Ben is a Tyme story, written by Terri Pray
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Photoshop. Due to the tie in the Starfire, the art for this story resuses aspects of the Starfire cover.
This story takes place after the events in Starfire now on sale.
Ben leaned against the door, his gaze fixed on the pair as they fought, dancing their way back and forth across the mats. He should have hated the woman in the pair, despised her for distracting the man, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that. Not after everything they had done together, the risks taken and the secret she kept. Odd, the biggest living road block in his life between himself and the man he loved, and yet she was the one person on the ship who knew the truth about him.
“You’re slowing down,” Mara taunted her opponent. “Have to improve, lover. Might get tired of sharing my bed with an old man.”
“Old am I?” Fenris growled, shifting his weight as they turned, facing each other from opposite sides of the thick, blue mats. “Maybe this old man will tan that sweet ass of yours and show you how an old man is capable of bringing you to heel.”
Mara laughed, the sound bright and bold. “Oh, you think so?”
A band tightened around Ben’s heart but he couldn’t look away, didn’t want to look away. The chemistry between the pair was undeniable and even if Fenris had known the truth, his interest wouldn’t have turned away from Mara. He knew that and yet here he was, tormenting himself as he had done time and again since Mara had joined the crew. His gaze narrowed on the couple, barely taking in the mats and the walls that made up the gym. He knew about the equipment that remained hidden, for now, behind the walls and within the storage units around the room. That didn’t matter to him, no more than the handful of other men and women who had been in the gym when Fenris had arrived, but had now left.
Few felt comfortable watching the combat that took place between the couple on a regular basis. Intimidation, power, the sexual element that bound them, it combined into a heady, erotic scent that no one could deny.
No matter how hard they might try - and Gods alone knew he had tried.
Ben closed his eyes, shutting it out for a moment, knowing he would watch the fight until the end, as he had done so many times before. They never made him feel uncomfortable about it, never taunted him, in fact Mara welcomed him into their lives - and that hurt as much as it healed.
Leave or say something.
No, that would be giving up.
There’s nothing to hope for here, beyond friendship which I already have.
Yet he didn’t move, couldn’t bring himself to step away from the display taking places in the gym.
“You keep doing this to yourself,” a soft female voice broke through his thoughts. “Keep hurting yourself by watching them.
“Yes,” he admitted and didn’t turn away from the scene. He didn’t need to in order to know who it was that had spoken to him. The soft, almost erotic tones of her voice, gave her away. “Something you wanted, Lynda? Or perhaps you’re waiting for your own partner and turn on the mats?” Cruel, why torment the woman - what has she done to deserve that? Nothing, his new companion had never been anything more than polite as far as he was concerned, which only added to the small wave of guilt that he pushed back down, burying it deep within.
“Just curious why you do this to yourself.” Lynda, tall, elegant, with mocha colored skin and a shock of electric blue hair, moved into line of sight. If his words had caused her any pain, she didn’t let it show. “It has to hurt, I mean - we all know that you’re in love with the Captain.”
Yes, of course they all knew, he’d never hidden that, played on it in fact, it was a part of who he was. “Love, sweetling? Ah no, my sweet Captain is but an interesting distraction to me. I mean, what’s not to love about that tightly curved ass and strong thighs?” Ben flashed a smile and adjusting the layers of shimmering silk that made up his tunic style top. “A few hours, well - perhaps days - with my sweet Captain would be enough for me.” Liar.
“Keep telling yourself that, Ben. Perhaps you’ll eventually fall for the lies.” Lynda sighed and looked at the two who continued to fight, their laughter filling the gym. “They are well suited. The way they move, work together, it’s something to be seen, no doubt about that.”
“No arguments from me,” Ben admitted and forced himself to look away from the combat. Both Mara and Fenris were well trained. Power, strength, ability, agility and speed. He doubted anyone could take the couple in hand to hand. “She’s good for him and she’s made this place her home.” Just as he had, the ship and its crew. Ian, Fenris, Mara, Lynda and so many others. They were his family and would be for years to come as long as he didn’t turn his back on them. Not something that’s likely to happen. “Well now, lovely one, what brings you down here?” He let his gaze move over the woman, the tension in her body, the way she watched the fight but it wasn’t Fenris who drew Lynda’s attention, but Mara. A kindred spirit, in love or at least in lust with a woman she cannot have.
Damn, why hadn’t he picked up on this before? Had she been to the gym to watch the sparing sessions, or had she kept her observations strictly focused on Mara until recently?
“Off duty and we all know about the daily sparring sessions they engage in. Thought it might be wise to learn from them when I had the chance.”
