Saturday, May 26, 2018

Prompt: Dragon Fighter Returns

1 scene - emphasis on the background atmosphere - the actual plot is only a sex scene

A dark inn at a valley crossroads. The dense forest protects the humans against the dragons, flying overhead and living on the mountain passes. As huge as these creatures are, they don't prey on humans, but their bodies crush them when they get too close and their wings when flying produce dangerous storms in the valleys. The number of dragons has increased and people are worried.

One night, during a dragon storm, the inn door opens to a huge brooding warrior. He's one of few Dragon Warriors - humans who track down dragon's nests and destroy eggs to keep the population in check. He refuses questions and requests a warm meal, a bath and a bed for the night. And he requests the handsome stable boy to spend the night with. As the innkeeper is scared to death of the recent developments, she sends her son up with hot water to tend to their guest.

The stable boy tells the warrior that he wants to be a dragon fighter someday and the fighter reveals a few secrets of his trade - while seducing the handsome boy during a sponge bath - while the dragon's screams are heard over the roof of the inn, scaring the inhabitants of the remote place to death.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Nightfall - Chapter X Intimacy

I must have slept deeply for the first time in ages, because I never realized when my arm slid over his waist, my hand resting on his  belly. I woke up, feeling his back flush against my chest. He radiated heat under the thin blanket, which was just the effect we both had hoped to gain with this sleeping arrangement. I willed my fingers to stay still, certain that I had caressed his belly button in my sleep, a habit I had formed with Kyle. Stopping the motion, however, seemed to have given myself away.

He knew I wasn't sleeping anymore. I felt his chest rise and fall beneath my arm, so I flexed my biceps to take some of my weight off his side.

Griff grunted and slid on his back, the narrow cot leaving me no space but to stay on my side with my arm draped over his chest. My chin rested on his shoulder and my breath tickled his nape. He smelled of fresh sweat and something comforting that I couldn't name in my drowsy state. I'd probably call it 'home', if I wasn't so far from it that I knew a home wasn't something I'd ever have again. 

He moved his hand and rested it on my forearm, his fingers playing with my hairs there. It felt peaceful. I continued caressing his belly lazily, the way I had done in my sleep. I could feel his skin under that soft down of hair, a thin layer covering his lithe muscles. He wasn't built like me, but there was no denying the strength in his body. It was awkward lying there like lovers, caressing each other's bodies. I heard him breathe in deeply, his mouth opening for a yawn.

"You awake?", he whispered, turning his face to me. His cheek touched my forehead and he stayed there.
"Hmm," I hummed softly, not willing to let him know I was in fact wide awake and waiting for him to freak out. He couldn't ignore this, whatever it was we did there. It went way beyond two buddies sharing a bunk to conserve heat.

When he stayed silent and left his head on my side, his lips only inches from mine, I closed my eyes tightly and felt a single tear run down my cheek. I wanted to lose myself in this feeling of shared comfort, because I was sure I would never feel this way again.

Even if this was all I would get, I'd cherish it until the day I died. I slid my arm higher, resting my hand on his heart. His hand stayed on mine, his fingers wrapped lightly around my wrist, as I pressed him closer to me, pretending I was fast asleep. It didn't take long until I dreamed again. And to my surprise, my dreams were not dark and despairing, but hopeful. I wasn't alone in them, even though I could never shake the loss of my one true love that still haunted me whenever I closed my eyes.

Nightfall - Chapter 1 (revised)

I realized I was asleep.

And by that I didn't mean in the sense of dreaming. It was rather a feeling of numb existence where there had been a black void only moments before.

Another thought entered my mind. A smile. Blue eyes.

I strained to sharpen the image in my head, but sharp pain erupting from deep within my chest startled me. I struggled to breathe, gasping like a fish out of water and panicking even more when my arms and legs failed to move just as miserably.

By the time I was able to string together several thoughts the pain had become unbearable and forced my consciousness back into a void where the absence of pain embraced me. My last thought was a voice calling out for someone.

'Connor'. I realized now why that name felt familiar. That someone was me.





"Chief Davidson? Can you hear me?"

A ray of light pierced the darkness. Someone was holding my eyelid open, flashing my pupil with a torch. My head ached something fierce and every ray of light felt like a dagger driving deep into my brain.

Had I been shot again? There was no mistaking that sterile smell and the subdued voices. I was in a hospital.

The light kept hovering above my eyes. My fingers twitched with the need to knock that bastard out cold, but I couldn't get my arm to move. I heard myself gasp from the effort. Was I paralyzed? A jolt of fear shot through my body.

"He's moving. He's coming back." Someone grabbed my hand, rubbing it to increase the blood flow. I felt like I'd been run over by a truck. Or a whole dozen of them. The neurons in my brain sparked to life, bringing everything back in a rush.

The journey to Nightfall. Kyle. Trappist-One.

"His vitals are stabilizing," someone said with the calm assurance that only medical staff can muster.

"Chief Davidson?” A slap on my cheek caused me to groan in pain, but that touch was nothing compared to the pain I felt in my throat when I tried to swallow.

I raised my hand. Slow, everything I did was slow, I realized with a stab of shame. My fingers escaped the hand that circled them. What the hell. Had they thawed me out of a block of ice?

Another second ticked by and I remembered. Kryosleep.

I had no idea how it worked in detail, but I was pretty sure the torment I went through waking up wasn’t part of the deal.

Relief swept over me when that jerk in white stopped flashing my eyes. I contracted my arm muscles and was rewarded with the feeling of touch in the pads of my fingers. Awaking from kryosleep did actually feel like coming back to life. As my nervous system adjusted to a responding body, my mind wandered to Kyle. Had he felt the same torment waking up? My newly-revived heart skipped a beat when I thought of the scalding pain that felt so much worse than even the gunshot wound I had taken back when I was a dumb recruit in the wastelands of New London.

I needed to find Kyle. My eyesight was still shot to shit and I felt like running a marathon just trying to crane my neck a bit. I blinked the shapes hovering above me into shape. A face appeared, accompanied by a hand with raised fingers waving back and forth in front of my eyes. It took me a moment to realize that the lady asked me a question.

"How many fingers do you see?", she repeated. My throat was still on fire, but I found a strange pleasure in raising my hand and extending three fingers, mimicking her motion.

"He'll be fine, but for the first couple of hours, someone needs to look after him, make sure his brain functions are stable."

I heard rustling beside me. I blinked and forced my eyes open despite the glaring light from the spots above the examining table. My skin was slippery, as if I'd been bathing in slime.

A male voice spoke up.
"The descent will begin in 30 minutes. These unforeseen complications with his wakeup process already delayed our approach by three hours. We'll lose today's window if we don't act now."

The doc sighed. "You know we'll have to seal sickbay until landing is complete. His vitals need to be monitored or he might not survive the dive!"

This wasn't the kind of conversation a guy wants to hear waking up from kryosleep.
"He'll have to bite the bullet then. Further treatment needs to wait until we're planetside. Understood?" I heard footsteps leaving the room.

I grabbed the white clothed arm beside me, startling the lady doctor.
"Chief Davidson?", she gently removed my fingers from her coat. I blinked at her, moving my lips, failing to make a sound.
"Connor, don't worry. Everything will be fine." She began to wipe my skin with a cloth, removing the liquid I was covered in. I stopped her, grabbing her arm once again and pulling her closer to my face.

"My... room mate. He'll look after me," I wheezed, surprised how fragile my own voice sounded. The doc lifted her head and looked at me with a frown.

"You sure? Is he medically trained?" My mind was still too dizzy to respond, but my eyes followed her as she walked over to the side, picking up a tablet and typing away with her fingers. She moved to the intercom surface by the door and pressed a button.

"Open line to quarter 34," she said. A beeping sound confirmed the connection, right before a male voice responded.

"Officer Harrison here. How can I help ya, doc?"

"Please report to sickbay immediately."

The voice I heard wasn't Kyle's. My brain was still in shambles, but the one thing I felt confident about was that I would recognize Kyle's voice anywhere.




My nervous system was still playing tricks on me. First my skin felt warm, then a wave of coldness made me shudder. I was relieved by the time my skin simply itched and the need to scratch myself actually motivated me enough to move my hands and arms.

A hand on my shoulder had me look up, the rush of excitement in my blood a sure thing I was getting my senses back. But the brown eyes I looked into weren't familiar. The smile was handsome, but it wasn't Kyle's.

"Hey Chief. Glad you're among the living now. Doc says it's time for you to get ready for a little rough ride down to Nightfall."
I couldn't place the voice. 

Someone put a sticker on my temple and flattened it . I winced at the pressure.
"This," the doctor put a small black device into the stranger's hands, "will scan his brainwaves. You need to make sure the readings remain in the green area. If they move to red, call me."

Everyone was in a rush now. I saw a nurse approach the examining table, finishing the job of cleaning me up and putting some sweatpants on my naked body.

"What if the readings go bad during the descent?" the stranger asked. The doc sighed before helping the nurse lift me to a sitting position. I could feel the blood rush from my head, leaving me dizzy and blanching like a ghost. Awesome.

"Then we gotta hope he's still alive by the time we're down. The Commander won't wait for another day."

I forced my eyes to stay still, willing the world to stop moving. I pressed my eyelids together to focus, when a strong arm gripped my shoulder and pulled me off the table. My knees were like jelly and my weight bore down on the man's smaller frame.

"What if he loses consciousness during the dive?", he asked, his voice straining with the effort to keep me upright.

"He will lose his consciousness, Officer Harris. Be grateful if you don't. ."

The doc sounded impatient now. "You need to get him to your quarters and secure him for landing."

Everyone looked up when a computer voice began announcing a countdown until the ship entered the planet's exosphere . 15 minutes. Hardly enough time for me to reach my quarter and get secured, let alone to look for Kyle. I was reluctant to admit that I was scared and helpless while everyone around me seemed to lose their shit.

Testing my legs sent a jolt of pain through my thigh muscles and I gripped the man’s shoulder.
"Easy big guy, I've got you," he said and more dragged than walked me out of sickbay.

The lights in the corridor had gone red and blinking. I strained my body to help with the walk, but the pain in my muscles was unbearable. I was barely conscious when we entered a small room and my companion lowered me into a seat pulled from the metal wall. He strapped me into the safety belts and pulled them tight. I groaned.

"Sorry, man. But you don't want to slip out during landfall. There's no runway down there waiting for us."

