"Hey, chief," Harper said, looking wan in a way that struck
Gaheris as wrong, as he worked on the machine they hoped would
put an end to the larvae that were killing him. Gaheris approved
of how Harper was taking his fate in his own hands.

"I've come to tell you that I sent Beka a message about your
condition," Gaheris said.

"You think she'll come?"

"That has to be the illness talking. It's unworthy of you. You
know that she sees you as family."

"The fact that she was your girlfriend makes you totally objective,
right?" Harper smiled a little. "I just hope she gets here in time."
The too-sweet scent of the serum that had kept the larvae dormant
for months seeped out through his pores, as much a taint on his
body as the parasites themselves.

Harper was giving up, falling into despair, and for Harper giving
up was even less characteristic than looking wan. When they'd
first met, Gaheris had taken his size for weakness, a sign of
inferiority, but since then he'd learned the strength of the mind in
that body and the hidden abilities in that small form. He couldn't
be allowed to give up.

Gaheris put his hand on Harper's cheek, behaving in an unusual
way himself, but desperate times needed new strategies. "We
never surrender."

Harper leaned into it. "Doesn't mean we don't get our asses
whupped anyway. I'm just having a dark moment. I'll be better
once the Perseids get here." Dying, he tried to put on a brave front
for his captain.

"Beka will help as well."

"I miss her."

"As do I."

"If-- When she comes back, she won't stay, you know."

"I know."

It... worried him that if Harper survived, he'd go away with
her. She was his family, after all, and he'd only stayed on the
Andromeda Ascendant to fight his infestation. Would Trance
leave as well? But he shouldn't cling to things he couldn't

So many things had been slipping from Gaheris' grasp lately--
worlds, Beka, crewmembers--no matter how tightly he held on.
Nothing he did seemed to stop the erosion.

"Mmmm," Harper said, and Gaheris realized that he was gently
stroking Harper's face. Harper looked up at him with dilated
pupils and asked, "Anything I could do for you, boss?" in a low
voice. The scent of desire overrode the sickly sweetness of serum
and triggered a reciprocal response in Gaheris. He'd sensed this in
Harper before but Harper had never made a move, probably out of
an unwillingness to interfere with someone Beka had claimed.

Some Nietzscheans, particularly contemporary ones, thought
sex with mere humans to be a perversion almost on a par with
bestiality and a dangerous distraction, proving themselves to be
limited people. Sex was more than mating; it was a bridge, a
connection, an expression of life.

"Is there anything you want to do for me right now?" Gaheris

"With the larvae I don't really feel sexy, but somehow that doesn't
matter where wanting you is involved. Besides, you stroked first."

"I want you." He did, for several reasons.

"Not as a pityfuck?"

"I don't do pity."

"True." Harper pressed in close. "Maybe it's a 'my favorite
blonde has gone away, I had to kill Tyr, the worlds are being
pains in the asses, and life has gone to shit lately' fuck?"

"More than that." Then Gaheris thought about what Harper has
said. "I never asked you how you felt about how I dealt with Tyr."

Harper jumped a little, in a way that would have been a flinch if
he'd let it be. "He kept me alive during the Magog thing, but he
spent too much time plotting against you to get to know me. He
planned to take you down, and you did what you had to do."

Harper wasn't entirely at peace with it, then. He could be so
practical and right-minded in his estimation of the proper way to
deal with enemies that Gaheris forgot sometimes that he was not
truly homo sapiens invictus in his mind, simply raised on a world
misruled by a decadent branch of them, where he'd taken on such
ruthlessness as protective coloring. Had Tyr become family to
Harper as well?

"Forget it," Harper said as he started to unfasten Gaheris' clothing.
"It's done. Over."

Gaheris stroked him just to feel him quiver, wanting to remind
Harper's stressed body to live. "This is a 'raging against the
dying of the light' fuck."

Harper's smile was full of desire and sex. "Rage away."

They efficiently peeled one another out of their clothing and
moved to the cot Harper kept in the machine shop. He mapped the
topography of Harper's skin, noting the scars--it had amazed him
how weathered the two human Maru members had looked despite
their youth--while Harper stroked and pressed on the skin around
his bone blades in ways that truly suggested he had some
experience with them. Harper's mouth and lung capacity proved
to be useful for more than giving vent to fast torrents of twisting
words, and he seemed to like mildly rough handling. Ironic how
the serum that made him smell so sweet made his skin taste so
bitter. Gaheris could hear the larvae moving around a little in
Harper's torso and again felt enraged that a member of his crew
could have been so violated. This was the kind of obscenity he'd
turned against the Commonwealth and Dylan over.

How horrible it had been to find out that the High Guard had been
sending classified missions into Magog space the whole time in an
effort to stop them, even as publicly they'd stood by the treaty. A
waste, all a waste....

Harper bit his nipple and writhed against him in a way that made
his skin shiver. "I'm still here."

"You certainly are." And Gaheris intended to keep it that way.

"Then fuck me, huh?"

After initially bringing out the wrong kind of lubricant--"good for
gun parts but not so much for me"--Harper finally found the right
one somewhere in the clutter and prepared himself as Gaheris
watched, fascinated by how open he was in his pleasure as his
fingers slid in and out of his body. They kissed hungrily as Harper
slicked Gaheris' cock. He groaned at the sensation and the
endorphin rush as he thrust in and Harper twined his body around
him, pulling him deeper, panting as Gaheris rode him. Eyes open
but lost, Harper moved with him and murmured something about
good intentions and hell and drawing a map, but then all of his
focus returned, and he clenched his muscles in a way that sent
Gaheris directly into orgasm. Gaheris returned the favor with a
few hard, jerking pulls on Harper's cock.

Gaheris rested for a while, tracing patterns on Harper's skin, until
the restlessness started to hit. "Hmm."

Harper smirked. "You can go. Beka told me how you're not big
on after-sex snuggles."

"How much did Beka tell you?"

"Oh, lots of things. We're a sick and twisted family, Gaheris.
Right now, you should just enjoy the fact that it means I know
enough not to be offended."

Gaheris kissed him. "Do you feel better now?"

"Yeah. Git. Go already. Be happy in the knowledge that I'm
gonna take a nap now like Trance wanted me to thanks to you
wearing me out."

"I shall."

Harper looked happier, less hopeless, while Gaheris felt as if he'd
stopped Harper's downward slide into darkness, away from him.
In these days, every victory was precious.


Harper let the smile slip away once Gaheris had dressed and left.
That vision he'd had while being fucked had been deeply
disturbing and killed a lot of his sex buzz. He'd been talking to
Dylan Hunt in what had to be the afterlife. Which meant that
he'd been dead, like Dylan was. He didn't want to die.

He didn't want to believe it either.

He couldn't tell Gaheris about it, not that Gaheris would believe it
to be a true vision anyway. Gaheris would just figure he was
going nuts, which he probably was.

Harper doubted it would help at all if he told Gaheris that it
seemed like Dylan had forgiven him.

***********************THE END**********************

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