Title: Balance of Victories and Defeats|
Author: Juxian Tang
Fandom: Space: Above and Beyond
Pairing/warning: Hawkes/West, m/m sex
Sequel/series: yes; the sequel to Wreck or Die
Archive: yes - just archive both stories please. They go together.
Disclaimer: The characters and universe of Space: Above and Beyond are legal
property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century
Fox Television and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement
Thanks: Great thanks to Eggblue for beta, comments, support - and for being
there :-) Thanks to Quinn for kindest response. Thank you both for putting up
with me while I was writing these stories!
Summary: After getting back to the Saratoga Hawkes and West have to deal with
some things from the recent past.
BALANCE OF VICTORIES AND DEFEATS
They got him from behind. The hands clutched his arms, twisting them back so
viciously that he fell on his knees. He was stronger than any one of them - but
there were too many of them and as soon as he shook off some, others had him. A
hand grabbed his hair, bending his head down - as other rough hands parted the
hair on his nape. The leering, triumphal voices let him know that they found
what they looked for.
A kick under his ribs broke two of them and breathing became sharp pain
immediately. Blood, hot and wet and coppery, rose to his throat and he spat it
quickly. They hit him, on his head and back, stunning him, making him slow and
awkward in his resistance.
He tried to get up - but there were so many blows that he kept falling on
his knees, blood from the gash on his forehead coloring everything red. A heavy
boot under his jaw threw him flat on the ground - and then they were over him,
pinning him down, the graze of the harsh surface against the sensitive flesh on
his nape agonizing. His arms and legs were stretched apart as the man leaned
"You trash, it is the only thing you are good for!"
His cheap clothes were ripped easily and the heavy body settled between his
legs. He thrashed in pain and violation, biting his lips to blood - and when
the man closed the face to his, he suddenly saw in horror instead of blue
blood-shot eyes of a junkie the white-on-white blank orbs of a Silicate.
He shook himself into awareness, dispelling the picture, focusing his eyes
again on the underside of the bunk above him. It was not the first time when
the images that rolled through his mind came out of his control. Dreaming as
natural born knew it always mystified him. Maybe, this was the closest to
dreams he could know.
The bedroom was quiet. He shifted carefully, casting a glance around to make
sure he didn't wake anyone. The others slept, the various sounds and
unconscious motions they made in sleep weirdly comforting.
The bunk in the next row was crumpled and empty - and he could see the line
of light under the shower room's door. As always.
Every night - for three weeks since Cooper returned to his squadron. Maybe,
for all two months since they escaped from the AI prison on Atreius.
They were lucky. To start with, if the planet had not been of such
technologic interest, after the disastrous landing it would have been ordered
to be left - or bombed down in the best case. It was believed he and West were
dead - and the most amusing thing was that it was their last transmission that
really saved them. Damphousse was on the verge of insubordination insisting to
take a carrier and try to get them out - and eventually McQueen gave okay.
They had been sent directly to the hospital - Cooper didn't remember it
well. What he remembered was how he begged them when they put him on the
surgical table not to take off his arm. He was not sure they would listen to
him, he even didn't know if he managed to say anything at all. But when he came
round, his arm was still attached. A worthless, awkward appendage that seemed
to be of no use all the same.
He was surprised with his sudden despair at the thought that he wouldn't be
able to return to Marines. There was time when all he wanted was to be
It was McQueen who brought a deck of cards one day, tossed them on the bed -
and while Cooper gathered them one-handedly, said calmly, looking somewhere
over his head:
"Sort them with your left hand - remember as you did it? Then we can
talk about your return."
He tried to - tried again and again. Angry at everything, forcing his clumsy
fingers into obedience - through pain, through the devastating thoughts of
uselessness of his attempts. And he did it. He came back.
The 58th threw a party to greet him; it was when he saw West for
the first time in over a month - and was shocked with the strange, almost wild
look in Nathan's eyes, the intensity of his stare close to despair. He was
surprised with his own violent, overwhelming reaction to it, too.
At the hospital there was enough time for thinking - enough time for his
memory to turn over and over the moment in the carrier when the impossible
closeness he felt with Nathan changed abruptly with the cold look of mistrust
and rejection. He had kept the secret as West demanded him to - it was not
difficult and their stories must have linked quite well since nobody asked
Did he hope it would be enough? It was not.
It didn't take time at all to realize that West apparently tried to stay
away from him as much as he could. Quietly amiable when someone else was around
- maybe, more amiable than he had ever been - and string-like tense when they
got too close accidentally - escaping the room if there was a threat to be left
alone with Cooper.
Shit. He understood it all too well. An ironic thing was that he didn't have
a difficulty to interpret it, unlike in so many other situations. Maybe, his
new sensitivity was due to the amount of time he spent thinking - or to the
remnants of that closeness he felt once and for such a short time - or to his
own experience he never liked to recall. But he understood. And this
understanding didn't make him happy at all.
What do you do about something you can't change? You walk over it and forget
Only it didn't work too well, did it?
West made the best imitation of stability he could make. Watching carefully
the faces of others, putting on a smile when they did. Taking part in the games
- even in the ones he had not ever been interested before. And carrying out his
duties with excessive, almost flippant courage that made Vansen yell at him
later asking whether he thinks he's the only hard-boiled man there.
And rushing out of the table after a few token spoons of food because he
might not get in time to the toilet to throw up. And getting up at night to go
to the shower room and stay there for hours, in absolute silence, alone.
Cooper was tired of this. Tired of watching West by day - tired of asking
himself why he should have seen all this with such clarity when no one else
seemed to notice. And tired of the nights when his memory or his imagination
chose to take this grotesque, unbelievable form.
