3.13 Alien Together

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*** A/N: Long chapter here. I should have split it into two parts, but just couldn't see a good place to do so. ***

Alex eased his way down the narrow staircase. The underground city was composed of stairwells and steep alleyways, all cramped and too small for him.

"Goodbye," called a matronly woman; the one who'd baked the delicious desserts. "You must come again! I will send you some ginger-root cake and you tell me what you think of it."

Alex was delighted that he understood without translation. Margo was teaching him the slave tongue so quickly, he dreamed entire conversations that weren't in English.

Some of those dreams about Margo were more touch than speech. He often thought it was a good thing she couldn't read his mind.

"I can't believe they're related to Jinishta," Margo said. Her cheeks were still flushed from keeping up with the merriment. She unfurled the scarf that one of Jinishta's sisters had given her as a gift, admiring it.

"I know," Alex agreed. Jinishta's family—all nine siblings, twenty-odd nieces and nephews, plus parents and various cousins—were plump and cheerful. They were neither rich nor poor, but were a big, sprawling family, with roots in every facet of society. One cousin had married a councilman. Another was a factory overseer. One was a low-class brawler, much to their shame, but they talked about him anyway.

The family was immensely proud to have the messiah as well as the Premier Yeresunsa in their midst. They'd showed off Jinishta at every opportunity, and they'd welcomed Alex with more gusto than he'd expected. Everyone kept handing him steins of mushroom ale, and they begged him to try baked roasts from well-loved family recipes. Kids clamored for his attention, play-fighting and showing off their dolls. There was music and dancing, and old folks who shared gossip about who had married who, and the talk of the neighborhood.

All in all, Alex had stayed up too late, and he might have had too much ale, and too much of everything. Jinishta had admonished him about that, saying that a warrior-in-training like himself should maintain dignity and be reserved.

Jinishta had left before the dancing got started. Probably too much happiness for her to handle.

Kessa and Cherise had also made polite appearances, but they'd left hours ago. Only Margo had stayed with Alex the whole time.

"That was more fun than I've had since ... since my life on Earth." Margo hopped down the last step.

She rocked a few paces, awkward on her ivory-carved leg. Then she balanced on it, and spun in the lamp-lit street. Her hair swung.

"Aonswa!" Footsteps ran down the stairs behind Alex.

That wasn't enough to distract him from Margo dancing in the street. Her dark dress, laced with silver and studded with rubies, might flatter a petite Alashani maiden. On buxom Margo, it was gorgeous, almost intimidating.

Alex ducked out of the stairwell and straightened to his full height. His peaceful sleepiness vanished, replaced by something that felt like a basic need.

"Aonswa, this is yours!"

Margo stopped dancing, curious. Alex turned towards the stairwell he'd just exited, ducking down to peer inside.

A maiden thrust a gift basket into his hands. At the same time, she bounced up, grabbed Alex by the cheeks, and kissed him.

Fervently. On the lips.

Then she lost her balance, giggling and blushing, while Alex straightened in shock. He narrowly avoided hitting his head on lintel.

Had someone dared this maiden to pretend to seduce the freakish giant?

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