I miss details sometimes. In fact, I tend to miss big things. Lying as I was on the beach, a towel separating me from the sand and another to protect my head from the rock I used to prop myself up, a book in by hands, I'm willing to believe that if Shardik Castle suddenly vanished, I might not notice until I tried to get home and take a shower.
Even noise gets filtered out of my attention. About the only thing I notice to any great degree is physical intervention. In other words, waving and shouting won't do. Someone who wants my attention is best served by kicking me.
It's hard to ignore having a rope dropped on one's feet, however. Seeing as I had retreated under the outcropping of rock along the northelom side of the bowl to shade my eyes from the blazing sun always overhead, I was lying half-in and half-out of the sun. A pair of nylon ropes, one bright blue and the other a similar bright red, suddenly dropped on my feet. I peeked out from under my protective shelter just in time to watch two bodies descending at me at high velocity. "Ack!" I ducked back under the rock.
Making a soft whizzing sound as they descended, the two rappellers landed on the sand and detached from their ropes. I recognized one of them. "Aaden!"
"Ken! Sorry, didn't mean to land on you like that. But it's one of the more vertical places along the bowl."
"Aaden?" the other male said. "I'm really hot."
"Then go dive in the water and cool off, Khai. If you feel a cramp coming on, get out and shout to me if you feel like you're going to be in trouble."
"Dave?" Aaden asked the empty air. "Buddy him."
"I will," Dave's voice returned from equally empty air.
I watched the young mel Aaden had identified as 'Khai' strip off his shirt, shorts and boots with enthusiasm and head towards the water, diving in with a shout.
He was a very beautiful young mel, I noted with some personal discomfort. I would have guessed his age around thirteen or fourteen, with sleek black fur shot through with the occasional albino white strand. His body was well-shaped, exercised, and youthful; his eyes were bright and strong, his smile wide and expressive. Something about the way he and Aaden had stood together, if only briefly, bothered me and I had to ask Aaden about it. "Aaden?" I asked quietly, giving this male who I had so long ago given my love to a long, careful look.
"Hmmm?" He turned to look at me.
"How old is he?"
"Who, Khai? He's a little over thirteen, why?"
I sighed, considering what I wanted to ask him next. I finally settled on a relatively simple version. "Are you sleeping with him?"
"Yes." No pause, no consideration. Just the truth. One of the reasons I adored Aaden so much, that honesty threw me for whirl right now.
"And he's only thirteen?" I raised my voice a little.
"You make it sound like rape, Ken."
"Isn't it?" I shouted, my voice rising.
"Hardly," he said. "Khai is one of Maha's kids, Ken. He's literally Ember's half-brother. You made love to her when she was how old?"
"Sixteen," I said. "There's a lot of difference between thirteen and sixteen, Aaden."
"That there is. There's also a lot of difference between boys and girls, Ken."
"But thirteen, Aaden?" I was stunned. I had trouble imagining Aaden, this beautiful Mephit in front of me, this mel who had raised two children with me, who I thought I understood and loved completely, as a... a... "That's paedophilia, Aaden."
"Correction, Ken. It's paederasty."
Aaden shifted closer to me, scattering some sand on my towel. He leaned even closer still and said, "Listen, what would you do if I told you that I've even slept with twelve-year-olds, Ken, and that in every case, they came to me."
"What!" I said. "Aaden, that's sick. A twelve-year-old can't give his consent." This was not the Aaden I was used to hearing. I couldn't believe it.
He tried to interrupt me, opening his mouth to speak. I reacted reflexively, raising my voice to a near shout. "I don't want to hear your excuses. I am not going to listen."
"Okay, then listen to this," he said, his voice taking on a deadly seriousness. "Khai, and the ones before him, and the ones who come after him, are in their own way as important to me as P'nyssa is to you. Until now you've never seen me like this. We agreed two centuries ago that I was never going to come between you and P'nyssa, and that if I even thought about it, our relationship was off. Well, this is one of those things. If you can't handle it, if you aren't willing to listen to me, maybe I should go. It's that important to me."
I looked at him, angrily. I looked at the boy swimming in the lagoon. Then back to him. "Maybe you should go, then."
"Fine. I'll have my stuff out in four hours." He rose and dove into the water, swimming the long way for the SDisk.
My home had a lonely and bare look to it when I finally worked up the courage to return to it. "Ken!" P'nyssa's voice came from the workroom where all our desks were stored.
"Where's Aaden's desk? Where are his clothes?"
"He's gone, P'nyssa."
"WHAT?" she said.
"He's gone, Nyss. We had an argument that pretty much came down to his leaving."
"And that's it. He just... goes. Just like that. You kick him out of your life, out of my life, over an argument, and you don't even tell me? Just what did you two fight about?" Her voice was edging up high in pitch.
"He has a new lover." P'nyssa looked at me curiously. "His name is Khai. He's thirteen years old."
P'nyssa raised one eyebrow over that, but didn't comment. "Did you ask Aaden why he's seeing a thirteen-year-old?"
"No, I didn't ask him. I even told him I didn't want to hear the discussion. It came down to his... paederasty or me. He chose to leave. He has his priorities. Abusing little kids comes before me, I guess."
"You didn't even let him talk?"
"What is there to talk about, Nyss? He's fucking a thirteen year old! What more is there to go over?"
"There's got to be plenty more to go over!" she replied, angrily. "He must have a reason!"
"I don't care what his 'reason' is, Nyss. He shouldn't even be thinking about kids that age, much less fucking one!"
"Fine. If you're not going to think about it and not going to talk about it with the mel you love, you can forget having the fem you supposedly love around as well." She turned to leave.
"What?" I shouted.
"I thought..." she started. "I thought, mind you... that the mel I loved used his brain. I guess I was wrong. I care about Aaden, Ken, apparently a lot more than you do. And until you at least resolve your differences with a little intelligence, I don't want to sleep in the same room, the same castle, with you. When you're ready to talk, Dave will know where I am." She stormed out.
