God, I hate this, Sven thought, striding down the sterile corridor and trying to control his nerves. I’ve had too much of doctors and sickbays and hospitals- enough to last me a lifetime. The butterflies in his stomach urged him to turn back.
He took a deep breath and continued on nevertheless. After he and Romelle had escaped Doom, and before he’d been allowed to return to Arus, rather a lot of his time had been spent in the hospital. Ostensibly, it had been to make certain he’d contracted no serious illnesses during his time in the Pit of Skulls, but significant number of psychiatric practitioners had drifted his way. He’d finally managed to escape, but the fear that Galaxy Garrison would declare him mentally unfit for duty had worried him greatly.
Eyes locked on the signs pointing the way to sickbay- for his feet would not carry him there automatically- Sven gritted his teeth. I will not remember . . . that. I will make this visit, no matter how much Lance won’t appreciate it.
Damn it, Lance! Why did you . . . He shook his head, forcibly breaking off the thought.
His knuckles ached, and he realised that he was clenching his fists so hard that his fingers were turning white. He tried to force himself to relax, but his body was having none of it. He’d been in a state of tension since the battle had begun, and now through nearly two days of the aftermath. His head was throbbing mercilessly. This . . . this was nearly the last straw. He realised that, even though his steps had slowed he closer he’d come, he’d finally reached the entrance to sickbay.
Deep breaths, Sven, he told himself. You can do this. He paused for only a moment, then ducked inside. Luckily, there were no doctors in evidence; there was no one about at all in the ward. There were, however, several small rooms, no larger than closets, against the far wall. Most of them appeared unoccupied, their doors wide open and hanging file holders empty. Only one had any paperwork at all, and Sven approached that half-open door hesitantly.
Suddenly, a familiar peal of laughter rang out, bringing him to a halt. Lance? What . . ? Lance’s laugh was echoed by another, one he did not recognise, though he knew who it must be. Cursing himself for his uncontrollable jealousy, he peered through the crack by the hinge of the door.
He could see Lance, sitting comfortably on the bed, on top of the blanket, his back to the door, giving his usual mischievous grin to the occupant - a man of about his own age, propped up against a veritable mountain of pillows.
Something about the sight made Sven grind his teeth again. Or is it just because it’s been so long since he laughed with you like that?
“Oh, Jaysus, mate, stop it! It bloody hurts when I laugh!” The injured man rested one hand on his ribs, but the pain didn’t keep him from chuckling.
“Hey, that’s what you get for charging in like that . . .” Lance was still grinning, his nose wrinkled slightly.
“Oh, come on! We were like gallant white knights . . .”
Listening to their banter, Sven felt his heart drop into his stomach. They were so much alike, much more so than he and Lance. And despite all the reassurances he’d been given that it was over, he still couldn’t help but view Lance’s relationship with Shannon as a threat. Especially watching them together like this . . .
He could quite see why Lance had been attracted to Shannon . The other pilot - dark haired like Sven himself - was quite handsome, with sea-blue eyes that twinkled with irrepressible good cheer. His hair was quite short, but the style suited him better than if it had been longer. His skin was milky pale, but Sven couldn’t tell if that was his natural tone, or due to the injuries he’d suffered in the battle.
Of course, he thought bitterly, the one who ended up with the most serious wound had to be him . . . And Lance would, of course, come to the Explorer to visit him . . .
And somehow, I end up spying on them . . .
Completely ashamed of his actions, Sven closed his eyes briefly, so he could no longer see their camaraderie. He leaned against the wall next to the door, disgusted at himself for eavesdropping, but unable to stop himself. He peeked in again.
A shaft of pain speared through him when Lance suddenly leant forward and carefully brushed a lock of the other man's hair from his forehead wistfully, and Sven's scowl deepened.
"You know, that was a pretty dumb thing to do," Lance's voice had turned soft and thick with emotion.
“Hey, don’t look at me!” Shannon protested, smiling. “I’m not in command of the thing. But Jeff will be getting an earful later, I’m sure.”
Sven rested his head on the wall, staring up at the ceiling. The team from the Explorer had appeared unexpectedly, from the ship that stole in behind the Drule fleet, and had rescued the Arusian team from the four robeasts pinning them down.
Sven was certain that Shannon had sustained his injuries from being rattled around in his cockpit when Jeff had swung a kick at one.
