Desert World Rebirth
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by Lyn Gala
Category: Romance/Gay Fiction
Description: Sequel to Desert World Allegiances New ambassadors Temar Gazer and Shan Polli stopped one disaster on Livre, but the battle isn't over. Temar is still struggling to work through the abuse he suffered. Livre, too, is stuck: it could ally with the breakaway planets--risking strange and dangerous beliefs--or the older alliance, which offers human rights protections but seeks to control the planet. It's a delicate balance, but they manage? until crisis takes Shan away from Temar. It's up to Temar to get them and their planet through the crisis safely. But just because he and Shan have chosen each other doesn't mean their love is strong enough to survive when the stirring sands around them change.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: March 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [421 KB]
Reading time: 277-388 min.
Shan heard the door chime and nearly jumped out of his skin. Three months living in the relay station set deep in the Livre desert, and he still wasn't used to some of the technology. Door chimes, for one. Another difference would be the sheer amount of space he lived in. In the church, he had privacy, time to search his own thoughts. However, there he was always aware of Div shuffling somewhere in the house or softly praying, his Latin drifting through the air. Livre houses were generally small, built to stand up against the desert wind. Here, silence reigned. The early settlers had built the station before the inner worlds had largely abandoned Livre to survive--or die--on its own.
Shan walked through the storage room to one of the five living spaces. Through the thick window, he could see a shadowed form moving in the bright Livre sunshine. Maybe he'd been living alone too long, because his mind went to Ista and to all the men and women who had tried to kill him... to the wealthy and beloved landowner Ben, who had shown his true colors when he raped Temar. Shan could forgive the murder attempt more easily than Ben's willingness to rape. But considering that Ben and Ista and most of their co-conspirators were dead, fearing that they'd turn up here suggested that he had been alone a little too long.
Pushing aside irrational fears, Shan opened the door and smiled as he saw Temar standing in the light, his sand veil hanging around his neck.
"Temar!" Stepping forward, he caught Temar in a quick hug. "I thought you were off working your glass this week." Temar often stopped by, running the long dunes to visit once or twice a week, but he'd already warned Shan that he wouldn't be able to visit this week.
A flash of pain crossed Temar's face, and he dropped his head down so that his shaggy blond hair hid his features.
"Temar?" Shan asked, his voice quieting.
Temar gave a shrug.
"Do you want to come in?" Shan took a step back to give Temar some room. He didn't want to push him, not after what Ben had done. So if Shan's cock sometimes ached with need, and if he sometimes lay in bed stroking himself while thinking of Temar, Shan wouldn't physically crowd the man. He'd give Temar space to heal on his own.
With a small nod, Temar came into the station, passing through the room with the metal and plastic chairs and tables with the perfect lines and symmetrical bolts that Shan still found a little alien. When he and Temar had left the door open to pursue Ben, not even the wind and sand of the desert storm had left a mark on the sterile room. Shan was used to the curves of windwood, the uneven gaps formed by the twisted branches, and the way a truly great craftsman could make a piece curve with the human body. Every craftsman had his own style. Roget Ally from Landing created chairs and tables with small branches that intertwined so perfectly that the wood appeared to wrap around each other, as though in love. In comparison, these perfectly uniform chairs brought down by the drop ships that first brought settlers to Livre had no life.
Temar headed through the storage room, into the computer control room, and then through a door into the one living space Shan actually used. Heading for the couch, he dropped down and pulled his sand veil off, fingering the edges.
"What happened?" Shan asked, settling into a chair near enough that he could reach out to offer a comforting hand if needed.
For some time, Temar seemed to struggle with his emotions. Most times, Temar wasn't an emotional man. The shyness clung to him, muffled his emotions, but right now, Shan could see the pain etched deep into his features. "Dee'eta hates me," Temar finally confessed in a miserable voice.
Shan blew out a breath. He doubted that Dee'eta Sun's feelings were as simple as hate. "Why do you say that?" Shan asked.
Leaning back, Temar stared up at the perfectly flat metal ceiling. "She can barely look at me. Three weeks into my apprenticeship, and my glass-master can't even look me in the eye when showing me how to use the paddles to shape the piece. It's the most uncomfortable place I've ever been." Temar tilted his head and looked Shan right in the eye. "Ever," he repeated. Given that Temar had once been trapped in Ben's bed, a victim of both rape and a criminal justice system that had failed him, that was saying something.
Shan had been on the council that had sentenced Temar to a term of slavery after his vandalism had caused more damage than he could ever repay. Of course, he'd been following his sister's attempts to play detective when it had happened. It hadn't been fair, but Cyla had gone to an owner who trained her to work and Temar had gone to Ben, who had raped him and blackmailed him into not reporting it to the council. At least Shan could hold onto the fact that he had argued against slavery. Vehemently argued. Dee'eta didn't have that luxury. She had to look at Temar and know that she'd played her part in sending him into that hell. "This can't be easy for either of you," Shan said, not entirely sure how to broach the subject of Dee'eta's guilt when it had been Temar who had suffered the most.
"No, not really," Temar said, his voice defeated. "I spent my entire childhood dreaming of an apprenticeship with her, and now that I have my dream, it's not...." Temar sighed. "It's not any good, Shan."
"Is that why you left?"
"I screwed up. I cooled the punty too much, and when Dee'eta tried to transfer the glass, it slipped off and broke."
"That happens with apprentices," Shan reassured him. "When I apprenticed for Div, the very first sermon I gave I mixed up John and Paul and said something very stupid about the Book of Matthew. Luckily, I was so scared that I was preaching in a monotone that had put everyone to sleep by then."
