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The message came three months, five days, seven hours, three minutes, and certain negligible number of seconds after Harper's life ended.

Well, not literally. The life ending part was purely metaphorical, and was the result of Harper finally stopping and taking a good hard look at the past few years--and realizing he couldn't do it anymore. Earth was gone, and there didn't seem to be anyone left to care except him, and maybe, maybe a few thousand refugees and slaves, all sons and daughters of the late great planet Earth. In the face of that, Harper couldn't imagine staying, not when Dylan was so--fucking--happy--that his own planet was whole and in one piece--yet didn't understand, couldn't under stand that for Harper, Earth (however degraded and ruined it had been) had been as much a dream of home as Tarn Vedra had been for Dylan.

Earth was gone, and Harper knew he couldn't stay, because if he stayed, he'd probably go bugfuck.

Beka argued, Rommie argued, Doyle was hurt when he told her that she should stay, Dylan insisted that Harper was only going on leave and would return (fat chance), Rhade smirked and made dry comments that Harper mostly ignored, and Trance didn't say anything at all, which was a relief, just looked at him sadly. "You'll find him, or he'll find you," she'd said, and kissed him on the cheek. Harper didn't even ask who "he" was.

So after his life ended, Harper was relaxing at a beach resort under an umbrella drinking something fruity and alchoholic. The message was in text, but there was an audio file that played "There Ain't No Such Thing As a Free Lunch" from the old opera The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

I promised more than I had the ability to offer. You have lost more than you should have had to endure. There is a very fine restaurant called "Cascade of Stars Strewn Like Pearls" in the Sinnia District. If you are interested in reparation of a sort I will be in one of the private dining rooms, the one with mother of pearl shells on the lintel. The word is "Charlatan".

A few nights later, he was nervous as hell and trying (like hell) not to show it. Ubers could smell weakness, and looking nervous would be a very bad thing. So. Calm. Deep breaths, not quite direct eye-contact because that would be a challenge, and that would also be a Very Bad Thing. Shoulders and back straight, confident but not cocky walk. Harper headed straight into the restaurant, a very hoity toity kind of place, and him without a tie or a suit. Headed straight inside and didn't even glance at the maitre'd, who likewise paid no attention to him. Walked past Niets, their minions and lackeys until he ran into the back rooms and the security of one uber (Tyr you bastard) in particular. "What's the word?" The goon asked.

"Charlatan," Harper said.

The goon doesn't make even a cursory attempt to frisk him, just opened the door with a slight, surprising head tilt, and deliberate eye contact. Harper returned the gesture and just as politely kept his hands away from the various weapons that the guard hadn't searched for as he walked into the (he wanted to think 'romantically') candlelit room. The room was in warm golds and reds, and Tyr was dressed in business formal, looking calm and regal in dark colors, hair in neat cornrows and bound back. Harper swallowed nervously, and found himself smoothing his not-quite-so-fine clothes before he could stop himself. "You're looking good. For a dead man," Harper said after a minute of standing there, a minute of complete silence.

"The reports of my death and all that," Tyr said smoothly.

Harper slid into the other chair, and pretended to look at the menu. "Right, and the deal with the Abyss and company?"

"A ruse. I needed information, they had the information I needed. I reccomend the crab bisque to start with."

"Then I should get the potato-leek, to spite you. What kind of information?"

"Weaknesses, strengths." A pause. "Universal truths and other near-mystical gibberish. Trance," Tyr said. "She would not tell me what action would lead to a future, never mind the perfect possible one she speaks of. The potato-leek is also very good."

"I'll get that then. Universal truths?"

"Dylan is not the only Paradine. Trance is the avatar of a sun, and essentially, not that different from the Abyss, which is also an avatar of a sort. Seefra--but you know about Seefra," Tyr said, and gave Harper an intent look. "I am not the only one who can say 'the reports of my death have been exaggerated' I think."

Harper shuddered, absolutely under no circumstances wanting to remember it. "Yeah."

Polite and unobtrusive wait-staff appeared and took their orders. Harper got the potato leek soup, stuffed mushrooms for an appetizer, the green salad, the eggplant parmigiana, and because Tyr was paying the bill, high end wine for every course. Tyr ordered the crab bisque, the calimari, some kind of vegetable thing, shrimp-and-steak-kebabs. Tyr bought the high end wine as a matter of course. "What would you do, to ensure a perfect possible future?" Tyr asked.

"Do you really think there is one?" Harper asked, sounding more bitter than he intended to. "I don't see it happening." Harper gave Tyr a narrow-eyed look. "This isn't a pitch where you claim to be a Paradine, is it? I mean, you've done the Messiah thing before."

Tyr smirked, unoffended. "Perhaps I am only John the Baptist."

"And if Dylan finds out you're alive, your head's going to be on a platter," Harper said.

"Will he find out?" Tyr asked, casual and calm.

"Not from me," Harper said. "I think we both like your head where it is."

Tyr smiled slightly. "Good. Shall we return to the earlier question?"

