Doctor Devorah Perlakian sat in the middle of the huge transport bay and waited for Guardian Three to return. Crossing her arms over her chest, she slowly rocked from side to side as she tried to calm herself. She still had trouble accepting, trouble dealing with what had happened months before when Commander and the others on Transport Two had disappeared inside that wormhole. Now she had to anticipate what was to come, when the rest of the Guardians had suddenly taken off to return to that same area a few days ago, and were due to arrive back at any moment.

            Deceiver wouldn't tell her what the outcome of their mission had been, which both confused and worried her. She was always given a report, good or bad. And if someone was seriously injured and needed immediate medical help, he was very adept at sending ahead the person's specs, so she would be ready to provide expedient care.

            But not this time. Other than the cryptic “We're on our way home,” she'd heard nothing. Worse, it was taking them longer than usual to get back, even though the Guardian leader had told her they had sustained damage to the ship, and weren't able to use the hyperlight drive. What was delaying them?

            A shiver went through her. A warm tear slid down her cheek. She allowed herself to cry when no one was around to see her. She didn't want the others to see her weakness, afraid it would cast her in an unfavorable light among the superheroes. Which was why she'd done as much crying as she needed these past few days, since the rest of the Guardians had left to pursue reports of pirate activity in the Caperonda cluster. She figured that if she got it out of her system, there would be no more tears left when they returned. No tears for the others to see. Her professional countenance would remain intact, and give them the reassurance they needed from her that they were in very capable hands.

            Another tear glided down in the path of the first. Silently, she cursed herself.

            Commander was gone. Forever gone. Sucked through that wormhole. That was almost five months ago, yet every time she thought back to that day, her heart caved a little bit more. Just when she had hoped she had turned the corner and was ready to walk the long road of recuperation, something would remind her of him. A look, a sound, a memory, or the mere mention of his name, and her carefully constructed mask would come crashing back down around her.

            I think what hurts the worst, the reason why I can't resolve myself to you being dead, is because I never saw you die. Neither did anyone else. One moment you, and Hunter, and Seeker, and Disaster were fighting those pirates. Moments later, the wormhole ate Transport Two, and it was as if you had never existed.

             Her soul felt fragile. It had shattered at the news of Commander's demise, and only existed now because she'd somehow managed to hold it together with pieces of determination and strings of practicality. Her last hope at finding some kind of consolation had hung its head in shame and shrunk away to the darkest caverns in her heart, leaving her as barren as a lifeless planet.           

            Overhead, the enormous bay doors ponderously began to open, sliding back to reveal a cloudless blue sky. Somewhere above Guardian Command, the largest ship in its fleet was descending.

            Wiping tears from her face, Devorah sniffed and got to her feet. She pulled on her stoic face, then signaled the emergency cart to hover nearby in the event someone had to be lifted to the clinic.

            She heard the big ship before she spotted it. After several seconds, the shiny silver hull appeared, long, tapered, and magnificent looking. Before long, the upper half of the ship came into view. As it always did, the Guardian crest emblazoned on the tail sent a little thrill of pride through her. It reminded her of the miracle that had brought her to Guardian Command, and sealed her fate to become the group's first on-site physician. So far she couldn't spot who was piloting the craft, but it didn't matter. Right now, her primary concern was StarLight and her unborn child.

            The ship slowly settled into its cradle before it began to power down. Devorah moved closer, bringing the cart with her, to wait for the hull door to open.

            Seconds ticked by without any sign coming from the ship. Frowning, she wondered what was preventing them from exiting. She glanced over at where the communications console was located, and debated whether or not to call over and see if there was a problem, when she heard the familiar hiss of the airlock. The door slid to the side, but no one appeared to be waiting to disembark.

            Devorah took another step toward the ship, now that it was safe to approach, when Disaster halted in the doorway. He stared at her for a moment, then walked onto the small platform and took the short flight of stairs to the floor. Her eyes widened when he began striding toward her with an unfathomable look on his face. This behavior wasn't like the Guardian leader. That realization raised her level of alarm.

            "What's wrong? What's happened?" she whispered, and glanced at the ship, but no one else appeared to be leaving the vessel. She gave another good look at Disaster, this time with her medical eye. Other than exhaustion, she could see no outward signs of injury.

            "Doctor. Dev." His voice was low, soothing. A little smile quirked the corners of his mouth.

            By this time, her temper was beginning to flare. "If there's something you need to tell me, spit it out. What's wrong? Is there anyone needing my assistance?"

            "Nothing's wrong. In fact, everything's right. I just..." He stopped and took a deep breath. "I just don't know how to tell you this."

            "Tell me what?" A thought raced through her mind, and her heart sped up. StarLight and the baby. She had vehemently protested Star going on this mission because of the risk involved, and the possibility of her losing the baby. "Did Star give birth out there? Is she all right? Is the child all right?" She started to advance toward the ship, when a figure appeared in the hull opening. A figure that shouldn't have been there. That shouldn't have existed. That hadn't existed in nearly five months.

            Her mouth dropped open, and the blood rushed from her body as Commander walked onto the landing platform, then paused to stare at her. Her mind refused to acknowledge his return, his presence. What she was seeing wasn't really him. He was a part of her fevered imagination. Or a hologram. Or something not of the flesh.

            The figure took the steps, his boots making little hollow sounds. At some point, Disaster moved away, giving her room to take it all in. Giving her space to breathe, although her lungs were refusing to cooperate.


            It was his voice. His face. His eyes that were riveted on her. That thin little worry line he always got above the bridge of his nose was present.


            He reached out, and warm hands grasped her arms at the shoulder. This close, she could smell his sweat and the tang of old air that always surrounded them whenever they had spent a long time inside a spacesuit.

            "Devorah, speak to me."


            "Yeah. It's me. Don't faint on me, woman," he added softly, teasingly. He cupped the side of her face to connect with her, letting her adjust to his touch. Feel him. Accept the truth.

            Tears fell over her lower lashes, but she was unaware of them until his thumb brushed one of them away. Carefully, almost fearfully, she placed a hand on his jaw.


            "Long story. I'll tell you all about it later. But now, I need to get something off my chest."

            She couldn't wait for his confession. Throwing her arms around his neck, she lifted herself up on her tiptoes and hungrily pressed her lips to his. His muscular arms surrounded her, the warmth his hard body engulfing her to the point that her mind whispered, It doesn't matter the story. You're back. Another miracle has been granted, and you've come home. My Paol. My love.