torch, 1996 (March 2001)

Disclaimer: They are the lords and owners of their faces, Others but stewards of their excellence. This PWP is five years old, and it shows. The commas have been digitally remastered by elynross. If there were a sequel to Too dear for my possessing and The perfect ceremony, this little moment of smut and cuteness would fit in somewhere near the beginning of that sequel. Do not archive this story without permission.

Sweet seasoned showers

Hand in hand, they wandered off through the park, away from the rest of the crew. It was lovely, an absurd, romantic paradise with winding paths along shallow streams, and they stopped several times to admire things: a still, small pond where colorful fish darted beneath the surface, a low tree covered with fragile white flowers, a stone sculpture in a clearing among thorny bushes. Tom laced his fingers through Harry's and was content to go slowly. He loved gardens and parks, places to wander in, get lost in, escape to.

Be happy in, he added silently as Harry tugged him to a halt yet again. He looked around and couldn't see anything of particular interest, but was prepared to admire whatever Harry was going to point out. "What did you see now?"

"You," Harry said, leaning them both against a tree and kissing Tom so thoroughly that he could feel his knees start to buckle. His heart warmed and beat faster. When the kiss ended they smiled at each other, in complete agreement about the promises they had just made.

"Tuvok must love this place," Tom said as he dusted bark fragments off his shoulders and they continued along the path. "Did you see the water-orchids?"

"In the reception room? The orange ones?" Harry shook his head. "If he's going to grow those, I hope they stay in his quarters. They were kind of loud."

The next curve took them to the edge of the park, and they found themselves pretty much where Tom had hoped, by a street that would lead them to the market. They had arrived on Devern during a festival, and the streets were full of vendors and entertainers.

Tom found himself thinking about B'Elanna again as he walked along and studied the merchandise. When Harry ducked in under an awning to investigate pottery, Tom stayed in the sunshine and wondered whether she really felt as happy for him and Harry as she said she did. They'd been good friends, all of them, although it had taken some time for Tom and B'Elanna to put aside their differences. More his fault than hers, he now acknowledged. Then she and Harry had grown closer after Tom and Harry broke up.

Now Tom and Harry spent all their time together again, and Tom thought that if he were B'Elanna, he'd feel just a little abandoned. It wasn't that they meant to exclude her, but they were lovers; there was less room for any third party now. Tom was of the firm opinion that she needed to find someone, too. But there was nothing in B'Elanna's demeanor that indicated she was even looking.

That was a shame, Tom thought as his mind returned to B'Elanna and Chakotay under that tree, drinking wine in the shade. They'd make a good couple. He laughed a little to himself. Falling in love had turned him into a romantic. Tom wanted everyone to be as happy as he was.

"Look at this," Harry said, his hands cupped protectively around a slim vase, blazing blue with rough patches like rust. "I wish I could take it back to my sister. She would love it." There was a hint of sadness in his eyes, and Tom reached out unthinkingly to brush his fingertips against Harry's cheek.

"We'll get back," he said. They looked at each other, and then, by mutual consent, let the subject drop. Harry did not buy the vase, and when they caught sight of the bath house a few streets down Tom was relieved to get away from the market stalls.

Sooner or later they'd have to talk about it, he supposed. Walking down a sunny street hand in hand with Harry, Tom could think around the issue easily enough. But in the rare nightmares that woke him up at three in the morning, shaking and sweating, he was always back in the Alpha quadrant. Back in prison. And the thought that one day they would return and everything he had now would be taken away from him was one he did not even want to put into words.

They paid the surprisingly low fee and were shown into the bath house. It was fairly deserted at mid-afternoon; Tom guessed custom would pick up as people got off work and wanted to clean up on their way home. A smiling attendant gave them huge soft towels and explained how the place worked with its wash room, steam room, and large common lounging pool.

"And there are smaller warm pools, as well, for those who prefer the heat." The attendant guided them to the changing room and gave them each a piece of creamy yellow soap that would, Tom suspected, work up enough of a lather to be used as shampoo as well. "If you need assistance, there are bells in each room that will summon someone."

"Thank you," Harry said, and smiled as the attendant left. "You were right, this was a good place to go. It's so baroque, just look at all those decorations, and the plants!"

