Tiptoe to your room
A starlight in the gloom
I only dream of you
My beautiful

- "Sing For Absolution," Muse

Chapter 7: A Starlight in the Gloom

Zerachiel said without thinking, "Do you want me to play again? I know more songs than that."

He didn't know why. He should have either turned away and left or else inquired as to why Commander Langley was awake at this infernal hour. But the stars surrounded him on all sides and the music still flowed in his head and the piano's keys gleamed beneath him, bright and white and begging him to stay.

"If you...if you want to." Langley stepped closer. "I'd love to hear some more."

The joy in Langley's voice made Zerachiel feel so much lighter. He'd never heard anything like it before.

So he kept playing. He started with a piece that had survived from Old Earth, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, then moved on to a few arias from the famed Chesbenning opera The Lost Love of Lady Lettoar. Finally a piece of his own invention, the only song he'd ever composed. He had never liked it, thought it sounded too similar to Uriah's song. But he played it anyway. For Commander Frank Langley.

Langley applauded after every song, just like Uriah once had. Except Langley's approval was different—more naive and undiscerning, of course, because he wasn't the one teaching Zerachiel. He was enjoying it in a simple, thoughtless way, and somehow Zerachiel found that appealing.

Everything vanished. He almost thought he was floating through the stars, alone except for the piano.

But he couldn't help noticing the time ticking slowly away in the corner of his vision. So when he finished the song and the clock announced that it was now 0405 hours, Zerachiel unfurled from the seat. A twinge of reluctance ran through him, but, well, all good things had to end.

He turned to face Commander Langley.

"That's it?" Langley said with a lopsided smile, though he didn't look disappointed. "Aww, I'd love to hear more."

"Some other time, perhaps," Zerachiel said stiffly, already stalking away. He froze in surprise, though, when a sudden pressure closed around his upper arm. Langley's hand.

Langley was touching him. For the first time. His grip was powerful, his hand so warm. Zerachiel could feel it through the thin material of his lounge robe; he fought the urge to pull away.

"Hold on a minute, will you?" Langley's voice was soft, kind. Zerachiel made himself look Langley in the eye—it wasn't as if he had much choice.

"What is the matter, sir?" he asked politely.

"I just..." Langley sucked in a deep breath. Zerachiel noticed the dark circles under his eyes, and wondered if his own eyes looked the same. "I was...I've been thinking a lot, you see. And I know it probably doesn't mean anything, but I—I want to apologize for what I said to you back in the infirmary." He smiled. "I overstepped my boundaries. I shouldn't have worried so much. Because you were right, you know—you are a soldier. I can't forget that."

Am I dreaming? Zerachiel thought, head swimming. He must be. He was just a puppet. No person would ever admit to wronging him.

For a moment, Langley's grip tightened, then he released Zerachiel's arm. Zerachiel stumbled back, unbalanced, but caught himself in time and stood as stiffly as possible. He didn't want to admit that he missed the warm strength of Langley's grip.

"Commander," he said. "I was you have a family?"

He told himself that it wasn't a random, unprompted question—that indeed, this was part of his strategy to unsettle Commander Langley as much as possible. Why not? He'd already resolved to do it.

"Huh?" Langley blinked. For a moment, Zerachiel feared that he had angered the commander, but then the smile returned to Langley's face. This time, it held a downward tilt, though. A kind of sadness.

" Or I did. My wife divorced me almost fifteen years ago, after...after my son died." His voice thickened. "He'd be...eighteen now."

"I see." Zerachiel's head rang. He'd had no idea that kind of loss dwelled inside his idiotically happy commander. Maybe... He stumbled a few steps back, bumping into the edge of the piano. He thought of Dr. Singh, Dr. Singh's misery about not even knowing his own child, Dr. Singh's decision to choose banishment for his family's sake.

It was all so complicated. And he was just a puppet. Alone.

Where the hell did these self-pitying thoughts come from? They frightened him, but he couldn't stop them.

"Yeah..." Langley turned his head to the side. "Haven't thought about them in a while, really."

"I'm sorry," Zerachiel managed to say. His mouth was dry, and the words sounded dull, inadequate. Especially compared to the piano music that had filled the atrium not too long ago.

"Don't be," Langley said. "No, really. It's fine now. And besides, it's not like I'm alone. Everybody here on Emma is my family. Including Prakash. Including those annoying Mytakkians. And...including you."

Including you. The words lanced through Zerachiel's body, slicing him like knives. So sharp. So deadly. Did Langley know—did he have any idea of the power of what he was saying?

Of course not. Because he was an idiot. Zerachiel clenched his teeth and stepped forward, closer to Langley. To Langley's warmth, Langley's musk.

"Huh? What is it, Lieutenant?" Langley said, still smiling, though his eyes widened with confusion.

Zerachiel grabbed the front of Langley's shirt, stood on his tiptoes, and pressed his mouth to the commander's.

Langley stiffened and gasped, but Zerachiel pressed more insistently, prodding between Langley's lips with his tongue. Was Langley going to push him away? Didn't matter. Whatever the commander's reaction, this would be entertaining.

But then, to his surprise, a firm hand clamped over the small of his back—and another hand gripped a fistful of his hair and pulled him forward, deeper into the kiss. Zerachiel gasped as Langley's tongue pushed into his mouth, past his own tongue, rubbing obscenely over his teeth and palate. For a moment he wanted to gag on the intrusion, but then he remembered what he was supposed to do and he gripped Langley tighter and returned the kiss, massaging Langley's tongue with his own.