He couldn't let it go on. Life was hard enough without him watching how West
turned in tighter every day - and wondering when he would snap at last -
because it would happen eventually, Cooper didn't doubt.
He didn't know what he was going to do - didn't know if he was going to do
something, after all. It was almost a surprise for him when he just got up
soundlessly and walked to the shower room between the bunks.
The floor was warm and smooth under his bare feet. He pushed the door and
was amazed how quietly, noiselessly it opened. And it was probably what allowed
him a split second of seeing the reflection of West's desperate face in the
mirror in front of him. West was doing nothing. Just standing and looking -
maybe, even not seeing. But he must have felt Cooper's presence behind - and
turned back abruptly - almost lashing like a scared animal - backing into the
The light in the showers was uncompromising, too sharp, showing with
appalling clarity the huge shadows under West's eyes. How thin he is, Cooper
thought with astonishment - well, no wonder, taking into account his recent
He knew he needed to say something - wasn't it strange how they both didn't
say a word - just looking at each other, standing in the opposite ends of the
bright lit shower room. The silence was accumulating, becoming something
palpable. Cooper drew in a breath, trying to start - but it was too late.
"Feeling like showering, Hawkes?" it was West who started talking
- a lame attempt in sarcasm and Cooper knew better than to appreciate it. But
the thing was he could find nothing else to say, to do. He didn't answer at all
- and after a pause West started again - his voice so tight that it sounded
almost metal-like monotonous. "Then I would appreciate you to leave me
Oh sure. That was what he would certainly appreciate. Every minute of those
twenty one day. As if Cooper was the only thing on his way of forgetting, as if
without him everything would go all right again and at once. As if.
"Why?" he asked.
A stupid question. A patent tank-like blatant question - but he asked it all
the same and didn't look away when West stared at him with almost hatred
seeping from his eyes. So, answer that if you can, he thought with a whirl of
Because you can't stand the thought that I saw you weak and helpless?
Because every time when you look at me, you are reminded about it - about being
used? Because you would feel better if I drowned there, on Atreius? You didn't
have to reach your hand for me, then, it would solve all the problems.
"Because I failed," West said almost lightly - and for a moment
Cooper thought how disjointed this answer was - and yet he understood its
meaning perfectly. These words reminded him about something - who else said
exactly the same? Then he recalled. "I let it happen. I couldn't defend
And even dozens of Chigs you kill and another Montgomery Star won't make you
forget it as long as you look in my face.
"Oh come on," Cooper frowned helplessly; he had the answers - the
arguments - only somehow, despite their obviousness, he knew that it would make
no difference for West. "I couldn't defend myself, too! I don't remember
that I did something to make them leave my arm alone!"
"It's different," Nathan's smile was almost haughty - 'you stupid
tank' smile if there was no this fey in his eyes. "There is nothing for
you to be ashamed of."
Really? What do you know? But telling him wouldn't change anything.
Alexander would be satisfied, Cooper thought grimly.
"I think I failed twice," Nathan added almost conversationally.
"Once then - and now when I can't leave it behind."
"Don't, Cooper..." he heard again the desperate, anguished
voice - in the cell as he clung in fever to the warmth of Nathan's body.
He didn't know what constructions West built in his mind since then - what
ideas - but he knew he clung to them now desperately - because no matter how
shaky they - if he let go one thing, everything would fall down.
Well, everything would fall down in any case.
Cooper didn't say anything. He reached his arms and put them around West's
shoulders. His body was like a taut string - and incredibly, devastatingly
thin; smooth skin so warm to Cooper's touch. He tried to convince himself that
his hold was not oppressive, that all Nathan needed was to move away. And if he
didn't, if he stayed...
It was not like Cooper held him there, in the cell on Atreius - and yet he
thought about it now - how they both must have needed each other then and how
little they could give.
Then he breathed in a full chest of West's smell and it was his mistake -
because something told him that he could do what he wanted - not in the right
way but the instinctive way - as he found West's mouth with his lips and
pressed his tongue into it.
He didn't know how much he wanted it before he actually did it. The
sensation was so overwhelming that he felt the little hair on his nape stand
up. The warm wetness of West's mouth was absorbing, the soft core opening to
him readily, letting him in as he lapped his tongue against West's.
His hands locked on Nathan's face automatically, holding it, not letting him
go - as he felt he was engulfed into this kiss. There seemed to be so little
else that could matter.
Then he was pushed away abruptly - stumbled, nearly sitting down on his ass
- as West looked at him fiercely, the intensity of his stare scalding but the
expression incomprehensible. Cooper wanted to say something - and couldn't -
and it was too late and he never had the right words, anyway.
"You are mistaken," Nathan said and it was like a spit and Cooper
didn't know what it had to mean. Mistaken in what? In thinking that he could
want to accept him? In thinking that Cooper could give him something? In hoping
that West would forget about him being an In-Vitro?
But whatever it meant, he knew he was wrong about it.
The door didn't slam - it was adjusted to slide shut soundlessly - and left
alone in the empty room he suddenly felt so sick that it doubled him over, even
though nothing came off, even dry heaves.
Were they both mistaken? He knelt on the tiled floor for he didn't know how
long, cradling his left arm in the crook of the right one. It was very quiet
around when he returned to the bedroom, going past West's bunk - with him
neatly on his place, sleeping or pretending to sleep. He surely was good at
Next morning, returning from the inspection piloting, West delayed too long,
checking something more. Or, maybe, just wanting unconsciously to stay away
from others, Cooper thought. In the earphones he heard Shane's voice, trembling
with fury, demanding West to go back.
