The day after his heat ended, Rashan returned to his regular schedule. He got up early, hit the gym, and had breakfast. The 29th had patrols today and he was glad for the chance to get back to work. Rashan turned on the radio, listening to the universal news report as he got dressed. Midway through the broadcast, an ad for an intergalactic dating service came on. As he drew on the close-fitting black tank and square cut black briefs he wore beneath his space suit, he found himself wondering how other people saw his body.
Stepping up to the mirror, Rashan looked over his bronze skin, flat stomach, and slim thighs. They were nice he supposed. And he’d never noticed anyone eyeing him with disgust. He usually only took notice of his appearance to make sure he was neat and presentable for work. But today he was curious if people saw him as attractive.
Annoyed at himself, Rashan shrugged and turned away from the mirror. It didn’t matter whether they did or not. He’d only had the stupid thought because he was no longer on his heavily restrictive suppressants.
He took his flight suit from the closet and stepped into it. Although the material appeared thin, it was constructed from titanium infused webbing strong enough to deflect blaster rays. And it was triple weaved over his torso for extra protection. The suit was all black, except for the glowing blue Z.E.A.F logo over the left breast and blue stripe down the length of the sleeves. Rashan tucked his identification tags inside his suit, then reached behind him to grab the zipper pull and zip it up to where the suit ended beneath the nape of his neck.
His black boots were next. They fit snugly, stopping at the knees, with thick soles fitted with mini propulsion packs to help him maneuver on planets with low gravity. Last, he strapped on his blasters, holstering one on each thigh.
Once he was geared up, Rashan grabbed his helmet, turned off the radio, and left his quarters, the door sliding shut and automatically locking behind him. The halls were busy and bustling with crew members reporting to their morning shifts, some perky and awake, others bleary eyed and grimly holding on to cups of coffee. Just before he reached the briefing room, he ran into Layla.
“Hey.” She greeted Rashan with a warm smile. “You look like you need a hug.”
Rashan wasn’t usually a hugger, but he surprised himself by saying yes instead of politely refusing. “I do actually.” Layla leaned in to hug him, the comforting scent of a fellow omega wrapping around him as securely as the hold she had on his waist. It was different than Tony’s scent, homey and sweet, and it helped him relax, leeching away the tension he hadn’t realized he carried in his neck and shoulders.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Good.” She squeezed him once more then stepped back. “I hear we’re going planet side today,” she said as they started walking together. “You know what that means.”
Rashan grinned. “We get to transform.”
“Yes!” She jumped up and pumped her fists, the glitter in her pink braided cornrows sparkling with her movement.
Whenever they were planet side, they converted their mechs from jets to biomorph robots in order to easily maneuver on the ground. They transformed while in space too, but it was usually only during big battles.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Rashan said. “I need to work my muscles.” Piloting the jets took skill but controlling the biomorphs was on another level. It was taxing both mentally and physically. But no matter how difficult it could sometimes be, they were always excited for it. Piloting giant robots was just plain fun.
He and Layla tapped their helmets together before parting ways to enter the briefing room. Layla went to sit in the back, while Rashan headed to the first row to sit with Tony.
Commander Lee stood at the front of the room. She was a petite Chinese American omega, with long brown hair worn in a thick braid over her left shoulder. Her sharply pressed, navy blue Z.E.A.F uniform worn with black leather gloves gave her a decidedly stern air. But she directed her division of the Marion with such genuine kindness that Rashan — and probably everyone else on the flight crews — would choose to throw themselves face first into a star going super nova rather than let her down.
Commander Lee started the meeting by holding up a hand for quiet.
“Good morning, everyone. Today Lieutenant Jemison’s squad will be going planet side on Chalon.” The screen behind her displayed a tiny, orange planet. Two clicks of the remote she held and it zoomed in past the atmosphere, focusing on a hilly area, shrouded in blue mist. “We’ve received reports that a large number of Varnos rebels have set up camp in the hill region there, and are using it as a base to harass Zareen-Earth ships and space stations. As always, we are working on the assumption that they are not sanctioned by the Varnos Federation.”
Snorts of amused doubt sounded in the room. The Varnos Federation was a large, powerful collective of races, planets, and civilizations, united under the banner of planet Varnos. They’d been engaged in a space race with the Zareen, another large empire for hundreds of years. That race had intensified when the people of Earth joined with the Zareen, led by Beals Corp.
