“Three hundred cycles ago, when humans had their first contact with extraterrestrials, there were riots and mass suicides, unfathomable chaos because it was very hard for them to digest, not only that they weren’t alone, but that there was nothing special about humans in the grand scheme of the Universe,” Nir dictated to his scribe.
The canine looked at Nir as if it wondered where he was going with that information.
“Turmoil, Moire,” Nir said. “The turmoil that the unknown brings to your existence.”
The canine nodded and typed, adding the words to Nir’s log entry.
There were times when Nir would have been fine if the canines of Thereon were more like those of Terra. Sure those pets weren’t as smart or capable of all the things theirs easily achieved, but the cuddly factor was important sometimes. Thereon’s canines could not function as pets; they were too aloof, too smart, too impersonal (just like the actual people of Thereon) to provide any warmth or emotional support. They weren’t even cute, according to the human crew of the Qizil Tacir. It had been mentioned that Moire looked like the ugliest mutt one could imagine or have a nightmare about.
Nevertheless, Moire was something from his planet. Nir looked around his cabin. The purple flowers which grew freely in Thereon's valleys hanged from vines covering the walls, and yet Nir still missed something he couldn’t quite name.
Moire stared at Nir expectantly.
Before Nir could open his mouth to continue with his log, the cabin door chimed and the computer blurted, “It’s Captain Wang!”
“Grant access,” Nir sighed. He moved to his feet to receive his boss as the door whooshed open.
“Chief Kah,” the massive captain entered the cabin, “I have your options for Hidden Giver here.” He pushed a compad into Nir’s face, and with a click, a multicolored hologram wheel floated over it. “If you were so kind as to spin that to find out your receiver.”
Nir took a step back, so he didn’t have the edge of the device on his nose and spun the floating wheel with his index finger. The seconds it took to stop seemed interminable. It stopped in a blue section, and the color dissolved, allowing a name to surface.
“That should prove interesting,” commented Captain Wang after turning the hologram wheel to himself and reading the name. He punched a key and the hologram dissolved.
“Whatever do you mean, captain?” Nir swallowed hard.
“Well,” the captain eyed Nir, “you made a funny face when you saw the name. I think you were expecting to get one of your fellow Thereons as receiver.”
“What would be the fun in that, captain?”
“That’s the spirit!” Captain Wang smacked Nir on the shoulder and about-faced. “Alright, I’ll leave you to your logging and please keep your scribe in your quarters. I’m not going to name names but some people have been like ‘aww captain that thing is scary,’” the captain affected a whiny voice, “and that, dear chief, gets on my nerves.” He looked over his shoulder. “One would think after all the standard months you have been on this ship, those...” he cleared his throat, “people would have gotten used to your assistant aboard.”
“I’ll keep an eye on that situation, captain,” Nir promised before the captain stepped out and the cabin door closed behind him with a definite whoosh.
If canines were able to roll their eyes, Nir was sure Moire should be doing as much when he turned to sit facing his scribe again. Nevertheless, his scribe seemed oblivious to the reaction its appearance caused in some crew members. Canines didn’t care what they looked like, just how efficient they were.
“Yes, turmoil...” Nir returned to his dictation. “Once the majority of humanity assimilated the knowledge of a wide and multi-populated Universe, they let go of many notions regarding the existence of deities and their role in their lives. Nonetheless, as creatures of habit, many traditions subsisted losing their esoteric origins but remaining widely popular around the planet. That’s how I ended up participating in an end-of-the-cycle tradition called Hidden Giver.
“Humans traditionally exchanged gifts with relatives and friends, but if the exchange was in a working environment, for some unfathomable reason, it seemed more exciting if the person you were to gift didn’t know who you were until the end-of-the-cycle company party.” Nir shook his head. “In some places, like the captain wants us here on the Qizil Tacir, you were supposed to also give several small, simple gifts before the actual event.”
