Trapped in a cave during a ferocious storm with an injured Josh, Matt's afraid that he may lose the man he has just confessed to love.
On Alkya, a planet a long way from Earth, the Division of Investigation -- Other Worlds, has set up a base where hundreds of personnel live and work. Among them are two men, Major Joshua Marsden and Lieutenant Matthew Ronson, who are part of one of the survey teams. Their team goes on a mineral survey mission to another planet shortly after they confessed their feelings for each other. During a lightning storm Josh is injured. Finding shelter in a cave Matt looks after him while teammate Dennis braves the storm to go for help. The storm's intensity increases, the lightning strikes getting closer and closer until Matt becomes concerned that their place of safety may turn out to be their grave.
(Please note this is a re-release of a previously published work.)
It took Matthew and I long enough, too damned long, to realize we both had the same desires and the same fears. We gelled almost at once, and I've considered him my best friend for a couple of years. Just like everyone else, we had our ups and downs, but we got our friendship back on track, eventually. And I've been in love with the man almost as long as I've known him. True, he was also the most trying, stubborn, egotistical, argumentative, wonderful man I've ever met. And, in true frustrating fashion, I found out he harbored similar thoughts about me, and on one drunken night, we both let down our walls and admitted the truth to each other. Why that particular drunken night and not any of the previous ones, I'll never know, nor do I care. Matthew's slurred admission that he loved me sobered me up like nothing else ever has, and when I told him I felt just the same way, his mouth dropped open and his beautiful blue eyes widened before he promptly passed out.
I put him to bed and spent the rest of the night wondering if he'd remember the confession, his or mine or both, the next morning. He slept in the guest bedroom as usual, but instead of retreating to the safety of my own bed as was my regular habit, I sat in the chair and just watched him, while I panicked. I was terrified he would remember and just as terrified he wouldn't. I am such a fool!
Finally, as dawn lightened the drapes, he stirred with a decided moan. I helped him to the bathroom, where he instantly threw up. I cleaned him up and got him back to bed.
"Josh?" he muttered.
"It's okay. Go back to sleep."
He cracked open an eye and gave me a ghost of his wonderful smile and any fears of his not remembering flew away, leaving only the hope he would. I smiled at him while I brushed the fair hair back from his forehead as his eyes slid shut.
In the morning, he came downstairs at last, drawn by the smell of coffee I was making in the kitchen. He wandered in, eyes down, looking a little worse for wear, and dropped onto one of the kitchen chairs. I poured him a drink and sat opposite. He warmed his hands around his mug as he first took a sip, then gulped it down. He sighed as he set the cup back on the table. He raised his eyes to me then, and I smiled. He began to smile back at me and then his expression froze. He remembered--something--but he seemed scared. I needed to do something or he would hide. I knew him too well.
"I... I... Did I really say that?" he whispered.
"If you're asking me if you told me you love me, yes, you did," I replied softly.
He closed his eyes.
Damn, he doesn't remember what I said. He thinks he messed up. "And I told you I love you, too."
His eyelids flew open and his jaw dropped.
"Forgot that bit, eh?"
"Is that it? Oh?"
"Well, it's a shock. I never meant to tell you...didn't think you'd want to know. Never, ever expected you to...to..."
"Feel the same way?"
"Well, I do. Now what?"
"Josh! I'm hung-over and I've just had the shock of my life. Don't expect me to think clearly."
"Right. Okay. I'll do the thinking."
"We're in love with each other, agreed?"
Matthew nodded, then promptly grabbed his head and moaned. I ignored him and plowed on.
"We've been friends for years, so we don't have to do the getting to know each other thing." I'd thought about this all night just sitting watching him. Obvious, I thought. "I've been fighting to keep my hands off you for years, so..."
I never got any further, though, 'cause he yelled, "What!" He obviously regretted the noise, but gritted his teeth and went on. "If you think we're gonna just...just gonna jump into bed, you can think again."
"Ah. Too sudden? What do you want then?" I hadn't meant to be sarcastic, but I think I was.
