Disclaimer: This story contains elements which some people may find offensive. If that is the case, they are invited to leave. The author also holds no responsibility for possible illegalities committed by the reader in their presence here. All people and events in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to anything real is purely coincidental. Copyright 2004 Devon Keene: irrelevantrevelry@hotmail.com

the Enigma of Flatness
The Ballad of Embers Part XII
"I love you."

Too many times had Tallas imagined his best friend looking into his eyes, speaking those three words, that when it actually happened he had to convince himself of its reality. The devastated room, the fatigue plaguing his body, the subtle sounds of the Dream; all melted into gray and left only Sabrin in crystal clarity. But when a month ago those simple words would have elevated him to indescribable heights of joy, now such a jumble of memories and emotions entangled his mind that he could manage only a incoherent, questioning sound in reply.

"I love you Tal," Sabrin repeated, more mournfully now. Vajrahm's feeble rays shone through the hull breach behind them, casting a scarlet hue across the shattered bulkheads. In the odd light his blue eyes were a deep, dark violet, like windows into another world.

"No you don't," Tallas denied, shaking his head weakly. Confronted by those shimmering depths, offering that which he no longer dared to dream, he saw himself falling back into the fearful storm of pain and confusion wrought by the curse of loving his best friend. The memory of that day on Forseti surged upwards from the back of his mind, trailing behind it anguish as raw and real as the day it happened. Desperately Tallas fought Sabrin's words, railing against the threat of hope. "You can't."

"Please Tal, you have to believe me," Sabrin insisted, latent tears gathering along his silken lashes. "God I should've told you this a long time ago, but I was so stupid. I'm so, so sorry that I hurt you; you gotta know that I never meant to do that."

"I-I don't think now's a good time to talk about this," Tallas mumbled, shying away from Sabrin's piercing gaze and shifting as though to rise.

"No damn it, I have to tell you the truth," Sabrin said more forcefully, gently but firmly catching the other man's hands in his own and bringing Tallas' attention back to him, "I've let too much time slip away already. Tal, what happened, I...I was scared," he choked out, "I was scared and I made the biggest fuckin' mistake of my entire life."

"I didn't want to lose you...lose what we had," Sabrin dropped his eyes in shame, "You mean so damned much to me Tal. I don't know...I don't want to know what my life'd be without you. Every day I thank the stars for sending you to me; spending time with you...it made me forget all the shit that life kept throwing us. I didn't want that to ever change." A few shiny droplets escaped onto his cheeks and Sabrin wiped them hastily. "But then things did start changing, and I started getting these feelings."

"I hated those thoughts; I was so guilty that you'd done so much for me and there I was, trying to ruin it. I tried to make myself stop, force it all away to the back of my mind and never let it out. I talked myself into believing that I was just thinking about you as a close friend, nothing more." Sabrin dropped his eyes and chuckled self-deprecatingly, "I was so deep in fuckin' denial that I never even considered that you might love me back. I didn't want to consider it," -- Tallas tensed at those words and Sabrin rubbed his hands reassuringly -- "'cause if I did then I don't think I could've stopped myself from doing something."

"Why was that a bad thing?" Tallas asked in a small voice.

"The risk was just too much for me to take," Sabrin admitted, "I had all these thoughts like, what if you didn't feel the same way? Or it turned out that we didn't work as a couple and we ended up hating each other? You've called me brave but in reality I was a total fuckin' coward. It was just easier to keep things the way they were and pretend that I didn't feel that way for you."

Sabrin raised his head and Tallas saw the shining trails running from his eyes to the jaw. A sharp pang deep inside him echoed the pain he witnessed in his best friend's face. "And then you told me you loved me," Sabrin voice was barely audible. "A part of me wanted to dance for joy. I wanted so bad to kiss you, and hold you tight and never let go." A phantom smile graced both their lips, a moment of radiance before the clouds closed again on Sabrin's countenance.

"But then there was this other part of me, that was telling me that I was losing our friendship," Sabrin said in a labored voice. "I didn't want things to be different, and I knew they were going to be after that. I'd stopped myself from loving you for so long...All I thought about was life without you as a best friend, and I was absolutely terrified that I might have to live it." His blue eyes closed, more tears sliding down their well-worn tracks. "I couldn't do it. I saw you standing there, your love so incredibly bright and so incredibly beautiful, and I couldn't move. I heard you begging me to say something, I watched the pain work across your face, and I couldn't move forward. I was hurting my best friend and I couldn't do a fuckin' thing!" Sabrin stuttered to a stop, harsh sobs overtaking his body.

The naked anguish contorting his love's face at his confession wrenched something inside Tallas' chest. His own tears dropped as he pulled the dark-haired man into his chest. He saw in Sabrin's words the same fear that had held him captive for too many years. Tallas remembered the power of that fear, that seized his actions even as he writhed beneath its torment, and the hurt that had strangled him since that fateful day began to fade away. Understanding was breaking through his walls; the defenses he had wrapped about his heart in blind sorrow were being shorn away and he welcomed it with joy. The love that he once fought to deny surged through every part of his being, surrounding him in radiance as he held his only love in his arms.

