Disclaimer: The characters and universe of Space: Above and Beyond are legal property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century Fox Television and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement intended.

Thanks: Thanks: Lots and lots of thanks to Una for her invaluable help, kind support and very stimulating conversations! She made this story look so much better. Summary: If McQueen fell in love... and if this feeling was mutual... would there be no more problems?

Feedback: juxiantang@hotmail.com and Juxian's stories

Rating: NC-17 for slash m/m.



Juxian Tang

The platform was a gloomy place, the last word of technological beauty as the military constructors understood it. They said it was safe - perfectly safe - impossible to destroy. Well, they had said the Titanic couldn't sink, too.

"It is 14:00 GMT," he walked past the squadron, meeting their attentive, steady gazes. He found the way they listened to him inspiring or exasperating, depending on his mood. He also knew they needed this rapt attitude, that at the necessary moment it would get them together in no time at all - so, he was lucky he didn't need to call for their consciousness. They would do their best with the task, whatever it had to be. "We check it - and if everything is all right, at 16:00 the delegation arrives and we transport them to the Saratoga. Then we call it quit."

"Welcome escort," Wang muttered.

The inspection was going from ship to ship - the better part of high command that usually stayed safely at home. A perfect target. They created these platforms for changing carriers - and so far everything went smoothly. Even too smoothly. Now they were going to visit the Saratoga - and Ross told him to take his people and arrange the meeting.

"Will the arrival be delayed if we find something, sir?" Phousse asked and he didn't say that somehow he felt it would a miracle if they didn't. He knew this feeling - when the burnt skin on his body, grazed almost to the unnoticeable, started itching again.

"No. So, we'd better find it and get rid of it within two hours. Sorry, one hour and fifty-seven minutes."

He turned away - and caught a look Nathan cast at him - and felt both unreasonable anger and strange anxiety that made his hair stand up on his nape.

Don't look at me like this, kid, don't make yourself vulnerable.

It was absurd - there was nothing in this look, no difference from how other Wild Cards looked at him from time to time - urgent and questioning. It was his own unquiet conscience - his guilt - that made him see what was not there, interpret things this way.

Or was there no guilt? Because there was nothing to feel it for. Nothing happened yet. Nothing but these looks - and this weird feeling of warmth that was so much like madness spreading through him every time after their eyes met. It could be worse. It would be worse, maybe, he knew it - and quite soon. He didn't want it to. He'd forbidden himself to think about it - as if not thinking could make it go away.

Could make him not to feel as if Nathan's eyes melted something in him irrevocably.

Don't make me vulnerable.

Not now, okay? There were other things to do now.

Looking at the screen of his scanner, he walked through the sectors, avoiding the platform staff. The personnel barely reacted to the arrival of the transport - and now they continued to do their chores, not even looking at him. Like another kind of human being, he thought grimly. Was he always like this? He didn't like to remember. He wanted to leave it all behind a long time ago.

Despite his premonitions he had met nothing suspicious so far. He almost hoped that it would be this way till the end - he wouldn't really resent his intuition if it went wrong on him this time. No luck. His wrist intercom beeped and he knew what it was even before he heard the hushed voice of Cooper:

"I found something there. Sector 32. Looks like a delayed explosive."

The sector was next to the reactor room. If the explosive went off, it would take just seconds for everything to go to hell. They would barely realize what happened.

"Well done, Cooper," he whispered back and connected to Wang to send for help with taking it off.

Too bad. If there was one explosive, there could be more. And there was no sense in asking the staff how it could happen. Poor tanks - as if they didn't understand they would be the first to be sacrificed if anything went wrong.

He shook off this thought angrily, calling:

"West, Vansen, explosive in Sector 32. Be careful."

"Yes, sir."

If it was so easy. He felt like trying to make a transmission and cancel the arrival - but he knew what Ross would answer - and despite everything he knew it would be right. Maybe, the cancellation of the landing was what they wanted. Maybe, all these explosive devices, set so cleverly and yet within their reach, had only one purpose - to make the carrier stay in space and be a convenient target for whatever was going to attack them.

There was no other choice but to continue with preparing the meeting in time, whatever it was going to cost them.

