And maybe I'm lonely,
That's all I'm qualified to be,
There's just one and only
One and only promise I can keep.
(I would do anything for love; Meat Loaf)
Suddenly, unwanted, a memory flashed through his mind. He remembered the time, when he had thought all of the others were dead. He had felt so guilty after that, for forgetting them, for leaving them back there on that hellish planet. But Cooper had told him not to feel guilty. He could still hear his friend's words echoing in his ears : "Ain't nobody forgetting anyone they served with."
'No, Coop,' he promised silently. 'I ain't forgetting them. We'll find them. Dead or alive, we will find them.'
Damn, he wished McQueen was here. McQueen, their CO, was probably the closest thing Cooper was ever going to have to a father. McQueen should have been here to help Cooper through these hard times, with Paul dead and Shane and Vanessa MIA somewhere. But McQueen had his own problems, his leg being gone below the knee and being sent to his ex-wife to recover. Maybe it was for the best that McQueen wasn't here, he thought, with all these reporters swarming the 'Toga.
"Dismissed!" The Commodore's voice thundered over the deck and through his thoughts. Within a few seconds, Nathan and Cooper were the only ones left on the deck.
Nathan put an arm around his friend's shoulders and gently guided him to their quarters. "C'me on, Coop", he said, then sighed. "Let's get some sleep."
Nathan ran as hard as he could, but knew he could never run fast enough. He would never catch up with the shadow that had taken away Kylen. He would never get her back. He fell to his knees and started sobbing, surrounded by nothing but darkness.
When Cooper woke up the next morning, Nathan was already up. "Hey," he smiled faintly, "You slept through reveille. Hope you weren't planning on having breakfast, 'cause we've got an appointment with some reporter in ten minutes."
Cooper groaned and got out of bed, dragging himself to the locker room. "Wasn't really feeling up to eating bouncing eggs right now anyway," he mumbled.
When they arrived at the officers' mess three minutes late, there was only one person sitting there, a blond-haired woman (Cooper estimated her to be in her mid-40's). She turned to them and asked : "Lieutenants West and Hawkes ?" They nodded and, holding out her hand, she introduced herself as Katie O'Neal and gestured to them to sit down on the two chairs across the table from her.
They sat down and the bartender put down two cups of hot 'coffee' in front of them. Cooper sighed inwardly; he knew exactly what was going to come now. She would ask them for juicy stories about the 58th, about their heroic actions, about their self-sacrifice. They were never interested in the stories Cooper wanted to tell them. Stories about friendship, about Paul's humor, about Shane's strength, about 'Pousse's technical talent. Nobody wanted to hear that kind of stories, they didn't sell.
"So", the woman, said, as she placed an ancient-looking cassette recorder in front of them, "Tell me about the 58th." That took them by surprise.
"What do you wanna hear ?", Cooper asked.
"Anything you wanna tell me," the woman said. And so they did. They told her about the time in training camp, about their first mission to Mars, about everything that had made their life with the 58th so great. They never really intended to tell her so much, but she seemed really interested, and Cooper hoped that maybe she could get a message to the world. Maybe she could tell the people back on earth that this war wasn't necessary, that innocent lives were being sacrificed for no good reason. That was why he told her about the mutiny that time in Blood Alley. He told her everything, even about his sister, something that even Nathan didn't know yet.
After they finished their story, Cooper asked her : "Can I ask you a question?"
"Well, the concept of an interview is that I ask you the questions, but well . . okay. Shoot."
"Why didn't you ask for the juicy stories? You know, stories that sell."
"I don't write 'stories that sell'. I write stories that teach people something. I want to show people what the world is really like. I write to kick butts. And I've found out that the best way to get answers from people is to let them tell their own story."
Suddenly a drunk marine kicked over their table and spitted Cooper in the face. "Hey tank! Whatcha doin' here, huh ? How come you didn't die with the rest of your squad? You chickened out ? Huh ?" That last word was emphasized with a push. Cooper was about to blow. From the corner of his eye, he could see Nathan was about to step in and keep the guy from getting himself killed. Then, to their surprise, the woman intervened.
"You got something against tanks?" she asked, calm on the outside, but her green eyes flaming with barely held-back anger.
"Yeah", the drunk taunted, "They're unnatural freaks with no feelings except for greed and lust. You deny that?"