Temar looked at Shan seriously. "Did he yell at you?"
Shan smiled. "In a way, I suppose he did. With Div, yelling was done in this really soft, disappointed voice that made you want to crawl into a hole and pull the sand in over you." He missed Div. Leaving the priesthood had been the right choice, no question. And when the councils had offered him a chance to finish his long-abandoned mechanics' apprenticeship by studying the relay station systems and reading a hundred years' worth of technical manuals, he'd jumped at the chance. However, he still missed Div. He missed talking to him over breakfast and that odd look Div gave him when Shan had done something desperately foolish. Shan imagined that was how a father should act--not that he had a lot of experience with good fathering.
"Dee'eta didn't yell," Temar said in a defeated tone. "She gave me one glance, and then she started lecturing on how to recycle scraps."
Now Shan was confused. "So you didn't leave over that, did you?"
"I did." Temar practically leaped out of his seat and started pacing. Shan was more than confused now, but he held his tongue and waited for Temar to explain. Both Shan's brother Naite and Temar had suffered terrible abuse, but unlike Naite, Temar did open up if you just gave him enough time and space to get the words together. However, this time it took longer than normal. He stalked the room, his fingers running over the smooth, rolled metal edges of the tables and shelves. He was a tactile man, and sometimes just fingering a well-made piece of glass would soothe him enough to start talking. Shan gave him that space.
Temar stopped at one of the few pieces of furniture Shan had insisted on bringing out--a windwood chest with intertwining branches that Roget Ally had made for Shan's mother before she died. It was the only part of his father's farm he'd saved when the man's land and house were sold to pay his debts. Temar crouched down and let his long fingers dance over the intricate work and smooth joints. "How can she teach me if she's so afraid of me that she can't even tell me when I'm wrong?" he asked in a tired voice.
"She's feeling guilty," Shan said.
Temar turned and gave him an incredulous look. "Do you think I don't know that?"
"I know you know it," Shan said, "but maybe you--" Shan put his hand over his heart. "You and Naite know the pain of being hurt, but you need to know there's a pain and guilt to being not hurt." The moment he said that, he realized that it sounded incredibly rude. It sounded like he was dismissing Temar's trauma, which wasn't his intent.
Standing up, Temar crossed his arms over his chest. "I know that, but do you really think that I'm so weak that I'm going to collapse in tears if you rip me a new asshole for ruining a beautiful piece of work?"
"Me? No. I know you're stronger than that," Shan said in all truthfulness. He'd seen Temar's strength, and he knew it would take a lot more than a few words to bring the man down. Temar was worth waiting for, in part because of his strength.
Temar shook his head. "Naite is the only one who treats me normally."
"Not surprising. After the council assigned him to three years of slavery with you, he's going to go out of his way to make sure that he doesn't change, because he won't want to let himself act servile, even if he's serving. He knows the danger of letting a slave-sentence get to you too much."
"Not that he's actually a slave," Temar said in a disgusted voice. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes.
Clearly something was wrong there, and that shocked Shan down to his core. Naite was a cantankerous, difficult man. Growing up, Shan had wanted to kill him more than once, but Naite had already been suffering their father's abuse. Well, they'd both been abused, but Naite had been the one raped while Shan had suffered only the cold disinterest of a man who had neglected and ignored him while seeming to shower all his love on the older Naite. However, it was Naite who understood Temar better than anyone else on the planet. Shan would have expected Naite to support Temar, not make him feel worse.
"What's going on?"
Temar closed his eyes as though trying to close out some memory. "He ripped me open, left me about as raw as a sand-rat-chewed wound and stalked off."
Shan's breath left him. "He... what?"
Temar made a little huffing noise that was either frustration or amusement--Shan couldn't even tell. "He told me I had a right to sell the balance of his contract, but I didn't have a right to ignore him after asking him to manage Ben's farm."
"Your farm," Shan corrected him.
"Well, apparently, I'm letting Cyla treat it like her farm, and Naite informed me that if I didn't get my head out of my ass and make my idiot sister stop acting like a sandcat, I wasn't going to have anyone to work the crops but him."
That did sound like Naite. When people weren't living up to his expectations, he could be a sandstorm, blowing in and destroying entire villages without slowing.
Temar sighed. "And the worst part is, he's right."
Shan leaned back in the chair and studied Temar. His shoulders were pulled in, and his whole body looked as tight as a person could get without having a heart attack. It actually bothered Shan that he'd driven out in this mood, because the sand dunes were unforgiving if you made a mistake, and Temar wasn't all that experienced on a bike.
"So," he said carefully, not wanting to make things worse, "you're upset that Dee'eta can't treat you normally, and you're upset that Naite is treating you normally?"
Temar had a self-deprecating half grin on his face as he shrugged. "I didn't say I was feeling logical. I can be annoyed with both of them and you all at the same time."
"With me?" Shan sat up straight, not sure when his faults had come into the conversation.
"With you," Temar echoed. "Are you attracted to me or not?"
Shan's mouth fell open, and he had to consciously close it and gather his thoughts before he could even answer. Even before he'd blurted out his whole stupid infatuation while drunk, he'd been less than subtle. Apparently. Shan always thought he'd hidden his interest well--he'd certainly lived in denial. However, since leaving the priesthood, more than one person had clapped him on the back and congratulated him for finally having the strength to openly court Temar. Shan had to assume he'd been a little more obvious than he'd thought. "You know I am," he said as calmly as he could.
"So, you haven't changed your mind now that you're not a priest and you can sleep with anyone you want?"
