"Wake up, Keyop, it's time to go!" Princess pushed the little swallow out of bed. He landed head first, it was a rude awakening. Rubbing his head, he glanced up with squinted eyes at Princess.
"Ouch, what'd you do that for?" He scowled as he stood up shakily.
"We need to get ready for the camping trip, remember sleepyhead?" She carefully laid his number 4 tee-shirt and striped blue pants on his bed. "...and take a shower first...I'm not camping with a stinky kid..."Her words faded as she walked out the door.
Keyop crossed his arms in disgust, still glaring at the doorway. He sniffed his armpit. "Not stinky...I'll just use a washcloth..."
The knock at the door signaled the arrival of the others. Princess opened the door to see Mark with one arm propped against the door frame.
"Ready?" He smiled as she opened the door.
"What's with the knocking? You guys don't usually knock." She poked his ribs with her elbow, and he doubled over feigning pain.
"Well, it's four o'clock in the morning, Prin, and I wasn't sure if you were...uh...dressed..." He ran his hand through his hair uncomfortably as she motioned him in.
"Here are our bags..." She pointed to one enormous, overstuffed backpack and another Keyop- sized one. Mark's jaw gaped open.
"Jeez, Prin, we're only going for three days..." Jason walked in through the open doorway. "You got Keyop stuffed in there?"
"Ready!" Keyop came bounding down the stairs, grinning excitedly at the other four. Princess immediately zeroed in on his dirty face.
"You didn't shower!" Keyop felt the Swan's laser- like glare.
"Aw, come on, Prin, we're going camping..." Tiny spoke up for his little friend, "he's going to get dirty, anyway." Tiny winked at the rumpled, swan-battered kid.
"Let's get this wagon train moving...it's a long drive to the lake." Jason wasn't into this idea of family bonding, but he figured the sooner the trip started, the sooner it would be over with.
Princess, however, had visions of sugarplums dancing in her head. She pictured the perfect family outing, with everyone sitting around the campfire, singing "Kum-ba-yah."
Tiny pictured a grand fishing trip, complete with a huge mess of fish and a fish fry over an open fire. His stomach rumbled at the thought.
Keyop was just excited to spend time with everyone. He was up for any- and everything. He looked up to the older guys, and loved being considered a part of the team. Just how many 12 year olds hang out with 18 and 19 year olds on a regular basis, anyway?
Mark was a little more "business-like" in his thinking.He figured this was more of a team-building project, and he was going to make sure it was planned out properly. After setting up camp on the first day, they would have dinner over an open fire. The next day would be consumed by a white water rafting trek. There would be a chance to test their survival skills. He guessed that the last day would consist of the fishing trip Tiny dreamed of, and maybe some hiking or mountain climbing thrown in for good measure...
When they arrived, Princess marveled at the campsite. Under the canopy of trees, the shadows grew long as the sun began to set. Shafts of sunlight flickered around her. Not far from her, was a path that led to a sparkling lake. A dock stretched out to a pontoon boat, which bobbed lazily on the waves in the distance. Beyond the lake stood majestic mountains, painted with the late day orange sunset glow.
"This is beautiful..." She gazed dreamily at the scene, taking it all in. "Someday, I'd like to build a little cabin out here..."
"Well, don't start building your dream house now, Prin, how about giving us a hand setting up tents? We're losing daylight quickly here." Jason grabbed her and pulled her toward the tents.
The stars began to twinkle like little jewels in the dark sky. Once the campsite was set up, Mark started a fire. The fare for the evening was hot dogs and marshmallows. Feeling lazy and satisfied, they all sat still after their meal, listening to the embers popping and the crickets chirping. Princess pulled out her guitar and strummed it softly.
After a while, Tiny stretched and yawned. "It's getting late, folks, I want to get up early and fix breakfast, so I'm gonna go to bed."
"I'm sleepy, too. Princess woke me up too early." Keyop gave one last glare toward the Swan as he turned and followed Tiny into the two-man tent.
"Well, I can't sleep just yet; I'm going to take a little walk by the lake before going to bed. Anyone else coming?" Mark secretly hoped that Princess would join him. Although it was strictly forbidden, he concealed a crush on his third. It was obvious that she had feelings for him, too, but kept them under wraps.
