Title: Falling
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Star Wars
Characters/Pairings: Original characters only- Jean (pronounced as in the French... ex: Jean-Claude) and Barker
Rating: none
Warnings: It's two guys, but they don't do anything
Spoilers: none
Disclaimer: They're my characters but it's not my universe and it's not my genius... that's George Lucas all the way baby. And I'm very happy not to get paid for it!
Summary: How Jean and Barker met and fall in love. <cue sappy music> It's your typical boy meets boy, boy is full of angst, boy catches cold story... set at a flight academy. The lads are, I dunno... somewhere between 19-25 here.
Feedback: If you'd be so kind...
J tarotgal3@hotmail.com





                                              Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of spring
                                              Your winter garment of repentance fling.
                                              The bird of time has but a little way
                                              To flutter - and the bird is on the wing.


     "He wrote that?" came a laughing whisper on his right. He and his best friend sat in the great hall. They'd pulled two chairs over to the window to look down into the underclassmen plane hanger.


Barker bit his lip with a nod. "He slipped it into my book at least," his own whisper replied, his eyes were fixed on the group in the hanger, working on the planes with the engines open. And specifically, he was watching one of them more closely than the others.


     Giggling, "He likes you," came the sing-songy voice.


     "No he doesn't!" Barker hissed, wishing somehow he were wrong. It was a crush, a simple schoolboy crush and the man was playing along to spite him. They were all playing. That's all they ever did at the academy. Play and practice and pretend. Nothing was real, nothing was genuine, and nothing was serious.


     "Mmm... and that's why you've spied on his mechanics class every day for the last three standard weeks? And you sit, staring googley-eyed at him across the room in government theory?"


     "Shut up, Aust." He watched as the man's bright purple eyes sparkled up at him for a moment behind goggles, with a nod of the head and a brief wave. It was all in his imagination, right? The young man was surely just toying with him, leading him on, making him feel good before rejection.


     Austin was his age, but couldn't have been different from Barker in looks. Barker had long black hair tied back tightly, and pale skin and gray eyes. He was broad-shouldered and built, tough and toned. Austin, on the other hand, was just as tall but terribly skinny, with blue eyes and white hair with a streak of blue that was always tucked back behind his ears.  "Same way it was when I first saw Marissal. Oh, she was so beautiful... still is..." Austin slapped Barker on the back. "You dig him, and he likes you. Just go with it, man. Sometimes good things really do happen."


     Barker sighed. "I do not dig him! And he does not like me!"


     "Mmmm," Austin murmured again. "Could have fooled me."


     "Look!" he exclaimed, turning his attention to Austin. "For one, he's too good for me. He's ten times smarter and sweeter and a pilot, not some dumb mechanic like me. And two..." he paused. A long silence followed.


     Finally, Austin raised an eyebrow. "Reason two?"


     "Well... two... he... um... ARG!" Barker stood up, grabbing his bookbag and turning. "I don't need this from you!"


*          *          *

     They were halfway through dinner in the crowded dining hall, sitting in the back, out of the way. It had been a mostly quiet dinner, with light talk about this and that, nothing of much substance.


     It was Barker who broke a few minutes worth of silence. "All right, two, no one at this place is ever honest. They all try to be rivals, biting and scratching their way to the top of the class. There's no place for a thug like me to be liked. And three..."


     Austin put his fork down, finished chewing and swallowed. "Yes, three?"


     Barker threw his silverware onto the dining hall tray with a clunk of silver against metal. "Three... " his voice died down, and he closed his eyes tightly. "I'm not hungry any longer!" He stood and stormed out.


*          *          *


     Beeeeep... beeeeep... beeeeep-- "Hello? This is Austin," he answered, sitting on his cot and leaning over to the communications pad on the trunk he used as a shelf.


     Barker's voice came through fussy, but strong, "Three, if he really liked me, why hasn't he asked me out? Why is he waiting for me to make the first move?"


     A deep sigh filled the transmission. "Perhaps because you're older and he's afraid you'll pull rank? Or maybe he sees it as your responsibility? Besides, what do you call that love poetry if it's not a move? Anything else?"


     A pointed pause, then, "Yes."


"Number four?"


"No, that you're infuriating!" Barker slammed down the com-phone.


*          *          *


     Barker sat at the corner table, swirling the marshmallows in his hot chocolate. The lights were out in the café, only a few overhead lights and that of the closed counter remained lit, so for the most part he was in the dark. All the other tables were vacant, with chairs up on them so the floor could be easily swept beneath. He was alone, but he didn't care. He simply sat and watched the marshmallows circle in the mug.


     "Barker?" through a yawn, as footsteps approached from the doorway. "Man, calling me at 3am? Making me walk six flights down from the bunks so the lift records wouldn't show me out. What do you want?" He hopped up, sitting on the table, swinging his feet.


