Building Castles Undersea

It was weird, if not nice, to see the sun again. The problem with being a submariner was you forgot that there was anything other than water and artificial light. True, the sunlamps and "natural" lighting installed aboard all modern submarine crafts made it possible to remain healthy while never coming to the surface more often than once a month. But that only made it weirder when you finally saw the sun.

Ben shaded his eyes and looked at the sky. The colour was that of a shallow sea, clean and clear. In this case it meant the semi-tropical sky would be raining on them soon. Ben didn't mind. As long as the sun was out, it could rain all it liked. It was his first day topside in over a month and he was going to enjoy it, no matter what the weather.

Normally as chief supply officer he got to run topside more often than anyone else, but the last several weeks had been hectic, with one classified mission after another. Their contact with the surface had been limited to secured shuttles and absolutely, positively, necessary reasons which were determined by the admiral and the captain, and not the supply officer. Toothpaste was not an urgent enough excuse to schedule a supply run.

Ben knew that, for a fact. He'd asked for permission to make a supply run three weeks ago and Commander Ford had said no. The first time he'd said no; when he'd had to repeat himself he'd elaborated that inessential supplies meant exactly that and unless Kreig had an extremely good reason for interrupting a high-security mission, he had better start letting people know they were going to have to do without for a while. From the look Ford had given him, Ben knew that even if he came up with what sounded like good reasons, he'd get turned down.

SeaQuest had finally docked two days ago, and its crew had begun taking long-awaited shore leave. Kreig had spent those two days restocking Supply. By the time he got to shore most of the crew had already made plans for the remaining two days of leave. Ben was left to wander the little town of Draper Cove more or less by himself -- which meant he could go off and get into trouble without anyone from seaQuest catching him.

He wasn't looking for trouble, not the kind the captain would really object to. What he was doing was hitting the swap meets and pawnshops. You never knew what odd trinket or gizmo would turn out to be useful in a trade, so like all good Supply officers, Ben kept a good collection of odd things that nobody -- except the guy who had the last good multi-sequence silicon chip -- wanted. They weren't the sort of stores seamen on shore leave normally visited and they were sometimes just the sort of place a seaman in uniform could get himself into a lot of trouble.

The locals enjoyed UEO dollars, as long as they came ashore in a controlled fashion. Bars, shops, and restaurants along the wharf were geared for their business. If you wandered too far inland, however, you had either better be more interested in culture than partying (there was an entire contingent on seaQuest who went to every theatrical performance on-shore they could get to) or out of uniform.

Ben was neither, but he didn't mind. Getting rousted for trying to buy a pawned croquet set wasn't anything that would get onto his record. Fortunately they'd been to Draper Cove before once or twice and the shop owners seemed to remember him. They were cordial, even though they still raised their prices.

With several small wrapped parcels tucked in his knapsack, Ben went into yet another pawnshop. It was almost time for lunch and there was a diner at the end of the block that, a year ago, had made fantastic chili. He decided to head there after checking this shop out, and then hitting all the shops on the opposite side of the street on his way back.

The chimes sounded as he brushed the door open and stepped inside. There was no immediate sign of a proprietor so Ben simply began browsing. Most of the shelves were full of the usual assorted junk. Nothing he hadn't already seen and refused. There were several cameras behind a counter; if he could find one that worked well, he might pick one up. He barely glanced at the shelf of radios and fishing equipment then came around a row of shelves to see a wall full of musical instruments. Mostly brass, but there were three violins as well.

He smiled. One was a child's violin, the other two were adult- sized. Stepping closer, he could see they'd been re-strung before being set out for sale.

"Would you care to see them?" came a voice behind him.

Ben turned, and grinned. "Yeah, I would." It wasn't like he was going to buy one -- but it never hurt to indulge himself.

The old man smiled, and made his way behind the counter. He was dressed in the typical dark slacks and light cotton shirt topped with a sweater vest, that old men always seemed to wear. His glasses were down on his nose for reading and other close-up focusing and his white hair looked uncombed since it began thinning some decades before. As he took one violin down, he handled the instrument as if he understood its value. He handed it to Ben with a gentle hand, and Ben took it with equal care.

He looked it over. The wood was clean, and the varnish unworn. It looked to be fairly new and almost unused. Ben plucked at a string and found it badly out of tune, but strong. He plucked each of the rest, and found the same. Tuning the G, he discovered the keys were nice and tight. He looked up to find the old man smiling at him. "I have the bow," he offered. "You could rosin it up and try it, if you like."

Ben looked down at the violin again, and shook his head. "No... this one is...." he trailed off.

The man nodded and took it back. He hung it and took down the other. This one was older, and looked well-used. It had been well cared for, Ben could see, as he took the instrument. Again the strings were out of tune but new, and strong. The keys were looser, but tight enough that when he tuned the strings he knew they would remain in tune. He brushed his fingers along the wood -- then looked up, startled, as the old man held out a bow.

"Thanks." Ben took it, found it had already been rosined, and drew it slowly across the strings. He smiled. "That's nice."

"Yes," the man agreed. "Play something, hear her voice," he urged.

He hesitated for a moment; then he re-settled his chin on the instrument, holding it firmly in place, and set the bow on the strings. He played the opening measures of Bach's concerto in A minor for violin, something he'd been listening to just the day before. The violin had a wonderful voice -- sweet and clear, the notes filled the shop completely. The old man smiled at Ben. Kreig lowered the violin.

"That was nice. I didn't know you played."

Ben whirled. "Commander!" He forced a cheerful grin, and a relaxed pose. "You know how it is -- every mother forces their kid to take lessons for one thing or another."

Commander Ford walked over from where he'd been standing, just inside the door. The expression on his face said he suspected Ben was understating his case. The old man knew it, as well, and protested, "That was no mere child's exercise." Ben shrugged and didn't reply. The proprietor continued with a hopeful smile, "Will you take it?"

"I... I'd like to but I can't. A submarine really isn't the place for a violin, you know?" he laughed. He handed it back to the old man, who took it reluctantly. "Thank you, it's a beautiful instrument." He glanced over to Ford, who was still staring at him like he had three heads. "I really should get going."

He left the shop without a backward look. He wanted to look -- wanted to take a minute to talk himself into getting the violin anyhow. It had been nearly a year since he'd played and almost two since he'd been able to play regularly. But seaQuest really wasn't the right place for it -- and not just because he didn't want to deal with the reaction of his crewmates.

Bypassing the diner at the street's end, he headed back towards the wharf to find a nice, loud place for lunch. When he was finally seated with his sandwich and soda, he relaxed. And congratulated himself -- he had spent nearly three minutes in the same room with Jonathan Ford without once thinking how he'd like to strip the man naked and toss him onto a bunk. Probably a world's record. Certainly a record for him.

Back on board seaQuest that night, he unloaded his days' acquisitions. Most were merely to be re-wrapped and stashed in a trunk for future use. A few he would leave out to add to the list of available knickknacks in the ship's store. One large group of packages he dealt with first, stashing them inside a box marked "men's underwear size XS" which he put back in the stack behind the other boxes of things no one ever used but which he was, by regulation, required to maintain supplies of.

He was still cataloguing and wrapping the items meant for the trade trunk when someone knocked. Plastic necklaces in-hand, he went to answer it. "Commander, what can I do for you?" His mind happily went into its favorite fantasy, knowing Kreig could concentrate easily on his work while his mind amused itself. The fantasy came to a screeching halt as he saw what the Commander was carrying.

He stepped back as Ford came into the room. "I hope this isn't a bad time for a brief inspection, Lieutenant? I realize you're technically off-duty right now but I'm not, and I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on."

Kreig kept his face impassive while he whispered a prayer. "Sure, Commander. Go ahead. Don't mind me." He went back to his desk. Ford didn't need him for this inspection -- merely an overview, which in other departments amounted to a five minute visit while the commander looked around to make sure nothing was on fire, rusting, or obviously stolen from another department. The first two were easy, here; the third only got checked during full inspections or when someone went to Security Chief Crocker. Kreig hadn't, in fact, ever figured out why Ford bothered to do more than his usual five-minute visit, with Supply. He always stayed longer, though, looking at nearly everything.

Ben kept working, glancing over only occasionally as Ford poked and peered into the stacks of supplies. He seemed calm enough; he wasn't scowling or making lots of tickmarks on his clipboard. Ben didn't know whether to be worried or not. There wasn't much the commander could find with such a cursory examination. He never knew what Ford hoped to find - - the commander seemed to be out to get him, more often than not, and Ben suspected he hung around longer than necessary trying to find anything he could put on his report.

