It seemed simple enough to Joey, and really, when you were given a choice like that, it wasn't exactly a hard call to make.
And yet here he was, stuck in this featureless white-walled League cell, scared, hungry, and very much wanting to go home, and apparently he was the only one who could see what to do.
Joey stood and began to pace. There wasn't much room for pacing, but he had to work off his frustration somehow or he'd do someone some damage. "Guys, I can't believe we even have to discuss this."
"No." Lance, being ridiculously stubborn. "I won't. Not with either of you."
"Are you crazy? We fuck, they let us go, we go home, we get back in our kites, we fight. Or, we die, and we're no more use to anybody. I mean, seriously, guys, why is there a problem here? This is our only way out." They'd discussed the possibilities of escape too many times already, but what could they do? Guards had come, randomly, to take one of them off for 'questioning', but there were always at least five guards, and besides, they never knew where the doorway was going to appear in the apparently seamless white walls. No chance of setting up an ambush.
"You really think we can trust them?" Chris said. "You believe them when they say they'll let us out of here? You don't think they're just messing with our heads, that they're going to kill us anyway?"
"No. I mean—no! Why would they? This happened before, you know it did. Rich and Devin were captured just last year, and they had the same deal. Rich reckoned the Leggies wanted it for propaganda."
"Yeah, right. And they have full screens of two of our top pilots screwing one another, so why do they need more?"
Joey was a bit worried about that, because Chris was a smart bastard even if he was too cynical for his own good. What's more, Joey didn't remember ever seeing any League propaganda featuring Coalition pilots sexing each other up. Unwillingly, he pointed this out.
"C'mon, Joe, it's not propaganda for us, it's propaganda for them. Why'd they show it to us? We'd know the pilots were coerced. And anyway, they know we don't think any the less of someone for it."
That seemed weird, though. Didn't the League show their people glorious victory screens of Coalie kites and battleships being destroyed? "I don't see how they could use us fucking for propaganda, though, really."
Chris sighed noisily. "Listen, Joe. They were recording when we arrived, so they have plenty of screens of us in our uniforms. Then they show us in here naked, oh so carefully not showing the parts where they took our clothes away and kept us here for who knows how long and then gave us an ultimatum. They want to prove to their own people that we're all sick perverts, so they show the screens of guys fucking like bunnies to make sure everyone down there thinks we all deserve to be fried."
That wasn't so bad, Joey thought. He hadn't been happy at the thought that his flight mates would see him fucking Lance. Joey had nothing against gay guys, of course he hadn't, Lance was one of the best friends he had in the world, but as far as Joey was concerned, it was the ladies who did it for him.
"And you know what?" Chris said, as though he'd discovered a great new argument for why they had to die instead of having sex. "Don't we have an obligation not to give them any more propaganda material? Isn't that, what's it called, giving aid and comfort to the enemy?"
"Chris, I cannot believe you!" Joey exploded. "What about a prisoner's first duty is to escape?"
"I just don't think we've considered it enough," Chris said, stubborn as always.
"Look, we had the briefings. We knew this situation could come up, when we were caught. I just don't see what your problem is."
"Oh, because you screw guys all the time!"
"Okay, no, but—how hard can it be?"
"Depends if it gets hard at all," Chris muttered.
Joey stifled the urge to strangle him, and appealed to Lance. "Lance, tell me you get it! You'll do it, right? I mean, you like guys, you've done this stuff before. Loads of times. It's not a problem, right?"
Lance looked at him very strangely, and there was a silence that grew almost uncomfortable before he seemed to snap out of whatever was possessing him—who could tell, with Lance?—and nodded. "Okay. With you. Just you."
Joey didn't see what difference it made, but since Chris was being weird, it was best that he and Lance just got on with it. The sooner they did, the sooner everyone would get out of here.
"We're gonna need some lube," said Lance, practically. "Any idea when we might be due our next meal?"
"Soon, I hope." Joey wasn't exactly starving—there were some protocols, after all, so they had been fed, just not very much. "But what does that have to do with it?"
"The scrape. Best we can do." Lance's face was carefully neutral, and he refused to look at either of them.
"Couldn't we just... use spit?" Joey suggested. When they got back home, he could order up a proper meal. Piping hot protoveg lasagne. His mouth was watering just thinking of it.
"I said, no. We're not doing this with just spit."
Joey knew better than to argue when Lance used that tone of voice, so he sat down, and sighed. The scrape, with its vaguely meaty taste, was the best part of their meals. Certainly the bread it was spread on wasn't up to much. "I guess we have to wait for mealtime," he said.
Joey wasn't exactly surprised when the hole in the wall opened after what felt like no more than half an hour, to reveal their tray of rations. Obviously they were being observed, and if the Leggies wanted them making fresh porny propaganda, they'd be ready to facilitate. Nothing so helpful as a tube of something, of course. He sighed, and handed his bread over to Lance, who gathered the scrape on a finger, and made an unappetising little heap of it on the edge of one plate. There wasn't much, but he'd done a thorough job of getting it off the bread. Morosely, Joey ate the flavourless white slices and drank half his share of the water. He'd kill for a beer.
"So," he said, cautiously.
"Oh, for—can't you let him finish digesting first?"
"You want to do this? That's fine by me," Joey said, and of course Chris coiled himself down into an angry little pile of naked pilot and sat down by the white, white wall. At least he was shutting up. "So," he said again, looking helplessly at Lance. "Um..."
"Okay. I'm not exactly relaxed and ready to go, here, so you're going to have to lube me up. Grease your finger and put it in. Slowly. I'll tell you when I'm ready for more."
It all sounded very clinical to Joey, and not at all like he usually had sex. Joey was all about the having fun. He might not see the same girl two nights in a row—there were always hotties lining up to spread for the top pilots, their contribution to the war effort, or something—but he always made sure his girl had a good time while she was with him. And really, why should Lance be so different?
He hauled Lance to his feet and put his hands somewhat awkwardly on Lance's hips. Lance was a good height, kissing him wouldn't be—kissing him wasn't that different from kissing a girl, except for the stubble. They hadn't been allowed shavers or depilatories. Lance's lips were soft, a little bit chapped, but he opened up readily enough and really, this was going to be easy after all. Joey's hands drifted down, over Lance's full, firm butt cheeks, and squeezed a little. Nice, very nice. Smooth as silk, just like a girl's except maybe a bit more muscly. Joey steered his mouth sideways to Lance's neck so he could kiss his way down and maybe use his teeth a little. Girls mostly liked that. Lance seemed to like it too, his breath wasn't nearly so steady now. Joey was getting into this. His cock was filling nicely, bumping against Lance's thighs and pubes and whoa, that was Lance's hand closing round his cock, Lance's hand pumping him slowly up to fully erect, this was going better than Joey had ever expected.
