manicdak: Roman from Alles was Zahlt ... and panda (panda)
[personal profile] manicdak
Title: The Unknown Galaxies
Chapter Three: In a Shack in the Desert
Warnings: None except for possibly cursing
Summary: Robin is a fish out of water, Ehren reveals his issues, and there is a search for blankets.



The Earth was nothing like he’d imagined it in his minds eye. When it was described as a desert, his vague recollection of his Inter-Galactic history textbooks only conjured up images of scenic vistas and purple and red and orange sunsets. It was nothing like the reality of being faced with a real desert.

They had landed in the closest spaceport to Ehren’s home after a short trip through time. When they’d entered the transport Heinrich had hired to take them home they had been in a city not unlike the ones of his own home. He had tried to engage Ehren in conversation about it, but Ehren had been grumpy ever since the ‘shack’ incident and would only growl at him through clenched teeth about how he was unfamiliar with the particular city they had landed in.

They traveled past the city walls and past the outskirts of town filled with rows upon rows of white modular houses. They consisted of perfectly white squares that might have been identical if they hadn’t been arranged in different manners and quantities from home to home. Robin kept his mouth shot and didn’t ask about them, since it was quickly becoming clear that maybe Ehren was more self conscious of his family’s situation than he let on.

Past the modular subdivisions with their perfectly manicured, drought resistant lawns, was the desert that covered most of the Earth’s surface. There were no scenic vistas as far as Robin could tell. There was a wide expanse of flat dirt as far as his eye could see, dotted only with the occasional shrub or plear tree. Ehren held his own potted plear tree in his lap. It was the one that Robin had purchased for him while he was in the hospital. It gave Robin some kind of satisfaction to note that Ehren had been extremely vigilant in protecting the brittle branches of the plant from harm and had been violently opposed to being parted from it when they had boarded the plane, despite the crew helpfully suggesting that the trip might be more pleasant if he were to stow it in the baggage compartment rather than his lap.

Robin watched him as he stared out the window of the transport, absently stroking one of the few brown leaves on the plant. Robin only wished that Ehren might have preferred his hand over using the tree as a proxy. He couldn’t even begin to guess why Ehren had been so distant toward him in the weeks since his recovery. He could only sit there and wonder if being home was giving Ehren second thoughts.

He needn’t have worried. He woke from a sound sleep almost two hours later with his head on Ehren’s lap. He straightened up and groaned and cleared his tired eyes. The plear tree had been remanded to the floor of the transport and Ehren grabbed hold of his hand as soon as he’d let it fall to his side. He loved Ehren’s hands, his slim fingers radiating warmth from every pore.“Where are we?” Robin yawned once and settled into the back of his seat. He curled his arm upward to bring Ehren closer. Ehren was happy to adjust his position slightly to lean against Robin’s shoulder.

“Earth,” he murmured.

“You know,” Robin said. “I have passed basic primary school. I know we’re on Earth, but…” He cocked his head and stretched his stiff neck. “How long have we been traveling? Where the hell do you live exactly?”

“Next town over,” Ehren said.

“Which is on the other side of the planet?”

“Five hundred Earth miles,” Ehren said. “My father’s only qualified to drive a 100 mile vehicle, so it’s going to take a few hours. Sorry. Our city has no spaceport. We aren’t exactly rolling in Inter-Galactic dollars here. There aren’t spaceports on every corner.”


“I’m sorry,” Robin murmured.

“Don’t be sorry.” Ehren squeezed his hand. “I don’t expect you to know this stuff. You aren’t a diplomat. You know more than your average otherworlder. That means a lot actually. It kind of makes me think you might actually care.”

“I do care,” Robin grumbled. He pulled his hand away from Ehren and settled them in his lap.


They came upon Ehren’s neighborhood after a few more hours of riding. Robin carefully avoided mentioning that he could have procured time travel devices to get them there in less than the blink of an eye. He had a feeling it just wasn’t in an Earthian’s nature to take the easy way out, even if it were more practical. Besides, he quite like sitting in silence next to Ehren. It reminded him of the days before Ehren found a voice in the Action Squad. He had merely been one single, timid recruit.

The terrain, which was still as flat HOGcakes but had become dotted with large wooden dwellings haphazardly placed on asymmetrical lots with seemingly no organization whatsoever. He couldn’t read the street signs and the dusty roads seemed to run in all directions. One thing that made a far greater impression than the insanity of navigating through the area were the houses.