It didn't bother him; Ford never found anything worth reporting... well, nothing worth fixing after it was reported, anyhow. Kreig wrapped the necklaces, thinking of the eight-year-old daughter of one of his better black market suppliers, and put them aside. He was going to be meeting Vankirk in a couple weeks, and they would make a good gift for her. When it came to Vankirk, a happy child made for a happy trader.

"What is this?" came a question, in a rather amused tone.

Kreig looked up. "That's a bicycle pump."

"Why do you have a bicycle pump?" The commander set the item back down, and was looking at him curiously.

"Because folks don't always have self-inflating rafts... or whatevers. They use pumps, and the old-fashioned standing pumps are easier to use than the newer electric ones. A person doesn't always have batteries."

"We use these on seaQuest?" Ford asked, doubtfully.

Ben laughed. "Actually we did, once. We were... oh... you're not supposed to know about that, sir. Nevermind." Ben grinned as Ford returned the laugh. The commander went back to his inspection, and Ben went back to his cataloguing -- with only one short moment for staring. His mind was already inventing new fantasies. He really wished it would stop so he could finish his work while the object of his fantasies was standing only a few feet away.

Ten minutes later Ford thanked him, signed off Supply, and left. Letting out a breath, Ben leant back in his chair. Thank god for desks, he told himself. He was going to have to lock his door and take care of business before he would be able to get any more work done. At least he had a brand new fantasy involving Ford, a private beach, and an inflatable mattress.

If this continued he was going to be able to start selling his fantasies to one of the adult magazines he denied having onboard. Perhaps he ought to sell them to one of the magazines he really didn't keep on board. In case anyone recognized the players...

It was three weeks later that Kreig got back into the box marked "men's underwear". The seaQuest would be docking in Algonquin's Harbor the next day and he had to make sure he had everything he needed. He packed a duffel bag with the entire contents of the box, and covered them all with a heavy towel. Then he zipped the bag up, and put a small lock on the zipper pull.

He stowed the bag beneath his desk, out of sight, and sent a short dispatch to shore. Personal mail addressed to a friend, indicating how sorry he was to hear of that friend's uncle's demise, and offering to send flowers. The coded message would tell his contact that he would be at the prearranged location, with the goods.

He then turned his attention back to his work, and back -- as usual -- to his fantasies. This time, of course, he was thinking what he could do if Ford showed up tomorrow night at the same party....

Assuming Ford didn't feel obligated to report him. The man could be so uptight about regulations sometimes. Ben shook his head, wondering not for the first time what on earth his libido was doing, picking such a man to get attracted to. Just because he was fantastically gorgeous and had pectorals that just begged you to run your fingers over them, and clear brown eyes that could melt steel when the man was irate or intense. Hands that looked as gentle as they were strong....

Shaking his head, Ben told himself to calm down or take another shower.

The next twenty hours were spent in a nervous rush. Kreig kept himself working as best he could, forcing himself to concentrate when he found his mind wandering. It was hard -- no matter how many times he went to one of these things, he could never quite get used to it. Probably a good thing considering the risk he was taking -- not to mention the risk the others were taking. It wasn't just the risk now that made him nervous. Oddly, what made his thoughts scatter was what made him firm his resolve even more. The risk that had already been taken, already been lost was enough to convince him that he had to do this.

At least the party would make up for it.

The streets weren't entirely deserted, which made it both safer and Ben more nervous. He wouldn't be confronted by muggers or worse, but any one of the figures he passed could be an undercover policeman, or an earnest citizen looking to score with the authorities. These neighborhoods close to the wharf were "respectable" and someone might become alarmed by a dark-clad white man walking towards the Haven, the area of town that was not so reputable -- where tourists rarely, if ever, went.

Ben kept an eye out, but did his best to behave as though nothing was wrong. He walked casually, but without doing anything to draw attention to himself. His heart was pounding -- he just wanted to get there, and get this over with.

Ahead of him somewhere, the men were waiting for him. There was no question of turning around. He had to make this delivery. It should have been made easier by the fact that he'd done this before. Instead it made him more aware of what could go wrong. He tried to hurry, knowing those waiting for him would be pleased to see him, and their pleasure would make this danger worth his while.

Ben finally arrived at a huge, run-down, almost nondescript house. He went inside and found that half a dozen men were there already. They greeted him warmly and enthusiastically, waiting as he casually left the duffel in the kitchen. When he returned to the front room he pretended not to notice as the men continued talking, darting nervous glances towards the kitchen. A few more men showed, and friends greeted each other. Finally one man slipped off to the kitchen and returned -- nervous, scared, and excited. It wasn't long before he and another man slipped away to a back room.

Ben accepted a glass of something non-alcoholic, sipping it absently as he chatted. More men began showing up, and gradually they began disappearing further into house. As the evening passed, fewer partygoers remained in the front room. Sometimes two men would latch onto each other as if spontaneously, heading off together with varying degrees of excitement and shyness.

Other times, and those Ben noticed quite clearly, one man would arrive and immediately be joined by a second and they would head back without a word to anyone or even each other. Those made Ben smile, with a sort of bittersweet joy. He wasn't the only one who noticed; often the conversation died away as two particular men met and vanished into the back.

Three hours after Kreig had arrived, nearly thirty men had come through the front room. It was time for him to go, if he didn't intend on remaining for the entire night. It looked like everyone here was going to be accounted for, so he set his glass down on a table and gathered up his dark jacket.

A man detached himself from a small group and came over. "Ben, are you leaving now? You are not staying?" His words seemed to echo with a second meaning.

"No, Felipe. I've got to go." He didn't bother mentioning he didn't want to risk staying, didn't bother iterating the danger.

Felipe nodded. "If you are certain? Jorge has expressed an interest..." he smiled knowingly.

Ben grinned. "Thanks. I'm flattered but... I can't." He shrugged. "I shouldn't," he added.

"It isn't right that you take this risk and not enjoy any of its rewards." Felipe frowned slightly. "But if you wish to go, then I will not of course detain you. Thank you, my friend." He held out his hand.

Ben took it, looked over at Jorge -- who was staring at him openly, now, and smiling eagerly. He looked like he could toss Ben over his shoulder and carry him a mile without breathing hard. Ben reconsidered. "Maybe one more hour...."

Felipe laughed, and Jorge grinned triumphantly. He came over, took Ben's arm from Felipe, and whispered, "Venga conmigo."

Ben did, discarding the last of his trepidations. The low growl in Jorge's throat went right to his groin and he followed, eagerly. One quick stop in the kitchen, and they wandered up the stairs in search of a free room. Or a free part of a room. Finally they settled for a spot in the hallway.

One hour later Ben left the house. The rest of the party-goers were still inside, in various states of consciousness. With a last look back, Ben zipped his jacket up to his chin and shoved his hands in his pockets. His legs were still a bit wobbly; he smiled and enjoyed the sensation.

The night was dark and cold; he walked quickly down the streets through this poverty-stricken part of town. He knew no one would accost him; at this hour the streets of Algonquin's Harbor were rigidly patrolled by the local police. Criminals had to be sneakier than simply standing about waiting for someone to mug. They had to be careful, and usually had a partner either on the police force or from elsewhere, outside the country perhaps.

Ben hurried back towards the seaQuest.

The captain did not look pleased when he walked in. Ben didn't bother giving him a hopeful, or outraged innocent look. All he was hoping for was that the cops would kick him out of the country, back to the seaQuest where he could face the more humane justice system of the UEO. A court martial would be okay, or even getting busted down to ensign and given punishment duty for the rest of his life.

He was just grateful the police captain had called Bridger. He carefully rubbed his arm and said nothing.

"What's going on?" Bridger asked after taking a moment to try and size up the situation. His glance took in the bruises on Kreig's face, and he frowned. Behind him stood Crocker, and Ford. Both looked unhappy at being dragged out at three a.m., and both looked as angry as Bridger had sounded.

Ben didn't answer; the police captain did that for him. "Captain Bridger, I apologize for requiring you down here at such an hour. My lieutenant suggested we detain this man until morning, and call you then... but I surmised you would want to take care of this unfortunate situation right away."

"You were right," Bridger told him. "What happened?" Again he glanced at Kreig, who still said nothing.

"We caught your crewman smuggling illegal pharmaceuticals."

"Illegal pharmaceuticals?" All three of the UEO men looked shocked. Bridger stared at Kreig. "Drugs? You smuggled drugs--"

"No," Kreig interrupted. "It wasn't drugs."

"What, then?" Bridger didn't sound like he had a lot of patience.

Kreig took a breath, glanced once at the police captain, and said, "Condoms."

Bridger stared. It was obvious he didn't quite believe what he was hearing. He turned to the police captain. "Is this right? You caught him smuggling condoms?"

