So, I'm off from work this week. Writing is happening. I have to finish the third novella in the Treasured series by next Monday, I'm putting more of Pandora onto Lit (the third part will be posted later this week, probably by Thursday) and I'm finishing up an urban fantasy novel that, astonishingly, has no actual sex in it. I know, why would I write something like that? Weird.
My short story, Different Spheres, comes out with Dreamspinner Press on February 22nd. I have a link now and everything! Different Spheres, check it out! This is a really fun story, clocks in at 47 pages and I think you're going to enjoy it. It's contemporary, so it might be a different taste of things for those of you who prefer my science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, etc.
Also, someone asked me about where to find my original post of the first chapter of Changing Worlds, which is the novel-length follow up to my short story Opening Worlds. It is a post here, but I'm having trouble opening it. So I'm going to repost the first chapter below, for the interested. This story won't come out until May, but it's going to be a big one and I'm really excited about it:)
A month, Jason Kim reflected, was a very malleable amount of time.
As a child a month had been a near-interminable amount of time, its challenging length compounded by the fact that he lived on one planet, went to school on another, and that neither of those places had months that matched the Federation standard. He’d count down the days until he got to return to his parents’ house, only to realize that because of calculation errors he would be stuck in limbo for three days until the school’s shuttle schedule matched his own internal clock the way it should to get him home.
Once Jason entered the Academy, everything changed. Life revolved around the Federation time standard, a relic from Old Earth, twenty-four hour days and seven day weeks. Seven years of intensive training left him a capable military officer and an absolute adherent to the standard, and that was how Jason lived his life. One month passed the same as every other, and life was dictated by the mission, not by the prospect of leave or the chance to see family and friends. It was easy to let any idea of a personal life slide after his parents died, and he had always been most comfortable in his own company anyway.
Things didn’t change so much after he left the military. Jason immediately went to work for the Shimona cartel, specializing in transferring goods and passengers in a state of elegance. Jason had the kind of appeal they were looking for in a ship captain: he was attractive, he was efficient and he was impersonal. They needed someone who could be polite while maintaining his distance, who wouldn’t get distracted from doing his job. Jason was that person, even after he met Blake, even after they blended their lives together. Time might have passed more pleasurably, but it was still set to a steady, predictable beat.
Blake left and time became purely professional again, perhaps a little slower than before, but still filled. After a year of solitude, Jason had begun to feel like he had gotten a handle on the rhythm of the rest of his life. And then…then, Ferran had come aboard.
Suddenly a month was nothing, a tiny blip on the radar. Suddenly a month was filled with a whirlwind romance, ridiculously fast-paced from Jason’s perspective. His passion for Ferran was consuming, more so than he’d ever experienced before. Jason had no idea that so many of the emotions he’d been sure he could live without would come barreling back into his mind and body. Because there was a time limit on Ferran. Less than a month, from the time he boarded Jason’s ship, the Silver Star, to the time that he returned to his planet, Perelan, and reintegrated into his home society, so truly alien from a human’s.
Monotonous weeks turned into a conscious measure of minutes, and those minutes were spent memorizing, cataloguing and cherishing every bit of his lover that Jason could get. Ferran had been the first to say it, “love,” that fraught and frightening word, but he had meant it, and so Jason had felt relief when he said it back, even though their affection was destined to end in nothing. How could it not? Ferran was restricted to his home planet after his brief period of interstellar liberty, the fate of all male Perels, and Jason took a leave of absence and returned to his own home, alone, and emptier than he could ever remember being.
A lot could change in a month. Jason had found love like he’d never experienced and lost it all faster than he could get his head around. And now, less than a month after he’d given up hope, Ferran was back, he and Jason were for all intents and purposes married and both of them would be moving back to Perelan in the company of the Federation ambassador tomorrow, to begin training Ferran as a diplomat.
And Jason? He didn’t know what role he was going to play on Perelan, other than husband and resident alien oddity. To be perfectly honest, he didn’t really care. For the first time in a long time Jason was content to live in the moment, not because he had nothing to look forward to, but because he was happy. Really happy. The whole thing still felt slightly surreal.
“What about this?” Ferran asked, looking over at Jason from where he sat, cross-legged, in front of the closet. They were packing up the last of Jason’s belongings that would be brought with them to Perelan, and Ferran was incredibly inquisitive. It was fortunate that Jason didn’t have much of a capacity for embarrassment, because otherwise he’d have been constantly red. He’d had no idea his mother had kept so many of his childhood things. What Ferran was holding up now looked like a plaster imprint of Jason’s five year old hand.
