I walked out from the lagoon, following the river down to the sea to where Dave had told me I'd find him. Even in the dark it didn't take long; he was sitting on a long-stable jumble of driftwood, his handsome body silhouetted against the slight shimmer of ring, wall, and horizon. He seemed to be completely frozen, staring up along sea, but then he moved slightly, and his arm closest to me, his right arm, tossed something towards the waves, returned to his lap, and he was still again.
As I walked towards him I realized why it is I find it so impossible to write anything that doesn't have Ken somewhere in it. The way I walk is dictated by his design; the radically heavy muscles in my heel and the near center-mount of my ankle give me far more stability on sand than any other Pendorian race of biped; digitigrades run faster, but I'm never bothered by a patch of loose sand, and I never lose my balance and fall down.
"Aaden?" I asked, quietly.
He started; that's easy with him, he startles easily. "P'nyssa," he replied in kind, his voice low and tired. "Hello." Despite the tone, the smile and the twinkle in his eye were still there. Aaden would probably be the last person to admit it, but there are qualities to him that make him perfect for fatherhood.
"I heard you and Ken had a blowup today," I said, stating my intentions clearly and at the beginning. "Want to talk about it?"
"It doesn't matter," he said. He threw his arm towards the ocean again; I saw that he had a lapful of small stones that he had probably collected from along the lagoon. I wondered why he'd brought them.
"Yes it matters," I answered.
"No, it doesn't. We haven't had sex in two months. Prag, we haven't slept together for at least a week. When I try to discuss it with him, he ignores me." His face lost the building anger and faded into a profound, tired sadness. "He doesn't feel the way he used to."
"Aaden," I said gently, jumping up onto the log and sitting beside him, "You can't expect people to be constant, especially not Ken. He's working on a new code right now, and it isn't going well. I've seen this in him before, whenever he hits a major snag, and when he gets like this, he isn't someone with you live with, he's someone you live around. Ken never gets tired of people; it just takes a certain kind of person to live with him, even more certain than those who just live in the Castle."
"As if anyone 'just lives' in Shardik castle. In other words, live with it."
"I'm telling you to be patient. Passion's not something you have every day; it'll return, trust me. I know; I've been living with him for four centuries now. He does care about you; he loves you. But he also knows that this is a relationship, a relationship with immortals, no less. He knows that there's a tomorrow. And I don't think you want him to take his stress out on you."
The Mephit smile returned, but there was something awkward about it. Finally he leaned over and rested his head on my shoulder. "I'm sorry, it's just so frustrating sometimes. I've never been in a relationship where I didn't feel like I wasn't in complete control. Even in Rhysh, I was getting what I wanted." He chuckled a little. "MyFa, I'm a top."
"Or just a pushy bottom," I replied. I'm still not sure if I'm using those words correctly. "You know, Aaden, nobody has ever gone after Ken the way you did. I... I sort of came into this by accident. But you, you came to me and said 'I want to spend an evening, a day, a week with him.' But you didn't mean Vatare'; I could see that. You wanted to know Ken. You knew, didn't you?"
"Knew what?" he asked.
"That you and he would be perfect together."
"Do you think so? I don't. I doubt any two people are perfect for each other. Maybe we were a good match."
"Can I hear your side of the story?"
"What story? How I met him?"
"Mm-hmm," I replied.
"What? The Hex fight?" I nodded again. "There really wasn't anything special about it. It was one of a dozen games played that day. It was Ken's first, it was my third, I was tired, he won. It wasn't some monumental epic battle of wills, of good versus evil. It was just another friendly, consensual game." He paused as a chuckle escaped his throat. "They'll probably make a movie about it."
"They'll probably get Mariko Kakkoden to play me again."
"Was that the Tindal girl in..."
"Yes," I answered tiredly. About the time that Terra and Pendor had begun their first cultural and material exchanges, a small group of Pendorians had made a distinctly sexual movie for Terran consumption. No overt male homosexuality, lots of interspecies sex, two female homosexual scenes. Ken had laughed through almost all of it; voyeurism was never his strong point. But towards the end a young femTindal had come on-camera with her fur dyed so that her markings matched mine. Same white eyepits, same grey masking. Even a light tinge of gold across the back; someone had examined me very well before doing her fur. Although I found it flattering, Ken was appalled by it. He couldn't legally stop it's release, but he did write a blistering diatribe in the Daily News, and it's been the only film "I've" ever appeared in.