Instinctually, Sabrin nuzzled silently against his neck, drawing strength from the touch. He clung to Tallas' body as if it were a life preserver. "God I need you Tal," Sabrin whispered desperately, "I love you so much and I pushed you away. I destroyed everything we could've had together and I don't know how you can forgive me."

"But I still have to ask you," Sabrin sobbed, "Please forgive me Tal, please. I love you so much. If you'll just give me a chance, I promise I'll never hurt you or shut you out again. I'll spend every single day the rest of my life, proving how much I love you. Just...tell me there's some part of you that still loves me back." Sabrin whispered, his face buried in the crook of Tallas' neck.

"Of course I do...I've never stopped," Tallas tightened his embrace and lightly kissed the other man's temple, "I don't know if I can stop." Yes...this is right... Just a brief, simple gesture, but it sent a jolt through his body that set every nerve vibrating with pleasure. The air around them seemed to glow, humming with a warm energy that flowed between and around them in a glorious cascade. He closed his eyes and savored the sensation of his love's body pressed against his, tracing every detail as though for the first time. He felt the other man's body shift, and he opened his eyes to find Sabrin's ethereal blues trained on his own. They held stars blazing with tremulous hope, halting Tallas' breath in his throat.

"Really?" Sabrin whispered.

Tallas nodded with a shy smile, that widened as Sabrin's face was transformed by a brilliant smile of relief and joy. "Oh thank you thank you..." Suddenly he lunged forward and his lips collided against those of the startled blonde, pushing them both against the wall. Frantically Sabrin deepened the kiss and felt Tallas reciprocate just as intensely, their bodies pressing against each other in a frenzied symphony of movement. When they finally broke apart both were gasping for air, a filigree of sweat sheathing their skin. Sabrin licked his lips, relishing the memory of taste, and grinned. "I've wanted to do that so bad," he admitted breathlessly.

"I can't tell you how many times I've dreamt about that," Tallas said.

"I'm sorry you had to wait so long," guilt colored Sabrin's expression, "I should've done this back on Forseti--"

"Shhh..." Tallas placed his hand over his love's mouth, "It's alright. I understand now." Sabrin peered at him for a moment, new tears brimming in his eyes, and nodded. Tallas allowed his hand to wander, fingertips gently playing over the contours of Sabrin's face as though re-acquainting himself with a long-lost friend. He kept up the pattern of fleeting touches until the smile returned.

"Still," Sabrin eventually said, glancing at the destruction around them, "I would've liked our first kiss to be somewhere pretty."

"Better not let Dreamer hear you say that," Tallas giggled. After being denied that sound for weeks, hearing it sent a shiver of excitement through Sabrin's nervous system. Curling his hand around Tallas' nape, he drew them together for another lingering kiss, making sure to take his time. Tallas moaned involuntarily as Sabrin's tongue delved into his mouth and grazed over his teeth, the sound rumbling deep in his throat and sending pinprick sparks jumping across the other man's glowing skin.

When they separated there was a glazed look in Tallas' dark eyes, as he blinked in an effort to convince himself that this was actually real. He remembered this; it was being overwhelmed by Sabrin's presence, rending all other thoughts from his mind until there only existed the two of them. The difference was that there was no longer pain, in longing for that which remained frustratingly beyond his reach -- just a delirious euphoria he never thought possible and hoped would never end. It was an immeasurable weight off his shoulders: the furtive nights and hidden days dissolving into nothing more than memory. Tallas' hands moved agitatedly over Sabrin's neck, arms, and torso, as though even a moment's rest would see him floating away. His hands felt Sabrin's heart pulsing beneath the satin skin, resonating against his own frenetic rhythm. A hushed "wow" was the best response he could manage.

Sabrin beamed happily at the response he evoked, blue eyes radiant with unrestrained emotion. He looked at the blonde sitting against the wall, his skin slick with sweat and smudged with dust, and such an overwhelming rush of feeling surged inside him that he felt dizzy for an instant. He wanted to shout it from the brighest star, proclaiming to all who ever lived that he loved his best friend...and more importantly, that his love was returned. "I love you," he said in a warm voice, moving in for another kiss--

"Guys," Dreamer's suspiciously impeccable timing startled the two of them apart. Sabe jerked his head about in annoyance, seeing the A.I.'s voice transmitted through one of the ship's small maintenance drones nearby. "I'm really thrilled an' all that you two are finally consummatin' your relationship, but could ya not do it right next to a huge gash in my hull?" The grin was obvious in the A.I.'s voice.

Instantly Sabrin's cheeks flushed red in embarrassment and his face dipped in a futile attempt to hide it. "We're not 'consummating' anything!" he protested irritatedly.