"Oh, I don't deny that they're unnaturally created. But why blame them for that ? I mean, you don't blame something for being made, do you ? And you can't blame someone for being born. We are the ones that played God and created InVitro's. That means we are responsible for them, we should take care of them, or at least learn to live with them. And as for them not knowing feelings, I'm married to an InVitro and two of my children are InVitro's, too. I know what I'm talking about when I say that InVitro's do know feelings. You deny that?" The guy shrugged and looked away from her eyes. "Now go, before I report this to your CO."
Nathan and Cooper set the table back and Katie ordered three new coffees. When they were back as they were before they were so rudely interrupted, Cooper asked : "You really married to an InVitro ? And you have kids ?"
"U-huh. Sean and I have adopted 13 children."
"I guess I'm just idealistic. I wanted these kids to have a future. I've never been sure of a future, like the rest of my generation."
Nathan frowned : "But my parents . . ."
"Oh, but I'm not of your parent's generation. I've been in cryosleep for several decades.
I was born in 1980. When I grew up, the crisis was already building. My generation grew up, knowing that we would have to fight hard if we wanted a future. We had to work hard to get an education we might never get a chance to use. Jobs were a privilege back then, not a right. We weren't even sure we would live long enough to become unemployed instead. The two previous generations had really messed up the planet. Basically, we inherited a waste bucket instead of a treasure, like they had. If pollution, cancer or genetic diseases wouldn't kill us, there was always traffic. And Aids, of course . . ."
"Isn't that one of those vaccines you have to take when you're twelve?" Nathan remembered. "I recall having an Ebola-Aids vaccine in Junior High."
Katie smiled a sad little smile. "You really don't know how lucky you are, lieutenant. For you, Aids is just a vaccine, a four-letter word. For us, it was a synonym for death. Making love lost its innocence, its spontaneity. We were taught at a very early age to always use a condom, 'cause you never knew when Aids was going to strike.
And even if we would be able to build up a future, we could never be sure that our children would have the same luck, especially since the world was getting overcrowded as it was. I still believe that the Fertility plague was Nature's way to keep the human population to a bearable level.
We had nothing to pass on to our children but an overcrowded, polluted world that was never far away from a third World War.
But still, we didn't lose hope. We were ready to fight for our world. I always thought that we would be the generation to get rid of animal testing, to realize that every living being can be hurt and that we should respect them all. Boy, was I wrong.
But I didn't knew that in 1998, when I joined the Cryosleep Experiment. I thought I would wake up in a better world. And when I woke up over 40 years later, I thought I had. The world was almost united, poverty was gone, the Third World was a concept of the past, Aids, cancer, all the curses of my generation were cured, unemployment was gone. It was like waking up in Utopia. When I got my hands on some newspapers and stuff like that, I found out that it was more like 'Brave New World'. Poverty was just spread a little more, that other diseases had replaced the ones I knew. And then I found out about AI's and IV's. Man, I was angry. I mean, I thought we would learn to treat all living beings as equal, and we couldn't even treat all human beings as equal!
That's why I decided to become a reporter. Well, I always wanted to, but now I was really determined to become one, because I had something to say. So I went through college and I got a job with the International Times. I met Sean on my first assignment, a piece on the Johannesburg Mines."
Suddenly, they heard a voice behind them, saying : "Lieutenants West and Hawkes !"
West and Hawkes jumped up, Hawkes knocking down his chair in his haste, and snapped a salute at the Commodore.
"At ease, lieutenants." the Commodore said. "I have something to discuss with you if you're finished here."
"I think I've got all the information I need." , Katie said, picking up the cassette recorder and scooping a bag of photo equipment over her shoulder. "I've got to go now, anyway. My flight's leaving in fifteen minutes. Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure. Here's my address, look us up if you're ever in Ireland. There's always room for two more. Bye bye!" Then she was gone and the lieutenants turned their full attention to the Commodore.
"Gentlemen, I thought you'd like to know that we've located your missing squadmates. The Nineteenth will be going out to rescue them in thirty minutes. If you think you're up to it, you may join them."
They did, of course.
The next thing West remembered, he woke up in a hospital bed in the dead of the night with a hell of a headache. He blinked to allow his eyes to adjust to the dark and then noticed someone sitting besides his bed.
"Hey," Cooper said, "You awake?"
"Barely. What happened ?"
