Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana?

This storry is rated Teen for language, depictuions of violence, and content of a sexual nature. Read at your own risk.

“Shh…I don’t think he’s asleep!”

“Of course he’s asleep! Humans sleep through everything!”

“He doesn’t look like he’s asleep. His breathing is weird.”

“Oh, for dog’s sake, let’s just get this over with!”

“Sigh fine! Do you have the implant?”

“Of course I do! Here.”

“Why do I have to do it?”

“Because you are smarter than I am.”

“Well, duh!”

Tim woke up with a massive headache. He felt like he had spent the night drinking, but most of the pain seemed to be centered around the ear area.  What the actual hell? He didn’t really remember much from last night, but thought there may have been a drink or two involved. He felt one of his cats jump on the bed and make its way towards him, then hopped on his chest. It was Jane. Of course it was Jane. He opened his eyes to look at her. Her coat was a beautifully strange mix of buff gray and orange stripes in splotches on her body. One front paw was gray stripes and the other orange. She was very affectionate but also very bossy. Hence why she was sitting on his chest.

“Meow.”

“Yeah, yeah I’m going Jane-Jane. I know you’re hungry.”

He reached up to scratch her ears, but she was already gone, meowing all the way down the hall. He shook his head. Dogs have friends and cats have servants, he thought as Kitt’s meows joined Jane’s. Kitt was your basic tuxedo tom cat and as energetic as a kitten. Tim had a hard time keeping up with him sometimes. He still like the names he picked: Jane Clawsten and Kitty Cloudkicker.

Ten minutes later the cats were fed and Tim sat down in front of his computer with a cup of coffee. His headache was finally beginning to dull a bit. He had several e-mails from work and a few people who sent messages from the online dating sites his sister signed him up for after his break up. He really did not want to answer those, but his sister was trying to be supportive and helpful. Honestly, he wasn’t very interested at the moment, but his sister was a force to be reckoned with. She signed him up on the top dating sites, He flipped through the profiles. No one was catching his interest. Oh well. Break-ups suck balls, he thought. His was particularly nasty. His boyfriend went slightly crazy towards the end of their relationship. It was like Vinny, his ex, woke up one day and decided to leave. It was strange. He just packed his belongings and left. The only explanation given was in the “Dear John” letter that was left on the table and it didn’t make any sense. Why would Vinny mention the lack of scratching posts in the apartment? Or the fact that Tim didn’t share the cans of tuna with the cats? What did that have to do with anything? He’d tried to contact Vinny a week or two later for clarification, but it went straight to voice mail.

“Do you think the implant is working?”

“Shhh! He’ll hear you!”

Tim quickly turned around to search for the source of the voice. He looked around his office for a weapon of some sort. His eyes fell on his Klingon D’K Tahg letter opener. He grabbed it. It was dull, but it would still hurt if he needed to stab someone in a pressure point.  He looked around the corner. From his office he could see his bedroom to the left, his living area to the right, and his bathroom was adjacent. All his doors were opened. If someone was in his apartment, they were being incredibly still. He checked his bedroom. Nothing. No one in the bathroom either. He moved to the living room, pausing only to peek into the kitchen. Nothing.  He let out a breath and relaxed his arms. There was nobody in the apartment other than the cats, which were both sitting on the dining room table staring at him intently, like they were expecting him to do something.

“What?” he asked the cats. “I thought I heard someone talking! Fight or flight is a natural response to having the crap scared out of you.”

Jane continued to stare as Kitt rolled his eyes and sighed as he hopped off the table. Wait….

Tim paused as that thought rolled through his mind. Cats don’t roll their eye or sigh in exasperation. He looked around for Kitt. The cat had climbed to the top of the cat perch and proceeded to clean himself. Tim moved closer to the cat and studied him for a few moments before shaking his head.

Seriously, Tim. Get it together, man! He was losing his mind. Maybe he just needed a break. Between work, family, and the breakup, life had been crazy and stressful. He was exhausted and he obviously didn’t sleep well last night. He needed a day off. Really needed one if he was hearing voices and thinking his cats were talking.

I’ll call out of work today. Just take the day off and rest.

“You know, that’s probably a great idea, Septimus.”

Had he not been next to the couch, Tim probably would have fallen and crashed a bit more spectacularly, taking out the coffee table and the television at the same time. Thankfully, he only fell onto the couch.

“Whhh…who said that?” he asked as he looked wildly about the room.

“I did.”

Still he looked. Nothing matched the soft, feminine voice that just spoke to him.

“I told you he was stupid,” said a deeper voice.

“He’s not stupid. You know how humans are.” Jane hopped up on the arm of the couch and sat, curling her tail around her. “It is just hard for them to accept certain things. Their minds can’t take it,” she said.

Tim had nothing. The only thing going through his mind was why are the cats talking to me? He was cracking up. That was it. There was just too much pressure on him at the moment and he was losing his mind. Cats don’t talk. They can’t talk. Why are the cats talking? Panic! Panic! Panic!

“You’re losing him, Jane.”

“Yes, thank you, Kitt. I got this.”

“Septimus, look at me,” said Jane.

The cat is talking to me. She is using her paws to talk to me like she’s human. This isn’t right. I’m asleep, right?

“No, you aren’t sleeping. This is not a dream. This is real and I am talking to you.”

Holy shit! She can read my mind!! How is that possible? I heard implant. Implant? They put something in my head?

Tim reached up with both hands and probed his head, hissing as his fingers found the tender spot behind his ear.

“Oh my god, what did you put in me?”

“Will you please calm down?”

It was too late. Tim was in a state of panic. Jane nodded to Kitt, who moved so quickly, Tim didn’t have time to prepare for the blow to the head that knocked him out cold.

“You didn’t have to hit him so hard, Kitt.”

Kitt snorted as he sat on Tim’s chest and started to clean his paw.

“Yeah, well, he was getting ready to do something stupid. This isn’t your first cat show, Jane. You know how humans can get. This way, we don’t have to break out of Animal Control again.”

Jane nodded. That had been a bad night. She still wasn’t completely over it. The shelter was a prison for animals. The smell of urine, bleach, and death was overwhelming.  Had it not been for Kitt, she would have been too scared to try to leave. She looked down at the unconscious human. She was sure about this one. He would be a good match. She had been watching him for the past couple of years. Everything they needed, he possessed in abundance. She just needed to convince him. Their work was important.

“Okay, Kitt, we will try this again, just slower.”

“Dating site?” Kitt asked.

Jane nodded. “Dating site,” she replied.

Tim woke up feeling refreshed and well rested. That was a nice change of pace. He must have needed it. He looked at his phone. It was 8 am.  Wow. It was a good decision to take yesterday and today off from work. He felt one of the cats hop up on the bed and onto his chest. It was Jane. Of course it was Ja– he paused. There was something very familiar about this. He stared at his cat for a moment. There was something there, something he almost remembered. What was it?

“Meow.”

He shook himself out of his thoughts. The cats needed to be fed.

“Meow.”

“I’m going, Jane. I’m going.”

Once the cats were fed, Tim grabbed a cup of coffee and went to his office. He opened up his e-mail. He only had one new e-mail congratulating him on signing up with a new dating site. He needed to have a chit chat with his sister. While he was really happy she supported his lifestyle, he didn’t need a cheerleader. He just needed acceptance. He clicked on the e-mail.

From: Catch Them All Dating Agency <brentheadmin@gctada.corgi>
Date: June 9, 2015
Subject: Re: New Membership
To: S.Tim Wells <sevenwells@webmailthingie.glom >

Dear Mr. Wells,

We are pleased that you have joined our dating agency. The answers to your questionnaire have been deemed acceptable. There is a meetup in your area, should you choose to attend. If you do attend, please make sure you have the attached documents with you. For security purposes, you will be required to present a photo id at the door. We look forward to your company and excited to help you find that special someone. Should you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me. Thank you and have a great day!