The policeman shrugged. "They are illegal... obtainable only from government doctors."

"I don't believe this," Bridger shook his head. "You arrested him for selling condoms?"

"Technically he cannot arrest him. We can only turn him over to the proper authorities and request the proper measures me taken." The police captain looked extremely unhappy -- Ben knew what he wanted to do. Throw Ben in a cell downstairs.

"Fine. We'll take him with us, unless there's anything else you need?" Bridger asked.

"No, captain. Once the paperwork is--"

"I've got it, Captain," Crocker spoke up.

"Fine," Bridger gave him a nod. He looked at Kreig. "Condoms." He shook his head again.

Ben made no effort to defend himself until Chief Crocker had finished the paperwork, handed them over for signatures, and they had returned to the shuttle. Once onboard, he waited while Ford and Crocker got the shuttle underway before he relaxed. Then he turned to face his captain.

"I can explain--"

"You'd better, lieutenant. You had better have a damn good reason for your actions." Bridger looked extremely pissed, and Kreig knew he'd have to talk fast.

"Condoms are illegal in Guatemala, and several other countries in the area -- for one reason only. To prevent people from having sex outside of legally sanctioned marriages. Sexual diseases are still rampant in these countries, and whenever a doctor finds a case of it he has to report it to the authorities -- if the person isn't married, they can be arrested for "crimes against morality". Doctors are the only ones who can dispense condoms, and they're only given to married couples."

"So you took it upon yourself to give 'free love' to these unfortunates?" Bridger's tone was unsympathetic.

Ben frowned as he continued, "Captain, in Guatemala it is also illegal to be homosexual. Not just perform a homosexual act, but to be gay. Gay men can't get married therefore they can't get legal condoms. They either have to take the risk of spreading disease, or abstain all together. Or wait until someone smuggles some condoms in."

Bridger was now looking at him more appraisingly, but still irate. "And you decided to provide them with illegal condoms? At how much a pop -- pardon the pun."

"I don't sell them, Captain," Kreig frowned. "Someone I cared dearly for was arrested in Algonquin's Harbor for being gay -- he was beaten to death in prison. I provide these condoms to people who can't risk showing how much they love each other on a day to day basis for fear of being caught out and one night every year they get to grab a handful of condoms to make it that much safer and that much more dangerous. Because if someone who isn't married is found to have condoms they can be arrested for being gay -- because why else would he have them?" Ben stopped as he found himself nearly yelling at his captain, and stepped back suddenly. "I'm sorry, captain," he stammered. "I just...." he came to attention, and said nothing more.

Bridger watched him silently for a few moments. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant, about your friend." He finally said. "What happened to your face, by the way?"

"They wanted to know where I took them. Who was there."

"And?" Bridger asked more solicitously.

"I wouldn't tell them."

"They hit you?" Bridger asked in a tone of disbelief.

"I believe it's called an interrogation," he said with false lightness. He paused, then added, "I was picked up almost two hours ago, captain. I didn't tell them anything. I'm... rather surprised they called you at all, considering."

This time the look Bridger gave him was a calm, measured one. "We called them. You hadn't shown up and we were wondering where you were."

Kreig stared at him in shock and disbelief. He'd thought he'd lucked out, that the police had decided they couldn't get anything from him and had to let him go. But if they had hoped to hang onto him... He looked at Bridger.

"You took quite a risk, Kreig. Was it worth it?" The quiet question was an understanding one.

Kreig nodded. "Yes, sir. It was." For a moment he saw in his mind the couples walking off quietly together, obviously in love and desperate to be together. He remembered years ago, Rafael laughing as he teased his friend and whispered quietly in his ear. The question of risk had never been a deterrent for him. Rafael had hated being told by his own government that he could not make love unless it was to a wife. Hated seeing their young people grow up afraid, denying who they were, believing as well that it was something wrong.

Kreig had provided his friend with a supply of condoms which had been distributed as widely, and as often as possible. When Rafael had been arrested, Ben took over the distribution in the harbor towns, as well. The rest were shipped carefully through a network of those determined to live, and love, despite being told they could not.

Bridger was still watching him, quietly. Then he nodded. "Smuggling illegal contraband is a serious charge. I can't just let it go."

"I know. But anything's better than their prison."

There was an odd look on Bridger's face. Kreig didn't understand it until the captain said, "Yes. Well then, consider yourself reprimanded. When we get back to the seaQuest, get those bruises looked at. Sentence commuted to time served," he finished.

Kreig just stared. He didn't say anything, unwilling to risk changing the man's mind. Finally, though, he managed, "Thank you, sir."

Bridger nodded, and headed forward to the nose of the shuttle. Kreig sat down heavily on a bench and wondered dumbfoundedly at his good luck. He rubbed his upper arm, wincing at the twinges he could still feel from his forearm. They'd bandaged him and given him a mild painkiller when they'd informed him the seaQuest was sending someone after him, and truth be told he had been too distracted to mention his injuries that the captain hadn't seen. Nothing serious, of course, but that had only been luck.

Sheer luck, the seaQuest had come looking for him. He sent a short prayer of thanks, as the shuttle headed for home.

He was in Supply, trying to balance a clipboard, when someone knocked on his door. "Come!" he called as the clipboard fell. Sighing, he picked it back up and glanced over. "Commander," he greeted the man uncomfortably. Ford hadn't said anything to him since they'd retrieved him last night -- this morning. Granted Kreig hadn't seen him, either in Medbay or afterwards when he'd gone to his quarters to try to sleep. Captain Bridger had stopped by as Dr. Westphalen was putting Ben's arm in a brace -- the bone wasn't broken, only cracked, she'd explained to the surprised captain. Kreig'd almost been put on report for withholding that he'd been more seriously injured, but then the captain had just waved his hand and sent him to his room.

"Ben," Ford gave him a nod, then stood silently.

After a minute Kreig looked at him. "Was there something I could do for you, sir?"

Ford sighed. "No... I just wanted to see how you were doing."

Ben shrugged. "I'm fine." He turned back to his work.

"Good," came the reply. Ford sounded funny, but perhaps that was just because he'd never heard Ford sound concerned for him, before. Ben glanced over. Ford gave him a nod as if that was all, and turned to go. Ben dropped the clipboard again. His fingers were too sore to hold onto it, and the cast was too rounded to balance the darn thing. He looked around for someplace to set it down where he could still get to it.

"Here," Ford said, and he took the board.

Kreig blinked. "Thanks, Commander," he stammered.

Ford shrugged, and gave him a small smile. "No problem."

Ben stared out of the porthole at the ocean beyond. The water was almost black; thus there was very little to see except for the dim reflected lights of the ship and the WHSKRS. The seaQuest was patrolling deep waters, maintaining a calming, authoritative presence while allowing the microbiologists and chemists a chance to study the animal life in this part of the ocean, ordinary stuff for the UEO flagship.

Kreig preferred the other sort of missions, the ones where something was happening any given moment -- or you were waiting on the edge for whatever happened next. However, those usually meant something had gone wrong and seaQuest was there to fix it. That was why most of the crew preferred these quieter times. Ben just preferred to keep moving.

Standing at the porthole, he knew he didn’t appear so. Standing still, watching the dark waters... he probably looked the picture of contemplative relaxation. He was thinking, that was his problem. Thinking about things he couldn’t change, couldn’t fix. Things he would be better off not dwelling on and wasting valuable time doing so. But there was no value to his time, now. No place he ought to be and no duties to perform.

He would know if there were. Monthly department reviews had been done this week and the report for Supply was on his desk. If there were things he should have been scrambling to repair or explain, he would know. This month there was nothing. Job performance satisfactory. It was what he usually got, unless the commander or the captain were particularly pissed off at him. Never excellent, never above expectations. Just satisfactory. All he could hope for, he supposed. He just wasn’t serious enough for the UEO military brass to appreciate what he did.

Normally he didn’t care. He had tried, on his first assignments, to explain to his superiors how his job was done and why it didn’t matter that he didn’t live up to their specifications. Why, in fact, it sometimes mattered that he did not. But they never understood, and Ben had had enough demerits on his record for mouthing off than he cared to see again. By the time he reached seaQuest he understood how the game was played and stayed inside the lines only as much as it kept him on the ship, and out of the captain’s constant bad graces.

What bothered him was that they never tried to get it. Never tried to understand why someone like Kreig was exactly what they needed -- never recognised that practically every supply officer had the same traits, and once you combined those with the personality of a submariner you got even stranger effects. All the brass seemed concerned with was whether you acted like the rulebook said an officer was supposed to act. Have character, not be one, Ford had once said. Did they expect him to subsume his personality for the sake of appearance? Never mind what it did to his duty.