Langley tilted him down so quickly that Zerachiel's head spun, and he could barely think through the haze of Langley's heat, Langley's presence, Langley's taste. Langley was still kissing him, but slowly he withdrew his tongue until he had almost entirely pulled out sucked at Zerachiel's lips. Even that sensation sent shivers through Zerachiel's body. Damn, Langley was good at this.

Zerachiel's rear bumped against a hard surface—the piano bench. Langley sat him down upon it, but didn't let go, and attacked Zerachiel's mouth again. Zerachiel let himself moan. He hadn't done it like this for a very, very long time.

They continued exchanging kisses, Langley gripping him so tight Zerachiel thought he'd leave permanent impressions of his hands on Zerachiel's skin. But Zerachiel wouldn't give up all his control, wouldn't surrender. This, too, was a kind of game.

The hand on Zerachiel's back slipped lower, while the hand in his hair tightened, almost painfully. And Langley's hand slipped beneath the thin material of his robe and grabbed his thigh; Zerachiel gasped when he felt Langley's warm, callused fingers on his bare skin. Langley's grip tightened and he lifted Zerachiel's leg, hand stroking and fondling obscenely.

"C-Commander—" Zerachiel gasped.

"Frank," Langley murmured, drawing out of their latest kiss. "That's my name."

Zerachiel let his eyes fall half shut, lashes fluttering. "Frank."

Langley kissed the underside of his jaw, then left a trail of kisses down the bare skin of Zerachiel's neck. Dimly, Zerachiel realized that his robe was sliding off his shoulders, leaving them exposed. Langley eagerly attacked them next.

"So beautiful, dammit, why are you so beautiful," Langley growled between kisses and bites. "Why—"

"Can I help it?" Zerachiel breathed, tossing his head back.

Langley laughed—the soft sound rippled over Zerachiel's skin, tickling. Then he ducked down, kneeling between Zerachiel's spread legs. Zerachiel stared at him in bleary confusion, but gasped when Langley reached under his robe and delivered his budding erection a firm squeeze.

"Ah! Comman—Frank!"

It did feel good, dammit. And he hadn't realized how hard he'd gotten. Langley looked up at him, grinning impishly.

"So puppets can get hard, huh?" Another squeeze. A burning knife stabbed Zerachiel's stomach and he writhed, whimpering. Sweat-soaked hair stuck to his face.

The next thing he knew, Langley lowered his head—and took Zerachiel's erection into his mouth. Tight, wet heat enclosed him on all sides.

It had been too long, much too long. He was surprised he didn't cum right there and then, but he had more self control than that. Still, all the muscles in his body strained and his fingers dug into the edges of the bench, struggling to anchor himself. And—god—Langley was moving now, ducking his head up and down, rubbing his tongue along Zerachiel's length—

"F-Frank—I can't—I—"

His voice died in a startled squeak as his body went rigid, the fire flared hotter than ever before, and he came. He held his breath, white lights sparking in his vision, waiting for it to end already.

Langley lifted himself, pulling away from Zerachiel's rapidly deflating cock. Zerachiel breathed in and slumped against the piano to steady himself. Perhaps he relaxed too soon, because the next thing he knew, Frank bent before him, gripped his shoulder, and pulled him into another kiss.

Liquid flooded his mouth, warm and sour. He sputtered and choked and tried to pull away, but Langley held him tight and so he had no choice but to swallow every drop. When Langley pulled away, Zerachiel held his throat and coughed before fixing the commander with a glare.

Langley responded with a careless smile, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. "It tasted nice. So I thought I'd let you have a sample."

"How considerate of you," Zerachiel said.

They regarded each other silently.

Then, Langley held out his hand and Zerachiel took it gratefully; after all, he doubted his weak legs could support his weight. Besides...he still kind of liked the warm strength of Langley's grip.

Langley didn't pull him close or kiss him again, but instead dropped Zerachiel's hand the instant Zerachiel was safely upright. Zerachiel raised his eyebrows, recognizing that the moment—or whatever the hell it'd been—was over.

"What about you, sir? You're not going to take care of your..." He indicated the very prominent something tenting up Langley's pants.

Langley grinned and shrugged. "It's my rule, kid. I take care of you first, not me. And I won't do the full deed the first time."

"Ah? You sound like you have experience with this, sir." Zerachiel breathed a little easier now. His life would have become much more difficult if Langley were a conscientious officer who had suffered a lapse of judgment, but it appeared he was the type who freely slept around with his underlings. Perhaps that had earned him a court martial in the first place.

Langley didn't respond with words, just a wider grin and a suggestive wagging of his eyebrows. Zerachiel stepped closer, stood on his tiptoes, and planted a kiss on Langley's stubbled chin. Langley laughed and stroked his hair, teasing the ends of the long strands.

"I'd love to hear you play the piano again someday," Langley said in a breathy whisper.

"Don't worry, I will." Zerachiel put on his most charming smile. "Just for you...Frank."

Langley ruffled his hair, murmured, "good boy," into his ear, then turned and began to depart. Zerachiel watched him leave, hands by his sides.

He had to fight the urge to laugh, to fall to his knees and clutch his stomach and roll around until tears dripped from his eyes. But oh, this—he was finally yanking Frank Langley around, and it turned out so much easier than he'd imagined. Langley was an idiot after all. Kind and gentle, true. But an idiot all the same.

Easy to use, easy to play with, and easy to discard when Zerachiel no longer needed him.

Zerachiel waited until his breathing calmed down, rearranged his robe, and left the atrium. He didn't feel a pang of regret. Didn't feel anything.

Including you, Langley had said. Including you.

Not much to say, so, uh...please review? Reviews would be great. Wonderful. Fun. Nice. Etcetera.