by Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2252)

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continnum

Noel DelMonde sat in the mess hall of the U.S.S. Drake, trying to get used to the smaller room. He’d had to get used to a smaller cabin, smaller corridors, smaller engine room, smaller Bridge – smaller everything. In the nearly ten years since he’d entered Starfleet Academy, he’d never served on anything other than a heavy cruiser, first the Hood, then the Enterprise. The destroyer was half the tonnage of those great ships, with no secondary hull, only the main saucer to contain every room and department and piece of equipment needed for the functioning of the ship and her crew. And while that number was less than half that of a heavy cruiser’s complement, Del felt the press of those 180-plus other minds much more keenly. The fact that he had no separate engineering hull to retreat to was making his adjustment harder than he’d anticipated. His new captain understood the pressures, and had staggered his break schedule so that he at least wouldn’t be forced to eat his meals at the same time as the rest of his shift, though it was made clear to him that he could on those rare occasions he might want to. Captain Takeda Sulu had also made it clear that while he accepted the engineer’s need for both sapphire and bourbon, he expected that DelMonde, like Scott on the Enterprise would never go on duty drunk – or grounded. Del had only been on board for two weeks, and already that restriction was wearing thin.

Not that he consider one li’l bitty drink an' one hit o’ sapphire drunk or grounded, Del mused, both grateful and sour.

He’d decided to eat early, and stayed as the First Watch crew began to filter in for their afternoon meal, just to test his control. The Haven doctor, Lian Rendell, nodded to him in passing, having both the professional and racial sense not to bother him unless he gave clear indication that he wanted to be bothered. His superior, Lieutenant Commander Rivka Mazar inclined her head as she passed in an intimation that he should be getting back to his post. He frowned and held up his hands, fingers spread, indicating that he still had ten minutes. The Chief of Communications, a handsome young Indiian named Tristan Vale, started to smile at him, then stopped, his brows furrowing. Then he gave a small, sad sigh and moved on, and Del was struck by how his bad mood seemed to lessen, as if following the man like some psychic vapor trail. He’d avoided the Indiian, the memories of that race too fresh and painful, but as the ever-present pain within him let go a little of its icy grip, he wondered if perhaps he should rethink that decision.

When the Captain and First Officer, the Equian, Jerel Courtland, came into the room, he steeled himself for the necessary polite conversation. Sulu was a good friend, and was leaving him to find his own way among the crew, while balancing that with the need to have an efficient working team. In acknowledgement of both facts, Del had made it a point to at least exchange a few words with his fellow ex-Clavist at every meeting, regardless of how much like shit he felt. Accordingly, he let his gaze meet Sulu’s and the Captain turned to cross the short distance between them.

“How are you holding up, Del?” Sulu asked with a sympathetic grin.

“Bout as can be expected,” Del replied. “Mornin’ Mr. Courtland,” he added to the First Officer.

“Good morning, Mr. DelMonde,” the Equian returned pleasantly. “Or afternoon, whichever it is.”

“Rivka mentioned that you’re planning to realign the warp coils,” Sulu rejoined.

“Gotta give this ol’ gal a li’l more in th’ speed department,” Del confirmed.

“For her ex-Racer captain,” Courtland put in with a whinny.

“An’ to conform wit’ her specs,” Del agreed. “She lose a bit over th’ years.”

“From what I understand,” Sulu confided, leaning down over Del’s chair, “her illustrious former commander, the ineffable Captain VonHels, didn’t exactly put her through her paces on a regular basis.”

“Or any other basis,” the Equian added. He, too, leaned down “The man was a real Herbert, Mr. DelMonde.”

Del snorted as a cover for the increasing discomfort of having the two other men so close. “An’ all engineers know you gotta pull out all th’ stops once in a while.”

“The more often the better,” Sulu grinned. He straightened. “Enjoy your meal, Del.”

The Cajun nodded, grateful, as always for Sulu’s apparently effortless knowledge of just how much socializing Del could take at any given time.

He finished his coffee and was just about to get up, when he felt a hesitant figure approaching him from behind.

“Lieutenant Commander, can I have a moment?” Dylan Paine said.

Del managed to keep the scowl from his face. The captain had a saying for the irrepressible Defense and Weapons Officer – Dylan Paine IS. He was a young man, enthusiastic and fervent, his emotions seemingly set to and stuck on ‘intense.’ His brown hair seemed, like Jim Kirk’s one forelock, to forever be falling in his face, his eyes a soft blue that was at odds with the passion of his personality. He made no secret of either the fact that he was a direct descendant of the American Revolutionary War firebrand Thomas Paine, or his pride in it.

