President Bourne paused in the middle of his forceful monologue as the incredible blueness of the Pacific Ocean caught his eye. He stared out through the picture window at the stunning vista set out before him, knowing that all of this, as far as the eye could see and beyond, belonged to him. He let the colors wash over him; the azure blue of the cloudless sky reflected from the almost glassy surface of the ocean, and in contrast, the golden yellow of the fine sand leading down to where the waves lapped the shore. The verdant green of trees and shrubs edged the sand and, here and there, Bourne fancied that he saw flashes of bright red and blue from Macaws.
It was a tropical paradise; a place far removed from the grimy underwater colony off Australasia that had birthed him.
His eyes hardened, lips tightening at the hesitant intrusion to his momentary reflection. Bourne turned on his heel and stared hard at the Macronesian official who presumed to interrupt his thoughts.
"The matter is decided, General Offlank. Macronesia is now the most powerful confederation on this globe. In time, the other territories will fall to us...but not if we allow them to win the race of human genetics. The oceans cover most of the surface of the world and it is here that United Earth/Oceans Organization is leading the research. If our laboratories cannot match their research into human...fish...then we must take that research by force."
"We have not been able to pinpoint Abalon's new laboratory--"
Bourne whipped his head around to give a hard look at the second General attending this high-powered meeting. Two years ago, Macronesia had taken a small atoll, only to discover too late that it was the secret location of Abalon's laboratory. By the time the information reached the commander, his over-enthusiastic soldiers had raped, murdered and pillaged their way through the laboratory leaving precious little that could be salvaged.
Abalon had escaped along with his highly advanced test subjects. Unfortunately, with no record of whom these subjects were, they were nigh-near impossible to trace as they could either blend back into human society, or take to the open sea to hide forever. Nonetheless, Bourne knew that if his people could locate some of the humans mutated by the UEO--albeit to a far lesser degree than Abalon's continuing experiments--that would give his scientists a starting point.
"If you cannot find the creator then obtain his creations." Bourne relaxed as he saw the order sink in. "You all have your orders. Leave."
As one they came to their feet and moved swiftly from the room. Bourne stared at their receding backs and then sighed in frustration as the door slid closed behind the last one. He sank into his comfortable seat at the head of the long conference table and considered all the recent problems he had experienced with the UEO, and how the advantage of 'merpeople' would make the UEO an even greater threat to his goal of world domination.
The UEO was a constant thorn in his side, one that he wanted to eliminate as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the presence of its flagship, the seaQuest, made that difficult.
The seaQuest had been Nathan Bridger's project; the greatest submarine ever built, and still unsurpassed despite being conceived almost twenty years earlier. When the submarine disappeared for more than a decade, presumed lost at sea, the UEO had lost a major presence in its oceans. Very quickly, undersea Mining Corporations, like Deon and Weyland-Yutani, started to expand their operations, taking control of treasures found under the sea. Other territories, like the Chaodai--that had been built from the remnants of China and Korea--slowly nibbled at the edges of New Australasia. His birth colony had fallen to the Chaodai but he had escaped with his father to the Australasia mainland only to suffer further hardship. It had not taken long for him to realize that there were two kinds of people in this world--winners and losers, hunters and prey--and he could no longer tolerate being a victim.
Looking back, his rise to power was meteoric. His ragtag army slowing pushed back the Chaodai, reclaiming the lost colonies and then pushed onwards to take even more. The constant skirmishes along the fluctuating border with the Chaodai took ever-increasing resources; resources that had to be gleaned from other areas. So, where the UEO invited colonies to join its free federation, Bourne's new Macronesia simply took control of those within its reach. Now, he ruled more than half the world but Bourne would not allow complacency to set in.
With most of the land submerged following the rise of ocean levels due to global warming, the sea had become the new frontier, and the man who controlled the waves would rule the entire world. In time, Bourne suspected that evolution would find its own path and, just as the dolphins had returned to the sea, so would humankind. However, scientists like Abalon, were not willing to wait ten millennia to see those changes.
Abalon had made some of his research available to the UEO, allowing them to genetically alter willing subjects to give them the ability to breathe underwater--at least to a certain depth. However, the UEO had created only a few hundred of these new humans, unwilling to make blanket changes to its people until its scientists had studied the effects of the mutation over several generations. So far, though, the most important fears had proved groundless. The addition of gills had not affected the viability for reproduction. The presence of offspring from mutated pairs and from mutants with normal subjects being ample proof that tampering with the genetics had not introduced sterility into the next generation.
But Abalon's research had gone much further than that. If the fragments of records salvaged from the atoll laboratory hinted at only part of what he had achieved, then the man had been a genius. He had introduced genetic changes to skin structure, preventing it from becoming waterlogged, and he had created a nictating membrane to protect the eyes from pressure and saltiness. His higher experimental subjects could dive deeper than most man-made submersibles, and not require decompression when they returned to the surface.
Bourne had to have all this. Macronesia had to have all this if it was to survive. The hunt for Abalon--with the intention of coercing him into sharing his research with Macronesia--would be his greatest priority. However, finding him or any of the surviving higher mutants might never happen. The only recourse was to capture, experiment upon and, finally, dissect some of the UEO lesser mutants in the hope of being able to duplicate some of Abalon's work.
And Bourne knew exactly where to find some of those lesser mutants. Unfortunately, most were based at UEO headquarters and, thus, beyond Macronesia's reach but there were others who were far more accessible.
One of these was Tony Piccolo, Admiral Hudson's aide, who traveled with the former captain of the seaQuest on diplomatic missions to the outflung colonies of the UEO.
Yet another was Vin Tanner on-board the seaQuest but Bourne expected both Piccolo and Tanner to be 'guests' of Macronesia before too long.
Four Corners Colony
Vin shook the water out of his long hair and laughed at the indignant cry from his swimming partner.
"Like a damn dog, Tanner." Chris Larabee snarled as he was splattered in tiny droplets of cold water, but that only made Vin laugh again.
Until he had accepted the gills, Vin had never realized how constricting it had been inside neoprene, with a heavy tank of oxygen mix on his back, and tubes and masks over his face. Having gills meant he could explore the sea with almost as much freedom as swimming in a shallow pool, letting the currents pull at him, and feeling the water against his face and flowing through his hair. His body was unfettered, able to twist and dive like a dolphin, often circling around his encumbered swimming partners as they slowly progressed across the expanse of water to their destination.
Still, there were some advantages to the suits, he thought as he eyed Chris's lean form in tight-fitting neoprene, dwelling on every curve and angle before fixing on the slight bulge at his lover's groin. He licked his lips in memory of the beautiful flesh lying beneath the manmade protective skin and then he moved forward to assist his struggling captain as Chris unclasped the almost empty tanks from his back.
Vin took a look at the indicator. "Cutting it fine there, Cowboy," he said softly upon noticing that there had been almost no air left in the tanks.
"Had a spare swimming around," Chris answered with a smirk.
Vin huffed. "Ain't youy personal oxygen tank, Larabee. Might not be in the mood should you run out of air."
Chris grinned, knowing the words were an empty threat, and Vin let out another exaggerated sigh, well aware that he'd give the last breath in his body to this man should it ever come to it. Vin stepped into his lover's personal space, raising a hand to let his knuckles brush one cheek of the damp, smiling face.
"I got youy back, pard. Always will."
Vin frowned at the smug response. "Damn sure of yourself, ain't you?"
Cold fingers reached up to brush his lips before Chris leaned in to kiss him soundly. "As sure as I live and breathe...Fish."
"Damn...ornery...Cowboy." Chris pulled away fast but not quick enough to avoid the hard swat to his ass, giving what was to Vin a satisfying yelp.
Vin chuckled as he watched Chris disappear into the changing area, almost tempted to follow and gloat as Chris struggled to roll off the wet, tight fitting neoprene. Instead, he shook his head, snorting softly as the indignant words, "Who you calling a cowboy," floated back over Chris's shoulder.
He hated being called a Fish as much as Chris hated being called a Cowboy, and yet, when Chris used the word it became a soft endearment rather than an obscenity. He smiled knowing his use of Cowboy had an equal effect on Chris.
Vin grabbed his clothes off the rack where he'd folded and left them earlier, and headed for the shower, wanting to rinse away the salt and warm his cool body. He shuddered slightly then silently called himself a baby as he considered how much colder Chris would be feeling with his normal human skin.
As he walked along the corridors of seaQuest towards the quarters he shared with Chris, Vin reflected on how easy it would have been to allow Abalon to continue enhancing his underwater abilities. Most people assumed that he had been altered by the UEO but, in truth, he'd found trouble out near the colony of Tascosa after being framed by a murdering, modern-day pirate by the name of Eli Joe. There were times when Frontier justice stank but on capturing him they had, at least, given him two choices.
His first choice was being thrown out the airlock into the cold sea without an oxygen tank. He knew he would either drown as he clawed his way back to the surface, or drown when the bends or exhaustion took him should he actually make it to the sweet air above. Only problem, like most people who lived beneath the waters of the world, he had a fear for drowning instilled in him from an early age, so the thought of being drowned like some mangy dog held little appeal.
The second choice had been far more bizarre. He could become a guinea pig for a scientist who was experimenting with adapting humans genetically to this ocean world.
Vin had gone with the gills, preferring an extension of life to immediate death--and he had never regretted that decision though he saw plenty of men and women who did. Until then he had not heard of the name Abalon but he learned to curse and praise that name in equal measure for the changes were painful, and he shuddered as he recalled the convulsions shaking his body as it fought to adapt to the new genetic instructions. Some of Abalon's subjects had died during this phase, their hearts or lungs unable to process the drastic changes, for what Abalon was doing went far beyond the research material shared with the UEO.
Vin knew that the greatest difference between him and the UEO created fish was that they relied on lungs full of air, their adaptation being the closing of a valve to prevent sea water entering the lungs. This allowed only oxygen from the gills to fill them instead. To certain depths he was no different from them, with his body using the same process to keep him alive. However, Abalon had adapted him to go to even greater depths.
He recalled the first time they submersed him beyond the tolerance of air-filled lungs. Panic had filled him as the last of the true air in his lungs leaked away in a cloud of shimmering, tiny bubbles leaving an ache in his chest. He had faced his greatest fear that day for, technically, he had drowned, finally forced to suck water into his mouth, filling his lungs. Then a miracle had happened as he felt a quiver against his sides and realized his modified gills were adapting and processing the water. They stripped out the oxygen molecules, forcing them directly into his bloodstream to feed his body.
The liquid filled lungs allowed him to go far deeper than the UEO fish without the fear of him imploding from the sheer pressure of the water above him.
Vin sighed as he stepped beneath the warm shower, gently sluicing away the salt from his hair and body. He thought of Abalon...and the others changed either like him or to a greater degree in some cases.
When the Macronesian forces attacked the atoll close to the Tonga Trench where Abalon kept his secret laboratory, Vin had been one of the fortunate ones who had managed to escape. However, he had been injured in the attack and so unable to run far enough, and fast enough...or so he thought at the time. Fortunately he had been picked up by the seaQuest on the outer edges of UEO-controlled territory.
Captain Oliver Hudson had done everything within his power to conceal Vin's participation in Abalon's experiments, aware of how valuable it would make him to the wrong people. Even so, Vin still didn't truly understand why Hudson had chosen to help him rather than hand him over to the UEO scientists but he had a feeling that Hudson considered even them to be the wrong people. Instead, Hudson had found a way to keep Vin on-board seaQuest, using the extraordinary skills of Lucas Wolenczak to alter medical records and details so that, although not adapted by the UEO, it would appear that he was, genetically, no different to them.
Once healed he could have left the seaQuest and disappeared for good but by then he had made friends with a newly promoted ensign who shared so much in common with him. Tony Piccolo had been in and out of trouble since joining the UEO, and finally had been given an option of volunteering for the UEO genetics program or spending the next few years in the UEO stockade. He had chosen gills and had then been assigned to Nathan Bridger, the captain and designer of the seaQuest. It hadn't stopped him from continuing to get into trouble, leaving many a reprimand in his jacket. However, all that had changed the day Oliver Hudson stepped on-board the seaQuest, taking over command from Bridger.
Where Bridger had been a scientist first, a diplomat, and then a soldier as a last resort, Hudson had no pretensions of being anything other than a soldier. The UEO was involved in a cold war with Macronesia with skirmishes occurring almost daily along the borders. Hudson took command of the seaQuest purely to use its undeniable superiority to bring the Macronesian erosion of UEO controlled territories to an end before Macronesia gathered enough strength to overrun them completely.
Vin recalled Tony's description of Hudson in those first days on-board. There had been a hardness in his demeanor that most had considered to be arrogance and coldness. No one knew what to make of Hudson, having become so used to the lighter touch of Nathan Bridger. Tony had still been ordinary crew then, and he had told how the day he had most dreaded came to pass; the day when Hudson learned that he could barely read and write.
Tony had expected ridicule. He had expected to be sneered at, belittled and then transferred off the seaQuest as fast as he could pack away his few belongings. Instead, Hudson took him under his wing, giving him his first real book and, along with the friends he had made on-board, patiently taught him to read and write.
He owed his promotion to officer rank to Oliver Hudson, having never bothered to attempt the promotion exercise before due to his inability to read and, hence, answer the questions. The day he made Ensign had been one of the best in his life but not because of the gain in rank. Without the non-fraternization barrier between officer and ordinary seaman between them, he had finally achieved a secretly harbored dream.
Not many people realized that Captain Hudson and Ensign Piccolo had become lovers but Vin had known the moment he stepped on-board the seaQuest. His above average empathy meant he had sensed the love immediately, but even without it he would have recognized that love in the small gestures that would have seemed meaningless to others.
Vin grinned softly to himself as he stepped out of the shower and dried himself. He stopped to look at himself in the full-length mirror, almost vainly admiring the sleekness of his strong body before pulling on his undergarments and then shrugging into his jump suit. His thoughts returned to Hudson and Piccolo.
Almost a year later, when Hudson accepted promotion to the rank of Admiral, he had given Vin the option of staying on-board the seaQuest, or going with him. There had never been any question of Tony remaining on-board and Vin had felt a momentary temptation to accept that offer and remain within the secure blanket that Hudson offered. Instead, he argued--mostly with himself--that they didn't need to baby-sit him any longer, and that they deserved to have time alone for their relationship to grow stronger and deeper--if that were possible.
Vin also took into consideration the fact that he had started to make new friendships within the crew. Buck Wilmington had taken over as Executive Officer just before Vin arrived on the seaQuest and though he'd had very little to do with him, his empathy had told him that Buck was a man to be trusted and respected despite his amorous proclivities towards women. Soon after there had been other changes. Nathan Jackson had taken over as Chief Medical Officer, and Vin found him an easy man to get along with. Very little escaped Jackson's sharp eyes and mind, especially as Vin had been injured once or twice during the months that followed. However, Vin had known from the start that he had nothing to fear from the gentle healer, who took his Hippocratic oath with deadly seriousness.
The chief engineer was replaced around the same time, and Vin found that he liked Josiah Sanchez far more than the previous Chief. He would spend occasional evenings in the mess listening to Josiah as he described some of the amazing places he had seen. Although not old, Josiah had seen places during his childhood that had sunk below the rising seas long before Vin was born. His deep, melodic voice would enthrall Vin, transporting him to worlds bathed in sunlight that he had only ever seen from under the water.
However, it was the addition of Ensign JD Dunne that sealed his decision. JD's boyish enthusiasm and generous heart had pulled him in from the first, accepting his taciturn nature without censure. Often he would find company with JD, or with one of the others and, on reflection, it seemed strange to him that they had not been close as a group until the day Chris Larabee stepped on-board as Captain of the seaQuest.
Some how Chris had been the glue, bringing all these disparate souls together, even reaching out to bring another recent arrival, Ezra Standish, into their number. Six months on from that first meeting and it was if the seven had been together since the dawn of time.
Six months, he thought with awe, and for five of those months he and Chris had been lovers, finding something within the other that filled the aching void in their heart. As always, even just the thought of what he shared with Chris was enough to send his blood pumping harder through his veins, and he licked his lips in eager anticipation of the night ahead.
He laughed softly, realizing that Charlotte Richmond had done them a great favor when she outed them to the Secretary General of the UEO, 'Judge' Orin Travis, right at the very beginning of their relationship. She had hoped to ruin Chris's career after he spurned her advances but, instead, she ruined her own and ensured that they could dispense with any reason they might have considered for keeping their relationship a secret from the rest of the crew.
A wet towel smacking into the side of his head stopped any further thoughts, and Vin glared at the unrepentant look on Chris's grinning face.
"Time to quit daydreaming. Got work to do, Tanner."
Vin grumbled for a few seconds, face reddening at being caught too deep in thought to notice Chris's approach. Then he shook his head gently and followed his lover out of their spacious shared quarters, both of them heading for the bridge. His train of thought came back and Vin smiled as he recalled the time when he had told Chris all about himself: his trouble out at Tascosa, and Abalon's experiments on his body. They had known each other only a few days at the time and yet Vin had felt he could trust Chris Larabee with these secrets--and with his life--from the moment their eyes met across the crowded C-deck.
He caught up with Chris and they walked side by side, but no words passed between them as none were needed. Vin mused that it had been that way from the start, only talking when there was something that needed to be said that could not be conveyed in a look or a touch.
Fresh heat warmed his innards as he recalled how often they looked and touched: covertly in public but so freely, and so openly in the privacy of their quarters. Damn, but he loved to look and touch Chris and he loved to be looked at and touched in return--but only by this man.
Echoes of their love making from earlier that day smoldered through him, his fingertips remembering the feel of Chris's hot skin beneath his touch, his lips tingling in remembrance of the pleasure and taste of his lover. They had kissed slowly, limbs entangled as they tried to press every possible inch of heated flesh against one another. He could still feel the sharpness of a hipbone grinding into the softness of his belly even as his hands found the firm globes of Chris's ass and pulled him in tighter. The incredible sensations had spiraled upwards as he ground hard against Chris's muscular belly, the sensitive tip finding just the right amount of friction against the sweat and precome-slicked skin. Fingers had dug viciously into his hips as Chris bucked wildly against him, leaving handprint-shaped bruising, but he couldn't complain as his own fingers had clenched on those firmly rounded ass cheeks leaving five perfect finger marks in purple and blue on each pale globe.
He sniggered, wondering what Nathan Jackson would say if he called them in for a medical right now. No doubt he'd read them the riot act about playing too hard, but Vin wouldn't change the depth of passion he held for his lover even if he could. He loved the strength of those arms around him, and adored being trapped by the lean, muscular legs...and he knew Chris felt the same when Vin used his strength to hold him in return. It was all there in the beautiful, sea green eyes, and in the whispers of pleasure floating through the ether between them to be plucked from the air by his empathic senses.
They parted after passing through the clam-shaped door leading onto the bridge, each taking their duty station. Vin walked towards the two pods that were used to steer the submarine. One was enough but the second was a built-in safety feature so that there would always be at least one person in full control of the seaQuest while another might be exchanging places with a relief helmsman. Vin slipped into the seat vacated by the second helmsman, quickly pulling on the visor and slipping on the gloves that would take him into a virtual reality world, taking control of the massive submarine. He grinned in pleasure, feeling the power of the seaQuest within his hands, knowing he controlled it all with the simplest of finger movements and yet, given a choice, he would have his lover writhing to his every touch instead.
Two hours passed slowly as they continued to patrol the outer edges of the territory named Four Corners due to the convergence of four main world powers; the UEO controlled territories, Macronesia, the Chaodai, and the Deon Corporation.
For the most part, Vin kept his mind on his duty, but every once in a while his thoughts would wander back to the early morning swim he had taken with Chris. He didn't need to wet his gills too regularly, at least, not as regularly as some of Abalon's creations, but he had left it longer than usual. Water showers or a dip in the expansive C-Deck Moonpool were okay for day-to-day submersion but his gills required a decent depth and workout at least once a week.
It was not often that Chris could spare time to accompany him, being caught up in the many duties required of a captain but today was a welcome exception. In some ways he felt rather guilty at the way he raced in circles around Chris in the open sea but he loved the sensation of water slipping over his gills, though he also loved it when Chris touched him there too in moments of passion. Before he had found Chris, Vin believed that nothing on the planet could beat swimming naked in the cold ocean with the water rippling over the sensitive gills. Better than sex, at least so he had thought right up until the first time he had touched Chris. The only thing better than sex with Chris was sex with Chris underwater.
His secret grin dropped suddenly as Ezra's voice filtered through his headset.
"Captain, we have a distress call from the Marianas Colony."
"Put in on main speakers."
Vin frowned as the broken signal echoed through his headset, hearing the panic-laden voice begging for help. Unknown forces were attacking the colony, and he knew the likelihood was that those forces originated from Macronesia, which lay a mere five nautical miles south of the colony. Although Marianas was an independent colony, Vin pressed his lips together and waited for the order from Chris that would have him turning the seaQuest to offer them assistance.
"Helm, set a course for the Marianas Colony. Best speed."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
Vin spread his fingers into the right configuration to turn the massive submarine, skirting around a rocky outcrop that stretched up from the sea bed. He sent commands to the engines, feeling the throb beneath him as the deck reverberated with the increase in power. Vin listened in on the chatter around the bridge.
JD knew what was needed of him without requiring a direct order. "ETA twenty minutes."
"Damn, not fast enough." Chris swore softly.
Buck leaned over his console. "Fighters will get there in half the time."
There was a moment's hesitation and then Chris responded. "Do it."
Vin understood the hesitation for he was one of the few personnel on-board who could helm one of the sea fighters. He slipped out of the helm control pod as his relief helmsman stepped up, catching Chris's eye as he passed. With just the slightest nod of his head he conveyed his love and reassurance, knowing full well that Chris would not relax until he was safely back in his arms once more. Within minutes, Vin had suited up and taken the controls of a fighter. The power engine kicked in after the small craft dropped away from the seaQuest, and he streaked off ahead of the slower submarine with two other UEO fighters on his wing.
As they swiftly outpaced the seaQuest, Vin could not help but recall his lover's frustration at being left behind. Suddenly, though, his radar announced a fourth vessel at his back and Vin shook his head in a mixture of relief and exasperation as Chris called in.
"Decided not to let you boys have all the fun. Figured I'd join you."
Vin knew there'd be no complaints for Chris had to be one of the fastest and deadliest pilots in the UEO forces. Vin was not quite as fast but he knew he was far more accurate from a distance, more of a sharpshooter than a gunslinger, he thought in analogy...and Vin considered Chris to be one of the fastest gunslingers he had ever seen.
Unlike most officers promoted beyond the fighter rank, Chris took every available opportunity to keep his fighting skills honed so Vin was not surprised when his fighter drew up into formation only a few minutes later despite the head start they'd had on him.
Another few moments saw them riding over a ridge and speeding into the shallow trench below where brief flares of explosive light proved the battle was far from over. They darted into the melee, missiles firing at the attacking craft. Vin saw one implode as a missile from Chris's craft struck it. He fired at a distant craft as it turned to rain more destruction down on the small colony, hitting it with ease. It fled and Vin gave chase, not noticing that the other attackers were breaking away from the battle to follow.
"Vin! Break off. Break off. Do not--"
A crackle of static burst in over the top of Chris's voice, cutting off his words, and Vin knew someone was jamming the signal even though there seemed to be nothing ahead of him except the attacker he had already crippled. As he reached the top of a rocky formation, Vin swore out loud, not reacting fast enough to avoid the net that ensnared his craft.
He tried a hard reverse but the net closed in around him, and a submarine that had been running silent started up its engines. It moved slowly as the unknown attackers started to haul him away. Vin felt a momentary surge of pleasure when the three other UEO fighters came hurtling over the ridge, only then noticing another submarine lying silently in wait for them.
He cried out as one of the UEO fighters dissolved into fragments before his eyes. The fleeing enemy turned and began to attack the two remaining fighters and, with horror, he saw the one containing his lover start to break apart.
The ridge came between him and his lover's stricken craft, leaving Vin with his face and hands plastered against the Plexiglas canopy of his trapped fighter, too shocked to completely accept his lover's fate and yet too aware of the consequences for an ordinary human at this depth.
"Chris," he repeated softly, his eyes closing to shut out the sight of the steel mesh that surrounded his fighter. Inside he was dying, too numb to care about what was happening to him. All he knew was that Chris was gone and then, suddenly, every part of him screamed out in rage. Every nerve ending cried out in remembrance of a touch that would never be felt again; the feel of his lover wrapped around him, inside him. Every sense screamed the horror of his loss. Never to see him again, never to taste the bittersweet essence of their union, or the musk and saltiness of his lover's skin; never to hear the soft whispers of love, or the gentle laughter. Never to feel his shining aura and bask in the love so freely given from the moment they met.
Vin wailed in frustration, beating his hands against the canopy until his strength gave out and his wails turned to sobs of despair.
By the time his craft was pulled inside a large submarine that had waited just inside Macronesian territory, Vin was exhausted but inside he raged. They had killed his lover, killed the one person who meant everything to him in this life, and he would make them pay no matter the consequences.
Buck looked across at the harsh whisper coming from JD. He could see the younger man's attention riveted to the computer screen in front of him, and a terrible feeling clenched in his chest.
JD turned away from the screen slowly, hazel eyes as wide as saucers set within a face paled with shock. "We just lost Chris."
Buck's long strides had him standing behind JD in seconds and peering over the smaller man's shoulders at the screen. He was not completely certain what he ought to be looking for but then he realized that he could only see two rapidly disappearing blips where there ought to have been four. Both Vin Tanner and Ensign Morris's fighters were being hauled away by their attackers, and Buck had to hope that both pilots were still alive within, but there was no trace of Chris and Lt. Jacobs' fighters.
"Perhaps they've already been taken out of range, kid."
Buck looked deep into the hazel eyes, his own pleading with him to offer him some reassurance, some shadow of doubt, but the truth was there to be read. Both of the other fighters had disintegrated under attack. Both had been destroyed along with their pilots. Buck felt the burn of unshed tears prickling in his eyes, not wanting to believe that his oldest friend--so recently reunited with him having been torn apart through grief for several years--had been lost to him again, but this time forever. His eyes darted about the bridge of the seaQuest, and they were caught and held several times. Ezra Standish was shaking his head, caught between a snarl of rage and a grin of non-acceptance, unknowing what to believe. Josiah was at the helm having left the domain of engineering to steer the seaQuest while its Captain and best helmsman were away from the ship. His mouth was set into a thin line, his eyes invisible beneath the virtual reality head visor but Buck knew that the piercing blue would be filmed with tears.
A flurry of movement from behind drew him to the clam-shaped entrance where Nathan Jackson stood with dark eyes staring hard in disbelief. Buck didn't need to understand why he was here when his duty post lay in the medical center. He had a personal link to the life monitors for all four fighters and would have raced to the bridge the moment those monitors cut off when the signal was jammed.
"Vin and Morris may still be alive. Jacobs and...and Chris...are dead."
Emptiness crept over the fine, dark features. The light extinguished from his eyes as he grieved for the loss of someone he had known but a short time but who had become as close as family to him. Buck saw Nathan's eyes seek reassurance from his lover but he didn't need to turn to Ezra to know that they were sharing that grief now.