"Can we not?" Harper heard his voice break, and tried not to wince, which would have made things even worse.

"I will answer it for you then," Tyr said, voice almost angry. "I would lie, I would betray, I would steal, I would kill, I would play the fool and drag my name and the name of the Progenitor himself through the mud to ensure a future, perfect possible or otherwise."

"A future for who?" Harper asked, because that was the question Tyr was trying to steer him toward. There were other questions, but he had a feeling Tyr wouldn't answer them before he was ready. As if Tyr were following a script or a list.

"My son, among others," Tyr said.

"You faked a messiah complex," Harper said. The big reveal, that Tyr's son was alive after all was anticlimatic in the face of what had to be the hoax of the century.

Tyr shook his head. "No, I made the idea of messiahs ridiculous, there is a difference."

"Nietszcheans are atheists," Harper pointed out. "Wouldn't they already think that?"

"You think they would," Tyr said. "But this is not the case. The only thing I could do was ensure that even if Tamerlane's genetic profile matched that of the Progenitor that he could never be seen as the Progenitor Reborn."

"Because his daddy is heretic number one?"

Tyr smirked. "You might say that."

The appetizers and soup arrived, along with the first glasses of wine. Harper nibbled and sipped, keeping a covert eye on Tyr as he did. "Your message said reparation," Harper said. "What does that mean, exactly?"

"I made a mistake," Tyr said after several minutes. The admission seemed to hurt him more than it should have. "Several of them in fact, and the worst of them was Earth."

"What about Earth?" Harper asked, feeling a knot coiling in his gut. He didn't want to think about it. Hell, he'd do just about anything to forget.

"I was not able to take it--even if I had, I doubt I'd have been able to stop them from destroying it," Tyr said quietly.

"You were going to take Earth," Harper said, voice expressionless. "Why?" As much as he loved his home, there wasn't anything left of value, not counting history, which wasn't all that valuable, the way it kept repeating itself.

"A symbol, even if only means something to a very few, is still a symbol," Tyr said. "It's why Earth was taken in the first place." A pause. "My effort was as useless as Dylan's. Useless as the air support that never came to your cousin's uprising." Harper was surprised by the self-recrimination in Tyr's voice. He wanted to ask what had happened to the real Tyr Anasazi, but managed to keep his mouth shut.

Tyr smirked, as if he could hear Harper's thoughts. "I'm talking in circles, I know. There's a great deal that's happened, discoveries I've made that if I told you--" Tyr trailed off, and shrugged eloquently. "If I were fortunate, you'd only think me insane."

"Try me," Harper said, and stole a calamari ring from Tyr's appetizer plate.

"When you disappeared, when it appeared that the Andromeda and everyone on it had been killed--I grieved," Tyr said slowly. "I hadn't thought I'd be moved, I thought I had broken away, distanced myself from it--but some part of me was still crew, still a part of Dylan's self-appointed mission." It might have been a trick of the ear, but Tyr's voice seemed a little unsteady, as if he were holding back emotions barely held in check.

Something in Harper's chest twisted, leapt, shouted Tyr's name--he had the impulse under control, but what he really wanted to do was wrap his arms around Tyr and not let go--or strangle him. It was the same feeling though. Crew. Family. That perfectly imperfect feeling that meant home, a reasonable amount of security, safety and comfort. At the same time, he didn't want to be led astray by the sentiment. "You went off on your own self-appointed mission," Harper said. "How's that going?"

Tyr shrugged. "I'm ready to begin another phase," he said after eating some of the crab bisque. "I'm glad I was able to find you so quickly, because I'd like you to play a part."

Harper's eyes narrowed. "What are we talking about here, Tyr?"

"Research and development," Tyr said, and smirked. "Specifically, I'd like you to head the science department of a corporation. Computer systems, ship building, manufacturing, terraforming. The corporation name is Gaian Corp, the CEO is--" The smile broadened. "Myself."

Harper blinked. "Okay, that's almost as insane as Uncle Sid getting into politics--why haven't we heard anything about this?"

"Because it was all done very quietly," Tyr said. "Of course it helps that you thought I was dead, and business isn't something Dylan would take an interest in."

"From terrorist to suit? Are we even pretending that's a natural progression?" Harper asked.

"If you feed a man a fish, you've fed him for a day, if you teach a man to fish, you've fed him for a lifetime," Tyr said. "You'll understand when I send you the company portofolio. I'd like you to see for yourself, however." As if it were a foregone conclusion that Harper would buy into this whatever-the-hell-it-was that Tyr was planning. Or scamming.

"I hope I understand, because right now, nothing's making sense," Harper said.

The main courses arrived and the "business discussion" was over. Instead Tyr made with the small talk, enquiring politely after Beka, Rommie, Trance and even Dylan. Harper knew this game at third or fourth remove, and therefore knew better than to try to bring "business" back into play.

