THE SEDUCTION OF STEEL

 

By

 

Ashleigh Anpilova

 

Silver sets out to seduce Steel. However in so doing he discovers a number of secrets and surprises hitherto known only to Steel.

A first time story.

Written: January 2006. Word count: 14,932.

 

Author's Note: // either side of words indicate when the characters are talking to one another telepathically.

 

 

 

"I don't drink," said Steel. He sat on the sofa, his back rigid, his hands held stiffly in his lap.

 

"But you can?" enquired Silver pointlessly, as he poured more-than-generous measures into the two crystal brandy globes. The question was irrelevant as they had just returned from dinner at a nearby restaurant, where Steel had eaten and drunk his way through five courses and coffee.

 

"Of course I can," snapped Steel. He reached for the glass, ignoring the fact that Silver held on to it for a fraction of a second longer than was strictly necessary. "What do you think I am?" He sipped the amber liquid.

 

Silver shrugged, the movement languid and flowing, and settled back into the depths of an overly large, in Steel's austere opinion, armchair. "I don't know exactly, none of us do. You did once tell me that your origins, whilst positive and impeccable, are," Silver paused for a second and frowned. "Ah, yes, ‘inexpressible' is the word I believe you used.

 

Steel swallowed another mouthful of the liquid, wondering why he was bothering to drink something that tasted like – well nothing. He also pondered why he was still bothering to drink at all, now that he and Silver had left the restaurant. "I didn't tell you that," he responded, swiftly checking back through his memories. He had perfect recall of everything that he had said or thought, or that had been said to him. "I told . . ."

 

//Sapphire.//

 

The word sounded in his head, at the very moment he spoke his associate's name. He frowned; he would speak to Sapphire later. He didn't approve of being discussed behind his back, even by fellow operatives, and especially by a fellow operative and a so-called specialist. His frown deepened. Specialists indeed. He never had liked that term; he much preferred technician. After all, as he had also said to Sapphire, what was he? He remembered now that she had not answered.

 

"And she told you." It wasn't a question.

 

Silver nonetheless chose to treat it as if it had been. "She must have done, yes." Silver swirled the glass around in his hand and his eyes took on his pondering look. "Ah, yes, I remember now, it was whilst we -"

 

"What else has she told you?" Steel snapped, breaking into the monologue with the first thing that came into his mind. He regretted the words as soon as they had left his mouth.

 

Silver appraised him openly, slowly, his eyes roaming up and down Steel's body. Steel shifted on the sofa and made as if to rise. The lightening quick movement of Silver refilling his glass with yet more unwanted brandy stopped him.

 

"Does it matter?" the tone was like liquid honey.

 

"Of course not. Why should it?"

 

"Oh, I just wondered. You seemed . . ."

 

"What?"

 

"Nothing."

 

The silence stretched between them. Steel couldn't work out why he was still sitting there, or why he had even agreed to return to Silver's flat with him. Nor did he know why he hadn't walked out of the restaurant when Sapphire had sent her apologies.

 

As they sat, Silver just watched him, as he had been doing all evening. As he did, Steel suddenly realised, whenever they met. He'd had enough. He slammed his glass down onto the nearby table. However, he failed to automatically correct for his strength, thus causing the glass and coffee table to shatter, and the remaining liquid to flow over the broken vestiges of the table. "I'm sorry," he muttered, uneasy at forgetting something that was as natural and habitual to him as breathing.

 

Silver waved a long arm. "That's all right. No real harm done. Don't worry about it," he added, clearly picking up something that Steel hadn't realised he was showing.

 

"Why are you doing all this?" Steel demanded, his thoughts returning to the moment before he'd broken the expensive and, he suddenly realised, antique, glass. What was Silver doing with something so old anyway? Didn't he know that those kinds of objects could allow time in?

 

He pulled his mind back from the automatic spot-checking he had been doing. It wouldn't do to let Silver catch him doing something he claimed not to do. Well, strictly speaking he had never said that he couldn't do it, just that it wasn't his area of expertise – which it wasn't. However, the last thing he wanted was for Sapphire, his working partner, to find out via a third party that not only could he do them, he could do them and far better and easier than she herself could. Especially when that third-party was as fickle and irritating as Silver.

 

"All what?" Silver's tone was languid, as his eyes continued to roam over Steel's body.

 

"Dinner. Drinks. This. Everything."

 

"Does there have to be a reason?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Oh. Well in that case, I'm . . . Are you sure you don't know?"

 

"No. That is, yes, I'm certain."

 

"Are you sure you want to know?"

 

"Yes!" Steel snapped, aware that suddenly he wasn't.

 

"I'm seducing you. Or rather I'm trying to seduce you." Silver's gaze became more intense as his eyes lingered at the waistband of Steel's trousers.

 

"What?" Steel spluttered. He leapt to his feet and backed away from the sofa.

 

"I'm trying to seduce you," Silver repeated, gliding to his feet and moving in on the retreating Steel.

 

"Why?" Steel blurted out the first thing that came into his head, which was never a good thing to do around the quicksilver personality.

 

Silver stopped, tilted his head to one side and said simply, "Why do you think? Why do you normally try to seduce someone?"

 

"I don't -" Steel broke off as he backed into the wall. He felt it groan and buckle, as again he failed to compensate. Then it shuddered but held, as he swiftly moved his body forward so only his jacket was brushing it.

 

Silver looked bemused and confused, a look only he could manage. "Is that like you don't drink?" he finally enquired, halting an arm's distance away.

 

Steel said nothing. He tore his eyes away from the ones he believed to be mocking him, and taking care, settled back against the wall with his palms flat on the smooth surface.

 

Silver took a step nearer.

 

Steel eyed the door.

 

Silver halted. He then reached out a slender arm. However, he stopped short of touching Steel.

 

Steel without thinking moved his body backwards. A noise behind him, similar to a groan, yet different, caught his attention and Silver's. He watched the green gaze flicker from his face, where it had again settled, to the wall against which he was still resting. He saw Silver swallow hard, saw his eyes open so wide Steel felt his own object, watched them flash from one side of his body to the other, before finally returning to Steel's face.

 

Steel didn't need to be able to see in order to know what the problem was. Annoyed with himself for once again failing to compensate, he relaxed his taut body infinitesimally. He saw the relief on Silver's face as the noise ceased. He considered apologising, then dismissed the idea. However, he couldn't stay here for the rest of the night, and to teleport he needed to be moving. Even one step would suffice.

 

"I'm not going to hurt you," Silver finally admitted, when Steel had once again moved forward so only his jacket brushed the abused wall.

 

"You couldn't," Steel answered truthfully. Silver couldn't hurt him. If Steel chose, the technician could be dead before his hand even made contact. "I could get past you quite easily." He spoke with an assurance he did not feel.

 

Silver appraised him, one eyebrow arched, his green eyes never leaving Steel's face. "Yes," he admitted in his conversational tone, the one Steel had always been irritated by. "I know you could." He crossed his arms and openly evaluated Steel, his gaze travelling up and down the stiff body. When he spoke again his tone was low, mild, curious. "What I'm wondering is, why haven't you?"

 

An expert in time, Steel knew that it didn't stand still. Nonetheless, as he felt his eyes widen, he swore that momentarily it had. He found himself wondering exactly the same thing. Why hadn't he tried to leave? Again he glanced at the door and the man in front of him, sensing – as he allowed his mind to work – that Silver wasn't as relaxed as he pretended. He considered probing Silver's mind, but rejected the idea.