The computer voice gave a final warning. 1 minute left. I grabbed the guy's arm and looked into his face. Beads of sweat clustered his forehead and his eyes were cast down on the medic reader in his hand. He looked back at me with a forced smile.

"Looking good, Chief. You'll make it down in one piece, I promise" He pried his arm away from my fingers and stumbled to his seat on the opposite side of the room. We faced each other. I watched him secure the belts around himself and lean back just in time for the ship to make contact with the planet's gravity field.

A jolt went through the ship and the metal frame of our quarter began to shake.
My seat belt cut into my chest and I struggled to breathe. I looked at the window where the planet's curve lit up in an orange halo.

The shaking got even stronger now, like riding a mountain bike over a field of rocks. My head banged against the wall behind me and I couldn't keep my neck upright enough to counterbalance the staccato of jolts. My new friend looked at his reader, then back at me, giving me a thumbs up.

The metal screamed around me and the world faded away. I found my mind wandering back to the only question that mattered. Where was Kyle?


***


The landing was messy. Our pilot did one hell of a job, though, keeping the craft calm even when hail the size of tennis balls banged against our quarter window while crossing a cloud.

The shuddering of the hull had stopped. I glanced over at Chief Harrison. His head hung on his chest, his body suspended in the belts like a ragdoll’s going with the motions. The brain wave thingy still beeped calmly, the reader staying within the green limits. Apparently everything was fine, even if the man looked white as a ghost. His torso swayed back and forth, a sheen of sweat making his skin glow in the flashing safety light.

I noticed mountain peaks outside our window. We were approaching touchdown any minute. I heard the thrusters being fired, slowing our descent to airplane speed. It couldn't be long now.

Harrison groaned. Judging by his size and built, he certainly wasn't a guy who was used to his body playing tricks on him.

The thrusters finally slowed the ship to touchdown speed and the wheels were extended for immediate landing. A jolt went through the hull, the vessel swaying when one of the axes kissed a rock, veering the ship to the side. The pilot fired the thrusters again, ripping off the ship’s wheels and the velocity jarring us over the surface until we came to a screeching halt.

I raised my hand and winced at the growing bruise on my head. What a welcome.

Not waiting for the blinking lights to die, I unfastened my belt and knelt down in front of Harrison. The belt had chafed his skin raw, a trickle of blood flowing down his chest. I cursed myself for putting him in that thing without a shirt on, but the thought hadn't even crossed my mind only minutes before the descent.

I opened the belt and his large frame fell into my arms. He smelled of sweat mixed with the remnants of neuronal fluid. I managed to manhandle him to lie down on his cot.
Checking the reader I noticed that the screen had gone black.

"Shit! Chief Harrison, can you hear me?" I tapped his shoulder and shook him . "I think you need to wake up, sir!"

He groaned, a frown on his face, as he raised his arms to wipe at his eyes. I wasn't sure if he was in pain or just exhausted after that clusterfuck of a landing.

"My name is Officer Griff Hansen, sir. You're in your quarter and I need to make sure you're conscious."

His eyelids fluttered and closed. Damn, that wasn't good, right?
I took his chin in my hand, startling him. His eyes locked with mine.

"Where’s Kyle," he said and grabbed my arm with surprising strength, moving himself into sitting position. Who the hell was Kyle?

I was grateful when the intercom announced an incoming call.
"Chief Harrison, gather a security team and report at the airlock for further instructions." Sub-Commander Davidson's impatient voice.

Harrison watched me with a frown, his fingers digging into my forearm. I made the decision in the blink of an eye.
"Understood, sir. End of call", I pried Harrison's fingers off my wrist. "Open a line to sickbay," I ordered over my shoulder.

Doctor Martinez’ voice sounded tense. "How is he doing?" .
"He seems confused. Can you take over now?"
The doc confirmed and I patted Harrison's shoulder, pushing him back down.

"Why don't you rest a bit. I'll take care of things until you're ready, sir." . His gaze followed me to the door. I stopped for a beat to look back at him, his eyes still locked on mine.

"And then we'll go find Kyle, alright?"
He nodded and I left the room, the sliding door closing behind me.

***



"Richard, I can't keep a lid on it any longer. She's filing a lawsuit right this minute!"
I pressed the cell so hard against my ear, I was sure it'd come back in pieces. "You gotta shut her up for good, Phil."

I could imagine Phil's face. The wimp. "I'll just pretend you didn't say that," he said.

"You're my lawyer, Phil, and I expect you to keep that shit under control," I hissed, aware that people were staring at me from across the room at the McArthur Space Center in Pensacola. I couldn’t afford to attract attention. 

"Damn right, I'm your lawyer, Rich. And in that capacity I'd advise you to finally take the command of the Nightfall mission." Phil lowered his voice. "And as your friend, I'd tell you to get your ass outta here better sooner than later. She's instigated a fucking FBI investigation. If she vanishes now, you'd be the prime suspect in any case. So don't even think about it."

I rubbed my eyes, the strain of the previous months weighing me down. I looked around the room. There wasn't a sofa or even a plastic chair to rest my ass on. Damn NASA and their cheap suits.

"The Nightfall mission is a one way ticket, Phil. If I sign on, I'll spend the rest of my life with a bunch of sci-fi nerds on a shithole planet that doesn't even have a beach."

Phil seemed to ponder that for a moment. "Last I heard, there's a huge ocean on Nightfall, so you'd probably find someplace nice if you looked hard enough."
He didn't take me seriously.

"The planet doesn't have a sun, Phil," I commented drily. 

"That's bullshit. Trappist-1 is a sun. Even I know that," . 
I heard him shuffle paper in the background. Apparently he considered the official side of our conversation over.

"It's a fucking red dwarf, you asshole!" I yelled into the cell. People were turning their heads at me. I raised the back of my hand to wipe sweat off my temple.
"I'm not gonna spend the rest of my life in a place without daylight, dammit!", I added, lowering my voice again.

Phil sighed. "You're the space expert, Rich. All I can tell you is, take the mission and be a legend to billions of people, leading mankind to a new planet. Or stay, and rot in prison. Let me know what it'll be." A beeping tone told me that Phil had ended the call without waiting for my response.

The little shit. I couldn't believe this was happening. Replaying Phil's words in my mind, my choice seemed to be easy. Still, I felt as if I had to put a signature under my own death warrant this time. 




Hansen didn't wear his uniform when he showed up at the airlock, finding me, my entire command team and a couple of scientists waiting there.

"This is the security team Harrison has gathered?", I asked . "One man? Where's Harrison?"

Hansen looked at me, fumbling his arms in a half-hearted salute.
"Chief Harrison is still recovering from kryosleep, Sir. He instructed me to lead the team." My impassive face unsettled him. I liked that.

"So, where's your team, then?" I said and turned my back on him, instructing my second-in-command to fetch the oxygen masks .

I was aware that Officers Jackson and Riley were with us, but I enjoyed watching Hansen's confusion, before he spotted them and gave them orders . He wasn't doing too bad. I had to give him that.

I liked my security fearless and flexible, which was the reason why I had hand-picked them for this mission. Hansen hadn't been my first choice, though, so I wasn't sure about his value to my crew.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Nightfall - Chapter 1



I suddenly realized I was asleep.

And by that I didn't mean in the sense of realizing I was dreaming. It was rather a feeling of numb existence where there had been a black void only moments before.

Minutes or was it hours later, another thought entered my struggling mind. A smile. Blue eyes.
I strained my sleep-dulled mind to sharpen the blurry image in my head, but a sharp pain erupting from deep within my chest startled me, the sudden fire in my throat the only thing that existed in my world. I tried to breathe, my lungs not responding to my will, gasping like a fish out of water and panicking even more when I tried to move my arms and legs and failed just as miserably.
The fire in my core consumed me and where I had felt the soft gaze of handsome eyes on me, now a different kind of pressure weighed me down, pressing my body into whatever surface I was resting on.

My mind processed all this slowly, like watching the world from inside a jar of honey. By the time I was able to string together several thoughts, the pain had become unbearable and forced my consciousness back into a void where the blissful absence of pain embraced me like an old friend. The last thought in my mind was a voice desperately calling out for someone.
'Connor'. I realized why that name felt familiar. That someone was me.




"Chief Davidson? Can you hear me?"

A ray of blinding light pierced the darkness. Someone's thumb was holding my eyelid open, flashing my pupil again and again with a small torch. My head ached something fierce and every ray of light felt like a dagger driving deep into my brain.
Had I been shot again? There was no mistaking that sterile smell and the subdued voices and beeps. I was in a hospital.

The light kept hovering above my opened eyes. My fingers twitched with the need to knock that bastard out cold, but I couldn't get my arm to move. I heard myself gasp from the effort it took me to find out that I was still a lifeless corpse. Was I paralyzed? A jolt of fear shot through my body and cold sweat formed on my temple.

"He's moving. He's coming back." Someone grabbed my hand, rubbing it to increase the bloodflow in my numb muscles. I felt like I'd been run over by a truck. Or a whole dozen of them. The neurons in my brain suddenly sparked to life, bringing everything back in a rush, making me wish for the sweet oblivion I used to sleep in until now.

I remembered.  The journey to Nightfall. Kyle. His dream of starting a new life there after we finished babysitting a bunch of whiny scientists on what they called an exploration, but which was in fact the foundation of mankinds' first colony on an inhabitable exoplanet. Trappist-One. The mysterious red dwarf with its seven planets, that are forever locked to face their star on one side, while the other rests in eternal darkness, possibly under a blanket of thick ice.
It had sounded like hell to me. But I didn't care. I remembered Kyle's excitement. His hopes.

"His vitals are stabilizing. His temperature is reaching standard levels and his brain waves are finally maxing," someone said with the calm assurance that only medical staff can muster.
"Chief Davidson? Wake up." A soft slap on my cheek caused me to groan in pain, but that slap was nothing compared to the pain I felt in my throat when I tried to swallow down the spit in my mouth.

I raised my hand. Slow, everything I did and thought was too slow, I realized with a stab of shame. My fingers escaped the warm hand that circled them in frantic motions. What the hell. Did they thaw me out of a block of ice?
Another second ticked by and I remembered someone talking to me. I remembered listening carefully and feeling slightly intimidated by what I was told. Kryosleep.