He wished he could explain it to Commander Ford. Why he cared about the man’s opinion... well, he knew why. Kreig knew it would never matter, but he did know why. But he still wished, on missions like these when everything was in order and nothing was dragging his attention away from it, that he could sit down and explain to the man why he was who he was. And why the seaQuest was better for it.

Ben laughed. He knew Ford would never agree with him. While his performance reviews had steadied in the last few months into a series of “satisfactories”, with a few explicable exceptions, he knew what the commander’s opinion of him was. “Good enough” and “stuck with it” were the two phrases he could count on. “Can’t fault his work” when Ford was feeling mellow. Or grateful.

It frustrated him more than he could say. There wasn’t anyone to say it to, for the most part. But it frustrated him that Ford would never try to understand, and would simply continue to judge him according to a book of military code and conduct and not look....

Ben shook his head. If this kept up he’d start whining about the injustice of never being able to indulge himself. He’d start dwelling on how, more than he wanted the commander to understand, he wanted the commander to care enough to try to understand. He wanted Commander Ford to stop long enough to realise there might be something he was missing.

Heck, admit that and he’d just get back to obsessing on simply wanting Commander Ford. Wanting him lying on a bed in a tropical resort hotel, ceiling fan spinning above head and parrots perched on the tree outside. Naked and sprawled, eyeing him with anticipation and hunger.

Again Ben laughed, and this time he rubbed his face. The inactivity was getting to him. If this kept up he was going go find the man and drag him someplace quiet for a long, serious talk.

Or he’d kiss him. One of the two. Depended, Ben supposed, on how many demerits he felt like accruing. And if he thought the kiss would be worth it.

His grin reflected on the porthole. Yeah, it probably would be. If he could get Commander Ford to hold still long enough. Three seconds. Then anything he got would be well worth it. With another laugh at himself, and Ben turned away. He needed to do something other than stare out portholes if he wanted to survive until dinner.

Unfortunately the only things he was thinking of would get him into trouble. The captain had graciously forgotten all about the incident at Algonquin’s Harbor, but Kreig knew that he had to lie low for awhile yet. Bridger might not totally disagree with Ben’s behaviour -- or at least not with his reasons -- but Ben was pretty sure the captain would have preferred his supply officer not break international laws.

That is, not get caught. Oh sure, Ben knew if Bridger were asked he’d say “not break any laws in the first place”. But what the captain didn’t know wouldn’t get Ben into trouble. Of course that was his problem. What he really wanted to do would get him into a hell of a lot of trouble.

Unless Commander Ford didn’t mind.

Oh, right. That was going to happen.

Kreig stepped away from the porthole and headed out of the supply hold. Hiding down here was not working. Maybe he’d go hit the pool and pretend that he wasn’t slowly driving himself crazy.

Doctor Westphalen had said the brace could come off tomorrow. He couldn’t wait -- once his fingers had healed he’d had plenty of mobility and hadn't needed any more help holding clipboards. For a long minute he'd thought seriously about not telling Commander Ford that. Then he'd decided Ford must have his own reasons for dropping in. It was an excuse, and a flimsy one if spoken aloud. As long as it wasn't, Ben felt he couldn't be held responsible. If Ford wanted to stop by Main Supply... that was his choice. Baffling, but his choice.

It was weird the way Ford had shown up that first day and helped out -- a simple matter of holding the board and doing what Kreig asked him to do. But what was weirder was how he'd done it again. In the last week Ford had stopped by Main Supply four times, spending nearly an hour each time giving Ben a hand. It wasn't as if Ben didn't have assistants to do the majority of the work that needed two hands. The two ensigns were more or less covering all three shifts and if he'd needed to, Ben could have requisitioned another pair of hands to spell them. But the cast wasn't slowing him down that much, and Rictors and Cullins were doing fine with the slack.

So why Ford kept stopping by....

The Commander had been solicitous, even occasionally friendly. The first three times he'd stopped by Kreig had been more nervous than anything. He'd done a good job faking otherwise, all charm and wit, but he'd been extremely relieved when the man had left. Disappointed, as well -- who wouldn't have been? Alone in a relatively small room with the man, forced by necessity to work right alongside each other.... Oh yeah, "nervous" had only begun to describe it.

Yesterday, the last time Ford had come by, things had been very different.

Supplies had arrived that morning and Ben was trying to sort through them. As was not entirely unusual, several boxes were mislabeled, while others were properly labeled but not apparently on any of the outstanding invoices Ben could find. He was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the room, surrounded by boxes, trying to sort through them and decide which of the boxes had to be shipped back, and which he wanted to keep.

There was a knock on the door. He called out, "Come in!" and a moment later heard a very familiar voice.


Remaining seated on the floor, Ben half-turned, smiling. "Commander. What can I do for you?"

Ford nodded at the boxes. "You look like you have your hands full. One of them, anyway."

Kreig laughed and regarded his cast with a brief glance. "Yeah, you know how it is. A supply officer's work is never done."

"Want some help?" The offer was casual, and Ben couldn't tell if what he heard was really a note of hesitation. It didn't matter, he was glad to have the commander stick around. The last few days had been a pleasant change from the norm.

"Sure," he replied.

"What can I do?" Ford walked over, eyeing the supplies.

Ben considered. Then he pointed to a box. "You can put those away." He pointed again, indicating the shelf where they belonged.

Ford nodded and picked the box up. Reading the label, he asked, "Non-perishable biochemicals?"

"Toiletries," Ben explained, grinning. Ford returned the grin. Kreig watched him walk over to the shelf then forced himself to look back down at his paperwork. If anything could forestall an unwanted erection, it was paperwork. Whoever designed these damned uniforms....

After a moment of silence, the commander asked in a perplexed tone, "Kreig?"

"Yeah?" Ben looked up.

"Where exactly...?" He waved at the shelf of supplies, frowning in confusion.

"Third shelf, right in front of you."

Ford turned, scanning the shelves until he spotted it. He opened the box and began stacking tubes of toothpaste with the others there. Ben went back to his paperwork, waiting expectantly. Ford didn't ask.

Instead he simply put the empty box to the side and came over for another. Ben had scooted a few more boxes forward, including one that he'd determined had not been ordered but which he was not about to give up. For some reason UEO supply headquarters was being skimpy this year on deliveries of potassium chloride and every single science department was hounding him for more. He had been planning to try ordering more next month, but for now he'd just draw up a blank purchase order and leave this shipment on his shelves. Leave them there for the hour it took the science contingent aboard to realise he had it, and come requisition it all away from him.


He looked up, trying not to smile. "Whatcha got?"

"Wool socks."

"Right. Back on the second row of shelves, fourth shelf down, in the middle. Should be a tub marked 'socks'. Stick 'em in there."

As Ford went to do so, Kreig waited. Still nothing. He grinned.

As the commander came back around the first row of shelves, he finally did. "Kreig? I notice you don't have anything put where it belongs."

"Belongs according to whom, Commander?" Ben asked casually.

"Regulations," the commander answered, still speaking hesitantly. Ben knew it was because Ford knew Ben was being entirely too blasé about letting himself get into trouble. Here he was, cheerfully letting the commander see just how badly out-of-reg supplies were stored. Apparently out-of-reg.

"Technically, sir, regulations only state that supplies have to be in order before, during, and for one month after yearly inspection."

"But the implication is that they're supposed to be organised that way year round," Ford countered, still obviously confused.

"Ah, not really. Those regs were written by someone who knew what he was doing. The implication is that somebody decided Main Supply should be organised according to a set of rules developed by someone who didn't know the first thing about it. They couldn't entirely re-write the rules, so they re-worded it. Supply only has to be hard to use for two months out of the year." Ben went back to the invoice in his hand, knowing Ford would be asking more. Who had ordered two dozen official caps? There was silence.

"I don't understand."

Ben looked up again. "Do you know how hard it is to find anything when it's all filed alphabetically?"

"Fairly easy, if you know the alphabet," Ford replied.

"Oh yeah? So would you look under 'N' for non-perishable, or 'B' for biochemicals, if you wanted a tube of toothpaste?"

There was silence. Then Ford tentatively suggested, "What about 'T' for toothpaste?" It was clear from his tone that he suspected the answer would be 'no'.

Ben shook his head. "Doesn't matter. 'T' for toiletries. It all goes together, stacked according to mass and rate of use."

Ford blinked at him. "Mass and rate of use?"

"Of course. Anything that's gonna get crushed goes on top. Anything that gets used a lot, goes in front. I've got somebody coming in here every day asking for toothpaste, shampoo, soap... if I put things where regs say they should go it'd take me twice as long to find it all."