Not that th’ boy make a secret o’ what he feel ‘bout any’ting, Del was forced to concede. He sighed, pulling his shields more tightly around him, and gestured to the other chair at his small table.

“I hope you’ll forgive me, sir,” the ensign said as he took the seat, “but I’ve been dying to talk to you since you came aboard.”

“Oh?” was all Del said.

The young man grinned, and his voice lowered to just above a whisper. “I’m Peregrine, Cajun.”

“An’ that s’posed to mean somet’ing to me?” the engineer drawled, hoping his disinterest would dissuade the outpouring of Clavist devotion. But the boy only grinned.

“Other than I know who you are and we share a common interest, no,” he replied, undaunted. “I’m a good Racer, not among the giants or anything – “ He glanced at Sulu, his gaze almost worshipful. “ – and I was getting into the Maker end of things when I joined Fleet. I was hoping to continue my education at the hands of a master.” He grinned again, the blue eyes shining.

“That a long time ago, son,” Del muttered. The ensign’s uncontrolled emotions were getting to him.

Dylan snorted. “Once a Clavist….” he said, not needing to complete the sentiment.

“I gotta prove myself here first, Ensign,” Del countered.

“And what will take all of what, another day?” Paine returned, his smile widening. The confidence in his tone was infectious.

Mais oui, that be true ‘nough, but…”

“Just think about it?” Dylan pleaded. “It wouldn’t be unusual for a D&W officer to want to know more about engineering, and I’m certain the Captain’s Majesty will understand.”

Del leaned forward over the table. “Word of advice, son. You not be callin’ him that to his face – or anywhere he likely t’ hear it – or hear ‘bout it.”

Dylan nodded. “Clave protocol, I know.” He stared into Del’s eyes expectantly, and after only a moment, said, “Well?”

“If I say I t’ink ‘bout it…” he began, and Dylan grabbed his hand, pumping it vigorously.

“Thank you, sir, thank you! Would you like more coffee? I can get you…”

Del rose, trying not to yank his hand away. “No, Ensign, I got duty.”

“Of course, sir. Thank you so much, Lieutenant Commander DelMonde!”

As he walked away from the mess hall, Del could feel those soft blue eyes following him.

^^^^^^^^^^***^^^^^^^^^^

First Shift had ended more than an hour earlier, and DelMonde had just finished preparing his report on the realignment specifications for Lieutenant Commander Mazar. He sent it to her terminal on the Bridge, then shut down the computer and rose from the chair in the noisy, crowded Engineering section. He put his hands on his waist, arching his back to stretch it out. His head was throbbing and he needed the quiet of his cabin, a bottle of bourbon and a couple of hits of sapphire. A couple of the Second Watch engineers bid him a pleasant evening, and he grunted at them, then strode toward the door. It hissed open just before he reached it, and he scowled. Dylan Paine stepped through it, almost bumping into him.

“Hey, I was looking for you,” Paine said, grinning at him, then went on before Del could speak. “I figured you’d still be here – engineers always work overtime.”

“Yeah, well, we gotta keep th’ ship…” Del began.

“I didn’t intend any criticism,” the young man added quickly. “I’m just understandably anxious to know if you’ve thought about working with me.”

Shee-it, Del sighed silently, both annoyed and uncomfortably flattered at the ensign’s eagerness.

“I know you’re busy, sir, and I wouldn’t want to keep you from more important matters, but… well, this is really important to me. I can arrange my schedule any way that would be convenient to you, within my duty, of course, and we can work on simulations before any hands-on stuff. You could give me assignments that I could complete on my own time, and I’d report to you after…”

“Ensign Paine, I not even said whether I…”

“Oh.” The crestfallen disappointment in the one word seared through Del’s ragged shields, followed by a hint of a desire that had little to do with engineering and a lot to do with the Clave. It stung more deeply, setting in motion a cascade of reactions. Since his brief contact with Pelori MacEntyre more than a month earlier, and his ‘leave’ with Jeremy Paget, he hadn’t had sexual contact with anyone – and with Jeremy, it had been far more therapy than pleasure. The idea of making love to another woman was bitter ashes within him. The thought of a male brought memories of the kisses of Tarvak and Joron, equal measures of disgust and the sweet, perfect moment of total devotion that had ended their psychic existence warring within him. He closed his eyes, trying to hold his equilibrium, and when he opened them again, all he could see was Dylan Paine’s blue eyes.

