Befriended by the Moon
by Farad and Artisan447
Notes: this story takes place in the Drifterverse, and it is set before the founding story Drifter. The title is from a Crow (Native American Indian) story "The Couple Befriended by the Moon"

Vin was pacing. He didn't seem to know it, he never did.

Chanu sighed, and turned away from the painting. He'd promised himself he'd work on it until he had the tonal balance right, but the play of lights against darks was still wrong and his concentration was broken. Not that he'd actually had much, not since Claire left.

His thoughts had been unfocused and it had been too easy to get caught up in the soft strides of his lover, the tread of his feet on the bare floor, the soft rub of fabric as his thighs brushed against each other; too easy to confuse the light, almost translucent blue of his paint with the blue of Vin's eyes.

He paused to wipe his brushes clean and watched Vin, saw the frown on his lover's face, the sharp lines in his already-sharp features.

He smiled to himself, resigned, knowing already what Vin was thinking. He was planning to leave. Even if he didn't know it himself yet, Vin already had one foot out the door. All that was left was the justification he would come up with.

"Vin?" he called quietly.

Vin turned quickly, jerking to a halt and staring at Chanu. He'd been deep in thought, and his blue eyes were bright and distant and - anxious.

Despite himself, Chanu studied them closely, wishing he could capture them. He'd tried so many times, but Vin's eyes were so striking, so intense, that his efforts never seemed more than a pale imitation.

"Another baby," Vin said, and he smiled, but it didn't reach those eyes. "Guess you got a busy time ahead."

Chanu smiled back, understanding now. He should have known when Claire asked to stop in that she was going to have news of that nature. She had asked to come here, not to have Chanu come to her place, which was usually the arrangement if they were going to have sex. Yaounni's presence would have alerted him, but she hadn't been with Claire this time; a little surprising, in retrospect, but not something to dwell on now.

Chanu had thought that asking Vin to join them would help to soothe some of his lover's misconceptions about his relationship with Claire. But that idea had backfired mere moments after they'd settled in and gotten comfortable - and she had declined the glass of local wine. He'd had a flutter of an idea, but before it formed, she blurted it out, excited. They'd been trying for a second child for a while, but it was still a surprise. A pleasant one, but a surprise nonetheless.

He'd been pleased, and he still was. Vin had been pleased, at first too, but that had waned the more they talked. By the time he left to walk Claire back to the shuttle stop, Vin had retreated to a restless silence.

Chanu respected Vin's unease about the idea of it, sex for the purpose of procreating. Or perhaps, knowing Vin, the sex itself. Like most Drifters, they had an open relationship; Chanu knew that Vin slept with other people when he was away from the clan - away from Chanu.

But when they were together, Vin was monogamous to Chanu, and Chanu suspected that if he never left the clan, Vin would not sleep with anyone else.

They'd never discussed it, and Chanu thought they never would, without provocation. It wasn't something he himself was ready to commit to, that level of monogamy, even though what he felt for Vin went far deeper than sex alone, or the friendship he had with Claire.

"You running out on me?" Chanu asked, his voice still low.

Vin's features slid effortlessly into a flat expression Chanu knew well; they'd lived together almost all of their lives, and he knew Vin as well as he knew himself.

He shook his head and held up one hand, stopping the denial. "You don't have to leave, Vin, it's not as if she's moving in here and - "

"She's having your baby," Vin said flatly. "She needs your help, and you need to be there, and - "

"And what? I don't need you at the same time?"

Vin looked away but not before Chanu saw the answer Vin thought was true.

"You got things you need to be thinking on," Vin said, his voice raspier than usual. "She's gonna need you, and you need to be a part of this, a big part of this, and - "

"I'm not moving in with her, I'm not leaving this house - our house. Yes, I'll help out as I can - as she wants me to. As she and Yaounni want me to. We're clan, Vin - you know those ties mean everything. Claire is Sepu. I care for her - but she is not you."