It took time for humans to close the gap in technology but they made up for the lack with a thirst for exploration. The addition of new players to the space race game set off two wars between the Varnos Federation and the newly formed Zareen Earth Alliance. The second ended in a truce, with a set of accords designating which star systems each force could claim, and how to handle newly discovered systems.
For the most part, things were calm between the two galactic powers. But occasionally small skirmishes and conflicts occurred in areas where Zareen and Varnos co-existed in close quarters. The real problem lay with the Varnos rebels who refused to accept the truce. Officially, the Varnos Federation disavowed the rebels. Unofficially, they did nothing to stop them.
Commander Lee acknowledged her crews’ doubts that the Federation didn’t sanction the rebels with a small smile before moving on. “However. Intelligence tells us that galaxy wide, the rebels’ activity and numbers are all increasing, and their weaponry is improving. Which means we must be cognizant of the fact that the Varnos might be funding them in preparation for officially sanctioned military action in the near future. For now, the Guion Accords are still in effect and we do not want another war. Please use the lowest force necessary when apprehending the rebels on Chalon. Any questions?”
No one raised any, so Commander Lee smiled again and clicked off the screen.
“Good. Kick ass and be safe. Dismissed.”
Rashan and the rest of the 29th left to begin their patrol. He walked next to Tony on their way down to the flight deck.
“You ready to get to work?” Tony asked.
“You know it.”
Tony raised an eyebrow.
In answer, Tony’s glance moved to Rashan’s hair.
Rashan raised a hand to his head. His fingers sank into the mass of curls down around his shoulders. “Shit. I forgot to put it up again.”
Tony laughed and held his hand up. There was a black hair band around his wrist.
Rashan shook his head in amusement. He often forgot to put his hair up, while Tony always remembered to bring him a hair tie. “How many of these do you have?” He took hold of Tony’s hand to tug the band off his wrist. Neither of them had their gloves on yet and Rashan noticed how warm Tony’s fingers were. Rashan blinked. He’d never noticed that before.
“I may have bought a package of them from the ship’s store,” Tony answered.
“I bet you didn’t realize being friends with me meant you’d have to help me keep my hair contained,” Rashan joked. He quickly twisted his thick, curly hair into a braid, securing the end with the band Tony had brought for him. It would be easier to stuff his hair under his helmet with it confined in a braid. “Thank you.”
Tony tucked a strand of hair he’d missed behind his ear. As Tony’s fingers brushed over his skin, an odd tingling warmed him all over. Rashan blinked again, but otherwise kept his reaction to himself. That was weird. They touched and embraced all the time. So why did Tony’s touch feel different today? And why was he noticing things like the warmth of his hands and the way his close-cut beard was the perfect frame for his full lips? And also how big Tony was, not just tall, but alpha big. And hard and—. Rashan sucked in a sharp breath at the bewildering path his thoughts had taken and ended up choking on air.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I uh... swallowed wrong.”
Tony accepted his excuse with a shrug and turned to speak with Waylan as they went down the ramp.
When they reached the flight deck, Rashan looked over his jet. Each one was painted specifically as the pilot had requested. His was a bright, metallic-royal blue with silver and white racing stripes down the sides of the body, and along the front of the wings. In the next bay over, Tony’s was painted a deep, glossy black except for the gold underbelly, and the gold and aqua accents on the wing tips.
Rashan put on his helmet and climbed up into the cockpit. He methodically went through the pre-flight check and started powering up the jet. Switches were flipped, monitors glowed to life, and the dash lit up. As always, he grinned at the first powerful burst from the engines. He loved being a pilot. Loved everything about flying this amazing machine out in the vastness of space.
As his canopy closed over him, he looked to his left at Tony. The other pilot gave him a thumbs up. Rashan returned the gesture with easy familiarity, having already moved on from the weirdness he’d had during their walk down to the flight deck. He rolled forward to taxi onto the runway track, waiting for his signal officer to give him the go-ahead.
“You are clear for takeoff, Officer Grove.”