“Oh hell, son,” he grunted in exasperation. “I not say I not, neither.”

“Can I be allowed to convince you, sir?” the young man asked, his tone once again hopeful.

“How you gonna do that?”

Dylan smiled. “Flattery, honest admiration, enthusiasm for engineering… whatever works,” he replied. The touch of desire flared, but if Paine was aware of it, it wasn’t enough to even make him flush. There wasn’t a hint of seduction or sensuality in his gaze, no indication of what he’d just implied, and Del found himself wondering if he was somehow projecting his own thoughts on to the ensign’s emotions.

“Whatever works, huh?” he repeated, and waited for the reaction.

“Not that I’d coerce you or anything,” Paine immediately countered, apparently unmindful of Del’s clear innuendo.

The boy a puppy, Del thought grimly. A boundary-less, eager, damned cute li’l blue-eyed puppy.

“Can we at least talk it over?” the ensign continued. “Either in my cabin, or yours…”

“I guess there no harm in that,” Del answered with a shrug, and the boy’s whole face lit up. “But my quarters, Ensign. I be far more comfortable there.”

“Yes, sir!” Dylan replied, and as they walked toward the turbolift, he kept up an enthusiastic stream of personal information, compliments – and increasing waves of desire.

^^^^^^^^^^***^^^^^^^^^^

The first thing Del did on entering his cabin was head for the stock of bourbon he had in the cabinet next to his bed. He took a long swig, then glanced at Dylan. “You a drinkin’ man, Ensign?”

Paine grinned. “I’m a Clavist, Mr. DelMonde.”

“Del,” the Cajun responded, and got a glass, pouring a generous measure of the alcohol for his guest. Then he opened the small box on the shelf above the cabinet and took out his vial of sapphire. “You mind?” he asked again, and didn’t wait for an answer before flipping off the cap and tipping two of the bright blue capsules into his mouth.

Dylan’s eyes were wide, but not with disapproval or surprise. “Your gifts must pose quite a problem for you, sir,” he said quietly.

Now where that bit o’ insight come from? Del found himself wondering. “Del,” he repeated. “If we gonna work on a Clavist level, we cut the ‘sir’ shit.”

The young man smiled and clinked his glass against the bottle that was still in Del’s hand. “Guess I didn’t have to convince you,” he commented cheerfully.

Del scowled. “I still said ‘if’…”

“Dylan,” the ensign responded immediately. “If we’re gonna work on a Clavist level.” Then he shrugged. “Hell, even if we’re not.”

Del had to chuckle at that, the sense of emotional pressure lessening as the dulling blue made its way into his brain. He took another swig from the bottle, then sat down on his bed, motioning the ensign to the chair. “So what exactly you be wantin’ from me?” he asked.

“Besides a chance to learn from the greatest Maker the Clave’s ever known?” Dylan grinned.

“Yeah, ‘sides that.”

The young man took a long drink from his glass. “Well, to be honest, I still race when I can on leave,” he said. “And…well… it would give my rep quite a boost. Almost as big as the one it’s gotten from meeting Kamikaze.”

Del frowned. “You tellin’ people who he is, boy?”

“Oh fuck no!” came the instant protest. “Just that I – well, that I met him.”

“An’ you wanna be able t’ say you workin’ wit’ Cajun, that it?”

“Yeah. Anything wrong with that if I am?”

“Well, you honest, I give you that,” Del conceded. “But I not gonna waste my time wit’ no dilettante.”

“I’m not. I told you, I’d started getting into Making before I joined Fleet. I can learn a lot about conventional engineering from anyone in the department, but for innovation and quantum leaps…” The soft blue eyes gazed at him. “That I can only get from you, Del.” Again the desire shot into him, and again Del had to take a moment to sort and stifle his reaction. He countered the answering emotion with his usual verbal repertoire.

“You start flutterin’ your lashes at me, boy, an’ you might find out you bit off more’an you can chew,” he said, the sarcasm at odds with the sensual smoldering of his own dark eyes.

