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Broken Vows

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PROLOGUE
----------------


Wordless, because how could words ever be enough to excuse his
behaviour, he drew Marcus into his embrace and held on tightly. Again
and again he whispered, "Sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." A mantra to
keep him from thinking too much, from breaking down. Yet it was no
help. His guilt and relief were too much and slowly but inexorably his
breath began to hitch during his incantation and soon he started sob
soundlessly. Could Marcus ever forgive him? Had he now really lost
what he never wanted to lose in the first place? Had he destroyed
their trust, their respect and their love for each other?






CHAPTER 1
----------------


Thud, swing and step.

A weapon cluttered to the floor.

Easy. But better than expected.

He looked along the pike, aiming for his opponent's throat with one
end, locking eyes.

Neroon blinked at the familiarity of the situation despite the eyes
being rather of a light brown than green. But he recognized the same
defiance, the unwillingness to give up even in defeat. And just like
then, he withdrew the weapon.

But that was where all familiarity ended and Neroon extended his hand
to help his opponent to his feet again.

To be honest, he was impressed by the warrior. Neroon at once had
noticed the young man, when he had walked by for a boring inspection
of new recruits - but honestly, what else should he do during his
husband's extended absence?

The young warrior was a first-year cadet - though quite old for a new
recruit - but his fighting was already vastly beyond what his class
mates managed. And being of a similar diminutive frame of body, he
possessed a comparable swiftness, stayed in constant, evasive movement
like Marcus.

Only few warriors had integrated those new movements into their
traditional - speak conservative - fighting techniques, although
Marcus was training here often and sometimes even gave instructions.
This cadet however was one of those few, and he was even physically
able to apply most of Marcus' manoeuvres.

After some time of watching, Neroon noticed, although the cadet was
superior in his fighting skills, the cadet/he still had much to learn.
Neroon had felt compelled and challenged to submit a lesson.

And he was bored and would have used any feeble excuse to escape.

Neroon had stepped on the mat, extending/presenting a wooden training
staff in greeting and was met with endearing shyness instead of the
cockiness that Marcus had displayed/demonstrated during their first
encounter.

He had taken on the warrior, carefully fending off the attacks, trying
to gauge the true potential. When the strikes became surer, less
hesitant, Neroon had started to truly fight back. But since he had
more experience in general and even more experience with the mobile
style of Marcus, he had no problem whatsoever to hold his own against
this opponent. And then he started to brake through the other's
defenses bit by bit, showing him the inadequacies in a gentle but firm
way.

And suddenly it had ended with almost entirely the same moves as the
Denn'sha.

It was unsettling, this familiarity and yet the obvious difference.
Deliberately breaking out of his reminiscence he spoke, "Well done,
Cadet...?"

"Cadet Morann, Alyt," the young Minbari answered with an unnecessarily
deep bow.

"... Cadet Morann. Continue with your practice."

Interestedly, Neroon continued to watch the practice, now also paying
attention to the other recruits. But his gaze kept drifting back to
Morann, to the young warrior and his graceful litheness.

***

The next day, he was surprised, when - or better where - he met the
young man again.

A cadet on the bridge was not a common occurrence! But since he was in
the company of the chief engineer, his presence on the bridge was
probably justified.

Neroon watched his chief engineer explain something, pointing several
times towards the screen and then the chief and the cadet started to
work in tandem. Highly unusual.

"Faade'Na Jenimer, a word with you if you will."

"Aye, Alyt."

"How does it come that you bring a cadet to the bridge?"

"Morann may be only a cadet, but he already has two degrees in
engineering. He reconsidered his calling and only recently joined our
forces."

"Ah, he's the engineer you insisted to get your hands on. I had not
remembered his name. I hope he turned out as promised?"

"Definitely, Alyt. Although he has slight problems to adjust to the
strict hierarchic structure of the Warrior Caste. He's former Worker
Caste and is used to work in more equal environment, only bowing to
greater knowledge and not higher rank."

Neroon chuckled. "He will learn, Faade'Na. And as long as he is not
obviously disobeying orders..."

"No, but he tends to independency, doing more what's necessary than
what has been ordered. I think a rise in rank in a few months would be
beneficial and justified. He's definitely command material."

"Send me his files and recommendations." The progress reports would
show if the cadet was also good enough in other respects to legitimate
an early promotion. "Dismissed Faade'Na." It almost seemed as if he
had been played, he thought amused. A cadet on the bridge was sure to
draw the captain's attention.

The chief engineer saluted, returned to the cadet and the two left the
bridge again.

Hmm, nice backside.

***

After his shift ended and he had transferred command to his First
Officer, he found himself pacing the living room of his quarters. He
was at a loss what to do. He had tried reading, he had tried music, he
even had been desperate enough to clean up the files on his private
computer console.

He missed Marcus.

It had been a month already since his beloved had left the Ingata for
a diplomatic mission. It was only supposed to last for two weeks but
this new race seemed totally disregarding of schedules. So far there
was no noteworthy progress in negotiations. It was questionable when
Marcus would finally return.

And now he was alone and fidgety and horny and he missed Marcus.

It hadn't been that bad last week. But by now, it was quite annoying
to just sit here and wait for Marcus to call him.

If he called at all.

He didn't even have Torann at hand to redirect his frustration and
vent his displeasure because the aide had accompanied Marcus as his
guard.

He paused and glanced at the clock.

Maybe…

Maybe he would pay the training salle a visit. Since it was only
logical to provide Cadet Morann with an appropriate opponent - which
made Neroon a logical choice - he would try and see if he could get in
another sparring match with Morann. It had been quite enjoying to
fight with the cadet and he wouldn't mind getting to know the young man
better, once he had read his files. Morann definitely had potential.

***

"Neroon! Finally. Where have you been yesterday? I tried to call you
several times."

Having enough of waiting for your call like a good, unoccupied wife!
Out loud he said instead, "I'm sorry, I was held up."

"Whatever." Marcus almost fell into his word. "Look, I don't have much
time and I desperately need a reference. I don't remember it fully and
was unable to find it but I know where I stored it on my computer.
Could you send it to me?"

"Of course. Anything else?" Neroon asked with accentuated calmness. He
had only been missed as a means to send a file?! Why hadn't Marcus
bothered somebody else?

"I'll be home in two days! We will arrive with the next commuter
shuttle." Marcus turned away from the screen and called, "Just one
more minute, Torann! - Listen, I have sent you instructions to access
my computer and to find the file. I have to run, now. Bye! Love you."

It said and severed the connection.

Neroon sat there for a moment, blinking in incredulous lack of
understanding. In this case he had preferred not to get a call at all.
Even if Marcus should really be coming home this time.

Did he deserve this disregard? Couldn't Marcus have used his short
time to assure him his imminent arrival, reaffirm his love, state how
much he missed Neroon? He remembered a time where that had been the
case, where each however short call had been used to confirm their
deep feelings for each other. When had they lost that? When had they
exchanged intimacy for business?

Angered, Neroon looked for Marcus' message, memorized it and strode to
Marcus' office with clipped steps, repeatedly shaking his head. Again
Marcus had forgotten an important file and because his aide Sorell had
accompanied him, Neroon had to suffer the consequences. It hadn't
happened the first time and it probably wasn't the last. Sometimes
Marcus was just too scatter-brained with paperwork and not even his
aide was able to prevent all mishaps and `supervise' the compliance of
all due-dates for applications, reports or requests. Administration
was just too slow for his whirlwind of a mate. Marcus would always
wonder when something reappeared he had thought long since a closed
affair. Marcus probably would never get the hang of a desk-job; he was
too much a man of action, always with his head five problems ahead of
the one he should be currently working on and of course he insisted to
do everything himself. It had been a pain to make him at least accept
an aide. Luckily Sorell finally got the blessing and had been helping
Marcus tremendously.

Even if he only managed that Marcus' office no longer looked like the
result of a hurricane, Neroon noticed approvingly when he stopped
short in the door frame. Although Sorell had already been here for
three months, Neroon hadn't seen the results of Sorell's work in the
office. He usually avoided to disturb Marcus during work. Too much
temptation at the wrong time.

