The sun was setting low on the Martian horizon and glinting though the colony dome by the time Mori finally reached his dorm. Long beams of light streamed through lattice shutters and created distorted patterns on the floor, highlighting the smooth grain of the wooden flooring. It was beautiful and he ignored it completely. His eyes shut in a grimace as he braced himself on the doorframe, pulled off his shoes and, after a moment’s consideration, his socks. Abandoning his footwear in a pile by the door, Mori stumbled across his living room and collapsed in a chair by the window. Over. It was finally, totally over. Sighing, he stretched his long legs out and willed the muscles in his back and neck to relax, slouching deeper into the cushions.
It didn’t come easy. He felt like he had been on his feet for days, grounded and confused amongst the scientists and dignitaries who were suddenly fascinated in him, his powers, and his role in the plans for terraforming Mars. It didn’t matter that the plans had been chosen weeks ago; the details of the operation were apparently enough to fuel days of argument. It wasn’t anything like the easy between-semester work he’d expected. His heavy eyes drifted shut.
Of course, the members of the Earth delegation had been run just as ragged. A smile tugging at his lips, Mori called up the memory of his new friends as he had seen them at the farewell banquet a few hours before—Zazz more than a little drunk and talking non-stop, his hair a wild halo around his head; Roman asleep and slowly sliding off his chair, snoring slightly; An-An struggling to stay awake. Overlaying it all had been a hazy mental weariness, residue awareness from the asteroid belt that he hadn’t been able to shake.
And Tacto. . .
Mori shifted uncomfortably, his joints creaking, and brought a hand up to rub at his temple. Actually, Tacto seemed fine. His presence, the only one Mori wasn’t actively trying to block out, was a calm, solid weight in his head. It was also the only point of contact he’d had with the other boy for days—once he was satisfied that Mori was recovering from the scooter crash, Tacto had allowed himself to be reabsorbed into the gathered mass of intelligensia. He had, in fact, been deep in discussion with a group of Jovian scientists when Mori had finally found the party too overwhelming and slipped away.
Grimacing at his meandering thoughts, Mori ran a hand through his hair and then set to work unfastening his jacket. To be honest, the constant awareness of Tacto and the others was more than a little frightening. He was a telekinetic, dammit, not an empath and certainly not a telepath. He didn’t have the training for this. His advisor, Dr. Mozoroff, had done what he could, but he was also primarily telekinetic. Neither of them had any idea about the technicalities of mental resonance or where the limits of Mori’s new amplification were. The doctor had even been making noise about bringing Mama Mia to Mars since it didn’t look like their relationship or their mental resonance would end anytime soon. Neither Tacto’s preoccupation or the physical distance between them seemed to be making any difference—he had been hundreds of miles away when he’d felt his fear on Janus. The length and breadth of the Solis colony was nothing.
His fingers fumbled loose the final clasp on his jacket and he forced himself to his feet, pulling the clothing off. God. He didn’t even want to think about Mama would have to say about the situation, not when his last relationship with a unicorn had ended so disastrously. Abruptly, he wadded the material in his hands and flung it across the room. It made a sharp right turn at the kitchenette counter and ended up in the sink. Mori left it.
Tacto had walked obliviously into his life and brought it all crashing down, the not feeling, the not thinking about Trill, the escape from everything; all gone in an instant. And he had come tumbling after, crashing and breaking and falling in love, and it had hurt, he had hurt for the first time in years. It had been so hard to convince himself, laying in the dark hospital room with Tacto curled asleep beside him, that it was different this time. That he hadn’t, wouldn’t failed Tacto the way he’d failed Trill.
Of course, it would all be a moot point for the next couple of weeks. With the canal conference over Tacto would leave for Earth—tomorrow, in fact—and even their bond couldn’t possibly stretch that far.
The room around him darkened as the sun set, blurring the lines in his familiar dorm. Instead of turning on a light Mori threw open the shutters, giving access to the approaching night, and dropped back into his chair.
Tacto’s leaving and his reason for it angered him more then any of the other ridiculous complications life had thrown his way lately. The whole sex changing. . . situation Professor Moonsault had laden his son with was so completely bizarre and so unexpected that, after everything else, Mori still didn’t know how to cope. And Tacto wanted him to decide, like he had the right to make that kind of choice. It was too much, far too much after four years of careful detachment. Tacto didn’t remind him of Trill anymore, they were so completely different, but if he came back a girl. . .