Home can be a very cold place when bereft of the people who make it so very important to you. It ceases even being a home, really, becoming a mere house, repositories for possessions, the body being one of those possessions. Two days had gone by since P'nyssa and Aaden had left; M'Ress was treating me coldly, and Paul and Carroll haven't been around. I'd been drinking somewhat steadily, but at the moment I was reasonably sober, staring at myself in the mirror and wondering about my last encounter with a shower.
"Ken?" Dave broke my reverie.
"Aaden and Khai have called off their friendship."
"That's nice," I grumbled, tottering back into bed and collapsing. "I don't want him back until he gives up fucking children."
"Ken, you at times have accused me of excessive heavy-handedness in the way I make my suggestions."
"Sort of, Dave," I said, rubbing my temples and feeling hung over. "I said that when you agree with me you keep silent, but when you disagree with me you say you agree with me in a very... conniving way."
"Four people I care very much about suffer right now because of your decision," Dave said slowly. "You, Nyss, Aaden and Khai spend the day in their own private Hells because of you. Aaden and Khai broke up because Khai realized your argument with Aaden involved him, and he didn't want responsibility for the destruction of what some people consider the most important love affair on the Ring."
"I want to resign."
"I want to resign. I do not... feel... comfortable as the AI of Shardik castle any longer. I cannot in good faith serve you any longer."
It was only the next bit of data to come down the pike and trash my life. "Dave? Why?"
"Because you refuse to listen to Aaden, Ken. Even if you believe his behavior unreasonable, you have always in the past listened to the other half of the argument before making up your mind. This time you refuse to even listen. To use a phrase that has seen too much use in the past three days, you are not the man I thought I worked for."
Home can be very cold indeed.
"Yes, Kennet?" I groaned softly, hating the sound of that voice. Hal had for ages been among my best friends, but he was neither comforting nor reassuring. He wasn't Dave. Dave's brain was still right next door; I could, if I wanted to, take an axe to his insides. But he had decided to move all of his sensory input to Reedhon until further notice. For all intents and purposes, he lived there now.
I swallowed hard and decided that, whether I hated the idea or not, I had to talk to Aaden. "Hal, please connect me to Aaden Satpulov."
"Hello?" the voice on the other end of the line made me ache with memory and need.
"Aaden?" I said, softly.
"Ken?" he replied, surprised. "Is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me. Look, could we, uhm, you know... talk?"
Aaden didn't say anything for almost a minute. "Ken..."
"No, not over the phone. On the beach. By the boulder to the north. Could you meet me there?" I couldn't believe how tight my chest felt. Tears formed in my eyes hearing his voice. I needed him. I needed to touch him and hold him and remind myself that he belonged to me, once.
"I can meet you there," he said.
"One hour," I said softly, breaking the connection manually before I broke down and cried, dropping tears one-by-one onto the keyboard. When I felt done with crying, I didn't feel any better.
He walked up the beach slowly, looking left and right, scanning for me. I waved at him, a small, cheerless wave, just enough to show him where I was. He sauntered over to the rock I sat on, standing just in front of me. "Hi," he said softly.
"So," I said, looking up at him, holding myself back from any thought of holding him, touching him. "How long have you been a paederast?"
He smiled gently. "Let's see. I met Rudin in 212, and he was my first. I definitely wasn't looking for him, or anyone, back then. I was studying botany back then, working especially on soil- related illnesses, and I decided, on the advice of my mentor, that I look for some assignments to put my knowledge to good use."
"212. So you were 97 then?"
"Right. I checked through the news listings to see if anyone had a request for someone of my particular skills; I was surprised to find there were more requests for what I knew then I could possibly ever answer. I decided to take a particularly hard assignment, one dealing more with methods of soil replenishment delivery then any real chemistry." He grinned quietly. "For some reason, my classmates found that difficult. Since I was used to making my own toys and such, I saw the answer as basic innovation.
"Rudin was fourteen when I met him, and he was looking for one thing and one thing only. Sex. It was first and foremost on his mind; he would hang around me while I was directing robots and setting up pumps and hoses and storehouses for this farm, asking questions about what I was doing, but inevitably his conversation would come around to sex."
He gave me a glance, a memory of his smile playing over his muzzle. "Ever talk to a fourteen year old about sex?"
"Sure," I said. "My own kids."
"Your kids are different, Ken. You're very interested in sex and love and the like; you call this Ring an expression of that love. Rudin's parents assumed he'd pick it up somewhere and that he wouldn't get himself into trouble. Well, he was definitely on his way to getting into trouble. He even asked me, once, if I had had sex with someone younger than sixteen. I told him no, of course; at that point, I hadn't."
"You took that as a hint," I said, somewhat accusative.
"And asked for another hint," he replied calmly. "I asked him if he was interested in having sex with me."
He was silent. I waited. "And?"
"And he became tongue-tied." Aaden grinned. "I've seen you there. Couldn't say yes, couldn't say no. Couldn't quite figure out what to say. I wanted to get rid of him. So I said, 'Look, you're going to answer one way or the other when you make your decision. So tell me what your decision is going to be.'
"He said 'Yeah. I want to have sex.'"
"With you," I said, smiling.
"Yes," Aaden nodded. "With me. He led me to the barn and we were rather... mundane." He smiled. "He was pretty, in a boyish sort of way. All we did was try a little oral sex. Not much. After I solved his parent's problem, he asked me if it was okay for me to hang around with him. He liked what I gave him, and I didn't mind giving it."
"What happened to him?"
"What happens to them all," Aaden said with a shrug. "They outgrow it."
"Wait a minute," I said. "Just like that, they outgrow it? That's all you have to say for what is... is..."
"Paederasty," Aaden said. "Not a very accurate word, I'm afraid, since it more accurately depicts a state of catamisis rather than what I count myself as."
"Catamisis?" I asked.
"Keeping a boy strictly for sodomy, because they're 'tighter' than girls."
"Oh," I said, shivering. "Aaden," I said, looking up at him, "Tell me what you are. I've never said that before, because I've never felt you had to put it into words. Now I do. What are you?"
