“We don’t have a choice.” Mateo sighed. “Without fuel and supplies, we won’t make it past the blockade. Triton is probably our best bet. It’s a neutral planet, with enough clout that the Alliance at least pays lip service to respecting its stance.”
“Which is exactly why the Alliance will be looking hard at it, watching all traffic in and out. They’d be waiting…” Anson trailed off, then suddenly brightened. “Actually, sir, it won’t be a problem at all.”
“You…” Mateo blinked at him. “Changed your mind rather quickly.”
“We have a civilian shuttle, sir, one not tied at all to the Onager.” Anson smiled.
“The doc’s shuttle.” Mateo nodded in realization.
“I may take Doc with me on the supply run. I don’t know what he needs to stock up on, and I’ll have no way to radio availability back to him.” Anson took a deep breath, then met Mateo’s eyes. “I suggest leaving his husband behind for this mission.”
“Right.” Mateo nodded. “Make sure the doc actually returns with you.”
He objected to leaving Kyle behind because it was expected of him to object to leaving Kyle behind. In the hidden portion of his mind, Julian was cheering. Triton was a neutral planet rather than Alliance, but there would be Alliance officers. And Triton wouldn’t turn him over to Palindor, especially with the blockade in place. If anything, they’d simply use him to leverage some minor trade concession and he’d be home in a few days.
Kyle naturally wasn’t happy. “…just feel better if I was with him.”
“Look, I’ll be blunt…” CSO Anson took a deep breath. “We need supplies, and he’s the only one that can tell us which ones. But we also need him here on the ship, so I have to ensure he has some incentive to return.” Anson narrowed his eyes. “So, you’re staying on board.”
The role still needed to be played, so he took Kyle’s hand. “Kyle’s happy to be part of your crew. Whatever trepidations I have, I’ll not take that away from him.” The look Kyle gave him would have been heartwarming under other circumstances.
“I get that, I really do…” Anson nodded. “Look, Mr. Narel, if it makes you feel better, I will take personal responsibility for your husband. I won’t get more than five feet from him.”
Okay, that could be a problem. Kyle, however, nodded. “I’ll hold you too that, Sir. He gets hurt…” Kyle took a deep breath. “Rank or no rank, you and I are going to have to go a couple rounds.”
“Understood.” Anson put a hand on Julian’s shoulder. “Come on, Doc. We’ve got to make this a fast trip.”
Aside from the CSO, the shuttle contained two other soldiers. Like himself, they were dressed in plain clothing to blend in. Julian tried to hide his happiness. Fortunately, the others seemed to be taking his behavior as nerves, and kept reassuring him they’d keep him safe. He was surprised at first to find himself hoping he could return that favor. Unlike the crew of the Silverfish, these were good men who simply happened to be on another side of a territorial dispute. If he could find a way to submit himself to Alliance custody without getting them hurt, all the better.
He’d wait until they had the supplies they needed, at least. To do otherwise would be irresponsible considering the number of patients still aboard the Onager.
Julian just wished he didn’t feel guilty over the idea of leaving them. Yes, they were his patients, but they were also enemy soldiers on a ship that had technically abducted him. But they were still his patients. And his head was starting to hurt. He shifted position to stare out the window at the approaching planet. Leon’s ship might even be one of the ones at the blockade. The idea that he could have dinner with his brother tonight wasn’t so far-fetched a notion to be beyond the realm of possibility.
Just a little longer.
As he had promised, Anson stayed with Doctor Narel, never getting more than a couple feet from the young man. The doc went through the list of available medical supplies, occasionally frowning at the selection. “Their supply of immunosuppressants is laughable. These were obsolete decades ago.”
“Likely why they are at the frontier, Doc.” Anson smiled.
“Backward notion. The core can afford to be selective. They have facilities for care and cultivation to specifically target treatment. Stronger generals should be prioritized for areas that do not have the same resources.” Jakob shook his head. His voice actually sounded as if the situation were a personal insult directed at him.