“That can stay,” Jason said, carefully folding one of his favorite sets of casual clothes, made from actual silk and cotton. They wrinkled if he wasn’t careful with them. He set them into the case laid open next to his dresser.
“What is it for?” Ferran asked, setting his own hand curiously against the imprint. His fingers were long and milk-pale, capped with thick, blunt nails that were almost out of place on his otherwise delicate hands.
“It’s just a child’s gift,” Jason replied. “We made them in class one day. I thought my parents had gotten rid of that long ago, where did you find it?”
“In a box in the back,” Ferran said. “There’s a mask as well.” He pulled out a brightly-colored dragon mask, the lines almost perfectly colored in by a young Jason, who had been something of a perfectionist even then. Ferran put the mask in front of his face. “It’s very fierce, but a little hard to see out of.”
“Your eyes are a little bigger than mine,” Jason remarked, amused. Ferran’s eyes were easily twice the size of his own, with amber irises and large, dark pupils evolved to capture the light. Ferran pulled the mask away and grinned, and for a moment it was all Jason could do not to stop what they were doing and take Ferran to bed. Again. But they’d only been given a week for their impromptu honeymoon, and spending too much time absorbed in his lover was what was giving Jason a headache about finishing packing now. It wasn’t like he owned a lot of things. Packing was a task that should have taken half a day, max, but it had stretched out, slowed down and crawled to a halt as Jason let himself get lost in the reality of having Ferran with him again.
Forever, he reminded himself, turning back to the last of his clothing. We have forever now. I don’t have to count every second. But the anxiety in him refused to be soothed, and he abandoned the clothes in favor of joining Ferran in front of the closet. “What else is back there?”
“I haven’t checked yet,” Ferran said, but he looked eager to keep going.
“Let’s find out.” Jason reached back into the cedar-scented depths of the closet and closed his hands around a small cylindrical tube. He pulled it out. “These are mine, actually.” He barely remembered burying it back there only a year ago.
“What’s in it?” Ferran asked curiously.
Jason unscrewed the cap on the cylinder and pulled out a sheaf of thin films. “They’re pictures.”
“Pictures of what?”
“All sorts of things,” Jason said absently as he remembered back to why he had stuffed almost all of the pictures he owned into a tube and shoved them into the back of his closet like a petulant child. It had been an unusually turbulent moment for him, one of the few times when he let emotion carry him away into actions that weren’t logical. Instead of just getting rid of the pictures that bothered him, Jason had completely cleared house. Both his quarters on the ship as well as his home had been cleaned out.
“Do you mind looking at them?” Ferran was an empath, and he doubtless was picking up on the sense of resistance inside of Jason. These weren’t really things that he wanted to look at again, but he didn’t have any choice. He had no idea when he’d get the chance to come back to his childhood home, and apart from that he wasn’t a child any longer. He couldn’t hide from things that made him uncomfortable.
“It’s all right,” Jason said gently. “Let’s look at them.”
The first one was a black and white photograph of his parents. They were in profile, looking out from the balcony of their house at the crashing waves below the small, cliff-top colony of Jacksonville. They both looked stern, a little distant, but that was how his parents had always looked in pictures. You had to be with them to see the grace of his mother’s movements, or really tell that the lines in his father’s face came from smiles. They had been older than most couples when they’d had him, and he’d lost them far sooner than any of them had planned. He shouldn’t have hidden this picture away.
“My parents.” He handed the film over to Ferran, who took it carefully. His lover gazed down at the photograph with lively interest.
“You look like your father.”
Jason smiled. “Thank you.” He had always admired his father’s way with people, his inner strength and his calm demeanor. Any comparisons were, in his mind, favorable.
“What was his name?”
“Gary. My mother was Min-suh, but my father called her Minnie.” The next picture was a portrait of his mother, and Jason handed that one over as well. The one behind that was a candid photo of himself and Blake, and that…that wasn’t quite so easy to look at.
Ferran knew instantly. “This is your last lover?”
“How long were you together?”
“Just for a year.” Which was still the longest romantic relationship Jason had ever had, actually.
Ferran was quiet for a moment, then asked, “Does it bother you to look at him?”