He held up his end of the conversation as best as he could, and drank mostly water instead of the wine, which the unobtrusive wait staff kept refilling whenever the glass reached the half-empty stage. Even with that precaution, he still felt a little light headed, though that could just as easily be attributed to the utter surreality of Tyr's offer and his claims of having gone coporate. He had thousands of questions, and he couldn't ask any of them, not yet anyway. Dessert was the same, carefully polite discussion and compliments. Tyr sends him back to his hotel in a private car with a flexi portfolio and a gift-of-esteem, a small holo portrait album full of pictures that looked to have been taken when Tyr had still been on the Andromeda--candid shots from the security feeds--Dylan, Rommie, Trance in both her purple and gold forms, Beka, Tyr and himself. If there was a message in that, he didn't know how to interpret it.

Back at the resort in the privacy of his room Harper set the holo album on his night stand and flopped into the chair of the small "office workstation" in the suite's living room and started to read through the portfolio. He studied clients, contracts, investors and and product lines well into a sleepless morning, eyes aching and head foggy with sleep. Most of the "employees" were humans with scattered Nietszcheans either entirely unaffiliated or from small Prides. Tyr had "bought cheap and sold high" by the simple expedient of buying (or more often raiding) from Drago Kasov slave worlds to get workers and technicians for his company. "I'd like you to see for yourself," Tyr had said. Harper wasn't sure he liked what he was seeing in the first place.

He did some digging on his own, looking up "Gaian Corp" on various databases, and got lost in a flood of articles on ethical business practices, and social engineering, and something called "corporate feudalism." According to the articles (and the portfolio if you read between the lines) the system was what amounted to indentured servitude for up to five years or more while the "employee" bought out their contract. During the time of their employment with the company, workers got complete healthcare or life insurance, free or very affordable housing at the end of their contract, they could continue with the company and were eligible for "management training" recieved company shares--or were able to find work elswhere with reccomendations.

In the back of Harper's head someone was singing "I owe my soul to the company store." He called Tyr, and got a severe looking receptionist type who after a few minutes of argument, was replaced by a sleepy looking Tyr. "Do the words 'company town' and 'company scrip' mean anything to you?" Harper asked.

"They do," Tyr said with a smirk. "I have done my homework you know."

"Then you know exactly why this," Harper waved the portfolio, "is really fucked up."

"Not if applied correctly," Tyr said. "There are no 'company towns' there is no 'company scrip' or even a 'company store'. Workers are encouraged to form unions, whose representatives bring up issues to managers. Workers whose contracts are completed may stay with the company or leave."

"Road to hell, Tyr, road to hell," Harper said.

Tyr smirked. "Are you implying I have good intentions? I'm flattered."

"I don't know what intentions you have," Harper said. "That's the problem."

Sekhmet A was peeking through the window when their debate wound down. The ocean view through the hotel window is blue and pink and gold. Shore birds were raising their usual early morning racket along the roof. Harper had progressed from drunk to sober with no sense of transition between the two states with a brain melting headache that had had more to do with the topic of conversation than with an actual hangover.

He was too wired for sleep, and too tired to leave the room so he sacked out in front of the entertainment console with deep fried starch and many cans of Sparky cola, and watched holovids full of squeaky clean derring do with no irony whatsoever. Somehow, between The Anarchs of Betelguese and The Paladin he drifted off into dreams of beaches that had never seen an oilslick and windsurfing on a blue-glass ocean. There's a clambake on the beach, and everyone's there. Harper headed up the beach, and someone who looked a lot like Rhade only years older handed him a beer. "Doesn't that hurt?" Rhade asked with a frown.

Harper followed the direction of Rhade's gaze to thirteen neat and bloodless incisions in his abdomen that gape like the mouths of baby birds. Harper shrugged. "You can get used to anything."

The man who wasn't Telemachus Rhade looked sad. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Harper said. "You did the best you could."

Rhade nodded, then turned and shot Dylan, who was talking to both Trances. Dylan died, flopped onto the sand, then stood up again, and shot Rhade. Rhade stayed dead, and his blood soaked into the sand. Telemachus Rhade pushed his way out of the sand, and walked over to Dylan who handed him a meat fork and put him to work with the barbecue.


In the end, Harper resigned his post as Chief Engineer of the Andromeda Ascendant, and sent with his resignation a list of people who might be able to replace him, and nearly an encyclopedia's worth of design and repair manuals. He met up with Tyr a second time, and Harper read over the contract before signing. He accepted tickets for a suite on a medium-high class passenger ship, and tried like hell to ignore the feeling that this was some kind of betrayal.

Two weeks later, he was driven up from the space port just outside of a city that reminded him of Boston in winter, only without the smog and the refugee camps. It was a company car, and a company driver who offered to help him get his few bags into the faux brownstone townhouse he parked in front of. Harper let the driver--a big hulking kid with short cornrows and a sad attempt at a mustache--take his bags up to the front step, and thought about giving him a tip. "No tips, Mr. Harper," the kid said as if reading his mind (or the way his hands skimmed over his pocket in search of a wallet.) "I'll let you get settled in, sir," the kid grinned, and headed back down the stairs. Harper set the bag he was carrying down, and fumbled in his coat pockets for the keycard.

