[personal profile] lit_gal
Many of you will recognize big chunks of this, but I'm wondering how it works as an original.

Tap Dancing the Minefields

George “Tank” Tanki started fighting when he was fourteen and his high school classmate had her estranged father show up and want to reclaim his daughter for her demonic heritage. Since that time, he helped fight the forces of darkness. They won that war, but Tank felt like he lost himself. Searching for meaning in life, he joined the Army. He hoped to find a normal war and a way to connect with normal people. Instead he found the government had a few secrets of their own.

Lev is an engineer, and a damn good one. He serves in a secret government agency dealing with aliens that have been exploring and exploiting earth for generations. He’s also a geek in a world of soldiers. He never expected that the addition of one more emotionally damaged man to his base would change everything. While Lev’s heart warns him to avoid getting involved with someone already so young and his common sense tells him that on-base romance is trouble, he finds himself falling for the young man with sad eyes. But in their line of business, love sometimes takes a backseat to saving the world.




Chapter One

The artic winds tore across the landscape, stirring swirls of snow across the alien landscape. Tank’s assets were freezing as he pushed the heavy cart of supplies from the camouflaged runway to the base entrance buried in the face of one of the rolling hills. Growing up, Tank’s ex-hippy grandmother had always talked about karma, and if she was right, Tank had done something truly shitty in a past life. He’d joined the Army to fight evil that he could tell people about, not freeze to death as he shoved food rations from one place to another.

“Hold. Credentials.” A heavily armed guard stepped out from behind a half wall built of local rock. For a military base, this place didn’t look governmental. Other than a stone entrance, the entire structure had been buried in the Alaskan foothills. The captain back at the supply plane had called this a station for military testing of global warming. Tank had his doubts.

“Private Tanki, sir,” he offered, holding up his clipboard with orders and ID attached.

“The corporal stepped forward to claim the paperwork. He studied it like he expected to find really good quality porn hiding in the holographic seal. The corporal held up Tank’s ID and ran a scanner over it before comparing it to Tank’s face.

Military short brown hair, large brown eyes, perfectly average face with a tiny scar under one eye where Marie’s father had held a knife and threatened to gouge Tank’s eye out if his daughter didn’t surrender. Yep. Just average.

Tank offered the lieutenant a goofy grin. Since joining the service, Tank had figured out that the real world worked pretty much the way high school did, only with fewer minions from hell. Just like in high school, Tank had found that people underestimated him if he had a silly grin.

A lieutenant stepped out from a narrow door cut in the stone wall. The wall offered some protection from the artic winds, but not much and the lieutenant wasn’t dressed for the weather. However that wasn’t Tank’s business. He went to attention and offered a regulation salute. The officer returned it before asking the corporal, “Rogers?”

“The paperwork looks good,” the corporal said.

“Only the best quality forgeries.” Tank gave them another smile as he joked, but the thunderous expression on the lieutenant’s face made it clear that he didn’t approve. Tank cleared his throat and studied the pattern of the grout between the stone in the wall.

In his peripheral vision, Tank watched the odd look that passed between the two men. They shared the same sort of silent language Tank had once shared with Marie and Zhu and Roger and Ellie. Even thinking Ellie’s name made something in his chest curl up and die. He waited for the approval or the order to take his MREs and head back to the plane. Maybe that would be best because something here wasn’t adding up. These two… they had that comradery, that brotherhood that Tank had yearned for when he joined. And he knew from experience that this sort of closeness came from nearly dying together, from killing together and hiding together and crying and learning to make really inappropriate jokes together. Tank hadn’t expected that at a non-combat global warming science station. Maybe that’s why alarms blared in Tank's head.

“We’ll call for an escort to take you down to the commissary,” the lieutenant finally offered. For the first time, Tank noticed that the man wasn’t wearing a name tag or a unit patch, just his rank insignia on his shirt. Yeah, Tank was guessing nuclear testing or maybe illegal chemical warfare stuff. This base was remote enough that no reporter would catch them. The pilot had even said this was their last supply shipment before they would lock down for winter. Four months isolated at the foot of some Alaskan mountains—that was a level of hell.

“No need. I haven’t gotten lost since I tried to find my way out of the parking lot at Fort Benning.”

“We’ll get you an escort,” the lieutenant said firmly, and Tank just nodded. He had a policy of not arguing with anyone who carried a gun. While the lieutenant made a call, Tank smiled at the other private.

