When the urgency had passed and he was able to simply lie next to her, savoring the feel of Analas’s skin against his and the rhythm of her blood pulsing through her body, Finn buried his face in her hair and let the events of the day wash over him. Not a single extraordinary thing had happened until he picked Meska up from daycare and took her to the park, as usual; but everything since had been a first. Some good firsts, sure…he’d just made love to a beautiful alien female while riding around on an asteroid, so there was nothing to complain about there. But it had also been his first time running from mortal danger with his terrified daughter in his arms, his first time watching someone get beaten to death, and his first time fleeing his home world to escape assassins. They weren’t out of danger, and they wouldn’t be in the foreseeable future.
“Finn?” Analas raised her head from his chest with a worried frown. “What’s wrong?”
“Hmmm? Nothing, why?”
“Your heart sped up, and your breathing changed.”
Finn peered questioningly at her. “A lot of things could cause that. I could be excited, or – ”
“No, that’s your worried heartbeat and breathing. I spent months spying on you, remember? I planted a bug on you – ”
“There were times when you sat up reading at night. It was so quiet all I could hear was your heartbeat and breath, then an occasional rustle of paper as you turned a page.”
“You listened to me? For months??”
“You and Meska, yes.” She looked away, abashed. “I placed the bugs a few months ago. That’s how I knew something was wrong in the park. I could still hear Meska, but your bug stopped broadcasting.”
He stared at the ceiling, too embarrassed to keep looking her in the eye. “Is there anything you didn’t hear?”
She bit her lip, suddenly remembering all the personal things she’d overheard. “I’m afraid not.”
“So, you heard me all those times I practiced asking you out.”
“And all the times you talked yourself out of it.”
Finn sighed heavily. “Well, shit.”
“But,” she said, raising herself onto her elbow and trying to draw his gaze, “I also heard you interacting with Meska and singing while you cooked…all kinds of things that endeared you to me!”
“Are we still bugged?”
She nodded, running a finger over the inside of his left forearm. “It’s under the skin here, but I can only hear you when I have the receiver on. I have one, too…all of us in the faction had them for tracking and communication during missions. I have mine synced to the controller I wear on my wrist so I can turn the broadcast on and off. I’ll replicate some controllers for you and Meska so you can mute yours, too.”
“You can’t just remove them? It’s very…big brother, y’know?”
“If I remove them and we get separated, I’ll have no way to track you or Meska. I understand why you don’t like it, but I think it’s best to leave them in.”
Finn closed his eyes and swallowed the lump of panic that had risen to his throat. “I hadn’t thought of that…being lost, alone and friendless, on some strange planet. I wouldn’t have a clue what to do!”
Analas laced her fingers through his and squeezed. “I won’t lose you as long as you have the chip in your arm.”
“You’d better not! You’re all we’ve got out here. God knows I’m not going to be much help to us. Maybe you were right. Maybe I shouldn’t have come. What the hell good is a numbers nerd out here?”
“You thought to ask about a tracking signal on the Praski’s ship! You saw a potential problem and made sure I considered it. You’re always thinking about that kind of thing. That’s useful! I’ve heard you at work, assessing risk and analyzing how various scenarios could play out. That kind of thinking will help both in our trading cover and in getting us to Fril in one piece.”
“When I have the numbers to crunch, sure, but – ”
“No buts. I’ve seen you do it hundreds of times, with and without numbers involved. You get this little wrinkle between your eyes and your head cocks to the side when your wheels are turning. It’s adorable.”
“Well,” he said with a nervous almost-laugh, “if it’s adorable then it must be useful.”
She grinned and kissed him, pleased to have pulled him back from the brink of despair. “You’re just looking for a graceful excuse to go back to Earth now that you know my hair is going to be green and I’m going to be covered in spots.”
“Hardly! With all those green flecks in your eyes,” he said as he twisted one of her curls around his fingers, “I bet they look like emeralds when your hair is its true color. And don’t think for one second that I’m not looking forward to counting your spots!”
She grinned and dropped a kiss on his shoulder with every intention of working her way up his neck, but an alarm forced her out of bed.
He watched as she scooped his shirt off the floor and slipped it on, admiring her beauty and decisiveness as she accessed the bridge from the computer interface at the desk and turned off the alarm. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’d set an alert for when we got close to being back in scanning range.”
“Mmm.” In the quiet that reigned while she worked, he mulled over all that he’d learned. The thoughtful seriousness of his expression when Analas finally turned her attention back to him made her leery of interrupting his reverie. “Ana?”
