nws nws GRAV / BARON nws nws
An unidentifiable motion rustled the blankets. Holding
his breath, Nyix turned to look. He could see little
in that dull red light, but that little was enough.
Grav was pressed tight against Baron, clutching him
like a drowning man clinging to a floating timber. His
expression had softened to something very like a
frightened child’s, and his eyes were wide open,
unfocused and glassy. Baron hadn’t moved away; his arms
had closed around Grav, holding him tight. His cheek
rested against the half-orc’s disheveled hair, and on his
face was printed an aching tenderness that he would
never have admitted by daylight.
“My friend, my friend Grav … " His whisper was
softer, and ragged. “I didn’t realize you could …
feel like that. I didn’t know … Oh, don’t be afraid!
Please don’t be frightened. Don’t be ashamed. You
haven’t done anything to be ashamed of. Love isn’t
such a terrible thing … No, it’s not terrible at
Accepted! Nyix dared to breath again. *He can even
accept it in himself, even though he’s a Blue Dagger with his own pose
of cool-headed toughness to
maintain … much like a half-orc. A brave man, Hauser—and
an honest one. If Grav can go this far, so can he.*
" … Half-human … " Grav groaned. " … The human
blood … betrays … me … "
“Yes, half human.” Baron’s quiet murmur was muffled in
Grav’s hair. “But it really isn’t so horrible to be
human. We’re not such monsters. We can be kind …
and loving. Love is one of the best things we have.
It isn’t such an awful thing to feel … Grav, listen
to me; I’ve known you long enough to be sure of this.
The human in you isn’t a bad man. There’s nothing
vicious or cruel or selfish about you. You can trust
that human side! You can trust your feelings—they’re
“But what should I do?” Grav asked again. "Here logic
fails. All is darkness … I’m lost … and afraid …
and cold … cold … "
“I’ll keep you warm,” Baron promised. His hands rustled
against the cloth as he pulled the blankets up to
Grav’s ears. Nyix quietly pulled up his side of the
blankets too, resentful that he had to move with such
stealth and pretend he was no part of this.
" … Cold … always cold … logic does not warm …
" Grav’s voice sounded close and velvety under the
blankets. "Warm me … yes … oh yes … "
“There. There. Hush. You’re safe. Rest … "
Baron’s whisper took on a gentle rhythm, soothing and
hypnotic, almost like a lullaby. The enveloping
blankets pulled and sagged, tightened and relaxed, in a
steady repeated motion.
" … Yes … ah, yes … hold me … yes … " There
was no mistaking the deep, quiet rapture in Grav’s
voice. It was the sound of ancient wounds at last
beginning to heal.
Nyix blinked in surprise as he realized that Baron was
literally rocking the half-orc in his arms, and almost
singing him to sleep. How long has it been since
anyone did that for him? Nyix wondered, marveling at
the incredible image of Baron as loving parent and Grav
as small lonely child. Mother and child reunion…Of
course! His mother adopted orcish ways, couldn’t give
him as much affection as he needed, and he didn’t dare
ask … All these years he’s been yearning for this,
and fearing it … And that’s why he can’t deal with
human females! The revelation hit Nyix like a punch
between the eyes. His mother was half-orcish, so all women-
for that matter, all things human-are like her:
forbidden and fascinating and forever tempting his
human side with the promise of joy like this! And Hauser
… human, but not female, so he’s comparatively safe
… Oh, Holy Freud!
Nyix lay still, considering all that, listening to the
gentle rhythm of acceptance and love and solace long
overdue. This act of healing was happening less than a
foot away from him, and he had no part in it, and it
left him feeling rather lonely. Time seemed to have
stopped, doubled back on itself to a long-past
childhood, returning to fill a hollow that had stood
too long empty.
