Beyond HEA: 6th Sense
Caution: this story is not meant to stand alone. The Beyond Happily Ever After stories are vignettes and outtakes showing the O'Kanes in their daily lives, in between the adventures and often after their happy endings. These stories were written exclusively for readers and fans of the series, and will probably not make very much sense to anyone not familiar with the characters.
6th Sense: November 2017 Patreon Reward Story. This story is a short vignette voted on by our Patreon supporters. In it, Ashwin and Kora talk about the way they perceive the world differently and what that could mean for any future children. Then they make out a lot. (Note: Patreon stories are exclusive to subscribers for the first six months. After that, they'll be available to download free on our website.)
Characters: Ashwin & Kora
Timeline: Set after Deacon
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Kora smiled in her sleep.
Stretched out on his side next to her, Ashwin traced her mouth with a fingertip, marveling—as he did every time—that she didn’t even stir. She always slept trustingly and peacefully when he was in bed with her, as if her sleeping mind could sense his presence and knew nothing could hurt her.
Perhaps it could.
Ashwin still couldn’t fit the way Kora’s mind worked into neat, comfortable boxes. His own genetic modifications felt easier to categorize—increased metabolism and strength were concrete, if complex, variables. Enhanced intellectual capacity tended to express itself differently in each Makhai soldier, but that also followed a comprehensible pattern. Intellectual ability had expressed itself in unique ways in each human for all of known history.
Kora had some of the same advantages. She looked a decade younger than she was, and he knew that, barring outside forces, she was likely to reach fifty or even sixty before signs of middle age began to encroach on her youthful features. She was healthy and resilient, with a mind that absorbed information with an efficiency any sponge would envy.
And she could close her eyes and still know who was standing in a room with her. She could touch a person and know how they felt, even when they didn’t. It was subtle. Nothing you couldn’t find a rationale for, even a scientific reason. Kora’s subconscious mind could take in any of a hundred clues she never realized—her brain was capable of processing them fast enough. There were dozens of ways she could be acquiring the insights she possessed without venturing out of the realm of understood physiology and psychology.
Zeke still liked to call her psychic.
And Ashwin had been completely comfortable with her deep empathic streak. But now…
His hand drifted lower to settle on her abdomen. There was no visible evidence of her pregnancy. It would be months yet before he was able to feel their child move inside her. But he was hyperaware of the possibility of this new person.
He’d searched the Base files relentlessly for any scrap, any hint, any fragment of proof that a child had ever been born to the participants of Projects Makhai and Panacea. Even the restricted files, buried deep and accessible only on the private servers, had held nothing more than scant references.
Some Panacea participants had gone AWOL in the later days of the program. In at least one case, the Panacea healer had fled with a Makhai soldier’s assistance. When they were finally retrieved, there was some evidence that the healer might have been pregnant at some point, but no hint of a child had ever been found.
The lack of information scraped at Ashwin. He couldn’t always understand Kora’s empathic tendencies, but he knew their boundaries. He knew how they impacted her, where they made her vulnerable and how they made her strong. He knew what he needed to do to keep her safe.
He couldn’t begin to imagine what a child blending both their legacies would be like. And if he couldn’t imagine, he couldn’t plan.
If he couldn’t plan, he couldn’t keep that child safe.
Kora stirred. “Stop thinking so hard.”
Was it an assumption she made because he hadn’t fallen asleep? Or could she somehow sense the whirl of his thoughts as an annoying hum or an abrasive rasp or however else a brain could conceive of something as intangible as thought?
Though wasn’t everything tangible only to the sense designed to perceive it? Perhaps his imagination was limited by the five senses he was able to comprehend.
Kora grumbled under her breath and rolled toward him, nestling her face against his chest.
“Sorry,” he murmured, rubbing his hand up her back to her hair. The golden strands were soft as he worked his fingers carefully into her hair to massage her scalp.
She tilted her head back into his touch, then opened her eyes. “What is it?”
He’d shared his sparse findings with her, but he hadn’t told her how much the lack of intel bothered him. It was a burden he didn’t want to place on her.
But she would want him to.
“I was thinking,” he said slowly, spreading his fingers wide until he could cradle the back of her head, “about you. About the way you perceive the world.”
The back of her hand brushed his stomach. “What about it?”
“How it could manifest in a child.” His eyes drooped as she stroked his skin again, the gentle touch of her hand a soft pleasure he had learned to crave. “We’re opposites in many ways. Mirror images. If you put us together, are we just like everyone else? Or are we twice as different?”
A tiny smile curved her lips. “I have no idea. I’m not sure anyone does. We’re not exactly talking about eye color and blood type here. It’s—”
“Complicated.” That was the part that bothered him. The early Base scientists had tampered with DNA and played God, but they hadn’t been ready. They’d unleashed unforeseen consequences. “How does it feel to you? When you sense something?”
“It’s hard to describe. But—” Her eyes lost focus and her brow furrowed as she slipped into the familiar expression she wore when she was deep in thought. “I think…that’s just it. It feels different. If someone is startled, it’s like little shocks. If they’re angry, those are pinpricks. If they’re hiding something—lying—they feel slippery.”