"No," Shan blurted out. He studied Temar more carefully, sure the man had some hidden agenda for this question. "Have I ever shown any interest in anyone else?"
Temar crossed the room slowly, studying Shan, and Shan struggled to understand where any of this had come from. Since leaving the priesthood, he hadn't taken anyone to his bed. He hadn't wanted anyone in his bed, no one except Temar, and he'd been very open about both his interest and his willingness to wait. Settling down on the end of the couch closest to Shan, Temar looked into his eyes. Temar had such beautiful eyes--blue eyes that reflected more emotions than Shan could ever hope to understand.
"Then why don't you ever touch me?"
"I hugged you! When you came, I hugged you, so I know I touch you," Shan snapped. Now he was getting frustrated. He had enough flaws of his own without Temar inventing reasons to be upset with him.
Slowly reaching out, Temar rested his hand on Shan's knee. "Why don't you ever really touch me?" he asked again. The warmth of Temar's hand soaked through the fabric until Shan could feel the heat against his skin.
"I do," Shan said, only this time his voice wavered. This was the sort of touch he generally did avoid.
"No, you don't. Shan, I know that you liked me before, but you were a priest, so it was safe for you to like me without thinking anything would happen. If you aren't interested--"
"I am." Shan cut him off, bringing his own hand up to rest on Temar's. He had long fingers and small hands, and Shan's big, scarred paw just about covered it. They were the hands of a mechanic, not a priest.
"Then why don't you touch me?"
For a second, Shan chewed on his lower lip and tried to control the growing hardness in his pants. He did want Temar. Too much. "I don't want to push things too far too fast."
"Shan, I need a little more pushing. Actually, I can do the pushing myself, but I need a sign that you're okay with me pushing."
Shan looked at Temar, but he didn't see any doubt or fear in his expression. He'd expected Temar to want to move slowly, to heal from his time in Ben's custody. Hell, Naite had been clear that it had taken years for him to get his own balance back after being abused, and Shan couldn't expect more of Temar. After that uncomfortable conversation, Shan had firmly counseled himself about patience and the dangers of lust. That had been more than ironic. Naite wasn't exactly celibate, and he'd lectured Shan about not having sex. God could have a sharp sense of humor. Shan had even considered asking Temar to marry him before taking him to bed, wondering if the commitment would ease the fears. It would ease Div's mind to know that Shan was still taking the church's teachings so seriously. However, now that he was looking into Temar's eyes, he didn't see fear. He saw frustration. "I take it I've been moving too slow?" he guessed.
Temar nodded. "I was starting to think you were trying to find nice ways to let me down easy. I thought maybe, like Dee'eta, you were too afraid to hurt me."
Shan tightened his hold on Temar's hand. "I don't want to hurt you, ever. But I want you. I want you more than I should."
"Then why aren't you showing any interest in having a relationship?" Temar asked. Shan's gaze drifted down to his own pants, where his hard cock pressed up against the seam. Temar chuckled. "Okay, so you're showing some interest," he added with some amusement, "but in my defense, that's definitely the first time I've seen that."
Suddenly Temar pulled his hand away from Shan. "Wait, is this about you not wanting to show me a hard cock? Do you think that I'll confuse what Ben did with sex?"
Shan's sexual frustration was definitely interfering with his ability to form coherent thought at this point. "You don't have a lot of experience...."
Temar gave a rough bark of laughter that didn't really match his normal shy manner. "Unless you have a few lovers Naite doesn't know about, I have more than you. He insists you're a big coward who doesn't want to admit that you're clueless."
"You talked to my brother about my sex life?" Shan demanded, hot anger rising up to vie with the sexual heat that was already making his skin warm. However, his anger couldn't maintain itself. In three months, he hadn't done more than offer a quick hug, so Temar had some cause to get a little insecure. "Of course you did. That sounds exactly like Naite, only without the profanity that he would have thrown in."
"He did have a couple of choice words. But without Naite, I wouldn't have had the nerve to do this. I would have sat home and given you time to move on because you clearly didn't want me." Temar set his jaw and glared at Shan, clearly not willing to apologize for going to Naite. "I love you, but I'm starting to doubt whether this is right for us. For you."
"It is," Shan insisted. Leaning forward, he captured Temar's hands and held them between his palms, their warmth mingling. "I admit that I haven't had many lovers. I took my vows seriously, and before the priesthood...." Shan thought back to himself as a young man, gawky and awkward and fumbling in the dark with a boy named Nuesis, and with two different women. Both of them kept warning him not to put his cock in them because pregnancy was serious and a man who got a woman pregnant had his life tied to her until the child was grown--neither of them liked him enough for that. "I don't have a lot of experience. But the main problem is that I would rather wait until you're ready than risk ruining the friendship we share."
"I'm ready," Temar said gently. "I'm more than ready."
Shan grimaced. "I should also mention that I'm not exactly good with relationships."
With a smile, Temar ducked his head. "Naite mentioned that."
"If we're going to do this, could we not mention my brother anymore?" Shan begged. There were certain topics guaranteed to send his cock into full retreat. Ben was one, and Naite was another.
Temar nodded, the smile still on his face as he brought his hand up to rest against Shan's cheek. "Deal. But no more waiting. It's giving me a neurosis."
The heat was gathering in Shan's body, making his throat dry and tight, so he simply nodded. Temar slowly smiled, shifting forward on the couch so that he perched on the edge. It had been a long time since doing this, but Shan's body remembered. He remembered the slide of skin against skin, the aching need to touch, the hunger. Reaching out, he slid his hand under Temar's shirt so he could feel the hot skin hidden underneath.