“A little.” He didn’t want to lie to Ferran, and he suspected that the Perel would know if he’d tried to anyway. “But you should know about Blake. At the least you should know that he existed. He was out of my life for a year by the time you met me.” Jason put that picture, and the two behind it, back into the tube. “These ones can stay. I’ll take the other two, though.”
Ferran held the pictures of Jason’s parents side by side and admired them for a long moment. “We don’t have anything like this on Perelan. It’s considered disrespectful to make images of our loved ones, because it implies that we can’t hold them in our hearts without help. Remembrance of the past is important, but our historians do not like dwelling on specifics. I’ve only ever painted in the abstract.”
“You’re a painter?”
“It was one of the skills my mother thought it important for me to learn.” Ferran handed the pictures back carefully. Jason took them and set them back on the bed, filing this new information about his husband into the “to be explored” category. Jason wasn’t a painter but he had access to courses that Ferran might like, instructional holos and the means to buy any equipment that Ferran might need. Although right now there wasn’t the time to buy anything, and Jason knew for a fact that nothing was shipped to Perelan without express permission.
Jason reached back into the closet. After a moment of searching his hands closed on another cylindrical object, and he felt like groaning for a moment. More pictures? How many of those had he secreted away? But no, this time what he brought out brought a smile to his face. “I thought this was in storage on board the Silver Star.” He partially unsheathed the weapon and looked down at the short, straight blade. Still shining, still sharp. Just like he’d left it.
Ferran’s eyes went a little wide as he took in the sword. “You use this?”
“Not really,” Jason said, turning the sheathe over in his hands. It was painted with a flower pattern and coated with red lacquer, and the metal fittings were engraved with silver that was so tarnished it was almost black. “Swordsmanship went through something of a renaissance while I was going through the Academy. I learned fencing and kendo, and some Indonesian styles. This sword is actually Korean, and a lot shorter than the katanas that samurai used.”
“Who are samurai?” Ferran asked.
Jason smiled. “I forget sometimes how few movies you’ve seen. Why didn’t you go to any theaters while you were travelling around the universe?”
“There were other things to do,” Ferran replied, a mischievous look in his eyes. “Many other things. And alien films are one of the few things we’re occasionally granted access to on Perelan.”
“Well, tonight I’m introducing you to the archetype that is the samurai,” Jason said decisively. “Movies and popcorn, that’s the tradition.”
“I like your traditions,” Ferran smiled, wrapping his arms around Jason’s shoulders. “I liked celebrating your birthday.” It had been Jason’s birthday three days ago, and they had baked a cake, loaded it down with candles and spent the rest of the evening celebrating in a more intimate way. The kitchen was a place they both liked to be and Ferran was an excellent cook, far better than Jason even after so many years of learning it on his own. The white truffle cake was one of the few things Jason could make that Ferran didn’t already know how to improve upon.
“We’ll do the same for you when your birthday rolls around,” Jason promised, but Ferran shook his head.
“My birthday isn’t important,” he said, quietly but with complete assurance. “We never celebrate the birthdays of males on Perelan. Instead, each house celebrates the birthday of their reigning matriarch. It’s a feast day for the entire family. To celebrate my own birth would say to the others in my house that I was putting myself above them, and above where a sterile male should be stationed. I don’t mind it.”
Jason was inclined to insist that Ferran’s birthday was important and that they should celebrate it anyway, but he stopped himself. There was a lot he had to learn about Perel culture, and he didn’t want to make any assumptions before he had a chance to really sit down and talk with Giselle Howards, the Federation ambassador to the planet. She’d be able to give him a crash course in Perelan and its people without the risk of Jason offending his new husband.
“What is it?” Ferran asked, curling in even closer. He tended to cuddle when he thought something might be wrong. It wasn’t a habit that Jason felt like breaking, either. He liked the fact that for the first time in a long time, someone wanted to be close to him. Not just wanted, but needed to be close to him. The intensity of that emotion was something that Jason was still adapting to, but the more they were together the more he grew accustomed to letting himself need his husband back.
“Nothing that can’t wait,” he said after a moment. “Come on. Samurai movie time.”
In the end Jason chose the movie Samurai Fiction, an Old Earth classic and a far less violent example of the genre than some of what he had to pick from. There was plenty of fighting to keep it interesting, and enough discussions of personal honor and the Japanese class system that it would give Ferran a good beginning.