Buck turned at the sound of Josiah's voice coming through the headset. He swallowed hard and took a deep, shaky breath before answering. "Best speed, Josiah. Push her for all she's got."
He knew that they were still more than seven minutes from the Marianas Colony but some how, he knew Josiah would find a way to decrease that estimated time of arrival. Just as he believed, they reached the area where Chris and Jacobs' fighters had winked out of existence in less than six minutes. Instantly, Buck ordered salvage teams, wanting to pore over every single fragment to discover who had killed his best friend, and taken his other friend hostage.
Fifteen minutes later, Buck felt a resurgence of hope. They had found the wreckage of both fighters, and had recovered the body of Lt. Jacobs, but of Chris Larabee there was no sign. Buck ordered the cabin of the fighter brought on-board seaQuest and watched as Josiah sifted through the wreckage, noticing that the experienced engineer kept returning to one small part.
"Josiah? Are you gonna let me in on this?"
Josiah's incredibly blue eyes alighted on Buck, his forehead ridged with frown lines. He gave a deep sigh, his eyes darting back to the wreckage until they froze on one more piece. Buck watched as Josiah scrabbled over the parts, his big hands snaring one particular piece. When he turned back to Buck, his mouth had widened into a grin. He held up both parts in triumph.
"Canopy blew. He wasn't in the fighter when it imploded."
"Then where, pray tell, is Captain Larabee?"
Despite his dislike of touching grimy, oily objects, Ezra Standish had stepped forward and reached for the parts Josiah had sifted from the wrecked fighter. No one answered but Nathan stepped forward too, taking one part from Ezra and inspecting it carefully.
"Don't explain why we haven't homed in on the locator."
Buck nodded, knowing that every suit--for fighter pilots and divers--had a locator built in that would send back a signal to the seaQuest. They had used the locator signal to find what remained of Lt. Jacobs but there had been no trace of the other three pilots. The locator was one of the toughest, most durable devices available, like the black box carried on airplanes. It would have taken a lot of energy to destroy it, and jamming signal or not, data on that amount of energy would have been gathered by the seaQuest computer.
That left only one possibility. Someone had recovered Chris Larabee and taken him away with the others...and as there was little use in taken a corpse, Buck was willing to bet that Chris was still alive. He looked back at Ezra, and he saw that their Communications and Supply officer was still waiting for an answer.
"Way I figure it...whoever has Vin Tanner and Michael Morris also has Chris. Let's go find 'em."
Chris groaned as consciousness returned, his hand reaching up to cover his eyes as a bright light filtered through even his closed eyelids. His hand was pushed aside and he flinched as someone raised his eyelid, shining that light directly inside. The other eyelid was given similar treatment. He felt the trickle of tears fall over the brim and track down his cheeks, relieved when the light flicked away.
"Slightly uneven dilation but..." The words trailed off and a new voice came back.
"Captain Larabee. Captain Larabee."
Chris squinted through eyes that still watered, trying to make out the fuzzy face above him. Eventually he found he could focus sufficiently to know that he had never seen this man before. His eyes left the unknown man's face to sweep about the room. The last thing he recalled was being in his fighter as they went to the assistance of the Marianas colonists. Vin had taken off after a crippled marauder and Chris had followed with the others. Just before the jamming signal cut off all communications he'd sensed the trap, not realizing that it was about to be sprung on him as well. He took a sharp intake of breath as he recalled the sight of Lt. Jacob's fighter disintegrating before his eyes. There had been no time for the pilot to escape, and Chris felt a weight of sorrow on his chest for the loss of one of his people.
In truth, he had not had time to think about it when it happened, for his own fighter had come under attack too. His last sight before blowing the canopy on his crippled fighter was of Vin's craft, held tight in mesh, disappearing over the second ridge. He had been too close when his fighter exploded, the force sending him spinning away in blackness as he lost consciousness.
But where was he now?
Chris tried to pull himself up into a seated position but there seemed to be no strength in his arms, and his head seemed to spin alarmingly. It occurred to him then that he might have been drugged by whomever had recovered him from the ocean.
"I don't suggest you try to rise, Captain Larabee."
Chris froze as yet another new voice intruded upon his hearing though this time he had a strong feeling he knew that voice. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear the haziness from his sight and snarled menacingly as he recognized the face hovering above his own.
"Aah, I see you remember me, Captain Larabee."
Silently, he wished he had the strength to sit up and face this man square on, not wanting to look weak before this enemy of the UEO. Everything became clear as his thoughts returned to the underwater battle. Despite the firepower, the marauders had caused very little damage to the Marianas Colony, and they had hightailed it as soon as the UEO fighters entered the affray.
Had it all been a ruse? Had their intention been to capture one of his pilots? Or even him?
"What do you want with me?"
"With you? Why...you're nothing more than...fish bait. Mr. Tanner has been most uncooperative...but I believe that is about to change." Bourne's eyes flicked away as he spoke again to someone positioned out of Chris's view. "Prepare him."
Hands grabbed at Chris, drawing him up from the bed, pulling at his clothing until he stood naked before Bourne. His legs felt as if they were made of jelly, his knees threatening to buckle beneath him, and he knew that it was only the guards holding him that stopped him from collapsing to the floor. Chris glared at Bourne, wishing he could wipe the grin from the man's face.
Bourne clapped his hands together, grinning broadly at the sight of the great Christopher Larabee, Captain of the UEO's flagship, seaQuest, standing naked and vulnerable before him. He openly appraised the lean body, no longer seeing the soldier, only the man, and he was amazed at the transformation.
He reached out and grazed a finger over one nipple. It had already tightened from the chill of the room but Bourne saw a flush stain the pale face at this new stimulus. Larabee flinched away as if burned by his touch but Bourne noticed that his flaccid shaft had begun to stir, slowly rising from a bed of crisp, golden curls as Bourne continued his teasing assault on Larabee's body.
His hand swept over the strong pectoral, brushing over the sensitive nipple before fingertips trailed through the sparse chest hairs, following a trail southward across the flat, muscular stomach. He watched the stomach muscles spasm at the delicate touch, his fingers skimming over the flared head of the still lengthening shaft. He wrapped his hand around the firm length, thumb brushing over the sensitive tip.
Bourne looked up at Larabee's indrawn breath, reading a myriad of emotions in the turbulent green eyes that ranged from unwanted desire through rage and self-disgust. The latter emotion won out and Bourne felt the hard shaft begin to soften in his grasp but Bourne had discovered what he wanted to know, that Larabee could be aroused by another man's touch.
Perhaps he will come to accept my touch...in time, Bourne thought, but then his grin faltered. Until this moment he had not intended for Chris Larabee to live, except as a possible means of gaining some cooperation from Vin Tanner. His intention had been to use Larabee as bait, uncaring until now that Larabee would die if Tanner refused to take that bait. Now, as he looked into the angry eyes, he knew a new hunger for this man that had changed all his plans...or had it? All he needed to do was convince Vin Tanner that the danger to his captain was real, and a small demonstration would be enough for that.
With one last stroke of the now flaccid shaft, Bourne released his grip and stepped back, nodding to his guards to fulfill the orders they had been given earlier.
Chris jerked his head back as a small breather unit was placed over his nose and mouth, struggling feebly as a third guard placed metal bracelets around his ankles, securing them together. Only then did he notice that a wide section of the floor was the glass ceiling to a massive aquarium, and he watched in consternation as the third guard opened up a large panel. The guards forced him to sit on the edge, the breather muffling his gasp of pain as his arms were yanked behind his back and bound securely. His eyes widened in shock when he saw the third guard secure a heavy weight to a length of chain attached to the ankle bracelets.
Bourne hunkered down safely out of arms reach, licking his lips suggestively as he took another long appraising look at Chris.
"I shall be seeing you soon, Captain Larabee."
His blue eyes flicked up to one of the guards and Chris looked down in time to see the weight pushed over the edge, dragging him down with it. He sank quickly, the salty water stinging his eyes so he closed them, wondering how deep the aquarium might be. He seemed to be falling forever though he knew it was only a matter of ten or so seconds before his descent slowed sharply with a muffled thud. The buoyancy of his body sent him back towards the surface, but only until the length of chain played out, and then he hung, suspended in the water, feeling the gentle current spinning him slowly but unable to stop the motion. He squeezed open his eyes, trying to focus through the water, and startled as a grey torpedo shape moved across his line of vision.
Chris bit back the momentary panic when he realized it was just a shoal of fish, and then his vision cleared enough for him to see that he had fallen only five feet away from the front of the aquarium. The room beyond was immense and Chris could only guess that it was used for official functions. He realized that the aquarium had to stretch across most of the room, the rest taken up by wide spiral staircase that rose alongside the side-wall of the aquarium. He saw several figures descending and recognized President Bourne as one of them.
Bourne reached the bottom and walked over until he was standing in front of Chris Larabee, watching him intently as he let out a sigh of pure pleasure. When standing naked in the room above Larabee had looked beautiful and so vulnerable but now he looked otherworldly, his ivory skin glowing in the semi-darkness of the water, his body spinning slowly like a three-dimensional piece of art carved in living tissue by a master.
The broad shoulders were pulled back, thrusting the strong chest forward. The small nipples had hardened into tight buds as if begging for a lover's caress. Bourne licked his lips in renewed hunger as he watched this living art revolve before him. Every angle brought new pleasure as the jut of a lean hip gave way to the swell of a firm ass cheeks, cresting over another hip to the plain of the flat muscular stomach and soft genitalia floating within a sea of darkened blond curls.
His eyes raised to the handsome face, fervently wishing Larabee was one of the UEO fish so he could have dispensed with the small breather unit that concealed the man's softly bowed lips. The gentle current lifted the strands of golden hair, forming a halo around his head and adding to the ethereal beauty.
"Perfection," Bourne breathed, almost wishing he could dispense with the rest of his plan and just sit and stare a while longer. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and turned to his guards, smirking as he saw them equally entranced by the sight before them.
"Bring Morris and Tanner here. Now!"
He barked out the final word in order to gain their attention, smirking as one flustered guard went off to relay his orders to those watching Tanner and Morris. Bourne took a moment longer to gaze upon Chris Larabee and then he palmed a control that darkened the glass, concealing the contents of the aquarium.
He waited impatiently for the arrival of Vin Tanner, smiling when he saw the younger man pushed through the doorway and into the banqueting suite. It seemed that Tanner's disposition had not changed at all since the last time they brought Tanner before him, two days earlier. Hatred stabbed out from the azure blue eyes, only softening slightly when they alighted upon his fellow pilot, Michael Morris.
"Mr. Tanner, it appears you are still reluctant to cooperate with my people."
"Go to hell."
"Oh, I assure you, hell will not be a patch on your earthly life if you continue to fight the inevitable."
Bourne watched as Tanner's eyes sparked with fury rather than fear, wondering why the man held so little regard to his future. Silently he studied the stiffly-held figure, taking note of the intriguing slits below the rib cage on either side of the man's naked torso, which were the only visible sign of his genetically added gills. Tanner visibly bristled at the open appraisal and Bourne pursed his lips, tilting his head inquisitively, but other questions had already been raised in his mind that required answers first.
"It was brought to my attention that you saved the life of Captain Larabee not long after he joined the seaQuest...in a most unusual way, I might add."
Bourne saw the first flicker of concern cross the younger man's face along with an undefined emotion that seemed to border on immense pain.
"I believe the rumor goes that Captain Larabee had no oxygen equipment, and the craft you were in had to be abandoned. They say you...breathed for him. Kept him alive until he could reach the rescue party."
"He had a small breather unit that ran out just before we reached the rescuers. Dropped it 'cause it was no longer any use."
Bourne smiled. His contact had been most informative, not recalling the presence of any oxygen equipment when they reached the stricken captain, but Bourne could not rule out the possibility that his informant had been mistaken. However, he decided to ignore Tanner's explanation and press on regardless.
"UEO fish, such as our mutual friend, Ensign Piccolo, have a valve that closes off the trachea once they enter the water, allowing oxygen to fill the lungs only through the gills. It is an autonomic function that cannot be overridden by the brain...not even under duress."
Bourne thought back to the UEO fish that his scientists had forced to buddy-breathe with a normal human. In both cases the human had drowned, unable to gain any oxygen despite the frantic attempts to save them. Dissection of one of the UEO fish had shown that the valve remained sealed until they came out of the water. His eyes narrowed in speculation as he stared at the lean yet strongly muscled figure standing in front of him, attention caught momentarily by the brown curls that cascaded beyond UEO military regulation length. Stolen records showed that Abalon had experimented upon Tanner, though the records stated that his alteration was no different to the UEO fish. However, if Vin Tanner had buddy-breathed with Larabee then perhaps the records lied, and Tanner was not so similar after all.
There was only one way to find out for certain, but would Tanner cooperate? So far, the only way they had been able to prove he could breathe underwater at all was by throwing him into a tank and sealing it.
Tanner's eyes darted towards Morris, and Bourne could guess at his thoughts. He was expecting Bourne to throw both of them into the same sealed tank just to see if he would attempt to breathe for his fellow crewman. Unfortunately, Bourne thought, there was no guarantee that Tanner would oblige, not even to save the life of Ensign Morris...but he might be more inclined to save his captain.
"Obviously, breathing for another would put you into a very intimate position, and I can accept how reluctant you might be with a stranger. Therefore, what better choice than the same man you saved before."
He saw Tanner's anger fade to confusion, his eyes flicking to the wall behind Bourne as the glass became clear once more. Tanner's sharply indrawn breath brought a smile to Bourne's lips, the blue eyes staring wide with shock at the sight of his captain suspended in the water before him.
The harsh, emotion filled whisper caught at Bourne's hearing, and with fresh clarity, he understood what Chris Larabee meant to the man standing close by. Part of him felt anger on seeing Larabee react to the vision of Vin Tanner with equal yearning.
Tanner turned to Bourne, calling his bluff. "I can't breathe for him, and I don't reckon you're about to murder a UEO officer over it."
"Aah, but that is where you are mistaken, Mr. Tanner." He gave a nod of his head towards Ensign Morris, barely flinching as one of the guards drew a weapon and fired it.
Inside the aquarium, Larabee began to thrash madly, bubbles shimmering from his breather unit in a steady stream as he strained against the bonds that held him so tightly. Tanner looked equally shocked as blood, bone and brains exploded from the back of Morris's head. Morris's body slumped to the floor, the hole drilled through his forehead so neat compared to the damage the projectile caused on exit. Bright red blood slowly pooled across the floor beneath the body, in contrast to the pale blue vein of the marble flooring.
"Mr. Tanner." Bourne waited until he had Tanner's attention. "I believe Captain Larabee may be having a few breathing difficulties."
Bourne raised his eyebrows towards the aquarium, watching as a diver floated up to Larabee and whipped away the breathing unit. Shock registered on both UEO men's faces, and then Tanner was bounding for the spiral staircase.
Bourne laughed, reaching for a glass of Chardonnay that had been brought to him, aware that he had already given orders for that diver to be prepared to hand back the breather should the rumor of Vin Tanner being able to buddy-breathe prove untrue. He beheld the fear-filled green eyes, gazed upon the tightly clenched lips that tried to hold onto that last breath of oxygen, and silently toasted the figure now revealed so completely to him in all his glory.
Vin took the stairs three at a time, his lungs burning for air by the time he reached the top of the three story high aquarium. Ahead he could see two guards standing beside a raised clear-glass hatch. He didn't need to guess the significance of this, heading straight towards them and then diving neatly through the hatchway into the water lapping just below.
He barely noticed the coolness of the water as he dove straight down, legs kicking strongly, powerful shoulder muscles helping his arms to push aside the water. His gills quivered as water rushed over them, working efficiently to fill his lungs with life-giving oxygen. Ahead he could see the pale glow of Chris's naked form and, uncaring of the audience just beyond the glass wall, he wrapped himself around the tense frame, his mouth seeking Chris's.
Gently, he forced air between the tightly pressed lips, feeling Chris relax into his embrace as he finally let go of the used air from his lungs and breathed in fresh oxygen from Vin. It seemed as if a lifetime passed while he held onto Chris, reveling in the feel of living flesh that he thought lost to him. Eventually he pulled back, eyes only inches from his lover's, sharing his relief and joy after two long days filled with grief.
From the corner of his eye, Vin could see divers approaching and knew he could do nothing while Chris was in danger. He gave Chris one last lungful of air, lingering in a gentle kiss before pulling back to allow the closest diver to refit the breather unit over Chris's face. Moments later, they unlinked Chris from the weight and, together, they rose with Vin keeping a grip on the still bound man. Vin used his strength to boost Chris up through the hatch, only letting go when the guards had a firm grip on his lover. He followed quickly, muscles straining as he propelled himself out of the water to lie by Chris's side. He reached for the breather unit and threw it aside, then climbed to his knees, leaning over his lover.
Chris nodded as he sucked in a few full lungfuls of air, turning slightly as Vin tried to work loose the bonds holding his arms pinned behind his back. The sound of slow clapping brought both of them looking back towards the staircase.
"Bravo, Mr. Tanner. A most impressive display. So pleasing to see that the rumors are true."
Vin's lips tightened, wondering if Bourne was referring solely to his underwater breathing abilities or whether he was also referring to the love he felt for Chris. Despite being very open about their sexual relationship on-board the seaQuest, most outsiders believed they shared a platonic friendship. A few knew differently, but only one of those could not be trusted to keep the knowledge of their private life to herself, and that was Charlotte Richmond.
Vin stood up; his fear abating as Bourne continued.
"So Abalon has perfected the breathing genetics, giving you control over the tracheal valve." Bourne paused a few feet away. "But what other alterations had he made beyond those in the research material granted to the UEO? Hmm?"
Bourne's hand reached out and ran across one side of Vin's body, over the gills, causing him to pull back in anger but the rebuff only brought a smile to the president's lips. An uneasy moment passed and then Bourne's gaze focused on Chris, the twitch of the man's lips filling Vin with revulsion as he saw the way the blue eyes raked over Chris's naked flesh with unhealthy interest. His lover was still lying on the transparent floor by the now closed hatchway. Droplets of water were clinging tenaciously to his ivory flesh while others ran in tiny rivulets with every heave of his chest. Chris took two more deep shuddering breaths before his oxygen-starved lungs were satisfied that their ordeal was over. Green eyes flicked up to Vin as they both silently wondered what Bourne had planned for them next.
"Take Mr. Tanner back to the laboratory."
Vin shook off the hands that grabbed at him, not wanting to leave Chris's side but they outnumbered him, dragging him back several paces. Frantically, he sought Chris's eyes once more, and read the reassurance there. They both knew there was no point in making a scene as neither he nor Chris was in a position to make an escape attempt. Vin relaxed in the guards' grip, swallowing hard before giving his lover the slightest nod to let him know he would do what Bourne wanted...for now.
Until a few minutes earlier, he had been biding his time, looking for an opportunity to take revenge on the men who had killed his lover, uncaring that he might die in the process. However, now that he knew Chris was alive, Vin's plans had changed. Now he had every reason for wanting to get out of this place alive--as long as he could take Chris with him. He shared one last look with his lover, knowing it would have to sustain him until President Bourne, or fate, brought them together again.
As they marched him back to the laboratory, Vin mulled over Bourne's words. Unless Bourne was playing with them, then there had to be at least one other UEO fish in this complex. If that man was Tony Piccolo then Vin had every reason to suspect that Admiral Hudson would be working alongside Buck and the rest of the seaQuest crew, determined to bring them back alive. That thought gave him momentary relief until he recalled one man who would not be coming back. Michael Morris was dead, and Vin was determined that Bourne should pay for that crime.
One day earlier
Ezra smiled as he completed this latest call to one of his many contacts around the globe but Nathan could see that the smile didn't reach his emerald green eyes. He waited as Ezra turned in his seat to face the rest of the bridge crew.
"If...and I do mean IF they are being held by Macronesian forces then we may have to rely on more...subtle methods in order to have their location divulged to us."
Nathan huffed loudly. "More subtle? I thought we'd already tried subtle. And who else would have the where-with-all to kidnap a UEO captain and several of his officers? Some tinpot illegal mining operation ain't gonna be concerned with takin' hostages, and I can't see marauders making off with them neither. Them UEO fighters, maybe, but not the pilots...and we done found pieces of Vin's fighter just this side of the border." Nathan held up a hand as Ezra drew in a breath. "And before you say it, I ain't about to believe Vin and Chris are dead, 'cause from where I'm sitting it's clear they didn't want the fighters...they wanted the pilots. All we got to figure out is why 'cause then we'll find 'em."
"Macronesia is a very large territory, Mr. Jackson," Ezra added softly.
Nathan saw the flicker of pain, knowing that he was partly to blame even though most of that pain would be for their missing friends. He knew Ezra was doing his utmost to locate Chris and Vin, calling in favors from every corner of the globe, but his own frustration had got the better of him yet again. He reached over and placed a hand on Ezra's shoulder, squeezing slightly in apology and felt the tensed muscles relax. Part of Nathan wished he had the same easy communication that Chris and Vin shared, wishing he and Ezra could understand how each other felt with the flicker of an eyelash or the slightest nod of the head.
There was a time when he thought it all came down to Vin's above average empathy but he realized quickly enough that empathy had only a little to do with it. It was true that it allowed Vin to read the emotions radiating from Chris but only when Chris didn't have his shields raised--and those shields were raised most of the time. That man had to be one of the most guarded people Nathan had ever met but he had opened up to Vin.
Nathan thought about his relationship with Ezra. Where Chris and Vin were like the still waters of a glacial lake, his own relationship with Ezra seemed more turbulent in comparison. His was like the sea, calm one moment, stormy the next. Yet, the water ran deep within both relationships, each of them finding what they needed to make them whole within their partner.
For all their differences of upbringing, of culture, even of taste in music, holovids and clothing, Ezra completed him, giving him the companionship he had long craved for. Perhaps he needed the sparking between them just to prove that he was a free man, no longer enslaved within the territory of his birth, though, sometimes he felt guilty. Sometimes he found he was prejudging his lover when he ought to have known better and, at times like those, he was eternally grateful that Ezra understood that it was his insecurities talking.
Where sex was concerned, Nathan knew that what he shared with Ezra was equaled within Chris and Vin's relationship. He had seen them when they thought themselves to be unobserved, witnessing first hand the single-minded passion that blocked out everything but the man in their arms. A soft smile of remembrance lifted his lips, recalling how he had gone for a stroll along the beach on that hot summer's day, deciding to climb upon the rocks and stare out to sea.
He had not heard them above the sound of the waves swishing across the coarse sand and pebbles. A soft cry had caught at him, carried during a lull in the gentle breeze coming off the ocean and bringing his head whipping round in a healer's fear for a hurt creature. He had clambered over the rocks in concern, leaning over and about to answer what he thought might be a whimpered cry for help when he realized who had made that cry, and why.
He had never seen Chris so open before, his eyes glazed with pleasure, swollen lips parted as those whimpering cries fell with each thrust of Vin's body inside him. His long legs were wrapped around Vin's waist, with the heels digging into Vin's pale ass cheeks as if he was trying to force even more of Vin inside him. His hands were gripping onto Vin's surprisingly broad shoulders with bruising strength, spine arched, head lifted from the ground and thrown back with sweat-darkened, sun-kissed hair flowing back towards the towel beneath them. Nathan couldn't see Vin's face for it was partially hidden behind a cascade of brown curls and the rest buried into the curve of Chris's neck. He could hear soft groans, saw every muscle tense as Vin jabbed harder into the body beneath him, bucking wildly as muffled sobs replaced the groans.
A soft and drawn out wail followed as Chris's arms and legs tightened around Vin, and Nathan knew Chris had found his release against his lover's body. At the same time, Nathan felt embarrassment rise, knowing he should have left as soon as he saw no one needing his healing skills. He slid away as silently as he could, hoping the pair was still too dazed from their love making to hear their unknown audience departing.
He took the image of Chris and Vin lying together with him, later sharing it with Ezra when his astute lover pried the information from him. Astute? Yes. Ezra was an expert at reading body language despite having average empathy levels, his skills taught to him by his mother over a lifetime of shady dealing with all manner of customers.
Nathan half listened as Ezra tried another source of information, lost in recollection of how his lover had drawn from him all the erotic details of Chris and Vin's coupling that day, fueling their own passion. He sighed, hoping he would never lose the awe of seeing his ebony skin pressed hard against his lover's ivory flesh. He felt the heat rise within him, the blood drawing downwards as he recalled the darkness of his hands against the whiteness of Ezra's firm ass, holding Ezra firmly as he plunged deep inside the hot, tight channel.
Their cries of passion had been just as soft, unable to let go completely within the confines of the thin-walled quarters upon the seaQuest.
A beep on Ezra's board brought his attention back to the communications panel.
"Seems we may have company." Ezra's eyes seemed to lose focus as he concentrated on the communications console but then a wry grin lifted the corners of his mouth. "Admiral Hudson has requested permission to come aboard."
Hudson stared through the front portal of the launch as they approached the seaQuest, feeling a flutter in his stomach at seeing the beautiful submarine that he had once commanded. This time, however, his feelings lay in hope rather than pleasure. Someone had taken the man he loved from hi side and every attempt to locate Tony had met with failure.
As they approached the docking portal, Hudson recalled the last time he had seen Tony Piccolo, the tiniest of smiles lifting his tired face out of brooding darkness. There had been reports of UEO genetically modified fish going missing, and Tony had wanted to investigate, feeling a kinship for others of his kind. There had been one last vidphone message where Tony had implied that he knew the truth behind the disappearances, but the connection broke mid-word, and no trace of his lover had been found since.
Yesterday he had learned of the disappearance of Larabee and several of his officers, suddenly suspicious when it turned out that one of those officers was Vin Tanner. His gut instincts told him that whoever had taken Larabee and Tanner, had also taken Tony, and it made sense to make the seaQuest the starting point for further investigation.
A slight bump brought the launch to a halt and he waited impatiently as the locking mechanism was activated that would seal the small craft against the seaQuest. The docking port opened and Hudson stepped out to find three familiar men waiting for him.
"Buck, Nathan, Josiah."
He greeted them with as much warmth as he could muster but knew it failed considerably, but Hudson could see a mirror of his concern for Tony reflected in their eyes, though for the loss of *their* friends.
"Admiral. I sure do hope you've brought us some good news." Buck breathed his words, head tilted earnestly as his blue eyes held Hudson's, but Hudson knew he was about to see disappointment fill those eyes.
"I'm sorry, Commander, but if anyone can find them, then it's the people on this boat." Hudson gave a deep sigh. "That's why I'm here."
"Are you assuming command?"
"No...but I need to be involved in the search process."
Buck nodded, and Hudson could see compassion fill the blue eyes. They all knew about his relationship with Tony Piccolo but he knew none of them would judge him for it. Together they walked down the corridor, heading towards the bridge.
"Any suggestions, Admiral?"
Nathan nodded. "We'd pretty much come to the same conclusion. Whoever attacked the Marianas colony was after the pilots...not the UEO fighters they rode in."
"So that rules out any number of marauders and pirates working in this area," added Buck. "Would figure them for wanting UEO technology, not hostages."
"I agree...to an extent. Don't think they planned on taking Larabee and Morris. They wanted Tanner."