Sure, you couldn't travel to a solar system some 40 light years away and expect to be there by lunch time. The journey took 60 years at a speed that was as close to light speed as mankind could ever get, unless a bunch of well-meaning aliens would treat us to their technological secrets. So if you didn't want to reach Nightfall as a 90 year old geezer, you went into kryosleep. I had no idea how it worked in detail. I wasn't one of these doctors slash gods in white. But I did listen when they explained the procedure to me. Though I swear to whatever god would listen on Nightfall, not one of them mentioned the terrible pain I felt waking up.

Right now I felt like a demon straight out of hell. Relief swept over me when that jerk in white stopped flashing my eyes with blinding light. I contracted my arm muscles and was rewarded with the feeling of touch in the pads of my fingers. Awaking from kryosleep did actually feel like coming back to life. As my nervous system adjusted to having a responding body again, my mind wandered to Kyle. Had he felt the same torment waking up? My newly-revived heart skipped a beat when I thought of the scalding pain that felt so much worse than even the gunshot wound I had taken back when I was a dumb, reckless recruit in the wastelands of New London.

I needed to find Kyle. My eyesight was still shot to shit and I felt like running a marathon just trying to crane my neck a bit. I blinked the blurry shapes hovering above me into shape. A worried face appeared, accompanied by a hand with raised fingers waving back and forth in front of my eyes. It took me a moment to realize that the lady asked me a question.

"How many fingers do you see?", she repeated. My throat was still on fire, but I found a strange pleasure in raising my hand and extending three fingers, mimicking her motion. Her gaze softened when she saw the cocky smile on my face.

"He'll be fine. Give him some time to put himself together, but for the first couple of hours, someone needs to look after him, make sure his brain functions are stable."

I heard rustling beside me. I couldn't tell how many people were in the room with me. I blinked and forced my eyes open despite the glaring light from the spots above the examining table. My skin felt strangely slippery, as if I'd been bathing in slime.

A male voice spoke up.
"The descent will begin in 30 minutes. These unforeseen complications with his wakeup process already delayed our approach on Nightfall by three hours. We'll lose today's window if we don't act now"
The doc sighed. "You know we'll have to seal sickbay until landing is complete. His vitals need to be monitored or he might not survive the dive to the planet's surface!"

This wasn't the kind of conversation a guy wants to hear waking up from kryosleep when his body still feels like a car wreck.

"He'll have to bite the bullet then. Further treatment needs to wait until we're planetside. Understood?" I heard footsteps leaving the room, followed by an annoyed sigh.

I felt some rustling next to me and grabbed a white clothed arm.
"Chief Davidson?", she looked worried, gently removing my fingers from her coat. I blinked at her, moving my lips, but not making any sound.
"Connor, don't worry. Everything will be fine." She began to wipe my skin with a soft cloth, removing the weird liquid I was covered in. I was grateful to feel each swipe of the cloth on my skin. It made me feel alive where I've been a numb piece of meat only minutes before.
I stopped her by grabbing her arm once again and pulling her closer to my face. She finally understood my intention and put her ear close to my lips, a few loose strands of hair tickling my cheeks.

"My... room mate. He'll look after me," I wheezed, surprised how fragile my own voice sounded. The doc lifted her head and looked at me with a frown.

"You sure? Is he medically trained?" My mind was still too dizzy to respond, but my eyes followed her as she walked over to the side, picking up a tablet and typing away with her fingers. She moved to the intercom surface by the door and pressed a button.

"Open line to quarter 34," she said. A soft beeping sound confirmed the connection, right before a male voice responded.
"Officer Harrison here. How can I help ya, doc?"
"Please report to sickbay immediately," the doc sounded a bit wary. But not as wary as I felt when I realized that the voice I heard clearly wasn't Kyle's. My brain was still in shambles, but the one thing I felt confident about was that I would recognize Kyle's voice anywhere.


My nervous system was still playing tricks on me. First my skin felt warm, then a wave of coldness made me shudder. I wasn't sure if I was glad or not by the time my skin simply itched and the need to scratch myself actually motivated me enough to move my hands and arms. When the door opened and someone walked in, I was too preoccupied to notice the newcomer.

A hand on my shoulder had me look up, the rush of excitement in my blood a sure thing I was slowly getting my senses back. But the brown eyes I looked into weren't familiar. The apprehensive smile was handsome, but it wasn't Kyle's.

"Hey Chief. Glad you're among the living now. Doc says it's time for you to get ready for a little rough ride down to Nightfall."
I couldn't place the voice. Even the accent sounded foreign to me. Who was he?

Someone put a sticker on my temple and flattened it with a thumb and forefinger. I winced at the unwelcome pressure.
"This," she put a small black device into the stranger's hands, "will scan his brainwaves. You need to make sure the readings remain in the green area. If they move to red, call me."

Everyone was in a rush now. I saw a new nurse approach the examining table, finishing the job of cleaning me up and putting some white sweatpants on my naked body.

"What if the readings go bad during the descent? We're not exactly safe to walk around then," the stranger asked. The doc sighed heavily before helping the nurse lift me to a sitting position. The world suddenly swayed and my eyes couldn't focus. I could feel the blood rush from my head, leaving me dizzy and blanching like a ghost. Awesome.

"Then we gotta hope he's still alive by the time we're down. The Commander won't wait for another day."
I forced my eyes to stay still, willing the world to stop moving. When I sighed heavily, pressing my eyelids together to focus, a strong arm gripped my shoulder and pulled me off the table. My knees were like jelly and my full weight bore down on the man's smaller frame.

"What if he loses consciousness during the dive? Would that be dangerous for him?", he asked, his voice straining with the effort to keep me upright.
"He will lose his consciousness, Officer Harris. Be grateful if you don't. But as long as the readings are fine, he should be able to make it without slipping into a coma."

The doc sounded impatient now. "Listen, I'm sorry to put this responsibility on you, but you need to get him to your quarters and secure him for landing. I have to clear sickbay."

Everyone looked up when a computer voice began announcing a countdown until the ship entered the planet's exosphere and the pull of its gravity field. 15 minutes. Hardly enough time for me to reach my quarter and get secured, let alone to look for Kyle. Where the hell was he? I was reluctant to admit that I was  scared and I hated to feel helpless while everyone around me seemed to lose their shit.

I tested my legs and felt a jolt of pain when I used my thigh muscles to lift a bit of my weight off the man's shoulder.
"Easy big guy, I've got you," he said and more dragged than walked me out of sickbay.

The lights in the corridor had gone dark red and blinking. I strained my body to help with the walk, but the pain in my unused muscles was unbearable. I was barely conscious when we entered a quarter and he lowered me into an extractable seat that was pulled from the metal wall. I felt my companion strap me into the safety belts, securing them closely to my body, pushing the breath out of my lungs. I groaned.
"Sorry, man. But you don't wanna slip out of them during landfall. Unfortunately there's no runway down there waiting for us."

The computer voice gave a final warning. 1 minute left. I grabbed the guy's arm and looked at his face. Beads of sweat clustered his forehead and his eyes were cast down on the medic reader in his hand. He looked back at me, tiny wrinkles forming around his eyes when he forced himself to smile.

"Looking good, chief. You'll make it down in one piece, I promise" He gently pried his arm away from my fingers and stumbled to his seat on the opposite side of the room. We faced each other. I watched him secure the belts around his body and lean back just in time for the ship to make contact with the planet's upper atmosphere.

A jolt went through the ship and the metal frame of our quarter began to shake desperately, as if the whole spacecraft was putting up a fight against the particles of the exosphere.

My seatbelt cut into my chest painfully and I struggled to breathe. A few minutes later, the window showing the planet's gentle curve lit up in a soft orange flame, indicating that the density of the atmosphere was increasing, creating a shock wave of frictional heat in front of the ship that the heat shields had to deflect efficiently, thus creating a soft orange halo around its hull.

The shaking got even stronger now, like riding a mountainbike over a field of spiky rocks. My head banged again and again against the wall behind me and I couldn't keep my neck upright steadily enough to counterbalance the staccato of jolts. I finally gave up and let my head drop to my chest, my mind surrendering to whatever would happen to us on this damn ship. The last thing I remembered was my companion looking at his reader, then back at me and giving me a thumbs up.

The world faded away and while the straining metal screamed around me, I found my mind wandering back to the only question that mattered. Where the hell was Kyle?


***


The landing was messy. The Aquarius descended in a steep angle to make good use of the planetary winds that were remarkably strong this close to the terminator line. We had to catch our designated landing site right there in order to be able to get off the ship without either freezing or burning to death. Besides, reaching the dark side of the planet would freeze up the ship's boosters, making it impossible to start over and try again. Our pilot did one hell of a job, though, keeping the craft calm even when hail the size of tennis balls banged against our quarter window while crossing a cloud.

The terrible shuddering of the hull had stopped now. I glanced over at Chief Harrison. His head hung low on his chest, his body suspended in the belts like a lifeless ragdoll going with the motions. The brain wave thingy in my hand still beeped calmly, the reader staying within the green limits. Apparently everything was fine, even if the man looked white as a ghost. He only wore sweatpants and his muscular torso swayed back and forth, a sheen of sweat making his skin glow in the eerie red light that reminded us all of the dangerous descent. As if we weren't nervous enough as it is.

I noticed gray shapes outside our window and mistook them for clouds, but squeezing my eyes to adjust them to the twilight of Nightfall, I noticed that they were mountain peaks that we passed during our descent. We were approaching touchdown any minute. I heard the thrusters being fired, slowing down our flight to airplane speed. We were now gliding on the wind rather than forcefully breaking through the dense atmosphere. I swallowed and took a deep breath. It couldn't be long now.

Harrison groaned again and I was tempted to unbuckle my seatbelt to make sure he was alright. I didn't know the guy but I hated to see him like this. Judging by his size and built, he certainly wasn't a guy who was used to his body playing tricks on him. A strange thought occurred to me. Was it weird to share quarters with my superior? I guessed so. But then, I wouldn't have expected to get a chance to be on this mission anyway. Now here I was, millions of miles away from home and ready for a new start, like every soul on this ship.

My thoughts were brutally interrupted when the thrusters finally slowed the ship to touchdown speed and the wheels were being extended for immediate landing. A sudden jolt went through the ship and the metal screeched desperately, the whole vessel swaying dangerously as one of the axes kissed a rock, veering the ship to the side. The pilot apparently fired the thrusters again, taking the ship off the ground before touching down  again with what I could only describe as a bang, ripping off the ships wheels and setting the vessel on the rocky ground violently, the velocity jarring us over the surface for what felt like minutes until we came to a screeching halt.
I raised my hand and winced when I touched a growing bruise on my skull. I must have banged my head on the metal wall behind me. I cursed the damn planet already. What a welcome.