"Damn right, he will," Lance growled. His fierce look began to shake a little as he sat, now stiff and unmoving. Unspoken tension began to hum in the air, until Lance caved in altogether and reached out to enfold Shannon in a strong, careful embrace.
"Don't you ever do anything like that to me again, k?" he groaned tearfully. "I thought you were dead!"
“Here, now.” Moving cautiously to avoid aggravating his wound, Shannon put his arms around Lance, and drew the chestnut head to rest on his shoulder. “That’s not anything we had control of,” he said softly, rubbing a hand up and down Lance’s back, trying to soothe him. “The asteroids knocked out our long range radio. We didn’t mean to scare you guys like that, really.”
Then, with a wicked grin, he continued, “Though it did make for a hell of a warm welcome, didn’t it?”
"Ooh, you!" Drawing back with a mock glare, Lance threatened his long-time friend with one fist. "I'll give you bloody warm welcome!" Then, caving to temptation again, he pulled Shannon into a tight hug ... well, as tight as he dared, under the circumstances.
Shannon grimaced, as Lance applied a bit more pressure than his ribs could comfortably stand, but said nothing. “It’s all right,” he said quietly, embracing Lance again. “We’re all safe.”
Burying his face in that midnight hair, Lance shifted his arms a little to allow Shannon to settle more comfortably against him. "It's been too damn long, Shan. Not since ...,"
“I know.” Shannon closed his eyes, resting his head against Lance’s shoulder. His lips twitched upwards in a small smile. “Much too long.”
Lance's own lips settled into a smile of contentment, and he was a little surprised to find himself rocking the other gently. Mirroring Shannon 's action, he lay his head carefully against the firmness of Shannon's shoulder and enjoyed the moment they had managed to grab together.
"You know, I didn't lie. I really did miss you," he murmured finally, sitting back a little to look Shannon face to face.
Shannon gave him a wry smile in return. “As if I couldn’t tell.” Then he sobered, and leaned forward to rest his forehead against Lance’s. “I missed you, too,” he whispered. “Every time I heard or saw something that would have made you laugh, I turned to tell you, and then remembered that you were still back at the Academy. It . . . it was like losing my best friend every day.”
Lance nodded. "Yeah, tell me about it. Something’d happen, and I’d find myself halfway out the door to find you before I’d realise we weren’t even at the Academy any more. And let me tell you, there were a few times I coulda seriously bent your ear about things,” he finished with a rueful grin.
Shannon sat up again, smiling. “Like what?” At Lance’s slightly uncomfortable look, in a more serious tone, he added, “I’m here now, ears ready to be bent. I’m still your friend. Talk to me.”
Outside, Sven took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Remember, he thought sarcastically, eavesdroppers seldom overhear anything pleasant. You’ll only hear what you deserve to hear.
Lance looked away, shaking his head and grinning slightly. "Well, remember that guy you wasn't sure if you wanted me to find? Well, I did."
When Lance paused for an uncomfortably long time, Shannon finally tilted his head and twitched an eyebrow. "And...?"
Lance gave a half-amused snort. "And then I lost him. And now he's back again." Giving Shannon a tight little smile, he shrugged uneasily and carelessly said, "And that's all."
Both eyebrows raised to his hairline, Shannon replied, “With you, nothing’s ever that simple. Out with it.”
Lance groaned. “Oh, if only you knew, Shan!”
It didn’t take much prompting from the dark-haired man in the hospital bed before the entire story tumbled from Lance’s lips. Of course, being Lance, such a story came complete with wild gesticulations and frequent pacing around the small medical bay room, and several times Sven was certain he was about to be uncovered.
But mostly, he was too caught up in listening to Lance’s recital. He was staring at the ceiling again, in shock this time rather than despair, listening to the rise and fall of Lance’s voice like the sound was entirely new to him.
And it was - well, at least the words he was hearing were entirely new.
Despite the things they had said in the rec room, while Lance was trying to deal with Shannon’s supposed death, it made his heart pound again, just as it had the first time he’d seen the auburn-haired boy, to know that Lance had felt the same way about him. It made it real, somehow.
“And I couldn’t tell anyone, y’know? Because there was no one I was as close to as you, Shan, and you were gone . . .”
Sven felt a stab of pain at that, to know that the boy who had seemed so popular among his peers really didn’t have as many close friends as he’d thought. It made him even gladder that he’d made the first move, that Lance had grinned and accepted his offer of studying together that first time.