"Chig grenade hit us when we just got into the ISSCV. You were still outside. The others are all okay. Shane's got a bit of a concussion and 'Phousse's leg's broken, but they'll be all right."
He remembered now, the relief as they found Shane and Vanessa, the fear that the chigs would get to the girls before they would, the shock when the grenade hit them. He tried to sit up, but all of the sudden, the 'Toga seemed to swing around. If it hadn't been for Cooper, he would've fallen of the bed. His friend supported him until he recomposed himself.
The next morning, a nurse brought him a letter from Kylen. Eagerly to hear from his fiancée, he opened it and started to read. His eyes flew over the lines, growing wider and wider. Then, not believing what he saw, he read the letter again. And again.
He lowered the letter on the bed and stared into empty space for a few seconds. He couldn't believe it. She wanted to call off the wedding! She said her experiences as a POW and his as a marine had driven them apart. That they weren't the same anymore. That she wanted some time to think first, before she wanted to see him again. That- well, in short : that she didn't love him anymore and that she wanted to break up the engagement. He couldn't believe it.
The next week was hellish. Trying to get over the break-up with Kylen, getting questioned over and over again about the events on Anvil, recovering from his injuries, it was all just a little too much. Luckily, at the end of the week, the investigators decided they were not to blame and they let them off the hook. And, as if to make up for the bad times, the commodore granted them some time off. They would land on the Dublin Military Landing Base. They had four days of shore leave and 'Phousse and Shane planned on going to their families. Nathan and Cooper were going to stay with the journalist, Katie, who owned a big house near the sea. Cooper didn't have anywhere else to go and Nathan wasn't up to going home, where he could accidentally run into Kylen.
It took them about thirty minutes to drive from Dublin to Leash, a little fisherman's town. When the taxi pulled up before a large iron gate, Cooper couldn't help but feel a little impressed. The house was big and looked like it had been there for ten generations and would be there for at least ten more. Nathan paid the taxi driver and Cooper took their bags out of the trunk. Then he went down to the intercom at the gate and pressed the button.
"Hello ?" a tiny voice said.
"Um, we're Hawkes and West. Katie knows we're coming."
"Oh, yeah, you're the army guys. Okay, I'll tell her you're here."
A few minutes later, they saw her approaching the gate.
That evening, during dinner, Nathan looked around at everyone. Boy, there were a lot of people here!
He saw Cooper talking to a young InVitro girl with black hair and emerald green eyes. Rain, Nathan remembered, was given that name because of her changeable temper.
He saw a younger girl trying to get Cooper's attention. Luludja - "That's Rom-gipsy for flower," she had proudly told him- had white blond hair with a single black line and her eyes were so light blue they were almost white. Next to her was her twin brother Anders -which meant different in Katie's maternal language- who had black hair with a silver-white line and almost black eyes.
Trying to calm down Luludja was Gaetan, a young boy with black hair, brown eyes and Indian looks.
Then Nathan's eyes fell on a dark-looking kid -Hamlet was his name, Nathan remembered- who tried to get his younger brother to sit still. They looked a lot alike, had the same brown hair and eyes. Nathan couldn't help grinning when the youngest kid spilled his drink all over the table. He certainly hadn't stolen his name -Puck- he always did things like this and was always where he wasn't supposed to be.
On Puck's other side was Daniel, a green-eyed redhead and, like his biblical namesake, a true believer.
Daniel was talking to a boy named Robbie, named after Katie's brother, because he was a real nature kid and had the same green eyes and light blond hair.
Robbie and Daniel were teasing a girl named Jesse, as in Jesse James, a girl with blond hair and blue eyes and one hell of a temper.
Suddenly, another girl stood up for Jesse. It was one of the identical twin girls, Nathan noticed. Tanya, he thought, because Lina was, like Katie's friend she'd been named after, a calm girl. Her sister on the other hand, had a temper you could start a bushfire with, just like Sean's friend, her namesake. Yet the two girls looked exactly alike, the same gold-brow curls and bright blue eyes.
Sitting between the two girls was Tim, Jesse's twin brother, who had the same blue eyes as his sister, but black hair. He was going on and on about some strange story. He certainly earned his name. He was named after two of Katie's ex-classmates, real weird guys.
While he looked around, Nathan enjoyed the dinner he was eating. It was some vegetarian dish, cooked by the female AI. At first it had been really weird, seeing an AI who wasn't trying to kill them, but Kim -after a friend of Katie's- was so friendly and motherly, he soon just forgot she was a Silicate.