"So you're saying no one ever needs new socks?"

Ben grinned. "That's about the size of it."

For a moment Ford just looked at them. Slowly he shook his head. "I think I'm learning more than I wanted to know about warehousing...."

"Welcome to my world."

Ford laughed. Ben found himself watching, grinning at the way the man's face lit up. Silence descended, and it was several moments later when Ben realised he was staring. The odd part, he noticed, was that Commander Ford was staring, too.

Suddenly Ford looked away and spoke quickly. "I should let you get back to work." He wove through the array of boxes, heading for the door. Ben just watched him go.

For a long moment he stared at the door, wondering just what had happened. Then he shook his head, deciding he would probably never know, and went back to work. Raquetballs? A year after he ordered them, they finally delivered raquetballs. Ben sighed.

Nearly a month later, everyone on board seaQuest had heard all the versions of Ben's encounter with the Algonquin Harbor police. No one had heard the true version, but that was only because none of the people who knew it, were talking. Ben didn't really care what his crewmates thought of his onshore activities. It gave them something to talk about, something to gossip over and that, he figured, was good for morale.

If he got into trouble, then no one else had to, in order to break up the monotony.

SeaQuest was getting ready to stop over at Johnson's Ferry for a couple of days and Ben was looking forward to it. He actually had no work to do in town before he could take his shore leave, and there was nothing to do in Johnson's Ferry that would make his superiors frown at him. No possible way to get into trouble unless he worked at it. He was planning on kicking back, enjoying the sun, a cold drink, and doing absolutely nothing.

If he could get all this blasted paperwork out of the way in time. Bridger had told him that he couldn't go ashore until all his back-logged reports were completed. Ben hadn't really been able to protest, as only three of the reports weren't filed due to circumstances beyond his control. Actually, the rest were still incomplete due to circumstances beyond his control, but he knew the captain wouldn't see it that way. Daydreaming about sex -- sex with Commander Ford -- wasn't something he wanted to explain, anyhow.

It had gotten much worse in the last few weeks. Ben would be working and suddenly find himself staring at nothing, thinking of how it would feel to reach out and touch Jonathan's face. Brush his fingers down the man's cheek, press his body.... Kreig had lost uncounted hours of work to thoughts like those. It was another reason he was looking forward to shore leave. One way or another, he had to get his libido under control.

The obvious choice was get laid as often as possible in 48 hours. The choice he wanted was to lie on the beach and indulge in every daydream he could think of. A private spot on the beach, of course, if one could be found. If not, then a cabana, where he could think about everything he wanted. And do whatever he had to, because of it.

If he could just get through this pile of reports and get on land!

The sun was burning. Clouds were covering half the sky, but here where he stood the sunlight was burning a bright yellow patch. It felt wonderful. Someone had mentioned the weather reports earlier, but Ben was ignoring them. Why did all of their shore leaves lately coincide with rain, anyhow? Who thought a bunch of submariners wanted more water on their days off?

Luckily the threat of rain seemed to have convinced a large portion of the crowd to stay away from the beach. The two more popular beaches were still packed, of course, but down south near the residential areas, there were a few public areas that were less full. And if one walked a ways farther south, there was a lovely, lonely, quiet place where the trees came right up to the sand and created a tiny alcove.

Someone had built a three-walled hut, right in among the trees, facing the water. Ben had found it a couple years ago on a previous shore leave. It was technically on private land, but Ben knew that the owner rarely came down to the water anymore. A friend of a friend of a friend lived in Johnson's Ferry, and Ben had asked him about the little alcove after he'd come across it the first time. It served those who knew as a sheltered get-away, and as such was kept a secret from even the other natives.

Ben sat down in front of it that morning, stretching his legs out in the sand and leaning back on his elbows. It was still warm, even though the clouds were rapidly approaching. It would be raining by afternoon so he intended to enjoy himself as much as he could, as long as he could. He took a deep breath, and relaxed.

He sat there for nearly thirty seconds before he let himself fall backwards and stared up at the sky. "ARG!"

He was frustrated. He was horny, he was frustrated, and he was beset. Sitting here calmly wasn't going to cut it. He needed to do something and do it fast so he could get back to work in two days without blowing a gasket.

Blowing... yeah, give Jonathan a nice blow-job. That'd-- Ben cut his thoughts short. Don't go there, he told himself. Not unless you're going to start that fantasy at the very beginning and work your way all through it.... Ben smiled, and watched the clouds rolling closer. Maybe he would.

He sat up, moved back into the open hut, then sighed. Out of the sunlight it was actually kind of cold. He stood in the open shack and considered. In the sun where it was warm but less private? As few people seemed to know about this place, Ben did not want to get interrupted mid- stroke. But in here, it was almost cold enough -- what with the breeze and all -- to put him off.

Life was just not cooperating with him, lately.


He looked up, startled. Nearly running the few steps out of the hut, he found the object of his frustration standing there, looking at him. Ford looked confused; Ben smiled. "Commander! I see you found Johnson Ferry's best-kept secret."

Ben's heart was pounding and he told himself not to do or say anything foolish. Ten more seconds and he might have been half-naked and extremely embarrassed. He shoved his hands in his pockets, pushing his hands slightly forward to hopefully hide the evidence of his recent thoughts.

"Is that so?" Ford was looking around, half-interestedly. Then he asked, "What is this place?"

"Just what it looks like, Commander. Didn't whoever told you about it--"

Ford was shaking his head. When Ben paused, he explained, "No one told me." He looked uncomfortable and didn't elaborate.

Ben was able to make the obvious connection. "You followed me?" He was amazed when the commander nodded. Ben, however, simply shrugged. It wasn't that big a deal, wandering someplace because you saw a crewmate heading that way.

"I wasn't," Ford began then stopped.

"Commander?" Ben had the feeling that something was going on. Something that he wasn't getting, that was. There was no reason for the other man to be so nervous about following Ben... then again, there was no reason for Commander Ford to be following him at all. Not unless he was under orders to keep an eye on Kreig and keep him out of trouble. He narrowed his eyes. "Sir?"

Ford sighed. "I'm sorry, Ben. I shouldn't be here." He turned to go. Ben was staring, completely bewildered, when the lightening came. Two seconds later it was followed by a torrential downpour. Both men scurried under the hut's roof, and then turned to stare out at the beach. The sky was black, and the tree branches were whipping in front of the open side. Oddly, it had not gotten that much colder -- perhaps, though, it was because of the man standing beside him and not because the temperature had not dropped ten degrees.

Ben told himself to ignore it and focus on something safer. Like lightening. Another bolt flashed and he half-jumped. To distract himself from the resurgence of his earlier thoughts, he turned to the commander. "So you were following me?" He said it lightly, as if getting ready to tease the man for trying to make sure he stayed out of trouble.

Ford just nodded. He apologised again, and for a moment Ben thought he was going to elaborate. Instead the other man just looked out at the rain. "Looks like we're stuck here for awhile. Those clouds aren't going away anytime soon."

Ben followed his gaze. The part of the sky they could see, was totally black. It wasn't dark, so the sky couldn't be completely covered. It must still be clear somewhere behind them, away from the ocean. But the rain clouds were thick, and they stretched as far as the eye could see towards the horizon.

"Good thing we have shelter, huh?" Ben smiled. As long as you didn't mind that the hut was small and Ford was standing very, very close....

They stood silently for several minutes, watching the rain. The temperature leveled off before it could get too cold. The lightening eased up as well, flashing only very occasionally before disappearing all together. They wouldn't be in any danger of being more than simply uncomfortable, if they had to walk back in the rain. Ben glanced over again. Commander Ford was staring out at the ocean. He looked concerned, frowning ever so slightly at something, though not completely upset by it. As if the rain were distracting him from his worries, soothing them and calmly the man down.

When Ford glanced over, Ben grinned, embarrassed. Ford stared at him for a silent moment. Ben's grin faded as he saw those soft brown eyes looking at him. He tried to think of something to say, but the words died before they could more than form in his mind. "What are you thinking of," was the only thing he could think to say, and he wasn't entirely sure he should know.

He noticed the moment when Ford realised what he was doing and prepared to move away with a dismissive comment. Ben reached out and very briefly touched the other man on the arm. 'Don't' was on his lips, but again he didn't say a thing. There was another moment of realisation, this time the awareness was in Ford's eyes and the words dying in his throat.

Rather than say a word, the commander leaned forward. Ben was shocked to the root of his soul when Jonathan Ford kissed him.

A heartbeat later he was able to return it, shocked back into his senses enough to open his mouth and allow the kiss inside. He shivered, left his hands at his sides for fear of frightening Jonathan away from... whatever it was he thought he was doing.