Before he could even stick the card in the slot, the door opened, and Harper dropped the card. "Brendan?"

"Seamus," Brendan said, voice sounding rough and cracked. He looked older, years older which was no surprise, and yet was, Harper had clung to his last memories of Brendan, not even thinking about what might have happened when he'd left (abandoned) Earth for the last time. Brendan was scarred and battered looking, but his smile was warm and welcoming. Harper's throat was closed up with emotion, and he wasn't sure who made the first move, but suddenly they were hugging and laughing, pounding each other on the backs.

They separated, holding each other arm's length. "If I'm hallucinating, don't wake me up," Brendan said.

"I think that's my line," Harper replied.

"As long as there's no body, you can't prove a thing," Brendan said, and bent--slowly--to pick up one of Harper's bags. "Now come in, before you let all the heat out."

Brendan had a limp surgery couldn't correct, and a right eye that was a top of the line prosthetic that matched the left. He'd spent two years in a high security Drago-Kasov prison being questioned in his involvement in the resistance long after the point was entirely moot. Tyr's network had found him, and smuggled him out. Harper discovered all the details as Brendan helped him unpack his bags, Brendan telling the story of the rescue and his first meetings with Tyr and of his months in various hospitals in fits and starts. "He spent a lot of time asking me about you," Brendan said, sitting down on the huge bed. "For a while, I thought it was some new head game the Dragans were trying out." Brendan leaned forward a little. "Did he tell you?" Brendan asked with an intent look.

Harper stuffed the luggage into the walk in closet, and turned back to Brendan. "About you? No." Wheels turned, tick tick tick. Tyr hadn't used the one lever that would have gauranteed his signing on--and Harper wasn't entirely sure of what that might mean.

Brendan, seeing the look, stood up. "Headgames," he said. "Let me show you the rest of the place."

The town house was three stories plus a basement. There was an elevator, but Brendan took the stairs. There was a kitchen, a formal dining room and a great room on the first floor. The second floor was two bedrooms, a bathroom and library/study that looked like it saw more use than the great room downstairs. The third floor was another bedroom, another bath, and a room with exercise equipment, practice mats and weapons,and in one corner, a meditation altar. Harper studied the room for a moment before looking back at Brendan. "Something you're not telling me?"

"Third floor is Tyr's when he's here," Brendan said.

"This is Tyr's house?" Harper asked.

"In the sense that he's paying the bills and the mortgage, yes," Brendan said. "In the sense that this is his home, no."

"Do we get to visit the house where he keeps the dancing harem girls?"

Brendan snorted. "Probably not. C'mon, you'll probably want to live in the basement when you see how he has it set up."

It felt good to talk to Brendan, to finally let go in a way he hadn't been able to in a long time. Brendan ordered curry and beer and they spent the evening and most of the following morning trading stories back and forth. They talked about the little losses, and the small victories, skirting the edges of the greater defeat. Earth is gone, but we are here, was the silent vibe between them in every word and gesture. We're still kicking, the universe hasn't killed us yet.

There was a moment of course, when the edge fell away. A point between one topic and the next where Brendan's gaze drifted down and he stared hard at Harper's abdomen as if looking at ragged scars, and Harper yanked down the hem of his rucked-up shirt as if there were scars to be seen. Brendan's expression was almost angry, though his voice was even and soft. "You never told me, Seamus. I had to hear it from--" Brendan took a breath. "You never told me.

Harper's throat felt dry and his eyes stung--drunken crying was the last thing he wanted. He rubbed his eyes, took a breath, and took another drink. "There wasn't time to tell you," Harper said, and his voice cracked. "And then, there wasn't time." The edge was crumbling under his feet, and the last step was a doozy. "I'm sorry. I wanted to stay, I would have stayed." He was in freefall now, and the look on Brendan's face is hard, implacable.

"If you had, I would have kicked your ass," Brendan said, then more softly. "It wasn't your fault."

"He said." Harper's voice shook. "Some idiot thing about how at least they'd been inspired to fight back. As if we hadn't been fighting for three hundred fucking years." Harper laughed, a harsh, ragged sound. "I was the only one that cared--and they didn't not even Beka, or Trance, and they were my friends."

"Spacers," Brendan said, as if that explained everything, and maybe it did.

"I would have told you, if I'd stayed," Harper said and gestured, finger tracing downward from sternum to navel, like a knife, returning to the previous topic, or a variation of the same topic.

"They were keeping you alive. The only thing I could have done was kill you," Brendan said.

"I thought I'd killed you," Harper said quietly. "Definition of a hero."

"You didn't," Brendan said. "I won't say I wasn't angry, because I was, but it was more at Hunt than at you. You had every reason to believe Hunt knew what was what."

"I did." Harper stared down at his hands, at his beer, because it was easier than looking at Brendan, at the scars that were there and the prosthetic eye. "I believed him. I wanted to believe."