They were definitely not shacks. Most of them were large, two storey structures with ornamental spindles and arches, large porches and windows and even the occasional turret or brick facade. All of them were painted in colourful combinations that gave the neighborhood a cheery feel that he hadn’t gotten from the conformity of the modular suburban dwellings that bordered the city.

“Not quite the poverty stricken hell hole you were imagining, is it?” Ehren spoke up.

Robin turned to glance sharply at him, but couldn’t remain angry when he was greeted by the teasing smile that Ehren wore upon his face.

“How many times do I have to apologize for that?” Robin said.

Ehren didn’t get a chance to reply as they pulled up to on of the smaller bungalows. Ehren’s mother flew out of the transport and into the house as she shouted behind her that she had to reorganize the room arrangements. Heinrich followed sheepishly after her and left Ehren alone in Robin’s company.

“It’s not so bad is it?” Ehren said, as if he were seeking reassurance that Robin wasn’t in fact disgusted by his living conditions.

“No, not at all,” Robin said. He placed an an arm around Ehren and they stared at the house in a contemplative silence that was shattered by the screeching of a young girl, who burst out of the neighboring house and ran over to them with her arms flailing. She pulled Ehren away from him and into a giant jumping hug. She let go of her fierce hold on him only when he asked, and they were both beaming from ear to ear. She turned toward Robin and waited expectantly for an introduction which Ehren nervously provided after a moment’s hesitation.

“Robin, this is Hilda, my neighbor.” He gestured between them. "I’ve known her since I was a baby.”

Robin stretched out his hand and Hilda excitedly pumped it up and down sandwiched in between both of hers.

Ehren seemed to be content to let the introduction rest there, and Robin was sure he would have never attempted to address it if Hilda hadn’t asked.

“And...” She prompted, her gaze flickering back and forth between the two boys. “This is?”

“I said Robin,” Ehren muttered.

“Oh, Mysterious Robin,” she nodded toward him. “Man of mystery. I see.”

“He’s My...”

They replied simultaneously: Robin with “Boyfriend” and Ehren with “Commander”. Robin glared at Ehren who was by then staring at the tops of his shoes and rocking back and forth with his hands behind his back.

“Oh, my,” Hilda said. She glanced at Ehren, and noticing his preoccupation, turned to address Robin instead.

“So... Boyfriend-Commander, huh? I’ve never heard of that rank before. Now, is that for the entire squadron, or just for Ehre, here?”

Robin scowled for a moment before cracking a slight smile.

“Apparently that remains to be seen,” he said.

“Wow, awkward,” she said. “So...”

“I’ll go see if your mother needs help,” Robin said.

***

As soon as Robin had gone, Ehren let out a breath that he hadn’t known he was holding. Hilda grabbed him by the arm and dragged him across the front yard pebbles into the back yard where she sat him down on the bench underneath the family plear tree. The purple fruits hung heavy on the mostly barren branches that provided no shade from the blazing afternoon sun.

Ehren let out a heavy sigh and sank back against the wooden back of the bench. It was as smooth and as the day it had been treated for the harsh outdoor climate. It was that sort of craftsmanship that kept the Behrendt’s customers coming back for more.

“So what the flying heck was that all about?” Hilda sidled up next to him with one arm over the back of the chair and one leg curled underneath her so that she could face her long time friend.

“You know, it’s like,” Ehren paused to mull it over then turned slightly to face her. “It’s like that torrid affair that you thought was over because the guy was still in love with his ex...suddenly turned domestic after you got shot and were in a coma for a few days.”

Hilda nodded sagely. “I see. That happened to me once.”

“We haven’t really talked about it.” Ehren bowed his head, ignored her joke, and looked at his hands in his lap. “For now I’m just happy he’s here. We’ll see what happens.”

“Hmmm. You really like him, huh?”

Ehren nodded, and bit his tongue to keep the ‘L’ word from sliding out of his mouth. If he was going to be declaring his love for Robin, he wanted to tell Robin first. He didn’t want to make it a huge production, but he was fairly certain that the news would be temporally broadcast to all corners of the known galaxies and through every timeline that had ever and would ever exist two seconds after it was out of his mouth if Hilda were to catch wind of it first.