Temar's hand came up to stroke Shan's arms, fingers reaching up under the loose sleeve. "I'm not sure what you want," Temar murmured before he ran his fingernails down Shan's arm just hard enough to make three tiny trails of white on Shan's olive skin.
"I'm open to anything," Shan said, and he meant it. He was nervous about it because his experience with men was limited to some touching and sucking, but this was Temar.
"Funny enough, me too," Temar said with a smile that Shan couldn't resist. He leaned forward and caught Temar behind the neck and pulled him close. Temar came off the couch and put his knee on the edge of the chair, leaning close so Shan could press his lips to Temar's. He smelled of sand and salt and soap, and Shan groaned as his cock got painfully hard.
Temar pulled back a few inches. "Problem?" he teased.
"Yeah," Shan said. "And I'm too old to do anything about it in a chair."
Temar laughed. "You're not that old."
"I'm old enough to not give up a good bed for a small chair," Shan countered. Temar must have agreed because with a smile he stood up. Shan didn't realize Temar had caught hold of his shirt until the fabric pulled tight.
"Then the bed it is," Temar said, tugging on the shirt to urge Shan up. Shan's cock was painfully hard as he pushed himself up and followed.
* * * *
Shan could feel all sorts of fears churning through his guts as he followed. He didn't have a lot of experience and he didn't want to hurt Temar and he didn't want to screw this up. He liked Temar too much to make a mistake now, after everything they'd been through together. Workers would often disappear into the fields at night, but this was something more than a night of lust. This was something infinitely more dangerous than that. Shan hadn't used the word with Temar yet, but he loved the man, and the fear of making a mistake constantly gnawed at the edge of his awareness. Temar reached the bedroom and stopped. Whatever demons Temar carried, they didn't rule him. His cock pressed against his pants, making a good-sized bulge, and his pupils were black with lust, dilated until the blue looked like a ring.
Shan's smile grew as he moved close, his hands sliding over Temar's shoulders and arms. "Anything you want," Shan whispered the promise.
"On the bed would be a good start," Temar said. "You're too tall."
Shan chuckled. "I can do that." Backing away, he moved toward the bed, pulling his shirt off and dropping it on the floor before he sat on the edge.
"Better," Temar said. He stalked forward, his body tightly controlled as he stepped between Shan's legs. Shan spread his legs and looked up, waiting for some sign of what Temar wanted from this. Bringing both hands up, Temar cupped either side of Shan's face and then leaned close for another kiss. His lips moved against Shan's, and Shan's hands came up to rest against Temar's hips. Temar's lips tasted of mint and salt.
Holding him as the kiss grew hungrier and more aggressive, Temar's hand slid around to the back of Shan's head, and Shan thrust up almost involuntarily, his body aching for this. Starving for this.
Temar's other hand tightened on Shan's shoulder, and he flinched in pain before Temar gentled his touch, fingers stroking over the abused spot. "Sorry," Temar whispered.
"I want you," Shan said. "I want you so much."
"Then you should have asked earlier," Temar said, a touch of condemnation still in his voice. A voice in the back of Shan's head warned that Temar had been more hurt than he'd admitted, but Shan couldn't fix that now. He could only show Temar just how much he wanted him. He slid his hands under Temar's shirt, feeling the wiry muscles tense and relax under his fingers. Shan might not have been sexually experimental in his youth, but he knew what felt good. He reached up and ran a thumb over Temar's nipple.
Temar arched his back and groaned. "Yes," he said, the hissed word drawn out to impossible lengths. Shan's balls drew up, his cock hardening even more in the prison of his jeans. Panting, lips parted slightly so that Shan could see the pink tongue inside, Temar yanked off his shirt and threw it to the side before pressing both his palms against Shan's shoulders, pressing him back to the bed. Shan yielded, grateful that Temar was taking the lead in this. Shan would follow, but in this one area, he feared leading into dangerous territory.
Instead, he lay back, fisting the sheets and struggling against a need to come in his pants. He hadn't ever let a man enter him, so his fears whispered warnings about being too tight, too small, too damn old to start learning new tricks. However, that whisper lived in the distance. Shan's skin burned for Temar. His cock ached, and if Temar wanted to have full sex, a good 99 percent of Shan was on board with that plan.
When Temar's curious fingers finally found the zipper of Shan's jeans, each tooth of the zipper yielded with an audible click. Shan sucked in a breath as the pressure over his cock eased. His white underwear bulged up though the open zipper, his cock making it clear that it had no doubts. Letting go of the sheets, Shan reached out and caught Temar's forearms and held tightly as he arched his back in need. He'd been denying himself for so long, this desire frightened him. It was as if the embers of lust that he'd hidden under the ashes of the priesthood had suddenly found oxygen and burst to life.
Temar settled onto Shan's legs, trapping them, but then he didn't do anything else. He sat, studying Shan's bare chest and his hard cock, pressing obscenely up. Shan squirmed, cravings gathering in the pit of his stomach until he wasn't sure he could control the need for more. His palms itched as he fought an urge to grab himself and start stroking his sweat-slick hand up and down his shaft.
"Anything," Shan repeated hoarsely.
Temar's smile was slow and silky as he inched his way backward to the edge of the bed. Shan frowned, not sure why Temar seemed to be retreating. He'd opened his mouth, on the verge of asking what was wrong, when Temar leaned down to mouth Shan's cock right through his underwear. Shan shouted, the sound ripped from him as his cock twitched painfully. He needed to come. Oh, God, he needed to come. Temar sucked, the fabric making the sound almost obscene. Throwing his arms out, Shan fisted the sheets and cried out again.