Moire finished typing, but Nir didn’t say another word as his eyes watched his fingers trailing the dark material of his chair.
The Qizil Tacir had two hundred crew members, unevenly divided among six species. Since it was a Terran merchant ship, almost sixty percent of the crew was human. Nir’s department controlled the ship’s computers; therefore, he interacted with everyone. Even if the people of Thereon were distant by nature, he felt he had a fairly decent grasp of normal interpersonal interaction, and his last review proved it with a ninety-three percent score on the subject.
Still, this Hidden Giver game (or tradition) would make him dive into something he wasn’t sure how to approach. Yes, there was gift-exchange in Thereon, but their gifts were practical things. With humans, gifts were often impractical trinkets more related to sentiment than to actual usefulness.
Nevertheless, his challenge wasn’t that; several of his subordinates were human, and he could easily ask for their advice. No. His challenge was the man the Universe had decided to put in his path for this “assignment.” Sure, Nir was obviously the receiver of some other crew member, but Nir’s man...
That thought made Nir shudder.
The human had caught Nir’s eye since the first time they crossed each other in the mess hall. He couldn’t say if it had been the spring in the man’s step— some kind of unmitigated cheerfulness paired with an imposing figure. Perhaps it had been the light blue chunks of hair over the man’s forehead after escaping the rest of his black hair, neatly fastened into a ponytail.
A pale shade of blue uncannily similar to Nir’s own eye color.
Nir could not declare the reason this human stirred things inside him. The man just did, and Nir had never forced an encounter or a word. Everything between them had been work-related and casual, but even the man’s voice disrupted Nir’s essence to the point where Nir had to actively avoid any interaction— a not so easy feat since the man headed the Distribution Department, and there was always something wrong with their computers.
Now, Nir had to give his...
(What was the word he’d heard the girls use?)
Yes, his crush. Nir had to give his crush gifts.
Several silly things and a really nice one, but none the thing Nir would truly like to share with Bebu Neda.
“Oops!” The Orelian girl giggled. “You weren’t supposed to see me leaving this!” Her cheeks turned purple and her antennae waved anxiously.
Bebu smirked. “Are you my Hidden Giver?” He put a hand on his chest. “I promise I’ll act surprised during the end-of-the-cycle party.”
“Oh, no, Chief Neda! I am not!” She smiled shyly and even her serrated teeth looked cute.
Bebu narrowed his eyes. Since his eyes were slanted by nature, people usually said he was downright frightening when he did that. He cocked his head. “You are not lying to an officer, right?”
“No, sir. I wouldn’t dare!”
“Very well, you might go now.” Bebu made a move along gesture with his left hand, and she scurried away. He noticed the lack of noise around him. He circled around, finding all the men staring at him. “What?” he asked to no one in particular.
Everyone sprang back to work.
Shaking his head, Bebu sat and pushed closer to the console where the girl had left a small whimsically wrapped bundle.
Tito’s bulk threw a shadow over Bebu and a heavy hand landed on his shoulder. “Hidden Giver?”
“Apparently,” Bebu looked up toward his burly assistant. “Are you my Hidden Giver?”
Tito snorted, squeezing Bebu’s shoulder with more force than needed. “Seriously? Do you see me giving you such a cutesy whatever that is?”
“It might be a ploy to throw me off the scent?”
Unceremoniously, Tito picked up the bundle and opened it. “Nah, not my style.”
Since Bebu was seated and Tito was an eight-foot-tall beast, he couldn’t see what was in the assistant’s giant paw. “Hey! Give me that!”
“Do you honestly think I would get you candy?” Tito had a small pale blue ball between his ridiculously big forefinger and thumb. He sighed. “How long have we worked together?”
“Oh, shut up!” Bebu moved to his feet and snatched his gift. “I swear to ‘Verse if you are my Hidden Given I will punch you in the face in front of everybody.”
Tito rolled one of his three eyes. “You just want to get me all hot and bothered. Not fair.”