A small lie and not one he’d call her on just yet. The Gods alone knew he understood what it was like to want someone he couldn’t have. Did Mara know? She was an intelligent woman, and if Lynda had watched Mara before today, with the same naked hunger with which she watched her now, then the assassin knew.
Mara side stepped an attempted tackle, laughing as she did so. “Slowing down!”
“Like hell I am!” Fenris growled and tried to take her down again. “Slippery wench!”
“Thought you liked me that way.”
Wicked sensual laughter filled the gym.
“Things are about to become interesting,” Ben purred, the temptation to stand and watch, to see how far they would take it, tugged at him. They had always chased him out before now, or retired to their own quarters. One day that might change, but only if the door was locked with restricted access to the key that would unlock the doors once more.
Lynda looked away, pain and desire written across her beautiful features. “I shouldn’t be here.”
“Neither of us should be, sweetling,” Ben admitted with a shrug before he slipped an arm into Lynda’s and turned them both away. It was one thing to deal with his own pain, but another to deal with Lynda’s. His shields were too weak for that and he didn’t have the patience to rebuild them. Like the woman, he knew it was a mistake to be here. “Let us leave them to their play. Knowing the Captain things are about to become sticky and - well - sweaty. And I’ve no desire to start calling out scores, he might take it personally, the silly boy that he is.” Ben faked a yawn and led the woman away, out of the gym, closing it behind them. It wouldn’t matter where Fenris and Mara finished their game, Ben would know about it. That link he had formed with Mara would always be present. They were both strong, gifted with powers few if any would understand. Not even Fenris would ever truly know the power that rippled through Mara’s body, the abilities that she laid claim to or what she’d already done with them before joining the crew.
He knew and that knowledge frightened him.
There were few Psi’s more powerful than the woman who had become the captain’s mate, a handful of them at best across the known universe, and he was thankful that he had never run into them.
“That she is, but his stubbornness is a match for hers.” He flipped his hair, running fingers through it and added an extra touch of sass to his walk. “He pushes, she pushes back, there’s some spanking, a little tussle and it all works out.” A spanking, oh it would be far more than that if Mara pushed too far with him. Odd, considering that the he was well aware that Mara had enough power at her fingertips to kill Fenris with a thought. Alright, not quite a thought but close to it. Only the fact that she loved the captain prevented Mara from taking action against him.
Submissive to him and him alone, anyone else who tried to push would find themselves dead - and that’s if they were lucky.
Lynda shuddered, moving with Ben away from the gym, at least he wouldn’t be able to hear their cries. Only feel the echo of their pleasure as it vibrated through their link. He couldn’t shut it down, wouldn’t shut it down, not when it was the only true link he had with Fenris - albeit through Mara. He’d take what he could get and be thankful for it, pain and all.
The first full wave of heat, shared passion, desire and huger surged into him. He tensed, covering the moment with a soft giggle as he played with his tunic style top, touching the lengths of silken material that decorated his chosen clothing. Breathe, he had to breathe through it, he’d learned that the hard way. It would be worse before their play was over and he struggled to build a small buffer between himself and Mara.
Cut it, be done with it, only a masochist would go through this time and again. Do the sane thing and be done with it.
No, he couldn’t, wouldn’t. That link with Mara was all he had, it granted him access to Fenris, filtered access, but it was there nevertheless. He wanted it, needed it, as deeply as he wanted the touch that he would never be given. Under no circumstances would Fenris ever look at him. He had no issue with Ben’s desires, they just weren’t a part of his own interests, but at least he didn’t pity Ben. No, he welcomed him as a part of the crew, protected him, and since the revelation of Mara’s abilities, he had made sure that the two Psi’s had time together in order to work, strengthen their abilities and continue to protect the crew.
The excuses were just that, excuses. He could break the link and continue to work with Mara. It wouldn’t prevent them from defending the crew and yet he refused to let it go, to break the bond and turn his back on the emotional connection.
Did Mara know of the link?
Yes, she knows. Understanding warmed him, a faint touch of her knowledge as Mara surrendered to the touch of her love, her husband and the man who would - in time - become her bonded mate. Once those final bonds were formed, there would be nothing save death that would ever be able to separate them. Even then, if you believed in such things, the bond would carry on beyond death.
What would it be like to have someone like that in his life. A soul linked with his to the point where he would know when his partner breathed, dreamed and hoped? He shook off the thought, no matter what he felt that wasn’t going to be a part of his life. He’d have to be willing to open up, to let someone in, past the walls, the protections he’d built over the years. With his life, the way he had been forced to live - chosen to live - that wasn’t an option.