"Temar," Shan gasped out. "Temar," he said a little louder. He needed to tell Temar to stop before he came in his pants. He needed to say it, but his words scattered like grains of sand in the wind. "Temar," he gasped out for a third time.
Temar pushed himself up so that he was straddling Shan. "Good?" he asked.
For a minute, Shan could only breathe fast and try to regain his sense of balance, because he felt like the world was tilting and he was about to slide right off the bed. "Too good," he finally agreed.
"Too good?" All the surety Temar had shown a moment before vanished, leaving him looking slightly confused and maybe even concerned. Shan reached out and caught Temar's hand in his.
"I'm going to come in my shorts if you do that again," he confessed. Shan ran his fingers over Temar's pale skin. Tiny pinprick scars hid under blond hair--the sort that Shan had himself earned from welding, but he imagined working with hot glass would have the same dangers. That was the perfect description of his Temar--beautiful and strong and able to endure the heat of a glass shop, even if he looked ethereal and fragile. Shan's cock was burning with need, but he was not going to be a selfish lover. Unfortunately, he wasn't sure exactly what to do. When Shan looked up, Temar smiled down at him.
"That sounds like it's a good thing," Temar said.
"Very good, unless you do that again, and then this is very over," Shan warned. Temar's smile grew wider. Temar trailed his longer fingers down Shan's arm, stopping at a scar just above his wrist. He frowned, and Shan could almost feel the unspoken question. "When I was seventeen and working for Holmes, I burned it on an exhaust," Shan explained. When he had first changed from an apprenticeship in mechanics to one in the priesthood, he'd thought it would be safer. Clearly God had made a jest out of that belief. Temar's fingers continued down to the back of Shan's hand, tracing the lines of veins. Shan watched.
Moving slowly and carefully, Temar closed his hand around Shan's wrist and brought Shan's hand up to his chest. Shan spread his fingers against the pale chest and looked up into Temar's blue eyes. After a few seconds, Shan started slowly tracing tiny circles over smooth, soft skin. Temar's eyes drooped in pleasure, and Shan allowed his hand to wander up the side of Temar's neck and face. This slow, intimate exploration of another's body was foreign to him.
Temar's eyes slowly opened. "Anything covers a lot of territory."
Shan swallowed, his mouth dry as dust. It did cover a lot of territory, but he'd wanted Temar so long, and that want grew stronger the longer he knew Temar. The man's strength and goodness had survived so much darkness.
"Anything," Shan repeated. He could see the desire in the curve of Temar's neck and his half-closed eyes as Shan ran fingers over his chest, pausing to tease a small, dark nipple. Temar sucked in a harsh breath when Shan pulled at the nipple. Emboldened, Shan moved his hand down and ran his finger along the smooth skin above the waistband of Temar's pants. Shan had to slow his own breathing and concentrate to get the zipper down.
Temar's cock pressed out through the underwear, the tip visible and a tiny spot of moisture like a dark target on the white fabric. "I'm really not sure what I'm doing here," Shan confessed in a whisper.
Temar caught his hand and kissed the palm. "I'm not either. But it feels good."
"We're both going to die of blue balls at this rate." Shan gave a little huff of laughter. Here he was with his first lover after leaving the priesthood, and the man had more experience being abused than sharing intimacies. They were the sunblind leading the sandblind.
Temar smiled so that little lines gathered at the corners of his eyes. "We aren't doing bad." He shifted back, leaving the bed altogether before he moved to the side and sat down. Shan scooted back so that he was all the way on the bed, and in the process, he managed to wiggle out of his pants--more by accident than by intent. Temar watched, his gaze focusing on Shan's hard cock. "We aren't doing bad at all," he repeated, his voice a distracted whisper. He reached over and traced the line of Shan's jaw with a single finger.
Tracing the line of the jaw back, Temar slipped his fingers behind Shan's neck and slowly pulled him close. Yielding to the gentle pressure, Shan leaned forward. Temar gently sucked on Shan's lip, dull teeth running along the edge, and Shan pressed closer, his cock demanding touch. Rocking his body against Temar, Shan gasped, which allowed Temar's tongue to slip inside, and suddenly Temar was pressing in, pushing Shan onto his back.
Shan squirmed and dug his heels into the mattress as he pushed up. Hands scrambled at his underwear, and Shan divided his attention between kissing the sensual mouth that was devouring him and raising his ass so Temar could get them off. Thank God he didn't wear shoes around the relay station, or they'd have a tangled mess.
Warm skin pressed down on him, and Shan shivered as he pulled a nude Temar closer. He wasn't even sure when Temar had shed his pants, and he didn't care. Shan opened his mouth more, and the kiss grew more frantic. Now Temar was groaning in need as he thrust down into Shan's body. Fabric tangled around Shan's legs, and he struggled to kick his shorts free. However, Temar shifted, and Shan was suddenly frozen by the realization that Temar's hard cock was pressed up against his. He had one second of panicked indecision before Temar wrapped his hand around both their cocks and started thrusting against Shan. Shan knew this. This was familiar. This was good.
Arching his back, Shan thrust up so their bodies rubbed against each other, their cocks trapped in the heat and sweat that gathered between their bodies. Shan cried out softly with each thrust until he finally felt his balls tighten. Shan pulled Temar close and thrust up wildly as need erased anything other than the movement of body against body. Temar thrust down equally hard, and Shan yelled out as he came.
