt. Please, Mark. Let me help you." Her green eyes were earnest, fixed lovingly on his face. Her body was soft against him, yet he could feel the inner steel that held the heart of G-Force together.
It was her loving face that undid him. All the pain, the agony he had felt since the war started. The fear that he had fought down came out.
"How could they, Princess? How could they send us? How could they make us responsible for all those lives? We're only 18, and yet they expect us to keep them safe. I'm not sure if I can keep doing it."
"I know. It's the same burden we all carry, Mark."
"None of you are Eagle. They... Anderson... I'm the Commander. It's my responsibility." His voice was harsh with deep emotion, and she put all the compassion into her voice that she could.
"You need to share that, Mark. You know that we're all behind you. We want to help you. Jason doesn't want your job. He just wants to take some of that burden off you. Start here, Mark. Let me take some of your grief. Talk to me." Her hands stroked his shoulders, his hair.
He shuddered and a moan came from deep inside him as he buried himself in her loving embrace. "He lied, Princess. Anderson lied to me. All my life, he lied. How can I trust him? Why didn't Cronus ever say anything to me?" In his tone was the wail of a small child demanding answers.
"I don't know Mark. I haven't got those answers. Perhaps, when all this is over, it's something you can ask the Chief. I think… Anderson does love you. To him, you're the son he never had. Perhaps he was afraid of losing you if he did tell you the truth. After all, you did have a habit of forgetting everything and running after Cronus whenever he appeared on the scene. Her stroking hands were loving, calming and because of that calmness, his next words were steadier.
"I think… I think deep down, Princess, I knew Cronus was my father. That somehow, I recognised him."
"Perhaps you did. Cronus was so proud of you, and yet I think he resented you and the Chief. You were doing what he couldn't – and you had succeeded in what you did without his guidance. Sometimes, you know, when I saw his face, I could see he was bursting with pride at you. I couldn't understand it at the time, but now I can."
"All I ever wanted to do was see my father. To ask him if I made him proud. And I never did. I never had time." She could feel his body shaking as he sobbed, and his words were nearly incoherent. She could feel his hands on her leg, clasping and unclasping – almost painful and yet his very touch seemed to fire a need in her.
"Like I said – you didn't need to ask. He was. And in the end, he was so proud of you that he knew he couldn't let you make that final sacrifice. He had to do it himself to leave you free to do what you needed to. And he would need to know, Mark that you did grieve. That you didn't let any resentment fester. I think that your father would want to know that you were proud of his sacrifice, and that you gained strength from that."
"I am proud of him, Princess. He didn't hesitate to do what had to be done. I hope that if I'm called upon that I'll be as brave."
"Stop that! Mark you are just as brave. You have been called upon. Time and again, you've been called upon to put your life second. And each time, you step up without faltering." Her voice rang with certainty and gave him strength.
He raised his head, his face tear streaked, but his face was once more strong and resolute. From her own strength, he had started to regain his. "And each time, you've been there. My reason for coming back."
He took her hands again but this time raised them to his lips, kissing the palms. "You still are. In the last month, I've wanted to kill myself several times. Once, when you were captured, I was forcibly stopped by Jason and Tiny. And the other times, since my father died, it's only been the thought of leaving you behind that's stopped me."
He could see the horror in her eyes at his confession. "I'm glad. If you had died," Her own voice cracked this time. "If you had died, Mark, I wouldn't have been able to go on myself."
"And now here we are together, waiting to die."
Her hands in his trembled. "I don't want to die, Mark. Even with you. I don't want to die. Not yet." This time there was a note of panic in her voice.
"Neither do I. I can't help feeling we've been gypped, Princess. Why is it that just as we find each other, we're going to loose again." He laughed a little hysterically. "I haven't even kissed you."
"I've never been kissed." She blushed at the confession.
"Never? Gorgeous girl like you?"
"You're the only one I ever wanted to kiss me. Or make love to me. Why should I settle for anything less than the person I love?"
"Can I? Kiss you?" Mark traced her bottom lip with his thumb. "Please Princess."
"Yes," she breathed, leaning closer to him. "Please, Mark."
It was as light as a feather at first. They could feel each other's breath more than anything else. He closed the distance and their first kiss happened. First, it was a tentative brushing of lips, then a harder pressure. Arms tightened into an embrace, mouths opened as they tasted each other.
Neither wanted it to end.