“Go do some stevedoring,” Bebu growled. “Shoo!” he added, plopping back into his chair.
The snort-snarl Tito released as he departed was a clear signal of his annoying amusement. He “playfully” punched another Gorgon on the shoulder to move him out of the way, and the other big guy went crashing straight into a crate; the contents spilled in a mess that would set the workers back for at least an hour.
“Not setting an example there!” Bebu didn’t know why he wasted his time shouting at Tito. Warehousemen were a rowdy bunch, and Tito’s amicably brutish demeanor was a great tool.
Swiveling to face his console, Bebu took one of the powder blue candy balls and popped it into his mouth. He liked this kind of hard candy. Whoever his giver was— knew him or had taken the time to investigate. The latter option really intrigued him.
Chief Kah, Bebu’s receiver, was also an intriguing option. Clearly the odds of the Thereon being Bebu’s giver were so slim he wasn’t even logically considering them; nevertheless, some childlike hope still lurked. No. That minuscule hope wasn’t lurking; it was more like waiting in shy expectation, almost holding its breath a little.
The candy ball rolled in Bebu’s tongue, slowly releasing its sugary goodness. He counted how many were left. Eleven. He caressed the hard balls with his forefinger, moving them around in random patterns. Their color was very close to the blue in his own hair.
It was also very similar to Chief Kah’s eyes.
But Bebu wasn’t exactly thinking of the Thereon’s eyes.
As one ball rolled in his mouth and the others around his finger, Bebu’s mind was slowly drifting to another, darker shade of blue— that of Chief Nir Kah’s lips.
Exuberant and eclectic Zimski Station was bound to have the perfect gift for Chief Neda. The Qizil Tacir had docked there the previous standard day, and, after all the legalities had been concluded, the crew was free to roam it until their departure.
Nir had several ideas to work with thanks to the large and inconspicuous mechanism he had unleashed to learn things about the Distribution Chief. It wasn’t hard to admit a certain amount of excitement tinging the covert maneuvers he had designed to keep the man from learning his intention.
According to general gossip, with less than ten standard days left before the end-of-the-year party, almost everybody already knew the identity of their giver. Still, Nir had been so focused on keeping such a low profile to avoid any leaks, he had not even thought about finding out his. The only important thing was to truly surprise his receiver.
Out on the big promenade of the space station’s Shopping Quarter, people from merchant, pleasure, and military starships moved in a cacophony of languages and grunts meant to be overwhelming for some and fascinating for others while competing with the mostly cheerful vocal-less music emanating from the area’s sound system. End-of-the-cycle traditions from around the galaxy mingled easily in store windows and flashy holograms: Terran snowflakes, Centaurian spears, Ophiuchian bubbles.
The colors of outfits and headdresses, the not-always-enticing smells of the multiple restaurants and street vendors were nothing for Nir; he only had one mission, and all his concentration was aimed at that purpose. Chief Bebu Neda was big on two things: sugar and leather. Nir had utterly eaten the sugar road; thus, the perfect gift would be the man’s other passion.
As if conjured by the brazen witches of Veran, the perfect store to find the right present appeared magically in front of him. From the smallest accessory (strips of leather braided to form a bracelet) to full skirt dresses and muscle-hugging bodysuits, every imaginable thing was on display. Color didn’t seem a complication either: bright, pastel, muted, rich or subtle— all were there too. The store was packed. He straightened his shoulders and prepared himself to push, elbow, and threaten if anyone was already pawing Chief Neda’s perfect gift.
A while later, Nir was tracing his index finger over the shoulder of a knee-length, dark green overcoat when the voice that thundered in the restless moments of his nights spoke in his ear. “That is not your color.” He didn’t jump because Thereons weren’t easily startled but something inside him did somersault. He turned around and found Chief Neda grinning at him.