“Guard duty.” Tank made a sympathetic noise. “Not my favorite duty. Especially out here. Boredom city, huh?” The private stared at him, and Tank shifted uncomfortably. Up until this point, he would have said that the worst part about the service was PT, but right now, he was starting to seriously hate whoever had ordered him to bring stuff to Alaska.

If the blindingly long flight and unloading in the cold wasn’t bad enough, Tank’s every instinct told him to run like a little girl. His gut was even suggesting that running and screaming might be an option. Tank wasn’t exactly the best fighter—but he had the market cornered on playing human alarm system. Marie and Zhu had demon blood, Roger had a love of weapons, and Tank… he could scream, point to the enemy, and flee all at the same time. But his current orders meant he would be scrubbing a prison floor for the next couple of years if he tried. Besides, no one would show up to get his ass out of trouble. For a few seconds, Tank actually debated the merits of military prison versus ignoring a gut-deep panic. So not a good position to be in.

However, the lieutenant nodded at him. “You’re cleared, Private Tanki. Private Isaacs will meet you at the elevator with the key. Straight that way.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you,” Tank gave his cart full of food a big shove to get it rolling.

Heading through the doors, Tank ogled the thickness. “Holy zombie apocalypse,” Tank muttered. If the world came close to ending any time in the next three years, Tank knew where he wanted to be. The doors weren’t tall, but they wide enough for a jeep and set deep into the rock. Tank ignored his gut and pushed the food over concrete floors as the wind swirled around him. The place had the vibe of a small barracks. Rows of doors suggested either private quarters or storage, but lack of heating was weird. The heavy doors stood open, allowing the bitter Alaskan air to flow down the wide corridor. Someone had built this to handle big shit.

Tank’s feelings were reinforced when he reached an elevator that was, again, wide enough to drive a jeep into it. Maybe two.

“Isaacs?” Tank asked the man waiting near an elevator control panel.

“Tanki?”

“Providing MREs and a wide range of gas-inducing food.” This time when Tank grinned, he got a smile in return, which made him feel a little better. Maybe the two guys up there were just putting out weird vibes because they had a hot and steamy gay porn thing going in the guard booth and Tank had interrupted them. Tank frowned. Okay, even for him that was an oddly random thought.

“This way,” Isaacs said as he used a key to activate the elevator controls.

“You guys do like your security.”

“You have no idea,” Isaacs said. “It’s the computers. We have a lot of expensive computers in here.” He frowned, and a spark of cold terror travelled up though Tank’s spine.

“Computers. Okay.”

“Yeah, computers.”

They both fell silent as the elevator took them down several floors before sliding to a stop. The doors slid open, and Tank blinked as something skittered across his skin.

“Is there something—”

“The commissary storeroom is that way,” Isaacs said, cutting Tank off before he almost dashed out of the elevator and ran the other way.

“Oh, nothing weird with that. Nope. No weirdness at all,” Tank muttered to himself as he pushed his cart out into the corridor. The hall was narrow now, lined with wood with a concrete floor and at least some heating, although it was still cold as a really cold hell. The place was also silent. Someone about to get dead sort of silent, and Tank found himself eyeing the wooden pallet and wondering if cans made good projectile weapons.

Two sergeants came running down the corridor, guns pulled, and Tank flattened himself against the wall just as a siren started wailing loudly. “Great. Why can’t I ever be irrationally paranoid? But no. Every time I get paranoid, it turns out there’s something to get paranoid about.” Tank abandoned the MREs and headed back into the elevator, but when he pushed the buttons, nothing happened. The lock was turned to inactive, and he didn’t have a key.

“Seriously?” Tank demanded. Before he could make any other complaint, the elevator doors slid closed and he started heading down. Tank had thought Alaska had permafrost or something, but the digital display read seven floors down before it stopped. “If this is a dream, this would be a good time to wake up,” Tank muttered.

The doors opened, and Tank braced himself for something big and hellish to attack. Instead two people tumbled into the elevator. Both of them had lost their shirts in some bizarre industrial accident that required them to manually check each other for skin lesions. Either that or they had ripped off each other’s clothes and had reached third base and were fumbling for home. One or the other.