Buck stopped mid-stride, concern and confusion etched across his handsome face as he turned to face Hudson. "Why?"
"Probably for the same reason they kidnapped Tony Piccolo and several other UEO fish." He paused, seeing realization set in. "Macronesia wants the genetic modification research but they had already let Abalon slip through their fingers."
"So you figure they're collecting specimens to do regressive research." Nathan's eyes widened in shock. "When they done finished seeing what the fish can do, they're gonna dissect them."
Hudson tried not to swallow the bile rising in his throat as Nathan Jackson said aloud the terrifying thought that had wormed through his head since realizing who had his lover. He knew that time was running out, if it had not already run out for a few of the UEO fish--and his lover.
"And Chris...and Ensign Morris?" Nathan asked.
"Weren't needed. Expendable."
Hudson saw the fear cross these men's faces, knowing he had brought the worst kind of news short of saying he had already located their murdered bodies. Hudson carried on walking towards the bridge, knowing the others were trailing behind him, each deep in fear-filled thoughts. Upon entering, he ignored the cry of 'Admiral on the bridge' and went straight to the Communications and Supply Officer.
Ezra Standish had been on-board only a few weeks before Hudson handed over command of the seaQuest to Chris Larabee but he had come highly recommended. His high intelligence and dubious talent for gaining anything a man wanted--for a price--walked the razor's edge between good and bad conduct for a UEO officer. Hudson knew that some of his dealings bordered on illegal but as long as the man remained true to his colleagues and duty then Hudson had been willing to overlook the occasion black market deal. He saw it as a necessary skill for a requisitions officer...and Hudson had great need of those skills right now, along with the amazing skills of JD Dunne.
"Mr. Standish, Mr. Dunne. I want you to locate the current whereabouts of President Bourne within Macronesia. And I suggest you don't believe everything you hear."
Buck stepped up beside Hudson, having overheard his orders to his crewmen. "You gonna let me in on this?"
"Bourne has been concerned by the progress of the genetic modification program within the UEO. He sees it as a threat to the continuing growth of Macronesia...to world domination. He wants the technology. He *needs* the technology."
"Regressive research." Buck stroked his moustache, and Hudson could see he was troubled by the thought of what lengths the Macronesian President might be prepared to go to in order to fulfill his megalomania ideals.
After a moment's hesitation, Hudson sank into the executive officer's seat on the bridge, leaving the captain's chair free for Buck Wilmington. If he was right, then he knew it might take many hours to uncover Bourne's true whereabouts, and hence locate the missing UEO people. It was a task he could not have trusted to anyone other than the skillful Ezra Standish and JD Dunne, knowing any attempt to find Bourne alone would have alerted the Macronesian President that he was on to him.
He pursed his lips and steepled his fingers, gazing towards the forward view screen, but his thoughts were far from this place. Instead he held a succession of images of his lover in his mind, recalling the way Tony smiled and laughed, and even the look on his face when he was angry or tired. Snippets of memories played across his eyes as he remembered the good times and the bad, finally dwelling on the moments he would always treasure; the contentment as they lay sated in each other's arms after expressing, physically, the love they felt for one another.
He wanted Tony back in his arms and, silently, he vowed that if Bourne had hurt him--or killed him--then he would never stop until he had hunted that man down and gained retribution.
One day later:
Ezra rubbed a hand across eyes that had gritted up through lack of sleep and staring at a computer screen for too long. So far his quest for the current location of President Bourne had led him to seventeen places within Macronesia. He sighed. Either the man moved around a lot in a single day, or these locations were red herrings, dreamed up to hide the man's true location.
That left a question of why. Why did Bourne need to keep his location a secret? Was it protection against assassination? Or did he have another agenda that involved his missing friends.
Hudson's exchange with Nathan came back to haunt him:
And Chris...and Ensign Morris? Nathan had asked, to which Hudson replied, Weren't needed. Expendable.
Perhaps to someone like President Bourne, Chris Larabee was expendable. The seaQuest had been a thorn in Macronesia's side for years, and more so since Chris Larabee took command. Perhaps Bourne had wanted Chris dead, not believing his luck when Chris had stumbled into the trap set out to capture Vin Tanner.
But that begged the question, how did they know Vin Tanner would be piloting one of the responding UEO fighters?
"Because that is the nature of Mr. Tanner's duty on-board the seaQuest", he whispered softly in answer to his own question.
Which begged a new question. How did Bourne's people know exactly where the seaQuest was so they could time the attack so precisely? If the seaQuest had been closer then sending fighters would have been unnecessary. Further away then the decision might still have been against sending a squad of fighters, knowing that the attack would be over long before they got there, leaving the pilots unable to do anything but watch in frustration as the Colony was overrun.
Someone had relayed the seaQuest's position to the Macronesians, which meant they had a traitor within the UEO command.
Now aware of a new threat, Ezra turned his attention back to the list of locations given for Bourne. One of these had to hold the key to finding Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner, as well as Hudson's paramour. He took the list to the briefing room that JD had commandeered for solitude while he concentrated on locating Bourne.
"Mr. Dunne, these are all the locations I have determined were visited by President Bourne over the past two weeks, and where he might still reside."
JD took the proffered tiny diskette and slotted it into the computer port, keying rapidly to include the locations in the search parameters for the program he had created.
"You slept at all, Ezra? You look awful."
"Perhaps you should gaze at your own reflection this morning, Mr. Dunne."
JD rubbed a hand over what Buck called 'baby fluff' on his face. Only the darkness of the soft bristles made him feel at all manly, giving him a swarthy complexion. They waited in silence, too tired to make small talk. A soft ping brought their attention back to the computer screen and JD whistled at the results displayed. If the results were true, then Bourne, and possibly their friends, were barely fifty nautical miles away from their current location, almost under their noses.
"I shall communicate the results to Mr. Wilmington and the Admiral."
Macronesian Secret Laboratory
Chris chewed his lower lip as the guards forced Vin away at Bourne's command. He took one last deep breath and then turned to stare at the blue-eyed devil standing before him. He leaned up awkwardly on one elbow, ignoring the pain in his arms, which were still bound tightly behind his back.
"You bastard. Why did you have to kill him?"
Bourne didn't even pretend to be confused by Chris's words, knowing Chris would have seen the execution of Ensign Morris through the clear glass of the aquarium wall.
"Why? Because I wanted you to live. However, your Mr. Tanner needed to be convinced that I don't bluff, and what better way than to show him the consequences of refusing to participate in my little...experiment."
"You didn't have to kill him."
"Oh, but I did. A lesson driven home very hard indeed. I am certain I shall not have any more problems convincing Mr. Tanner to do as he is told."
"So...if you wanted me to live then I'm not expendable."
"On the contrary, Captain, you live only for as long as you are useful to me. You live only for as long as I allow, and once you cease to be of use then..." Bourne's hands spread wide, a sickeningly menacing smile curling the corners of his hard mouth. "But I believe we may have a far longer acquaintance than I previously imagined."
Chris hated the way the eyes raked over his naked flesh once more, well aware of the undercurrent of lust flowing out from the despicable man. The blue eyes flicked up to the guards still standing close by. He was still too weak to fight as the guards lifted him to his feet by grabbing under each biceps, and they held him upright before Bourne far longer than Chris liked, allowing Bourne's eyes to caress every inch of his exposed body. Chris dropped his own eyes, raising them quickly when he registered the tell-tale bulge at Bourne's groin to find humor-filled eyes laughing silently at him.
"Captain Larabee is tired. I suggest you take him back to his room and...make him comfortable."
There was something about the words, and the way Bourne said them, that sent a shiver of fear up Chris's spine. Some how he did not believe he would be very comfortable.
As they half-dragged, half-carried him through the strangely empty corridors, Chris had time to think about the predicament he was in. He had heard enough things about Bourne to make him seriously worried for both himself and Vin--and anyone else Bourne had seized--but fear for Vin was paramount. Sooner or later, Bourne would have gained everything he wanted to know about how Vin's living body worked. What would happen then?
Chris swallowed hard, well aware that eventually Bourne would give the order to have Vin slaughtered like some laboratory specimen so that his scientists could study his internal organs to a far greater degree. Chances were that some unfortunate UEO fish taken by Bourne's people had already come under the knife, but Bourne knew Vin was different, and he would want his people to explore those differences thoroughly.
And what about him?
He knew that Bourne had not lied when he told him he would live only while he could be of use to him. But for what? Bourne had already determined that Vin had enough loyalty for his Captain that he would prove one of those differences in his genetic make-up in order to save Chris's life. What would happen if he found out that the loyalty ran deeper--to love?
When Vin dived into that aquarium to save him he lost the first round to Bourne. He gave Bourne a weapon against them, and Chris had a feeling that Bourne knew how to wield that sort of weapon to perfection. Bourne was no benign dictator. He liked to rule by fear, saving his honeyed words for political sparring matches.
Ahead, Chris could see an open doorway and he was not surprised when the guards stepped through it, dropping him to the oddly luxurious bed on his stomach.
"Time for bye bye."
He took a sharply indrawn breath as he felt a needle slide into his flesh at the hipbone. One of the guards released the bonds holding his arms tight behind his back but the drug acted quickly, robbing Chris of the ability to take advantage of this moment of freedom. He tried to raise his head but the room began to spin so he let it drop down, closing his eyes in the hope of dispelling the nauseous feeling but he snapped them open quickly as a terrible downward spiraling sensation filled him. He knew that feeling from times when he had drunk too much alcohol.
Darkness encroached, starting on the far edges of his vision and slowly moving inwards, one last sickening thought filling him as he recalled one other thing he knew about President Bourne. The man had once tried to coerce a former crew member of the seaQuest into giving him sexual favors. Though it had been a 'she' on that occasion, Chris knew the man's taste went both ways, and that terrible feeling churned in his stomach that he was about to learn all about that first hand.
As the last vestige of consciousness slipped away, Chris gave a silent cry of need to the one man he had come to love. Vin's name fell from his lips as an anxious whisper with his last conscious thought.
Vin flinched as he felt a chill rush through him, feeling as if someone had walked across his grave. He did not know why but his thoughts went instantly to his lover, with fear tying knots in his stomach. Something told him Chris was in danger and he bit down hard into his lower lip, drawing blood, knowing he could do nothing for Chris while Bourne's people held him locked inside a glass-walled cell within the laboratory.
He froze when the door opened and a gurney was wheeled in, followed by several men dressed in operating theater clothing. Another chill went through him when he realized the gurney held a body, and his breath hitched as the sheet was pulled aside to reveal a young man with gill slits on the side, turned towards Vin.
From the color of the skin Vin knew the man had not been dead long and he turned away from the sight of a scalpel slicing through the freshly killed man.
"Bastards," he whispered raggedly, knowing they had murdered this man purely to dissect him to see how his genetically modified body worked. Vin forced himself to look at the dead man's face, dreading the possibility that he might know him. He sighed in semi-relief when he did not recognize the man, his fear that it might be Tony Piccolo fading momentarily.
Vin turned away from the gruesome sight, closing his mind and ears to the excited words of the scientists as they slowly cut apart what had once been a living, breathing person. He dropped down to the floor at the furthest wall from the surgeons and drew up his knees, resting his forehead on them. He had no idea how long he remained in that position, trying not to think about anything but a way to get him and Chris out of this place, but it had to have been several hours before the scientists decided to take a break from their exercise in mutilation.
Vin stood up after they left the laboratory, walking back to the glass partition. They had not even bothered to cover the grisly sight, having no compassion for the man they had dissected. They had seen him only as a means to further their knowledge--and to provide the information Bourne sought.
A shudder ran through Vin. If he could not find a way out of here soon then he might be the next one lying naked and sliced upon that gurney.
And Chris? What would happen to his lover once he was no longer needed to keep him in line? Vin had a strong feeling that Chris would be simply executed, like Morris, and his body disposed of so as to leave no evidence that could lead back to Bourne. A shadow of doubt slithered through Vin's mind that maybe Bourne would keep Chris alive for yet another reason, one that had little to do with Macronesia and the UEO, and yet everything to do with power.
He had seen the way Bourne looked at Chris, and had felt the black waves of lust radiating off of the President, almost overpowering his empathic abilities with the depths of their depravity. Vin could understand the sexual desire for Chris, having fallen under the spell of his lover's mind and body long ago but Bourne saw sex only as a means to exploit or control. He enjoyed the power it could give him over another, and what better victim than one of the strongest and greatest captains within the UEO.
That shadow of doubt grew substance as Vin recalled the lascivious look on Bourne's face as he stared at Chris through the glass wall of the aquarium. Vin had to admit that the sight of Chris, naked and bound, spinning so slowly in the thermal currents within the tank had been glorious. His soft hair had been caught by the gentle current and lifted into a golden halo around his head, his ivory skin glowing pearlescent in the shimmering light within the aquarium. Strong muscle and sinew rippled beneath the surface of the pale flesh, displaying every smooth curve and sharp angle to perfection marred only by the man made breather unit concealing the handsome face. And then even that had been removed, revealing the beautiful features that Vin loved to kiss and caress.
Bourne had fallen under the bewitching spell too, but his lust demanded absolute power, and where Vin wanted to worship that beautiful body, knowing he would be worshiped equally in return, Bourne sought only to take everything he wanted.
Vin's thoughts returned to the fear he had felt when they first returned him to his cell, and suddenly he knew the fear had been genuine, and that Chris was in grave danger. Chris had only average empathy skills but that would have been enough for him to realize the danger he was in with Bourne. He thought of his last sight of Chris lying wet, naked and still bound on the glass floor above the aquarium, vulnerable to Bourne's touch of hand and eye...and he had been so weak too, and not just from the lack of oxygen. His soft green eyes had held a slight glassiness that spoke of drugs being forced into him.
What chance would Chris have against Bourne should the man decide to satisfy his carnal desires? Drugged and/or bound against his will...naked and alone with a monster in human form.
Vin slapped both hands against the glass wall in frustration, crying out in anguish, unable to see any easy escape from this place.
This place? Something kept flicking at the back of his mind; something he needed to pay attention to but other thoughts crowded it out.
Vin snapped his head around, and then he saw slight movement behind a similar looking glass partition about fifteen feet away. He couldn't make out the shadowy figure behind the glass, only then realizing that the scientists had dimmed the glass to prevent any distractions while they worked. The voice came again, and Vin recognized it.
"Damn. I was hoping you weren't here."
"Don't know. Probably just a few days, a week maybe, but--"
"But it seems like forever." Vin sighed. "Who was..? Who did they..?"
"Elijah Townsend. I knew him from the experiment, except he volunteered for gills because he wanted them. No coercion there."
Vin could hear the bitterness in Tony's voice even though he knew Tony had no regrets over choosing gills rather than the stockade. He gave a wry grin, recalling all the times he and Tony had gone swimming together when Hudson captained the seaQuest, and how it had infuriated Hudson, mostly because he worried about them.
"I'm sure Hudson's looking for us...and the seaQuest. Can't see Larabee--"
"Chris is here. Bourne has him."
There was a moment of silence before Tony spoke again. "Then seaQuest is definitely looking for us. In the meantime, we got to find a way out of here first chance we get."
The laboratory door opened and the two scientists walked in. Vin faded back away from the dimmed glass, knowing Tony would do likewise, neither wanting to draw attention until the time was right. Vin retreated to the far wall again, once more ignoring the single cot. He wrapped his arms around his drawn-up knees and let his head drop, determined to put all thoughts from his head and get much needed sleep.
Eventually he must have slept for when he looked up across the cot, the scientists and the corpse had gone. His internal clock told him that it must be approaching morning, and he wondered what this day might have in store for him, refusing to dwell on what dangers the night might have brought to his lover.
"I got him!"
Everyone gathered around JD's computer station, watching the data scrolling across the screen. He had spent the entire night correlating all the known information on Bourne's whereabouts for the past month to see if there was any pattern. Everything pointed to an area of ocean barely twenty miles inside the border Macronesia shared with the UEO. Above was a group of three islands that were so small that they never made it to most household atlases. In the distant past there had been seven islands, and they had been the retreat of an extremely rich music star but she abandoned them when global warming raised the ocean level, covering four of the islands.
The largest of the remaining three islands covered only a square mile and, as far as the UEO were concerned, they had remained uninhabited until taken over by Macronesia two years earlier.
Buck stroked his mustache while staring hard at the screen, watching as the satellite image closed in on the small atoll. The sun had risen over the island only an hour earlier leaving them with a view of the island's golden-yellow sandy beach. The interior was a tropical paradise of verdant green with a large white building just inside the tree line. The palms had been cut back at the front of the house, and Buck fancied that it had to be an impressive view across the fine golden sand to the azure blue of the Pacific Ocean. Some how, though, he doubted Chris, Vin or Tony Piccolo had been granted such a fine view.
"Is that an undersea docking facility?"
Buck tapped at the darkened area of water on the left side of the island.
"I'll pan in there."
JD pressed several keys in rapid succession and the image focused in on the area Buck had indicated, leaving little doubt in anyone's mind that the atoll had an undersea staging area. This meant that the house had floors underground but how deep they went was anybody's guess...or so Buck thought.
"I have the blueprints from the original house design." Ezra called up the information. "There appears to be several floors built beneath the surface...for safety during tropical storms."
"Well, that gives us several access points to work with."
Buck grinned but gained only weak smiles in response. If this was Bourne's stronghold, where he was keeping the UEO fish kidnapped by his Macronesian agents, then security would be extremely tight. However, they had the element of surprise as long as they moved fast. To that end, they had until nightfall to get prepared, and Buck could only offer a silent prayer that Chris and Vin, and the others taken by Bourne, could wait that long.
Chris awoke to find light streaming through the open doorway into the room where the guards had taken him last night. A figure stood silhouetted in the door frame, staring in at him but he could not recognize the man through eyes that refused to focus. He dropped his heavy head back to the bed, unable to support its weight any longer, groaning softly as he recalled the sharp sting of a needle at his hip. He had been drugged, the heaviness of his limbs testament to the sedative and paralyzing qualities of the chemical used.
It made no sense.
Why should they bother to drug him when they could keep him in the same holding cells used by Vin and the other fish they had abducted?
The door closed with a sharp click as the locking mechanism slid into place, leaving just the soft glow of a single ceiling light directly above the bed where he lay. The silhouetted figure had gone.
Chris forced his eyes open and noticed that the light illuminated only the bed, too weak to push back the encroaching shadows more than a few feet. He decided to take a mental inventory of himself, realizing that he was still lying on his stomach, exactly as the guards had left him, and yet there was a hazy memory of having been moved several times without volition.
He forced energy into his arms, pushing back against the firm mattress in an attempt to roll onto his back but he stopped almost immediately, gasping at the stab of pain through his lower torso. Waves of nausea rolled over him, clenching at his stomach as the lancing pain ebbed to a deep throb. Gingerly, he reached down, heavy fingers trailing over his ass to the valley between the cheeks, tracing over the firm muscle, and coming away slick. He drew his hand back to his face, staring in confusion at the pale milky fluid mingled with the scarlet of fresh blood.
And then the flood doors opened in his mind, bringing back images that he had thought were simply nightmares...
A figure had hovered close by, staring at him with features concealed in shadows. He tried to focus on the figure, trying to make sense of the man's movements and then realized he was undressing.
The man stepped into the soft light surrounding the bed but the drugs had robbed Chris of the ability to capture the details of this man's face. Everything about the man was shrouded in the fog of a drugged mind, recalling only impressions of pale skin, of dark blond hair, like a stockier version of him.
The voice was soft, thick with desire, but Chris couldn't make sense of the words, every syllable disjointed and unintelligible. Even the voice was muffled, as if the man spoke through thick wads of cotton wool though Chris knew, instinctively, that there was no mask on his face.
He flinched as cool fingers stroked his face, his skin overly sensitive to any touch, even to the sheets lying beneath him. The bed dipped, the rolling sensation amplified in his drug-hazed mind and he heard a whimper that sounded as if it had come from inside his own head as the cool hands stroked down his back to knead his ass cheeks. He felt each leg bent beneath him, unable to fight against the man who manipulated his body as if he was a doll rather than a living, thinking man.
The pain of penetration was intense, heightened by the drug creeping through his veins and controlling his mind. A lifetime passed as someone tore into his body, the slaps of flesh on flesh echoing through him but it hadn't been enough for his rapist. They had pulled out several times, repositioning his body, pushing back his legs until his hips burned from discomfort while they slammed back inside him, over and over.
A hand had tightened around his flaccid shaft, pulling at him harshly but the drug had robbed his assailant of that piece of power play. Someone had cried out in anger and pain, and he couldn't be sure if that had been him or his attacker but the intensity of the pain deep inside increased along with the power of the thrusts. He was on his stomach again, legs spread wide, back arched at an impossible angle as the man reached his climax, spilling hot body fluids deep into his bowels.
Throughout the nightmare ordeal he had felt white hot pain lance across his body, from hard, digging fingers to sharp, biting teeth, leaving him in a world of enhanced pain.
The nightmare images faded leaving an imprint of horror on his mind as he wondered if the shadowy figure he had just seen in the doorway had been his rapist taking one last look at the body he had abused so thoroughly. Chris's hand dropped to the bed, smearing the blood and semen on the sheet by his head. His eyes closed, sending him back into a nightmare world where his body became a broken toy for his shadowy rapist to play with once more.
Bourne closed the door gently, frustrated by the unsatisfying climax within the beautiful body lying sprawled within the room. The drug was supposed to heighten Larabee's awareness, yet keep him fully controllable without affecting his ability to respond.
It had been good at first, taking time to savor the sight of Larabee's naked flesh, his eyes caressing every millimeter as his arousal slowly consumed him. Larabee had watched him as he stripped off the dark, casual clothing he had worn for this encounter but there had been no recognition in the glassy eyes even when Bourne stood right over the prone man.
That was the first annoyance. He had wanted Larabee to know who was touching him so intimately, wanted him to know who possessed his body. Even his words had little effect upon the drugged mind, his anger rising at the incompetence of his scientists.
Pliable. He had asked for Larabee to be pliable, unable to fight against the inevitable as his own body betrayed him. Instead he had been given an almost mindless puppet, to be positioned like a child's lifeless plaything. Anger fueled the violence that followed as he tried to break through to the drugged mind and make Larabee know him, punishing the body beneath him for not giving him what he truly wanted...absolute power.
Absolute power came when the victim knew what was happening to him but could do nothing to save himself. He had wanted to see recognition in Larabee's eyes, had wanted to see anger, fear, horror, and self-loathing in those soft green eyes as his body gave Bourne everything against Larabee's will.
Nothing had broken through the barrier created by the drug, leaving him playing with a body that could not respond to the sexual overload upon its heightened nervous system.
Bourne had looked back at the bloodied mess, seeing a trickle of blood mixed with his spilt semen and silently wondering how badly he had torn the man inside in his rage. It didn't matter though, for he had never intended for Larabee to ever leave that room alive.
Still, he mused, he had this last day before he needed to return to the Macronesian capital. Perhaps Larabee would be more fun once the drug had started to wear off. With a twisted smile, Bourne turned to the guard standing behind him.
"Get him cleaned up and his wounds tended. I don't want to find a corpse when I return here later."
In the meantime he had a meeting with the scientists to see what their dissection of the UEO fish had uncovered, and then Vin Tanner would be forced to reveal a few more secrets.
Ezra moaned softly as Nathan's strong body rocked into his, each stroke deeper than the last, filling him with welcome possession. He arched up to meet the kiss-swollen lips poised above him, sucking and licking with heated passion as tongues collided. Pleasure radiated out from him, his aroused shaft trapped between their bodies, the sensitive tip sliding with just the right amount of friction, eased by their mingled sweat and his slippery precome.
He cried out as stroke after stroke brushed against the pleasure center inside, taking his body higher and higher until the sweet ecstasy flowed over him, through him, sending him spiraling out of his mind as every muscle gripped tight around his lover's beautiful body.
The sound of Nathan finding release breached the roaring of the blood throbbing through his veins, and he came back to his senses with the feel of a heavy body draped over his own. Nathan groaned pleasurably, white teeth shining from his dark face as his deep brown eyes glowed with love. A hand ruffled Ezra's sweat-matted hair, sweeping the longer strands from his forehead as the firm lips descended to plant a softly loving kiss upon his brow.
Ezra sighed in loss as the softening shaft slipped from him, leaving him feeling empty and cold as Nathan shifted to one side. The warmth returned as Nathan pulled him into his arms, pressing Ezra's head against his sweaty shoulder. Ezra spent a moment feeling the vibration of a strong heart pumping blood around his lover's body, hearing it slow as Nathan relaxed, and knowing his own heart had beat just as fast in the pleasure of their coupling.
He took in a deep breath, wishing this interlude would never end but grateful for the respite from the trauma of the last few days. Until he allowed Nathan into his life, and his bed, Ezra had not realized how much he needed to have someone to hold onto during stressful times, and Nathan fulfilled that need to perfection. There was so much strength in the muscular frame but it was all held back within a gentle yet passionate heart and soul. Ezra had no doubts that Nathan could use that strength against an enemy but felt it unlikely that he would ever do so out of malice. Instead that strength had become a haven for Ezra, protecting him from the madness of his daily life, forever giving without asking for anything in return.
A strange concept for Ezra, who had been brought up to take whatever he could get without remorse. Except his mother had never been able to turn him into an uncaring con artist, his own conscience pricking at him when the wrong victim ended up in their path. Being caught for grifting had been the best thing to ever happen to him, though it had not seemed that way at the time. In lieu of spending five years in prison, he had elected to serve his time at the pleasure of the UEO in a different capacity. They had recognized his skill in communications--having been taught five languages during his childhood and being knowledgeable of many others--and had posted him to the seaQuest to replace the newly promoted communications officer just prior to Chris Larabee taking command.
Those first few weeks on-board seaQuest had been wrought with confrontation as his shady dealings sparked against the highly moralistic views of both Captain Hudson and Nathan Jackson. With Hudson it had been difficult as the man had refused to believe there might be some good in him even though he respected Ezra's skill in the communications and supply fields. With Nathan Jackson, it was apparent that the reason they clashed was due to the attraction they felt, but they had seemed to be polar opposites.
But opposites attract, he thought with a slight smile, though it took the arrival of Chris Larabee to make him see that he had far more in common with Nathan than he would have at first believed. Nathan complemented him, showing him that it was acceptable to have feelings, and giving him the affection that he had never been granted by his mother. No doubt she did love him in her own way, but considered any show of affection to be detrimental to her occupation, especially as she had to use him in her work from time to time.
He tried not to feel bitter about that, and having Nathan by his side made a difference there too. Nathan had seen terrible things, had suffered at the hands of people who considered him to be little more than a slave to do as they beckoned or pay the consequences. And yet he would never willfully seek to destroy another being, not even those who had treated him so unjustly. It was a humbling thought, and one that made him love Nathan with even greater passion.
However, his mother had taught him one good lesson, to hold onto what you got for as long as you could for it only took one sour deal of life's cards to lose it all. With that thought he held on tighter to his lover, drawing a response from Nathan.
"You okay, Ezra?"
"Fine. Merely dwelling on the foible of Lady Luck."
"Hmm. Guess I've been thinking 'bout Chris an' Vin too. Praying they're all right. This waiting around don't help none though."