His brown leather jacket made his shoulders look wider than usual, and the artificial light of the store reflecting on it gave his face a sun-kissed glow. “I feel like I should apologize for whispering in your ear like that.” Chief Neda stroked his chin with a hand as if considering it.
It had been rather intimate.
Chief Neda’s eyes sparkled. Nir tilted his head and, perhaps encouraged by the glinting mischief in the silver eyes or the extremely informal introduction to their encounter, spoke, “Never mind an apology. I’m more interested in knowing ‘my color.’”
The grin returned wider. “I rather show than tell.” His voice had come out low. One could say “husky,” as if he was still whispering in Nir’s ear and not speaking face-to-face.
Nir nodded wordlessly. One part of him wanted to flee before he did something stupid; the other wanted to stay close and take advantage of the moment. Too many expectations had been centered on the end-of-the-year party, leaving him certainly ill-fitted for this random occurrence.
“Although, I need a promise from you first,” Chief Neda added.
“Let’s see if I can handle it.”
“Promise you’re not going to find a way to simply vanish.” Chief Neda smiled, but his words had a hint of defeat in them.
“I don’t understand what you’re implying.” Nir shook his head. “What do you mean with ‘vanish’?”
Chief Neda chucked ruefully. “Sometimes I think you dislike me. I know you don’t have to like someone to be able to work with them, but I feel like you avoid me,” he looked at the store floor for a heartbeat, “as if my presence is a nuisance to you.”
“I assure you that is not the case,” Nir said firmly.
“And yet you’re giving me a non-answer.”
Defeat hadn’t been an undercurrent this time; it stung Nir.
Fortune favors the bold.
The old Terran proverb came to Nir’s mind, and resolution seized him. “I want you to walk out the store, find a place where we can have lunch, and call me.” He tapped on his earpiece. “Three seven four six is my direct line.”
“You’re not gonna vanish?”
“I promise I will come to you.”
“Why can’t you come with me now?”
Yes, why not?
It was all too sudden. Nir was not going to run, but he needed a few moments alone to put the mental giggles and the goosebumps and the trembling under control to be around Chief Neda without being a complete wreck. He found a decent justification. “I wanted to buy something for myself here and since I will probably spend the rest of the day with you, I rather do it first.”
Chief Neda narrowed his eyes, which made him look not only skeptical but menacing. He took a deep breath, and those mysterious eyes widen slightly. “I should be more respectful. After all, you just made a promise, and that ought to be enough to settle my nerves.” He seemed startled for a heartbeat as if the last part had come out aloud without his permission.
Knowing now that he also did something to Chief Neda’s composure, Nir said softly, “You’re right, and you can take a Thereon promise to the bank.” Amid his own nerves, he found a little smile and offered it to the human.
“Someone’s been reading old Terran books.” The Distribution Chief smiled back. He put his hand on Nir’s arm and gave it a tentative squeeze. “I’m going to find the best place for us.” He nodded and turned to zigzag between the customers in the crowded store.
Nir followed the chief’s bobbing ponytail until it was out of sight, mentally open-mouthed and with his heart beating faster than the Drums of Delia. He shook himself out of his stupor. Gift hunting had become a time-constricted mission.
“I admire you, Chief Kah,” Bebu said, staring at the Thereon’s mesmerizing eyes.
Chief Kah tilted his head a little, a half smile enhancing his square features. “And why is that?”
They had spoken of neutral themes while eating. Now dessert had come; maybe it was the sugar already taking control, but Bebu felt ready to get more personal with this man, who intrigued him so much. “You chose to embark on a Terran merchant ship, with only a handful of other Thereons on board. That’s kind of unusual.”
The Well-Well restaurant had a quiet atmosphere, and they sat beside a manicured garden. With its regal decoration, the rich fabrics and ornaments of the place seemed to complement Nir Kah’s otherworldly allure. He nodded. “True. Thereons rarely embark with other species, but I wanted to challenge myself. The Universe is too big to be stuck in only one place.”