His mouth hung open, and he thrust into their slick bodies as he came with a flare of pleasure. Waves traveled his spine as little shivers stole his control, so that Shan arched and writhed mindlessly. With a few more thrusts, Temar came, his own back arched so sharply that he was nearly bent backward, his hands braced on Shan's shoulders. He came and then dropped his weight down onto Shan.
Lethargy dragged Shan down as every muscle that had been tense for the past three months decided to relax at once. He was sand-shifting into a new shape, a new drift, and the old simply vanished. He was Temar's lover. That was the new shape. Shan panted, and he could hear the heavy gasps as Temar struggled to regain his own breath. Temar shifted so that their legs tangled, and his weight slipped off to the side of Shan, only one arm still draped over Shan's stomach.
They lay still and silent, and Shan could feel the fever-heat fading as his body cooled. His cock itched, and Shan reached down to rub it; he came away with a sticky hand that he wiped off on his own hip.
"Very not bad," Temar muttered sleepily.
"Worth leaving the priesthood for," Shan agreed without opening his eyes. He never would have left for sex, but sex this good was a nice bonus. "No offense, God," he added with a quick gesture as he crossed himself.
"I promise to leave your brother out of our sex life, if you promise to leave God out," Temar said as he shifted so that he could press closer to Shan's side. Shan followed the muscle on Temar's arms, tracing it back and forth with his fingertips.
"Deal," Shan agreed. They lay in silence, the wind whispering against the metal building as their bodies finally cooled enough that Shan started eyeing the covers at the foot of the bed.
* * * *
The silence settled around them, and Shan gave up on the covers, settling for the warmth of his love settled next to him. At thirty-two, he'd finally found himself... a little later than most. Most people, by this age, were taking on their first apprentices and considering children. However, this had been worth the wait. Temar shifted against him. He was a slight man, but he had sharp knees. Shan grunted as one caught him on the thigh.
"Sorry," Temar offered.
"Not a problem." Shan traced circles on Temar's skin. It had been so long he'd forgotten the simple pleasure of exploring another's shape, the texture of their skin and the warmth of it.
"You didn't actually leave the priesthood for me or sex or anything, did you?" Temar asked, unexpectedly breaking the quiet mood.
"Um.... No. We talked about this. I always was more interested in fixing the church's pews than its sinners. That's not a good combination for a priest." Shan opened one eye and considered Temar. For someone who was generally more open and communicative than most, Temar wasn't doing a lot of communicating lately. Shan studied Temar's tense shoulders and the way his gaze kept skittering off to the corners. "Why are you asking now?"
That got another sigh. Given that they'd just had really good sex, Shan was starting to develop a neurosis of his own. "Have you heard Wistia's latest ballad?" Temar finally asked in a near whisper.
"No. I mean, there's a lot of technical reading around here, and every day I find out that some other piece of maintenance has been ignored for twenty years. I've been too busy to come to town."
"'The Ballad of the Lonely Priest'," Temar said softly.
Shan felt a wave of horror run through him. "Oh, please tell me that it's not about...."
"Yep. You get the starring role. I'm the sweet young man who makes you question your faith."
Shan closed his eyes and struggled to find some core of calm that would allow him to avoid the emotional explosion he could feel building in his chest. She had no right. Worse, her ballad was a lie, and considering that Livre's history was largely told through song, that was a sin in itself. "I'll hold Wistia down if you want to drop the sandrat on her stomach and let it chew through her," Shan finally offered. No wonder Temar was having trouble keeping his emotional balance. It worried Shan that Temar didn't react to his joking threat at all. He decided to take the ballad more seriously.
"Div must have objected; he must be telling people that she's wrong. I didn't leave the church because I chose you over God. God showed me that I needed to walk another path." Shan thought about the events leading up to his decision. "Actually, God showed me, I ignored him, and God sort of shoved me off into the dirt because I wasn't listening."
Temar nodded, but he stayed silent. Reaching up, Shan ran his fingers through Temar's hair. Sweat stained the blond strands darker where they stuck together.
"I care about you, Temar, but my choice to leave the church came from a realization that I didn't fit there."
Temar got an arm under him and propped himself up, one hand braced on Shan's chest. "I don't want to think that I took away something important. I mean, the church was important to you, and I thought maybe you weren't touching me because you weren't sure about leaving it."
Shan shook his head. "God is important to me. Well, the church is, too, but not as a priest. I haven't given up God, I haven't given up the church, and I should have given up the priesthood a long time ago. I can love the first two and still love you."
"So, I'm not breaking any God rules here?" Temar asked. He hadn't been one for coming to church until he was a young man. His father had blamed God when Temar's mother died, so Shan doubted old Erqu Gazer would have taught Temar much of anything about the word.
"The Gospel does favor marriage before the sex," Shan started slowly, "but that's what forgiveness is for."
"Marriage." Temar swallowed, and Shan could have kicked himself for bringing that up so soon. They weren't even an hour past their first sexual act, and he was bringing up marriage. Truly he was a fool when it came to relationships.
Shan hurried to say, "We don't have to--"
"Do you think about marriage, about us and being married?" Temar gave Shan such an intense look that the easy answer that had had been resting on the tip of his tongue vanished. Temar didn't want an easy answer; he didn't want some apology for pressing forward too fast.
Swallowing all his fears, Shan braced himself to tell the truth. "I do. I suppose I hope, if this works out between us, that you'll be willing to give it a try even if neither one of us has a great role model." Both their mothers had died young and both their fathers had been some variation on failure.
Temar's smile was slow and timid, but he gave a little nod. "Wistia is going to write a new ballad." That sounded a lot like a yes. Shan swallowed, emotions pressing up faster than he could really think them through or even feel them.