Ezra glanced at the bedside clock. "Our waiting period is almost over...our participation in our friends' deliverance is imminent."
"Why don't you just say, it's time to get up and go chase the bad guys?"
Ezra felt his lips twitch. "Let's go chase some bad guys, Mr. Jackson." He slipped from the bed with a smile, heading straight towards the small shower stall in his quarters.
"And since when did my father get into our bed, Ezra? Mr. Jackson," he added with a teasing sigh, holding up an arm to block the hand towel Ezra bundled up and threw at him.
Fifteen minutes later they were dressed and heading out of Ezra's quarters towards the meeting room. By now the plans would have been finalized and Ezra hoped he had an interesting part to play in the proceedings, though not necessarily a front line role. However, he knew he would do anything asked of him if it would bring Chris and Vin home safely to the seaQuest, along with Tony Piccolo.
As they took their seats and waited for Buck to start, Ezra thought back to the day Chris Larabee stepped on-board the seaQuest. Ezra had known, instantly, that this man was a force to be reckoned with. He was cut from the same cloth as Oliver Hudson, holding strong principles and an innate leadership quality that left little doubt that he could command, if only by his presence alone.
Ezra had been in the middle of a shady deal that first day, and he had followed the greedy instincts instilled in him from birth, putting the seaQuest into a difficult position. He had commandeered a launch to close the deal, and had almost kept on going when the deal turned sour. Instead, he came back, deciding to face the consequences of his actions for once. If Hudson had still been captain then Ezra had no doubt that he would have sent him back to prison to serve the remainder of his time, but Chris Larabee had pulled him aside and said one thing to him. 'Don't ever run out on me again.'
No one had ever offered him a second chance before, seeing only the conman and deciding that he was not worth the risk and, for the first time in his life he felt a sense of belonging. Slowly, Chris drew him out of the shadows, welcoming him into the small group that quickly became a family to him, and drawing out a protective streak in him that he had not known existed until then.
The first truly unselfish act of his life had come when he overheard Charlotte Richmond calling Vin an abomination after he scorned her in favor of Chris Larabee. It hadn't helped that Chris had also scorned her in favor of Vin Tanner. Even though he had not succeeded in keeping Richmond from decrying Chris and Vin's relationship to Mrs. Travis, he had prevented any further copies of the incriminating video she had made of them making love from being spread around the UEO and beyond.
He smiled wryly. The video had been so hot that he could have made a fortune from it on the black market but, instead he had made sure that every last copy had been destroyed, not wanting to leave anything to chance. In truth he had been granted a far greater reward for his actions, gaining first the respect and then the unconditional love of Nathan Jackson.
Ezra glanced covertly around the room at the men present, feeling the heaviness of the air, filled with fear for their missing colleagues and expectation too. It felt good to know that the waiting would soon be over and they would be propelled into action.
"Ezra? Might just need your dubious con skills on this one? Know anything about genetics?" Buck grinned at him though the smile didn't erase the concern and fear darkening his deep blue eyes.
Ezra was quick on the uptake, realizing that he might need to pose as one of Bourne's scientists in order to gain access to the laboratories where they might be holding Chris, Vin and Tony Piccolo.
"I know far more than Ezra--"
"Nate." Buck held up a hand. "We'll need you in the second group. Can't afford to lose our doctor...in case they need you."
Hudson cleared his throat. "Okay people, this is how it goes. Standish goes in first, scouts the building, finds where they're keeping our people, and then does what he can to keep them safe for when the rest of us go in." Hudson must have noticed the confusion on JD's face for his voice dropped lower. "Surprise only goes so far, son. The first alarm might be all these people need to dispose of any incriminating evidence...and that means permanently silencing our people."
He continued on.
"After some...debate, it's been decided that Commander Wilmington will lead the main assault group...and I will take command of seaQuest for the duration. Doctor, you will accompany the Commander.. and you too, Mr. Dunne. Your computer skills might be required to break through the building's security."
Hudson turned to Josiah. "You get a choice, Josiah. Stay on-board, man the helm, and keep the seaQuest safe in case of attack, or join the assault team."
"Lt. Davies can handle the seaQuest well enough to keep her safe. Time to get Old Testament on those holding my friends against their will."
A murmur of agreement rumbled around the room, so Hudson nodded in acceptance.
"Standish. You have five minutes for final preparation...and one hour before you try to infiltrate that base, and it could take most of that to sneak up on them. The rest of you, be prepared to ship out in fifteen minutes, but you wait until you get a signal from Standish before going in. Happy hunting, people."
A chorus of 'Aye, aye, Sir' followed as adrenaline kicked in, sending each of them to their feet, eager to get moving. Ezra nodded once to Nathan, having already said his goodbye in the privacy of his quarters, then he headed directly to the Moonpool on C-Deck where a one-man submersible would have been prepped for him.
He made sure everything he needed was inside, and then sealed the hatch, giving a familiar two-fingered salute to his temple as the sub slid beneath the water. Moments later, he was on his way, stomach churning with a mixture of fear and exhilaration as he considered the task that lay ahead.
Vin stalked the small holding cell with arms wrapped around his midriff, unable to ease the pain after the latest series of pokes and prods from the Macronesian scientists. They had come for him during the evening. He knew this because they didn't bother to hide their small talk, remarking on their evening meal while his stomach rumbled with hunger.
Eventually, he dropped to the small cot in exhaustion, pressing his hands harder against his bruised gills.
They had started with x-rays and other scans, sealing him inside a tube while his body was bombarded with atomic particles to reveal his internal anatomy. He should have known it wouldn't end there but the following tests, though uncomfortable, were still within tolerance.
Bourne had wanted to know what happened when he was submerged to a greater depth than that recorded for the UEO fish. The simulation tank had not been very large, with barely enough room for him to move, and that was when he realized where he was. He had been in this very tank before, recognizing the slight discoloration of the glass at eye level. This had been Abalon's secret laboratory two years ago though so much had changed from what he recalled.
He had no memory of glass holding cells with small cots and facilities, only of these vertical tubes that could be used to hold a subject either submerged or otherwise. Had the rest always been there? The cells; the reception hall with almost the entire length of one wall the window into a large aquarium, and the metal-sheeted corridors?
He thought back to his time spent here and realized that Abalon had never let any of his subjects go into the upper parts of the complex. Vin had spent his entire time in these subterranean levels, recalling corridors hewn out of solid rock...and these tubes. But he recalled the complex burning as the Macronesian soldiers swept through the laboratories. Perhaps the metal walls were there as cosmetic covers for the heat-damaged surfaces.
Vin's thoughts had returned to his current predicament. He had drowned in this tube, unable to hold onto the last lungful of air and forced to allow the cold water to draw into his lungs. A man stepped into his line of vision and Vin struck out at him, wishing his fists could pass through the glass and wipe the confident grin from Bourne's handsome and hated face.
With Bourne present, Vin had a feeling he would be drowning in this tube again very soon, and moments later the pressure of the water began to increase around him. He tried to hold the tracheal valve closed, fearing the inevitable as his gills failed to replenish the air, not wanting to give in and reveal the extent of his mutation to Bourne.
Survival instincts kicked in as the last of his air bubbled away, replaced by the sea water, his gills fluttering as they altered accordingly to push the needed oxygen directly into his blood stream.
Beyond the glass tube the scientists talked animatedly, excited at their discovery and Vin could tell by the way they kept touching the computer screen that they wanted to see exactly how much pressure his body could take. Bourne had kept nodding his approval as the sycophantic scientists pandered to his every whim, all of them knowing this would give Bourne an indication of how deep Vin could dive, and he felt momentary fear for what would happen to him when they took him beyond that ultimate level.
Unable to cry out, his vocal chords having not been altered by Abalon, Vin could only scream in silence as the pressure increased for what seemed an eternity and, all the while, Bourne had looked on in intrigue and approval. Just when Vin felt he could take no more, the pressure had started to decrease, and he could only stare in horror at the spidery mass of ruptured small veins close to the surface of his skin until he recalled how it had been the same way that first time. The broken veins would mend but he had wondered if Bourne would keep him alive long enough to see that miraculous healing.
The pressure continued to decrease until Vin felt a change in his body, hating the transitional sensation of the gills forcing oxygen back into his lungs, displacing the water, almost as much as he had hated the drowning part.
Bourne came close to the tube, his hand resting on the glass separating him from Vin, and Vin read the man's lips.
"Very impressive, Mr. Tanner."
Then Bourne had looked away and Vin could tell by the way the scientists preened that Bourne had offered his praise to them, which they lapped up like dogs pleased by a master's kind hand. Bourne did not look back as he left the chamber, which left Vin to wonder what other experiments were taking place right then that needed his visual approval...
His thoughts returned to the small holding cell with its transparent walls. If he had believed that would be the end of his ordeal then he had been greatly disappointed. They had brought him back here, strapping him to a gurney to hold him still while they examined every inch of his exposed body meticulously. Clamps had been inserted through the gill slits to force them apart, stretching muscle and sinew to painful levels while sharp implements probed inside, cutting away pieces of tissue for a biopsy.
Only one moment of intense satisfaction filled the remainder of this night. A moment of distraction gave him the chance to sink his teeth deep into the flesh of the scientist probing the tracheal valve, drawing blood that trickled down his throat and almost gagged him. He had paid for his attack with a dislocated jaw and the rawness of his throat from where the probe had scraped away layers of throat tissue.
Soon after they had thrown him back into this cell, taking great pleasure in informing him that his time was almost at an end. The scientist with the bitten hand had hissed his satisfaction at being the one who would dissect Vin on the following evening. The last of them left, leaving the laboratory in silence.
"Vin? Bang the glass if you're okay."
Vin pushed back to his feet and stepped up to the glass, unable to answer due to the rawness in his throat. He knew Tony would have seen what they did to him. He thumped the glass twice even though he was not okay. He hurt all over--inside and out--but none of it was life threatening as yet.
"They took Samantha Jarvis earlier. Seem to be leaving me alone for the most part, just basic probes and tests. Not sure why...unless they're saving the worst 'til last."
Vin dropped his sweaty forehead against the cool glass. It had been a long night, with dawn maybe only four hours away, and he knew this would be the last day of his life unless he could find a way out of here.
"I heard what they said...about tonight. We got to get out of here before then, Vin. We got to find a way."
Ain't no way out, Vin thought sadly. He had tried when they first took him out of the cell earlier but there had been too many guards. They were both trapped inside these glass holding cells until they came back to carry out more experiments--or killed them--though Vin knew he would not go down without a fight.
He swallowed hard against the pain in his throat, dropping down to the floor beside the glass partition, seeing the shadowy figure of Tony Piccolo against his cell wall. He felt a rash of tears burn against the back of his eyes, slipping over the edge to track down his face and rubbed them away with the back of his hand, ashamed of his momentary weakness.
He listened as Tony recounted some of the memories they shared of good days on-board the seaQuest, finding a ghost of a smile for some of their antics. Eventually, Tony fell silent and Vin wondered if he had fallen asleep until his quiet words reached him.
"If I could have one wish...it'd be to see him again. To touch him again."
This time Vin did not wipe away the tears that fell as his own thoughts mirrored Tony's, wishing he could see and touch his lover--his Chris--one last time. Soon after, his body succumbed to a need for sleep and he awoke curled up on the cold floor by the glass as the rattle of a gurney filled the room.
Another corpse graced the gurney that they pushed to the center of the laboratory; the ruptured veins proof that they had tried the same depth test on Samantha Jarvis, killing her with the water pressure. He turned away, not wanting to see the glint of a scalpel as it sliced through her discolored flesh to reveal the hidden secrets of her body.
He knew it was morning, could sense it, his thoughts turning to his lover and wondering how Chris had fared that night. Some sixth sense told him that neither of them had slept well. This would be the last day for both of them, for Bourne had no reason to keep Chris alive once they had Vin lying on the gurney, carved open like a piece of meat. Not unless Bourne had found a new reason for Chris's continued existence but Vin would rather kill Chris with his bare hands than leave him in a living hell with Bourne.
Vin slid to the far wall of the cell, not wanting to witness the mutilation of the woman. The hunger gnawing at his belly had long since departed, and he knew he was growing weaker through lack of food and drinking water. He snorted softly, unsure if he'd be able to eat even if they gave him food.
If only there was a way out of this cell. Over the past few days he had checked every inch of glass, looking for a weak spot but to no avail. Time was running out for them, and for Chris if he was even still alive.
"Where are you now, Cowboy?" He whispered hoarsely, ignoring the pain in his ravaged throat.
Bourne paused on the threshold of the room where Chris Larabee lay, seeing the vulnerable body lying still on the large bed, then stepped into the room, closing the door behind him.
The only light came from the single lamp above, the room boasting no windows for curtains to be drawn back from, letting in the brightness of the tropical sun. He tilted his head as he stepped up to the bed, cataloging the livid bruises, scratches and vicious bite marks covering the still unconscious body. He knew he had injured Larabee internally, though not as greatly as he had originally presumed. Most of the blood had come from lacerations to the inner wall and tearing of the outer muscle, not enough to permanently injure or kill Larabee unless peritonitis set in.
Given time and care Larabee would recover but Bourne still could not decide whether he should grant those. Wanting Larabee was not an issue for his body burned to possess the lean figure, to own Larabee completely. This was a man who would be a worthy slave to his will, to bend and use as he saw fit, knowing that proud neck would not bow willingly no matter how long he was kept as a hostage.
The problem was where to hide such a treasure from the prying eyes of his enemies. The current stalemate between Macronesia and the UEO would end if they discovered he had possession of one of their finest captains. As yet, there was no proof that Macronesia had taken Larabee and his people, and it was unlikely that there would be any proof remaining after this day--except for this one man lying still on the bed before him.
Earlier, he had decided that Larabee would never leave this room alive but now he faltered, not wanting to give up the glory of possessing this man. He knew the next hour would decide Chris Larabee's fate one way or another. All that remained now was for him to use this hour wisely.
Bourne grinned, knowing exactly how he intended to use his time, slowly stripping off the clothing and folding it up neatly, stacking the items on the floor beside the bed. Once naked, he reached out and ran a hand along the sleeping body from shoulder blade to ass, reverently touching the marks of his earlier rage and passion that mingled with the bruises Larabee must have gained during his capture.
He frowned for a moment, fingering the tiny circles of almost faded bruises on the man's firm ass cheeks, imagining that they might be marks left by fingers. What if Larabee had a lover on-board the seaQuest? One whose passion matched his own, leaving possessive marks upon the ivory flesh.
Man or woman, though?
The thought of some other male having taken Larabee in the past should have repelled him but, instead, Bourne found the idea exciting. However, Larabee had once had a wife and child so he decided it was most likely the marks left by a passionate woman, holding him tight as he thrust inside her.
"Has any man ever taken you before me, Larabee? Were you virgin when I took you last night?"
That thought was equally exciting, and Bourne felt the heat rise in his groin as he knelt down on the bed beside Larabee, turning him onto his back. A soft moan fell from the swollen lips and Bourne traced across the fuller lower lip, fingernail catching in the slight indentation. The blond eyelashes fluttered, revealing liquid pools of black surrounded by a soft olive green sparsely flecked with gold. Recognition filled those eyes, bringing a fresh smile to Bourne's lips.
No matter his final decision, he wanted Chris Larabee to know who possessed him, who owned him. He wanted to leave no shadow of doubt in the man's mind whether this was the first or last day of his life as Bourne's whore.
The curse fell almost as a whisper from the still highly drugged man, but Bourne reveled in it as further proof that Larabee knew him this time. He knelt between the parted legs, pushing them further aside, his fingers probing the torn entrance to Larabee's body and finding it slick as ordered.
Bourne pushed back the long legs, exposing the door to his little piece of heaven and positioned himself, thrusting in hard with one swift snap of his hips. The hoarse cry of pain fell as music to his ears and he withdrew a little, looking down to see fresh blood welling from the reopened tears.
He looked back up to find green eyes, filled with rage and pain yet still glassy from the drugs, glaring into his, and he held them, enjoying the power of seeing impotence fill them as he thrust back into the tight channel.
This time he did not stop to change the angle of his thrusts, and he did not pull out to savor the pleasure of taking Larabee from any position he chose. He already had everything he wanted as he held the rage-filled eyes that refused to give in, and listened to the gasps of pain that Larabee could not hold back.
Larabee's body responded to the unwelcome attention, the horror evident in his eyes as the lower quantity of drug heightened his awareness to the sexual stimulation and yet robbed him of choice. His climax sealed his body's betrayal, reflected in his eyes momentarily as they glazed over in unwanted passion, and then all Bourne could see was impotent rage.
Ecstasy filled Bourne, sweeping him higher as he reached the satisfying climax he had craved within the powerless body of his enemy. He had what he wanted. Absolute power over Larabee, and the knowledge that it was his for the taking again for the strong mind had not buckled despite the body's abuse and betrayal.
He pulled out of the bloodied channel, leaving the legs sprawled ungainly, and feasting on the seemingly wanton display with the knowledge that Larabee could only lie there and accept his gaze. Bourne reached out and caressed an inner thigh, watching the lashes flutter in self-repugnance.
"I've decided to let you live a little longer...for my pleasure."
Chris turned his face away as Bourne finished wiping himself clean and then dropped the blood-stained handkerchief on the bed in front of Chris's eyes. He didn't want to think about the blood and semen staining the rag, and where it had come from, and how it had come to be there. He didn't want to think about anything at all: not the past with its golden memories of having Vin lying sated in his arms, or the present with Bourne's unwelcome lust burning through his body. Definitely, he did not want to think of the future if all it would bring was more abuse and the knowledge that he had lost Vin forever.
Self-loathing filled him as the last echoes of his unwanted orgasm faded, leaving him completely spent. He could hear the rustle of fabric as Bourne dressed but he dredged up all the anger and fire he could muster as Bourne tilting his head back to bestow the parody of a lover's kiss upon his bitten and swollen lips.
Desperately, Chris tried to raise a hand wishing he do something--anything--to wipe the lascivious smile off the man's face, but his arms were still too heavy, burdened by the drug flowing through his veins.
"Yes...definitely a pleasure."
Bourne turned away, moving swiftly to the door with the easy gait of a man who had found complete satisfaction in their encounter. Barely had the door closed behind him when it opened again to reveal the now familiar face of Bourne's doctor. Silently, Chris endured the man's impersonal touch, hissing as the tears on intimate parts of his body were cleaned and checked.
He gazed up in hatred as the doctor removed a hypo from his bag, flinching as the needle slid into the skin just below his hip once more. His vision tunneled, the misty edges growing dark as the sedative acted, bringing him welcome oblivion.
The door to the laboratory swept open and Vin glanced up with disinterest, but then his eyes flicked back up as something about the man drew his attention. Despite the mask and head covering, he felt he knew the figure concealed within the scientist garb. There was something in the way the man moved, and in the covert glances that he made about the laboratory.
Vin saw the man flinch imperceptibly when he saw the mutilated body on the gurney. The scientists were intent on their work, talking in low voices as they poked through the dead woman's innards but, eventually, one of them noted the new man's presence, turning in surprise.
"Who are you?"
"You called for an assistant."
Vin swallowed hard around the cry of relief that burned in his throat. He knew that voice, finally recognizing the newcomer as Ezra Standish. Their friends had found them. He lowered his eyes, not wanting to give the game away should one of the scientists look in his direction, especially as they had been too eager to experiment upon the woman to darken the glass walls of the holding cells.
"I made no such request."
"Aah, I was informed by President Bourne that you required my assistance. He mentioned time being of the essence."
The scientists looked to each other, and Vin felt a sense of uneasiness pervade the laboratory. He had no doubt that Bourne had given these men a time limit for completing their research, knowing that every additional hour could bring a different kind of discovery upon them, one that would not be beneficial to Macronesia or its president.
"Well...if you must then start cleaning those implements. They need to be sterilized immediately...and you don't require a mask, so take it off."
Vin watched as Ezra removed the mask with nonchalance, wishing he could let Tony Piccolo know that rescue might be close at hand but Vin dared not make a sound that might draw unwanted attention to any of them. He frowned when Ezra made no attempt to overpower the scientists and free him and Tony from their cells, giving sly looks in Ezra's direction in the hope of catching his eye and reading something in his expression. The man's poker mask made that impossible, though he caught the rare flicker of disgust emanating from Ezra as he pretended to assist the scientists. Otherwise, his shields held as firm and true as always.
What're you waiting for, Ez? Vin thought with frustration. He knew Chris was somewhere in this complex, possibly hurt, but he wouldn't be able to find him while he was stuck in this cell.
The door opened and Vin held his breath as President Bourne entered, and Ezra turned slowly away, making it look like he was busy with the implements. Bourne walked over to the gurney and looked down at the dead woman, his eyes holding no remorse for the life he had ordered taken. Instead, he seemed satisfied with the progress made.
"As soon as you've finished with her then start on him." Bourne looked directly at Vin.
Vin's face hardened, refusing to give Bourne the satisfaction of seeing him fearing for his life though he knew some of his strength came from knowing there was a friend on the outside who would act when the time came.
"In fact...leave her. I'm sure she has no new information to give us, but our little Abalon fish will be worth dissecting."
"We haven't finished running all the live tests on him--"
"Time is running out, Gentlemen. You have six hours to take what you can from him and then I want his body disposed of."
"Six hours won't--"
Bourne cut off the scientists' exclamation. "Six hours. I want all your research ready to be shipped out in six hours and not one minute more. Do you understand?"
"Yes, President Bourne."
Bourne smiled, nodding his head fractionally in approval. He looked back across the laboratory at Vin, smiling faintly before some form of devilment drew him close to the glass partition.
"Such a shame, Mr. Tanner. I would have enjoyed the pleasure of your company for longer but unfortunate circumstances have arisen. It seems your friends on-board the seaQuest might have surmised your location. Of course, I cannot allow you to live, and I cannot take you along with me. Rest assured that your early demise will not be wasteful...to Macronesia."
"You bastard. Where's Captain Larabee?"
"Oh, do not concern yourself with Captain Larabee. I don't intend to kill him just yet. I have other plans for your captain."
"Let him go."
"Impossible." Bourne grinned and Vin could tell from the waves of unshielded empathy that he had found the concept of letting Chris go highly amusing.
Vin banged hard on the glass in frustration as Bourne turned away, desperately wishing he could order Ezra to grab hold of Bourne and force the man to lead them to Chris. His eyes caught Ezra's and saw equal frustration written there, realizing that Ezra had been given his cards and had to play out the hand he had agreed to hold.
"You...assistant. Get him prepped."
"Yes, sir." Ezra took two steps towards Vin's cell before he stopped dead at one of the scientists' command.
"What are you doing? Get the guards to hold him while you prep him."
"Of course..." Ezra moved to the door and beckoned in the two guards posted outside. "Gentlemen, if you would mind holding onto the prisoner while I sedate him?"
It sounded like a question but the guards knew it was an order and came in immediately, walking straight to Vin's cell and opening it. Vin knew he had to make a show of it and lashed out at the nearest guard, his fist glancing off the man's cheek. A blow to his gut doubled Vin over, and then the first guard had him in an arm lock while the second grabbed his legs. Together they lifted him and deposited him on the small cot, holding him down firmly and beckoning to Ezra.
"This should keep him sedated until...well, I suppose there won't be a later."
Vin watched the needle approach and slide into the flesh above his hip, wincing at the pain but positive that Ezra had palmed the sedative, replacing it with something harmless. Recalling how the sedative had affected him before, Vin played the game, pretending to succumb to the drugs effects. He felt a moment of fear when the guards carried him out of the cell and placed him on a fresh gurney, grateful when they decided the restraints were not necessary.
He felt his skin crawl as the scientists stood over him, each of them caressing his flesh though he knew they did not see a person beneath their hands, just a body that would provide them with answers. Through slitted eyelids, he caught the flash of silver from a scalpel blade, saw it hovering over his chest, lowering towards the lower right side where the gill slits lay.
Vin tensed, unsure how Ezra wanted to play this, almost sighing in relief when he heard the familiar voice just above him.
"Gentlemen, I believe Mr. Tanner would prefer to remain alive and whole."
"Not his choice--"
"Oh, I disagree." Ezra's hand shot out and the scalpel sailed across the room to clatter upon the metal floor of the laboratory.
"What are you--?"
Vin pushed up from the gurney, grabbing one of the men while Ezra caught the other but he had underestimated his weakened condition, falling to the floor as the man shoved him hard.
"Ez!" Vin tried to warn Ezra but he was too late. The man reached the laboratory door and slammed his hand down on an alarm control.
Warning klaxons filled the complex with a cacophony of sound, drowning out Vin's shouts of desperation as he thought of the impact this might have on Chris. What if Bourne had given orders for all the captives to be slaughtered should the complex come under attack?
Ezra had grabbed hold of the scientist, dropping him to the floor with one chop across the back of the man's neck. He turned back towards Tony's cell, passing Vin as he crossed to the door on unsteady legs with all his thoughts focused on Chris. The door slammed open as two guards rushed in, sending Vin sprawling backwards onto his ass. The sharp retort of weapon's fire saw both guards go down with blood blossoming on their chests. It took a moment to realize that Ezra had turned and fired, both shots finding the victims' hearts.
Vin had never seen Ezra's face so stony, his hard, green eyes glittering like jewels as he lowered the weapon and went back to his self-appointed task of freeing Tony Piccolo. By the time Vin regained his feet, Tony and Ezra were at his side, offering a supporting hand. He brushed them both off and made for the corridor.
"Got to find Chris."
"My orders were to keep you and Mr. Piccolo within the relative safety of the laboratory until Commander Wilmington and the rescue party arrive."
"He don't know about Bourne...an' what he did to Morris."
Vin shook off Ezra's hand and started up the corridor, grateful when Ezra and Tony accepted his decision and followed to offer him backup.
Bourne froze as the klaxon sounded in the corridor outside. He had not expected anyone to find this place for at least another three days, only making arrangements to pull out this early as a safety net. He snapped out of his frozen state and slapped the intercom.
"Is the launch ready?"
"Meet me there in three minutes--and bring Captain Larabee."
"Sir, there's no time. The UEO have breached the main entrance and undersea docking are--"
"Make time. I want Larabee on that launch."
He disconnected the communication and reached for his hand-held computer, knowing that all the research material had already been uploaded to it. His people had been placing the specimen samples onto his launch since earlier this day and would have completed loading all but the latest material taken from the Tanner autopsy. Though, somehow, Bourne had a feeling he would never see those results.
Instead of heading towards the office door, Bourne strode towards the far corner, quickly finding the hidden lever that would open the escape tunnel to the hidden docking bay lying just below this room. This had been Abalon's escape route all those years earlier and it seemed quite surreal that he would be using this same method to evade his enemies.
A light came on as he crossed the threshold, illuminating his path down the stone-cut staircase to the small docking bay beneath. There were two other entrances to this area. The first led from the laboratories in the lower level, and the second from the private sleeping quarters where Bourne had kept Chris Larabee drugged and vulnerable. The second entrance opened and Bourne smiled with pleasure as he made out the semi-conscious figure almost completely wrapped in a blood and semen stained silk bed sheet.
