They made love so many times, they lost count. Each time was different and better. They experimented, discovering everything they could about one another. They knew their time together was short and they were determined to use it to the fullest. Finally, exhausted, they fell asleep, not waking until noon the next day.
Jasper was pounding on Deacon's door. Despite the privacy light, he was determined to wake his brother. Deacon answered naked and angry.
"Have you forgotten that you're expected somewhere in half an hour?"
"Shit!" Deacon grabbed a clean uniform out of the closet.
Flinging on his clothing, he realized Fiddlestix had nothing to wear but her filthy uniform. His clothes were miles too big. He tossed a robe at her, telling her to be patient.
"I'll find you something. Betsy and you are about the same size." He went down the hall and banged on Betsy's door.
After a short explanation, a sharp slap and a brief apology, he got her some clothing.
"Next time you visit, I promise to have clothes in your size for you to wear," he smiled as he watched her dress.
"You know, I didn't like you much when we first met," Fiddlestix told him. "But damn if you didn't grow on me."
"Kind of like a fungus?" He winked. "You should marry me, Hannah-Belle. I'd make you mighty happy."
"That's just the sex talking, Deacon. You don't want me. I'm a soldier, not a wife."
"I don't want just a wife, Hannah. I want someone who will stand beside me and help me lead, like my mama and grand-mama before her. Our women don't take second place, they're equal to their mates. Think about it, Hannah. The offer's open."
"Thanks, Deacon. I will."
"I'm serious," he told her, taking her hands in his. "I've never met a woman I wanted more than you. Stay with me, Hannah. Forget the Army. Stay here with me." His kiss was compelling, inviting her to forget everything else.
"I can't," she whispered. "This is who I am, Deacon."
"But you could be so much more."
Dropping the subject because he could see it made her uncomfortable, he led her to the main gathering area. It was a huge auditorium lined with benches, set up like an amphitheater. They walked to the base of the steps. Deacon held out his arm to her, walking beside her up the stairs. Her soldiers were already gathered on the huge stage, Harmony and Kaz in the forefront. Deacon escorted her to the front of the line and walked to the center of the stage.
Holding up his hands, he signaled for quiet. The chatting and whispering stopped and almost complete silence fell. Fiddlestix was impressed. She had never seen a quieter, more orderly crowd.
"We are gathered here today to honor those who came to our aid. Let us rejoice that our home is once more safe and secure!"
Wild cheering filled the room, echoing off the metal lined walls. Deacon let it continue a few moments, then held up his hands once more. Silence fell again.
"For bravery in combat and continuing to fight even though he was sorely wounded, The Fire Star goes to Corporal Walter Kazinski of the North American Army."
Kaz limped forward, one arm in a sling. His bruised face was wreathed in a happy grin. Betsy stood by his side, supporting him. Deacon put the medal around his neck. It hung from a red and gold ribbon. They exchanged a complicated handshake and Kaz stood to one side.
"From now on, Walter Kazinski also holds the rank of Guard Sargent in the Shine Clan Militia."
Fiddlestix knew that Guard Sargent was equivalent to her rank and was more than just an honorary position. If Kaz ever returned to live with the Shine Clan, his orders would be honored
and followed like any other officer's.
"For bravery in the face of the enemy and his assistance in shutting down the enemy soldiers, The Silver Star goes to Private Steven Harmony."
Harmony strutted forward and was given his medal on a blue and silver ribbon. He took his place beside Kaz.
"Private Harmony now holds the rank of Lance Corporal in the Shine Clan Militia.
"Finally, for bravery, courage under fire, tenacity, and ingenuity, the Shine Clan Golden Star goes to Gunnery Sargent Hannah Braun."
Wild cheers exploded around the auditorium as the gold and white ribbon slid over her head. The Shine Clan members were only marginally louder than Fiddlestix' own soldiers. Even when Deacon held his hands up for silence, it was several minutes before quiet descended again. When everyone finally settled down, Deacon continued.
"As an additional honor, Hannah has been awarded a captaincy in the Shine Clan Militia. Also, the Clan adopts her as one of its own. From now on, Hannah, you are a member of our family, second to none."
He extended his hand. When she took it, he drew her to him and kissed her passionately in front of the entire assembly. He held her close, whispering in her ear.
"One day, Hannah, you'll stand here as my wife."
Fiddlestix didn't know what to say. She was stunned by her reception by this clannish, secluded people. They treated her like family, called her friend, and extended the warmth and comfort of their hearts and home to her. Even among her own people, she had never been so well accepted. Tears threatened to fall. To hide them, she took Deacon's head in her hands, bringing his mouth down to hers once more. They kissed hungrily as the crowd went crazy.
Someone in the audience started yelling, "Speech! Speech!" Everyone took up the chant. There was nothing for it, she would have to say something. Deacon led her to the center of the
stage and the crowd grew quiet before being asked.
"I'm not good at giving speeches," Fiddlestix grinned rather nervously. "But I do want to thank you all for your kindness and generosity, as well as your bravery and sacrifice. Everyone here lost someone they care about. Therefore, I honor your dead by swearing to you that I will always do my best, no matter what, to protect the Shine Clan. You are my family now. Thank you!"
She stepped back by Deacon, trying to lose herself behind his massive body. He took her hand, leading her forward once more. To loud, joyous applause, he took a bow, encouraging her to bow as well. Blushing furiously, she backed up to hide in the ranks of her soldiers. They parted enough to let her into the front row, but refused to let her go any further. They were proud of her too and they thought she deserved all the praise she was getting.
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