Ethan was trying hard not to expect anything of Terrence. Terrence had already done so much for Athos, for Ethan, it seemed greedy to want more.
It was very difficult not to want more.
It didn’t help that his friends and coworkers kept making insinuating remarks, about Terrence being his type, and about trading up. Why yes, thank you, he had noticed Terrence was a slim blond younger man. Yes, he was sharing his home with a nubile young adult, thanks for noticing.
It was just that sometimes, Terrence did…flirt with him. There wasn’t any way to soften that, really; Terrence was pretty worldly, for all that he was nineteen. Having to be inside other people’s heads probably had something to do with that. And being a lab experiment. And losing almost everyone he’d ever cared about. There were many, many reasons Terrence was a more mature nineteen year old than Ethan had been, or anyone else Ethan knew.
So Ethan couldn’t believe Terrence didn’t know what he was doing. After all, he even knew how attractive Ethan found him. And he wasn’t exactly under any illusions as to Ethan’s relationship with Janos. Despite the hostile reception Ethan had faced on Kline Station, it seemed not all galactics were so judgmental. Elli Quinn hadn’t seemed particularly concerned about it, except when she was trying to drive him away, and Terrence had seemed nonplussed when it came up in conversation.
“It feels the same,” he said. “I should know.”
Which was a little disconcerting, to hear his feelings compared to what galactic men felt about women, or what women felt about men. It shouldn’t have been, maybe; certainly his experiences in the galactic community had at least proved women were human, but it was hard to shake your entire cultural upbringing, especially since it wasn’t otherwise a bad upbringing, or a bad culture. For instance, ignoring the labor that went into child-rearing, as Quinn claimed most civilizations did, seemed shortsighted and ignorant, as well as impractical. It was much easier to plan for things you acknowledged, in Ethan’s experience. Trying to ignore them did not actually fix them.
And perhaps it was just prejudice speaking, but Athos was much homier and comfier than a station, or a starship, or the endless underground corridors of Beta. Escobar had looked nice, but it had also looked very busy and crowded, which didn’t seem relaxing. Athosian society needed work, and rewarded work, but it was important to take vacations and have leisure time as well. It was part of a balanced life, and a balanced society. And so much of Athosian work was so concrete, and satisfying. Ethan could watch the fetuses grow into babies, hand them off to joyful fathers, see what he did and how it changed the world around him. His father could watch the fish grow, count the fish he sold, share a meal with someone who bought from him if they chose. He was sure the work people did in the office buildings of Escobar felt important and made a contribution, but he liked being able to see the accomplishments of his brothers.
So he certainly wasn’t willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater on his home planet’s culture, but…he could admit there was, perhaps, a little extra bathwater. It still felt strange to hear his feelings for Janos, or even his feelings for Terrence, compared to the feelings of, of Quinn’s cousin Teki to his female lover.
So sometimes, Terrence did flirt with him, and he knew what he was doing, and it wasn’t intellectually confusing, necessarily, but it was a bit of an stormy sea, emotionally. And it wasn’t made any easier by living with him; it was like being a teenager again, with Janos walking around all cute and flirty and Ethan not being entirely sure he should notice or think anything of it, but not being able to avoid it. When he woke up, Terrence was sleepily coming out of the bathroom, with bedhead and the slightest shadow of stubble. When he came home from work, Terrence waved at him from the garden, which he had added vegetables to go along with the flowers, or offered him the leftovers of whatever he’d had for an afternoon snack, or told him about helping a child in the park with his kite while on a walk. And when it got late, when they stayed up after dinner to talk, or went to see a show, or stopped by at the festival the community school was hosting, Terrence would laugh, or smile, and look content in a way Ethan had not seen him look at all on Kline Station, or when talking about any part of his past that wasn’t Janine.
It was impossible not to think about kissing him, when he did things like that.
Ethan had almost put off having his first son until he moved to the new Rep Center they were building in the mountains, but Terrence had convinced him not to. “You were so excited to get back for him,” he said. “And he’ll have me when you get busy.” He smiled and said, “Besides, didn’t you say being Primary Nurturer for someone else’s sons was the fastest way to earn my own?”
So every day at Sevarin was even more exciting now. Ethan certainly never got bored of his job, and it had been a relief to return to it after so long off-world, but his excitement over the development of the fetuses in his care was no longer simply that of the doctor in charge. He was the doctor in charge and one of the fathers, and he was more than twice as excited, for rather than adding up, the excitement seemed to multiply.
When Ethan got home after work, 21 weeks into his first son’s development, he all but threw open the front door and announced, “He moved today!”
Terrence looked up from his reading, and smiled. “That’s wonderful,” he said, sincerely. He turned off his tablet and set it aside. “Did you get to see it?”
“No,” Ethan admitted. He set down his bag and shrugged out of his jacket. “It was between my rounds. But I did spot it on the records before the tech,” he said. He sat down on the couch next to Terrence. “So I suppose you could say I discovered it.”
“Aw,” Terrence said. “That’s nice, at least.”
“Yeah,” Ethan agreed, and bent over to unlace his shoes.
He’d just pulled one shoe off when Terrence said, “So we should have sex.”
Ethan wasn’t sure how those thoughts were connected. He loosened the laces on his remaining shoe. “Er,” he said.
“I know you’re trying to be considerate and patient,” Terrence said, and of course he did, he didn’t go out of his way to avoid foods with tyramine. “Which is sweet. I appreciate it. But I don’t think I’m going to get any more ready.”
Ethan set his shoes off to the side and sat up. He looked at Terrence, who was watching him, gaze steady and calm. He did not look like Ethan’s idea of a nineteen year old who had just propositioned someone. He knew for a fact he himself had never looked so self-possessed immediately after coming onto someone when he was Terrence’s age. “I didn’t mean you had to be in a relationship with me in order for me to help you,” Ethan said.
Terrence smiled. “I know you didn’t,” he said, and the fond way he looked at Ethan made his heart leap into his throat. “But you did make it sound like a very appealing option.” He shifted his legs under him, so he was leaning toward Ethan instead of away, and rested his head on Ethan’s shoulder. “I was worried if I waited any longer, I would put you off forever. It’s probably best to take advantage of my teenage libido and ensure we’re fully pair-bonded by the time your son is born.”
Ethan laughed. “Well, that’s not very romantic,” he said.
Terrence raised his head from Ethan’s shoulder and looked up at him. This close, his intense eyes were almost overwhelming. He said, “You were the first person besides Janine to acknowledge my humanity. You were the first person ever to think I could do anything but hurt people.” He put a hand on Ethan’s thigh and smiled again. “Is that romantic enough for you?”
Ethan kissed him, of course; what else could he do?