It was definitely violent enough for Ferran. “Is killing really so casual for humans?” he asked a little tentatively at the end of the movie. Jason ran a soothing hand down the feathery, amber-tipped quills that ran the length of Ferran’s spine and over his head. They tended to get sharper when he was upset or confused, and at the moment they were standing nearly on end.
“Not really,” Jason replied. “It’s just a movie. People watching it know it’s just for entertainment.”
“Why is death so entertaining?”
Jason stared at a piece of popcorn that had fallen to the floor and considered the question for a moment before answering. “Death is…mysterious. For some people death is the utter end, for others it’s the beginning of a new way of life. Everyone has a different opinion on death, but the only thing we know for sure is that there’s no definitive explanation for what happens after you die that everyone can agree on.
“The ability to take another person’s life can be seen as a good thing depending on who does the dying, or it can be a skill that makes other people consider you a monster. It all depends on what you decide to do with it. And a person who can face the prospect of death with calm and acceptance…it’s captivating, in its way. Admirable.”
Ferran listened to the explanation with his head cocked, disbelief clear in his eyes. “Perels think of any death other than old age as something shameful, something to be avoided at all costs.” His beautiful, expressive face was somber, and his ears were flared back, a sign of discomfort. “After our civil war, with so many of us dead or wounded, it became clear that we had taken our ability to destroy life too far. It was unsure for a time whether our species would even survive. All lives are to be treasured, even those who have little to offer their houses or society at large. Unnatural deaths are very rare, and suicide is one of the worst things a Perel can do. It brings shame on an entire family.”
“Like what happened with your brother?”
Ferran nodded. “It’s one reason that my petition to be trained as a diplomat was taken so seriously, even though I’m only a sterile male. There’s a flaw in my breeding, and the matriarchs thought it was possible that I might kill myself if they denied my petition.” Ferran took in Jason’s expression and hurried to add, “I didn’t lie when I told you before that I wasn’t going to kill myself, though. I would never do that. It is the ultimate expression of hopelessness, and I was never without hope.”
“Good,” Jason said firmly, leaning in and capturing Ferran’s lips in a kiss. The Perel seemed to melt against his body, warm and lithe and pliable, and Jason pulled him closer, framing Ferran’s smooth, pale face with his hands and opening up to his lover’s rough, questing tongue and the hungry little purrs that accompanied it. Before they had technically gotten married, Ferran had let Jason do all the driving when it came to their sex life. Now that he felt more secure, Ferran was occasionally reaching for control, taking it and giving it back to Jason as they gently dueled for dominance.
“It’s our last night here,” Jason said around their kiss, barely able to spare the breath to get the words out. “What do you want?”
“You.” It was what Ferran always said, and it was so full of truth and need that Jason couldn’t help but hold him a little tighter, and pull him a little closer.
“In our bed?” he whispered, nuzzling the pulse point beneath Ferran’s jaw before he bit it, very lightly. Ferran shivered in his arms.
“Wherever you want me,” Ferran breathed. “Anywhere, any way you want me.”
“The bed, then,” Jason decided, standing up and drawing Ferran up with him. They had already christened every room of the house, including the butterfly pavilion and, during a rare moment of good weather, the balcony. He wanted their last night to be one of comfort and closeness as opposed to fast and furious, or in the case of the garage, practically acrobatic.
They kissed their way back to the bedroom, so absorbed in each other than Jason didn’t remember the photographs he’d left out on the bed. Ferran reached out and moved them to the dresser before they could be crushed, and a moment later they were lying on the bed against each other.
Perels were physically similar enough to humans that it had never been a challenge for Jason, physically or mentally, to be intimate with Ferran. The challenge had come in being emotionally ready to involve himself with a race of people who were renowned for their sexual appetite. That was the most that the majority of people ever learned about the few Perels that were allowed off their planet, and it was initially enough to put Jason off of getting close to Ferran. He hadn’t counted on his second in command conspiring to force him to socialize, and he’d soon learned that there was a lot more to Ferran than simply sexual hunger.
Which wasn’t to say that there was anything wrong with Ferran’s hunger when it was focused on Jason. Ferran twined his slender, strong legs with Jason’s and pulled them tightly against each other, their erections rubbing tantalizingly through the thin cotton pants that they both wore. Jason had a shirt on as well but Ferran was bare-chested, which he always preferred as long as it wasn’t too cold. His skin was so warm…
The urge to strip them out of their clothes and just rut until they came was strong, but Jason wanted more than sex tonight. “Let me touch you,” he said softly, stilling the rhythm of Ferran’s hips with one hand as he caressed the length of his lover’s thigh. Ferran was panting quickly, his chest rising and falling in short bursts, but he nodded his assent.