Tallas' lips drew irresistably into a lascivious pout as he caught Sabrin's eyes again. He found it adorable that his normally staid and confident best friend could be so easily flustered by simple innuendo and this was an opportunity not to be missed. "Aww, we're not?" he asked with the best expression of innocent disappointment he could muster.

The look of simultaneous shock, lust, and chagrin that appeared on the other man's face finally tipped Tallas over the edge, as he clutched his aching sides and erupted in a spate of laughter. He was quickly joined by Dreamer, whose unrestrained amusement pealed from the drone's comn. Sabrin wasn't really angry, but he was annoyed by the A.I.'s poorly timed intrusion and glared at both of them in retaliation. However, he couldn't help but smile a little when he saw the joy on his love's face. "Assholes," he mumbled jokingly as Tallas finally managed to regain some sense of composure, a grin still plastered on his face.

"Figures that you guys conveniently make up when there's work to do," Dreamer said jokingly. "Now get out. I've got repairs."

Sabrin gave the maintenance drone a death stare he wasn't sure its sensors could register and stood up, his joints popping a bit. Tallas took the proffered hand and dragged himself up, groaning plaintively as his bruised muscles were forced to move. He saw a concerned look on Sabrin's face and smiled to reassure him, even as a small wave of emotion -- or vertigo -- threatened to unbalance him. Together they began carefully making their way out of the damaged section, their hands firmly intertwined. Sabrin felt his blush resurface when he spied Dreamer's image on a far wall monitor, his mouth curved into a brazen leer.

"Aww, you two make a cute couple," the A.I. drawled, his grin growing wider.

"There's still time to leave you behind in that shuttle," Sabrin threatened, glaring at the ship's persona. A sudden nervousness creeped into his mind at the thought of taking their relationship into the rest of the world, and for a moment his reflex was to pull away from the young man beside him. Those doubts promptly vanished when he felt Tallas knowingly squeeze his hand. An unspoken message passed between them: they would face whatever came together.

"And I can just turn off the heat in your shower," Dreamer's grin was unabated. Around them more maintenance drones were scurrying dutifully along the wall towards the hull breach. Sabrin had to admit the A.I. was anything if not efficient.

"C'mon Sabe, let Dreamer get to work," Tallas interjected, barely suppressing his own laughter. He dragged Sabrin towards the ladder, knowing how the dark-haired man usually reacted to teasing and working to preempt any further verbal escalation. Sabrin grumbled but allowed himself to be pulled along.

"Have fun! That lotion you bought is safe to use as lube!" Dreamer called out from behind them.

"Hey--" Sabrin growled in frustration at the now-blank monitor, which instantly melted away as he felt Tallas' velvet lips on his cheek. The blue metallic walls resumed moving past his vision as the other man continued to propel both of them down the corridor.

"You can play with him later; this is our time," Tallas said in a pretend whine.

Sabrin turned his head to see a cute, yet debaucherous smile adorning his best friend's face. He wasn't about to argue.


Tallas pulled Sabrin by the hand into his dim quarters, both their bodies trembling with anticipation and need. He turned to face the other man as the doors slid shut with a muted hiss, and gave Sabrin a fleeting, almost shy smile. At last, he was alone with the only person he'd ever loved, and he was suddenly gripped by nervousness. Tallas had been waiting for his entire life for this moment, and yet he still found himself utterly unprepared. Sabrin's presence was simply overpowering -- he could find no better word to describe how his best friend and soon-to-be lover affected him. In a way it frightened him, to know that one person held such a totality of power over his mind and soul, and yet another part of him wanted nothing more than to abandon himself to it. Sabe, do you know what you mean to me? What you do to me?

He glanced about his room at the scattered clothes and display pads and wished that he had a chance to clean up; for some reason he felt embarrassed for his messiness even though he knew Sabrin was well-acquainted with it. Surreptitiously he shifted away a crumpled T-shirt with his foot as his eyes returned to the brown-haired man standing not an arm's length away, looking just as nervous and unsure as he. "So...um," Tallas willed his palpitating vocal cords to function, "We're here..."

"Yeah..." Sabrin found himself at a similar loss for words. His mind was confused, unsure how a boyfriend -- if that's what he was now -- was supposed to act. His previous forays into romance were abrupt and half-hearted at best, and he had thrown himself into his studies in their stead. Tentatively he reached out to Tallas, closing the distance between them. He sought out the other man's eyes and was relieved to see the same anxious glint as he expected shone in his own gaze. But what he also saw was familiarity, and with them the realization that the blonde in his arms was still his best friend -- the person he knew better than anyone else. It was that reminder which finally enabled Sabrin's voice, and the affectionate smile that graced his face.

"I'm not sure what to do here... Should I take you out to dinner? Go see a movie?" -- Sabrin asked huskily. Tallas laughed softly, feeling the tension dissipate from his body -- "Or maybe..." Sabrin pretended to think, "buy you something?"