     He clearly wanted to talk. "Four, no one would ever want to date a loser like me." He looked up, tears in his eyes. "I don't even know why you bother being my friend."


     Austin reached over and swiped his drink, giving it a gulp and making a face. "Cold hot chocolate doesn't taste as good." He licked his lips. "Now, let me see how clear I can make this, Barker. You are not a dumb mechanic, you are the best guy I know with a set of tools. You are not a thug, you just happen to have a large build and work out. You are not a loser, you're a great guy and any guy of your persuasion would be thrilled to have you as a boyfriend. And you know I'm just your friend until someone better comes along, hmm?" Of course, he'd been saying that for eight years now.


     "I know... but..."


     "No buts, Buddy." He put the cup down on the table. "Tell me, Barker. Can you see yourself caring for him? Falling in love with him?"


     Barker paused, reflecting. Then softly, looking down, he whispered. "Yes."


     "Then," Austin reached out and lifted his chin up, "You should do something about that. Barker, you're my best friend, and I want to see you happy more than anything. And maybe, just maybe, this will work. If you stop letting the possibility scare you and intimidate you into denying what could be a wonderful thing."


     Barker gave a nod.


     "Look, I think he deserves a chance, that's all I'm saying. And you owe it to yourself to pursue." He yawned and hopped down off the table, slippers slapping the tile floor as his silk sleep pants swayed loosely about his legs. "Besides, it's late and we've got government theory class tomorrow morning."


     Barker grinning. He hadn't learned a thing in that class, gazing over at those gorgeous purple eyes all at the time, but it was his favorite. He stood and the two headed up the stairs to their bunks.


*          *          *


     It seemed as if the lecture would never end. The professor droned on and on, pacing about the class, staring up at the ceiling as if his lecture notes were written there. He was a pro at avoiding the holocameras, and students tuning in remotely from other academies surely must have had a hard time following him, as bouncing and energetic as he could be, darting around to use his whole platform space. Barker wasn't precisely sure what this particular lecture was on, though it didn't matter. No one was really there except for him and... and that handsome young man across the room. Everyone else had dissolved into a blur of unimportance.


     The lecture suddenly stopped, and the professor's voice changed completely. "For next time I'd like you all to have read the philosophies of General Allenspa of Gicock Seven. That is all, you are all dismissed." As the class got up to leave, Barker clenched one hand into a fist nervously. The other hand held a small slip of paper he'd found on his seat before class, another note:


It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should love, the other win;
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows; let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?


He was nervous, scared, uneasy. But now was the time, the only time. He stood up and quickly navigated down the isle past the students filing out. And suddenly he found himself standing in front of the very man he'd been going to meet. The man pulled him into one of the rows, out of the way, smiling up at him with one bright, sparkling purple eye, the other hid behind a flow of blonde hair in his face.


     They stood awkwardly for a moment, Barker biting his lip in worry, the other man expecting something. Finally, the man spoke up. "My name is Jean Ali-Parst," and he stuck out a hand. "Studying to be a fighter pilot."


     Barker, startled at the gentle, soft voice that was speaking just to him, and startled at the abruptness, gave a hop and stuck his own hand out. "Barker Fitz, mechanic."


     There was a moment of silence, then Jean blurted out, "See? That wasn't so hard now was it?"


     Barker's eyes widened, then he dissolved into a smile. With a shrug, "Actually..."


     Jean laughed, but it was a gentle, warm laugh.


     Barker stuck both hands into his pockets. "You have Chem next, right? Would you mind if I walk you over there?"


     With a smile, Jean pointed toward the door. "I'd love if you did."


     They talked about the weather, about classes, about this and that and the other. But Barker wasn't aware of a second of it, completely caught in the man's looks, and the entrancing sound of his soft, masculine voice. This was certainly someone he would like to spend more time with... intimate time.


     "ahhChishhh! ahhCheshh!" Jean sneezed, pausing in the walk a moment, cupping one hand over his nose and mouth, then wiping it on the leg of his pants.


     "G'bless," Barker said, instinctively.


     Jean gave him a sweet smile. "Why, thank you."


     "And thank you for the poetry," Barker said, patting his breast pocket.


     "Copied from a book in the library, actually. But it took long enough for me to pick... it..." they stopped in front of the chemistry lab. "And since we're on a roll with 'thank you's... thank you for the company."


     "Really?" he asked hopefully, rocking on the balls of his feet up and down nervously.


     "Mmm hmm," he answered. "Almost wish my class were further away."


     "Well..." Barker closed his eyes. Could he really just come out and say it? He rubbed a sweaty hand against the back of his neck.




     "Do you..."


     "Barker," he sighed. "Barker, I'll say yes." He put a hand on Barker's breast pocket, feeling the heartbeat quicken beneath. "Just ask."