“Hey, um, nice day for some completely against the regs kinds of fraternization, not that I have a problem with fraternization. I’m generally in favor of getting fraternized whenever possible, only possibly not in public. Usually.” Tank backed away as he babbled, but the couple was way more interested in getting each other’s pants off to actually notice him.

He tumbled out into the corridor, and froze. Okay, this was demonically bad. The corridor was well heated, but it was definitely of the not-human sort. The wide curves, the organic flow of colors across the wall, the embedded veins—Tank had seen this before. He just never expected to find it at a military base, and he estimated that he had just broken the screwed-o-meter because the level of how screwed he was did not register.

“I’m just going to… completely freak out is an option, actually,” Tank complained softly as he looked around. “Hiding is good. I can do hiding.” Every military base had storage closets, even a demonic one, and Tank knew from experience that they made great places to hide.

“Oh, hey. Hi.” Tank stopped when a man with a bewildered expression came out of a strangely angled door, not that any of the doors around here were square. His glasses were sliding down his nose and his hair was definitely a little too long to be called military. “I think something odd might be going on.” Tank offered up his most helpless and harmless smile.

“Fuck me.” The man looked at Tank with a shocking intensity. Shit. The crazy was contagious.

“Uh. Is that you saying ‘Fuck me, this is weird in a cursing sort of way?’ Because if it is, I’m kinda right there with you.” Tank gave a little fist pump of togetherness.

The man closed the distance between them, his hand coming up to touch Tank’s chest and Tank could feel the fever heat of this guy’s skin right through his uniform. The man muttered, “Take me hard. Oh god, I’ve avoided sex for so long. Just fuck me.”

“Oh God.” Tank’s cock hardened. Surprisingly, he wanted to have sex with this guy. Well, not really surprisingly because the guy was cute and had broad shoulders, and he wasn’t old enough to be creepy old—he couldn’t be more than forty or so. The sexual attractiveness was there, but Tank usually preferred more movie watching and awkward stretches leading to random shoulder touching and the sorts of foreplay that featured heavily in teen movies. And yes, Tank was twenty, but that didn’t mean he’d figured out adulting, and he definitely felt too young to do the jumping into bed with a stranger sort of irresponsible adulting.

Which led Tank to one conclusion. Magic. This guy with his light brown hair and blue eyes and very manly and handsome jaw acted like someone spelled, and so was Tank.

“I promise not to hurt you,” the guy said with a crooked smile that made Tank’s cock harden almost painfully fast. When this guy smiled he was stunning. Absolutely stunning. Then the stranger fisted Tank’s shirt and shoved Tank back into the wall. “Now fuck me.”

Without waiting for an answer, he kissed Tank hard. The taste of coffee and male musk filled Tank’s senses, and he grabbed the guy’s shoulders and pulled him closer. Running hands over the stranger’s shoulders, Tank could feel the muscles—the strength. However, after years of fighting demons and basic training, Tank had more. And he proved that by grabbing his partner and spinning him around so he had the guy pinned against the wall. Then he kissed the guy back. Hard. And his partner didn’t seem to mind because he grabbed Tank’s shirt and pulled it out of Tank’s pants so his hot fingers could find the skin below.

Yeah. It was magic, but Tank wasn’t going to try and fight the inevitable, especially not when the inevitable smelled good enough to eat. “What’s your name?”

“Lev.”

“Tank,” Tank offered. “Closet?”

“There.” Lev pointed at a door and Tank nearly tripped as he turned, fisted Lev’s shirt and pulled him toward the door as fast as he could. Lev was right there with him, scrambling to get to the door. Tank clawed the door open and shoved Lev up against a wall of the closet. The building might look demonic, but the contents were all human. Tank and Lev knocked over a mop and sent several spray bottles tumbling off a shelf.

By the time Tank pulled the door closed and turned on the light, Lev was already shimmying out of his pants. The man had one seriously fine ass—rounded and well-muscled and so beautifully pale. “Oh hell yes,” Tank breathed, and then he looked around desperately. He needed something slick. “Damn. Shit. Um, lotion, oil, something.”

Lev spun around, a desperate look on his face. “You don’t have any?”

“Oddly, no. Usually I don’t have sex in closets.” Tank started pawing through the shelves looking for something.

When he came up with mineral oil, Lev made a hungry little whine. “Yes. Now fuck me. Now.”

