Pell: blue sector five
It wasn’t a sound that woke Damon. Their cramped quarters were always full of sounds. The whir of machinery, Elene’s constant shifting, trying to get used to the new bed--couch--and the changes in her body. The soft sound of Josh’s breathing from his makeshift mattress in the kitchen.
It was the last one that had stopped abruptly, and Damon sat bolt upright, throwing off the covers before Josh’s breathing started up again, ragged and uneven.
Elene turned onto her back, muttered, “Go to him. Bring him back to bed, if you want.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” said Damon, and then what she’d said caught up with him. “Bed? It’s not--it’s not very big.”
“Not the first time I’ve slept in tight quarters. What d’you think I meant when I said he could sleepover with us?”
When a merchanter said sleepover that way, they didn’t mean sleep, they meant sex. “Elene--” Damon protested.
She turned over onto her side, shoved at him. He went.
In the kitchen, Josh had flung the blankets off, scattering bedding into every corner. He lay in the middle of the jumble, curled into a tight ball. Sweat stood out on his face and neck, and his eyes were screwed shut.
“Josh,” Damon said. He knelt on the floor, reached out, but stopped short of touching him. A picture seized him: all that coiled tension suddenly exploding into violence. Josh had been an armscomper, dealing death at a remove, same as Damon did when he signed orders condemning a man to Adjustment. Josh had been Adjusted--he was no danger to anyone, no threat. And Damon and Elene had found him walking onto Norway, with the sober intention to murder the most dangerous woman Damon had ever seen. “Josh,” he said again. “It’s me, it’s Damon. You’re dreaming.”
Another breath, long, loud, and ragged. Josh’s eyes opened, clear blue eyes in an angel’s face. Damon had always thought so. Now they were full of the terror of things invisible to mere mortals.
“Damon,” he gasped.
Was it recognition? Or did he feature in Josh’s nightmares? “I’m here,” Damon said, holding out his hands.
Josh took them, his own hands shaking, and Damon forgot his hesitation and pulled him into a sitting hug, there on the kitchen floor. Didn’t ask, what did you dream? Just held him, Josh’s face pressed into Damon’s neck, leaving it wet.
“Elene says,” said Damon, when Josh quieted, “I should bring you back to bed.”
Josh gave a weak laugh, pulled over a blanket, lay back down. “I’ll be fine. Sorry for--sorry. Go to sleep.”
Damon thought of the couch, of Elene’s restless turning, of the terror in Josh’s eyes. Then he grabbed another of the scattered blankets for himself, flung an arm over Josh.
Josh didn’t say anything. Elene didn’t, when she tripped over them both on the way to the bathroom. The next night, at dinner, the bedding that had been on the kitchen floor was nowhere in evidence.
“Come to bed,” she told Josh as they piled their plates in the sink. And when he dropped his eyes, started to mutter some excuse, she seized his wrist and added, “Cousin.”
Some understanding, ship-born and unfathomable to Damon, passed between them. He nodded.
It was tight on the couch, with Elene squashed up against the wall and Josh nearly falling off the edge. But they all slept that night, and neither Elene’s tossing and turning nor Josh’s nightmares woke them.
They never did get a cot or a hammock.
Pell: green dock
“Emilio,” came Damon’s sleep-slurred whisper. And then, more clearly, “Elene.”
The darkness was absolute. Blindly, Josh found Damon’s shoulder, squeezed. “She got to a ship. She made it out.” Damon had said the same thing, over and over, during their mad dash through green, through riot, betrayal, murder. No way of knowing whether it was truth or lie; Josh repeated it because Damon clung to it.
Clung to it the way he clung to Josh’s hand when he found it in the dark, gripping it like it was a take-hold during G-surge. The movement brought their bodies together, chest to chest, and Josh could feel Damon’s heart hammering with the wasted adrenaline of nightmare. They’d stripped out of their stolen blood-stained coveralls before they’d found a pallet to collapse on in the storeroom, before the lights went out. The barrier of thin cloth undershirts between them felt insubstantial.