“Nice.” She nodded approval. “I have to be honest though. I’m kind of surprised. I thought…”

“That I like girls?” He muttered. “Sorry if I disappointed you. I hope you weren’t expecting us to be destined since we grew up together and everything…”

“Oh, my god, shut-up!” She slapped him playfully on the arm and laughed out long and loud.

“Why is that funny?” He muttered.

“You’re cute.” She pinched him on the nose and giggled when he scooted away.

“I was going to say I always thought you were too big of a nerd to ever get laid. I mean…with anybody, let alone that guy.”

“Geez.” He finally consented to smile and shrugged. “Why does everybody keep saying stuff like that? I went to university. I’m a Lieutenant in the Inter-Galactic Action Squad! That’s supposed to make me attractive isn’t it?”

“You just look really young. That’s probably why,” she said. “But good for you, if you can work it out.”

“Who knows,” he muttered. “I literally woke up from a coma and he was holding my hand. I’m not complaining, but I don’t really know where his head is at.”

“Here’s a novel idea…”

“Don’t say it,” he grumbled.

“Talk to him,” Hilda said it.

“Don’t have to. He’s here, and… I should go see if he’s upstairs insulting my mother again.”

“What?”

“He called our house a shack,” Ehren said, the grin creeping back onto his face. “I mean, before he visited here. We were having a fight and that was the biggest insult he could fling at me at the time.”

“Dear.”

“It’s okay now.” Ehren stood up and stretched and patted Hilda on the shoulder. “You’re coming for dinner, right?”

“I guess so!” She replied cheerily and bounced up from her perch upon the bench. “I think that means I have to go make myself presentable. I’ll see you later, okay? She waved at him and bounded her way through across the Behrendt family yard and into her own.

Ehren sighed and shook his head. Seeing Hilda brought back memories of his childhood that he had nearly forgotten. It felt like it had been a really long time. Everything about his past felt so far out of reach after he’d been shot. He loved his planet of origin, but his life was had become something more than he had ever imagined it would be. There weren’t many people who became lieutenants at the age of twenty four.

He walked back toward the house and entered through the back door, thinking about how in the blink of an eye his life had become one big adventure after another. Despite the danger, he was even more determined in his conviction to become a Time Detective.

He found Robin alone in his parent’s room, sitting on the edge of the bed, staring out of the window looking rather pitiful.

“Your mother,” he murmured as soon as he caught sight of Ehren in the corner of his vision. “She has some sort of cooling device blowing.”

Ehren glanced up at a vent int he wall that was pouring out cooled air, and noticed that Robin had opened the window.

“You don’t get out much, do you?” Ehren said.

He carefully closed the door behind him, crawled his way to stand on the bed, and pulled on the lever to close the vent.

“I could have figure that out.” Robin frowned up at him from his seated vantage point.

“It’s okay.” Ehren jumped down, threw his legs out and bounced on the bed before situating himself next to Robin.

“I’m not stupid,” he grumbled. “I just… Really? False air, when you have all this…”

He gestured out the window helplessly.

“I know,” Ehren said quietly. He kept his eyes down and hoped that he wouldn’t somehow offend Robin with his next words.

“I know it tires you out trying to keep warm when it’s cold, but not everybody has that Utopian body temperature. We have to have false air here or we’d melt during the day.”

Robin huffed to himself and frowned.

“How do you know that? I mean, how do you know about the cold…”

“Well, I did study a thing or two about Utopia. Besides, you’re never warm, and you keep your room back at HQ about a zillion degrees,” Ehren said, “And you always wear thermal underpants.”

“Doesn’t help when that shit is blowing right on me,” Robin grumbled.

“I know. You’re almost sweating. It would be cute if I didn’t know how much it tires you out, and it’s not going to help tonight when the temperature drops either,” Ehren said. “Sorry.”

“Fine,” Robin said. “I’ve dealt with it before in the course of duty. I can deal with it now. Besides…”

He glanced at Ehren; his brown eyes filled with mischief.

“There are things you can do to keep me warm.”

Ehren smiled at the prospect, but that smile was quickly replaced by realization.

“Oh, no.” He shook his head. “I’m not having sex with you in here.”

