"Are you sure you want to do this, son?" the general looked him square in the eye. "I'm not asking as your superior. I'm asking as one man to another."
Private Chase Duvenant looked down at his hands, at the IV which they had fed into him to keep him hydrated and calm. He felt hot, but refused to allow himself to fidget in front of the general.
"I'm sure, sir."
Besides, it was too late now.
"You understand that there is no going back from this, don't you?"
"And that in the best case scenario, your body will be forever transformed? That you will lose your rank, your position, and that you will be inducted into the training program at one of the Carrier Education Centres?"
Chase glanced behind the general at Colonel Clay McKowen.
"You understand that if this procedure goes well, then afterwards you will be transferred to a CEC facility until such time as someone comes forward to claim you?"
"Claim you as a wife, private." the general clarified.
Chase reddened, but was stalwart.
"Yes, sir. I understand."
The general exchanged glances with the colonel, then settled his folded hands behind his back.
"Well, Colonel McKowen has requested the opportunity to take on that privilege."
Chase's eyes widened, and he had to blink several times.
Him? Colonel McKowen wanted him?
"Is that OK with you, Duvenant?" McKowen asked, a small grin playing across his lips. Chase reddened.
"Yes, sir, that's OK by me."
McKowen smiled genuinely. The general looked between them and raised an eyebrow, but let the impropriety pass.
"That arrangement, Private, is contingent upon good reports from the CEC. If I begin seeing demerits in your file, the whole thing's off the table, and you go into the pot with the rest of them. Somebody else can pick you out. Is that clear?"
Chase nodded attentively.
"Yes, sir, it's clear. No demerits."
The general gave a satisfied grunt.
"Good. Now, I've seen your history. You were an exemplary recruit, and I expect you to be an exemplary carrier." the elder man looked directly at him. "That's an order. Understand?"
"I understand, sir. I'll be good."
Afterwards, the general departed, leaving him alone with the colonel. Their privacy was almost immediately interrupted, however, by the nurses entering to take more blood samples and make more inquiries. Chase offered his arm without complaint and answered all of their questions, trying not to look too obviously at the colonel. Clay McKowen watched him silently, a vague, pleased look on his face.
When the nurses left again, the two men were finally alone. Chase rubbed his arm where it itched around the IV bandage. The colonel watched him; eventually, the younger man spoke.
"Thank you for claiming me, sir."
McKowen bowed his head in acknowledgement.
"Least I could do for the bravest man under my command."
Chase blushed fiercely.
"It's nothing." he said, quietly. "I don't even have to do anything. Just lie here."
The colonel's eyes scanned over the long figure in the bed.
"Has it begun hurting yet?"
A little of the color left Chase's face, and he shook his head.
"No. They think maybe tomorrow, it might start." he fidgeted a little with the blanket.
McKowen watched him, then came closer so that he stood by the young man's hips, close enough to read the subtle signs in his face.
"Are you frightened?"
Chase shook his head.
"No, sir. Not of this."
"Of what, then?"
Chase's eyes flicked up to McKowen's face, then away.
McKowen reached out, and the suddenness of the movement startled Chase so that he began to pull away; the colonel caught his jaw and pulled him back.
"Look at me, Chase."
Chase obeyed, and the hand McKowen had on him relaxed to trace the line of one cheekbone. Chase had to work hard to hold his gaze, and McKowen felt some visceral satisfaction about that, about the effect his proximity was having on the boy. Clay McKowen had never loved anything that came easily.
"I expect a lot out of you, private. You are going to be good, and you are going to be beautiful, and you are going make me proud. Understand?"
Chase stared, transfixed into those blue eyes and nodded.
Then the boy hesitated; not long, but enough to catch McKowen's attention.
"What is it, Duvenant? Tell me."
Chase turned those wide, faithful blue eyes on his superior once more.
"I haven't...been with anyone else, sir. Not since..." the young soldier trailed off, and Col. Clay McKowen shifted so that he could lean in very close to Chase.
"I know." he answered, a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth. Chase looked surprised, then embarrassed.
Clay McKowen leaned down to be closer to the boy. He smiled, darkly.
"I told the others I would kill them if they touched you."
Chase looked up at him then, and his gaze was wildly hopeful and sweet and fearful and so beautiful. Clay reached out once again to splay his fingers over the firm ridge of cheekbone and looked the younger man firmly in the eye.
"I was your first and only then, and I'll be your first and only now."
Chase's eyes widened, and he blinked rapidly to disguise the emotion in them. Clay let him look away, and when their gazes met again, he reached out to smooth one hand over the younger man's short hair.
"You're mine, Chase Duvenant. And you always will be."