If anything, the pioneers could have picked up the rocks near the landing site. It's not like they didn't know we were coming. They had 80 fucking years to do it.

Not waiting for the blinking lights to die, I unfastened my belt and knelt down in front of Harrison's groaning body. He was bleeding on his chest. The belt had chafed his skin raw. I cursed myself for putting him in that thing without a shirt on, but the thought hadn't even crossed my mind when the doc basically threw the guy on me only minutes before the descent.

I opened the belts and his large frame fell into my arms. He smelled strangely of sweat mixed with the neuronal fluid that we had all awakened in. His body was heavily muscled and tall, but I managed to manhandle him and get him to lie down on his cot. I held the back of his head to prevent him from banging it until he was fully spread on the surface.

Unsure what to do next, I looked at the reader I was still carrying and noticed that it wasn't showing anything on its tiny screen. Looking up at Harrison's face I saw that the white plaster carrying the transmitters had peeled off his skin and was hanging in the dark hair above his ears.

"Shit! Chief Harrison, can you hear me?" I tapped his shoulder and shook him softly. "I think you need to wake up, sir!"
He groaned, a deep frown on his face, as he raised his arms to cover his eyes. "Kyle?", he moaned. I wasn't sure if he was in pain or just exhausted after that clusterfuck of a landing.
"My name is Officer Griff Hansen, sir. You're in your quarter and I need to make sure you're conscious, until the doc is ready to look at you."

His eyelids fluttered and closed. Damn, that wasn't good, right?
I took his chin in my hand and moved his face towards me, startling him. His eyes locked with mine. He seemed to be able to focus, although he looked more confused than ever.
"Get Kyle...", he said, grabbing my arm with surprising strength, trying to move himself into a sitting position. Kyle? Who the hell was Kyle?

I looked at him blankly and was grateful when a beep at the intercom announced an incoming call. I spoke up to accept it.
"Chief Harrison, gather a security team and report at the airlock for further instructions." Sub-Commander Davidson's impatient voice.
Harrison watched me with frantic eyes, his fingers digging into my forearm. He looked a bit like a lunatic with his beard shadow growing in and his mouth gaping open with unspoken questions. I made the decision in the blink of an eye.

"Understood, sir. End of call", I said and pried Harrison's fingers off my wrist. "Open a line to sickbay," I ordered over my shoulder.
Two soft beeping sounds later, Doctor Martinez was on the line. "How is he doing?" Always right to the point. I liked her.
"He seems confused. I need to rally a team for Davidson. Can you take over now?"
The doc confirmed and I patted Harrison's naked shoulder, pushing him gently back down.
"Why don't you rest a bit. I'll take care of things until you're ready, sir." He looked back at me, his brown eyes calm and his demeanor collected. His gaze followed me as I got up and walked through the door to the corridor, just stopping for a beat to look back at him, his eyes still locked on mine.

"And then we'll go find Kyle, alright?", I said. He nodded and I left the room, the sliding door closing silently behind me.


***

"Richard, I can't keep a lid on it any longer. She's filing a lawsuit right this minute!"
I pressed the cell so hard against my ear, I was sure it'd come back in pieces. "You gotta shut her up for good, Phil."

I could imagine Phil's shocked face. The wimp. "I'll just pretend you didn't say that," he said.
"You're my lawyer, Phil, and I expect you to keep that shit under control," I hissed, suddenly aware that people were staring at me from across the room at the McArthur Space Center in Pensacola. 

"Damn right, I'm your lawyer, Rich. And in that capacity I'd advise you to finally take the command of the Nightfall mission," Phil said. He lowered his voice. "And as your friend, I'd tell you to get your ass outta here better sooner than later. She's instigated a fucking FBI investigation. If she vanishes now, you'd be the prime suspect in any case. So don't even think about it."

I rubbed my eyes, the strain of the previous months weighing me down. I looked around the room. There wasn't a sofa or even a plastic chair to rest my ass on. Damn NASA and their cheap suits.

"The Nightfall mission is a one way ticket, Phil. If I sign on, I'll spend the rest of my life with a bunch of sci-fi nerds on a shithole planet that doesn't even have a decent beach."

Phil seemed to ponder that for a moment. "Last I heard, there's a huge ocean on Nightfall, so you'd probably find someplace nice if you looked hard enough."
I couldn't believe it. He didn't take me seriously.

"The place doesn't even have a sun, Phil," I commented drily. "Can you imagine a beach without sun?"
"That's bullshit. Trappist-1 is a sun. Even I know that," he said, a little too quickly. I heard him shuffle paper in the background. Apparently he considered the official side of our conversation over.

"It's a fucking red dwarf, you asshole!" I yelled into the cell. People were turning their heads at me. I raised the back of my hand to wipe the beading sweat off my temple.

"I'm not gonna spend the rest of my life in a place without daylight, dammit!", I added, lowering my voice again.

Phil sighed. "You're the space expert, Rich. All I can tell you is, take the mission and be a legend to billions of people, leading mankind to a new planet. Or stay, and rot in prison. Let me know what it'll be." A beeping tone told me that Phil had ended the call without waiting for my response.

The little shit. I couldn't believe this was happening. Replaying Phil's words in my mind, my choice seemed to be easy. Still, I felt as if I had to put a signature under my own death warrant this time. 


Hansen didn't even wear his uniform when he showed up at the airlock, finding me, my entire command team and a couple of scientists waiting there.

"This is the security team Harrison has gathered?", I asked sarcastically. "One man? Where's Harrison?"

Hansen looked at me, unsure if he was supposed to salute to me or not. He finally straightened his back and clasped his hands behind his back.

"Chief Harrison is still recovering from kryosleep, Sir. He instructed me to lead the team this time." He looked at me, trying to read my impassive face.

"So, where's your team, then?" I said and turned my back on him, instructing Marcia Wilson, my second in command to fetch the oxygen masks we were gonna need outside until our lungs accustomed to the lower oxygen partial pressure in Nightfall's atmosphere.

I was well aware that Officers Jackson and Riley were with us in the room, but I liked watching Hansen's confusion, right before he spotted them and gave them orders about the next steps. He wasn't doing too bad. I had to give him that.

I liked my security fearless and largely flexible, which was the reason why I had hand-picked them carefully for this mission. Hansen wasn't my first choice, though, so I wasn't sure about his value to my crew. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Prelude

"And this is the bathroom. The tiles were redone in 2014. I quite like the modern design and the simplistic choice of color in this one", I gestured at the ugly black and white tiles that turned a rather average bathroom into a chamber of horrors just waiting for some bloodshed. Why couldn't any of these damn flats just be okay? There was always some catch that made them a hard sale. I was so tired of this shit.

Five years of pretending to be a real estate agent had really weighed me down. It was just the random sale every now and then that kept me financially afloat. People did need to live someplace after all, and I was selling apartments. Sure deal, right? At least I thought so when I started this phenomenal waste of time. Shaking off my thoughts, my eyes caught on the shower and the greenish mold spreading around the silicone seal. Damn!

I flashed my brightest smile, hoping to divert my clients' searching eyes by putting myself right in front of the mold-infested shower stall. Fidgeting with the top button of my white business shirt, I puffed out my wide chest and beckoned the two guys into the small room. Sure, I might have been San Diego's worst real estate agent, but I'd be damned if I couldn't sell this shithole to a gay couple who were staring at my lips like two kids on a hot day waiting to get ice cream from a street vendor.

Stan, the shorter of the two, looked around the room, while Hank, the tall, lanky one, smiled at me and winked. Great. I tried my best not to roll my eyes.

"The tiles look like a chess board. And there's no window." Stan slipped an index finger across a tile and rubbed it against his thumb, apparently gauging the amount of dust. Okay, I could take a hint. Time to move on.

"Let's check out the bedroom, the view there is amazing!" I walked out of the bathroom and down the hall, Hank following at my heels.

"The view sure is amazing, Brian," Hank drawled. I couldn't believe that guy. Flirting with me right in front of his man. I swallowed and led Hank into the bedroom, ignoring the way his hand bumped into my hip in passing. Involuntarily, of course. Not.

The bedroom wasn't too bad. Bright and cozy with a dark redwood floor and large windows overlooking a park. The street was right below, but looking out from this floor, all you could see were trees. If they didn't ask me to open the windows, I might actually score a point with this one.

Stan walked around the king sized bed, staring at the bare mattress and out the high windows. Yeah, I knew an apartment would be easier to sell if there was furniture and decoration, instead of showing people around bare rooms, but hey, I wasn't selling in the Kardashian's price range, so I hoped the guys would give me a break.

"The view is nice," Stan conceded. He walked closer to the bed and bumped against it with his shin. Testing its sturdiness? Please just take the damn flat already.

"I bet that bed can easily hold three guys, right?" Hank walked forward and leered at me, clearly checking me out. God, really?

"I wouldn't know," I said, my smile slipping the more Stan joined his boyfriend in that awkward staring contest at my crotch.

"I bet you would, Steve Hunter. After all, we are fans." Hank walked over and slipped his hand around my waist, pushing me softly toward the bed. My porn name had me frozen to the spot. I had hoped that after five years of retirement my fame would have vanished, but apparently I was still famous enough for two horny guys to go as far as apartment hunting just to get me into a bedroom. Suddenly I wished this flat hadn't even come with a bed.

I shook my head and pushed the hand away. "Not gonna happen, guys."

"Come on, why not? We got lube and condoms right here and it's not like we're gonna mess up any sheets, right," Hank laughed and pointed at the blank bed, running his fingers along my naked forearm. "And we might be interested in this place after all, right Stan?"

Stan smirked and rolled his eyes. "Sure thing. You do come highly recommended, you know?"

I hated this. Even more so as it wasn't the first time. The longer I worked in real estate the more I ran into clients who expected something intimate on top of a lease contract for their new apartment. 'Oh, try O'Leary Real Estate if you want to fuck a porn star'. Made me feel like a rent boy. Made me feel like a whore. I had hoped those days were behind me. I closed my eyes, trying to think.