He eventually stepped into the room and walked over to the work
station, surveying the room. There was a neat stack of print-outs on
one side of the table, a data pad resting on top. Former compositions
of twigs and yellow leaves had been replaced with healthy plants. And
nowhere was seen a used mug or dirty plate. A vast improvement. He
could well remember a time when the cleaning personal refused to even
set one foot inside the room, stating that it was a health hazard.
Marcus had spent about three days to sort out the mess and clean the
room himself. This had been another reason to never enter Marcus'
office. It just wasn't any fun to even try to have a tryst during the
day. Now this might need revision.


There even was a couch in here? That was new, wasn't it? Or had he
just never seen it?

A nice big couch, Neroon noticed.

He definitely needed to pay Marcus a visit in the future!

Despite his anger at Marcus' attitude towards him, Neroon was looking
forward to have his husband close again. Sleeping alone felt always
strange, even after a lengthy separation. Especially after a lengthy
separation. Although he had to admit, the first week he had welcomed
the silence when Marcus was absent. He had been so used to being
alone, that it felt like slipping into comfortable, worn robes. It was
easy to resort to old, familiar habits.

Sighing in resignation, Neroon turned back to his task, sat down and
switched on the computer system. He entered the password and the ID
for the encoding, luckily found the requested file where it was
supposed to be and opened the messenger program to send the file to
Marcus.


###
Marcus,
Here is the information you asked for. Good luck with the meeting and
don't annoy too many delegates. You've already proven enough that you
are the `biggest PITA of the known universe' (Garibaldi's *repeated*
words, not mine), don't piss off the other part as well.
I await your return and pray for your safe and scheduled arrival.

N.
###


He jabbed the send-button and silently ground out, `Have fun with it!'

He was about to shut down the computer, when he noticed that a new
message had arrived. But strangely enough it didn't appear in one of
the main folders. Marcus once had told him, that he sorted the
incoming transmissions in only three categories. This one showed up in
neither. Curious he went on the quest for the missing message.

Finally he found it in a sub-folder named `Other'. It was titled `T-2
days'. Frowning, he opened it.

Read it.

Read it again.

And wished he had never opened it.

All the blood drained out of him, he was nauseous, his head started
to spin and his ears were suddenly deaf with a loud roar. His eyes
were unbelievingly glued to the screen, to those unimaginable words,
words like sharp, cutting knives.


###
My brave warrior!
Soon we will be joined again. I know you will read this as soon as you
return. Those words will greet you while I'm still absent. I'm looking
forward to your tellings from home, I will even enjoy listening to
your recounting of business events only to hear your voice. My ears
have been thoroughly missing your sweet sounds, as my lips have missed
your sweet touch.

I enfold you in my embrace and send you thousands of my warm kisses.

Your Zha'aia
###


valen. valen. --- valen.

NO!

NO!!!!

He started to shake. Uncontrollably. Unavoidable.

It just couldn't be!

The roar in his ears had accumulated to a blocking white noise and he
noticed the slow darkening of the room. By now he only saw the glaring
light of the display with those vile words until even they were
obscured. Desperately he clung to the console, his hands numb and
slippery.

Shock.

Shock? How could it be shock? He hadn't been injured.

`Of course, not,' a voice whispered, `Only your heart has been ripped
to shreds by mere words.'

Mere words, devastating words.

***

He didn't know how long he just sat there, trying not to disintegrate
with pain.

Then he burst into desperate action. This had to be a mistake, a joke
from a friend, a misrouted message, anything! Frantically he opened
and read random files only to find his first suspicion confirmed.

Marcus had a lover.

A whole relationship, even! Where did Marcus find the time for it?
Neroon hadn't noticed anything, no suddenly or even gradually changing
schedules or working hours and their love life still had honeymoon
quality.

Though really thinking about it, their time together had shortened
considerably. Each of them being engaged in their professions and
their responsibilities, sometimes pursuing their own enjoyments, they
often would only meet in bed. And not necessarily in the desired way.

But Marcus still was very much besotted with him, despite their
enforced separations.

Wasn't he?

Neroon didn't know anymore. Didn't know anything. How long has this
already been going on? Right under his nose? On his ship! The
impertinence!

His Marcus. Marcus.

Breathing hurt, why did breathing suddenly hurt so much? Each heart
beat had to be forced from his body. What should he do?

Marcus.

Why?!

`Calm down and think,' the voice ordered.

Suddenly enraged, he shot up from his seat, devoided the table of its
content with one forceful sweep, sent the chair tumbling against the
next wall, flung one of the potted plants on the floor and... suddenly
ran out of options to violate the interior decoration.

Feeling a solid, burning cold settling into his mind, Neroon
mechanically switched off the console and left the room in
disarray/shambles/chaos.

***

The pain of betrayal was even worse the next day. It cost all his
strength to go through the daily routines. At midday, he finally gave
in and withdrew to his office, informing the staff that he was only to
be disturbed for an emergency.

Like the return of the Shadows. Or the end of the universe.

But since the Shadows had left and his universe had already ended,
neither one posed as a real emergency in his frame of mind.

After about ten thousand rounds of agitated pacing, Neroon left his
office determinedly and returned to ground zero.

Once there, he straightened the havoc he had caused the day before.
Then, with a heavy heart, he sat down at the computer terminal. He
felt his pulse speed up at what he was going to do.

Clenching his jaw, inhaling deeply and releasing a shuddering, painful
breath he activated the computer and saved the compromising
correspondence on a crystal. Clutching the crystal tightly in one
hand, he went back to his own office. From there he could
inconspicuously read through the letters again and at least try to
find out who Marcus' lover was, what had been going on and how long.

Perched on his chair in nervous anticipation, Neroon sifted through
all messages, carefully extracting and noting information. After three
hours he closed the last file.

Nothing!

There was nothing that revealed the identity of the lover. Only that
he was male and that the whole affair started about several weeks
back. All the messages were vague in the extreme, revealing hardly any
personal information. Only `undying love' was sworn sickeningly often.

If only he could lay hands on that swine, this fiend, this coward!
They could have honourably fought for the right of Marcus' attention.
But this thief was just stealing Marcus' heart from under his nose.

He was seething. If he would get hold of this lover, this Other, he
would kill him. With bare hands. Breaking every bone in the swindlers
body so that the sharp points of fracture would pierce painfully
through the skin, crashing his scull against the floor until it burst
open like rotting fruit, spilling its deceitful contents uselessly on
the floor. And even after death he would dishonour the mangled body,
putting it on display for everybody to see what happened to traitors.
Then he would deliver the body to Minbar, throwing it into the sea to
have its flesh travel through the digestive system of fish and birds
and be returned as animal excreta. Yes, that sounded like a really
satisfying plan.

But he would never put it into action at a single word from Marcus.

He would have released the Ranger from their vows, had Marcus ever
mentioned he wasn't satisfied and happy in their relationship
anymore. He wouldn't have forced the Human to stay with him. Even if
it would have broken him just as well and thoroughly.

But this sneaking behaviour was disrespectful! Especially from Marcus
he would have expected honesty. But if the other one made Marcus
really happy? If Marcus really loved the other one? What should he do?
Neroon still loved Marcus with his entire soul - his whole id - and
was not inclined to give up his chosen one.

`Fight,' the voice provided.

Yes, he would fight! And since he didn't know the opponent, he would
fight for Marcus' love. He would show his husband how deep his
feelings still were after all those years.

And he would watch Marcus closely. Maybe this way the traitor could be
identified. And then he might still extract his revenge in a more
direct way and confront him!

Or better the other way around.

***

When Marcus' transporter arrived, Neroon was already waiting at the
entrance of the hangar. Meticulously, he scanned the visible area. So
far he hadn't noticed anything out of the usual, only busy personal as
far as he could see. No lurker.

Well, except him.

Although it was hard to tell. Since this was a regular shuttle flight,
there were dozens of people waiting to board the ship once the current
passengers had left it.

And there was Marcus.

But...! What...?