 

Silver reached out and touched Steel's hand, the contact tentative yet clear. "You're cold," he said, his face an open book. "Icy," he pulled Steel's hand between his. Both men knew that Steel let him do so, and began to rub it.

 

Steel closed his eyes and again pressed into the wall. What was happening to him? It was another slip and wasn't like him at all. But then being pressed up against a wall, not knowing what to say or do wasn't like the smooth, controlled, professional operative he was either. He tugged his hand away, using just enough strength, and let it fall to his side. "Sorry," he muttered.

 

Silver ignored his words. "Is that your normal body temperature?" he asked. "Is that how you're able to do your party trick so easily?"

 

"It's not a party trick," snapped Steel, wondering vaguely with just how many of his fellow elements the man standing in front of him had been intimate. Well, he wasn't going to add another one to the list. Steel did not intend to join Sapphire and Jet – the two he knew about.

 

"Sorry." The apology was meaningful; Steel knew that, even without having to touch Silver's mind. "But is it?"

 

"Is it what?" Steel asked. He was stalling rather than having a need to ask the question. It would hardly fool Silver; his perfect recall was one of the few truths the elements did know about Steel. Silver just looked at him, staring in a way that made Steel feel foolish. It was a feeling he did not like. He shrugged. "Yes." So what if someone knew? It wasn't as if he was revealing a monumentally dangerous secret. And he was growing tired of the games and deceit; he had been for some time now.

 

Silver blinked; his surprise was evident. Then a look of something that Steel couldn't immediately recognise touched the boyish features. Suddenly he placed it: it was as if he had just given Silver a gift; he hoped he wasn't going to live to regret it.

 

"Why?" The question, when it came, surprised Steel. He had been expecting many things, but not that.

 

"Why what?" he asked, inviting Silver to elucidate; again he chose not to probe the now completely open mind. Why didn't Silver practise the control he had? Why did he make it so easy for Steel to pop into his mind?

 

"The pretence."

 

Steel shrugged again, aware the gesture was becoming a habit. "I spend so much time around humans, it becomes second nature," he answered. It was a half-truth; not a lie, but nor was it the fact. "Like the strength thing," he added.

 

At the look on Silver's face, Steel wondered for a moment whether his own barriers were down, But even as he wondered, he knew that it wouldn't matter if they were; technicians didn't have the ability to probe. They could use telepathy, but that was all – except in certain circumstances and this was not one of them. They could pick up a buzz when others of their kind communicated and left them out, but they were unable to reach even the basic level of probing that Sapphire and the other operatives did with relative ease, and Steel did as easily as blinking. His ability to do that was another secret his partner didn't know. Had she done so, he suspected that she wouldn't be quite so free with her flirtatious thoughts.

 

He waited for a moment, and then Silver clearly decided to let it pass. To his annoyance, Silver's decision made Steel feel guilty. It was an emotion most people, most elements, would have said he didn't possess; but then most of his fellow beings would say that Steel didn't possess any emotions.

 

The expressive eyes, the most - apart from Sapphire's – expressive he had ever known, held his for a moment. Then Silver sighed, the sound rattling the thin body and turned on his heel, moving away from Steel and back towards the centre of the room. Absurdly Steel felt bereft. The guilt also increased, choking him and making his curse 'The Powers' or 'Them' or 'They'; three terms, always spoken or thought in capitals, all meaning the same thing: those who controlled the elements, at least on this side. The side of good.

 

He glanced at the door, it was his chance to leave, and took a step towards it. However, he glanced at Silver who was standing motionless, his back towards Steel. Apart from his head that was drooping so much that Steel felt a twinge of sympathy for the muscles and tendons, Silver was rigid. The sight made Steel realise that he couldn't leave. Not now. Not like this.

 

He changed direction and moved towards Silver, aware from the fractional tightening in the already taut frame that Silver had heard him; sensed him even. Deliberately letting his temperature drop to its norm, but still sheathing his claws, he reached out and touched a now fractionally trembling shoulder.

 

He felt Silver's intake of breath, both through his hand and in his mind. For him touch had always instantly linked his mind to the person whom he touched. It was one reason he avoided contact with others as much as possible. For a second his automatic control slipped in and he started to take his temperature up. Then he stopped, took a deep breath and let it stay at its natural level.

 

Silver turned slowly under the grip, Steel allowed his hand to swivel, and came face to face with Steel. Slowly, tentatively, in a move that Steel knew about even before Silver had started to make it, Silver brought one long-fingered hand up and brushed Steel's cheek; the touch was like a breath of spring. This time it was Steel who shuddered, and not from the cold.

 

Then Silver moved his head, tilting it slightly to the left, his eyes watchful, wary. Steel knew what was about to happen; again knew it even before Silver had moved. Warm lips touched his own, but had gone again so swiftly, that had Steel not been in Silver's head he would probably have denied that the kiss had happened.

 

Deciding that for once he didn't want the advantage of knowing what was going to happen before it did, Steel mentally pulled back. He erected his own barriers to the level needed to remain out of Silver's head, whilst still allowing the touch – it wasn't easy. Temperature and strength control were much simpler; as was taking time back and holding it.

 

//Come to bed with me.// The words in his head were no more than a whisper.

 

"But I don't sleep," Steel blurted out. As the words left his mouth and he saw the expression on Silver's face change from seduction, to surprise, to bemusement, to a hint of embarrassment, he groaned inwardly. Well, what was he meant to have thought? He had never really bothered to learn the subtle – or even less subtle – nuances of humans; unlike his partner and Silver. At the thought of Sapphire he groaned again; had she known Silver's intentions? Is that why she hadn't turned up at the restaurant, after she had gone out of her way to persuade Steel to join her and Silver for dinner? Surely she wouldn't?

 

Silver was speaking again, verbally this time. His face still showed bemusement, but was also heavily tinged with wariness. His voice was slow and cautious; his eyes watched Steel intently. "Er, that isn't what I meant." For a moment it appeared that he would say more, but instead he broke eye contact and said nothing else.

 

"I know," Steel ground out the words. He had never felt so ill at ease and out of control, not even when fighting their most deadly enemy. Then he always had a solution, or at least an idea of how to find the solution. Critical path analysis was what Sapphire told him humans called what he did; his job was what he called it.

 

Still Silver did not move. //Well? Will you?// Once again the question touched Steel's mind. Once again he responded in kind automatically.

 

//Will I what?//

 

//Will you come to bed with me?// The seductive look had returned.

 

Steel felt his mouth lose all moisture. //I can't,// he answered through the link, amazed at the sorrow in his tone.

 

"Because I'm male?" Silver's hand stayed still, fingers still touching Steel's cheek. He had tried for levity, that much Steel somehow realised, but the words came out sounding bitter.

 

"What?" Steel responded, his tone perplexed, his confusion honest. What did gender matter? Why was Silver asking such a ridiculous question?

 

"Sorry," said Silver, his tone now one of forced lightness. "You spend so much time around humans," he threw Steel's words, his explanation, back at him. "I thought you might have . . . "

 

"What?" Steel asked again. He was tempted to take his barriers down, but chose not to do so.

 

Silver, to Steel's amazement, coloured very slightly and glanced away. "I keep forgetting that history, or even humanity, isn't your speciality."

 

"What?" Steel asked for a third time, already growing tired of the word.

 

Silver smiled, but only with his mouth. "Ask Sapphire," he said, again glancing away.

 

"She's not here," Steel said, preparing to drop the barriers he had carefully erected, irritated as always when he didn't understand a reference. "You are. Tell me what you mean."

 

"It bothers most humans."

