Alric has always been one step behind his brother, and now he might walk away for good.
After failing at yet another task his older brother Mace performed perfectly on his first try, Alric has decided he doesn’t care anymore. He doesn’t need anyone’s approval, and he certainly doesn’t need a conditional inheritance from his father. But his attempts to comply with his father’s demand that he settle down and have children brought someone into his life, someone completely different from his numerous past lovers. Chase makes Alric question everything about his life, and with Chase’s help, he might finally see that the kind of acceptance he’s always wanted was being offered to him all along.
Alric stood at the edge of the grass behind the hangar bay and watched Mace’s ship depart. He kept thinking about what his brother had said to him moments earlier. My life has nothing to do with yours. It certainly shouldn’t destroy your happiness this way. Alric couldn’t exactly agree with that. Being the second son had always felt like a burden. His parents constantly compared him to his older brother Mace, who was smarter and stronger and far more hardworking than Alric had ever been. Admitting to his brother that he was jealous—and that he still loved him anyway—had been hard. He almost regretted the confessions and didn’t know what to do next.
Their father Bor had given them a mission, of sorts. If they wanted to inherit their share of the family’s shipping company, they had to get married and produce heirs. The fact all three brothers preferred male lovers had made this mission a bit challenging. Mace had naturally found the perfect solution with very little effort. Within one week of their father’s ultimatum, Mace had returned practically engaged to a handsome omega wolf shifter named Finn. And then Alric had spent months watching the two fall in love. Today, he’d arrived home and found out that Finn was actually pregnant. He was happy for his brother and Finn, but once again, it seemed as if everything always worked out perfectly for Mace while none of Alric’s plans ever came to fruition.
Though he hadn’t told either of his brothers, Alric had actually been trying to find a husband as well. The fact his father wanted grandchildren had made this search a bit harder, and he’d actually resorted to contacting several matchmaking agencies. He’d been amazed how many species actually presented options for him. As much sex as he’d had in his life, Alric had mostly slept with humans and didn’t know a lot about alien biology. He’d met a few people but had been disappointed with the results so far. He felt disheartened and believed he’d never be able to do what Mace had done and find someone who would actually love him.
Alric cursed under his breath. Until his father had done this to them, he’d never given a damn about falling in love. He’d certainly never given a bit of thought to getting married or having children. Thus far, he’d done everything in secret and worked his arranged meetings into his work schedule, but now he was actually going to take some time off and think over what he wanted. He had an appointment to meet with a new agent, and he would follow through with it. Even if he decided to walk away from the family business and stop trying to find a husband who could give him children, the agency might be able to set him up with someone he could enjoy his vacation with.
He hadn’t had sex in a month, and the celibacy was starting to get to him. He’d never apologized for his libido and never would. And he’d never admit it to his brothers, but Mace’s comment about all the possibilities of finding an intersex partner had fueled many of Alric’s fantasies ever since the day their father had told them about his change of plans for his will. Alric had been in many threesomes with a man and a woman, but what would it be like to be with someone who had both kinds of sex organs? He’d been a bit nervous the first time he’d mentioned it to one of the matchmaking agents, but no one had acted as if he was asking for something strange. He’d only been on a “date” with one intersex candidate, and the man had laughed and said it was obvious how nervous Alric was about saying and doing the right thing. That had embarrassed Alric, but the man had been very kind about it and actually made him feel better by the end of the night. The date had ended with nothing more than a kiss, though, and the man had very pointedly told Alric that physical attributes and sexual identity wouldn’t matter at all when the right person walked into his life.
At first, Alric had felt angry, as if the guy had been condescending to him, but now he saw it as true kindness. He’d never find real happiness if he picked a partner based on a checklist. Or on a fantasy. His ideal probably would be someone who had both a penis and a vagina but identified as male, but that was only what his body wanted. His heart had never been involved before, and he had no idea how to even begin.
“Alric, you aren’t leaving yet, are you?”
Alric turned to see his mother coming along the stone path alongside the green space. She stopped beside him and admired the grass. “This does look nice. Gives the place more color. Good idea. Perhaps we could add a couple of benches or something.”
“Thanks,” Alric said. He couldn’t even remember why he’d suggested his parents put more green spaces in the undeveloped places around their main facility, but it was nice to hear his mother praising him. “And no, not leaving yet. Maybe tomorrow morning. Or tonight if I get things squared away.”
Rama put her hands on her hips. “Did you fight with Mace? You look perturbed.”
“No. I’m tired. Nothing more.”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re taking some time off. I only wanted to make sure everything was all right. I know I’ve been preoccupied with the wedding and everything.”
Mace and Finn would be getting married before long. They would’ve done it sooner, but Rama wanted the event to be just right. “I’m fine. I really am.”