He knew there were three people missing : Katie's husband Sean, an InVitro girl called Guineveire because of her melancholy and a male AI called Billy -as in Billy the Kid. They were in New York for a meeting and they would return the next day.
The following evening, right before dinner, a car pulled up on the driveway. Everybody went outside to greet the three persons getting out of the car. Luludja immediately threw herself in Billy's arms. He laughed -a surprisingly human laugh, Nathan noticed- and swung her up in the air, then carried her inside, while she kept babbling, telling him everything that had happened while he had been gone. Katie hugged the other man getting out of the car, a broad-shouldered, red-haired, green-eyed In Vitro. At once all the other kids were around him, wanting to know everything about the meeting. Talking, they too disappeared inside.
Only now did the girl come out of the car. She looked nice, Nathan noticed, with hair so blond it was almost white and pale green eyes. Suddenly, he heard Cooper draw in a sharp breath.
"Jenny ?" The girl turned towards him, then froze. For a second, she didn't seem to be able to move anything but her eyes, which grew so big they almost fell out.
"Cooper ?" She hugged him, touching him as though she couldn't believe he was real : "Is this really you ? But how -? I mean, they told us you were dead. That you'd been 'defective' and that you'd been 'disposed of' and - God, Cooper, it's so good to see you again."
Cooper said nothing, but just hugged the girl. Nathan could see his friend was on the edge of tears.
'This is getting a familiar sight.' some strange part of his brain said, 'But I'm glad it's out of joy this time.'
After a little while, Daniel came out of the house, saying : "Hey! Mum asks what's keeping -" Then, noticing Cooper and the girl, " ... you. Guineveire ? You know him ?" The girl nodded.
"This is the Cooper I've told you about, Daniel. Remember ? The one that was supposed to be dead ?"
"Yeah, well, Coop never did do what he was supposed to.", Nathan teased.
"Yup, that's me," Cooper grinned, "Mister Disobedience."
Then they went inside, Cooper with his arm around Guineveire's shoulders, while she had an arm around his waist. Nathan felt a strange twitch of jealousy.
"So what's for dinner ?" he asked Daniel.
"Well, because the meeting went so well-and just because she's glad to have Dad back, Mum's made her Famous Spaghetti."
"All right!" Guinevere exclaimed. "Oh, Cooper, you're gonna love Mum's spaghetti. It's an old family recipe and she only makes it for special occasions."
Guinevere hadn't exaggerated. The spaghetti was delicious. Cooper ate so much of it, Nathan was afraid he would explode. It didn't stop him from talking, though. Guinevere wanted to know everything about Cooper's life since his escape from the facility and he was more than happy to tell them about his time in the Corps. Nathan noticed he stepped over his five years on the streets very quickly, but decided that was Coop's business.
Cooper was telling them how he had gotten his medal in the Battle of the Belt. After a slightly exaggerated version of what happened, he ended the story with : "Man, you should've seen McQueen's face after that."
"That wouldn't be Tyrus Cassius McQueen, would it?" Katie suddenly cut in.
"Um, yeah, he's our CO."
"And he didn't approve of your little stunt in the Battle of the Belt, did he?"
"No ma'm, he didn't."
"Well, I'll be ... . At least you had a reason!"
"Katie dear, what are you talking about ?" Sean asked.
"Well, in '48, I did my first big series of articles, remember ? The one about 'Minorities in the U.S. Army' ? Well, The last minority I handled were InVitro's. And I interviewed this young Lieutenant called T.C. McQueen."
Nathan was having troubles imagining McQueen as a young man.
"So after we end the interview, the guy asks me if I'd like to fly along in his plane. In spite of my vertigo, I accept and we lift of. Half an hour later, we're back on the ground, after doing several rolls, a few flips and one particularly hair-raising stunt involving him flying upside down over the landing area, only a few inches above the ground. And he had no reason whatsoever to do that."
Nathan grinned. Boy, McQueen better never again rub Cooper's nose in his Belt-stunt, or he was gonna be so in for it.
... Cooper and Nicky walked down the street to the pub, slowly, enjoying the twilight and each other's company. On the corner of the street, they stopped to kiss. Suddenly, a voice behind them said : "Look at this! The tank's a faggot too. Well, we know just what to do with your kind, don't we, boys ?" Cooper tried to run, but the biggest guy grabbed Nicky's arm . . .