He didn't know what made him change his way and turn to the next sector - the big facility with monitor boards at the walls. He looked around; he must have told others about his moves, he thought.

There was no signal on the scanner. He didn't know if he sensed or heard the slightest peep as he made another step. He whipped around, staring - and there it was, the sensor on the level of his feet, already flickering. Damn it.

He looked around wildly, trying to guess where the explosive was hidden. Maybe, there was more than one. Maybe, in a moment the whole sector was going to go boom. He would run but he didn't know where to.

It was not a sound, just a displacement of air - and he turned around abruptly, seeing West there, the flashlight in his hand. He didn't know how he decided - a sparkle of insight, maybe.

"Down, West!" he hissed and, grabbing him around, he threw him onto the floor, behind the monitor board. The explosive went off right at the moment as he pressed West to the floor. The blast was spectacular and the roar huge, the vibration shaking the ground even after everything else went quiet. He felt litter and pieces of equipment hit his body and grunted in pain. But it was nothing - nothing in comparison with what could have been.

When it ended, McQueen shifted experimentally, sitting up on the floor, looking in a kind of bewilderment at the twisted pieces of metal stuck into the wall behind them. Sheer luck.

"You okay, aren't you?"

West looked slightly shell-shocked as McQueen pulled him up, his body so slack that he groped over him quickly, checking if something was wrong. At last Nathan nodded, with a slight shudder going through his body.

It all took just a minute, no more, what was going to happen next. He had been afraid it would happen one day... but so soon? He suddenly realized that his own arms clasped like a ring around Nathan's shoulders - and every point of touching burned him even through the material of his uniform. He knew he had to let go - but West didn't even make a slightest move to get free - and McQueen didn't move, too. Holding him - feeling him so close - there was something so... wonderful about it - McQueen couldn't relinquish it so soon.

Not after all those times when he had dreamed about it.

Would he hold any other of the 58th the same way, checking for damage? No, of course, not. It had to stop, right now, before it was too late - but with some sense of unreality McQueen knew that his arms were still there, touching West, meld of skin against skin burning and sweet and maddening.

He raised his face quickly, seeking for some help, hoping unreasonably that he could look in Nathan's eyes and what he would see there would save him - maybe, even if it would be a total rejection and it would hurt..

The little light was just of the dying fire - and West's eyes, usually dark, were the black velvet absorbing even this light - but what he saw there was not rejection at all. It might have been amusing how nothing had to be said - but how surprisingly clear everything was at once.

Just what he was afraid of.

Kiss him. Nathan's dirty face was only inches away from his, he almost didn't have to move to do it - and he knew, he knew absolutely for sure that his lips would be welcome on this soft mouth, not rejected.

He had to do something. Silently he dropped his head against West's shoulder - because it was the only possible substitute of what he wanted to do, the only thing that he could do so that relinquishing what he wanted to do didn't kill him. The hardness of the collar-bone under his forehead felt unfamiliar and yet so soothing, the warmth encompassing - and the smell was Nathan's as he knew it - knew as a hint, not this overwhelming presence as now - honey and lemon and something else, perfectly West.

His arms were still around West - and he knew how wrong it was, how incongruous - but didn't let go. Then he felt as Nathan's arms moved around him carefully, both gently and uncertainly - and he felt the touch against his head, the fingertips on his hair as West stroked him softly and weightlessly.

He broke the hug - moved away - as much as their position allowed them - and saw West reach his hand to him, felt the narrow hot palm against his cheek. He brushed it off abruptly, as if it hurt him - and something else hurt him, his head as if the vices squeezed his nape. He rubbed there, knowing that there were no vices. His voice was still painfully tight as he said:

"We can't let it happen."

As if saying that could make it true. He wanted to sound resolved and commanding but for once it didn't come off right at all.

"But it already happens," West said quietly.

His words came out muffled and McQueen saw a little trickle of blood coming out of his mouth - got panicky at once, gripping West again, shaking him:

"What's wrong with you?"

"Just bit my tongue," West smiled apologetically; he must have bitten it seriously because he hardly spoke coherently. McQueen felt a wave of relief washing him. Silly kid! They were all like that. You expect them to fight the aliens - and they don't have the presence of mind to keep their teeth off the tongue.