Anson put a hand on his shoulder. Despite his initial misgivings, he really was starting to like the guy. “See, that’s why you should be Prime Minister.” He squeezed the doc’s shoulder affectionately, then frowned when something caught his eye. “And speaking of the Alliance, we need to be moving.” He began steering Jakob away.
Unfortunately, it appeared they’d been somehow noticed. “Stop right there.” The first of the Alliance soldiers aimed a sidearm at them. Anson immediately yanked Jakob down and into cover. The first blast missed by inches. At least it was set on stun.
“Stay down.” He reached for his comm, noting without surprise that the Alliance was jamming the signal. What had tipped those bastards off?
“Perhaps we should…” Jakob started shaking his head.
“This way.” Anson began pulling him toward an alley. They didn’t make it far before their escape was cut off. Anson heard more shots. Either his team was still in the game, or there were other Palindor agents here. He pulled Jakob into a nearby building. “Doc, think you can make the jump between roofs? We can get up and over.”
“No.” Jakob shook his head. “Anson, there is no need for you to be captured. I will be fine. Go.”
“No way, Doc.” He glanced over his shoulder at Jakob. “You’re my responsibility. I brought you in, I’m getting you out.” He considered his options. They were few. Getting a noncombatant out of a firefight was not going to be fun or easy. He took the doc up into the building, then across a walkway. Perhaps they could lose the Alliance in the maze.
Julian saw an opportunity. They were near an exit again. Duck out, away from Anson, and surrender to the first Alliance officer he saw. He started to shift to make his break when he heard glass shatter behind them. Anson moved, interposing himself between Julian and the Alliance agent. Julian’s eyes widened when Anson’s body jerked from the impact of a round. Blood splattered. Not stun. That was a live round.
He grabbed Anson and pulled the man into cover. “Anson.”
“Fuck.” Anson groaned. His side was bleeding heavily. “How bad?”
“You will…” Julian swallowed. That round would have hit him, and Anson had taken it instead. Anson had protected him, been willing to trade his own life to keep him from getting hurt. He pushed the existence of the exit out of his mind and put a hand over the wound, applying pressure as his other hand prepared the medigel. The open door beckoned. The two guards in the other room were calling for their surrender. Live rounds. He’d be safe as soon as they IDed him, but Anson… Anson would be captured and interro… tortured. If they captured Anson, they would torture information from him. Anson had protected him. He applied the medigel. “Stay still, count of ten.”
Anson obeyed, gritting his teeth against the pain. “Doc?”
Reality seemed to swim in and out of focus as he finished patching the wound. Then Julian took a deep breath. His duty was to his patient. And his patient was Anson, the man who had been wounded protecting him. “Side passage or door?” He got Anson’s arm over his shoulder.
“Side.” Anson hissed as Julian pulled him to his feet. “Circle back, leave them chasing shadows. Get to the others.”
Julian took a deep breath and began moving away from freedom and home. Anson had protected him. He couldn’t leave the man to his fate.
With the doc serving as his legs, he managed to find them a place to hole up. “With luck, they’ll assume we ducked into the crowd.”
“That would not have been a bad plan.” Jakob nodded.
“If they come back, Doc, you need to do exactly that. Get to the shuttle.” He checked his sidearm. “I’ll buy you time.”
“Anson…” Jakob met his eyes. “The only way I will be on that shuttle is if you are alive and with me.” The doctor’s voice was firm and quiet. “You are my patient, making you my responsibility.”
“Arguing expends energy, and you have little to spare.” Jakob began tending to the sound, motions quick and efficient. “Hold this.” He handed Anson a device. “And inform me if you feel any —”
“Pain.” Jakob kept working. “The round did not hit vital organs, and I have stopped the bleeding. Assuming you do nothing else stupid, you will recover fully once we get you to the infirmary.”
“I haven’t done anything stupid yet.” Anson shook his head.
“You are arguing after your doctor instructed you to conserve your strength.” Jakob went quiet, then he shook his head. “Taking that round was ill-advised.”