Best Regards,
Brennan the Admin
Catch Them All Dating Agency

Well, alrighty then, Tim thought. This was a new one. A security pass and a photo id? That sounded interesting. Maybe it would be different from the other places. On the other hand, what type of dating service required that kind of stuff and had actual meet ups? He guessed it was like speed dating or something. He googled the address and it was in a meeting room of a ritzy hotel. That was a good thing. He could go scope it out. If it looked sleazy, he would just go home. Was he really considering this? Yes. His sister paid money for these sites. He might as well humor her and actually go on a date, even if it was speed dating. He printed out the attachments. One was a calendar. There was a meeting that night.

He heard a noise and turned to see Jane sitting on the desk, cleaning her paw. For some strange reason, the sight of her caused a slight feeling of panic in the back of his mind. His body tensed and he felt the need to run away, screaming. Why would his cat cause distress? There was something he was missing. He could feel it. Something that had to do with his head. He reached up and felt behind his ear. It was fine, nothing unusual.

He pushed the thought out of his mind. He needed to go out for a few things before getting ready. On his way to his bedroom, he paused and looked back at Jane. She was curled up in a patch of sun. Something was not right. She looked up at him and squinted her eyes at him– the cat version of “I love you” – and went back to sleep.

A few hours later, Tim was standing in front of his mirror, fussing with the jacket to his suit. It had been a long time since he actively dated and he had never been to a speed dating event. He looked himself over. He loved his shaggy long hair. He usually pulled it up into a bun when he was working, but tonight, he used his flat iron his sister talked him into purchasing. His dark hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail at the base of his neck. His beard was tidy and trim. The dark blue of his shirt complimented the blue of his eyes. His black jacket and pants were perfectly tailored to his well-trimmed body. He left the top two buttons of his shirt undone and he wasn’t going to wear a tie. He didn’t want to appear too formal. Black dress shoes completed the ensemble. He looked good. He smelled good. He was good.

You’re stalling... He had his wallet and his keys. The welcome packet from the agency and cash—just in case. Next thing he knew, he was pulling into the hotel parking lot.

The Uptowne Grande Hotel was the premier hotel for the area. Tim had driven by the place a dozen times. He was surprised by the elegance. The valet took his car to the parking garage and the bellhop directed him to the meeting, which was being held in a ballroom. He climbed the stairs and took the hallway that wrapped its way around the backside of the ballroom. He assumed he was going the right way when he saw a very tall security man standing in front of the door.

“Um, hello?” Tim asked.

The guard remained quiet.

“I’m here for the um…thing…is this the right place?”

The guard was still silent.

Ooooookay, he thought. He looked down at his packet. Maybe there was something there. He pulled out the packet. There was a paper with instructions for the doorman. He read it and scoffed. Seriously? These were the real instructions? This had to be a joke.

“Um…okay…Knock. Knock,” Tim said.

The guard crossed his arms.

“Who’s there?” he replied.

“Oh, god, seriously? Is this really a thing?”

“WHO’S THERE?!!”

“Okay, sheesh…banana.”

“Banana who?”

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

Tim sighed. “Banana.”

“Banana who?”

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Orange.”

“Orange who?”

“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”

The guard glared a few moments then cracked up.

“Oh, that gets me every time! Ha ha ha! I love it. You guys look so uncomfortable. It’s the best! Go in. Go ahead.”

Tim was confused, but he passed the guard and went into the room. The anteroom had a registration table set in the center. The two men sitting behind the table, twins, were identically dressed in black tuxedos with blue bow ties. Tim paused a moment. They were incredibly beautiful men. Even though they were sitting, Tim could tell they were tall. They looked like they were Greek or from somewhere in the Mediterranean. Dark curls. Dark eyes. Loooong eyelashes. Olive skin. Gorgeous smiles. Are they available? I’ll take them both.

They both looked up and smiled like they heard that thought.

“Hello and welcome to the Catch Them All Dating Agency meet and greet. My name is Georgio and this is my brother Frederick. And you are?”

“Um…. Tim. My name is Tim.”

“Well, Tim, it is a pleasure to meet you. Are you joining us tonight?”

Tim nodded.

“That’s fabulous. But we are going to need to see your photo id, please.”

Tim fumbled with his wallet to pull out his driver’s license. He was so out of his element and nervous. He dropped his wallet.

“Crap!”

“My, my, my aren’t you nervous. Is this your first time here?”

Tim nodded again.

The twins laughed. “Ohhhh my,” one of them said, “we get to pop your cherry tonight!”

This didn’t help the situation. Tim turned four shades of red as he handed over his id.

“Hm…..Septimus. My, isn’t that a…good, strong name. It fits you better than just Tim. You agree, brother of mine?”

The other twin gave Tim a once over. “Oh yes, brother. A big, strong name for a big, strong man. Embrace your name, Septimus. It will do you well.”

“Um…thanks, I guess.”

The twins laughed and gave Tim his name badge.

“Go through those doors. Help yourself to food and drinks. Once everyone arrives, there will be a selection process where you will be placed in a room with people who matched with you on our website. Have a great time!”

Tim fixed his badge to his jacket and walked through the door to a medium sized ballroom. Cherry hardwood flooring covered the entire length of the room. There were tables and chairs to the left of the room and a food and drink area to the right. There were a few people spread around the room. He walked over to the drink table and helped himself to a beer.

“Hello.”

Tim turned and was met with the most beautiful man he had ever seen. He was tall and dark. Very dark and very well built. His well-tailored black pants hugged every curve and muscle, the aubergine color of his button down shirt vibrant against his skin, left little to the imagination. It was quite possible Tim was drooling. He never knew he was attracted to tall, dark, and bald, but this….

Hellooooooo Nurse!

“Um….hi. Hello. How do you? You are do? You do?”

Way to look like an idiot! What is wrong with you??

The man laughed and extended his hand.

“Hello. I’m Mal and I’m fine. You?”

Tim took his hand and shook it.

“Okay, I guess, considering I don’t know how to word tonight. I’m Tim.”

“Tim. I like that. Is this your first time here?”

“Yeah.”

“Nervous?”

“Is it that obvious?” Tim asked.

Mal smiled. Tim was already in love. Well, in lust.

“It isn’t that bad. I have been coming here for two months. There is a lot of talking. Then they split us up in smaller groups based on our interests. You can tell by the badge colors. See?” He pointed to the blue border on his badge. “Each badge has a color and we get separated by those colors. Keeps things interesting. You and I have the same color so that means we have something in common and we will be in the same room when they call us to order which should be in…” he looked at his watch, “any moment now.”

As soon as Mal said that, a gong rang. A gong? Really?

“Come on, Tim.”

Five minutes later, Tim found himself in a smaller room with three other people, one of which, thankfully, was Mal. The goal was for all of them to talk together, but the other two guys in the group immediately paired together, leaving Mal and Tim to their own devices. Tim was okay with that. He spent the next couple of hours talking to Mal and it was wonderful. They talked about books, movies, travel destinations, life goals, everything. It was refreshing. He felt a connection and openness with Mal that he had never felt with Vinny, or anyone for that matter. Before he knew it, time was up and they were walking to the valet, laughing at jokes.

“This was fun, Tim. I’m glad to have met you.”

“Yeah me too. I’m glad I came. This was a nice night.”

“So I would like to meet up with you again, if that is okay. Coffee this week?”

“Uh, yeah! That would be great!”

They exchanged numbers as the valet pulled up with Tim’s car. They said their goodbyes and Tim headed for home.

“My, my, my…..he’s a pretty one.”