"You'll get under the magnetic surge!"
And then West's answer came, suddenly very soft and kind of baffled:
"Shit... Seems like I've already there."
Cooper looked helplessly at the disoriented Hammer so far away from others -
and knew it was all over - and couldn't believe it. He had already lost one
friend; he couldn't lose Nathan now. And not like that. It didn't make sense.
To die just by accident. Not for West. Not for anybody.
Then there was McQueen's cold, deadly tranquil voice, telling them to get
back on the ship immediately - and Cooper protested... he had to try - he might
have tried to guide Nathan's jet visually...
"I don't have time to argue with you," was all McQueen said and
then Cooper heard him talk to West, his instructions precise and unfailing.
They were back on the Saratoga and watched intently for next half an hour
how the disabled Hammerhead approached the ship excruciatingly slowly. At last
its cabin clicked into the hatch and West staggered out, paper-white and
looking sick - and then McQueen stepped to him and almost hissed through his
"In my room, Lieutenant. Now."
* * *
He would kick him out, Cooper thought sullenly, sloshing his fork through
mashed potatoes. The mess was buzzing with the morning event, shushing abruptly
when West appeared at the door. He didn't seem to notice it, however, his eyes
like tinted glass and the same expressionless. He took a plate of cereals that
nobody in his sane mind ever ate and didn't even went through the usual routine
of spooning the food in his mouth before getting up and leaving.
He looks like a trapped animal, Cooper felt something shrink inside him. He
wanted to do something - and saw Phousse get up and make a few steps after West
- and him look at her as if she was a stranger and probably a dangerous one.
She stopped abruptly, stepping from foot to foot a few times, and returned to
If McQueen threw him out, he would be packing his things now, Cooper
thought. He would be leaving... everything over... his chances to find Kylen...
He threw the fork angrily and walked to McQueen's room even before he let
his mind register what he was going to do.
Oh yes, McQueen could be frightening when he found a reason. Well, the truth
was that Cooper knew it was fair - had known it already for a while, that the
word he had given to West was a mistake. And he knew also that McQueen could do
much worse - which he deserved, of course.
He stood and listened, thinking for some reason about Nathan who must have
stood here just a little while ago - unrelenting in anything that could
mitigate his sentence. He knew he should have been ready that West would hate
him now. But it was what he would have to live with. It didn't matter - if
telling McQueen would make him change his decision.
"You think we are playing games here? Then what do you think the stakes
in this game are? Your own life. Life of your friends. Can you imagine how much
something like this can affect our strength? Do you think it was for nothing we
dragged you and West through that de-briefing when you returned?"
He felt a bit dizzy. McQueen's anger was painful to endure - he always tried
hard not to cause it, maybe, most things he did were to make McQueen be proud
of him, not angry.
"Information like this, Lieutenant - if you need me to tell you about
it - anything that touches a soldier personally - it can be a weapon against
him, a chance for blackmail. Were you ready to endanger everyone out of the
false loyalty? In fact, you already endangered everyone."
He will kick out West and he will kick out me, he thought forlornly, bending
his head lower. Right. Should have thought about it before. But all he had
thought about was Nathan and the raw patch in Cooper's heart that the closeness
with him left.
"Dismissed, Hawkes," McQueen's voice was tired and disheartened -
and Cooper wanted to ask what now - but he didn't dare. Not because he was
afraid of McQueen. He was afraid to hear the final word - already.
He walked back to the recreation room, preparing himself to whatever had to
happen, the time dragging incredibly slowly. He knew McQueen called for West
again - so, maybe, there was some hope, after all.
He must have wanted to believe in it too much that he allowed himself to be
deceived. He looked at West who came up to him - with a frozen smile because
there were Shane's eyes on him - but Cooper preferred not to notice it. Even
when he looked in the dark eyes and there was a wall of blackness behind them,
no expression at all - he didn't notice.
"I need to move that box in the machine room. How about giving me a
Did he mean it? Cooper was almost unable to believe the luck.
Stupid. He didn't guess anything even while he followed West in silence
along the empty corridor. He kept thinking only how he could start the
conversation neatly to ask about McQueen's decision. Then they were in the
machine room - empty, just with the reserve lights flickering dully. West
stopped and turned to him - and he didn't find anything better than to ask:
"So, what is this thing you wanted to move?"
The blow was unexpected. The red sparkles exploded in front of his eyes as
West's fist smashed in his nose - and at once the huge stunning heat spread
behind his eyes.
"You shit!" he couldn't believe it was Nathan's voice - like a
hiss, almost without sound at all. "Couldn't keep your mouth shut?"
He tasted the warm salt of blood in his mouth, pressing his arms along his
sides as he looked at Nathan who took the attacking pose. He dodged from
another blow instinctively, backing away towards the cold humming cubes of the
mechanisms. West's face was white, the nostrils flaring, with the dark eyes
seeping disgust that more saddened than frightened him.
"I did it for you," as Nathan lifted his hand again, Cooper caught
his wrist - astonished with the raw, furious strength of it beating in his
grip. West's other fist caught his jaw - not bad enough to crush the teeth but
still bad; he seized it, too. He knew it wouldn't be so easy to cope with
Nathan - and saw West's eyes blur with tears, he must have not seen anything.
"Don't do me favors any more, okay?" there was something harsh in
West's voice and desperate in his resistance. Cooper let him go, pushing him
away to let himself a bit of slack. He didn't want to fight; he was afraid his
body could react to the attack as it was supposed to. "Hypocrite! Still
hope to put me down - that's why you did it? As if it would do any good to
I didn't do it, don't you see it? It was them who did it - why do you blame
me, not them?