“So it’s tactile?” He smoothed his thumb over the deep line between her eyebrows, rubbing away the tension. “You feel it like a touch?”
“Sometimes. Usually, it’s just there. Like I sensed it, but then immediately forgot when or how.”
He let his thumb drift down the narrow bridge of her nose to its cute little tip. He never used to use such imprecise adjectives as cute, but he was beginning to connect those ambiguous words to more complex feelings. “I used to taste my emotions. I think the repression of calibration produced a sort of synesthesia.”
“We do what we can with the resources at our disposal.” She nipped at his finger. “You’re thinking about all this because of the baby?”
“I want to be prepared.” Her lips were soft. He enjoyed tracing the shape of them, from the corner along the full curve of her bottom lip, up over the little bow on the top one. “I can’t protect our child if I don’t know what challenges they’ll face.”
The hint of smile vanished, and Kora looked up at him seriously. “Ashwin, you can’t think of it that way.”
“It’s the only way I’m trained to think.” Touching her soothed him, so he moved on to her cheek. “I know it’s not rational. I know there’s no way to account for all the variables. But I still…”
“It’s too much pressure.” She sighed. “But I understand how feeling like you’re doing nothing could be worse.”
Perversely, even that simple acknowledgement eased the tightness in his chest. “Maybe I should focus my attention on understanding the variables I have access to.”
A soft laugh huffed out of her. “Good luck with that.”
Her laugh provoked warmth. He found her hand and lifted it to his cheek, curling his fingers around hers to hold them there. “What do you feel in me?”
“That’s a tricky one, you know.”
“Because.” She raised her other hand to his face, as well. “I feel…love. But sometimes I can’t tell if it’s you, or just my heart being so full that it’s spilling everywhere.”
He’d never thought he would understand the word love. Sometimes he still wasn’t sure he did. The feelings associated with it kept getting bigger and deeper, pushing the boundaries of his understanding with every day he spent with Kora.
The word didn’t seem big enough anymore, and he didn’t have one that did. So he leaned in and kissed her. She welcomed him the way she always did, the touch her tongue soothing and arousing, all at once.
And when they parted, she pressed her forehead to his. “You already know all the things you have to do for our children—work and fight and nurture and love. And if they’re not like other children, then we’ll do the same things. Just…more.”
“I can do that,” he replied softly.
“Yes.” Her breath feathered over his lips. “You can.”
This time, when he kissed her, it was deep. Hungry. Endless.
After months in her bed, the edge of anticipation should have worn off. But Ashwin never grew tired of discovering Kora. Of stroking his fingers down her throat and guessing whether she’d shiver or sigh. Of kissing the spot high on her jaw that sometimes provoked a ticklish laugh and sometimes rewarded him with a moan.
She was a puzzle he could solve in a thousand different ways, each one more pleasurable than the last because the familiar intimacy only grew.
Today he only wanted one thing.
He took his time getting there. He stroked and petted. Kissed the skin he bared by lifting her tank top over her head. Kora, attentive to the shift in his mood through those unknowable variables, didn’t try to distract him. Her fingers stroked his hair as he kissed his way down the center of her chest, then tightened when he paused to discover what noises she would make when he closed his lips around her nipple and sucked hard.
Her responses delighted him. Delight was another word he understood now. It was different than mere enjoyment. Sharper. More immediate. It came swiftly, a thrill along his spine, laced with the brightness of joy.
The precision of the definition pleased him, too. Kora was teaching him the nuance of emotion by provoking feelings too complex to fit into the neat, simple structures of happy or sad or angry.
Ecstatic. Thrilled. Elated. Gleeful. Captivated. Blissful. Joyous. Excited.
So many words, so many shades of meaning.
With their enhanced genetics, the two of them could easily live to see a hundred years or more. That might—might—be time enough to learn them all.
He’d already learned impatience.
Hungry for her cries of pleasure, Ashwin slid back up her body. One hand ghosted over her stomach before dipping beneath the light cotton shorts she wore to bed. He fisted his other hand in her hair, holding her steady so she could only stare up into his eyes as he gently stroked her pussy. “I love you.”
Her blue eyes reflected his words, and her moan echoed them.
He knew how to touch her to make her come fast, and he knew how to drag it out. He’d solved the puzzle of her pleasure so many times, and with so many methods. Tonight, she was soft and ready for him, already wet beneath his fingertips and arching when the heel of his hand grazed her clit.
“Tell me what you feel,” he whispered as he sank one finger into the welcoming warmth of her body.
“Safe. Sure.” She arched again. “Everything.”
She meant it, especially when he pushed a second finger deep and used his thumb to give her the relief she sought. A quick, dizzying rise to a sudden, throbbing release. Ashwin held her as she shuddered through it, trusting him to protect her until she was steady again.
She would always feel too much, but he could help her burn off the extra edge of tension, give her catharsis. She might be adding light and nuance to a dizzying new world of sensation, but he could still use the quiet places inside him to shelter her when that world became too much.
They were puzzle pieces that had snapped together perfectly. The child they had made together would be perfect, too.