... Cooper hardly heard the judge sentence him to a the Marines. What did it matter anyway? Nicky was dead. The only person who ever cared for him, who ever treated him as an actual human being, killed by some bigots. And they got away whit it! What did it all matter anyway ? His life was dark and cold again. . .
Cooper woke up in the middle of the night, his face covered with tears. At first he panicked. Where was he ? Why was everything so silent ? Why couldn't he hear the others breathing ? What happened ? Then, comprehension dawned on him. He was on leave in the house of that journalist-girl, Katie. Nathan was asleep in the room next door, that's why he couldn't hear him.
He took his watch and looked. 02:13. Great. Wide awake and at least five more hours to go until the others woke up. What was he supposed to do now ? He sighed silently, then got up. Quickly, he dressed and dragged a comb through his hair, thinking 'It's getting longer again. Wonder if I should get it cut.'
Then he went downstairs, sneaking so he wouldn't wake anyone up. His Marine and Black-Op training served him well, he hardly made any sound.
Suddenly, he noticed a light in the kitchen. Opening the door slowly, he saw Jenny -no, Guinevere was her name now.
"Hey" she greeted Cooper. "Couldn't sleep ?"
Cooper shook his head. "Bad dream." he said.
"You know, some dreams have a symbolical meaning. If you want to, I can look that up for you."
"Thanks, but this wasn't a symbolical dream. It was about something that really happened."
"Wanna talk about it ? I promise I won't tell anyone if you don't want me to."
Cooper looked at her, sitting on the kitchen sink, drinking something that smelled like a forest. Ah, well. He supposed he should talk about it anyway. It had been almost two year ago anyway, and the dreams were getting more frequent. And he had always trusted Guinevere
So he drew a chair closer to the sink and started talking. About Nicky. About how they had met at that last place he worked. About how he had become his friend, then his best friend, almost like the brother he'd never have, then more then just a friend. About those guys who had killed Nicky and tried to hang him. About how he had fought back. About the police. About the judge and his sentence. About the 58th. About Pags. About Shane. About 'Phousse. About Wang. About McQueen. About Nathan.
At this point in his story, his voice trailed off. He didn't want to tell about his feelings for Nathan. It was all good and well to talk about things that happened so long ago, but this was about now.
After a few moments of silence, Guinevere gave him a cup of the weird-smelling stuff.
"Blueberry-tea." she said, then got back onto the sink. She looked into her own cup for a few seconds and then asked : "So why do you think you dreamed about him now ?"
Cooper shrugged. "Dunno. Been dreaming this dream for some time now. But it's getting more and more frequent."
"And when did that start ?"
"Dunno." Cooper lied. He knew exactly when the dreams had started : after Nathan's brother Neil had died. Nathan's grief reminded him of his own and he had tried to help him with it. Of course, that brought back memories he had wanted to forget. And then, when he had gotten hooked on meanies and Nathan had been there for him, he had started to see Nathan as more than just a friend, or even a brother. That's when the dreams had gotten really intense.
Guinevere, knowing it was no use trying to talk to Cooper when he was in this mood, put away her now empty teacup and said : "I'm going to sleep now, unless you still wanna talk . . ."
"No, thanks. I'll be fine now. Thanks for listening to me. You just go to sleep now."
After a few more minutes of staring into nothing, Cooper got up and went back upstairs. Maybe now he'd be able to sleep.
When he entered his room, he saw that the door between his and Nathan's room was open. Frowning, he stuck his head around the corner to see what was going on. Nathan was lying on the bed, arms folded under his head.
When he saw Cooper, he said : "Hey. Where've you been ?"
"Downstairs. Couldn't sleep."
"Me neither. Figured it was because I couldn't hear you, so I opened the door. Then I saw you weren't there. Now I still can't sleep."
Cooper entered the room and sat down on the bed. "Nate, . . . would you mind if I slept here tonight ? I kinda had a bad dream and I'm afraid it'll return."
"Sure, Coop." Nathan held the cover up and Cooper took his pants off and crawled under them. Reassured by Nathan's presence close by, he fell asleep without being bothered by any more bad dreams.
Nathan on the other hand, did dream. It was the same dream he had been having for quite some time, the one where something shadowy had taken away Kylen and he couldn't catch it. Only now, it wasn't Kylen the shadow had taken. It was Cooper.
