|A Stationmaster, Two Twics, and Earth Prime
Author: D. M. Domini PM
Not everyone is comfortable at first with Afra and Damia's new relationship. Warning - Mature content!Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Humor - Chapters: 4 - Words: 13,313 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 10 - Updated: 11-09-10 - Published: 06-16-09 - id: 5141931
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: The world and characters in this story come from The Talent and the Hive and The Pegasus series of novels. Everything belongs to Anne McCaffrey. I'm just playacting with my invisible Talent Action Figures in my mind. I'd like to think I'm a T-4 or so storywriter, working my way up to T-2 by proximity to a Prime's works, but who knows. :D
Author's Note: This is technically an AU because I conveniently forget that Mrdini exist, and Damia isn't pregnant.
Warning: This is legitimately a PG-13 fic. It contains mature themes (at least compared to my other fics). You are warned!
A Stationmaster, Two Twics, and Earth Prime
By. D. M. Domini
A Stationmaster, two Twics, and Earth Prime all walked into a bar. No really, it went like that. See, we were throwing a bachelor party for Afra Lyon, and...
"That's a devilish grin on your face, Gollee," Jeff Raven, Earth Prime, told me, cutting through my chain of thought.
I felt my grin stretch wider. "You shouldn't have come, Jeff. And I mean that in the best possible way."
"Afra was the first person I met after Rowan once I got off of Deneb," Jeff protested. "Of course I'm going to be here for his bachelor's party--even if he does suddenly have a relationship with my daughter that I don't want to know the particulars about," he said.
Afra observed us quietly, as was his wont, with alert yellow eyes. He knew I was up to something, but didn't quite know yet what it was. I raised a suggestive eyebrow at him, but kept my shields firm. He was a T-2 now; I had to stay on my toes.
"Yeah, that kind of came out of left field, you know?" Brian teased Afra.
Afra shrugged, and his smile turned a little sheepish. I could tell he was still nervous about letting us know about his relationship with Damia; he was jittery around Jeff, as if the man might teleport in a katana at a moment's notice and spontaneously decapitate him for having relations with his daughter.
Luckily, Jeff was Earth Prime for a reason and had enough empathy to handle the situation with as much adroitness as his own mother probably had when she had found out. He joined in the joking, but projected a soothing sense of calm that leeched any awkwardness out of the situation when Afra became nervous.
Still. He shouldn't have come. But I understood why he had.
The bar was a little hole-in-the-wall Afra and I had frequented a lot in our younger days when we could both throw back drinks and still be able to come into work the next morning intact enough to perform our duties as Twics of Callisto and Earth Towers. Well, I had thrown back drinks; Afra, once he got over me tricking him into trying it, preferred wines. Either way, we'd had plenty of hangovers.
The hole-in-the-wall had become more upscale since then, probably due to over-paid young Talents like Afra and I spending way too much of our credit here on our days off. Today I'd booked one of their back rooms and a bartender, and we wove ourselves through the crowd--which was a surprisingly appropriate mix of oldtimers our own age, and a new, fresh, younger generation--towards our destination.
"Came out of left field, my ass," I told Brian. "You just don't have any eyes in your head."
"I must be blind too, then," Jeff said. "Gave Rowan and I quite the shock."
That caused Afra to open his mouth to apologize, but I poked him in the ribs. Quit apologizing.
I wasn't--Afra started to say.
Uh-huh, I said, projecting a healthy dose of skepticism at him.
I don't want to apologize, he corrected himself. But, being Capellan, he felt like he should, anyways. He didn't say it in words, but I knew the signs that he was feeling it.
Well, don't then. You two have had something between you for a long time; it's good it's finally official and all.
"You going to let us in on the conversation?" Brian asked, picking up that I was speaking to Afra on another band.
"He was about to apologize," I said. "Which is dumb. He's obviously ridiculously happy with her!" I turned to my friend. "We're teasing, Afra. Don't apologize. And Jeff--you're her dad. Of course you're blind when it comes to Damia's potential love interests."