Another explosive went off somewhere. He pushed West up and forward:
"Run, run," seeing the orange and red flames blaze in the corridor, strangely similar to the burning sugar sticks for cocktail parties, only bigger.

Nobody died. When he got to the trashed place he was ready to see the curled bodies around there - maybe, the bodies of his kids, too - and he already felt guilt. He didn't need to do what he had done: unreasonably - if he didn't do what he did with West, nothing would happen.

But there was only Cooper, grinning wide and with no more than a cut on his forehead, and Wang, starting as soon as he came in:

"There was no way to clear it without setting it off. Believe it or not, sir, but Coop minimized the explosion."

He gladly believed it: if minimizing was like that - what would the real explosion look like?

The delegation didn't know what it cost them. The sector where they landed was possibly one of a few un-thrashed place on the platform - and he watched how clean-dressed men and women got out of the carrier, looked around, being greeted by his kids that didn't look so clean at all but who were certainly proud of getting at least so far.

"I don't want to sound too optimistic," he heard Ross' voice on the radio and didn't know what he felt more - exasperation or joy, "but if you get out of there all right, your work will be done."

He didn't know what happened - just that a part of the wall was coming down suddenly and the current of air was sucked out into space. The delegation was on half-way to the Saratoga carrier - looking in sheer terror at what happened. Perfect, he thought tiredly, just what they needed.

He saw West hitting the buttons of the panel desperately - and knew the things didn't work. It must have been a timer, an automatic opening mode. Hopefully they would have time to evacuate at least some of the people.

The air swished and West - he must have bitten his tongue again, there was blood leaking from his mouth - took off the cover from the panel and tried to do something there with the screwdriver. He wouldn't be able to, McQueen thought. Not in this situation. Not with so little time left.

He almost couldn't believe when the hatch returned to the place slowly, shutting the opening.

"It stopped," someone from the delegation remarked.

Did they know what danger there was, he thought bitterly. Oh, no danger for them - they would have time to leave anyway. But for others - for those who worked on the platform. What stupidity it all was. It could cost them so much.

"Evacuate the personnel as soon as the delegation leaves," Ross ordered and he felt huge relief. They watched the carrier take off and walked to their transport at last.

Tired but somehow residually over-excited, the 58th chatted unceasingly in the carrier. Cooper's gash had been cleaned and Nathan's tongue wasn't bleeding any more, still trying to be silent, however, failing all the time as someone wanted something from him.

McQueen looked at them, leaning against the wall, his eye-lids half-mast, feeling desperate closeness to them that he would never admit aloud. He could have lost someone of them today. Another time when it didn't happen - and he didn't know who to thank for it.

How strange it was - they were strong and perfectly trained and ready to solve the most complicated tasks - and yet there was this funny childish way about them - as if they could behave seriously only for a short time, only pretend to be serious, really.

He gasped soundlessly when his thoughts took this turn - because of what it brought back to him. His kids... and one of them he chose for not being his kid at all. All the wrongness of what he was doing struck him again. How could it be? He loved them all equally, he couldn't say that someone of them he loved less, that the loss of one of them would hurt him less than the loss of the other. And yet one of them he loved in a different way.

He didn't have to do it. He didn't have to separate one of them - put him aside of others with his affection. It would change everything, would ruin things, nothing would be the same again.

McQueen didn't believe in any supreme being - he knew too well who his creators were - but according to what he read, in these terms, whether he wanted to accept them or not - somehow he knew it would fit perfectly the notion of sin.

If only West didn't... Suddenly, with a helpless resentment, he thought how easily it would be if he was rejected - if he didn't feel - didn't know - that Nathan wanted it, too. McQueen knew it was not so easy - a part of him knew - but the deceptive hope overwhelmed him. What would he do then - if West didn't behave in the way that made happen what happened today? McQueen would just suck it up and live with it, not trying to do anything, not even revealing what he felt.

Yeah, right - West is to blame. Think what you say.

"Take a rest for today," he said as he dismissed the squadron after their return on the toga- unable to look at them, hoping that Nathan didn't look at him again, afraid more than anything else to meet his eyes.