When Ford finally did break the kiss, he whispered, "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Ben laughed. He certainly wasn't objecting.

Jonathan shook his head. "I have been wanting to do that since... since the moment I saw you. I probably shouldn't have done it now."

He knew what was going to come next. 'Pretend it didn't happen. Don't mention it and we'll go back to how things were before.' Ben reached out and placed his hand lightly on Jonathan's arm. "So why did you? Why didn't you?"

Ford grinned briefly. "I was always attracted to you, Ben. But... I never really liked you until recently. I... made some judgements about you, early on, and never looked past them. Not for a long time."

"What made you look past them?" Ben tilted his head, confused. Still not objecting.

The other man shrugged, and looked away. "When you offered to take my place when Colonel Schraeder took over seaQuest. You knew you could have been killed. I knew it.... You were right, I could never fault your work -- but your style...drove me crazy. Still does -- don't get me wrong." He gave another brief grin. "But that was the first time I saw you do something... becoming what I thought an officer should be. I honestly hadn't known you had it in you. After that... I started looking more closely."

"That's how you were able to break up all our poker games that month," Ben joked. If Ford had been keeping close tabs on him....

This time the grin stayed longer. "Yeah. That didn't help, any, you know. I was about to decide it was a one time thing, a fluke. But... I kept looking. And I noticed that when circumstances called for it, you were everything you ought to be. You... are a much better officer than I had originally given you credit for."

Ben stared, then smiled. "Wow... that must have hurt."

Jonathan laughed. "No... I admit that until recently I'd never have thought I'd be saying it... but you are a good officer. And you have it in you to be the kind of person I-- I thought you should be." Ford looked uncomfortable as he finished, his smile fading as he looked away again.

"And?" Ben prompted. There was still something he hadn't said. But Ford didn't say anything else, and for a few minutes they stood there, quietly. "So now what?" Ben finally asked.

"We should be getting back to town. I don't think--"

"About that kiss."

Jonathan looked at him squarely. "I think it would be best if we forgot it ever happened. I should never--"

"Is that what you want to do? Forget about it?" As Ford started to nod, Ben continued, "Because I don't."

"Wha--?" Jonathan said very slowly.

Ben took a half step forward, and looked into the face of the man he'd been wanting to hold, and touch, and feel, for so many months. "I don't want to forget. Not yet."

There was a breath of silence. Then Jonathan brought his mouth to Ben's, and they pressed their lips together for a merest second before opening their mouths and touching. Ben brought his hand to Jonathan's back, holding them both steady as they embraced. The rain continued to pound the sand, rattling the roof of the hut and the trees surrounding it. The breeze whipped through the tiny enclosure, pulling at their clothes and hair as if trying to hurry them on.

All Ben could feel was the heat pressed against his body, and the touch of the tongue on his own. A hand touched his cheek, then wrapped around behind his head as they repositioned themselves, never completely breaking the embrace as they kissed again. When they finally broke it, each man was panting slightly. Ben looked at Jonathan. His eyes were burning. Ben reached up to place a hand on Jonathan's chest.

Jonathan shook his head. "No," he said quietly. Ben nodded. There was the slightest smile, and he continued, "Not here, at any rate. I'm not getting sand--"

"There's a B 'n B up the road about a mile," Ben interrupted, pointing briefly in its direction. "We'll have to walk, but there's a fireplace, and the proprietor can do the laundry while we grab a hot shower."

Jonathan raised his eyebrows. "You've done this before?"

Ben blushed, and shook his head. "I saw their brochure. Was thinking about staying there." For some reason it was important to let Jonathan know that he hadn't done this sort of thing before. Not this exactly, at least.

Jonathan looked at him, considering, and Ben honestly wasn't sure what his answer would be. Eventually he nodded, and glanced back at the rain again. "Ben...."


"Afterwards... when we get back on seaQuest..."

"Yeah?" He knew what was coming. Never again, don't ever mention it, don't even think it will change things.

"I want to slow down."


Jonathan looked at him, seriously, but smiling. "I need to make sure the man I've fallen for is someone I really want to be with. You're very confusing, sometimes."

Ben gaped at him. "I'm confusing? You're a fine one to talk! Are you... are you telling me..." He wasn't sure what he was saying, because he sure wasn't clear what Jonathan was telling him.

"I don't know, Ben, but I think I've fallen in love with you. I have to be sure, before I agree to anything more than... trying to find out. After today and tomorrow, I need to take that time. Right now I don't think I can walk a mile without knowing I'm going to get you naked and under me, afterwards. Once I get that out of my system--"

Ben put his hand over Jonathan's mouth. "If you say another word you're getting it right here. And if you don't want sand all over...." His heart was pounding and he was trying very hard to remain focused on the one part that could get him through this without waking up. Get to the B 'n B, have two days of amazing sex -- amazing if only because it shouldn't be happening at all -- and don't think about the rest. Don't think about the words Jonathan had been saying, don't think about they way he was looking at Ben, and especially don't think about the fact that once this shore leave was over, he would have to chance to convince Jonathan that they could ever do it again.

He took a hold of Jonathan's hand, and they stepped out into the pouring rain.

The walk to the Bed n' Breakfast was wet. The rain poured the entire time although they could see, not more than another mile away, the edge of the storm. The sun was shining... where it wasn't doing them any good. Neither was public transportation running in the area, so Ben and Jonathan simply hurried -- and not only to get out the rain. For Ben's part, he wanted to get there before Jonathan came to his senses.

The B n' B, when they found it, was small and what could only be called "quaint". The hostess was only too glad to hand over a room key as well as robes, and offer to take their soaking clothes to the laundry room. They changed quickly in their room, handed the clothes through the door to the smiling woman, and then they were left standing there. Naked under terry robes, a large hot tub to one side offering solace against the storm's cold, and a huge bed on the opposite side of the room, offering the same. Ben looked at Jonathan, and found himself grinning nervously. No reason to be nervous, he told himself.

No reason at all...

Suddenly Jonathan laughed. "I suppose we should start with a hot shower. I don't know about you but my feet are freezing."

Through the bathroom door, Ben could see the shower stall. It was larger enough for two. Apparently they'd rented the deluxe suite. His grin became less nervous, though no less wide. "Sounds good to me. Can I scrub your back?"

The look Jonathan gave him warmed him up -- Ben no longer needed a shower. "Oh, yeah," Ben answered his own question, moving forward. He stopped Jonathan for a kiss, keeping his hands still, very much wanting to untie the other man's robe but forcing himself to wait.

Jonathan broke the kiss and stepped away. He headed for the shower and Ben followed -- his step faltered only when Jonathan dropped his robe and Ben got a clear view.

Ben stopped. He stared as Jonathan turned on the taps and began running the hot water. Jonathan leaned over, reaching for something -- Ben hardly cared what. All he noticed were the lines of the muscles in Jonathan's legs and back, flexing and tensing. To hell with showering. He moved forward, ripping his robe off, and embraced Jonathan from behind. "You wanna get warm?" he asked.

Jonathan laughed, and turned in his arms. "I thought I might." He accepted the embrace, however, and Ben took several moments to keep them in the middle of the bathroom, kissing and touching each other. Jonathan was finally moved to ask, "Did you change your mind?"

Ben drew back, startled.

"About the shower?" Jonathan clarified.

"Oh... yeah. Save the hot water for later." He glanced towards the tub then back at Jonathan. "I don't wanna risk slipping and breaking something in the shower -- and I don't think I can wait any longer."

Jonathan brought his hands up and cupped Ben's face. Kissed him once, long and hard, then placed his hands on Ben's chest and pushed gently. Ben backpedaled until he hit the edge of the bed, Jonathan following every step of the way.

As soon as his legs touched the bed, Ben took Jonathan by the arms, turned them around, and pushed him. Jonathan went, back onto the bed, crab-crawling backwards until he was fully on the mattress.

Ben took a long moment to enjoy the sight. He ought to have been cataloguing every place he wanted to touch and taste, but he couldn't get past simply looking.

"Are you joining me?"

"Yeah...." He crawled onto the bed, onto Jonathan, and felt for the first time everything that his dreams had told him would be perfect. This wasn't perfect -- his feet were cold and his hair was dripping wet from the rain. If he leaned forward, he found out very quickly, cold water would drip right where he didn't want it. He was willing to ignore it, however, in favour of the way Jonathan moved beneath him as Ben laid himself down. He groaned as Jonathan shifted again, brushing his cock against Ben's. Ben pushed his own hips down and attacked his lover's exposed neck.