"As long as she gets her facts straight this time, that's fine." Temar settled back down onto the pillow, their legs still tangled, and Shan realized that, in the end, it didn't matter. When confused, Temar came to him and asked him outright if he was interested, and as long as they turned to each other in trouble, they'd be fine. Wistia, on the other hand, was going to face a council complaint as soon as Shan could get a copy of the words to her new song.
Right now, though, Shan only cared about this moment, about Temar's warm body pressed to his side, about his sated cock and his sated body and his bone-deep desire to curl up with his lover and sleep.
They lay, drifting in and out of sleep for a time, until Shan's bladder finally started insisting that he get up. Despite the fact that he desperately didn't want to move, Shan eventually had to admit that it was visit the bathroom or wet the bed. He was a little old for the latter, and he doubted that Temar would appreciate it much.
"Yeah, a bladder that's too small," Shan answered as he climbed out of the warm bed. Despite the fact that Livre was never truly cold, there was a chill in the air that suggested night was falling. This inner room didn't have a window to check the time, but it felt right.
"I hope you'll stay rather than risk running the dunes this late," Shan said before he headed into the bathroom.
"So, I can either stay or break my neck and get eaten by sandrats. I think I'll stay," Temar said with some amusement.
"I didn't mean...." Shan sighed as he finally started peeing a stream. "I made that sound like a threat, didn't I?"
"A little. You made it sound like an offer to stay wouldn't be good enough without the threat of death. Trust me, it is." Temar's voice turned hollow as he went into the mechanical room. Sound echoed in there. Shan refused to even hum, because the notes reverberated oddly off the walls. Their ancestors had considered sterile, harsh places like this normal, and had, from what Shan had read of their stored records, considered Livre inhospitable and brutal.
Livre was dangerous--Shan knew that better than most, but he also knew the beauty of a sunrise after a good sandstorm, the air glowing gold and red as the sun lifted over the horizon. He knew the floating shadows of a double moon and the soft, sweeping shapes of a sand dune. The windwood trees taught of survival and the sandrats taught conservation and the buteo and raptors that soared above the sands made a man think of freedom. And every time he stood out on the sands, he could feel God. He couldn't imagine the world the settlers had described--the horrors and stark desolation they saw in the landscape.
Shan finished and shook the last drops off before heading for the bedroom in search of clothing. "What are all these lights?" Temar called from the control room. His voice bounced around the metal walls when he spoke too loud, and Shan grabbed his pants and padded out there rather than risk more of those odd, disconcerting echoes.
"Systems. The family that ran the place kept the water systems in top form."
"Well, yeah, because they were stealing water," Temar pointed out.
"True. The other systems were all in some stage of disrepair or shut down."
"Huh." Temar let his hands flow over the control panel, thin fingers tracing the switches and the indicator lights, red, blue, and green--mostly red. "I thought the relay was supposed to listen for the inner worlds' signals."
"They were. I guess they figured that if they were going to steal water and a ship, it didn't matter if anyone was sending them messages about the inner worlds or their war."
"Which is stupid. If I'm going to fly an old ship into the middle of unknown space, I would want to know how the war is going."
Shan leaned back against the wall and considered Temar's form. He seemed taller now, although that had to be illusion. Shan calculated that Temar had to be twenty-two or twenty-three... old enough that he'd stopped growing. He had grown thinner in the days since Shan had really paid attention to his body... his ribs evident, and his muscles were hard lines of cord under the skin. It worried Shan that he seemed so thin. Not unhealthy, necessarily, but painfully thin.
"Did you even hear what I said?"
Shan blinked as he realized that he'd tuned Temar out for a time. "Um... not exactly."
Instead of getting upset, Temar slowly smiled as he shook his head. "I suppose I should be complimented that my naked backside is that distracting.
Shan could feel himself blush. "It is. It's been a while." Shan stopped, painfully aware that Temar had been sexually active far more recently.
"Well, then, welcome back," Temar said, either not noticing or not commenting on Shan's discomfort. "I asked which of these monitors the inner worlds. Maybe we can find out something about their idiotic war."
"I don't actually know." Shan went over to one of the stations and turned the interface on. "I've been trying to get the mechanical systems up and running--battery recharging, mechanics, planetside communication. I think I can get Landing and Red Plain back in radio contact, although Blue Hope's tower was taken out by a storm thirty years ago, and Gambles never did have the right equipment. There's a lot of inventory here that no one knows about, so there's a chance I've got the right materials to get one or both added to the system, but I really thought getting local communications up should take priority."
Temar came over and watched as Shan went through assorted menus. The old ship systems were getting easier to understand and navigate, but when he'd first started, he'd questioned the logic of the programmers more than once. Years of having to translate Latin had improved his patience, though, so he was slowly deciphering the logic behind various chains of commands.
"That's my Shan, always the practical one."
Shan laughed. "Tell my brother that."
"Oh, I don't think so. He seems to think he's the one with his feet on the ground. Actually," Temar said, his tone shifting, "I think he's really annoyed that you were right and he was wrong about the whole slavery issue."
Shan's fingers stumbled on the keyboard.
"You can talk about it, you know."
"I can, but when I do, I'm intensely uncomfortable," Shan pointed out. "Do you need to talk about it?" he added when it occurred to him that he was still putting what he wanted before what Temar wanted. He'd always thought of himself as a thoughtful man, but that self-image was taking a few hits.