But West didn't look and it was even worse suddenly. Because it made him realize that it didn't matter if he could escape it for a moment. It was always with him - the madness so permanent that sometimes it seemed he could learn to live with it.

In his quarters he winced pulling the clothes off of his bruised body. The exhaustion was wrestling him down - he didn't feel it till then but now he nearly swayed on his way to the shower. The water, hot and hard, hitting his back and shoulders, was pure luxury. He closed his eyes, standing under the vicious stabs of water, planting his hands against the wall to keep from falling. The jets made two sets of tags clink against his body.

His eyelids flew up suddenly as he grasped the tags that didn't belong to him. How could he forget? Tearing them off, looking at the small face of Kylen, he chuckled humorlessly, not hearing himself behind the rustle of water. He didn't know how it had not crossed his mind before now. Maybe, because he used to think about these tags not as about belonging to West but as given to him by all the 58th.

And yet it was Kylen - Nathan's love - fiancee. Very good. What are you doing to her boy? Want him to bend over for you? He would bend over for you, you know it, right? And knowing it was the worst thing.

It had been easy once. At the very beginning - he thought it was dislike he had to fight. Unreasonable - just 'cause West seemed to be everything what McQueen was not. A clean boy - family, brothers, girl-friend - home - everything what McQueen never had. Opportunities. What McQueen got - he had to fight for it. While the kid never had to fight for anything by default.

Even after he got to know him and realized that he was mistaken - he still kept clinging to it - because it fit the pattern too well.

He was doing him good, McQueen thought, making him tough - even if somehow he had to admit that seeing West's soft brown eyes get big and dark and hearing his voice falter had some weird pleasure in it.

When did he realize that he thought and felt about independently? Beyond the feeling of coaching and teaching? He had been afraid at first - and had tried to expel it - to send away this feeling. Only it returned. It returned since then so many times that the realization of what he felt didn't surprise him any more; just made him feel bitter.

They were his kids... no matter whether he admitted or denied it. How could he look at one of them with these eyes?

On the briefings - feeling West's presence so close, looking at his lowered head, seeing his fingers twist the tags - and going so badly mad with it - he thought dizzily: you have no idea, kid, how I feel.

Only the truth was that West possibly had quite a clear idea about it. And it didn't make things better.

He got out of the shower, toweled - still having the tags in his hand, still somehow stunned with the intensity of this last realization. He put the disk in the player automatically and listened to the disturbing sounds filling the cabin. Siegmund and Sieglinde's duet - his favorite place in this particular opera, so much gentleness in the music and at the same time so much pagan, un-saintly triumph. How easy the things were for Wagner!

West was not his kid. Not literally, not in any way. There was no incest in what he felt. It was a punishable misdemeanor under the military codex - but not worse. Why did he feel as if it was worse - why did he feel he would want it to be just military codex?

He wondered suddenly whether it would be different if he felt the same towards Cooper - or towards Shane. He both could and couldn't imagine it. It was different - because what he felt for Nathan was there.

He thought about the briefings again - and imagined how it would be to look at West - already on the next meeting - as at his lover, know that after a little while he would be able to have West's body in his arms, to hold him as much as he wanted, to do everything he wanted to him.

He shook his head angrily, getting rid of the image, staring at Kylen's face again. And what was her place in all this? West loved her. What was it now? Why was he so ready?

Don't you know the answer? Because it is really there. He wouldn't do it if it was not - not Nathan. If he did - then it was true for him.

"It already happens," Nathan's soft, almost gentle voice as if he was correcting a mistake.

No wrong! Nothing happened yet! Even with what happened today.

Maybe, later, after the war, somehow...

Oh don't lie to yourself! After the war he is, maybe, going to be with this girl - and where will you be then? Maybe, dead.

Suddenly he felt like throwing the tags in the corner, in a fit of childish rage - but restrained himself, squeezed the metal in his palm as tight as he could.

Save me from myself, Kylen.

The intercom call was a small buzz, toning down the music automatically - and he thought with a strange unwillingness that he would better prefer not to hear it. It was Ross.

"You remember we have this party tonight, Ty? I'll be waiting for you in an hour."

He forgot, of course, and winced at the thought of going there. So much for the relaxing evening. Well, there was nothing he could do about it - another duty, nothing else.