     Barker reached out and brushed the hair back out of his face, staring at the two deep, sparkling eyes. "Would you like to go out for another walk and maybe a bite to eat tomorrow night?"


     Jean nodded as the hair flopped back over one side of his face. "Yes. I'd like that." He glanced inside the lab. "Look, I have to go. I'll meet you in front of the statue tomorrow at seven?"


     Barker nodded. "Fine." And he opened the door for Jean.


     Jean stood on tiptoes and gave him a peck on the cheek, the ducked in and took the nearest seat.


     Barker stood outside for a few moments, his heart pounding with happiness. Then he quickly hurried out of the building and as the bright blue and yellow suns bathed him in green light, he jumped up, hands in the air, as he shouted "Yes!"


*          *          *


     Barker sat, nibbling at his lunch as he and Austin watched the mechanics class the next afternoon. He wasn't hungry at all but he knew he'd need to have something in his belly before the date tonight. "You know how weak and soft you get whenever Marissal is in the room with you? And she makes you feel all warm and tingly? That's how I feel around Jean."


     Austin laughed. "Hard to imagine you that weak and soft and warm and tingly... but love does strange things to everyone."


     "I'm not in love!" he exclaimed. "It's just a walk and dinner."


     "Mmm," Austin replied. "Quite innocent sounding."


     "That's because it is innocent!" he punched him in the arm to drive his point home.


     "We'll see," Austin said, wolfing down the last of his sandwich and chasing it with the last of his drink. "Assuming there is a date tonight."


     Barker's eyes grew wide and his head snapped to the side. "Just what do you mean by that?" No... Jean would not be putting him through this just to stand him up. The man couldn't possibly be that cruel.


     "I mean," Austin said, leaning forward and squinting through the glass. "That it looks like your man Jean is sick."


     Barker bit his lip. He hadn't wanted to admit it to himself. "He has been sneezing a bit more than I've ever seen him sneeze. Do you really think he won't feel up to coming tonight?"


     Shrugging his shoulders. "I dunno. But it's certainly possible. Look at him, he looks awful."


     Barker looked down, seeing the young man lean against the side of his plane as he sneezed twice into the crook of his arm. But he dropped the wrench on the second sneeze and after rubbing his nose against the back of his gloved hand, he had to go fishing for it carefully. "He'll be ok," Barker murmured. The man looked sick, yes. Not awful? No. Jean could never look awful. "He has to be ok. Right?"


     "I hope so, Man." He stood up. "Come on, we've got class in a few."


*          *          *


     Barker stood nervously in front of the statue, rocking on the balls of his feet, running his hand through his black hair. The blue sun had been setting when he arrived, and now the yellow sun was on its way to bed. It was growing late, and still no sign of Jean. This was certainly not good. There were so many possibilities... from illness to the wrong time to anything... but somehow Barker knew the truth: he'd been toyed with and then stood up. This... this was cruel. With a deep sigh, looked up at the statue of the academy's founder, Barren Lolouse, standing with a noble look upon his face, and his arms spread wide, pretending to be an airplane. The man, from what he'd been taught in first year seminar, had been quite a character. But a nice guy. A nice guy who probably never stood anyone up.


     "Barker?" came a soft voice, and Barker went stiff, his heart raced, and he suddenly could not find breath. Looking back down, he saw Jean standing there, looking back at him. The young man looked worse than earlier that day, with dark bags beneath his visible eye, and a chapped red nose. He looked terribly pale, weak... late.


     "Jean," he answered coldly with an acknowledging nod.


     "Very sorry," he muttered, rubbing his wrist beneath his nose. "Took a nap after class and overslept." He sniffled wetly. "Do you think maybe we can eat first? I haven't had a thing all day." He gave a meek smile.


     Barker nodded. "All right." He was still feeling a tad angry, but there was something about that smile that took the edge right out of him. They walked across the grounds as the sun set, towards the restaurants. Barker, feeling not quite so awkward as before, took the initiative and reached over, running his hand down Jean's arm slowly, then linking hands with the man.


     Jean pulled back. "Um, Barker... I haven't been feeling too well lately," he said, staring straight ahead as they walked. "I don't want you getting sick, too."


     Barker took the hand back anyway. "I won't." He gave his hand a squeeze. "Is this all right with you?" He certainly didn't want to force the man to hold hands if he was only using his illness as an excuse.


     Jean squeezed back. "Of... of course...." His voice rose in pitch, and he lifted his other arm to his face, burying his nose. "ahhChishhh! ahhshhhhhuhhh!" Then he dug a tissue out of his pocket and with one hand, managed to give his nose a quick blow, those his nose sounded as if it might have liked more.


     "G'bless. So... have you been to the clinic about this?"


