by Elenna Lapin
Admiral Oberon Gruenwald tapped the fingers of his left hand on his desk. “Where the hell is that shuttle?” he said to himself. “It should have been here an hour ago.” He clicked a few buttons on his computer and called up the civilian shuttle schedule.
“Delayed. Why am I not surprised?” He jumped from his chair and paced the room.
He stopped at the window, looking out on the government buildings below. “Calm yourself,” he growled, “or you’re not going to be in any state to be meeting with anyone, not even an old friend of yours.” He stood still for a while, breathing slowly in and out, then returned to his desk.
He sighed as he sank back into his chair. The gravity of Verity was slightly greater than his home planet’s normal. His already massive body felt even more massive here. His duties weighed upon him as heavily as the heightened gravity.
In a few short years, he had advanced from being a captain in the service of the Empire of the Advance of Mankind to being the chief of naval operations of the Veritan Republican Navy. The empire that had eaten so many worlds in pursuit of near-infinite expansion had finally collapsed into many pieces after asking its subjects to do far too much in that pursuit. Ten years before, Captain Parker Boyce had refused to launch an orbital attack on defenseless citizens of a soon to be conquered world and had found some way to desert his post and flee the Empire. By the time the Empire’s security forces had found his location, most of the military’s far-flung and largely independent units had taken his lead and revolted.
Now that most of the former Empire worlds were stable and at peace, their peoples were able to expend their thoughts on the matters of their recent history; one of these was the matter that had brought things to such a conclusion in the first place, that of Parker Boyce’s desertion. Gruenwald had used all his political influence to officially clear Boyce’s name–not that there was particularly much to clear, but he wanted to ensure that a charge of desertion wouldn’t be put on Boyce even in a nation he hadn’t sworn to serve–and he used a great deal of his own funds to bring him home. He owed his old friend. The desertion had been a service to all the worlds of the former Empire. Boyce’s actions had eventually given freedom to everyone, and it was long past time to give Boyce freedom of his own. It was the least Gruenwald could do. Not that everybody would think the same way, of course; a few people still held to the old order, but their influence was much reduced.
We can’t purge someone for holding an opinion, Gruenwald thought, but if they try to take direct action against Parker, that’s an entirely different story.
Gruenwald checked the shuttle schedule again. This time, it confirmed a landing. Parker Boyce would arrive at this very office in less than a half-hour. If everything went smoothly. His thoughts flashed to his youth, when he and Boyce had been roommates at the naval academy and best friends. They had always been opposites in appearance, if not opposites in temperament. Boyce was short and wiry, with light blond hair, dark brown eyes, and extremely pale skin. Gruenwald had always thought that Boyce was fortunate in choosing a career where he’d only see the surface a few times a year, if that. As for himself, his dark skin caused him no problems with the sun–no matter what sun it was. His moon-grey eyes, on the other hand, did; he blinked at the glare of the sunset, and pressed a button on his desk. The windows darkened to near-black, obscuring the annoying light as well as obscuring the view of the inside from without.
Not that anyone would be circling the 28th floor trying to take a look within, he thought.
His telephone rang. “Captain Boyce has arrived,” his secretary announced.
“Let him in,” Gruenwald said. “I’m ready and waiting.”
A minute later, Parker Boyce entered the room. Gruenwald’s eyes widened. What had happened to his old friend in the past decade? His face was the same; neither of them were old enough that their anti-aging treatments had stopped working. Everything else had changed. No longer wiry but slight, he had taken on a delicacy and grace of movement that he certainly had not possessed as a starship commander. Gruenwald carefully observed Boyce make his way to the chair awaiting him in front of his desk. As Boyce sat down, he moved his long hair to the side with unconscious ease. He was wearing some sort of peculiar one-piece garment made out of a thin shimmery leaf-green material. It looked transparent in spots and Gruenwald wondered why Boyce wasn’t shivering. He certainly would have been.
“Parker, what the hell happened to you?” He realized what he sounded like and tried to make a joke out of it. “They couldn’t find you any local duds on that civilian transport?”
Boyce looked directly at him. “As a matter of fact, they couldn’t. The orders were to have me back within Veritan territory as soon as possible with no stops. I’m not angry about that at all, by the way. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.” He smiled faintly. “As for what happened to me? Glycina happened to me. You don’t have any idea what it was like, Oberon.”
“No, I don’t,” he replied. “I’m not sure I want to, and this isn’t a formal interview or debriefing by any means–there’s absolutely no need to give you one of those–but I have this little sneaking suspicion that you’re going to tell me anyway.”