Blond hair spilled from the opening at the top, contrasting against the deep blue of the silk. The sheet slipped as his burly guard set Larabee down into a seat inside the launch, revealing the beautiful though slightly battered face. Bourne watched as Larabee was strapped in securely, and then took the seat opposite, no longer interested in the problems that lay outside as he reminisced on how Larabee had obtained those swollen lips and passion marks.
The pilot's voice drew him back from his reverie. "We've cleared the main complex. No unidentified craft on scope."
He grinned, imagining the expressions on the faces of the UEO when they realized that he had escaped from their clutches. He pondered, momentarily, over whether they knew he had one of their best captains still within his grasp then decided it might be better if they presumed Larabee to be dead. That way he would be able to keep his new--admittedly unwilling--companion for as long as he liked.
Chris tried to open eyes that were too heavy from the sedation he had been given earlier. He had known something was up the moment the guard entered the room, recalling the way the huge guard had brushed aside Bourne's physician. Within seconds the sheet on which he lay became tightly wrapped around him, almost suffocating him, and then had come a sensation of being lifted as if he was no more than a child.
The guard hefted him over his shoulder, and Chris groaned as he recalled the way the blood had rushed to his head, sending his mind spinning. Dismay filled him when he saw the guard pull a hidden lever that opened a hidden door, knowing that he'd had an escape route close at hand even though logic dictated that he would never have been left in a fit enough state to make use of it.
He thought he could hear the sound of a klaxon, muffled through layers of rock, and hope flared within him. Perhaps his friends had found him and Vin. Perhaps they were combing the complex for him even now. He tried to struggle but his limbs felt as if they were made of lead. He tried to cry out but his voice had never been strident, and so its softness and his current weakness betrayed him. No one would hear his shout for help except for the man carrying him, presumably, away from his rescuers.
The guard lowered him into a seat, the sheet falling away from his face to reveal what his fogged mind thought might be the inside of a launch. He tried to focus on the face staring at him from across the launch, trying to make sense of the wavering features, but then all became crystal clear momentarily and he realized with horror that his ordeal would not be ending soon. Chris tried to dredge up a glare of defiance and hatred but he knew he had failed miserable when Bourne merely grinned in response.
The words sent a sliver of fear running through Chris. Subconsciously, he had hoped his friends had spotted the escaping launch and had moved to intercept, but now it was clear that he was still in the grips of a madman, and with no hope of imminent rescue. His thoughts turned to Vin, wondering if his lover was even still alive now that the complex had to be abandoned by Bourne and his scientists. Bourne would not have wanted to leave any incriminating evidence behind, and certainly not someone who could testify that he had witnessed Bourne giving the command to have an unarmed UEO officer murdered right in front of him.
Unwilling to fall into a pit of black despair, Chris clung onto the hope that the UEO had attacked swiftly enough to scupper any plans Bourne had made concerning Vin. He had to believe that their friends would rescue his lover, if only because then he could retain some hope that he would be rescued in turn, for he knew Vin would never stop until he found him.
Buck slammed his hand down onto the table top in Bourne's office, knowing the man had managed to slip by them but unable to make any attempt to follow. He just did not have the resources to pursue the launch, not deep into Macronesian territory. He looked up as Nathan stepped into the room, knowing from the look on the Doctor's face that worse news was about to be imparted.
"Found something on the next level up...thought you should see."
Buck nodded once and followed on behind Nathan, letting the Doctor lead the way up a wide, ornate staircase to the first floor of the complex. They moved along a short corridor to what Buck suspected would be the private sleeping quarters of President Bourne, and paused on the threshold. Buck stared in confusion at a room devoid of all furniture except for a large bed placed almost mid-center. A single light shone down upon the mattress, highlighting dark patches that had to be blood. But whose blood?
Buck approached the bed, wondering why the linen had been stripped from it, and reached out to touch one blood spot that seemed a little too fresh.
"Done a quick DNA check against the seaQuest data files. It's Chris's blood."
Buck's frown deepened even as his heart leapt for joy with the knowledge that Chris had been here--and very much alive--only a short time ago. But where was he now? Had he been injured when his fighter exploded? Certainly, it would explain the blood that had seeped into the mattress.
A flurry of movement by the door caught his attention as JD burst into the room.
"Buck, we got company. Two Macronesian subs heading this way. If we don't get moving now then we're toast."
With great reluctance, Buck nodded, giving the order to get all their people out. He took one last look at the empty bed, not wanting to imagine what might have happened to his oldest friend in this room, and then turned away.
In the docking bay, he saw Vin Tanner fighting against Nathan and Josiah but his attempt to evade their strong grasp was futile. Buck could see the signs of abuse on the practically naked figure, but he could also see the weakness in the normally strong limbs. Vin caught sight of him and struggled harder, wanting to reach him.
"Buck, Chris is here some place. I saw him. We got to find--"
"He ain't here no more. Bourne took him."
"NO!!" Vin looked frantic, his blue eyes darting around the docking bay as if in hope of finding something he could use to free himself from the strong grip. "We have to take after Bourne...an' get Chris back."
By now Buck had reached Vin, and he placed a hand on the smaller man's shoulder.
"We will, Vin." He sighed deeply, shaking his head slightly. "Just not right away. Two Macronesian subs are on their way, an' we can't afford to be here when they get here."
"Chris'll have to wait. We have to get these other people to safety first."
Vin looked around, eyes widening as he saw eight men and women, with relief shining in fear-shadowed eyes, being helped towards the UEO launches. Tony Piccolo stepped forward, his eyes rimmed with dark smudges of fatigue, and Vin felt all his hopes fall. Bourne had his lover, and the empath in Vin knew why. With a single hard swallow, Vin nodded his acceptance, knowing that Bourne would be deep into Macronesian territory by now and beyond the reach of this rescue mission. His only recourse was to return to the seaQuest and use its vast resources to pinpoint his lover's new location--and then he would let no one stand in his way.
He let Nathan and Josiah support him into the launch and, moments later, the launch was racing back towards UEO waters where the seaQuest waited, though Vin's thoughts remained far behind in Macronesia. As the width of ocean widened between them, he made a silent vow.
'No matter where you are, I will find you.'
Two Days Later
Chris looked down at the man lying on the ground beside the bed. He shuddered, dropping the remnants of the shattered lamp base onto the bloodied figure and looked away, chest heaving in a combination of fear and shock. For two days Bourne had kept him drugged, abusing him relentlessly as he took his pleasure from his unwilling body, even forcing him to participate in his own rape.
Bourne had enjoyed seeing his unwilling reaction, had taken so much pleasure in possessing his body while fucking with his mind too. The dull ache within his ass reminded Chris how the man had liked to thrust into him hard, recalling the sound of flesh slapping fresh, and the murmurs of approval as Bourne described how good it felt. He recalled the sharpness of teeth and the pain that followed as Bourne marked his skin in possession but Chris knew that what the man enjoyed most was the power he held over him. Bourne enjoyed forcing him to submit to the brutal rapes, knowing he could not fight back due to the paralyzing drug running through his veins.
But it hadn't been enough for Bourne. He had wanted more than just a living doll to position as he would. He had wanted to feel Chris struggling beneath him, had wanted to savor the sweetness of his bitter defeat as he took him despite all Chris's attempts to buck off the man spreading his ass cheeks and pushing into him.
It had been Bourne's undoing.
Chris had felt a slight increase in muscular control after the last night's injection but, against every instinct in his abused body, he let Bourne believe that there had been no change. It had been hard lying there like a broken toy, allowing Bourne to do as he pleased with him while knowing he could have struggled a little against the man. It ripped at his sense of dignity, and tore at his pride to just lie there and accept the hard shaft that pierced him. He had closed his eyes in shame as he allowed the vicious bites and sucks that marred his flesh, barely withholding a shudder as Bourne latched onto one nipple and bit down hard, drawing blood.
Tonight, his sacrifice had proved its worth for, frustrated with the results from last night, Bourne must have ordered the dosage reduced even further.
The bedside lamp had cast a bright glow over the room, allowing Bourne to see every emotion that crossed Chris's face, so he could glory in his complete submission. Chris waited until the man was in the throes of his climax before reaching for the lamp, using every ounce of strength he possessed to slam it hard against Bourne's temple; hard enough to topple Bourne out of the bed.
His eyes alighted on the pile of clothing on the dresser by the door and, slowly, Chris let his legs drop over the side of the bed away from Bourne. He pushed to standing, body rocking unsteadily, his legs weak and threatening to fold beneath him. Gritting his teeth, he tried to ignore the weakness in his limbs and walk to the clothing. His senses began to spin with the first step, and he paused, screwing his eyes shut tight until the sensation faded away. Then he took another step, slowly making his way across the room.
He used the dresser as support while he pulled on the casual pants and sweatshirt, uncaring that the pants were a few inches too short. Each movement had caused him pain but Chris knew this might be the only chance he got to escape from Bourne, knowing that he would be disposed of--permanently--as soon as Bourne grew tired of using him.
Now he was dressed, the next problem hit him. He had no idea where Bourne had taken him, and no idea how to get back home...to Vin. He had been heavily sedated when they carried him from the launch to this room, so he had not seen anything beyond these four walls.
Has to be a docking port though, he thought, and where there was a port there might also be a launch he could either steal or stowaway on-board.
The door opened to his touch, revealing an expanse of empty corridor, but Chris wondered how many surveillance cameras might be covering the area. He took a deep breath and stepped out into the corridor, forcing his drug-weakened legs to move in the hope that anyone watching would see nothing amiss. It did strike him that he and Bourne had similar builds and coloring, differing only in height so he hoped any security guards might confuse him with Bourne.
Chris breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the first intersection without any visible sign of having been made. Ahead was an elevator, and he pushed the control to summon it. The brushed steel doors opened to reveal an empty car and, taking a gamble through knowing Bourne's preference for staying above ground as high as possible, Chris selected the lowest level. He grinned as the doors slid open to reveal a metal passage leading to a large Moonpool.
Chris paused on the threshold of the final bulkhead, gazing in at the small expanse of water and the one-man submersible within. His first thought was to steal it, knowing he had the ability to pilot most sea-craft, even a Macronesian one, but then he spotted a man arguing with one of Bourne's men.
"You said two thousand on delivery. I've delivered, so why is there only one thousand in this envelope?"
"You got a problem with that? Take it up with Bourne. He decided what you got to sell isn't worth two thousand. Said you're lucky he's willing to pay you a thousand."
"Well, you can tell Bourne--"
"Tell him what?"
The man visibly bit into his lower lip, knowing he had been backed into a corner. Bourne's man turned away, leaving the disgruntled man staring angrily at his back. Chris understood that frustration all too well, although he had been fucked a different way to this man--quite literally. His instincts screamed at him to make use of this new knowledge, and he looked over to the battered sea launch, watching as the small cargo was offloaded much to its previous owners frustration.
One of the man's crew came over, and Chris listened in on the heated conversation.
"You get the money?"
"Bastard only gave us a thousand."
"He promised two thousand!"
"Yeah, well it seems promises don't count for much with Bourne. Be ready to pull out as soon as this lot is unloaded."
"You just going leave it like this? Just take the thousand and...leave?"
"What do you suggest I do? I want us prepped now, and out of here in ten."
Taking advantage of the small debate the skipper held with one of his crew over the double-cross from Bourne, Chris slipped inside the launch and hid in a small compartment. He would wait until the launch had left, hoping that no one discovered Bourne's body before those ten minutes were up.
It seemed as though an eternity passed before Chris felt the throb of the powerful engines bursting into life, feeling the vibration flowing through him as he huddled against the compartment wall. He waited another fifteen minutes before opening the compartment door and stealing towards the nearest porthole. He could see only ocean beyond and felt relief flood through him. It was short lived as he heard an exclamation from close by.
"Who the hell are you?"
Chris turned, seeing the eyes widen in shock and knowing the man was looking at the telltale bruising on his face and neck.
"Please. I need transport to UEO territory...but I'm willing to pay over the odds."
"Where's the money?"
"Cash on delivery...of me."
The man who Chris recognized as the skipper of the vessel shook his head. "I've just been burned once by Bourne. What makes you think I can trust you?"
"Because I say you can."
"Not good enough."
"Contact Commander Buck Wilmington on the seaQuest, and name your price for delivering me to him."
Chris saw the man's eyes narrow, and knew he had got him interested.
"What if I contact Bourne's people instead?"
"They might offer you a reward for me...but can you trust them to pay up once they have me? Already been burned once." Chris gave a gentle reminder of how Bourne had reneged on a promise once already, and saw the skipper's lips purse in thought.
"I'll call this Commander Wilmington. Who do I say I got?"
Chris thought for a moment, knowing he ought to conceal his identity for as long as possible yet aware that he needed some proof to offer Buck that it was really him. It came in a flash, the awful nickname that Buck insisted on using from time to time, and more often since Chris took Vin as a lover. He brushed aside the pain of even thinking of Vin Tanner, concentrating on what needed to be said.
"Tell him...Tell him you got 'Stud'."
For two days they had monitored every Macronesian broadcast and every piece of local gossip knowing that if they found Bourne then they would also find Chris. So far, there had been no leads. It was as if the Macronesian President had disappeared from the oceans, leaving no trace behind.
Vin slammed his hand down on Ezra's console in frustration as yet another possible lead turned to ashes.
"Where is he, Ez? Where is he?"
He had hardly slept, unable to rest while fear for his lover remained paramount in his mind. He thought of the look in Bourne's eye as he gazed upon Chris, and of all the frightening emotions emanating from Bourne. Lust had been strongest, and Vin shuddered to think what Bourne might have done to Chris in order to assuage that lust. He had already sensed that the man had few moral obligations, having seen him order the deaths of innocent people just to fuel his need for knowledge.
What if Bourne had decided to act on his lust for Chris? Vin had no doubt that Bourne would find some way to take what he wanted...to take Chris. It was the only true explanation, even though Buck had tried to convince him that Bourne had wanted Chris only for collateral in case his escape had not gone smoothly.
Vin knew better, though. He knew what Bourne was capable of, and fear for Chris roiled in his belly, making it impossible to eat or sleep. He had to find Chris before Bourne grew tired of his latest toy, knowing Bourne could not afford to allow Chris to live once his usefulness had ended.
"Damn it, Chris. Where are you?"
Vin turned away as the control console beeped with yet another incoming message. He felt a hand drop onto his shoulder and shrugged it off angrily, and then looked up miserably as guilt stuck at him. His friends were doing their very best to find Chris, and they were all the hope he had right now. His eyes darted back at the tone of Ezra's voice.
"I'll pass on the message immediately."
Confused green eyes caught at Vin before they sought Buck Wilmington, bringing the larger man over to the communications console.
"I believe you need to converse with this person."
Buck grabbed the headset, not wanting anyone to overhear this call until he knew what it was all about.
"I'm Commander Wilmington."
His blue eyes darted towards Vin before flicking back, but it was the emotions radiating off Buck that rocked into Vin. Intrigue, confusion and then realization, followed immediately by joy.
"You found him," Vin whispered, eyes fixed on Buck's now animated face, listening in on the one-sided conversation.
"Yeah...name your price...Agreed. Four hours. Yeah. Yeah." Buck pulled off the headphone and whooped loudly. "YEESSS!!" He grinned at all the crew surrounding him. "We found him."
Jeff Yaglar cast a grin at his second in command on-board the transport launch and saw begrudging respect. This Wilmington had not even bothered to haggle, accepting the price without even a hitch in his breath as if he would have been willing to pay any price to have this man returned to him. It made Yaglar wonder exactly whom he had here. He turned and looked at the tired and battered man, seeing the ill-fitting casual clothes with pants several inches too short. He sniffed surreptitiously, quickly identifying the musk of sex, sweat and blood. Whoever this man was, he had been abused badly as Yaglar couldn't see the man willingly submitting to sexual acts in his current condition. He took two long steps across the control cabin and pulled open a small compartment door.
"Washing facilities are in there...and a medical kit."
Chris nodded gratefully, desperately wanting to wash away the body fluids and the stench of Bourne. He didn't want to be reunited with Vin while he carried that man's scent and semen. Bourne had already taken so much from him and he did not want to risk losing Vin too, uncertain how Vin would feel knowing that he had been Bourne's whore during his captivity.
He'll understand, a small voice promised inside his head, but Chris was too tired, and hurting too much, to listen.
"Any fresh clothes?"
"Locker...right hand side. There's a green coverall. It's not much but..."
But anything's better than wearing clothes reeking of Bourne, Chris added silently.
He stepped into the small compartment and pulled the door closed behind him, locking it securely, and then turned to stare into the full-length mirror that was an integral part of the wall opposite. The interior light had activated automatically, the harshness of the bright light accentuating the dark shadows of fatigue under his eyes and the livid bruises marring his jaw and throat. His lower lip was swollen from where Bourne had bitten through it during the parody of a passionate kiss, the dried blood marking the teeth imprints.
Chris shuddered as he recalled the weight of Bourne's body holding him down, and how he had endured the brutal kisses and heavy petting. Chris had not been able to hold back the small whimper of pain when Bourne thrust hard inside his already sore and abused ass, hating the way the blue eyes glazed over with pleasure at the sound. But still he had endured, trying not to give himself away until he was certain he could disable his attacker. He had waited for that single moment when Bourne's attention would be lost within the maelstrom of his climax, and then he had grabbed the lamp base.
He's dead. He can't hurt you now.
Chris stared deep into his hollowed eyes at the dulled green that still showed signs of the drug in his system, then shook himself out of these thoughts. He had to clean away the disgusting evidence of Bourne's possession before he saw Vin.
Slowly, he stripped off Bourne's clothing, gritting his teeth against the pain flaring in his lower abdomen as the pants dropped to the floor. He kicked them aside in disgust and then, gingerly, drew the sweatshirt over his abused torso and matted hair. Chris paused as he caught sight of his naked body reflected in the mirror, his eyes wide in horror at the mottled bruising covering his flesh from unwanted passion marks and bites. His fingers raised to the swollen nipple, dragging a hiss of pain from him as the pads touched the livid bruising radiating out from the angry bite mark. Bourne had bitten through the skin, drawing blood that had run in a tiny rivulet down his rib cage before being smeared when Bourne lapped at the evidence of his brutality.
Gonna need a tetanus booster from that mad dog.
He giggled uncontrollably at the abstract thought then screwed his eyes tightly shut against the burn of tears. In one coldly logical part of his mind, Chris could catalogue the raging emotions with ease, as if citing them from a text book. Mental instability and detachment, easy distraction, mood swings from one extreme to another. He knew he was in shock, caught between acceptance and denial, and that cold, logical part of him swept in to take control of the situation.
He needed to scrub Bourne from his flesh.
Chris stepped into the shower stall, his memories floating back to the last time he had showered after that swim with Vin. Such a shame they had not left enough time to share the shower, both of them due on the bridge imminently. Still, he had other memories from other times, recalling soap-slicked fingers that had stroked him from belly to thigh, deliberately teasing as they bypassed his already hard erection. Vin had pressed up tight against his ass, his own hard shaft sliding into the valley between Chris's ass cheeks, rubbing against him rhythmically. Chris recalled reaching back and hearing Vin's moan of pleasure as his questing fingers encountered the highly erogenous gills, feeling them flutter against his fingertips.
Vin had slid his hand between their close-pressed bodies, his fingers--slippery from soap--rimming the entrance to Chris's body before one took the plunge, thrusting deep inside him, and brushing over that sensitive spot inside. Damn, but he'd nearly come on the spot, with frissons of ecstasy flashing through him, but he'd pulled back from the edge, wanting more than just this one finger. He had wanted it all. He had wanted to feel the thickness of Vin's shaft stretching him to almost impossible limits; had wanted to feel the fullness of Vin's possession as Vin thrust hard and fast and deep inside him, taking him to a place he would share with only Vin.
And it had been good. His body igniting in passion, his mind flying in ecstasy as Vin's sharp teeth bit deep into the vulnerable skin at the base of his throat.
His thoughts came back to the present as he felt the first tingle of imminent orgasm ripple through him, and he discovered that he was gripping himself tightly, fingers pumping his erection. His hand faltered, the image shattering as Vin's exultant cries of passion faded into memory leaving the grunting and heaving of Bourne echoing through him instead.
His erection wilted, leaving him frustrated and horrified. Chris leaned forward, letting his forehead press against the cold tiles of the shower wall while he tried to make sense of the emotions spinning through his head. Only a few made sense and they were his need for Vin, and his fear that Vin would not want another man's leavings.
Slowly, he reached for the liquid soap, grimacing in pain as his hands brushed over the bites and bruises, harder and harder, as if he could scrub away the evidence of his abuse at Bourne's hand.
A bang on the door brought him back to his senses, and to the rawness of his flesh.
"You okay in there?"
His first attempt to reply came out as a ragged whisper, too low and hoarse to penetrate the noise of the shower. He cleared his throat and called out louder, giving his assurances. Quickly, he sluiced off the remaining soap, ignoring the abraded feel of his flesh as he stepped out of the shower and pulled a fresh towel from the rack.
Moments later he had toweled off the dampness from his skin. He pulled on a pair of briefs and then slipped into the green coveralls. He pulled the zipper up high, almost to his throat, wanting to conceal the injuries Bourne had inflicted upon him.
When he stepped back into the main cabin, Yaglar was waiting for him and Chris accepted the black coffee with gratitude. Yaglar's eyes narrowed suspiciously and Chris could almost hear the questions forming in the man's head but Yaglar sighed softly and looked away. Relief filled Chris as he did not want to talk about any of this. Not to Yaglar, not to Buck and, especially, not to Vin. Not yet, anyway. He needed time to think it all through, to verify that he had been given no choice in what happened. He needed time to accept that he had not asked for this abuse, and that he should not heap blame upon himself for Bourne's brutality.
Bourne was to blame for all of this, and no one else. And Bourne had paid for what he did--with his life.
Vin's fingers drummed on the top of the console with unnatural impatience. He had assured Buck that he was capable of piloting the seaQuest but Buck had adamantly refused to let him take his post.
Part of Vin could understand Buck's refusal, recalling the gentle way in which his friend had steered him away from the helm to a spare seat close to Ezra, but the inactivity made his agitation ten times worse. He wanted to be doing something, and bringing this large boat closer to his lover had been all he could think of. Instead he had been forced to sit here and wait, leaving him with far too much time to think about those last few moments shared with Chris before Bourne separated them.
The emotions had washed over him; lust from Bourne as his eyes constantly gravitated towards Vin's prone and naked lover, intermingled with an altogether different desire as those same eyes swept over Vin's body. And then there was the fear emanating from Chris as he recognized Bourne's lust for him and Bourne's darker intentions towards Vin.
Bourne had already proved he could use Chris as a means to force Vin to do his bidding, but Vin shuddered to think how much worse it would have been if Bourne had discovered their relationship. As it was, Vin already suspected that Bourne had taken advantage of that unhealthy interest he had radiated for Chris; his fears proved by Nathan's discovery of Chris's blood upon the bed in that otherwise empty room.
Bourne had raped Chris. It was the only explanation. The bastard had already been drugging his lover for Vin had seen the glassiness in Chris's eyes that could only be attributed to chemical means. What would he have used though? There were so many illegal drugs out there that, in the right combination with other drugs, could heighten awareness yet leave the victim unable to fight back against any sexual abuse. Bourne struck Vin as the type of man who would take pleasure out of having an aware yet helpless victim.
Vin looked up at the chronometer, sighing heavily when he realized he still had over two hours to wait until they reached the rendezvous with the unknown launch. He looked up sharply as a hand patted his knee but he was unable to dredge up a smile of reassurance for Ezra. Instead, his eyes darted to the helm again, his stare burning into the back of Josiah's head as he willed the man to push the seaQuest for everything she had.
Nathan sighed as he watched Ezra try to reassure Vin, seeing no sign of any tension leave the rigid frame. He almost wished Buck had let Vin helm the seaQuest, just to give the younger man a sense of doing something to help retrieve his lover, but Nathan understood why Buck had refused.
At this moment Vin was a liability, too agitated for the delicate virtual reality controls of the huge submarine where subtle finger movements alone guided them through the ocean depths. A single exaggerated movement could send the seaQuest diving to the ocean bottom, or crashing into an underwater ridge. Buck couldn't take the chance, especially as Vin was still recovering from his abuse at the hands of Bourne's scientists.
Nathan turned to find Admiral Hudson standing at his shoulder, his dark eyes focused on Vin's agitated form.
"Won't rest 'til we got Chris back."
To most others this would come as a noncommittal response but Nathan knew better. He recognized the compassion in Hudson's eyes, the man having already been through a similar harrowing experience while awaiting news of his loved one, Tony Piccolo. Nathan was not certain how far the knowledge of Vin's relationship with Chris Larabee had spread within the UEO, but if he had not learned of it before, then Hudson had most certainly figured it out within an hour of coming on-board.
Nathan thought about his own relationship with Ezra, and how they had held onto each other so tight during the night, having joined Buck, Josiah and JD to keep Vin company all through the previous evening. He thought of all the times he and Ezra had argued over Ezra's shady deals, or over *his* high-brow notions, and he had come to realize how little any of it mattered compared to having his beautiful lover safe and content in his arms.
Vin had spoken of his fears last night, of how he had saved Chris from a forced drowning in the complex, and how he had seen a few bruises and abrasions but no injuries that could have left the pool of dried blood on that bed. He spoke of Bourne's poorly shielded desire, caught by Vin's empathic ability, and his hoarse words removed any lingering shadow of doubt from Nathan's mind that Bourne had acted upon that lust. The position of the blood staining the bed would correlate with a vicious rape.
Nathan tried to imagine what it would be like to lose Ezra, or worse, to know Ezra was being brutalized by someone and yet be unable to save him. He sighed deeply, feeling guilty for not wanting to be in Vin's place right now.
Hudson took a deep breath too, letting it out as a heartfelt sigh. "Maybe Tony can persuade him to take a break, perhaps take a swim through the seaQuest...wet his gills."
"Worth a try."
Hudson walked away, returning to the assigned quarters that he shared with his lover. Nathan had just come from there and so he knew Tony was awake, having slept the clock round following his rescue. Nathan could only wish Vin would do the same but the younger man was determined to hold on, living on adrenaline alone.
Ten minutes later, he sighed in relief as Vin left the bridge by his own volition for the first time since this ordeal began. He followed behind him and Tony very slowly, covertly watching to make certain they were heading towards the Moonpool on C-deck. Nathan paused in the corridor on the deck below and waited, dredging up a tiny smile as Tony Piccolo swam past within the large water-filled access tube that Nathan Bridger had purposely designed for the use of his dolphin, Darwin.
The tubes ran throughout the seaQuest allowing access to almost every part, which included the bridge, though the tubes there were sealed against unauthorized swimmers. Nathan recalled that Charlotte Richmond had used the access tubes in order to gain video footage of Chris and Vin during the early days of their relationship. The video could have damaged Chris's career but, fortunately, Ezra had managed to recover all the copies she had made. He had even confiscated the one sent to Mary Travis as a means to destroy Chris by insinuating that he was coercing Vin Tanner into a sexual relationship. The tube leading past the captain's private sanctuary had since been made a restricted access, allowing only Chris, Buck, Josiah and Vin to activate the bulk head doors on either side, and hence preserve Chris and Vin's privacy.