- … Making up for lost time,* Nyix smiled. *Hold
on, Hauser. God only knows how much of this he needs. Be
patient. When he’s full-fed he’ll fall asleep, like
any small child … Provided that he stays at the
small child level … *
He could never be sure, afterwards, just when it
" … Yes … warm … this is right … " Grav’s
words were growing fuzzy and indistinct. Nyix hoped
that meant he’d fall asleep soon. " … Warm … hold
me … touching … " The tone took on a soft purr,
like a drowsy kitten’s. " … No guide but feeling …
touching … yes … " There was a faint sliding sound
of skin on skin. " … Touching … good to touch thee
… so warm … close … closer … more … " There
was a different sliding and the blankets tugged
crosswise to the rocking rhythm. Grav turned
slightly, stretched under the yielding cloth, and
slowly pressed the whole length of his body against
Baron’s. Waves of heat poured off his back like the
breath from a furnace. " … More of this … yes …
there is more … good … "
Nyix went rigid with alarm. Oh no, he’s growing up
too fast! Doesn’t Hauser realize? Dammit, Grav, go to
sleep! Sleep … Make him sleep. Hypospray, in the
medical kit. But I’d have to rummage around in the
dark. He’d hear me, and what then?
“… So warm … strange … like brightness … "
Grav’s purr deepened. "Lost … follow the brightness
… warmer … yes … " More whispers of flesh
against cloth, and flesh against flesh. " … Yes …
good … soft fire … I must … what? What should I
… " Under the purring came more sounds of sliding,
“Easy, Grav. Don’t—don’t hurt yourself.” Baron’s
voice held a growing note of apprehension.
“No, not hurt … not afraid … trust … gentle fire
… so warm … " A great hunting-cat’s purr, and the
rustling of wind in leaves, or of a long caress. " …
This is right … sweet burning … but what is it?
… I know not … what I want … must have … must
do … but I burn … "
“Grav,” Baron whispered nervously, stirring in the
blankets. “Grav, be careful … Keep still now. Be
" … Burning … I must … what?" The deep purr was
thick with blind urgency. "Baron, help me. What must I
… " Unmistakable surf-sound of hands closing tight
on bare flesh. “Is it this? This seems … yes …
yes!” The blankets tautened and sang as Grav rose on
one elbow and began to roll forward.
“Dear God, no!” Baron’s whisper soared to a near-
scream. “Not that! Grav, no! No!” The blankets
racketed like wind-beaten sails as he struggled to get
out of the half-orc’s grip.
Hauser, don’t panic now! Nyix drew breath to shout at
Grav’s reaction halted both of them.
“Don’t hit me!”
“What?” Baron gulped, stopped cold in mid-flight.
“Please … Baron, please … " Grav moaned, shaking so
hard that Nyix could feel it through the sleeping
bags. "Don’t hurt me. Not again … not like this …
what I feared … please … "
“I—Grav, I won’t hit you.” The fright was fading
from Baron’s voice. “I won’t hurt you. What made you
think I would?”
“Twice … twice before … " The words came,
incredibly, in quiet sobs. "My control … broken …
once by disease … once … pod-flower spores. I was
defenseless … opened to thee … "
“Oh. Yes, I remember.”
“… And thee hurt me … even struck me … when I was
most … " Heavy sobs smothered the end of his
“I remember,” Baron lamented. "Oh, I remember … "
So do I, thought Nyix, cringing at the stark
memories of Baron telling him about those two incidents,
each time late at night in his quarters, just the two
of them and a brandy bottle, and Baron almost pleading
for some relief from his drayload of guilt. But both
times it was necessary! Nyix wanted to cry to Grav.
The ship was in danger and he needed your help, had to
snap you out of it. You know that … but you still
ache from it. And to think I once believed that it was
harder for Hauser than for you!
“Grav, I’m sorry … " Baron’s apology was whispered
against the half-orc’s bowed head. "Oh God, but I’m
sorry! I didn’t want to. Not then, not now. I won’t
hurt you. Not like that, not again, I swear it. Won’t
hurt you. Not you. Not now … " Slowly, amazingly,
his voice slipped back into that gentle, steady, sleepy
rhythm, offering more comfort than words.