Mal didn’t need to turn around to know it was the twins.

“Yes, he is,” Mal replied.

“What do you think?” asked Frederick.

Mal paused a moment. The profile was complete, and Tim fit the requirements, but Mal knew it was going to be hard for him to accept the change that was about to happen. Mal knew those emotions all too well. Sometimes he wished he could go back, but that was neither here nor there. Mal actually liked Tim and wanted this to work, both professionally and personally.

“I profiled him thoroughly. Jane is correct. He will be a perfect candidate for the agency, however, getting him to accept it will be a challenge.”

“What do you mean?” Georgio asked.

Mal turned to look at the twins. They were a good seven inches shorter than he was. He had to admit, they were very handsome, but not his type.

“You remember when you scouted me?”

The twins turned several shades of pale.

“Do…do you think it is going to be that bad?”

Mal shrugged. “I don’t know, but given his profile and the testimony from Jane and Kitt, I can tell you it is going to be rough. Maybe I can help.”

In unison, the twins cocked their heads to the side furrowing their brows.

“There is something different about this one,” Mal tried to explain, “I mean, he’s going to be a great agent if he can get passed…. I think he has what it takes he just needs a little…maybe some extra…oh shut up!”

The twins had a smirk on their faces. They knew what Mal was thinking and that bugged him.

“Do what you think would help. We could use him,” said Georgio.

“But be careful. Workplace romances can be difficult,” finished Frederick.

“Who said anything about a romance?”

The twins shook their heads and walked away, leaving Mal sputtering. Stupid twins. Stupid telepathy.

Tim was in a hurry to get home. He needed to buy his sister flowers and chocolates and diamonds. Okay, maybe not diamonds, but he needed to call and thank her. He was met with a chorus of meows as he opened the door, but ignored the cats and pulled his phone out of his pocket. Before he could call, Kitt jumped and knocked his phone out of his hand then batting it around like a hockey puck, chasing it into the bedroom.

“What the hell cat?”

It took an hour to get his phone back from the crazy cat. By the time he pried it out of Kitt’s paws, it was late into the night– too late to call Seraphina.

“What on earth got into you tonight, Kitt, hm?” he asked as he sat next to the cat on the bed. “You get a wild hair up your butt, or what?” He scratched behind Kitt’s ears. The cat purred then curled up in a ball next to him. Jane crawled onto Tim’s chest and fell asleep. A flickering moment of panic sparked in his brain as he petted Jane. It had something to do with her but he couldn’t place it. It was probably a bad dream or something. It had been a strange day, but ended well. For the first time, since before he started dating Vinny, he looked forward to dating and really hoped that Mal would call him. He wanted to get to know him more. He was very interesting. Once Tim loosened up a bit, he had discovered they had quite a lot in common.

 

A week later, Tim sat in his office, staring at his phone. Every time it buzzed, his heart jolted, thinking it was him. It wasn’t. They had talked to each other on the phone a couple of times and texted, but their schedules did not allow them to see each other.

His phone rang, startling him. He looked at the caller id, hoping it was Mal. It was his sister.

“Hey, big brother! What’s up?”

“Hey, Sera. Girl, I have to give you a big kiss when I see you next.”

“Uh, oh. What did I do?” she asked.

“The last dating site you set me up with, it is a win.”

“What, Tinder? That was a joke! Did you actually get an interest?”

“You set me up with a Tinder account?”

“Uh…yeah. Are you not talking about that one?”

“No,” he said, “I was talking about the dating agency that has the meetings at the hotel. Get them all or catch them all or something like that.”

Silence.

“Sera? You there?”

“Yeah, um…. So this agency, was it like a speed dating thing in a hotel?”

“Yeeees…. You didn’t sign me up for that one?”

“No. No, I didn’t and I wouldn’t have. Not with this agency. We need to talk. Can you meet me for lunch?”

“Sera, are you okay?”

“Yes. I’m fine, but we need to talk asap. In fact, can you just say there was an emergency and leave work? This is important.”

“Yes. Okay. I can. Where do you want to meet?”

An hour later, he was sitting in the park waiting for his sister. He was worried. The last time he heard his sister so panicked, their mother was in a car accident. Why was she so upset about the dating agency? It was just a dating agency, right? Maybe they stole identities or something, maybe it was a ploy. He hoped it wasn’t and he hoped Mal wasn’t in on it. That would suck.

“Hey, Tim.”

Tim was so lost in thought that he did not see Mal approach.

Think of the devil….

“Hello, Mal. What are you doing here?”

“Oh, well, I work a block up the street and I usually come here to eat lunch. What are you doing here?” he asked as he looked nervously around the park.

Uh huh. Then where is your lunch?

“Right, so where is your lunch?”

Mal was still scanning the park and didn’t seem to hear the question. Tim noticed his hands were twitchy. Very odd.

“Mal? What are you doing?”

“What?”

“What. Are. You. Doing?”

Mal shook his head. “Nothing. Nothing. I thought…anyway, yes, I come here to eat lunch. What are you doing here?”

Something was up. Mal went back to scanning the park, like he was expecting someone to hop out of the bushes and jump them or something.

“Tim!” Sera was running up to him, coming to a halt as she saw Mal. If looks could kill, Mal would have been a puddle of goo on the ground.

“Malachite,” she said as her eyes narrowed.

“Seraphina,” he replied with equal contempt. “What are you doing here? You are supposed to be working.”

“I know where I am supposed to be, however, this is my brother,” she said pointing to Tim.

Mal’s face fell. Her brother? Oh, this was going to be nasty.

“What…what do you mean, he’s your brother?”

“How hard of a concept is that to grasp? He’s my brother. As in our father banged our mother twice and we were born. Why are you here? Why is the agency scouting him? Why didn’t they tell me?”

“Oh shit, Ser, I didn’t know he was your brother. We need to talk to Kitt and Jane. But right now, we have a situation.”

He pointed his head in the direction of the tree line behind them. She stiffened and search the trees.

“Can you see them?” Mal asked. “I can only sense them. Your eyes have been modified better than mine.”

“Um….what–”

“Shh! Sorry, Tim, just be quiet for right now.”

Sera removed her sunglasses and Tim gasped. Her eyes were…were…he didn’t know how to describe them. His sister looked very much like him. She was tall and shared his long hairstyle, except her curls were more defined because she spent the money on the proper hair products. She was lithe and lean. But something happened to her eyes. They were normally light, like his, but now they were dark, almost black, with gold rimmed around the pupil, which he could see adjusting as she scanned. She must had found something. She froze and her pupils dilated as far as they could. The wind shifted directions and both Sera and Mal sniffed the air and reached for their pockets.

“Shit! We are not the only ones scouting him,” said Mal. “We need to go and go now.”

“Agreed. Where are you parked?” she asked.

“I’m not.”

“Here.” She tossed him her keys. “I’m in the garage on 8th and Westminster. You know where he lives?”

Mal nodded.

“Good. It will be safest for us all there and he is the safest with me.”

“Agreed. See you there, Wells.”

“See you. Tim, I will answer all your question when we get to where we are going. I promise, but right now, I need you to stay silent, close, and alert. We are in danger.”

Tim nodded and followed his sister. She was right at his side with her right hand in her pocket, like she was holding on to something. She kept scanning the area, particularly the tree line.

“Keep moving,” she said.

Like he had a choice. They were almost to the exit to the park, when she pulled him to a stop. The exit wound its way through the trees. Something was waiting for them. He couldn’t tell what it was, but she could. She slowly pulled her hand out of her pocket, bringing a small silver dagger with it. She lowered herself into a half crouch and pressed herself against him. He could feel her vibrating next to him, like a cat getting ready to pounce, as he heard a low, deep growl escape from her lips. Whatever was in the woods, fled. He didn’t know how, but he could tell. She grabbed his arm and walk quickly the rest of the way.