"We can keep using the word 'paederast,' if you like," he said, sitting down in the sand and gesturing for me to take a seat opposite him. I slid down off the rock and took up a patch of beach. "It's not that inaccurate, either, if you keep what I tell you foremost in your mind."
He paused, looking up at the sky as if looking for a message. "Before I tell you 'what I am,' let me tell you that I think you know the answer already. Because if you honestly thought I was abusing Khai without consent or wisdom, you would have killed me. That's how your mind works, Ken-- You know it and I know it. We based our relationship, which we call 'love,' on rules. That's how we work, you and I. Break those rules, and the love is as if it never existed. You might mourn my stupidity afterwards, but not as you pulled the trigger." He smiled gently, and I thought I saw his arm move slightly, as if to reach out and touch me. But he didn't. "I trust you enough to sleep next to you, naked and vulnerable, while knowing how much you believe in your social duty to excise evil. Just like you trust me, and everyone else you sleep with, to do the same."
He paused. "I still love you," he said.
A shiver ran through me, a painful tightening in my chest. "Tell me the rest."
"By your command," he said, jokingly. "I met Khai a few weeks ago, just before his thirteenth birthday. He's studying to be a transatmospheric pilot, and as you know I've been teaching that subject recently over at Tangent. His focus recently has been spherical insertions, and seeing as I do that a lot, he asked me to teach him."
A seagull flew overhead, its screech breaking the cadence of his voice momentarily. He smiled. "You know how we're so used to talking, negotiating, being 'up front' about our sexuality. But there's a reason why we're sexual, Ken, and that's because we're attracted. And we sense that attraction is sometimes mutual. So we talk about it.
"Khai was in the pilot's chair, and I was in the copilot's chair, and we were handling a sixteen-ton freighter in the simulator. And we had a... a rapport. You know that feeling, as well. You felt it with me, and I with you. I had it with Khai. A different reason for the rapport, but I had one there.
"We sat afterwards having glasses of kfi together in the cafeteria, and at one point he became very wrapped up in what he wanted to do once he got into space, became proficient. The list of where he wanted to go seemed to go on forever. I finally reached out and touched his hand, covered it with mine.
"The feeling was incredible, Ken. I'm not telepathic, no more than you are. But even more, Khai felt the touch the same way I did."
"How do you know?" I asked, curiously.
"Because the next thing he said was, 'Aaden, sir, there are a lot of other things I'd like to be taught, but I'd like to talk about them somewhere more private.'"
A twinkle appeared in Aaden's eye. "Shut your mouth, Ken. You don't want sandflies making their nests in your tongue. I certainly don't."
I shook my head and chuckled. "You don't want sandflies making nests in your tongue, or my tongue?"
"Your tongue. I'm not the one sitting with my mouth wide open. And I like your tongue the way it is."
"Are they all like that? Do they all make the first move?"
"Not all," Aaden said. "Listen, this is what I think I am." He held up a finger. "The first thing I am is acceptance. I imagine there are some girls who go through this, just as I know as far as I'm concerned that there are boys who don't. But boys need to know, as puberty hits and they suddenly realize they're turning into adults, that other adults accept them. I tell them 'I accept you.' That there's enough to them, as individuals, for me to respect and accept."
"What about their parents?"
"Parents aren't enough, Ken. Parents love their children almost unconditionally. That's not acceptance, that's blind familial love. Boys don't accept that as enough."
I smiled. "Girls don't either."
He grinned back. "Not yours, at any rate. We raised one scrappy pair, Ken."
"Yep," I said, remembering. "So you represent... what?"
"Everybody else. All adults. I'm someone new, part of that vast 'them' that's been outside their experience until now, who accepts then conditionally. 'Are you enough to be an adult?' I ask. And I show them that they can meet those conditions, and what adults will expect of them as adults.
"Two," he said, holding up his next finger, "I'm a mentor. Khai wants to be a pilot. I can't show him everything, but I can tutor him, fly buddy with him when he needs a co-pilot, and when he screws up I can be there to scream at him, then hug him, then tell him to do try it again and get it right."
"I can understand that," I said. "I've done that."
"Then we get to the part you have trouble with."
"Right," he said. "Ken, when you were thirteen... were you ever thirteen?"
"A long time ago. Yes, Aaden, I was thirteen years old once. I came up the old fashioned way. I remember it vaguely."
"Just checking," Aaden said. "When you were thirteen, were you interested in sex?"
"Gods, Aaden!" I replied, laughing softly. "Was I interested in sex? Of course I was! I wanted 'it,' and I didn't even know what 'it' was!"
"The same is true of Khai. The same thing is true of all of them. The hormones hit at this age too, Ken, as puberty sets in. That's all I really am, is the person who wants to guide them through adolescence."
"But do you have to have sex with them?" I asked, wincing slightly just to think about it. In the back of my mind I remembered my own, recent attraction to Priss, and remembering how hard it had been for me to deal with that.
"I don't 'have' to do anything, Ken," he said, correcting me. "I'm not going to lie to you. I never have, and I never will. I love sleeping with Khai; I love the feeling of trust, of love, that I get from touching him, holding him close, and yes... fucking him." He watched me shudder as I turned my head away. "And when we have sex, he fucks me as well, Ken. Fair is fair."
"Why, Aaden? Why?"
"Because it's what he wants." He finally did reach out, placing his hand on my knee. I looked up suddenly, right into those soft brown eyes. "Listen, he could get these three things... Acceptance, teaching, and sex... from three different people. But he doesn't. He gets them from me."
"But you're so..."
"What?" he asked sharply. "What? Old?" He laughed. "Rough?" He laughed again. "On the 'rough' part, you know better than that."
He took a deep breath again and said, "As for 'old,' well... It's something of a mistake to assume that children are the best teachers about sex, but we make that assumption anyway.. It's a question you've often asked in the past, Ken, when confronted with this question. Why is sex such a 'Big Thing?'" He grinned. "Alexi and Elizabeth went out into the world with a lot of book learning about sex, thanks to having a botanist, a geneticist and a physician as parents. But who did they learn about sex from? Rings Ken, Alexi learned about entalie' from you and me. Sixteen years old when you and I first made love with him. And what about Liz? We don't even know. We trusted her to make that decision. Or did you forget that we gave her TNPIF when she was twelve years old?"