“Why not?” Robin frowned. “Is it…”


“On my parents bed?” Ehren interrupted him before he could inject a false assumption into the conversation.

“I am not having sex on my parents bed.”

Robin arched an eyebrow at him.

“Even if I get naked…right now and just...”

“Stop, Stop!” Ehren flailed his arms around in a negative fashion and shook his head again.

“Oh, come on,” Robin said. “Have I don’t something wrong? I must have, because the way you’ve been behaving…”

“Wait, wait…I’m sorry!” Ehren said. “It’s just the last time we had this kind of a talk, you were walking out on me to go back to your fucking ex, and the next thing I know you’re just… You’re just… being so fucking nice to me and my parents, and I don’t know. It’s just a lot to get used to.”

“I never said I was going back to him,” Robin mumbled.

“But you were.” Ehren glared at him.

“What do you want me to say to that, Ehrenfried?” Robin said.

“The truth.”

“The truth is, I don’t know what I expected to happen,” he replied. “I didn’t expect Feliu to be kidnapped, I didn’t expect that you…”

“What? That I would care?”

“I didn’t expect that my actions would almost get you killed,” Robin said.

“So has all of this…since I woke up? That was what? Guilt? Pity?”

“You know what?” Robin narrowed his gaze and stood up. “Fuck, you Ehren. I don’t need your bullshit right now.”

“Fine,” Ehren muttered. “I’ll see you back on Tarain then.”

He watched as Robin bit his lip to keep from saying anything further. His face was tinged red with anger as he stood up and stormed from the room.

Ehren let out a loud sigh as soon as he had gone and then fell back onto the bed with one arm flung over his forehead as he stared up at the ceiling.

“Why are you so stupid?” He said to himself. He repeated the word ‘stupid’ a few times as he slammed his fists impotently into the bed at his sides.

***

Robin was seated at the table staring down at the plateful of meat that was sitting in front of him. He didn’t quite have enough of a grasp on the Earthian language to refuse before Ehren’s mother had flopped it down in front of him. In his rational mind he knew that, being Earthian food, it was probably farmed out of a petri dish in an agrolab somewhere, but that did nothing to quell the rising bile in his throat. He glanced around, hoping to see Ehren appear in the doorway to the dining room, but he didn’t.

There was nobody there to save him from feeling frustrated, out of place, and completely rude except for Hilda. He glanced at the parents, who were happily engaged in conversation with eachother about their neighbors, and then at Hilda, who was seated opposite.

“Ehren?” He mouthed at her.

She gave him a nod of understanding and excused herself, appearing moments later, pulling Ehren by the arm. She dragged him over to the empty seat next to Robin, and he could tell that Ehren was trying his best to steer her toward the opposite side of the table where she was seated without anybody noticing. Robin heard her hiss ‘stop it’ at him as she shoved him into the chair and stalked around the table to her own meal.

He grumbled and sank down with his arms crossed and glanced over at Robin before sighing.

“What are you doing?” He muttered as he noted Robin poking at the fleshy food in front of him.

“I don’t want to be rude,” Robin replied in Utopian, “but is your mom going to be offended if I don’t eat this? I don’t think I can.”

Ehren rolled his eyes, called Robin a child under his breath in Utopian then turned to his parents, clearing his throat to interrupt their conversation.

“Mom,” he said. “Robin doesn’t eat meat.”

“Why not?” She stared blankly at him as if she couldn’t comprehend the thought.

“He’s vegetarian,” Ehren said.

“Oh, that’s okay.” She smiled brightly at them. “It’s not from a real animal. They grow it in a lab.”

“No.” Ehren shook his head. “It’s not some kind of moral objection. They just don’t do it on his planet. It’ll probably, actually make him really sick. He doesn’t want to offend you, but I think if he’s up all night hurling it’ll probably offend everybody, so...”

His mother nodded understanding and began chatting again as she swooped over Robin and whisked his plate away, quickly replacing it with a giant salad topped with plears.

He thanked her and slid the plears onto Ehren’s plate when she wasn’t looking.

He sat there quietly chewing on the expanse of leafy green plants in front of him, trying his best not to wonder how he had ended up in such a situation. He’d thought it was a nice thing to do to invite Ehren’s parents to visit during his recovery, and Ehren seemed to have appreciated it in the beginning, before he became annoyed with their parental hovering. What he couldn’t figure out was why Ehren seemed to be so peeved at him, but there argument in the bedroom had made it much clearer.