"Did you tell everybody about it? How about group therapy? Do they
Ridiculous... yet he knew for Nathan it was not. Cooper recalled the wild
look he had given Phousse today. And West still thought he could help himself?
"You tank asshole!"
It was not the words - he knew what they were supposed to do - to push his
buttons, to make him go off - but when West plunged with his fists on him
again, he couldn't stop himself.
With strange, distant sadness he thought that nothing worked - as his knuckles
split against West's teeth. His body knew too well the mechanics of fighting;
once he had defeated five of them when they had got to him; West was no match
He regained control only when they both were on the floor. West was under
him, with his wrists in a tight grip at the sides of his head, his body bucking
under Cooper's weight. The too bright eyes looked into his as the drops of
blood dripped from Cooper's nose on West's face. Was it hatred? Did these eyes
look the same when he held this face last night in his palms? Now the way he
held him was so different.
He was suddenly very aware of the heat emanating from Nathan's body under
his, of the place where their bottom bellies connected. It scared him how
primary his reaction was. The fight - the victory always affected him this way.
He couldn't believe how close he was to taking what he won - the instinct, they
put it in In-Vitros not putting in the inhibitors that would make him stay away
He wanted to let Nathan go - now, when it was not too late yet - and at that
moment West's body arched under him convulsively - and he spat blood and saliva
in Cooper's face.
Ooh you!.. At that moment he was pretty close to killing West - it was as
much as it took. He backhanded West, again and again, surprised how warm and
soft Nathan's face felt under his hand. And he knew what he would do next -
would plunge his tongue into this bleeding mouth... and then nothing would stop
And, maybe, after he would take what he wanted - they both would wind up
The thought was sobering. His arousal was gone so quickly that it hurt.
West's blood-smeared face was just in inches from his - but it was not
maddening him any more, the bleeding mouth not like an enthralling flower
demanding to be crushed. Cooper panted, feeling how every breath burnt his
There was strange understanding in their stare at each other - almost the
same as it had been there at that moment when the transport picked them up on
Atreius. Only hurting more this time.
Because since then Cooper had opened enough for it to hurt.
He slowly unclenched his fingers from West's wrists - the grip had been so
tight that the fingers uncurled unwillingly now - and got up on his knees,
leaving West free, crawling away, wishing to put as much space between them as
"I hate you," he muttered tiredly.
"I hate you, too," Nathan said.
He saw Nathan gather himself, sitting up slowly, wrapping his arms around
his knees. Cooper waited for him to leave - what else could there be? - and was
kind of amazed when he didn't move any more but sat hugging his knees snuffling
blood back into his nose - or, maybe, it was not only blood. But he hid his
face well enough for Cooper not to know - and he didn't want to guess.
"What did McQueen tell you?" he asked quietly and without hope.
"That I need to get through the hypnotherapy," West's voice was
reluctant and kind of embarrassed - and Cooper blinked at these words, not able
to trust the relief that washed over him.
"That's all? That's all? I thought he..."
"He said it will help, the last program was a great thing,
really," West said in a sullen voice. Cooper shook his head in disbelief.
All this was just over it?
He couldn't stop himself - pushing West's hunched shoulder slightly, the
touch to mollify the flippancy of the words the same as the tone:
"You stupid... stupid... little baby... do you ever grow up?"
In the darkness West made a loud gasp, as much of a sob as Cooper had ever
heard from him - and then his shoulders trembled violently, the choking sounds
escaping him and stopping abruptly. But it was laughter.
"Ugh, these hypnotherapy tapes - they are much like brainwashing,"
Cooper said without enthusiasm, getting up at last. "A quick fix when they
need someone back to functioning at once."
"Whatever," West shrugged. "If it works..."
"Vansen will be furious," a few minutes later they stood at the
door and looked at each other, Cooper's swollen nose and West's split lips the
undeletable marks of what happened.
"Ran into a machine box in the dusk?" West suggested blankly and
they both smiled again - no matter if the joke was worthy of it.
Actually Vansen didn't ask anything. Her eyes checked them both intently as
they returned - but she kept silent. Others were not so tactful and till the
end of the day they answered the same question about three dozens times.
* * *
The cards separated so easily in the deft fingers of his left hand. So
flexible that he barely could remember the agony it had been once. Cooper sat
on his bunk, alone in the bedroom, laying the fifteenth patience game in last
two hours. The choice of cards didn't require the participation of his mind.
Free to think as much as he wanted - about anything he wanted.
And he thought.
The things were going okay. Not worse than before. With his arm. With
everything. Maybe, even better than before.
Three days ago West stopped him as they passed each other on the way in and
out of the showers - looking straight in his face with these unblinking,
terribly serious dark eyes:
"Thanks for what you did for me."
Was it the therapy that did him good? Or was it McQueen-therapy - McQueen
said it had to help, so, it did? Cooper didn't know how deep the improvement
was - maybe, not deep at all. But it was there. West became calmer, his habits
back to normal, the nightly visits to the shower room stopped.
And now he thanked him.
It was a kind of soft, bitter happiness Cooper felt at that moment - maybe,
even pride - that for once he made a right choice - not in a fight where he was
always good but in human communications. And yet there was a tiny bit - no, not
of disappointment - of strange sadness - as he let Nathan past himself, feeling
briefly the warmth of this thin body reaching him. Now when everything was
truly over... there was no reason, no even chance for Cooper - to hold him
again. To touch him. In unwelcome comfort or in a violent quarrel. They became
just like they had been before. And there was no way to step over that.