"You wanna pass the scrape?" he suggested. Lance did so without comment, and lowered himself into a crawl position. He'd aligned himself so he was facing away from Chris, Joey noticed, away but not completely the opposite direction, as if he to make it clear he wasn't taking any notice of Chris at all. Joey approved of this—he wasn't used to performing with an audience, and Chris's hostility to the whole proceeding was a bit off-putting.
Back to the task at hand. Really, Lance looked fine like that, with his knees spread and that beautiful ass tilted up as he rested on his forearms. Joey always liked this position anyway, but he supposed he might have to not thrust so hard this time. He wasn't quite sure how it would work out, but if it was *his* ass... he greased a forefinger with care, and rather nervously traced around Lance's puckered hole.
"Just take it slow," Lance advised, "and you won't hurt me."
Okay. Okay. Fingertip pressing in, there. It was snug, very snug, and this was just his fingertip, Joey thought, pressing in as far as the first knuckle, then easing back. How much lube was Lance going to need? Because there wasn't a lot of scrape, and Joey wasn't flattering himself but his cock was a whole lot bigger than a finger, and—
Lance made an impatient noise, so Joey pushed his finger warily a little further inside, watching in fascination as it slid into Lance's body. It must feel weird, having something inside like that. "Uh, that okay?" he asked.
"It's fine, Joey. Bit more lube, please. " So Joey worked more lube in and around Lance's asshole, and actually, it felt kinda good, pushing two fingers (Lance's idea) in, feeling how that tight entrance accommodated the extra width. Maybe it wasn't going to be so difficult to fuck Lance after all. Joey's cock didn't seem to think so, but it had thought some pretty stupid things before now, so that was no indication, really.
Lance was making more noises, and he seemed a lot more relaxed, so Joey drew back to smear the rest of the scrape over his cock, and, holding his shaft firmly, positioned it against Lance's hole, and pushed with determination. Oh man, that was tight, that was so fucking tight, that felt amazing. He pushed steadily, holding Lance's hips, watching as his cock sank deeper. Balls deep. Fucking amazing. He drew back slowly, not quite all the way, and pushed in again. Lance moaned and wriggled his butt backwards, which felt <i>fine</i>, and Joey found himself telling Lance all the stuff he usually told girls, how good they looked, how sexy they were. Lance looked really good. Joey hoped this felt as good for Lance as it felt for the girls Joey usually fucked. It sounded like it did.
In fact, self-control was going to be a problem real soon now. Joey's hips speeded up.
"Joey, Joey, touch me, please, I can't—"
Dimly, Joey understood what Lance wanted, but he wasn't sure that he could—he held Lance's hips firmly in place, drove hard, and came with a growl.
Breathing very hard, Joey eased back a little. Beneath him, Lance was still tense, and that settled it. Nobody ever fucked Joey Fatone and didn't come. He put his arms round Lance's waist and pulled him backwards until Lance was leaning against his chest, then ran one hand down along Lance's body until he found his cock, and began to pump it firmly. Lance's "Oh, oh! Joey! Oh!" was very satisfying, and then he went quite still, and Joey had hot wet slithery stuff all over his hand. Should have done this first, he thought, plenty of lube now. He nuzzled Lance's neck, then slid carefully out and away.
It was too much to hope that the meagre bathroom facilities would appear now that he needed to wash, and they didn't. But there was something better—an opening like the mealtime hatch appeared in the wall, and there were their flight suits, folded up neatly, although Joey very soon discovered that they hadn't been washed. What the hell, neither had he, except in decontam. Also, his underwear was missing, which was a pain, because it would chafe. And—
"There's only two suits," he said, puzzled. His own, and Lance's. Lance looked stricken.
"What did you expect?" said Chris.
"But we did what they said! This has to be a mistake." He didn't want to think, couldn't bear to think that they'd been out-and-out lying to him all along. That he'd fucked Lance for no reason—even if it had been surprisingly good.
"Yeah, we did," said Lance. "Chris didn't."
"Well, then," said Joey, relieved, because this might be over-scrupulous of the sodding Leggies but at least it was logical. "Chris, you have to. You know."
"Don't start, just don't!" Joey was getting scared now, really scared, because their jailers were obviously watching, the suits had appeared right away. "They could come and take you away any moment now, they could execute you just like they said. Chris, don't be insane, man."
"I can't, I—" Chris was still hunched on the floor. "Oh, shit. Okay. Yeah. Do it." He began to uncurl onto all fours.
Joey was startled, and a bit embarrassed. "I, uh, not right away, I can't. I mean. I only just."
"There's no more scrape." Lance's voice was stark and emotionless. "You'll have to fuck me."
"I—no! I mean, I can't. I don't want to."
"Oh, for fuck's sake, get over yourself."
Chris straightened, and stood up. "I can't," he said furiously, and Joey could see what he meant. Okay, really not into fucking guys, there.
Lance strode across and planted himself in front of Chris. "I get it," he said through clenched teeth. "You'd rather die. Tough." He dropped to his knees, took a firm grasp of Chris's hips, and drew Chris's flaccid cock into his mouth. Chris yelped and cast a frantic look at Joey, but Joey frankly thought Lance was doing the best he could in the circumstances, and Chris had better start co-operating if he didn't want to fry. He drew his flight suit up and started on the fastenings. Perhaps if Chris didn't have an audience he'd—and anyway, Joey didn't want to watch.
Except Joey couldn't help but watch, snatching fascinated glimpses as the stiffening length of Chris's erection slipped out between Lance's lips, and Lance's mouth worked at it, and his hand came around to grasp what he couldn't take in. Chris was staring down wide-eyed, he looked horrified, he looked like he wanted to shove Lance away and run, but there was no escape from this white prison unless the Leggies let them go. Luckily it seemed Chris's cock wasn't as reluctant as the rest of him. Joey felt faintly envious. It looked like Lance knew exactly what he was doing. Kneeling there with Chris's cock in his mouth, looking up at Chris's face like he could figure out exactly what worked best from the helpless look in Chris's eyes.
Joey paid attention to his fastenings. But he heard the "Please!" and Chris's whimpers and the little grunt from Lance, and when he looked up, they were done, Lance wiping his mouth with the back of his arm, and Chris leaning against the white wall and trying to breathe normally.
