Jensen fiddled with the belt of his robe, sliding the smooth fabric between his thumb and forefinger. He had his outfit for tonight's gala on underneath, but thought it prudent to keep covered up while he chatted with Jared. There were some things he wasn't quite ready to share with his little brother just yet.
“Sam Smith was over earlier today. She’ll be upset that she missed you. You really need to comm her, Jen.” Jared leaned forward. The tiny hologram version of him looked funny, as if he sat on the edge of the end table where Jensen had placed his comm.
“I will.” Jensen would definitely be talking to Sam, who’d been like a mother to Jared back when Jensen was in the academy. A fellow scut, she’d be very interested in hearing about the developments with Harmony. “I got the ultrasound picture you sent. I still can’t make any sense of it.”
Jared laughed. “We’re thinking about naming the baby after Mom if it’s a girl.”
"What do you mean 'if'? Don't tell me that you of all people haven't checked yet!"
Jared shrugged. The connection was good enough now that Jensen could make out the blush on his cheeks. "Adrianne wanted it to be a surprise. So I've restrained myself."
Jensen was never gladder that Jared had Adrianne in his life. She had always been good for Jared, and now the two of them were going to form their own little family. Jared was going to make an excellent father. He had so much to give to a child. Jensen only regretted that he wasn’t going to be on Earth to see that part of his brother.
"Just make sure you take plenty of holos. I don't want to miss a moment."
“Jensen? You’re not planning on coming home any time soon?”
He crushed the fabric of his belt in his hand. “Jared, you knew this was a long term mission. And now. . . Jeff and I were just granted citizenship in Harmony.”
“Damn it, Jensen.” Jared slammed his hand on his thigh.
“Jared.” Jensen had to nip this in the bud. He wasn’t going to cut Jared out of his life, but Jensen needed to live his own. “Jeff and I are happy here. This place is like home. They’ve healed me.” Jared knew about Jensen being able to see unaided only inside the city. It was just one reason of many that Jensen wanted to stay, but it was the one Jared might understand the best.
Jared’s shoulders dropped. “I know. I just wish it wasn’t so far away.”
They’d spent so much time apart. Jensen had been absent on so many missions over the past ten years and had missed so much. But Jared was an adult now, and didn’t need his older brother hovering over his shoulder playing parent. Jensen hated that he couldn’t be there for Jared, but he’d decided he wasn’t going to miss out on his own chance at happiness. For once, he had to live for himself.
"You know what? I wish you were coming here." Jensen grinned, trying to lighten the mood. "They're about to open this place up to tourism, once all the paperwork clears." That was his and Jeff's latest project.
Jared laughed. "Maybe when the baby is a little older."
"I'll hold you to that."
"Jen." Jared got serious. "I'm glad you're safe and not running around the stars anymore. Even if you are millions of miles away."
"Thanks, bro." Jensen smiled. "Till next time?"
Jensen switched off the comm. He was glad they found the time to talk like this. Despite the distance, sometimes they spoke more when Jensen was out on assignment. He missed Jared and despite being happy with his choices, Jensen would always miss him.
"Hey, you just about ready to go?" Jeff popped into the bedroom with Mila at his heels. She was wearing a fancy sparkling blue collar and her fur shone in the light. The groomers had done a nice job. It was hard to believe a month had passed and tonight was the last night of the Choosing.
Jensen stood and slipped off the robe, revealing the custom made kilt Jeff had bought him for tonight's occasion. He smoothed down the braided leather pleats to make sure they laid straight. Over his chest he'd used a shimmer lotion to give him a glow, but not a sparkle. His sandals were a splurge, with straps that crisscrossed up his shins. "How do I look?"
"Good enough to eat. Maybe we'll make this a short appearance?" Jeff looked at him with hungry eyes.
"You're insatiable." Jensen took up the leather leash on the bedside table and handed it over to Jeff.
Jeff clipped one end to Jensen's collar. "You know we never use one of these things on the dog."
"I guess she's better trained." Jensen winked.
Tonight's party would be a little more subdued than the previous occasions. The last night of the Choosing was always a little sad. Friends would be returning to their districts and subs would leave for their new contracts. The excitement and frenzy would not happen for another year.
The mood in the great hall was more like a cocktail party than a celebration. Soft instrumental music came from the speakers, setting a quiet, focused ambiance, along with the dim lighting and arranged seating. The queen sat on a throne set up on a little dais, with Fredric kneeling at her side. It looked like there was a line to speak with her if one wanted to offer their respects.
Jensen was about to suggest they go do that when he felt something latch on to his leg from behind. He looked down, startled to find the queen's grandson clinging to him.
"I'm sorry, he's just started escaping." Levi pried his son away from Jensen and gave the toddler a little bounce and a kiss on his forehead.