The journey to his apartment was uneventful and quiet. Tim was bursting with questions, but when he tried to talk, one steely look from his sister, told him it was better to remain quiet. They pulled into his complex and parked the car as close to the door as they could.

“Stay here until I can determine it is safe,” Sera said before slamming the car door. He watched her walk to the back of the car, her hand in her pocket. He was too busy watching her to notice Mal until he opened the passenger side door.

“Whoa! Hey!” Tim exclaimed as Mal grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the car and into the building. Sera followed them. Tim pulled his arm out of Mal’s grasp.

“I can walk by myself, thanks.”

Mal was silent. Sera unlocked the door to Tim’s second-floor apartment with his keys and ushered him inside, locking the door behind them.

Jane and Kitt were both on the dining room table, sitting next to each other waiting for things to get settled. Seeing the cats on the table was the last straw for Tim.

“Okay. I’m done. What the hell is going on? And don’t tell me to be quiet and don’t give me bullshit. What is going on?”

Mal and Sera looked at each other and then to the cats, not knowing where to start.

“Okay,” began Sera, “first and foremost, in order to keep things organized everybody needs to just relax and calm down for a minute. Tim, please sit. Mal, will you make some coffee while we get settled. Jane? Where should we start?”

Jane jumped off the table and to the couch where she sat next to Tim. He looked down at her, that slight spark of panic hit him again.

“I think the beginning is always a good place,” the cat said.

“Before you freak out, brother of mine, just please listen. Deep breath and listen.”

Tim took a deep breath and held it. The coffee was beginning to percolate, filling the air with its scent. It was soothing. He released.

“Okay. Okay. Breathing. You have about five minutes before I decide to freak out, kick you out, or both,” he said.

Sera nodded and sat on the floor in front of him. Mal handed them each a coffee mug.

“I’ll make this quick as possible,” she said.

“Humans are a primitive race. We are rather new; a tiny little blip on the cosmic radar. But our planet has always been interesting to other races out there. We have resources that we don’t use, but are highly valued by other worlds. Our carbon cycle, while not unique to habitable planets, has unique attributes when combined with…..I don’t want to say ‘space elements’ but that is the easiest way to describe it without going into the science. Not to mention that, to some, human children are considered delicacies. You hear stories throughout history of magicians and of monsters eating children. That’s usually them. In ancient times, they were more prevalent because our ancestors were – well – primitive and didn’t realize what was going on. Many were subjugated. So basically,”

She held her hands up to either side of her face and brought them down in emphasis.

“Aliens,” she said.

Tim cracked up. They both did.

“Sorry,” she continued, “I couldn’t resist. I’ve been dying to use that. Anyhow, there were warring alien races on our planet. There is actual documentation of it in India. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Our planet was caught in the middle of a galactic civil war. At least that is the easiest way to describe it. The tyrannical government wanted to use all the resources on the planets in their control. It didn’t matter if there was a native intelligent dominate species. They thought primitive species deserved to be moved, destroyed or enslaved. The other side wanted to protect life, especially on planets that had yet to travel the stars, and wanted to pass laws that made tapping the land for resources illegal and limit the interaction with races they deemed to be too primitive so not to interfere with the evolution of the planet. Basically the Prime Directive in Star Trek. Our planet was just about the be destroyed when the bad guys did something really stupid that caused a new group of people to enter the war and it changed the outcome.

“On our planet was a family of pan-dimensional beings. Don’t ask, because don’t know what they are or where they’re from. They are rather tight-lipped on the matter. Humans aren’t capable of understanding. They’ve tried to understand in the past, and brains exploded. Literally exploded, so we stopped asking. Anyway, back to the family. There was a father, a mother, and eight children living here, peacefully. Their village knew they were different, but they coexisted. One day, a raiding party came upon the village, killing all the males, including the children, and capturing the females for….you can guess. The family could not escape in time. It took quite a lot of energy to get them home. They only had enough to send five of the children. The eldest three refused to leave helped to fight. The ones who escaped raised the alarm, but it was too late. What the bad guys didn’t know was they killed a princess and her family. She was beloved by her family and people, the Yata. She loved Earth. She loved the humans and the peace and simplicity of the planet. She was very kind and very generous to everyone she met, so her death was not taken lightly. Her people went to war. I’m told it was spectacular in the terrific meaning of the word, especially since they were, by nature, peaceful.

“Things were going well for a few millennia and then our planet became interesting again. Our species bred like rabbits and those who liked to eat human took notice. There were laws set into motion to protect us, but regimes change and other problems happen in our little corner of the galaxy, so there was a problem enforcing the laws. Aliens managed to slip through and prey on humans. The Yata volunteered to protect us in honor of their princess, but they needed to do it in secret. So they started an agency of humans to protect the planet. They took the form of cats to stay incognito and keep an eye on things while they trained humans, tried to keep the other races from killing humans, while scouting for new agents. Which brings us to today.”

She paused to take a drink of her coffee.

“Are you still with me?” she asked.

Tim was silent. This had to be a joke, but he knew his sister and he had never seen her act like the way she did in the park. He had never seen her so serious and so deadly. He half expected her to say, “April Fools!” but it wasn’t April and she wasn’t joking. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath and released it.

“Okay. Ancient history. I got that part. What has been going on recently and why am I involved?”

He felt a paw on his knee.

“Because the world becoming more dangerous for humans and we need your help.”

He knew that voice. His brain was telling him what his eyes refused to acknowledge. All of a sudden his missing memories came flooding back to him. The cats. They put something in his head, behind his ear, they tried talking to him once before and he freaked out.

He opened his eyes and saw Jane peering up at him.

“You and Kitt are Yata,” he said.

“Oh look! He’s finally catching up with us!”

“Yes, thank you, Kitt,” said Jane.

I need a nap or a drink.

“If I thought it would help you, I would send you to sleep, but right now, we need you alert.”

My cats are talking to me. Yep. I need a drink.

Jane signed. “Malachite, in the cabinet to the left of the sink is a bottle of scotch. Three fingers and two cubes should do it.”

Tim was trying not to panic again. He accepted the fact that he was not dreaming and he was not dead. This was a lot to take in.

“I know you have questions, Septimus, and we will answer what we can. But first, there are more pressing matters. Seraphina, show me what you saw in the woods.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Sera move to sit directly in front of the cat. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she released it, she stared directly into Jane’s eyes. After a few moments, Sera gasped and grabbed her head.

“Ow! Ow ow ow! I hate doing that!”

“I’m so sorry, but it was the quickest way,” Jane said.

“What did she see?” Kitt had joined Jane on the couch.

“Spritingjens. They are one of the newer ‘aliens’ as you call them, to take an interest in the human race. The Lymonians exported human meat to their world and they now have a taste for it. Fortunately, hunting has been made illegal. Unfortunately, the laws are a little vague when it comes to eating them on this planet. The Spritingjens are small, agile, and very fast. They are difficult to catch. Only the most skilled warriors can get them.”

“It followed us. It was the same one. Why does it want my brother?”

“We don’t know,” replied Mal. “I caught its scent and was following it to the park when I ran into Tim. I couldn’t see it in the trees but I knew it was there. It may have been ready to attack until Seraphina showed up.”

“Is is still here?” asked Kitt.

“It was a few blocks away on the roof of a building when we pulled in and it wasn’t alone.”

“Are we going to hunt it? Jane, please tell me we are going to hunt it. I’m so tired of being cooped it chasing jingle balls and getting high on cat nip!”

“Sigh….Kitt…”

“No really! I need to get out of this apartment and sharpen my claws since somebody doesn’t like to change the cardboard scratching posts as often as he should.”