He’s going to risk it! Nyix marveled, listening to
the rustling-leaves sound of Baron’s arms moving under
the blankets, slipping quietly around Grav’s still-
shaking body, settling firmly and drawing him close,
and resuming the slow, easy rocking. Little by little
the shivering faded, the smothered weeping grew less
and still less, ending at last in a long sigh of vast
relief. Nyix sighed too, hearing the old scars fade
and knowing he couldn’t have done it. But you’d never
show those wounds to me, would you, Grav? Damn your
stiff-necked pride! … And mine. He pressed his
forearm over his eyes and listened to that strange
enchanted cradle-song weaving up the rips in the
tapestry of time. Oh sleep, child! he silently
implored. *If you stay awake much longer, you’ll grow
older … *
“Baron…” Grav asked quietly. “Is this what love is?”
“Yes.” Baron’s reply was infinitely tender. “Oh love,
yes. This and more … but never deny it. Never be
afraid of it … and I won’t either.”
" … My friend … I love … I can love … " The
vast, profound joy in Grav’s voice was unmistakable.
So was the rippling undertone. "It is warm … so
bright … like the sun … "
Here we go! thought Nyix, as his heart tried to jump
right out of his chest. Nothing can make him stay a
child … innocent … Hauser, don’t be afraid! No matter
" … Shining, golden … sun of my mother’s world …
love … yes … " The rippling purr deepened,
followed by the whispering-leaves sound of arms moving
against satiny cloth and bare flesh. The blankets
pulled taut, slipped loose and pulled again, like
impatient sails in a rising wind, as Grav moved up and
There was a sharp gasp from Baron, but no other sound.
No motion. No resistance.
“Sun of Earth … " The words were blurred, crossed by
the hushed sound of fingers running through hair.
“Thee are sunlight … cast in bright colors … Thy
hair is like rough bronze grass … so strong … " A
different, velvety whispering of skin on skin. " …
Such great eyes … bright bronze pools … revealing
everything, everything … expressive … unafraid …
Oh, how can thee be so fearless? Not to deny …
feeling, unhidden … Friend, oh friend … lend me
that courage. Show me … how not to be afraid … to
feel … and to reveal it … "
Baron’s only reply was a small brief sound that might
almost have been a sob, and a faint rustling of
blankets in an unidentifiable motion.
" … Warm … so smooth … flesh in rolling hills and
valleys … new world to explore … by touch … oh,
the joy of it!" The words were almost
indistinguishable in the rising, thunderous purr.
“Thee are beautiful … delightful past telling …
Oh, I do love thee!”
Grav moved with the sound of an incoming tide, feeling
his way blindly, but growing surer with every touch.
There was a soft rasp and creak of shifting weight, and
a clink of colliding belt-buckles.
Baron’s breathing came in long leaping gasps, climbing
suddenly to a choked cry. “Easy! No! You’re hurting
Nyix froze, wondering what in all the worlds he should
Grav shifted, pulled back, his tiger-purr rough-hewn
into words. "No … not hurt … never, never hurt
thee … " Soft hissing of sliding hands. "Not hurt
… opposite … please thee … so … Is this right?
Touch … there … "
The sound of moving hands halted a moment, paused
almost uncertainly, then changed. There was a tugging,
a creak of leather, then a shockingly loud rip as cloth
was torn away. Baron gasped, but didn’t move or cry out
“Yes … yes … so … " It was hard to identify the
sounds as words. "Almost same … matching … thus
… yes … " Fingers whispered across hair, then
“There,” Baron gasped. “There. Better … Oh, God
The sounds slowed as Grav settled gently, by
infinitely careful degrees, matching himself inch for
inch over Baron’s motionless body. The heavy rumbling
in his throat blanketed the harsh gasping of Baron’s
rapid breathing, and a faint sound that was something
like a smothered cry. The satiny whisper and tug of
the blankets settled into a slow regular pulsing, and
the rippling purr and ragged breathing of their two
voices fell into cadence with it.
