Steve led Annette out of the cave, again taking care to avoid walking too close to the dead dragon. He walked back along the path he and Marcellus had taken earlier, moving much slower than before, burdened as he was with Marcellus' body, and with his grief. Annette stayed quiet throughout the trip, never complaining, never asking to take a rest. Eventually, they neared the place where Steve and Marcellus had left their packs. He turned away from the mountains, but everything looked different in the pre-dawn shadows, and he had difficulty finding their well-hidden bags.
The searching didn't grow any easier after the sun rose, and Steve began to get discouraged. He just wanted to put Marcellus down on the ground, lay down beside him and never get up. Just when he was about to suggest that they sit in one place and wait for someone to find them, the Dragon King appeared. Annette gave a startled squeal, and hid behind Steve. Steve bowed his head, unwilling to let go of Marcellus. "I have done as you asked, Your Majesty," he said. "I brought you the Sorcerer's head."
The King nodded. "Thank you, Stephen," he said. "You have done well." The dragon glanced at Marcellus with sad eyes. "And you have lost much. I am sorry."
Steve felt yet more tears trying to escape, and he lowered his eyes. "Thank you, Your Majesty."
The dragon nodded again. "Now, in gratitude for ridding our land of that most vile trespasser, and making it possible for us to recover our Lost One, I will grant you two gifts." The dragon looked behind Steve and smiled. "Come out Princess," he said. "I will not harm you." Annette stepped out from behind Steve and curtseyed, looking extremely nervous. "Sleep," he said. Annette dropped immediately to the ground, instantly asleep. Steve watched her breathe for a second before turning back to the King. "Now," the dragon said. "Lay him down in before me." Steve put Marcellus down in front of the dragon. He untied the Sorcerer's head from his belt and set it down as well, putting it several feet away from Marcellus. Then, reluctantly, he backed away.
The dragon took a deep breath and blew a stream of fire at Marcellus' body. "Don't!" Steve cried, rushing toward him. The heat pushed him back, and he watched helplessly as the flames covered Marcellus and hid him from view. Oblivious to Steve's distress, the dragon kept the stream of fire going long after Steve was sure that Marcellus' body must have been reduced to ashes. After a while, the color of the fire changed from yellow to black. The dragon raised his head, and the fire moved up. Miraculously, Steve could still see Marcellus' form outlined by the black flames. Gradually, the fire changed from black, to shades of gray, to white. The flames grew so bright that Steve had to cover his eyes. When Steve could no longer hear the sound of the fire, he opened his eyes again.
Marcellus was back on the ground, lying in exactly the same position Steve had left him. His clothes had been burned away, and the blood that had dried on his face, neck and hands was gone as well. He looked as if he were just sleeping peacefully. The sight brought fresh tears to Steve's eyes. He drew closer and dropped to his knees beside Marcellus, weeping silently. Then, suddenly, Marcellus took a breath and opened his eyes. Steve's mouth dropped open, and he rubbed the tears out of his eyes and stared down at Marcellus. It wasn't an illusion. Marcellus' eyes were wide open, and he was breathing normally. A second later, his presence returned to Steve, filling the gaping void that had been left when he'd died. Steve felt fear and confusion from Marcellus, along with happiness and confusion from Stephen. Steve grinned, his own intense happiness welling up inside him, and bringing new tears (this time, of happiness) to his eyes.
Steve put a hand on Marcellus' shoulder, and he turned sharply, fear increasing. Then, all the fear and confusion left Marcellus, and he was filled only with extreme joy. He sat up and flung his arms around Steve. His body shook, and Steve held him tightly, kissing his face and telling him everything was all right now. "How," Marcellus asked at last. "How have I been revived? And why am I naked?"
Steve laughed giddily. "The Dragon King brought you back to me," he said. "Your clothes were burned away while he was bringing you back."
Marcellus' eyes widened and he turned to face the King. "My deepest, most eternal gratitude, Great One," he said, bowing until his head touched the ground.
"Yes, thank you, Your Majesty," Steve said, bowing low as well. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!"
