Dex Udki planted seeds in his new field alongside Tessa Nanu. They were the only two Sims in the new home, as Tonna, Tenna, and Demtrio had gone to work on the Nanu Plantation.
They worked in a comfortable silence until Mars showed up.
“Did we do something wrong?” Dex asked immediately.
Mars grinned and looked at Tessa. “Tessa Nanu, congratulations. You’ll be the first to die. In a week, I’ll be back to collect your life. Don’t bother trying to run away; I will find you.”
With that, he turned and left.
Absolutely horrified, Tessa turned to Dex in a panic but didn’t know what to say.
“No!” Dex shouted, at no loss for words himself. “No, you’re not going to die, Tessa! I’ve lost too many people I care about already! My son is a Slave on a plantation, and I can’t see Dar—his mother anymore. I will not lose my best friend, too.”
Tessa pretended not to notice Dex’s slip-of-the-tongue. Instead, she let herself be warmed by the realization that Dex cared about her.
And then she felt as if someone had splashed a bucket of freezing water over her head as she came to another realization. She had grown to care for Dex as more than a best friend.
“How can we stop it, though?” Tessa asked, wrapping her arms around her.
Dex paced. And paced. And then stopped. “Money.”
He looked over at Tessa. “Our new system is entirely built on money. Emperor Domino can’t get enough of it. He must be paying Mars. So we just need to pay Mars more to get him to overlook the fact that he chose you this lottery.”
“And where are we going to get this money on such short notice?” Tessa asked. She bowed her head and kicked at the dirt. “You know, maybe it’s for the best…”
Dex grabbed her wrist and yanked her behind their new hut, cutting her sentence off before she could continue. He dug at the dirt until a huge stockpile of pole beans was uncovered.
“We grew this back before the volcano exploded. I managed to bring it with us,” he said. “We’ll go to Mother Serenity or Grand Abbot and beg them to buy it from us. The Church is just as rich as the Emperor.”
Tessa took in a deep breath and released it slowly, wondering if Dex knew how much it meant to her that he was willing to do this. He probably didn’t, and it was probably best that way.
“Thank you,” she said, tears pricking her eyes.
Dex nodded gruffly.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough veggies to raise the amount of money Grand Abbot thought they would need.
“After all, you’re going to have to pay tithes on whatever you earn, too,” Grand Abbot said. “If it were up to me, I would give you more time on your tithes. But your Emperor isn’t so lenient. I’m sorry, Tessa.”
“It’s not over yet,” Dex insisted. “Come to our house and take everything from us except what we need most to survive.”
Tessa thought she might pass out. “Dex, you’re being too kind. Maybe it would be easier if I just let him—“
“Not a chance!” Dex said.
Tears once again started in Tessa’s eyes, this time spilling down her cheeks. “Thank you.”
Dex ignored her completely this time. He was starting to worry that he might actually be falling in love with a girl so much younger than him.
Once their home was reduced to a single tiny room and a grill, Grand Abbot said that they definitely had raised enough money. He took their tithe and went back to the monastery.
As promised, Mars showed up on time to get Tessa.
Dex stood in his way.
“Move aside, shrimp, before I kill you, too,” Mars said.
Dex waved half of their raised funds in front of Mars’ eyes. “What if I told you I would give you all of this, if you’ll forget that Tessa’s supposed to die?”
Mars hesitated. “I can’t be bought easily, kid. That’s not enough.”
Tessa stepped forward and displayed the rest of their funds. “What about this?”
Mars rubbed his chin slowly. “This won’t be permanent. I might draw her name again next time.”
“We’ll take that chance,” Dex said.
“Someone will still have to die this time around, too,” Mars added. “If Tessa doesn’t, someone else will.”
Tessa’s hand flew to her mouth.
Before she could back out of what they’d worked for the last few days, Dex shoved the money at Mars. “Get out of here. You’re not getting Tessa. Not this time.”
Mars grinned, pocketed the cash, and left.
Tessa started crying. “It’s not worth it, Dex. Who am I to live while someone else has to die?”
“Who are the Allahs to lounge in finery while we slave away in the mud?” Dex countered. “We have to look out for ourselves now if we have any hope of surviving. The Neanderthal mindset doesn’t work in this new world.”
“I know,” Tessa sobbed. “I just…”
Dex released a long, pent-up breath. “Tessa, even if the entire Roman population were to be wiped out because of what we did today, I would still have done it. There’s no way I could lose you.” He paused, then made himself say it. “I love you.”
There. He’d said it. He’d taken advantage of his brother’s wife and gained a wonderful son, but always despaired of finding a Sim he could actually potentially love as a wife and to whom he could devote his life. But even though he was middle-aged, and even though Tessa had only just become an adult, Dex somehow knew that Tessa was the one Sim he had been looking for his entire life.
Tessa looked up at Dex through her tears. “What?”
“I love you, Tessa,” Dex repeated. “I want you to marry me. But I love you enough that that I’ll back off if you ask me to. Your happiness is more important to me than anything else in the world.”
“Dex, I…” Tessa faltered.
Dex’s face fell.
Then Tessa reached up and caressed his face. “I love you, too. I didn’t realize it until I thought I was going to die. But I wasn’t afraid of dying so much as I was of having to leave you. But then I thought, maybe it would be better that way. With your son temporarily gone, you might have a shot at marrying some traveler if you didn’t live with a girl you weren’t related to. You might have a shot at happiness.”
Dex kissed her full on the mouth. “I’m already happy,” he said.
They visited their local chapel the very next day, and Grand Abbot married them.