Nicci came up beside him and tweaked the baby's nose. "That's because he's smart."
Jeff laughed. He twisted the leash around his wrist and pulled Jensen close. "Clearly. He's certainly energetic."
Maybe Jensen would get to see Jared’s child when he or she was about that old. Surely he could bring a toddler on a spaceship? With the way the baby squirmed in Nicci’s arms, Jensen wasn’t entirely sure.
"He's just getting started." Levi grinned. "You'll find out when the two of you have children of your own."
Jeff's laughter turned into a cough. "We're not. How is that? I mean."
Jensen patted him on the back. "We can contract out for a surrogate." He'd spent a lot of time examining the rights of subs and contracts. Jensen knew the ins and outs of it all. At Jeff's stricken look, he realized Jeff must think he had been planning this. "If we want to take that step."
He hadn't thought about having children with Jeff. Jensen still sometimes thought about that possibility, the one unfinished thread in his military career – that Dani’s son was also his. It should have been impossible since Jensen, like all scuts, had been sterilized for the duration of his duty rotation. But still he wondered.
"Consider it, Dom Jeff." Nicci took her son from Levi. "I've found he adds so much to our lives."
"He's offered me a different kind of healing." Levi's gaze never left his child's. Jensen could only imagine the kind of trauma Levi had suffered under Adrian's rule for all those years. But now he looked happy, and Jensen could attribute that to both Nicci and the baby.
"Now that the Choosing is done you'll have plenty of opportunities to play with Al if you want." Nicci winked at them. "Excuse me, he needs to be put to bed."
Jensen waved them off. "Did we just get suckered into babysitting?"
"Possibly." Jeff shook his head. "Seeing Levi again. . .makes me think about Adrian."
"Don't. Bastard is getting what he deserves." The last Jensen heard, Adrian had been slapped with the collar of the unwilling and had been forced into hard labor in the mines. He still needed to examine what exactly Adrian was mining for – that might be relevant to Maggie's experiments.
"At least someone is." Jeff growled.
Jensen knew Jeff meant Isaacs, the man who'd tortured Jensen on behalf of the Confed. But he was safe here. The Confed would never be able to touch Harmony. Jensen squeezed Jeff's hand. "That's the past, remember? Come on, we have to go speak to the queen before we can get food."
The line of people had mostly dissipated, leaving the queen speaking with her daughter and her two subs. Alona turned at their approach and grinned. The former princess looked just as regal as her mother, wearing jewels that sparkled at her throat, ears and in her hair. "I am so happy that you'll be staying. You really must come visit me in Alonan." She blushed. "I really do hate that they've named it that, you realize."
"They could not have done otherwise." The queen smiled fondly Alona before regarding Jensen and Jeff. "We too, are pleased that you are now part of Harmony."
"I don't think she could let us go, mistress." Jensen had lowered his eyes was proper for a sub meeting the queen. He gave a sidelong smile to Jeff. "And we're rather fond of her too."
"Good. Enjoy the evening. For tomorrow the year spins anew, and work begins again."
Her version of work and his were slightly different. This would be like no assignment he'd ever had in the Corps. Jensen was following his own path for the first time since his parents had been killed.
"Thank you, mistress." Jeff guided Jeff away from the queen and towards the food. Jeff was such a very good Dom.
They filled plates with the little pastries that Jeff loved, and the odd colored vegetables and a few of the more erotically shaped cookies. Jensen carried them over away from the crowds to an empty set of seats and knelt beside one of them, placing the plates on one of the low tables. Mila sat on the other side of Jeff, expectantly waiting to be fed, just like Jensen.
"I think you're right. The dog is better trained." Jeff said just as he popped a bite of food into Jensen's open mouth.
Jensen chewed slowly, savoring the combination of flavors in his mouth. "You'll just have to fix that, won't you?" He couldn't wait for Jeff to start 'training' him.
"Would you care for a drink, sir?"
Jensen looked up at the familiar voice and grinned at seeing Colin standing there with a serving pitcher and two glasses. He looked relaxed and confident, wearing his white collar and kilt with an ease Jensen hadn’t seen from Colin before.
"Yes, please." Jeff gestured to the table. "When do you leave for the Schola, Colin?"
Colin blushed as he poured. "Tomorrow after the closing ceremonies. I'm already packed. The queen said she'd take me herself." He seemed a little in awe of that prospect.
"You'll be fine." Jensen frowned. "Training isn't easy, but it's worth it. Most of the hard stuff usually is."
"I'll try to remember that. You know you can come visit me there?" Colin looked hopeful.
"Then we will." Jeff nodded at Jensen before taking up one of the cups and drinking his fill.