"You are welcome," the dragon said, sounding amused. "I am pleased to have been able to take away your sorrow. However, I must ask one thing of you."
"Anything," they said in unison.
"The Ancient Ones do not take the restoration of the Lost lightly, and we cannot have droves of humans bringing their Lost to our land to be restored, only to be turned away. Therefore, you must tell no one of what I have done for you. The fact that Marcellus was once Lost must go with you to the grave."
"You have my word, Great One," Marcellus said.
"And mine," said Steve. "But, what about Annette?" he asked. "She saw him die, and I don't think she could keep a secret like that, even if she wanted to. And King Stephen knows as well."
"I will see to it that Annette does not remember," the dragon replied. "As for the king, the importance of keeping this a secret must be made clear to him when he returns."
"When, my Lord?" Marcellus asked, hope rising within him.
"Yes," the dragon replied. "When. I will now present you with your second gift, Stephen." He blew a small lick of green fire into the air. Like the strength spell, the flames floated toward Steve and entered his chest. "Now, you have the power to return home whenever you are ready. Right now, you may feel that this is more a curse than a gift," he said, practically reading Steve's thoughts. "But you may wait as long as you like to use the charm. When homesickness strikes, you may be glad of the ability to return to your own land."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Steve said. He thought that the dragon was probably right, but now, having just gotten Marcellus back, he didn't even want to think about going home.
"Now, perhaps, we should find your packs, so that your prince can clothe himself." The dragon instantly transported all three of them to the spot where they'd left their bags. Steve unrolled the blankets and brought out a fresh change of clothes for Marcellus to wear. He changed his own clothes as well, which were stained with sweat and blood. The Dragon told them that Annette would remember her rescue almost exactly as it had happened, with only slight differences. She would believe that the Sorcerer had tried treachery, but Marcellus had escaped in time, and Steve had killed him in the sword fight after he tried to attack her. He woke Annette, and she sat up, looking bleary-eyed and confused.
"What happened, my Lord?" she asked as Steve helped her to her feet.
"You fainted when you saw the Dragon King," he said. "But it's all right. We are friends now, and he won't hurt you."
Annette looked at the dragon with wide eyes, and she curtseyed deeply. He acknowledged her greeting, and looked back at Steve. "If you are ready, I will see you out of the sacred lands," he said.
"We are ready, Sire," Steve said. "Thank you again for all of your help."
"And thank you for your help to us," he said. "May the Four Spirits bring you prosperity and happiness."
They thanked him, and returned the blessing. Then, with a blink, they were in front of the castle doors. Steve was shocked. He'd expected to be taken to the Badlands, or across the river at the most. Instead, they were right on their own doorstep. Their arrival startled a group of courtiers who had been talking near the doors. They gasped and stared as if they couldn't believe their eyes. They recovered after a moment and greeted Steve and the others with joy and solicitation. Steve, Marcellus and Annette were ushered into the castle, and orders were given that they be seen to at once. Before they were swept away by droves of attendants, Steve insisted that they be taken to the Queen, so that she could see her daughter.
Elizabeth was overjoyed to see Annette. She embraced her for a long moment before asking if she was all right, and exclaiming over the cuts and bruises. Annette told her mother all about her ordeal and how awful the sorcerer was, and how much she hated him, and how scared she had been, and how wonderful it was when Steve and Marcellus came to save her, and how brave and strong and glorious and beautiful and loveable and wonderful they both were and how much she loved them, and how much she couldn't wait to get married so they could be together forever and ever and ever. Elizabeth only laughed and hugged her daughter again before speaking to Steve.
"You have fulfilled your word, King Stephen," she said with a smile. "And I will fulfill mine. I withdraw my threat, and ask that you again count Great Britain among your close friends."
Steve smiled, vastly relieved. "Of course, Your Majesty," he said. "I never considered you otherwise."
Her smile widened, and she looked down at her daughter. "Now, I think that it would be best if we hold the wedding ceremony as soon as possible, before anything else happens to delay it."