“Sir, yes sir,” Tank agreed. He closed in on Lev, cupping either side of his face before leaning in for a kiss. Lev gasped. Not willing to wait any longer, Tank put his hands on Lev’s shoulders and flipped him around to face the wall. Lev moaned and spread his legs, shaking one foot to get free of his pants and, when that failed, he just opened them as far as he could.

Tank kissed the back of Lev’s neck as he opened his zipper and then fumbled with the oil, spilling a lot on the floor. Finally though, he got his finger slicked and slid it up inside Lev’s hot hole.

“Fuck yes. Yes. More.” Lev arched his back, and Tank struggled to slip a second finger up inside. Yeah, he’d read about this on the internet plenty, but doing it in real life took a little more skill than he’d realized. The one relationship he’d been in, he’d bottomed and it had ended badly before he had a chance to return the favor. He had to squirm around and get his hand twisted around uncomfortably before he could get that second finger up into Lev and start stretching him. Lev grabbed a hook set into the wall, tossing a broom to the side when it got in his way. “Yes. More. Oh god. Yes. It’s been too long. Too long.”

Tank’s fingers were sliding in and out easily and he couldn’t wait any more. Tank ran his slicked hand over his own cock and then moved close enough to line up with Lev’s hole.

“Hurry up. I’m dying here if you don’t get your cock in me.”

Tank pressed in carefully. His cock fit, but Lev’s hole was almost painfully tight.

“More. Fuck me. I’m not going to break, Clyde. Stop treating me like I’m going to break.”

“Tank. The name is Tank.” He grunted as he finally got all the way in. “Oh god. Okay, this is good. This is very good. This might be over embarrassingly fast it’s so good.” Tank started rocking back and forth, and Lev moved with him, the two of them synchronizing their thrusts. Lev’s words finally failed him as he devolved into wordless groans. Tank speeded up, their bodies slapping together. As Tank’s orgasm approached, it occurred to him that he didn’t have the only cock, and both of Lev’s hands were busy trying to keep Tank’s thrusts from slamming him into the wall.

Reaching around, Tank grabbed Lev’s cock with his oil-slicked hand, and Lev went wild. Bucking violently, Lev impaled himself on Tank’s cock and then threw himself forward. “Yes. Yes.” Tank held on while Lev took over the thrusting, straining to not come before Lev. Finally Lev’s body spasmed, every muscle going tight before he came against the wall, and Tank let his own control slip as he drove in one more time and came himself.

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my blissful God,” Lev muttered between his heavy panting, and Tank was guessing from the tone that he was happy. Tank leaned against Lev’s back and breathed in the warmth of his lover. Lover. Now that was unexpected. Now that the lust was sated, Tank’s big brain had come partially back online. Something was definitely off.

Before Tank could say anything, the door to the closet came open and the biggest man he’d ever seen stood there pointing a weird-ass gun at him. Even stranger, the guy had patches of pale and midnight black skin across his body. Panic drove Tank into action, he dropped into a crouch and struck out with his boot at the man’s knee. Unfortunately, the man moved inhumanly fast, grabbing Tank’s foot and yanking him out of the closet.

“John! Stop. He was… um helping.” Lev ran after them, hopping as he tried to get his pants up.

Tank was still flailing, his pants hanging open and one leg in the air because this John had a seriously strong grip.

“We… um… we need to get to engineering or maybe medical,” Lev rushed to say. “We need to shut down ventilation.”

“I have,” John said with a bit of a growl in his voice. Considering that he had Tank helpless on the floor, that should not be sexy. “This is a ship function. It comes from the walls.”

“It?” Lev asked.

“Mating hormones. Someone set off the mating functions.”

“Oh shit.” Lev turned white. Tank had expected someone to talk about demons and spells, so ships and functions felt a little out of left field. Lev looked down at Tank. “Oh, John, this is Tank. Tank, John.”

“Hey,” Tank waved from the floor, and John dropped his foot so that Tank could finally scramble up off the ground.

“You do not belong here.” Suddenly Tank found himself staring down the end of that oddly shaped weapon again. He threw his hands up in the air.

“Hey, I was just delivering food, so technically in the commissary, but I couldn’t stop the elevator, and trust me I tried. So no shooting the random private. I mean, I’ve been shot at, and I really don’t like it, so if we can avoid shooting me, that would be awesome.”

