Labor Security had not been as tender with the barracks as with Efram’s study. In the common room, the wooden sofas were upended, their cushions ripped open and their straw padding scattered about. The hearth rug was tossed in the corner; the quilt that hung over the entrance to the women’s racks was torn down. The dishes from the shelves over the tea kit scattered across the floor. Many of these were tin, but those that weren’t were smashed.
“Shit,” Martin said, from the mudroom doorway.
Polly wielded a broom among the broken crockery. “Why aren’t you in the infirmary?”
He swiped at his nose, still leaking blood. “I ain’t hurt. Where’s Dallas?”
“At the infirmary. Where you’re going. Get, Martin.”
Martin hated Everett, and he was wary of Republic physicians in general – he had never been certain what would happen if they discovered he was upgraded.
Liko appeared at the mouth of the men’s quarters. “What did Efram want?”
Despite how much his bruises stung, Martin felt a flush of pleasure at the sight of Liko. “Nothing. To give me shit. She thinks we should stop pulling jobs. Thinks we’ll have a more peaceful Revolution that way.”
“We shouldn’t have pulled that one last night,” Polly said. “She’s right on that. Here,” she directed Martin, nudging the pile of filth and broken dishes.
Collecting the litter bin, Martin hunkered down to hold it while she swept. Liko, shaking out the quilt, showed it to Polly.
“That can be mended,” Polly said. “Leave it on the table. Don’t you look pretty,” she added to Dallas, who had come in through the garden door, a white sticky bandage bright against the dark skin of his forehead. “How’s Delia?”
“Everett’s gone keep her. You’re going over?” Dallas said this last to Martin.
“Did I buy a nanny when I ain’t looking?” Martin asked Liko, who refused to be amused.
“Bittner says they uprooted half the greenhouse,” Polly said, sweeping up ash from the over-turned bin by the fireplace.
“Right, she’s put the kids to repotting.” Dallas went to help Liko with the sofas. “What did Efram want?”
“Martin spun us a tale about us cutting down on jobs,” Polly said, “which I absolutely bought, because I’m fresh from the fields yesterday. But I think Liko’s more dubious.”
“Me?” Liko said. “Not believe something out of Martin’s mouth?”
“Oh, fuck up, the pair of you,” Martin said. His nose was still seeping blood. Scrubbing at it with his sleeve, he went over to the tea kit and grimaced. One of the Redbacks had pissed in the sink. Turning on the water, he rinsed it, using a fork to lift the drain plug gingerly. “She did go on about the jobs,” he said, before adding the part about the Pirians.
Liko, who had been collecting kindling and returning it to the woodbox, stopped about halfway through this narrative. Now he said, “Who weaseled?”
Martin shrugged. The sink was rinsed out. Nevertheless, he was fastidious in washing his face.
“If we have a worm in the network,” Liko hesitated, looking at Dallas.
All the tea towels were on the floor, tromped by Security. Martin dried off with the front of his shirt. “Harper probably has six weasels in our network,” he said. “If it’s an organization anywhere on this fucking planet Harper ain’t own six-tenths of, I’m be a mighty shitting surprised chip to discover it.”
Liko and Dallas traded looks again. Martin pretended to ignore this. His head began to ache fiercely. He turned on the water and rinsed his face again.
The visit to the infirmary was useless. Though at least Martin hadn’t had to worry about Everett discovering the nanotropes – he used a field doctor, with basic functions. It would never pick up anything so exotic as the ’tropes.
“Minor bruising,” Everett said, entering data in his desk. He hadn’t looked at Martin, not even while strapping the doctor on his wrist. “I’m not dispensing pain patches. Don’t ask.”
“Lord Efram said you should,” Martin said, sliding his glance toward Liko. It had been the price of his coming to the infirmary – Liko had to come with.
“Oh, I’m sure,” Everett said.
“She said I should tell you so. Opix and anti-anxiety patches. Two sheets each.”
“Lord Efram thinks she is physician here now?”
Martin made his eyes wide. “I don’t know, sir. Do you want to sync her? I’m sure she’s still awake.”
After a moment, Everett bent to his desk, banging in data. Martin heard Liko take a breath. But when they left, Martin had a sheet of Opix, and two of anti-anxiety patches. Also two sheets of immuno-boosters, which though he didn’t need, someone would. He slipped them in his medkit with the rest. “What?” he asked Liko.
“I ain’t say a word.”
“Right, I heard you.” They were on the narrow path between the pumphouse and the greenhouse. Martin caught Liko and nudged him backwards.
“Stop,” Liko said, not resisting. “It’s too cold.”
Martin pinned him to the wall, macking at his throat. Liko was warm in the icy night. He had an erection, which swelled as Martin leaned into him. After a moment, his hands burrowed into Martin’s trousers. “Too cold,” he murmured in Martin’s ear.
Martin worked at his belt buckle.
Liko shoved at him. “Let’s go in the greenhouse.”