Vin shrugged, glancing back at Chanu. "Know that there ain't much that's more important than the kids, and you got one already, one you already need to be spending more time with. You know how much a kid needs his dad? Don't need to be having to explain to him why you ain't with him more, why he don't get to see you and his ma together and - "

"Vin." Chanu took several steps closer, slowly reaching out. Vin didn't shy away, but he did tense as Chanu's hand drew near then touched, cupping over his cheek. "Those aren't clan ideas," he said, measuring his words. "You know my responsibilities and you know the clan way as well as I do. Children are a gift, one I'm honored to be able to contribute, and we're blessed that Claire came to us -- it keeps us strong to mix our blood with outsiders. Iyanni has a good home with his mothers and when it's time for the acceptance ritual, he'll come to know the clan better, too. Things are as they should be."

Vin shook his head, and though he didn't argue, he didn't look comfortable. He never did, Chanu thought, not when the topic was the way the clan raised children.

Chanu had no idea where the thoughts came from. Vin had never lived anything but clan life -- he'd been brought, squalling, into the world a matter of weeks after his mother sought sanctuary with them -- so the clan ways of child-rearing, of sharing the love and discipline and teaching, should have been as familiar to him as they were to Chanu. As accepted. And yet Vin was still torn by these strong, yet strange views.

"We love our children, all of them. We share them all, like your mother shared you with us." He eased closer, pressing against Vin as he let his fingers caress Vin's cheek.

"My ma died," Vin said, and he tried to grin, to lighten the words, but Chanu knew the hurt his lover still carried. "She didn't share me with the clan, she left me here. Ain't the same - not that I don't appreciate everything y'all done for me, you and Kojay and the clan. And yeah, I know how the clan works, and how it shares. But a kid still knows his folks, still needs 'em. Like you need Kojay and your ma - hell, Chanu, you and Jonah-eh are the sons of a chief. You spent more time with your pa than most boys - how the hell can you know what the rest of us need or want, those of us raised in the clan way? Your boy and your new baby - they need you the same way you needed your pa, Chanu. Ain't right for you not to be there when you can be."

Chanu leaned forward, touching his lips to Vin's. "I'll be there for them. But so will you. And you'll be there for me, too."

Vin didn't argue with this, but Chanu knew his words were moot. Vin felt what he felt and there was nothing Chanu could say that would have much meaning. Better by far to distract his lover out of his tension.

Chanu kissed him again, this time with more pressure, and Vin relaxed against him. When Chanu drew him closer, hooking an arm around Vin's back and drawing him in, Vin returned the embrace.

Strong, Chanu thought, which was always his visceral response to his lover. Not overly muscled or developed, but solid and secure. It wasn't just his body, which was compact and tight, used to hard work and lots of it. It was also his personality; Vin was strong emotionally, preferring to stand on his own, to be on his own.

What they had was a struggle for him, Chanu knew; Vin didn't trust that anything good would last, that people who cared for him would stay. It was a by-product of the loss of his mother, which Chanu himself remembered well. He was several years older than Vin, and he had been the one to share a room in the days after, to listen to Vin cry at night, even though Vin had been quieter than ever in his pain. He had been the one who'd woken Vin from his nightmares, who'd crawled into his bed and lain still, with Vin's small hand over his chest, letting the strong, steady beat of his heart reassure the grieving child that he still had family, clan, to watch over him.

Over the years, he had watched Vin learn to take care of himself, watched him modify his own wants and needs because to indulge them would be to owe someone something that he might never be able to repay.

"Want you here," he said into Vin's hair. "No need for you to run away."

He didn't expect Vin to answer, so he wasn't disappointed when he didn't. But the tension in his lover took time to fade, and he knew the battle was far from over.

For the moment, though, Vin accepted the distraction. There was little finer than having him willing and wanting, and nothing better than being the center of Vin's attention.

There was - had always been - hunger between them. They'd played around as kids do, but sometime in their late teens, they'd both found that it meant more when they touched each other than any one else. They hadn't talked about it at first, not for a long time in fact, and when they had, Chanu had been surprised, afterwards, when Vin ran.