“And nothing like a merchant vessel to move about the stars,” Bebu agreed wholeheartedly, keeping his eyes on the Thereon’s face. It had been seriously hard to concentrate on a decent conversation after feeling the strong muscles under the caramel-colored, long-sleeved top.
“Exactly.” Chief Kah stared a Bebu for a couple of beats. “I bet you wanted to be a pirate when you were a kid,” he declared with a wink.
The comment (plus the wink) surprised Bebu, not just because it was uncannily accurate but because it was extremely out of character for Thereons in general and for unpretentious Chief Kah in particular. He snicker-snorted loudly. “I didn’t know your species were mind-readers!”
“We are not,” Chief Kah said softly. “You have a very swashbuckling swagger about yourself, and it’s really not that hard to reach such a conclusion.”
Bebu cackled this time, making some of the other tables hush them. “You’re talking about ancient Terran pirates, Chief Kah. There’s nothing swashbuckler-ish about space pirates.” It was Bebu’s turn to wink. “Perhaps the freedom and sense of adventure.” He noticed a flash of darkening on the Thereon’s cheeks. It had been so quick; he wouldn’t have seen it if he hadn’t been so invested in learning and memorizing each detail of the other’s face. He covered one bluish hand with his. “Tell me what you wanted to be when you grew up.”
Chief Kah looked at Bebu’s hand. Bebu feared he had crossed a line this time by touching him in such a familiar way without consent, but the Thereon didn’t yank or remove his hand. Glowing eyes moved slowly toward Bebu’s face. They gazed at each other, locked in a deeply consequential moment.
“Can I offer you more wine?”
Wrenched from that beautifully sacred place they had created in an instant, both turned toward the waiter, then in slow-motion toward the empty glasses.
“Yes,” Chief Kah reacted first, “we need more wine.” He quietly removed his hand from under Bebu’s as the waiter turned about in search of more spirits.
“I shouldn’t have,” Bebu offered hesitantly.
Chief Kah shook his head. “I’ll tell you someday, not today.” He sighed.
“Am I pushing you?” Bebu had been sure his gamble would pay off. Now he was afraid he had fucked it up.
“I don’t think it’s pushing if I am welcoming it.” There was that flash of darkness on his cheeks again.
“Tell me what to do. I want to know you. Share things with you.” Very few times in his life Bebu had been so enraptured by another, especially by someone who seemed (until today) unable to give him the time of day.
“I want the same.” The four words had surged in a mere whisper. Chief Kah wasn’t looking at Bebu but at the empty plate of Tura Mousse. After a moment, his eyes sought Bebu’s. “Have you ever been so zeroed in on doing something at a very specific moment that if the opportunity comes early you are out of sorts?”
Bebu considered the question, trying to not be distracted by Chief Kah’s trembling lips. No. He wasn’t reckless, but it wasn’t in his nature to plan things in a restrictive way. A negative response would probably show an inability to empathize since he hadn’t experienced the same. He answered with noncommittal honesty. “I have been unprepared.”
This seemed enough for Chief Kah to continue, “I had my heart set on approaching you during the end-of-the-cycle party.” He twisted his mouth. “All the scenarios I ran in my head were within that schema. You finding me at the leather store and so casually engaging caught me off guard.”
“You seemed normal to me,” Bebu blurted before he could censor his wayward mouth.
Chief Kah chuckled a bit dejectedly. “Thereons’ inherently cold demeanor may easily conceal internal turmoil.”
“I never meant to upset you.”
“You didn’t. It’s all in my head. I just need a little bit of time to process you are not indifferent to me.”
Bebu always thought it was the other way around, but he didn’t say it. It was time to simply assimilate the revelations. He smiled. “Let’s do something. We’ll meet again at the end-of-the-cycle get-together. Just know that I’m interested— very interested in you.” He moved to his feet and took the Thereon’s hand. “I’ll pay the check on my way out, Chief Kah.”