Oh. It only was Torann who had an arm around Marcus' shoulder.
Irrational, irrational! he scolded himself. First, the last message
indicated that Marcus' `paramour' wasn't with him, second, it
definitely wasn't Torann! It just wasn't.

While the trio of two Minbari and one Human in the middle walked
towards his position, he kept watching them closely.

Torann was urgently talking to Marcus with a beratingly raised finger.
Marcus' head was slightly bowed but he was occasionally glancing at
Torann or at his aide Sorell. What was that about? His mate didn't
look particularly happy.

After Marcus had nodded, albeit reluctantly, Torann gave the Human a
hard hug and shoved him towards the exit, winking at Neroon. Then
Torann ambled towards the elevator, dragging Sorell with him.

Since Marcus still hadn't looked up, Neroon finally called his
husband's name to draw his attention.

"Marcus."

The Ranger jerked to a halt, obviously caught off guard. "Neroon!"

Marcus sounded surprised and disbelieving.

Surprised was to be expected because it had been a while since Neroon
had received Marcus at the hangar. But disbelieving? Was it really so
unusual to welcome him home as soon as he set foot on the Ingata?

"What's the matter? Has anything happened?" Marcus brow was creased
with worry.

"No, Am'sheal," Neroon at once reassured. "I just missed you." This
was not going according to plan. He hadn't intended to worry his mate
with his actions. He had thought Marcus would be pleased and would
come and greet him with a kiss. But he had to make the best of it.

`Show Marcus that you still care.' Yes, thank you. Great advice,
voice. What did it think he would do?

"That's a relief! I really don't need any more problems on top of the
ones I already have. This meeting was sheer horror." Marcus visibly
relaxed, though Neroon could still see lines of tension in his face.
Now that he was paying extra attention.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Neroon answered and gently took the suitcase
from Marcus' grasp. "Would you like to eat something while you tell me
more about it?" `Careful. Don't overdo it.'

"I don't know. I'm tired, I'm frustrated, I should take a look at my
correspondence in case something important has turned up..."

Correspondence.

Neroon felt how his face froze into an impassive mask. Dammit, Marcus!
"Leave the messages until tomorrow. If it had been so important that
it couldn't wait until tomorrow, they would have initiated a direct
vid connection. Now, what would you like to do?"

"Fine. And could you maybe let me first come home before bothering me?
I already told you, that I'm tired. I'll probably just go to bed.
Hopefully that'll also get rid of my headache."

Marcus really didn't make it easy. So far, he had done nothing to
appease Neroon's fears.

They travelled the remaining corridors in silence and Neroon had time
to calm down, to suppress his suspicions and act the caring lover and
husband.

So, Marcus was tired and had a headache. It probably wasn't
unimaginable that he was a little short-tempered. No reason to worry.

Yet.

`Just keep observing him closely. Nothing is lost. Be patient and woe
him as if you weren't already married.'

At their quarters, Neroon attentively let Marcus enter first,
deposited the suitcase next to the door and helped Marcus out of his
cloak.

That earned him a "Thank you," and a questing gaze as Marcus noticed
the set table with candles and all. "Did I miss something?"

"I just missed you and wanted to welcome you home. - So, welcome home,
Da'cal." Neroon spread his arms invitingly for an embrace.

"Sweet." Marcus smiled, came over and melted into his embrace. "And
sorry. I'm still so caught up in the whole mess because I discussed
options with Torann and Sorell on the entire way back. Torann already
berated me to forget everything until tomorrow. I got really worked up
over this...mess."

Then Marcus kissed him. A sweet and lengthy saying-hello kiss.

Marcus sighed as their lips parted. But instead of moving away as
Neroon had feared, he slung his arms around Neroon's waist and leaned
the head against his shoulder.

This felt so normal. As it should be. Then why did the tender warmth
in his chest suddenly turn to a consuming, churning dread?

"How does a bath sound? I need somebody to keep me from falling asleep
and drowning."

"Of course. Do you need anything else?" Neroon didn't even know how he
had managed to speak around the constriction in his throat.

"Would you prepare a plate with something to eat? I'll run the bath in
the meantime."

So normal. They'd done the same so often that the distribution of
tasks was a routine.

"Of course, Marcus. I'll join you shortly."

Neroon went to the tiny kitchenette and put several small snacks on a
plate, carefully paying attention that most of them were Marcus'
favorites. He also prepared some tea and placed it next to the plate
and some cups on a tray.

When he entered the bathroom, he was greeted with the herbal scent of
the bathing oil and by his half-undressed mate. A still pleasant
sight, especially since Marcus had gained some padding on that bones
with the continued pampering. He really loved that added softening and
never understood the Human's complaints about his weight. Marcus was
nowhere going near fat! It was more like seeing a gangly kitten mature
into a beautiful, strong feline. Just...beautiful.

And again his guts burned with the fear of potential loss.

The splash of water and a heartfelt sigh from Marcus brought Neroon
back to reality.

With extreme care as not to betray his turmoil, Neroon placed the tray
on a bench next to the tub. Then he undressed and slid into the water
behind Marcus.

Neroon's feelings were slightly appeased, as skin touched skin and
Marcus instantly, comfortably moulded into the usual curves of his
form. Marcus literally snuggled up to him, even taking Neroon's arms
to wrap them around his torso. Partly wet hair brushed over Neroon's
chest, some strands clinging to his skin.

Because Marcus had complained about a headache earlier, Neroon began
to gently brush through Marcus' hair, massaging the scalp underneath
and drawing firm circles at the temples. Slowly the remaining tension
vanished from Marcus' face, making way for a content smile.

After a long while Marcus opened his eyes again. He slightly turned
around and claimed Neroon's mouth in a deep kiss, his tongue
effortlessly teasing and soothing, tantalizing and inviting, gliding
in and out between their mouths. Oh, yes, Marcus was a good kisser and
they sometimes could spend an eternity like this without craving more
than the resting touch of limbs and the unhurried movement of tongues
and lips.

As the kiss slowed down, Neroon opened his eyes and was surprised to
find Marcus' green gaze already resting upon him. ...And what else
could it be than utter love that was shining at him?

How could that be? How could Marcus look upon him like this when he
allowed to be wooed by another?

With a seemingly unsteady hand he cupped Marcus' cheek, cherishing the
feel of soft beard on his palm. "Love you. Love you so much." So much
it hurts.

Marcus' gaze never wavered nor changed the expression of love when it
was joined by a big smile. "I love you, too."

***

Several days after Marcus' return, Neroon decided to surprise his
husband and kidnap him for a shared lunch.

It was an excuse to see Marcus during the day, as well as check up on
him unannounced. Although the latter one sat in his stomach heavy like
lead and writhing like hyperspace whirls.

He was betraying Marcus' trust.

But he had to find out! Had to see...to understand.

He still couldn't grasp the discrepancy. The loving letters of the
Other who implied equally strong feelings being returned and Marcus'
absolutely normal behaviour. Neroon hadn't found anything to lay his
fingers on; no strange gazes, no avoidance of presence, conversation
or touch. How could Marcus accomplish that?

He growled in annoyance. And at once schooled his features. He
couldn't barge into Marcus' office in a furious mood. Couldn't let
Marcus see his anger, his fear. Not yet. Not when he still doubted his
findings. He was sure Marcus still felt for him.

Taking a deep breath, he entered Marcus' office.

Empty.

Well, he could wait.

He glanced around and let his gaze wander. The carefully cleaned room
had regained some of its former ‘cosiness’. There was a cloak
carelessly thrown over the arm of the couch, a sleeve trailing on the
floor. A nearly empty cup sat on a side table. Another cup was on the
desk, sitting next to a plate devoid of anything but crumbs. A messy
stack of papers sat in front of the computer terminal.

Which was activated.

Tempting.

Casually slowly he made his way over to the desk. He probably should
spare himself the mental anguish to read more of the horrid vows of
love and desire and shared intimacy. But he still had to know, had to
know what was going on, what was planned, what had happened. He still
needed to find out the Others identity. And he needed to stake his
claim on Marcus. He would show the Other that Marcus already had a
partner and a strong relationship. A partner who just wouldn't budge
when threatened; not when there was still the chance that Marcus loved
him.