“No, I don’t think so,” was the quiet reply. “I would never presume, but if that was something you’d be interested in…”

Del laughed. “Shee-it, boy, you surely know how t’ give as good as you get.” He ignored the sudden wash of startled embarrassment that came from the ensign, along with the increased thundering in his own veins. “Drink up, an’ we talk some engineerin’.”

Dylan smiled, the moment of discomfiture passing, then leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and started talking.

^^^^^^^^^^***^^^^^^^^^^

After an hour, Del wasn’t listening anymore. He’d finished the bourbon and the sapphire was making him comfortably numb. He’d relaxed on his bunk, impressed enough with the young ensign’s grasp of the basics of engineering to have decided to at least give the boy a chance. He’d even said a few things that piqued Del’s interest, and he filed them away for exploration when he wasn’t grounded or pleasantly inebriated. He roused himself enough to raise a hand, stopping the flow of words from Dylan’s mouth.

“Okay, son, you convince me,” he said, his voice a touch more drawling than usual. “I look at my schedule an’ yours, an’ if it all right wit’ Miss Mazar, we set up some work sessions.” He felt the apprehension in the young man, and added, “An’ if it not all right, we set up simulations and tutorin’ on our own time. C'est bon?

“That sounds fine, Del,” Dylan answered. He leaned over to set the glass on the shelf above the bed, and the hunger that flashed into Del’s veins almost made him reach out and pull the boy to him. Dylan looked down at him – damn, why for his eyes gotta be so damn blue? – and his lips twisted into a wry grin.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea in your condition,” he murmured, then straightened. “But as I said, any time you’re really interested….” His voice broke off, and he reached down, smoothing Del’s hair from his forehead.

“Good night, Lieutenant Commander,” he said, and turned, dimming the lights as he left the cabin.

Del’s incredulous thought of did he jus’ do what I t’ink? faded into numb darkness as the sapphire and bourbon took him into dreamless sleep.

^^^^^^^^^^***^^^^^^^^^^

Del and Sulu had agreed to meet once a week in the gym for workouts in various martial arts, wrestling, sword work, and even phaser practice, his Captain remembering all too well the Cajun's lack of expertise when they’d had a shuttle crash on a planet inhabited by dragons. Del had agreed because it was an excuse to do something other than drink once a week, a thing he acknowledged he needed whether or not he wanted it; Sulu because, being the captain, no one else would spar with him unless he ordered them to, which, he said, kind of defeated the purpose of such workouts. “It’s gotta be a challenge,” Sulu had explained with a grin. “Otherwise it does nothing to work off all this excess energy I seem to have suddenly developed.”

Del had feigned ignorance of the source of the ‘excess energy,’ cackling with wicked delight at Sulu’s amused annoyance. He just as wickedly offered his services in Sulu's time of need – to which Sulu had given an appropriate leer and the verbal escalation of, “you think you can handle it? I’m not a teenager anymore.” And Del, of course, replied, equally leering, “neither am I.” The banter had continued until the emotions between them got just a little too close to capitulation, then they both backed off cautiously, but good-naturedly.

They were practicing judo kicks and blocks – Del holding the pads on his hands for Sulu to kick into – when the captain suddenly said, “Rivka tells me you’ve taken The Paine under your wing.”

“The boy wanna be an engineer when he grow up,” Del replied, his words punctuated by grunts as Sulu’s feet landed solid blows.

“The ‘boy’ is a Clavist, you know,” Sulu returned, his second word emphasized by another kick.

“So?”

“A young, (kick) fawning, (kick) wide-eyed, (kick) camp-follower of a Clavist.”

“Yeah, I sorta notice that, mon ami.”

A roundhouse of kicks was followed by, “Have you looked at his records?”

“Should I?” Del asked, lurching backward a little from having just missed catching the last in the series.

“Not if he isn’t posing any problems for you,” Sulu replied, then leapt with both feet, which Del blocked by bringing his hands together. Sulu landed in a roll, but Del was pushed off the mat. He stepped back on, removing the pads, handing them to Sulu.

“What kinda problems, Sulu?”

“If he’s not, it doesn’t matter,” the captain answered, putting the pads on his own hands and taking a braced stance.

“You learn all Jer’s shit ‘bout dark hints an’ deep warnin’s?” the engineer snorted as he gave his first kick.

“Yeah,” Sulu grinned. “And all his ‘if it ain’t my job, it ain’t my job’ shit, too.”

“I musta miss th’ days he like that,” Del commented, and came at Sulu with four lightning-quick kicks – which, to his credit, Sulu managed to catch.