It wasn’t much warmer in there, though Dallas and Bittner had covered the broken panes and relit the furnace; but at least it was no snow. They made their way past the young trees in their barrels, the rows of vegetables, the tanks of fish, to the back where bags of mulch were stacked among worktables. Martin hoisted Liko up to a worktable and yanked off his jacket. Liko was grinning, his dark eyes glinting in the dusk. “Come here,” he said.
Martin did, sliding between his knees. “You’re so,” he said into his ear.
“What?” Liko murmured, kissing his shoulder. Martin’s back arched. “What am I?”
“Hot,” Martin said, and Liko laughed again.
After, they lay on the worktable, wrapped together under a blanket stored on top of the mulch for just this purpose. “What if he asks Efram?” Liko asked drowsily.
“He won’t,” Martin said, petting Liko’s hair. He loved Liko’s hair, dark brown, black, and red, like really good wholemeal bread. Right now it was slightly too long.
Liko turned in his arms. “If he does.”
“If he does, Keiko will back me.”
“You take too many chances. And for what? You could have done without the patches.”
“Easy for you to say,” Martin said, before he could stop himself. Liko shot him a look, and then turned on his back, pulling away. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Martin started to explain, and then just repressed a sigh and turned to his own back. The bruises Labor Security had left on him hurt, but not that badly, Liko was right. He rubbed his wrist against his eyes, trying to think how long it had been since he had slept a night through.
“You shouldn’t call her Keiko, either.”
“Oh, fuck biscuits.”
Liko pushed to his elbow. His dark eyes were fierce. “You’re brave as shit behind her back, Martin.”
Martin glared at him. Then he got off the table and found his trousers on the floor.
Liko got to his feet too. “And with me,” he said, grabbing up his own trousers.
“In shit does that mean?” Martin demanded, buckling his belt.
“When did you plan to tell me about Liam?” Liko swiped his hair from his eyes, and in the same gesture shoved his forefinger against the bruise on Martin’s throat. “Or this?”
Martin backed out of range, scowling.
Liko’s color was high, his eyes dark. “How close did you come? When did you plan to tell me that?”
“Right.” Stepping close, Liko yanked the Opix patches from Martin’s belly. “Just how high were you when you nearly got yourself killed on the job last night?”
“I wasn’t,” Martin said. “I ain’t.”
Liko’s mouth shut hard. He stared straight at Martin, his dark eyes steady.
Martin turned away, grabbing his thermal shirt off the table. He wasn’t high. A couple hits of rum wasn’t high, and what did Liko know about any this anyway? He yanked on the shirt. “You don’t know anything about this. Liko. All right? You write fucking posts and you write fucking songs. No one shoots at you, and no one punches you in the head, and you’ve never gotten the stick in your life. So get off my neck.”
Behind him, Liko said nothing.
Martin could feel his heart hammering. He wet his lips. “I’m sorry.”
Liko put his undershirt on.
“No,” Martin turned, reaching for him. Liko stepped out of range and kept dressing. Martin folded his arms. His bare feet ached from the cold dirt floor. He tried to think of something he could say. Liko pulled on his thermal shirt. “I didn’t mean it,” Martin said. “You know I ain’t.”
“Do you think I don’t know what you think of me?”
Martin reached for him again. Liko moved away, sitting on the table to pull on his boots. As soon as he had them laced, he left.
Martin took his medkit from his trousers and put two fresh Opix patches on, along with an anti-anxiety patch. Then he went to see if the Redbacks had found their stash of smoke – smoke was technically off-market, but it wasn’t anything anyone generally got put in the system for. The ’Backs had missed it, this time through, so he helped himself to a half-block and fashioned a stub, the least pleasant way to do smoke – stubs burned fast, and tended to scorch fingers and lungs both. But when you didn’t have a satsi or were too impatient to brew tea, stubs were better than nothing. He took it outside the greenhouse, because both Dallas and Bittner got bent when you smoked inside.
When he returned to their rack, Liko was there, getting undressed.
“I’m sorry,” Martin said. “Love?”
Liko sent him a dark look. But it wasn’t really anger, and Martin, relieved, crossed the small space between the bunks – their two bunks on one side of the tiny room, Dallas’s bunk on the other – to wrap his arms around Liko’s narrow hips from behind. “Stop being mad at me. I can’t stand it.”
Liko slammed an elbow back into him.
“Oof.” Martin hugged tighter. “You’re so mean. Why do I love you so much?”
“Why do I love you?” Liko said. “That’s the question.” Martin nuzzled his hair. Liko turned to wrap arms around him. “I hate being mad at you,” he said, muffled.
“You feel so good.”
“As touching as this is,” Dallas said from the doorway, “some of us would like to sleep.”
“Some of you are jealous,” Martin said, and licked Liko’s ear.
“Sow,” Dallas said, dropping onto his bunk.
“Come have a scrub with me,” Martin said, nuzzling Liko.
“I’m plenty clean,” Liko said. “Not like some.”
“Well, come talk to me while I get clean.”
“Oh, doesn’t that sound like a treat.” But Liko hooked an arm around his neck and went with him to the showers.