The next few days were pretty much the same. Conversations with Brendan, relaxing and exploring the planetary 'net via the computer consoles and the entertainment center in the den up stairs or in the living room. Brendan was under a benign, unofficial house arrest, and can't go anywhere without the kid who'd driven Harper up to the house. The kid's name is Magellan Hidalgo and he's a combination of driver, bodyguard and personal assistant/errand runner. The Drago-Kasov were still in "disarray" for whatever that was worth, but they'd still probably love to get their hands on "the terrorist Brendan Lahey," as a way to get at Tyr.

"It's a face game," Brendan said. "Or maybe, 'Capture the Flag.' Ubers are insane."

"Mr. Lahey is surprised by the number of invitations he recieves from various military officers," Magellan said in a conspiratorial stage whisper to Harper as they walked through a shopping center. Harper needed new clothes and wanted to get out of the house for a while.

"Mr. Lahey doesn't like being treated like an exhibit," Brendan shot back.

"Mr. Lahey is a very modest and unassuming man," Magellan said.

Brendan gave Magellan a irritated look. "Riiight. So fucking polite."

Magellan smirked. "As you say."

Harper had a feeling the conversation was shorthand for some other, longer conversation, but Brendan didn't explain, and he didn't ask. The vibe between Brendan and the kid--Brendan and the uber--is friendly, and reminds Harper for some reason of himself and Tyr, before he left. Or maybe it was just the hair.

They came back from shopping, and going to see a holoplay loaded down with bags. Not just clothes but also tech toys and computer parts Harper found at an outrageous discount in one of the smaller stores in the shopping complex. The smell and sound of cooking was coming from the kitchen. "We have a cook too?" Harper asked Brendan.

Brendan shook his head, and gave Harper a unreadable look. "We have an occasional house mate, who cooks."

Harper set his bags down, and headed into the kitchen. "Tyr."

The man himself looked up from the roast he was tying up. Not the warrior Harper knew, and not the suit of only a few weeks ago, but someone else again. Harper was begining to wonder if he should go looking for a tabby cat and a space/time singularity. Check under the bed for pods, maybe. "Harper," Tyr said. He pointed to a small pile of root vegetables. "Peel and chop those, if you would."

"Right."

There wasn't a lot of conversation beyond Tyr's occasional directions. Harper reduced root vegetables to chunks and cubes, and Tyr added them to the pan and slid it into the oven.

In the living room, Harper could hear the entertainment console, and fragments of conversation between Magellan and Brendan. It wasn't not entirely impossible to have a friend who's an uber--even an uber who's your warden--but he wondered about them. About Magellan mostly, who doesn't act put upon at basically being a guard dog, and almost seemed respectful of Brendan when he wasn't being mocking or lightly sarcastic. Brendan returned the sarcasm with sarcasm of his own, but treated Magellan more like he used to treat Harper when he was a kid than like warden.

Tyr took a couple bottles of beer out of the refrigerator, and sat down at the table catty-corner to Harper, and handed him one of the beers. Harper popped the cap, and took a drink.

"Tomorrow, I'll be giving you a tour of the facility, and introducing you to your staff," Tyr said, and took a drink of his beer.

"I get staff?" Harper asked. "I'm liking this job more and more."

"I did say you'd be in charge of research and development," Tyr pointed out with a slight, sly smile.

"Yeah well, in the past that's usually meant me and maybe if I'm really lucky at least one or two other people--staff implies well, staff. Secretaries, research assistants, minions." Harper slid his bottle back and forth between his hands. "What am I researching and developing?"

"We currently have several ship design and weapon platform contracts. In addition, I was hoping you'd continue your research in multi-dimensional phase shifting and tesseracts."

Harper's stomach did a queasy little flip, and he almost missed his next catch. "I haven't had a lot of success with that."

"Theoretical applications only, no prototypes," Tyr said. "Not yet, anyway."

Harper wasn't sure if he should feel relieved or not. "Who are the ship and weapon contracts with?"

"We'll go over that tomorrow," Tyr said. "None of them are enemies of the Commonwealth--or Dylan for that matter." Tyr looked amused. "I didn't come here to talk business."

"You came here to make dinner." There were a thousand questions Harper wanted to ask. A thousand things he wanted to say, and all of them were crowding his brain. Foremost was gratitude, always a dangerous feeling when dealing with Niets--that Tyr had found Brendan. Foremost was the question, how much is this going to cost?

"I came here to see you," Tyr said, and drank some beer. "I came here because this is one of my preferred residences."

"The other one being the one with all the dancing girls?" He isn't sure how to take I came here to see you. If it were anyone else...he still isn't sure how he'd take it.

"There are no dancing girls," Tyr said with an amused, Cheshire smirk. "Strangely, and I'm sure it's the influence of Hunt, I find I'm not that comfortable with decadence.

"Yeah, well, you certainly looked comfortable, the way I remember it."

"I'm a good actor."