Annette gasped and smiled brightly at Steve. Steve gave her a wan smile in return. "I think you're right, Your Majesty," he said. "As soon as possible, I will find out from our wedding planners the earliest date they can be ready for the ceremony. But first, I must have our attendants see to Annette, and have Dr. Rivell check her over." Elizabeth agreed wholeheartedly. She followed the attendants as they ushered Annette to her quarters to be taken care of. She didn't want Steve and Marcellus to leave her, but they promised they would have dinner with her as soon as they were all rested and feeling better.
Steve and Marcellus went back to their quarters, and Steve flopped onto the bed, pulling Marcellus down with him. He held Marcellus close and kissed him deeply, heedless of the attendants who bustled back and forth, lighting lamps, starting fires and ordering baths to be drawn. Steve held the kiss for a long time, not really wanting it to end. Finally, he was forced to stop long enough for them to catch their breaths. Marcellus smiled, and they lay together quietly, Marcellus with his head on Steve's shoulder. Soon, the attendants announced that their baths were ready. Steve refused to let Marcellus out of his sight, and insisted that they be left alone to bathe together in his tub. They looked as if they thought it was an odd command, but Steve didn't care what they thought. He needed to spend every moment that he could with Marcellus before the wedding came and he had to go home.
Steve bathed Marcellus gently, letting him return the favor when he finished. Steve pulled Marcellus into his arms, and they stayed in the tub until the water grew cold. When it was too cool to stand anymore, they got up and let attendants dress them in comfortable clothes. Then they dismissed the servants and sat in front of the fire, saying nothing. Steve held onto Marcellus protectively, kissing him now and then, and squeezing him tightly whenever he thought about losing him.
As he'd promised, Steve let Annette join them for dinner. Queen Elizabeth was invited, too, and they enjoyed a pleasant meal, shying away from talking about their ordeal with the Sorcerer. After dinner, Steve found out from the head wedding planner that, as preparations for the new wedding had started right after the first one had failed, all the supplies, flowers, food and servants could be assembled the very next morning, if he wished. Steve pretended to be happy, but his heart sank. He told Annette and Elizabeth the "good" news, then returned to his quarters to spend his last few hours with Marcellus.
When they were alone in his room, Steve embraced Marcellus and gave him a long, tender kiss. There were tears in his eyes when they pulled away. "I love you," he said.
"I know," Marcellus said, smiling despite his own tears. "I love you, too."
Steve kissed Marcellus again. That kiss turned into another, which turned into another, and soon, they were edging toward the bed, pulling off clothing as they went. Steve lowered Marcellus gently onto the bed, and they made love to one another. They were passionate at first, behaving (quite naturally) as if this were their last night together. In a very short time, they brought each other to a fever pitch, then lay sweating and trembling beside each after their climax came.
They continued to caress each other, even though they were tired. They touched and kissed and held one another, eventually reaching a point where they could start again. Their movements slower and more gentle this time, and it took consisderably longer for them to reach release a second time. Afterward, they lay in each other's arms exhausted. Marcellus curled up against him and soon fell asleep, but Steve refused. Exhausted as he was, he couldn't bear to waste precious with Marcellus by going to sleep. He stayed awake, watching Marcellus sleep as long as he could, before his body betrayed him, and he fell asleep himself.
Steve awoke with early the next morning, and kissed Marcellus' forehead. Marcellus opened his eyes and smiled. Steve smiled back, and sighed heavily. "The wedding is today," he said.
"I know," Marcellus said softly.
"I... I don't want to leave you," Steve said in a quavering voice.
"I know," Marcellus said again. "I will be sad to part with you as well. But remember, my love. We will never truly part from each other." He held up his hand, showing Steve the cut across his palm. "Neither time, nor distance, nor even the emptiness of death itself can sever the bond we share."
Steve smiled. "You're absolutely right," he said. "And we know it for a fact, don't we?" Marcellus smiled and nodded. Steve sighed. "It think it's time for me to go," he said. "I'm sure Stephen wants the chance to welcome you back."
"I'm sure he does," Marcellus said. "I shall miss you, Steve."