     Jean snorted. "About this? Not at all. It's just a... a little cold... excuse.... Ehhh..." he raised the tissue in a ball to his mouth and nose. "ahhh..." he froze, stopping in place as he swayed with the most desperate pre-sneeze sort of face Barker had ever seen. Then he grunted, pulling his eyes open and lowering his hand with a loud, wet sniffle. "I hate when they do that."


     Not knowing what else to do, Barker gave his hand another squeeze. "Where would you like to eat?" he asked as they came upon some of the most popular places. "I was thinking maybe the Space Pir-eat," he suggested.


     "Fide. Souds fide," Jean returned, snuffling into the tissue, giving his nose a firm rub, then stuffing it away in his other pocket.


     Barker dropped his hand as they approached, racing a step or two ahead so he could hold the door open. Jean giggled. "Table for two," Barker told the waitress, and they were led to a booth table a little out of the way of everything. The Space Pir-eat was decked out in a space pirate theme, with tables looking like boxes of cargo, and chairs looking like cockpit seats. They sat across from each other at a 2 person table and gave their drink orders.


     Jean wiggled in his seat. "I love coming here, the seats are always so comfortable and familiar."


     "Heh, needs the scent of grease in the air for me to be so comfortable."


     Jean laughed, browsing through the menu records. "ehhh... hehIhhshooo! AhhShhhhehh! AhhChhhhh!" he sneezed, quickly giving his nose a rub and then launching into discussion before any comment could be made about him. "So what brought you to the academy?"


     Shaking his head and looking down. "It's not particularly dinner conversation..."


     Softly, "I'd like to hear it anyway."


     Barker sat back with a sigh, his hands behind his head on the chair's headrest, arms akimbo, planting a smile on his face. "Oh, same ole story. They needed the resources. Emperial troops raided my village, killed my father, raped my mother who died with the child in early labor. So I my brother and I split the little money out parents had saved and headed off to be rebels for the cause. I wanted revenge and had always liked flying the hover vehicles and tinkering with them to make them more efficient. So here was the logical place to go. My brother, older, went to fight. He died in a raid a few months ago." He sighed again with a shrug of his shoulders. "So I'm still here, learning to fly and fix; it's been four years now."


     Silent and wide-eyed, Jean leaned forward. "I am so sorry, sniff, sniff."


     With another shrug, "Thank you. I appreciate it. But I'm all right now. It was war." He coughed and corrected himself. "It is war."


     Jean nodded. "Yes, it is." He picked his menu up again, and answered the unasked question. "My story's not so... um... dark," he said as nicely as he could, with another sympathetic look toward Barker. He rubbed at his nose roughly. "But it's going to have to wait... I think I'm going to... " he closed his eyes, cupping his hands over his face, "to sneeze again... ahhChishh! ahhShehhhh! ahhHeshhoo! ahhShishhh!" Pulling a tissue out of his pocket, he hunched over and turned, blowing his nose repeatedly, as discretely as possible. When he straightened, he tried again. "My father attended here, as did my older brothers. Two of them are still alive and out there somewhere. Flying was in my family, and I love it with a passion."


     He was the youngest, Barker remarked to himself. It certainly showed. And the man certainly had not needed to grow up fast. "I'm sorry for your losses as well."


     Drinks were brought by, set on coasters which looked like cockpit instrument gauges and dials, and the men drank in silence a few moments, putting the death and war to the side to continue with lighter topics now that the worst was out of the way.


     "So how are classes going?" Barker asked, not sure what else he felt comfortable with.


     "Mechanics is a little tough for me," he said, blushing, pushing his flop of hair behind his ear just to have it fall back in place when he bent his head to take a sip of his drink.


     "I can give you a few pointers sometime, maybe. That is my specialty after all." He bit his lip as soon as he'd said it. He didn't want to sound like a show off, even if it was true.


     But Jean just smiled. "I'd like that. Everything else is going nicely. Oh, I adore government theory. Don't you just love the way our professor lectures?"


     It was Barker's turn to blush now. "I, uh, don't really pay attention in class as much as I should. I, uh, get distracted by, uh, a certain someone." He rubbed the back of his neck and tried to hide his face in his arm as he did so.


     But Jean grinned. "Well, maybe if that someone started sitting closer to you in class, you wouldn't be as inclined to let your eyes wander across the room?" he suggested, rubbing the back of his hand beneath his nose several times.


     "Maybe. I'll let you know after class tomorrow if it worked..." he trailed off, seeing that jean was in no condition to listen to him right this moment. "G'bless," he whispered just a second before Jean sneezed.


     "Ahhshhh! Ahhshoo! Ahhcheoo! Achishhhh!" he pulled a fresh tissue out of one pocket and cupped one hand over half his face to hide himself this time as he hunched over and blew his nose. "Excuse me." And he tucked the used tissue back into his other pocket.