Determined, he opened the subfolder containing the correspondence.
Three new messages since Neroon had last had a look.


###
*snort*

KissKissKiss
###


Very revealing. Very ridiculous. On to the next.


###
My beloved warrior,

Don't fear, he's still oblivious, I assure you. I haven't drawn
attention to us and I won't pressure you into telling him. You have
all the time you need. And once you are prepared, I'll be by your
side. You really have nothing to fear.

Our last meeting has brought me great joy, despite its shortness. Let
me know when you'll be free again; I yearn for your presence.

Yours
###


`Virtual kisses just weren't the same as real ones, were they?' Neroon
thought spitefully.

And then he opened the last message.


###
My Ker'Shan,

I'll meet you for lunch at the usual place. I'll bring some sweets.

Your Am'Sheal
###


Jackpot! That was for today. Let's see if he could interfere with
those plans. Yes, that was probably the best way; at least for his
psyche. If he couldn't persuade Marcus to spend lunch with him, he
could still try to find out who the Other was. A pleased smile started
to spread over his face, when suddenly the door opened and Marcus entered.

Entered happily chatting with a shift officer and leading him into the
room with a hand at the small of the other's back. Neroon was proud
when he kept his wits about him and quickly closed the open files on
the computer instead of strangling one of his weapons tevla who was
now on the top-list of suspects.

"Alyt." He ignored the tevla. `Tevla Mazik,' the voice provided
annoyingly.

"Neroon! What are you doing here?"

Again there was surprise in Marcus' voice. But neither guilt nor
distress or upset. He watched his mate closely and noticed a slight
narrowing of the eyes. Suspicion? Ups, Marcus probably had caught him
closing the files and just refrained from calling on him because of
the tevla. `Don't try to explain yourself, that's just as suspicious.'
This voice sometimes was really annoying. As if he didn't know anything!

"I thought to come over and ask if you would like to eat lunch together."

Marcus raised an eyebrow at him and then turned to Mazik. "Mazik, I
think we'll have to continue our chat some other time. Just drop by
and we'll see if I can make some time. And keep me informed about your
nephew's decision."

"Of course, Marcus. Good day. - Alyt."

"Tevla Mazik."

They all bowed politely, though Neroon kept his gaze on the tevla in
case any silent signals were exchanged before the tevla left.

Nothing.

Which didn't have to mean there was nothing going on. Maybe they just
were careful.

Once Mazik had left, a seductive smile spread on Marcus' face and he
came over to Neroon for a kiss. Absolutely toe-curling.

Distracting?

Truly felt?

Whatever. If Marcus was here with him, he wasn't with the Other.

"Hey, you. The last time you came here was before my
three-day-spring-cleaning. It's a nice surprise. Now, what was that
about lunch?" Marcus' arms had found their way around Neroon's neck
and fingers were teasing down the back of his shirt, following the
manifold memorized cerulean patches. An involuntary shiver ran across
Neroon's skin.

"I just thought we could have lunch together. It's been a while."

Marcus' brow creased in thought. It was just as endearing as it had
been the first time. Neroon stroked his thumb over a prominent crease
and simply smiled when Marcus batted his hand away.

"Stop that. I have to think and reschedule or cancel some meetings.
How about 1300?" Marcus wriggled out of his embrace, went over to his
computer and instantly started working busily.

Slowly, Neroon prowled over to him and leaned against the table near
Marcus. `Don't give him a chance to cancel his `date' in case it
wasn't Mazik.' "How about at once?" He kissed Marcus on the neck, just
behind the ear. Which actually was playing dirty. But who cared? He
was trying to keep Marcus, so everything was fair to secure that result.

"Ah, to hell with it. I'll just call Sorell and let him do the calls."
Marcus' eyes had closed and he had been leaning into the touch. Now he
straightened his clothes to make his call to Sorell.

"Sorell, could you reorganize my timetable and free me for one hour
from now on?"

"Of course, Marcus." Sorell sighed. He looked just as unhappy as he
sounded.

"I'm sorry, Sorell. And thank you."

Success! That was almost too easy. But Neroon felt triumphant; Marcus
was with him and seemed absolutely happy where he was.

Which was right on the very couch in Marcus' office where they just
made good use of it.

Take that, bird droppings!

***

He had just finished brushing his teeth and wanted to go to bed, when
he caught his own gaze in the mirror.

It had been a while since he had really looked at himself and thought
about how others perceived him.

Of course he looked older. So did Marcus. Some silvery strands had
sneaked into the dark hair and lines of laughter had finally erased
that of worry. Different, but very much his beautiful beloved.

His own face still looked much the same, there were no significant new
wrinkles. But the blue of his cerulean patches... hadn't it once been
brighter, more defined from the surrounding skin? They seemed to
slowly blend in with the paleness of his complexion.

And his bone crest! Hadn't it been farther back just a little time
ago? If it was growing more to the front, he would soon look like 130
instead of 89!

Slowly he turned his head from right to left to get a good glance at
the rest of his bone crest. Well, mostly fine. Very fine indeed. But
wasn't Marcus complaining that there were some rugged and sharp edges?

"Neroon, you coming?"

Oh, there! He stroked along the jagged rim of bone. It was indeed
sharp enough to tear skin. He even remembered when that had happened.
A very vigorous sparring match with Torann where he had moved in an
unanticipated way and Torann wasn't able to pull the blow soon enough.
The blow had almost given him a concussion and definitely a headache.

Why was it that he hadn't taken care of the damage to his bone crest?
As a warrior it was ingrained in him to take care of his body. An
incomprehensible neglect.

Tomorrow, tomorrow he would go to the on-board cosmetician and bone
crafter to see what he could do. At the very least he would have his
bone crest smoothed out. Maybe even slightly re-carved?

Maybe that was part of the reason why Marcus had looked at someone
else. A relationship meant hard work: mindfulness of a partner’s needs,
the willingness for compromise and the ability to argue with
understanding. But obviously he had forgotten and neglected one not
inconsiderable part: his appearance. At least he was still in good
shape and training. If he had to get rid of some additional weight and
regain muscle... he didn't even want to think about the effort! But he
would have done it for his mate.

"What are you doing so long in there, Neroon? Did the slippery soap
manage to trip you? Or did your menacing toothbrush get the better of
you?"

Had Marcus already called? He sounded quite impatient. Quickly he left
the bathroom and joined his husband in bed.

"No, it was the evil drain that wanted to suck me in. It was quite a
struggle, but in the end your superior warrior was able to escape."

Marcus chuckled, gave him the usual good-night kiss and snuggled up to
him.

"Good night, Neroon."

"Good night, Marcus."

***

###
If you were just here, my Marcus, I would show you this beautiful
planet. The vibrant colour of its water masses reminded me of your eyes
and I longed to share this moment with you. What do you say, would you
like to meet me later at the observation dome for some stargazing? We
would be alone.

My love and kisses,
Neroon
###


Maybe this just sent message was not as romantic as the Other's were;
he always had been better at showing and talking than writing. At
least when it was a serious invitation for a rendezvous in starlight.
But he really tried.

He waited for Marcus' response, thumping his fingers against the
table. What would he say? Was it too sappy? Would an evening alone in
the dome even be appreciated? Maybe Marcus would rather stay in their...

There already was the answer. That was quicker than he had expected.
He just had to open it and read it.


###
Hmmm, sounds lovely. I'll meet you there at 2000. And please, please
bring something to eat (some `real' food!). I won't have the time to
get something before our meeting.
###


Brilliant! Another slap in the Other's face. But it was rather late,
even for Marcus. Usually he tried to get out at 1900 the latest. Hm.


###
Hugs and kisses
Marcus

P.S.: By the way, *this* kind of mail is all right. The other ones,
let’s just say, Sorell always could tell by the grade of my blushing
what you have written. He has become quite accurate at guessing. And
now try to figure out this one: ( )*(x). Just so you know what I'm
expecting later *g*.
###


Huh? Ok, assuming that `x' was still standing for a kiss...Where would
Marcus want that kiss?

Oh.

Oooooooh.

