(Many thanks to Jay for RPing Christian with me and apologies for the tense tweakage. Thanks, Jay!--Maer)
An excerpt from Peripatetica, by M. K. Sebastien, Engr. ret.
Friday, 12 January, 2520
Kuiper II Class, Summer’s Gift
En Route to Boros
01:30 hrs, ship’s time
"I hope you don't mind that I took my time." Christian murmured as he slid up along my body, cuddling against me. "Believe it or not, it took me a while to master that particular skill. At least one of the young women in my class was convinced a man couldn't because he had no solid point of reference."
I leaned back into his embrace as we spooned in my bunk. I'd taken the opportunity to turn in early, there being nothing pressing on my work list, and Christian had taken the opportunity to turn in with me. One thing led to another, as was the wont with new lovers, and here we were. I grabbed his hand from my hip and pressed it to my midriff.
"Do I feel solid to you?"
Laughter bubbled up out of him. "I think," he said, "that you feel solid enough." He laid his head down, cheek pressed to the pillow. "Mmm... We're almost to Boros. I'll sell those mules, pick up a bit of spare cash. Buy supplies. We're desperately in need of everything.
"True. And one of those things is direction." I turned around on my elbows and looked at him. “Once I’d done it, it’s been frighteningly easy to fall into bed with you, Christian, and just as easy to become--whether I'd intended to or not--your lover. In terms of the physical aspects, you’ve done some absolutely amazing things and pulled an astonishing range of response from me that I didn’t think was possible. I can't complain...but I’m not entirely comfortable, either. About what we did, why we did it, and what we'll do about it. And now, with Boros on the horizon, this...interlude, or whatever you wanted to call it, will have to end. I don’t…," I faltered, certain now that I’d botched it, that I’d hurt him, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I abruptly sat up and turned away from him so I didn’t have to see his face, planted my arms on my knees and spoke to the bedsheets puddled at our feet. “Where do we go from here? I don’t…I don’t know what to do.”
I dragged my hands through my hair, fisting them. I stole a look at him, unable to resist that look back.
"God, I know I sound lame, but truly...I don't know what to do."
Christian didn't move but remained where he was, with his eyes closed. "Okay,” he said finally. "Once we reach Boros, no more sex. Got it."
I could feel the hurt coming off him and closed my eyes. And cursed myself for a class-A bitch. I had to fix it. Now.
"I don't want that. Not for you. You're not some sort of....plaything to me, Christian. If you were--God, wouldn't that be the irony of the century?--I wouldn't be so...cut up. Do you have any idea, any idea at all what you've done for me? Truly?"
I didn't even stop to debate it: I slid back to him and wrapped my arms around him.
"You've done nothing less than given me back what I could have had, had the war not...." I sighed. He already knew the story and it didn't need repeating. "There's no way I'm kicking you to the curb. I'm just....clueless as to what we're supposed to do next. I mean, do we carry on as we have? Do we scale back? Rev it up? I don't have any experience to draw on, here. I really don't."
Christian opened his eyes and laughed.
"We need to work on your people-reading skills,” he said, gently patting the poor, rambling woman on the back. "I'm not upset. If you want to end this now, we'll still be friends. Just as before. The only difference will be less bodily fluids involved."
I shot right up, his condescension making me instantly furious.
"You—!" I jabbed him hard with a stiffened thumb with each word I spit at him. "You Goddamned, smug-assed, insensitive, shliushka bitch!"
Unperturbed, Christian tapped his finger on my nose.
"Gotcha,” he said with a smile. "I'll miss this, Rina, but this is transient. Moments in time. Something that brings us closer because we open up to each other in ways we might not do otherwise. We don't need sex to love each other and be friends. We already do."
His words were like gasoline thrown on a fire. And with predictable results as my temper exploded, burning away any anxiety for his feelings hurt or otherwise. I scrambled free of him and strode naked up and down my cramped quarters, and promptly turned the air blue. When I'd exhausted the English, I switched to Chinese, and when I ran out of that I went through the Russian. I cast quite a few curses on his head, down through seven generations, and it was quite some time before I was done.
For his part, Christian simply waited until the curses had run their course, smiling at some of the more colorful ones. "You know," he said in the middle of a particularly imaginative swear involving his ass, a moribund donkey and an impossibly large tube of chap stick. "If for some reason we end up having children together, you just cursed your own kids."
That had been two curses past and retracing back to it threw me off my stride. I literally stumbled and recovered. I shook my head, chin up and out, and answered the literal meaning of his statement.
"Won't happen. I'm covered."
And just like that, the last of my upset dropped away. I exhaled mightily and sat down on the bed, insanely tired. Leave it to Christian to work a gal up to a lather and leave her wrung out. At least I was able to think again. Which was probably why he did it.
"I'm sorry. I'm being a pigheaded jerk. I'm sorry." I turned and looked at him lying there in my bed, his hands tucked behind his head, his ankles crossed as if watching a vid on the flat screen. For all I knew, he was. I must have made quite a show. "I meant what I said, before. About what you've done for me. I can't measure it or put a price on that."
"Why should you?" Christian asked calmly. "Friendship isn't about measuring or prices. Love is endless. That's the wonderful thing about it. No matter how much you give, there's more to give away." He reached out and took my hand, pulled me down and into his arms. "Listen," he said, hugging me from behind and resting his chin on my bare shoulder. "We could do this every night and I would enjoy it. You would as well. Or we could stop now and never so much as kiss again and I will still care for you. Do you understand? This has been very special but it is not the price of our friendship."