     "Are you scoundrels ready to order?" The waiter was dressed as a pirate, to go with the theme. He had flight goggles resting on the top of his head, covered by a black bandana. A white scarf was wrapped around his neck, setting off a black flight jacket. And the waiter was chewing on something, making him look a terribly rehearsed shifty-eyed.


     Barker looked to Jean who nodded, so Barker began to order. "Yes indeed. I'd like the house special chicken with lossaw, please. With a side of salad plain and steamed vegetables."


     "Very good," said the waiter, entering it all into his datapad. "And for you?" he asked, turning to Jean.


     Jean, looking a bit distressed, held a hand up to his nose, the back of it pressed up against his nose to hold off tickles that were evidently present by his small, reddened, flaring nostrils. "Ub... sniff, sniff, I'll have the chicked salad add soub."


     The waiter, who was pretending not to notice Jean's condition, kept his eyes on his own datapad. "We have chicken vegetable, cream of mushroom, cream of broccogus--"


     "Checked vegetable," he muttered quickly, with another powerful, wet sniffle.


     The waiter nodded and collected their menus. Jean turned to the side, cupping both hands around his nose and mouth, and tipping forward gently with each, "Ehhchhhuhh! Ahhchhh! Ahh... ahhhChishhh!"


     "G'bless you."


     "Thanks. Sniff, sniff! You dow, Sniff, sniff! You know, that waiter reminded me a little of--"


     "Black Harri?"


     "Yes!" Jean exclaimed with a laugh. "The head of the navigation department! He used to scare me to death; I couldn't walk by his office for weeks when I first got here."


     They laughed casually a while, then Barker leaned in, dropping his voice down. "I was too shy to mention this when I first saw you tonight, but you look very handsome this evening." He looked down, smiling sheepishly as his cheeks flushed red. "I guess I'm still shy about it."


     Smiling, Jean shook his head. "Don't be. I thank you for the compliment, even I I'm sure I must look awful right now. My nose is all red and sore from sneezing so much... and--"


     "No, you're very handsome," Barker insisted, and in his eyes, the man really was. Gorgeous blond hair with his own style and flair. Smooth, flawless skin. A tight, cute behind. And a face, a face with delicate, young, stoic features. "And very sweet, and very sensitive, and--"


     "And so are you," he replied with a genuine smile. "I am really glad you asked me out, Barker."


     "I'm really glad you made it so easy on me."


     "Three weeks of love poems and flirting to a blur through an observation window while I fail mechanics before you'll even approach me after class is easy?" he laughed. "Then I'd surely hate to see difficult."


     Their dinners arrived on a platter shaped like a K-Wing Starfighter. Hungry as he was, he waited for Jean to take the first bites before diving into his own. The young man ate slowly, finishing off his soup in no time but puttering around the chicken.


     "Not as hungry as you thought?" Barker asked as they ate. He'd given up trying to keep pace with the young man and was thus nearly done with his meal.


     Jean shrugged, putting down his fork. "Subthig like that," he answered, giving his nose a rub. "Tell be about the towd? I've odly beed here a few stadard bodths." He pulled out a tissue and gave his nose a light blow, then a heavier one. He shivered and crossed his arms over his chest.


     Concerned, Barker leaned in. "Are you going to be all right?"


     Breaking into a firm, reassuring smile, Jean nodded. "Oh, I'm fine. I'll take this to go and snack on it tonight. Please, do tell. Bet you and your friends have had some fun times over the... the years... ahhKeshooo! ahhCheshhhh!"


     So Barker launched into story, finishing his meal and keeping a very close watch on Jean and his condition. He seemed pretty bad off, but nothing too serious... or so It seemed.


     The waiter left the check pad on the edge of the table and both men started at it a moment, motionless.


     Jean was the first to speak, digging around in his pocket for his datapad. "How do you want to...?"


     Barker held up his hand. "Let it be. I'm paying. After all, I asked you out, didn't I?"


     With a smirk, "Well... technically..."


     "Oh, hush!" Barker laughed at himself, plugging his pad into the check and transferring the amount needed. "I've got you covered."


     "iehhChishhh! ahhchishhh! ahhKeshooo!" he dug another fresh tissue out and blew his nose softly. And from the way he looked, he seemed glad that dinner was over.


Together they rose and headed out of the restaurant. The night was cold, far colder than the day, and Jean began shivering almost immediately from chill. Without a word or second's hesitation, Barker wrapped his jacket around Jean's shoulder's. The streets were brightly lit, and they headed out, walking slowly, uncertainly, shuffling and dragging their feet until they had stopped walking all together. Barker ran his hand through his hair nervously.


     Jean, on the other hand, leaned against the wall of one building as he sneezed yet again. "ahhchiishh! ehhChishh! ahshhh! Chishh!" He wiped his hand roughly beneath his nose and pulled the jacket closer around himself.