Vin didn't call it that, and it took a while for Chanu to figure it out. That time, Vin had been gone about six months, wandering about on his own, testing his ability to come and go as he wanted through the universe without leaving a trace. He'd not gone alone, not the first time, but he'd gone without Chanu.

When he'd come back, he'd been shy and sweet and ferocious. Hungry, as if he'd been starving.

Chanu had been, too, even though he'd had more sex in the space of time Vin had been gone than for the whole rest of his life up to it. None of that sex came close to being with Vin again, and he thought it was the same for Vin.

Now, Vin was as desperate as he'd been then, that first time back. As desperate as he was each time he came back, being brave and stupid and trying to hide his relief that Chanu hadn't found someone else in the time he'd been gone.

Not that Chanu would, and he thought that Vin knew that and even accepted it. But some part of him still worried, and Chanu thought it was the loss of his mother at such a young age. What mattered to Vin was that he had to be able to survive if something took Chanu away. Vin had to test that he could continue on - and he did every time he felt threatened.

Now, he was as voracious as he was when he returned from one of his wanderings, his mouth open and hot against Chanu's, his tongue invasive and demanding. This was the way it started, Vin trying to climb as far into Chanu as he could. It was intoxicating, even if wouldn't last, and Chanu didn't mind that too much either.

By the time they had to break to breathe, one of Chanu's hands was curled into Vin's hair and the other was pulling snug inside the back of Vin's pants, his fingers trying to worm their way past the tight band of Vin's drawers.

Vin's hands were under Chanu's shirts, kneading at the tight muscles of his shoulders. "Want you to fuck me," he said, rubbing against Chanu. "Need you to."

He was hard, his erection pressing nicely against Chanu's and Chanu wanted to touch it, to watch Vin lose control at the easy stroke of a finger.

"Need that, too," he said, "always."

Vin didn't say anything to that, either ignoring the promise in the word or refusing to believe it. Instead, he slowly relinquished his hold on Chanu and eased back, letting one hand slide down to catch at Chanu's wrist.

Their bedroom was the smallest room of the small house. It hadn't always been; when they'd moved in, they'd slept in the back room, the one that got the morning and evening light, the one with the high windows that Vin liked to leave open so he could smell the grass and feel the breeze.

For those same reasons, it was the room Chanu used as his workroom, and gradually, his work had taken more and more space. Especially in the times that Vin was gone, when Chanu was lonely for his lover and angry at his absence. It had been in one of those times, a fit of frustration at a sculpture that wasn't coming together, and Vin wasn't there, and everything seemed wrong, that he had thrown himself into moving out the bed and the vestiges of their life together, shutting them into the small room that served as a study. He'd slept on the couch or on cushions on the floor until the mood had passed.

But he didn't move the bed back, and Vin hadn't asked when he'd returned home. Instead, he'd let Chanu take him in the middle of the old bedroom, on the floor, with sunlight streaming in from the morning-side, showing the new scars on his tanned skin and the gold highlights in his scruffy whiskers and over-long hair.

Afterwards, sweaty and staring at the ceiling, Vin had traced patterns on Chanu's skin, and talked about making a skylight, which he installed long before his next traveling. Chanu's studio now had direct lighting all day long, natural and bright. Like his lover.

Their bedroom, though, was still theirs, no one else's. Chanu had always respected that, choosing to keep his other lovers out of this room, and out of the house itself for the most part. Vin's insecurities ran deep enough without any help from him. Even though this room was small, they were both present, here, and equal.

This room got no direct lighting, but Chanu had placed lamps and candles and sensor-lights around the room so that it could be as bright as he they wanted - or as dark. Now, he was glad for only the sensor-lights, which cast the room in a sort of twilight, creating shadows but also leaving the colors he liked to see - the blue of Vin's eyes, the copper highlights in his hair, the soft white lines of old scars.

Vin pulled him into the room and closed the door behind them - one of the little things that Chanu always found amusing; even in their own home, Vin was private, protective of his love for Chanu, even though, on the rare moments Chanu mentioned it to him, Vin claimed that it meant nothing.