"You know what's really the worst part about it?" Aaden asked, interrupting my memory. "I've never thought this would happen to me, but there are times when I just get so... needful, I guess. It isn't just, well, horny."
I laughed. "I know exactly what you mean. It's hard to make him understand; I imagine it's hard to make anyone understand that it isn't the sex we're after, it's them. It's him."
We were silent, watching the stars sail by slowly. "Nyss," he said, "If I tell you something very personal, can you handle it?"
"Depends on the thing, doesn't it?"
"I guess so. Nyss, for the first time in my life, I wish I wasn't gay."
"Why?" I asked, surprised.
"Because for the first time, there's really a female I care about, who I love and I want to make love to."
"SOL syndrome," I said smiling.
"Sooner or Later syndrome."
"Oh. Never heard it as a TLA before." He smiled.
"TLA?" I asked, returning the confusion.
"Three Letter Acronym. And there's always ETLA." I waited. "Extended Three Letter Acronym."
I rolled my eyes and smiled. "So," I said, trying to get back to the subject, "Who is this wonderful person."
"You, you silly!" He said, pulling away from me again. "P'nyssa Traken, always fishing for compliments, and always blushing when you get them."
And I was blushing; the fur on my face was standing up, letting the air under; my skin felt flushed and cold simultaneously. Then every muscle in my body froze as he slowly approached me, closing the distance to me. His muzzle touched my mouth, his tongue caressing mine as parts of me reawakened and responded to his advance.
It was more than I could ever have hoped for: A kiss from Aaden. In the intimate closeness with him my senses opened up; I could feel him, smell his clean fur and the sea air, and I could 'path him too, feeling his emotions rolling and spinning within him. And the one thing I didn't find there was the one thing I didn't expect to find there- lust.
And then my emotions snowballed in on themselves, and I had to break away or become lost in the miasma of sensation going on between us. I broke away.
He looked at me, his eyes wet and worried. "What's wrong?" he asked. But I could feel what he was really asked, "What did I do wrong?"
"Nothing," I replied quickly. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to do that. But I could 'feel' your feelings, and I was so busy analyzing them that I was distracted. I got annoyed at myself for being distracted, which led to me being more distracted, more annoyed, more distracted. I had to stop."
He nodded. "I understand. It must not be easy, being a telepath."
"And I 'pathed your emotions without your permission; I'm sorry."
"Nyss, I live with you. Anybody who voluntarily lives with a telepath had better be ready for the consequences." He smiled. "Come on, let's go back to the Castle."
I nodded and hopped off the log; he followed more casually. "We have so much in common," I said. "Same lover, same kids, same devotion to what we do. By the way, you're no common gardener. I looked up your qualification, Aaden. Molecular Xenobiologist does not add up to 'gardener.'"
"Does this mean you want to start calling me Dr. Satpulov?" he asked, querulously.
"No," I said. "Just saying you put yourself down too much."
"Must be part of my charm," he said, laughing again. It sounded so good to hear him laugh. I wanted to join him.
"Aaden," I said, "Would you be upset if I told you that I wanted you; that I treasure you and your company and the children we raised together, and I'm really sorry that your... 'wiring,' I guess, keeps us from expressing it in the one way the rest of the universe seems to put a lot of emphasis with."
He stopped walking, but just stood in the sand, looking at me. "Rings, no," he said. "I'm just happy with our relationship the way it is. I'm just glad you told me."
"That kiss is where you told me everything I ever wanted to know," I said. "I just wanted to hear it with your voice. I wanted to hear you say you love me. I made you admit it to me, and along the way I've replied to it automatically from Ken, and from you. But Aaden, I need to stand right here and look up at your face and tell you... I love you."
"I know," he said. "I've already said it, but... I love you too, P'nyssa. And I love that lousy genegineer in his lousy laboratory, and if he doesn't pay more attention to me I'm going to throw him down on the bed and fuck his brains out."
"Can I watch?" I asked, bemused.
"Of course you can watch," he laughed. "Come on, let's go home. It's getting chilly." We started walking again. "You know," he said, "this isn't the way this scene is supposed to end."
"Well, if Ken were here, somebody would end up having sex."
"We will," I replied. "Just not with each other."