"I'll miss you, too." Steve kissed Marcellus tenderly, and gave him one final embrace. "Good... goodbye, Marcellus." Steve closed his eyes and swallowed past the lump in his throat, trying to keep from crying outright. "I'm... I'm ready t-to go home."
Steve felt the warmth of the green fire spread througout his body, and when he opened his eyes again, he was standing in the cathedral, looking down at the false princess. He smiled inwardly at the joy he felt from Marcellus, and the fact that Stephen's happiness was so great that Steve could feel it nearly as strongly as he felt Marcellus'. He sighed and looked around the room. The cameras, lights and crewmembers were all where they were supposed to be, and the trumpet fanfare Graham had tacked onto the beginning of his song was blasting across the speakers. Steve sighed heavily. This was definitely not going to work.
"Wait a second, wait a second, I can't do this," Steve said, pulling off the heavy gold crown and stepping off the dais. "This has nothing to do with the song, and it's just not me."
"All right, cut it, cut it!" someone cried.
"This is not me, and it has nothing to do with anything," Steve muttered, stepping out of the stuffy costume.
"What the hell's the matter?" Graham asked.
"This is ridiculous, I don't like it," Steve said.
"I don't understand, Steve," Graham said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Tell me, tell me."
Steve considered telling him that he had no intention of imitating the life he'd been living for the past several weeks to the tune of a song he'd written to help save a dying relationship he no longer even cared about. Instead, he decided to tell the part of the truth that Graham would understand. "I wanted so much more," he said. "You're very good at what you do, okay, but I don't need this."
"Listen, listen, it's wonderful," Graham said, trying to sell Steve on the idea yet again. "Listen, what about the kidnapping of the princess?" Steve put a hand over his mouth and looked away. "What about the Flaming Forest of Doom, Steve? Steve, what about the battle to the death between good and eeevil?"
Steve could only laugh at that. Graham looked offended, and Fred came over as usual to mediate. "What's the problem?" he asked.
"Look," Steve said. "This is a love song, okay? It has nothing to do with all this!"
Graham turned to Fred and started to bitch about how far he'd come, and how he didn't have time for the fancy diva to go making demands about his own song. Steve was about to sneak away when Sheila attacked him. Steve cringed as she dragged him away and started introducing him to reporters and talking about interviews. Steve made polite noises, then turned around to search for Fred. "Fred? Excuse me," he said to Sheila and the reporters. "Fred, can I talk to you for a second?" Fred looked relieved, obviously glad of the excuse to get away from Graham. "I gotta get out of here," Steve said. "This is a zoo!"
"Go. You're covered, you're covered."
Steve squeezed Fred's shoulder and hurried out of the room. He trotted down the steps and out onto the sidewalk. He was a little surprised by how much the sound of the traffic pleased him. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed the familiar sound. He headed to his car, pausing when he got inside to bask in the smell of clean leather and his favorite car freshener. He drove around for a while, enjoying his car and getting used to being in modern San Francisco again. He was also killing time, trying to work up the nerve to go home. He didn't really want to see Sherrie right now. He knew she was having an affair, and that he should probably ask her to leave, but he didn't want to deal with the confrontation. That made him chuckle. He'd just averted a war by ramming his sword through an insane magician's lung and hacking his head off, but he didn't want to deal with confronting Sherrie. Sad, Steve, he said to himself. Very sad.
Eventually, when Steve felt like he couldn't put it off any longer, he headed for the house. He smiled when he entered the front door. Home. He took a few seconds to look around at all the familiar things. He hadn't thought he could miss the sight of something so simple as a stereo, or wall to wall carpeting. He was about to walk through the rest of the house when Sherrie came in from the hall, carrying a small suitcase. She stopped short when she saw him.
"I thought you were filming!" she cried, eyes widening.
"I was, but-"
"Nevermind. I just came to make sure I didn't leave anything, okay?" Frowning, Steve took a step toward her. "No, leave me alone," she said nervously, backing up. "I'm going, okay, just... just stay right there." Steve stood still, wondering what the hell Stephen could have done to make her that nervous, when all he could get for putting his foot down was laughter and/or a serious screaming match followed most certainly by a night on the couch. He watched as Sherrie edged past him and hurried out the door.