"Or..." a soft exhalation from Tallas, resonant in the still air. Their lips met in a soft, affirming motion, growing more intense as both of them sought to pour their all that they had into the temporary connection. Tallas' legs weakened and he leaned into Sabrin's solid frame, a low moan issuing from his throat. Tallas breathed in sharply as he felt Sabrin's gentle grazing at the base of his ear.

"Mmm," Sabrin hummed against Tallas' neck; he tightened his arms, unwilling to accept the gulf of clothes and skin between them.

"I must taste like a bulkhead," Tallas mumbled, realizing the metallic tang of plasma residue mixed with smoke and sweat, clinging to his body and clothes like a second skin. He felt Sabrin pause, then spun away with a laugh as Sabrin unabashedly licked a ticklish spot on his neck.

"A very nice bulkhead," Sabrin caught Tallas' arm and reined in his wayward partner.

"You and your lines," Tallas rolled his eyes and smiled.

"Just telling the truth," Sabrin renewed their fervent kissing.

Without breaking their contact, Tallas took a few unsteady steps backward, leading Sabrin along in his arms until the back of his knees encountered the mattress. Tallas sank onto the unmade sheets and guided Sabrin to lay beside him, his arms winding around the other man's trim waist. Brown eyes locked onto blue ones, their faces close enough that they were sharing each other's heavy breaths. A symmetrical movement brought them into another kiss, tongues dancing delicately over the velvet softness. Amidst the pleasure assaulting his senses, Tallas struggled to shrug off his shoes with his feet and then hooked his legs about Sabrin's, grinding their hips together.

Moving to kneel beside his partner, Sabrin pulled Tallas' shirt from his pants with excessive care. Trembling slightly, his hand slipped underneath to glide up the tender skin on Tallas' stomach, stopping momentarily to play with Tallas' bellybutton and causing a few ticklish giggles to escape the blonde. Reverentially Sabrin began to lift up the garment, his eyes silently requesting permission. Tallas nodded and smiled, raising his arms to allow the shirt to pass over his head. Feeling Sabrin's hesitant fingers at his waist, Tallas raised his hips and guided his partner in freeing his pants and boxers in a single move. The air was brisk on his exposed skin as Tallas stretched out sublimely on the narrow mattress, the distant starlight glazing his prone form in a silver sheen. He felt slightly vulnerable as he felt Sabrin's intense gaze.

"Beautiful," Sabrin whispered truthfully, pressing a number of kisses to the sinuous curve of Tallas' neck as his hands moved along the other man's flank, entranced by the heat rising off of Tallas' prone body like a furnace.

Tallas blushed in the darkness and then suggested innocently, "You're overdressed."

As if suddenly realizing their inequality in clothing, Sabrin pulled back sheepishly and disgarded his shirt in a somewhat clumsy motion, then fumbled self-consciously with his belt. Tallas giggled and impeded Sabrin's efforts more by rising up and tracing the solid muscles on Sabrin's torso with his tongue, somewhat more defined than his own and pulsing with his heartbeat. Finally, Sabrin managed to undo the clasp and fully revealed his body, missing Tallas' slight gasp. He shivered slightly and gingerly positioned himself straddling Tallas' thighs, using his arms for support as he settled his body on top of Tallas'. Immediately the blonde's limbs rose to encircle him.

"Part of me still can't believe this," Tallas whispered dazedly. He ran his hands over Sabrin's back and arms, taut from the effort of supporting his weight, and then over his well-built chest and gently rippled stomach. Years of secret observation had seen every detail committed to Tallas' memory, but his imagination scarsely compared to the living, breathing reality beneath his touch. "You're perfect," he said honestly.

"Yeah right," Sabrin replied in a self-conscious voice. His eyes flickered to the side for a moment, trepidation showing in them.

"You alright? We don't have to do anything now," Tallas noticed the hesitancy in Sabrin's actions.

"No, I want to. I...I've just never done this before," Sabrin colored slightly.

Tallas fought back the urge to smile at Sabrin's uncharacteristic insecurity, though he did raise an eyebrow in curiousity over Sabrin's admission. "Really? What about those dates you went out on? I thought--"

"Nothing ever happened," Sabrin frowned, "I had the chance but I never really wanted to so I didn't." Sabrin held his best friend close and gazed deeply into those wondrous eyes. "I couldn't figure out why I wasn't interested until now," he whispered, gently stroking his thumb across Tallas' lower lip. Remorse still lingered in his mind as he saw the trust so completely expressed by Tallas' flawless face, showing how quickly he had been forgiven even after what had happened. "You're the only one I ever wanted." Sabrin blinked in an effort to clear the moisture gathering in his eyes. "I love you Tal... I've wasted so much time--"

"No more guilt, okay?" Tallas' hand came to cup his cheek, brushing away the tears with his thumb. "We're here right now, aren't we? Please believe me when I say that I've never been happier than I am right now." Snaking his arm around Sabrin's nape, Tallas arched his head upwards for a deep kiss. Afterwards he pulled back a bit, holding close enough to see the tiny flecks of silver in the other man's azure blues. "Oh, and in case you didn't know -- you're all I ever wanted too," he whispered as if sharing an intimate secret.