 

"What does?" Steel's patience, never his strongest suit, was quickly ebbing away. You could find the answer very quickly, he told himself; after all his hand was still on Silver's shoulder and Silver's fingers still hovered near his face. Near but not touching; Steel realised how much he missed the warmth of the feathering touch.

 

"Two men together."

 

"Together?" Steel was getting more, rather than less, confused.

 

Silver threw his hands up in the air, the gesture nearly knocking Steel's hand from his shoulder, in apparent despair, and turned his face towards the ceiling. When he looked down again, his face had lost the tension of moments before, and he smiled in his lazy way and again touched Steel's cheek. This time the touch was not like a feather; this time it was more deliberate.

 

"You really don't know, do you? I'm amazed 'They' don't insist on you genning up on local customs, given how much time you spend on earth. You're so powerful and yet so," Silver paused, clearly seeking for a word. "Innocent," he managed. "Well, I never thought I'd end up explaining this kind of thing to you, to anyone, come to think of it. Now, how shall I put this?"

 

"Plainly?" Steel appealed.

 

"Try this. Humans have certain conventions, let us call them. These conventions say that whilst it's okay, more than okay actually, for men and women to," again he paused, frowned, stared deeply into Steel's eyes and smiled. "Go to bed together. Have sex," he added, his tone nonchalant, but clarifying.

 

Steel frowned; even he knew what ‘go to bed together' meant; Jet had taught him that. Okay, so he'd momentarily forgotten it a few moments earlier, but . . .

 

Silver was still speaking. "It's not okay for two men, or two women," Silver added. "Although . . ." he broke off and blushed again.

 

"Although what?" Steel asked, temporarily distracted from the feeling that was brewing inside him.

 

"Nothing. It's not important."

 

The irritation and absurdity reached boiling point. "But why?" Steel asked, suddenly aware that his free hand had sought out and joined with Silver's. He didn't try to extract it.

 

Silver paused. "Why what? Why isn't it important?"

 

Steel shook his head; he felt his hair catch his face and brush Silver's fingers. "No," he snapped. "Sorry," he placated as Silver froze. "Why do they feel like that? I mean it's ridiculous. What does gender matter?" He spoke the words he had earlier thought. "It doesn't to us," he added.

 

Silver smiled, Steel was beginning to feel that he could happily drown in that smile. Again long fingers caressed, this time there was no other possible word for it, Steel's face, and Steel began to regret his earlier refusal. But he knew he couldn't go back on it. It was impossible. Never again. He'd made that vow.

 

"Oh, Steel." Silver leant forward and again brushed Steel's lips, lingering slightly longer this time; the touch was warm, silky and beautiful. Steel fought his own wish to ignore his self-imposed restraint, and instead gather the body into his arms and do more than just let the kiss happen. "I could so easily fall in love with you, you know."

 

For yet another time in his life, Steel had no answer.

 

"So why?" Silver finally asked, touching Steel's lips with his fingers, caressing the area his mouth had just left.

 

"Why?" Steel echoed confused, not only by Silver's question, but also by his own desires.

 

"Won't you come to bed with me? If it's not because I'm male, then what is it? Sapphire?"

 

It was a logical, a perfectly natural question and one, Steel sensed – when had his barriers come down?  - that Silver had only just thought of.

 

Removing his hand from Silver's shoulder was the hardest gesture he ever had to make. He stepped back so that the slender hand hung impotently in the air, and slid his hand from the comfort and security of Silver's own. He turned away. "No," he said, letting his own head fall forward, mirroring Silver's earlier stance.

 

Again the impression of time standing still hovered around the flat. He should have left earlier. He should never have come back here. He could leave now, without even doing more than taking one step. He could just leave. After all, he owed Silver nothing, and he'd vowed to himself that he'd never tell another living entity what had happened in his past. In fact he couldn't, shouldn't; 'They' had told him that.

 

//Steel?// The tips, nothing more, of Silver's fingers brushed his shoulder. The contact was as fleeting as a raindrop hitting the sea.

 

Steel deliberately and slowly pushed his hands into his trouser pockets, took a deep breath and unhurriedly turned around. Silver was watching him, waiting, expecting an answer. Steel could tell him anything. Tell him that he had lied and that it was because Silver was another man, or that it was because of Sapphire, Jet even. Anyone. Any reason and Silver would believe him. He would have to, he couldn't exactly verify it, not without learning how to enter someone's mind and read it. And even if he did manage to learn the skill, he would never get past Steel's barriers. No one could.

 

One look, however, was enough. In fact, the look wasn't necessary. Steel knew that despite his own avowal, he couldn't, wouldn't lie. Instead he took a step closer, deliberately and carefully took his hands out of his pockets and captured Silver's own. Hastily he withdrew from any mental contact. He certainly did not want to read Silver's reaction to what he had to say. His look would be more than enough.

 

Letting go of one hand, he reached out and echoed Silver's own gesture, running his fingers lightly over Silver's face, watching the slight shiver as skin several degrees lower than that it touched made contact. Silver's pupils enlarged and swiftly contracted. He had stopped breathing and just watched Steel. The resonance coming from Silver, from his mind, was so strong that Steel had to double his efforts to prevent himself from reading it.

 

It shouldn't be that difficult.

 

It never had been before.

 

For a third time, time, so often their enemy, halted. Steel sought around for the best words; found none, mentally shrugged instead and opened his mouth. Speaking gently, softly, he told Silver, "I can't go to bed with you, Silver, because I'd end up killing you."

 

The desire to enter his companion's mind was great, as was the effort needed not to, but Steel remained passive. He still held Silver's hand and his fingers still touched the now chilled cheek, but he said nothing more. Instead he watched the range of emotions play out over the slim face.

 

Twice Silver opened his mouth to speak, but words didn't come out. Although Steel was desperately attempting to stop himself from reading Silver's thoughts, he couldn't prevent the odd jumbled one from getting through. Silver was projecting so loudly, so intensely. Steel had never come across such openness before; not even with Sapphire whose mind he touched all the time.

 

Finally Silver did speak. "You couldn't." Steel sighed. It had been a foolish thing to say. They both knew that.

 

Steel sighed again and reconciled himself to the inevitable. With less effort that it took him to sheath his claws, he brought Silver to his knees, using slightly more strength than was strictly necessary, and held him there. As Silver lost his balance and fell against Steel's lower body, Steel realised that the move had probably not been an overly sensible one.

 

He caught Silver and helped him to his feet, wrapping his arm around him and holding him. Silver was shaking and limp, so Steel pushed his own body temperature up, this time above normal, in an attempt to impart some warmth into his companion.

 

"Come on," he guided Silver towards the sofa and gently, but efficiently lowered him down. "Here," he grabbed the bottle of brandy, idly noticing how old it was, and poured half a glass. "Drink this." He passed it to Silver whose hands still shook so much, that Steel had to wrap one of his own hands around the longer ones and guide the glass to Silver's mouth. As he did, he wondered whether the alcohol would have any affect on the other man. Silver had seemed unaffected by the amount he had consumed, yet, if all it was for was show, why would he go to the trouble of having something so old and expensive?

 

With one arm around the lithe body and the other holding his hands, Steel noticed when the shaking became less. Simultaneously he noticed how warm Silver had become, and took the opportunity to lower his own temperature back to a human's normal one. He felt more than a little drained; although he didn't sleep, he needed to rest and to allow his physiology, which he had abused rather badly during the last half an hour, to recuperate. Despite all his powers, and he had many, far more than the rest of the elements were aware of, the one thing that did take it out of him was constantly altering his temperature.

