Before/After

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BECK

He woke up the way he always did—with a start.

Like an electric shock pulsing straight to his core, Beck sat straight up in bed, the bed sheets falling to tangle around his waist. Every single morning was the same, and this one was no different. He looked around the darkness of his bedroom wildly, none of it looking remotely familiar. The angles and the colors and the layout didn't look like they should, all jumbled and foreign. His heart rate kicked up immediately, and the shuddering breath he drew in almost sounded like a scream.

And then his eyes fell on the body beside him, and everything quieted to a swift silence.

His entire world jerked to the side as recognition flooded him, as well as the proper orientation, the way it always did. He was in his bedroom on earth. In Grisham Falls. With Jonas. Jonas.

She was asleep at his side, like she always was. She was on her stomach, her hair fanned out across the pillows. It was knotted in the back, rucked up a little. His fingers curled involuntarily at his sides, remembering how they'd curled in those strands last night—probably the reason her hair was knotted now. His body remembered the feel of her against it, the soft contours of her skin pressing against the hardness of his.

His heartbeat quieted down as he watched her draw in steady breaths, awareness pulsing into him. It always astounded him, the idea that he could actually forget where he was, who he was, who he was with. And yet, every morning it was the same. With a start, he'd awaken, and he couldn't even remember his own name.

Beckihem. It was a name that sounded foreign to him now, filtering through his mind. He was hardly called it. Jonas spoke it sometimes, always when he asked, but usually she shortened it. Beck. A name that shot a short dose of heat down his spine, from the very first time he'd heard it. He felt more like Beck now than Beckihem—so much so that he preferred Beck. That thought, however, was one he could never speak aloud.

While keeping very still, he reached out and drew his fingertip along the curve of her jawline, relishing in the simple touch of her skin against his. Soon she'd wake, and he'd walk her to work. He would eat there, walk her to her babysitting gig, wait for her to come home. Soon their day would start, but not yet. Now was his chance to commit every inch of her features to memory.

Though he desperately wanted all of this to last forever, he knew he wasn't going to be so lucky. Someday soon, everything would come crashing down, unravelling like a piece of poorly spun fabric. But there was still time left. Time to wake up beside her, lose himself in her, find himself with her. And though things might change soon, that didn't mean things had to change for the worse. Things would be different, but not bad—just a bump in the road. Once the Colony came took their recruits, things would go back to normal between them. He and Jonas could carry on, and he wouldn't have to worry about the Colony ever again. They promised him if he could get them recruits, they'd leave him on Earth, they'd leave him with Jonas, and they'd leave him alone. Forever.

Forever. That was a human term, one that he loved forming in his mouth. He wanted a forever with Jonas. A forever of mornings, afternoon, and nights together. A forever of memorizing the trace of her profile, memorizing the contours of her soul. He wanted a forever of listening to her stories, a forever of being able to draw her. Gosh, he'd do anything for it.

He couldn't imagine not waking up beside her anymore. He couldn't imagine going back to Luyah, leaving her here on Earth, never seeing her again. He couldn't imagine life without her. He didn't want to.

Just like he did every morning, he sat in bed and watched her sleep for a little while, listening to her breath. And then, when the calling of the sun became almost unbearable underneath his skin, he peeled back the covers, going to find the star poking up from the horizon.

He woke up the way he always did—with a start.

The gasp tore its way from his throat almost shockingly, painfully, like someone had shoved electrical wiring down his throat and it ripped electricity through his body. He pushed away from the bed he laid on—no, not a bed. A bench of some sort, hard and firm underneath him. His hands shook as he stretched them in front of him, splaying the tan fingers before his eyes. His breath trembled, his blood burned.

"Hello," a voice spoke softly, almost a whisper in his head, but Beck jerked either way.

His gaze lifted to find a woman sitting across from him, her legs pulled up and crisscrossed before her. She wore a human face, her cheeks full and rosy as she watched him, her red hair pulled back out of her face. "Who are you?" he demanded, surprised to hear his voice aloud. It was croaky, as if he hadn't spoken in days. How long had he been asleep?

"It's me, Beckihem," the woman replied. "Allosynie."

Allosynie. The name threaded through him, recognition almost a blur. He knew the name; not the face. "Why are you human?" he asked. "Why am I?"

Allosynie's features tightened ever so slightly. "It's normal for a little bit of memory loss when you return to Luyah. Your brain is too accustomed to Earth—you'll be back to your old self in no time."

"Luyah," he echoed. "I was on Earth? Why? For how long?"

Allosynie uncrossed her legs and rose, only to come over to the bench he sat on, coming close to him. Her knees brushed against his own, but the action didn't startle him, not one bit. "What's the last thing you remember, Beckihem?"

The last thing he remembered? That was a loaded question. His memories felt jumbled in his head, as if someone had poked inside and scrambled everything around. But the one memory he could recall, the last one he could properly latch onto, came back in flashes. "I was boarding the military ship," he said slowly, tightening his hands into fists. "I was saying goodbye to my family. I was saying goodbye...to you."

Her rosy lips twitched into a little bit of a frown. "Anything else?"

"Just before I boarded the ship, I—" the memory hit him hard, but it seemed wrong in his head. No, not wrong. Different. Strange. He remembered the moment in time with perfect clarity, but for some reason, something inside him rebelled at the idea of the last memory he had, the last one he harbored in his mind. Because though he could remember it perfectly, it felt like it had happened years and years ago. "I said goodbye to you, but before I left, I pledged myself to you. You and I...we're mates."

An emotion crossed Allosynie's features, something that looked like relief, concern, and...love. She reached over, prying one of his fists apart and sweeping her fingers through his. They didn't fight quite right; like two puzzle pieces shoved together. "We are. And I'm so glad you're finally home, my Beckihem."

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