I jumped as my cell vibrated in my pant pocket, shortly before a soft chirping announced an incoming call. Saved by the bell.

Removing myself from Hank's roaming fingers I turned toward the windows.

"O'Leary," I answered the call, frowning at an unknown number on my private cell.

Silence, then the soft sound of a woman clearing her throat. "Bry? Is that you?"

"Sarah?" Way to go, man. I hadn't talked to the only woman I ever shared my bed with in years and all I managed was her name? "How... how are you?," I added, then words tumbling out of my mouth before I could stop them. "Is Evan alright?"

Sarah sniffed. "Evan is fine. He's... he applied at Berkeley. And got accepted."

I blinked, trying to find the mindset to discuss my son's education in front of two horny clients. Day of my life.

I didn't know much about academia, but Berkeley wasn't a no name university. My chest swelled with pride knowing my son was apparently smart enough for a college like that.

"That's... great news," I said quietly, all too aware of two sets of curious eyes staring at my back.

"Wait until you hear how much the tuition will be," she said carefully.

Stan and Hank startled behind me when I repeated the figure, almost yelling at my phone in disbelief. Stan cleared his throat.
"Don't tell me someone offered you that amount of cash for this dump here," he laughed and unbuttoned his shirt.

"Sarah, this is a bad time. I.. I'll think of something. I don't have that cash right now. Not even close," I whispered. I wanted to think I knew the disappointed glance that I was sure Sarah was sporting on her end of the line, but fact was I hadn't seen her in the last 15 years. Still, I knew I had let her down again, judging by her sigh. I swallowed hard. "I'll think of something, okay?"

Clicking my phone off, I turned back to Hank and Stan, who looked at me expectantly. Hank was already kneeling on the mattress, while Stan still worked to get out of his shirt.

I ground my teeth together. "You really gonna take the apartment if we do this?"

"Sure thing, dude. Now come over here." I followed Hank's beckoning hand and let him draw me closer by my belt. Bending me forward, he claimed my mouth in a wet kiss, raking his hand through my short hair. A warm weight against my back and a hand opening my shirt buttons one by one reminded me that Stan was still with us. I felt four hands roaming lower to work my belt, Hanks lips traveling down the trimmed hair on my gym-shaped chest, his tongue circling my nipple. I closed my eyes and let both guys play me, the way countless guys had before them. Teeth still grinding together, I just wanted to cry.




***




The apartment felt empty and cold. It wasn't really different to any other day, but I felt especially lonely as I came home after my successful sale. At least they had signed the lease when we were done. That was more than I could have hoped for. I stepped into the hallway and shrugged out of my leather jacket. Only a couple of buttons holding my shirt in place around my chest, I shrugged out of it and dropped it on the floor. Yeah, I knew. Laundry ain't a bachelor's best friend. My jacket had thankfully prevented the shirt from falling off on my way home, as I hadn't wanted to spend any more time around Hank and Stan than necessary to seal the deal. The smell of two different aftershaves on my body reminded me of what I had just done. Again. I pinched the bridge of my nose and leaned against the hallway wall.

I needed the damn money. Not just for Evan's tuition. I also needed to pay rent and cover my own expenses like everybody else did. Just that everybody else didn't hover on the tight line between gainful employment and being a hooker. How did other people do it?

With a college degree and a set of references. I could basically hear my mother drilling her wisdom into my teenaged self. Not that I ever listened to her. I didn't hold a grudge against her when she stopped speaking with me after the porn thing got out. Still I wished I had someone to rant about shit - and I figured that was what a mother was about. Or a boyfriend. Not that I had any of those.

I didn't bother to put on a shirt again and strolled to the kitchen for a beer. The fridge was well supplied with alcohol, if nothing else. I considered hitting the gym after all, not really wanting to break my training schedule. Reading the label of the beer bottle in my hand, I shrugged the notion off and walked back to my couch, my socked feet ghosting silently over the cheap linoleum floor. I just wanted this day to end, not drag it on. The laptop still sat opened on the couch table and it just took a swipe of my finger to awaken it. I couldn't wait to mark that cursed flat as sold and remove it from my listing, but first I wanted to check my finances. Logging into my bank accounts, I wasn't surprised to see that my cash account had shriveled down to a minus balance yet again. It wasn't by much, but it was still a rather saddening sight, given it was only the middle of the month. Today's sale would even things out again so I wasn't bothered. Switching to my savings accounts, I stared at the 80 grand sitting there. Money I had accrued for Evan's tuition. It used to be so much more. Porn had paid off well and a stab of guilt reminded me that I could once have covered the full tuition at Berkeley that he needed now, but fate had had different plans and forced me to take money out of the account to cover my own expenses. Ashamed, I pulled the laptop shut and shrank back on the couch. The cold beer tasted stale on my tongue and I noticed that it wasn't the only taste still lingering there. I should probably brush my teeth.

A tentative knock on the door had me turn my head towards the entrance. I wasn't in the mood for visitors tonight. Especially not Miguel and his persevering stamina. I was 38 years old after all and just had to satisfy two guys. Another soft knock on the door. Damn, I felt like an ass.

"Come in. It's open," I called out and sighed to myself, knocking back a large swallow of beer.

My hot young neighbor sticking his head inside my door was actually the most pleasant sight of the day. I relaxed with a smile and lifted my bottle in greeting. "Miguel, handsome! Mi casa et su casa, have a beer."

I tensed up when Miguel didn't react to my tired flirting and wordlessly walked over, dropping on the couch beside me. "What's wrong?" I sat up and put my arm on his shoulder, his dark tattooed skin smooth under my callous fingertips. He didn't look at me, watching his own hands instead as he tugged on his fingers one by one. We've known each other quite a while. It was nice to have a cute young guy next door to be friendly with after work. I didn't mind the occasional hot sex either. And judging from the moaning sounds I sometimes heard through the wall, I didn't have to worry about him getting too attached to me. Besides, Miguel and I shared a rather sad secret that probably deepened our friendship on a level that I wouldn't have tolerated otherwise. I didn't usually do the big brother act with my younger lovers, but Miguel's shaking hands had me draw him in for a hug. He sniffed against my ear. "What's going on, man?", I whispered.

He sniffed again, drawing back from my embrace. "You smell like sex," he said and wrinkled his nose, then smiled. "I hope it was good." His Mexican accent was more pronounced when he was unsettled like this.

"I sold a flat," I shrugged in answer, rubbing his back in a slow circle. I realized he was stalling.
"Are you feeling alright?"

He shook his head, his black hair falling into his eyes. He was a damn hot Latino and usually knew it, but he seriously scared me now, all pale and shivering. "Is it the meds?", I prodded gently.

He looked up at me with huge brown eyes. I watched him sniff again. He rubbed his eyes on the long sleeve of his pullover and I felt cheap sitting shirtless next to him.

"I had to change the combo again after only three months. And it still doesn't work. I feel like shit, man," he said quietly. So different to the usual banter we exchanged. "It's the second time I had to change. What if I run out of options?" His lips trembled and I felt his fingers close tightly over mine, holding on for dear life, it seemed. "I don't wanna die, Brian?" His eyes sparkled.

I had never seen him cry. So the tear slipping out of the corner of his eye, rolling down his tanned but unusually pale cheek surprised me. I drew him into a hug again and he melted against me, sobbing loudly, tear drops wet on my naked chest. "I'm sure it'll be alright. We'll go to the clinic right away and fix this. They'll check your blood and then the doc will decide how to continue."

He sobbed again and I did something I never did with him before. I kissed his head, his soft hair tickling my lips. "I had a shitty time myself until I adjusted. My first combo, I thought I'd die. The second one wasn't as bad, but it still took me three months to get used to it. It's been working for 4 years now. It'll be the same for you," I soothed him.

He stilled and I let him sit back. "What if not?" I could see his fear clearly in his eyes.

"What if you walk out that door and get run over by a bus? You can't ask 'what if' or you'll stop living, Miguel." I slapped his cheek playfully and smiled at him. "Come on, get your meds and we're off to the clinic. I just need to take a shower, okay?"

Miguel watched me, obviously mesmerized by the colorful design tattooed on my chest. When he looked up he said, "Thank you. For coming with me."

I patted his knee and stood up. "You're welcome. That's what friends are for."

"You're my friend," he said quickly and he sounded so much like a scared child that I wanted to hug him again. But Miguel was 28 years old. HIV wasn't the end of his life, even if it was a nuisance sometimes. I knew he would make it. And I'd be there for him when he needed me, hoping he'd do the same for me.



In the bathroom, I dropped my pants and socks and stepped into the shower feeling like someone who actually had a purpose in life. I smiled sadly to myself. The first real smile on a day that had already gone down the drain.




***


The clinic wasn't exactly buzzing with activity. This time of night, it was only emergency cases such as Miguel who were accepted. The usual crowd of worried party boys in need of a test after a night of wild and risky sex was luckily absent. I couldn't stand the stupidity of these guys. As if they would get a solid result after only a few hours. Still, they kept clogging up the waiting lines at the clinic while real HIV patients with health issues had to wait hours to be seen. A full health insurance was one reason why I had to take money out of Evan's account. There was a time when I actually thought I'd die, while the faces of mindless pretty boys stared at me in the waiting rooms, probably even recognizing my face. A health insurance meant I could see a doctor in a more private setting. Miguel wasn't as lucky, so I waited at the clinic next to him, letting him drop his head on my shoulder while we waited and glad that the usual day crowd was absent.

"I met someone. He knows." Miguel's words caught me by surprise. I turned my head, my mouth in his hair now.

"That's great. Congratulations. You going steady?", I whispered and squeezed his shoulder. He nodded.

"I think so. I've never had a boyfriend. I don't wanna mess up," he whispered back.

"You won't. If you really like him, he's worth it." He was silent, waiting for more adult wisdom from me. "And I'll be your friend, even if we don't do the bedroom tango anymore. You know that," I said slowly, not sure what he wanted to hear.

He raised his head from my shoulder and looked at me, his eyes searching for something on my face. After a second, he smiled and pressed a quick kiss on my lips.

"I didn't know, but thank you. It means a lot." He rested his head again on me and tightened my grip on his shoulder, drawing him nearer.

"Are you ever lonely?", he asked suddenly.

I shrugged. "You know, I'm rarely lonely."

I felt his chest rumble in a soft laugh. "I mean, between tricks. When you're by yourself."