But he wasn't given time to be amused by it, as Vin's mouth found his just before his hands started working the lacing on Chanu's outer shirt.

Vin didn't talk much at this point, his mouth preoccupied. Chanu didn't mind - Vin knew how to please him, and when he was trying, as he was now, words were unnecessary. Instead, Vin's body spoke for him, giving pleasure in every way possible.

Chanu never knew exactly how Vin did it, getting both of them naked and onto the bed, but his next awareness was of Vin moving away from him. The cooler air of the room slowed the blood that was rushing through him, and he opened his eyes to find Vin looking at him. Waiting for him.

"What do you want?" Vin's voice was raspy and deeper than usual, and he was on his hands and knees, his long hair wild around his face.

"You," Chanu answered without thinking. "Now and always."

For a second, Vin looked away, the corners of his lips twitching with a grin. It gave Chanu a chance to look himself, to see the glimmer of slickness that covered the head of his cock where it rested against his belly, to see the burnish of the fine hairs that dusted his sternum.

Then Vin looked back and his eyes were impossible to resist. "How do you want to fuck me?" he asked, tossing his hair back over one shoulder.

"Maybe I want you to fuck me," he countered, grinning. He was on his back on the bed, his shoulders and head propped up on the pillows so that Vin was looking down at him, but not by a lot.

Something flickered in Vin's eyes, and Chanu knew that only a little of it was lust. The rest was a mixture of things, worry and want and hesitation. Vin didn't like to penetrate, it was just something in his hardwiring. He enjoyed it well enough, Chanu knew from experience, but given a choice, Vin would always prefer to have Chanu inside him.

"If it's what you want." He meant it, but it wasn't what he wanted.

Chanu lifted his hand, running it through Vin's hair. "Want you to be happy," he said. "Want you to come so hard you can't stand it."

Vin's gaze softened a little. "Always do," he said hoarsely. "Whatever you want, whatever... " He paused, drawing a breath through his mouth.

'Whatever will make you love me,' Chanu thought, finishing the sentence for his lover.

"I'll always love you," he said, as if Vin had spoken the words that hung between them. "You're my home, Vin."

It was the biggest commitment a Drifter could give to anyone else. By their very existence Drifters broke the laws of the universe in which they lived and their traditions and rules had been built around the need for secrecy. For a Drifter to settle, commit to another and make a home was a solemn pledge. Vin knew that, and, Chanu believed, shared it.

Vin crawled up to him, one hand catching the back of Chanu's head and pulling him up into another long kiss. This one was passionate, but it finally held the emotion Chanu had been trying to reach, the love and need between them.

Vin's hand fumbled behind Chanu, and he rose as much as he could, giving Vin access to the tie holding back his hair. It came free with a twist, spilling out with an energy all of its own.

Vin made a noise, and Chanu gasped around the tongue in his mouth. Vin loved his hair, which was the reason Chanu let it grow as long as it was. It was a pain in the ass to keep up, reaching to the small of his back, and thick enough to cause problems with the knots of his hair-ties, but the way Vin responded to it was worth it.

Vin's balance was unsteady and he shifted as if to spread his thighs, but Chanu pushed against him and drew back.

"Want you to take me," he said, catching Vin's face in both his hands and holding it still. "Want to be yours."

Vin frowned, shaking his head. "You aint' gotta - "

"I want to," Chanu said, and he dropped one hand to close around Vin's erection. "I want to feel you. Nobody else makes me feel like you do. Nobody else gets into me."

Vin looked at him, measuring his words. They were true; Chanu had several female lovers, but Vin was the only man he took to his bed.

For Vin, it was the opposite; Vin didn't sleep with women as a rule, only with other men.

Chanu fisted Vin's erection, watching Vin's breath catch. This argument was over, it was just a matter of time. Vin was flushed and trembling slightly, close to the edge. His skin shimmered with a fine coating of sweat, the ends of his hair catching in the moisture. Wanton and desperate, almost anyway.