Princess stopped strumming and looked up at him. "I'll join you, Mark." Score! Mark thought happily to himself, now, if only...They both glanced questioningly over to Jason, who was lying propped against a log with his hands behind his head. "Don't look at me, you two have fun." He cast his gaze back to the dying fire. Touchdown! Mark tried hard not to show his pleasure at Jason allowing the two of them to have some space.
Princess and Mark headed down the path toward the Lake.
They walked quietly around it, until they found a tree limb that was just right for the two of them to sit on.
Princess sat next to her commander and looked out over the lake. "Mark, you've been quiet lately, is something on your mind?"
"I always have things on my mind Princess...that's my job." Mark kept his eyes fixed on the water. He picked up a long, thin twig and traced lines in the dirt below them.
"You know, you can relax sometimes, we won't think any less of you...well, at least I won't." She turned her head away and fidgeted with her fingernails.
"Thanks, Prin, you know it really is beautiful out here, ah...almost as beautiful as you." He immediately dipped his head down and backtracked. "I mean, uh, I hope you don't take that the wrong way...I just..."
"It's okay, Mark, that was a sweet compliment." She grinned and blushed. A light wind whipped over the cool water. Princes shivered.
"You okay?" Mark's eyes widened. He always felt protective of the Swan, although she could be deadly, she seemed so delicate. He put his arm around her.
She snuggled close and rested her head on Mark's shoulder. Then, she gazed up at him, "Just a little cold."
"You know, I can see why you'd want to live out here, it's so peaceful." Mark looked down at her, her ebony locks tickling his mouth as he spoke.
They sat quietly for a few minutes, and then Princess spoke up. "Mark, what do you think is going to happen to us?"
"I don't know, Prin, but I do know that we'll all pull through this as long as we work as a team. That's what this trip is supposed to be about."
"The Chief says the Phoenix will be finished soon, and after a little training, we'll be off on our first mission. I have to admit, I'm a little worried. I think of all of you as my family, and if anything ever happened to you I'd, I'd..." Her voice trailed off as tears began to form in her eyes.
Mark kissed her forehead. "Don't worry, Prin, I'll always be there for you. I'm going to make sure all of us get out of this safely." Mark grimaced slightly. He could make no promises, but he wanted desperately to keep Princess safe and secure.
Princess wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and sat up." I should be getting back, I'm getting tired."
They walked back hand-in-hand to the campsite. Tiny and Keyop were snoring in one two-man tent. Jason had taken the only one-man tent, the one that was supposed to be for Princess. That left only one two-man tent.
That sly bastard, I wonder if he did that on purpose? Mark looked over at Princess. "Well, you go ahead and take the tent. I'll just sleep out here."
Princess arched an eyebrow. "No way, you can sleep in the tent with me, I don't bite, you know," She purred softly. Princess climbed in first, followed by Mark.
He awkwardly lay down on the pillow and turned his back to Princess. "Good night, Princess." Oh, why do these things happen to me? It's so unfair... Mark swallowed hard as he listened to Princess rustle the covers. He could smell a slight tinge of her perfume.
"Good night, Mark." Princess stared at the top of the tent for a while, wishing she could just jump her commander.
Mark stayed on top of the blankets, just to keep up appearances that nothing was going on in side the tent. However, it was getting very chilly, and he was beginning to shiver. Princess picked up on his discomfort right away. She turned over and flung a part of her blanket over him. Then, she rested her arm on his side.
"You don't have to lay with your back to me, Mark..." She whispered. "It's okay." Mark turned his head and peered over at her with one eye. "Consider it survival skills; we have to keep each other warm, don't we?"
Mark turned over as Princess laid her head on his shoulder for the second time that evening. It felt so right. They snuggled contentedly under the blankets together.
I wish we could be like this forever...Mark thought as sleep began to claim him. He chuckled softly.
Princess slightly raised her head off of his shoulder, keeping her arms and legs entwined around his body. "What?" she asked.
"How are we gonna explain this in the morning?" He asked.
"Good question..." Princess lowered her head down and giggled softly. Then she drifted off to sleep.