He would do that! And more.

 

 

CHAPTER 2
---------------


"Neroon, I think I'll cut my hair. Maybe I'll even shave my beard.
What do you think?"

No! Um, what kind of question was that anyway? He liked Marcus just
fine as he was.

"I'm looking so hopelessly antiquated, stone-agey even!" Marcus added.

Ok, it was about fashion. They never talked about fashion. Where did
this new interest in fashion stem from? His new lover?

Anger suddenly rose in Neroon and he vehemently stated "No! I don't
want you to change anything." Especially since he had done exactly
that: to slightly improve his appearance for Marcus.

Uh, well, maybe that had come across as too forceful and demanding,
because Marcus looked at him quite perplexed and a little shocked. "It
was just a thought, no need to give me a tongue lashing. I just
thought I'll try something different. But if you don't want me
to...then no impressing the ladies!"

Ladies? Ladies! Maybe he hadn't found anything because it was a female
lover. He had only kept close tap on the males. Stupid! You know he
once had been in love with Susan.

"Anyway, it was you who started to care about appearance, so I thought..."

Start thinking Neroon! The letters were obvious that it was a male!
Somehow his brain seemed to stop working when he was jealous of the
Other. That was in no way acceptable. He had to be rational about it,
even though feelings were involved.

"Neroon? Neroon!"

"Hm?"

"You were lost in thought again. You seem to do that quite often
lately. What's on your mind?"

`You, always you,' Neroon thought bitterly and had a hard time not to
shout it at Marcus.

Without looking back, he quickly left the room, feeling Marcus' eyes
on his back. He had to get away before he did something stupid. Like
forcefully staking his claim or beating the shit out of his husband
out of unreasonable anger.

***

Pleased, Neroon placed the final insignia on the last of several
promoted warriors, among them Morann. It was a duty he appreciated and
hated at the same time. There were strictly guided rituals for
promotions which hardly allowed to award the individual in recognition
of their talent and duty and honour.

But now the pleasurable part would start: the reception with good food
and drink and the mingling of officers and lower ranks. It was a good
opportunity to get a feel for the ship's crew in its entirety and get
reacquainted with some warriors he only seldom saw or spoke to. And
despite its formal rituals the gathering afterwards was just as
informal. The lower ranks knew this and of course shamelessly enjoyed
it in the fullest.

After the last chord of the harps and chimes had died away, those
present left for the observation dome. Neroon offered his arm to
Marcus and they followed the mass of warriors.

"Renonn's promotion was long overdue. He needs the money for his
family. They have badly suffered during both wars and have
difficulties to regain their standing. I hope the raise of his salary
and the special bonus will be wisely invested," Marcus quietly
remarked with a proud smile, as if he had been personally responsible
for Renonn's promotion.

"I have no doubts in this regard. If Renonn hadn't been as good with
money, his family wouldn't nearly have the amenities they still have.
They would be off far worse even with official support," Neroon answered.

"How much longer until this last war's adverse effects will cease to
be of importance? It's been eight years!"

"Don't fret, Marcus," Neroon tried to lessen his husband's regretful
compassion. "Overall, the situation on Minbar has improved greatly.
It's only some few families that struggle with their losses. They
eventually will regain their footing with our help. But you also know
that too much interference, especially with warriors, only would cause
those families great distress and shame."

"Yes, yes, and I also know the statistics. But I know some people
behind the numbers. That's what keeps me cursing this war. Personally
I have gained more from it than I lost. And that seems always so wrong
when I get to know people who lost their families, their homes, their
savings, their jobs, their health or just their sleep. They earned it
as less as I earned it to get about everything I always had only hoped
for. This is...just...unfair."

"What was your philosophy about the unfairness of the universe? Sorry.
Forget about it. I know what you mean. Though it really isn't helping
anyone. Try at least to cheer up a bit. We have reason to celebrate."
He gave Marcus' hand a slight squeeze. "Would you like to eat or drink
something?"

"Not hungry," came the miffed retort.

`Hm. A little irritable, are we? Might that have anything to do with
the fact, that you weren't able to meet with your lover because you
were forced to spend time with your husband?'

Not that Marcus' behaviour had left anything to be desired. They had
made love almost every day, spent their scarce quality time together
talking, eating, reading, sparring, visiting friends, go for a walk or
simply being in each other’s presence. Even a little more than they had
for several months actually. The idea to convince Marcus to accept an
aid sure had been one brilliant tactical move.

He was only sorry for Sorell today. If Marcus had been anything like
this all day... It wasn't fun to even be in the same room with him.
And who knew how many aggravated officials there had been to appease?
Poor Sorell!

"I'll just sit down over there and try not to look like a party
pooper," Marcus said casually. Too casually. And then he tried to make
an escape.

Neroon barely managed to get hold of a fold from Marcus' cloak.

"No, you don't. You can't, you know that. Come, Ah'mala," he pecked
Marcus on the lips and slung an arm around his waist. "We'll do the
rounds together and then we'll leave at once."

That got him several enemies with just one strike of the denn'bok.
First, with good luck, the Other would also be around and would just
see how close Marcus and he still were. Second, Marcus would leave the
party with him. He would make sure of that. And third, he showed
respect towards Marcus' wishes. Which would hopefully put him into
Marcus' favours.

Valen, did he feel manipulative. Which surely wasn't an appreciated
sentiment.

They made their rounds, starting with congratulating Morann. Neroon
had taken the young Minbari as a protégé after having spent some time
with the cadet, and was supporting him to find a place among the
warriors. Neroon only hoped that the fast promotion wouldn't be seen
with distrust and envy. But since Neroon had gotten the impression
that he was generally liked and was perceived as not fitting his rank
even among his peers (he was just ahead of them because of his age and
experience), it shouldn't pose a grave problem. Especially because
Neroon had not yet taken a protégé who hadn't been worth it and that
was well-know.

Marcus only reluctantly followed Neroon's lead. He seemed absent, was
constantly glancing around the room and towards the exit and was
barely joining the conversations.

Neroon quickly finished the congratulations before Marcus' impolite
behaviour could be perceived by others and then took his leave.

If Neroon hadn't still kept an arm around Marcus waist, the Human
would have rushed from the room in unnecessary haste and once the door
closed behind them, Marcus stepped from his side.

What was the matter?

"Marcus? What is on your mind? You seldom are rude without sound reason."

Marcus sighed and shrugged. "I'm feeling a little irritable today."

"Any particular reason?"

"Well, not exactly. I just woke up and was in a bad mood. - Morann is
a nice lad, isn't he?"

"Yes, indeed. I'm convinced he will quite soon become a chief engineer
on his own ship. He even has mastered the basic training without much
trouble, despite originating from the Worker Caste. He has the
fighting experience from a voluntary service as vigilant. It's
admirable. We can count ourselves lucky that he made the deduction to
join the Warrior Caste. Maybe he'll even participate in the
improvement and design of engines."

"You are quite taken with him."

Only now did Neroon notice Marcus' intent and the narrowed eyes. This
was ridiculous! Was Marcus jealous?

"Marcus, I have taken him as protégé. Of course, I have an interest in
him. A professional interest," he emphasized, barely restraining his
aggravation.

"You haven't spent this much time with your other protégés."

Neroon frowned. "I haven't?" He hadn't noticed! Why hadn't he noticed?
It had been his intention to pay attention to Marcus, to guess his
wishes, to court him, to win him back. It wouldn't work if Marcus was
jealous!

"You haven't. Because you always train with Morann, we haven't sparred
together since forever!" Marcus displayed a badly concealed restraint
of anger.

"Sorry. I hadn't noticed. We could go to the training hall now,"
Neroon offered. He seriously hadn't noticed his neglect. But then, he
was getting a decent work-out which was getting quite similar to one
with Marcus.

"No."

"No?" Neroon had considered the problem solved. It seemed Marcus
hadn't because he didn't deign him with an answer and mutely continued
to their quarters.

***

"Alyt? I'm sorry to call you again. Marcus wanted me to inform you,
that he won't be able to join you for your dinner."

"Thank you, Sorell. Do you know when Marcus will be finished?"