"Yeah, they look healthy enough to eat people," Tom said, undressing and putting everything away. "I hope no one tries to contact us while we're here." He tugged at Harry's shirt, and Harry quickly took off his clothes and slung the towel over his shoulder. They stepped into the wash room, where water poured constantly from marble spouts in the wall set at regular intervals, like an old-fashioned set of public showers. There was a raised walkway along the center of the room, and the water flowed along the slightly uneven floor to wash out through grilles at the far end of the room.

A couple of Devernans stood under the water spouts, and the air smelled of sweet yellow soap. Tom and Harry just stepped under the water long enough to get damp before they moved on to the steam room. "I didn't realize it was a mixed bath," Harry said as he tugged the door open and heat rolled out to meet them. "Or do you think we entered the women's side by mistake?"

"No, there was a guy back there," Tom said. The door swung shut behind them, and when he breathed in, the air seemed to scorch his lungs. "It's places like this that make people claustrophobic," he muttered. Harry was already pouring more water on the hot stones, and clouds of steam filled the air. "I should warn you that I'm not likely to last long in here."

"Okay," Harry said agreeably and climbed up to the top bench, stretching out on his towel and closing his eyes with a contented smile. "I'll just make the most of it."

Tom chose a more conservative spot, lower down, and felt himself slowly adjusting to the temperature. "I never realized the sauna was a galaxy-wide invention."

"It's a fairly simple idea," Harry said. "Many Earth cultures came up with it independently. The cleansing properties of heat and steam—"

"Don't lecture," Tom said with a grin. "I'll take your word for it." They settled into a comfortable silence as the heat made them relax. It did feel good, Tom thought, although he was more aware of every breath, feeling the hot air warm his throat, his lungs. Lulled into a sleepy daze, he leaned back and closed his eyes, emptying his mind of thoughts and worries.

When he opened his eyes again, he found that Harry was lying on his side, head propped on one hand, watching him. Tom smiled softly. Harry's skin gleamed; he was a statue cast in breathing bronze, beads of sweat and water trickling along his torso like moving jewels. His hair fell forward across his forehead the way Tom loved best, still looking crisp despite the heat. "You're so beautiful," Harry said.

Tom almost laughed, hearing his own thought spoken out loud. He shifted, then hissed as his flesh made contact with the hot wood beneath the towel. The blood pounded in his head in a way that wasn't wholly due to the way Harry was looking at him. "I think I need to get out of here."

"Of course." Harry sat up, then climbed down and extended a hand to Tom. "Come on, I'll scrub your back." Tom smiled as they went back to the wash room. The air outside made him shiver, and the water that flowed from the wall spouts seemed almost cold. Harry yelped as he stepped underneath the spray, and Tom couldn't suppress a laugh.

"You were going to scrub my back?" he teased, and then bit back an exclamation as Harry splashed water at him. They cleaned up quickly and followed the directions to the lounging pool. Coming out into a large but low-ceilinged hall, they were surprised to find it empty. There was a long pool taking up most of the room, and along one side were deep recesses holding smaller, shallower pools, sheltered by slatted woodwork screens with star-leaved plants twining through and around them.

While Harry went to dip a toe in the large pool, Tom investigated one of the alcoves. The water in the small pool was warm, bordering on hot. A small shelf held bottles of bath oil. This did match everything that the Devernans had told them about their famous baths — except, of course, for the fact that the place was so empty.

"Tom?" Harry came up behind him. "Are we getting in?"

"Yes." Tom turned his head and smiled. "We're getting in here." He gestured at the small, private pool, its water looking warm and inviting, and glittering with the sunlight that filtered in from a skylight. Harry smiled and nodded, and stepped down; Tom adjusted the screens. Privacy was a good thing.

Then he, too, stepped into the water. There was a ledge at just the right depth to sit on. Tom sank into the warm water with a happy sigh, then scooted over to sit next to Harry, leaning in to kiss his cheek affectionately. And his temple, and his earlobe, and his throat, and....