I grinned wryly. "I didn't forget."
"I didn't think so," he said. "We have had literally hundreds of kids in this house in the past two hundred years. Have you or I ever acted inappropriately? They're all over you at every age, Ken, but it's not until they're sixteen, or almost sixteen, when you start pick up on the signals. It's like your brain is wired not to believe, no matter how much you talk, that kids can be sexual." He collected his thoughts for a moment, then turned to look straight at me. "I read your version of our night with Alexi. That bit about 'burned blood' was pretty good, but you're wrong if you think you've gotten completely free of Terra. The idea that an adult mentor should teach a boy how to be a professional person, to be a social person, to be a romantic person... that an adult should forge such a close and intense relationship with someone as they help that someone into adulthood... and to not teach, by action and example as well as lecture, how to make love... is a specific of your twentieth-century NorAmerica Earth. It's not true of other places, other times, and other worlds. You know it and I know it.
"As you said, I'm not going to lie to you. I like flying with Khai. I like dancing with him. And I like fucking him. And let me ask you which you'd rather have Ken... me, or someone else? Who do you trust?"
I ignored his question. "Where are his parents? Do they know?"
"He has chosen to tell them. They know."
"Yes. Why don't you ask them about it?"
"I believe you," I said. "Damn you and your honesty."
He smiled. "Would you have me any other way?" We were silent, staring at each other. "Ken, please... tell me what you're thinking."
"What happens to them?" I asked, ignoring his question.
"Like I said, they grow out of it. They start to appreciate that they need someone in their own peer group to play with, to know and love. That I was there to teach them how to be in the world, but I'm rarely really a part of their world. I'm part of yours, Ken. They know that. I'm part of a different world they really aren't interested in being a part of. Our interests just sort of overlapped for two or three or four years.
"I still love them; I always will. But they..." He paused. "They take wing and leave the nest. They move out of their parent's house and they cease to need me anymore. The interests they want to pursue on their own, as adults now, take up more and more time. They call less often." He reached up and wiped a tear from his eye. "I'm getting emotional."
"I like seeing you like that," I said softly.
"Well it's true," he said. "I am. They sort of... fade away. Calling again sometime later to tell me how they're doing, are they okay, are they not. They're all great mels, Ken, every last one of them. Happy, achieving. I can't take credit for much of that, Ken, but if I can say I helped them through the most confusing part of their life, I can feel good about myself."
I looked up at Aaden. "Do you know M'Ress's take on our sadomasochism?" I asked.
"Who doesn't?" he grumbled. "She doesn't like it, she doesn't understand it, but she's going to tolerate it... at a distance."
"Because she trusts and loves... us."
"I can't do that." He looked up again. "I can't feel comfortable with something unless I can see it, feel it, and touch it. This is obviously such an important part of you, Aaden, I can't... I can't feel whole unless I understand it."
He looked up. "You want... what?"
"I want you to move back in. I want my home back, I want my lovers to accept me again. And I want you to bring Khai around more often. This isn't a 'yes,' Aaden. But I've done what everyone has asked of me. I've talked to you. And... you made sense. You made a lot of sense, more than I thought possible."
He grinned. "What do I need for a 'yes?'"
"Prove it to me. Bring Khai around. Why did you bring him around that first day, anyway?"
"I wanted to show him where I lived. And I wanted you to meet him. I wanted you to see this important part of my life."
I smiled. "I guess I flew off the handle."
"You had the right," he said. "I love you, but ultimately Ken you make your own decisions. You know that."
"I love you," he said, trying to get a response out of me.
This time, he succeeded. I smiled and crawled over to him, crawling over him, slowly pushing him down to the sand. "You had better be right about this, Aaden," I said, kissing his muzzle, licking the fur of his cheekruff. "I'm reluctant to give you up."
"I'm reluctant to give you up, too, Ken," he said, wrapping his arms around me and holding me close. I sighed and threw one leg over him, holding him close.
"You think I was wrong," I said softly.
"You could say that," P'nyssa replied as we lay in bed together. "I wish you had called me and told me. I wish Aaden had told me. No, it was just come home and find him and all his belongings gone. My house was empty without him, Ken."
"I know," I replied, running my hand over her breasts, her belly, the thicket of fur between her legs, then back up again. "But think about how I felt. I mean, how was I supposed to feel about him? What was I supposed to think? What had he done to Alexi?"
"What did he do to Alexi? He waited until Alexi asked you... you and him. Aaden is more responsible than either of us can ever hope to be, Ken. He's an incredible mel, sweet and romantic and strong. He loves you; don't ever give that up."
"Promise," I said, snuggling tight up against the fem I loved so very much.
"Ken!" Aaden's voice flashed through the house, startling me from my workstation.
"In the office, Aaden!"
"Office, hmph," he said quietly. "Offices aren't full of seedling jars. This place is a disaster area. One of these days I'm going to have to organize this into a real seedling table. Aren't you tired of the smell?"
I waved around idly. "It changes from day to day. You know how smell is the most intense of all senses, so very wired into the brain as it is? I think it helps me think. As long as I don't let it bother me, I'm fine."
"Anyway," he said, looking around. "Ken, this is Khai. Khai, I'd like you to meet my coimelin, Ken."
I stood up, facing the boy Aaden had brought in. "Ken Shardik, you mean," he said, timidly.
"Well, yeah, that too," I said, smiling. I held out my hand and he took it, shaking it. In more than one way; he was shaking all over. I released his hand and clapped him on his arm. "Hey, a week ago you walked right by me without even so much as a 'Hello.' What happened to that kind of confidence?"
"Call it stupidity," he said, his voice trembling. "I wasn't paying attention."
"So you're Khai," I said, stating the obvious as I sat down slowly. "He's right," I said, hooking a thumb in Aaden's direction. "You are a very handsome young mel."