"Okay!" Joey said, determinedly cheerful. "Here, Lance, get your flight suit on." But even as he handed it over, the wall opposite Chris split apart, and five League guards stood there, machine-like in their grey uniforms, with those hideous full-face visors hiding any trace of humanity. "You can't!" he said, without thinking. "He did what you wanted!" They couldn't take Chris now, it wasn't fair, it wasn't right—
The two outer guards in the front row stiffened and thudded to the floor, then the centre one crumpled and collapsed. Joey's jaw dropped as the back two guards lowered their nerve guns and flicked up their visors.
"JC! Justin! How—" He'd never been so glad, or so astonished, to see his wingmates in his life.
"Explanations later," Justin said, grinning like a lunatic. "Let's get you guys out of here first."
JC was already kneeling over one of the Leggie guards and pulling off his helmet. "Chris, Lance, get these uniforms on, quick. We fried the guard screening your room, but we don't know when the shift replacement is due."
A few minutes of frantic action, and the guards were stripped naked. All three of them, because it seemed like a good idea to leave them piled together in an orgiastic heap with their faces hidden. Joey shoved the spare grey uniform into the wall opening, it wasn't exactly out of sight there, but maybe it wouldn't be so obvious to the all-seeing cameras if it was folded where his and Lance's buff uniforms had been. Lance had wrapped his own flight suit round himself underneath the oversized grey uniform. They weren't going to leave it behind.
"Right," said JC, practically. "Let's get out of here." They formed a square with Joey in the centre, and marched out. And it really was that easy—they just marched through the corridors all the way to the flight deck and on to a stout, stubby vessel, some kind of minesweeper, Joey thought. Justin took the pilot's chair—he could fly anything—and gave out all the passwords that were required of him. There must have been some ace networking going on with the League resistance to get them in and out so cleanly.
And they were going home.
* * *
Drew was just leaving as Joey arrived at the canteen door. "Hey, man! Good to have you back." He smote Joey's shoulder, and grinned.
"Thanks, man. It's good to be home." Joey spotted his wingmates seated near the wall, made his way through a collection of friendly hails, and sat down next to Justin. JC, opposite, dealt out the five ration trays. Joey was pleased to see, when he opened the tab, that it was lasagne. As he waited for it to heat up, he popped a tube of beer open and took a long draught. "I needed that," he announced. "Talking is thirsty work."
"How's it going with the compsych?" JC asked anxiously. "Everything okay?"
"Johnny says we'll be back on front line rotation next week," Justin explained. "Assuming you guys are cleared for action. So the compsych session was okay, right?"
"It was fine," said Joey. "You just have to answer a shitload of questions." He unfolded his spork and dug in, hoping the subject was closed. It wasn't like he had nightmares, or anything, and it hadn't been so bad. Would have been a whole lot worse if he'd been captured on his own, he'd been really glad of the company. Except for—but he wasn't going to tell the compsych about that, or anyone else either. And Chris and Lance wouldn't say anything, he was sure. They wouldn't want to, any more than he did.
"Don't worry about it," Lance said calmly. "By the time the tapes get reviewed by actual humans we'll have been back on the line for months anyway."
"The compsychs aren't programmed to diagnose anything," JC said earnestly, "at least, not in detail. They spot the big stuff, of course, but mostly they ask all the questions and the recordings get sent home, well, not home, probably, more likely to Terpsichore Five, but the real shrinks get pretty busy, what with the combat fatigue and people trying to get sent home early and stuff, so like Lance says, it'll be a while before they get reviewed."
"So don't say anything crazy," said Lance, "and the compsych will give us provisional clearance. Which is all they need anyway."
"So long as you're really okay," JC said. "It can be really tough, being captured. There's no shame in—if you need a break, you know, we'll understand." He was trying to divide his gaze between Joey, Lance on his right, and Chris, on the other side of Justin.
"I just want to get flying again," said Lance, firmly.
There was a short silence as they applied themselves to their dinners.
"So what was it like?"
"Justin!" JC frowned at him.
"I'm just askin'! Maybe it'll be me next time. Be nice to know what to expect. I mean."
"Boring," said Chris, flatly.
"Really?" Justin sounded almost disappointed.
"Nothing to do all day but wait for the food slot to open up. Or the toilet."
Justin looked shocked, though Joey couldn't see why. He'd been there, he'd seen the featureless white room. Wasn't exactly VIP facilities with an entertainment suite and a luxurious bathroom. "Trust me, man," Joey said, "after thirty-nine hours solid in the company of these guys, it was a relief to be taken out for questioning."
"They—did they—did they hurt you?" JC, wide eyed and scared of the answer.
"Not really," Lance said in his best indifferent voice. "They knew we didn't have anything useful to tell them. I think it was just to remind us that we weren't in control."
Because being naked with nothing to do and not even in control of the fucking toilet facilities hadn't made it clear to them that they weren't in control.
And it had been a bit more than 'not really'. Joey remembered that bit well enough, but it was true that there hadn't been any real effort to torture them, just some humiliating nastiness from bored personnel with no real status of their own. "Hey," he said cheerfully, "we're front line flyers, what do we know about strategy?"
"So they didn't, like, interrogate you?"
"JC, it's fine, really," Joey said. "No, no interrogating. And we're okay. The medics checked us out, remember?" For three hours! Poking and prodding and taking samples and checking everything they could get to. "Just surface bruising." The medic had asked him point blank, Were you raped? and thank the stars and everything beyond them he'd been able to say no.
"Good," said Justin, emphatically. "Because we could have done a lot more damage than we did on our way in to get you. I'm just glad we didn't oughtta have, you know?"
"Anyway," said JC, frowning at Justin, which Joey thought was a bit much since he for one wouldn't have minded there being a few more dead Leggies around, "you have your compsych sessions scheduled, and we find out in five days if we're on or not."
"So don't go acting crazy," Lance said. Joey was relieved. Obviously Lance wasn't going to say anything about what happened.
"Oh, we're so screwed," said Justin, grinning. "When did we ever manage to stop Chris acting crazy?"
So Joey got through the psych sessions, putting on his best sincere face for the benefit of the shrinks who'd see this one day, and answering all the questions politely even if some of them were really weird and fucked up. He did his best to avoid Lance and Chris, though, in case they wanted to compare notes. Talking about that shit to the computer was bad enough, he really didn't want to talk about it to people who'd been there.
Steve tried to lure him out to clubs, because Steve was always up for some nightlife unless he was working overtime to get a slightly fried machine back into shape, and normally Joey would have gone, but right now, Joey just wanted to sleep. It was a bit strange, maybe, since while they'd been captured they'd slept a lot, on the grounds there wasn't much else to do unless they'd wanted to drive each other completely insane. But his nice, comfortable bunk was a lot more welcoming than the white floor, and Joey was very happy to crawl under the cover and close his eyes. Anyway, he needed the rest. He'd need to be rested up for when they got back on the line.