"And take a couple of your kids with you," Ross continued. "General Kashirsky wants to meet them."

"The kids are exhausted," he said carefully, thinking me too, me too. "They should..."

"Come on," there was a little trace of metal in Ross' voice, practically imperceptible, as always when he thought McQueen took a wrong step. "It will be a token appearance. Nothing will happen to them. Take two... Who were these ones who excelled today? West and that kid of yours, Hawkes." Oh no, he thought, switching off. He didn't resume the music.

It was agony to put the clothes on. He unclenched his hand and took a look at the tags, still there. He was so used to wearing them that the weight around his neck seemed unnoticeable now.

He didn't know why he did it - but instead of putting the chain around his neck again, he put the tags in the drawer of the table. Later he thought that it was what decided things, in the end.

Cooper and Nathan made identical half-fascinated "ugh!" sounds when informed about the high command party they were to attend today - but they didn't make any other comment, whether they were dead tired or not. Actually, McQueen doubted they would take it easy all the same this evening.

He felt a strange pride, standing between them in the lift, looking at them askance. How stern and immaculate they looked in their full dress, so strong and serious and tall and beautiful - and yet their lips were trembling in suppressed smiles.

"Don't discredit me," he whispered a moment before the lift stopped - and they both grinned openly.

The party was as flashy and boring as he had expected it to be, the hall aglow with bright lights and everybody in full dress. The meeting with the General that had longed to see them turned out to be as McQueen foreseen it - the man just slid his eyes coolly over him and not even gave a look to Hawkes and West. His accent was harsh as he said:

"Good work, go on the same way."

He found himself soon with the untouched glass of champagne in his hand, flirting - impossibly - with some Colonel from those who arrived today. Her name was Brooke Davis - tall, dark and with wide brown eyes that looked at him with shameless humor and almost unrestricted appeal.

"I heard a lot about your achievements, Colonel. You are an oddity in our stiff-through army, aren't you?"

I can have her in my bed tonight, he thought unkindly. With the way she looked at him it was only a fact to admit. She was long- legged, perfectly shaped, her perfume, as she leant closer to him, practically imperceptible but still there - and he couldn't believe that his eyes kept wandering around instead of devouring her... for she deserved being devoured mercilessly and more.

He saw Ross talking with a short female Major - and looking at him kindly over her head, nodding slightly as if saying: "You see you didn't come here for nothing, Ty."

He saw Hawkes and West, too, left alone, standing together at the wall, talking about something, looking as if they were impolitely discussing everybody in the hall. He frowned disapprovingly and met West's eyes. He didn't want it to happen. There was no bewilderment in them, no smile - but McQueen didn't know what expression would make him feel good, was there any such expression. He tried to look away and realized he couldn't - and then, as if afraid that his gaze would be considered obtrusive - no - too absorbing, McQueen thought - West looked away.

Jealous? No? He caught himself on this childish thought and knew at once that he both wanted Nathan to be jealous and was angry with him whether he was or not. Being jealous would indicate something between them - something that was not there. But asking this asking already indicated it.

Stop it, stop it... He must throw it out of his head. Colonel Davis was exquisite... he was sure she would make him forget all about his stupid thoughts. It was just that he was unsatisfied - he needed sex like the next guy, war or no war - and she looked like she knew for sure what she needed.

"You are listening to me, Colonel, aren't you? I told that my father always said In-Vitro could do better in some fields than humans could," she repeated. He had met her father - Admiral Davis - once.

He knew how it would be - he already could imagine it - going to his quarters with her. It wouldn't be a secret to anyone that he laid the beautiful Colonel tonight. It would be an answer to everything - West would get it.

As if the problem was with West. As if he was McQueen's enemy who needed to be scared off, to put on his place somehow. He couldn't stop thinking about it. Would it hurt West if he did it? Oh yes, he knew it would. Constantly aware of his own agony, it was probably the first time when he thought how his struggle with himself must have been hurting West. How could he do - this - to one of his kids?

His hand clasped on the glass of champagne so tightly that he was afraid it would burst. There was no answer, was there?