“Well, it’s true he’s only like that about Security,” Sulu conceded. He caught Del’s scowl just before the engineer rushed him with a roundhouse of his own, and instead of trying to block it, simply jumped aside.

“Hey, we not sparrin’ here!” Del complained when he’d executed a turn to again face the shorter man.

“Sorry, I was just getting out of the way of the sudden surge of ‘death to captains,’” Sulu returned with another grin.

“Stop doin’ that, you look like th’ damn puppy,” Del snarled.

“He smiles at you a lot, does he?” Sulu’s voice was suddenly serious.

“When he not talkin’ non-stop.”

Sulu dropped his arms, stepping close to the Cajun. “Be careful with that, Del.”

“Why fo’? Th’ only threat I see is bleedin’ from my ears.”

“No, I meant his smiling at you. He can read you.”

“What you mean, he can…?” Del began.

“It’s in his file. It’s not exactly telepathy, but…”

“He know what I feelin’? He empathic?”

“Not exactly that, either. The tests just indicated “heightened intuition” but you and I know what that’s code for.”

“Shee-it.”

“So just monitor yourself.”

“Shee-it,” Del repeated, then shivered. Sulu studied him.

“So it is a problem?”

Non, mon ami, but it surely explain a bit.”

“Care to share?”

Del shoved him. “No. Why I divulge my sex life to one who ain’t got none o’ his own? That jus’ be cruel.”

“Sex? With a puppy?” Sulu teased.

“Now you know I all manner o’ perverted,” Del returned, then added, "an' you know all 'bout that, non?"

“Just as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ship,” the captain said, serious behind the wry grin.

“If an’ when I get any, I make sure it not.”

Sulu sighed, genuine relief easing the worry that poured from him. He took a step back and raised his padded hands. “Come at me again, loser,” he grinned.

His ‘Ouch!” when Del kicked the pad off one of his hands was most satisfying.

^^^^^^^^^^***^^^^^^^^^^

“You do that, son, and you gonna blow some poor Racer all to fuck.”

“Not if we set a gravometric shield between the engine and the cockpit.”

“Hmmm… that jus’ might do th’ trick. Where you learn that?”

“It’s a standard weapons safety protocol.”

“An’ that what we get fo’ never puttin’ phasers on needles.”

“Well… not exactly never, Del…”

DelMonde shuddered so violently he dropped the spanner he was holding and bumped his head against the fuselage of the mock-ship he and Dylan were tinkering with. Chief Mazar had all too readily agreed to give them both time and workspace for their tutoring. Not only had she wanted to encourage the ensign’s education – which was what she’d said – but the prospect of giving her surly new assistant something to do besides growl at his fellow engineers was a godsend – which she hadn’t said, but which Del had picked up clearly from her thoughts.

“You not never mention that ‘round me, boy!” Del hissed, pulling himself from under the mock-up. “Never!”

“But it’s clear that if someone had – someone besides the Hunter – there wouldn’t’ve been nearly as many deaths…” Dylan said, handing Del a towel to wipe his hands on.

“We done, Dylan.,” the Cajun returned, snatching the cloth from him. “An’ I not gonna talk ‘bout the damn Hunter!”

“Why were Clavists in your day so afraid to defend themselves?”

“Defend….! Shee-it boy, you have th’ barest hint of a clue what th’ fuck you talkin’ ‘bout? Or racin’ not illegal no more?” He turned, heading to put the tools they’d been using back in the crib.

Dylan shrugged, following him. “Technically, sure, but…”

Del stopped in his tracks. Dylan’s thoughts and emotions were clear, his images of the Clave and its parties so much cleaner and safer than those that had governed most of Del’s adolescence, despite the fact that Haven chemicals were still plentiful and the sex just as casual. Del probed a little, just a little deeper for the reason.

“No one get prosecuted,” he snarled. “Jus’ a fine and a slap on th’ damn wrist. It no more’an a game fo’ rich kids now, non?”

The ensign looked genuinely flustered. “Sure… I mean needles are expensive and…”

“An’ you got no damn sick-fuck supportin’ it all an’ takin’ his due like some fuckin’ Roman emperor,” Del seethed. “You got no one manipulatin’ innocent, open teenagers, fillin’ they heads wit’ need an’ they bodies wit’ drugs, turnin’ every party into an orgy fo' his own damn sick-fuck voyeuristic kick! Hell, boy, if we ‘back in my day’ had even tried to t’ink ‘bout ‘defendin’ ourselves’, that mother-fuckin’ sombith woulda shut th’ fuckin’ Clave down wit’ one wave o’ his fuckin’ filthy, more money’an God hand!”