"You had me convinced, Harper said, and he might have meant Tyr's sales pitch a few weeks ago, or Tyr's impersonation of Ming the Merciless a few years ago.

"I admit to no regrets," Tyr said.

"I wouldn't expect you to," Harper looked up to see the Cheshire smile fade. "Let me draw a parallel for you. When I found out that one of my future crewmates was a Magog, I was understandably upset." Read utterly petrified and disgusted. "Rev Bem ended up being a friend--and then he left." And came back, got a face lift, and disappeared again. "Then there's you. You'd disappear for one reason or another, but you kept coming back and I got used to it, got used to you. Then you left, and came back an enemy and then you died." Harper didn't add; 'Because we had to kill you,' because that wasn't the point.

"And you take it personally," Tyr said softly.

"Yeah, and I regret that I do, like you wouldn't believe." Harper stood, restless and angry--though he wasn't sure if it was at himself, or at Tyr.

"Yet you came here," Tyr replied, head tilted slightly. "You signed a contract despite your misgivings and my earlier betrayal."

Harper could almost see the synapses going off like fireworks behind Tyr's eyes. He wondered how much Tyr knew about what had happened--before Seefra and after. More than the official press releases, certainly. "The average life expectency of a kludge from Earth is maybe about forty years. Maybe," Harper said flippantly. "And at the ripe old age of thirty something, I've decided that Dylan's health plan sucks."

"'Dylan has Tarn Vedra,'" Tyr quoted, mimicking Harper's accent. "'I have rubble, hoo-fucking-ray.'"

Harper winced. "I was drunk, okay? I didn't realize I was pouring my heart out to indie reporter." Dylan had been furious, though he'd spun it into an attack on the more radical news media, publically condemning Harper's "victimization by the press." Shortly after that he'd left on what Dylan termed "extended leave" and what Harper termed "looking for a job very fucking far away from anything to do with the Commonwealth or the High Guard," while desperately trying not to think about the past few years.

Tyr snorted. "I happen to agree with the sentiment. Earth's destruction deserved more than a footnote."

Tyr had named his corporation "Gaian." A large portion of his work force was from Drago Kasov slave worlds, or were emigrees from Earth. Brendan, who'd led a rebellion against the Drago Kasov on Earth, was Tyr's house mate. What Tyr was doing couldn't possibly be what it looked like. "You're not cut out to be a philanthropist," Harper said. It was a delibrate miss.

"Nothing I do is out of charity," Tyr said and stood, closing the slight distance between them."Beneficial perhaps, but not charitable."

"Because no Nietszchean would be caught dead being altruistic," Harper said.

The Cheshire smile returned. "I've missed you," Tyr said and (this was the surreal part) bent his head to kiss Harper, hand catching the back of Harper's head.

In another universe, this would have been a romantic thing, and Harper would have returned the kiss. This was not that universe, so what actually happened was that Harper jerked and reflexively rabbit punched Tyr in the kidneys. Tyr grunted and moved back, hands coming up in a gesture of truce, smirking despite being slightly hunched over from the punch. "The hell was that?" Harper asked, and glanced toward the living room. There wasn't any sign that Brendan or Magellan had heard what had just happened.

"It was a kiss," Tyr explained patiently. "It's commonly used to express affection. Did I startle you?" Tyr somehow managed an air of hurt innocence.

Harper could still feel the press of Tyr's mouth, the feel of Tyr's hands. His heart was pounding and his head was spinning from the flight/fight reaction Tyr had inspired with his kiss. "You could say that," Harper said, and took a deep breath, trying to force himself into calm.

"My apologies," Tyr said, not sounding sorry at all. "That wasn't my intent." Tyr, still hunched over, started to straighten slowly--and Harper realized--remembered--that he'd hit solid flesh and not body armor. Harper didn't exactly feel sorry about it.

"Affection?" Harper asked. "And here I thought you wanted me for my brains, not my body." He smiled. Or bared his teeth. Shaking, his hands were shaking out of porportion with the action, and he knew he should sit down, but couldn't.

Tyr looked him over, like he was admiring the view, and smirked. "Your brain certainly, but the packaging is certainly attractive enough," he said after several moments.

Mind games, Harper thought immediately--but so far, Tyr had avoided mind games--unless that had been a set up of some kind. "I'm flattered, really." Not for the first time, he wondered what the hell Tyr was up to, or what he should file the kiss under. Seduction attempt? Mind game? Some weird passion for kludge engineers and/or former crewmates?

"Occam's Razor," Tyr said, breaking into Harper's wildly veering thoughts. "I've no reason to seduce you, and would not make the attempt because you do not respond consistantly to that form of manipulation."

"And your technique kind of sucks," Harper said.

The Cheshire smile returned. "Given that you've hugged me--enthusiastically--on at least two seperate occasions, I felt I had at least a forty percent chance of being kissed back."

"Worth the risk, huh?" Harper said, flippant.

"I thought so," Tyr murmured. "It certainly opened the subject for debate."