"Come on, Colonel," Davis was so close, her breath tickling his ear. "Enough of this, Colonel. Why don't we just retreat to your cabin and I check up on that heightened sensitivity of that in- Vitro thing of yours. I heard that it does wonders to IVs."

He put the glass on the table neatly, almost silently. There was this strange clarity in his mind suddenly. He looked around, seeing his kids again, Cooper screwing his eyes shut. Just a moment from starting rubbing his eyes with his fists, he thought with amusement, like a kid whose parents allowed him to stay up as long as he wanted - and he stays even when his resources are exhausted.

"Excuse me," he walked away from the Colonel. "It was a difficult day."

He didn't know what she said - maybe, nothing.

"Come on, enough fun for today," he called for West and Hawkes and they followed him without a word of comment.

"But it was fun," Cooper said without much enthusiasm in the lift.

"Especially that tall guy who was drinking champagne from both hands," West answered dryly, imitating the gestures.

"No, that skinny lady that clung to our Colonel," Cooper giggled and McQueen didn't know whether to laugh or to make a strict face. Gossiping... nice.

It was strange how it could be that the tension made the air seem impossible to breathe in - even though they didn't even look at each other. Just being near each other was enough to charge the air. Cooper couldn't feel it, he was certain about it - but it seemed he could sense the warmth of West's body even with the distance between them, coming from him in waves again and again.

They came out of the lift and stopped for a moment, McQueen looking at them.

"Good night, Cooper," he couldn't believe how calm his voice sounded, how casual. "Nathan, come in to my quarters for a moment."

He turned away before he could see any reaction, from either of them. He was sure Cooper didn't even shrug - it might be whatever McQueen wanted to discuss with West, maybe, today's operation.

Maybe, it would be just discussing today's operation. How desperately he needed to believe in it - that even knowing the truth he still continued to say it to himself.

He switched on the lower light coming into the cabin - yeah, look who is trying to make you believe that this is not intimate. The door slid shut, he heard it and turned back, looking at Nathan without almost any defense left.

Say something... be rude or indelicate - save me from it happening... It could be prevented if there was no this total welcome stare - this strange - accepting - look that made him dizzy almost from the first time when he saw it, even when he didn't know what it would do to him soon.

"Nothing will happen if you..." he said tightly.

What are you doing? Putting the decision on him - taking it off your shoulders. Real good. And then Nathan's voice, serious - and it was incredible how something so soft could be so ruining for everything at once.

"I want it to happen."

He didn't say it, he didn't say it. And yet he did - and it was the answer. West gave the answer he couldn't give himself - and he resigned.

It was such a simple gesture to reach his arms - and they were close enough for just a minor shift to get them together; he almost couldn't believe that doing this little could change everything so much. But it happened and he held West and West's arms were around him, warm, with his body warm and bony. And it was so scary and such a relief suddenly that McQueen swooned slightly and felt the holding arms tighten around him.

He holds me, McQueen thought with sadness and irony at once, raising up his mouth to meet with Nathan's. The lips were soft, the tongue wet, the slightest blend of champagne - and a little salt, maybe, of blood in the small wound on his tongue that still didn't heal completely.

There was something so simple in that kiss; for all he thought about it, the ground might have opened under his feet - but it didn't. He just felt so safe and so - normal - in Nathan's arms, the connection of their mouths as if it was always supposed to be like that.

He let Nathan go - freeing him slightly - but there was no tearing feeling in it as if he ruined a part of himself with this parting. He knew it was only for a moment, only to lock his door to eliminate even slightest chance of anybody to stop by accidentally. And then he was back, looking into Nathan's eyes and falling into them, their mystifying darkness and softness that had hurt so much with for so long no more painful but his, his own. They were so close but McQueen's touches were swift and light, wing- like - Nathan's face, his hair, the warm place under his jaw. As if he needed it to get convinced it was real.

He was almost surprised when he felt the hands on his face, cupping it - as if Nathan needed an assurance in reality, too - the touch gentle and firm at the same time, more forward than anything he expected. West almost pulled McQueen's face to the kiss again - the kiss passionate, almost rough now, more passionate than McQueen could imagine it would be.