"Thanks," Khai replied nervously.
"Maybe we should leave you to your work, Ken?"
"No, Aaden, that's okay. I got a good chunk of code down this morning, and my brain's just overflowing. Have you guys had lunch yet?"
"No, but now that you mention it, it sounds like a wonderful idea," Aaden said, rubbing his stomach. "I'm starving. What about you, Khai?"
"I like the idea," he said, smiling. "Uhm... Ken?"
"What are you listening to?"
"What, that?" I said, turning off the music manually. "Iron Maiden, Terran Classical music."
I smiled. "It is. And it's not up to my lovers' tastes, so I only indulge when nobody else is home." I got up and patted Aaden's cheek, then kissed him.
"It's noise," Aaden said.
"It's my noise," I said. "Come on, I'll make sandwiches. How does fish sound?"
"Fine with me," Khai said as I made my way through the house to the kitchen. They followed through and, after a whispered word from Aaden, Khai continued through the living room and out onto the porch.
"So, what do you think?"
"He's very beautiful. He's quick. He's charming. And he's very young."
"Am I wrong for enjoying that youth, Ken? It only lasts a short time for every person. What I do won't make it that time any shorter, and he'll be a better melFel for it when he's older."
"You hope," I amended.
He nodded. "I hope. There are a lot of different ways to grow up. Some are distinctively wrong ways to go about it, but for all those that aren't, is it really up to anyone outside Khai's reach to tell him which way he should go?"
I turned around and wrapped my arms around him, holding him close. "No, Aaden, we shouldn't." I looked up at those eyes again. "Okay, you've convinced me. You're not doing him any harm, you might be doing him good, and Goddess only knows you and he both seem to be having fun."
He laughed. "We spent four hours this morning in the simulator. He took an easy landing at Hawaii and turned it into a disaster."
"Hawaii?" I asked. "Where's Hawaii?"
"It's an island on Terra, Ken. Part of the NorAmerica administration, but it's a Pacific Island."
"Oh, yeah. Sorry, I forgot. My brain has locked up."
"Your brain's really locked up when you can't remember a place on your planet of birth, Ken."
I grinned and released him, going back to the sandwiches.
I looked up, curious to see Khai wandering around the house without Aaden. "Khai?" I asked. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm okay, thanks," he said, looking a bit startled. "I came to ask you for a favor."
"A... favor?" I said, feeling puzzled. "What kind of favor?"
"You and Aaden are Alanailen," he started. "Now, he told me about how you and he argued about his teaching me a year ago, and I know how you feel about that." He paused. "Well, I just turned fourteen, Ken, and I want to do something neat for Aaden, but I want to give him something he likes. It's not really something I find myself thinking I'd like to try, but I'd like to try for him."
I looked at him for a moment, not sure what to make of that. "Okay," I said. "What are we talking about, Khai? What kind of s/m are you considering?"
"I just want to tie him up. I know he always thinks of himself as my teacher, my mentor-- the grown-up. But I want to just have him to myself, to be able to, well, to just play with him." He seemed embarrassed by the request.
I laughed softly. "You rehearsed this speech, didn't you?"
He nodded. "Yes, sir, I did."
"Okay. So let's negotiate. Sit down. Do you know what you're asking for?"
He opened his mouth as if to say something, then paused. "I'm not really sure."
"Okay, what you're asking for is to have me show you how to do an non-consensual, no-safeword scene. That's not to say it can't happen. That's to say I want to change the parameters a little."
"I don't understand."
"Okay. Aaden's safeword is just that, 'safeword.' Now, I'm trusting you, young mel, to respect that word as completely and utterly as you do your own life. Because that's what you're messing with here. If you hear that word, I don't care where you are, you are going to stop, and you are going to listen to the person who said it. Copy?"
He nodded. "Now, of the two people in this room, only one of us is really permitted to mess up Aaden in any impromptu way, and that person is on this side of this desk."
"Ken?" Khai said. "I'd like you to be there."
That didn't surprise me. "You would?"
"Yes, sir, I would," Khai stammered slowly. "I don't trust myself enough with... with anything, really. You should attend to make sure there's nothing wrong. I don't... I don't want him to feel frightened, sir, just tied up. You could make him feel that way. If he knew you were there."
I chuckled softly as a plan formed in my mind. A plan so dark and evil that only I could have come up with it. Then I appreciate again what he was saying. "Khai, you've just turned fourteen. You know that what you're asking is going to completely redefine your relationship with Aaden."
"Think it out , young mel. You're supposed to be his charge, not the other way around. You want him to be your mentor, right?" He nodded. "Why?"
"Because... well, because we get along really well. Because he knows his piloting, and because he cares about me."
"He works you over pretty hard in the simulator. I saw that one session you and he were doing."
"But he teaches, Ken. I see how much better I'm getting with every day in the simulator." He grinned. "When I first met Aaden, I couldn't believe how incredibly lucky I was. Because I had the attention of Vatare's coimelin. And then... And then I thought about how lucky he was to have you. And once I knew him, I thought about how lucky you were to have him. He's really special."
"Yes, he is," I sighed, smiling across the desk at the boy who seemed to have calmed down appreciably. "Now then, are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to have him see that you can, well, top him? Do you know what that means?"
He nodded. "It'll make being in bed with him more fair," he said. He pouted slightly. "Our sex isn't as much as I want."
"Why not?" I asked.
"We don't fuck very much." He sat back in the chair and fidgeted.
"Any ideas why?"
"I have a few. One is that he's afraid of hurting me. He is so big, you know."
I smiled. "Yeah, I do know."
"I think he doesn't want me to fuck him because he's supposed to be the teacher, the grown-up..."
"The top," I injected.
"Yeah. Oral sex is at least equal; the person doing it has to pay as much attention as the person being done."
I laughed. "True. Okay, Khai. I'll teach you. Now, here's my plan..."
"Heya, love," I said as Aaden walked into the house. "You look like you've had a good day."