Before Bebu could turn to leave, Chief Kah said, “Please call me Nir, Chief Neda.”
“Then you should call me Bebu,” he proposed.
“Goodbye, Bebu,” Chief Kah said with a curt nod. A small grin surfaced briefly.
“It was a pleasure, Nir.”
Bebu left the restaurant, rolling Nir’s name on his tongue and in his mind.
Nothing had ever tasted sweeter.
“Thank you so much for helping me with this, Chief Kah!” Commander Sera sounded excited. The young Futhark hadn’t been in that position for long, and Captain Wang had probably dumped the organization of the end-of-the-cycle party on her just to size her up.
Nir could have entrusted any of his subordinates with this part of the project, but it was also an important event for him. “You’re very welcome, commander. Happy to be of assistance.”
One click from Nir’s end.
Commander Sera squealed in his ear, “It’s perfect!”
“I’ll see the result tonight. I’m sure everyone will have a great time.”
“I hope so. Thanks again, chief!”
“You’re welcome, commander. Goodbye.” The communication ended, and Nir wondered if he should have said “Until later” instead of a cold “Goodbye.” He shrugged (sinking into his chair a little), the commander had apparently been extremely happy to notice.
Nir felt growing excitement too. A slight sense of apprehension wanted to push its way into the surface, but he decided not to force it away. For the moment, he needed to confirm that everything was in place to keep the systems running smoothly as the majority of the crew enjoyed the celebration.
They would receive the 2418 cycle as they reached the Ascella System in ten standard days. Hopefully (if he didn’t botch his “date” tonight), by that time Nir and Bebu would be able to hold hands surrounded by the Sagittarius constellation while off-duty.
Una, his assistant, approached him, a schematics hologram floating from her compad. “We’re done with the last verification, chief. Nordar should have a nice shift without complications.”
“Are we going to send his giver up here when the exchange begins? What about his receiver?” Nir asked.
“Oh, that,” she shrugged as if the situation wasn’t important, “he contacted but parties as soon as he learned he was in charge of that shift.”
“Is that a normal thing to do? This is my first Hidden Giver after all.”
“Well, there's no regulation against it, especially for those who need to remain at their post during the event,” she offered matter-of-factly.
“It makes sense,” he agreed. Although in his mind, the whole point of the endeavor was the possibility of spending time with Bebu. Was he supposed to spend time with his giver too? He never asked about that. He focused back on the woman beside him. “Very well, I will see you tonight at the party.” He stood up and (with a nod to those around him) walked out of the Computers Department control room.
By the time Nir arrived at the end-of-the-cycle party, the celebration was in full swing. Captain Wang had commented last year’s theme had been a Rubian Forest. Tonight, Commander Sera had transformed the mess hall into a Terran Winter land; everything was white and silver. At least fifty giant crystal sculptures commanded the area, and myriad little lights titillated all over the place (their patterns and sequences thanks to Nir’s department). The crew had been advised to dress in white, and they were— enhancing the gleaming magic of the moment.
People danced and laughed. Nir moved amid them feeling the cheerful energy and searching for that special human who had captured more than his imagination. He found the man surrounded by a group, enraptured as they listened to Bebu.
A couple of meters before reaching the group, all erupted in laughter, and in that moment Bebu lifted his eyes and saw Nir. He stopped laughing, but he smiled wide and his eyes beamed. Those around him noticed the action and turned to find out what was making the human look so happy. When they saw Nir, they opened a path, allowing Bebu to approach him.
Bebu’s hair wasn’t tied tonight; it rested long and wavy over his wide shoulders. His sleeveless white top shimmered faintly, showcasing the flat abdomen and broad chest. His pants were made of crisscrossing stripes that hugged narrow hips and bulking thighs. Face-to-face, Bebu grinned and said, “You leave me speechless.”
“I am dumbstruck, but I’ll try my best to be coherent,” Nir offered after swallowing hard.