"I don't know, Alyt. Marcus didn't relate where he went and therefore
I'm unable to estimate a time frame."

This was already the fifth time in two weeks that Marcus let himself
be excused by Sorell in such a feeble way.

Coward!

But there was no anger this time, only despair at the realization that
Marcus seemed to slip through his fingers like water despite all his
efforts.

Feeling nausea rise at the sight of the ready-to-eat dinner, Neroon
disposed of it on the spot.

***

Ok, so today Marcus made it for dinner. Only bad luck for him that
there hadn't been prepared any this time.

And despite Marcus being `at home' for the moment, Neroon still felt
as if spending the evening alone.

His husband had only a uttered a quick `Hello,' had slapped together a
sandwich as soon as he had come home, and since then had sat before
the computer console, doing who knows what.

Unable to bear the slight, Neroon went to bed far too early, staring
sightlessly at the walls and then pretending to sleep when Marcus
joined him only shortly later.

***

Diligently, he suckled on the head of Marcus' cock, only barley
teasing with his tongue. Which was quite teasing, because
they had already started this time’s lovemaking about three quarters of
an hour ago. Accordingly understandable was Marcus'
restless and desperate movement under him. It had to be bordering on
torture for his mate by now.

Yes, he was literally restraining Marcus with his own weight, to keep
him from thrusting his hips in order to get more of the moist heat
around his erection. But of course, it was not helpful to continue to
squirm like a captured fish. Neroon wasn't inclined to release his
hold and wouldn't let himself be removed from his position.

In contrary, the more Marcus moved around, the more complete became
the restraint. So far, it had only been the legs and the hips, which
Neroon had kept immobile with one of his own legs, almost straddling
him. It was exhilarating to feel Marcus' hot skin slicken under him,
making it a challenge to keep a grip on the shifting muscles.

Neroon couldn't see Marcus face without releasing the twitching flesh
from his lips since he had his back turned to Marcus. But he could
guess what he would see: the blush now spreading over the entire face
down the neck to the hollow of the throat where a purple love bite was
even standing out from between the red, the green eyes would be
scrunched shut because of the restraint and sometimes a tip of tongue
would dart out to moisten lips dried from panting.

It probably was a good thing he didn't see it. His member was getting
all too eager from the vision alone.

Since Marcus now had repeatedly tried to urge him on by guiding his
head with both hands or tease him mercilessly with fingers on
well-known hot spots, he captured the roaming appendages in a firm grip.

That only elicited a mischievous chuckle from Marcus, which Neroon
almost missed because it was instantly drowned by continued moans.

And then Neroon knew why Marcus had chuckled, this had become a game
now. Neroon teasing Marcus, Marcus teasing Neroon. And the only option
for Marcus was to use a feature he had always made good use of: his
mouth.

Neroon had expected everything from begging, pleading, demanding,
praying to insulting, and requesting, even incoherency. But not
talking dirty. It wasn't something Marcus usually did. Disjointed
babbling yes, open, descriptive, detailed pornography no. Now Marcus
used his talent to talk Neroon to orgasm.

Neroon tried to silence the definitely heating words with a slightly
intensified suckling and the application of more movement from his
tongue.

It did nothing to cease the descriptions, only underlaid them with
aggravation, well-placed, arousing moans and pants.

Since it would be uncomfortable to place his second hand over Marcus'
mouth, he decided on a different method to keep the clever mouth busy.

He rapidly turned around and shoved his own hardness into Marcus' open
mouth. He could have bet, that exactly this had been Marcus'
intention. And agonizing, muffled laughter around himself, supported
his theory.

And he also realized that it had been a mistake to give Marcus control
over his need. Marcus just possessed a too clever tongue!

He groaned around the smooth flesh filling his mouth when Marcus
pressed a broad, soft tongue against his erection and started to rub
it all over the place. Neroon felt a steady stream of pre-cum trickle
out of his slit and onto Marcus tongue.

But at least he had achieved now what he had tried all the time:
Marcus had stilled under him, only his mouth, tongue, throat, even
teeth interacting as a perfect means of
driving-Neroon-crazy-in-retaliation-of-drawn-out-sexual-frustration.

By Varenni's Spear!

He faltered for a moment when Marcus flicked his tongue along the
underside of his member and rasped it over the sensitive glans with
just a little suction.

Neroon breathed deeply through his nose and closed his eyes to centre
himself.

`And here we go again,' he thought, when Marcus started to wriggle
once more. His beloved just couldn't stay motionless. But by now,
Neroon didn't mind nor care when Marcus struggled a little upright and
pressed him down, so they both lay more or less on their sides, which
allowed Marcus more freedom to move up and down on Neroon's erection
and provided Neroon with the use of his hands.

Their reciprocal teasing was long forgotten and Neroon earnestly set
to pleasure Marcus, brushing his hand over the hairy chest, searching
for a nipple to squeeze, while he hollowed his cheeks and slowly,
slowly travelled down on Marcus cock until he felt more hair tickle
his chin.

Satisfied he noticed that Marcus' lower leg frantically moved over the
sheet as if grappling for support and the upper leg ended up over
Neroon's shoulder, almost as if trying to get even more into Neroon's
mouth than just his penis. Neroon was even more pleased, when his own
cock slipped teasingly from Marcus' lips and the hand tightened around
it as if needing something to hold on to and he heard a low whimper
before Marcus managed to lunge back at his salvia-slickened hardness
with a vengeance.

Marcus not only attacked his erection, but also rolled his tight
balls, stroked over his hole without penetrating, rubbed his butt --
which he particularly liked -- and Neroon felt his cock jerk at the
light touch.

And then he really noticed his mistake to assume/adopt/presume this
position because he suddenly and unexpectedly felt the traitorous
tingle announcing the point of no return.

And he came; unavoidably and reluctant.

Damn, Marcus knew him all far too well. He hadn't wanted to come down
Marcus' throat, he had just thought to get each other quite needful
before once again slipping inside the perfectness of his Marcus. Why
had Marcus made him already come?

"Neroon!!!!!! Please..."

Marcus' cry for release and the frantic thrust of hips brought him
back from his unbefitting thoughts. Dutifully, he resumed to pleasure
Marcus, stroking the dark penis with hand, lips and tongue until
Marcus exploded in his mouth. And left behind bitterness.

It wasn't supposed to happen like this. Not again. It had already been
several days - a week? - since he last made real love to Marcus, had
felt enclosed by the velvety tightness, came inside him.

Because Marcus had turned him down a few times.

No, that was not entirely right. He hadn't been turned down that
often. Although he had noticed that Marcus had made excuses a few rare
times not to engage in anything more than kissing and cuddling. Like
the one time when Marcus had truly been tired and had fallen asleep on
the sofa shortly after dinner. At other times, Marcus had only managed
to give their intimacy a different direction; he had led Neroon to -
admittedly satisfying - orgasms before any penetration had taken place
and even without Neroon initially noticing that he was about to come.
Just like now.

Why?

He began to suspect, that Marcus no longer desired him this way. Maybe
he wanted to only have such a deep connection with this new lover of
his... The last letters were obvious enough how much both lovers
enjoyed their... fornicating.

"Hmm, `tis `s nice," Marcus yawned.

Neroon watched him get comfortable and instantly fall asleep.

How could he look so happy, even in slumber?

Why wasn't this betrayal eating him up from the inside like it did
with Neroon?

***

He was on his way from their quarters to the bridge at the beginning
of his shift, when he heard it.

"Have you seen? Mazik is socializing with Marcus quite often. Do you
know what's going on there?"

Neroon at once was rooted to the spot.

"No, but I've also seen them once or twice together. I only hope
Marcus told the Alyt."

"Why?"

A humourless chuckle. "You know Lertonn? Ask him. He'll tell you in
detail how he ended up in a sparring match with the Alyt which ended
in the infirmary. For Lertonn. Only because he had innocently spoken
to Marcus at length during one of the gatherings. The Alyt is quite
`protective' of his husband."

"You mean he easily becomes jealous."

"Yes, that, too."