They parted briefly, only to come together again, this time with more sureness and with a growing passion. This time, bodies pressed closely, hands caressed and they were both aware of each other as they never had been before.
Removal of clothing that seemed extraneous was natural, kissing and caressing of bare skin absolutely necessary. Neither felt as if they were rushing anything – they had loved each other for so long, known each other for so long, that their mutual unspoken decision to go further than kissing was everything they wanted.
Finally, they lay, naked in each others arms. Both gazed and touched the other, there was no awkwardness only a deep contentment that this had finally come to pass.
"Yes?" She smiled up at him, her hands running up and down his sides, his chest, loving the feel of his warm skin over steel muscles.
"I have a confession."
She looked perplexed and a flash of fear went over her face. Ws this the moment he'd reject her?
"I've never done this before." She certainly hadn't expected that!
"I don't understand, Mark."
"Well, when have I had time? And all I've ever wanted is you."
She frowned. "I thought… Well, guys, you know… And Jason certainly found time…"
This time he grinned widely. "Are you so sure about that?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? I mean his reputation…"
"Oh yes. Definite in fact."
She giggled, and he found himself getting aroused by her body moving against him. He leaned down and kissed her again. "I would have preferred…. Princess, I wanted this to be perfect for us. I dreamed about it. This seems so…"
She stopped him with her finger and kissed him. "Perfect. This is perfect, because it's you. Perhaps if we get out of it, we can make the dream, Mark. But right now, right here is perfect." She smiled. "And if we make a mess of it, then there's only us to know. But I'm sure of one thing – if we stop now, we may never get another chance. Please, Mark. I love you so much, and my body feels like it's on fire for you. Please. Don't stop now."
He kissed her again, deeply, lovingly. "I love you, Princess. And stopping now, well I'm not sure I can. Please, forgive me if I hurt you."
"Already forgiven." She moved her hands, touching him in the most intimate areas, loving the moans that she was able to elicit. "And we'll work this out together. Whatever happens, I love you."
They kissed again and this time they shifted so she was under him, her legs parted and her eyes full of love and trust.
Hesitant, fumbling he entered her. It did hurt, but she didn't let it show, her entire face focused on his, giving him all her love, all her trust, and taking from him some of the hurt he carried.
Their loving, they realised many years later, wasn't great. It wasn't even mediocre. Inexperience, fear, and an uncomfortable situation don't make for good sex. It was a start, though, and for the two involved at that time and place, it was perfection.
In that start, Mark let some of his hurt leave him, replaced by the loving of the woman with him. In the end, they lay holding each other tightly, hearts beating faster, bodies aware of each other in a way that they never had been before.
"I don't regret death, Mark," she whispered. "As long as we die like this."
They kissed deeply, bodies entwined, hands caressing, until a chirp from their bracelets sounded.
"Mark? Princess? We're in!" Jason's voice sounded triumphant. "Send me a signal so I can get a lock on you then Keyop and I will come to get you out."
Mark leaned in and kissed his lover even as he sent a location chirp. "Cavalry's arrived, sweetheart."
She returned his kiss and snuggled closer. "I almost wish..." she began regretfully.
"I know." He sighed and started to dress, as did she. "There's only one way they can get in here, Princess. We had best go meet them." He smiled lovingly as she put the last of her clothes on, then put his arm around her and together they walked towards the one water-filled opening.
The pair knelt down and peered through the water. "It's amazing how clear it is," marvelled Princess. Mark nodded.
"I'm going to transmute. I can use the magnification in my visor to see them." Before he did, he drew her in for a kiss. "I can't stop kissing you," he whispered, before stepping away and transmuting.
He knelt down again and made minute adjustments to his visor's vision. "I think I can see Jason... no. Must have been a shadow." He sat back on his haunches, then lurched forward again. "No! It is Jason! But why has he turned back?"
"Could there be a problem?"
Mark nodded. "I'll go down and have a look."
"Be careful Mark."
He touched her face gently – and for an instant he thought that he could feel the warmth of her skin through his glove. "I will. Remember, I have you to come back to."
They couldn't kiss, but a simple touch, a loving look, told them more about the other's love than they realised.
It was an eternity for her to wait until they returned. In reality, it was no more than a few minutes. When the three did surface, both Keyop and Jason were badly out of breath and Princess had to help pull Keyop out. Jason took a deep breath and hauled himself out of the water, but Princess didn't miss the searching look he gave her, and the flash of a wink.