"I'm quite not sure it works that way," Jeff said.
"Put it down to Afra being a sneaky son of a bitch, then," I said mischievously.
Afra's eyes widened, and he turned to me, his head slightly cocked to the side. "Are you implying something about my honor?" he asked, half in jest, and half seriously. Jest because he knew what Terrans thought of the Capellan sense of honor, and serious because it was true enough that he was considering becoming offended at my comments.
"I am not implying anything," I told him. Calm down, my friend. "But let me put it down for the record--I was not surprised."
Jeff and Brian glanced at each other, and possibly exchanged a telepathic comment or two that I could not hear, but didn't say anything.
That was fine. This was a bit of payback at Afra. Despite his protests, Damia and he had had a subtle underlying note of...erotic awareness...of one another in more than a few of the interactions between them that I had witnessed over the past two years. Ever since that "Coonie" incident, where Afra ended up nursing a human-shaped "Coonie" bite on his forefinger until it healed. I'd given Damia hell for that one. It was entirely possible that Afra had ignored the subtext between them so thoroughly that he had therefore believed it not to be visible to others, but I had certainly picked up on it, if only because I'd been scared witless that Rowan was going to haul me into some dark corner for questioning, and I'd be put on the spot trying to cover for Afra. And, damn it, Damia too, because the girl...the woman...didn't deserve half of the nagging the Rowan could put her through.
So I didn't mind hanging Afra out to dry a bit in front of Jeff and Brian. Neither would truly give him hell for it. But it would make Afra twitch. I gave Afra an evil smile.
I held my gift for last; I didn't even teleport it in until Brian had presented Afra with some sort of ribald book of things Afra MUST try at least once during his final days as a single man before he tied the knot, and Jeff gave Afra a little bare-chested dancing hoola girl that we all knew would probably never see the light of day in Afra's quarters, or later his home with Damia. Unless Damia found it and thought it was amusing.
I teleported my box onto the padded bench next to me. "Go over there and turn around, Jeff," I said.
"You mean Afra?" Jeff asked, surprised.
"No, I mean you. I have a Bachelor's party gift for Afra, and I guarantee you don't want to see what it is."
"That sounds creepy," Brian said.
"You can go over there and stand with our back to us too, if you want."
Brian snorted a laugh and stayed where he was, nursing his beer.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to molest him," I assured everyone. Nobody looked reassured for some reason. But finally, Jeff threw up his hands, rose from his seat, and faced away, so that his back was towards us.
I turned to Afra, who had a suspicious vibe to him. I grinned again, which just deepened the waves of suspicion coming off of him. I was grinning like a fool tonight, but I wanted to see his reaction so badly it almost hurt. "My wife's always harping on me giving gifts that are thoughtful, so, you know, it finally sunk in and I thought, 'What could I give Afra that he would enjoy, but which he probably wouldn't run out to the store to pick up himself?' So, yeah. Here you go." I pushed the plainly wrapped box over to him. It was somewhere between the size of a shoebox and the size of a flute case.
Afra gave me a wary nod of thanks, and took the box. Neatly, with one long finger, he undid the tape at the ends and up the side, and revealed a long, polished wooden box under the paper, made of ebony on the sides, and with an inlaid maple burl wood top.
Brian let out a low whistle. "You're making me feel bad, and that's just the box," he said.
I waved the comment away. "I would have given it as a wedding gift, but weddings are decidedly more...mixed, in company. Hey! No peeking! This isn't something a Dad like you should see!" Or at least, not your type of Daddy, Jeff, I thought privately behind shields so that he couldn't hear.
Jeff laughed and faced the wall again. He'd been trying to get a peek of the box.
This isn't something "Daddies" should see? Afra asked me, proving that perhaps my shields weren't as firm as I thought they were. I hoped Jeff hadn't picked up the thought too.
"Open it," I commanded, pointing a finger at the box.