Tony slowed halfway along the corridor, looking over his shoulder, making Nathan realize that he had yet to see Vin go past. He waited, holding his breath, and then let it go as the familiar figure slowly approached. Nathan took a moment to study his friend, the doctor in him taking note of the visible injuries and the stiff movements where he would usually see such grace and fluidity of motion. One of the gills still looked sore from where Bourne's scientists had used a scalpel to slice out a tissue sample. He catalogued the other injuries, aware that none of them were life threatening and that all were healing, though Vin's progress would have been faster had he allowed his body much needed rest, food and sleep.
Nathan felt a warm presence behind him, and gave a soft grin of welcome as Ezra slipped an arm around his waist. Together they watched as Vin stopped, his frustrated and despair-filled eyes holding theirs for a moment before he moved on after Tony.
Two more hours, Nathan thought. Two more hours and then he would see those eyes shine with relief and joy.
Chris swore silently at the increased tension in the main cabin. Fifteen minutes ago the radar operator had caught a faint blip on the far edge of the scope and though nothing had been seen since, Chris was well aware of the stealth capabilities of some Macronesian subs.
He glanced up at the chronometer, hissing in pain as he unconsciously chewed on his damaged lower lip. If his calculations were correct then they were only twenty minutes away from their rendezvous with the seaQuest, perhaps even less if Josiah had pulled out all the stops and dragged those last few extra percents of power from the massive engines. He raised his hand, biting into the fleshy skin of the forefinger as he watched the nautical miles pass by far too slowly.
The blip alert sounded again, and he moved up behind the operator, staring down at the scope in dread as the blip moved quickly towards them.
"We're being hailed."
Chris stepped out of range of the camera, staring hard at the small monitor. He took a deep shuddering breath as a face appeared.
"No," he whispered hoarsely, unable to believe what his eyes saw.
"Captain Yaglar, I believe you have something of mine on-board your craft."
"I don't know what you mean, President Bourne."
"I'm not in the mood to play games, Yaglar. Stop your engines and prepare to be boarded."
The communication broke off abruptly, leaving Chris still staring at the small screen where he had seen Bourne. A clean bandage covered the man's temple and his face was a pasty white but, unfortunately, he was alive. Chris shook his head, having been so positive that the blow would have been enough to kill the bastard, and regretting his error in not making sure before he made his escape.
The sound of arguing brought his mind back to the present.
"...say we found him on-board, a stowaway--"
"No, he can't be found here. Bourne knows we're headed towards UEO territory. If he finds him on-board then he'll rightly assume we were helping him escape--"
"He's right." Chris interrupted. "Bourne can't find me on-board. Give me a full tank and--"
"And what? You're injured...bleeding. You go out there and you'll be shark meat within ten minutes."
Chris turned to Yaglar. "And if I'm found here, all of you will be shark meat, 'cause Bourne ain't about to let you live to tell anyone what happened to me."
"Who the hell are you?"
"Chris Larabee, Captain of the seaQuest."
Yaglar's eyes widened. "Damn, I could have asked for double and he'd have paid."
"Let me go and I'll make sure you get double the price you asked...if I live."
"Yaglar, that stealth sub is still coming, and if we don't cut our engines soon then they'll know we're up to something."
Yaglar turned to Chris, his eyes hardening in resolve. "Get him a tank, and shark repellent, then stop all engines when we get passed that rise. Not much of a blind spot but they might not see us off-loading our passenger."
Chris gave a feeble grin of thanks, hesitating momentarily before slipping out of the green coverall, knowing the material would only drag him down. He ignored the shocked looks as the extent of his abuse became apparent. There was no time to pull on a suit so he shrugged into the tank harness, accepting the breathing mask with a nod of thanks.
"We'll bounce a signal off a few satellites and let your people know you're in the water and to come fast." Yaglar held out his hand. "Good luck, Larabee."
Chris clasped the man's hand. "Marianas Colony in three days."
Yaglar nodded and then led him to the pressure lock at the back of the launch. Chris stepped inside and watched through the small porthole as the water level rose, his skin rising in goosebumps. At this depth he knew he couldn't survive more than ten minutes in the water even with a full tank of air for the cold would get him even if the sharks did not.
The outer hatch opened and Chris swam away from the launch, using the compass to direct him towards the seaQuest.
"He's in the water." Everyone turned on hearing Ezra's shocked words, and Ezra shook his head. "A stealth sub is preparing to board the launch, and Chris is in the water."
"Josiah? Tell me you have good news." Buck had turned to the helm control, blue eyes flashing with fear.
Josiah's deep baritone carried through the bridge speaker system. "ETA eight minutes."
"He ain't gonna last that long in the water...not if he's been bleeding."
Vin's face paled on hearing Nathan's assessment, knowing how a shark only needed to scent a minuscule amount of blood in water to home in on a kill.
"Let me take a fighter...keep the sharks off him."
"JD can take the fighter. Chris is gonna need you out there in the ocean with him."
Buck could see the indecision on Vin's face, knowing how hard it had to be for Vin to have to wait knowing that Chris was in mortal danger. He felt the same frustration, tied to command of the seaQuest when every instinct screamed at him to grab a fighter and race out into the blue depths in search of his oldest friend.
The fighter streaked away from the seaQuest at about the same time Chris pushed away from the powered down transport launch. Buck could only watch the scope, seeing the nautical miles separating the seaQuest from Chris being eaten up far too slowly for his state of mind.
Vin rushed away, heading to the Moonpool, wanting to be ready to leave the moment the seaQuest reached Chris's last known position. He gave a weak smile as Tony swam up behind him, giving him the universal 'okay' signal, then both waited for the outer hatch to open.
In the meantime, JD's fighter homed in on the launch, slowing down so he wouldn't miss a man in the water. He saw a shape ahead and realized it was a Hammerhead shark. It seemed to be circling one small area, darting in and then rushing out just as quickly as if repelled by what it found. JD could see another Hammerhead closing in too and he headed towards their intended prey.
His eyes widened in shock when he saw Chris's almost naked form, realizing that the seaQuest had to get to him before he died of hypothermia, though Chris's immediate problem was the sharks circling around him. Another darted forward and Chris jabbed at it with the repellent gun, the charge having already been spent, with the repellent quickly dispelled by the fast current in this stretch of ocean.
JD raced in as another shark propelled forward towards Chris, shunting it aside. He was tempted to tell Chris to take hold of the fighter and let him get them both out of here but it would leave Chris too vulnerable to the sharks attack. A warning drew his attention to his controls and he noticed that his scope was registering a fast approaching vessel. Moments later JD was under attack from a single Macronesian fighter, though the craft broke off erratically to side-swipe a shark getting too close to Chris. It made JD realize that the pilot also had orders to keep Chris alive.
JD relayed everything to the seaQuest while he alternately avoided the Macronesian and shunted any sharks getting too close to Chris. Then he saw the divers approaching, knowing they were not from the seaQuest.
Two flashes of ivory flesh passed JD, heading for Chris, and JD felt a moment of panic until he recognized the shapes. It was Vin and Tony. He banked sharply to avoid being rammed by the Macronesian fighter and then headed directly for the enemy divers, wanting to break up their attack formation.
His fighter shuddered as the Macronesian launched a missile that exploded less than three meters away. JD swerved around the slight rise, eyes wide in shock at how close the stealth sub had come to the transport launch that must have been bringing Chris home, and then he was racing back towards his last sighting of Chris, Vin and Tony.
JD whooped when he saw the seaQuest approaching, spotting UEO divers racing towards their stricken captain. He watched as one of the sharks began to thrash, its blood spilling into the water and attracting all the others to its death throes. In the shadow of this macabre feeding frenzy, the two human forces clashed, each with orders to bring back Chris Larabee, presumably alive judging by the way the Macronesian fighter had forced away several sharks.
JD saw the occasional flare of explosive as a harpoon was fired at the enemy, and he could only watch in horror as one Macronesian diver fired his harpoon gun during his own death throes. The harpoon raced towards Chris, piercing his thigh. Blood clouded the water around Chris and JD could only sob his relief as Tony Piccolo fought off a shark that had dived low to swipe at Chris's leg. Moments later, Chris was safe inside the lower access port on-board the seaQuest with Vin and Tony, and the Macronesians were retreating. JD waited until all of the seaQuest divers had made it back to safety and then headed in to his docking bay, eager to be reunited with all his friends.
During the melee, the transport launch disappeared, and JD could only hope that they had found some place to run from the Macronesian stealth sub.
Bourne slammed his fist down on the console as he saw his prize snatched from his grasp. His first impulse was to abandon the useless divers who had failed to bring Larabee back to him.
"Bring them in before I change my mind and leave them for the sharks to feed on." Bourne looked down at the scope. "Now, where is Captain Yaglar and his traitorous crew?"
Nothing showed on the scope, not even the slightest blip to indicate that the transport launch had ever been in the area. Silently, Bourne fumed. After giving his order for the launch to power down its engines and prepare to be boarded, he had noticed the slightest delay that put them on the other side of a rise, but their effort to conceal the offloading of a single diver had failed. The sophisticated radar on-board the stealth sub could bounce signals off Macronesian satellites, and so it had caught the small blip that left the launch.
He had little to go on but a hunch that Chris Larabee was that blip, and that he had kicked away from the launch under his own steam. Bourne was no fool. He had spent all of his informative years within the underwater colony of his birth so he knew the dangers facing a lone diver who was also injured and bloodied. He ordered the stealth sub commander to head straight for that lone diver, sending out a fighter to prevent anyone or anything reaching Larabee before his men. Captain Yaglar and his crew could wait until he had Larabee back where he belonged.
Now he had lost both Larabee and Yaglar. He could do nothing about Larabee now that he was back inside the seaQuest, but he could order the stealth sub to run silent, and wait out the transport launch. However, his commander seemed to guess the direction of his thoughts.
"Yaglar's a former sub captain. Fought in the war against the Chaodai."
"And so he knows how to be patient."
"The launch will run out of air long before we do--"
"True...but that might take several days."
Bourne pondered on this, knowing he could order another sub to patrol this area but the nearest one was over a day's journey away. Bourne could not afford to waste a day here waiting for its arrival when he had duties to attend to elsewhere.
He realized that he had lost this round to Yaglar as well but he knew that, eventually, Yaglar would show up in Macronesian waters and then Bourne would have him. Chris Larabee was another problem altogether. He had never had any intention of letting Larabee live once he had taken all that he wanted from the spirited man but, instead, Larabee was back among his people with the visible signs of his physical and sexual abuse imprinted on his exquisite, ivory flesh. There would be questions, and possible accusations should any of this become public knowledge but Bourne had a feeling that Larabee would not be too eager to reveal the abuse he had received to the world at large.
Even if he brought it to the attention of his superiors it was unlikely that the UEO politicians would make the information public. If anything, it would become a mere lever to gain some concession or other.
Bourne gave a wry grin. He could easily find a rebuttal for any charges they tried to lay before him, turning it back on them to make the UEO look like the aggressor, and he the innocent victim in all of this.
In truth, his only true frustration was in losing the plaything that had given him such pleasure this last few days, especially when Larabee's beautiful body had promised so much more pleasure to come. He knew he would be dreaming of those soft green eyes, glistening with tears of pain that refused to fall. He knew his fingers would twitch in his sleep as they recalled the perfection of the velvet soft skin covering lean, rippling muscle and bone.
"Sir? Your orders?"
Bourne looked through the screen at the dark depths of ocean, knowing the seaQuest had already taken Larabee far away from this place. He gave a predatory smile. Eventually, their paths would cross again so all Bourne had to do was wait.
"Return to base, Commander."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Vin held on tightly to his almost unconscious, freezing cold lover, grateful that Tony was in the water with him and helping him to propel Chris through the access tubes to the Moonpool. He knew Nathan would be waiting there with thermal blankets and pressure pads. All they had to do was get Chris into the healer's hands.
Behind him trailed a cloud of blood from the thigh wound, and Vin realized how lucky they had been to get Chris inside the protective hull of the seaQuest before he became the object of another shark feeding frenzy. Vin had seen Tony strike out at one Hammerhead, jabbing it viciously as its mouth opened to reveal rows of sharp teeth angling towards Chris's trailing legs.
Despite his cockiness, no one had ever been able to fault Tony's cool balance while under pressure. It was what which had made him an exceptional fighter pilot, once he had earned the rank that gave him access to the cockpit of the extortionately expensive crafts.
Ahead, Vin could see the surface of the water, with people moving frantically above, and then two crewmen slipped into the water to come up beside him. He recognized Nathan's large frame moments before his head breached the surface of the water.
Chris was taken from his exhausted hands but Vin stilled the momentary panic, knowing he did not have the energy to boost Chris from the water. The two men caught at Chris, the glint of a knife flashing as one cut away the harness holding the heavy oxygen tank, letting it drop away. They boosted Chris up towards more waiting hands that dragged his lover onto solid deck.
Nathan almost toppled one man into the Moonpool in his rush to get a thermal blanket over Chris but not before Vin had a perfect view of the too-white skin mottled with abrasions and bruises, giving Chris an almost marbled appearance. With shock, Vin noticed that Chris's swollen lips were too blue. As he moved to the water's edge, he heard Nathan confirm his worst fear.
"He ain't breathing."
Nathan started CPR, massaging the stilled heart while Buck Wilmington dropped to his knees, cleared the airway of breathing apparatus and pushed air into Chris's lungs every time Nathan nodded.
An eternity passed, and then Buck held a hand against Nathan's chest to stop his actions as he felt for a pulse on seeing the slightest head movement. As expected, no water spewed up from Chris's lungs for the full-face breathing mask had been in place the entire time. Vin knew it had to be the cold and shock that almost killed his lover.
"Let's get him loaded."
Buck held Chris's head and shoulders while Nathan and another crewman gently took his lower body. Together they lifted him onto the stretcher, strapping him down securely. By the time Vin had pulled himself out of the water they had rushed away, and only then did Vin realize that some of the blood spilling into the water belonged to Tony.
Vin was unsurprised when Hudson slipped into the water fully clothed to reach his injured lover, wishing he had the strength to help but he had spent the last of his energy pulling himself onto the deck. More hands dragged Tony from the water to reveal the laceration of his outer thigh from where the shark had brushed right past him as it went to attack Chris.
Tony flopped onto the deck beside Vin, drawing up a grin from deep inside despite the obvious pain that filled his blue eyes. Hudson dropped down beside him, his hands incredibly gentle as they probed the wound. The dark eyes looked up, encompassing both him and Tony.
"Let's get you both to Medlab."
For once Vin felt eager to walk into Nathan's den, knowing that Chris would be there and, willingly, he accepted the hands that offered to support him on his journey from the Moonpool. Waves of empathy flooded out from the people around him; joy at the knowledge that they had retrieved their captain alive, intermingled with concern that he had sustained bad injuries.
By the time Vin reached Medlab, Chris was lying on a bed being attended to by Nathan while Buck stood several feet distant with his soft blue eyes completely focused on his unconscious friend. Buck startled when Vin touched his arm.
"How's it looking?"
"Nathan thinks the shock of being in the cold, and then being hit, shut his system down."
"But...he's gonna be okay?"
Buck grinned softly, placing a hand on Vin's shoulder. "He's too ornery to let a little thing like this keep him down. He'll be on his feet and yelling orders before you know it."
As Vin stared across at the waxen figure, he wished he had the same optimism as Buck, though he had to admit that Chris looked a lot more alive now than he had back at the Moonpool. The skin visible above the blanket, though still too pale, now had the faintest blush of color behind the mottled bruising, cuts and scrapes. His damp hair was sticking up in matted spikes, his swollen lips slightly parted to reveal a glint of white teeth...and still he was altogether too beautiful for words to describe as far as Vin was concerned.
Vin hissed in sympathetic pain as Nathan drew the small harpoon bolt from Chris's thigh, teeth gritting tight as blood oozed from the angry puncture mark. Almost immediately, Nathan had a pressure bandage slapped down but it was obvious that the harpoon had not severed the artery, embedding deep into muscle instead.
"Thankfully, this was mostly spent by the time it struck."
Nathan spoke softly, and Vin knew that it was for his benefit, so he drew closer, reaching out to take one of Chris's limp hands in his own. His thumb stroked the back of the hand, taking reassurance from the slight warmth where Chris had been so very cold before. The thermal blanket hid most of the damage but Vin had only to close his eyes to recall the marks he had seen covering the almost naked torso. He stared at one visible mark at the juncture of throat and shoulder, seeing the imprint of teeth within the livid blue and green bruise.
"Once I've seen to his leg then I'll check on all those other injuries."
Vin leaned forward, his words whispered for Nathan's ears alone. "You gonna do a rape kit?"
Nathan's lips tightened and then he nodded once. It was standard procedure to do a kit when the chief medical officer in attendance suspected sexual abuse during captivity--and Chris showed all the signs of such abuse.
"Ain't got a choice, Vin. Orders is orders...and he might want to press charges against...whoever did this."
"You know who did it. That bastard--" Vin whispered back angrily and Nathan turned to him with a menacing glint in his eye.
"Ain't got time to deal with this right now, Vin, an' I don't reckon you want me to stop treating Chris so we can have this out."
Vin swallowed hard, accepting the rebuke with a timid nod of his head, grateful that Nathan hadn't sent him away. He squeezed Chris's hand tighter and concentrated on the handsome face that he had feared he might never see again. The pressure of a hand on his shoulder made him realize that Buck had drawn up a chair for him to sit in. It was as if his strength had been waiting for this moment to ebb away completely, and he dropped into the chair, barely keeping his grasp on Chris's hand.
Damn, but he was tired. He dropped his forehead onto the bed, meaning only to rest for a moment, unaware that he fell asleep immediately, and not even stirring when Buck draped a blanket around his naked shoulders.
Chris first became aware of the antiseptic scent in the air around him and, cautiously, he opened his eyes, a sense of relief flooding through him as he recognized the Medlab on the seaQuest. He watched Nathan going about his business, wondering if he ought to let his Chief Medical Officer--and friend--know that he was awake but then movement from the other side of the room caught his eye.
Chris felt a moment of fear coil in his belly as he saw the familiar figure of his lover beneath the draped blanket on the bed next to his. He recalled leaving the relative safety of the transport launch, preferring to take his chances in the open sea rather than wait for Bourne's men to grab him and take him back to further abuse from Bourne.
He didn't regret that decision, but had to admit that those few minutes in the cold water, with the ominous shapes of Hammerhead sharks circling had been the most fearful of his life. He knew his blood would attract them but had hoped to be granted enough time to reach the seaQuest before they homed in on him. He had used up the repellent quickly, the strong undercurrent dispersing it far too rapidly while he slowly became too numb from the cold to beat off the ever-hungry creatures.
JD's arrival had been fortuitous, and he owed JD a debt of gratitude for the way he kept the sharks at bay. Fear for him had been easily read in the young ensign's eyes, and then relief when two flashes of ivory flesh heralded the arrival of reinforcements. His own emotions had balanced on a razor's edge. Grateful to have someone protecting his back until they could get him into the safety of the seaQuest, and yet terrified that they would pay a terrible price for trying to protect him.
He knew one of them was Vin, his fears rising alarmingly as he saw the sharks snapping at Vin in their attempt to reach him...and then had come the searing agony blossoming in his thigh. Although the cold had numbed him, the incredible pain shocked him out of his lethargy in time to pull up his trailing legs even as the other man that he recognized as Tony Piccolo, stabbed at an attacking shark.
With blood saturating the water, his greatest fear had been for Vin, terrified that his lover would be killed during the feeding frenzy that seemed inevitable with so much blood in the water. Some how they had reached the seaQuest, sealing the outside hatch behind them, but Chris couldn't recall much more as everything shifted, the world fading out as he gave into exhaustion and shock.
He couldn't recall seeing Vin hurt by any of the sharks but what if he was wrong? What if one had seriously injured his lover?
"Chris?" He turned at Nathan's warm and mellow voice.
"Vin?" His voice sounded so weak and hoarse.
Nathan grinned, understanding the question. "He's just resting. Damn fool refused to leave your side...wanted to see for himself you were all right." Nathan laid a hand on Chris's bare shoulder. "Had us all mighty scared there, Chris."
Chris sighed in relief, recalling how ornery Vin could be, though Nathan wouldn't have let Vin stay if he thought he might get in the way; the health of his patients being paramount. Medlab was the only place on the seaQuest where Chris had little jurisdiction. Nathan had sworn an oath higher than any requested by the UEO long ago, though fortunately, Nathan's Hippocratic oath tended to parallel the obligations of the UEO so they rarely differed in opinion.
The heavy bulkhead door swung open and Chris gave a weak grin as Buck stepped into the Medlab.
His grin broadened as he recalled the old nickname Buck had landed him with long before he met Sarah--the name he had asked Yaglar to use to convince Buck that he had Chris with him.
He thought about that nickname. He had first met Buck at the UEO academy and, in those early days, they had been one hell of a pair of carousers, leaving him with plenty of hazy memories of bar fights and one-night stands. Chris had hated that nickname after Sarah came along, though not quite as much as he hated being called a cowboy. Buck's nickname had been a reminder of all the stupid things he'd done in his youth, and all the lovers he'd taken for a single night with no attempt to find out who they were or what they liked. In hindsight, it all seemed so selfish to him now, and so shallow once he had come to know the true joy of love with first Sarah and now Vin.
Before Sarah, sex was just a physical release; a few minutes of sweaty pleasure in a poorly lit alley behind a bar, or in some seedy corner of a room while people partied around them. Sarah had shown him how glorious it could be when love became entwined with the physical act; where her touching, caressing and kissing could drive him wild for hours before he finally found release in her beautiful body.
When he lost her Chris thought he would never know that powerful feeling again...and then his eyes had met Vin's, and his heart had skipped a beat. He had known from the first moment he laid eyes on Sarah that she would be the one for him, and it had been no different with Vin except for his fear of unwittingly coercing Vin into a relationship that he might not want. Vin had been very quick to lay those fears to rest, proving to Chris that his feelings were just as strong in return.
It occurred to Chris then that his earlier fears of Vin not wanting him--once he learned how Bourne had used him sexually--were groundless. The love and respect they shared transcended the sadistic actions of a sick bastard like Bourne, and the only way those actions could hurt them was if Chris let it happen. Knowing this didn't make his pain go away, and it didn't douse the fire of hatred burning inside him for Bourne, but it did make him realize that the only way he would lose Vin would be if he forcibly pushed him away.
Only a fool would do such a thing, and Chris knew he was no fool.
Buck settled on the chair beside Chris, both of them glancing over to the other bed where Vin lay sleeping. Then he looked back when Buck chuckled softly.
"Fell asleep in this chair. Left him here for a spell...then me and Nate carried him to bed like a little boy who'd stayed up too late." Buck turned and shared a grin of remembrance with Nathan. "Hasn't left Medlab since, except to water his gills. Of course, if he'd listened to old Buck an' gotten more rest during this past week then he wouldn't still be so tired now."
"Bourne's people hurt him bad?"
"Yeah...but he'll be just fine."
Something in Buck's words suddenly caught at Chris. "Week?"
"Well, counting the two days you've been sleeping here."
Movement in the bed across from him brought his attention back to his lover. The blanket slipped as Vin sat up groggily, and Chris winced when he saw the fading marks of physical abuse on Vin's upper body. Pacific blue eyes met his, and Chris easily read the joy mingled with concern. He tried to sit upright too, recalling that he had made a promise to Yaglar, but he was amazed first by how weak he was, and then he gasped as he felt the incredible pain radiating out from his thigh. Nathan's hand pressed him back to the bed even though he had no intention of fighting the pull of gravity.
"You lost a lot of blood...and your body took quite a beating. Gonna have to take things slow 'til you get healed and your strength back up."
"Told Yaglar we'd bring the money to the Marianas Colony in three days."
Buck's eyes glinted dangerously. "Ain't paying that bastard for dumping you in the ocean--"
"Didn't dump me, Buck. I made the choice."
Vin staggered over to Chris's bed, accepting the seat that Buck vacated but too caught up in anger to acknowledge the fact.
"You did what?" Vin shook his head in disbelief. "You must have known you'd attract them sharks within minutes."
Chris saw angry glances passing between Buck and Nathan too. Part of him felt he shouldn't have to explain his actions, that they ought to just accept the decision he made...but these were his friends. He knew that their anger came from caring about him rather than a lack of respect for the decision he had made.
"If Bourne had found me on-board then he'd have had Yaglar and all his people killed. There was a chance I could get out of there without being picked up by Bourne's radar. Figured I had a good ten minutes before the first shark turned up...plenty of time to meet up with the seaQuest."
"But you didn't count on the water being so cold, an' you without a suit, an' all. Or that you'd be weak from the beatings you'd taken from Bourne."
Chris had the grace to look chagrined as he met Nathan's angry dark eyes.
"And the ruse didn't work any how. Bourne's people spotted you. He sent diver's after you and that's how you got hit." Buck added.
"Some how I doubt he intended to have me killed just then."
Chris grimaced at the thought of being taken back to Bourne alive. He had managed to escape once but he doubted Bourne would have allowed him a similar opportunity again. Also, there was no guarantee that his friends would have found him a second time for he knew that he'd be dead as soon as Bourne grew bored of using him.
He looked up to see that concern had replaced anger in the eyes watching him so closely.
"Reckon you already know what he did to me."
"Yeah." Buck scrubbed a hand through his hair as he gave a deep sigh. "Just not sure we can do anything about it, Chris."
"Yeah. Figured as much."
"'Can't let that bastard get away with what he did."
Chris shook his head slowly at Vin's outburst, one silent look enough to convince Vin that the chances of taking Bourne down over this were slim to nonexistent. Bourne was the consummate politician and had, no doubt, already determined a way to counteract any accusations Chris or the UEO might throw at him regarding his rape. Plus Chris doubted anyone would even try to bring Bourne to account for that crime when more serious accusations could be leveled at the man.
Vin looked away, every line of his body rigid with anger, his hands clenched into fists, but he relaxed as Chris reached out to touch one white-knuckled hand. Vin looked back, blue eyes glistening with tears of frustration that Chris knew would never fall.
"Ain't fair, Chris. He should have to pay for what he did. To you, to me...to the ones he had tortured and killed."
Chris's thoughts returned to the cold-blooded murder of Ensign Morris. How many lives had become forfeit to Bourne's greed for power and world domination?
"He'll pay...in time."
Chris closed his eyes and groaned softly, his senses swimming alarmingly.
He felt the warm hand touching his face and opened his eyes wide enough to give reassurance, and then the darkness seemed to close in around him again. This time, however, he knew he was safe among his friends, with his lover by his side, and he smiled as he let the darkness claim him.
Vin looked towards the healer, seeing the same anxiety reflected in the dark eyes. Nathan checked over Chris and then sighed, grinning weakly at Buck and Vin.
"Sleeping. Was hoping he'd stay awake long enough to get some food into him. He's gonna be in and out for a time yet."
Vin settled back in the chair with a sigh, his thumb rubbing over the back of the hand still gripped within his.
"Would have thought you had enough of sleeping by now, Cowboy," he spoke softly to his lover, uncaring that Nathan and Buck overheard his words.
Buck cleared his throat. "Well, if Chris made a promise to Yaglar, then I'd best make sure he keeps it."