Steve stared at the door for a long moment, hovering between anger and relief. On the one hand, he couldn't believe that Stephen had taken it upon himself to kick his girlfriend out of his house. But on the other hand, she didn't love him, she was cheating on him, and he'd already made the decision to put her out, so it didn't really make sense to be angry. Steve just decided to be happy she was gone and move on.
He walked slowly through the house, taking everything in. Most of the house looked normal, except that all of Sherrie's belongings were gone. The only real difference, besides things being in slightly different positions than when he'd left, was in his bedroom. His bed had been replaced by a king-sized, four poster affair with dark blue bed curtains, and there was a rich-looking Persian rug on his floor, which looked suspiciously similar to one of the rugs in the king's bedroom. Steve smiled, immediately deciding to keep the changes. The bed wasn't really what he missed about Pacificana, but at least there was something here that reminded him of the place.
Steve pulled back the curtains and laid down on top of the blankets with a sigh. He thought about Marcellus, and focused on his feelings. He was a little surprised to find that he could still feel them as strongly as if he were still standing beside him. Neither distance, nor time... he thought. He still missed Marcellus terribly, but at least Steve knew for a fact that the he was happy.
Steve called Fred to let him know that he'd be taking a break, but when he came back, he planned to have the video done his way, or he wouldn't do it at all. Then he spent the next few days trying to get used to his life in the modern world. He puttered around the house, putting things in order, and filling up the holes that had been left in Sherrie's absence. He received a puzzling call from the hospital on his second day home, checking to see if he was all right after the "incident at the mall". Steve just said yes, thanks for calling, and pointedly avoided wondering that the hell that was all about.
It wasn't long before loneliness started to get to Steve. He was glad that Marcellus and Stephen were happy together, but he was a little jealous of Stephen all the same. Steve missed Marcellus, and he found himself wishing that there were was another version of him in this world, so that he could be happy, too. Yeah, right, Steve thought, laughing wryly. Like I could ever be so lucky. He sighed and got up, feeling a sudden, desperate need to get out of his empty house.
Steve headed to one of the many shopping districts around the Bay to get lost in the crowds and maybe do a little window shopping. He ended up having to sign a few autographs along the way, but for the most part, he was left to himself. He strolled down the street, taking his time and looking at the wares in all the little tourist-trap shops. He walked along for a few blocks, then thought about going across the street to check out the shops on the other side.
As he neared the crosswalk, Steve caught sight of a young man with dark red, shoulder length hair waiting at the light. The hair reminded him of Marcellus, and Steve smiled, picking up the pace just a little. Maybe he could start a conversation. The light changed, but Steve could see that one car was going a bit too fast to stop. The red-haired man didn't seem to notice. He stepped right out into the street and started across. "Hey!" Steve cried, trying to attract the man's attention. "Hey, stop!" The man didn't seem to hear, and the car kept moving as if the driver had no intention of even trying to obey the signal. Shit! Steve ran as fast as he could toward the young man. By the time Steve reached him, the pedestrian was frozen in place, staring at the oncoming vehicle. Steve yanked the man back so hard that they both twisted and fell to the ground. Steve sat up immediately. "Are you all right?"
The red-headed man sat up slowly, looking a little shaky. He turned, and they both gasped and grinned at each other. "Steve Perry!" the man cried. "You saved my life! Thank you. Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome," Steve said, grin growing wider and wider by the second. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," the man said. "Just a little shaken up." He smiled at Steve. "Wow. You saved my life. And you're Steve Perry!"
Steve chuckled. "What's your name?" he asked, as if he didn't already know.
"Sorry," the man said, extending a hand. "My name's Marc. Marc Pereira."
Steve took Marc's hand, grinning wider than ever when he noticed the rainbow colored bracelet on his wrist. "Nice to meet you Marc. How would you like to join me for lunch?"
Marc smiled, clearly pleased. "Thanks, I'd love to!"
Steve gave Marc a hand up and led him back to his car, feeling like the luckiest, happiest person on earth.