In all his days, Sabrin had never before experienced joy as absolute and exquisite as when Tallas spoke those words. He was finding it difficult to breathe, as a thousand-watt grin lit up his face. In this precious moment his very being rejoiced, in confirming what part of him knew all along: that his place was and always has been by Tallas' side. As they laid in the darkness, their arms around each other, the missing part of Sabrin's soul silently slipped into place, never to be dislodged. Whispering a silent thanks to whatever cosmic force that had brought Tallas to him, Sabrin proceeded to show the beautiful man beneath him just how very limitless his love was.


Unable to hold back any longer, Sabrin cried out as his body spasmed in a single moment of excruciating ecstacy that ignited fireworks across his entire boby. At his release Tallas followed him, his hands tightening almost unbearably around his arms. Both exhausted, Tallas collapsed atop Sabrin's chest, panting heavily. When strength returned to him, the dark-haired man opened his eyes and gathered his trembling love in his arms, reaching for a tender kiss. Both of them laid quietly in the darkness for a few minutes, savoring the afterglow and simple sensation of closeness.

Eventually Tallas shifted halfway off to the side, raising himself on his elbows to look at his best friend. Sabrin's heart leapt at the pure, unrestrained love in his best friend's sated face, reaching out to gently run a hand though Tallas' damp hair. "I love you."

"I love you too," Tallas' eyes sparkled like gems; he closed in for another kiss before laying his head down on Sabrin's chest. "So uh...that was good, huh?" he giggled playfully.

"All I can say is, wow," Sabrin chuckled and squeezed his love affectionately, "What did I do to deserve you?" The feeling of his best friend resting in his arms...it felt so perfect, so right, that he thought his heart would burst from such raw emotion. His right hand slid lazily over Tallas' sleek back, damp with sweat. A part of him still refused to accept that the beautiful creature beside him was even real, much less his. Sabrin closed his eyes, luxuriating in Tallas' presence. I swear, I'll make myself worthy of him.

"What's 'deserving' got to do with anything?" Tallas softly kissed Sabrin's collarbone, though his voice was firm. "We're together. Nothing else matters."

They must have dozed off for some minutes, for the next thing Sabrin knew was the discomfort of Tallas separating their stuck-together bodies and sitting up. Groaning at the loss of contact, he opened one blue eye to ask why his love was moving away.

"We definitely need showers now," Tallas remarked, referring to their sorry state.

"You do at least. I know how dirty you are," Sabrin mumbled lazily, barely suppressing a grin. Immediately he yelped as Tallas dug his fingers mercilessly into his flank. Both of them tumbled back onto the bed laughing, as Sabrin grabbed Tallas' marauding hands by the wrist to keep them away from his vulnerable sides. "Okay! Okay! I'm sorry, I take it back!" Sabrin laughed, finding Tallas a slippery opponent and quite a bit stronger than he looked. The blonde also happened to know all his weak spots from past experience.

"That's better," Tallas grinned victoriously and headed into the bathroom. White light flooded the small room as the doors hissed open. As he waited for his eyes to adjust, he heard Sabrin approach behind him and then a pair of hands snaking around his waist.

"You mind some company?" Sabrin asked, nibbling Tallas' shoulder.

"I don't knowww..." Tallas drew out the mock reticence in his voice, "I'm not sure if I trust you around my innocence."

"Your 'innocence' wasn't complaining a little while ago," Sabrin growled into Tallas' neck, grinding their bodies together. "In fact, I don't think it's complaining now."

"Down boy," Tallas snickered and pushed Sabrin away, darting impishly into the shower cubicle. Sabrin's stomach flipped when Tallas' dark brown eyes flickered to him, catching the light as they did so. The love flowing from their unfathomable depths was almost tangible, filling and encompassing his being until he almost drowned in sheer ecstacy. Somehow, Sabrin willed his body to move and join the other man in the small space, switching on the water as he did so.

Tallas closed his eyes and moaned in relief as the torrent of warm water massaged away the strain from his muscles. In his opinion there were few things better than a hot shower at the conclusion of a trying day -- what he just did with Sabrin being one of them. The other man's arm bumped his own and he opened his eyes, regarding his lover through the sheen of hot water. His eyes travelled over the tattoo on the other man's shoulder, recalling the meticulous, intimate hours he'd spent working on it.

"Maybe I shouldn't have used so much green," Tallas lazily traced where the intricate patterns ended near the collarbone, "I think more blue'd bring out your eyes better."

"I think it looks perfect," Sabrin focused on the sensation of the blonde's fingertips.

"Like I trust your opinion on art," slowly Tallas grazed Sabrin's chest and neck. Damn, I can't believe that just this morning we were fighting for our lives near a black hole, and I hated my life 'cause I thought Sabe hated me. He had to chuckle and shake his head a bit at the inexplicable workings of fate.

"What's so funny?" Sabrin asked curiously.