Rashan pushed up on the accelerator. The craft moved forward, steadily gaining speed, until with a belly-lifting whoosh he was through the space lock shield and out in the inky black of space. One by one the rest of the squad flew out too. As they started to come over the comm lines, Rashan tensed, expecting to be teased about missing the previous patrol due to his heat. He knew he shouldn’t be embarrassed about something so natural, but he was. However, no one said anything. The conversation went from bets on the combat games on planet Min to bitching over the menu choices that week. But there wasn’t a word said about his heat. By the time Sasha cut into their chit-chat to get them focused on the mission, Rashan had relaxed.
After about thirty minutes of flight time, they reached Chalon. JJ hung back to orbit the planet on lookout, while the rest of the team descended to the ground. Rashan turned on his cockpit’s reflective shield to cut back on the glare as they entered the atmosphere. Once he broke through the cloud cover, he started the transformation process.
Gears whirred as components rearranged themselves from jet to biomorph. The cockpit’s interior changed too. Rashan stood as his pilot’s seat unfolded, converting into the frame of a mechanized skeleton. He slid his hands into the gloves at the end of the mech-frame’s arms and fit his feet on top of the foot pedals. The magnetized plates locked his boots into place, and straps went around his forearms and calves, securing the metal skeleton to his body. The mech-frame now controlled the robot’s movements by echoing Rashan’s, while the instrument panel still controlled everything else. The transformation complete, he put on his reverse thrusters, slowing down to land on both feet with a ground shaking boom.
A little kid on the sidewalk stared up at him in awe, the frozen treat in his hand dripping orange rivulets down his purple-skinned arm. Rashan grinned, saluting the kid. The child smiled and enthusiastically waved back with his other three arms.
Rashan swung his legs and arms as if he were walking, sending the mech forward. He didn’t have to strain, but it did take strength to power the mech’s limbs. He observed the town as he walked down the center of the street. All appeared quiet, and no one looked aggressive or suspicious. But he didn’t expect the Varnos rebels to be out in the open, villainously twirling their mustaches.
When he hit the edge of the city, he looked up into the heavily forested hills. It was the perfect landscape for hideouts. The Chalons were a peaceful people, they wouldn’t have the necessary equipment to flush the rebels out on their own.
The ground shook again as the rest of the team joined Rashan, each of them coming from a different direction in town. The six pilots lined up, mech to mech.
“Remember. We negotiate first,” Lieutenant Jemison said over the communication link. “If they refuse to come out, we go in. If they aggress, we respond in kind. Grove, Wilson you’re with me. Alvarez and Rogers, you’re my pincers. Zahir, I want you up in the air observing on stealth mode. Move out.”
They moved into their positions, Terrell taking off to fly overhead, Tony and Waylan skirting the sides of the hills to block any potential escape routes, and Rashan, Layla and Sasha approaching the site head on. At the base of the hill, Sasha got on her mech’s PA system. Her voice boomed out over the area. Anyone within a two-mile radius would hear her.
“Attention citizens of Varnos. This is Lieutenant Jemison of the Zareen Earth Alliance Force. You are in violation of the Guion Accords. Come out unarmed with your hands above your head.”
While she spoke, Rashan stood by her side, his mech’s head slowly turning from side to side as he scanned the landscape. His thermal imaging radar easily picked out the rebels’ hideout. There were multiple subjects clustered together directly in front of them. A smaller group was to the main structure’s right. He hadn’t spotted them yet but he was sure there were lookouts posted as well. Rashan quietly relayed the recon information over the comms.
They waited to see if the rebels would obey Sasha’s directive. The wind blew, rustling the thick white leaves, and clearing away some of the mist but there was no other visible movement on the hillside. Thanks to his radar, Rashan could see the rebels moving within their hideout. It didn’t look like they were preparing to surrender. In fact, they were picking up blasters and rushing for the hideout’s exit. He called out a warning. “Lieutenant, they’re on the move.”
“I see them.”
Multiple bursts of laser fire came from the hills. The shots hit his mech with metallic plinks but weren’t able to penetrate his armor. Rashan raised his arm, his mech following suit. He squeezed the munitions trigger, and blue lasers shot out from the gun ports mounted on his wrist. Rashan wasn’t aiming to kill. Instead, he hit the ground below the encampment, which sent up a cloud of dust and debris, obscuring the rebels’ vision. The shots continued but now most of them were wildly out of range. Except for the shots coming from two separate directions, hitting Rashan with unerring accuracy. They had to be from the lookouts he’d been unable to locate in his initial scan.