Jason started at the too, stroking a hand carefully through the quills on his lover’s head, feeling them quiver under his fingers and switch from soft to sharp, soft to sharp. When they were sharp, they were almost edged enough to cut the tender skin of his lips, so Jason left the touching to his toughened hands and winnowed his fingers through the thin, straight strands. Short and blunter at the edges of Ferran’s face, the longest quills along the top of his head and the nape of his neck were almost six inches in length.
Jason trailed his fingers down a cluster of quills just behind Ferran’s ear, pausing there to gently scratch the tight skin. Ferran purred and turned his head into the touch, the rigid focus of his desire relaxing some as he got into the comfort that Jason was offering. Ferran’s ears slanted back against his head, crinkle-edged and tufted with a wisp of amber hair. They were adorable, and incredibly touchable, but Jason knew that Ferran was sensitive about the things that spoke most loudly to the differences between him and Jason, and that sensitivity sometimes made him self-conscious.
For a moment Jason wondered exactly how much his new husband was working to be sensitive to human culture, perhaps to things that even Jason wasn’t noticing, but then Ferran mewled needily and nuzzled against Jason’s throat, redirecting his attention back to the now.
Jason kissed over Ferran’s closed eyelids, so thin they were almost transparent, their lashes long and dark. He kissed his pointed nose and the tip of his sharp chin before losing himself again in Ferran’s mouth. God, his lover could kiss. His tongue was long, and rougher than a human’s, but Jason never came away from Ferran’s embrace feeling raw. Jason’s tongue delved into Ferran’s mouth in turn, cautious over canines that were marginally longer and sharper than a human’s. Perels could be omnivorous but preferred vegetarianism, by and large. One hand cupped Ferran’s neck, fingers burrowing into the quills there while the other kept moving against Ferran’s side, brushing over the edge of his abdomen before skirting back to safer territory.
They broke apart long enough for Ferran to murmur, “Jason.” His voice was dark and throaty, almost a growl.
“Let me,” Jason replied, trying to stay on track with what he had in mind. He wanted, no, he needed to ground himself in Ferran tonight, touch every bit of him, feel the reality of him. Everything else in his life was about to change. Ferran had to be familiar; he had to become the basis of Jason’s sense of home now.
Ferran whined faintly but acquiesced, and Jason continued his steady march down his lover’s body, kissing and licking at his throat, tormenting each new set of nipples as he worked his way down Ferran’s chest. The skin was slightly darker around those, a flush of pink against unrelenting paleness. Even on the tender skin of Ferran’s stomach the tissue was thicker than a human’s, more resistant to scratches and tears. The only place his skin truly softened was over his eyes, and…
Jason undid the tie on Ferran’s pants and pulled them down and away, leaving his lover nude. The head of his erection was bright red and flowing with milky fluid. It glistened against the length of it and pooled at the base, no hair to get caught in. Jason liked being able to see everything. He licked the head once, gently, just enough to get a taste before moving down the bed.
Ferran whined again, louder this time, but he didn’t reach for himself, or reach to redirect Jason back to his cock. He pulled his knees back and shuddered when Jason kissed the insides of his thighs and stroked down over the taut muscles of his calves. Ferran’s toes were long, exceptionally so when compared to a human, and his feet had high, spring-like arches. His toenails were black and thick, protective, and Jason spared a moment to kiss the biggest nail on each foot before he finally began to slide back up Ferran’s body.
God, he was leaking, flowing so much it almost looked like he was coming in slow motion. Perels, Jason had learned, produced a lot more seminal fluid than humans did, and their bodies made use of it. Jason ran his fingers through the liquid that had collected against Ferran’s balls, which were drawn hard and tight against his body, then ran them back underneath his lover until his slick fingers probed at Ferran’s entrance. His lover relaxed immediately, welcoming the press, the rich fluid acting as a perfect lubricant. Gathering a little more, Jason pushed his fingers back inside as he lowered his mouth onto Ferran’s cock.
His husband came quickly, keening, the build-up too much for him to resist. Hot sperm filled Jason’s mouth to overflowing, and he swallowed quickly. It tasted bitterer than a human man’s, musky and thick, but Jason swallowed again and again, addicted to the flavor. When it was clear there would be no more, Jason gently let go of Ferran’s swollen, sensitized organ and moved to pull his fingers out.