There was lubricant on the recessed shelf of the table beside the bed, and Vin fumbled for it. Chanu relaxed back into the pillows, letting his lover concentrate, and also taking a few seconds to push a pillow under his hips.

Vin took a few seconds to prepare himself, but it was cursory; his attention was on Chanu, his eyes moving over Chanu's body with a heat that Chanu could feel. He smiled, lazily stroking himself now, in a way that made Vin moan.

Sensual, that was Vin, too, Chanu thought. It was a side that he didn't show to others -- Claire had asked once how Chanu stood living with someone so cold, so quiet and distant. He'd laughed despite himself but hadn't tried to explain that Vin's heat was intense but very focused, like a fast-burning fire contained in a small iron stove.

Vin knelt between Chanu's legs, and Chanu pulled his knees up, spreading himself open . Vin's eyes were on his, saying things his mouth never would, but his hands moved unerringly to Chanu's groin. His touch was warm and gentle, his slick fingers tracing over Chanu's cock then carefully over his balls.

For a few seconds, Chanu lost his sense of time and space, appreciating the way Vin played him, knowing where and how to touch. He came back to himself, though, when Vin's fingers skimmed over the opening to his body.

He was sensitive to this, not as accustomed to penetration as he was to taking control, even though sometimes, when he was deep inside Vin, Vin would tease a finger just inside him. It was usually enough to put him over the edge immediately, the combination of being inside Vin and Vin being inside him, even just that little bit, completing a circuit that satisfied him.

Vin was gentle, easing one finger inside, careful in his preparations. Too careful, really; it was so controlled that it teased more than excited.

He wasn't aware of grunting, but he heard Vin chuckle and he forced his attention outward.

"Feels good, don't it," Vin said softly, leaning down to lick at Chanu's lips. "Feels better than anything else, having you inside me."

"Feel better if it was all of you and not just one finger," Chanu shot back. He managed to get one hand to work, catching Vin's elbow and pushing so that the finger just inside him was pushed deeper.

He heard his moan this time, and he heard an echo of it and recognized it as Vin's. He would have smiled had he not been desperate for more.

He arched his back, pulling on Vin's arm at the same time, trying to force more contact. He managed to hook one ankle over Vin's hip, the message clear.

"You ain't ready," Vin said, the words raspy with his own need. "Give me a minute."

He was faster, though, a little less cautious as he added a second finger, pushing them in and out in a sort of finger-fuck that had Chanu rolling his head in the pillows.

It burned a little, and Chanu knew that they were going to have to take it slow, especially at first, but he wanted this, wanted to give this to Vin, for himself, yes, but also to keep Vin here with him.

Vin grunted and Chanu focused enough to see that his lover was biting his lip, his face tight with concentration. Vin's cock was shiny, glimmering strands dripping from the tip, and Chanu grinned at the sight. On the edge of control, he knew, and he loved it. It was rare to get Vin this worked up this fast.

Rare to have him this desperate.

"Now, Vin," he said after a few seconds. Vin was twisting his fingers, stretching him as much as he could, and even though the burn was hotter now, the look on Vin's face was more than enough reason to push this forward.

"Ain't gonna hurt you," Vin said, but his voice caught, the pitch sharp, and Chanu knew he'd won this argument, too.

"Then get inside me," Chanu said, catching Vin at the waist with both of his ankles. "Unless your idea is to torture me."

Vin's head jerked so that he was staring into Chanu's eyes. Chanu saw the worry there, an actual fear that somehow, Vin was causing him pain. How like him, Chanu thought, not to understand that there are worse pains than the physical, and that those pains are harder to heal.

"Fuck me," he said, making his voice as sharp as Vin's had been earlier. "Now, Vin."