“It was a foolish thing to do. You should have left me and run. You —” He took a deep breath. “Thank you, Anson.”
“You’re welcome, Doc.” He smiled.
“If we are caught, you will be arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned.” Jakob took another deep breath. “You were wounded protecting me, thus I cannot allow that to happen. How then do I extract us from this situation?”
“I, uh…” Anson frowned, then took a look around. Just like the doc to use twenty words when four would have done the trick. His eyes feel on an item, and then he realized they did have a good way out. “See that cart?”
“Yes.” Jakob nodded.
“I suggest I hide inside it while you wheel me right out the front.”
“I fail to see how that will facilitate our escape.”
“Only cause you don’t hear yourself talk.” Anson grinned. “Anyone questions you, play up your accent and act like they are tracking mud into your infirmary.”
“And that will —” Jakob blinked. “Work?”
“You sound like a damn noble when you get your back up, Doc.” He chuckled before wincing at the motion. “The PeaceKeepers will get the hell out of your way. Just watch.”
There were really no words to describe just how annoyed he was that it worked. If anything, his inability to hide that annoyance only increased the tactic’s effectiveness. The PeaceKeepers got out of his way and went back to searching the buildings.
For a moment, he thought they were going to make it to the rendevous point safely. He could leave Anson with the other two crewmen, and make good his escape. They had what they needed to treat Anson’s wound, even without the presence of a doctor, and what he’d done on the ship so far would get the rest of the crew to decent medical facilities.
His duty would be done, and he could go home.
They were almost to the rendezvous point when Velik caught his arm and dragged him and the cart into an alley. “They’ve got the…” Velik blinked. “Where’s Anson?”
“Here.” Anson climbed out of the cart, still holding his side.
“I’ll be fine, Doc patched me up already. Report.”
“They’ve got the rendezvous point covered. There are…” Velik gave a frustrated growl. “Other Palindor agents here. They started a fight over on the other side of the market district to cover their operation. PeaceKeepers went looking for them…”
“And made us.” Anson growled. “Dammit. Where is…”
Adan ducked into the alley a moment later. “I lost them.” He blinked when he took another look at Anson. “Sir?”
“I’m fine. How many PeaceKeepers?”
“They are heading to the other side of the market, but they left a few to keep an eye on the berths. They’ll make us if we get anywhere near —” He cut off and yanked Julian down just as Velik did the same to Anson. Blasts hit where they’d been just a moment before.
“Move.” Anson ordered.
Julian let Adan drag him after Velik and Anson.
Anson ignored the burning in his side, but he was pretty sure he’d undone some of Doc’s earlier patch job. Adan had caught a crease in his left arm dragging the doc into cover, and Velik had the scrapes he’d taken earlier. The doctor, at least, was still unharmed, and already patching Adan up. Good. He really didn’t want to have to explain any injuries to Kyle. “Please note, if we ever do meet up with these agents, punch them in the face.”
“Sir, yes, sir.” Adan winced a little as Doc finished the patch.
“Sit down.” Doc walked toward him.
“I believe we earlier discussed the curative properties of not being an imbecile?” Doc raised an eyebrow at him.
“Huh?” Velik glanced at Doc.
“Doc says I’m being stupid.” Anson chuckled before sitting down and letting the man tend him. “And I should stop.”
Velik snickered. “Doc is smart.”
“Alright.” Anson frowned. “Let’s move…”
“That would be a futile effort.”
“Doc?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Anyone observing the attire of yourself or Officer Adan would quickly surmise you have been in combat. In my admittedly limited experience in this kind of situation, I believe that would result in us once again having to flee.” Doc shook his head.
“Shit. I think I’ve lost too much blood.” Anson growled. “Doc’s right. We need to change clothes. Then we need a plan.”
He ended up having to assist Anson in getting the new tunic on. Fortunately, the medigel patch combined with the dark colors of the tunic meant no bloodstains showed through. He and Velik had drawn fire, and he’d had the somewhat dubious pleasure of ending up face down in the dirt with a crewman on top of him as Velik had tackled him out of the way of gunfire. There really weren’t words to express just how frustrating he was finding the tendency of Alliance PeaceKeepers to shoot at everyone. He was starting to wonder if surrendering wouldn’t also just get him shot.