“No,” Ferran pleaded, clenching him tight. “Be in me.”
“I will,” Jason promised. “Give me a moment and I will.” As soon as Ferran nodded and relaxed he sat back, pulling off his shirt and pants with more haste than he normally did, even when they were making love, and threw them onto the floor. A second later he was pressed against Ferran again, their bodies perfectly matched, and then Ferran drew his legs back and rolled his hips and suddenly it was impossible not to slide into him.
Hot, so hot, so slicktightperfect…and God, Jason was going to come in a second if he didn’t control himself. He leaned back on his arms a little bit, putting some distance between himself and Ferran. It didn’t help. The low lights made his lover’s eyes look like they were glowing, and Ferran’s hands were everywhere, stroking down his chest and over his shoulders and urging him on. After a moment he gave into the urge, pulling back and then stroking in with more and more force until Jason was gasping for breath, his whole body was burning with tension and he knew that he was on the cusp of exploding, and all it would take was a look, a word, a movement…
“Jason.” One word, one look that he couldn’t even decipher when there was so much there to see and Jason flew apart, burying himself in Ferran and coming so hard that his vision dimmed and his hearing went fuzzy. Everything seemed to be quivering, from his hair to his toes, and it took all that he had left not to black out and collapse on his lover.
Ferran knew, of course. He was an empath, he felt Jason’s emotions, and his ability to feel them was becoming stronger the more intimate they became. He held Jason close, cradling him against his body but not suffocating him, giving him the space he needed to catch his breath. It took minutes, and every minute was a gift, every second was a blessing. He breathed out and Ferran breathed in, drinking in his exhalations and purring with pleasure.
It was frightening, how much Jason was beginning to crave the closeness he had with Ferran, how much he was starting to need him. The love hadn’t been nearly as hard for Jason to reconcile as the growing understanding that he was becoming genuinely dependent on someone else for the first time since he was a child. Jason had been part of a team, he’d been in relationships but all of those had paled in comparison to what was happening to him now, and he was both glad and anxious about that.
Eventually Jason came back to himself enough to get up. He went into the bathroom and got a clean washcloth, wet it and came back to find Ferran curled on his side, his huge eyes at half-mast, gazing in his direction.
“I am also nervous.”
Ferran’s sudden confession took Jason a little by surprise, and he raised an eyebrow as he scooted close enough to begin to wipe his lover clean. “Why are you nervous?”
“I want you to be happy on Perelan.”
“I will be happy,” Jason promised. “I’ll be with you.”
“Yes,” Ferran said, but that was all he said, and Jason was learning to hear his new husband’s silences as well as he did his words.
“I said forever,” Jason told him, smoothing a palm over damp skin. “I meant it. I don’t expect it will all be easy, but we’ll learn how to deal with that.”
“I believe you.”
“As well you should,” Jason said, trying to lighten the mood a little. “Or didn’t you know that I’m always right about these sorts of things?”
“That’s not what Florence told me,” Ferran countered, referring to Jason’s former second in command on board the Silver Star. She had been keeping in touch with both of them, sending brief text messages to their communicators almost daily, perhaps in an effort to make up for the fact that once they reached Perelan, they’d be cut off. No outside communications of any kind would be allowed unless they related to a family emergency, and Jason didn’t have any family left.
It was a shame, because Flo was a lot of fun to talk to, a good listener and an immovable pillar of support. She managed to make them laugh more often than not, very frequently resorting to ancient idioms that Jason had to explain to Ferran, or jovial commentary on what she considered Jason’s many amusing traits. Her last text to Ferran had read, Suggest installing a low-intensity shock button to use when you go out on the town with him. Wished for one many times myself. Might prompt him to use his words.
“Flo is biased against me, you know that. She thinks I have no social skills.”
“She’s wrong about that,” Ferran agreed with a smile. “You’re very sociable with me.”
“You see? You can’t listen to her.” Jason leaned in and kissed Ferran, and let his lover’s insistent hands keep him drawn close instead of getting up to clean the clothes from the floor like he’d intended to. Jason was well and truly exhausted, and it didn’t take much time for him to fall asleep in Ferran’s arms, his lover curled possessively around his head and shoulders.