It always amazed him how quickly Vin did as he was bid - even in this, when he was the one in control, he still did as directed. From time to time, Chanu allowed himself to wonder if Vin was this way in bed with others; he didn't let himself think on it often, though, his own jealousy catching him soon after the vision came to him of Vin bending over for anyone else. That, and the confusion he had, even after all this time, about why Vin wanted such. He'd tried to ask Vin, once or twice, but Vin didn't seem to know, didn't seem to want to think about it, either. It was a part of who Vin was, and that was enough.

Vin made a noise, pushing his fingers a little deeper into Chanu. He twisted them a few times, trying to stretch Chanu, but his movements were rougher now, his breathing harsh. He was clinging to his control, struggling to direct their loving.

Chanu settled back into the pillows, pulling with his thighs and feet, until Vin let out an exasperated "Dammit!" and pulled his hand away.

For a few seconds, Chanu missed them, but only for a few, only until Vin was snug against him, his long body warm over Chanu's, his hair brushing over Chanu's chest.

The tip of his erection pulsing at the entrance to his body, teasing.

It didn't take much, a quick contraction of his thighs, and Vin cried out as the head of his cock breached the tight ring.

From there, it was all fire and heat and a pleasure that ebbed and flowed in waves. Every now and then, the pain would spike too high, biting at him and jerking him off the crest of release, but it never put the need at bay.

Vin was as restrained as he could be, trying not to push, trying not to hurt, and Chanu could feel the effort of that control, the muscles so hard under his hands that he thought at times that he was fucking something other than flesh and blood. But Vin was far from still and far from unyielding; at the first sign of tension in Chanu's body, he stopped - completely, and so damnably irritatingly that Chanu was the first one to draw blood, his fingernails digging into the meat of Vin's ass to force him deeper and harder and to give up all the things that their primal desire demanded.

Vin was keening, the sound low and almost continuous - he wasn't going to last long, which was good, as Chanu wasn't either. He canted his hips, forcing his own erection into contact with Vin's belly.

No, it wasn't going to be long, the sparks shooting off behind Chanu's eyes. He tried to keep them open - he loved to see Vin as he came, to watch the way his features, already sharp, drew stronger.

But his own release was too demanding and he couldn't hold onto it and do anything else that required concentration.

Fortunately, it was second nature to grab for Vin's ass with his hands, and it took little thought to slide two fingers into the slender space between them and to rub over the pucker.

The keening cut off abruptly as Chanu pushed one finger inside, completing the circuit, and Vin's body went rigid, even his hips going still after one hard, deep thrust.

Chanu managed to get his eyes open long enough to see the long arch of Vin's neck, the bunched muscles of his upper arms, the tendons in sharp relief. The tattoo of the eagle, one of his first works, was stark in the soft light and tense flesh, looking as if it was alive.

It was that image he carried into his own release, an image so erotic and perfect that it burned onto the back of his lids like the inverse stamp of a bright light.

He tried to hold the vision in his mind, and it was the first to come fully formed when his consciousness returned. But it wasn't as sharp or as clear, and he'd come to think that it was endorphins - or the lack of them - that dulled the sight.

Not that he was ever going to stop looking for it. Or attempting to recreate it, every time he picked up a brush.

Vin was on top of him, hot and heavy in the aftermath, and Chanu tried not to roust him. But the cramp in his leg grew stronger, and eventually, he had to shift.

He wasn't certain if it was the movement or the grunt he made, but Vin stirred, pushing himself up on shaky arms. The eagle tattoo looked as wrung out as Vin did, and Chanu smiled. "Sorry," Vin mumbled, and his lips found Chanu's for a quick, soft kiss.

This, Chanu thought, trying to catch his lover's shoulders and hold him, this was what he missed most when Vin was gone. The ease of their affection.

Vin returned this set of kisses, but Chanu felt the slow pull as Vin softened and eased out of him. It was disconcerting, and sad, in its way. But it was also a relief, particularly as the thickest part tugged at the thin flesh of his entrance.

"Sorry," Vin said against his mouth, then he drew away, moving to rest beside Chanu, facing him. He slid one arm possessively over Chanu's waist, either liking or ignoring the sticky after-effects of their coupling.