 

Most of Silver's weight, more than Steel would have suspected, was resting against him but other than a making slight readjustment of his body, Steel paid it little attention. He vaguely considered leaving – after all, Silver had stopped shivering and the jumble that had been his thoughts was starting to level out. But what would be gained by that? It wasn't as though he would never see the technician again. Quite the opposite. No matter how aloof and offhand Steel was about the other man's abilities, no matter how much he got irritated by him, Steel recognised and respected the range of talents that belonged to Silver.

 

His second thought was to simply take time back or mind wipe Silver. To erase what had happened since they returned to Silver's home, to even take more and thus forget the entire evening. Steel could do either – both – with as little effort as it had taken him to force Silver to his knees. However, his sense of morality or right and wrong prevented him from taking the intrusive step.

 

Finally Silver lifted his head from where it had come to rest on Steel's shoulder and pulled away slightly. Steel let him go. "That was deliberate." The words were spoken softly, and bewilderment was still the main emotion emitting from Silver.

 

"Yes," Steel acknowledged. His overriding honesty, the kind that made Sapphire blink on more than one occasion, made him answer the statement truthfully.

 

"Why?"

 

"To show you of what I'm capable."

 

"But I already knew that. I've seen you use your strength before."

 

"Always deliberately. Always intentionally."

 

"So?" Silver was perplexed, and Steel didn't blame him. Again, he toyed with the idea of erasing the last hour. Again, decency won out.

 

He turned and eased Silver away from him, holding him gently but firmly at arms length, dropping his barriers and entering the other man's mind. There was no subterfuge, only confusion, sorrow, regret and fondness. If Steel started on the path, it was one from which there were few ways back. None of them particularly palatable. A mind wipe would be so simple, so painless, so permanent – at least for Silver.

 

He touched Silver's cheek and made a decision. "Will you do something for me?"

 

"Anything." The instant response made Steel smile to himself.

 

"I won't hold you to that," he answered, still touching Silver's cheek.

 

The other man gave a ghost of a smile. "What do you want me to do?"

 

"Let me into your mind." Steel watched with his eyes only, once again having pulled his barriers into place.

 

The bewilderment, unsurprisingly, quadrupled in intensity. "I don't understand. You're an operative. I couldn't stop you if I tried."

 

"No," Steel acknowledged. "You couldn't, but I'd rather have your permission. You see I want to go beyond the basic level."

 

Silver still looked confused. "But you can't do that," he spluttered, his eyes opening wide. "Can you? I mean I've never seen you do it and Sapphire's never mentioned it. In fact you're always made her do it."

 

Steel blinked once, recalled his companion's exact words and answered. "Yes. No, you haven't. She doesn't know. And, yes, I do."

 

Silver, not having the same level of recall as Steel blinked several times, and Steel watched as he attempted to remember to what Steel had been responding. After several seconds, Silver admitted defeat, asking instead, "But why?"

 

"Why what? Why haven't you seen me do it? Why doesn't Sapphire know? Why do I always make

her do it? Why . . ." he came to a halt as words sounded inside his head.

 

//Enough! Just do it.// Then, "Will it hurt?"

 

"Does it hurt when Sapphire does it?"

 

"Well no, but . . ." He broke off and shrugged again. "What do I need to do?"

 

"Nothing. Just sit there."

 

Silver swallowed hard, took one final gulp of his brandy and replaced the glass on the table. Steel touched the warm cheek with one hand, whilst leaving his other hand on Silver's shoulder. The touch, whilst not essential, was helpful, if only because it focussed Silver's attention on to himself.

 

Five minutes later he exited Silver's mind, pleased and somewhat amused at what he had seen. Silver really was what he appeared to be: a bright, intelligent, if somewhat limited – but after all, that was why he was a technician – element, fond of shinny objects, parties, a good time and antiques. The last attraction never failed to make Steel shudder, knowing from far too much first hand experience of what such things were capable. There was no duplicity at all; or at least not the kind for which Steel was searching.

 

He pulled back, both mentally and physically and looked at Silver, he was staring at him. Not staring in the way he usually did whenever Steel was around, but watching in wonderment.

 

//You're beautiful.// The words were a mere whisper in Steel's mind.

 

//What?// He was stunned and uncomfortable. He never had understood compliments, nor the need for them. What had Silver seen?

 

"When you . . . did what it was you did, your face . . . " Silver trailed off, eyes still wide. Steel still didn't know how to respond.

 

"What about it?"

 

"It . . . ‘Relaxes' is too simplistic a word; what happened was more profound than that. And your eyes -" Silver came to a halt and simply stared at Steel.

 

//What about them?//

 

//They glow, but not in the glowing sense that Sapphire's do. They become pure steel, yet what's within steel, what makes it pure.//

 

//Which is isn't,// Steel, ever the pragmatist and scientist, pointed out.

 

Silver sighed; the sound seemed to disturb Steel's hair. Silver appeared as if he was about to pursue the matter, but something clearly stopped him. Instead he asked, "Did you get what you were looking for?"

 

Steel nodded.

 

"I don't suppose you intend telling me just what it was, do you?" Silver sounded more hopeful than expectant.

 

//Maybe later.//

 

Silver nodded slightly, the movement accepting, philosophical even. //Well?// It was a fair enough question.

 

Steel searched for words; the illusive commodity that had never sat well within him.

 

Finally he started at a different point from that he had intended. "You saw what happened earlier to that." He waved at the broken glass and wood, vaguely wondering why Silver had made no move to clear up the mess. "And to your wall." He glanced over his shoulder and was slightly saddened but not surprised to see that a hairline crack had appeared. He sensed Silver's affirmation. "I lost . . ." He stopped. That wasn't strictly correct. "My control slipped for a fraction of a second, but that's all it takes."

 

//Why?//

 

//?// Steel pushed the mental equivalent of a raised eyebrow through their link.

 

//Why did it slip?//

 

Steel smiled - his own version of a smile; the one where he allowed the corners of his mouth to twitch. //I was distracted.// He smiled again at the flush of emotions that passed through Silver's mind and body and were shown on his face.

 

"But you're often distracted," Silver said slowly. "When working, I mean. Time doesn't exactly behave in a logical manner. It doesn't wait for you to finish one thought or task before you start another."

 

//There are distractions and distractions.// "Most are simple, everyday ones. They don't have any affect on me. I expect them, I'm used to them." //They rarely touch me.// Steel didn't know why he was switching from talk to telepathy within one speech, but somehow it seemed right.

 

He waited, expecting Silver to make some joking reply. Instead all he said was, "How strong are you?"

 

Steel considered the question. Like his origins, the answer was inexpressible, but nonetheless he searched for one. "You saw what I did to the lift cable; that was effortless. I could bring this entire building crashing to the ground with little more exertion than," he hunted for a simile, "you knocking down a house of cards." It was close enough. Silver, however, didn't seem to be equating the answer, so Steel tried to make it personal.

 

"I could crush your hand with two fingers." //No!// he shouted, dropping Silver's wrist and staring into the green eyes.

 

"But I hadn't even . . ." Silver at least attempted to look contrite.

 

"You didn't need to. Hell, Silver, is that what you go in for?" His mind flipped to his partner and the man in front of him; he shuddered. If he'd hurt Sapphire . . . Or she'd hurt Silver . . .  .He clamped down on the thought.

 

Silver hastened to reassure Steel, picking up Steel's hand and holding it. //I don't. Not at all. It's just . . .// He shrugged.

 

Regretting the question before he even asked it, Steel raised an eyebrow.

 

"I heal quickly; we all do. And I thought . . . " he trailed off helplessly. Steel who realised that part of his mind was still linked with the quicksilver one, read that the stutter was genuine.