And everything was fine. Johnny spoke to them all at the end of the fifth day to say that NSYNC Wing would be shipping back out with the Odysseus for front line duties along with the rest of the squad.
Joey was glad. He was good and ready to fry some League kites.
It felt good, really good, to be back in his kite, to have the triggers under his thumbs again and the familiar roiling in his gut as they dropped away from the Odysseus's hold. To see the distant specks resolve into a League formation, and to set his sights on his target. Joey loved flying at point, nothing behind him to worry about because Chris and Justin at flank and the two wing men behind them would take care of that, all he had to do was spot the weakness in the line ahead and go for it.
He was so ready for this.
* * *
The atmosphere in the debriefing room was hot and excited. They'd never had such a kill count before, never. Thirteen! Fucking amazing! There could have been more, even, Joey knew he could have taken out another couple of kites, no problem, but the League squadron had turned tail and run. Fucking cowards. He grinned as his fellow pilots crowded round NSYNC wing, patting their backs, shaking their hands. The five of them strutted to their places and sat down. The room quieted as Johnny entered and strode to the front.
"What the fuck did you think you were doing?" were his first words. He was staring directly at Joey and his flightmates, and his expression was so far from pleased that Joey began to feel uneasy. Had they done something insane, had they fried Coalie ships as well as Leggies? No, no, because the other pilots would have seen, and said. So what the fuck was Johnny's problem?
He was talking about irresponsibility, about abandoning formation, about recklessness. The fuck? They'd fried thirteen kites today, just the five of them—thirteen! He should be giving each and every one of them a commendation, not this shit. Now he was talking about not sticking to the protocols, not covering one another. So? If maybe Chris had been doing more shooting of his own and not covering Joey so much, hell, Justin was still there on his other flank, and JC at the back. And they were all here, they'd all made it back again. Joey didn't remember hearing any orders from Control, he remembered getting four enemy kites in his sights and watching the bastards fry, and that was just fine with him.
"And you, Lance, what exactly were you doing? Your job is to protect the flyers in front of you—"
"My job," said Lance, coldly, "is to destroy enemy craft. Which I did."
"You know better than that. Your job—"
"My job is to fry the fuckers. I did it. We all did it. So get the fuck off my back." And Lance, ice-cool Lance, Lance who today had actually doubled his personal hit-count, walked out.
Johnny spoke into the stunned silence. "NSYNC wing is grounded. Fix this."
* * *
"You know," Justin said carefully, "maybe Johnny was right."
Joey glared, and Chris snarled. "What, we're grounded for being the most effective wing in the history of ever? Thirteen kills, Justin! Thirteen! Are you just pissed because you only got one of them?"
"We're pissed," said JC, "because we thought you three were dead. You were way out of line, all of you. J and I had to cover everyone's back, except we couldn't because you were all over the place. You weren't thinking of the wing, you weren't thinking at all. We were both calling for formation, and Control was telling us where they wanted us to hit, and you weren't even listening. And Lance! I don't know why he isn't dead. I was flying like a lunatic trying to keep him covered, but he went in so close to that sloop that I just couldn't get a position on it, and I thought he was going to ram the thing, and, man, when it pulled out and crashed into the cruiser I only just got my kite clear and I would have sworn Lance got fried along with the sloop. I could hardly believe it when I saw his kite still flying."
"Yeah," said Justin, soberly. "I heard JC scream and I thought for sure Lance was gone."
Joey didn't even remember hearing JC scream. In fact, he couldn't remember hearing any commands after the go order, only the enemy under his guns and the bright disintegrating ships.
"It was crazy," said Justin. "Scary." Cocky, confident Justin shouldn't look like that.
Maybe... maybe he was right.
"So," said JC. " Do you two wanna explain what the fuck you were doing out there?"
"No," said Chris, and folded his arms.
"We have to fix this. Or next time out, we'll all be fried." Chris and JC scowled at one another.
"Yeah, if Johnny even lets us out again. We're grounded, don't forget," Justin pointed out. "I'm gonna go find Lance. Britney's on shift in Security, she'll scan the ship for me." He headed for the door, and Joey jumped up. "I'll help you," he said, and slid through the aperture before JC could protest.
"I don't really need—" Justin began as the door slid shut behind them. He'd be glad of the chance for some time with his girl, even if it was only in Scanning, Joey knew, and he pasted an easy smile onto his face.
"No worries, J, I have a couple of ideas for places Lance goes when he wants to be on his own. I'll catch you later."
"Well, uh, okay, but—"
Joey hurried down the corridor. Let Justin go to Security, much good it would do him. Joey was going to check Lance's quarters first. If Lance wasn't there, if he didn't want to be found, he'd be well and truly hidden, somewhere the scanners wouldn't find him.
It took a while, but eventually Joey tracked Lance down. Next level out from the Engine Room, where the mindless hum of the reactor was impossible to escape. Joey didn't like it down here. He knew that the shield was good, he knew that if the shield wasn't working, nowhere on the Odysseus was safe and this place was no worse than anywhere else, but still, it made him shiver, being so close. Maybe Lance didn't need to worry about his fertility, but Joey was planning on having a family some day, when the war was over, if it ever was.
Anyway, there was Lance, tucked in between two gigantic tanks, resting his head on his knees.
"Hey," said Joey.
"Hey." Lance looked worn out, none of that cold anger remaining from, what, two hours ago. Joey sighed, and squeezed himself into the gap. There wasn't room to sit sideways, so he settled down, mirroring Lance, toe to toe.
"JC wants us to get this shit sorted," Joey said. "He, um, seemed to think Johnny was right about things."
"I guess," said Lance, wearily. "I don't—I don't want to fly like that again."
"Mmm," said Joey. He wasn't quite sure how to proceed. "But you did a hell of a job, you know? Five down, and one of them ten times your size."
"Yeah." Lance nodded. "I really wanted to kill them, you know? It was the only thing in my mind, kill them all."
"Well, that's good, isn't it? I mean, like you said, that's our job."
"Not my job. I know what I said to Johnny, but it's really not my job to do the frying. I'm the wing man. I protect Chris, and you, and the others if JC gets caught out. You or Chris or one of the Js could have been killed out there and I didn't even think about that, I just, I just, they were the enemy, I just wanted to. You know."
"Yeah." The enemy under his guns, and disintegrating ships. Joey reached out and grasped Lance's knee. "Man, it's okay. We're alive, we can get through this. I mean, I guess," he tried not to sound like the compsych, "we're gonna resent them for what they put us through. We were prisoners, man, we had nothing. Of course we were angry."