Lev stepped to John’s side and put a hand on his freakishly oversized arm. “We need to get to central environmental controls.”

Narrowing his eyes, Tank looked from one of them to the other. This John guy pretty much set off all his demony warning bells, but environmental controls was sounding a little too scientific. “Maybe it’s the crazy-making lust talking, but are you guys suggesting…” Tank stopped and looked from one to the other.

Lev blushed. “Let’s get to central core,” he said without answering Tank.

“Uh-huh,” Tank said. “That’s what I thought.”

John shoved his gun in his holster. “Don’t act like you understand this, and if you step one foot out of line, I don’t have a problem killing you and leaving your blood to stain the floor.”

Tank blinked.

Lev shouted back at them because he was already halfway down the hall. “John, not now. Do your intimidation thing later because there’s a very small window here before I lose myself to this need.”

“Yeah, what he said,” Tank smiled. This John guy glared before he caught Tank by the arm and essentially shoved Tank ahead. Right. Don’t leave the unknown at your back. Tank actually approved of that rule, so ignoring the cold terror in his guts, he ran after Lev.

The curving hall led to a series of stairs that were far too tall for Tank to use easily. He had to hop frog his way down, which was even less graceful than usual; however, Lev used a hand on the wall and his long legs to easily navigate the awkward space, which did suggest he was used to giant sized stairs. Tank didn’t dare turn to see how John was handling it because carelessness led to falling down and breaking bones.

Lev stopped at a huge door with a spiral pattern embossed on the leather-like wall. He rested his forehead against the pattern and took a deep breath. “I will not lose control,” he whispered.

“If you need to, fuck someone fast and get back on the job,” John said. He pushed Tank to the side, but Tank chose to not take offense, especially since John was huge.

“How do you control it?” Lev asked John.

“Didn’t,” John said. “Fucked someone. You want me to fuck you?”

Lev jerked upright. “No, that’s okay. I’m okay. On the job. Do we know what system this uses?”

John grunted. “They didn’t invite me to learn the systems.”

“Right,” Lev said. He pressed his fingers into a groove on the side of the door, and it swung open. “Definitely hormone related. Airborne. Ship wide or isolated area?” He looked at John.

“Definitely ship wide,” John said.

“Okay. I can do this.” Lev muttered to himself before heading into the room.

Before Tank could offer to get lost, John reached over, caught him by the arm and said in a perfectly calm voice, “Stay close and if you touch anything, I’ll cut the offending fingers off.”

“Yes, sir,” Tank said. John didn’t strike him as the officer sort, but it never hurt to sir someone when trying to avoid mayhem. He also allowed John to herd him through a labyrinth of a room. Tank had seen lots of demon toys. Having a best friend who was half demon and trying to fight her way free of her evil father led a person to see a few things most people didn’t. However, Tank had never seen anything this massive. The room had to be close to airport hangar sized, but filled with meandering tubes and membranes and creepy squishy things that insisted on squishing as they pulsated.

“Grab the fluid return conduit, the tube, the long green tube thing,” Lev said, his finger waggling in the general direction of one of walls. John didn’t seem tempted to help, and Tank had disassembled his share of these things, although generally Marie’s father had little devices, not room sized things. Still, there were certain rules. The harder you pulled, the more it resisted. If you squeezed and eased a part out, the pieces wouldn’t fight you. So Tank wrapped his hands around the top end of the conduit.

“Is this the end you want me to pull?” Tank asked. His lust made thinking difficult, but he concentrated on the pipe.

“No, pull the other end.” From the strain in Lev’s voice, he felt the growing desire too, but he stayed on his knees, his arms deep into the guts of the machinery.

Tank moved down to the other end, grabbing it where it disappeared into the wall, and he squeezed and slowly pulled it free. The pipe fought him, but Tank kept up a steady pressure until the pipe came free and thick, viscous spilled across the floor. Tank exploded up onto his feet before the crap could touch him, and then Lev was moving, his hands flying across a dozen controls, half of which were buried into the organic layers of the wall.

Tank was considering throwing up when Lev suddenly shouted. “Got it!” The second the magic vanished, Tank could feel it. The heat—the fever heat that made him forget about everything but his cock eased up. It was still there, but it was like standing in the breeze of a fan instead of a hurricane. Lev turned around. “Where the hell is Campbell? Campbell!” Lev bellowed.