 

//Or you didn't,// he said, dryly.

 

//Sorry.// Silver's contrition flowed through the link, wrapped itself around Steel and soothed him. His companion was sorry; Steel knew that. It had been an unfortunate thought, as Silver would soon know; but maybe Steel was as much to blame.

 

//It's okay.//

 

For several seconds they simply sat. Steel watched the other man and kept the jumbled thoughts at bay whilst Silver's eyes darted everywhere. Steel just waited. When he wanted it, he had infinite patience. He waited for Silver to speak.

 

He wasn't disappointed.

 

//So?//

 

//?//

 

He felt the sigh; Silver knew he was prevaricating. "So what has it to do with you not wanting to come to bed with me?"

 

//It has nothing to do with want.// The words whizzed across the mental link before Steel could prevent them.

 

//Tell me.//

 

"What happens when our kind," Steel paused, uncertain what word to use. The human term ‘make love' didn't begin to describe what it was; in fact there wasn't a human term for it. He wished for a greater vocabulary in certain areas. "Become intimate," he finished, aware of the inadequacy.

 

Silver's eyes popped open. //You know that.// It wasn't a question.

 

Steel sighed. His companion wasn't making this any easier. //Yes.// He was weary, and he knew that his mind voice confirmed this.

 

//So?// That word again; it had so many possibilities.

 

Steel sought in his mind for the words to use and cursed, not for the first time, his inadequacy with a medium most elements used without thought. Words were not, and never had been, his friend.

 

He glanced at Silver who was still waiting, and made a decision. Reaching across the small distance, he captured Silver's hands and brought them to his own temples, placing one either side.

 

Silver frowned as Steel covered the long fingered hands. "I can't do that," Silver said. "I don't have those kind of powers."

 

//I do,// Steel answered. He put enough pressure on the fine hands to hold them in place, and enough to stop Silver from trying to break away; as Steel knew he inevitably would. Silver looked uneasy. You'll soon be a lot more than that, Steel told himself, preventing the broadcast into Silver's mind. //Ready?//

 

//For what?//

 

Steel twitched his lips, briefly closed his eyes, accessed the memory he required from his databank and projected.

 

The gasp shook the slim body and resonated around the room. Steel used a fraction of his strength to keep the fine hands clamped in place, wincing slightly at the pressure it put on his own head and fought to stop himself from reading Silver's mind. He didn't want to, couldn't bear to, sense the horror, disgust and loathing that the other man would be feeling.

 

Finally Silver slumped forward, forcing Steel to adjust his grip and catch the slender body. It didn't matter that Silver's connection to Steel's mind had been broken; the scene had played itself out.

 

Silver now knew the truth.

 

His companion trembled in his arms and Steel hated himself for what he had just done. Words would have been bad enough; what he had just done had been diabolical. But then he wasn't meant to be the sensitive one, that thought made him churn inside. If only they all knew. No, he'd rather they didn't.

 

Automatically adjusting his body temperature – Silver was after all shivering – Steel held the lithe body until the shudders stopped. He almost wished they would continue, because that way he didn't have to face Silver's reaction. Holding Silver so close, especially having opened his mind to him, made the effort of staying out of the other man's mind much harder than it usually was. Just give in. Read him. If you care about him at all, don't make him say the words. After all, you showed him. Why not read him?

 

It isn't fair on him, he argued.

 

Coward, he told himself, bitterly. You just can't face the truth yet. You want to hold on to your pretence of as long as possible. Except his pretence was not pleasant. In fact he didn't really think Silver's reaction could be any worse than what he was imagining it to be.

 

Eventually the shaking stopped and Silver lifted his head. Steel prepared to release the now warming body. Thus he was not prepared for Silver's quick movement that switched their positions around, so that he held Steel. Steel could have broken away as easily as blinking, but he chose not to.

 

//You killed her?// The question echoed in Steel's mind. It was rhetorical; yet it was clearly as question.

 

"Yes." Steel answered flatly, for once not following Silver's lead in the method of communication.

 

"How?" Steel didn't bother answering; he simple raised an eyebrow. Silver shook his head, clearly acknowledging how futile his question had been. "Why?"

 

"I lost control."

 

"How?" Silver now seemed incapable of speaking more than one word at a time. His grip on Steel's arms was surprisingly tight and firm given the man's frame, and despite his strength, Steel could feel it. It was nothing more than someone might feel a butterfly brushing against their cheek, but he could feel it. Again, breaking away would be simple. Again, Steel chose not to.

 

Instead he repeated his earlier question; the answer to which they had both danced around. "What happens when our kind become intimate?"

 

"Intensity."

 

Steel held back a smile. Well that much was true, but it wasn't quite what he meant. It did, however, seem all that Silver was capable of. "And we momentarily lose control of what we are. A moment is all it takes."

 

"But she's alive."

 

Ah. Steel had wondered when it would come to this part of the story. "Yes."

 

"How?"

 

"I took time back. I used it for my own personal ends – not something we are meant to do." That much was true. However, as it had been to benefit one of their kind, 'They' hadn't commented.

 

"So she doesn't remember?"

 

"No." Steel paused. Waited. Then added, "But I do." He waited.

 

It came. "You can take time back?" Silver sounded incredulous. Steel could understand the reaction.

 

"Yes."

 

"But . . . ? Why . . . ? Does . . .  ? How . . . ?" The words tumbled over one another as they left Silver's mouth.

 

Steel took pity on him. "No, Sapphire doesn't know. As to why I hide it, that, Silver, is a completely different story. Maybe we should deal with one thing at a time?"

 

Silver seemed incapable of tearing his eyes away from Steel's, or of letting go of him. If anything his grip had tightened. //Okay,// he whispered. "So Jet has no idea?"

 

"No. All she knows is that she tried and failed to get me into her bed."

 

"Oh." For a moment, silence stretched between them. The Silver spoke again. "But you remember?" His mind was leaping about like a ball. Steel wondered why it didn't infuriate him like it normally did.

 

"Every last detail. For ever."

 

//That must really hurt.//

 

Steel blinked. //Yes.//

 

Silence settled over them. Silver still had not released Steel.

 

Finally Steel had had enough. "So now you know what I am."

 

Silver smiled faintly. "Oh, no, Steel, I don't know what you are. I only know what you allow me to know. To see."

 

Steel frowned. "Well, you know of what I'm capable."

 

"I know what happened once, yes. I assume there haven't been any other times?"

 

Steel wrenched himself away. He spoilt the gesture at the last second as he caught the off-balance Silver although he threw him, none too gently, back against the cushions. He leapt to his feet and began to pace around the room. Fury spitting out of him like shards of light. "What do you think I am, Silver? Do you really think I'd . . . " He stopped; his fury suddenly evaporated. It wasn't Silver's fault. "No," he said, subsiding back onto the sofa. "There haven't been any other times. Nor," he added, "will there be." He met Silver's gaze and held it for a long time.

 

//I'd be prepared to risk it.// The words came into Steel's mind, making him for a brief moment wonder again just what Silver's preferences were.

 

//I wouldn't.// He answered flatly, coldly, offering no chance of a discussion.

 

This, however, was Silver. He was persistent. "Why?"

 

"How can you ask that? You saw, felt, my pain. I couldn't live with it again. Besides," he added, without thought, "I'm not certain 'They' would let me get away with it again."

 

"It could be worth it." Silver's eyes were alight with something Steel didn't want to identify.

 

Steel sighed, fighting a touch of amusement at Silver's bravado and his self-belief. He tolerated it, for it was better than dwelling on the past. //You're confident.// He made the words light, amused.