He would always be alone, no matter what he might want. Fenris was with Mara. It was time to close the door on that dream.
“It hurts,” Lynda murmured. “Damn them both, it hurts.”
“Yes, sweet one, it always does.” Ben walked through the ship, nodding a greeting here and there to those they passed, pausing only for a short moment to exchange greetings on occasion. Something flared in Lynda only to die and hide once more. Nothing he could easily identify, not without probing deep, but there was something. He controlled his urge to delve into the woman, to push and explore. This wasn’t his focus right now and this wasn’t the time or place to investigate. Only when they finally reached his quarters and were safe, away from the prying eyes of the rest of the crew, did he let his shoulders slump. “Ah, the pain of love, the desire that goes unfulfilled, there is nothing like it and if I were a kinder soul I would lie and tell you it eases in time, but I find I lack the ability to frame the lie this time.”
Lynda turned, her gaze narrowing, jaw tight as she looked at him. “You’ve loved him for a long time, haven’t you?”
“That I have,” Ben smiled though he knew it to be a weak one. “How could I not?” Fenris MacTire, Captain of the Lair and a man who led his crew both from example and the front when time and situation called for it, was a man in a million. “You’ve been a part of the crew for some time now, haven’t you?” He waved his hand to silence her, continuing on, his voice low, lacking the soft humor that he normally used in and around the other members of the crew. “You joined after Mara, after they - they fell in love and she became a full time member of the crew, so you knew it was already too late to do anything, to try to become something more than a member of the crew and a friend, at least as far as Mara was concerned.” Love, yes that was something he could admit had bound the pair. Strong, delicious, erotic, and undeniable - the emotions that bound the pair continued to ripple through their shared link and it wrapped around his heart, in cold, scalding chains.
Lynda swallowed, a shift in color across her cheeks just enough to confirm his thoughts.
“Yet it hasn’t stopped how you feel, no more than I can stop myself from caring for, being attracted to and yes, even in love with our Captain.” He rubbed the back of his neck and walked over to the small table and chair set up in the far side of his room. “He knows, of course, but not all of it. Mara knows more, but we’re both high level Psi users. We share far more than I am comfortable with, yet we’re able to be friends, able to talk about matters beyond the ship.”
“She… she doesn’t have an issue with how you feel?”
“Mara? No, she’s many things, but she’s not the jealous type. At least not about that.” He shrugged and sat down, waving his hand at one of the other chairs. “Sit, sweet one, and let us talk. Perhaps sharing pain will make it easier, though I’ll offer no promises on that.” He could ease it, if he put his mind to it. A touch or more of his gifts and Lynda’s pain would be muffled, but to do so without permission went against everything he believed in.
“Psi - I knew you were both… but why does that connect you?” She settled into the offered chair, leaning back, her legs stretched out in front of her, crossed at the ankles.
She was an attractive woman, one that would - if she looked away from Mara, attract attention from other sources. “We’ve worked together on more than one occasion.”
“Well, of course you have. You’re on the same ship.” Lynda pursed her lips in thought. “Oh, you mean something.. The Psi working together thing? I wasn’t sure how that worked.”
Thing… he smiled but didn’t feel it. Joy was such a fleeting things. “Yes, that.” The touch of Mara’s abilities, the power of them, her skill, it had been intoxicating, tempting him to let down the walls. Nothing sexual between them, not entirely, beyond the pull that high power Psi’s might feel between them. “There was a woman who fell in love with the Captain. Not the love that he shares with Mara, but the nasty, angry, jealous love. A dark thing that couldn’t be used for good, but she refused to turn away from him. She had Psi abilities as well but used them to tag the Lair.” The energy that it had taken to strip the tags, he shuddered at the memory. That hadn’t been easy to recover from, his body had ached, his head throbbed, and he’d spent time in medical in order to recover, much to the distaste of the doctor. In that time, the link that had formed had cemented something between them, and even now he felt the link that bound them.
“You like her?” Lynda spoke through clenched teeth.
He tipped his head, letting a sing song quality enter his voice. “Ah, sweetling - she’s not my type. Oh, we talk from time to time, it helps to keep the sweet Captain on his toes, but she has no interest in me in that respect, so re sheathe those claws.”
“Claws…oh…” she looked down at her hands and then folded them in her lap. “Sorry. I thought, maybe, you were drawn to her as well. I’m not sure that would - well, it’s non of my business. I mean, we’re not… and never will be… she’s the Captain’s woman.”