"No necking in public," Harry teased, and turned his head, and they were kissing. Tom felt his heart beat faster. He pulled out of the kiss and reached for some bath oil; it had a fresh smell to it, something that went with the sunlight and the plants. Drizzling some over his fingers, he started to smooth it onto Harry's shoulders and chest in long, loving caresses. Harry cleared his throat. "Tom, did you hear a word of what I just said?"

"There's no one else here," Tom pointed out and pulled Harry closer, feeling Harry's skin under his hands, slick with hot water and oil. It felt wonderful. And Tom thought he had behaved himself admirably during this whole away mission, when they'd been around other people. It had been far too long since he'd had Harry to himself.

"Remember B'Elanna told us not to get arrested?" Harry said. "I think this kind of thing was exactly what she had in mind. Oh." The words trailed off into a sigh as Tom pulled Harry against him, back to chest, and played with his nipples, teasing them into hardness.

"I just love knowing all your weaknesses," he whispered, licking at Harry's ear. Harry's only response was a shudder, and Tom felt a rush of warmth that almost undid him. He held his lover tight for a moment, feeling the sudden fierce arousal that seemed to grip them both.

Then he reached out for more bath oil, shifted them both slightly sideways, and slipped his hand down to curve around Harry's ass, fingers dipping in, rubbing against the opening. Tom circled it slowly with a finger, over and over in an almost hypnotic movement. The faint protests had died out, and Harry was already breathing hard. He arched his back when Tom gently pushed his finger inside. "Oh. Tom."

"Hush," Tom said and nibbled at Harry's neck, moving his finger slowly, slickly, teasingly. Harry's head was leaning against Tom's shoulder, and his eyes were half-closed. "Relax."

Harry bit his lip, pressing his face into Tom's shoulder as Tom added a second finger and went on stroking and stretching. Tom closed his eyes for a moment, and concentrated on feeling Harry so close. Smelling him, moist heat, bath oil and soap and musk. He wants me, Tom thought, he wants me.

"Want you," Harry breathed, echoing his thoughts. "I want you now." Tom hesitated; he wanted to tease some more, and this was so fast. But Harry was moaning, working his hips against Tom's fingers. "Please."

More oil, on himself, on Harry, and then another of those slow underwater shifts as Tom lifted Harry up and guided his own erection to the slick, tight opening. Harry sank down on Tom's cock until they were joined all the way. Tom kissed Harry's back and ran his hands up and down it. He leaned back. Held in the warm embrace of the water, held in the tight heat of Harry's body, he was floating in happiness.

"Love you," he said quietly, gripping Harry's hips, pulling him closer, and then letting him go again. It was the smallest of motions, a minute movement of body against body, Tom inside Harry, Harry around Tom. "God, I love you."

Harry sank back, his back pressed against Tom's chest again. They weren't sitting up any more, but half lying, leaning against the sloping wall of the pool. Tom braced himself against it. With a half-heard sigh, Harry tried to grind himself closer. "Fuck me." Holding on to Harry's hip bones, Tom pulled him closer, then pushed him upwards again, grinning wickedly at how easy it was to handle his lover in the water. Harry growled at the slow thrusts. "Fuck me!"

It wasn't the kind of request he could easily turn down. Tom wrapped his arm around Harry's waist and turned them over slowly, keeping them joined. Harry held on to the rim of the pool and braced his knees on the ledge. "Yes," Tom whispered, pushing into him, deep inside. "Love. Yes. You feel so good." Then he moaned when Harry pushed back against him, an impatient demand. "Faster, huh?"

Tom pulled out almost all the way, then plunged back inside Harry again, harder and faster, and Harry cried out. "Tom, oh, Tom—" Another thrust, another and another, more and more and he lost count, and then he lost control; nothing existed except their two bodies, his aching cock thrusting again and again into Harry's willing body, those low cries that drove him on, drove him out of his mind.

Harry's voice broke on a sob, and he tensed in Tom's arms, and shuddered, tight muscles clamping down. It was too much. Tom, lips pressed against Harry's neck, bucked wildly and came. It seemed to happen in slow motion; he came apart piece by slow piece, until he was resting against Harry so dazed and wrung out he wasn't sure he remembered his own name.

"Love," he whispered again. "My love."

* * *

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