"Angry, yeah, I was angry. I never felt quite like that before. But it doesn't—the problem's still there. The problem's still me."
"No, man, you didn't do anything wrong, we were all—"
"I raped Chris."
Joey had a moment of complete disconnection. Then, "What? No! When? Lance, that's ridiculous, you didn't rape anybody!"
Joey couldn't understand this at all. Was Lance talking about, was there something—had there been something before they got captured? That might explain why Chris had been so determined not to touch Lance, maybe, but—no, it was insane. It wasn't possible. "I don't believe it," he said helplessly.
"You were right there, Joey, you know what happened. He—he wasn't, he didn't, he said no, but I did it anyway."
"That's crazy talk. That wasn't rape. You did what you had to do, if you hadn't he'd be dead."
"Yeah, except, not. We were rescued, remember? Justin and JC were on their way to us, right then, while I was—I should have waited. I should have let Chris make the call. I should have respected that."
"On the information we had—"
"Chris had that information too, and he made his choice. And I took it away from him."
"But he—" A terrible thought struck him like a fist in the guts. "Did—did I rape you, then? Lance, I didn't mean, I thought—"
"No, Joey, of course not! Don't even think that."
"But you didn't want to. You said."
"And I thought about it, and I changed my mind. I said yes, Joey, I said yes, so it wasn't rape. And I'm so sorry you had to, I know you never wanted, but you did it for me, for us, so thank you. You did the right thing."
"You did the right thing too."
Lance shook his head. "No. It's not the same."
"You were saving his life, man. Fuck, you couldn't just let him die."
"No. I couldn't."
"Anyway, he liked it. It's not like he didn't—he got hard, didn't he? He came." Joey could still remember those desperate little noises.
"Physical reaction. Doesn't mean anything. If my worst enemy had my cock in his mouth I'd probably come. Wouldn't mean it was my choice."
Joey had no clue what to say. He reached out helplessly to pat Lance's hand.
"Then... man, I tried to make it good for you. Was it just, I mean..."
Lance smiled wanly at him. "Always the stud. Yeah, Joe, it was good. You did just fine and I came because it was good sex, okay? And we—it doesn't make any difference to us, does it? You and me?"
Joey gripped Lance's hand. "No difference. You're still my best friend. And hey, I always thought you had a great ass! Just never thought I'd get quite that close to it."
Lance swiped at him. His grin looked real now. "You keep your hands off!" He drew in a deep breath. "Okay. I guess it's time to face the medicine. JC and Justin want us to talk about this, right?"
"JC does. He's pretty pissed."
"He's pretty all the time." Lance stood up, and Joey, with some difficulty, did likewise, and backed out of the narrow gap. "Lead the way."
Made it! All the way to their quarters without bumping into JC. Lance was at the end of the row, so he was already inside his quarters by the time Joey reached his own door, palmed it open and closed it behind him.
He looked at the small, grey room with something like affection. So many lumps and bumps, shapes and contours. Cabling for the doors and console, pipes and ducts for air and water and waste, the handles for his lockers and closet, the sliders for the bunk and chairs. His family pictures tacked onto the flat places. And nothing white. It felt like home. He pulled his easy chair out of the wall and sat.
How was he to get his head around this? Lance... raped Chris?
It wasn't what Joey had always thought of as rape. There had been a girl, back when he was a kid, the daughter one of the neighbours, she had a scar at the side of her face where her hair grew funny because someone, some evil prick, had raped her and used a knife to keep her down. She hadn't liked Joey much, she'd been the one woman on the bloc he'd never been able to charm. Maybe he looked like the evil guy? But that was what rape was, that was vicious and nasty, not—
And if it was true, like Lance thought, if Lance really had raped Chris, then whatever Lance had said, maybe he—
The door beeped.
It was JC. Shit. He must have had a tracker on Joey's quarters. Shit, shit.
Let me in, Joey, please.
That was the trouble with JC. He could sound so cute and gentle, and he was, most of the time, but when he was really serious, really pissed, he was about as cute as a scalpel.
He opened the door. JC came in, pulled out the guest seat, and sat down. After a moment, Joey lowered himself slowly back into his own chair.
"I talked to Chris," JC said. "So, you wanna tell me about what happened."
"Did—did Chris think Lance raped him? Because if he doesn't then he needs to tell Lance, because Lance is all kinds of messed up about it, but if Lance is right then I'm wondering if he was lying to me and really I, I raped him too. I didn't mean to, I never thought it was like that, I mean, we had to, right? Because it was that or they were going to kill us, and you know they only gave us back two suits after me and Lance did it, and he couldn't just let Chris die, could he? Only now he thinks, no, because you came for us, and he's all broken up about it, but I just don't know, JC, I don't know what to do."
"Hey, hey." JC was holding him, and Joey was clinging on for dear life, and he didn't mean to cry but the tears just wouldn't stop coming, and he sobbed against JC's shoulder and held on tight until at last he could breathe properly again. JC went to the head to fetch a couple of wipes.
"Okay now? Okay," JC said, wiping Joey's face clean of tear tracks and snot. "Better now?" Joey snuffled at him, but he seemed to have stopped crying. "Why don't you start from the beginning, okay?"
So Joey told him. From the beginning, from waking up in the Leggie holding cell, and the disorienting days in the white room. Joey told him all about the voice that had commanded them to have sex or be executed, about the arguments they'd had, about how Lance had seen the sense of it, how they'd saved the scrape to use, how the two flight suits had appeared in the food slot, and what happened with Chris. "I tried to make it good for him, JC, I did, I didn't want to hurt him but I never did it with a man before and I, I, it was good, and I never wanted to have sex with Lance, but I liked it and maybe I shouldn't have, I don't know, I don't know if I was wrong. I thought it was the right thing to do, I swear."
JC's arm tightened around Joey's shoulder. "I get it, Joey, I do, and it's okay that you don't know." He fell silent. Joey concentrated on breathing. He didn't want to start crying again.
"I think," said JC, after a long pause, "that you won't like what I'm going to say, but I think you were raped. All three of you."
"No," Joey said at once, because it wasn't true, nobody had done anything to him.
"Listen to me, Joe. You were forced to have sex when you didn't want to. Don't give me any guff about having a choice, it wasn't a choice. They had you in their cell, you were helpless, and they forced you to do things you never would have done otherwise. I completely get why you all just went crazy out there when you had the chance to get back at the Leggies for what they did."
"I don't—I did choose," Joey insisted.