Things had changed, and they had changed quickly. He shouldn’t have expected Ehren to fall into his arms and thank his lucky stars that Robin had decided to stay with him. It had been okay during the first few days after the coma, but the longer they went without discussing it, the more distant Ehren became. It was clear that he was just becoming increasingly insecure and unsure of Robin’s intentions.

Robin glanced over at Ehren as if he might arrive at some solution just by looking at him. He was reaching over the table to grab at a bowlful of mashed grains and Robin’s eye was instantly drawn to the the hem of his shirt riding up on his hip, exposing a tantalizing glimpse of skin. Robin swallowed hard and looked away quickly, concentrating all of his efforts on the misshapen lump of faux meat that lie steaming on the serving tray in the middle of the table in front of him. If anything was going to kill the spark of arousal, it was going to be that. He took a deep breath to steady himself.

No. Guilt or pity was definitely not the driving force for him being there.

He couldn’t help himself once Ehren sat back down and began earnestly scooping out the grains in giant spoonfuls. Robin placed his hand on Ehren’s knee, which only paused him for a moment before his scooping became more angry and urgent. Robin moved his hand upward and squeezed Ehren’s inner thigh. It was an action that was clearly not expected, as Ehren leaped into the air with a loud yelp, overturning the bowl onto the table and sending the spoon from his hand up into the air.

Ehren looked mortified as he stood frozen in place with half the grains splattered all over the front of his shirt. The parents looked just as shocked as he did, and Hilda looked like she was doing her very best to suppress a stream of laughter. Robin looked down at his lap to hide the amusement on his face and only heard Ehren huff and stomp away.

“Uh...” He glanced up at the remaining faces. “I should probably...” He gestured toward the door and quickly made an exit before anybody could respond. He found Ehren in the washroom futilely scrubbing away at the mash stain that had been left all up and down the front of his shirt and trousers.

“Thanks for this,” Ehren muttered.

“I’m sorry.” Robin reached out to still his frantic hands. “We have to do this, huh? We have to talk?”

Ehren nodded.

“Look, I’m sorry. I know it was sudden for you. You were hurt. I was there. I hadn’t exactly been what anybody would call relationship material. I’m thirty years old, Ehren, and I’ve never done anything like this before. I want to try. That’s all. Is that okay?”

“Well, try not to molest me in front of my parents.”

Ehren tossed his hands away and turned back to the mirror. He picked at the corner of his shirt and sighed.

“I really liked this shirt.”

Robin approached him from behind and placed his hands on Ehren’s hips, making sure that Ehren could see exactly what he was doing in the washroom mirror.

“We’ll have it washed,” he said as he lifted the hem up. Ehren obediently lifted his arms as Robin pulled the clothing over his head.

He engulfed Ehren in his strong arms and nuzzled his neck, kissing him until he finally relaxed and leaned back against Robin’s chest.

“I’m sorry I’ve been such a shit,” Ehren said. “I’m just anxious to get back on track and… this is new for me too. You’ve had Feliu at least. Dysfunctional as fuck, but it was still a…”

“Will you shut up!” Robin bit his neck softly and Ehren squirmed out from his grasp and turned around to face him.

“Hey!”

“You like it.” Robin grinned at him.

Ehren shrugged sheepishly.

“Okay, so ground rules number one and two,” Robin said. “No molesting you in the presence of your parents, and you promise not to talk about my ex anymore. It’s over. Space is a pretty big place, Ehren. I don’t think we’ll run into him any time soon.”

“You don’t think there’s any unresolved…He just left,” Ehren said. “You never really got a chance to hash things out with him, did you?”

“I don’t love him,” Robin said. “Not any more. Not like that. He understands.”

“I believe you,” Ehren said. “I’ll be perfectly happy to never speak his name again. Now… ground rule number 3?”

Robin arched an eyebrow at him, not liking the direction they were heading in.

“What?”

“Get rid of the stubble.” Ehren said as he reached up to stroke Robin’s cheek. “You’re going to give me some kind of beard rash or something.”

“Is that a thing?” Robin laughed and regarded himself in the mirror while stroking his chin. “It won’t be so bad when it fills in.”