Then Lance fell silent for a moment. Sven strained his ears.
“And then . . .” Lance’s voice hitched, and the bedsprings creaked as he flopped back down. “Then . . . he got hurt . . . and it was my fault . . .”
Through the door, Sven could hear the rustle of fabric and a soft susurrating murmur. He peered though the crack again, and was unsurprised to find that Shannon was holding Lance again, crooning comfort into his ear.
“No, it was! I ran off after Haggar’s damned blue cat, and he followed me, and . . . and . ..”
Sven bent his head. No, Lance, he thought, closing his eyes. It’s not your fault at all. It was my own pride. I thought I could take her … He’d never known that Lance felt so guilty over something that he’d never even considered blaming his lover for.
The rest he knew; he recognised the bitter tone in which Lance spoke of him returning from the dead only to leave again for Pollux, and accepted the pain and self-reproach that it brought him, to know he’d caused so much hurt to the one he’d loved.
I’m sorry, Lance. He directed his thoughts into the room, knowing that neither would hear, but having to offer the apology regardless. I had to leave, but I’m so sorry I hurt you …
The quiet held as all three men absorbed the things that had been spoken. Then Lance added softly, "That's why ...," but paused again as the weight of his thoughts silenced him.
"Why what?" Shan asked after a moment.
"I .. well, I think I hurt him the other day, when we were out fighting. Coran wanted to send him in, and ... well, you could say I reacted kinda badly."
“Oh, you did, did you? What happened?”
And, again, the tale just spilled out, the things he had said, and what Sven must have thought of it, and how guilty Lance felt over it.
"But .. Shan, I just couldn't let him do it. The last time, it nearly destroyed him ... and came damn close to destroying me in the process. I couldn't live with myself if something happened again, regardless of anything that's between us. I trust him, I do ... it's just ..."
Sven took a quiet step back, feeling his heart beating far too fast again. He . . . he was trying to . . . He pressed a hand to his chest, and tried not to smile. After all, Lance hadn't said that he still loved him . . . Unable to stop himself, he peered into the room once more.
Shannon stroked Lance’s back, murmuring reassurance. A flicker of movement outside the door caused him to glance up, though he did not alert Lance. After a moment of stillness, he’d convinced himself that he’d just imagined it, when it came again. He saw a black clad figure step silently away, and grinned, guessing at who it must be. He knew for certain when a startled grey eye peeked through the crack in the door.
“Lance,” he said, coaxing the other’s head off his shoulder again. Lance seemed startled by his grin. “That wouldn’t be your Sven outside the door, by any chance?”
Immediately, Sven prepared to retreat. Lance’s wrath would be . . . frightful. To say the least.
Lance's rueful voice stopped him. "Ok, wise guy ... how long've you been there?"
Before Sven could even work his mouth to formulate a response, Shannon replied, “Oh, he just got here. Didn’t you?” When a choking sound was his only answer, he grinned even more widely. “Och, just come into the bloody room, will ya? It’s no good talking through a door. The two of you’ve been doing enough of that lately,” he added in an undertone.
Sven stepped around the open door, his cheeks flushed pink.
Lance swivelled where he sat on the bed, rumpling the covers as he did so, much to both Sven and Shannon's individual amusement. "Sven," he said in acknowledgment, a long, drawn out tone that could either be wry humour or extreme annoyance.
Sven nodded back, just as cautiously. "Lance."
Shannon looked from one to the other, seeing their wary gazes, then threw his hands up, surprising them both. "Oh, for the love of Mike! No wonder you're where you are, Lance! Will you just talk to him, you great bloody loony?!"
Sven folded his arms and shifted his weight onto one foot, the perfect pose to kink an eyebrow at Lance and remark, "He does have a point, you know. Perhaps we should ...?"
With a quick jerk of the head, he invited Lance to follow, and twitched the eyebrow again, questioningly this time.
Lance sighed, switching his gaze from Sven to Shannon and back again. "Well ... maybe."
Shannon snorted and pushed Lance to his feet. "Maybe nothing! Just go!" In a softer tone, he said, "We can catch up later. This is more important."
Lance grinned sheepishly and started moving towards the door. "Ok, ok .. I know when I'm beat. I'll be back, k?"
He stopped right beside Sven, bright blue eyes locking with grey. "Coming?"