"Don't know. Okay?" He smiled then, the rare one that lit up his whole face, and I felt its effect like a caress on the groin. "We've been friends for a long time, but this is something else, Josh. I've always had to keep the feeling hidden, but now I don't have to and I want to... I want to go on a date. I want..." He paused and grinned, the bastard! "I want wooing."
Can you believe it? We've been friends for almost three years and he wants wooing!
I think my mouth dropped open then and I guess I snapped it shut. I remember saying something like, "You gotta be kidding!"
Not a good thing to say because Matthew shot up, knocking back the chair before turning with great dignity and walking out. He spoilt it, though, by looking back over his shoulder and snarling, "Bastard!"
I wasn't about to ruin the best thing that ever happened to me, so I swallowed my pride and followed him. He was sitting in the living room, pretending to read a book. I say pretending because I've spent three years watching him read and I just knew.
"I'm sorry," I said quietly, trying to sound contrite, which I was because I knew he was right. You can't just decide you love your best friend and jump his bones, not that I could phrase it quite like that to Matthew. "I've been dreaming about making love to you for so long I just got carried away. However you want to play this, we will."
In case you're wondering, it wasn't some concoction just to win him over. I've been having fantasies about him for ages and I've "had" him every way possible and probably a few that aren't. Possible, I mean.
To my relief, he smiled again. "Don't you think I've dreamed about you, too? I want you as much as you want me, Josh--"
"Great!" I couldn't help the interruption.
"But I want it to be perfect and I don't think rushing it would be right." He grinned at my impatience.
"Right, and we're due to ship out this afternoon," I said, checking my watch. "Damn, we'll have to be leaving soon. How about we go out for dinner when we get back?"
"A date?" He grinned.
"A date." I sighed, unable to hide my smile.
* * * *
I'm gonna be late signing in. I've been fingers and thumbs all morning, ever since I realized it hadn't been a dream--Josh and I really were on the same page.
Josh was doing his best to behave, and I'm afraid I was a bit of a bastard, playing him up, but no way could I let him think I was going to jump into bed just like that. Trouble was I wanted to, damn it. I suppose I just wanted to see what Josh would say. I should have just trusted him, and I don't even know why I didn't. I trust him with everything else, up to and including my life, so why should I doubt he would look after my heart?
We have a date, an actual dinner date. Can you believe it? I'm looking forward to it almost as much as I'm anticipating going back to my place or Josh's place. Don't care where...I'm just as at home at his place. No way I'm gonna play hard to get this time.
God, Matthew, get a move on. It's not Josh waiting in the briefing room. It's the major and he hates it when I'm late. I wonder if batting my eyelashes at him would work. Hah!
Damn, this trip has come at an awkward time. Last thing I want to do right now is go flying off and do tests on a new planet. Grabbing my backpack, I hurried out of the locker room.
"Ah, Lieutenant Ronson, decided to join us at last," Josh said at his snarky best.
"Yes, Major, sorry to be so late. I had something on my mind, kinda distracting."
Josh looked at me then. "Distracting, eh?"
"Kinda," I said softly, knowing I was treading on dangerous ground here on duty.
He looked at me, nothing special to any onlooker, just the major having another word with his errant geologist. That wasn't what I saw, though--oh, no. He stared directly into my eyes and he...smoldered, no other word for it, and it sent a shiver right down my spine. I had this insane urge to touch his cheek and I had to turn away.
"Matthew, how did the final survey images look?" I hadn't noticed Dennis standing in the corner.
"Perfect," I told him. "A mild temperate zone with high readings in the area we're going to investigate."
"Just a nice pleasant jaunt," Josh chimed in. "Two days to get there, camp overnight, which gives Matthew two days digging in the dirt for his samples, two-day flight back. Home in time for dinner on Saturday."
"Dinner?" Dennis queried. "Is that an invitation, sir?" he added with a grin. He'd better not...
"Ah, not this time Captain Waterston. We already have plans," Josh said with a grin.
General Banks arrived then and we sat down to have one last run-through of our mission. Nothing out of the ordinary, but I had hopes it would provide some interesting geochemical data.
* * * *