 

Silver to his credit had the decency to blush.

 

The moment passed. Steel felt exhausted. It was the kind of tiredness he felt when he took his temperature down in order to freeze things. He leant back against the cushions and briefly closed his eyes. He might as well go now; after all, wasn't there only one reason he was there? "It wouldn't be," he said, vaguely wondering why he was pursuing the matter. "It couldn't be," he added.

 

"Are you sure? I mean, I'm male, I am stronger than Jet. Maybe - " Silver stopped speaking as Steel closed his fingers around the fine wrist and squeezed, just enough. They both heard bones mesh together.

 

Steel felt sick. But knew what he was doing was the right thing. He stopped short of actually crushing Silver's hand, although he suspected he had maybe fractured the odd bone. Silver would heal quickly, but that wasn't the point. However, he had no intention of apologising.

 

//I'm sorry.// The words surprised Steel. He glanced at the ashen man, whose face was slightly tinged with green. Steel idly wondered whether Silver was going to be sick, but a swift appraisal and a slip into the jumbled mind reassured him.

 

//Shouldn't that be my line?// Steel now held the damaged, throbbing hand as though it was fine china.

 

//No. I asked for it. I should have dropped the matter.// "But that's not me, is it?"

 

Steel smiled and began to rub the hand he had hurt with his fingers. He felt the repair begin under his grip, but continued to sooth after it was complete.

 

//I am sorry though,// he added as the final swelling vanished. He felt the question. //Not about that,// he nodded at the hand he still held, still unwilling to let go, despite what he was about to initiate. Why he was about to go there, he knew not, but he pushed on anyway. //About not being able to go to bed with you.// He sensed Silver's confusion. This wasn't the Steel he knew; but then the Steel he knew wasn't quite who Steel was.

 

//Really?// The question was hesitant, and Steel could sense Silver retreating.

 

//Of course.// Steel paused, then allowed the cold smile that Sapphire had always described as cynical to touch his lips. Silver retreated further, this time physically. Steel let him. And then delivered the coup de grâce. "But are you?"

 

"What?" This time Silver jumped to his feet. "Of course I am. After all, I'm the one who started it, if you recall."

 

"Oh, I do," Steel responded, also getting to his feet. "As you know, I have perfect recall." His voice now matched his name. He took a step nearer to Silver, who backed away. Hating himself, but pushing on, Steel spoke again. "But why, Silver? Why did you set out to seduce me? Why? Answer me that. If you can." He turned his back, sick at his own words, the pain digging into him far more deeply than he had envisaged, and began to move away.

 

To his surprise, his shoulder was grabbed by a force greater than he would have believed Silver to be capable, and he was wrenched around to face the stricken man. Recovering from the shock of what Silver had managed to do, Steel let his claws remain sheathed. He did, however, make it completely clear to Silver just who was in control. He hoped Silver believed him, because he didn't believe himself.

 

"What?" Silver said through thick lips. "What do you mean?"

 

"I meant what I asked, Silver. I usually do, you know. ‘Why did you set out to seduce me'?" He paused for a fraction of a second, but Silver said nothing. The only look on his face was one of utter horror. Far more horror than the look that had been there after Steel had showed him what he'd done to Jet. Steel spoke again, his tone conversational. "Enjoy your little game, did you, Silver? I hope so, because you won't get another chance. And I'll thank you to leave my partner out of your schemes in future. Be satisfied with having slept with her. One out of two isn't bad odds in my experience."

 

The self-loathing he felt gnawing inside him was matched only by the look of utter self-disgust on Silver's face. The pain and total revulsion was too much even for the man of steel to stand. He closed his eyes and to his shame had to fight back a tear that sought to escape.

 

The pain that was evident on the usual unemotional face tore into Silver as the waves of despair washed over him. What had he done? He had no experience of Steel in a raging temper. Yes, he'd seen Steel angry, but cold fury was something he didn't know how to handle. Suddenly Silver realised that he knew nothing about the man he'd set out to seduce.

 

Working on pure instinct, rather than rational thought, Silver took a step towards the steel barrier that had been erected, and tentatively reached out to touch the quivering shoulder. "Steel?" //Steel?// He simultaneously spoke and broadcast the word, his tone tentative.

 

He wasn't entirely surprised to find himself on the floor over the other side of the room, tasting his own blood as it dripped into his mouth from cuts both to his lip and inner cheek. Nor did he resent the blow; he deserved it. However, being completely altruistic wasn't necessarily going to get him anywhere, except possibly dead or severely hurt. Even with the elements super-healing powers, he knew only too well that Steel could inflict enough damage to render him incapable for a while at best.

 

Slowly, trying not to wince as he realised at least one of his ribs had been broken, Silver climbed to his feet, eyes never leaving the steel grey ones that were watching him unseeingly. Steel was battling his own emotions; that much was clear from the clenched fists, the taut, empty face, the raised shoulders and the harsh breathing. Silver hoped it was a fight the other man would win.

 

He held both hands up and out in the age-old gesture of surrender, and tried to make his entire body and face non-confrontational. He sensed a kind of pressure in his mind, and wondered whether Steel was attacking him mentally, although he felt nothing.

 

"Steel," he repeated; this time choosing only the verbal. "Listen to me. Please." The other man just turned his back to him and presented Silver with the stiffest, most upright look he had ever seen.

 

Still not willing to give in, Silver took a step towards the metal; his steps slow and deliberate. He reached the barrier and stretched out a long arm again, drawing back at the last second as he recalled what had happened the last time he'd touched the bar. //Steel.// He clutched his hands to his head as the word was thrown back at him. That was something else he didn't know Steel to be capable of. He resorted to words; after all, they were his friend. They had always served him well in the past. "Steel. You have to listen to me. Please."

 

//Why?// the word was thick with weariness; heavy with pain. //Why should I?//

 

Silver had one chance to salvage. He knew it. Steel knew it. Lies wouldn't help. Nor would prevarication. But the truth came with no guarantees. However, it was the truth that Silver chose. "Because I love you." He spoke simply, honestly, quietly, and waited.

 

He could almost hear the computer-like mind whirr as Steel digested what Silver had said. Silver looked for some reaction; some calming even of the still quivering, taut figure. The wait seemed endless – could Steel actually stop time?

 

Finally the grey man turned around, his movement slow and deliberate. Silver tensed in anticipation, and had to fight not to take a step backwards. The grey eyes, cold, so cold they made Silver shiver, stared at him. The ashen face was still.

 

For several long moments they just stood.

 

Then Steel spoke. "What?" From the minute frown that appeared and vanished in less than a heartbeat, Silver suspected this was not what Steel had planned to say.

 

"I love you," Silver repeated. It was easier the second time. So much so that he said it again. "I love you."

 

Steel raised a hand. Silver backed away two steps, just out of reach, at least out of reach as long as Steel remained frozen to the spot. To his surprise, he saw Steel shake his head and stare at the raised hand as though he had no idea what it was doing. He let it fall impotently to his side and shook his head again. "Why?" he finally asked, his bafflement clear.

 

Silver opened his mouth to try to answer the impossible question.

 

He closed it again as Steel continued to speak, going on as if he hadn't asked the question. "You're lying." The words were flat, vacant.

 

"No, I'm not," Silver urged, taking a step back towards the other man. "Read me, you'll see." In desperation he grabbed the cold hands and clamped them to the sides of his head.

 

Steel broke away. "I don't need to touch you," he managed, still looking stunned. "And I don't want to."