John rested his hand on his weapon. “Probably out fucking someone. We’ve got another problem.” John looked straight at Tank.

Tank knew that look. He’d been center stage for that expression more than he wanted to remember. He held up both hands in surrender. “Oh no. I am totally not problemish. I am anti-problem. I see nothing and know nothing, and I am very happy to take the last airplane out of here and bury all this under copious amounts of alcohol.”

“Name,” John snapped.

“Private George Tanki,” Tank offered.

Lev glanced over, and something must have made him decide to look for Campbell later. He hurried over. “Tank is a soldier. You know how Clyde feels when you break soldiers,” Lev said.

John’s eyes narrowed. “He congratulates me for reminding them that they can never stop training or assume anything when it comes to this fight.”

“Okay,” Lev said slowly. “I have to admit that’s a Clyde sort of thing to say, but he would not want you breaking random privates.”

Tank opened his mouth to make a joke about the innuendo in that last phrase, but the look on John’s face stopped him. The bridge of his nose was black, along with the skin around his left eye, but the nose tip was white, and the area around the right eye was white with a huge black strip on his right cheek that spilled down onto his chin. Maybe it was the patchwork pattern that made him look homicidally angry, but self-preservation required Tank to shut the hell up.

“He can wait in the brig.” John reached out and grabbed Tank’s arm in a painful grip, but that was fine. Tank had never in his life been so happy to have someone threaten him with the brig. At least he would survive a little incarceration. Tank looked around at the demonic walls and weird shit. Maybe.


Chapter Two

The brig turned out to be in the human side of the base, so Tank had concrete and metal bars to deal with. Honestly, considering how things turned out when Tank was around demons, that was probably for the best. But as he lay on the bottom bunk staring at the bottom of the top bunk, he had to wonder what the hell was going on.

Marie’s father was a demon, and when he showed up right before they’d all started high school, that had started a small war. Yep, war was a good word. Tank’s side consisted of mostly teenagers with one hippy teacher and his wife, Zhu’s human mother, and near the end, the Big Brother Tank’s mom had signed him up for. She thought it would keep him away from New York gangs. She also thought that a lack of a male role model hurt his moral development. After seeing Marie’s father and even the slightly less sadistic demonic shit head Zhu called a sperm donor, Tank was all in favor of avoiding any father figures. Surprisingly, it turned out that Captain Samuels was pretty damn handy in a firefight and surprisingly willing to keep their secret.

But now that secret seemed less secretish. Before going to basic, Tank had vowed to never say anything to anyone about Marie’s and Zhu’s unfortunately demonic heritage or even that demons were real and rode the subway. But the government seemed to be doing a little research on their own. Or actually, they were doing a lot of research. This place was demonic central, and clearly some of them knew how it worked.

“Hey,” someone called softly.

Tank sat up to find Lev standing outside the bars. “Hey back. So…” Tank let his words trail off. He had no idea if he was supposed to mention the exceptionally hot closet sex or ask for a lawyer or request to speak to a superior officer. For all the stupid procedures drill sergeants had forced on him, no one had covered this set of circumstances, although the lecture about what happened when you got arrested on leave was somewhat close.

“Sorry about all this,” Lev said.

Nothing good ever started with an apology. “Please tell me that ‘all this’ isn’t going to include getting dumped in some jail cell for the rest of my life, because honestly, I’m totally okay forgetting I ever saw John’s gun, which looked suspiciously like an alien prop from a really cheap movie of the week.”

Lev grimaced.

“Funny, Tanki. What is it with you and comedians, Lev?” An older man stepped into the visiting area of the brig or stockade or whatever the hell the Army called it when they screwed you over. Tank really should have paid more attention to the getting arrested on leave speech, but the fact was that he generally avoided trouble when it wasn’t demonic and threatening to destroy his friends.

Lev stepped to the side to let this new guy closer to the bars. “Clyde, this is Private Alexander Tanki who came in with the delivery plane. Tank, this is Colonel Clyde Aldrich.”

“Colonel.” Tank shot to his feet and saluted. Damn it. Officers should wear their rank insignia, not run around in civies.

“Private Tanki. I hear you kept a cool head.”

“Um. Maybe.” Tank had no idea how he was supposed to play this. “Wait. Clyde?” Tank looked over at Lev, remembering how he’d cried out Clyde’s name during sex.