"Just thinking," Tallas caught Sabrin's sapphire orbs, noticing how long droplets of water clung stubbornly to his long eyelashes before falling. "About how everything can just suddenly change. Man, it's been one hell of a ride since we left home."

"You got that right," Sabrin smiled and closed his arms around his love. He leaned forward and rested his forehead against Tallas', gazing seriously into the blonde's wide-open eyes. "I'm glad...I don't think I could've ever found the courage to get to this point, if it weren't for everything that's happened," he said quietly, "The things that showed me how much I needed you."

"In that case, thank god I found that fuckin' disc," Tallas murmured, meeting Sabrin's lips in a lingering kiss.

The cacophony of falling water was all that could be heard for next minutes, as each young man took his time investigating the other with errant kisses and casual caresses, under the guise of washing. Tallas was in paradise; his entire life he could only admire Sabrin's body in hidden glances and veiled touches, and now not only could he lavish his attention to his heart's content, he was invited to it. His hands ran all across Sabrin's slick skin, taking in the hard planes seguing eloquently into soft curves; strength and power held in check by tenderness and love. Tallas's hand paused above his partner's chest; his lips curved into a smile as he beheld the strong pulse beneath.

"It beats for you y'know," Sabrin said softly.

Eventually the water was switched off, and two much cleaner young men emerged into the steam-filled room. Reflexively Tallas swiped his palm across the mirror to clear some of the condensation, while Sabrin retrieved a large fluffy towel from the cabinet behind them and began drying the blonde's shoulders. As more of Tallas' beautiful skin was revealed by his gentle motions, Sabrin noticed a scattering of strange, faint streaks and blotches over Tallas' chest and back. "Did I do this?" he queried with puzzled concern as he gingerly touched a few of them with his fingertips.

"Hmm?" Tallas looked at the placement of Sabrin's hands in the mirror and felt an icy pang knife through his gut. The last persisting physical reminders of his rampant affair with Mark -- thus far hidden by clothing, grime, or darkness -- now stood like incriminating evidence of every torrid kiss and touch, inflicted to forget love. Guilt weighed heavily on Tallas' mind when he recalled the almost-violent fervor with which he attacked Mark's body, the hurt in Mark's eyes when he fled that hotel room, and how completely he had banished the memory in the following days.

"What is it? Was I too rough? Do they hurt? I'm sorry..." Sabrin asked more urgently when he interpreted Tallas' change in demeanor as an accusation. The pain in Tallas' heart quadrupled when he saw uncertainty and fear flicker across his lover's handsome face.

"Oh, no, no babe, it's not like that at all," Tallas cupped his lover's cheek, unconsciously uttering the endearment. "You didn't do anything wrong Sabe, really."

"Then what...?" Tallas could read Sabrin's confusion as the man continued to inspect the residual bruises, unable -- or perhaps unwilling -- to conclude another source for them.

Tallas fidgeted beneath Sabrin's worried gaze, his throat suddenly parched. He licked his lips nervously and looked at the floor; the sight of Sabrin's naked body was proving too much a distraction. Doubt and apprehension gripped his mind, and with them the sickening contemplation that Sabrin might have a change of heart if he knew what happened. No, he wouldn't do that, right? After all, it was just some dumb mistake and we weren't even together then, Tallas tried to assuage his paranoia with reason, I just have to explain what happened. I can't hide something like this from him. He wrapped a towel around his waist and took some calming breaths. "Um...Sabe, remember on Forseti, when I told you I loved you?" he began hesitantly.

Pain and regret flashed across Sabrin's face and he looked about to speak, but apparently thought better of it and only nodded.

"I was out all night..." Tallas' hands wrung the edge of the thick towel.

"I was so worried about you," the brown-haired man croaked, his face contorted in remembrance of those sleepless hours. "We all were; Dreamer couldn't find you 'cause you turned off your comlink."

"That was the idea..." Tallas said humorlessly. The sorrow in Sabrin's voice worsened the ache in Tallas' heart; he knew that if he saw it in his love's face he'd lose his composure. "Well, the thing is, that night I uh..." C'mon, just say it! "...I did something really stupid. I-I sorta spent it with somebody else."

"You mean 'spent', as in--" Sabrin's voice trembled.

"Yeah," Tallas confirmed heavily as he wrapped his arms around himself. His tongue felt like sandpaper. "In some cheap hotel. With Mark."

"Mark?" Sabrin's stunned lips wrapped around the word like it was in a foreign language.

Tallas nodded despondently, "After, well...what happened between us, I used the transponder Mark gave us and met up with him in a park. I was a total fuckin' wreck and Mark was being so...nice, even though he didn't know what was goin' on, and then one thing led to another and--" Tallas clenched his eyes shut for a moment to regain control. "Honest to god Sabe I never meant for it to happen!" He explained desperately, "I was just feeling so hurt and depressed and confused that I...I needed to make myself forget." His vision blurred as tears pooled in his eyes. "I'm so, so fuckin' sorry."