Afra stared at me for a long moment, then complied.
Brian burst into shocked laughter.
"Can I turn around?" Jeff asked.
"I think a 'hell no' is suitable here," Afra said, his yellow eyes widening in surprise. A faint blush darkened the green of his skin in his cheeks.
In the box in Afra's hands, lying on a bed of scarlet velvet, was a very fine, high-quality, handmade doe-skin flogger. He quietly closed the box.
I waved my hand at the box. "D'you like it?" I asked.
"I just learned more about Afra than I ever wanted to know," Brian confessed to the room between chuckles.
Afra went from a faint blush to all-out scarlet. He was too flustered to try to control the blood flow to his face like he usually did, although his shields were too tight to leak the actual emotion.
"It gives a whole new meaning to 'ball and chain'," Brian continued.
"I am dying of curiosity," Jeff told the wall, hands on his hips. He was almost twitching with the urge to turn around.
"Oh trust me, you don't want to see what Gollee gave Afra, Jeff," Brian said.
Do you like it? I asked Afra again, this time in a private telepathic thread.
Was it necessary to give me something so blatantly...adult...in front of other people? There was a note of dismay in his touch.
I told Jeff he shouldn't have come, I said, waving it off. Do you like it?
Why do you keep asking me that? Afra asked.
Because you're shielding. Really, if it's not appropriate, or rather, not welcome, because it's entirely inappropriate, I can take it back. But I figured...something you'd probably like, but which you wouldn't get for yourself...I rolled my shoulder in a casual shrug.
You do realize that time with Kama and Adriana was just one time.
Sure! I agreed instantly and innocently.
Afra glanced at Jeff's back, and removed the box from the table and put it next to him under a stray pillow. I think Damia will enjoy it, he finally told me. Then he caught my eye again and gave me a very, very small half-smile.
Good. I was satisfied; he'd liked it. By the way, Brian has it the wrong way around. He thinks you...I said.
I noticed that, but he doesn't need to know.
I chuckled. "So!" I said. "Come sit down, Jeff."
"You have bloody good shields for a T-9," Jeff told Brian with a shameless grin as he returned to the table.
"Thank you for putting me in this position," Brian told me, sarcasm coloring his words. He was technically the weakest link in trying to keep a secret from a Prime that was standing in the same room. But his shields were holding well enough, and Jeff would only try to puncture them if absolutely necessary. Doing so now for personal reasons would be a shameful thing, and Jeff wouldn't stoop to it.
"Thank Jeff--I did warn him!" I said, putting it firmly back on Jeff's shoulders. "Several times. He insisted on coming."
Jeff sat down in his chair and picked up his beer again, and studied Afra's blush critically, before giving his own smile. Afra sipped at his own beer and avoided Jeff's gaze by looking at me for the longest moment, and shaking his head. Poor guy. He was so conflicted.
I cackled in glee at his discomfort, until he stomped on my toe and gave me my own discomfort. "Ow. Watch where you're putting your big feet, you clod."
"I always watch where I'm putting my feet," Afra said.
Jeff and I walked down the mostly-quiet street in companionable silence, towards Earth Tower, where we would both take a capsule home. I had moved with my wife a few months ago to Chiwaukee, which gave me a daily commute from Lake Michigan to the East Coast, and Jeff, as always, had to go home to Callisto moonbase. Brian had already left, pleading that he couldn't pull all-nighters at his age anymore, and Afra had left as well, because he and Damia were going to meet Afra's family in a couple of hours. I hoped he had time to test out his new toy.
"I have to ask," Jeff said after a while.
"I told you not to--" I warned immediately.
"Yes, yes, you've told me again and again."
"Well, don't bitch at me, because you did have warning."
"I wasn't going to bitch at you!" Jeff said. "But I have to ask, now, considering what you implied. Were Damia and Afra seeing one another behind my back?"