“You have a problem with that, private?” Aldrich’s gaze sharpened.

“No, sir.” Tank stiffened up and tried for a perfect posture. “I’m just adjusting to a lot of, you know… stuff… sir.” Tank really didn’t want to out Lev. In fact, he was scared to even look at Lev for fear of accidentally saying something even more stupid.

“We have a little problem,” Lev said. Tank’s stomach dropped. “You see, the supply plane had to leave, but you aren’t cleared for the technology you saw, and Clyde didn’t exactly bust his ass to get you cleared faster.” Lev turned a baleful look in the colonel’s direction. Oh shit. Had Tank fucked an officer? That was a level of shit that Tank was not prepared to even consider, but enlisted guys did not glare at officers like that. It was a rule.

“Paperwork takes time,” the colonel said without a hint of apology in his tone. He stared at Tank.

“Yes, sir,” Tank agreed since he pretty much couldn’t figure out what else to say.

“You picked a bad day to deliver MREs,” the colonel said mildly enough. He had a little bit of a hot old guy vibe going. Salt and pepper gray hair and wrinkles around his eyes showed his age, but he still had a fine body. Tank could see why Lev had a Clyde fantasy or two rattling around in his brain. He was a striking man, way too fit to be one of those colonels who sat behind desks, which was weird since this place was supposed to be a weather station. That was all wrapped up in a bored expression. Despite that laid-back façade Aldrich had clearly developed, Tank worried. His life was in this guy’s hands.

“That’s me. I showed up on the wrong day and missed my own graduation, but you know, I’m great with secrets. The things I know. I mean, if anyone knew that Marie had a cat phobia…” Tank whistled. His joke went over like a lead fart in church. Tank waited for someone to verbally rescue him, but Aldrich stared and Lev was rocking back and forth with his hands in his pockets. So that left Tank. “Okay, jokes aside, I really have no interest in telling anyone anything. I am going to forget all the weird stuff. I’m forgetting it already.”

Aldrich leaned against the bars and studied Tank. “You’re still stuck here for four months. Winter storms are about to close our airstrip, and until it opens in spring, you’re ours.” Aldrich was definitely waiting to see how Tank would take the news.

Honestly, Tank wanted to panic. Flailing was sort of his default setting, but he would set aside time to freak out later. “The Army has trained me to mop one hell of a floor, so I would happily mop your floors as long as I can get on that plane in four months.”

“Clyde, you’re freaking him out.” Lev punched Aldrich in the arm, and the colonel gave him an incredulous look. “Besides,” Lev continued, “He has a natural talent with alien tech. It usually takes me weeks to get my engineers to stop yanking and pulling at connectors like they’re inanimate objects. Living technology. The living part of that is rather important, but so many of my engineers are totally stuck in human habits.”

“Underwood!” the colonel snapped.

Lev rolled his eyes. “Face it. He saw alien technology at its animate worst. Hit the wrong combination of commands and the organic based tech will start pumping out exactly the wrong compounds. You should have seen what happened when Chavez found the coolant system.” Lev twisted his features into an exaggerated grimace.

“Alien?” Tank could feel his throat close up around that word.

Aldrich sighed before pulling a key out of his pocket and unlocked the cell door. “Welcome to the country’s deepest secret. Starting in the 1940s, the American government realized that we were not only being visited, but the aliens that came were manipulative assholes who were using our populations for testing.”

“John?” Tank asked. If someone was going to be an alien, John was his best guess. Unfortunately, he had a few other guesses based on the fact these devices looked so damn familiar.

“No. John Doe. He was an experiment. We recovered him when we chased a small group away from Mexico City,” Lev said. “We picked up some neat tech there, too. That’s what we do here. This ship crashed some time decades ago, and we’re going through her systems and trying to reverse engineer the pieces.”

“Before aliens come back,” Tank said slowly. Aliens. He had no idea why aliens were so much harder to believe than demons, and yet they were.

“Aliens never left,” Aldrich said. “And that is so top secret that you just might be confined to this base for the remainder of your life.

“Clyde,” Lev snapped.

“Lev, do not sugar coat this.”

“He’s one of the good guys. He helped us stop the pheromone leak, so think about where you would still be without him.” Lev definitely had some cranky going in his voice.

Aldrich crossed his arms over his chest. “In the plane signing off on the technology we’re shipping back to New Mexico,” he said flatly.