I was glad he couldn't see the frown on my face. "Who isn't? It's not like I have much to offer to a boyfriend. And I don't want some porn freak who wants me to re-enact my old scenes with him."

"I think you have a lot to offer," he said and fell silent for a long time until I felt him take a deep breath.

"Why did you sleep with your clients today?", he asked. It felt like a dagger being driven into my side. I winced. It wasn't that I was ashamed of doing it. I never felt ashamed for having sex. It was just the fact that it sometimes felt like people bought me that unsettled me.

"They said they'd take the flat if I did. I needed the money," I sighed. "And what a shitty thing to say."

"Why are you doing real estate? You keep saying how much you hate it, but it's all you've done ever since I know you. Why not do what you really like. Like your gym stuff?" he said. I wasn't used to having a grown-up conversation with him. We never felt the need to talk much. He knocked. I opened and we soon found more pleasurable ways to fill our mouths than idle chatter. I never knew Miguel had given that much thought about my life or that he knew I was a fitness freak who liked bodybuilding - and not just to ogle the hot guys at the gym. I actually loved the health aspect and the dieting. It was one reason I was in such good shape despite my diagnosis.

"When I stopped doing porn, I did get employed at a gym. You're right, I was quite good at it. But some guys knew me and requested other services on the side. When my boss got wind of it, he fired me. That's why I decided to go into self-employment. Real estate sounded good at the time."

"Just that it sounds like the same thing is happening again. Except that there's no boss who could fire you for it." Miguel's voice sounded sad, which irritated me. Was he worried about me? Or did he think I was a whore? I wasn't a whore. I just did what needed to be done so I could meet my responsibilities.

"I know. Fact is, I need the money. Evan's college tuition is coming up and I don't know what else to do." I bit my tongue. Shit. Why couldn't Miguel just sleep on my shoulder until he was called in? I just gave away more of myself than any guy ever got from me before.

"Evan? Who is Evan?", Miguel said, lifting his head, curiosity clear on his face.

"He's my son," I said and looked at the empty chairs on the opposite side of the waiting room. I had never told Miguel about my family or my life before my nebulous porn fame. It suddenly seemed like I had lied to him for so long, simply by omitting something that wasn't his business to begin with.

"Wow," he looked at me like he suddenly saw a new person where his fuck buddy had been. "And you're paying for his tuition? Isn't that like a shitload of money?"

"Uh-hu. You got that right," I murmured and was relieved when he put his head back on my shoulder. He didn't freak out over my fatherhood at least.

"Does the real estate gig make enough money for that?," he finally asked.

I shook my head and rolled my eyes. "Not even close."

"So what are you gonna do?"

I shrugged my shoulder, careful not to disturb him with the motion.

"Will you return to porn?" The question surprised me. I hadn't ever considered it, not after the way I left porn. But I knew that with the rise of bareback porn, even HIV+ guys were getting work in the business, as long as their t-cell counts were okay. At least I hoped that the companies cared about such shit and not willingly endangered their negative performers by pairing them with guys like me.

"I don't know. Do you think I'd still have a chance?"

Miguel's laugh rumbled through his chest. "You gotta be kidding me. You'd be a rising star."

I smirked at his enthusiasm. "We'll see."

I looked up when a doctor emerged from one of the closed doors and approached us, a worn out look on his face. I couldn't blame him.

"Mr Rodriguez?"

Miguel sat up and looked at me. I squeezed his hand. "You need me to come with?"

He shook his head and followed the doctor into his office. I folded my arms in front of my chest and relaxed back into my chair. The clock said 9 p.m. My eyelids were starting to get heavy, despite my knees jiggling restlessly. I hoped Miguel would be alright. I didn't have many friends, just fuck buddies, but I felt like I could need friends now more than ever. Slipping my cell out of my pocket, I started to scroll through my contacts, most of which I only kept saved so I could block the numbers. Grindr was damn convenient to scratch an itch, but it also left me with lots of contacts I didn't want a repeat with.

I wasn't sure if I had deleted it long ago, but after a couple of minutes I found the number I was looking for. Staring at my phone for what felt like an hour, I clicked back to my home screen and waited patiently for Miguel to return.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Professional bonding

I didn't usually consider spending my spare time with the department Neanderthals a decent way to enjoy my Saturday off, but my captain requesting a day trip with my subs to 'socialize' was hardly a task I could delegate.

So here I was, deliberately ignoring the machismo and bromances that the younger cops seemed to entertain, as we walked into the spa entrance to spend a day of - and I quote - "professional bonding" which I knew would turn into a night of dragging shitfaced cops - who should know better - out of the pool bar before they drowned themselves.

Ramirez walking behind me delivered his usual rants and ignorant half-knowledge that the majority of the American population seemed to be prone to these days. On duty, I'd call him out on it, but tonight I intended to let the boys be stupid. I knew once they'd be nursing their third beers I would silently vanish to a dark corner and pretend I didn't know these drunk assholes. My ears peaked up when I heard one of the newbies behind us speak up, interrupting Ramirez in whatever hateful bullshit he was sharing with the men. Ramirez turned back to the kid and the guys almost bumped into him, eventually pulling the group to a stop.

I sighed and turned toward my subordinates, all of them dressed mainly in leather jackets and jeans instead of the black uniform I usually saw them in. Ramirez inhaled sharply.

"You're shitting me? You're what?", he spat at the kid. One of the officers in training who just completed his introduction period and was soon to be paired permanently with a fellow cop to roam the streets, walked up to him and stared him down, his jaw set.

"I said I'm gay, so stop talking shit like that, okay?", the kid growled. Gotta give it to him. He had balls. Not particularly smart to make an enemy of Ramirez, but still. I hoped he didn't jeopardize his opportunity of teaming up with a seasoned cop. Chances were, most colleagues wouldn't feel comfortable having a queer to back them up. It was some inherently homophobic superstitious bullshit that had somehow survived among the force. No one knew that better than me. After 20 years in that damn job, I knew staying in the closet was my only chance to survive among these assholes. That and making sure the men respected me. No, make that feared me.

So, yeah. The kid sure had balls.

Ramirez' face turned dark with rage. "I can't believe that cocksucker. What are you even doing here? Ogling real men in the showers so you can jerk off to the memory of us while your queer loverboy tongues your asshole?"

The kid turned white before he balled his fists and... Enough was enough.

I stepped between the men and put my hands flat on Ramirez' and the kid's (Decker, was it? ) chests.

"Ramirez! Stop fucking around. The boy ain't none of your business. You don't want to be partnered with a gay cop? Fine. But don't hate on one of ours just because he's different. You of all people should know what that's like. Where were you born again, huh? Mexico City?"

I put as much authority into my voice as I could. Ramirez shrank back and averted my eyes. Good boy. He knew as well as I did, had Trump been in office when Ramirez applied for the force, he'd have found himself on a one way flight back to the slums instead of sitting in an air-conditioned car all day, feeding on donuts and whatever Mexican shit *Mrs* Ramirez packed for him each day, like the 12 year old schoolboy he actually was.

"Never mind, lieutenant. Forget I said anything. Just make sure that faggot stays well away from me."

He looked at me with cold eyes and walked on. I noticed the men around us watching the exchange uneasily, a few of the guys walking around Decker as if he suddenly carried a contagious disease. Shit, I hated to see this.

The boy was still rooted to the spot, his eyes fuming and disappointed. I beckoned him to follow. "Come on, kid. Ramirez is an asshole. Don't take his bullshit to heart, okay?"

He nodded and walked behind me into the spa.

Professional bonding? Yeah, right. It was bullshit. This time, I hated to be right, though.


A couple of hours later -still late morning, mind you- most of my men had had more than their share to drink and were horsing around in the warm water, riding each other's backs, while waving their cocktail glasses above their heads. I should probably make a cellphone snapshot and put it in each of these guys' staff files. That would make the next staffing review much more interesting and bring home to the captain that this bonding bullshit was nothing but a waste of time.

Guys who were already fighting at work didn't need to be friends off work - and cops who were friendly with each other didn't need a spa to reinforce that fact.

I decided to wander off and enjoy the spa by myself a bit. I was sure I'd hear the life guards if one of my men *did* actually drown in that damn pool bar. I didn't particularly like the fake palm trees and tropical fish tank grotto that made the pool bar a popular place for screaming children and parents who started their intoxication way before lunch.

So I went to the sauna area, dropped my trunks, enjoying the sensation of walking in the nude, and felt my way inside one of the dark steam rooms to cherish the quiet, far away from noisy kids.

The steam was already well on the way and I didn't see a thing in the moist heat, my fingertips searching for the tiled bench to sit down. I felt the feet under me just when I stepped on them. Trying to avoid slamming into the person sitting in the dark before me, I slid on the slippery floor and felt strong arms on my back, keeping me from hitting the edge of the bench going down. Steadying myself, the strong grip on my skin eased and slipped away.

"Thanks. Sorry I stepped on you. I don't see a thing in here," I said and sat down next to the man.

"No worries, Sir", a familiar voice responded.

Sir? I squinted my eyes. "Decker?"

The familiar eyes gleamed in the dark mist in front of me. Of course it was him. I hadn't seen him at the bar. Should have known he was hiding.

"Why are you not out there getting shitfaced? It's rare the department puts out like this, so better take what you can get", I joked and smiled.

Decker didn't respond right away. He sighed.

"You know why, Sir," he said. An awkward pause stretched between us. I hated to point out that 'socializing' wasn't working like that. But then he sure as hell knew that already.

"Thanks for speaking up for me, Sir," he eventually added, breaking the silence.

I sighed. "Don't 'Sir' me, kid. We're off duty and supposed to have fun. I'm Greg," I held out my hand, which he shook awkwardly.

"Thanks, Greg. Please call me Ben. I ain't a kid anymore," he smiled.

I watched him in the dark, his body a bright shape looming next to me in the billowing steam.

"I can see that. You're an athlete, right? We need guys like you on the force. Guys who don't lose their breath chasing after someone on foot, just because they've gotten fat eating donuts all day."

He chuckled at that, his deep voice rumbling in his chest. Damn, he sounded young - and hot. A dangerous combination.

"Yeah. I'm into bodybuilding. I just competed in the USBF Miami. Just for fun. Didn't win anything, but it was great seeing all these guys in person, doing their thing." He smiled, white teeth shining brightly.

"That's awesome, Ben. You sure look impressive. How long've you been doing it?"

He sat up, puffing up his chest.

