He was pouring himself some juice when he heard movement from the living room, and he glanced over his shoulder. Aura had spent the night on the foldout sofa, and she looked charmingly tousled as she turned her head toward the kitchen.
"Morning, sleepyhead," he said with a smile, setting the juice carton down and getting another glass. "Have any good dreams?"
"Once in every life, someone comes along
Like you've come along"
"Mmm," she mumbled. She propped herself up against the back of the couch and rubbed her eyes sleepily. "Some. Mostly involving you."
"Mostly?" he repeated, amused. He took the two pieces of toast from the toaster and retrieved a second plate. He hadn't been sure she would wake up before he left. "Is there someone else I should know about?"
When she didn't answer, he glanced into the living room. Aura wore a smug smile that turned into a laugh when she saw his expression. "One of them involved exiling Seidon from Aquitar for the rest of his natural life," she admitted. "I enjoyed that one."
He chuckled. "I think I would have liked that too. Are you hungry?"
She seemed to consider that. "Yes," she said at last. "I don't think I'm quite awake enough to tell you more than that, though."
"Here," he offered, picking up her juice and bringing it into the living room. "This'll help." She moved over a little, and he sat down next to her.
She accepted the glass and took a hesitant sip. She glared at him almost immediately, but her eyes danced as she accused, "This is terrible!"
He grinned at her expression. "I didn't say it was good; I said it would wake you up. Nothing like fruit sugar to get you going in the morning."
She shook her head, but she did try it again. "Should I bother asking what's in it?"
"It's like the crew's orange juice," he told her. "But it has strawberry in it, too. It's good; I don't know what's wrong with your sense of taste."
"I think it's yours that's in question," she muttered, taking another sip.
"You're still drinking it," he pointed out.
"Do as the locals do," she countered, her eyes sparkling at him over the rim of the glass. "What wish have I to offend your primitive customs?"
"Hey!" He reached out to take the glass, but she didn't let it go. "This primitive isn't impressed with your enlightened sense of tact!"
"Tact has never been my strongest area," she remarked, straight-faced.
"I've noticed that," he agreed. "Now drink your juice or give it up."
"And it would be so nice
If this happiness could go on and on"
"Don't you have somewhere to be?" she demanded, lifting the glass to her lips again. "You may wait on me for the rest of the day if you wish, but if you're going to insult me you might as well be on your way."
He grinned at her tone. "Why, Ranger Aura, are you dismissing me?"
"Have you ever done anything you were told?" she countered with a smirk.
He reached out and touched the bridge of her nose, letting his thumb trace the violet accents under her eyes and down across her cheek. "I fell in love with you," he reminded her with a smile.
She looked down at the glass in her hands, then lifted her still-smug gaze to his again as she set it down on the table beside her. "I did not tell you to do that," she told him. "In fact, I suspect you were under implicit orders not to do such a thing, further proving my point."
Undeterred, he let his hand slide around her ear to smooth her flyaway hair against her neck. "I waited for you," he said more quietly, caressing her chin with his thumb while his fingers played with her hair.
The smirk on her face faded a little. "I did not tell you to do that, either."
He brushed her hair back and laid his hand gently on the nape of her neck. "You didn't have to," he murmured, drawing her near enough to kiss.
Her kiss was soft, warm, and sorely missed. He told himself it was ridiculous to miss something he'd known so briefly, but he did. He hadn't seen her since his birthday all those weeks ago, and since she'd arrived yesterday they hadn't had a moment alone. Until now, at least, and he yearned to make up for the time they'd lost.
More than that, though, he wanted some vision of the future. He wanted to see himself with her like this for a long time to come... but when he kissed her, more disturbing images kept surfacing. Maybe it was the dream she claimed to have had, or just the mention of the former Aquitian liaison's name, but he couldn't ignore them.
"Aura," he whispered reluctantly. "When we go back to Aquitar... things are going to get complicated, aren't they."
"No." She caught hold of his t-shirt and pulled him closer, opening her mouth to his with a fierceness that gave the lie to her words. She was worried too, and he didn't know why he hadn't noticed it earlier.
"But in this modern world, troubles come by
People let go at the first tear they cry"
*You're lying,* he thought, not sure whether he meant her to hear or not.
*So?* she demanded. Her kiss was merciless, and he spared a moment to regret teaching her so well. That only brought memories of their one night together that much closer to the surface, and he suppressed them ruthlessly. If he let her win this, he would never get the answers he needed.
His hands found her shoulders and he pushed her away, staring into her silver gaze as though he could read her thoughts. "So don't tell me it hasn't occurred to you," he said. He tried to be stern, but his voice was too husky to be convincing. "If I come back with you--really with you--the whole world will know Seidon was right."
Her tone was as challenging as he'd meant his to be. "If you were having second thoughts, you might have mentioned it before now."
"Not for myself. For you." He shouldn't have said "if"; he had known that even before her eyes flashed. But it was too late to take it back now. "You said yourself you could lose everything if the government thought we were having an affair."
She looked away, and her next words took him completely by surprise. "The government knows," she said quietly. "No one fabricates something like that about a Ranger."
For a long moment, he had no idea what to say. Finally he managed, "But... you said--"
"I said there were underlying circumstances," she interrupted, shifting toward the edge of the bed and still not looking at him. "There were. The government will not acknowledge what actually happened, but imagine if you had returned earlier and we had been revealed a second time. Another transgression would have been--difficult to overlook."
"We could have kept it from happening again." He protested instinctively, but the look in her eyes when she glanced over at him was enough to silence him.
"Could we?" she asked simply.