Drawing in a ragged breath, Mori drew in on himself, elbows digging into knees and face buried in his hands. He didn’t want Tacto to change, honestly, but he would learn to deal with it. He had to because it wasn’t his decision and Tacto would still be Tacto. Pale skin, knobby knees, a shock of red hair against blond and an unfaltering gaze. Calm and steady like nothing else in Mori’s life.
Tacto was Tacto, and Mori wanted him close, with him, not on the other side of the colony. It would be so easy to reach out along their connection and gather Tacto to him, and so difficult to remember why he shouldn’t.
Behind him the night breeze rustled through the plants outside his window, rattling the shutters, and carrying the scent of eucalyptus and palm into his quarters. Mori took a deep, centering, breath. It wasn’t his decision, he reminded himself. A question of ethics, not to mention the wrath of An-An. What he needed was to grow up, stop brooding, and get out of this damn chair before he did something stupid. He stood abruptly, kicking the chair for good measure, then moved around it to throw the window open. In the courtyard two stories below sat the Icarus, light from surrounding windows glinted along its aluminum wings and gave it an unearthly glow.
Of course, strictly speaking, it was unearthly.
The sight of her was like a cool wind rushing past his face. He hadn’t flown since returning to Mars and the thought of being up in the air again made everything else drop away. Mori leaned against the sill, feeling his headache recede and a smile spreading across his face. Holding his hand up, he counted weeks off on his fingers—one, two, three, four—half a month until the new semester started. He’d check the weather tomorrow and maybe get some flying in after seeing Tacto off.
His bare feet ached, reminding him that it was late and he was tired. A shower, then bed; or maybe just bed and a shower in the morning. . .
Mori stepped back and swung the shutters closed, nodding in satisfaction when the magnetic latch caught and held. Leaning his head briefly against the wood, he drew in one last lungful of night scented air. It would be alright.
A knock at the door made him start, banging his head hard against the shutter and knocking over a pile of books sitting on the table across the room. A half second later, his brain identified the presence as Tacto, standing out in the corridor and emitting an aura of uncharacteristic determination.
“Tacto?” He called out like an idiot; as though there was any question. Maybe he could blame the new bump on his head.
The door to his quarters swung open, light flooding in from the corridor to pool into the room and backlight Tacto’s still form. Mori was startled by the contrast; he hadn’t realized how dark his living room had become.
The overhead lights switched on with a thought, chasing away the shadows and leaving Mori blinking. Tacto, his delegate’s cape thrown over his shoulders, nodded at the implicit invitation and entered. A smile spread across Mori’s face in response, the sight of Tacto cheering him more than even the thought of flying. He hadn’t called Tacto but Tacto had come anyway, looking tired and rumpled and slightly scruffy.
“He was going to come sooner.” Tacto said without preamble, coming to a halt less than a foot from Mori. A pause and then, “The scientists from Jupiter wanted to discuss using kites to harvest materials from their planet’s rings. They took longer than he had anticipated.”
“It’s all right.” Reaching out, Mori grasped Tacto by the hand and pulled him closer, wrapping his arms around the boy’s thin waist and burying his face in his hair. Tacto let him, leaning into Mori and slowly returning the hug.
“I was just, um, thinking,” he mumbled, moving his mouth down next to Tacto’s ear and freeing a hand to gesture at the window, “about flying.” The shutters flew open again with a sharp crack, banging hard against the walls. He sighed, but didn’t let go.
“Anyway, with the conference over, I should get plenty of flying time in. When you get back I should be in good form. Maybe we could go up together again?” Now he was babbling. “We could finish the Icarus II, teach you how to fly it, and…”
Tacto pulled back and looked up at Mori, something like exasperation sparking in his eyes. “He does not wish to discuss kites or flying,” he said, raising a hand to trace Mori’s jaw, then wrapped his arms around Mori’s neck and tugged him down to bring their mouths together.
The kiss was hard and sweet. Nothing at all like its predecessor in the hospital, and Mori decided shock was a good excuse as any for going with it. He stumbled backwards, careful not to lose contact, until his back hit the wall. Properly braced, Mori drew back for air and pulled the other boy closer, gripping his hips and rubbing his thumbs up under Tacto’s shirt. The skin was warm and soft and shivered a bit under his touch, which made Mori’s breath catch and his head fall back. Tentatively, Tacto leaned in to kiss his throat, his mouth hot on the pulse.