Then yesterday he was here, in the bedroom - the same way, having chosen for
some reason to listen to the music instead of a pool game. He didn't hear the
steps with his earphones on - the door just opened and there was Nathan, a
brief friendly smile on his lips as he walked past Cooper to his bed, started
looking for something in his things.
Cooper should have kept listening to the music - he didn't know why it
seemed such a good idea to switch it off and take off the earphones. The most
possible reason was that it simply happened like that: his mind flipping out of
control with West around. Talk about self-composure.
"So, why are you not with others?" he must have seen Cooper
putting away the earphones, must have deciphered it as a clue that he wanted to
be talked to. Cooper writhed in awkwardness. Yet Nathan's voice was not
conversational - kind of too quiet instead, almost gentle. And he stopped
rummaging through his things, coming up to Cooper's bunk, looking down at him
with his dark eyes that could seem like soft chocolate but gleamed bright black
at the same time.
"You can go. I don't want to delay you."
Perfect. He didn't have an idea how it came off. That's what happens when you
answer your own thoughts. He saw Nathan's eyes getting big and cursed himself
for being such a tank. Then, to his amazement, West sat in the bottom of his
"I would like to see it if you tried to delay me."
It was wretchedness. He almost pulled the earphones back on his head out of
anger at his own inability to come up with anything civil. He knew it would
help him - West would leave and that would be it. He couldn't believe he was
doing it when he suddenly tossed his legs off the bunk, freeing more place for
Nathan - even less believed it when West moved closer after a tiny pause.
Cooper hoped desperately that his erection that even this far from intimate
closeness made him sport immediately was invisible under the pants.
He remembered West asked something - maybe, about music - and he must have
been answering - feeling vaguely surprised at the same time how something could
be so pleasurable and painful at once as this sitting on one bunk was.
The pressure built inside him so steeply that he didn't realize it until it
was almost too late, until he was ready to snap.
"Oh, go away, West, go away!" and he jumped up himself, hitting
his head against the upper bunk, feeling strong thin fingers capture his wrist,
support him. Just like then, in the river on Atreius.
If the things can get worse, they do, right?
"Why?" West asked blankly.
A good question. Once Cooper used it the same blatantly to get the things
moving - and the memory of this moment made him answer with perfect sincerity:
"Because I want to bed you," not that West didn't know it, right -
after everything else. "And I am not sure I won't try to do it."
Cooper eyed him and West looked at his hands - but the words were clear, the
trace of them still there, in silence.
"I mean... if you want it..." now West looked at him - in his
unnerving manner to look straight in the eyes - the manner that must have been
painful even for himself and, maybe, that's why he kept doing it. His voice was
almost trailing away. "I thought... maybe, I want it, too."
The choice of words was strange and Cooper's mind registered it - but he
switched it off in favor of what he saw - the slight melting of Nathan's body
as if there were the points for them to link together. He raised his hand and
touched Nathan's face - imperfect smoothness of a few hours without shaving,
the warmth of his cheek that every time felt different and every time Cooper
couldn't forget how it felt. His fingers lay on West's nape, strangely amazed with
its unblemished feel, and he pulled Nathan's head towards himself, meeting just
the slightest resistance. He felt the hand on his hip, closer to his straining
cock than he could ever imagine - the light touch, barely having any weight at
all. Then he claimed Nathan's mouth with his - lips and tongue and all wet
accepting warmness of it.
He pushed West on the bunk and got over him - and in an insight thought that
it was not a good position - rolled together so that it was Nathan on top, his
hands under Cooper's shoulder-blades while Cooper wrapped his arms around his
Their mouths unlocked - and for a moment they looked at each other, Cooper
reveling in Nathan's face above him, the startling dark eyes so close, the
length of the thin body and its warmth along his. He kissed West again, now
little quick pecks over his lips and cheek - and then he asked, unexpected even
"How did you?.. I thought you would never want to have it with
Oh no. Already as the words were leaving his mouth, he knew it was somehow a
wrong thing to say. His hands became stiff around West's body - and he felt the
warm, alive weight over him become dull and somehow temporarily.
"You mean a lot to me, Coop," West's voice was soft and serious -
and yet there was no - what? No easiness? Cooper felt it even though he wished
he didn't. "I don't feel like a liar with you."
"What... what does it what is that supposed?" the tension made him
sound resentfully, with silly anger at sounding mystified like that in his voice.
"You are the only one who is willing to do it with me... knowing,"
there was deadly quietness in Nathan's words - and Cooper wished he stopped -
but it was too late. "And I know I don't deceive you. It is your choice
that you do it."
Oh shit. Shit? The word was stupid, not giving any idea of what he felt. But
the words usually were like that. The words Nathan chose to use, for example.
"So, you think you can't get it on with anyone else?" how
leisurely his voice sounded - almost amused. No broken glass in it.
"That's why me? You don't want to slip them damaged goods without them
He knew it was nasty. He felt West's hands jerk minutely under him. He
wanted to hear a denial - a justification - whatever. But he only saw how
Nathan looked away. The hands slid out from under him and Nathan sat up with
his arms on his knees. He didn't cover his face but somehow Cooper felt he
Too bad if he always thinks he should face it!
There were cruel little vices of pain in his chest - crushing so badly that
for a few moments he felt disoriented. The he asked - mildly, almost
"And what are you going to do about Kylen? When you find her?"
He saw the linked hands clasp tighter - but the voice was almost
"I'll tell her. She will understand."
Would she? With sudden sarcasm that was only a part of pain he thought that
there was too much certainty in West's voice. Did he believe in Kylen so much?
Was she really like that? Or was she a myth - an icon - and this Kylen West
created to believe in would understand for sure, this Kylen he could tell
anything to? This Kylen would heal him and make him feel whole again.
