Ironhorse's favorite colors were black and white.
Not in the aesthetic sense, of course. In the metaphorical sense. He liked black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. It pleased him immensely when the world at large sorted itself out along those lines. Doing good was terribly important to him, and that only worked out well when 'good' was clear.
As far as he was concerned, the universe generally obliged him. Most of the situations he had been in were rife with pleasing absolutes. Death did not frighten him (although he was in no hurry to go there), as long as he had that certainty to sustain him. So it was a damn shame, he thought irately as he stared at the man weeping on the desk, that Blackwood had such a knack for screwing up his satisfyingly straightforward worldview.
It had been so easy, not an hour before, to touch the man and hold him. Well, perhaps not quite easy; Ironhorse had never found touch easy. He liked to think that it was part of being a warrior - that unease when a hand neared him, the wariness at showing any kindness (as kindness was the sister of vulnerability). But holding Blackwood was easier than seeing the man falling apart in front of him. Blackwood was insufferable, yes, and over-educated, and pacifistic and vegetarian and everything Ironhorse neither liked nor respected in the abstract. In the form of Blackwood, however, all of that annoyance was pleasing, in some strange manner. Blackwood was an anchor in a world that had suddenly become alien - in every way. Seeing the man fall apart was like seeing cracks form in the earth and the sky, and Ironhorse had grabbed the man as much to keep his own world together as to comfort Blackwood.
Now, though - the rules of the game had changed.
Ironhorse had expected the rage and the insults; he had seen withdrawals from addiction a time or two before. Blackwood's condescention had bothered him a bit more than he had expected, but it was no more than a passing matter. He had even expected the desperate bargaining; again, it was all part of the trend. But when Blackwood broke down yet again, and Ironhorse stepped forward almost instinctively to offer another bit of comfort - not to Blackwood the scientist, but to his friend Harrison - well, Ironhorse had frozen, and then stepped back. And there he stood, with blacks and whites failing to come to his aid.
Yes, Blackwood was in a state where he would offer anything to get his music back, wasn't he? If the man were less intelligent, less perceptive, there would have been nothing in that to faze Ironhorse. But the icy feeling of he knows crawled over Ironhorse's spine, and whether it was accurate or not, he could not touch Harrison again. He could not open the doors to the offer that the man might make if he did know. Ironhorse would not give him that stupid damn music no matter what - but he might very well take even a sick facsimile of love if Harrison offered, and that was something that the man would never forgive, once he came back to himself.
Arms folded, hands hidden. Yes. That was - better. Watch Harrison - no, Blackwood. Watch. Don't touch. That was right, and Ironhorse always did what was right.
That thought held a distressing tang of grey, however.
Chapter 2: Grey
In general, Ironhorse liked them. They were useful. Troop strength, gun caliber, rounds left, coup - these were numbers he liked. He could make them dance. But the numbers in Blackwood's books were more amorphous. Orbitals, energy states, probabilities? He could force them into some sort of order for a little while, but after too much reading, they scattered, dancing out of his grasp like jeering children. Ironhorse sighed deeply and closed his eyes, then focused on the numbers again. One more try before he gave up for another night and went to bed.
"Do you allow for the existence of grey, Colonel?"
Ironhorse blinked as he looked up. His neck complained; he must have been bent over that book for longer than he had planned. Blackwood stared down at him, a steaming mug of something that smelled strongly of herbs in his hand.
"Grey, doctor?" Ironhorse asked, rubbing the back of his neck.
"General Wilson told me about the conversation you had regarding Doctor Von Deere," Blackwood said, smiling genially.
"I can't believe that he's getting off of the hook. Just like that." Ironhorse rubbed at his still-stiff neck irately. There was right and there was wrong; the doctor had cooperated willingly with the aliens, and that was, by any metric Ironhorse would care to apply, just plain wrong.
"Hardly off of the hook!" Blackwood sipped noisily at the strong-smelling liquid in the cup. "He had quite an ordeal with his withdrawal, and he neglected his regular research to pursue the aliens' work." He frowned at Ironhorse, and walked behind the man.
"That's not what I'd call an appropriate punishment," Ironhorse replied. He tried to crane his neck to keep Blackwood in view, but his neck would not cooperate.
"Punishment," Blackwood said, reflectively. Ironhorse heard the cup land on a side table, and then Blackwood's hands were on his neck. Ironhorse's protest stopped before it began as Blackwood started to rub Ironhorse's knots gently but firmly, wearing them down. It felt incredible. "Punishment for what? Being susceptible to subliminal suggestion? If that's the case, better think up a punishment for me, too."
Those firm, rubbing hands working over knots were making it difficult to think of anything at all. Ironhorse fished a thought from the back of his mind. "You didn't help the aliens."
"Only because of you and Norton," Harrison replied. Ironhorse closed his eyes and leaned his head back with a sigh as those deft fingers moved to the sides of his neck, finding new knots and working at them. "I was ready to destroy this whole group - all of the data we've discovered, all of the headway we've made." He paused, working his hands. "Good people can do bad things at times, Paul. That's what I meant by grey."
"I don't like grey," Ironhorse muttered. He was rapidly losing track of the conversation. He had been ready for bed an hour ago, and he wanted nothing more than to lean back into that magnificent touch and turn to jelly. This lassitude kept him from jumping away in startlement as lips touched his. Then his own yearnings took over, and he slid his tongue into Blackwood's mouth, tasting chamomile, lemon, and a strong, slightly milky sour flavor that did not taste at all legal - the thought ocurred to Ironhorse that this might have been responsible for Blackwood's action. But he could not bring himself to care as one of those hands slid up his jaw; Blackwood leaned forward a little more, Ironhorse tilted his head back farther, and there was nothing but strangely flavored tea, a slippery tongue, a firm hand on his cheek, and heavy, excited breaths.
Then the sharp ring of a phone, as jarring and unwelcome as a faux magenta Christmas tree in the middle of a field of pristine white snow.
Blackwood jerked back as Ironhorse jerked forward, instinctively grabbing for the phone. He juggled it off of the hook, rote words flooding into his mind - the proper way to address a general, the mental list he had constructed of questions for his commander. But he heard footsteps in one ear even as her heard General Wilson's voice in the other, and he tasted strange herbal tea on his lips as he licked them.
He hung up the phone once their conversation was done, and sat on the couch, the book open in his lap. Black and white. Right and wrong. The right thing to do was clear - close the book, put it aside, go to bed - his own bed, no stops on the way. But there were so many shades of grey between the couch and his room. Sneaking past Harrison's room and hoping the man did not hear. Knocking on the door. Opening that door and wishing Blackwood a good night. All of the tones of voice he could use for that wish. So many shades of grey.
Ironhorse hated grey.