“Yeah, but you’re cuter without it anyway,” Ehren said. “I’m not trying to blackmail you, or change you. If you insist on keeping it…”

“I don’t want to be cute though,” Robin murmured.

“You’re never going to be a bad ass with or without facial hair,” Ehren said.

“Oh? Thanks for the ringing vote of confidence,” Robin said.

“Anytime.”

Ehren bit his lip contemplatively and reached into the vanity’s top drawer and pulled out a shaver despite Robin’s protestations.

“I don’t think so,” Robin said. “I’m not using one of those laser things. You do know how long it takes to grow back after you use one of those?”

“Yes, fully.” Ehren grinned up at him.

“No, fully,” Robin said. He lay his hand over the shaver in Ehren’s hand and Ehren quickly relinquished it without a fight.

“Okay, you’re right. That’s a terrible rule,” Ehren admitted. He pitched forward, resting his head on Robin’s chest. Soon enough he was caught up in Robin’s arms and sighed contentedly.

“I hate this,” he murmured into Robin’s shirt. “We’ve barely had a minute alone since this happened. Maybe I’m not cut out for adventure after all.”

“C’mon, you’d be bored,” Robin said as he rubbed circles in Ehren’s back. “You’re bored right now. I think probably you like adventure more than you think..”

“No.” Ehren grunted. “I’m taking a break from that.”

“Sure.” Robin pushed him back into an upright position and ruffled his hair that had started growing out in from it’s previously short military crop. It was surprisingly wavy and Robin had taken to running his fingers through it, inevitably getting tangled much to Ehren’s chagrin and consternation.

He shook his head to rid himself of Robin’s hand and moved toward the door.


“Let’s go,” Ehren said. “They’ll be waiting for us.”

**

They returned to their seats, Ehren wearing his I-GAS issue gym clothes. Hilda greeted them with an exuberant ‘welcome back’ before launching into the next topic.

“Guess what, Ehre,” she said.

“Huh?” He cut into his meat and didn’t look up at her as she spoke.

“Guess who I talked to the other day?” she said.

“I don’t know.”

“Guess!”

Ehren finally looked up and glared at her which was enough for her to continue.

“Jan Bergen,” she said.

Ehren almost choked on his meat prompting Robin to pat him on the back which only earned him an indignant glare. Ehren had other things on his mind than chastising Robin for acting like a mother hen though. He could barely even remain annoyed at him for it.

“Why were you talking to him?” Ehren said after taking a gulp of water to recover.

“I was just in the city shopping with my girlfriends,” she said. “He was there with some guy.”

“Good,” Ehren said. “Good for him.”

“Not a boyfriend,” she clarified. “That other guy. Greta’s boyfriend? The snobby one? I don’t like him.”

“Dieter.” Ehren supplied the snobby one’s name and Hilda nodded confirmation.

“Anyway, he asked about you.”

Ehren groaned a response and glanced sideways at Robin, who was looking at him with a thoughtful and curious expression upon his face.

“What did you tell him?”

A sudden nervous look crossed Hilda’s face, and she glanced down at the table before replying.

“Well, I told him you got injured, and you were on the Nature, and that you were taking leave and were going to be on Earth for a while starting today. I kind of set up a lunch date for you.”

“Why would you do that, Hilda!” Ehren shouted out in frustration.

“I’m sorry!” She seemed to shrink in her chair as she replied. “I didn’t think it would be a problem. He wanted to see you. You guys were such good friends in university. What’s the problem? I thought you liked him.”

“I do like him. I dated him,” Ehren said.

Hilda frowned and looked thoughtful before speaking again.

“I did not know that. We could avoid things like this if you told your friends about your love life instead of letting them think you those long nights ‘studying’ are actually at the library.”

“They were!” Ehren said, quickly becoming exasperated. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I thought you liked me.”

Hilda snorted laughter at him and then quickly apologized when she saw the angered glare on his face.

“I’m sorry, but…flatter yourself much? That be like sleeping with my brother!”

“Okay, fine, but you really don’t need to be making dates for me,” Ehren cut in. “I’m not the same person. He’d be disappointed anyway.”

“Do you want me to call him and cancel?” Hilda said. “He was so excited.”

“I don’t mind,” Robin piped in. “You can meet with him if you want. I trust you.”

Ehren put his head in his hands and sighed.