He slammed the tools into their proper places then pivoted and stalked off past the ensign, his head thundering and his soul bleeding. His only comfort was that his captain was nowhere near to hear – and feel – the memories that would never leave him.

^^^^^^^^^^***^^^^^^^^^^

He didn’t look up, or even attempt to get out of his bunk when he heard the soft door chime. He’d stormed into his cabin, downing an entire bottle of bourbon in one long, burning go, then collapsed, in too much anguish to even reach for his vial of sapphire. The memories of the Clave and Cal were bad enough, but they brought others with them, those of who had finally succeeded in ‘defending’ them all by exposing the Hunter and his weapons-laden needle. Her name was a silent cry of agony within him, as it had been on the Enterprise, and the terrible sense of betrayal to Pelori heightened the pain to unbearable levels.

“Go away!” he rasped to whoever had entered his quarters, and had to turn away, groaning in helpless fury as a hand came to his temple, brushing the hair from his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Del,” Dylan’s voice whispered. “I didn’t know…”

“’Course you not know, you fuckin’ sycophant,” the engineer snarled. “You want th’ prestige o’ workin’ wit the great Kamikaze, the great Cajun, but you – none o’ y’all – know what we went through! An' you not wanna know! It all games to you, a fun li’l vacation.” He turned his head, opening his eyes. “It was our life, boy!” he roared. “It the only t’ing we had, th’ only place we could be who an’ what we were! An’ you got no idea – no idea the price we pay fo’ it!”

“Because no one comes back to teach us,” Dylan said, his tone giving no indication that he was either insulted or hurt by Del’s words. “All we have of our history are the records; who won what races, what Makers made the best needles. If what the Clave is has changed – and not for the better….”

Del’s bark of laughter was rough and bitter. “Oh, it gotta be better, petit chiot,” he spat, “’cause it not possibly be worse.”

“Except you don’t think that the way it’s better IS better,” the ensign returned softly. “You don’t really want anyone else to go through what you did, but you do. You want the entire galaxy to go through it, to feel it and burn with it, just like you do.”

“I jus’ want it not forgotten!” Del cried. “I not want no one able t’ rise up like Cal did, t’ come an’ destroy innocence an’ joy an’ a place where all th’ misfits can find theyselves! You not know they sick-fucks out there jus’ waitin’ t’ prey on you?”

“Oh, I know that all right,” Dylan said with a sad chuckle.

The fleeting he not mean it like that was lost in the sudden flare of rage and disgust. Pain mutated into darkness and black hunger, all the worst of his nature welling up, obliterating the goodness he had always tried to keep as his center. A lifetime of uncomprehending rage filled him, meaningless loss, senseless destruction, fear and grief and the keening, searing loneliness that had too often yielded to a promise of surcease, only to have it time and time again wrenched from his grasp. And all because he’d never taken it, had never tried to force it to remain. Always he’d let others, other men, other concerns, tear it from him.

He stared up into Dylan’s far-too-blue eyes. All he felt was mirrored in them, but there was no real fear, no real sense that he was in any danger. The privileged modern Clavist didn’t really believe any harm could come to him – as the adolescents of ten years ago hadn’t really believed they were in any danger.

But you were, Del whispered to the ghosts of the past, then let his full lips smile at the innocent before him. An’ so are you.

He reached up, grasping Dylan’s wrist, pulling him down on top of him. “No, I not t’ink you do,” he murmured with a vicious sweetness, answering the boy’s last statement, “ but I t’ink, Peregrine, that you ‘bout to.”

^^^^^^^^^^***^^^^^^^^^^

The sex was rough, but the lack of any positive emotion was rougher. If Dylan hadn’t been utterly acquiescent, the allegations of brutal rape would have been unavoidable. Del ripped the ensign’s uniform from his body, not bothering to do more with his own than open the seam of his pants. He pushed Dylan to the bed, savaging the young body with rapacious glee, forcing all his turbulent, vicious emotion directly into the Clavist’s mind. He gave all his rage, all his despair, all his murderous fury, letting the boy know in no uncertain terms the danger that had been forced on him, on the captain, on Jeremy Paget by the abomination that was Ruis Calvario. And worse than all that, he also pushed desperate desire and hopeless hunger and irrevocable need into Dylan’s being, the vile longing and bitter adoration that had, did, and always would color Sulu’s soul. He felt the chill, taunting echoes of the Divine Wind racing through him, enveloping the ensign in its icy, tempting, beauty. The words from one of Ruth Valley’s favorite books gathered in his thoughts, and he sent, them, too, to the unprotected mind beneath him: “And I shall be not dark but beautiful and terrible as the morning and the night! Dreadful as the storm and the lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!”