“You’ll be all right with or without anything from your father. Don’t force it.”
Alric sighed. “Mom, I’m all right. I’m thinking. That’s all.”
She gave him a look that said she didn’t believe him, but then she shrugged. “Then enjoy your trip. And keep in touch.” She turned on her heels and walked away, pulling out her communicator and punching something in as she headed back toward the main entrance.
Alric stood there a moment longer and then went back to his room to pack. He’d leave tonight. The quicker he was on his own, the better he’d feel.
* * * *
Alric followed the beeping sound until he found his brother Tore in the corner of one of the larger store rooms doing inventory. He’d considered telling his brother about his attempts to find a mate, but Tore seemed to think both he and Mace were crazy for taking dad’s ultimatum seriously. Tore liked Finn and was happy for Mace, but he still thought it was the wrong way to approach a romantic relationship. What would he say about Alric filling out surveys and questionnaires? He’d probably laugh, though that was easy for him to do. He’d just turned twenty-three and hadn’t had as many disappointments in his life as Alric had. Alric cleared this throat, feeling bad about the way he’d been thinking just now. He never wanted his little brother to experience any kind of disappointment at all.
Tore looked up and set his scanner aside. “You heading on?”
“Yeah, within the next hour. Wanted to say goodbye and all.”
“You get to see Finn and Mace before they took off?”
“Yes. I congratulated Finn.” Alric paused, thinking about the half-assed fight he and Mace had just had. “They seem really happy.”
“They are. It’s gonna be interesting watching Mace chase a kid around.”
“He’s probably going to be a pretty strict father.”
Tore tilted his head. “I can see why you’d say that, but I think he’s going to spoil the kid rotten. A baby might be just what his serious side needs. He’s already changed a lot since he met Finn. He’s easing up some. And if it’s a girl? You know she’s going to have him wrapped around her finger.”
Alric laughed as he imagined Mace trying to say no to even the wildest demand from a little girl. “All right, I can see that happening.” He sighed, his happiness short-lived, as it had been lately. “Anyway, I’ll contact you in a few days, and be back well before the wedding.”
“Where you heading?”
“Rematu. Just going to relax.” He would have an appointment with the Hearts in Harmony dating agency when he got here, but he wasn’t about to tell Tore that. It was better his little brother didn’t know that he kept failing where Mace had succeeded immediately.
“All right then. I hope it helps.”
“Thanks. I think.”
Tore shook his head. “You’ve been in a bad mood for weeks. You need some time for yourself. Go eat and drink and sit on the beach. And get laid.”
“I’ll be staying in Malen, not at one of the resorts. And I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that last part,” Alric said as he turned to walk away.
“Hey, I’m observant, that’s all. You haven’t been seducing any of the new employees from this most recent hire dad did, so I figure something’s gotta be up.”
Alric stopped and looked back. Testing the waters, he said, “Maybe I’m reforming. Gonna settle down like dad wants.”
Tore laughed loudly and picked up his scanner again. “That’ll be the day.” He went back to his work.
Alric frowned but made himself walk away. That’ll be the day, huh? That thought stayed with him as he gathered his bags, the words mixing with all the things Mace had said to him earlier. He hurried to his ship, ready to be alone for a while.
* * * *
Chase made his way down the street, keeping an eye out for anyone he knew. He didn’t have a place to stay tonight, which was fine, but it was supposed to start raining after midnight and he didn’t want to be caught in it, especially since the storm was supposed to last several days. He’d made a couple of friends since leaving home, but he hadn’t seen any of them today. He was still learning how to function on the street. Malen was a good city for being homeless, if one could say any city was, but he’d been too slow today, so most of the shelters were already full.
Chase turned around to see Varian Corbin coming his way. They’d gone to school together, and Chase had crashed on his couch one night just after he’d run away last year. Varian had never been a close friend, but Chase was still relieved to see him. It was getting late, not to mention cold and dark. Given the weather forecast for the next few days, Chase had few options, though he didn’t want to come off as desperate.
“Hi, Varian. How are you?” Chase said, smiling and shoving his hands into his pockets.
“I’m good. And very glad I found you.”
Chase frowned as he asked, “Why?”
“I might have a solution for you.”
That perked him up. “A job?”
Varian made an odd face, squinting and frowning as he shrugged. “Mmmm, kind of. Maybe. It’s not really a job exactly.”
“What do you mean?” Chase adjusted his bag on his shoulder.
“There’s a guy coming in to the agency tomorrow. And he’s interested in something very specific, if you know what I mean.”