Again, Shannon answered before Sven could. “He’ll be along in a minute. I’ve got something I need to tell him first." He smiled at Lance, making no attempt to disguise his impish humour.
Lance cast a wary look between them again, finding little comfort in Shannon's mischievous look or Sven's dark gaze. "Just remember, you two play nice, ok?" he warned, then left his two former lovers to 'talk'.
“’Play nice’, he says.” Shannon snorted as Lance shut the door behind himself. “It’s like he doesn’t trust us!” His grin grew wider as Sven’s scowl deepened. “Now, what did you want to say to me?”
Sven blinked, thrown off balance. “You said . ..”
Shannon shrugged, and leaned back against his pillows. “I only said that so Lance would leave. You looked about ready to tear me a new one, and I knew he wouldn’t go if you asked. I’m just giving you the opportunity.” He arched one eyebrow. “So. Go ahead.”
Sven took a deep breath. “I . . . I never even knew that Lance had had another lover before he and I got together. He never said. When I found out . . .”
“You got jealous, naturally.”
Sven nodded, face reddening again.
Shannon leaned forward again, wincing a bit. “Look, mate. You’ve got nothing to worry about. Lance and I worked out our feelings on this a long time ago. And I know he told you that. So if there’s nothing else . . .” He made a motion with one hand, pushing Sven out the door. “He’s waiting for you, you know. And has been for too damned long.”
“I know. Since you’re right, and I do have something to say, I’ll make it quick.” Eyes blazing, Sven took a step forward and bent down until his face was just inches from Shannon’s. “Stay away from him.” His accent was very thick, and his voice purely radiated anger. “He’s mine.” Immediately, he pulled away and marched out the door.
For a moment, Shannon sat stock still, staring at the empty door, then laid back and howled with laughter.
At the sound of footsteps echoing in the corridor, Lance looked up from where he stood, back against a wall and studying the cracking in the tiles.
"Hey," he said softly in greeting as soon as Sven was close enough.
Sven managed a slight smile in return. “Hi.” Then he sighed and looked down at his toes. “You know, don’t you, that I was there a bit longer than Shannon implied?”
Lance gave a short laugh. "Yeah .. I'm not completely dumb. And Shan can't lie for quids!"
Hands still buried in his pockets, as always, he looked up at the ceiling for a long, assessing moment, then gave Sven the same head-tilting invitation to walk with him as Sven had done a few minutes before. "There's a private waiting room down here, if you wanna get more comfortable?"
Sven nodded, and followed him in silence down the corridor a short distance, to the small room Lance had indicated. Once there, he waited for Lance to find a place to perch, then went over to the window, giving out on the planet far below.
It was eerily similar to their aborted conversation of two nights ago. Sven recognised this, but could find no way to change it. Except . . .
He heard Lance's heavy sigh behind him, but didn't move.
"I don't know if it's worthwhile saying this or not, Sven, because I'm pretty sure I know what the answer will be ... but, for which bit?"
“All of it.” Sven closed his eyes, so he wouldn’t be able to see Lance’s reaction in the window. “I’m sorry for not talking to you. I’m sorry for leaving you. I’m sorry for coming back just when you’d be least likely to want to try to work things out. Just . . . all of it. I’m sorry.” His voice was barely a whisper when he finished.
He heard rather than saw Lance get up and start wandering around the room, restlessly. He had to steel himself against the expected onslaught of Lance's well deserved ire.
It came as a surprise, then, when Lance came to a stop somewhere close behind him and spoke in hushed, halting tones.
"You're not the only one who's been a prick over this, Sven. I know I haven't made it easier on you, and I had no right to do that. Sven ... look at me, will you?"
Slowly, reluctantly, Sven did as he’d requested, and Lance was startled to find that the grey eyes glittered suspiciously bright with tears.
Upon seeing his reaction, Sven tried to turn away again, but Lance grabbed his shoulder and drew him back around. He drew a breath to speak.
“I . . .I never meant to hurt you,” Sven said in a rusty voice, before Lance could utter a word. “That was the last thing I ever wanted to do, and I did it- still do it- every time . . .”
"Hey," one hand rose to cup at the nape of Sven's neck, curling beneath the silky dark hair. "I know that, ok? I do. It's just that ... well ... while you had all that time with Romelle to work things through, I didn't have anybody. It's made it kinda hard to let things go, y'know? But, Sven, it wouldn't hurt so damn much if I wasn't still in love with you."