“Ally left Meska with me to keep her safe, didn’t she? She had to leave to draw the assassins away from the baby.”
“That’s the conclusion I’ve come to, yes.”
“But I don’t think that could have been her plan all along. If she wanted me – or whoever ended up contributing the genetic material – to take care of Meska, it would have made more sense to bring us into the picture sooner. What if I’d been a terrible father? What if I’d sent Meska to live with my parents because I didn’t want to be bothered with raising her? It was a huge gamble!”
“I agree. I’ve been puzzled not only by that, but also by the fact that her trail quite literally stopped cold in your apartment. My equipment detected no evidence that she left by any means of transport known to the Fril, so I think she must have had help from a species we have yet to encounter. My theory is that she had made arrangements for someone to pick her up and take her to safety as soon as she knew the fertilization had worked, but they were late. There was some reason that she couldn’t leave on her own…damage to her ship, perhaps, or too many ships in nearby space that could have spotted her. She came to you out of desperation. This other party finally arrived around the time of Meska’s birth, and she chose to go without her. There were no signs of a struggle…no indication that she didn’t leave of her own free will. She must have believed that you would be a wonderful father, or she wouldn’t have done it.”
“I don’t know about wonderful,” he sighed. “I’ve done the best that I could. Another thing, though…you said that you started programming the replicator with Human food as soon as you realized Meska was Viskally’s daughter. That had to have been when her spots couldn’t be hidden by her clothes, which was months ago. If you planned all along to take her away, why did you wait until now?”
“I was fairly certain as soon as I saw the spots that she was Viskally’s daughter, but it wasn’t until she cut herself on the table in my apartment that I was able to test her relationship with Friles Pata. I had tried to test her hair and a few other, less intrusive samples, but the results were inconclusive. I needed her blood, and that was the first opportunity I had to get it without traumatizing her or raising your suspicions. Until then there was still the possibility, however remote, that Viskally had failed to fertilize the proto-zygote and your sperm had joined with one of her unfertilized eggs. It might have been that Meska’s only father was you, in which case there was no reason to take her back to Fril.”
“But, again, that was weeks ago. You chose to stay instead of taking her right then.”
“The others had stopped coming to Earth to look for Viskally, so for the moment Meska was safer there than she would have been out in the black. I spent those weeks preparing to leave. I would have taken Meska sooner or later, but until your lives were in danger it made no sense to risk it.”
“So your decision to stay had nothing to do with me. It was all…risk management?”
Analas moved back over to the bed, sitting beside him. “You had made it pretty clear that you wanted nothing to do with me, Finn. And I couldn’t blame you. I’ve been spying on you – on everyone in your building, really – since before you and I actually met! You were right to mistrust me, right to be paranoid about my interest in Meska. I knew as soon as I started to have feelings for you that it couldn’t end well, but I couldn’t push you away because you were the key to finding Viskally. Those last few weeks were miserable for me. Leaving Earth would have been much easier than living across the hall from you, watching your every move.”
A beep prompted Analas to return to the computer interface. While she tapped away at the console, he thought of how entirely his life had changed in less than a day and how much more change was still to come – the education he’d be getting as they traded Analas’s cargo and the experience of living in hiding while they waited for Analas’s spots to come back, all while exploring a new relationship with an alien. Normally, when he was faced with a daunting task, he would run the numbers to make himself feel better. Whether it was financial or personal or work-related, he’d never really taken that many risks. Even marrying Ally was a strategic decision to avoid paying out of pocket for an uninsured birth or going to court to determine child support.
But this! Falling in love with his lifeline was so risky he couldn’t even make himself consider the odds. He’d been falling in love with her, though, for a long time now. She’d been nothing but a slightly mysterious yet helpful neighbor when he’d felt the beginnings of the now familiar pangs. Having to mistrust her had hurt him as much as or more than it had hurt her, and it was a relief to finally know the truth. Strong and smart, decisive and compassionate, she was turning out to be even more wonderful than he dreamed. Their road would be anything but easy, and Meska’s road would be more difficult still; but the three of them would travel it together, and that was all that mattered to him.
“Get dressed, mister.” She rose and tossed his jeans onto the bed. “We’re in scanning range of the other ships. We’ve got an escape to finish!” Kissing him peremptorily on the lips, she gave him a playful pinch on the arm before rushing into the corridor.
“Aye aye, cap’n!” He called as the tuft of her tail disappeared from view. Throwing his legs over the side of the bunk, he took one brief moment to convince himself that this really wasn’t a dream, then slid into his jeans and followed Analas into the terrifying, glorious unknown.