Activating his shield, Rashan prepared to move in and find the lookouts. However, before he reached the base of the hill, a capture net dropped from the sky from seemingly out of nowhere, falling into the trees. Another dropped further back and to the left. The accurate shots immediately stopped. Terrell’s quiet voice came over the comm link.
“Snipers have been neutralized.”
Now they only had to take out the main force. Layla was their ace in the hole for a mission like this, when they wanted to avoid extreme force. Her mech was fitted with a device that knocked out the power on enemy weapons but she had to be within close range to use it.
“You ready to finish this, Wilson?”
“Let’s do it.”
They moved together, Rashan giving her the cover she needed to get into position. They stopped when they were right below the encampment. A silent black wave of energy flowed out from Layla’s mech, displacing the air in its path. Seconds later, confused shouts rose as the rebels realized their weapons no longer worked. Rashan grinned as he confidently strode into the clearing in front of the rebel hideout. He got on his PA system, but he wasn’t nearly as polite and diplomatic as Sasha when he issued his orders.
“Do like my lieutenant said and come out with your hands up.” He gave his gun ports just enough juice to make them glow and hum with power, letting the rebels know what would happen if they didn’t obey. “Don’t make me tell you again.”
This time the Varnos walked out of the hideout with their hands raised above their heads. They wore hooded red uniforms and clear face masks. Although the Varnos were a military society, their people were known throughout the galaxy for their beauty. Scars were frowned upon, and the masks were to protect their faces from the possibility of being marred in a fight.
Most of the rebels stood silently in surrender, but a few chose to make a break for it and run. Rashan let them go. They wouldn’t get far. Back in visibility mode, Terrell streaked overhead as Rashan and Layla escorted the Varnos rebels off the hillside. As expected, Tony had caught the few who’d tried to run. He towed them behind him in a floating capture net.
“Grove, get me a casualty report,” Sasha ordered once they reached the base of the hill.
Rashan did another scan. “No fatalities. Four injuries. All rebels captured.”
“Excellent. JJ, maintain your position. Terrell and Waylan, convert and get the rebels loaded in your holds. Tony assist them. Rashan and Layla go back up to inspect their campsite, and gather anything relevant to their operation while I speak with the town authorities.”
Everyone responded in the affirmative. “Roger that.”
The squad moved quickly and efficiently, getting the new prisoners loaded, and collecting weapons samples and plans for future attacks. Within two hours, they were flying back to the Marion, relaxed and celebrating their successful mission.
Commander Lee was waiting for them on the flight deck when they returned. She watched while they transferred the prisoners and weapons to the ship’s police before approaching.
“Good work out there. I know your shift is over, but we’ve got a staff meeting in the auditorium in five. All flight crew are required to attend.”
There was no time to gear down, so the squad made their way to the auditorium, boots loud in the hall, drowning out the motorized whirring of Sasha’s chair. When they reached the auditorium, they had to split up to take the few seats remaining in the large room. Captain McNair, a barrel-chested alpha with light-brown skin, and a salt and pepper beard, stood at the front next to the podium, silently eyeing the crew members as they trooped in. Once everyone was seated, the room deep-space quiet, the captain began.
“We’ve received a request to escort a group of settlers who plan to colonize an uninhabited planet.” Captain McNair clicked the remote in his hand and a picture of the Guion Galaxy came up on the screen behind him. “Here on the as of yet unnamed, Far Planet Four or FP-4.” He clicked again and the screen zoomed in on a large planet. It appeared to be just shy of giant status. Thick gray clouds swirled over the planet, obscuring most of it from view.
“Hell, that’s way out on the edge of the galaxy,” JJ said in surprise.
Rashan added his own observation. “That’s in a Zareen-Earth controlled quadrant but we don’t patrol that far.”
“No, we do not,” the captain agreed.
Tony asked a question. “That planet hasn’t been cleared for human colonization, has it?”
Captain McNair paused, before answering in a way that made it obvious he was carefully choosing his words.
“The atmosphere, water and vegetation have tested safe for humans. A biodome won’t be necessary.”