"No. But I don't want to walk around it, either." Temar rested his hands against Shan's shoulders and leaned into him. "My father was a drunk, your father was a rapist, Ben stole water and could have caused a whole lot of deaths. Evil happens." Temar didn't point out that he had been at the center of more than his share of that evil. Erqu Gazer had robbed his children of any sort of financial success with his drunken neglect. Ben had raped him. Ben's plot to fly a decommissioned ship off the planet, burning up a good deal of the colony's remaining water in the process, had put Temar on ground zero. Shan still remembered standing in the abandoned mining base with Ben's co-conspirators holding them captive. He remembered the earnestness in Ben's face when he'd offered to "rescue" Temar and take him off planet. The bastard had had his own sick and twisted affection for Temar, and that was an evil Shan couldn't understand. He couldn't understand how men like Ben could confuse love and rape.
Shan's own father had been a quieter sort of evil. Yes, Yan Polli had raped his oldest son in the name of family love, and in doing so, had turned Naite into an angry man who had never finished any sort of training. However, Shan had only seen the quietly neglectful and drunken side of his father. It was Naite who had suffered.
None of it made sense to Shan. When he'd been a priest, he'd been so sure that God had some plan, but after all this, it was so hard to believe that. Shan still had faith in God, but he understood Him less than ever.
Shan considered his answer carefully, concerned that Temar's attitude couldn't be the full truth. "It shouldn't have. God--"
"No, not God," Temar interrupted. "What happened had very little to do with God. So, if you want to talk, we can talk about greed or stupidity or evil, but not God."
Shan took a deep breath and let it out as he tried to reorganize his thoughts. "Fair enough," he said slowly. "Ben was evil, and his greed led him to do things, and I want you to know you're safe to say whatever you want, and I will still see you as an incredibly strong, ethical man." Shan focused on the computer instead of turning around, trying to give Temar the privacy to really consider that offer.
For a long time, Temar stayed quiet. Shan worked through subroutines and cross-referenced repair manuals and programming specifications as he tried to figure out the inner world communication network. It had been one of the first to fail and go unrepaired.
"Do you want me to say I'm angry?"
"If you are. If you want to," Shan said, his fingers pausing.
"I am, you know." Temar retreated, and Shan missed the contact where Temar had been touching him. "I'm so angry that sometimes I feel like I'm going to crack, but Ben is gone, and almost everyone who conspired with him is gone, and the few that aren't are slaved out, and they'll never earn anyone's trust ever again. Who is left for me to be angry with?" Temar made a strangled noise and then left the room, his feet slapping against the bare floors.
Shan swung his chair around and sent up a quick prayer, asking for some guidance here. He'd counseled people through grief and anger, listened to their fears and talked them through loss. None of that mattered now, because he didn't actually know what to say to Temar. After waiting long enough to give Temar a little time to collect himself, Shan followed him back into his living quarters. The sitting room was empty, so Shan headed into the bedroom.
Temar sat on the edge of the bed with his pants on and his shirt in his hand. "I don't want to be angry." His voice sounded so pained, it tore at Shan's heart. The man had survived so much, but he had a few more wounds than he was ready to let most people see.
"Okay." Shan wasn't sure what else he could say to that.
Temar looked up, his eyes bright, but he rubbed the moisture away with the heel of his hand. "You have no idea what to say here, do you?"
Shan sighed, not sure he liked that Temar could read him so easily. "This is why I was a terrible priest. I really don't. I had a habit of parroting back Div's advice when people came to me. I rarely had inspiration from my own heart."
Temar took a deep breath, and Shan could hear the shakiness in it. He wondered if they hadn't pushed too fast, no matter what Temar had said when he showed up. "What would Div say to this?" Temar asked.
"I have no idea. This situation never came up." Shan moved carefully closer, watching Temar. Choosing the chair, he sat down so he was on level with Temar. "When you rang the bell, and I could see your shape through the glass without being able to see who you were, my first thought was about Ista and Ben." Shan's words made Temar's head snap up. "My second thought was that I am alone far too much if I'm expecting dead people to show up at my door."
"So, I'm not crazy when I wake up at night, certain that Ben is about to come back and get into bed with me?"
Shan rested his elbows on his knees and consciously tried to open himself to Temar, to let his lover see the truth of his words. "Only if I am for expecting him to ring my bell and ambush me."
"Maybe we're both crazy," Temar said with a rough laugh.
"Or maybe we're normal and getting through this," Shan countered. "Do you want to talk?"
Temar shook his head. "No, not really. I want to stop feeling so off balance." Temar shook his head. "Stop thinking you're to blame for this. I have enough issues without your guilt," Temar said as he stood up.
"I didn't say anything," Shan protested.
"I can see your guilt all over your face. You helped." Temar lowered his voice. "This helped. I feel like I have a chance for something good--Ben didn't ruin that. So stop feeling guilty and show me the inner world communication network."
Shan didn't know when Temar had learned to read him so well, but if Temar said that their relationship helped him regain his happiness, Shan could only believe him and hope it was true in the long run. "One inner world communication network, coming right up," he promised as he stood. "Well, maybe not right up, because these systems are a mess, and every time I try to read a repair manual, I have to look up two dozen other systems in order to understand what I'm supposed to be fixing."
"That bad?" Temar asked.
Shan made a face. "It's almost enough to drive me back to the priesthood," he agreed. "But for you, I will face the disaster that is that computer system."
Feeling like a warrior of old about to go into battle--although his battle would involve computer relays and switches and corroded circuits that needed replacing--Shan held out a hand to invite Temar to join him. Temar's expression turned almost shy as he took Shan's hand, and they headed back into battle with the circuit demons.