Nathan woke up the next morning, cradled in Coopers arms. Realizing this, he tried to sneak out of the embrace. He only just started moving, when Coop made a protesting sound and locked him firmer into his arms. That felt so good Nathan forgot just why he had wanted to get away in the first place. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feelings of safeness, of rightness, of homeness, of . . . something he couldn't quite name, but which felt very good.
Cooper woke up when Nathan tried to get away, but decided to pretend he was still asleep. He groaned and held Nathan tighter. Only with an enormous power of will he kept his eyes closed, not giving in to the temptation to open them and see how Nathan was reacting. He was overwhelmed with relief when Nathan didn't continue to struggle, but snuggled up against him. Slowly he opened his eyes. Bright blue eyes looked into hazel ones.
Nathan smiled and still made no attempt to get away, so Cooper decided to push his luck a little. Sending up a prayer to whatever God cared about InVitro's -or humans in general-, took his courage in both hands and leant forward a little. Electricity poured through him as his lips brushed against Nathan's.
Lightly, Cooper kissed his friend. Thoughts raced through his mind : 'Oh, man, this feels so good! But I'd better make the best of it, 'cause there's no way it's gonna happen again. Nathan isn't into boys.' And so he did. Gently, he slid his tongue over Nathan's lips, teasing them open. The lips opened almost immediately, inviting him in. He accepted the invitation and slipped his tongue in Nathan's mouth. For what seemed like hours, they kissed, tongues twirling around each other, teasing, dueling. Then, finally, reluctantly, they let go, coming up for air.
Cooper looked up at the ceiling, unable to look his friend in the face. ' Oh, man, I hope I haven't just screwed up the best friendship I ever had,' he thought. He closed his eyes and waited for Nathan to speak first. When he did, Coop couldn't believe his ears.
"Jesus, Coop. Where the hell have you been hiding that ?" Cooper opened his eyes and looked at him. Nathan smiled and stroked his friend's face, gently, tender. "If I had known you were into boys, I'd never have set you up with that prostitute. I'd have claimed you myself."
Confused, Cooper said : "I didn't think you were ..."
"Gay ? I'm not. I'm bisexual. And as for not telling, I was engaged to Kylen, so there didn't seem to be any reason. Besides, you didn't say anything yourself. And after the way you went after Shane, I thought, well, ... . So you're bisexual, too ?"
Cooper shook his head. "No, I'm not into girls. I went after Shane 'cause I didn't want anyone to even suspect I was gay."
"Why ? I mean, it's not like any of us would've cared. Well, I would've cared, but, ... well, you know what I mean."
"I know that now, but back then I didn't. And after what happened before, I ... ."His voice trailed off.
"What happened before, Coop ?" Nathan asked softly.
"Well, at the last job I had, on a construction site, I met this guy named Nicky. He was gay too and we kinda started dating and everything, you know. And then one night we ran into some guys who also worked with us. They'd always picked on me 'cause I was a tank and everything, but when they saw I was gay, they decided to teach us a lesson. I got in trouble with the police, but I survived. Nicky didn't. The guys who did it never got punished for it." Suddenly, he noticed tears were running down his face.
"Oh, god, Cooper." Nathan held Cooper tightly and rubbed his back, while Cooper sobbed into his chest, letting out all the pain and loss and anger. Silently, Nathan cursed the men who could do such a thing to an innocent guy like Cooper, and the system that let them get away with it. When Cooper finally calmed down, his eyes and nose were red, but his eyes were shining a little again. Nathan wiped away his friend's tears with a tip of the blanket, then smiled at Cooper.
"Feeling better ?" Cooper nodded. "Then maybe we should be getting ready for breakfast." He kissed his friend one more time and said : "You know, Coop, I wish you would've done this last night. Then we would've had the time to take this a little further."
Cooper laughed and lifted himself off of the bed. Pulling Nathan up to stand with him, he grinned and said : "We could always save water and shower together."
Nathan returned the grin, but shook his head and said : "As tempting as it is, Coop, no. I want our first time together to be special."
Cooper smiled and whispered : "I knew you'd say that." Then, he leant forward for another kiss.
Several minutes later, Nathan broke loose, gasping for air. When he had caught his breath, he said : "Cooper, remind me to ask Katie if there's a key to this room."
"Why ?" Cooper asked, placing his hands on either side of Nathan's head against the wall, smiling wickedly, "You want to keep me out or something?"