Rashan looked around the room to see if the rest of the crew picked up on the captain’s evasiveness. Going by their doubting expressions, they definitely had. “That doesn’t mean the planet is habitable, Captain.”
“Beals Corp Universal has made a generous offer for those willing to go to this planet. The trip will take approximately two months. One-month travel there, a week to stand guard while they build their encampment, then back to the Marion. The return trip should be faster without the weight of the cargo on the shuttle. Hazard pay and a hefty bonus have also been allocated for the pilots and crew who take on the mission. The escort calls for a cargo ship pilot and crew, five infantry soldiers, and two Screamer pilots.”
Rashan crossed his arms over his chest. “A billion galaxy credits aren’t worth it if you end up eaten by some alien swamp monster, or your skin rots off from aggressive bacteria or—.”
“Your objections have been noted, pilot,” Captain McNair interrupted. “We have a month before we dock on Terwood and pick up the group. Take your time, review the report and decide if you’d like to be a part of this operation. Contact me directly if you choose to sign up. That is all. Dismissed.”
The screen went dark and the captain strode from the room.
Rashan rose from his seat. He made his way to the front of the room, shaking his head as he looked over the report on his data pad. “Those people are foolish to take the risk of colonizing that planet. The information provided on it is so minimal it’s a joke. And once the escort is gone, they’ll be out of reach of immediate help if something goes wrong.”
Waylan shrugged. “Yeah, but if everything goes right, they get the glory that goes along with settling a planet, as well as first dibs on all the planet’s resources.”
Rashan looked up at Tony. “What do you think?”
“I understand why some would take the risk. Sometimes it’s the only way to get an opportunity in this universe. Or maybe they’re desperate to get away from a life they’re unhappy with.”
Rashan sobered as he thought of his own secret history escaping a desperate situation. “But you won’t sign up for it, will you?”
Tony smiled and shook his head. “No.”
Waylan snorted. “Stars know you two are joined at the hip. The only way Tony would take that mission is if you went with him.”
“Then I don’t have to worry about it because I know I’m not putting my name down to lead people on such a ridiculous quest.” As far as Rashan was concerned, that ended the conversation permanently for him. FP-4 was someone else’s problem.
Two weeks after the Chalon mission, the crew aboard the Marion buzzed with energy. It was team building day, or as the crew jokingly called it — Field Day. The months aboard the space ship, far away from home, could be tough. It was one reason personal relationships were allowed in the force. The Alliance wanted their crews to have personal attachments, as it helped them to be comfortable with the long periods away from their home planets. Also, it was difficult for mated pairs to be separated for an extended length of time, especially newly mated pairs. Bonding with someone on the same ship solved that problem.
The quarterly team building days were contrived in order to give the Alliance galaxy ship crews a chance to relax and have fun. Everybody grumbled that they had to give up a day off doing team exercises instead of relaxing on their own, but they really did enjoy them.
This field day, the 29th had played an intense game of Low-G dodgeball against the team from the bridge. They played in the chamber where they usually did Zero-G training. Today the gravity was set to low rather than zero, which allowed them to bounce and jump high without floating completely off the floor. However, the balls they used were specially weighted so that they could still be thrown with force. It was brilliant game, designed a decade ago by two Beals employees after a company picnic, where they’d drunkenly tried to play dodgeball in a zero chamber.
Terrell chose to serve as the coach, his way of showing up as required with as little involvement as possible. Knowing some of his history, the rest of the 29th understood his reluctance and didn’t hold it against him. Sasha played, leaving her wheelchair outside the chamber. Her disability didn’t prevent her from using her legs, but because of the long distances on the ship, she preferred to use her wheelchair more often than not. In Low-G, however, her mobility wasn’t a factor. With her natural athleticism, she was a beast at taking the opposing players out. Thanks to her vicious throws, Rashan’s agile flips and dodges, and Tony’s blocks, they’d handily defeated the bridge crew team.
Now, the game was over but Rashan and Waylan started their own round of one-on-one dodgeball. It consisted of them flinging the same ball back and forth at each other as hard as they could, until one of them was hit out. Tony only had eyes for Rashan, smiling at his antics dodging the ball while egging on Waylan.
“Come on you big, slow alpha. You don’t want to be embarrassed when an omega beats you, do you? I know how fragile your alpha egos are.”
Waylan growled and renewed his attack, which Rashan quickly dodged.