"The subject being how not to make a pass at a kludge?" Harper asked brightly.

"The subject being that I've always held a certain fondness for you, and I regret not finding a way to convince you of my cause."

"Which would have happened never," Harper said, more because of a knee jerk reaction to Niet empire building than any latent loyalty to Dylan. Or Beka for that matter.

Tyr gave him an ironic eyebrow tilt. Then why are you here now little man? His smile seemed to say.

"I thought you didn't regret anything."

"I regret nothing I've done." Tyr repeated. "I only regret what I did not do." A delicate pause, and a seeming diversion from the topic. "I will admit to hubris."

"You, less than perfect? I'm shocked." He didn't trust this revelation from Tyr. He didn't trust the rush of warmth at Tyr's words.

"The universe is considerably less perfect than I am," Tyr said, and turned to check on the roast.

Talking was considerably easier after that. Harper wouldn't say it was like old times--because old times had never involved Tyr talking about his son's schooling or helpfully listing of the winners of various surfing championships during the time Harper had been out of the loop. Harper held up his end of the conversation with the few details of Seefra he was willing to talk about, and what he'd done on his extended "vacation."

Dinner wasn't as tense as he thought it should have been. Harper helped set the table, Tyr told Brendan and Magellan that dinner was ready. There was a moment when Brendan flicked a glance between him and Tyr, promising a conversation later, but otherwise the dinner conversation was surreally domestic. Harper wasn't sure though, if domesticity was a term that could be applied to cut throat debates over current event topics that went right over Harper's head since he'd been out of the loop for so long. The attempts at explanation, which bounced all over the place weren't exactly helpful either.

It also didn't help that throughout dinner, Harper kept thinking about the kiss. Not about what the kiss might mean, or what Tyr was up to, but the kiss itself. Tyr's mouth, the brief pressure of his hands, the heat he seemed to throw off in waves, and how Harper had been cold for longer than he'd like to admit.


After dinner, Tyr disappeared upstairs, and Magellan cleared the table. Brendan nodded in the direction Tyr had gone in. "Do I need to do something?"

Harper felt his face heat in embarrassment. "I'm a little old to be needing protection, Brendan," he said, trying to sound unruffled by the comment. "Still, a little warning would have been nice."

"You're a little old to need telling. If you haven't figured out when a uber's on the prowl, there's no hope for you." Brendan said.

Harper gave his cousin the hairy eyeball, which hadn't worked when they were kids, and didn't work now. Insanely, he wanted to leap to Tyr's defense with, Tyr's not like that, he's not Drago, or something similar. "Tyr pretty much kept himself to himself," Harper said instead. "The only time he didn't, he was playing Ming the freaking Merciless, and it was Beka he latched onto."

Brendan gave Harper an odd look. "I wasn't sure how things stood, between you and Anasazi, come to that, I still don't."

Harper shrugged. "I cared about him, we'd been through a lot together," Harper said. "it wasn't exactly unrequited passion." Not that Tyr wasn't eye-candy, or hadn't been fantasy-fodder a time or two--before and after he left. Harper had just never considered Tyr an option, some part of him having judged the Nietszchean as so far out of reach even flirtation wasn't really an option. He wasn't sure how to feel about the idea that Tyr had apparently considered him one.

"On your side," Brendan said.

Harper gave Brendan a look. "Right."

"It's possible, I don't know what he'd see in you though," Brendan said with a wicked look.

"Asshole," Harper said, and flicked a rude gesture at his cousin, who only laughed. "I'm a lovable kind of guy. Girls love me, guys want to do me, what can I say?"

Brendan snorted, and looked amused. "Do I need to do something?" he repeated--and Harper knew from past experience that Brendan only sounded like he was joking.

"Hell no, emphasis on 'hell' and 'no'," Harper said.


Eventually, Harper followed Tyr upstairs. He could hear music playing in the second floor study, and that the door was half way open. From where he stood, he could see that Tyr was reading a newsfeed on the computer console. Harper moved forward, and leaned against the door jamb. Tyr looked up briefly, but didn't say anything. Harper had the strong impression that Tyr, having made the first move, was waiting for Harper's.

Now, if Harper could just figure out what the first move was supposed to be. He took a breath and tried to steady himself before speaking. "Occam's Razor, huh?" Harper asked, and stepped into the room.

"There never seemed to be an opportunity," Tyr said, just as quietly. "I think perhaps, I was making excuses."

"Seduce the kludge or not seduce the kludge, that is the question."

"If that's how you want to look at it," Tyr said in a neutral tone. Tyr closed the newsfeed window, and turned. "Was I crew, Harper?" There was a lot behind the question, pride and anger and maybe even childish hurt, as if in this, he was years younger than Harper.

"You were crew," Harper said. "I think I've told you that before. I missed you." He moved closer, because it was his turn, and nudged the door shut with the back of his heel.