“Seriously Kitt?”

“Oh and maybe we can get some tuna when we are going since somebody I know doesn’t like to share.”

“Oh for cat’s sake, Kitt, that is enough!” yelled Jane. “Tim has been very kind to us and has been an excellent care giver. I mean, maybe he could change to a better type of litter, but that is neither here nor there. And yes, we are going to hunt. We need information. We need to know how many there are and why they are tracking Septimus. Agent Wells, you will go back to the park to investigate. No stone unturned.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Sera stood and stretched. Then leaned over to kiss Tim on the head.

“Don’t worry, big brother, I’m very good at this. I will protect you. Be safe. I love you.”

“I love you too, Sera. Please be safe.”

“Your baby sister is a total badass.”

With that, she left.

“Okay,” continued Jane, “Kitt and I are going hunting around the neighborhood. I saw the building and I think we can pick up a scent. If someone will open the balcony door, we will leave through there. Malachite, you will stay here and guard Septimus and answer his questions.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What, can’t you transform into something with opposable thumbs?” Tim muttered under his breath.

Jane and Kitt ran to the balcony door as Mal opened it. Kitt ran right out but Jane paused and turned to face Tim.

“No we can’t, actually. It takes entirely too much energy for us to transform in this dimension. It is exhausting and we would need to sleep for a couple of hours afterward. Physics and all that. We don’t have that kind of time. I know this isn’t easy. There is so much we are throwing at you. But you will be okay. We will keep you safe. Once we deal with these things, we will talk about your future. Until that time, may the blessings of Onshy be upon you.”

With that she left, following Kitt into the bushes as Mal closed and locked the door.

“Wow,” said Mal, “she must really like you.”

“What do you mean?”

“The blessing of Onshy is only used amongst her people and only to loved ones. It is extremely rare to utter and even more so to a non-Yata.”

“Right.  Okay…. Blessed by a cat, good.”

“Tim…”

“Nope. Don’t even. I’m done for now. Going to lay down.”

It took all his strength not to slam the bedroom door. He plopped face-down on the bed. What. The. Actual. Hell? He had to be dreaming, or drunk, or on some really good drugs. Aliens, talking cats, space agents…it was like someone tossed Doctor Who, Men in Black, and Star Trek in a mortar and muddled them together with a pestle. The strangest thing other than the talking cats from another dimension, was his sister. How had she kept this a secret from him all this time? He was confused and frustrated and rather pissed off. He felt like a huge ass. He was so excited to actually meet someone and  looked forward to coffee with Mal, but he was setting him up for….what…a secret space agency? He must have seemed like an idiot to Mal.

I’m so freaking stupid. Stupid McStupidson from Stupidtown, USA.

There was a small knock on his door.

Great….

“Tim?”

He didn’t say anything. He just wasn’t ready to talk right now. He needed time to process things. A nap sounded good.

Tim woke up in a puddle of his own drool. He was still face down on his bed. He looked up at his alarm on this bedside table. It was late in the evening and from the delicious smells wafting into his room, someone was cooking. He was planning to stay in his room the rest of night, but his stomach had other plans. Grumbling, he headed towards the kitchen.

Damn….

He always liked a man cooking in the kitchen, but this was a beautiful picture. Mal was standing over the stove, stirring a sauce of some sort. He had a couple of other pots and pans on the stove and something was cooking in the oven. He was wearing gray sweatpants, but no shirt on and his body was well sculpted. Tim couldn’t help staring. The kitchen light gleamed off Mal’s head. As Tim’s eyes made their way down, he took note of every line, dip, and dimple. He paused at Mal’s washboard abs. Mal wore his sweatpants low on his hips so Tim could see everything. He had a sudden urge to push Mal against the sink behind him and nibble his way down to Mal’s ample bulge. Maybe pull him to the couch and….

“Do you like what you see?”

“I…um…I was just….”

“You are about five shades of red,” Mal said. “It’s okay. Feel free to check out the architecture. I work hard on it.”

“Ugh…really?”

Mal threw his head back and laughed. “Can’t help myself. You are cute when you are embarrassed.”

“Heh, thanks. What are you cooking?”

“Here. Taste.”

Mal grabbed a spoon and ladled a bit of sauce onto a piece of garlic bread that was in a basket next to the stove. He held it up for Tim. Tim hesitated a moment before he took it. He was seriously thinking about just biting it. Mal may have noticed the hesitation because there was a little smirk on his face.

“Oh god, this is delicious!”

“Thanks. Nothing sexier than a man who can cook, right?”

Tim took another bite to avoid answering the question which Mal noticed too.

“Your sister stopped by earlier. She dropped off food and a bag of clothing for me. It looks like you are stuck with me until further notice.”

Tim nearly choked on his food.

“What? Why? What’s going on?”

“It looks like this has become slightly more complicated. We don’t know if the Spritingjens were targeting you or if this was the start of something bigger. Something your sister found combined with something Jane and Kitt found…. It doesn’t bode well. And before you ask, I don’t have all the details. All I know is your sister is off-planet for a bit, contacting the Galactic Counsel about the Spritingjens to see if there has been any other activity. She’s also contacting the Yata to get a bigger investigation squad out here. Jane and Kitt are still hunting. They’ll be in and out to keep us in the loop, but don’t expect to see much of them for the next few days. I know that they teamed up with the twins so this is kinda serious.”

“The twins?” Tim asked.

“You’ve met them. Georgio and Frederick. They’re Yata.”

“Oh.”

That was all Tim could manage to say.

“Look, Tim–”

“No. Just stop. Seriously. I just…. I can’t deal with this right now. I need a little bit more time to process.”

Mal nodded. “Right okay. Dinner first, talking about serious stuff later. And I should probably put on a shirt…. Unless you want your own personal Adonis at your dinner table?”

“Groan. Put your shirt on and I’ll set the table.”

Tim had to admit, he liked having a gorgeous man cook him dinner. He could get used to it. Mal made an excellent chicken penne alfredo. It was completed with garlic bread and a nice Chardonnay. Tim found it easy to get lost in conversation with Mal. It seemed to come naturally. He really enjoyed Mal’s company and, for a while, they both forgot everything going on around them. It was just the two of them having dinner, getting to know each other more.

This is nice, Tim thought.

Once the dinner mess was cleaned, they moved to the couch and spent the rest of the night enjoying each other’s company. Before they knew it, it was three in the morning.

“Shit! I didn’t realize the time! I’m going to be a zombie at work tomorrow!” yelled Tim.

“Um…yeah about that….”

“I can’t go to work can I?”

“Nope.”

“What am I supposed to tell my boss when he gets pissed at me for not showing up?”

Mal suddenly became interested in his wine glass.

“What?” Tim asked.

“The agency has already handled it.”

“Whoa, wait. What?”

“The agency contacted your boss, as you, and told them that you were struck by a driver in a hit and run on your way to help your sister today. You have a broken leg and three fractured ribs and you are going to be out of work for the next two weeks or so because you are on heavy pain meds. Also you need to keep still because of your ribs. The agency provided the necessary documentation.”

Tim shook his head in disbelief.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “So what? This agency thinks that they can just come in a fuck up people’s lives as they see fit?”

“Tim…”

“No! Don’t even try! This is completely inappropriate. Who the hell do they think they are? I didn’t ask for this! I don’t want to be involved with this agency of whatever. Don’t you see how fucked up this is?

Here I was, minding my own freaking business. Everything was going mostly well. Then these stupid cats came into my life and it just went to shit. My boyfriend inexplicably left, which I’m guessing they had something to do with it. I’m kinda okay with that because he was an asshole and I was going to break up with him anyway but still. They put something in my head and started talking, my sister is a space agent, I have aliens wanting to capture and eat me. And to make matters worse, I finally meet a guy that is perfect in every way. We get along. We have plenty in common. I really like him.  I was actually excited to hear from him and get to know him and hoping that things could progress, but, surprise, he’s a space agent too, sent to recruit me. Like a big cosmic joke. Literally since space is involved!”