Josh felt hair brush his cheek, skin against the skin of his neck. Damon’s heart settled, his breathing did, but not entirely.
“You don’t remember,” said Damon. “Being in gunfights. Killing.”
Josh remembered, all right. Terror and exhaustion, the way the grip had felt in his hands, familiar as a lover. The stench of it. But Damon didn’t mean yesterday--earlier that day--whenever. He was talking about before.
“I don’t.” The denial came out flat and vehement, as much for Josh as for Damon, a prayer for the calm surface of his memories to remain undisturbed.
“Do you want--” Damon’s hand, broad and hot, found the small of Josh’s back. “Do you want to see what else your body remembers how to do?”
No pretending he hadn’t thought of it. Unseeing, his mind brought up images instead. The long, lean muscles of Damon’s legs in running shorts, and then afterwards, in the steam. His face on the other side of a clear plastic window, the only known thing in the world. Curled up against him in the couch in his apartment, as he held Elene on the other side.
“Elene,” Josh said. A shield, a protest. A question.
“She told me to go for it, the first night you slept over. I think I know what you want, she said.”
She would. Merchanter. But Damon was station-born, and reckoned these things differently.
“So why now?” said Josh. “Because Elene’s gone, and I’m what’s left?”
“No!” Damon pulled back, fractionally, the missing heat of him against Josh’s body feeling like a fresh wound. “We weren’t married for long, but she knew me better than I do, sometimes.” It was a measure of Damon’s distress that he used the past tense, didn’t correct himself. “She was right. I wanted, I want. Then. Now. But I couldn’t--you’d have thought it was the payment I was asking for shelter, for safety.”
That made Josh’s memories roil. A face. Mallory. Do you care? Fear, helplessness, anger sharp enough to make him seek revenge even when he couldn’t remember what for. And Damon felt the change in him, moved his hand further up Josh’s back, comforting, not intimate. Josh gulped air.
“No safety now, huh?” Josh said.
“None,” Damon agreed, with something between a laugh and a sob.
“Damon,” said Josh. “Damon, I--” Couldn’t find the words to say what he meant. He reached out, feathered his fingers through Damon’s hair, remembering the color of it, a shade or two lighter than deep space. His mouth sought Damon’s skin, fitting into it wherever it could--the corner of his jaw, already stubbled. How long had it been since they’d had the sort of shelter where you could count on a shave in the morning? How much longer would it be? Deliberately, he drowned the question in the salt-sweat taste of Damon’s skin, leaving a trail of kisses from jaw to collarbone.
Damon groaned, hooked a leg around the back of Josh’s knee to pull him closer. Josh was half-hard already, and the thick solidity of Damon’s erection pressing against his thigh brought him up to speed with a dizzying wave of heat. He fumbled with the waistband of Damon’s briefs, with his own, and Damon moved his hands then, to enfold both of their cocks in his warm, sure grip.
Josh’s body did know how to do this. Maybe not this act exactly, but this--tangled tight with a comrade in a narrow space, as much desperation as passion, the only fleeting safety they were likely to get. Damon was loud. His lawyer’s vocabulary had deserted him, but he couldn’t shut up--“Yes, oh God, Josh, please”--like he’d never fucked anyone in a ship’s berth, or in the crowded quarters of some sleepover.
It was fast and messy. A minute, two, maybe, before Damon shuddered in Josh’s arms, before he left both of their rucked-up undershirts soaked with his come, hot and sticky as blood. Even then he didn’t slow down, just shifted his grip so he was only holding onto Josh’s cock, one hand cupping his balls, the opposite thumb swiping over the head--and that was enough to send Josh tumbling after him.
After another minute, Damon stirred, saying, “I should--” but Josh tightened his arms around him, and he subsided. If Damon got up to clean up, in the dark, who knew if he would ever find his way back? Presently his heart slowed, his breathing did, into the steady rhythm of sleep. And Josh, as he had done ever since he’d seen Damon’s face on the other side of the window in his cell, followed him.