There was this maddening feeling of having his lips sucked, the pleasure from his mouth running through his body in a steady current. It shouldn't have amazed him, after all these nights of bitter arousal mixed with remorse - that the feeling would be so intensely sexual, not only the amazing feeling of completion that at last descended on him. He answered the kiss eagerly, his hands moving so fast as if he wasn't sure he had time to get enough feeling of Nathan's body.

He felt faint when they stopped at last.

"I..." somehow it seemed to him that the moment was too intense, he needed something to tone it down, even if it would be a wrong thing to say - but he had to. "It was good."

"Was worth waiting, huh?" Nathan said in a hasty whisper, with a lisp - maybe, his tongue hurt him again. This time his voice was not serious at all.

McQueen thought he felt relief flood him - and yes, it was there: he was doing it... It was not that there was no way back. But somehow he knew that going back now would be more sinister - more wrong - than anything else they were doing, would do.

Yet his fingers trembled minutely when he reached the clasps of his jacket and pulled them open. He was startled with how shockingly sensual it was - getting undressed, taking off even a part of his clothes when Nathan looked at him. He felt as if he was already naked. Then Nathan's hands caught his and helped him pulling off the jacket - and it was even worse - better - maddening - sending shivers through him.

Nathan's arms around his ribcage were tight and almost burning, as he pressed McQueen to himself, kissing again, pulling the shirt off of him.

Will he notice that the tags were not there, McQueen thought briefly - and then knew that if he would - and if they were there - it wouldn't change anything. Nathan was more determined than he was.

He felt slow kisses on his throat, under his jaw, Nathan's mouth moving over his chest, tracing gently the marks of the burns. His chest was fluttering under these kisses; he was not cold - and yet deep inside he was so chilled that he would shudder. But the arms around him were warm and held him.

He watched as Nathan lower to his knees and kiss his belly, pulling his pants open at the same time. He gasped at the boldness of it all.

"Did you..." he didn't know why he asked but he had to. "Did you ever do it before... with another man?"

West's face was white and flushed and with bright, drunk eyes staring up.

"No," he said simply. "But you did it."

Yes, he did. But not like that. Never like that.

Pulling Nathan up through his slight resistance, handling him towards the bed he recalled unreasonably how it had been - men, women. The first shock and pain of the brutal intrusion - there, in the mines of Omicron - he was nineteen yet - he couldn't believe his body could be used like that, that something like this could be done to him.

It was beautiful with his wife - as long as it lasted - but the end of it so painful that he vowed that he would never let another soft- haired, sweet-faced demon deceive him again. His wife had never deceived him, never made it more difficult to him - but it scared him even more to know that it was not so bad, that she might have hurt him worse.

He had had bar encounters with both men and women - these had been anonymous quick tumbles, hasty touches in some backyard - with no names or niceties exchanged. Some of them were interested in the same question as Colonel Davis was - whether they could manipulate an In-Vitro with that bud of flesh on his neck.

Suddenly he felt a mad laughter caught in his throat. Brooke Davis... she might have been in his bed with him now. What a fool he would be!

What a fool you are now, thinking that what you do solves everything, a voice answered him sadly but he didn't want to listen to it. Not now.

He looked down at West's face as he lowered him on his bed, bright lips and bright, almost feverish eyes. It was almost a waste to take off his eyes of this face - but he needed to do it to start getting West free from his clothes. Too many of them, wasn't there? The jacket and the shirt fell on the floor at the bed and then he reached for Nathan's zipper, pulling it down, getting his shaft free.

The sight was both added a fraction to his arousal and gladdened him on some level of inner satisfaction, to see West so aroused with what they were doing. His own penis, half-free, was weeping clear liquid and twitched as he took it and took Nathan's cock in the same hand.

Silk against silk - but the feeling of heat was even more startling. Leaning over Nathan he rubbed their flesh against each other, looking down at the pale face that was almost delirious in its expression.

Looking at his soft mouth, he suddenly thought that he knew now what the expression "made for kissing" meant. He wanted to kiss it but at the same time he wanted to look - and he felt Nathan's hands slide over his chest, daring, unrestricted, feeling his nipples, pulling them slightly to make him gasp and miss a stroke of his hand.