'Two can play this game,' Nathan thought. "No, I want to keep you in," his smile even more wicked than Cooper's. "Besides, can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if one of the kids walked in on us ?"
Cooper considered that and then agreed. He kissed Nathan one last time before they let go of each other.
Nathan got to shower first, while Cooper went into his own room to gather some clothes. Forty minutes later, they were eating breakfast, trying to act normally. They didn't do a very good job at it.
After breakfast, The kids convinced Cooper that swimming could actually be fun and they all went to the piece of beach that was Katie's and Sean's. Katie said she'd come over after a few hours, but that she had to finish her article first. Nathan decided to take this opportunity to ask Katie about the key. Just as they got outside, he said : "Oh, shit! I forgot my towel in my room! You guys go ahead, I'll catch up whit you." And before anyone could protest, he rushed back inside.
Standing before the door to Katie's working room, he hesitated for a moment. Then he gathered all his courage and knocked on the door. When a voice said : "Come in.", he obeyed. Katie turned around and said : Nathan, I thought you were going to the beach with the others. Anything wrong ?"
"No, not exactly. I was just wondering, ... is there a key to my room ?"
"Why would you want a key ? Afraid someone'll steal something ?" Katie teased.
"No, it's just ... I like some privacy."
"You mean you and Cooper want some privacy." When Nathan turned bright red, she laughed : "Nathan, relax! It's not like it's something illegal or anything. And besides, even an idiot could see that you two are made for each other, although I wouldn't use that expression in front of Cooper." In spite of himself, Nathan laughed. "And to answer your question : the key is in the drawer of the night stand. And Nathan," she continued, suddenly very serious, "You'll also find some condoms there. Please use them. I know I'm probably being paranoid, but it's ingrained in my education and I guess old habits die hard. You never know if the HIV isn't mutating into some resistant race." He nodded and she said : "Well, go on, then. The others'll wonder what's keeping you."
Meanwhile, Cooper and Guinevere had trailed behind on the others.
"So, Coop, what's up with you and Nathan?" she asked, looking suspiciously innocent.
"What do you mean ?" Two could play that game.
"I mean, mister Hawkes, are things serious between you two ?" Cooper looked as if she'd said something in chigese. "Aw, come on, Cooper, don't look at me like that. I know you, remember ?"
He sighed and gave in. "Nothing actually happened, yet. 'Course, we hadn't ever even kissed until this morning, so I ain't complainin'. And yes, this is very serious, at least where I'm concerned."
Suddenly, they heard a voice behind them, shouting : Hey, you two, wait up!"
"Hi Nathan. If you don't mind, I think I'll catch up with the others and give you boys some privacy. Have fun, don't forget to come to the beach eventually and don't do anything I would do." With that, she ran off, leaving Cooper to explain her behavior to a bewildered Nathan.
After dinner that night, Nathan decided it was about time he and Coop did something to earn the hospitality they'd enjoyed. "Come on, Coop," he said, getting up, "Let's help whit the dishes."
Much to his surprise, There were many volunteers to do the same. He soon found out why. Eventually, they decided that Tanya, Jesse and Daniel would help them.
Tanya suddenly started to sing : "Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase, ..."
Immediately, the others joined her : "Hakuna Matata, ain't no fashion phrase, ..." Nathan recognized the song from one of the 20th-century Disney musicals and started to sing along. He noticed Cooper didn't sing along and said : "Hey, Cooper, come on, man. Sing along. It's easy, just pick up the words from the chorus and sing along."
"Um-I don't know how."
That caught everyone's attention. "What ?!?" "You can't sing ?" "Why ?"
"Never done it before."
They were stunned. Then, Daniel said : "Well let's do something about it then. See, Coop it's really very easy" He scraped his throat and started : "When you read you start with A-B-C"
Then Tanya continued : "When you sing you start with Do-Re-Mi"
Jesse's turn now : "Do-Re-Mi"
"The first three notes just happen to be ..."
"Do, a deer, a female deer ..."
And so they worked their way up from do to si and back to do, starting all over again. It wasn't long before Cooper picked up the words and began to sing with them, shyly at first, then louder, as his confidence grew. Nathan found that his friend really had a nice voice. He made a mental note to ask Vanessa if she thought Cooper could join the choir she was in. He seemed to like singing and it would be something he would be good in, apart from killing and fighting.