That wasn't exactly what I had feared he was going to ask, although it was close enough. Luckily for me, though, they hadn't been. "No," I said immediately. "No. Even if Afra's honor was eroded enough to consider it, and I admit to having tried to erode his honor before, for values of 'honor' that include prissy conservativeness, he wouldn't be so stupid to attempt such a thing right under your nose. But, luckily enough, Afra has honor, and isn't stupid." I looked at Jeff. "They weren't carrying on an affair at Callisto."
Jeff blew out a held breath through his nose. "That puts me at ease. Not that...you know..." I don't doubt Afra's honor, but...the thought trailed off.
I understood. Several times in horror I had suspected something had been going on, but it'd always been a false alarm. To my great and never-ending relief.
"So...say if Afra hadn't any honor, and was stupid," Jeff postulated.
He would have been on her like a barque cat in rut, a traitorous thought whispered deep behind my shields. It wasn't true, and I suppressed the hell of it lest Jeff pick it up. "Let's not invent and punish them for things that didn't happen," I said repressively.
"Fair enough. What was going on between them on Callisto?"
I blinked at Jeff. "...didn't we just cover that he wasn't seeing her behind your back?" I asked.
"Yes. But just because they didn't...go dating or anything doesn't mean nothing was going on. Certainly he didn't just wake up on Deneb after, after...and suddenly realize he was head over heels and wanted to marry her?"
"Maybe that's exactly what happened?" I offered, feeling dread as Jeff was steering the conversation exactly where I didn't want it to go.
"Gollee...out of everyone in my closest circle of friends, only you didn't react with total surprise when it was announced. You even said you weren't surprised."
"What are you, an empath?" I asked lightly.
I made a sound. "Don't do this to me, man. Neither of them ever said a word to me, or acted improperly in front of me. I've got nothing."
"But you know something anyway..."
I glared at the man. "And?"
Jeff sighed. "Rowan...Rowan is all but convinced that this...that this is some delayed effect from her spurning him so long ago."
"She spurned him?" I asked in confusion. "No she didn't," I said after thinking back about it. "There was nothing to spurn! If there was, and he was spurned--" I stopping running my mouth ahead of my thoughts, but the thought completed anyway. He would have been getting furiously drunk with me. And perhaps crying. He might well have cried. They never got themselves into a situation where spurning was possible.
You could always see through his shields better than the rest of us, Jeff said.
I flushed. I hadn't meant to betray Afra. I was a lonely kid working my ass off for Reidinger when I met him. When Reidinger threw us together, I played the young Terran devil--ahem, host--to the hilt. You learn a lot about a man when his inhibitions break down. He's a good guy, Jeff. You know that. But he's as curious as a whole cargo bay of cats, particularly if someone's told him he shouldn't be curious about it, or if he gets it into his head that he isn't supposed to be curious about it due to his upbringing. He just doesn't admit to it, but goes off researching it anyway when nobody's looking.
"Much like a cat," Jeff mused. "Doing its own thing. I'd tend to agree." He flashed me an image of a long, dark panther with eyes the color of Afra's. The image had the weight of more years than Jeff had known Afra, which was a bit confusing.
I ignored that part, though. "And if Rowan thinks that Afra has just gone and invented some substitute for her in Damia...she's out of her mind. And, if you'll excuse me, should deflate her ego a little bit. He hasn't been sitting on her string for twenty hopeless years. He's not dumb!"
"I know. I know."
"It has nothing to do with Rowan. And everything to do with Damia. Which is as it should be, if you're going to go marry someone."
"So everything was platonic?" Jeff asked, catching my eyes.
God damn the man. "She had a raving crush on him," I finally said.
Jeff thought about that. "She always did consider him her best friend, but--"
"And that's all it was, until she grew up and the hormones kicked in. He's a handsome guy, Jeff. And mysterious." I snorted. "Mysterious to apparently everyone but me," I amended.
"Did she do anything to him?"
Oh god. I avoided Jeff's eyes.