"Indeed," Aaden chuckled as he wandered in. "I've spent the last four hour harvesting these things. Here, try one." He reached into the canvass bag he carried with him and tossed me a small green fruit, shaped vaguely like a pear. I sniffed at it suspiciously. "What's that smell?"
"Kinda like cherries?" he asked. I nodded. "It's a citric cherry as far as I can tell. I'm trying to up the nutritional content of tangerines, but I keep getting that funny smell as part of it."
"Well, try it," Aaden said. "They peel pretty easily. Go ahead, chew the whole thing; they're seedless too."
"Seedless plants require more maintenance. I take it your customer has a reason for this?"
"No, this is just for my own curiosity," Aaden said. "There's really nobody I'm willing to work for right now."
I peeled the fruit, looking inside. It was a reddish-orange fruit, the color of watermelon, but a very powerful sugar smell besides. I tore it in half and popped half into my mouth. "Not bad," I commented after a few minutes. "Seems dry, though."
"Yeah," Aaden said. "Working on that. Too much like kiwi in that fashion?"
I nodded. He knows I'm less than fond of kiwi.
"Thought so. Okay." He walked over to wear I sat on the couch, towering over me. "Are you going to stand and give me a hug, or am I just going to wait here all day?"
"Okay, okay," I laughed, standing. "I'll hug ya, I'll hug ya." I stood and gave him an intensely tight hug, holding him close. Slowly my hand moved up the back of his neck, and quite suddenly I gripped him there, pulling tight a fold of his skin. "Are you listening to me, Aaden?"
He gasped softly. "Yes... yes sir."
"Good," I chuckled. "Come on, we've got someplace to visit."
"Hush." I led him out the door and down to the SDisk; thanks to Dave we managed to have the entire path cleared of impressionable young children, although Ember saw us go by and flashed me a smile. We hit the SDisk walking, and suddenly we found ourselves tumbling freely without gravity. "Grab something," I directed. He did as he was told.
"I'm here," the young melFel said, slowly bringing the lights up and rising to hover besides me. We hovered dead-center of a five-meter observation sphere. The lights obscured the stars outside, but when we finally lowered them the starlight would pour in; these things were perfectly clear. They were intended to give the illusion that nothing was between the occupant and the vacuum of stars, and the index of refraction on the poly/metal combination was somewhere between that of vacuum and that of breathable air. The only obscurant was a small cylinder, about a half-meter in diameter, and about as tall, stuck to what was nominally the 'bottom' of these things, at least while they were being built.
This particular sphere was a kind of my own development. We called it simply a 'bondage sphere,' because all around the inside were inset cleats, for affixing ropes, chains, and whatever else you felt was appropriate.
Aaden's face looked of sheer surprise, which then became horror. "Ken, we agreed we weren't going to involve..."
I reached up and with a jerk slammed his muzzle shut. "Quiet. That's two assumptions you've just made. Do you understand me?"
His eyes were still frightened, but under my hand I felt the muscles of his muzzle move. He was smiling. He nodded slowly, letting my hand follow.
"Good," I said. "Because you're going to follow his..." I thought for a second. Orders? Instructions? I found the word that implied what I wanted. "... directions. Understood?"
He nodded. "Okay, Khai. He's yours."
"Arms behind your back, Aaden." Aaden obeyed, and Khai stripped off Aaden's vest, tossing it my way. Khai floated slowly down to Aaden's midsection, reaching into Aaden's waistband and unhooking the clip that held his pants closed. He pulled them off as well and I collected them, folding them closely and with an elastic cord fixing them to the sphere just next to the life-support unit.
I watched with a smile as Khai grabbed on of the two packets of rope we had been practicing all day yesterday with, going for Aaden's right foot. He wound the end around his ankle six times, pulling a four-meter length free and letting it float. He measured out a length between them, then began with the rest on Aaden's other ankle, affixing it in much the same way.
Aaden watched all this carefully. "Bring your arms to the front," Khai said. Aaden smiled and brought his wrists together in front of him, as Khai slowly affixed the black centimeter-thick rope around Aaden's wrists. I'm sure Aaden recognized the rope. It's the stuff I always use.
Khai bounced around the inside of the sphere; a five-meter sphere is bigger than people think it is; there's plenty of room to bounce around in. He attached the ropes to cleats, starting with the two attached to Aaden's feet. Aaden hung loosely down towards the bottom of the sphere. 'Loosely' until Khai jumped up towards the top of the sphere and pulled on one of the two ends of rope around Aaden's wrists. Aaden didn't fight, letting Khai pull on the ropes. Slowly, Khai pulled them until they became taut, then tied the securing knots carefully. Aaden started to look nervous. I laughed softly.
Khai then took out another long sheaf of rope and went to work, wrapping Aaden's wrists against, then down to his ankles, and finally criss-crossing his back to tie to his wrists again.
Khai slowly drifted back to hover before Aaden. "Hi, teacher."
Aaden smiled. "Hello, student."
Khai grinned as I slowly lowered the lights. Our eyes adjusted to the darkness, slowly. I could see Khai slowly fondling Aaden's shaft, playing with his harness. Aaden squirmed a little as Khai's hand gripped the huge furry shaft. "What are we studying today, Khai?"
"How to tease teachers," Khai replied. He slowly pulled himself down, grabbing hold of the rope between Aaden's legs with his toes as something to give him a base so he wouldn't drift away. He kissed Aaden's cock with his muzzle, lifting the heavy shaft to nuzzle Aaden's balls with his cold nose. Aaden whimpered softly as his boy lover took his sheath into his mouth, clamping down.
I slowly drifted up and to one side, getting a better view. The sphere was placed two AU out from Pin and orbited outside the plane of the ring, so from here I could see all of Pendor illuminated, and the light of Pin lit up the inside of the sphere wonderfully.
Khai's hands wrapped around Aaden's body as he was slowly pushed away by Aaden's growing cock. Despite all his maturities, Khai is still a fourteen year old boy. And despite all of his comforting experiences with Aaden, there was no way he was yet used to taking Aaden's cock down his throat. But that doesn't mean he didn't try. Aaden whimpered and gasped softly as Khai nursed on his cock, sucking the head and sometime running his mouth along the side of his shaft.