“Jealousy is often a vicious beast, unable and unwilling to be restrained. Yet with care it can be channeled, turned into something else.” He flipped his hair and lifted his legs, resting them onto the edge of the table, crossing them at the ankle. “Something you’ll need to learn, darling before it causes problems for you.” Problems, oh her temper would do far more than that if Lynda wasn’t careful. He’d walked that path himself and had sworn never again. His secret, his past, only one knew enough of it to begin to put the pieces together and she would never betray that trust.
“As if you’ve got your jealousy under control!” Lynda snapped and pushed up from the chair. “It’s not that easy! I’ve tried, the gods alone know I’ve tried, but every time I see her… it’s one thing to accept that she’s with the Captain but when others look at her, admire her, I want… need…gods.” She flopped back down into her chair and covered her eyes. “I should leave, get out of here, find another ship to join. Being here, around her, it’s just…”
“Leaving won’t solve anything and you’ll spend the rest of your life running away from one person, situation, or another.” Ben watched her through lidded eyes. It wasn’t easy, he would be the first to admit that, yet running wasn’t the answer. “If you can’t be her lover, be her friend. Mara has few enough of those, most on the ship are wary of her.” Just as they were of him, but he’d accepted and adapted to that.
“Her friend, that’s your answer - a friend?” Lynda growled, hands clenching into fists as she glared at him.
“It’s the only option I can offer you right now, and in truth it’s worked for me for a time.” Ben shrugged, keeping his tone light. “This is how it works. We walk along side of them, work with them, be there when they need help, but we can’t do anything more than offer a hand, a shoulder, an ear, but we can’t be more than that unless they come to us.” He sighed, dropping the flighty tone, the play of fingers through his hair and the twirling of material. “Sweetling, this is how the world works, not just our world but all worlds. We need to accept it and move on, find someone who wants us for ourselves, not just because we want them.” Wise words, sound words, they even made him feel a little better for the nano second that he bought into it.
“I can’t do this.”
He frowned, knowing that feeling all too well. “Can’t or won’t?” Would it help if he told her the truth? He frowned at the thought and then shook his head. No, the truth wouldn’t change things here. His life, the path he’d chosen worked for him, but only worked because it was kept hidden. He could strip away the lies, the cover he used, but then what? He’d still be in love with Fenris and the captain would remain Mara’s until death parted them.
“I don’t know how you manage it, not with everything that you’ve seen. The pain of it all, the way she tempts him, moves with him, he’ll never see you as anything more than a member of the crew.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but if I ever leave the ship it will be because I want to leave it, not because it became too hard for me out here.” Too hard, that was a thought he’d faced time and again only to defeat it. When it happened again, and he had no doubt it would, he would face it head on. “I’m not saying that staying is easy, nor that it will become easier as time progresses, but what will running away gain you?”
“Freedom. Peace. A world where I don’t have to see her in his arms.”
He couldn’t argue against any of that, nor would he insult either of them by attempting it. “Fair enough.”
Silence settled over them and Lynda closed her eyes, her breath ragged, fingers trembling despite being clasped together. Power flickered and with it an understanding of what the woman was. A potential that even now added pressure to the young woman’s situation. Gods, it would be so easy to reach out to her and explain but she wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t be able to hear the words right now. She was too caught up in her own emotions to be able to cope with what the news would do to her.
Stay or leave, the choice was hers and hers alone. At the end of the day, just because he could walk the path it didn’t mean that other people could do the same thing… and whatever Lynda chose, he would support her and then he’d paint on his smile, his walk and return to normal, hiding his own pain, his desires and the soul deep love he felt for a man who would never turn to him as anything more than a friend.
He closed his eyes, reaching out through the ship, letting his mind touch each one of the ship’s crew in turn. Life, energy, love, hate, emotions and power rolled through him as he let his mental hand stroke and check in on those he worked with, those whom he would protect. The doctor and his staff, the warriors and technicians, men, women, those who claimed both genders or neither, they were all here, all a part of the world that he had claimed as his home, his family, his safety until he finally forced himself to reach out and touch Fenris and Mara.
Love, passion, caring, the need to fight and defend, to protect their home, their crew, it merged into one brilliant light that he held within his mental hands. Mara’s part of the light flashed a warning only to soften as she realized who it was. Not a threat but something else.
A friend who would give all, even his last breath, to protect the ship and its crew, just as he now had to. Lynda… she needed help and if she left the ship then that help had to come from somewhere else, before the energy, the power that bubbled beneath poorly erected shields, exploded…
TBC next week.