Cooper wanted to stay alone - with seldom experienced before sharpness. And
he didn't want to ask West to leave. He got up and walked past him, to the door
- and the ground was not going away from under his feet, you know. With his
peripheral sight he saw Nathan looking at him, his face seeming very young and
lost and desperate - but Cooper didn't stop.
Then the childish part of him kicked up in him and he said, even before he
could control it:
"It looks like you still have a whole lot of therapy in front of
you," before slamming the door.
It was the utter truth, wasn't it? But it didn't help at all.
The pain got so bone-deep into him - that even when at night McQueen sent
them on another mission, in the carrier his fists gripped not with the usual
frenzy of a forthcoming combat but with the residual memories.
How little he always understood about things! Even when he thought he
understood all. Really, he deserved it to be put this clear to him. A stopgap -
how about that? Because with any other male or female West would have to keep
his secret - and Cooper knew it, by default? Not even second best - the only
one possible. Some sex - why not? West wanted it the same as Cooper did, there
was no mistake - his body wanted it.
He felt so tired of this existence on the level of bodies! It was how he was
created to be - an anthropoid death machine. Was he never going to get away
He felt his skin stretch on his face, so hard he clenched his jaws. The
faces of those on the opposite bench of the jet blurred in his eyes - and it
was good because he couldn't see Nathan's face somewhere among them.
And you wanted... a tiny voice, a derisive voice in his head - impossible to
shush and maddening in its ironic intuitiveness. You wanted him to say that he
cared for you... that he wanted it to happen the same as you did... that he
fell in love with you? When? On Atreius? When did you fall in love with him? As
if you know what humans call love.
Pressing the knuckles of clenched fists to his temples he tried to expel the
voice - and saw Vansen's disapproving gaze. Bad, Hawkes, bad... Should have
thought about the mission. It would get him killed if he went on like this.
Getting killed for Nathan? It was more than one could demand from him.
But the things worked out right as soon as it started. Hunting the Silicates
was a good distraction, one had to admit. And when he was stuck alone behind
the rusty bulk of an old land-rover, emptying a magazine after magazine into
three AI who drove him there, he didn't think about anything else. He knew
there were three of them against him. And yet he knew he would win.
He got them eventually - the shooting stopped. It was quiet, dead quiet in
their hole. He got out of his shelter cautiously, approached three sprawled
bodies. The hot wind tousled a strand of flax blond hair of one of them. Cooper
knew who he was.
Getting on his knees, he reached his hand to Alexander's half-destroyed face
- and suddenly the Silicate moved - not to attack but in half-agony already,
one white-on-white eye focusing on him slowly.
"Little In-Vitro. See we didn't mess up you so badly, after all."
Cooper started back, pointing the gun at him, his finger fluttering on the
"It is a curious thing to meet you again."
Hatred and disgust choking him, he squeezed through his teeth at last:
"Oh shut up!"
"You will make me, won't you? I am not afraid," the Silicate said,
whitish slime of his inner liquids leaking from his mouth and from the wound on
his cheek. "You know I am not. You will remember me. I did my best for it
to make you, didn't I?"
He shot and looked with a frozen face how the body quaked under the bullets.
Then he made his finger uncurl, stopping the fire.
The AI's head was split in two, the wires and chips falling on the ground.
He bent again - and, incomprehensible for himself, picked up a flat
sharp-angled plate from there. Alexander's mother board.
I can give it to Nathan, he thought with sudden savageness. A gift from an
Then there was Paul running to him, shouting:
"Don't you have anything else to do, Coop?" and there was no time
to think anymore.
He fought and they won and nobody died and they returned to the ship and had
fun till the morning. And he tried not to look at Nathan, no matter how close
they happened to be - and almost succeeded in it.
He knew eventually it would pass. After days. Maybe, after weeks. It would;
he just had to wait out.
He whirled around, the cards falling from his hand - having no doubts whose
voice it was - but so un-wanting unwilling to accept it that if his wish had a
power, there would be no one behind him. Of course, West was there, staring
down at him, his arms folded against his midriff protectively.
"I am sorry."
Oh? It was not what he expected. But, come to think about it, what else
could he expect? Fair as always - West, wasn't he? Not afraid to apologize when
he was wrong. Cooper looked at him through the curtain of his fringe, not
raising his head - seeing mostly the pale long-fingered hands, not able to look
higher and see Nathan's face.
Sure, whatever. Everything was over. Stuff it into another can with the
label 'unrequited love # ... - Lt. West' and put it on the farthest shelf in
your memory. It is not the last one, by all means.
"It was crummy what I said then."
Enough, okay? What was the point to in standing here - when Cooper didn't
even answer him? Or did he wait for an answer? Something that would make him
feel alright - like: 'Never mind, friends again.' Friends. What did Alexander
say about it?
"You are not friends, are you?"
"It was like I wanted to use you... like I didn't feel anything. I
didn't mean it."
What did you mean? He wanted to snap but, strangely, it was not so
difficult, after all, to restrain himself. Perhaps he was just too tired.
He stuck his hand in his pocket and found the cold flat bit of metal there.
Alexander knew. Squeezing it in his palm, feeling as the sharp angles stick
deep into his skin, he tried to make the bitterness go away and couldn't. How
much did Alexander matter in everything, after all? Would he feel about West
what he felt without that week on Atreius? How to know? He felt it now. And was
what Alexander had done the only thing that stood between them?
"I didn't use you," use, use... it always hurts most of all,
right? "I was... serious."