Lover. Oh god he was... he shut the thought off and concentrated on making Jonathan writhe beneath him. Anything to keep him moving just like that.... Ben moaned, deep in his throat. He sucked lightly on a patch of skin and was rewarded with nearly being bucked off. He held himself down, hanging onto Jonathan and sucked again.

Hands were grabbing at him, gripping his back and tugging. He glanced up, and from the look in Jonathan's eyes, Ben figured the other man didn't really know what he was doing. Grinning to himself, Ben gave one more suck, right above the pulsing jugular. Jonathan groaned as Ben moved on.

For a brief moment Ben considered his next move. This was going to be his only good chance to stop and root through the bathroom cabinets for anything useful. He looked down at Jonathan, found the man staring up at him, blinking slowly.

It could wait. They had two days, after all....

He lowered himself again and this time Jonathan wrapped his arms and one leg around Ben's body. For a moment they lay there, tightly entwined, before Ben rocked his hips and felt the head of his cock press against the other. He bit the skin nearest his mouth and rocked again, harder. Jonathan gasped, groaned again and pushed his hips upwards slightly.

Ben pushed again, moved his mouth and bit again, lightly this time, then found himself rocking back and forth, pushing his cock against Jonathan faster, harder, and with less and less consideration to anything else. He stopped trying to move his hand to someplace where it wouldn't get pinned; he stopped trying to find a new spot to suck or bite. He stopped moving at all, except for the motion of his entire body as he thrust. He reached that point where he couldn't stop, couldn't have ceased if anyone or anything had tried to pull them apart, except of course Jonathan himself, and he was close to the place where he wouldn't he able to hear anymore, regardless.

He did hear one thing: his own outcry as the world pinpointed into an orgasm. His body shook, then froze, then for a second everything stopped except the sound of his own voice in his ears.

Long after, when his arms unlocked and he dropped onto Jonathan's chest, he realised his eyes were closed and Jonathan was wriggling slightly. He opened his eyes and looked up. Jonathan kissed him. "Feet warmed up?" Ben asked after he caught his breath.

"Actually... no."

There was a very brief pause before Ben started laughing.

He rolled, dragging Jonathan on top of him, and grinned at him. "You wanna grab a shower? Or fill the hot tub?"

"How about if we just get under the blankets? I think I've had enough water for one day."

"I think I can manage that," Ben agreed, and reached back to tug at the covers.

A minor amount of maneuvering later, they were snuggled under the blankets and finally getting their feet warm. Ben enjoyed the sensation. Wrapped in blankets, curled up against a warm lover.... There was very little else he needed from life right now. Give him half an hour and he'd want to have sex again, followed by a nap then dinner. Right now, though, all he wanted was to hold onto Jonathan.

His mind tried to wonder at the fact that this had really happened. Ben shoved the thoughts away, knowing he'd only get himself to worrying. Worrying he could do later, when he wasn't better off thinking of ways to make his lover moan. Speaking of which... he felt Jonathan's hand creeping towards him.

He grinned.

They did get a hot shower, as well as some sleep. At one point there was a knock on the door and they got back clean, dry clothing. It was left on the dresser while they simply went back to bed. Ben wondered out loud if they would have to call down for clean sheets for the night; Jonathan responded by tipping him off the bed onto the floor.

Much later Jonathan had stopped and asked if Ben wanted to go out for dinner, or call down to the kitchen. Ben, who had been lazily nuzzling Jonathan's hand, wrist, and forearm, had merely nibbled harder and didn't answer.

"Ben, I'm serious," Jonathan said firmly.

"So? You decide, I don't care." Ben went back to Jonathan's arm.

"I wonder if they offer room service?"

Ben laughed. "If not, ask if we have to get dressed for dinner."

Jonathan thwapped him lightly on the arm. "I'm not going down there in my robe."

"So who needs a robe? Go like this." Ben began nuzzling at the still-bare shoulder, and chest...

"We're not going anywhere if you keep doing that."

Ben grinned, and continued.




"Told you, I'm easy."

Jonathan looked at him suddenly, then Ben found himself lying flat on his back, legs spread, and arms pinned to the floor. He grinned and his cock rose eagerly in anticipation.

"Yeah, looks that way." Jonathan smiled and Ben stopped breathing. He inhaled very sharply when he felt the touch at his anus.

Dinner was delayed.

The rest of the night, and the entire next day, was the same. Sex, the occasional shower, the even more occasional meal, and once a short walk outside in the huge backyard garden. Mostly, it was sex, sleep, and lying together in comfortable silence.

At four o' clock in the afternoon, unfortunately, Jonathan stirred from the bed and headed for the pile of clothes. Ben watched as he dug through and extracted his uniform and headed for the bathroom. Ben knew not to invite himself to the shower this time. Shore leave was over.

He watched through the open door as Jonathan took his shower quickly and efficiently. The entire time he did not once look over at Ben. Finally, dressed and ready, he stopped and looked over. His face showed his apology. Ben didn't need to see it. He smiled. "Heading back already?"

"I have to. I'm on duty at six."

Ben nodded. He'd known that, but for the last day and a half had allowed himself to forget. He wasn't back on duty until the following morning, and hadn't thought much past this interlude. He didn't want to hang around town, with nothing to do. Given what his original plans for his time off had been, he now had nothing he needed to do. Except sleep. That he could do on seaQuest. He got out of bed and went to gather his own clothes. He stopped and asked, "Is it all right if I go back with you?"

Jonathan nodded with a slight smile. Ben returned it, feeling accountably delighted. He headed for his own shower to clean away the last of the remnants of their love-making. When he was dressed and they'd put the room back in some semblance of order -- all the linen and towels in a heap in one corner -- they went downstairs. The hostess bid them a cheerful farewell, wishing them the best, then they walked to rather long three miles back to the wharf.

Oddly, they didn't talk much for the first mile. The second mile, they talked about Johnson's Ferry -- what each would have liked to have seen, places to have visited. They compared it to other stops they'd taken, tourist towns and seaside resorts as well as scruffy harbour towns.

Neither mentioned Algonquin's Harbor.

In the last mile, as they drew nearer the bay, conversation died. Then, hesitantly, Ben asked, "What were you planning on doing?"

"I already told you. Slowing things down." Jonathan sounded calm enough, as he said it.

Ben looked over at him. "You don't want to forget this ever happened?" he asked, still cautious.

"No," Jonathan smiled, though he looked confused. "I thought I made myself clear on that."

Ben shook his head. He could see one of the launches down the pier and a few crewmembers, standing around. This conversation would be cut short soon. "I guess I wanted to be sure," he offered as the only explanation he could.

Jonathan stopped, and faced Ben squarely. "I told you, and I'm telling you again. I..." he stopped, and looked rather amazed at himself. "I want to know if this will work. To be honest, I don't know if it will. But I decided that I had to find out. I have to know...."

"If I'm the kind of guy you can stand to be with for more than a day?" Ben suggested.

Jonathan only shrugged at Ben's teasing. "Yes. This was... fantastic." The smile on his face confirmed it was the truth. But then he shook his head. "But once we get back on board seaQuest, things are going to be complicated. I don't know if anything will come of this... but I want to try."

Ben stared. After he moment he simply asked, "Why?"

Ford shrugged. "Like I said. I think I might love you." He almost said more, but stopped. One of the seaQuest's crew walked past, giving them both a nod and greeting.

Ben wondered why he didn't sound happier about it. "What do you want me to do?"

Ford regarded him. "What you've been doing. I'll let you know if anything needs to change." He glanced towards the launch. "I'll see you back on seaQuest, Lieutenant."

Ben stood still, as Ford walked towards the launch, its hatch now open for passengers.

He turned and walked back up the pier.

Things settled into somewhat of a routine after that. Ben's and Jonathan's duty shifts coincided as often as not, so they saw each other as often in uniform as not. Both were careful to remain professional and formal on duty -- Ben had noticed in the first couple of days that Jonathan expected otherwise from him and Ben was glad to prove him wrong. It hurt a little that Jonathan seemed to distrust him, but by the third day everything seemed fine and Ben was able to meet his lover occasionally, in the privacy of Ford's quarters.

It was almost three weeks later when Ben realised something was wrong. Rather, he knew he wasn't entirely satisfied with their arrangement but told himself it was only until Jonathan came to a decision on whether to continue at all. He was content to give Jonathan time, but one day while he was doing some mind-numbing filing and hence day-dreaming about his lover, he realised there was something else the matter.

When they were in public, conversation was limited to duty matters or distant, nearly formal conversation. In private, there was no conversation at all. They weren't always having sex -- sometimes they lay together quietly before or after, just cuddling. Once or twice they exchanged a few words, but that was it. No conversation. He decided to change that.