Chase didn’t respond at first. He’d never been ashamed of the fact he’d been born intersex, but Varian had found out about his unique qualities by accident. They’d been on a school trip where they’d had to share a room, and Chase had forgotten to lock the bathroom door one night while he was masturbating. He’d thought Varian was in the room across the hall fucking his girlfriend, but they’d been caught, so Varian had come back much earlier than expected. Now, Varian worked for a matchmaking agency, so Chase knew where this conversation was going. “Specific, huh?”
Varian said, “Hear me out. He’s a pilot who’s looking for a man to settle down with, but he’s got a little problem I think you could solve for him.”
“Problem? What problem could he have that would make him want me? What, does he not like anal sex or something?” If this person preferred men, Chase couldn’t imagine him wanting one who also happened to have a vagina. His mind raced, but he couldn’t begin to guess what Varian was getting at.
“No. The problem is he’ll be left out of his father’s will if he doesn’t have children one day. He likes women, but he simply prefers men.” He lowered his voice. “Seems you’d be perfect for him.”
Children. Of course. He needs someone with the right biology, not just the parts. Chase got the picture, feeling relieved it wasn’t something more unusual. “So, likes pussy but needs cock? Hmmm.”
Varian licked his lips, a bit of color coming to his cheeks. “We’d never put it that way, but yes. There’s no one registered with the agency who exactly fits his specifications. I have alternatives for him, but you’d be his ideal. And it would get you off the street. I feel bad I haven’t been able to get a job for you.”
“Jobs are hard to find these days, especially for someone registered as a runaway.”
“But you’re eighteen now. People will get over it, plus it’ll come off your record after your next birthday.” Varian shook his head. “Though that is months away. Maybe this guy’s your answer.”
“How old is he?”
“Not old at all. Only twenty-five.”
Chase fidgeted with a thread inside his pocket. “I don’t want children. Not really. Just because I can have them doesn’t mean I want them. If that’s his main requirement, I can’t promise that out of the gate. Not with anyone, but especially not with someone I don’t know at all.”
Varian sighed. “All right. I’m only trying to help.” He moved a bit closer. “You could come stay with me. I was so lucky to get the job I have. I know it’s hard out here. I’d be on the street, too, if I hadn’t been chosen in that first round of interviews after graduation. I understand you don’t want to feel obligated or anything, but it’s not safe out here.” He lowered his voice. “Especially if certain types of people did find out about you.”
Varian’s parents were dead, and he’d been in foster care their final year of school. And of course, he’d been on his own the very day he’d turned eighteen due to the overcrowded foster system on Rematu. If nothing else, at least Varian truly did understand his situation, whereas some simply pitied him. Chase had little choice, though he’d always tried to avoid accepting too much help from any one person. He’d put himself in this situation by running away from his stepfather, and he felt he needed to man up and find his own path. But Varian had a point about the kind of people who would take advantage if they found out about his true nature. If he didn’t take Varian up on his offer, he might not get another tonight. “Maybe for a few days. There’s a storm coming.”
Varian looked up at the sky. “Really? It is pretty cloudy.” He gazed down at Chase. “Then you have to come home with me. Stay as long as you want. You’ll get sick out here.”
“Just until the storm moves off.” Chase adjusted his bag again. “I’ll cook. Do some cleaning. Whatever you like.”
“Whatever I like? I’d like you to forgive me so we can be friends. Real friends.”
Chase blinked, a bit shocked Varian felt that way. But it made sense the more he thought about it, as they’d never really talked about that night since the fumbling conversation they’d had after Varian had walked in on him. Chase had been so embarrassed when Varian had caught him jerking off while sliding three fingers in and out of his pussy. “I never said I didn’t forgive you. There’s nothing to forgive. You walked in, but I forgot to lock the door.” He rubbed the back of his neck and glanced around before adding, “It’s fine. You’ve never judged me the way some have.”
“Are we good then?” Varian smiled again. “I owe you some help. I’d never have realized I liked guys, too, if not for you.”
“What?” Chase asked, almost laughing.
Varian shrugged. “Never seen another guy’s cock until that day. Got me thinking.” He gave another shrug. “I’m dating a guy now. It’s still casual, but he’s great. Treats me better than anyone else I’ve ever been with.”
“Good.” Chase envied the way others could date casually. He’d had a couple of partners, but telling people about what to expect when his clothes came off wasn’t always easy.
As a few raindrops hit his shoulder, Varian looked up again. “Hey, let’s go. We’ll both get soaked.”
“Yeah, I’m more than ready to be indoors. I’ve been walking for hours.”
Varian hailed a transport pod for them, and they slid in just before the sky opened up. Chase sat back and tried to relax as he watched the water trickle down the window as the pod lifted into the air and maneuvered toward the skyscraper Varian’s small apartment was in. Chase tried to focus on the fact he’d be dry tonight instead of wondering what the future held for him.