A low growly laugh came out of Bebu. “Seems like we are not going to be conversing much.”
Nir cocked his head. “We can dance.”
“True,” agreed Bebu.
In that moment the music changed from rhythmic and enthusiastic to a languid cadence. Couples started to move toward the center of the hall. Bebu offered his hand. Nir took it.
The embrace was tentative, yet solid. Nir trembled a little, but before he could feel embarrassed he realized Bebu had trembled in his arms too. “I’m your hidden giver,” he whispered, his eyes locked with Bebu’s.
Bebu nodded solemnly, then moved to speak in Nir’s ear, “I’m yours.”
“How can you— oh. You mean I am your receiver.” Yes, this human certainly made Nir lose his head. For a moment there, he thought the words had been a love confession.
“That too,” said Bebu, and softly touched his lips to Nir’s.
This time Nir didn’t tremble; he closed his eyes, sought Bebu’s lips, and, as they kissed, he felt surprisingly grounded.
Bebu’s hair caressed Nir’s cheek; they slowly broke the kiss. Dancing to the soft melody, they simply smiled, lost in each other’s eyes, secured in the other’s certain embrace.
When the music transformed into an upbeat number, they walked toward the table with all the presents, holding hands. Nir wanted to call sacrilegious the fact that he had to release Bebu’s hand to be able to grab the box with his present.
“Open mine first,” Bebu said, presenting the perfectly square box to Nir. He held it with both hands as if it were an offering to a deity.
Nir set the elongated box he held back on the table and accepted Bebu’s. He opened it. A brilliant sphere surged out of the box and hovered between them. It was bright but the numbers moving over its surface were perfectly legible.
The set of numbers was a date, but it wasn’t that night’s date or that of the day they met so casually in Zimski Station. It wasn’t Nir’s first day aboard the Qizil Tacir either, but it was somewhat close to that date. They stared at each other for a moment wordlessly.
“I know this has a meaning, and I promise you I’ll figure it out.” Nir hugged Bebu and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.
Bebu kept his arms around Nir’s waist and back, squeezing— not hard but firmly. “It’s the day I first lay eyes on you,” Bebu whispered. “Right here in the mess hall.”
Nir pushed their chests apart and gazed at Bebu’s silver eyes, mentally agape and with faulty legs. The bright gift cast a golden glow over them, making Nir think of old Terran legends about guiding stars and miracles. He rested his head back on Bebu’s hard chest. “My gift would be so mundane now,” he sighed.
“Nah,” Bebu kissed the top of Nir’s head, “you bought it for me, so it means a lot. No matter what.” He gave Nir one last quick squeeze before releasing him. “Can I open it now?”
Nir nodded, picking up the box and offering it to Bebu.
Bebu opened it with child-like enthusiasm. His eyes widened as he surveyed the contents. His face slowly turned toward Nir, a cheeky grin flourishing. “How did you know?”
Nir felt heat on his cheeks. “It was a hunch.” And it seemed to have been a right one.
Bebu brought the gift out, leaving the box on the table. He inspected it, turning it this way and the other with both hands. The midnight blue leather harness with silver trimmings seemed a complicated contraption, but Bebu easily downed. It expanded nicely over his chest, framing his pectorals to perfection.
Nir imagined how it would look over Bebu’s naked skin, and many things stirred in his body.
Bebu grabbed Nir in a bear hug, swirling their entwined bodies and exclaiming, “I love it! I love it!”
They laughed riotously, not caring about all the crew members around. When they finally stop spinning, Bebu covered Nir’s face with kisses.
“I want to tell you something,” Nir said quietly.
Bebu held Nir’s face with both hands, his eyes roaming all over as if unable to have enough. “Anything.”
“You asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
“Yes, I did.”
The husky whisper fathered goosebumps, but Nir found his voice. “I wanted to be special.”
Bebu closed his eyes and put their brows together. “Oh, sweet Nir Kah of Thereon, you are. You are.”