He stopped in front of Mal. At some point during his rant, he began to pace his living room. All his anger and frustration at the situation reached its boiling point. He felt like punching something or throwing something.

“Yes, I do,” Mal said quietly.

“What?”

Mal looked up and met his eyes.

“I understand how fucked up this is. It was only a few short years ago when I was having this same rant with the twins. They scouted me just like Jane and Kitt scouted you. I had a life. A very unhappy one, but I had a life. I was in a relationship, I had a job, I had my family. The next thing I know, my girlfriend left me for another man, I was fired from my job, and had two cats talking to me, telling me about a space agency. I thought I had lost my mind. Honestly, you are taking this better than I did. You have your sister and me to help you through this, but I didn’t have anyone other than the twins. I threw punches, a couple of bottles, and put a couple of holes in the walls going after the twins.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, so I know how you feel.”

“I just… I want to be given a choice in the matter. I can understand all the crazy shit, but I just want to have a choice.”

Mal stood before Tim and gently placed his hand on Tim’s cheek.

“You will be given a choice. I promise you that. The circumstances are a little different right now, but once the dust has settled, you will be given a choice. We all are. Okay?”

Tim took a deep breath and nodded. Mal leaned in and kissed his cheek.

“In case you were wondering,” he whispered in Tim’s ear, “space agency scouting aside, I do really like you.”

He kissed his way down the side of Tim’s neck, lingering at his collar bone.

“Not to mention the fact that I have done nothing but think of you since that night, including all the naughty little things I would like to do to you.”

He pulled away and let go before things got out of hand. Tim was dealing with a lot and this was not the right moment.

“You should probably go to bed.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll be up for a while. The Yata changed my circadian rhythm around a bit, at my request, so I’ll go to sleep tomorrow night. I may nap a bit later, but I need to be awake for tonight in case anything tries to break in. Your sister already showed me where the linens are. I’ll make up the bed on the pull out sofa and watch some TV for a while. You go on now and get some sleep. I’ll keep you safe.”

“Safe. Right. Safe from the aliens that want to chop me up and eat me. Gotcha.”

“Hey. It could be worse. You could be a sex slave to a Nadnoan. Matriarchal society and the sole purpose of an entire class of males is to please the females sexually. They modify you so that your schlong is at least fifteen inches long and gives you some form of Viagra that keeps you hard for several hours. It might sound nice, but they have extremely high sex drives and if you piss them off, their vag muscles release poisonous barbs into your dick, which withers and dies. It is a slow, agonizing process that kills you.”

“Holy shit!”

“Yeaaaah….”

“Okay. Withering penises. On that note, I’m going to bed. Good night.”

“Good night, Tim. I’ll be out here if you need anything.”

Sleep was not an option for Tim. How was he supposed to sleep when all he could think about was how wonderful Mal’s lips felt on his neck? The raging hard on didn’t help either. He could take care of that, but he doubted it would help. He couldn’t help but wonder what naughty things Mal thought about doing to him.

Go to sleep!

He tossed and turned as the minutes raced passed. At the four thirty mark he was nowhere near sleeping and by five he gave up and decided to go join Mal on the couch. He padded out to the living room and found Mal lounging on the couch bed, browsing through Netflix. He didn’t even look up as Tim came into the room. He just pulled back the blanket and patted the spot next to him. Tim took that as an invitation and hopped in the bed. Tim was awkward for a moment before Mal lifted his arm.

“Come here, handsome.”

Tim placed his head on Mal’s shoulder and snuggled up next to him. He draped his arm across Mal’s chest as Mal pulled him closer.

“Get some sleep,” Mal said, kissing his head.

He still didn’t know how he was supposed to fall asleep, but being held was comforting. Mal pulled the hair tie out of his hair and massaged his scalp. In a few moments, Tim fell fast asleep.

Tim woke up with an arm around his waist and an erection in his back. Not that it was a bad thing, but he didn’t exactly know what he was supposed to do with that fact.  He needed to move, but he was so comfortable that he didn’t want to. He also didn’t know if Mal was sleeping or not. He didn’t want to disturb his sleep but he needed to pee. As he stood in the bathroom, Tim thought about yesterday. He finally came to the conclusion that he wasn’t drunk, drugged, and/or dead. What was the Doyle quote again? He ruled out all the impossibilities, so the improbable truth was, talking cats and human eating aliens aside, he was sane. Somehow that didn’t make him feel much better. He took care of his business and freshened up. He didn’t want to go out there with morning breath and a rat’s nest in his hair. When he finished, he walked back to the living room. Mal was on his back, stretching. The blankets had been pulled back, allowing Tim to catch a glimpse of the mostly naked Mal. Mal was only wearing boxer briefs and they left very little to the imagination.

“You know, if you keep staring, I’m going to develop a complex.”

“Sorry! Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare I just….” he trailed off.

“You never did answer my question last night,” said Mal.

“What question?”

“I’ll ask again. Do you like what you see?”

“Yes. Very much.”

Mal grinned as he held out his arms. Tim didn’t hesitate to crawl back into bed. He knew he probably shouldn’t be doing this, but at this moment, he didn’t care. He wanted one small moment of bliss.  When their lips met, Tim knew he was in for one hell of a ride.  He felt Mal begin to explore his body, pausing a moment, before slipping under the waistline of his boxers. He pushed himself into Mal’s hand, gently moaning in his throat. He arched his back, bringing himself closer, giving Mal better access to his neck.  Closing his eyes, Tim allowed himself to be carried away as Mal kissed and nibbled his way down…down…down….

I could get used to this, Tim thought sometime later. He was nestled in the crook of Mal’s arm and, for the first time in a while, was completely relaxed. Mal stroked his hair as their breathing return to normal. That was the best sex he had in, well, ever. He wanted to lay here in bed for the rest of the day and not do anything.

“Are you okay?” asked Mal.

“Yeah, you?”

“Yeah. That was rather amazing.”

“Yes. Yes, it was. I don’t have any desire to move from this spot. Ever.”

“Normally, I’d be okay with that, but I’m actually kinda starving now.”

“Breakfast?”

“Breakfast.”

The next few days passed quickly, but Tim didn’t notice. It was easy with Mal. They moved about the kitchen completely in sync as they cooked. Occasionally, one would steal a kiss from the other, or smack the others butt playfully. It was easy to laugh and flirt. It was easy to talk. They spent a good portion of their days together watching movies or playing games together on the gaming consoles. Tim was the Mario Kart champion, but Mal gave him a run for his money. Sometimes, he read aloud. Mal seemed to really like listening to him read—said it was soothing. Their nights were filled with laying in Tim’s bed together talking. He had a star projector for his ceiling. They would lay there watching the stars move around the room as Mal told him about his adventures with the agency and the other planets out there. More often than not, Mal’s wandering hands would rile both of them and they would spend a couple of hours loving each other.  Tim loved waking up in the mornings, finding Mal’s arms wrapped protectively around him.

They didn’t see or hear from Jane and Kitt since the cats left. Mal assured Tim this was normal and if anything had happened, they would have been notified. Sometimes, there would be a cat on the balcony. Tim didn’t know if this was an actual cat or Yata. Mal wasn’t concerned, so he put it out of his mind. His sister was still off planet but sent regular communications to Mal.

“There is a rogue squad of Spritingjens on the planet, illegally hunting. They are acting outside their government. At least that’s what the Spritinjen government said,” she said in a message. “I’m not sure how much of that I believe, but, as of right now, we have no other option since we have no proof to the contrary. I should be home in a day or two to meet up with Jane and Kitt. Stay safe and tell Tim that I love him.”