"What did she do to him?" Jeff demanded.
I shook my head. "Nobody ever told me anything, Jeff," I protested. "What do you want? Rumors? Hearsay?"
"Your reluctance to say anything worries me."
"Why are you pursuing this? Do you want some sort of excuse--"
"I want to be able to defang the Rowan, if--"
"Has she been over-reacting that badly?" I asked, and sighed. Trust Rowan to make things harder than they had to be. "Damia had a raving crush on the man. Being Damia, and a wild little teenager, she attempted to provoke him, as far as I could tell. He's Afra. He wasn't provoked, and each time she tried it she'd end up in this foul little mood for days after being turned down. Is that the gossip you wanted? Nobody ever told me anything, I just noticed Damia periodically would be up to something, and then something would happen, and Afra would be strained and stressed for a few days, and Damia in an unholy furor of a mood. Boom, boom, boom, one thing after another."
Jeff was shocked. "That little--"
"It's over! It's done with!" I said, trying to stem his anger.
I never would have Towered her if I'd realized she was involved in some sort of sexual abuse--
Who said it was sexual? I demanded. I didn't say that! I never said the provoking was sexual. You know how she likes to get people all wound up and angry.
She does? Jeff asked in dismay. I never meant to put Afra in such a situation--
What? You had nothing to do with it! Damia's a grown woman. And believe you me, I chewed her out for the worst of it and shipped her to Capella so they could take her down a peg. And so she could learn a thing or two about Capellans.
Jeff turned to look at me. "You did?" and he raised an eyebrow.
I turned red realizing I'd just admitted to disciplining Jeff's daughter without ever telling him I had done so until now, but didn't break the eye contact. "I took care of it Jeff. And it has no bearing now on things. Damia has done very well as Prime of Aurigae, aside from," and I shrugged to indicate the Sodan incident. "Damia has matured. It's plain as day. I can almost see what he sees in her, now. And they're obviously very happy with one another."
Jeff looked at the ground and chewed on what I'd just said for a while. Then he spoke again. "What did you get Afra?"
I hung my head, defeated, and flashed him an image of the little doe-skin flogger in its wooden box.
Jeff was quiet for a few long moments, and to my dismay, I caught a quick image of Afra tied up and Damia wielding--
Yeah, Brian got it the wrong way around too, I said.
I didn't need to know that, Jeff said, eyes widening.
I threw up my hands. Really now?! I began to laugh. You've certainly been putting me to the rack for information!
Damn it, I'm going to have to shield from Rowan all night, now, Jeff cursed. She's going to ask questions about that.
I laughed harder.
"Shut up," Jeff commanded.
"I told you, I told you! And you just went along and persisted..." I managed between laughter. I also repeated it telepathically. I told you!
Jeff groaned. "So you did. But it's one thing to realize your little girl is grown up from an intellectual level, and quite another to have one of your best friends and toys involved in a real life scenario."
"I don't know if he'll use it," I confided. "I just wanted to see him lose control enough to blush. That was the best part. I'll remember that forever." I chortled again, remembering Afra's intense discomfort.
"You're a wicked man. And also the one who said Afra likes to go doing stuff he thinks he shouldn't just to try it out, so don't try to excuse it with the idea that he might not. Maybe I should just stay in the Tower all night; the Rowan will hit the roof if I slip up...I need to bleach my brain..."
Jeff did indeed chose to stay the night on Earth. I don't know what excuse he gave Rowan, but we parted ways a while later, with him kvetching about brain bleach, and I giggled my way home to my wife, sounding drunker than I actually was. This was absolutely the best prank I'd ever managed to pull on Afra. And once I'd bared my soul to Jeff, watching him try to suppress the heck out of his new, not-exactly-welcome knowledge was absolutely one of the funniest things I'd seen in a long, long time. Be careful what you wish for, I sent to him once at home, picking up at the edges of my mind that he was still kvetching to himself as he readied for bed.
Shut up, Gren.