Tony looked away from his friend when Sasha nudged him to get his attention.
“Why don’t you tell him?”
Tony took a gulp of his sports drink. “Tell who what?” he asked, pretending he didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Really?” she asked with a good bit of side eye.
Tony grinned and stopped teasing her. “It doesn’t seem like the right time.”
“It hasn’t been the right time going on ten years now.”
“You know how he is about alphas. And he was just forced off his suppressants. I don’t want to throw talk of mating at him while he’s still adjusting. When he’s ready I’ll say something. Court him.”
“You’re not worried you’ll catch someone else’s scent and fall for them instead?”
“No.” Like most alphas, he’d fallen hard for his chosen mate. He wouldn’t waver unless he was one hundred percent certain he didn’t have a chance for a relationship with Rashan. “No,” he repeated firmly. “He’s everything I want.”
Heat crawled up the back of his neck as Sasha raised her eyebrows at his unexpected candor.
“And if someone else approaches him while you’re waiting?”
Tony’s grip tightened on the bottle he held, and his scent changed, becoming powerful and aggressive. A growl tried to rumble up from his chest but he swallowed it back. “I will do my best to win him first if that happens.” He tried to speak as calmly as possible but a hint of the alpha growl snuck into his voice.
“Wow,” Sasha said again. “It’s not often you go into aggressive alpha mode.”
“Couldn’t help it,” Tony said with a purposely casual shrug. He started to change the subject but Rashan and Waylan came over first.
“You guys ready to go and eat?” Waylan asked.
Tony stood and tossed the now empty bottle in the waste unit. “Yeah, I’m starving.” He slung an arm around Rashan’s shoulders as they left the gravity chamber. They headed to the mess hall, which today served foods they didn’t ordinarily get. All of the meat and vegetables were real and fresh instead of simulated or freeze dried. They had meals and desserts from nearly major every region on Earth, as well as a few Zareen dishes. However, supplies were limited and each crew member was only allowed one serving.
Rashan chose a plate of sapasui and coconut bread, a Samoan stir fry dish the staff had started making when he’d come aboard two years ago. Tony got a cheeseburger with all the fixings, and a basket of fries. They both got milkshakes, then went to sit down at a table in the back of the hall with the rest of the 29th, and a few crew members from the flight deck. A comfortable silence fell between the two of them as they ate. A few minutes into their meal, Rashan slowly slid his hand across the table and snuck a fry off his plate.
“Hey. Hands off my fries.”
“Come on,” Rashan looked at him with wide, imploring eyes. “Best friends share fries.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony grumbled as if he were upset. But he nudged his plate closer to Rashan so they could share.
Tony had finished his burger and was savoring his milkshake when a group of crew members came up to their table.
“Hey, Tony,” one of the officers said with a bright smile. “The official team building stuff is over, but we’re going to hang out some more. A few of us are going to the lounge for card games, while everyone else is going to watch a movie.”
“You and Rashan should join one of our groups.”
Boyd, the stunningly handsome weapons systems operator, tossed his long black hair over his shoulder. “Yeah, come play cards. You owe me a chance to win some of my credits back from the last time we played together,” the beta said flirtatiously.
Tony smiled at them all. “Thanks for the invite guys. I’ll think about what kind of trouble I want to get into while I finish my dessert.” He nodded at his half-full milkshake.
“All right, hope to see you later,” the first officer waved and set off for the next table with the rest of the group.
Boyd playfully pouted that Tony didn’t give him a firm answer before leaving to join them. Once they were gone, Tony turned back to Rashan. The young omega eyed him as if he were figuring something out.
“What’s up?” Tony asked.
Rashan glanced at the retreating officers then back at Tony. “I get why you’re so popular now. Before I thought it was only because you’re so nice. But now I see it’s also because you’re hot.”
Tony choked on his milkshake. “What?” he gasped out. That was the last thing he’d expected Rashan to say.
“You’re good looking. But not cute.” He tilted his head to the side and studied Tony with narrowed eyes. “Sexy is the word for you.”
“You think I’m sexy.” He said it slowly. Not quite a question, more trying to understand where this was all coming from.