Caught by the question in that gaze, he shook his heard wordlessly. "I suppose not," he allowed, when that didn't seem to be enough.
"So how is this any different?" he wanted to know, when her eyes finally released him. "If we're just confirming what Seidon accused us of last fall, why is it okay now when it wasn't then?"
She sighed a little. "In the spirit of your law, it is not so different," she admitted. "But the technicality of the law is all that concerns my government. Especially when public opinion finds your law somewhat... restrictive."
On Aquitar, one was considered an adult when one started schooling. The forgotten bit of knowledge found its way back to the surface of his thoughts, and he understood what she was saying. "No one cares that much?"
"There will be--some commotion," she said frankly. "When you take an apprenticeship in the Ranger Dome, it will become clear to everyone what occurred. But now that you have graduated, from the crew and from your own schooling, the terms of the exchange between our two planets have no legal bearing on our lives."
"'Our lives'," he repeated, feeling a smile steal across his face. "I like the sound of that."
There was an answering smile in her eyes when she reached out to touch his hand. "As do I."
"Someone has to be strong to keep love alive
I will if you will"
The graduation ceremony was held that evening, in the open courtyard of Angel Grove High. The traditional location turned out to be more crowded than usual, if only because reporters and photographers filled every unoccupied space with equipment, questions, and an overwhelming demand for attention. The media circus that accompanied Aura's presence was like nothing the city had seen in years.
"Are you sure there is nothing more important they could be investigating?" Aura murmured in his ear as they clung to each other after the ceremony.
"Just be glad I convinced my parents to order in tonight," he whispered back. "Imagine being surrounded by this *and* my family at the same time."
"One good thing about your girlfriend!" His brother's shout penetrated the happy din around them, and Carlos let go of Aura reluctantly. "It's easy to find you!"
"What did I tell you?" Carlos said under his breath. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her smile a little. She had taken an instant liking to his brother, which made him the single member of Carlos' family around whom she was completely at ease. Though his mother could make anyone comfortable, she and Aura didn't really operate on the same wavelength, and his dad was dependably tactless in her presence.
"Congratulations, bro!" His brother threw an arm around his shoulders and grinned at Aura. "You win. I'll get the pictures developed tomorrow."
Carlos looked from one to the other, confused. "What?"
His brother smirked, holding up his one-shot camera. "I bet Aura my film that she wouldn't get ten feet from the stands before being ambushed by reporters."
"The bet was on who would find you first," Aura corrected, amusement twinkling in her eyes. "I told him I was more motivated."
His brother shrugged. "Same thing," he said, dismissing the distinction with a wave of his hand. "She's a lot faster than I thought. Plus when she throws that hood up she blends in really well."
"Carlos Vargas," someone interrupted, thrusting himself into the conversation without apology. "How do you feel with a diploma in your hand and an alien girl on your arm?"
"Happy," Carlos said shortly, putting his arm around Aura's waist and pulling her away from the scribbling reporter without a second glance. "Let's get out of here."
"Not well enough," Aura murmured in his ear.
He hugged her as best he could, letting his brother steer them toward the front of the school. "It's not you," he said, angling away from another person with a pad and pencil. "It's them."
"The car's right over here." Even as his brother pointed, a microphone appeared out of nowhere and Carlos' eyes widened. A TV crew? Damn but they were fast.
"Carlos, you've just graduated from high school and you're in love with an alien," the too-smooth voice on a television reporter announced. "What are you going to do now?"
He opened his mouth to snap at her, but then thought the better of it. "I'm going to Water World," he told the reporter with a grin. He heard his brother's guffaw from the other side of the truck as Carlos held the passenger door for Aura and climbed in after her.
"Let's give it a try
Let's do it or die"
It was a strange feeling, leaving Earth behind for only the second time in his life. It was even stranger knowing that his friends would be starting their summer vacation the next day, while he woke up 2000 leagues under the sea. With Aura.
He shot a sideways glance at her and found her watching him as his planet receded into the starry backdrop of space. Her silver eyes were solemn, but her expression lightened a little when he smiled at her. "What are you thinking?" she wanted to know.
He couldn't resist teasing her. "You can't tell?"
She gave him a reproachful look. "Your thoughts are too confused," she said, as though it was his fault that she couldn't read his mind. "They are not coherent enough to separate from pure emotion."
"So you tried?" he said with a grin. "Isn't that just the definition of sneaky and improper."
"Why did you ask if you didn't want to know?" she retorted. "Isn't that the definition of manipulative and... and... annoying?"
He laughed at her irritation. "Better to know than to guess," he teased.
"That's not what you said when you asked what I was wearing to bed last night," she said with a smirk. "Is your imagination no longer up to the task?"
He thought about it for a moment, then finally shook his head. "Is there any way to get out of this without saying something you can torture me with later?"
For answer, she leaned forward and kissed him. He closed his eyes, letting the feeling wash over him, and she was smiling when they parted. "No," she said simply.
He chuckled, reaching for her hands. "Fair warning," he murmured, sliding his fingers between hers. "Anything else I should know?"
She let out a contented sigh as she squeezed his hands in return, her fingers dancing nimbly over his. "My teammates are throwing you a welcome party, if you can bear it after today's events."
He kissed her again, unable to resist the lazy look of pleasure on her face. "Anything, as long as you're there," he whispered. Her fingers slipped across his wrists, running into the communicator she'd given him, and he resisted the itch to strip it off. "Promise to kiss me in front of them?"
He felt her smile against his mouth as she eased further into his embrace. "Many times," she murmured.
"I will if you will"