“You know me too well. Of course I’m going to tell you. You’re about the only person who’d listen to me about it and not judge me. Or at least not judge me too much. You’re still human, Oberon, even though you try your damnedest not to show it when you’re on duty.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, Parker. I’m a naval officer. I have to separate my personal life from my professional life. I still have feelings. Sometimes.” He smiled, hoping Boyce would see he was joking.
“You have a personal life now? It’s a shame you didn’t have one forty years ago….”
“I don’t sleep in the office, if that’s what you mean. If you’re asking if I’m married or dating, no.” Gruenwald tilted his chair back; he wanted to appear relaxed. He certainly did not feel relaxed, but the effort was necessary in order to put his friend at ease. This was not the start he had imagined for their reunion. “But go on. I’m actually quite interested in Glycina. From everything I’ve read on it, they seem to have made their culture about as complicated as possible. Outsiders have a hard time figuring it out. However did you end up there?”
Boyce laughed quietly. “Could you believe that they were advertising for men to come and settle there? Of course, you didn’t learn what it was like until you were examined and processed and shipped down to the surface. Then you find out that you’re only there to breed.”
“What? I know there’s a severe sex imbalance there, but do they have to do it that way?” Gruenwald wrinkled his nose. “I’d think it would be more effective to ship sperm rather than recruit the original manufacturers, if you will.”
“You said the culture was complicated. It is. They don’t accept the technological method at all. It’s forbidden. All conception must take place the old-fashioned way. It’s not our old-fashioned way, unfortunately.”
Gruenwald raised an eyebrow in shock, then blinked. “Oh. Did you like any of that?”
“Far more than it would have been for you, Oberon, considering that you’re not inclined towards women in that way at all. It wasn’t what most men would think. It’s no paradise. I saw your expression when I walked in. I look like this because the grouping of women I was assigned to liked me this way. I don’t mind it anymore. I’ve become used to the way I look, although I’d have liked to wear something more substantial once in a while. Most of the clothes I had left far less to the imagination than these.” Boyce shrugged.
“It”s no wonder you were all right with wearing that on the shuttle. I’m sorry I didn’t arrange to have anything sent with you, but I wanted you back here as soon as possible and I had no idea.”
“I often thought of returning, you know. Your attempt to bring me back was the realization of an impossible dream. You wanted me back. This time, you can’t use the excuse that we’re both active duty officers. There’s no chance of me ever being one again, even though I’m cleared.” Boyce grinned.
Gruenwald was shocked. He breathed slower. He was not going to let Boyce see what he was feeling. “I did want you back, Parker, but because–you’re my friend, it’s been ten years, and I couldn’t leave you there if you truly wanted to go home. When we first started the arrangement, and found out that you did want to come home, I was incredibly relieved.”
“Is that all you can say?” Boyce looked at him, disbelieving. “You knew how I felt about you, forty years ago. My feelings haven’t changed. I missed you nearly every single day of my exile.”
“I had to force it away; we both had jobs to do. I knew perfectly well how you felt about me and I knew that if I gave myself a chance I’d return it. I thought it was the sort of crush boys have. It wasn’t the time or the place for us. You took other men and women as lovers after that, too, even if I wouldn’t.” Gruenwald sighed. “I’m sorry, Parker. I arranged your return because it was the right thing to do for a man who should be a national hero. You’re one in my eyes, and you’ll always have a place in my heart.” He stood up and went to open the door.
Boyce sprang up out of his chair and reached the door before Gruenwald did. “Oberon, don’t give me that duty crap.” He locked the door. “You said you wanted me back, didn’t you?”
“I did, but not in the way you’re meaning.” Gruenwald turned around on one foot to face Boyce. “My duty to my new nation is paramount, and I….” He couldn’t finish the sentence; Boyce pushed him against the wall with unexpected force. “What are you doing?”
“I’m giving you a chance to get it back.” He reached up and started to unbutton Gruenwald’s uniform jacket. “I’ve been wanting to do this to you for years.”
“Do what?” He was too stunned to push him away.
“I want to see what you’re hiding underneath here.” He finished unbuttoning the jacket and moved on to unbuttoning the blouse. “You’ve got a vest on under this, too? You are trying to hide, aren’t you?”
Flustered, Gruenwald fussed with his blouse collar. “No, I’m not. It’s winter and it gets cold in here.”
“I see that.” Boyce pushed the two garments from Gruenwald’s shoulders in one quick motion and proceeded to tear the vest, exposing his chest. “That’s better. You need to start buying higher-quality underwear.”