“God, Tacto.” Mori gasped with his eyes squeezed shut. He hadn’t been able to help fantasizing about this, late at night with his shields as tight as he could keep them. And it was so good, touching and tasting and the hard press of body to body that kept sending shocks down his spine.
“He enjoys this?” Tacto asked, lifting his mouth from Mori’s neck, breath gusting against his skin. He sounded worried.
“I, yes. Yes.” Tilting his head, Mori leaned in to kiss the ridge along the center of Tacto’s skull. The other boy’s hair tickled his nose and Mori couldn’t help smiling into it, his heart starting to race. He squeezed a hand between them and up under Tacto’s shirt to his collarbone. Slowly, he drew it back down to revel in the flat planes of Tacto’s chest, then his stomach.
“How about you?” He asked, his voice shaky as his fingers traced lower, pausing at the waistband of Tacto’s pants before dipping down to brush at his inner thigh. Tacto was. . .
“Um?” Mori asked as his hand stilled. His own pants were tight and more than a little uncomfortable, but Tacto’s were definitely not. He used his other hand to gently push them a few inches apart and caught Tacto’s gaze. “Are you enjoying this?”
Tacto looked steadily back up at him, his lips wet and hair rumpled. He was breathing a little fast, but not hard, and Mori felt his heart sink. This is what he got for not thinking—he hadn’t protested, they hadn’t talked about it, and Tacto was only doing it please him.
“He is not physically aroused.” Tacto admitted, finally, and Mori let his hands fall away.
So stupid. He banged the back of his head against the wall and somewhere to his left something hit the floor and shattered. He winced. Hopefully it wasn’t anything important.
“But,” Tacto continued, resting a hand on Mori’s chest, “Sexual activity is an important part of a coupling. If a partner feels unsatisfied sexually, they often leave the relationship to find another mate.” There was an edge to his voice and mental presence that made Mori uneasy.
“If Mori does not find Tacto to be an acceptable partner, they should find out now.” Eyes locked, he lifted both hands to cradle Mori’s face, reached up, and kissed him. Mori broke it at once, grabbed Tacto by the shoulders and pushed him back.
“Tacto,” he said firmly, “Believe me, you’re more than acceptable. I just, I’m tired of being selfish. I want you to find me acceptable too.”
Tacto stared at him for a second. “Is Mori uncomfortable because Tacto cannot have an erection?” He asked, and Mori felt his face getting hot. “It has nothing to do with Mori. He was also unaroused with Merime, but,” He paused, breaking eye-contact, and raised his fingers to his lips. “He enjoys it when Mori touches him.”
A hot flash of jealousy went through Mori at the mention of Merime; she had touched Tacto, but he fought it down. There was something Tacto had said. . .
“Wait, you can’t have an erection?” He asked.
“It is a side effect of going from XY to XX,” Tacto replied simply, “His male sexual organs have been rendered nonfunctional.”
“Why didn’t you say something!?” Mori demanded, pushing himself off the wall. “Is it something they can fix on Earth?”
Tacto looked back at him, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully. “So, Mori prefers Tacto as male?”
“Yes.” Wait, he wasn’t supposed to say that. “No. I mean, it’s not my choice, and, um. Dammit, Tacto!”
But Tacto was nodding, a thoughtful look on his face. “He thinks he prefers being male as well. It is familiar.” He reached out and took Mori’s hand, holding it tight. “They will try again when he returns to Mars.”
“Sure,” Mori replied faintly, feeling very, very tired. He ran a hand over his face as the overhead light started to dim, then squeezed Tacto’s hand. “You can stay here tonight, if you want. Unless you need to pack or something. Or you don’t want to,” and he was back to babbling, “but I’d like—”
Tacto covered Mori’s mouth with his fingers, a faint smile on his lips. “He will stay.”
[Two weeks later]
It was getting dark. Twilight was edging into true night when Mori finally reached his rooms. He dropped his helmet and outer jacket in a pile by the door and fumbled with his gloves as he moved determinedly across the dim room towards his bedroom with every intention of showering and collapsing into bed.
The winds coming off the Martian highlands had gotten rough as the sun had set, tossing the Icarus around like so much paper and making it difficult to land. Mori winced at the memory—he was stiff and sore and probably had spectacular bruises from his harness, but the Icarus needed to be checked over as soon as possible. He was not looking forward to tomorrow.