“Why not just have Doc do his angry prince act again?” Velik raised an eyebrow, then gestured at the matching tunics all three soldiers wore. “We can change clothes, pretend to be porters. That gets us and the cargo to the shuttle.”
“What about it, Doc?” Anson turned toward him. “Your nerves up for that?”
It meant the only way these men could escape was if he did not. Part of him wished he could see them as the enemy. It would have made the decision easy. And yet all three of them were looking at him with concerned, friendly faces. He swallowed. Anson had taken a bullet for him. Adan and Velik had both risked themselves to keep him safe. They’d protected him. First people in a year who’d cared enough to… “Yes.” He nodded. “I can handle the matter.”
“… I thought for a moment the game was up.” Velik spread his hands. “Then Doc…” He was laughing almost too hard to continue. “Started lecturing the guy about how being on a backwater hellhole was no excuse for ‘forgoing proper grooming and basic hygiene practices’.” His voice did a poor imitation of Jakob’s. “And follows it up by insulting the guy for wearing lifts in his shoes.”
Adan nodded. “I thought the poor bastard was going to cry.”
Anson looked over at where Kyle had an arm draped over Jakob’s shoulders protectively. The big man had been upset until Jakob had pointed out he was the only one that had returned uninjured. He doubted there was much chance Kyle was going to let his husband out of his sight anytime soon. The Captain was laughing at the report. “Isn’t insulting a man’s shoes considered a war crime in Alliance space?”
“On the contrary, it is considered an acceptable opening salvo. Rather a proper declaration of war.” Jakob shrugged. “You are confusing it with serving the wrong wine at dinner.”
Mateo laughed again. “Good work, all of you.”
Kyle took a couple deep breaths as they got into their quarters. He turned toward Jakob. “You told him you were Alliance.”
“CSO Anson…” He shook his head. “You told him you were Alliance.”
“The captain figured that out. He said…”
“And you confirmed it.” Kyle grabbed Jakob roughly by the arm. “What were you thinking? If they figure out who you really are…” He could lose him. “Why didn’t you tell me they knew?”
“I thought…” Jakob’s eyes widened. “I thought you knew.”
“You’ve got to…” He pushed Jakob into the wall, holding him in place. “Dammit, you’ve got to be careful. Did you even consider the risk?”
“You stick to the story, Jakob.” He shook Jakob just a little. “You stick to the story, and you tell me if anyone questions you…” He made a frustrated sound. “How do I make that clear to you?”
“I am sorry, Kyle.” Jakob swallowed.
“Yeah.” Kyle nodded. “So am I.” He grabbed Jakob by the back of the neck and pulled him roughly to the bed. “Take off your clothes.” He shoved Jakob forward a step.
Jakob slowly nodded, then obeyed. “Yes, Kyle.”
“I’m doing this to keep you safe.” He caught Jakob by the neck again before sitting on the bed, and then yanked the smaller man over his lap. “You understand that, right?”
“Yes, Kyle.” Jakob’s voice was soft.
He brought his hand down against Jakob’s ass, hard enough to make his lover yelp. Then he did it again. And again. Jakob yelped with each blow, but otherwise endured them stoically, making no attempt to escape the discipline. He was shaking by the time Kyle finished. “I don’t like it when you make me hurt you, love.” He gently rubbed the back of Jakob’s neck.
“Yes, Kyle.” Jakob nodded.
“You’re not going planetside again unless I’m right there next to you.”
Kyle shifted, moving Jakob off his lap and into a kneeling position on the floor. Then he ran his fingers through Jakob’s hair before leaning forward to kiss him. “I just want to keep you safe.”
“Yes, Kyle.” Jakob smiled at him.
His fingers tangled in Jakob’s hair as he guided his lover’s mouth onto his cock.