     "G'bless." Barker reached over and felt his forehead. The touch of his skin was so soft, almost like velvet. Perfection, blissful perfection that he had to work to separate himself from. He wanted to hug the man close, to hold him warm in his arms, he wanted that touch to last forever. But as pulled his hand away from the warmth, he knew what needed to happen.


     There was silence, meanwhile, and Jean gave another shiver. "Barker... I think maybe I should--" he started.


     Just as Barker admitted, "I think I should take you home."


     Jean meant to reply, but more sneezes got in his way. He leaned his side against the building, cupping one hand over his nose and mouth. "chishhoo! Ahhshhhhh! ahhhhshhheh! ahhCheshhh!ahhSheshhh!" He gasped for breath and rubbed his hand beneath his nose, but his mouth hung open, his nose running, and his eyes stayed tightly shut. Then he bent forward with more. "ahhShhhhh! ahhChishhh! ahhChishhoo!"


     Amazed at the power the young man was displaying, "Bless you! Goodness! This certainly isn't any small cold you've caught here."


     Jean sniffled, nodding. "I'b sorry... I usually sdeeze a lot whed I hab a code. But I'b starting to really dot feel well."


     Barker nodded. "You've got a fever. You need bed rest."


     Agreeing, Jean continued to rub his nose, migrating from his hand to his sleeve as his nose ran. "I just feel mis... miser..." his face yet again, and as he covered his mouth and most with one hand, the other dove into his pocket for another tissue. But the sneezes came too quickly for him to retrieve one. "ahhchishh! Ahhshooo! ehhchiishhho!"


     "G'bless." From the sneezing, the jacket had been shaken off, sliding off one of Jean's shoulders, and now dangled of the other, about to fall to the ground. Barker pushed it back into place.


     Presently, Jean was more concerned with his state of health. One hand cupped his face and his cheeks were bright red with embarrassment. "I'b out of tisues."


     Holding up a finger for 'wait' he pulled a small pack of tissues out of his pocket, handing them over. "Here, I got you. Go ahead and keep 'em."


     Jean's face lit up and he took them gratefully, leaning with his back against the wall and using both hands to blow heartily. Stuffing the tissues away in his pocket, he sighed with relief. "Thank you so much. I really needed that." He slipped his arms into the sleeves of Barker's jacket. "Do you always carry those around with you?"


     "No, never," barker replied, wrapping and arm cautiously around Jean's waist.


     Jean warmed to him, doing likewise as they were walking slowly anyway. "Then...?"


     "I saw you sneeze a few times in mechanics today and thought you might need them. I wanted to make sure you were comfortable on our date if you actually cared to come. I thought you might not show up."


     "Not show up? Of course I'd show up!" he laughed, giving Barker's middle a bit of a squeeze. "And thank you," He nuzzled him gently. "That's so sweet of you to do." Sniffling, "I'm so sorry I caught a cold just in time for the date. I have bad luck. And I'm afraid I... wasn't... ahhChhh! ahhhchishh!" He gave his nose a rub and a weak blow before continuing. "I'm afraid I wasn't much of a date tonight."


     They approached the underclassmen barracks. "No, Jean. You were simply wonderful. I had a great time, I just wish you were feeling better."


     Nodding, "Look at it this way, you still owe me that walk. And... " he broke away, raising both hands to cup the lower half of his face. "ehhAhshhh! ahhSheshh! ahhCheshhh! ahh... ahhIhhshhhh!" He wiped his nose and sniffed strongly. "Add whed I'b feeling better, I'll take you ub od it. Sniff, sniff! Baybe dowd, sniff, sniff, by the beach. Sniff, sniff. I ab sorry about all this."


     Shaking his head, "Not at all, just feel better. A good night of sleep will help." They came to a stop in front of the door to Jean's building. "Thanks for a nice dinner. Feel better, Jeanie."


     Jean grinned, standing tiptoed and brushing his lips very gently against Barker's. "I'd kiss you all night, save I don't want you catching this."


     Barker took the young man in his strong arms, bending and kissing him strong on the lips, warm and powerful, lush and soft lips. He lingered there as long as he could before breaking away for a breath. "Don't worry," he whispered. "I won't."


     Dazed with happiness, Jean broke away, swiping his identification card on the door panel and disappearing within.


*          *          *


     "That's all?" Austin asked, punching him in the arm.


     "Look, the guy was sick, all right? I didn't want him pushing himself. Oh, but that goodbye kiss, man. Sparks, fireworks, you have no idea." He licked his lips longingly with a sigh.


     Austin coughed and raised his eyebrows, whispering, "Your Prince doth cometh."


     Barker looked over to see Jean walking down the isle. He looked just as he'd looked the night before, perhaps a little worse. He slid into the seat beside Barker with a sniffle and a rub to his nose. "Hi, Barker."


     "Good morning, Jean. You... you don't look so hot."