He ruffled Chris's hair affectionately, knowing his friend was too deep in sleep to complain, and then he dropped his hand onto Vin's shoulder momentarily before leaving.
"I take it you're planning to stay here a while." Vin gave Nathan a single nod. "Then I'll go write up some reports. Just holler if you need me, Vin."
"Will do...and thanks, Nate."
Nathan grinned, shaking off the unnecessary but welcomed thanks with a gentle slap on Vin's back.
The Medlab fell silent with just the sound of Chris's soft breathing reaching Vin. He leaned forward in the chair and gently smoothed the ruffled hair, then placed a kiss on the slightly parted lips. A small frown creased the tall forehead, lips tightening, and Vin felt his heart breaking on understanding the cause of Chris's distress.
"Just me, Cowboy. You safe now."
Chris let out the small breath he'd been holding, mouth relaxing into a soft smile as if he had heard the low words. Vin closed his eyes, silently wondering if they could get past this ordeal. Several times now Chris had flinched from his touch, though Vin had to admit that on all those occasions Chris had been asleep and had settled immediately once Vin spoke to him.
It made him wonder if he ought to stop touching Chris, especially the more intimate caresses, and wait until the too-recent memories had faded. But would Chris see it that way, or would he get some notion in his head that Vin didn't want to touch him anymore? Like he was tainted or something. Everything Vin knew and had read about rape victims talked about low self-esteem following the attack, as if they held themselves accountable for the despicable acts forced upon them. Would Chris feel the same way?
Vin smiled wryly. Chris was one of the strongest people he had ever met, someone who recognized his self-worth and the worth of those around him. It was what had made him such an exceptional leader. At a high level Chris had to know that Bourne was solely to blame for what had happened to him but the subconscious played its own tricks on any man.
Then it occurred to Vin that Chris had reached out to him at least once, touching his hand and leaving his fingers wrapped around his. It proved that he didn't find touching and being touched by Vin abhorrent, that he might even welcome that small physical contact with him.
With growing optimism, Vin realized that all Chris truly needed was a little distance from the ordeal, and a chance to talk over everything that had happened to him; to put it all into perspective. He gave a gentle snort when he realized that he had some healing time ahead of him too. He needed to deal with the pain afflicted upon him by Bourne's scientists, with the grisly sight of seeing other innocent people dissected before his eyes...and to deal with his own helplessness at being forced to leave Chris's side at a time when Chris needed him most. He swallowed the rising bile as he recalled the sickening aura of lust and menace emanating from Bourne as the man gazed down at Chris.
A shadow of doubt niggled at him. Perhaps if he had done something different?
Thinking back to that moment, though, he knew he'd had little choice beyond throwing himself at Bourne in the highly unlikely hope of killing the man before his goons could react. But what would that have achieved?
He would have been killed instantly whether Bourne lived or died. And if Bourne had lived then Chris would have fared even worse, without even the fragile hope of them being reunited again--except in death. Chris would still have been taken away and abused, while Vin would have ended up on the gurney in the laboratory being sliced open to see how his body ticked.
Looking back, there was nothing he could have done differently that would have changed the outcome for anyone. He had been in no position to save any of those UEO fish, or prevent the pain both he and Tony had suffered at the scientists' hands...and he had no way of stopping Bourne from hurting Chris either.
But would Chris see it that way, or would he blame Vin for not doing something--anything--to save him from Bourne's abuse?
Vin had lived his nightmares during those long days following the rescue operation, which had secured his release but not that of Chris. He had haunted the bridge for the most part, unable to rest even though his body craved sleep, knowing that the nightmare images of Bourne hurting his lover would follow him into slumber.
Vin was amazed that Buck allowed him to leave the seaQuest when they found Chris in a perilous position, surrounded by circling sharks and with Bourne's men closing in on him. In hindsight, he realized that he could have posed a serious additional danger as his own wounds--inflicted by Bourne's scientists--had barely healed. Adrenaline had flowed through him, giving him the strength he needed to see Chris to safety but, afterwards, as he lay his head onto the bed beside Chris's face, he had felt the last of his strength ebb away.
When he awoke he found he had been placed onto the bed next to Chris and covered in a light blanket. At first he had been annoyed, concerned that Chris might have awoken from his ordeal to find he was alone but Nathan had reassured him that Chris had not stirred once. Vin knew he had slept the clock round and he knew Nathan had every right to order him back to his quarters for more cabin rest. However, Nathan had seemed strangely obliging, allowing him to stay so long as he took frequent rests.
It occurred to him now that Nathan had been just as worried about him too, and having him under his watchful eye, willingly, must have been a relief.
Throughout the following day, Vin had alternated between that bed and the chair beside Chris, watching the slight rise and fall of his lover's chest, and reaching out to offer reassurance when dreams threatened to spill over into nightmares. Several times Chris called out his name fearfully, and Vin could only imagine what terrible memories of remembered pain caused those cries and whimpers.
At least Chris had no need to bottle up those memories for Vin would always be willing to share them, and share the burden that went with them. He just hoped Chris wouldn't need to be reminded too often that he did not have to face this all alone.
Vin decided that it was typical that he had been asleep when Chris finally awoke. Through the long hours seated by his side he had fantasized of being there when his lover's eyes opened, and of being the first person Chris saw.
He sighed, laughing softly at the concept. Such ideals were part of fairy tales. Sitting back in his chair, Vin pulled open the book he had left on the bedside table, slowly working his way through the words just as Hudson and Tony, and then Chris had shown him.
Another three hours passed before Chris started to surface again, his blond lashes fluttering softly against the fatigue darkened circles beneath his eyes. Vin leaned over just as the beautiful, sleepy green eyes opened, any shadow of doubt fading as pleasure filled those eyes.
"Hey, sleepy head. You planning on ever waking up for more than five minutes at a time?"
Chris's answer was a jaw-cracking yawn. He winced. "Ain't you got a duty station, Tanner?"
"Figure I'm already at it."
A smile ghosted Chris's lips at Vin's soft retort but it faded as soon as Chris tried to shift in the bed to a more comfortable position.
"Whoa, hold on there, Cowboy. You still got a damaged leg and some healing inside to do."
Vin stood up and let Chris brace himself using Vin's arm and strength for support, wincing as he heard Chris grunting softly from pain as he struggled to sit upright. Vin quickly sorted out a stack of pillows to push behind Chris and then helped to ease him back against them. Beads of perspiration had popped out on Chris's forehead from the pain and exertion, and Vin grabbed a face cloth and rinsed it before handing it to Chris.
He smiled at the mumbled 'thanks' and watched as Chris wiped his face and neck, hearing the rasp of several days growth of bristles. Vin reached over and dragged a finger over the dark blond-red bristles, and murmured softly.
"Need a shave...unless you thinking of growing a beard."
"Had a mustache once...like Buck's. Hated it."
"Ain't never kissed a man with a mustache before. Reckon it must irritate some."
"Want me to grow one so you can try?"
"Nah...too handsome a face to hide behind a load of hair. Wouldn't want to lose sight of this sexy lip."
Vin leaned over and licked gently at the desirable feature before pressing his lips against Chris's completely, bestowing a gentle kiss. He felt the vibration tingle through him as Chris moaned pleasurably, slowly parting his lips to welcome Vin's deepening presence. Tongues met tentatively, as if for the first time all over again, tips colliding, tasting before Chris drew Vin inside, allowing him to reclaim possession of his lover's mouth.
Vin pulled back slowly, savoring the pleasure that tingled through the sensitive nerve endings, pumping blood southwards. He loved the heightened color on the pale face as Chris's body reacted to the passion of a single kiss, adored seeing the dark pupils expand to almost consume the green and gold iris. Yet, most of his joy came from knowing Chris had not flinched from this intimate touch, welcoming it instead.
He swallowed hard, wishing he could take this much further, knowing that part of his desire was the need to reclaim possession of Chris in all ways, and erase Bourne's touch from his lover's body and mind. He could sense that Chris wanted this too but even this small amount of loving had exhausted him, his mouth tightening as he tried to suppress another yawn.
Vin chuckled, brushing the back of his hand over Chris's stubble roughened cheek.
"You need to rest."
He watched as the bright eyes fluttered closed, waiting until Chris's breathing had deepened into sleep before easing away one of the pillows from behind Chris. Vin could feel the call of his own bed and climbed into it, pulling the blanket over him and falling asleep almost instantly, knowing he would have good dreams ahead of him.
Hudson watched from the threshold of Medlab, smiling wryly at the obvious affection between his two proteges.
Larabee had first served with him directly after graduating from the UEO academy but he had shown great potential from the start, quickly rising to lieutenant. Not long after Nathan Bridger and the seaQuest had resurfaced, Larabee was promoted again and given his first command. Though he had served on-board the seaQuest for just a few months, Hudson knew Chris had come to love the submarine as much as he.
Hudson recalled the final pep-talk he had given Chris Larabee, telling him that he had the potential to become a great commander--and to earn the captaincy of this boat one day--except he had to prove his worth first. Of course, it would have been far easier if he could have just assigned Larabee as first officer on the seaQuest but that place had already been assigned to Jonathan Ford, and Hudson had no reason to replace him.
By the time Ford moved on to take up his own command, Larabee had already been making a name for himself as a formidable captain, fighting against Macronesian and Chaodai incursions into UEO territory. Commander Buck Wilmington had come highly recommended in his stead, and Hudson had few regrets on that score.
When the Admiralty had offered him promotion to Admiral, his first instinct was to refuse, unwilling to give up the seaQuest to just anyone, but then he learned that the captaincy would be given to Chris Larabee. Some how it felt right, as if this was meant to be.
His thoughts turned to Vin Tanner.
During his time as Captain of the seaQuest, Hudson had picked up this stray in the form of Vin Tanner. Perhaps it was the similarities between Vin and Tony Piccolo, but for whatever the reason, he had taken the younger man under his wing, protecting him from all sides--including his own. Vin and Tony had quickly become firm friends, joined in comradeship by the genetic mutation they shared to some extent.
Some sixth sense told him that Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner belonged together. This was the only reason why he gently hinted to Vin that he should stay on-board the home he had found in seaQuest rather than leave with him and Tony.
Looking at the pair now, Hudson knew he had made the right call, easing the shadow of doubt that had hung over him since passing command over to Larabee. They did belong together, each fulfilling the needs of the other, complementing each other perfectly just as he and Tony belonged together.
Thoughts of his lover came uppermost in his mind as he remembered his own fears from when Tony was missing. The nights had been the worst, filled with nightmare images that had eased the moment he had Tony back by his side.
He thought back to last night, when he had held Tony in his arms after gently waking him from another of the nightmares plaguing his lover since his return. After a while, his soft, reassuring petting of the sweat-soaked hair and body had turned to desire. For the first time since Tony's abduction they had made love; slowly, rocking together, bringing each other to the edge of an abyss of pleasure and dropping fast as the powerful emotions overwhelmed them. For both of them it was a joyous homecoming, momentarily easing the terrible memories of blood and violence from Tony's mind.
However, Hudson was no fool. He knew that a single night of loving could not erase those memories forever, but he would be there for Tony every time he called out in fear.
Looking at these two men, he knew they would be there for each other too.
Silently, so as not to disturb the now sleeping pair, Hudson turned away. They would arrive at the Marianas Colony in a few hours, and then he would say his 'goodbye'.
The Marianas Colony sat only a quarter of a mile from the edge of the world's deepest abyss, making part of its living through diving to the greatest depths capable for man or machine to pick up strange new life forms and study them. There was always a hope that some newly discovered sea creature might hold the answer to curing disease or solving problems posed by scientists the world over. There was always the chance that some new mineral might prove to have qualities that could improve life for humanity beneath the ocean waves.
For the rest of the colony sea farming had become the most important aspect of their daily routine but, as with most farming communities, their produce brought little wealth. Yet, they were a friendly people, welcoming strangers who brought commerce to them and yet wary of the big corporations like Deon and Weyland-Yutani.
The seaQuest glided majestically into the area close to the colony, keeping a distance out of respect for the Colony administration, who feared a craft as large as the seaQuest. They did not fear hostility from the UEO but more from the sudden underwater surges that could slam a craft against the docking bays. Something small like a launch would not cause too much damage, but a large craft like the seaQuest could easily obliterate the whole docking area.
Chris pulled on his uniform and stared at himself in the mirror, taking note of the bruises on his face that had faded to a yellow-green. Despite this, he felt fine and certainly looked better than he had the last time Yaglar had seen him. He caught movement in the mirror and waited, nodding at the reflection of Admiral Hudson before turning to greet his former mentor properly.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like shit...but I'll be fine."
"Hmmm. Nathan give you something to keep you on your feet?"
Chris gave a wry grin and quickly changed the subject, not wanting to reveal the full extent of his weakness even to this old friend.
"Feeling like shit...but he'll be fine too."
Chris snorted as his own words were thrown back at him. "Haven't had a chance to thank him for saving me...and for keeping Vin sane in Bourne's complex."
"He has nightmares about it...saw a couple of people he knew from the fish project end up on the cutting slab....and they made him try to buddy-breathe with some unlucky man. Did all he could--and almost drowned himself trying to force his body to do what Vin can do so naturally. Ended up having to watch that man drown in front of him."
Chris looked away, recalling the frightening moment when Bourne's diver had ripped away his breathing mask and left him without oxygen, tethered to the bottom of the aquarium while Bourne looked on. He was almost certain Bourne was actually getting off on seeing him close to drowning, and was sure his own final end would have come when Bourne decided to see just how exciting it was to kill him while he fucked him.
That was the vast difference between Tony and Bourne, and Vin and Bourne. Neither Tony nor Vin would have been able to just stand by while another man drowned, and they would have gained no pleasure from seeing it happen--only horror and helplessness.
Did Bourne's sadism know no end?
"You've come to say goodbye."
"Yeah...and good luck, too."
"You reckon I'm gonna need it?"
"No...but there's no harm in offering it." Chris reached out a hand and felt it firmly clasped. "You have a good crew here...and I owe them Tony's life...and yours and Vin's too."
Chris nodded, not needing to be told how lucky he was. When it counted, all of them had come through for him and Vin, using their own particular skills to rescue them from Bourne's people. Yet Chris knew it was more than just professional courtesy that had driven Buck, Nathan, Ezra, Josiah and JD, for these men were more than just crew--they were friends too.
Having Hudson and Tony on his side had been an extra--and welcome--bonus. Tony had saved his life out there in the cold water, and Hudson had smoothed the path of their rescue with the UEO admiralty. He owed each of these seven men a huge debt, for Vin as well as for himself.
The intercom sounded and Chris depressed the button.
"We're in position."
"Prepare a launch."
Chris looked back at Hudson, grinning slightly as duty called, and saw the echoing grin from his former captain. Hudson started to move off but he turned on the threshold.
"Tony loves Champagne...so do I. I'll charge a bottle of the best to your account when I get him back home to San Francisco."
"Make it two bottles...one each."
Hudson laughed then nodded once more in respect and friendship before turning away. Chris watched him leave before he turned back to his tired image in the mirror. He straightened his uniform and then headed out too.
Music blared from the speakers situated in key positions around the crowded bar area but Chris's attention was focused on the people surrounding them. He looked back at Buck's inquisitive stare, shaking his head to let him know he had still not caught any sign of Yaglar in the crowd of merrymakers. Chris sipped at his low-alcohol beer. Whiskey would have been preferred but Nathan had insisted that he keep away from the 'heavy stuff' until his body had recuperated from its recent abuse...and Chris had to agree.
He sat upright as a familiar face appeared momentarily in the crowd, watching carefully to see if he could spot the man again. Then Yaglar stepped out of the throng and took a seat but he had no easy grin on his face. The reason became clear soon enough when another man took the final seat. Chris felt a strong arm holding him back as Bourne grinned across the table at him.
"So generous of Captain Yaglar to invite me to this meeting, don't you think, Captain Larabee?"
Chris glanced across at Yaglar, seeing the apology in his eyes and knowing he had no choice in this. He had hoped Yaglar had managed to escape Bourne's clutches but he supposed it had been inevitable that Bourne would want some retribution.
"What do you want?"
Bourne's eyes roved over Chris's face--and what he could see of his body--with an obvious leer, and then he raised a hand to touch the heavy bruise that marred one side of his face.
"Why...you, of course. Our parting was less than...satisfactory, don't you think."
"Now, now, Captain. I've come to offer you some recompense for your...delectable services."
Chris gritted his teeth hard against the urge to jump up and smash Bourne across the face. Nothing could recompense him for the pain and suffering he and Vin had experienced at Bourne's hand.
"Before you attempt anything less than desirous, I must point out that my men surround this establishment."
Chris swallowed his anger and hatred. "What recompense had you in mind?"
"Oh...that I will allow your Commander Wilmington, Captain Yaglar and all these innocent merrymakers to live...in return for your agreement to accompany me back to your rightful place."
Bourne indicated towards various men scattered around the bar, and Chris realized that all of them carried concealed weapons.
"My rightful place? And where might that be?"
"Why...in my bed...willingly."
Chris grabbed Buck's arm as he made to rise from the table in anger.
"Oh, I think you've underestimated me this time, Bourne. Did you really think I'd show up here with just one man to guard my back?"
Chris had the pleasure of seeing Bourne's predatory smile falter, watching the cold blue eyes flit around the bar and make out the now obvious presence of plain-clothed UEO personnel with guns trained on his men. Ezra gave a two-fingered scout salute while Josiah raised his chin defiantly, his blue eyes smoldering in self-righteous anger. Nathan turned his serious dark eyes on Bourne while JD's hands rested loosely on the twin pistols he had armed himself with before leaving the seaQuest, but it was Vin who gave Bourne the most fear. He stepped up behind the man with ocean blue eyes filled with deadly intent.
"Aah. Perhaps I have underestimated you, Captain. Stalemate, I do believe."
"No...checkmate in one...if you don't get your sorry ass out of here by the time I count to ten."
Bourne stared at Chris hard, trying to gauge the truth in his words.
"One..." Chris began the countdown and had the pleasure of seeing Bourne's jaw tick with agitation. He knew he could not harm the bastard here, even though this colony was in non-aligned territory, for he had his orders from Travis to let Bourne go should he make an appearance.
Better the devil you know, had been the reason cited, but Bourne did not know that.
Bourne stood up gracefully, smoothing down his expensive suit. "Perhaps another time, Captain. A prize such as you is worth waiting for after all."
"I wouldn't hold your breath...prefer to see you drown."
Bourne looked deep into Vin's cold blue eyes and smiled weakly, as if finally sensing his true rival for Chris Larabee. He nodded once, succinctly, and then walked away, not looking back despite the hatred filled eyes burning into his back from seven separate sources.
"Sorry, Larabee...had no choice."
Chris nodded. "I know."
Vin settled into the seat recently vacated by Bourne. "Reckon you need to find a new trade route."
"Yeah. Have a feeling I won't be doing any more business in Macronesia."
Chris lifted a credit chip and placed it onto the table in front of Yaglar, meeting the man's eyes.
"I keep my promises."
Yaglar grinned as he picked up the chip and placed it into his shirt pocket, recalling that he had been in the midst of a heated argument with Bourne's people when Larabee first snuck on-board his transport launch. Bourne had reneged on a promise, paying him half of what his cargo was worth when he came to deliver it.
"Perhaps I should do business with the UEO instead."
"Can't promise they'll keep to any deals made, though I figure there's more of a chance they will than they won't."
Chris smiled then pushed up from the table and started to walk away, not needing to look back to know Vin and Buck were following. Yaglar called after him, and he turned to face the transport captain..
"Glad you made it, Larabee."
Chris grinned broadly. "So am I."
Nathan grinned broadly as he watched Bourne and his men file out, knowing that other UEO personnel and the colonial marshals office would be watching their every move now the Macronesians had revealed their presence. Also, he knew Bourne would not retaliate or attempt to attack the colony--at least, not while the seaQuest was in the area. In all, the whole of Bourne's game plan seemed to have been the immediate threat posed to the innocent people present in the bar. Fortunately Chris had anticipated some form of Macronesian attack, though maybe not from Bourne directly.
He watched as Chris approached the exit, eyes narrowing as the drug Chris had demanded began to wear off. Furrows of pain became deeper in the tall forehead, with beads of sweat popping out. Chris's stride began to falter as he started to favor his injured leg, his limp becoming more pronounced with each step. His face blanched to alabaster, eyes seeking Vin's as he lost the struggle but Vin had been just a step behind on his right, Buck on his left, and together they gave him their strength and support.
"Damn fool," Nathan muttered under his breath even though he knew this had been something Chris had to see through. It was the only reason why he had agreed to the strong painkillers and pep-pills. However, everything came with a price and Chris Larabee was about to pay with at least another two days recovery in Medlab.
They reached the launch and pushed Chris down into a seat, making certain he was strapped in securely as the current around the colony had a tendency to be unstable at best. Nathan swore softly again as he saw the darkening stain spreading on the jump suit where the wound lay, knowing Chris had managed to open it again.
His eyes swept around the launch and saw concern on every face, finally settling on Ezra who sat next to JD, acting as copilot. For someone who practiced his poker face in the mirror each day, Ezra looked a little rattled. Perhaps it was because Bourne held the same refined air as Ezra, the same smoothness of speech and rapier intellect--and the same predatory gleam in his eye. However, Ezra would never treat another person with such casual disregard for their well-being, or hold such callous indifference for the lives of innocent people, willing to have them slaughtered for his own gain.
Unfortunately, Nathan had seen more than his fair share of despotic rulers in his past. He had endured sadistic masters and overseers whose every whim determined the fate of others. He had seen his father powerless to stop them from splitting up his family, separating them from Nathan's mother. He had held his frightened, fourteen-year-old sister's hand as she delivered a child borne out of rape, unable to stop the bleeding that led to her death.
That was when he had decided to become a healer, to learn all he could about natural medicine so he could stop some of the suffering. His master had been impressed with his progress and had let him study modern medicine too, mainly as it saved the man from having to buy the services of a real doctor should one of the slaves fall ill or be injured. When the chance came to escape the Mauritanian territory of his birth, Nathan took it, fleeing into territory protected by the United Earth/Oceans Organization.
He had worked hard and gained a scholarship to medical school, achieving his life long dream of becoming a real doctor. Often he thought about the enslaved people that he had left behind, wondering if he had done right by them in taking his skills away. Certainly, he could not envisage sitting in a cozy office pandering to the petty ailments of average citizens. Instead, his guilt had led him to the seaQuest where he hoped his skill might be used to help others in dire need.
He never expected to find a home on-board the seaQuest, and certainly never expected to find love, friendship and something akin to a sense of family and belonging. These six men had made all the difference, and all of them were hurting right now because of what Bourne had done to two of their number.
For once, part of him felt grateful that his empathy level was average, wondering how Vin and Josiah could cope with the overload of concern, anger and pain emanating from every direction. With that thought in mind, Nathan squashed his own rampant emotions, not wanting to add to Vin and Josiah's suffering.
Josiah's vivid blue eyes met his and Nathan read the gratitude written there.
The journey back to the seaQuest was rougher than expected, and Nathan's discipline slipped momentarily as Chris whimpered, unable to hold back a cry of pain.
"Can't you give him something, Nate?"
Nathan shook his head at Vin, knowing Chris would have to ride this out for a while longer to avoid an overdose. JD yelled back from the cockpit.
"Docking in three...two...one."
A shudder ran through the launch as the docking collar sealed, and then Buck was on his feet, accessing the opening mechanism that would allow them back onto seaQuest. As the port opened Nathan could see a stretcher waiting and he cast a grateful look at Ezra, knowing his lover would have read his concern and sent a message ahead to the seaQuest.
Chris looked at the stretcher with disdain but allowed Buck and Vin to ease him on to it. He hid his eyes behind his arm as the orderlies carried him off to Medlab, accompanied by his worried lover. Nathan took the vertical access route that meant he would reach Medlab ahead of the others, his mind already considering the equipment he would need and the tasks ahead.
He decided to put off changing from his civilian clothes and back into his medic's uniform until he had Chris stabilized. The orderlies arrived and, on a count of three, they slid Chris back onto the bed he had left less than two hours earlier.
Normally, Nathan would have insisted that all non-essential and non-medical personnel leave while he cared for a patient but Nathan knew Vin would stay levelheaded and help rather than hinder.
"Vin, ease him up there. Let's get this uniform off."
"Damnit, Nathan!" Chris cursed as they eased his arms out of the sleeves. "Can't you just cut it off me?"
"If I cut off clothes every time someone got hurt 'round this place we'd run out of uniforms real fast."
Despite his words, Nathan wished he could have spared Chris a little pain. Once they had pulled off the top half of the jump suit, Nathan helped Chris lay back against the pillows. He couldn't help but grin when Vin pulled off Chris's boots with little effort, not needing to know where that particular expertise came from, and hoping Vin was just as adept at stripping the rest of the jump suit from Chris's body.
Chris clenched his teeth as he raised his hips obediently, moaning softly as the material scraped over the re-opened wound. Nathan left Vin to dispose of the blood soaked jump suit while he gently probed the damaged tissue.
"Torn a few stitches...inside an' out. Gonna need to replace those sutures."
He spared a glance at Chris as he prepared a local anesthetic, quickly numbing the area around the wound. Chris's face looked bloodless, his green eyes dilated almost to black and haunted with pain. His jaw was clenched so tight that Nathan feared it would break but then the tension eased slightly, the pressure transferred to the strong hand that now held one of his so securely. Chris's knuckles were white as they gripped Vin's hand and Nathan could see Vin was barely holding back a grimace of pain as his fingers were crushed in the desperate grip.
"Not long now an' the pain should ease off."
Nathan spoke for the benefit of both men, almost sensing Vin's relief as the anaesthetic numbed the pain in Chris's leg and, subsequently in his hand as Chris released his death grip.
Vin had the grace to look embarrassed as he answered without thought, gently touching Chris's cheek in acceptance of the apologetic look he gained from his lover. He watched as Nathan swabbed the damaged area with antiseptic before applying the sutures, working with both speed and efficiency while still taking enough time to ensure the scarring would be minimal.
"There." Nathan stood back to admire his handiwork. "An' don't go pulling them again." He looked at his wristwatch, then confirmed the time against the chronometer on the wall before smiling. "Figure I can give you a mild painkiller now. Should be strong enough to let you sleep."
Chris reached out and snared Nathan's wrist as he turned away. "Thanks."
"Might not feel like thanking me once I get you started on physio. That harpoon tore into muscle. Shouldn't have let you go standing on that leg so soon."
A little color returned to Chris's pale cheeks once Nathan had stopped probing and the painkiller started to act. Vin barely registered Nathan's departure after he had drawn a light sheet over Chris, but he realized Nathan would be eager to clean up and change back into uniform. Vin noticed Chris's eyelids were getting heavy as the glassiness in his eyes from pain gave way to the dullness of fatigue. Moments later, Chris was sleeping, leaving Vin to another lonely vigil by his lover's side.
He sat beside Chris for almost an hour, quietly committing every line, curve and angle on the cherished face to memory. This past week had warned him not to take such things for granted but, eventually, he started to look at the nearby bed with longing.
Vin crawled into the bed, turning onto his side to keep Chris in sight, and then closed his eyes.