That was the last he heard. Obviously the two crew members had stepped
into the elevator around the corner.

Mazik. Again.

But he still had no proof. In contrary, some appointments didn't add
up. In the correspondence there were times mentioned where Mazik was
supposedly on duty; he had checked. He should have gotten informed by
now, if Mazik left his post frequently.

And yet he had noticed that sometimes even Sorell didn't know where
Marcus went or why he was late. And there certainly was no need that
Marcus met with Mazik on a professional basis. Not that often!

Yes, Mazik was still a possibility, especially since he hadn't come up
with any other options.

But to be seen in public? Were they getting careless? Was Marcus ready
to confront him and leave him eventually?

***

"Neroon. This show of public affection really begins to annoy me.
Everybody knows we are a couple, happily married for six years. This
unfounded possessiveness really starts to make me uncomfortable. And
what is it with this permanent horniness? I'm just as sore as during
our honeymoon. It's not a problem if you can lounge in bed all day
with an ice-cube between the cheeks, but it is not acceptable for
work. And the healers only remark was: just lay off the sex for a week
and give it a rest. I was trying to do that but you scarcely accept a
`no' at the moment. It's becoming a major inconvenience. We may be
married but we are no Siamese twins joined at the hip and mouth. And
now leave me in peace."

***

"Out!" he bellowed as soon as he barged in the training salle.

While the majority of the present warriors just froze in a lack of
understanding, those who met his furious gaze, at once hasted towards
the exit in self-preservation.

Not thirty seconds later the door slid closed behind the last warrior
and he instantly extended his pike and swung it with all his force and
quite artless against the nearest object with an enraged scream.

Since it was one of the dummies, the impact resulted in a rather
unsatisfying `thump'. He kept attacking it savagely to act out the
unimaginable rage in his heart. He was beyond conscious thought, only
had to get rid of this feeling inside unless it burst out of him
leaving nothing but a shell.

He turned from the heap of padding and metal, ripping down several
weapon stands, accentuating each thundering crash with a pained roar.

The resulting racket didn't even register with him; he only was aware
of the rush of blood in his ears and the silent screams inside his skull.

Panting from exertion and unreleased emotions, he tossed his pike
against the wall, shoved a trolley with mats so that it tipped over
and then randomly tossed the scattered mats separately through the room.

Wildly looking around for another target, he noticed the havoc he had
caused.

He dropped to his knees, sweat-soaked robe limply clinging to his
chest and back.

Suddenly he was drained, empty.

He was...

The situation with Marcus was unbearable, unacceptable, no longer
under his control. He was reaching his limits and it was getting worse
instead of better. Despite all his efforts, Marcus had yet again made
excuses for this evening.

Marcus was slipping through his fingers.

That was when his temper had reared its ugly head. He was sick of
listening to those excuses, sick to have Sorell call him because
Marcus supposedly had not yet returned from one conference or other.
He hated it when Marcus returned so late that the Human just dropped
into bed, already more asleep than awake. Hated it, *hated* it!

He picked up his pike again and started to atomize the shreds
cluttering the hall.

"NEROON!"

The reprimanding bellow let him freeze in mid-strike.

Torann.

The only one who would dare to approach him in such a situation
besides Marcus. It was possible, that one of the crew members had
called the guard to prevent any serious damage. He could approve of
this action although he had no intention to talk to Torann.

"Neroon?"

Defiantly, Neroon resumed his task to reduce another dummy to
Rihaty-sized kindling.

"Neroon! What is the matter? If you can't talk to Marcus, maybe I can
be of help. Tell me what's wrong. What's happening between the two of
you?"

"Leave it alone, Torann. This is between me and my husband. I do not
require your meddling."

"Neroon, if you so much as just rise a hand against Marcus..." The
threat didn't even need to be finished.

"Me? Hurting Marcus?!" Neroon snorted an incredulous laugh, noticed
without much emotion the dumbfounded expression on Torann's face,
collapsed his pike and left.

***

`out, out, out!'

`out! ...out, out!!!!!'

His mind's screams reverberated and echoed in their mental
confinement. And yet he had not moved to leave the room he shared with
his husband. There was still a part, that prevented his leaving.

Around 0300 he gave up pretending to sleep and ignore the constant
assault of doubts. He just couldn't do it anymore, couldn't bear it to
be in the presence of such betrayal.

He fled to the main room, to the kitchenette and found himself gulping
down a glass of water. Not that it helped any with the painful
tightness of his throat or the suffocating pressure lasting on his
chest and he gulped in the air as he had just done with the water.

It was a wonder he hadn't mixed up the both and got the water down the
wrong tube.

Not even his desperate try at self-humour helped to suppress the
murderous and violent fantasies playing out in his mind.

Too much, this was all too much! The pretending, the suspicions, his
own cowardice not to confront Marcus...

He leaned heavily against the counter, arms painfully rigid to keep
the shaking under control, the head bowed low to counter act the
threatening darkness. Hyperventilating just wasn't a smart solution to
his problems.

His breath was too close to hitching on almost every difficultly
gained breath, wheezing through the confinements in almost sobs.

This was torturous! Would he even be able to get through this? Would
it be possible to even physically survive without Marcus, should they
officially separate?

"Neroon?"

He jerked violently at Marcus' sudden appearance. He hadn't... of
course he hadn't paid attention.

"Bad dream?" Marcus was now standing so close that their sides
slightly touched and he rubbed a hand across Neroon's tense shoulders.

Neroon only closed his eyes. It was a reasonable assumption. Each of
them had suffered from nightmares during the years, legacy of their
violent history of survived wars. Nightmares! Not really. Mostly it
*just* was a replaying of the past, the appearance of ghosts.

It also was a ghost this time, the ghost of failure, of Marcus'
slut/hussy/trollop tantalizing him to primitive, frenzied madness.

Guilt?

"Wanna talk?"

"No."

Which was as clear a sign for Marcus to leave as he would ever get. It
had taken a while for Marcus to accept Neroon's way of dealing with
his dreams. Because Marcus in contrast needed to talk, needed to be
reassured. Neroon preferred to be alone with his thoughts. Only after
a few days distance would Neroon give Marcus at least a small insight
in what had haunted him.

Which really proofed advantageous in this case, because with a parting
kiss to his shoulder, Marcus instantly left without further question.

Shit, shit, shit...

`Already resorting to profanity?'

Fuck off, voice.

`No, not really. I only fuck with your head. Or your head fucks with
you, or you fuck with your head... and you definitely fuck Marcus...'

Profanity! he gleefully told the voice.

Which suddenly went awfully quiet.

Which wasn't that desirable either, because the silence allowed the
former despair and rage to creep back again.

He spent the rest of the night on the couch, not sleeping, battling
even more ghosts.

***

"What the hell are you accusing me off? What's the matter with you?
You've been behaving so strange for the last month. It is a wonder I
haven't admitted you to a therapist! And now suddenly I'm the problem?
You certainly have delusions of the weirdest kind."

"You have been behaving differently first! So, don't turn the words
back on me. You can't talk yourself out of this one. I have watched
you and have come to certain conclusions. It's your own fault if you
have been found out. You should have been more discreet, more careful.
I really wonder why you have been so sloppy. Do you think I'm a total
moron?! Because I know you could have deleted all traces. You have the
right training to work undetectably on a computer system. Because that
was what drew my attention. Not initially your behaviour, that came
later. But in the end, it all fitted. You betrayed me! In the worst
kind possible. How could you, Marcus, how could you?"

***

Marcus' face fell. This was not one of their ordinary spats. He saw
the deep hurt in Neroon's eyes, saw the usually warm brown mist over
with held back tears.

What was happening here?

Puzzled he looked at Neroon for any clue. But instead of the still
expected fury- and rage-blazing eyes, he was met with the slumped
posture of his mate, eyes full of deep hurt and... accusation?

"This *is* serious." Marcus sat heavily on the bed when the
realization hit him *how* serious.