Strange choice of words. Of course, he was serious - as someone about to
have sex could be. He didn't need West to tell him about it. Over, over, make
him go away. Maybe, days, maybe, months later everything would be back the way
it was again - and then it wouldn't hurt like this to be so close to him and
yet to know how much he was mistaken.
Mistaken. This word again. Now he knew what it meant.
"Anyway, Cooper, I just wanted you to know it," there was
something sad and final in Nathan's voice - as if he did everything he could
and it didn't work. Cooper felt a little quiver inside - and got angry with
himself for feeling it.
What was it all about? He should have tried to put it behind as soon as
possible, not to put questions to himself that could bring him to the
conclusions he wanted... and he wanted hope.
"I don't feel like a liar with you."
Was it so little? There was safety in trust, wasn't there? Any safety was a
great deal for them - when any of them could die every day without saying
good-bye. Maybe, it was what Nathan meant. Maybe, there was still some chance.
I'll give him this chance, Cooper thought suddenly. No, I'll give myself
"Are you still serious?" he said quietly.
"Because if you are... I am about to accept the offer."
He pushed away the long strands of hair, looking up at West with the open
face. He could stand doing it. For a moment or two, anyway - he had been
through worse things, after all. And then...
But it turned out that he needed no more than a moment or two. Because
West's face was suddenly very pale and eyes on it very dark - no pupils
visible. He nodded slowly.
"Then let's meet in the gym's locker room at 23:00," Cooper said
quickly before anything else could happen, got up and rushed out of the room
* * *
He was sure they wouldn't meet. It was a stupid panicky feeling - after all,
what could happen? Like another mission, for example? But the day rolled to its
end steadily - and then the real fear started: that nothing would happen but
Nathan wouldn't come.
He was there. The locker room was unlit - but there was enough light for
Cooper to see him sitting in a Turkish manner on the bench. He heard the slight
rustle of the clothes as West unfolded his legs and stood up. He made a step
forward and stopped for some reason - and saw that Nathan stopped, too. They
looked at each other - standing in just a few feet from each other and unable
It was awkward. It couldn't be otherwise, Cooper thought with amazement. Not
when two men agreed to meet in a distant place with the sole purpose to fuck...
whatever was going to come out of it in the end. And the funniest thing was, he
realized with a nervous smile, that he was not hard at all.
But it changed somehow without him even noticing it as soon as Nathan made a
step towards him and he opened his arms. West's smell was meticulously clean,
of soap and toothpaste and after-shave - and he smiled at the thought of how
West must have been preparing to this meeting... but hadn't he himself done the
same? Nathan's own smell was under this - warm and cozy and something that
Cooper must have got used to on Atreius, despite everything, because it kept
haunting him since then. He wrapped his arms around Nathan's shoulders and
absorbed almost feverish heat coming from him, the hardness of the thin frame.
He felt West's hands lie on his flanks carefully, too carefully - but it was
okay, everything was okay to him. Just to hold him like this.
Then he felt West duck his head slightly forward and felt his smooth,
fresh-shaven cheek against his own. How much he could give for the moments like
this, warm skin against warm skin... and they even didn't do anything but
Cooper wasn't in a hurry, no matter how hard his cock was. He felt Nathan's
breath on his cheek. Then there were lips. Soft and warm and tentative,
exploring his cheekbone slowly - in wing-like touches. Suddenly he wondered if
it was how West made love to Kylen - but he knew at once it was not. Maybe, for
the first time. He and Kylen knew each other so well. He and Cooper only
started to know each other - and the forced intimacy of Atreius couldn't help
there, it could be only forgotten.
He felt Nathan's hand sliding up his chest slowly - not directed caresses
but the same weird kind of exploration - and he let him do it. He sensed the
moment unmistakably when West's kisses became bolder; he moved not to his lips
but kissed Cooper's jaw and down to his neck - and then Cooper kissed him, too
- the soft smooth hair over the temple, his hands stroking around Nathan's
shoulders, the same as West's hands caressed his chest and arms messily. He let
Nathan go just to take his face in his hands, turning it to himself, for one
second looking straight in Nathan's eyes, dark and wide - and so strangely
vulnerable as he had never seen them, not even on Atreius.
He vowed fiercely - but he really didn't need to vow because he knew - that
he would never be able to break this trust, no matter what would happen later.
Whether it took much or too little to tie him - he was not free any more.
He didn't want to kiss West's mouth first - he willed Nathan to do it - and
somehow, a moment later, he understood - linked their mouths together, dry lips
at first - then softly, slowly meeting Cooper's tongue with his own. West's
hands moved on Cooper's shoulders, his back, his head. Then Cooper took his
hand and put it on the circle on the nape under his hair.
The touch was very light - and Cooper tensed momentarily, thinking what if
it would be ruining for them, this slight difference in physiology. With sudden
bitterness he thought that people were always so quick to use it to punish him
- how could he expect someone would touch him there to please him? But he was
made this way - he couldn't undo it for West - so, if he...
Nathan's mouth reassured him: not letting Cooper's go - and there were these
little gasps he made that Cooper could feel in his mouth. He sensed Nathan's
fingers, warm and thin, started stroking the bud of flesh on his nape gently -
as if petting a cat.
He smiled in the kiss, reached for the clasps of Nathan's shirt and pulled
them apart. He felt how Nathan went rigid suddenly - not pulling away but with
his lips getting dry and unresponsive at once. He broke the kiss and looked in
his eyes and saw the reckless determination there - to overwhelm himself, to
make the things go on.
No, forget about it, please, Cooper thought miserably, it's me with you, not
them. He pulled West closer, almost violently, tightening the embrace - and at
last felt the body in his arms slacken little by little.