Nyix sweated in the close heat, bit his knuckles until
he thought they’d come apart, and tried not to think
too precisely of what was happening less than eighteen
inches away. half-orcs … design slightly different
… * Fragmentary images flickered past his
determination. *Central shaft alike … but those two
flexible side-tendrils … they twine … lash them
together … No, don’t ask! Oh, Hauser … God, what is
Then he heard, undeniably in Baron’s voice, a long
splintering groan—exactly like the sound of an oak
beam giving way under too heavy a load. Following that
came another silk-whispering of motion, cutting through
the surging rhythm like wind across waves. Nyix felt
the hair lift up off his scalp, and he turned his head
slowly, carefully, until he could be sure of what he
Even under the roiling blankets, in black silhouette
against rocks that glowed like coals, there was no
mistaking it. Baron was no longer lying still. His
arms were moving across Grav’s back, his body arching
upward and sinking down again, both in regular pulses
that matched the half-orc’s rhythm perfectly. His head
was thrown back, and Grav’s hands were nowhere near
it, and even in outline his expression was plainly
It isn’t the mind-touch, Nyix thought dizzily.
Grav isn’t doing it. That’s him, all his own! My
God, I didn’t realize … * He turned his face away,
certain that if he kept watching them he’d start
gibbering in another minute. *I let it go too far, he
kicked himself. But what should I have done? Where
could I have interfered without hurting Grav? And now
… how much will this hurt Hauser?
Behind him, the sound and motion changed. The cadence
grew heavier, faster. Nyix gritted his teeth and
desperately wished they’d hurry; he couldn’t take much
more of this. The pulses of sound came quicker, closer
together, like birth-pangs, like drum-rolls of thunder
heralding an oncoming storm. The pattern was overlaid
with a fierce last-minute motion, and Nyix turned just
in time to see Baron pull Grav’s face down against his
own, and then both of them went rigid save for one long
heavy shuddering that shook them from head to foot for
seconds that stretched into eternity, and their twin
cries were drowned in each other’s throats.
I think I’m going to faint … * thought Nyix. He
turned away and concentrated on taking deep breaths
until he was fairly certain that he’d stay conscious.
Behind him all motion stopped. Nyix curled up into a
tight knot of misery, and quietly beat his fist against
his forehead. *What am I going to say? How am I going
to handle this? They’ve got to wake up sometime!
At his back, there was a stirring, a sliding, a
pressure on the sleeping bags, as Grav slipped back to
his original position in the warm nest of cloth between
Baron and Nyix. He stretched, sighed, gave one last
drowsy purr, and sank quietly into a deep normal sleep.
Nyix kept absolutely still, hardly breathing, until he
was certain that the half-orc was safely unconscious.
Once assured of that he moved one hand, stealthy as a
pickpocket, checking to see that the bandages were
still in place. They were. At least there was no harm
done in that department. He sagged with relief,
gratefully soaking up the temporary peace of silence.
No, not quite silence.
From just beyond the innocently sleeping Grav came a
soft, repeated rasping sound. It took Nyix several
minutes to recognize it, and a few minutes longer to
believe what he was hearing. Alone in the dark, trying
very hard to stifle the sound, Baron Hauser was crying.
Professional habits snapped Nyix into action. He
straightened out, careful not to waken Grav, rolled
over and pushed himself up on one elbow. “Hauser?” he
whispered. “You okay? What’s wrong?”
“Nyix—” Baron fought to get his voice under control.
