Daren’s hands clench white as he watches the dogfight taking place in the airspace above the military base. The tall windows of his office offer a prime view of the base’s landing strip and the incoming medical transport under fire from enemy aircraft. Despite the planes launched to repel the attack and guide the transport to a safe landing, the sluggish medic aircraft is clearly in trouble; dark smoke pours from one engine and its angle of approach is far too steep
“Colonel, med crews are ready to deploy when necessary,”
Daren doesn’t bother turning from the windows to acknowledge this report, only nods and continues to watch the battle taking place in his skies. When the door clicks shut, he slowly uncurls his shaking hands.
“Col St. Anthony, may I have the pleasure of introducing you to our newest Chief Flight Surgeon?” Daren held back a sigh and prepared for his tenth introduction that night. This was why he avoided military social functions; he could barely stand talking to any of these people on base, let alone after hours. Managing something that approximated a smile closely enough, considering his rank, he turned to face the speaker and their guest. “Of course.”
“Col St. Anthony, this is Dr. Rosenquist. Dr. Rosenquist, this is our esteemed Colonel.”
“St. Anthony?” The doctor held out his hand, and while Daren shook it he waited for the inevitable comment about the battle that made him a household name. Instead, though, Dr. Rosenquist only grinned and said, “I have heard you’re vicious at chess. Perhaps I could bother you for a game some day?” The comment finally snagged Daren’s attention and for the first time he actually looked at the man who gripped his hand with firm confidence. There was a curious shrewdness and humor to the gray-blue eyes staring back at him, and despite his reticence he found himself answering, “Yes, please do.”
Tanim bites back another curse as the plane rocks and swings to one side, sending half the supplies in his kit out of arms’ reach. He can hear the yelling of the pilots and the terrified questions from the rest of his team, but he has no time to glance out a window to see if they’re all doomed or not. His entire attention must remain focused on the patient in front of him and the frustratingly delicate, life-saving surgery that could not wait until landing. For anyone else the lack of steady ground would be enough to stop them from even attempting such a risky procedure, but Tanim remains determined to work until either his patient stabilizes or the plane explodes. Considering how the bloody floor beneath his knees drops and shudders, tilts and sways, Tanim can’t honestly say which might happen first.
“Thank god,” Tanim lets out a long-held breath as his patient’s bleeding finally decreases to a manageable trickle. As he ties off the last suture, the surgeon spares a brief second to glance up and through the cockpit window, where the airstrip rushes up to meet their plummeting plane. He has only enough time to feel a thrill of fear before the two collide.
“Hello, Doctor,” Daren shut the office door behind Tanim and slid home the lock. “You weren’t followed?”
“No, the building’s dead this time of night,” Tanim shrugged out of his coat, tossing it casually over the back of a chair, and came up behind Daren. He slid one arm around the man’s waist, the other over his chest, and held him close. “Hello, sir,” he murmured, pressing his lips to his lover’s neck to feel the heartbeat quickening under Daren’s skin. “Shall we play a round or two, then?”
“I would like that very much,” Daren turned in Tanim’s arms and pulled his head down for a hard, hungry kiss. After this they did not speak at all, lost in the need for mouth against mouth, skin against skin, to forget for a time their location and the illicit nature of their relationship. These clandestine meetings were not even barely enough for either of them, but all they could steal and so they made do. It was something, at least.
Tanim’s first instinct upon regaining consciousness is to locate and identify the pain, but every part of him seems to pulse with the same excruciating agony that scrambles his bleary thoughts. Giving up on any sort of diagnosis, he focuses instead on lifting his heavy eyelids. Even this is a feat, though one he accomplishes after what feels like an eternity. He can’t seem to move his head yet, though, and all he can see is a white ceiling and a dark blur at his side. When the blur moves, he just manages to make out the uniform. He tries to clear his throat but fails and instead quietly croaks, “Daren?”
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” The blur shifts and suddenly Daren comes into focus, his mouth a thin smile that does nothing to hide the worry casting shadows under his eyes. He reaches out and carefully brushes a lock of hair off Tanim’s forehead, then returns to holding Tanim’s hand. “Thought maybe we’d lost you for good.”
“Me too,” Tanim glances around, trying both to avoid the uncharacteristic concern in Daren’s eyes and to hide the pain he knows is obvious in his. “This isn’t the base ICU,” he realizes. “Where am I?”
“I had you moved to a room closer to my quarters. More privacy here,” Daren’s reply sounds careless, even distracted, but Tanim knows him too well. There is something he doesn’t want to say, something that would explain the different pains starting to define themselves; the pain of broken bones, of burned and lacerated skin, struggling lungs and a concussed brain, and beneath it all a deep, endless ache the doctor fears to identify. Instead, he takes a labored breath and asks, “How bad is it?” When Daren turns his face away, mouth set in a grim line, Tanim has his answer.
For a moment neither speaks, letting the room’s machinery fill the grim silence between them. Finally, Daren picks up something from the table next to them and holds it up for Tanim to see: a chess piece. He manages the ghost of a smile. “Want to play a round?”