Did she look different? She didn't think Mark did. Was there something about them both that was different?
Quickly she transmuted, suddenly needing the extra protection of a tinted visor in case something showed in her face.
"Oh no!" she cried as she saw the flames. She and Keyop started to do something about that as Jason and Mark looked for the Chief.
"Found him! Tiny! Come and pick us up!"
Princess felt the vibration of her communicator as the homing signal was transmitted then went to help move Anderson who was unconscious.
Jason checked his eyes. "He's OK. When we get on Phoenix I'll put him on some oxygen and he'll come around."
"The files!" Princess looked at them. "He was so anxious that they be destroyed."
Jason shook his head. "We almost didn't make it in, Prin. Spectra certainly isn't. And if we leave the fire, it will take care of them."
Mark nodded. "If we put the rest on the fire before we go, it will finish them off." He started throwing papers on the few flames left, feeding the fire. By the time Tiny and Phoenix arrived, the flames were burning high.
"Jason – you and I take Anderson."
"Right. Squirt – you recovered enough to jump?"
"Right as you are!" Keyop was indignant as he flew after Princess.
Anderson was a dead weight, and both Mark and Jason grunted with the extra effort it took to reach the top of Phoenix. "Remind me to tell the Chief to lay off the rich food and get more exercise," said Jason as they descended.
Hours later, Princess still couldn't sleep. She wandered through Camp Parker thinking of the events of that day. She should be exhausted – she was exhausted, and yet she felt more awake than she ever had.
Every nerve ending in her body was tingling, and whenever anything brushed against her skin, it elicited a gasp from her. Her blood was humming and the rhythm of that hum was the same. Mark. Mark. Mark.
It was almost as if, having made love, her body craved him even more than before.
Finally, she went out onto the deck overlooking the gulf far below and found him leaning on the rail gazing into the distance. At her step he looked up, and in his blue eyes Princess realised what had been wrong with her.
"I couldn't sleep," she said simply. "You weren't there with me." It was, she realised, the truth. Even though they had made love only once, had never shared a bed, it was the truth. She needed him by her to sleep.
"I've been out at my father's headstone," he said. "I couldn't go before. But now… You've given me the strength to admit he's gone." Mark held out his arm and she came to his side.
It was nothing new, their standing like this, but it was different. Now, they were two halves who had become one. She wrapped her arms around his waist and snuggled into his side. "You should have come and got me. We could have gone together."
"You were so deeply asleep, sweetheart. I carried you to bed, took off your bracelet and then tucked you in. I wanted to take off your clothes, but knew I wouldn't be able to go if I did." He bent his head and kissed her forehead.
"I wouldn't have minded."
He laughed softly. "Neither would I. But Anderson would have. Besides, I hadn't realised how small our beds here are."
"We'll have to tell the others, Mark. I'd love it to be just us for a while, but if we don't tell them straight away, then we won't get any chance to be together."
"Jason's already guessed, I think."
Her laugh was low. To the man standing only a few feet behind them, it was the laugh of a woman, not a girl any more.
"I think he knew when they picked us up."
Anderson didn't like to be overhearing the conversation, but by the time he realised how intimate it was, it was too late.
He sighed. He had tried. All his life, he had tried to ensure his children saw each other as brothers and sister. For the most part, it had worked.
Princess, however, had always made it clear she had three brothers and Mark.
For his part, Mark refused to admit he had a sister.
The outcome he watched as the couple embraced, had in its own way been inevitable. The only surprise was that it had not happened sooner.
A combination, he supposed, of the highly emotional happenings of the past month. He had watched Mark withdraw from everybody with trepidation, and he had forced Jason and Tiny to take the forcible action of bringing the plane aboard the Phoenix to prevent Mark's suicide attempt, of firing the missile before Mark knew it.
He had watched Princess stalk Mark. Needing to help him through his grief.
He watched the sun rise, watched Mark and Princess raise their heads and look into it, facing the start of the day together. Stepping further back into the shadows he saw them turn.
They were no longer children. A man and a woman walked towards him, and it was as if the rising sun had wiped grief and care away. Their love had begun its own healing influence. He sighed as they came into the room and saw him.
Princess blushed, but Mark's hold only drew her closer.
"I suppose this means I'll have to look after Keyop," was all Anderson said and then smiled. "In the meantime, I believe the main guest quarters are made up. You can move your stuff in later today."
He got up and went to his own room, strangely comforted by his own acceptance. "Sleep well, children."