“It’s not that,” he said. “Nevermind, just… you’re coming.”

Robin laughed.

“On your date?”

“It’s not a date!” Ehren said. He swung his gaze around to Hilda and pointed at her. “You’re coming too, and you’re calling up Greta and inviting them. If I have to meet with him, I want to see my other friends too.”

He frowned and poked at his meat before standing up from the table.

“I’m really tired, Mom…Dad…”

His mother nodded at him, giving him permission to leave the table. Robin figured that Ehren wanted to be alone, so he stayed behind to finish his salad and help with the cleanup after which he was accosted by Heinrich and shown to the workshop in the rear of the property. It was dark and cold by the time Robin made it back to the bedroom, and he found Ehren curled up in the dark, asleep and attempted to crawl in beside him.

He succeeded insofar as he managed to assume the sleeping position that he usually occupied when he shared a bed with Ehren. What he gained in dexterity and lack of jostling, he lost in lack of temperature. His entrance under the sheets had not only let the cold air in, but his body temperature had rendered the effectiveness of the mountain of blankets Ehren had piled atop him practically moot. Ehren was awake and shivering, and Robin was apologizing within seconds.

“Stop apologizing,” Ehren muttered through a sleepy haze. “Let me think…”

The air that had been blowing fast and cool earlier in the day had been switched to hot, but it was still not enough to counter the combined effects of the outside temperature and Robin’s lack of body heat.

“I think we have some space heaters down in the basement and some of my old electric blankets.”

Ehren threw the covers from his chilled body and slipped his feet into a pair of slippers. Robin followed him without word and they found themselves in the basement rooting through a giant pile of boxes marked with the phrase “Ehren’s stuff” in Earthian. The boxes were full of books, and their progress was slowed by Ehren stopping to flip through almost each and every one of them in fond reverence. Robin smiled to himself as he watched and the blankets had nearly slipped from his mind.

“So, tell me about Jan,” he said.

Ehren paused from his gazing at a hardbound copy of the Earthian constitution and looked up at Robin; startled.

“Why do you want to know about Jan?” He said.

“Just trying to get to know you better,” Robin said. “Isn’t that how this works? You know all about Feliu. It only seems fair.”

“Sure.” Ehren chuckled. “Okay. Fine. What do you want to know about him?”

“So, is the ‘authority’ on you that you were referring to back on Utopia?”

Ehren laughed. “One of them. Yeah. Jan is hot, we were both young. Then I joined the Action Squad and he broke up with me. It really just…it sucked, okay? I really liked him a lot.”

“Long distance relationships are hard.” Robin nodded. He had more than enough experience with that. His one and only standing relationship with the son of a time pirate had been
about as long distance as a relationship could get.

“It wasn’t that.” Ehren laughed. He had to laugh or he might give in to the angry feelings that were beginning to roil around in his stomach; feelings that he had forgotten even existed.

“He actually broke up with me because I joined the Action Squad. He said he couldn’t be with someone in a military organization. It was against his morals or something. I don’t know. It was either him or the known galaxies.”

“You chose the known galaxies?”

“Obviously.” Ehren nodded. “And I met you. I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s so many worlds and cultures out there to explore and learn, and yeah… I kind of feel like a jerk for saying this, because I like Jan. I really do, but the choice was easy for me. The people I’ve met…the things I’ve learned? It’s been worth it. Blankets!”

He interrupted himself and held aloft the corner of a square of fabric from a freshly opened box.

“That should do it,” he said as he stood from his seated position on the floor.

Robin picked up the box and joined him. They gathered up a space heater, returned to the room to set about making a nest of electric blankets piled high upon the bed, and adjusted the space heater on the floor to their highest settings. Soon enough the room was as hot as a daytime Earth. Robin made a contented noise as he settled himself in, finally comfortable in his own skin, and Ehren snuggled close to him, knowing that was the best way to keep cool.

“Thanks for doing this,” Robin said as he traced the warm skin of Ehren’s shoulder as he settled his head on Robin’s chest. “I wasn’t going to complain.”

“Nah,” Ehren replied. “It’s not as if you’re getting the only benefit out of it. I’d rather sleep in a sauna and have you hold me to keep me from overheating, than sleep in an icebox and die of hypothermia. It works out for both of us this way.”
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