Tallas sagged against the sink in an agonized wait for a response, holding his hand over his teary eyes. He was on the verge of falling apart completely when he felt Sabrin's hands gently pull his away and guide him back to his sapphire gaze. His stomach clenching when he discerned hurt and disbelief amongst the turmoil on the other man's face.

"Do--" Sabrin drew out each word with monumental difficulty, "Do you still have feelings for him?"

Tallas' eyes widened as he was thrown off-balance by Sabrin's question. "No! No I never did!" Tallas denied vehemently. "Mark was just...this stupid fuckin' mistake I made 'cause I was so messed up over you. I'd do anything to take it back." He covered Sabrin's hands with his own and spoke with absolute conviction. "Sabe, you are the only person I've ever loved -- the only person I will ever love."

"Thank you," Sabrin said, and leaned in for a gentle kiss. Tallas' body shuddered with relief when their lips made contact; his arms flew up and crushed them together in a fierce embrace. Sabrin's grip was just as tight, as the two lovers reaffirmed their bond.

"Are we okay?" Tallas whispered against Sabrin's ear.

Sabrin pulled away a bit so they could look each other in the face, "So much more than okay." A twinge of hurt appeared but quickly vanished, "I can't say I'm exactly happy about it but...after what I did it's not like I have any right to be angry." His fingers delicately grazed the side of Tallas' face. "In any case it doesn't change how I feel about you."

"So...you forgive me?" Tallas ventured tentatively.

"There's nothing to forgive," Sabrin gave him a tender smile -- not his best, but enough that his love and sincerity shone through clearly. "You love me and we're together. That's all I need."

The slim blonde beamed at his declaration, his face virtually glowing with joy. Awash in the emotion that poured from within his best friend's soul, Sabrin felt all his remaining misgivings melt away as though nothing more than a bad dream. He wrapped his hand around the back of Tallas' head and pulled them together into an impassioned kiss. He felt the burning heat from Tallas' exposed skin as their bare torsos rubbed together, causing the most delicious friction. Tallas' mouth opened without reservation, welcoming in his tongue. The young man moaned appreciatively as they shared in each other's taste, almost causing Sabrin's knees to buckle. There were now no secrets between them.

Sabrin could have continued the kiss forever, were it not for his growling stomach reminding him that he hadn't eaten anything for the last twelve hours. "Sorry bud; I'd love to continue this but I'm starvin'," he said sheepishly.

"It's okay. Me too," Tallas grinned, "Let's hurry up in here; it's getting cold."

Quickly the two young men finished drying themselves and pulled on shorts, though more out of habit than modesty around each other. "I think I've still got some insta-meals around here somewhere," Tallas said as he rummaged through the his cabinet drawers. Sabrin leaned against the doorframe and looked affectionately at his love sifting through his typical disarray of assorted belongings. Not that Tallas was ever unclean, but he simply failed to see the point of defining places for everything.

"A-ha!" Sabrin reacted quickly to catch the two plastic-wrapped packages tossed at him in rapid succession. Tallas produced two pairs of chopsticks from his pen holder and, doing a quick survey of his bed, sat down cross-legged on the floor. Unwrapping the packages, Sabrin pulled the 'cook' tabs and set them on the carpet to wait while he sat beside his best friend.

"I'm not even gonna ask why you've got food in here," Sabrin mumbled jokingly as he peered over the open drawer at the bundled socks and crumpled T-shirts, plus a pad with some comic he didn't recognize.

"Shut up," Tallas knocked Sabrin's shoulder as he pushed the drawer shut. "You'd better stop criticizing me if you wanna get laid again."

"I'm getting laid again?" Sabrin crooked his eyebrow wickedly.

"All you guys are the same," Tallas rolled his eyes dramatically, "Only thinking about sex."

"You're a guy too, so is that a yes?" Sabrin added a hopeful lilt to his voice.

"What do you think?" Tallas flashed a teasing lust-filled grin and leaned in for a kiss, before adjusting his position to rest against Sabrin's right shoulder. His eyelids felt a little heavy as he relaxed into the euphoric tranquility of his lover's warm embrace. However, a pang of worry still tugged at his heart, and slowly he asked, "This is okay, right? Not going too fast?"

Sabrin sensed the worry in his lover's body and turned the blonde around to match their eyes. "I have to admit that I didn't think I'd get comfortable so fast but...this just feels right Tal." He smiled tremulously, recalling the past pain he'd put both of them through. "Please don't worry," Sabrin entreated, "I'm not going to run again...never again." He stroked Tallas' cheek with the gentlest of touches. "I belong with you."

Tallas blinked away a shimmering tear and leaned in for a soft kiss. "I've missed you...this," he said in a choked voice, burying his head against Sabrin's chest as if to convince himself of its solidity.

"Waiting for cheap food to cook itself in the middle of the night? Don't I know it," Sabrin spoke with mock fondness, trying to lighten the mood; the busy schedules of their Academy days often didn't allow for regularly-timed meals. Those were often also the nights when the two of them would crash on one or the other of their beds rather than go to their separate homes. Sabrin's heart swelled as he remembered waking up next to a sleeping Tallas, who would inevitably be curled up on his side and hopelessly entangled in the sheets.