     Shivering, Jean nodded. He handed over Barker's jacket. "I'b dot stayig. I deed to be id bed. But I wadted to give this back add ask..." he suddenly looked scared and squeezed his eyes shut as he lifted a balled-up tissue to his nose. "ahhKkntt! ahhEffphh! ahhch'gnt!" he stifled them with what seemed like more effort than he currently possessed. "Excuse be..." he looked around as if he expected the whole room to be staring at him. Whispering to Barker, "I get a little self codscious sdeezig bublic."


     "Well, g'bless you anyway," he said, gently taking the man's hand and squeezing it. Barker wanted nothing than to hold him close and take him back to bed. Jean looked truly miserable.


     He continued on, "I wadted to ask if you could take dotes for be id class add stob by with theb later?" He dabbed his nose with the tissue, snuffling.


     "Of course!" That was the least he could do. Besides, it would give him a good excuse to see Jean later. "Can you make it back ok? Do you need me to take you?"


     He shook his head. "I'b all right. Thag you. I'll see you later thed." He gave a quick kiss to Barker's cheek as he rose.


     "Later," Barker returned with a smile, which dissolved as soon as Austin punched his arm again.


     "He really likes you!" he bounced with a sly grin.


     "Yeah, that's good because I really like him."


*          *          *


     Barker stood outside the first year dorm, leaning against the wall leisurely. His card did not work to open it, and so far none of the first years he'd met going in or out had been willing to let him slip by. He wiped a nervous, sweaty palm on his pants leg and focused on the doorway. Maybe if he stared at it really, really hard... then it would open up for him...


     The door swung open and Barker jumped, startled.


     A pair of young women strolled out, gossiping about some new hair style or what not. Barker grabbed the door handle immediately, waving his hand for them as he held it open with all the charm he could quickly muster. The girls giggled and thanked him, quickly walking through and getting only a few paces away before bursting into giggles with words such as 'so cute' and 'those muscles' and 'what a gentleman!'


     Baker bowed and slipped inside. Girls' floors were odd numbers starting with the third, and guys' had all the even ones, and that was four to pick from. Starting up the stairs, he decided working his way up would make the most sense. So on the second floor, he peaked into the great room. Each floor of the dormitories was filled with double rows of standard cots. They'd had bunk beds when Barker had first arrived at the academy, but due to dropping enrollment and the majority of the students' preferences, they were un-bunked. There was silence, and the room was vacant for the most part.


Aside from an upperclassmen guard beside the stairwell pulled himself out of his chair and away from his datapad with a sigh. "Business here?"


     He'd been hoping not to run into one of the monitors, but at least Jean had given him a good excuse. He cleared his throat and stood straight to look as regal as possible. "Delivering a homework assignment to a classmate, Jean Ali-Parst."


     The monitor nodded, relaxing more, sitting down. "Sixth floor, I believe. It's alphabetical this year starting at the top."


     The monitor at the sixth floor was a little less laid back, wanting to see the assignment and check his identification tag. Finally, Barker was let lose to wander down the isle, checking the bunks. The majority were empty; first years apparently had more to do on an afternoon than nap. Though that didn't sound like such a bad idea when all was considered; classes had been long and projects had been quite tiring this week.


     "ahhKeshoo! ahhKufshoo! AhhChishahh! Ahh...ahhKeshoo!"


     Barker smiled. That was Jean all right. The sneezes had come from the far end of the room, so he hurried on his way, listening for more. Before he heard any, he'd spotted Jean. The lad was curled in a ball beneath the blankets of his cot with a datapad resting in front of him as if he intended to do work and actually might have if he felt better.


     The young man's eyes closed and his body tensed beneath the covers. His head turned into his pillow to sneeze, "ehhKeff! ahhShishh!"


     With a soft smile, "I recognize that sneeze. G'bless you."


     Looking up with a smile to see Barker, "Hey, you found me."


     Barker spoke softly, never having felt comfortable talking at full volume in the dorms. "Once I found what floor you were on, I just followed the sound of your sneezes." Awkwardly, he handed over a small pad. "My notes and the reading assignment from government theory."


     "Thadks," he placed it on the trunk beside his bed. "Have a minute?" he asked, pushing himself up to sit to make room at the foot of his cot.


     Taking the invitation, Barker sat down. "You're sounding much clearer. Feeling any better?"


     "A little. Someone scrounged up some hot chocolate for me, which warmed me up enough to get a good sleep this morning. Hopefully, I'll... I'll..." he held up a finger, signaling that he would be a moment. He groped for the tissue box which was hiding beneath a blanket on the bed and just as he lifted two tissues to his face, the sneezes struck. "ahhChuff! EhhCheshahh! ehhCheshoo!" He sniffled and gave a rub at his nose. "'Scuse be, sniff, sniff!  As I was saying... hopefully I'll be back in classes tomorrow." He stretched out. "Not that I'm not enjoying this forced vacation." He coughed and gave a sniffle. "But I would like to be feeling better. How's your day been?"