"Yes, you chose to save your own life, and your wingmates too, and that was the right choice, Joey. Don't think for a second that it wasn't. And you know, it's okay that you enjoyed fucking Lance. It doesn't matter that he's a guy. Sex is great, Joey, you know that, it's just a human need, it should be pleasurable. Even bad sex is great, right?"
There was something wrong with JC's logic, there had to be, otherwise why would he still feel so dirty, but Joey didn't know what it was.
"Joe, I think you should call Kelly."
"I can't tell her about this!"
"Sure you can."
"But she, we had a row, she said not to call." Joey's head was filled with images of his girl, her smile, the way she felt in his arms, the way she looked at him when there was something serious to talk about, and suddenly there was nothing in the world he wanted more than Kelly, right here with him.
"She won't mind," said JC confidently. "And there has to be a doctor on this ship who knows how to deal with this stuff. A proper shrink, not those stupid computers."
"Is Chris going to talk to a real shrink?" Joey found it hard to credit.
"He will when I finish with him," said JC, with steel in his voice. "I cannot believe he kept all this quiet, stupid fucker."
"Well, I'm glad he told you. I didn't want anyone to know, but, maybe I was wrong."
JC started to speak, then obviously thought better of it. "Look," he said eventually, "I think I should go see Lance now. You want me to get Justin down here? We don't have to tell him, if you don't want to, but you should have some company right now."
"No," Joey said. "I think I'm gonna call Kelly. Thanks, 'C." They hugged, hard, and if maybe another tear trickled its way down JC's neck, neither of them mentioned it.
"Say hi to your girl for me," said JC, grinned disarmingly, and left.
He blew half his monthly allowance on the call to Kelly, but it was worth it.
"You stupid fuck! What the fuck did you tell JC?"
"What? Chris, what time is it?" Joey had hit 'open' without really thinking about it, and he wasn't properly awake. And now there was a furious, bristling wingmate prowling around his quarters.
"He knows all about it! What the fuck did you think you were doing?"
Joey sat up, clutching at his blanket for protection. "Okay, so why is this suddenly my fault? You already talked to JC."
"Yeah, but I wasn't so fucking dumb that I'd tell him you got to stick your dick in Lance's ass! He didn't get any of that from me, and Lance knows how to keep a secret so it had to have been you."
"But he said—I—oh." JC hadn't actually said that Chris told him anything. Joey had just... "Shit."
"Yeah," said Chris. "Shit. And now I—they won't let me fly if I—this could be the end of NSYNC wing, you know?"
"I don't see that. We tell them about the, uh, about what the Leggies made us do, and then we, I dunno, do whatever shrinks make you do, and everything's fine."
Chris was still zinging back and forth across his tiny floor like a puck on a screen. "Everything's fine? What, just like that?"
"No," said Joey, patiently, "I guess it takes time. But they must know how to deal with... Uh. JC says, he says we were all raped."
Chris sat down on the bunk, suddenly deflated. "JC's a smart guy."
"So the shrinks will be able to help, right?"
"No, no, you see," Chris laughed bitterly, "that's where you're wrong, that's where it all goes wrong. They have us down for group therapy as well as solo session, we have to do some of this shit together, and I can't, I can't tell him, I can't."
"Lance?" Joey was surprised. Lance was pretty calm about stuff, usually. Lance could deal. He said so.
"No, no. Not when I—see, you maybe didn't notice, because you're a big dumb lummox and you don't notice shit, but that was—see, I can't sleep." Chris leapt up and started to pace again. "I can't sleep. Every night I get into my bunk and you know what I'm seeing in my head? You, fucking Lance. I see it, right there in my mind. You don't have any idea, do you, how it looked, how fucking incredible it looked, and then you with your hand on his dick, and his face, he had his head against your shoulder and I saw how he looked when he came and I, fuck! And he was on his knees and my dick in his mouth, it was so fucking good, and his eyes when he looked up at me, just... I see that every night when I go to bed. He's my wing man, Joey, how can I be thinking about fucking my wing man all the time and have him trust me? I can't tell the shrinks that, fuck it, I can't."
"Well," said Joey, blinking under the torrent, "Lance thinks—"
"I know what Lance fucking thinks," Chris said. "He didn't want me to touch him. He refused, remember? But he did it anyway, to save my life. I mean, that's incredible... How am I supposed to tell him I liked it? You said it yourself, we were raped, JC's right, those fuckers did that to us, they used us to hurt each other, and I'm gonna tell Lance it was the hottest thing I ever saw and I jerk off every night thinking about it? No. No. No way, no fucking, fucking—" he turned abruptly and smashed his fists into the wall, one, two—"fucking way. Ow. Ow!" His face was suddenly even lighter than his usual Celtic pallor, it was the color of Joey's sheets and beads of sweat were forming on his forehead.
Joey caught him before he hit the floor, and carried him straight to the Infirmary.
* * *
The others were nowhere to be seen at breakfast time, but they met up for lunch, of course. Joey had just finished explaining to his three remaining wingmates that Chris was in the Infirmary because he was a moron who had punched a solid steel wall with both hands and Joey was lucky he'd been sleeping with pants on because he'd had to carry him there, when Chris appeared at the canteen doorway. He looked like shit, mostly because he was wearing Infirmary kit, in that hideous mucus green color that made everyone look really sick.
When Chris reached their table, they could also see that he had on what looked like polyfoam mittens, and was profoundly embarrassed under the defiance. He'd broken a bunch of bones, and had to wear the casts for at least a week, he said, but the worst part had been the accelerator injections, which had been a bitch but were supposed to help the bones knit back faster.
Meanwhile, he couldn't move his hands. "Would you get the—" Chris nodded at his ration tray, and Joey obligingly peeled back the lid. "I got a special spork thing, in the bag." There was a flap-top bag around his neck, and Joey fished out an odd-looking spork with a weird handle, like tongs. Chris held out one mittened hand. Joey couldn't figure out what to do with the tong handle, which kept slipping off the mitten's smooth surface, until Lance reached across the table and silently adjusted the alignment. It clipped on neatly at once, Chris muttered a thank you, and began to eat his dinner. The spork arrangement looked pretty effective, though Chris's elbow clouted Joey in the side a couple of times before he got the hang of it.
"That's gonna be a challenge," Justin observed, staring at the mittens. "So you can't move your hands at all?"
"Nope," said Chris. "They said the bones had to be kept in alignment. I have to go to Admin to get a voice key authorized or I won't be able to get into my quarters."
"Oh, so you're not stuck in the Infirmary?" Joey had assumed Chris would be under constant supervision.
Chris looked at him pityingly. "Does this look like the Infirmary to you? They keep the beds there for people who're hooked up to machines and stuff. Apparently I can look after myself, with a little help from my friends."