Mila whined and scratched at the carpet. "Oh," Jensen said. "Could you bring a bowl of water for her?"
Colin laughed and patted Mila. "Of course."
It was nice to sit back and enjoy sitting alone together as they finished their food. Jensen licked every crumb from Jeff's fingers, watching as Jeff's eyes grew more heavy lidded as the evening went on. If he kept up the teasing, Jensen knew he'd be in for a wild, out of control Jeff when they got back to their chambers. There was something to be said for this method of eating.
Jensen licked his lips after he swallowed the last bite. "We should mingle a bit more before heading upstairs."
"Because leaving early would look suspicious." Jeff rolled his eyes. "We could probably find an alcove, strip down and no one would bat an eye."
Jensen winked. "I didn't know you were such an exhibitionist."
"You've no idea." Jeff stood and tugged on the leash. "But you're right about mingling. Besides, it'll be a while before we're all together again."
That quashed Jensen's nascent arousal. This might be the last time he'd see some of these people for a while, at least until next year. They’d have plenty of time to go upstairs and enjoy each other later.
Jensen spotted what looked to be the UP contingent, all seated together around a low table covered with empty plates and goblets. Some of the chairs looked to be pulled from other areas. He cocked his head in that direction and Jeff led on.
As they approached the group, Mila ran forward and launched herself at Hank, who knelt at Ian's feet. She licked his face and her tag wagged furiously. Hank laughed and gave her a good scratch. Even though Jeff and Jensen were her people, Mila seemed to have a fondness for Hank.
"How is everyone tonight?" Jeff greeted.
It was a mixed group – besides Hank and Ian, there were Maggie, Caroline and Whitfield, and Tom and Sophia. Jensen wondered if they were sharing stories.
"Jensen, we've been waiting for you!" Sophia grinned. "We wanted to know if you'd heard the news?"
Jensen exchanged a looked with Jeff. "What news?"
Ian went and pulled over another seat and gestured for Jeff to take it. Jensen slid to his knees and leaned against Jeff's leg. He decided he'd let Mila stay with Hank for now. They both looked so happy – now Hank was rubbing her belly as she rolled over onto her back.
Sophia leaned forward. "They're sending Ferris here."
"She's going to be in charge of the base. They're pulling Fuller – good riddance by the way. But ever since Maggie made the discovery about sub brainwaves, it only makes sense for a scut to be in charge." Sophia touched Tom's hair as she spoke.
Tom looked so much better. Jensen would have called it a miracle, except he knew how hard Tom had worked with his Soul Healer to get to this point. He had to give some of the credit to Sophia, as well, who'd stepped up and proved herself to be a very good Dom.
"Well, that actually makes sense." Jeff rubbed Jensen's back. "Are they transferring all the sex corps soldiers out here too?"
"They're giving them all the option to come or not. Most of them have been reassigned by now."
"My brother is considering it, though I'm not sure how I'd like working with him." Maggie made a face, though she immediately laughed. "At least I'd know where he was!"
Maggie would be leaving Harmony to start work on dismantling Discord. Jensen would miss her, but couldn't deny her this opportunity. She would be able to really figure out how the alien tech worked without having to worry about breaking something in Harmony. If he had any aptitude with tech, Jensen wouldn't mind joining her.
"We're going to be working with the project too." Sophia gestured to Tom and herself. "They're looking at a variety of brain scans and genetics. I think they're hoping something will stick out."
"Will you be staying here or at the base?" Jensen asked. He didn't want to see all of Tom's hard work unravel.
Tom grinned. "We're going to get an apartment in Harmony and commute."
"It makes sense – if the city has already starting affecting us biologically, they'll want to study the effect from the beginning." Sophia shrugged. "I'm not complaining. I've got my eye on some apartments on the west side."
"Just make sure you're not too close to the clubs if you value silence," Ian said. As the lone Harmony native in the group, he would know.
"Will you two be returning to Alonan?" Jensen knew Ian and Hank had worked as Alona's advisors before now.
Hank looked up from where he had sprawled next to Mila. "Oh, we didn't tell you. Someone has to go back on the Desert Moon to fetch Ferris. Ostensibly we'll be debriefing her and giving her insider information about Harmony. But really? I'll be showing this guy the stars."
Ian grinned and ruffled Hank's hair. "It will be a most interesting journey."
"It's exciting. You'll be the first person from this city to go out into space." Maggie grinned.
Jensen thought of something. "Will the other subs be leaving too? The exiles, I mean."
"I'm not sure." Ian frowned. "We'll have to find out."
"They would probably be assimilated in some of the relocation programs." Sophia looked thoughtful. "Those are usually used for ex-Confed slaves."