Tyr smiled and said nothing--it was apparently still Harper's turn. Impulse had gotten him this far, and he didn't see a reason to abandon it. One step, two step, three and he was standing knee to knee to Tyr, their eyes on a level since Tyr was seated--definitely an odd perspective. He reached out, and touched Tyr's cheek, curved his thumb over Tyr's lips. He leaned in, slow and careful, one hand holding onto the arm of the chair Tyr was sitting in for balance, the hand on Tyr's cheek slid around to the back of his head. Fingers tangled in Tyr's braids as Harper moved in for a kiss.

There was a moment of tension, of stillness, and Harper wasn't sure if it belonged him, or to Tyr, then Tyr kissed back, open and deep, breathless. The chair angled back as Harper let more of his weight rest against it, against Tyr. Harper's knee was resting on the edge of the seat, between Tyr's spread legs. Harper really hoped the chair stayed upright, and unbroken.

Tyr's hands came up and slid around his waist. Harper tensed, a brief flash of panic sparking through him that felt as if his heart had been squeezed in a fist. His own hand clenched tight in Tyr's hair. The sound Tyr made was more surprised than pained, and suddenly, the pressure of Tyr's hands became weightless, featherlight.

"Hey, careful," Harper said when he could breathe again. "It's been a while." In more ways than one, he meant. A while since he'd been with another man, a even longer while since he'd been with a uber...which wasn't something he really wanted to think about at this point. Not when he was hard, aching to be touched, and what happened, happened long ago; this was Tyr, who was nearly a friend, not a camp guard or a soldier on leave.

"For myself as well," Tyr said. "If we go any further, we should move this to the couch, before the chair is broken."

"You're probably right," Harper said, and kissed Tyr again before moving away. Tyr followed after, feet making no sound on the thick carpet. The way Tyr was looking at him--eyes dark and intent--Harper felt as if he were already naked. Eye-fucking, definition of. He stepped back, and back, then arm of the couch hit the back of his knees. Harper sat down hard, and almost fell back thanks to the slippery faux leather upholstery. "I'm glad you want me for my brains, and not my grace," he joked after steadying himself.

Tyr smiled. "You didn't fall over," he pointed out. Tyr leaned in for a kiss, an arm snaking around Harper's waist to support him, a knee nudging between Harper's legs. Tyr's mouth moved lower, to a sensitive spot just above the dataport. Harper's legs tightened reflexively around Tyr's, and he couldn't stop the moan that leaked out as Tyr licked and nibbled. Harper tugged at Tyr's shirt, fumbled at the buckle of his belt, wanting to reach skin, to touch and stroke and taste--but it was damned hard to think or concentrate with Tyr's hands and mouth doing to him what he wanted to do to Tyr. "Stand," Tyr murmured in Harper's ear, and moved back, giving him room to stand on shaky legs. Tyr grinned, kissed Harper on the mouth, then went to his knees.

Harper stared blankly for a moment at Tyr's upturned face, temporarily frozen by: Tyr, on his knees, and about to blow me. I'm dead, aren't I? Then Tyr was unfastening Harper's slacks, and tugging them down. Harper helped, kicking off his shoes and then his pants. Tyr nudged him into leaning against the chair arm, and had him hold his legs apart before going down. When Tyr sucked, Harper tried not to jerk, tried to hold still, but Tyr seemed just as intent on making Harper lose control. He sucked and licked and teased, gripping Harper's thighs hard, while Harper leaned forward, holding onto Tyr's shoulders for dear life and thrusting uncontrollably. "Tyr, yeah, god," and other less sane things poured out of him, praises and curses that seemed to encourage Tyr to be even more evil. Harper's knees turned to jelly when he came, and he collapsed on top of Tyr, kissing and touching in slow motion, feeling as if his brains had shot out of him along with his come.

They migrated from the floor next to the couch to the couch itself, Harper lying on top of Tyr, whose hard on was pressing against his pelvis. Tyr was moving, rubbing off on Harper, his hands were tracing sleepy patterns over Harper's back. Harper returned the carresses, sleepy and slow. "Lube?" he asked, having idle, dreamy thoughts of fucking or being fucked. (Being fucked the more likely option.)

"Regrettably, still in my suite upstairs," Tyr said. "And I have absolutely no intention of moving."

"I thought you were always prepared," Harper replied flippantly.

"Hmm," was all Tyr had to say to that, his eyebrows lifting with understated amusement.

Harper grinned back, and levered himself up. He explored fever-hot skin damp with sweat, kissing and sucking at silky dark skin. There were scars, some old and faded, and some new, Harper traced each one with careful fingertips. Tyr made soft, breathless noises, arching into Harper's touch, dark eyes heated. Harper moved further back, and started working on Tyr's pants, tugging them down around his thighs. Tyr's cock was twitching, the tip wet with pre-come.
Harper wrapped his hands around it and stroked a few times dry, then licked his palm, and gave Tyr a handjob, teasing and drawing it out as much as possible until Tyr came with a deep groan that seemed to rattle in Harper's bones.

Afterward, Harper made a token effort at cleaning up, then settled back on top of Tyr to sleep.