I drew breath to argue...and stopped. And listened. The import of his words moved through my head, cutting through my thoughts like a ship’s prow carving through storm-roughened seas. Slow going and lurching, but plowing resolutely. I took a deep breath, then another, and eased back into his arms.
"I can't go back to being the way I was and I don't know which way I should be now or in the future. Flying blind. And it scares me. And I hate being scared, I hate being stupid and I hate...indecision. All I know is I want something, something I can't name and can't describe. Or at least, describe accurately." I ducked my head around to catch his expression. "Am I making any sense to you? Or should I just shut up and let you kiss me?"
"Machines are easy to predict,” he said. “If they're made well and kept well, you know how they'll behave. If you press this button, this happens. If you pull that handle, that happens. People and life aren't easy like that. Don't think of it as indecision. Think of it as a new place in life. You've been stuck in one spot for so long and now, you're moving past that. Of course there's fear. You're becoming someone new. Someone better. Fear has been your lover for so long you're loath to leave it behind."
I snorted and restrained myself from elbowing him in the ribs. At this range, I couldn't miss.
"Right. As if I liked being paranoid and isolated and lonely and miserable. Dierma, Christian. I wasn’t a masochist. I was just distrustful and angry." I narrowed my eyes at him, wishing I could read people better but that was something I sucked at. "But yeah, I agree I was so deep in the hole I could barely see daylight. So, forgive me if I find the sunshine a little blinding right now, okay?"
I dropped my head back and spoke to the ceiling.
"You're right, though. We could do this every night and enjoy it. Or we could stop now and never so much as kiss again. I don't know what I'm going to do with myself in the near, but I do know I don't want either scenario. Isn't there some way we could meet in the middle of ‘All or Nothing’?"
Christian reclined and rested his hands on his chest. "After a woman is raped, sometimes she becomes very sexually active. It’s usually for one of two reasons, or a combination of the two. First, she becomes convinced that's all she's good for. It is a form of self punishment for letting herself be raped in the first place. Second, she continually tries to convince herself that she isn't afraid of sex. That her rapist didn't ruin her. You don't have anything to prove. With someone you care about, someone you trust, you can let yourself go. There's no need to go beyond that. On the other hand, why can't we have fun, enjoy ourselves on occasion? When we both feel like it. We're adults. Adults sometimes have sex."
“That sounds like the middle to me.” It did, really, and I looked at him, thinking on what he’d said.
“As for the rest of it,” I continued. “I wasn’t afraid of having sex, exactly. I was just very…fixated on who I’d have it with. And you already know who, so I won’t mention him. What’s new for me is having it with anyone else. I think I like it…but it’s putting me in some tricky waters and I’m not sure what my course is.” I slid beside him on the mattress and nudged him with my foot. “God, why is it that metaphors make it easier to talk about stuff you couldn’t spit out otherwise?”
He gently nudged me back, his foot pushing against mine. "Tricky subjects are like a bright light. Looking directly into it blinds you but if you look off to the side, you have a better chance of seeing just what it is while keeping your eyesight. The course we steer, Rina, can be like the course the Gift follows. From point to point, enjoying the fact that we have the freedom to choose.
“And if we run into Mike again?” I asked, reversing my position on unmentioned topics. "That's going to be awkward, even if you and I stopped sleeping together beforehand."
"You might want to ask Nika about that. She has more experience with that sort of thing than I do," Christian answered, as honestly as he could. "I could theorize. Explain how there's no shame about what we're doing, that your love for him hasn't diminished. I suspect he would understand... but Nika would be able to give you a more in-the-know perspective."
"She'll have to stop laughing first."
Christian grinned, his eyes glittering with amusement. "Well, yes. That's true."
“Beast,” I said affectionately and nudged him again. Our heads came together almost too easily, his blonde to my brunette. “As for shame? No. Not anymore. The morning after, maybe. A little.”
A lifetime ago. Two weeks. Amazing.
“As for the future… How’s this for a metaphor? You, Christian, are the most exquisite slice of baklava ever. Delicate and flaky and dripping with honey and chock full of nuts and—uh…wait. That didn’t come out right. Let me explain. Baklava: that’s you. You’re incredibly rich and go down indescribably well…but I can’t make a steady diet of you, however much I might enjoy it while I did. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of gal. Steak: that’s Mike. And for the everyday and the long haul, steak is what I need. It’s what I thrive best on. Just throw a little salt and pepper on it and call it done. That doesn’t mean I won’t crave a little baklava now and then. The thing that’s different now is I’ll ask for it…now and then. And having asked, enjoy it. I just don’t know when the next craving will hit me, is all, and that’s the part that bothers me.
“Of course,” I added. “Now would be the perfect time to induct me into the Idiot’s Hall of Fame for finally figuring it out, but I’m willing to hang my face on that wall if need be. I figure I won’t lack for company.”
Christian kissed my cheek and slid out of bed. "It sounds to me like you've worked out your own answer to your problems." He stretched, hands above his head, fingers interlinked. Lithe and resplendent. Baklava, indeed. "See? You're fully capable."
And there it was. Christian had taken my hand and held it when I needed him most. And now he was letting go. And like a child confronted with deep water for the very first time, I was reluctant to release him.
Strike out on your own. Learn to swim. It's time you did.
Good advice. Obvious advice. Then again, I never was good at grasping the obvious, not where it concerned the personal.
Speaking of which…
"Aren't you forgetting something?" I asked, halting Christian’s progress to my door. "Something important."
At his blank look, I rolled my eyes and reaching down, I picked up his silk robe from the floor and quirked a brow at him.
"Can't go wandering around naked. What would the neighbors say?"
When it comes to Christian, Jay's just a ton of fun to work with. See more of Jay's work using the timeline links below.