Khai left Aaden's hard cock; it slowly rose up to rest almost touching Aaden's belly. He eased himself downwards, playing with Aaden's balls, taking first one and then the other into his mouth. I could see his tongue clearly licking at Aaden's fur. He turned around as he fit himself between Aaden's legs and rose up again, raising Aaden's tail with one hand and slowly, with gentle tosses of his head, fitting his muzzle between Aaden's asscheeks, digging his tongue up against Aaden's asshole. Aaden loves that, and it was obvious on his face as he raised his head and let out a satisfied sigh. The ropes quivered. "Khai..." he whispered.
"Aaden?" Khai answered, backing away just far enough to talk.
"Thank you," he breathed.
Khai beamed, though Aaden couldn't see it, and dove right back between Aaden's cheeks, licking and kissing like mad. Aaden cooed, his erection never dropping a centimeter. Khai reached between Aaden's legs and stroked his balls, sometime reaching to stroke Aaden's beautiful cock. Aaden shivered softly. "Oh, Khai."
For the first time since meeting him, I had a good look at Khai's own cock, which had been hard since he had begun this event. I looked at it closely, and from what I could see Khai was simply normal. Beautifully so, at any rate.
Khai slid up Aaden's back until his cock was pressing against Aaden's backside. Aaden whimpered softly again as Khai found his asshole and slowly pushed against it, slipping into him easily. Khai gripped his mentor tightly, hands firmly grasping Aaden's shoulders. "Oh, Khai," Aaden repeated softly as Khai began to withdraw and reenter, in and out, fucking him gently.
"Aaden," Khai replied, "I just wanted to have you without you always being the one in charge." He slid back into Aaden, making love slowly and methodically. "I just wanted to have you. I dreamt about having you like this. You're always in control. For once, I want to be in control!" On the last syllable he shoved hard into Aaden, eliciting a gasp from my Mephit lover.
He slipped out, letting go and drifting away from Aaden. With a few gentle kicks off the walls he found his way to Aaden's front. "Besides, Ken's right. Having you tied up lets me enjoy you the way you are."
"Khai," Aaden chuckled. "You could have just asked."
"He did," I said, laughing along. Aaden shot me a half-frustrated look. "Aww, lover," I said. "Let him have his fun."
"Yeah," Khai said, floating back to right before Aaden again, hovering in the zero gravity. "I'm sure I could do nasty things to you if I wanted," he said, stroking Aaden's cock with his hand. "But why would I want to, teacher?" He gripped Aaden's cock with his hand, slowly pumping the insistent and erect shaft. Aaden moaned as Khai's hand flew over his cock.
Khai looked over in my direction, and I tossed him the tiny bottle we had brought along. He caught it deftly, flipped open the top, and applied some of the contents to his right hand. The lubricant made his stroking of Aaden's cock slicker, and Aaden cooed. "You two are being so mean to me," Aaden moaned.
"Awww... " I repeated, losing control and giggling. Khai applied more lubricant to Aaden's cock as he masturbated my lover. Then he slowly let go and raised himself, wrapping his legs around Aaden and positioning himself, his ass right above Aaden's shaft. He leaned forward and kissed Aaden, and Aaden pushed back. The sounds of their tongues meeting was enough to turn me on even more. I had a painfully hard erection of my own in my pants.
I debated taking off my own clothes, but decided against it. I could take care of my "little problem" later.
Khai reached down with one hand to grab Aaden's shaft, and with the other slowly pulled down. I watched as Aaden's cock made contact with Khai's buttocks, then slowly slid between them, disappearing into his asshole. Khai and Aaden moaned simultaneously, Khai's whole body suddenly releasing one huge tremble as Aaden's cock penetrated into Khai's hole.
"Are you okay, Khai?"
"Aaden," he gasped softly, his eyes closed. "You always ask that. And you know the answer. I wouldn't do this if I didn't want it. I want it. I want you."
"I have to know," Aaden said.
"Now you know," Khai said, wriggling back and forth slightly as he impaled himself further and further on Aaden's penis. Suddenly Khai gasped and looked up. "That's all I can take."
"Then don't force it," Aaden said. "Just get used to it."
Khai smiled. Grabbing Aaden about his broad ribcage, Khai slowly lifted himself up, then back down. I had warned him about these lessons in physics, and he had paid attention. Slowly he stroked himself up and down on Aaden's cock. The ropes trembled, both with Khai's action and with the tension in Aaden's body as he wished, forcefully, for orgasm to come closer, come faster.
"Ken," Khai said. "Join us."
"What?" I said, surprised.
"Join us. Get into Aaden from behind. He'll come faster that way."
I looked surprised, but my own erection was demanding that I accept the offer. I quickly stripped off my clothing and, locating the bottle of lube, applied some to my own cock. I grabbed Aaden from behind, using his tail as a grip. "Ready?"
"Always," he whispered.
I slid into him easily, my hips pressing against his buttocks. His anus spasmed in time with Khai's slow rising and falling, and I followed the boy's lead. The two of us set up a rhythm against my well-furred and well-built lover.
Aaden's body shuddered, his voice whimpering. "I'm so close... rings... so close..." as the two of us slowly stroked and fucked him. A lack of gravity makes its own rules; we couldn't really get up any speed. The ropes stretched at the force Aaden exerted against them, and his body swung in the center of the sphere at the very limit of slack as young Khai and I made love to him.
"I'm right... OH, YES!" he screamed as he came, Khai never once letting him get an extra shove or a moment's extra release, but still stroking him as he screamed and moaned and whimpered with ecstasy. "Oh, Khai... Oh Ken."
Khai held onto his lover and teacher tightly. I slipped out of Aaden quickly. Even thought I hadn't come, I didn't really care. I had done what I had come to do, and if I needed relief of that sort I could always take care of that by hand. I rose slowly and looked down over Aaden's shoulder. Khai gripped him tightly, Aaden's cock still buried deep within his ass. I could see tears on his face.