The next time he was able to get alone with Jonathan was the following morning. Ben was getting off bridge-duty and was hoping for at least six hours' sleep. He hadn't stopped by Jonathan's quarters in four days in an attempt to prevent anyone from asking just what was up with the Morale Officer and the First Officer spending all that time alone. Gossip would catch up with them eventually, but it made Jonathan feel better knowing they were trying to be discreet.

He knocked on Jonathan's door, and pushed it open when he heard Jonathan call to come in. He peered in, saw the room empty except for Jonathan. Ben smiled, and was inexplicably delighted when Jonathan smiled back. No, he reminded himself. It isn't inexplicable. He entered and headed for the chair opposite Jonathan's and sat down.

Jonathan was still doing paperwork, so Ben sat and watched him for a few minutes. Finally Jonathan looked up. "Can I help you?"

He was grinning, and Ben knew he was a little embarrassed to be stared at. Ben nodded. "Can I talk to you for a bit? After you're done with that, I mean." He waved a hand at the papers.

Jonathan gave him a look. "Is it important? Work--"

"Nah. It can wait til you're done with that. I just wanted to know if we could. You know, talk."

"About what?"

Ben shrugged. Jonathan finally nodded, still looking at Ben like he wasn't entirely making sense. He did go back to his paperwork, however, ignoring Ben. For a half hour. Then he threw the papers on the desk with a sigh. "I can't concentrate with you staring at me," he said, not sounding very upset about it. "What do you want to talk about?" he asked again.

"The weather?" Ben suggested with a grin.

"Excuse me?" Jonathan was looking at him like he was nuts. Ben shook his head. "Or anything. Just not work, and not 'roll over already'. Just something...."

Jonathan grinned. "I think we can do that. Although you're always the one telling me to roll over."

"Not every time!" Ben countered.

Jonathan nodded. "Every time. I know because I'm always on the edge of the bed...."

"Whose fault is that? You said you didn't want like being squished up against the wall."

"I don't," Jonathan agreed. "What I'd like, though, is a full- size bed. One big enough for at least one and a half persons and not barely one."

"Maybe you should talk to the supply officer."

"Maybe I should," Jonathan nodded. "If I thought you could get it onboard without anyone noticing."

"You think I can't requisition something and get it here without anyone knowing?" Ben asked as if offended.

"Oh no, I do not want to hear this." Ben laughed, and Jonathan just shook his head. "You realise that anything you say is still subject to being reported."

"What if I say I like fucking your bare, naked ass with your legs over my shoulders?" Ben asked calmly.

Jonathan blinked at him. He suddenly looked uncomfortable in the way only a man with an unexpected erection can be. Finally he cleared his throat and said, "I could overlook that in my daily reports."

"Good." Ben stood and walked around to stand before Jonathan. To hell with trying to talk. He took hold of Jonathan's collar, lifted slightly as Jonathan tilted his head. Ben leaned down and they kissed. When they broke off, Jonathan stood up and pushed Ben towards the bed. With a smile, Ben decided that sometimes talking was overrated.

When he snuck out of Jonathan's quarters an hour later, Ben wondered if he should have tried again to start a conversation. Not today he decided; right now he was more interested in sleeping. But he felt even more disquieted, as he headed for his quarters, at the state of his relationship.

It felt more like an affair than a relationship. Sneaking around, never or rarely mentioning that anything was going on, never acting like they wanted to be together for any reason other than sex. He went to sleep that morning, worrying.

The next two days were strictly business. Every time he saw Jonathan it was a nod and the briefest questions necessary to conduct their jobs. It was beginning to make Ben nervous because it never seemed to bother Jonathan, at all. It bothered him if he thought Ben was going to do or say something inappropriate, but it didn't seem to bother him when they kept quiet about it completely.

Ben started worrying more. He thought about what Jonathan had said -- he wanted to know if Ben was the sort of man he could like. He'd already admitted to being attracted -- not that it wasn't obvious. Jonathan never even seemed reluctant to have sex, when the opportunity presented itself. It was everything else about what should have been in a relationship, that was missing.

Maybe he'd decided Ben wasn't the kind of man he liked. Maybe, despite his words back on the wharf in Johnson's Ferry, he had decided Ben wasn't worth more than sex, after all. The problem was what to do about finding out, for sure.

Ben worried for two more days until finally, sitting at his desk pretending to work, he heard a knock on his door. He looked up. "Come in."

The door opened and Jonathan stepped in. "Is this a bad time, Lieutenant?"

"No, come on in." Ben leaned back, abandoning his reports.

Jonathan did, looking a little nervous but he found a seat amongst the clutter and sat facing Ben.

"Is something wrong?" Ben asked, sounding calm. He wondered which of the many things that could go wrong, had.

"I don't know," Jonathan admitted. "That's what I came to find out." He looked away, as if trying to figure out how to say something. Then he looked back at Ben. "Ben is there something wrong?"

"Excuse me?" Ben just blinked at him.

"You've been... acting strangely. I just wondered what was wrong."

Ben stared at him for a moment. "I've been acting strangely?" he repeated. All he'd been doing lately was worry about how Jonathan was acting.

Jonathan nodded. "If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine. I just wondered if there was anything I could do?"

Ben continued to stare at him. He couldn't remember a single time, in all the months he'd been on board seaQuest, when Jonathan Ford had asked him that sort of question. Personal. Concerned.

It played hell with his current topic of worrying.

"I was... I mean it's just...."

There was a pause. Jonathan was looking at him with a worried expression. "What?"

Ben shook his head and decided to tell him. He'd been wanting more than just sex, hadn't he? And a serious conversation was exactly that. He sighed. "I've just been wondering whether...." But how to say it?

"Whether what?"

Ben looked up, and found Jonathan looking at him. Right at him, as if his entire attention were focused on Ben. As if what he had to say were important. "If you'd decided," he finally said, quietly.

"Decided what?"

"If... if this was what you wanted," he said in a rush. "If this was all you wanted and when you're tired of it--"

He got no further because Jonathan had gotten to his feet and taken Ben by the arms, pulling him up as well. "Didn't I say I loved you?" Jonathan asked, very seriously.

Ben nodded.

"What do you think that means?"

Ben shrugged. "You said you didn't even know if you liked me. Love and lust wouldn't be enough, you said. And you've been acting like... it is."

For a moment Jonathan stared at him, surprise on his face. Then, "I thought... I told you I needed time to get used to this. To make sure."

Ben nodded. "And I get the feeling you've made sure. That I'm only good for--"

Jonathan suddenly had his hand over Ben's mouth. "Don't. Don't even say it, Ben. I know I'm still confused about a lot of what I feel but I know one thing. You are worth a lot more that sex. I wish I could tell you everything you mean to me. But I barely understand half of it myself. But the idea that I should only be with you for the sex..." He shook his head. "That isn't right. That isn't even half of it. I know we haven't done much else besides, lately...."

"Nothing else, besides," Ben said.

Jonathan nodded. "I suppose I've been trying so hard not to let anyone find out that I stop myself from saying anything when you're around. And when we're in my quarters we just always seem to end up in my bed."

"Would it be so bad if folks found out?" As he asked Ben realised it was one of the things that bothered him. Technically there was nothing to worry about. The regulations against gays in the military had died with the formation of the UEO. And given that they were both officers, there was no reason they couldn't have a relationship.

Unless one or another of them didn't want anyone to know, for personal reasons. Like if you were embarrassed.

Jonathan was just looking at him, apparently thinking over the question. "I was hoping to... explore this a little before having everyone on the ship gossiping about us."

Ben didn't respond.

"But seeing how this way doesn't seem working out," Jonathan continued, "I don't see we have a choice."

Ben wasn't sure he knew what choice Jonathan had just made. He wasn't sure he wanted to ask, either.

Then Jonathan smiled at him. "Do you want to make some sort of announcement or just let them find us necking in the hall?"

"You'd let me kiss you in the hall?"

"No. It was hypothetical, Ben!" Jonathan was protesting, laughing, as Ben advanced on him. He let Ben grab him, though, and kiss him.

They remained like that for nearly a minute. Then they heard, "Oops, sorry. Should I come back?"

They turned. Ben just smiled as Jonathan said calmly, "That's all right, Captain. I was on my way out." He gave Ben a smile, then turned and left, giving Bridger a casual nod as he passed. Ben turned his dazed grin on the captain and found the man rolling his eyes.

"Can I help you?" Ben asked, trying to regain some semblance of composure.

The captain gave him a warning look. "Yeah. If you're a bad influence on him, I'll confine you to quarters for a month!" When Ben didn't stop grinning, he added, "Alone."

Ben just sighed.