“Sure. When I was on suppressants, I never thought of stuff like that. Now I’m starting to pick up on it.” Rashan shrugged and snagged another fry, popping it into his mouth. “But it’s only an observation. Sexy or not, I’m still going to steal your fries.”
“Steal away,” Tony said faintly. He understood what Rashan meant. On suppressants, Rashan hadn’t experienced, or apparently even thought about physical attraction. Off suppressants, he was experiencing an extremely late sexual awakening. Tony supposed things were off to a good start, since Rashan thought he was sexy. “Okay. I’m sexy and you’re a fry thief. What do you want to do for the rest of the evening, fry thief?”
Rashan sipped on his shake for a few moments. “Let’s watch a movie,” he finally said.
They went off to join the bigger group in the theatre. Tonight, they were playing a big budget action film, starring Eagan Featherstone.
In the theater, they chose seats in the middle. Thirty minutes in, Rashan leaned over and put his head on Tony’s shoulder. It wasn’t a surprise, they often sat this way on their movie nights. Tony smiled down at his friend and resumed watching the movie.
As the movie played, Rashan’s weight shifted, becoming heavier. He’d fallen asleep. Tony loved that Rashan trusted him enough to fall asleep nearly in his arms. Tony adjusted his position, resting his arm along the seat back so Rashan could curl in closer. He inhaled lightly, subtlety scenting Rashan. He loved his scent. It was wild and sweet, like honey, and a gentle breeze blowing over an unspoiled meadow. Tony rumbled once in contentment, then watched the last thirty minutes of the movie with a warm, sleeping omega laying on his chest.
When the credits started to roll, the lights went up, and Rashan stirred at the brightened room. Tony swallowed his disappointment when Rashan came fully awake and moved away.
“I fell asleep on you again. Sorry about that,” he said with a sheepish smile.
“I’ve told you before I don’t mind,” Tony assured him.
They rose to walk back to their residence wing. The halls were quiet and nearly deserted. Along the way, they passed a couple oblivious to everyone else, leaning against the wall in a darkened corner, cuddling and kissing. The sight of the alpha holding his omega protectively close stirred something within Tony, prompting him to nudge Rashan with his elbow. “You think you’ll ever want that?” he asked with a nod toward the couple.
Rashan looked at them then rolled his eyes. “Not a chance.”
“Tie myself to an alpha? Preening and showing off a mating bite? No thanks. I’d rather stay on my own. I’ll be the old, retired pilot who spends all his time in galaxy bars telling overly embellished stories about my career as a Screamer pilot.”
“That sounds kind of lonely.”
Rashan shrugged. “What about you? Do you want a mate, a sweet, cuddly omega to hold on to at night?”
Tony thought back to a few minutes ago with Rashan cozily nestled against his chest. “Yeah. I do, actually.”
“Oh.” Rashan stopped in the middle of the hall and stared up at Tony.
Tony stopped too. “That surprises you?” he asked as he leaned against the window, propping one foot up on the glass behind him.
“I guess I never thought of you mated up. So then, why haven’t you?”
“Maybe I’m waiting for the right guy.” The words hung between them while Tony silently watched his friend, hoping... A frown touched Rashan’s brow and he looked away, staring out into the black space behind Tony.
He was beautiful, the line of his jaw so sharp and defined it looked as if it had been cut by a diamond blade. His mouth was soft, the top lip arcing in a vulnerable curve, the bottom so pink and lush Tony ached to gently suck it into his mouth. He would give anything to taste Rashan’s sweetness. Tony started to reach for his hand, ready to declare his feelings and intentions. But Rashan looked back at him with a bright grin.
“Well, you’ve got a few galaxies worth of guys to choose from.”
He glanced down for a moment, a few thick strands of hair falling over his shoulder. Tony wanted to push that curly black hair back behind his ear. Or better yet, tangle his fingers in it as he brought Rashan close for a kiss. His hand twitched but he kept it by his side.
Looking back up, Rashan continued. “But when you do mate, whoever you choose better understand that I’ll always be in your life.”
“Of course, you will,” Tony agreed with a nod.
Rashan took a step back. “Good night, Tony. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good night, Rashan.” Tony stayed in his spot against the window and watched his omega friend walk away. Rashan wasn’t ready for talk of courting and mating. Soon. But not yet.
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My rambling and not at all edited thoughts on romance novels, writing, and pop culture.