Chanu turned into the partial embrace, studying Vin's face. His eyes were closed, his mouth slack with post-climax languor.

Pliable, now more than ever, Chanu knew. But he didn't consider that he was taking advantage of his lover, he knew better. Vin would do what Vin would do. Right now, though, sated and relaxed, he was at his most reasonable.

"Don't leave," Chanu said quietly. Without thinking, one hand moved to touch the newest tattoo, the panther he had been working on the past several weeks. It was against bone, in the concave curve where Vin's waist, hip, and butt came together on one side. While he enjoyed the challenge of working with oil it didn't come easy, the canvas sometimes too cold and harsh to capture the emotion he felt for his subject. Working with ink on skin was when he felt truly at one with his art, when he could feel the power of the living surface guide his hands and influence his designs.

"I want you to be part of this, Vin, for us - both of us. All of us."

Vin sighed, but it wasn't with any effort. He blinked several times, his eyes sluggish and drowsy, and large in the soft light of the room. Now, though, they were blue, and glowing in another way that Chanu had never managed to recreate. "Claire gonna mind?" he asked, his voice grating a little.

"No," Chanu answered flatly. "And it wouldn't matter if she did. She's got Yaounni. It's not as you think it is."

Vin tightened his hold around Chanu's waist, settling in close. "I know all that," he said quietly, the words warm against Chanu's neck. "I do know it. I just . . . kids, Chanu. Your kids. Yours and Claire's. She ain't clan. What if she - what if she wants to raise them like her own people do? What if she changes her mind, wants to have - what does the Council call it? A 'traditional family'?"

There was part of it, Chanu realized. It wasn't just that Claire was a woman, it was that she wasn't part of the Clan culture.

"Claire understands how things work," he said quietly. "She's studied the clans for a long time, she and Yaounni both. They're sympathetic to the Drifter way and wanted a Clan father. She's not going to change her mind. And even if she did, Vin, I'm clan and nothing is going to change that. Claire knows that." He nuzzled against Vin, smelling the vague but unmistakable scent of metal and ozone- scents that weren't Vin's but his own, scents from welding and working on the big metal sculptures.

Scents that marked Vin as Chanu's. It was good smell on Vin, Chanu thought possessively.

"They know the way this works, it's why they came to us. The children are our kids, mine and yours," he said, rubbing his knuckles against Vin's sternum. "Clan children, but ours as well. There's time, Vin. Time enough to do this right. No need to force anything."

He nuzzled against Vin's jaw, feeling the tension ebb.

"Yeah, reckon so," Vin said, and even though he sounded resigned, Chanu saw the twitching at the corners of his mouth. "Be a bit harder to do this with young'uns in the house."

Chanu smiled as well, at the thought and the fact that Vin had voiced it. It was a step toward acceptance. "I suspect we'll find a way. It's not as if they're going to be sleeping with us."

"Sometimes, they might," Vin said softly, shifting a little. "Kids get scared. Good to have someone around to hold on to."

Chanu stroked his fingers over Vin's chest slowly, thinking and remembering. He'd thought he'd been enough for Vin back then.

Before he could find the words to question, Vin went on. "Like you was with me," he said. "And like your pa was with you - and your ma. I remember you going to them sometimes, telling 'em when you had things on your mind." He moved slightly, sliding against Chanu. "My ma used to be like that, for me. She said there weren't nothing more important than me. She told me stories about clan, about family. About how important it was to work together and have other folks to rely on when times were hard. She promised to tell me 'bout my dad and his clan one day, said I deserved to know 'em, but only when I was ready. Kids ain't supposed to be without their folks, or their kin. She hated that she had to run away from her own folk, but she said they'd never understand what she wanted for her own kids."

It was a lot of words for Vin, and by the end of it, Chanu knew more about where Vin's ideas came from than he ever had before.

The things Vin said weren't new; over the time they'd been together, Chanu had heard every one of them. But he'd not put it together before, not thought about the full meaning. It certainly explained Vin's concerns about Chanu's children - their children. He should have known that Vin wouldn't be worrying about being cut out of anything, rather on what he wanted to give. How he wanted to be there for any children either of them would father, to give them a sense of security and belonging.