 

Silver nodded. "It doesn't become you," he said calmly, frantically calculating the risk.

 

Steel frowned. "What doesn't?" he growled in his cold, flat voice.

 

Crossing his fingers behind his back and hoping luck would win over stupidity, Silver answered. "Lying." He forced himself to hold his ground despite the towering fury that again shook Steel's small frame.

 

However, as Steel advanced, Silver did take two steps back, talking all the time. "It's no good, Steel, whatever you do to me, it won't change the way I feel. Hit me again if you want. I won't stop you. Apart from the fact that I couldn't stop you, I wouldn't. Go on, I'll even make it easy for you. I'll stand still. Well, what are you waiting for? You know you want to. But, please, Steel, try to remember that there are innocent people, okay, elements, in this building. They don't deserve your wrath. Do what you like to me, but don't destroy the whole block." He ran out of words as Steel's cold breath froze his face. It was strange how Steel suddenly seemed inches taller than him, whereas the opposite was in fact the truth. Silver watched as conflicting emotions passed over the emotionless face, saw the eyelids close over the grey orbs, and watched as Steel stumbled backwards, his hand out to steady himself.

 

The shaken operative backed into a chair and fumbled for a handhold. "I won't hurt you," he managed, subsiding into the chair. The floor groaned, moved, but came to a halt. "I'm sorry," he managed, through trembling lips.

 

Silver crossed the short distance and crouched down in front of the clearly debilitated man. Steel was growing colder under his eyes and he didn't know what to do. "Steel." He shook the now pliant frame, trying not to gasp as his hands were burnt. "Stop it!" he ordered, adopting his companion's authoritarian tone. "Don't take yourself down any further. Steel!" he yelled, as the other man's temperature continued to plummet.

 

"Oh, hell," he cursed and did the only thing he could think of, other than kiss Steel - and he didn't relish his lips being frozen. He drew back his hand and slapped Steel, hard across the face. As he connected with the frozen skin, he realised that he had no idea whether Steel would even feel it. Or if he did what reaction it would cause – automatic or otherwise. He, Silver, might end up with more broken bones after all.

 

However, all that happened was that the frantic temperature decline slowed.

 

Then stopped.

 

Then began to reverse.

 

It was, however, several minutes before Steel looked up. "Thank you," he said, his voice as formal and rigid as his body.

 

Silver remained crouched on the floor in front of Steel, but kept his hands off the other man. "Why does the idea of me loving you shock you so much?" he asked tentatively, when it became clear that Steel was neither going to speak, nor leave.

 

"It doesn't," was Steel's reply, as he lowered his stare to his lap.

 

"I told you lying doesn't become you," Silver said mildly, half expecting a blow. None came. Relieved, Silver went on. "Do you really think that you're unlovable?" Steel's head came upright as though jerked by a string, and the look that flashed through the grey eyes confirmed Silver's suspicions. "Well, you're not you know."

 

"Really." Steel's tone was dry, and the word a statement, not a question.

 

Silver chose to ignore Steel's interpretation and went cheerfully on. "Yes, really. You're very attractive, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Several of our kind would agree."

 

"Now I know you're being stupid." Steel's response was weary.

 

Silver risked a touch. He noted that Steel's body temperature, whilst definitely higher was still not at the level that Steel had earlier called normal. Steel did not prevent the touch. "No, I'm not. Take Jet for example, she positively moons after you still. She was so depressed when you ended your relationship with her. "

 

"Jet does not ‘moon' after me," Steel said, the tiniest hint of amusement in his voice.

 

"Well, maybe not quite ‘moon', but she still wants you. So do Diamond, Radium, Mercury, Gold . .  ." He trailed off at the incredulous look that crossed Steel's face.

 

"And you'd know this how?" Steel's tone was mild. The flint in his eyes was not.

 

Silver made an empty gesture, wondering if he'd played the wrong hand. However he had started, thus he decided to continue. "Talk. Lots of our kind talk to me, you know. Oh, and just by observing. I'm good at that."

 

"Really. And there was me thinking that you'd shared the information whilst in bed with them." Steel's tone was dry now, and the barriers that had temporarily seemed to be subsiding were back in place.

 

Silver sighed. "Just how many of them do you think I've slept with, Steel?" He chose the human term; somehow it seemed easier. Steel didn't answer; his face was inscrutable. Silver pushed on down the long road. "Okay, okay, so I've slept around, I've never claimed to be innocent. But that doesn't change how I feel about you now."

 

"Ah, yes, we're back to that. I wondered when we'd come full circle." Steel's body now seemed relaxed. However, even without any mental powers, other than telepathy, Silver could sense that the man wasn't. 'The calm before the storm', seemed to sum Steel up perfectly – or rather 'the calm before and after the storm'; they had already had one outburst. "So you love me?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Really?"

 

"Yes. Really."

 

"So what I read in your mind was false? Strange that, it seemed very real to me. And my powers have never let me down so badly before."

 

"You've known for that long?" Silver stood up suddenly and Steel matched him. Silver still managed to feel several inches shorter than the not-overly tall other man. "You bastard! But why didn't you say anything?" For a fraction of a second, Silver saw that Steel had no answer to the question. It should have been a small victory for Silver, but it meant nothing.

 

"Well?" Steel regained the upper hand and ignored Silver's outburst.

 

Silver frantically recalled Steel's question. "Yes. No. That is . . ." Finally defeated, Silver threw his hands up in the air, and sank down onto the sofa; the floor neither groaned nor moved. He sensed Steel watching him, waiting, like a wild animal teasing its prey.

 

He looked up, met the steely gaze and prepared himself for complete honesty. "What you read, that's how it started. I can't deny that. I've wanted you for years; longer even. Pretty much since I first met you." Steel did nothing, offered no encouragement or question, was silent and still. Silver pressed on. "You're a very attractive man. You are," he said, at the flash of disagreement that raced over the still face. "And you're aloof; unattainable; apparently untouchable. None of our kind can really get close to you, except maybe Sapphire, but even she . . ." he broke off. "You must know that she loves you, that she wants you."

 

Steel spoke, Silver was convinced he hadn't intended to. His voice was soft but stilted. "I love her too, but not in the same way."

 

"Because of what happened with Jet?" Silver risked the question.

 

Steel shook his head firmly, the ash blond locks flicked across the silent features. Silver longed to push them away, to calm them, to control them – just as he did on almost every occasion he and Steel met. He made a decision; chose not to press the man further.

 

"All of that," Silver continued, "makes you very desirable. I decided that I would be the one to break through that steel barrier. Yes, Steel, yes. I set out to seduce you. It was cold, calculating, and deliberate. I ensured that I got your attention as often as I could without jeopardising any mission we were on. I made you irritated with me, jealous of me. I flirted with Sapphire outrageously, but I also flirted with you. I planned it, every move, every word, every look. I even chose my clothes with you in mind. Every last thing I did and said, every look, gesture, thought even, was directed at getting through your barriers. Was aimed at one thing: seducing you and getting you into my bed. I really believed I couldn't fail; I never have done before. But you tested me. You really did." Sometime during the speech, Steel had sat back down, carefully this time; so carefully that Silver was momentarily convinced his companion wasn't actually touching the chair in which he sat.

 

Steel didn't speak. His eyes still matched his name, his body remained unmoving, so Silver continued. "I was so wrapped up in my plan, my determination, that I didn't recognise when the fun went out of it, and when it started to become serious. I don't know when I started to love you, when I fell in love with you. But I did. And I do. Sapphire knew; I realise that now." Steel raised an eyebrow. Silver went on again, hoping that he wasn't going to cause a rift between the partners.