A large section of the Moonpool had been sealed off, the water heated to form a spa bath that the crew enjoyed relaxing in while off duty, but today it served as Nathan's torture chamber. At least, that is what Chris thought as he gritted his teeth and went through the punishing set of exercises while Nathan and various others looked on.
"You can do it, Chris. Just five more." Nathan urged gently.
"Reckon ol' Chris can do more than five, Nate."
"Whose side...are you on?" Chris snarled between gasps of pain as Buck added his unwelcome encouragement.
Damn but it hurts, he thought as he raised the damaged leg, flexing the slowly repairing muscle. He lost his balance, eyes going wide as his arms wind-milled against the water uselessly but strong arms caught him, stopping him from going under.
"Hey, Cowboy," chuckled Vin. "Nathan said exercise, not synchronized swimming."
Gales of laughter echoed around the Moonpool as Chris imagined what he must have looked like as he fell backwards, recalling the images of an old Ethel Merman movie.
"Haven't you got duty stations?"
"At mine already," replied Vin as he swam leisurely around Chris with swift, efficient and graceful strokes.
Chris fumed, realizing that Nathan must have set this up so they could all be here to watch him make a fool of himself. He felt Vin draw close, and heard the gravel-soft words.
"Don't you pay them no mind, Chris. You doing real well."
Chris sucked in a breath as Vin's hand trailed over his hip as he swam past, feeling a quiver in his stomach muscles that spoke of other needs. It seemed as if a lifetime had passed since he and Vin had made love, and though part of him was a little apprehensive after Bourne's abuse, another part desperately wanted to erase that man's touch with that of his lover.
Silently, he wondered if Nathan would go ballistic if he encouraged Vin to make sexual moves on him. After all, it had been more than a week since his escape from Bourne, and there was more to sex than penetration. Chris grinned softly as he thought of the effects of Vin's talented lips on him, the heat of his mouth, the firm pressure of that agile tongue. That special way Vin had of sucking and licking against the sensitive tip that sent waves of pleasure washing over him.
Damnit, he thought. He missed the feel of Vin's arms around him at night as he slept; missed the ways their limbs would be entwined by morning. He missed seeing those blue eyes open sleepily and watching the lazy smile that heated the very air around them. Most of all, he missed the fingers that would trace lazy circles over his flesh, teasing a nipple, tugging gently at the sparse chest hairs before that skillful tongue lathed a path of passion down his body to his groin. However, Vin had insisted on them sleeping apart, being concerned that he might hurt Chris during the night if they slept in the same bed.
"Still got five more to go, Cowboy."
Vin's voice was low and sultry, his eyes soft yet intent, face flushed with his need as he licked his lips, almost as if he could taste Chris's eager flesh. Chris knew Vin was reacting to the want and need emanating from him and he felt a little guilty knowing that they did not have the privacy they needed to consummate their growing passion.
With a sigh, Chris pushed aside the building desire, concentrating on the exercises as Nathan shook his head in exasperation; a silent witness to the ritual dance that should have ended with pleasure rather than more pain.
Chris grunted softly as the muscle twinged, feeling Nathan's hand reach out to support him.
"Take it slow an' easy, Chris. Want to work that muscle gently, not tear it."
Chris took a shuddering breath as he completed the exercise, his face flushing with embarrassment as the others cheered and clapped with genuine pleasure. He felt a little mean at his earlier annoyance. He realized that they had not been watching him for entertainment. Instead, they were here to offer their support, and for the satisfaction of seeing him on the road towards a full recovery.
"That's enough for today. Tomorrow we'll start again."
Chris nodded, dropping his hand on Nathan's arm then squeezing it in thanks. He left the hand there, using Nathan as support as he waded slowly to the water's edge to find Josiah waiting at the top of the steps with the crutches Nathan had provided earlier. Josiah's big grin and twinkling blue eyes erased the last of his annoyance.
"Sun, sea and sand...only two days away. And the Good Lord knows this crew needs a break."
Despite the throbbing in his leg, Chris grinned. Travis had allowed him restricted duties with a threat of removing him from duty altogether if he did anything more than paperwork. He knew it would remain that way until he was deemed physically--and just as important--mentally fit for command. In the interim, Buck Wilmington had retained command of the seaQuest with orders to ferry the heads of several unaligned colonies to an Ecology Conference within the European Confederation.
Though he could not deny that sending the seaQuest to act as an underwater limousine would score valuable political points with their allies, he knew that the long haul from the Pacific to the Mediterranean had to be partially for his benefit. It would give him time to recuperate from his ordeal and injuries.
The conference was scheduled to last exactly one week. The crew had been granted shore leave until it was time to return their passengers to the part of the Pacific that had been nicknamed Four Corners because of its strategic position close to four major territories. So far the journey had been uneventful, with Mary Travis spending all her time with their other three passengers in small conferences relating to issues affecting their small part of the globe. That suited Chris just fine as she was an adept politician as well as a journalist.
Accepting a little assistance from Vin, Chris stripped off his swim shorts and dried himself quickly. He pulled on a pair of soft cotton boxers and then waited as Nathan checked the injury to his thigh for any damage, flinching as Nathan found a still very tender place. Nathan had taken out the stitches late yesterday, much to Chris's relief as Vin had insisted on keeping his distance until he was certain he couldn't set Chris back by accidentally tearing them.
"Healing well, Chris. Shouldn't need these crutches for much longer neither."
Chris grinned, accepting Vin's support as he pulled the sweat pants carefully over his still tender thigh. He slipped the crutches under his arms and hobbled off, knowing that Vin shadowed him but having no objections. On reaching their shared quarters, Chris waited while Vin pulled open the heavy bulkhead door and then he hobbled inside, the crutches clunking to the carpeted floor as Chris dropped onto the couch.
Vin chuckled. "You did well."
Chris made a noncommittal sound, stretching out his aching leg and moaning when Vin knelt down beside him and started to massage his calf muscles.
"If'n you want me to go higher, then your gonna have to strip."
Chris needed no second invitation, his breath catching as he raised his hips, allowing Vin to tug the sweat pants down past his ankles.
Vin felt the heat building in his groin as his fingers dug into his lover's knotted calf muscle. His eyes moved upwards slowly, admiring the long, lean thigh muscle that disappeared under the loose fitting, pale cotton boxers. Soft, dark blond curls covered each leg, though they seemed coarse in texture against the silken feel of the flesh beneath. Chris had leaned back against the couch, head thrown back, eyes closed and lips curled into a smile as Vin continued to knead the tight muscle.
"Hmmm," came a low moan of pleasure.
Vin worked his magic higher, lightly massaging the corded muscle above the knee, moving slowly upwards. He gently eased back the hem of the boxers, looking but not attempting to touch the still angry looking area surrounded by fading yellow-green bruises. Instead, his hands moved to massage the inner and outer thigh. He heard Chris's breath hitch as one long stroke nudged against his groin, rewarding Vin with the sight of Chris's shaft straining against the thin cotton. A small dark patch grew from where the tip pressed against the material, evidence of Chris's arousal.
With an impish grin, Vin reached up to roll back the waistband, freeing the beautiful, hard shaft. Being careful not to put any pressure on Chris's injured thigh, Vin leaned over and licked at the pearl droplet forming on the tip, savoring the bittersweet taste that burst across his tongue.
Chris's soft moan of pleasure urged him onwards, his mouth closing over the flared head, hand wrapping around the stiff column. He licked and sucked, relishing the taste and feel of his lover in hand and mouth, slowly drawing Chris to climax and greedily swallowing every drop of his lover's essence. With one final swirl of his tongue over the velvet soft tip, Vin pulled away, grinning in satisfaction.
Smoldering, sated green eyes looked down on him, catching his.
Vin welcomed the fingers that carded through his hair, his grin dropping away as Chris's face contorted into pain as he tried to move.
Vin pushed him back firmly but gently.
"What about you?"
With a soft smile, Vin stroked along the length of Chris's uninjured thigh. He knew what he wanted. He wanted to rip off the boxers, push back those long legs and then thrust deep and hard inside the beautiful body. He wanted to reclaim possession of this man he loved, banishing the memory of Bourne's abuse forever, but Chris was not ready; his thigh still tender, and his internal tearing still too fresh.
Vin recalled his embarrassing discussion with Nathan earlier this day while Chris slept. Knowing Nathan had a male lover had made it only marginally easier to ask the question that concerned him most: When could he resume a full sexual relationship with Chris?
Nathan's answer had been honest and straightforward, explaining the tearing from Bourne's aggressive rape. He had asked Vin to wait until after the final examination before allowing Chris off seaQuest for shore leave, just to make sure he had healed inside. However, Nathan warned him that there was more than the mere physical to deal with. Bourne had hurt Chris, and the memory of that pain and of his helplessness would have a psychological effect.
He smiled broadly, slowly standing so he could strip off his own sweat pants and shorts, standing naked and proud before his lover.
"Lay down." Vin commanded softly, watching a frown cross the handsome face as Chris obeyed, lips pursing at the intake of breath as pain flared through his lover. Vin waited until Chris had settled, and then he straddled his lover's body at the shoulder, leaning over so the tip of his erection brushed against Chris's full lower lip. He groaned as Chris's tongue sneaked out to taste him, feeling the velvet softness stripe insistently across the sensitive bundle of nerve endings, sending spikes of pleasure through him.
Vin thrust gently against the parted lips, groaning in pleasure as he sank into the inferno of Chris's welcoming mouth. Slowly, he rocked his hips back and forth, eyes intent on Chris, hoping he would have the strength to back off should Chris start to panic and fight against him.
Any shadow of doubt fled as Chris's hands grasped his hips, drawing him into harder thrusts. He cried out as his senses overloaded, his climax short but intense, ripped out of him by the power of his need for his lover's touch. His muscles trembled, his arms threatening to give way and pitch him down onto Chris so, with the last of his strength, Vin slipped sideways to land on the floor in an ungainly heap.
Chris looked down at him, green eyes filled with pleasure and mirth and he laughed softly at Vin.
"Wouldn't have been laughing if'n I'd landed on you."
Vin's grin took the sting from his words and, gracefully, he rolled up onto his knees and kissed Chris deeply, tongue slipping inside the hot mouth to taste himself within, and welcoming Chris's possession in return. They drew apart.
"Hmmm...I taste good."
"So do I, Cowboy."
Chris laughed again, accepting a less passionate yet equally loving kiss before Vin sat back on his heels. Vin looked down at his lover's relaxed features, knowing they had crossed one more bridge towards Chris's total recovery.
Four Days later
Much of the Cote D'Azur of southern France had long since disappeared beneath the rising waters of the Mediterranean. Places like St. Tropez, Port Grimaud and old towns like St. Raphael and Nice were now a memory of halcyon days in a bygone age, but the coastline could still boast some of the best beaches in former Europe.
The warmth of the sun made Chris feel drowsy as he lay stretched out on a beach towel. He let his hand scoop up some of the fine yellow sand, feeling it slip smoothly through his fingers. In the distance he could hear the excited yells as a beach volleyball game was played out between members of seaQuest's crew.
He had been tempted to watch but the sun's heat had lured him back down onto the towel.
Beyond the cries of his crew and friends was the call of the sea. The waves rumbled against the shore, ebbing over the sand with a gentle shush. Overhead were the cries of sea birds, the sounds mingling with occasional laughter from the few others using this private beach.
Chris smiled as he felt a body flop down onto the towel set alongside his, his eyes opening a crack as a wet, ice cold finger trailed over his lips. Vin grinned down at him mischievously before scooping more trickling ice water off the beer can he had lifted from the cool bag.
"Looking a little flushed there, Cowboy. Want me to cool you down some?"
Chris hissed as that cold wet finger rimmed a nipple. He reached up and grabbed Vin's wrist, smiling broadly as he tugged Vin down until their lips met, and melting into the hot kiss. He let go of Vin's wrist, running his hand through the curls of brown hair until he could cup the back of Vin's head preventing him from pulling back. Chris closed his eyes in rapture as he sank into the heat of their passionate kiss, the bitter taste of the beer and the unmistakable scent of his hot and sticky lover tingling at his senses.
His eyes shot open as he felt Vin's hand rubbing over his groin, stirring even more life into the already hardening shaft. A single lucid thought crossed his mind, that he was pleased he hadn't caved in to Vin's desire to see him in a pair of Speedos, knowing how revealing they would be right now.
Chris pushed Vin back, feeling flustered, and with his heart racing.
"Don't think you're doing a great job of cooling me down there. Opposite, in fact."
Vin laughed huskily, like clear water rippling over gravel. His face was flushed and his eyes bright with excitement, with the corona around the dilated pupils as blue as the sparkling Mediterranean waters.
Chris's eyes dropped down the lean, firmly muscled body to the tight black Speedos that accentuated the golden tan of Vin's skin. His breath hitched as he saw the indisputable evidence of Vin's arousal barely contained within the stretched fabric. The thin black material seemed to be clinging to Vin like a second skin, displaying every contour from the thick shaft to the flared head. Chris swallowed hard as his eyes fell upon the dark patch where beads of Vin's excitement soaked through the material. He breathed in automatically, able to scent his lover even above the suntan oil, moaning as his arousal grew ever stronger and more insistent.
Vin continued to rub him through his swim shorts, sending frissons of delight licking through his body, igniting the fire in his blood.
"Public beach," he croaked in warning to Vin.
"Then let's take this some place less public."
Vin stood up, totally unabashed at the erotic sight he made with his aroused sex straining dangerously against the flimsy Lycra of his Speedos. Chris felt nervously self-conscious as he accepted Vin's hand to help him stand. It set him off kilter, knowing it was usually Vin who was the bashful one where sex was concerned, unused to seeing this confident gleam in his lover's eyes.
Chris checked around the beach and then laughed softly at his skittishness. There was no one even remotely close enough to notice their aroused state, and even if they had been closer, their friends were far too preoccupied with the game they were playing.
Slowly they made their way up to the beach house with Chris grimacing at the occasional twinge from his still healing leg. Nathan's physiotherapy had been fearsome even though most of it took place in the Moonpool with the water supporting his weight--and with Vin swimming around offering encouragement that hadn't always been appreciated--but it had started to ease the pain in his damaged muscle. For the most part the leg was healing nicely but walking through the deep, fine sand up to the beach house was heavy going.
By the time he reached the verandah all the excitement had faded from his exhausted body and he felt a little guilty when Vin reached for him, pulling him into a kiss. However, Vin merely brushed his lips with his and then wandered inside, leaving Chris to follow him into the cooler interior. He climbed onto a bar stool set out by the counter separating the kitchen from the living room and watched as Vin reached into the refrigerator for two cold beers.
Vin sat down on the bar stool opposite, placing one beer in front of Chris, and smiling enigmatically. They sipped at the cold beer slowly while Chris tried to make sense of Vin's actions. He could tell Vin was still aroused. He could see it in the dark pools of his eyes and the pink flush of his face, and knew he'd also still see the evidence of it in those tight Speedos. Vin's finger swept up some of the moisture from the side of the can, and then he licked it off, sucking on his finger then smacking his lips in appreciation. He picked up the can, head tilting back, letting Chris dwell on the length of his strong throat, watching the Adam's apple bob as Vin took several deep swallows.
Christ, he thought, he even makes drinking beer look sexy.
Chris picked up his can and took several small sips, keeping a watchful eye on Vin.
He raised an eyebrow. "Ready for what?"
"Hmmm...nope...not ready yet."
Chris frowned, confused by Vin's words and antics. "Quit teasing, Vin."
"Oh, I ain't teasing you, Chris. Just want to be sure you're ready."
Chris sighed in exasperation. "Vin," he growled out a warning, even more perturbed by the answering grin.
Vin leaned over and touched Chris's hand, slowly rubbing his fingers over the oiled skin in a gentle, soothing caress.
"Nathan gave us the all clear two days back...and I can't say I haven't been thinking about it...but I aim to wait 'til you're ready."
Doubts clouded through Chris's mind as he finally understood Vin's need, knowing that Vin wanted to take their sexual relationship back to how it had been before Bourne took his pleasure--brutally--from his body. Although they had resumed aspects of the sexual part of their relationship, willingly bringing each other to mutual pleasure orally or by hand, Chris had shied away from allowing Vin to penetrate him.
"What if I ain't ever ready, Vin?" He whispered.
"Then I'll be waiting forever...but you'd be worth it."
Vin tightened his grip on Chris's hand, squeezing the fingers gently as he leaned in until his face was a scant inch from Chris's. His eyes shone brightly, seeing deep into Chris's soul just as they had from the first time their eyes met.
"Don't be afraid to be weak."
Vin intoned softly as he leaned in the extra distance and kissed Chris softly on the tip of his nose. His lips slid away to nuzzle against Chris's cheek before trailing tiny kisses along his cheekbone to the shell of his ear.
"Don't be too proud to be strong."
Vin whispered, his hot breath blowing into Chris's ear and sending tingles racing through him, reawakening his desire. Vin pulled back until his deep blue eyes stared into Chris's once more.
"Just look into your heart, my friend. It'll be the return to yourself...the return to innocence."
Chris sighed raggedly, the words striking a chord deep inside as he recalled the old song Vin had shared with him. Some how, Vin had found the right words to describe how he felt. He was not supposed to become anyone's victim. He was not supposed to be drugged, beaten and raped repeatedly like some poor defenseless child at the hands of a monster. He was supposed to be one of the UEO's golden boys, trusted with the most prestigious command in the whole of the UEO fleet: Captain of the UEO flagship, the seaQuest.
He was not supposed to show any weakness of mind, body or spirit--and yet it was his very pride in who he was, and in what he was, that had weakened him further. That pride had sapped away his strength, leaving him afraid of losing himself, and afraid of losing everything that mattered to him.
But Vin believed in him. Vin believed that he had the strength inside to overcome the fear as long as he was willing to let go of his pride and admit that he was only human after all.
That ugly shadow of doubt had been hanging over him from the moment Bourne's lust-filled eyes had turned in his direction. Even though he knew Bourne was the one responsible for what had happened to him, he had feared his own weakness, recalling how Bourne had dragged an unwilling climax from his drugged and abused body. In that moment he had betrayed everyone he cared about. He had betrayed himself, and he had betrayed Vin.
Or had he?
Don't be afraid to be weak, Vin had said, but he had been afraid of his body's weakness--and his pride, in refusing to acknowledge that weakness, had only served to weaken him further.
Don't be too proud to be strong.
Chris swallowed hard, knowing in his heart that he had to bend his pride, and admit his weakness if he wanted to take away the stain of guilt blotting his soul. But how would Vin feel if he learned the truth? There seemed only one way to find out.
"When Bourne raped me...one time...I came."
Chris continued to stare into Vin's eyes, waiting for desire to fade into disgust but, instead, Vin's eyes softened almost imperceptibly.
"Nathan found traces of drugs in your blood...ones that could heighten a response against a man's will." Vin cocked his head to one side. "Got one question. Did you enjoy it? Is that why you came?"
"Hell, no, Vin...I just couldn't--"
Vin smiled, two fingers pressing against Chris's lips to silence the angry torrent of his words.
"Don't be afraid to be weak," he repeated softly.
Chris felt some of the fear leave him as, finally, he started to accept all that Bourne had done to him rather than continue with the lie that none of it had mattered. It had all mattered because he had given everything he had to Vin Tanner, freely, without fear of losing himself in Vin and without being too proud to acknowledge the depth of their love. Bourne's unwanted lust had cast dark shadows over him but Vin was right. In his heart he knew that Bourne could not touch them, and he felt the shadow lift a fraction, hoping he would eventually recover the innocent pleasure of loving Vin in all ways.
The way forward, to banish the darkness staining his soul, was to give himself back to the man who mattered most to him, knowing he had no reason to fear. Vin would never harm him. Not deliberately, and not maliciously like Bourne.
He cleared his throat and captured Vin's hand in his, his eyes holding Vin's.
Vin stared hard at him for the longest time, as if trying to gauge the true depth of his words. What he found must have contented him for, without letting go of Chris's hand, Vin rose to his feet, drawing him up too. He stepped around Chris, looking back only once before leading Chris towards the bedroom they shared in this beach retreat. He moved slowly, making allowances for Chris's slower, limping steps, only turning to face Chris again once he had reached their bed.
His hands dropped to the waist band of Chris's swim shorts, asking permission with his eyes before drawing the fabric carefully downwards, letting it drop to pool at Chris's feet. With a flush of uncharacteristic embarrassment, Chris lowered his eyes as Vin stared at him hungrily, only raising them when he heard the slide of Lycra over flesh.
Vin stood before him--naked and beautiful--his clean-cut limbs glowing with vitality, kissed by the sun, his gill slits quivering while his hard shaft stood proud from its bed of soft brown curls, brushing against his firmly muscled abdomen. His eyes were smoldering with desire, his muscles tense from holding back on the urge to take what had been his only a few weeks earlier.
A frown furrowed his brow, his eyes narrowing in consternation, leaving Chris feeling very vulnerable and alone, wondering if Vin was having second thoughts about reclaiming Bourne's leavings. Vin must have sensed the direction of his thoughts before Chris could slam down the shields in his mind to keep his emotions from bleeding across to his receptive lover. The frown deepened and then Vin's eyebrows arched.
"Been so keen to get you wanting me that I hadn't figured this far. Don't want to hurt you, Chris."
The fear-filled blue eyes drifted down to the wounded thigh, lingering on the scar that was still surrounded by the yellow-green of old bruising. Chris grinned, suddenly understanding Vin's concern. He knew he wouldn't be able to put any strain on his thigh muscle so certain positions were most definitely out. Also, he wouldn't be able to take Vin's weight pressing against the still tender flesh, which limited their options further.
"Perhaps we ought to wait a while longer."
Vin looked dismayed at the thought and Chris felt the love he had for this man swell, knowing Vin would willingly put off what he desired most for Chris's sake. It was all too revealing of the difference between love and lust, for Bourne would have slaked his needs regardless of the pain he caused.
"Hell, Vin, you got me this far and I don't plan on turning back now."
He was rewarded with a bright grin of pleasure as Vin advanced a few steps and gently encouraged him to lay back on the bed. Vin studied him carefully for a moment, the heat from his eyes sending Chris's blood pulsing through his veins, reigniting the passion that had begun to wan. Vin eased down onto the bed, straddling his knees and Chris sighed as Vin leaned over on hands and knees, his soft lips descending to kiss and suck at his oversensitized flesh. He chuckled, squirming as Vin's tongue delved into his navel then groaned as Vin kissed his way up Chris's body to his chest, his tongue swirling around a nipple. Tiny sparks of excitement flowed through him as he forced his thoughts away from his fear of their intended goal to the pleasure of the moment.
He felt Vin's hand slide over his hip and beneath his body, cupping one ass cheek, kneading the flesh gently while Vin's lips sought his, kissing him deeply, tongue coiling around his, tasting him.
"Want you, Cowboy," Vin breathed huskily before pulling back. He sat up, his warm ass resting on Chris's knees as he stared down at Chris hungrily. One corner of his mouth raised seductively and then he moved off of Chris to one side, reaching into the nightstand and removing a tube. He popped the lid and squeezed some of the contents onto his fingers, warming the gel without second thought as he settled back down next to Chris. Gently, he nudged Chris onto his side, keeping the wounded leg uppermost.
Chris drew up his upper leg, closing his eyes and trying to relax as he felt Vin's fingers stroke along the valley between his ass cheeks, gently rimming the entrance to his body. Vin's other hand reached over his hip, wrapping around his engorged flesh, the thumb brushing over the sensitive head. Chris couldn't help bucking into the warm tunnel of flesh formed by Vin's hand, gasping as he felt a narrow finger slide inside him, slick with lubricating gel.
Fear tightened at his belly and at his ass, and he felt Vin remove the offending digit, stroking along his flesh soothingly until he relaxed. More teasing strokes along the length of his aching flesh sent his mind flying, his body opening to Vin's touch unnoticed. By the time he registered the finger thrusting deep inside, echoing the rhythm of Vin's hand upon him, Chris no longer cared about the intrusion. He rocked back onto the finger, momentarily caught by a pause in the rhythm as Vin added a second finger, the tight muscle slowly relaxing.
Chris felt a moment of panic as Vin removed his fingers and drew up close behind him. He felt the large head of Vin's hard flesh press against the loosened muscle and he took a deep breath, trying to recall how good it felt when Vin was inside him. He bit down on a whimper of pain as the muscle gave, feeling the hot flesh slide inside him, stretching him to an almost unbearable extent.
All of Vin froze except for the hand that squeezed and stroked along Chris's pain-softened shaft. Then he felt gentle kisses on his shoulder, a mouth nuzzling against his neck and throat. Around them, all he could hear was his own harsh gasps slowly softening as he became re-accustomed to the welcome bulk pressing inside him.
As the pain eased, the pleasure from Vin's hand resurged, singing along his veins, along his nerves, setting his blood to liquid fire anew. Almost without volition, Chris rocked back onto the hard shaft, driving it fractionally deeper into his body. He gasped as that small motion was enough for the thick column of flesh to brush across that sensitive place inside him, sending spikes of rapture racing through him. He felt the heat of Vin's breath against his neck as Vin gasped his own pleasure.
Slowly, Vin rocked into him, allowing Chris to dictate the power of his thrusts. Chris whimpered softly with each, feeling the intensity of the pleasure increase as Vin hit that same sensitive place over and over. Soon he was flying, body out of control as his senses overloaded, sending him spiraling upwards to dizzying heights of passion before he crashed down to earth like a roller against the shore.
His leg ached, his heart racing, breath coming in short gasps as Vin jabbed into him frantically, freezing momentarily as a keening wail fell from his lips. Chris felt the liquid fire of Vin's essence filling him, all pain forgotten in the joy of knowing he belonged to Vin once more.
A long time passed as they lay curled up on the sweat and semen soaked bed. His leg seemed to throb in time with his heartbeat but it didn't matter. He was not afraid of his weakness anymore, and he knew he no longer needed to hide behind his pride, realizing that he had the strength within him to overcome his abuse at Bourne's hand.
He was the Captain of the UEO's flagship; the captain of the seaQuest, not some nameless, faceless child victimized by a monster in human form. He had been selected for this prestigious post because of his inner strength, because of his ability to command and to lay aside his doubts and his weaknesses and concentrate on his strengths. It occurred to him then that he had more than just his own strength to call upon; he had Vin's too--and that of his friends--and that strength was borne out of greater emotions than the fear Bourne commanded from his own people.
Chris felt movement beside him and he welcomed the nuzzle of soft lips upon his shoulder as Vin's shaft began to harden inside him once more. Vin's hand snaked around their close-pressed bodies, fingers wrapping around Chris's growing desire. As Vin began to rock slowly into him, letting the new sensations build between them, Chris felt the last shadow of doubt disappear within the blinding light of Vin's love. With a smile of pure pleasure, he laid his hand over Vin's busy fingers, moaning softly as they moved slowly towards another satisfying climax, knowing their love would banish Bourne's touch forever.
Don't be afraid to be weak.
Don't be too proud to be strong.
Just look into your heart, my friend.
It'll be the return to yourself.
The return to innocence.
If you want then start to laugh
If you must then start to cry
Be yourself, don't hide
Just believe in destiny
Don't care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don't give up and use the chance
To return to innocence.