He smiled, closing his own eyes and letting his hand move to rest on top of Vin's where it was warm on his belly. This was something he could understand, something he could deal with. Relief flooded through him in a gentle tide.

They slept for a while, eventually spooning up together, so that when the chime of the communicator went off, it took a while for either of them to wake.

When he managed to extricate himself from Vin enough to hit the response button, he wished that he hadn't awakened.

"Chan," Jonah-eh said from the other side of the communication. "Where's your video feed?"

"Um, off," Chanu rubbed at his face, annoyed by the interruption to their quiet time together. Something they got too little of.

"You in bed?" his brother said sharply. Behind Chanu, who had had to roll to the bedside, Vin stirred.

"What's going on?" Chanu answered, ignoring the other man's irritation.

"I need Vin," Jonah-eh said more loudly. "He there, too? It's the middle of the afternoon."

For some reason Vin's laconic nature had always grated on Joah-eh, even more so since Vin and Chanu had partnered. It was amusing, really, considering how much Vin contributed to the clan and how hard he worked when clan business came his way. Vin could move in and out of mainstream society better than any of them and sometimes it seemed Jonah-eh had held on to enough of their childish competitiveness to resent that as much as he valued it.

Chanu grinned at this brother's annoyance. "Is it? I thought we'd developed more patience. Should have taken longer - "

"I don't want to know," Jonah-eh cut him off. "Tell Vin I need to see him as soon as he can get his lazy ass in here. We have work for him."

Chanu's amusement vanished. "Work?" Vin was awake now, he could tell from the stillness behind him. "Off-world?"

"Got some guy making enquiries about us, need to have someone check it out."

The bed shifted as Vin sat up. His voice was sleep-rough, maybe a little hoarse from his earlier keening. "Think he's a Council spy?" he asked.

The idea coalesced like a rock in the pit of Chanu's stomach. The Governing Council were unrelenting in enforcing the rules against non-registered Andarchics and the Drifters were constantly on guard against their tactics. It made it a problem to screen the people who actually wanted to join the clans, to be real Drifters. Made it dangerous for those who already were.

"Don't know. He's a ship-owner though, and if he's legit, we can use him. But we need someone to check him out before he gets himself - and any of us - into more trouble."

Vin's hand settled on Chanu's hip. "Yeah, all right," he said. "I'll be over in a while."

"Do that," Jonah-eh answered. "A short while. This guy has a rep for causing trouble - he's pretty demanding and pretty short on patience. But he's based near the Baultan System so Vin's our best bet to get close with the least risk."

A short squeal let them know Jonah-eh had terminated the transmission, but Chanu reached over and tapped the comm unit's transmit button anyway, to be sure.

"Guess I gotta go," Vin said softly into the back of Chanu's neck.

Chanu pushed back against him, answering the thought running through Vin's words. "I didn't waste a fuck, Vin. Despite what you want to think, I enjoy you being in me."

Vin kissed the hard knot at the base of Chanu's neck, where it met his back. Chanu smiled, despite himself, knowing that part of this was Vin's appreciation for the feel of the long, straight hair rubbing against his face.

"I know you do," Vin said, his voice muffled. "And it won't go to waste," he went on, contradicting himself in the next breath. "I'll be back as soon as this is done. I won't wait until after the baby's born."

Well, that was something. Chanu caught Vin's hand, pulling it around his waist and holding Vin in place. "You'll be careful? I don't like the idea of you being caught - "

"I'm always careful," Vin said, and Chanu felt his smile even as Vin nuzzled deeper into his hair. "Gotta take care of you."

"Yes," Chanu agreed, "you do. And you do it best from here, not running around the system."

They were quiet for a time, but not sleeping, comfortable together. Chanu would be sore when he got up, and he'd have a little stiffness for a day or so, but it would pass. The memory, though, would last, at least until Vin came home and they made another one.

The End

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