"What, do we have to undress you or something?" Justin seemed to find this hilarious, and snorted into his meat and potato pie.
"Actually, I can undress myself." Chris demonstrated how his foam-coated thumb was nicely positioned to hook into his elasticated pants. His loose-fitting, wide-sleeved top had one velcro fastening, on the shoulder. "Not sure about taking a shower, though. They sprayed something over them," he angled a hand, and Joey could see that the polyfoam surface gleamed like varnish, "so they're waterproof, but how the fuck do I use the cleaning gel?"
"Kelly has a scrubby thing with a loop, like a mutant washcloth," Joey suggested. "You put the gel on it and it makes a lather."
Chris looked interested but puzzled, and Justin volunteered to ask Britney if she had a spare or knew where to get one.
"Cool. Thanks. You know, I can't play any games or use the comp so I'm gonna be bugging you guys to keep me entertained."
"Good thing we're grounded, then," JC said calmly.
Chris was taking this very well, Joey thought. He was himself rather uncomfortable, He'd seen how hideous Chris's mangled hands had been, but it wasn't that. It was... Chris would be unable to do anything for himself, and that, what did that remind him of?
"Looks like I get to piss sitting down until they take the casts off," Chris was saying.
"Won't be able to wipe your own ass," Justin suggested, still amused.
"Yeah, I'll have to use the autowipe." Chris didn't look as though he much liked the idea, and Joey didn't blame him. He much preferred to deal with things himself, and besides, it would bring back memories of the white room, where the autowipe had been the only option. That was what it reminded him of.
"The autowipe's better," said Lance.
"It really is," said JC. "It's hygienic. Much more thorough than—"
"Yeah, guys, can we maybe talk about something else? I still got food here," Chris complained.
Justin started to giggle. "Dude! No jerking off for you! 'Less you get someone to give you a hand—hey, maybe Lance could do that!"
"I. Don't. Think. So," Lance said into the sudden silence, and walked out.
"You know, you shit-brained little fuck, just because Lance is gay doesn't mean he's desperate to get his hands on any one of us," Chris hissed, his eyes glittering.
"I wasn't, I didn't mean—I just wanted to make him blush!"
"Nice going, superstar." Chris extricated himself from the bench seat, and stalked off.
"Um. Maybe I should—J, there's stuff you don't know," said JC.
Joey stood. "I'm, um, gonna go. But you should, um, explain. Stuff." He fled.
* * *
He tried to call Kelly again, but she wasn't there. Fuck. He really wanted to talk to her.
But not to his wingmates. If it weren't against regulations to eat in quarters, Joey wouldn't have gone down to the canteen at all that evening. Couldn't face sitting in desperately uncomfortable silence, trying not to look at Justin's miserable face, or else listening to JC babble about all kinds of nonsense in an attempt to fill the void. But eventually, he was too hungry not to go.
The place was nearly empty, day shift already gone on to the evening's entertainment, late shift not yet here. He found Lance at their table, already eating, and only his own rations left, which was a relief.
"JC said to join them in the rec room if you want," Lance informed him. "Apparently there are some hot honeys fresh from the training corps and all eager to make friends with the experienced pilots."
"Nah," Joey said, and opened his dinner. He wasn't really in the mood. Oh, and it was soya stew. Great, just great. "You know," he ventured, after a few slithery mouthfuls, "Justin was just trying to embarrass you. He didn't mean anything."
"He didn't know."
"He knew enough to figure out that I—" Lance clamped his lips shut on whatever he'd been about to say, and concentrated on his dinner.
"I talked to Kelly," said Joey, after a while.
Lance relaxed a bit. "She good?"
"She's great. I should have called before. You know, it really helped, talking to her. So, I was thinking, you should prob'ly talk to Chris. You know—apologise."
"Ap—apologise?" Lance's voice hushed to a furious whisper. "Oh, hi Chris, sorry I raped you, still friends? Yeah, right."
"Not like that," Joey said impatiently. "But, you know. It couldn't hurt. Tell him you're sorry."
"How? Seriously, how do you—I just, I don't know how to even say it. Besides, I don't think it'd be right for me to make him talk about it if he doesn't want to. He's the, the injured party."
"If you don't talk about it," Joey said cunningly, "maybe he thinks you aren't sorry. Maybe he thinks you don't care."
Lance's expression was enough to curdle milk, but Joey ignored him, and the stew wasn't going to taste any worse whatever anyone did to it. "Nice to know you're on my side," Lance hissed as he stood up. Well, he should consider it, Joey thought, unwrapping the fruit bar and chewing it with gratitude for actual taste and texture. It could hardly make the situation worse.
He stopped outside Chris's door on the way back to his own quarters, and hesitated a moment. If Lance had decided to talk... well, if he was in there, Chris wouldn't answer the door. So he pressed the hello button, and was slightly disappointed when a moment later the door opened.
"I just wondered if you needed anything?"
"I'm thinking tentacles," said Chris. "Also, a voice operated beer opener. You wanna pop a tube for me?" He waved Joey inside. There was a one-liter beer tube next to the console, completely inaccessible to Chris in his current state. Joey obliged, and Chris painstakingly inserted the end of a meter-long flexible drinking pipe into his beer before settling himself into his chair and sucking happily. "Ah, nectar."
"I got beer and a vid. Unless you're hiding a voluptuous nymphomaniac somewhere, I'm all set."
"Uh. No, sorry."
"What, no spares tonight? Nobody in your harem willing to spare a poor crippled pilot a few minutes? Fuck 'em, then."
Joey laughed, a bit nervously. "So... I'll be next-door, then. Um. You okay with the comm, if you need anything?"
"I'm good," Chris said. "JC came by earlier and reset everything to voice control. Might call you if I want another beer later."
"Sure," said Joey. "Well. I'll, um. Uh, did you see Lance tonight?"
Chris looked murderous. "He hasn't come by to provide me with any special services, if that's what you mean."
"Uh, no, no, I just meant. Never mind. Uh, call me if you need. Anything." Joey fled.
He tried Kelly again, but there was still no answer. Maybe he'd miscalculated the time? Joey sighed. He could really use a little comfort, and nobody knew him like his best girl. Wearily, he stripped down to his underwear and crawled into bed.
He'd only just got the pillow exactly right when his door entry beeped. Turned out it was Lance, looking shamefaced and pathetic.
"See, the thing is, I can't talk to Chris."
Lance sat on the open bunk. Joey pulled his pants back on and settled into his easy chair. "What's up?"
"I mean, you're right. I should tell him I'm sorry. I just." He leaned back against the bulkhead and closed his eyes. "I just don't think I can stand to see the look in his eyes."