We remained like that for a long time; I don't know how long, it just felt like forever. The three of us just held on, Khai and I using our lover between us as a base. Finally Aaden cleared his throat. "Uhm... I'm cramping up."
"Khai," I said. "Cut him free."
"Yes, sir," Khai replied, descending to where the equipment bag was and grabbing the scissors. Aaden was free in less than a minute.
The moment all four limbs were free, he gathered both of us into his arms, hugging us close. "Thank you, both of you. And you, Ken," he said, "You taught him all that!"
"He asked, Aaden. He wanted to do something special for you. Something that would let him live out his dreams of having his very sexy, very well-built teacher completely his to explore."
"You were wonderful, teacher," Khai replied.
"Besides, he had your safeword and he got the lectures on safety. He actually checked your hands feet, did you notice that?"
"No, I didn't," Aaden chuckled. "But I'm not surprised. You taught him, and you know the ropes as well as anybody." We both laughed softly. "So, do I get to go home anytime soon?"
"How about now?"
"Uhm, Ken?" Khai replied. "Could I have some time with Aaden, alone?"
"Sure thing. You two should be fine in here. I just replaced the life support module, it's good for days."
They both nodded as I gathered up my clothes and blipped home.
I sat down at the terminal and summoned a two-dimensional imaging pattern, working from the inside on a dyspeptide molecule that I was going to need working correctly if this latest round of Tinker viri was going to work at all. I heard the sounds of someone in the kitchen. "Dave?"
"Aaden, Ken." I laughed softly, noticing that Dave had anticipated my question, and I had anticipated his anticipation. I didn't have long to wait before Aaden joined me in the workroom. "Hiya, lover," he said as he wandered in.
"Hi, yourself," I said, blowing him a kiss. "Hey, Aaden?"
"Hmmm?" he asked, looking over his seeding table and scratching the fur under his chin.
"I haven't seen Khai in a long time. It's probably been over a month since he was last here."
He looked up. "You know how it is," he said, eyes slightly sad. "They grow up. He's got himself a girlfriend, and Tangent accepted him on my recommendation into the milspec pilot's school."
"Yes, it is. But he doesn't have time for old mels like me. He has his priorities, and hanging around with me isn't one of them anymore. He grew out of needing me a long time ago. He's slowly growing out of wanting me, too. I told you, Ken, it happens to all of them. His own peer group, his own love that he can feel equal to, those have become more important."
He navigated around the table and crouched down behind me, placing his chin on my shoulder. "I love you," he whispered.
"I love you, too," I said, scratching the top of his head. "Silly little furry. You're not old."
"Not to you I'm not," he said. "But to him I'm part of that guard he's going to be a long time growing into. He wants to spend time with his own generation now. I-- and you, to some extent-- taught him how to not be alone."
I chuckled. "Yeah, I know." I reached back behind and gave my love a gentle squeeze.
He squeezed back gently and rose, walking away, heading back into the kitchen. As he walked away my brain's propensity for finding quotes dug one out, and I hummed it softly. "Dragons live forever, but not so little boys..."
Aaden turned. "I heard that. The lyric is wrong, though, or maybe Puff was just being foolish. It's not 'One sad day,' it should be 'One fine day.' Because Puff did his task, being Jackie Draper's friend until the day came when it was time for Jackie to move on. He should be proud of what he achieved.
"I remember a Terran cartoon I saw once of that, where Puff was half Jackie's imagination, and half he was just a stuffed toy." Aaden's eyes wandered over to the closet where Vince, the purple stuffed-animal dragondroid and persona Dave affected whenever we had little children in the house, was stored. "At the end, Puff disappears into his cave, or the toybox, forever. I remember wishing, hoping, that Jack would pass his beloved Puff down to his children someday."
"So you're sorta going into the toybox, until someone else needs you?"
He grinned. "Something like that."
I looked up into his face, where he smiling wide but with the threat of tears. "It hurts, doesn't it?"
"Of course it hurts," he replied. "But it was worth it, Ken. You and I, we're so conscious of the differences between kinds of pain. Good pain, bad pain, danger pain, worthless pain... We know all of them. This'll pass, this pain... but the memory of the passion I felt, the pleasures I had, the success I achieved... those will last forever." He visibly wiped a tear out of one eye.
I stood up and wandered over to him, giving him a hug, smiling a little at the dance we were doing within our little office. "Come on," I said. "Into the kitchen. I need some food anyway."
Pouring glasses out for the two of us and grabbing some shortbreads out of the cabinet, I said, "I want to apologize for how I treated you, and Nyss, and Dave, four years ago."
"You already have," he said.
"No, I said I was being contingent. I should have known better than to blow up on you. I should have listened first. I look at and pass judgement on every relationship; is it good for the person involved that I care about, or is it bad, or what? I think most people have some concern for their friends and will at times say 'This isn't doing you any good.'"
"This was different. I understand."
"No, Aaden, it isn't. I'm more... I want to say 'suspicious,' but that's not right. 'Cautious,' I guess. There's a huge potential for abuse of power when we're talking about twelve or thirteen or fourteen year old kids. I should have asked first. I should have trusted you. Instead, I blew up at the mel I love the most. I'm sorry."
He drew me into a big and furry hug; we stood there, holding each other. "Thank you," he said after a while.
"And I promise the next time you show up with one in tow, I won't explode. I'll ask questions of both of you..."
"If you didn't ask questions," he interrupted, "I'd be upset. For both of us. I want you to worry about me, and I'm glad you worry about the people I care for. But remember that someday, who knows when, I will show up with someone, and he might be twelve years old."
I smiled. "I'll ask questions. Khai was right. I can't believe how lucky I got when I found you."
"It's mutual," he said. "Come on, I need your help. I've got this photosynthesizing CR-cell I want you to look at."
"The work never ends," I said, laughing.
"Nope," Aaden said. "And neither does the play. Come on."
I followed him back into the office, and we immersed ourselves in genetics until Pnyssa got home.