"Ten years. You gotta stay with it or it's no use doing it at all."

He ran his hand across his chest, feeling the muscles that he earned through years of training. I could see his smooth skin sparkle with sweat. It was dark, but I did notice the ripple of muscles under his skin as he moved.

"Impressive. May I?" I lifted a tentative hand, wondering if he'd be comfortable letting me touch his biceps.

In response, Ben lifted his arm and flexed his muscles. I ran my palm across his swollen biceps, feeling the muscle hard as steel under my fingers. Running my fingers toward his elbows, I continued to caress his lower arm, feeling raspy stubble there.

"Do you shave your whole body?"

He lowered his arm, letting me stroke up and down his forearm, the rasp of his hair growing back an electrifying sensation under my fingers.

"Only for competitions. The legs are tough, though. I'm a bit on the hairy side."

I wasn't sure if the heat in that steam had melted all my common sense or if I had just gone crazy, but I lowered my hand to touch his upper thigh, stroking from his knee up to his groin, feeling the same raspy stubble on his leg.

What the fuck was I doing touching that kid in a steam room like this? He had every right to file a complaint against me. I shuddered about THAT particular talk with the captain. Still, right in that moment I didn't care.

I felt Ben freeze up, the huge muscles in his thigh going rigid.

I withdrew my hand.

"Sorry," I swallowed. "I'm pretty hairy myself. I imagine shaving it all off must be a bitch."

What a lame excuse. I had better shut up.

Ben didn't say anything. I almost jumped when I felt his hand carefully settle down on my thigh, stroking up and down the coarse hair there, from my knee up to my groin, just like I had done to him.

"I... I don't mind, Greg. Do you?" He whispered.

His palm was hot on my already heated skin, sweat making the touch slippery. He reached my groin and let his finger touch my slowly rising shaft. The head jumped and brushed his fingers. He went higher, caressing the hair on the base of my cock, continuing his way up my flat stomach and hairy chest.

My nipples hardened, anticipating the touch of his fingers. When it came, I couldn't help but moan quietly.

"I like your body," he said.

I might have been pushing forty, but working my days off in my brother's construction business had shaped my muscles and the sun shining down on me working shirtless had given me a deep tan. I knew I wasn't ugly. Still, feeling this young man's hands on me sent a jolt of arousal right to my groin.

I rose my hand and mirrored his touches, wandering over the ripples of Ben's smooth abs and huge pecs, his nipples hard and waiting to be caressed. He moaned.

I slid my hand lower, sweat making the motion fluid on his slippery skin. The base of his cock was shaved as well, the sharp rasp of stubble tickling my fingers. Jesus, he was huge. His cock was fully hard under my fingers, as I slowly pulled his skin back to reveal his pulsing head, the tip wet and slippery from precum under my touch.

"Shit, Greg. If you don't stop now, I gotta relieve myself right here, public indecency be damned," he said with a strained voice and pulled away from me.

I was an old fool and I knew it. Still, I grabbed his wrist and pulled him toward me, ridiculously happy when he complied. I moved his body down between my legs, spreading my own to settle him in front of me, his back to my chest. He melted against me, head resting on my shoulder. His body trembled as I hugged him close, his hard flat stomach rising and falling under my hand with each breath. I circled his nipples with my fingers and smiled against his cheek when he gasped.

I let my hand wander lower until they touched the hard shaft jutting in the air. I wanted to draw this out, make this good for him. But the voice in the back of my mind reminded me that someone might enter the steam room at any moment. Perhaps even Ramirez. And wouldn't that be a Kodac moment?

If I did this, I had to get him off quickly. Jerking him slowly, I began to knead his balls, letting go every so often to caress his muscled legs and belly.

His cock pulsed under my fingers and his breathing grew quicker.

He rolled his head on my shoulder, his lips brushing my cheek, like the shadow of a kiss.

"Greg...," he panted, his body writhing under my touch.

I felt the slick of sweat mingle with the precum oozing from his head. He moaned quietly, his hands rubbing up and down my hairy forearms as I jerked him off. My hand kneading his balls moved lower, caressing the skin on his perineum and I felt him move up my body to give me room. Following his invitation, I rubbed a finger against his puckered hole, already moist with sweat. He spread his legs further, pushing my own apart in the process. My cock was suddenly underneath his ass cheeks rubbing against his skin, much like my fingers looking for entry. I felt him tense up.

"Relax, I'm not gonna fuck you," I breathed into his ear, rubbing my thumb across his cock to make him shiver.

He rested his head back on my shoulder and opened up his body to me. I slipped my finger inside, reaching in as far as the angle allowed. I felt his cock pulse in my hand when my fingers rubbed across his spot. He moaned, much too loud for the circumstances we had found ourselves in, so I did the only thing I could think of and melted my lips against his, swallowing his cry in my mouth. His rushing breath filled my lungs as I sealed our mouths together and I felt his cock pulse in my hand, the rush of orgasm pumping his seed through the thick shaft, his slit gaping to release jets and jets of warm milky cum on my trembling fingers.

I felt Ben breathe heavily through his nose, the rush of air hot on my heated cheeks, while our tongues chased each other in what was probably the most intense kiss of my life.

He broke the connection first, trailing away by sliding his tongue slowly across my cheek.

Coming to my senses, I slipped my finger out of his ass and waited for him to get up. He grabbed my wrist looking at the cum streaked fingers with a surprised look on his face.

I freed my hand and brought the wet fingers to my lips, licking away the evidence of his pleasure. He stared at me with wide eyes.

Swallowing his taste, I smiled at him.

"I'm gay too, you know? No need to look shocked."

He looked down to my cock, still hard and leaking. Without another word, he dropped to his knees and swallowed me down, his lips closing around the base of my shaft, while my head entered his throat, the sensuous feeling of his swallowing around me sending me over the edge.

Caressing his stretched lips with my fingers, I felt his tongue lap against the underside of my cock, waiting for the pulsing that announced my own climax. I bit back a groan as I came, the sensation almost knocking me unconscious with the added heat of the steam room. My fingers caressed his Adam's apple as it bobbed up and down, swallowing every last drop I gave him.

Releasing my cock from his mouth, he tongued my head clean, eventually kissing my hairy belly, resting his head on my chest, as if he was unsure about the proper protocol after blowing his lieutenant in a steam room.

I put my arms around him and kissed his head.

"Wanna spend the day with me? Just relaxing and soaking while these idiots get shitfaced?"

He looked up and nodded, his smile lighting up the dark room.

We sat staring at each other for a minute, until we were calm enough to return to proper decency.

I left the room and waited for him to follow me, trying to ignore the fluttery feeling in my belly that I wasn't sure my badass old self was still capable of.

Ben was lovely. He wasn't just a hot body - which he sure as hell was - but he was quick to smile and easy to talk to as well. Spending hours in the hot tub and sharing a late lunch in the spa's restaurant almost felt like a date and had me forget that I was supposed to entertain my men. My focus was only on one of them, though.

Lying in a whirlpool, enjoying hot bubbles around us, I felt his fingers tentatively brush mine, as if gauging my reaction to his touch.

I made the decision for him, though, and covered his hand in mine, holding it like two lovers sharing a hot tub.

It was insane, but right then it felt so right, nothing could have kept me away from this amazing man.

The hours grew late and the pool lights in the outdoor area started to illuminate the water in colorful shades. The hot water sent clouds of mist into the night, putting a veil across us and the kissing couples around us who shared the peaceful silence.

I watched Ben closely and felt his eyes dart longingly toward the happy couples nearby.

He caught my glance and quickly looked away, embarrassed by my low chuckle.

"Come here," I said and pulled him into my embrace, folding his legs around me so he was sitting in my lap in the dark corner of the pool. The position was slightly sinful, with only our trunks preventing me from actually melting into him, the way I found myself wanting ever since our hot encounter in the morning.

"What are you thinking?" I whispered into his ear, rubbing my cheek against his. He tightened his arms around me, every move of his huge muscles like a ripple against my skin. "What I'm thinking? I can't believe I'm making out with THE Lt. O'Donnell, for one. You're a hero to everyone. I still can't believe you're gay," he laughed softly.

"And I can't believe you had the guts to come out like this to all the guys. Takes guts to do that, Ben. I've never found the courage."

He caressed my neck and looked into my eyes.

"You think there'll be consequences?", he asked, eyes searching mine.

"I'll make sure there won't," I said, cutting the conversation short by coaxing his mouth to open for mine, his tongue welcoming me, the rush of warmth stoking the fire in my belly, still looking for a hint of my taste on his tongue. I had fucked my share of guys, but never had I wanted to call any of them mine. Not the way I wanted Ben to.

I fleetingly wondered about the 15 years between us. Or the ranks separating us at the precinct. Would he even want me? A fuck in a steam room hardly qualified for a relationship. Only one way to find out.

I cast the thoughts aside and concentrated on the man in my arms and the soft rasp of his cheek against my lips as we competed with the couples around us, displaying the affection we felt for each other for everyone to see.

Kissing hardly ever felt so right.


Two hours later, we finally caught up with the guys at the pools. Most of them were drunk and still horsing around like underage fools, annoying other guests. I was glad they didn't wear a badge tonight, or I'd be sure to file away complaints like crazy before calling it a night.

"Look who's here, the fag. You done blowing guys in the sauna?", Ramirez babbled, sloshing his beer around, parts of it landing in the water around him. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put a bar *inside* a pool was hopefully scrubbing toilets somewhere now.

I was too old and hardened to let his words cut me, but Ben stiffened again, dropping back as we approached.

I directed an angry glare at Ramirez and put my full authority in my tone.

"You shut the fuck up now, Ramirez, unless you want to talk directly to the captain about the misconduct you displayed tonight." I grabbed Ben possessively on his neck and drew him to my side.

"Decker is gay. So what? I'm gay too, and I expect my men to treat each other with respect. Am I clear?" I basically yelled at him by then and pointedly ignored the men turning still around us.

"What...?" Ramirez looked confused. "All of a sudden, you're a fag too?!"

I pressed down reassuringly on Ben's neck.

"Always been queer. But it took Decker here to find the courage to come out. And I'd be damned honored if he would consider dating an old bastard like me."

I glanced at Ben, loving to see the surprised look on his face. He suddenly grabbed my chin and pressed a soft kiss on my cheek.

"I'd love to date you."