The communication center beeped at him when he threw his gloves at it. Its screen turned on with a quiet hum to flash a message at him. Sighing, he eyed the door to his room longingly before turning back and sliding into the console’s chair.
Mori—Call me as soon as you get this. An-An.
He frowned. Tacto had called him after he and An-An had touched down on Earth two days ago. Mori hadn’t expected to hear from either of them again until the weekend.
Mori felt his gut clench as he keyed in the response. The bond he had with Tacto had found its limit a day out from Mars—he had no way of knowing if Tacto was hurt or in distress. He held his breath as the connection went through. He raptly watched the small blue status bar creeping across the screen and let it out with a whoosh when it disappeared to be replaced by An-An’s face.
“Mori.” An-An’s angry face, her brows furrowed and voice icier then usual. “What did you do to Tacto?”
“What?” Mori blinked. “I didn’t do anythi—Oh, unless you’re talking about his choosing to stay a guy, which I did not influence at all, at least not—”
“We’ll talk about that later,” An-An cut him off, slicing her hand through the air. “I’m more concerned about how he yelled at me today when I tried to talk to him about it. And then at his doctor. What did you do?”
“Yelled?” Mori repeated, stunned, “Tacto?”
“That does not answer the question!” Her voice rose with every word, practically yelling. Mori stared blankly at her as she abruptly dropped her face into her hands, scrubbing at her eyes. Mori could hear her taking several deep breaths and when she raised her head again it was with an apologetic expression.
“Look,” she said, folding her arms, “Tacto hasn’t shown a single emotion in the eight years I’ve known him and suddenly he’s emoting all over the place. I could have used some warning.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “So. What did you do?”
Mori didn’t bother asking why she thought it was his fault. He picked up a glove from where it was dangling off the edge of the console and ran his fingers over it, reviewing his last night with Tacto in his head. Tacto had been forward, yes, and kind of exasperated with him, had smiled at him before they went to sleep, and Mori had been fighting so hard to separate him from Trill that he had ignored the obvious similarity.
He looked back up at the screen where An-An was watching him and drumming her nails against her arm. “There was this girl,” he started slowly, avoiding her eyes. “When I was fifteen. She was a unicorn like Tacto, and we had the same kind of resonance. Sort of.” He paused, memories rushing past in quick succession—the fire in the aviary, slashing through Trill’s mind like he was some kind of hero; Trill screaming in the hospital; fear in her eyes as she looked up at her ‘father.’
“She had a mental block, like Tacto, and I accidentally removed it.” He forced his gaze up to meet An-An’s. “It was pretty bad. All her feelings came rushing in, all at once, and. . .”
“You think the same thing happened with Tacto?” An-An interrupted, gently this time. “You removed the memory block Professor Moonsault placed on his son and it took some kind of emotional block with it?”
Mori nodded, grateful that she wasn’t pushing harder. “Tacto wasn’t as messed up as Trill, before. So it wasn’t so immediately obvious.”
“Fine,” An-An replied, sighing heavily. “That makes as much sense as everything else the kid is going through.” Her hands disappeared off screen and Mori could hear the clicking of keys. “He was assigned a counselor during his stay here—I’m letting him know what’s going on. You,” she said, pointing at him, “I’m going to insist a specialist be brought in to train you before we return or you start working on the terreforming project.” Her gaze softened. “You’re a good kid, Mori, but I’m not going to trust your powers any more then I have to. Agreed?”
“Sure, yes.” Mori agreed feeling more than a little stunned. He was tired and sore, and his world wouldn’t stop shifting under his feet. “Can I talk to Tacto?”
An-An gave him a small smile. “He’s in the next room. Tacto!”
Mori toed off his boots and kicked them under the console as An-An stood up and moved off screen. Tacto replaced her a moment later. The other boy’s hair was damp and sticking up in odd clumps, a large robe draped around his small frame. He was the best thing Mori had seen all day.
“Hi, Tacto. Sounds like you’re making An-An worry.”
A smile flickered across the other boys lips. “They were telling Tacto that he should not fight the gender change.” He reached off screen and pulled back a data pad, facing it towards Mori so he could see the diagrams that filled its screen. “He has been studying Professor Moonsault’s work and thinks he can reverse the process but they would not listen.” Tacto smiled again and this time it stayed, lighting up his entire face. “He made them listen.”
Mori leaned back in his chair, ignoring his heavy eyelids and aching muscles, as Tacto called up more diagrams and started talking about gene therapy and DNA manipulation.
It was worth it.