Julian leaned against the wall, and took a deep breath. He felt a hand on his shoulder and opened his eyes expecting to see Kyle. Captain Mateo stood there instead. The captain’s green eyes were looking at him with concern. “You alright there, Doctor Narel?”
“I believe everyone is either stable or…” He glanced at where three men were laying near the back. He wasn’t sure how the captain was going to take the news he was about to give, but lying would be a worse option. Better to offer no hope than to rip hope away. A lesson he was learning all too well. “I am sorry, Captain. They received lethal doses. Even if we had a full medical facility, all we could do would be make them comfortable.”
Mateo swallowed, then nodded. “How long?”
“I would estimate no more than a couple hours.” Julian observed the captain. The man’s eyes were wet as he looked at his dying crewmembers.
“Time enough for them to say some goodbyes.” He sighed.
“Several of the patients still need considerable medical care.” Julian glanced down at the datapad. “They are stable for now, and you should have time to get them to a medical facility.”
“And if I can’t?” Mateo’s voice was quiet.
“Pardon?” Julian raised an eyebrow.
“Guessing you haven’t looked at the newscasts recently.” Mateo sighed. “We got hit, bad, and we are currently on the wrong side of a blockade. We can’t fight our way through, so we either have to hold tight while our people send reinforcements to retake the territory, or take the long way to get past the Alliance ships.”
He was… “That is…” He was in Alliance space. Right now, at this moment, he was in Alliance space. Surrounded by Alliance forces. On a Palindor warship. “Unfortunate.”
Revealing his identity would give Mateo a bargaining chip to get his injured people to safety. And yet he had no idea what kind of man Mateo was, nor what could happen if he put himself at the captain’s mercy. The man had just lost a considerable number of his crew to Alliance forces, and was about to lose three more. He wasn’t sure that was the kind of thing anybody took well. He swallowed. “Your equipment can be modified to handle cybernetics, though I will require assistance from those more skilled at engineering. Delicate work must wait, however we should have sufficient resources to solve the life-threatening matters. I…” He caught himself stifling a yawn. “May need some sleep before I can begin.”
“Right.” Mateo nodded before patting his shoulder. “I had quarters arranged. I’ll grab your husband and he can take you.”
His… Oh. Kyle.
“I did not see this one coming.” Kyle sighed, and looked around the quarters. Truthfully, it was probably nicer than any other place he’d ever lived. He turned towards Julian. “Are you okay with this?”
“This is a Palindor warship.” Julian met his eyes. “Going to war against the Seven Star Alliance.”
Kyle stood, and pulled him into a hug. He whispered into his ear. “All you’re doing is medic stuff. Nobody is going to make you fight anyone, alright? You’re fine.” He kissed him. “Everything is going to be fine. I’ll protect you.”
“Everything will be fine.” Julian nodded as he repeated the words.
“Hey…” He took Julian’s hand. “That’s a damn big bed over there, and it looks pretty comfortable.” He smiled before brushing Julian’s hair away from his cheek and leaning in to kiss him. “Why don’t I tuck you in before you fall down?”
He lay with his head on Kyle’s chest, and the man’s arms wrapped around him. Kyle snored softly, and Julian lay still, afraid any movement would wake the man. A Palindor warship. How did the saying go? From frying pan to fire. He should have known better to get his hopes up. Planetside would have allowed him a chance to flee, to get a message to his grandfather’s people.
And now he was trapped almost as thoroughly as he had been on the other ship. Failing to play the role of Jakob Narel would create suspicion, and for all he knew Captain Mateo was just as bad as Captain Laria. Kyle knew who he really was, and failing to keep the man happy could easily result in him being simply handed over. Or in Kyle raising someone’s suspicions.
A lump rose in his throat. At least he was only the plaything of one person, and Kyle took no pleasure in hurting him. Just in using him. He swallowed, and closed his eyes.
Kyle wanted to stay in the medical bay, but was at a loss for a good excuse when the CSO asked to talk to him. The man sat him down, then raised an eyebrow. “Your IDs are fake.”
“Shit.” Kyle swallowed. He’d paid good money for those blasted things. “Look, I can explain.”
“That’s why I brought you in here.” The CSO smiled.
“I took part in a protest and some…” He ran a hand through his hair. “A couple Alliance peacekeepers got killed. Everybody got blacklisted and zoned. I just…” He shook his head, and thought fast. “I just wanted a life back, and then I met Jakob and he’s…” He sighed. “When he said he’d come with me I just didn’t think. I cobbled together some papers and we took off.”
“And who is Jakob?”
“A brilliant young doctor in the wrong place at the wrong time.” That much, at least, was the truth. “I’m just trying to keep him safe.” He shifted awkwardly.
“He’ll be safe on this ship.” The CSO nodded. “I’m assuming you’re going to want to stay here with him.”
“Of course I…” Kyle blinked. “Explain that.”
“There are still a dozen crewmen in need of medical attention, and we don’t know yet when we’ll be able to rendezvous with another ship.” He leaned back. “Until we make it back to the fleet, we need to keep the doctor here.”
“He’s mine.” Kyle narrowed his eyes. After what he’d had to do to get Julian, there was no way he was giving him up now.
“We can find a place in the crew for you, or you can stay on as a passenger.”
“I…” He took a couple deep breaths. “I was a soldier, before the…” He looked up at the man. “If there is a chance here to be one again, I’ll take it.”
The CSO smiled. “I’ll let the captain know.”