Joey didn't quite get this. Chris had been there, after all. He knew what had happened. Okay, so Lance did not know he was starring in Chris's own personal porn showings every night, but he had to know Chris had noticed Lance's mouth on his cock. Joey was about to say so when Lance resumed.
"It's just—Chris, you know? I'm his wing man, I'm not supposed to feel like this. He's never said a word about—well, okay, he has, he mocked me for days when I told you all I was gay, but he never made me feel bad about it. But he trusted me not to be a problem, and I—I have, ever since he picked me out of training to be your fifth when that other guy left."
Joey had thought there was a little hero-worship going on back then. He remembered that wide-eyed innocent kid who fitted in seamlessly and was as reliable as rock when they flew together. The kid had had something like veneration for Chris, the wing-leader who put them all together, but Joey thought it had worn off in the face of reality, of actual Chris, who never knew when a joke stopped being funny, who insisted on showing everybody what he was chewing, and who had an off-duty sugar stix habit which turned him into a human catastrophe zone.
"The worst thing is, though, Joey, the worst thing is I liked it. I, oh, fuck, I dreamed about it so long, getting to go down on Chris, and I didn't want it to be there, I didn't want it to be where someone else was ordering it to happen and watching us all the time, and he didn't want me to even touch him, but I... it was... I forced him into it, Joey, and I enjoyed it. What does that say about me? What kind of person does that?"
"Huh," said Joey. "You were okay with touching me."
"Well, it had to be done, didn't it? It helped that I wasn't into—that we were friends. And besides, you like sex, and it doesn't much matter who you have it with, so I knew it'd be easy for you."
Joey was surprised how much he resented that. "Oh, 'cause Chris never has casual sex!"
"That's not what I meant. It just wouldn't have been—it wasn't casual for me."
Okay, enough. Just, enough. "For the love of—come with me." Joey stood, grabbed Lance's arm and hauled him ungently up from the bunk. He pulled his startled wingmate out into the corridor and leaned on Chris's entry button.
"Wait, Joey, what the fuck—?"
Chris's door opened, and Joey shoved Lance through. "Chris," he said, "meet Lance. He's had a thing for you for ever, he wants to get nasty with you and he won't because he thinks he raped you. Lance, meet Chris, he thinks you're the sexiest thing in the quadrant but he won't do anything about it because he's an idiot."
Leaving them both frozen with shock, he slammed the door shut, stalked back to his own quarters and got into bed. If they couldn't work things out now, fuck the pair of them.
* * *
What? The fuck? Was that beeping noise?
Someone at the door.
Fuck off. Joey pulled the blanket back over his head, but the beeping didn't stop. He peered out at his time display. Shit, he'd only been asleep a couple of hours. It wasn't fair. If this was Lance or Chris, he didn't care if they were here to kill him or kiss his feet, they were going to fuck off right back where they came from.
The beeping continued.
Cursing, Joey hauled back the blanket and stamped over to open the door.
Joey blinked. No. He must be hallucinating. He reached out, touched her face with one finger. Felt real.
"I talked to your commander. He said get on the next ship out and he'd have clearance for me by the time I got to the shuttle port. So I just got here," she said in a rush. "If—if—I have guest quarters allocated, if you'd rather I didn't—"
He pulled her inside and wrapped his arms around her until she squeaked for breath. Then he dropped into the chair and tugged her down onto his lap.
"All the way here I kept wondering if I was doing the right thing," she said against his neck. "I thought you might have someone here." She kissed his ear. "I'm glad you don't."
"Don't want anyone," Joey said, wishing he didn't cry so easily. "Haven't. Long time."
"It's okay, baby. It's okay. We agreed."
Joey couldn't say anything. Kelly, here, came all this way because he needed her so much, so much, and she was here. He clung, and she stroked his face.
After a while, he managed to calm down a bit. "So. You talked to Johnny?"
"He's really worried about you, all of you. I told him you called and I wanted to be here with you. He didn't ask what we talked about, just said if you needed me I should come right out. He was great. All the permits were ready waiting for me every step of the way, I had no problems at all."
"He was so mad when we screwed up."
"He told me you were the best wing in the division, and not to tell you that."
"Best wing in the fleet!" Joey insisted, in a rather watery voice.
"I know that!" She hugged him closer. "So we have to get you fit and ready to fly again so's you can win the war and come back home where you belong, right?"
"Sounds like a plan. It's so good to see you, babe."
"Even in the middle of the night—it is the middle of your night, isn't it? I synchronized with your shift," she said proudly. "I thought I might have woken you up."
"Uh, I actually was asleep."
"But you're dressed! Well, half," she smirked down at his hairy legs, "and you always sleep—"
"It's more convenient," he said hurriedly, "then if someone comes to the door I'm decent already. Did I tell you about having to take Chris to the Infirmary? Good thing I had pants on or there'd have been a scandal."
She kissed him. "It's okay, sweetheart. We'll talk properly tomorrow. Can we go to bed now?" Joey tensed. "It's been a long journey and I didn't get much rest on the way. I'll probably sleep the clock round if you let me, so make sure you wake me, okay?"
He relaxed. "I don't mind watching you sleep," he said.
"Yeah," she slid off his knee, "but I didn't come all this way just to be comatose on you. Wake me." Efficiently, she stripped down to her panties. "I like that they give you guys wide bunks! I thought it'd be a skinny single. Which side do you want?"
"They keep us comfortable," Joey agreed, and slid in next to the wall. Kelly got in next to him and snuggled close, murmured a goodnight, and was asleep in seconds. Poor baby, she must be exhausted. He looked at her for a long time, so serene, so beautiful, so precious. He couldn't quite believe she was here, but if he was dreaming this was the best dream in weeks.
Joey reached over and turned out the light.
* * *
Now this was the way to wake up, with a nice warm female body right there. Joey could feel her fabulous breasts pressed against his chest, except why was he wearing a T-shirt? Oh. Yes. Realization dawned, and he inched backwards.
"Joey? Is something wrong?"
"It's just that I can't, I haven't been, I don't know if I—"
"Hey. Baby. Listen. It's me. I'm not pushing for anything, okay? Remember what I said when you signed up, you get to decide what you want to do, if you want to come back to me, or you don't. I'll be here, I can wait however long it takes, but you're always free to choose, yeah?"
Joey took a deep breath, and the sobs that shook him took him completely by surprise, but Kelly held him and kissed him and stroked him until the shaking stopped, and suddenly he felt better, cleaner, and he couldn't have done it with anyone but her, but somehow with Kelly, everything was all right.
Maybe, after all, things were going to be okay.