Then Nathan kissed the hollow of his collar-bone and Cooper could breathe
He loosened the grip slowly, putting his hands on Nathan's sides. The skin,
stretched tightly over his ribs, was like silk against the tips of Cooper's
fingers - but warm, with living warmth, he couldn't even imagine that it would
feel like this. He felt Nathan's sides quiver minutely under his touches - and
then he slid down and took one of West's dark soft nipples in his mouth.
He felt light-headed for some reason, pressing his lips tightly against the
hardening nub, lapping his tongue over it smoothly and insistently. West's body
trembled in the ring of his arms, the little signs of passion that were not
necessary to puzzle out, even if Nathan's hands didn't pull his head closer.
"What are you doing..." it was not a question. Said in this low,
almost unrecognizable voice - it was almost like a plea - and suddenly Cooper
thought that to hear West say it like that, in this voice, was making him
happier than he had ever been in his life - even if he didn't know it before.
That he would want to hear this voice again and again.
He licked the other nipple while his hand moved down, finding and pulling
down the zipper. He kissed to the place where Nathan's ribs joined, listening
to the beating of pulse there with his lips, then the navel and lower, freeing
the way for his lips from the clothes - sinking on his knees smoothly in front
"You..." there was almost fear in Nathan's voice as he looked down
at Cooper's upturned face, the dark eyes questioning, worried. "You don't
Don't you know, stupid human, can't you see that it makes me happy?
He pressed his lips to the fine trace of down that went on Nathan's belly
from his navel to the darkness of soft fur. West's cock startled him with how
hot, how silk-smooth its skin was - and he cradled it between his palms for a
moment before enveloping his lips around the crown.
It tasted warm and slightly salty and he lapped with his tongue, trying to
get more of this taste - almost surprised when Nathan's hands in his hair
clasped convulsively. It must have been the right thing he had done, he thought
with contentment, sliding his mouth down along the shaft. He moved with perfect
smoothness, speeding up as he read the slightest urge in the tiny, reserved
motions of West's hips. Nathan's palms lay on his head, not pulling him closer,
just being there in a weird kind of warm lock, the fingers running occasionally
through his hair, playing with his nape.
"Cooper... Jesus... no..." bucking his hips, with his words
nonsensical - West was coming - his sperm filling Cooper's mouth as he froze in
He swallowed, lapping around the head of West's cock at the same time. He
missed no sigh, no sound - like a moan coming from West and Cooper knew it was
him who elicited them. He felt proud. He felt contented. He wanted almost
Then West pulled him up on his feet and closer to himself. Cooper kind of
fell against his body, the sensation of his hard cock touching against West's,
now soft, separated only with one layer of cloth, was electrifying. He
shivered. West's arms enveloped Cooper, pressed him closer in a totally
welcoming gesture - and he felt Nathan's lips on his, the warm tongue in his
mouth, licking for a few moments.
"Let me..." it was the softest whisper - and Cooper was not even
sure he heard it right. But Nathan's hands were unmistakable, pulling his
t-shirt up and over his head. He tensed minutely when West's fingers ran along
the thin ropes of the scars over his left arm - and then he was kissed again,
his throat, the pit between his collar-bones, his chest.
He didn't realize how it happened - a moment before Nathan kissed him - and
then he was already on his knees in front of Cooper, his hands pulling at the
belt of his pants.
"Now you..." he wanted to say 'don't have to' - but it seemed
funny, this exchange of politeness - and would Nathan do it if he didn't want
"It won't be too bad," West said in a high voice, taking the head
of his cock in his mouth.
It was not bad.
Minutes later, both spent, they sat side by side on the floor, barely
touching but for their knees and hands. But even like that Cooper felt the
warmth that came from Nathan, almost burning sensation at the points of touch.
Then West threaded fingers through his quietly.
"Do you want to tell others about it?"
The question made him blink - and he wondered mildly how even after all that
had happened West never stopped bewildering him. Did they need to tell?
He looked at West - and saw these serious, strangely unguarded eyes - and
then the understanding slowly descended on him.
It was not about the others - it was about him. His readiness to commitment.
He felt his breath caught in his throat - and tightened his hand on Nathan's.
"But they will know all the same," he said quietly.
And what about Kylen? It was not a good moment to think about her - and yet
he let the thought slip in. And didn't he know the answer? Nathan would never
stop trying to find her. If wouldn't be him if he did. And Cooper was not going
to think, to hope that she might never be found. Let it be how it would be. So
far he was sitting with Nathan shoulder to shoulder, their fingers linked,
their mouths still feeling the taste of each other.
In the shower he looked at Nathan through the wet strands of hair clinging
to his face - and he thought that he was somehow absolutely certain that they
had so much in front of them. They would be able to do so many things together,
would do it in another way, Cooper would show that it didn't necessarily have
to hurt, they would know how exactly to make each other happy.
And yet he knew so well how deceptive this certainty was - that, maybe, they
had nothing together in the future, not even one day - that, maybe, one of them
or both would die in the next mission.
So it will be.
Back in the locker room, dressing, he felt something heavy and metallic
pulling at his pocket and stuck his hand there. Alexander's mother board. He
recalled how he wanted to toss it on Nathan's bed - a cruel souvenir - and it
seemed to him to be such a long time ago, as if it was not him at all. He took
out the chip, hiding it in his palm, and threw it into the waste disposal hole.
He heard it rattle against the pipe until somewhere far away it disappeared in
the open space. He knew Nathan looked at him - and turning to meet his eyes, he
said shrugging with a short smile:
"You can't imagine what litter I have in my pockets."