Jason woke up in a cold sweat sometime before dawn, his breathing fast and his heart pounding so hard it felt like it might beat out of his chest. The nightmare that had woken him was dissipating quickly, leeching from his brain like an evaporating mist but leaving behind a dark, sticky residue. The urge to scream, caught by his tight jaw and clenched teeth, slowly receded, and eventually Jason was left exhausted but absolutely unable to get back to sleep. He glanced over at Ferran, still curled close to him, still asleep. Well, that was a mercy. He didn’t want to have to explain to his lover what was going on with him. Not that he knew himself, exactly.
Moving slowly, Jason eased out of the circle of Ferran’s arms and off of the bed, grabbed a robe that hung on the back of his bathroom door and slung it on, then walked quietly into the living room. He stood at the door that led to his balcony and stared out into the darkness, just barely able to detect the violent crashing of the waves far below. Lightning cracked through the sky, streaks of silver and gold in dark indigo clouds. Beautiful. Frightening. Sort of like what was happening here.
In his most ruthlessly practical moments when he was alone, Jason contemplated what he’d gotten himself into with a certain amount of grim resignation. He was going to be the first human being given intimate access to an alien world, an alien world that humans didn’t honestly know very much about. He was going there married to a highly-ranked member of that society, from what Jason could tell, but also a relatively powerless one. Infertile males were used as bargaining chips by their mothers, traded to other families to be caretakers and homemakers. Ferran was the first one ever to be allowed to pursue a different path, but there were probably whole labyrinths of political issues driving that decision that Jason knew nothing about, much less how he fit into the grand scheme of things. There was no doubt in his mind, though, that his presence among the Perels was entirely calculated.
Jason didn’t doubt that Ferran loved him. His new husband was as innocent a creature as Jason had ever seen in some ways, barely old enough to be considered an adult by his own people. He and his cousins had been on the verge of completing their post-adolescent tour of the ‘verse, were actually headed back to Perelan, when he and Jason had met. The depth of deceit that it would take to fool Jason into falling for him was beyond Ferran, not to mention that had snaring a human partner been premeditated, Ferran could have done a hell of a lot better. He could have gone for someone with more money, more power, more connections. Jason was a loner and always had been, and there was no lack of infatuated humans waiting for the first hint of something more with the attractive aliens to catapult them into love.
Instead Ferran had fallen in love with Jason, and he had risked a great deal to be with him. The proposal had come through Ambassador Howards, the Federation’s representative to Perelan, not from Ferran himself, and there had been no assurance that Jason would agree to a marriage. But in the end Jason had agreed, and for the next year at least, he and Ferran were legally bound to each other. There was still a lot to work out about that: how they would need to conduct themselves on the planet, how Jason’s actions would reflect on Ferran, even what Ferran’s duties within his own house would be now that he was no longer a viable bargaining chip. All his worth, all his beauty and gentility and intelligence had been spent on catching Jason, and Jason wasn’t at all sure that he was going to prove a worthwhile investment.
He hadn’t had a nightmare for a long time. As a child they were night terrors, leaving him upright in his bed screaming, unable to see or hear as his mother tried to calm him. His parents had refused drugs and therapy, his father instead opting to teach Jason meditation and other methods of self-control. They had eventually worked, and he’d become very adept over the years at blocking or burying the things that made him uncomfortable. Only occasionally was it so bad that those things manifested as nightmares, but it looked like now was going to be one of those times.
Uncertainty, doubts of his own self-worth, fear of leaving the simplicity and structure of everything he knew for the mystery that was Perelan…Jason had a lot to be afraid of. He closed his eyes for a moment and breathed in deeply, letting the air circulate through the lowest parts of his lungs before emerging as a faint hiss through his teeth. He needed to handle this. And privately, because the last thing his new husband needed at the moment was insecurity from Jason. Ferran was going to be dealing with a lot once they got back to Perelan. Jason couldn’t add to that stress. Silently he promised himself to take up daily meditation again, to work kata and other exercises that were comfortingly mindless, physical movements that would ground and occupy him. He could handle this on his own. He would have to.
Jason opened his eyes again and sighed. The very edge of the horizon was limned with violet, signaling the beginning of dawn. Ambassador Howards would arrive in less than three hours to take them away in her ship. Jason glanced around his house, his eyes lingering on the hardwood floors and handmade cabinets, the simple, comfortable furnishings and soothing earth tones. There was a neat stack of containers by the door that contained everything he was taking with him to Perelan. Well, almost everything.
Jason turned and headed back into the bedroom. If he couldn’t sleep, the least he could do was finish packing.