"I meant having my best friend back you oaf," Tallas poked Sabrin's flank playfully. "or is that boyfriend?"

"Boyfriend?" Sabrin beamed and held his love close, "I like the sound of that."


When Tallas opened his eyes it was still dark, not that he expected otherwise as day and night on a starship were little more than artificial constructs -- daily variations in overhead lighting intended to reduce the psychological stress of long-term space travel. Filtered, subdued light poured into the room from the great ruby orb of Vajrahm, hanging dominantly outside the darkened window. The color diffused about the small space like smoke, adding its delicate highlights to the shadows painted across the walls and ceiling.

Memories of the previous night drifted through his slowly waking mind as he became aware of the robust body pressed against his. Their legs were intertwined and Sabrin's arm was draped over his chest, holding them together. The other man's heartbeat, strong and sure, resonated against his back. A blissful smile slowly reached across Tallas' face as his mind replayed each kiss and caress, and the magic of their joining. In all his years of life Tallas couldn't recall a time when he was more content.

Sabrin noticed his boyfriend was awake and greeted him with an airy kiss to the back of his neck. "Morning."

"It's morning?" Tallas squirmed around on the too-narrow bed so that they were facing each other. He thought he heard a light gasp and smiled to himself.

"0940 hours," Sabrin confirmed, gazing levelly at his companion with a lazy, sated smile, "We slept in." His hands marvelled at the softness of the Tallas's skin as it slid languidly over the firm back muscles. Everything about the blonde was so fluid and so effortlessly graceful, that Sabrin thought he must have been molded from clay by a divine sculpter. There didn't seem anything forced about Tallas' body; despite the rigorous physical training demanded by the Academy, it never looked to lose the balance and streamlining inherent to the natural human form. Sabrin doubted that Tallas ever noticed the envious looks directed his way from those around them; it was simply not something with which the young man was overly mindful.

His hand moved up to trace Tallas' face, his thumb brushing over the slightly parted lips. "You're beautiful," he whispered sincerely, eliciting a shy smile and a shade of pink in the blonde's cheeks.

"Flatterer. You're just trying to get in my pants," Tallas accused jokingly, ducking his head.

"You're not wearing pants," Sabrin grinned and rolled so that he was lying half over the slim blonde, their faces merely centimeters apart. Unfortunately it proved less elegant a movement than he hoped, as there wasn't enough space on the other side of the bed and he inadvertantly elbowed Tallas in several spots in his efforts to settle without sending both of them crashing to the floor. Sabrin cursed to himself and looked contritely at his boyfriend. "Damn it, why're Dreamer's beds all so fuckin' small?"

Tallas was shaking with silent laughter and rubbing the affected spots. "To 'discourage overt fraternization between co-inhabiting crew members'?" he quoted a line from what they thought to be a particularly amusing Imperial Fleet rulebook. He ran his hand through Sabrin's hair, from the temple curving around the ear, sending shivers down Sabrin's spine. "Maybe we could get a bigger one next time we're in port."

"I'm not looking forward to explaining that one to Dreamer," Sabrin said in a voice that reflected his sentiments.

Tallas snickered at Sabrin's small frown and ruffled his hair playfully. "I don't think there's such a thing as privacy when it comes to Dreamer. He is where we live after all. Plus," he added casually, "a tape of everything that happened last night's prolly sitting in his internal sensor logs right now."

"Hmm," Sabrin furrowed his eyebrows. He still wasn't quite comfortable with the idea of Dreamer watching his every move, although he knew it wasn't really like that. Tallas, on the other hand, seemed to have accepted it without much trouble and now bore a prurient expression on his face. "What?" Sabrin asked puzzledly.

"Y'think Dreamer'll let us have a copy?" Tallas wagged his eyebrows suggestively.

"Great, I'm in love with a pervert," Sabrin laughed and caught Tallas' lips in a delightfully long kiss, disregarding their morning breath. Touching Tallas was like a drug, charging his bloodstream and consuming him in delirious fire. No matter what level of closeness they achieved, Sabrin found himself always hungering for more. Tallas whimpered softly as Sabrin's kisses migrated down to the soft flesh of his throat. "I want you so bad," he breathed from Tallas' collarbone.

"Y'know," Tallas panted, "the Dream's damaged and Lirelle's injured. The responsible thing would be to go help Dreamer with the repairs."

Sabrin stopped his ministrations and saw the lights dancing in his love's bewitching eyes. "Yeah that would be the responsible thing," he agreed with a smirk, while his hand surreptitiously travelled down the length of Tallas' lithe body. He experienced a note of satisfaction when the man beneath him bucked sharply in surprised pleasure.

"I love you," he exhaled.

The universe itself was born anew in the brilliance of Tallas' smile. "I know..."

He had found his life.