The mood got a bit sober after that comment. Jensen remembered that Dr. Johnson had once been a slave – which had started the whole mess on Harmony two years ago. But if it hadn't been for his freak out at the sight of the subs, then Johnson and Hank wouldn't have been taken prisoner, and Jensen would never have been brought in as a consultant to work with Jeff. It was an odd thing to have to be thankful to the Confed for.
"I wish them well, whatever they end up doing." Hank closed the door on the subject, and the conversation moved on to other topics.
Jeff stood and excused them after that. Jensen got a hug from both Sophia and Tom before he left. "Let me know when you find a new place." He'd love to see more of what Harmony was like outside of the palace. He doubted that the apartments of the ordinary citizens matched this opulent luxury. Then again, who knew? This place had its own set of rules.
Hank gave Mila a final pat and rubbed their noses together, giving her a kiss on the forehead. "Maybe we can get a dog?" He looked over at Ian.
"Perhaps." Ian looked like he was trying not to smile.
Jensen followed Jeff back into the crowd of people, which was already starting to thin. At this point, most people were probably tired and taking an early night. It was sad that the Choosing was over, but at least there would be time to rest from its frenetic pace.
"Jeff!" Claudia waved them over to where she and Misha were sitting. "I didn't see you."
Jeff smiled at her. "We were chatting with some friends for quite a while."
"Sit with us for a moment, will you?" Claudia patted the couch next to her. "We haven't had much time together at all."
Jensen slipped into place beside Jeff, on the same level as Misha who greeted him with a wave. At least that was a bit more subdued than the last greeting Misha had given him. Jensen flushed, suddenly heating at the idea of physical contact with Misha again. He liked scening with the Duchess and her sub. It was always fun and never failed to be hot. They would have to make some time for it in the future.
"Well, you've been very busy yourself." Jeff leaned back on the couch. "I haven't seen either of you performing at any events."
She frowned. "There were many contracts I had to oversee. Plus, there was a minor issue involving citizens wishing to migrate to my district."
"Oh?" Jeff tilted his head. "From Alonan, I presume?"
"And others. There were a good number who wanted to go to Alonan, which was good. We have to monitor things like that carefully, so the population doesn't grow unbalanced." Claudia shrugged. "I fear there is still contention on how some Doms view their subs."
"As well as some Adrian sympathizers." Jeff made a face.
Jensen agreed with him. Why did it seem like snakes like Adrian always had their followers? It seemed like his evil should be obvious to everyone, and not something to try to emulate. The queen had been wise to not just execute him. The last thing she needed was to create a martyr.
"That is why we're glad you're staying," Misha leaned forward to say. "Many people of Harmony look to you and your example."
Jensen had never wanted to be a celebrity. He had no choice here, not the way they'd come to this city and changed everything its citizens had ever known about who they were and the stars that surrounded them. Jensen had to bear some of the responsibility for the way things were changing in Harmony. He and Jeff had started that wheel turning from the moment they'd stepped foot in the city two years ago.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us." Jeff let out a sigh. "Especially if things are still so unsettled politically."
"Well, we wouldn't want it to be boring, would we?" Jensen asked.
Jeff and Claudia laughed. "Never."
"You will come visit us?" Misha turned to his mistress. "They are invited?"
She patted his hair. "Of course. Though you should have waited for me to issue the invitation, slut."
He ducked his head. "I'm afraid you'll have to punish me for that, mistress."
"I'm looking forward to it." Claudia had a downright evil look on her face. Whatever she had planned, Misha would certainly enjoy it.
"There are many things I'm looking forward to." Jeff tugged on Jensen's leash. "If you will excuse us. We'll see you at the closing ceremonies."
They bid them good night and headed for the lifts. Once inside Jensen sagged against the wall. He felt drained. It had been a long night and an even longer month.
"You all right, boy?" Jeff murmured, throwing an arm around Jensen's waist and pulling them together.
"Mmm." Jeff pressed his lips to Jensen's. He tasted warm, like home.
Jensen caught his fingers in Jeff's shirt and let Jeff kiss him, opening up his mouth and taking it as Jeff pressed inside. When they parted, he was panting. "Okay, maybe not that tired."
Jeff laughed. "Good." He rubbed his thumb over Jensen's cheek. "You know, Jen, I know there's still shit to deal with, but I'm content."
"Maybe even happy?" Jensen tugged Jeff closer. He wouldn't deny that. Jeff made him happy, whether they were in Harmony or not, but Jensen was glad they had come and had found a place here. It didn't matter if the war still raged on out there in the stars. He and Jeff had given enough to the UP. Finally this was their time to be together and carve out a life free from those responsibilities. They only had to answer to each other.
"Yeah," Jeff agreed. "Happy."