***

"You finally notice that?" It was meant to sound snide, but
unfortunately his nose was clogging up with tears. "500 years ago,
infidelity still was heavily punished among the Warrior Caste, 1000
years ago even with death by fire. Loyalty and faithfulness in a
marriage between warriors have always been the basic maxim. There
didn't need to be love, there didn't need to be passion. It seldom was
about money or power. But blind trust was of the essence. That's what
I still believed in. I don't expect you to understand this principle,
you are only a Human, but you finally managed to destroy this belief.
And my believe in you. And even worse, the belief in myself."

Neroon knew he was lashing out in the fullest, not really caring
anymore what was in his way, if Marcus was even listening or if Marcus
even cared to listen. He wondered why he had waited so long to finally
confront Marcus. He hadn't wanted it to be true, he had thought his
love would finally bring Marcus back to him. If he only showed him
enough that he still loved his Human. His Anla'shok. His.

His no more. Blindly he stared at Marcus, unable to draw his gaze away
from the face of his beloved.

"In... infidelity?" Marcus croaked nearly inaudible.

"What did you think cooing at persons other than your husband is called?"

"I've never as much as even looked at `persons other than my husband'!
From what paranoid part of your mind did that idea spring from? I
can't believe you are even considering such a silliness, no less
telling me in the face. It's incredulous. Outrageous! Dumb."

It was strange. He had expected Marcus to explode and deny. But that
his usually hot-headed `husband' delivered the words with calm
rationality and the last word even with this sweet affection... was
disconcerting. Something felt absolutely horribly wrong just now.
Betrayal from a third party? Somebody who was envious, who still hated
Humans? His mind was still grasping at straws, at reasons that his
Marcus hadn't...hadn't...

But all this correspondence. The behaviour! A third party wouldn't be
able to influence Marcus' behaviour to this extend.

Now he became infuriated at Marcus’ act of innocent pretence. He was
beyond hurt.

"Will you still lie to me in the face of written evidence?" He grasped
Marcus by the front of his robe (oh, Valen! He had almost gone for
the throat, he couldn't *kill* Marcus!), pulled him to his feet and
dragged him to the Human's office.

Once there he uncaringly tossed him in the chair in front of the
computer console and opened the section for correspondence. After only
few steps he had all the files of suspicious letters listed on the
screen.

"Just open one of them and tell me you don't have an affair."

He noticed with deadly calmness how Marcus' hand shook when he reached
to open one of the inconspicuously named documents.


###
My most revered and beloved warrior,

I have missed you today. Of course, I knew you were busy otherwise and
yet to have even once heard your voice would had eased my suffering.
You could at least have called me shortly, a recorded message at
least. I'm sorry I'm making such a fuss but we haven't had a silent
moment together for an eternity as it seems. I miss to feel your touch
on my skin, your fiery green eyes undressing me before your hands
follow in action. I miss your kisses, so hot and deep like the core of
the sun and just as life-giving.
Let me know when we will be able to meet again.

Yours forever.
###


Good, that was one of the more obvious messages. It should be clear
now that denying was pointless.

"Neroon, I want you to sit down over there and not move until I have
sorted out this mess. And if you dare to move just one inch, I'll
clobber you a good one over the head. Because I certainly have nothing
whatsoever to do with this...this... whole caboodle. How can you even
begin to get such an idea?"

Neroon was stunned speechless.

First off, he considered it impossible that his mate would still deny
an affair with provided evidence. Marcus wasn't a coward, he would
have stuck to his new lover if there really was the kind of love
involved as it was sworn time and again in the letters. Sickening,
really. Second, Marcus' voice contained a certain concealing
steeliness that masked a hurt similar to his own.

He almost obeyed Marcus' command without thinking and was already
half-way across the room before he remembered, Marcus was way more
experienced with computer systems. Maybe…! Maybe…?

"I'd rather watch what you are doing."

"Knock yourself out," Marcus mumbled, already busy typing commands on
the console.

Mutely, Neroon took a chair and sat down beside Marcus to look at the
screen.

He understood only half of what Marcus was doing, even if he had been
able to see everything as quickly as Marcus was working.

"OK, whoever did this, is good. I can't trace anything. Neither from
where the messages came from, nor where answers where sent to. But the
letters have definitely been sent to my account and were able to go
through security measures. - Now, that leaves us to go through all
messages and try to find anything out from their content. Besides me
having an imagined, illicit affair."

"How goes this Human proverb? Quot erat demonstrandum?"

"Which would be quite wrong in this case. Because then it would
already be proven that I didn't take part in this correspondence. And
I don't think we - or better you - reached that point."

Neroon didn't answer. Only because he wanted to trust in Marcus
telling him the truth, his heart was not yet convinced. He still hurt
and felt betrayed. Not even the death of Branmer had pained him to
this extend. Analytically he stated, "Only you and I have the
password. And not even I know it all the time since you change it
almost weekly. So, who would be good enough to crack it every week?
And there are almost daily letters."

"It's not only the password. I also change the encoding every other
week. Do you even know how much sensible…" Marcus stopped abruptly,
his eyes wide.

"What? Did you find anything? Please…" `Please, please, please give my
heart the proof. It's tearing me apart.'

Intently he watched Marcus activate the comm-unit. "Sorell? Could you
come to my office for a minute? It's important."

"What do you need Sorell for?"

Marcus rolled his eyes. "He always has my passwords. He is doing half
of my correspondence. Here in this room. At my desk. `nough said?"

Neroon glanced at his mate, still doubtful.

"He is a warrior. He *has* green eyes. And I think we would find even
more evidence if we looked through the other messages. This has been
going on for several months! Why did I never notice? And why didn't
you say something?"

Weary, Neroon leaned back in the chair, closing his eyes. Could it
really be so easy? His mind was too focused on Marcus' deception that
he couldn't remember if it could have been Sorell all the time. "I've
only found out about two months ago."

"Only?! This has been festering for two months?" Marcus sighed with an
expression of sorrow.

Neroon thought this action would convince his heart of the truth but
there was still this gnawing, insistent feeling of doubt and he
lowered his head. `Like the sea lapping at a sand castle. It could
only but crumble under the continued assault.' Becoming poetic, voice?

Only moments later Sorell entered the room, at once excusing himself
when he saw them together.

"It's fine, Sorell. Could you come over here and have a quick look at
that?"

The sharp indraw of breath and a furious blush was evidence enough.
"I'm sorry, sir, it won't happen again. I accept whatever disciplinary
actions you deem appropriate."

"Why did it happen in the first place? Why didn't you use your own
computer console?"

"It was one of the few possibilities to deliver and receive
long-distance messages. - I sent them piggyback. And I spend most of
my time here anyway."

Sorell, not Marcus.

And he noticed something else: long-distance calls but also present on
the Ingata. There weren't that many candidates who left the Ingata
regularly.

"Selner!" he roared. "I'll kill him. This time I'll really kill him.
This Minbari causes nothing but trouble. He'll bring me to my early
grave one of those days. I will transfer him to the rim of the known
universe, to the mother of a hell-hole of out-posts where he will
slowly die of boredom. I will degrade him, openly humiliate him and
strip him bare of his dignity. I'll…"

"Thank you, that's quite enough, Neroon. Sorell, you may go now. You
are confined to quarters for the rest of the day. Further disciplines
will be discussed tomorrow."

"Yes, sir," a quite crushed aid answered, saluted and left tensely.

And suddenly it got through to him: Sorell, not Marcus.

Once it was hitting home, relief washed over Neroon with overwhelming
strength. It was just like falling in love again with Marcus, just as
powerful and staggering. Wondrous.

Wordless, because how could words ever be enough to excuse this false
accusation, he drew Marcus into his embrace and held on tightly. Again
and again he whispered, "Sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." A mantra to
keep him from thinking too much, from breaking down. Yet it was no
help. His guilt and relief were too much and slowly but inexorably his
breath began to hitch during his incantation and soon he started sob
soundlessly. Could Marcus ever forgive him? Had he now really lost
what he never wanted to lose in the first place? Had he destroyed
their trust, their respect and their love for each other? Why did he
ever have to be so easy to be suspicious? Then it would never have
gone this far. Or curious; then he would never have opened those
messages.
Why did this have to happen?



The End
Omnio fieri possent (Seneca)