The awkward silence gave way to loud wolf-whistles and good-natured cheers, but Ramirez regarded us with disgust and turned away, muttering Spanish curses, no doubt.

"Someone got lucky, huh?", Silverman said, clapping me on the shoulder. Aimed at Ben, he said,

"You picked well, Decker. O'Donnell won't ever let you down." He raised his fist, waiting for Ben to bump it. Silverman was Ben's training officer, so I knew it meant a lot to Ben to hear these words from him.

"Sure thing, Sir", he smiled, bumping the offered fist.

I drew him in for a hug, enjoying the unusual freedom in front of my men.

"Thank you," Ben whispered in my ears. I pressed my lips on his cheek and finally found his lips again.

I knew things would be alright. The captain would probably have a heart attack, though. I laughed at that thought and closed my eyes, falling into the sensation of kissing my lover.


"Professional bonding" never sounded sweeter.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Family Matters

Steve stepped nervously from one foot to the other, waiting for the door to open. He heard his father's heavy steps approach and glanced at his boyfriend next to him, looking to the older man for reassurance.

Hank put his fingers on Steve's neck and squeezed gently, his warm brown eyes calming him.

What would his parents think about Hank, he wondered. They knew he was gay, of course. But his previous boyfriends had been guys his own age, the relationships never lasting long, if they even reached any further than fuck buddies at all. It hadn't come as a surprise to Steve that he immediately took a liking to his newest crush, Hank. The guy was in his late 30s, calm, confident and a real problem solver. Plus he had a killer body, honed by years of being in the construction business, running his own contracting company two towns over.

Sure, Steve hated how people spotting them used to think they were father and son due to the age difference and the similar build and complexion, but other than their thick brown hair and dark eyes, they had little in common. Where Hank was a muscled tank of a man almost a head taller, Steve was more of a twink with a swimmer's body and sinewy muscles while Hank sported bulging pecs covered by soft layers of hair all over his body. In other words, Steve wanted to jump him every minute of each day. He was just that hot.

Feeling calloused fingers caress his nape wakened a stirring in his groin that even his anxiety of introducing Hank to his parents couldn't override.

When the door finally opened, Steve could see a sliver of surprise cross over his dad's face when he took in Hank in his tight khaki pants and sweat shirt. The man clearly hadn't expected a stud like him when Steve told his folks he would bring his newest flame over for dinner. Number 3 in this year alone. Maybe they took Steve for a slut anyway, but who cared? At least with Hank he felt a deeper connection than with any of the other guys before.

"Dad? It's good to see you", he said, hugging his father. "This is Hank Devereux, I told you about him on the phone. He's my..." Steve hesitated.

"Partner", Hank chimed in, taking the offered hand in his large paw and shaking it.

Interesting choice of words. Steve had something like 'boyfriend' on his tongue, but Hank had clearly put more thought into it, confirming their relationship in a way that Steve was still wary of.

"Pleasure to meet you, Mr Devereux", Steve's dad said.

"Call me Hank, please. And the pleasure's all mine", he said, finally releasing the hand after an awkwardly long handshake.

"Only if you call me 'dad', Hank. But Scott will do too. Come in guys"

Ever the joker, his dad. Scott stepped aside, letting Steve and his boyfriend enter the house. Steve had many fond memories of growing up in this home. He hoped Hank wouldn't spot any of the childhood photos hanging on the walls around the house. Giving his boyfriend an update on his acne situation in seventh grade was so not part of the deal.

Steve took Hank's hand and followed his dad into the dining room where his mom had clearly put an effort into setting up the plates and cutlery in a way that would probably do the staff at Downton Abbey proud.

A delicious smell of roasted chicken wafted in from the kitchen and Steve glanced from his dad to Hank, admiring how both guys seemed to be fighting with themselves to be the first to start off into the kitchen to help his mom with her chores. True gentlemen, it seemed. Scott didn't seem too eager to let Hank win that particular race.

"I'll gladly give Ms Hart a hand, if that's fine with you, Scott?", he said with that typical smirk that Steve came to like so much about him. Dad was clearly uncomfortable letting Hank storm into the kitchen like Prince Charming, but Steve knew that his father hardly ever lent his mom a hand in there anyway. And judging by the few times Scott had cooked for the family, it was clearly better this way.

Hank didn't wait for an answer and headed into the kitchen, where his mom was happily cooking away, dishes clanking merrily.

Steve looked at his dad, a smile on his face. "What do you think about him, dad?"

Scott smiled uncomfortably. "I'm sure he's nice, son, but he's probably my age. Isn't that kinda awkward?"

Steve raised his eyebrows. Of course, coming out as gay had already been hard to stomach for his dad. Certainly having an older boyfriend was another thing he had never imagined for his son.

"Awkward? No. I like experienced men", he smiled in response, watching how Scott squirmed at his words.

A sudden crash from the kitchen had both guys raise their heads. The  silence that followed the noise was terrifying enough that Steve and his dad almost fell over their feet to get to the kitchen.

Steve took in the shattered soup bowl, its content pooling on the floor among shards of procelain. Hank and his mom were staring at each other, unaware of the mess at their feet. Hank finally broke eye contact and looked over at Steve, a pained expression of uncertainty on his face.

Wordlessly, he grabbed a towel and knelt on the floor, sweeping up as much liquid as the thin cloth would hold. Mom would still stare at him, eyes wide in shock, her frozen hands finally moving to cover her mouth, as if she had to swallow a scream of pain. Tears started flowing down her cheeks and she turned toward the window, hands still closed over her lips, while Hank silently mopped the floor, only getting up to wring out the cloth in the sink before returning to his knees and continuing his task.

A cold shiver ran down Steve's spine. Scott walked over to mom.

"What happened, Sarah? Darling, are you alright?"

Mom just shook her head and squeezed her eyes closed, suppressing a sob. Steve looked down at his boyfriend. Hank had managed to clear the floor as best as he could and returned the towel to the sink. The defeated expression on his face scared Steve more than his crying mother looking out of the window. When had the day gone to shit like that?

"I better be going", Hank said quietly, turning around and walking toward the entrance, leaving Steve behind, stunned and speechless.

"Going?" Mom turned around, puffy eyes red and shiny, her makeup smeared across her cheek. "You're going nowhere, Hank. Not before you explain what business you have with my son!"

She ended the sentence in a shrill yell, freezing everyone's movement in the room. Hank turned around, looking at mom with the same defeated look that Steve had never seen on him before. He hated that look.

"I didn't know...", was all he said.

"Damn right, you didn't know, you scum!", she screamed.

"Mom, what's..?" Hank's hand on his arm stilled Steve. An imperceptible shake of his head told Steve not to intervene.

Sarah stormed over, clutching at Hank's hand and tearing it away from Steve's arm.

"Don't you dare touch him! How dare you come back like this? I worked so hard when you were gone doing *your thing*, how dare you come here and expect me to wait on you", she cried. Scott tried to pull her away, but she wouldn't budge.

Steve was shocked when he saw tears on Hank's face.

"Sarah, I was nineteen. I know I was a jerk. I'm so sorry." Steve did a double take. Could it be? His boyfriend was his mother's ex-boyfriend from like decades ago? What were the odds?

"I didn't mean to leave you like this, but I wasn't made for marriage and all that shit that you dreamed of. I didn't want to disappoint you", he explained. "I realized I was gay and I spent most of my life after I left you with a great guy who passed away a few years ago. I swear I didn't mean to hurt you." Tears rolled down his cheek.

Steve wondered if other families also faced tragedies like this when their sons introduced their boyfriends. No, that was clearly his type of luck.

"I didn't know I would one day meet your son and fall in love again after all these years. Please don't judge me for being in love, Sarah", he pleaded, taking a step closer. Mom paled, looking at Steve and Hank in shock.

"In...? You gotta be kidding me, Hank. You stay away from him!", she screamed, out of her mind.
Hank looked at her blankly.
"Why? Come on, Sarah, you're bigger than this", he scowled, clearly annoyed. He stepped closer, putting an arm around Steve's waist.
"Get away from him!" Sarah grabbed Hank's arm and yanked him away from Steve. Hank looked to Scott for help, but dad just stood there, mouth gaping open wide. Hank carefully freed his arm from mom's death grip and put some distance between himself and her.
"Why?! I love him", he repeated agitatedly, slowly losing his nerve. Steve wanted to reach out for him, but was afraid of his mother's wrath if he took a step closer to his lover.

"Don't you see? He's your son, you pervert!" The wheels in her head must have been turning like hell now, because she dropped on a kitchen stool and rested her head on her crossed arms, burying her face, for once quiet and subdued.

Steve felt his face flush while he witnessed Hank's complexion reach a similar shade of white as his mother's as their eyes met, their hearts racing wildly, chests heaving.

Scott used the sudden silence to pour himself a Scotch, wisely taking three more glasses out of the cupboard and filling them with amber liquid.

"To the family", he said, shaking his head incredulously, and swallowed his drink in one go. "And the bodies in our basement"

Steve stepped closer to Hank, but the man backed away, raising his hands as if Steve carried a contagious disease.

"Hank..." Steve took in the brown eyes, unshed tears shimmering inside them, the thick brown hair, so much like his own. Dad was blond and pale where Hank was dark and olive skinned - like Steve. It couldn't be, right?

Steve thought back to earlier in the day when he woke up enveloped by Hank's strong arms and beefy legs, enjoying the taste of his sleepy kiss, the stubble on his chin caressing his skin in just the right places to get things going, as Hank slid lower underneath the blanket.

Steve grabbed the offered glass on the counter and swallowed the Scotch down. Shit.

He watched Hank straighten up, his face now serious and stony. He cleared his throat.

"Sarah, I swear I didn't know. This is not the time to ask why you never informed me about this, but let me assure you, I will stay away from Steve and I'm sorry about the trouble I caused. I didn't mean for this to happen" He willed Sarah to look at him, but she kept her face buried in the crook of her arms. A short glance in Steve's direction told him everything he needed to know. It was over.

"Steve, I'm sorry." He didn't come closer. Didn't give him a hug or offer a smile. He just turned around and left, closing the door softly behind him. Steve looked back at his parents, his mom still sobbing quietly on the table and Scott filling another glass with Scotch.

All he had wanted was for his folks to meet his boyfriend. But somehow he ended up with two dads and a mom who was his boyfriend's ex.

With a slight shake of his head, Steve knew he was in deep shit.

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