     "Just fine." He rubbed a sweaty palm on the back of his neck, searching for something else to say.


     There was silence which began casually, normally as all silences did. But then it grew uncomfortable with pressure heaped upon the next words. And neither man gave into the pressure, so it built up, more and more.


     Until, finally, Jean blurted out, "So we're not entirely comfortable yet, are we?"


     Almost ashamed, as if it were his fault, Barker shook his head, looking down at the bed.


     "Well, then, we'll have to do something about that. If we can't speak comfortably yet, we'll just work on it until we are." He moved over in bed and patted the spot beside him. Barker crawled over, almost afraid his heavy body would tip the cot over. But Jean balanced it well, better than expected. They joined hands, and Barker found himself immediately rubbing his other hand over the young man's soft, silky fingers and lower arm, gently, soothingly, reassuringly. He closed his eyes, breathing in Jean's smell, and feeling in tune with the young man's breathing, and occasional sniffles.


     When he opened his eyes, he felt as if they could talk about anything at all and he would be comfortable. Jean was smiling back at him. "I'm better... you?"


     "Much," Jean answered, giving his hand a squeeze of reassurance. "I wanted to say sorry again for coming down with this cold just in time of our first date."


     Barker clucked. "Ah, think nothing of it, really," he replied, feeling much more at ease now than ever before. "I just want you to... feel... better..." he let go of Jean's hand in order to dig a tissue out of his pocket and hand it over.


     Jean accepted it, lifting it up to reddened nostrils which flared once, twice, then once more as he sharply inhaled a deep breath and stiffened up completely for, "ahhhshhh! ahh-ishhhhh! Ahhhchishhh! uhh..." He sniffed and went lose, dropping his hands into his lap not so much as in frustration as not having the strength to hold them up. "Excuse be."


     Barker reached over, cupping a large hand to the side of the young man's face, rubbing a callused thumb against the silky-soft cheek. "G'bless you. Whatever can I do for you, Jean? You look so tired and miserable and handsome and adorable..." he bit his lip, keeping himself from adding in 'and irresistible'.


     Beaming, Jean shivered with chill. "Just need to let it run its course. I sound much worse than I am. I always get a really bad case of the sneezes when I come down with a cold."


     But Barker refused to let the matter drop. Jean looked tired, uncomfortable, sickly. At least Barker could help somewhat with the first two. He pulled the covers up over Jean to the middle of his chest, not able to go too much higher as he was sitting up.


     After a strong, insistent yawn, Jean continued. "I know I must look awful, but I'll be all right."


     Barker slipped his hand beneath the man's back and stood up halfway himself. Gently, soundlessly, he eased the man back down with the covers pulled up all the way to his chin.


     "It's just... ahh..." Jean lifted his hand. "ahhChishhh! ahhsheoo! ahhhtishhh!" he sneezed weakly, with another yawn following.


     Barker gently took the man's hand and wiped it dry with a tissue, then he wiped the slightly chapped nose as gently as possible.


     "It's just by doze..." Jean continued, his eyes closing despite all actions. "Add I ab a bit tired..."


     Barker nodded and lay down on the bunk beside him. The little space that was left was just enough to fit the broad-shouldered, muscular upperclassman. Jean lay on his side, curled halfway while Barker lay right up against him, back to front, wrapping a strong arm over him. "Then rest, Jeanie."


     The man wiggled his nose and made to move but Barker held him back. "Shhh... I've got you now." He rubbed his own finger beneath Jean's nose for him. "Yes?"


     With a deep, contented sigh, Jean willingly closed his eyes. "Yes... thank you, Barker. You won't catch my cold from me, will you?"


     "I won't," he replied. And if he did, he didn't care one bit. This was worth it.


     "You don't have to stay with me the whole time I sleep. You can leave once I drift... off..." he yawned yet again, a hearty, deep yawn that surpassed all his others and shook him a bit.


     "No, I wanted a nap anyway. I'll be here when you wake, looking after you."


     Jean smiled, though from where Barker lay, he could not see. "You've got me?" he asked, his voice soft and faint; he was fading fast.


     "I've got you," Barker whispered back in reassurance. Barker, before nervous and hesitant, now did not even think about the move as he craned his neck to kiss softly on the cheek. He squeezed the man through the blankets, as Jean was beneath and he above, warming, protecting, comforting. "Sweet dreams, my little pilot."


     Relaxing completely in the man's arms with a strong and final yawn, he replied, "They will all be of you, my tough mechanic."




Poetry credits:


Come Fill The Cup, by Omar Khayyam

Who Ever Loved That Loved Not at First Sight?, by Christopher Marlowe