Lev blushed. “Okay, so maybe he didn’t save you. But the rest of us were in here with a malfunctioning environmental system.”

“I thought John said it was functioning right only maybe no one should have set off that function,” Tank said. He was still trying to figure out why a ship would have a mating drive function, and any reasons his brain could come up with were creeping him out worse than the discussion of aliens.

Lev squared off against Colonel Aldrich. “Do you see? He keeps calm, even when being pummeled by alien hormones. Tell me we couldn’t use a few more calm heads around this place.”

Aldrich studied Tank with that sharp gaze of his, “We could use some low-level support personnel in commissary.”

“The commissary? He disconnected conduits and avoided panicking when John did his completely inappropriate caveman routine.”

“Out of bounds, Lev,” Aldrich said with more heat in his tone than Tank had heard yet.

Lev immediately backed down. He didn’t do anything obvious, but Tank still got the impression that he regretted the comment about John. “Fair enough, but you can’t still Tank in the kitchen and ask him to wash dishes.”

Aldrich asked Tank, “What did you do before landing in the middle of my command?”

Tank knew exactly what the colonel wanted, and he wasn’t inclined to make trouble. Shifted boxes and cleaned floors,” Tank said.

Aldrich gave Lev a smug look.

“Clyde,” Lev said, an odd tone in his voice.

“Lev,” Colonel Aldrich said in the exact same tone. If someone did that to Tank, Tank would assume the person was making fun of him.

Sure enough, Lev threw his hands up. “Come on.”

“You’re making this more difficult,” Aldrich said tersely.

“He didn’t pee his pants when John threatened him.”

“Lev,” Aldrich’s voice was sharp now, but Lev had a look on his face that Tank normally associated with Ellie, and he knew how Ellie had always gotten her way. “We’ll discuss this later.” Turning his back, Aldrich walked out of the room.

Lev looked over and gave Tank a conspiratorial wink. Yep, whatever weirdness these folks had, Tank suspected he was now ground zero. Well, at least the next three years wouldn’t be boring. Lev reached over and squeezed Tank’s shoulder. “Oh. I guess I should have asked you first.” Lev pulled his hand back. “I mean, you probably didn’t plan for the closet and the…” His blush was back.

“No, because I don’t normally plan for anything that good to happen to me. My plans are more on the boring side, and that… that wasn’t boring.” Tank smiled and the relief on Lev’s face was immediate.

“Okay. I’ll tell you what. I’m going to set up an aptitude test I use with the baby engineers the Army sends me; then I’ll have some baseline data. And don’t worry about Clyde—”

“Clyde,” Tank said flatly. The man Lev had called for during sex. But Lev must have misunderstood Tank’s concerns because he went flying off in a completely different direction.

“You probably shouldn’t call him that. Actually, no one else calls him that, but he and I got trapped on one of the alien ships for about six months, and after a while, you go stir crazy and tell each other stuff that you’ve never confessed to anyone.” Lev waved his hand as if none of that mattered. “But his bark is worse than his bite. He had already gotten you assigned to enlisted barracks, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There is a ton of open space on the ship—more than we could ever fill. You could get your own private room and bathroom if you’re willing to put up with the organic tech.

“Lots of the soldiers around would rather have concrete and wood, which is why we have the barracks, but you strike me as someone who is more mentally flexible than that.”

“I don’t know that I am,” Tank said. Honestly the ship creeped him out, and that was true if he called it demonic or alien. Although it seemed like these guys were saying those were the same. And if that was true, Marie and Zhu had a whole different sort of problem, but Tank didn’t know how to warn them about that because he was stuck under a secret base in Alaska for the next four months. He could only hope that after that someone decided he was trustworthy enough to let out on leave.

That meant that Tank was going to play nice. He could do that.

“Come on. I’ll show you,” Lev said. He touched Tank’s arm and then pulled back, his face pink before he headed for the door.

The shyness hit Tank’s lusty button so hard that for a second, he thought the hormones had started again. Unfortunately, his cock just liked Lev that much, and somehow that desire made this whole situation feel so much more dangerous. Tank never did his best thinking when love was involved. Last time he’d fucked up so bad that he’d gone running for the Army in order to have another shot at figuring out his life. If he had to run from the Army, Tank wasn’t sure where he’d end up going.
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