“So are other races not allowed on our planet at all?” Tim asked one night.

“No. Not at this moment in time. Think of it as a wildlife preserve where only scientists are allowed.”

“Oh gee thanks. I’m an animal now?”

Mal grinned. “I’ve been in your bed, Tiger. If I didn’t have dark skin, I’m pretty sure I would have teeth marks on my thighs and scratches on my back.”

“Uh, huh. So what does that make you?”

“I’m the hunter, baby.”

“Right…. You feel like hunting tonight?”

Before he could react, Mal launched off the couch. He tossed Tim over his shoulder and headed to the bedroom, both laughing the whole way.

Tim woke up on a cold metal floor.

Wait, what?

He was incredibly groggy, but his vision started to clear. He didn’t understand where he was. He was laying on a metal floor. There were bars to his left and right. He looked up. A cage. He was in a cage. How the hell did he get there?

Think Tim. What do you remember?

He remembered Mal. He and Mal were together on his bed. He had his lips around…. A crash…there was a crash. Mal cursed and grabbed the knife he always kept next to him and ran to the living room. The crash was the sliding door to the balcony. He heard fighting. He grabbed his baseball bat and was about to head into the fray, but there was another loud crash behind him. He turned to swing his bat, but whoever it was moved so quickly he couldn’t track it. Suddenly, it was behind him. He felt a stinging in his thigh and blacked out. He guessed the crash in the living room was a diversion to get to him.

He needed to get his bearings. He looked around. It looked like he was in a cargo hold of some sort. He heard whimpers somewhere behind him. He was not the only human here.

“Hello?” He called out. “Anyone else here?”

Nobody answered, but the sounds continued.

There was a sound of metal scraping followed by a strange clicking noise. He heard footsteps approaching his cage. He looked up and saw the weirdest creature he had ever seen. It was short, no taller than four feet, but was more limbs than torso. It had very long arms and legs. Tim counted seven fingers on each hand, but the fingers were twice that of a human and had claws. The head was bulbous, with black, beady eyes, a long nose, and no ears. It had no hair. Tim could deal with that, but it was the mouth that threw him off. It was like the mouth was entirely too big for its face. The creature seemed to be smiling as he looked down at him. The giant toothy grin was just odd in Tim’s opinion.

Gives a whole new meaning to grinning ear to ear.

“Ooooooh you do look like a tasty one, don’t you? Perfect blood type,” it said. “I’m going to cut you into little bits and make a fortune.”

“Okay yeah about that. I would really appreciate it if you didn’t do that.”

The creature dropped its knife and backed up a few paces.

“You can understand me?” it asked.

“Yes. Yes, I can.”

“How is this possible?”

“I don’t know. Aren’t you speaking English?”

Tim knew he had said something wrong. The creature started to make strange hissing sounds and banged the cage so hard it knocked it over.

“Spritingjens will never stoop so low as to speak the language of the food!”

“I’m not food.”

“How do you understand? How, how, howhowhowhowhow?”

The creature righted the cage and picked up its knife.

“You will come with me. You must see the Commander. If you try anything, I will cut off your head.”

Tim was not going to try anything. He needed to buy some time. He knew that help would come at some point, but he needed to make sure he was still alive when it finally did come. They walked down a dimly lit corridor to an elevator. They rode the lift up a few levels then the doors opened to a command bridge. He barely had any time to look around before he was pushed down on this knees and hit on the back of the head.

“Show respect, food!”

“Dude! Seriously I don’t know anything about your culture.”

He was hit with another blow, this time to the face.

“Silence!”

“How does this one understand us?” A new creature moved into view. It looked identical to the one who hit him, except this one had a decorative gold tattoo in the center of his head. That must be the commander.

“I don’t know commander, but he understands and speaks.”

“Is this the one that was giving us trouble?”

“Yes.”

The commander grabbed a handful of Tim’s hair and yanked his head back. Its breath was vile.

“You are the reason we lost three of our crew.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Tim said, “You shouldn’t be illegally hunting humans, you stupid asshole.”

The creature backhanded him so hard he fell to the floor. He tried to sit up, but the creature thrashed him. He wanted to fight back, but the creature was too fast. He felt a sharp pain in his thigh. His jailer had bitten him and was trying to rip off his flesh.

I’m going to be beaten to death.

As soon as that thought crossed his mind, the ship was rocked by what seemed to be an explosion. A few seconds later, another explosion, more forceful that the previous, hit the ship.

“Commander! There is a ship behind us firing warning shots!”

The commander returned to his chair. Tim lay forgotten on the floor. He tried to move, but every time he tried, sharp pain raced through his body. His legs felt broken, as did his ribs and probably a few bones in his face. Tasted blood and felt it dripping from his thigh.

“Keep your speed. As soon as we are in our airspace, they cannot follow us.”

“Sir, they are sending a message.”

“What does it say?”

“It says that we are in possession of humans which is illegal under the terms of Galactic Treaty 23409. We are required to stop and return the property. If we do not comply, then they are within their legal rights to disable our ship and board.”

“I would like to see them try,” the commander scoffed. “It would be in violation of the trade agreement. They have no proof. They can’t force their way on here. Keep going.”

“Sir, they said they have the full cooperation of our government and it’s….oh save us….it’s the Yata.”

“You have your orders.”

“But sir!”

“I will not repeat myself!”

As the commander was arguing with his (her?) helmsman, Tim tried to make his way to the elevator. He needed to get off the bridge and back to the cargo hold. He had seen towels on one of the tables and he needed to stop the bleeding before he died. The commander and the jailer were too busy to pay attention to what he was doing. He made it to the lift. Somehow he knew how to read the writing on the wall and pressed the button to the hold. It must be the implant translating for him. Made sense. He managed to make it back to the hold and almost to the table before the ship jerked again. This time, the ship started to slow. Whoever was firing must have made a direct hit on the engines or something. He grabbed a towel and pressed it to his leg. He was in so much pain. His body was screaming at him, but he couldn’t think about that right now. The ship was hit once more and came to a halt. He was thrown against the wall. That didn’t help the situation. He lost a lot of blood and was starting to feel light-headed. He needed to stop the bleeding. Somewhere in the hold, he heard voices calling out. He wanted to tell them everything was going to be okay and that help arrived, but he couldn’t think about anything other than the pain. It was overwhelming.

Focus, Septimus, we are here and coming to get you.

He knew that voice. Jane. Thank god.

The door opened.

“Jane…”

He felt long fingers close around his neck and he was thrown to the center of the room.

“You stupid animal! This is your fault!”

It was the commander. Tim was forced onto his back. He felt the weight on the commander on his chest. He nearly screamed from the pain. The commander once again wrapped its hands around his neck, intent on killing him. All of a sudden a bright light filled the room and the commander flew off his chest. He wanted to move, but he couldn’t. His body was broken. There was no way he would be able to.

“Septimus? Can you hear me?”

Jane.

“Yes. It’s me. Look at me. Focus.”

He was able to slightly turn his head.

Well that doesn’t make sense.

He heard Jane laugh.

“Yes it really is me, Septimus.”

He was so used to Jane being a cat, that it came as a shock to see her in another form. She was an elf. That was the only way to describe her. An elf. Straight out of Tolkien. She was tall, lithe, and lean. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a long braid. Her eyes were vibrant and green and her skin pale. She was beautiful.

You are beautiful, Jane.

“Okay, silly, come on. We need to get you out of here.”

“A little help here, Jane!”

She looked up. Tim realized there was still a fight going on somewhere to his right. He knew that voice too. It was Kitt.