There was so much he could do - so much he had imagined in his daydreams - but for now there was no time - and, in fact, he knew it wouldn't change anything, wouldn't make things better. His hand moved over their shafts, slick with pre-cum - and he knew he could make it more bizarre by the tricks he learned for his life - but somehow he didn't want to. He just liked it to build like this - till the climax, reached naturally like this.

He felt Nathan's hand clasp in the back of his neck, not caressing but just holding - pulling him down - and he didn't resist this time, covering him with his body, length to length - and hearing - feeling - a small moan, almost like with pain coming from Nathan, feeling the shudders that racked him.

He held West tight until the shudders subsided, feeling his hand and their bellies wet with cum - and knowing that some time he came, too - but it was dispelled in the feeling of Nathan's vulnerable body shivering in his arms.

Yes, that was it. That was what he earned with stepping over his doubts, his consciousness of sin, of wrongness that he would never be able to get rid of now, even if it wouldn't happen ever again.

But it will happen, right?

Who knew if it was worth it? If even he didn't know.

His forehead was pressed to Nathan's collar-bone again - just like in the morning, only now there was no clothes to separate them - and he rolled his forehead as if in pain.

Worrying again? For God's sake, why couldn't he just take it like a man - do it and live with consequences. Consenting adults...

He was angered with himself for this weakness, for the question he was going to ask - for the reassurance he wanted - for needing Nathan to be stronger than he was - but he asked all the same:

"How can we do it?"

All there was, was in that question. How can he let it happen - with Kylen somewhere alive... or dead. All the things it would entail, all the pain it would bring - and that he knew about it and yet he let it happen. Knowing that if anyone knew - it might be a loss of everything he had reached with Wild Cards, the step that would never be forgiven. Knowing that now, every time when he was going to send his kids to death, he would send one of them who was more than that... if it was more. And wouldn't it be that one day that he would have to choose which one of his kids to save - and his choice would be dictated by these clandestine relations.

He felt Nathan shift under him, sitting up on his heels - slowly, languidly - as if the question was not a shock for him, as if he already had an answer. He sat up, too, next to Nathan, and looked how he twisted his fingers around the tags automatically, the shivering pleasure of seeing him naked and with him returning in a hot wave that didn't know any doubts, was the only doubtless thing.

"But can we not do it?" West said. "I can't. Can you?" He chuckled slightly as if recalling something that was not so funny as ironic. "You know a while ago I asked Phousse about something in her life how she could live with it. She said she didn't have to live with it. It was just there. Now I know what it means. Just there."

Perhaps it was an answer. Not worse than the ones he had.

He looked at the watch and noticed that only half an hour had gone by since he had Nathan to his cabin. Cooper might be sleeping already, just as other Wild Cards.

And if not - would anyone know anything? He looked at West who put on his clothes that were not even ruffled. No sign, no anything that could give them away, let others know.

Others - because could he delete the knowledge how West's body felt in his arms - how silky his skin was when flushed - that little painful sound he made when coming.

You will have to delete it. You will have to split yourself in halves - and damn you if you can't do it!

"Everything that happens here is going to stay here," he closed his eyes and opened them again and continued because he knew he had to say it. "Never and never we are going to touch each other beyond this cabin. Never recall about it. There will be no difference in how I will treat you - I will expect from you the same things as I expect from others, no more, no less."

He was amazed by his own voice that sounded this calm and firm - and was amazed by what he said, by what he thought suitable to say. What did he really say? That he expected Nathan to agree to what - to secret fucking from time to time, quick fix - quick enough and rare enough for nobody to suspect anything?

How could he believe it could be like that? How could he believe it was going to save him?

He saw Nathan straighten, his uniform flawless again, his eyes serious and intent as always - and his voice was affectionate and slightly amused at once:

"I wouldn't have expected anything less from you."

Without name. How do you call me? Do you have a name for me, boy? How do you call me in passion?
Ty... somehow he couldn't imagine it used by Nathan. Maybe, one day there would be names between them. Maybe, one day everything would be easy.

But now he reached his arms around Nathan and pressed him again to his chest, overwhelmed with the closeness of his one more time - as if it was enough for him to go through all this time until the next time.

"See you tomorrow."

He could live with it. There was nothing else he could do.


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