I took what had been Arr’s injured hand in mine. “How does it feel?”
“It’s much better,” the young henu answered in a soft voice. “The doctors say it knit well.”
I turned his hand over and ran my fingers over his open palm. Across what he had told me was his mating tattoo. All henu were matched up at an early age and had corresponding tattoos to identify their allegiance. Arr's future mate was lost with all the others of his race when the aliens attacked his home planet.
“It doesn’t hurt any longer?” Unlike my usual maternal self I had lost track of Arr’s injuries when I had my own healing to concentrate on. For the last couple of weeks I'd following his recovery and rehab.
“No, not really,” he answered, “just stiff in the morning. The doctor’s say it will pass in time.”
Jake patted his partner on the back. “It’s good he’s young and heals quickly,” Jake said. “Unfortunately, he is getting a lot of practice learning to heal fast hanging around me.”
Jake said it as a joke, but I knew it concerned him that both Arr and I had been hurt while he had escaped any injury. He considered it his fault and it was something the henu and I were collectively working on getting him over. We came out physically scarred from the run in with Klaid and his partners, but Jake’s injury was to his heart. He doubted his ability to protect the ones he loved and that was serious territory for Jake. He always protected his people.
Arr’s head swiveled to his right. There at the edge of the trees a centaur emerged. He was sleek, muscular and coal black – so black, he was almost blue. His hair was long and ran down the middle of his back like a mane. It lay across his human shoulders all the way down over the front of his horse shoulders. The tip of his hair almost reached his knees.
Jake had kept his promise and as soon as I was on my feet, though not very steadily, he took us to an imaging chamber to see a pristine Olympus. He packed a picnic and we were sitting, just enjoying the cool, clean breeze and the feel of deep grass beneath our bare feet.
“Isn’t he magnificent?” I asked. A female centaur followed the male closely. She was a lovely chestnut color with long flowing hair down to her waist where her human self turned into the horse of her lower body. Some of the hair on the sides of her face were platted into braids and pierced with flowers for decoration.
“I’m going to go take a closer look,” Arr said. “Want to come?”
I still didn’t have much stamina. I decided to pass and Jake stayed with me.
By the time Arr reached the centaurs, Jake was feverishly digging in the picnic basket.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
“I brought your pills.” He finally found the bottle and doled out two and put the rest back. He handed them over to me with a glass of iced tea. “Here you go.”
I took them dutifully.
“Now, take off your shirt and I’ll cream you up.” Jake had appointed himself our personal attendant over the last few weeks. I had a halter top on with a loose shirt over the stop to cover the scars on my back. There wasn’t anyone else in the image chamber except we three, but I was still self conscious about walking to and from the chamber with my back looking the way it did. Jake was in the habit of rubbing my back down twice a day with Scarfree cream. The scars really were fading and I was thankful he took the task of getting the cream on me. It would have been hell to figure a way otherwise.
I pulled off my shirt and laid face down on the blanket. I felt the drizzle of the cool lotion and them Jake’s hands rhythmically stroking up and down along my back. I felt his hand under my halter top. He was careful about not missing any spots.
When he was almost finished I felt his finger trace a single scar from my waist to my shoulder. Then I felt his lips kiss me on the tip of the scar at the base of my neck.
“Jake? What are you doing?” I asked.
“Babe,” he softly breathed in my ear and kissed my back a little lower down.
Now I can tell you that this would have an effect on any woman. Jake is handsome. Not normal handsome, but what we ladies call ‘drop dead’ handsome. However, I happen to know that he is a lov’em and leav’em guy too and we've been friends too long. Sometimes in this world a good friend, one you can depend on, is far more important than a good lay.
I turned over to face him. He leaned down to plant another kiss on my bare shoulder.
“Babe,” he sighed deeply.
I caught his face between my hands and stopped him in mid-descent. “Jake, how long have we known each other?”
He looked puzzled.
I tapped his forehead with my index finger. “Scratch the old gray matter, bud,” I said. “We met on Aotulp when you got me out of that jam with the Bassil Gang. How long?” I reiterated.
Jake sat back on his heels. “Four, maybe five years ago,” he guessed.
“Eight,” I corrected. “And in all that time you have never put a move on me.”
His tone changed from a breathless heat to a denial, but he still said the same thing, “Babe.”
“You are one of my best friends and I want to keep it that way,” I said. “I don’t want you sleeping with me because you feel responsible for what happened. My scars are fading and you have to let yours do the same.”
I rose up and put my hand on his knee. I leaned over and kissed him on the nose. “I want to keep you as a friend for all time. I want us to grow old together. If we sleep together, and I must admit that is a tempting thought, it will lead to no good. You always dump the girl. I have seen you do it again and again over the years. I am not a dumping kind of girl. Once I had you, I would rather shoot you them let another woman have you.”
Jake handed me my shirt. “You want a sandwich, babe. I brought cheese or mali beast.”
“Cheese would be great.” I took the sandwich and that was the end of that.