“Shit!” she yelled. She jumped over Tim and joined the fray. Tim couldn’t see what was happening. It hurt too much to move.

“You have to hit it there, Kitt!”

“I know how to fight a Spritingjen, Jane!”

“Okay so will you do it? Septimus has lost a lot of blood and needs… DUCK!”

“Oh you stupid…”

The fight lasted a few more moments. Together, Kitt and Jane were able to kill the commander.

“Kitt, see to the other humans. I’m going to take Tim to the ship.”

“Right, oh, m’lady.”

“Don’t be a jackass.”

She knelt beside Tim and placed a hand on his forehead.

“Tim? I need to move you. Since you have so many broken bones, it is going to hurt. I’m going to put you in a deep sleep so you don’t feel this, okay? You don’t have to talk, just think.”

Is Mal okay?

“Yes, he is fine. A little banged up, but fine.”

Thank you for coming for me, Jane.

She smiled down at him.

“Of course, silly. That’s what friends do. Hush now. Sleep.”

He felt a rush of warmth travel from her hand into his head. His vision began to fade and the darkness consumed him.

Tim woke up in space. Not a bad place to wake up, but shocking none the less. He did a mental inventory of his body. He didn’t hurt as much as he thought he would. He felt the need to sit up. He wondered if there was a button he needed to push to get some one’s attention. Something at the end of the bed moved and walked its way towards him. It jumped on his chest as he opened his eyes.

“Hello, Jane.”

“How are you Septimus?”

He wiggled around a little bit.

“I think I’m okay. I should be a broken mess, unless I’ve been in a coma for a month.”

“Ha. No. You have only been out for a week. You are completely healed.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep.”

“You have the ability to heal that amount of damage in days and you aren’t sharing it with the people of earth?”

Jane sighed. “We tried at one point and they tried to burn us as the stake calling us witches and demons. Or, my personal favorite, concubines of the devil. So when someone is getting close to discovering a breakthrough, we help.”

“Makes sense. So why was I targeted? They specifically went after me.”

“Oh yeah, that. You have a rare blood type.”

“Yeah, I’m B negative.”

“Yep. To them, it is like a bottle of Dom Perignon served with a filet mignon and fetches quite the price on the black market. In fact, you would have made them the equivalent of five million dollars.”

“Wow! No wonder they were trying to get away. There were a couple of us in there.”

“Yes. They lost a good twenty-five million. The crew is under investigation and the commander has been relieved of duty…and his life.”

Tim laughed. He couldn’t help it. The past three weeks had been absurd with a splash of ridiculous.

“So what happens now?” he asked as he sobered.

“Well, first we get your released and home. You have two very distraught people worried about you. Then we have to have a little chat about your future.”

When he opened the door to his apartment, he heard a loud squeak and was knocked into the wall by a freight train. Not really, but his sister ran to him at high speed and was now squishing the air out of him.

“Sera…Sera…I can’t breathe…Sera…”

She let go and looked up at him. Tears were in her eyes.

“Tim! I was so worried! When I heard you had been taken by those stupid people, I was terrified. I thought we had lost you for good.”

He pulled her into his embrace, kissing the top of her head and rubbing her back.

“Hey. It’s okay. I’m fine. I wasn’t even worried. I knew that help was coming. I knew that Mal would alert Jane and Kitt and someone would come. It’s okay, Sera.”

He held her until she calmed. She took a couple of steps back. He placed his hands on her cheeks and wiped away the tears and kissed her forehead. She gave a very unladylike sniff.

“I love you, Seraphina. Just wanted you to know that. I don’t say it enough.”

“I love you too, Septimus.”

He was finally allowed to move further into the apartment. The cats had taken their favorite places on the cat tree. Tim noticed that the damage to the apartment had been repaired. He looked around and saw that someone was missing.

“He’s asleep in the bedroom,” said Sera.

“How did…?”

She smiled up at him.

“Because I know there is something going on between the two of you. It wasn’t hard to figure out, especially since he freaked out after you were taken. It wasn’t a the-person-I-was-guarding-was-kidnapped type panic. He also pitched a fit when we were told that you were rescued but in a medical pod for a bit.”

“He’s been doing nothing but pacing and driving the twins crazy trying to get updates,” said Kitt. “I think he might like you, or something.”

“Right. So…” Tim trailed off. He didn’t know how to politely tell them that he wanted have some alone time with Mal. Thankfully, he didn’t have to. The cats were telepathic.

“Agent Wells,” said Jane, “we have an assignment for you. We need to interrogate the Spritingjens to see if there are any others on the planet.”

“Oh! Right! Yes, so I guess I will head off for a few days. I’ll call you okay?”

“Okay. Later, sis.”

“Wait for us! I don’t want to be here for this!” yelled Kitt. “I can hear his thoughts and really don’t want to be here. It was bad enough we have to deal with that other guy going at it with other guys when you weren’t home.”

“Excuse me, what?”

“Oops. Agent Wells!”

Kitt jumped down from his spot on the perch and ran after Seraphina. Tim turned backed to Jane and looked at her questioningly. She shrugged.

“Don’t worry about it. We took care of it. I can tell you that Malachite would never do that. On that note, I will be in touch soon.”

Tim just shook his head at the cat. He moved to stand in front of her. He reached out to scratch her ears. She leaned into his hand and purred before following Kitt.

He headed towards the bedroom, but stopped before going in. He didn’t want to wake Mal. The poor guy probably needed sleep. Tim was a little terrified to walk through the door, but also hopeful. Mal could be anywhere else other than in his bedroom, but he was there waiting for him. But what if Mal didn’t feel the same way he did? What if this was just a fling?

Breath, Septimus. He is there for a reason.

Get out of my head, Jane!

He turned the door knob and slowly pushed the door open. Mal was sprawled out face down on the bed. He painted such a pretty picture. The light blue of the sheets brought out the color of his dark skin. They also hugged every curve of his back and butt, so much so that Tim could tell that he was naked.

After a moment’s hesitation, Tim decided that the best way to let Mal know he was home was to hop in bed and snuggle up next to him. He undressed, and as quietly and gently as he could, crawled into bed behind Mal. He started to settle when Mal turned over and threw an arm around him and pulled him close. He nuzzled Mal’s chest, inhaling his masculine scent. Mal reached up and pulled out the hair tie that held his hair in its usual bun, massaging his scalp.

“Mmmm….that feels really nice,” Tim whispered.

“You thought you could sneak in, huh?”

“I didn’t want to wake you.”

“Silly. I was already awake. I heard your sister yell as you came in.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m glad you are home.”

“I’m glad to be home.”

They lay in silence for a bit, enjoying being in each other’s arms. This was what they both needed. It had been a rough week for Mal. Tim could tell. There was still tension in his arms, which was starting to ease. Tim hated that he had been the cause of all that stress. Well, it wasn’t his fault he was kidnaped, but still.

“Tim?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m going to fall in love with you, okay?”

Tim’s heart leapt in his chest.

“You don’t have to love me back,” Mal continued, “I’ll be okay with that. But I’m going to fall in love with you.”

Tim pulled back and grabbed Mal’s chin and met his eyes.

“You big dummy. Of course I’m going to love you back. How could I not?”

Mal captured his lips. Tim wrapped his arms around Mal’s neck and deepened the kiss. He knew he had a big decision to make regarding the future and he didn’t know where Mal was going to fit into that future. He hoped it would be at his side, but there were so many factors. But for right now, Tim didn’t care. At this moment in time, the only thing he cared about what right then and there. The only thing that mattered to him was the man in his arms. He pulled Mal on top of him, breaking the kiss. He cupped Mal’s cheek and smiled up at him. Mal grinned back at him before continuing the kiss and Tim knew that, no matter what, everything was going to okay.

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