Tugging Sven a little closer with that insistent hand at his neck, Lance leant his forehead against the other man's, glittering wet eyes meeting each other's as Lance gave his wry grin. "And, damn, but that sounded sappy!"
A smile trembled threateningly at the corner of Sven’s mouth. “Ah, your secret’s out now!” he breathed. “Underneath it all, you’re just a sentimentalist.” Emboldened slightly by the contact, he raised an arm to circle Lance’s waist. Even though this caused no protest, he didn’t push any further. Just the fact that Lance was touching him, and letting him touch in return, was enough.
“Sappy though you think it is,” he said, his voice a bit steadier, “I’m glad. I still love you, too.”
Lance smiled sadly. "Ok, so at least we both know where we stand. I can't get over you, you're still in love with me." He took a much needed breath, then asked, "So, what're we gonna do about that?"
Sven closed his eyes again. "What would make yu happiest?" he countered softly.
The pressure on Sven's neck eased as Lance's hand slid away, only to appear along with its mate on either side of his waist, grasping firmly to his shirt-tails as Lance shifted to rest his forehead against his chest.
"Honestly, I don't really know," he heard him say softly. "I don't know if I'm ready to let you walk back into my life, because I know damn well I won't cope if you choose to walk back out again. So, I guess ... you've got to make a decision, here, Sven." Solemn crystal-blue eyes looked up at him. "How much do you want this?"
The smile that had been threatening stretched wide, though it wavered a bit. "The only thing I've ever wanted more than this," he whispered huskily, "was for you to agree to that first study session we had together." He pulled away, straightening, and used his free hand to lift Lance's chin. "Please," he said, his eyes begging. "Please."
Lance chuckled lightly. "Hell, we're a pair, aren't we?"
Then, to Sven's complete surprise, Lance reached up and dragged him downwards towards a sweet, almost chaste kiss.
It was over before he could really respond, which, he decided, was a good thing. His lips tingled from the touch.
Then he smiled, and met Lance’s dancing eyes. “Hi,” he said quietly. “I’m Sven. Would you like to study with me for Professor Wilkin’s test tomorrow?”
"Hi, Sven," Lance replied, barely suppressing his grin. "I guess that'd be ok."
Sven responded with his own grin. "Great. Seven o'clock? Do you want to meet in the library?"
Shaking his head a little, Lance gave him an odd look. "Sven, this is really dumb ... you do know that, don't you?"
He yelped and twisted away as Sven's fingers somehow found their way to his ribcage, the tall Swede grinning wickedly. "Ok, ok! Seven's fine!"
"Sorry, got a little caught up in the past." His grin faded a bit. "But I'd like to get started on the right foot, this time. Is . . . is that all right?" His voice quavered, making his uncertainty plain.
Strong, corded arms slid carefully around his waist. "You know, you didn't get off to such a bad start the first time. That is, unless you mean you'd like to go back and actually study for that test, instead of flirting around the way we did," Lance grinned, tilting his head a little in that endearing habit of his.
Sven chuckled, and embraced him. "I don't know . . . I think I got more from the study session than I ever learned in that class. You flirt like a champion."
Lance snickered, leaning into the embrace further. "So, we're really going to give this a shot?"
"And you and me, we're both gonna do a bit more talking than before?"
Sven winced at the reminder. "You'll have to gag me to shut me up. Promise."
"Hey," a finger poked him none-to-gently in the side, "I did say both of us, right? I'm saying I screwed up as well, so I don't want you beating yourself up over that, ok? Now," snuggling his hips in closer to Sven's, Lance smirked. "There's just one last thing."
Sven tightened his arms a bit, bent his head to catch the scent of Lance's hair. "Ok. What's that?"
He let out a startled 'ow!', wincing even more at the red marks Lance's annoyed slap was bound to leave on his buttocks later.
"Don't you ever send me out of a room so you can intimidate my ex-boyfriend again! Got it?!" Even though his eyes sparkled, there was enough serious in them for Sven to get the message.
"Hey, that wasn't me," Sven protested weakly, resisting the urge to rub at the offended area. "He's the one who asked me to stay . . ." Seeing Lance's glare intensify ever so slightly, he sighed. "All right. The next time I meet one of your ex-boyfriends, I won't send you out of the room. I'll just intimidate him while you stand there."
It earned him another slap on the rear, but it was well worth it to hear Lance laugh again.