“My underwear’s fine. What are you doing?” Gruenwald looked down to see Boyce’s pale hand against the dark hair on his chest, and felt Boyce’s other hand gently rubbing his right nipple.
“I’d forgotten what a real man looks like,” Boyce said softly. “And you’re definitely one of those. Do you like what I’m doing to you?”
Boyce’s forwardness had struck Gruenwald speechless. He could feel himself responding to Boyce’s insistent fondling. I cannot, I must not, I will not! he thought, but his body had other ideas.
Apparently Boyce had the same idea, as he was unfastening Gruenwald’s trousers. “You’re still wearing those awful tight underwear. I don’t know how you can, they can’t possibly have enough room to keep you in there. Especially now, hmm?”
Gruenwald closed his eyes. If he looked down, he would see his unwanted erection straining at his uncomfortably tight underwear and see Boyce easing his underwear down. Now he could feel Boyce closing the soft skin of his warm hands around his penis, stroking it. He was making the sensation even worse…no, not worse, delightful. He slowly opened his eyes and saw Boyce looking at his body with a mixture of affection and lust. “Parker…if you keep on with that…I’m going to explode…,” he gasped.
“I can’t let you. You’ll make a mess all over your office, and I know you wouldn’t want that.” Boyce stopped touching him, and moved away slowly.
Gruenwald grunted as he pulled up his underwear and trousers, but shrugged off his jacket and blouse. He had spoken the truth to Boyce that he wore all the clothing as protection against the winter and his ill-heated office, but now he was so very hot; so hot he couldn’t bring himself to walk around, but just slumped against the wall.
“I came here unprepared,” Boyce said in a calm voice, “and I know you’re not the sort of man to do anything unprofessional in his office. But if you were, or if I’d have been able to, you’d be up against that desk of yours right now and enjoying every second of it.”
Gruenwald’s heart was beating so fast that he could barely stand it.
“Damn it, I wish you had been. I want….” He stopped. He could barely believe what he was saying, but it was true. He wanted this more than anything he had wanted in his personal life before.
“What do you want, Oberon? Are you finally going to be honest?” Boyce stared up at him.
“I’ve been honest, Parker. I’ve built my life upon honesty. Without that, I’d have no reason to live.”
Boyce raised his hands and cupped Gruenwald’s chin. “Then just tell me what you want.”
“What I want isn’t important. It never has been. What I want is….” Boyce picked that moment to push up against him again. Gruenwald could hear the blood pounding in his ears. “I want you. I want to be yours. Your lover, as well as your friend. I hope I still have you as that.”
“Oh?” Boyce pushed himself back and tilted his head. “You do. Don’t worry about it.”
At last, he eased himself from the wall and sunk into his chair. Gruenwald felt undignified, sitting there shirtless and sweaty and still aroused. He raggedly breathed in and out. Eventually, he was breathing slowly enough to speak. “I’ve never felt that way before. About any man.” He hesitated. “And I’ve never realized that it was possible for me to feel desire that strongly.”
Boyce grinned, his satisfaction apparent. “How would you like me to make you feel like that every day for the rest of your life?”
Gruenwald sighed and softly spoke. He had to be honest with Boyce, or he would be betraying everything he stood for. “I’d like that. I’d like that very much. But–what will it cost me?”
“Somehow I knew you’d come to that part so soon, my dear Oberon.” Boyce sat on his lap and turned himself slightly. “I need you to give me your protection, every day for the rest of your life. There are going to be those who’ll still believe me to be a traitor, even under this new order of yours. I can’t go back to the way it used to be. Will you defend me in both word and deed?”
“That’s not a cost. It was what I had intended to do for you, even before we discovered…discovered that we still felt this way about each other. You’d have me anyway, wouldn’t you?” He quickly kissed Boyce’s cheek. “Is that all? I’ll do that. I won’t lose you again.”
“Oh, no, not all. You have to promise me that you won’t give to me what I give to you. Pleasing you this way pleases me–not the other way around.”
Gruenwald relaxed in relief, and put his arms around him, drawing him close in a very tight embrace. “Another thing I’d do anyway. I wouldn’t want you to repeat the terms of your exile again. I have control of so much in this position, that I’d like it if someone took control in other matters. Besides, you’re more experienced. I wish you’d show me more of what you can do.”
“And your wishes will be the only commands I’ll ever take from you again, Admiral. They’re the only ones I want.” Boyce laughed and turned his head to heartily kiss Gruenwald on the lips.