“Well I’m not really inclined to give him high level security access, but when I ran him through a training program…” Anson shrugged. “He can fight, I’ll give him that. Not a lot of brains, but there’s a hell of a lot of brawn there. A hell of a lot of brawn.” He hesitated before continuing. “Enough that if the doctor hadn’t cooperated, I’m not sure I’d have cared for our odds on forcing the issue.”
“He’s better than you?” Mateo raised an eyebrow.
“On a tactical level no. Straight up fight?” Anson nodded. “Definitely. Guy may look like a brute, but he’s trained. Kind of guy you take out from range, with a missile. Then a second one, just to be sure.”
Mateo laughed. “That your honest evaluation?”
“The doctor is a bit hard to read but he is definitely a doctor. And he’s pretty young. Young enough I doubt he’s had time to train as both doctor and intelligence officer. He’s uncomfortable pretty much anywhere except the infirmary, and I think he’s a bit scared about being on a warship.” Anson frowned. “Kyle’s may be easier to read but he’s a much harder man. He’s seen action, and when it comes to his husband he’s both possessive and protective. He’s got no love for the Alliance, and when he realized there was an opportunity he wanted to join up.” He took a deep breath. “Captain, he didn’t come right out and admit it, but I think he killed a PeaceKeeper. Self-defense, but you know the Alliance doesn’t really give a shit about that.”
“So, they’re a miracle.” Mateo leaned back in his chair. “Gift from the goddamn stars right there in our path. That’s hard to buy as a coincidence.”
“Not sure it is. I think they’re here for the same reason we are. Dead space, no patrols, good place to lie low and wait for things to die down.” Anson frowned. “One more thing: you hear how Jakob talks?”
He blinked, then considered the question for a moment before nodding with dawning realization. “Once he stopped being nervous and took charge in the infirmary…” Mateo frowned. “He almost sounded like one of the Alliance nobility.”
“Some prodigal son runs off, heads into the zones, hooks up with a smuggler and ex-Palindor soldier?” Anson chuckled. “Ten gets you twenty there is at least one bounty hunter after those two.” His laughter died. “And the nobility isn’t exactly known for their gentle natures. I’d wager they aren’t too insistent on Kyle being brought back alive.”
If his new acquisitions were on the run, then maybe they’d appreciate having someplace safe to stay. Or as safe as anyplace actually got these days. “I’ll have a word with the doctor.”
Julian nodded when the captain walked into the infirmary. “Captain. The modifications are nearly complete.” He nodded to a man laying on one of the operating tables. Though technically the patient, the young man was assisting with the preparations. “Ensign Merue has volunteered to be the first subject, stating that it is his obligation to prove the skill of your engineers.”
The captain smiled at the ensign fondly, then nodded. “Yeah, that sounds like one of my repair monkeys alright.” He turned toward Julian. “Can we talk a moment?”
He felt a trace of fear as the captain led him to the small office. “Yes, Captain?”
“Are you and Kyle on the run?” The captain folded his arms.
“We…” He looked away. Shit. He had no idea exactly what the captain knew. He made his breathing stay close to level. “That is one way to put the matter, yes.” His heart was pounding.
“Alright, first off…” The captain took a deep breath. “I think you’re from Alliance space.”
The blood left his face, and he felt dizzy. The captain must have noticed because immediately he started shaking his head. “Hey now, hey…” He put a hand on Julian’s shoulder. “Look, whatever you two are running from, you’re safe here.” He looked Julian in the eye. “You hear me? You’re safe here. I owe you the lives of several of my crew and there is no way in hell I will turn you back over to the Alliance, we clear?”
Nervous laughter escaped him. No, of course they wouldn’t. There was no way he would be that lucky. He made himself smile. “Yes, captain.”
“Long as you two are on my ship, you’re under my protection.” The captain smiled, then patted Julian’s shoulders before lowering his hands. “And I’d like to invite the two of you to stay. Your husband said he is interested in joining the crew, and as you can clearly see we need a medical officer.” He held out a hand. “Want to join the crew of the Onager?”
No. No, no, no, no, no. “It sounds as though Kyle is not going to give me a choice.” That much, at least, was true. If the captain offered Kyle the chance to be a soldier, Kyle was going to take it. Which meant he was trapped again. He smiled before taking the captain’s hand. “I should get back to my patients, captain.”
“Mateo.” The man smiled before releasing his hand again. “Captain Josef Mateo.”
“Doctor Jakob Narel.”
“Yeah.” Captain Mateo chuckled. “But let’s face facts. You’re Doc.” He clapped Julian on the shoulder before leaving the office.
Slowly, he exhaled. He stood there for a few moments before the engineer popped her head in. “Okay, I think I’ve got it this time. Need you to check my word, doc.”
“Of course.” He put his professional mask back on and stepped out into the infirmary. This role, at least, he could play comfortably.
Kyle’s smile trembled as he looked at the uniforms. He was a soldier again. He was a soldier again. He grabbed Juli… Jakob and pulled the man to him for a kiss. “I’m a soldier again.” He kissed Juli… Jakob again, holding his lover to him tightly. “Thanks to you.”
“I believe you were the one piloting the ship.” Jakob smiled.
He picked up the smaller of the uniforms and pushed it into Jakob’s arms. “Try it on.”
Jakob looked down at the clothing, then back up at him. His voice was dry when he spoke. “If I put this on, you are merely going to remove it from me again with undue haste.”
“No…” Kyle grinned. “There will be nothing ‘undue’ about the haste.” He kissed Jakob again. “Now put it on.”