“I had to do that. No choice. After what he said …
To refuse him would have been … inhumanly cruel …
I’ve hurt him … so many times … I only wanted to
Right then Nyix made his decision. "Hauser, " he said.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Wha—” Baron grunted as if the wind had been knocked
out of him. “But you were—Didn’t you—”
“I was asleep,” Nyix insisted firmly. “Look, it’s
been a long, hard day. The crash, the scramble
afterwards, the cave-in … I’m afraid that delirious
wrestling match with Grav took up the last of my
energy supply. As soon as he calmed down I … Well,
I just fell asleep. Didn’t wake up until he elbowed me
in the ribs just now. I’m sorry I left you in the
lurch like that, but I was awfully tired.”
“But—but didn’t you hear what he was saying?” Baron
sounded more than a little disorientated. "He started
talking right after the delirium stopped … "
“Well, I recall him raving a little … " Nyix
remembered an earlier thought. “But I couldn’t make
head nor tail of it. He was speaking in half-orc, after
“Raving … in half-orc … " Baron managed to digest
that. “But your translator—It’s good for all known
“That damned tinker-toy?” Nyix replied innocently.
“I lost it.”
“You lost it?” Baron spluttered in whispers. “How the
hell could you lose a subcutaneous insert-
“Uh…” Damn! I should have said it got broken!
“Well, I scraped my arm when I hit the floor during the
explosion, and—and I banged it around some more while
we were holding Grav. It must have gotten lost
somewhere in there.” *Damn! Damn! Damn! Now I’ll
have to—Oh shit, it’s going to hurt … *
“Your translator … got lost … " Baron took all that
in, thought it over carefully, and didn’t say anything
“You sound pretty worn out, Hauser,” Nyix continued,
thoughts racing ahead of his words. “Sounds like
you’re beginning to rave a bit yourself. Why don’t you
get some sleep? I’ll take the next couple hours’
watch, if you like.”
“Sleep … " Baron muttered. “Yes, I could use it.”
Nyix grinned and climbed out of the rumpled bed,
pausing only to find and pick up his medical kit.
“Nyix … " Baron’s voice stopped him.
“Yes?” Please, no last-minute confessions!
“Uh, you’re welcome.” What the hell! How much does
he know? “Ah, think nothing of it, Baron Hauser. Just get
Nyix moved away, making a show of checking over his
medical kit, hiding his very real dismay when he
couldn’t find the local anesthetic, carefully ignoring
the way Baron gently pulled the blankets up under
Grav’s chin and then curled up beside him with his
face nestled against the half-orc’s warm shoulder. Nyix
took out his phaser, heated a few more rocks, and
otherwise made himself look busy until the deep, steady
breathing behind him indicated that both of them were
safely asleep. Then he sat back on his heels and
reviewed the whole incredible situation.
Well, now we’re all committed, he thought. We’ve
smashed customs and taboos and regulations right and
left, and I guess we’re just going to keep on doing it
… Oh, the chances we take and the rules we break, all
for love! He studied the way Baron’s arm lay
protectively across Grav’s chest, remembered that
muffled weeping in the dark, and considered that this
was the only time he’d ever know Baron Hauser to cry. For
whom, he wondered. For Grav, or for himself?
Probably both … driven by a passionate tenderness
that both their worlds deny … * He smiled fondly at
Grav, noting how the half-orc’s face seemed much
younger, more relaxed, with certain lines of tension
gone. *You pointy-eared, romantic, lovestruck kid, he
thought. So he seduced you into breaking the rules?
Well, you can consider yourself properly avenged!
He would have watched them awhile longer, but his arm
itched. It reminded Nyix of the inevitable next step.
Well, let’s get on with it, he told himself,
resolutely turning toward the inadequate light of a
heat-glowing rock. He rummaged in a medical kit until
he found a scalpel.
It took ten minutes of sweaty, painful, bloody work to
lay open the skin on his forearm, find the translator
and dig it out. It took only a few seconds to smash
the offending machine into a thousand pieces, and bury
the fragments under the largest available stone.