Soon they started to sing other songs, easy ones at first, like "No woman, no cry" or "All you need is love". Then Coopers' In Vitro talent of learning quickly kicked in and by the time all the dishes were clean, dry and put back where they were supposed to be, they were singing "Rawhide". The song ended with a loud "Yee-hah!", leaving them all out of breath.
"Boy, that was fun!" Cooper said. "You guys always sing doin' the dishes ?"
"Yeah. We sing a lot. Guess that's Mum's influence. She always says : 'A day without music is a day not lived.'"
"Oh, great!" Cooper commented dryly, "That makes me another six years younger. That means I'm only one and a half now." They all laughed at that.
"Hey Coop, you gonna shower ?"
"Guess so, why ?"
"I thought I might take a bath, but if you want to take one, I'll just shower"
"What's that ?"
"You don't know what a bath is ? Boy, Cooper, you have no idea what you've been missing. You just go get undressed and I'll prepare you a bath."
When Cooper entered the bathroom, he stared at the large tub of water. "I'm supposed to get in there ?"
"That's the whole concept of a bath, Cooper. Why ? You don't like it ?"
"Well, it's just that ... Being surrounded by water always reminds me of being in the tank. I don't really like it."
"Well, ..." A wide grin cracked open Nathan's face. "There is room enough for two in the tub. Mind if I join you ?"
"Not at all."
Cooper sighed happily and leant back against Nathan's chest. This was nothing like being in the tank. The water was so hot he could only just stand it and it smelled nice. And of course, in the tank, he hadn't had company. He smiled and moaned a little when Nathan started to wash his hair, massaging the shampoo into his hair, teasing his navel. "No fair," he mumbeled, "Sexually harassing an innocent guy like that. Just wait until I get my hands on you."
Nathan laughed softly. "Promises, promises."
"Yeah, well, I always keep up my promises. Just wait until I feel like moving and I'll show you how many ways I know to make a human being die of pleasure with my bare hands."
"Sure, Coop. But right now, I guess you'll just have to submit to me."
Not that he really minded.
After half an hour, the water was getting cold and the got out. It took them a lot longer then normally to dry themselves, because they didn't want to let go of each other. When they were finally out in the corridor, Nathan whispered : "Your room or mine ?"
Cooper smiled, kissed him and said : "Our room."
Nathan didn't know how, but they ended up in Cooper's room. He even managed to let go of Cooper long enough to open the drawer of the night stand, get the key out and lock the door. Then he returned his full attention to Cooper.
Slowly, he let his hands and lips explore every part of Cooper's boy he could get them on. Starting with Cooper's mouth, he worked his way down his throat. Then he started kissing and licking Cooper's broad chest, his smooth abdomen, moving down to his thighs, ignoring Cooper's rock hard erection. After going all the way down to his knees, Nathan returned to Cooper's lips, capturing them in a long, hot, hungry kiss.
Breaking free, Cooper breathed : "Tease. My turn now." And he returned the sweet torture, his experienced hands, lips and tongue covering every inch of Nathan's body, leaving him hard and more than ready.
"Cooper, please," Nathan pleaded, his eyes begging Cooper to do what they both wanted. They kissed once more and then, nibbling Nathan's earlobe in between, Cooper asked : "Lube ?"
Cooper stretched out one of his hands to fumble around in the drawer and came up with a lubed condom. Questioningly, he held it up to Nathan, who nodded and said : "I promised Katie."
Cooper kissed him, which Nathan took as 'affirmative' and started to unwrap the condom, but Nathan took it out of his hands, shook his head and said : "Uh-uh. I get to do that"
He turned Cooper on his back and straddled him, then opened the condom. Slowly, teasing, he applied the condom, while Cooper kept stroking him everywhere. When he was done, Cooper reversed their positions and his hands wandered to Nathan's butt. He put in a finger, slowly moving it in and out. Then he added a second and a third. By that time, Nathan was already so excited he had forgotten the war, Kylen, his parents, Neil, even his own name, everything except Cooper and what he was doing to his body.
Then, finally, Cooper entered his body, kissing him, whispering terms of endearment in his ear, loving him.
It wasn't long before Nathan came all over their chests and abdomens, his spasms triggering Coopers orgasm.
Minutes later, they lay together, in each others arms, gently stroking each other. A few minutes later, they were both deep asleep.
To Be Continued ...