Í love you! cried from Dylan’s mind, and with unutterable self-loathing, Del crashed on the words, his body giving way to a searing, powerful climax.

^^^^^^^^^^***^^^^^^^^^^

The hand moving softly through his hair woke him. He realized he was still sprawled on Dylan’s body, his uniform sticky with sweat and his own secretions. He rolled away, almost falling off the single bed, his lurching motion to catch himself making his stomach rebel uncomfortably.

“Feeling better?” the ensign’s quiet voice asked.

“Fuck no,” Del responded.

“Can I finish my apology?”

“What th’ fuck you talkin’ ‘bout?” the engineer muttered.

“When I said I was sorry, and that I didn’t know, I didn’t mean I didn’t know what you’d been through. I meant I didn’t know it was still so raw a wound. I meant I didn’t know that you and Kamikaze hadn’t been through years of extensive therapy to deal with what the Hunter did.”

“Therapy?” Del snorted, firmly refusing to hear the nom de plume the young man had used. “You really a rich, snotty li’l bastard, ain’t ya.”

Dylan shrugged, his arm coming up under his head as he shifted over to give Del more room on the bed. “My family is wealthy,” he admitted, “but I don’t see what that has to do with…”

“Who gonna pay fo' this ‘therapy’, boy? Or you be t’inkin’ it grow on trees?”

“You’re both in Fleet, the psych evaluations….”

“…are rigged. They want you bad ‘nough, they put down whatever make you acceptable.”

The blue eyes blinked at him. “You can’t mean that.”

The ugly truths that were revealed during the mission to infiltrate the Sevrinites swirled in Del’s memory. “Th’ hell I not, son.”

Dylan was silent for a long moment – the longest Del had ever heard him go without speaking. “Then I’m doubly sorry, Del,” he finally said.

There was no answer for that, so Del didn’t give one. He felt Dylan’s hand moving – the one that was wedged between their bodies – in a hesitant caress.

“You know,” the casual voice murmured, “anytime you need – release – like that again, I won’t say no.”

“So you got problems o’ your own,” Del commented sourly.

“Problems?”

“Masochism? Rape fantasies? Submission issues?”

Dylan chuckled warmly. “No, nothing like that. I just want to help.”

Del rose up on one elbow, glaring down at him. “Why? It enhance your rep t’ say you been workin’ wit’ an’ fuckin’ th’ greatest Maker th’ Clave ever see?”

“Yes, but that’s not why,” was the simple, untroubled reply.

Non? Why then?”

“Don’t you know?” the ensign asked softly, the hand behind his head again moving forward to sweep Del’s hair from his forehead. Del caught his wrist, fighting not to feel the flow of adoration that came from Dylan’s being.

“No,” he lied. “An’ I not wanna.”

Dylan smiled serenely. “Suit yourself, Del.” He moved away, sliding off the bed. Del didn’t look at the body he knew would be covered with bruises and scratches and bite-marks. “I gotta use the head,” the ensign said. “Can I use your fabricator to get another uniform?”

“You wanna be caught impersonatin’ a superior officer, be my guest,” Del drawled, again sprawling on the bed, deliberately this time.

“Only if anyone who sees me checks the sleeves, since our shirts are the same color,” Dylan grinned. “And I’ll only be wearing it until I get back to my own quarters. I really need a shower.” He leaned down, planting a brief but warm kiss on Del’s shoulder. “Thanks.”

Del lay unmoving, trying desperately not to think, and when the ensign had dressed and was at the cabin door, he turned.

“Same time tomorrow in engineering?”

“Shee-it, boy, what it take t’ make you go away?”

The grin returned. “A lot more than that, Del.”

Then he was gone and Del shuddered, took his own shower, then fell back into bed, reaching for his vial of salvation.

^^^^^^^^^^***^^^^^^^^^^

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