 

"You're correct when you inferred earlier that she'd been involved, she had. I asked her – begged her – to persuade you to come out to dinner with the two of us. I knew you'd have said no if I'd asked. Do you really think that caring for you, loving you, like she does, having to work with you so closely, that she'd have agreed if she hadn't realised that my intentions had changed? Well, do you?"

 

Steel gave a half-helpless gesture. For a moment he seemed incapable of computing anything Silver said, let alone answering him. Finally he repeated the gesture and whispered his reply. "No. I don't believe she would."

 

Silver felt the relief race through him. But he knew that he wasn't completely out of the woods. "So you believe me?" he asked cautiously.

 

Steel watched him and gave another of the helpless shrugs. It bothered Silver to see the normally self-contained, confident man so ill at ease, and for a moment he wished he had never started the chase. "I believe that you believe it, yes," were the words that eventually came.

 

Silver felt like screaming. "Steel," he said, his own helplessness eating into him. Oh, what the hell!

 

He jumped to his feet, reached across and dragged a surprised Steel to his feet, pulled him into his arms and began to kiss him. Desperately at first, painfully if the sudden taste of iron in Steel's mouth was anything to go by. Then the desperation and the pain faded, and what was left was a purity that Silver had never before known. A tenderness that reached beyond his understanding of the word.

 

Suddenly, in his overheated mind and body, he realised that Steel wasn't stopping him; more, he was kissing him back. The lips, still cooler than Silver was used to, but smooth and caring, caressed his own, sending flickers of passion coursing through Silver's body. Then Steel opened his mouth to him and invited Silver in, he sent the invitation flooding into Silver's jumbled thoughts. As the invitation hit him, so did something else: it wasn't really an invitation; it was a demand. Silver obeyed, sliding his tongue into Steel's mouth, meeting slightly more warmth, but still not to the level of his own.

 

He tasted Steel and it was unique: clean, cool, distant, beautiful, safe, calm, razor sharp, organised and mysterious. All that was Steel, and so much more. As the kiss deepened, Silver felt Steel touch his mind, felt the other man prepare to take the intimacy into the level that only the elements could feel. He accepted the touch and in turn touched the mind that matched the man's scent and taste. As he did, he knew that the Steel that he and others saw, was only what Steel wanted people to see; what he allowed the world to experience. He was so much more, his emotions were stronger and deeper than any Silver had known.

 

Prepared to complete the joining, Silver tightened his hold on the small frame, feeling Steel's unruly hair brush his face, relishing the touch, and noticing the physical reactions that stemmed from the body he held so tightly – the reactions his own body mirrored. As he reached for the final stage that would take both of them beyond recall until the ultimate conclusion, Silver felt his mind harshly torn out of Steel's, and felt his body thrust backwards. Cold lips were wrenched from his own.

 

It was only Steel's vice like grip that prevented Silver from stumbling. His body was still tingling and objecting to the harsh breaking off of the passion. His mind was in turmoil as barriers squealed back into place. He fought against the darkness that threatened to invade his mind and his eyes, and then gave into it.

 

When he regained the light, he was stretched out on the sofa, with Steel perched on the edge, holding one of his hands and stroking his hair. Pain and misery coursed across Steel's face. Despair emanated from every inch of the once again trembling body. And a complete lack of hope penetrated Silver's mind, he didn't allow himself to pursue how or why that could be. There was no single word, not even a group of words, to adequately describe what he saw and felt. But as they hit Silver, they drained him of any anger he might have felt by Steel's violent withdrawal.

 

As his head cleared slightly, he heard muttering, both inside his aching mind and in his abused ears. //I'm so sorry. So sorry. So sorry.// "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Over and over again the words were being repeated.

 

Finally Silver saw what he suspected no one else, not even Sapphire, had seen: Steel naked and defenceless. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally. Every barrier had crashed down and had dragged the man of steel down with it. The grip on Silver's hand was firm, but even Steel at his most sheathed had never held Silver as lightly. The only thing Steel seemed to have even a modicum of control over was his temperature, and even that fluctuated up and down like the pretty silver yoyo Silver had once found.

 

"Steel." Silver tried to sit up, but the grip Steel had on him, together with the way his head swam prevented it.

 

He tried again. //Steel.// The cut-off scream and the way Steel's eyes widened, told Silver not to try that form of approach again. Whatever he was suffering, Steel was clearly in considerably more agony.

 

For a moment Silver thought of attempting to contact Sapphire, maybe she could help; could do something to still her partner's torture. But even as he contemplated it, Silver dismissed it. Steel wouldn't want anyone, not even his partner, maybe especially not his partner, to see him like this. Silver prayed fervently that 'They' didn't choose this moment to call Steel to work.

 

He managed to work his hand free enough from the grip to turn it and lace his fingers through Steel's. The gesture seemed to get through to Steel where Silver's words had failed, as the mumbling hesitated, and the wild grey eyes seemed to become more focussed. Then the abnormal shaking and the wild rise and fall of temperature began to slow, and finally Steel's grip returned to the one Silver was used to. It seemed that bit-by-bit Steel was physically at least returning to normal.

 

Steel reached out an infinitesimally and brushed Silver's cheek. The touch was so tender; it made Silver cry inside. "I'm sorry." The words were painful.

 

Silver reached up and mirrored Steel's gesture. "For what?" he asked softly. "Stopping? Or letting it ever start?"

 

"Both. But not for the reasons you think." With each word Steel's voice gained strength. "I should have stopped it before it got as far as it did, and I should never have broken the connection so abruptly. I don't think I realised . . ." he trailed off. "It wasn't like this before." He seemed to be talking almost to himself. "Not with Jet. Not even when . . . Not even after . . . I didn't know it could be this intense, this painful. It shouldn't be. Was it . . . ?" he broke off and touched his fingertips to Silver's temple; he hissed as though the touch had burnt him. "I'm sorry," he murmured again, returning to stroking Silver's hair.

 

"Stop apologising, Steel," Silver said firmly.

 

"But I hurt you."

 

"To stop yourself from hurting me more," Silver encouraged.

 

"Maybe." However, Steel didn't sound certain.

 

Silver watched and saw the man he had known as Steel creep back into the defeated stranger's body. He watched the lightless grey eyes become alive, and suddenly what he saw was the operative plan a campaign.

 

//There has to be a way.// He'd heard Steel use the words during many shared assignments. Even when things looked impossible, it was Steel who kept Sapphire and any technician going, be it with cynicism, orders, instructions, ruthlessness or even guile. That was the man he suddenly saw. And then he realised that the pain he'd felt only moments earlier when using telepathy had gone. And from the lack of discomfort on Steel's face, so had his.

 

Silver had no time to ponder as to why that might be, nor did he see anything else because Steel lowered his head and found his lips, once again initiating a deep, caring kiss. As Silver moaned and reached up into the caress of his lips, Steel gathered him closer with one hand, whilst moving the other down Silver's body, igniting fires that had been dampened. The only thing Steel wasn't doing was making contact with his mind. Silver could feel the steel barrier between them and could sense nothing of Steel in his mind.

 

//Steel?// He didn't want to stop it, in fact he barely could. But nor did he want it to reach the height it had hitherto climbed to, only to have Steel wrench away.

 

Steel broke away and Silver marvelled at the usually pale face. It was alight, the beauty Silver had spoken of earlier was back and had heightened. Steel was – shining was Silver's only word. //I have an idea.// As the words sounded in his head, Silver saw more affection on the oh-so-often motionless face than he could ever have hoped to engender.

 

//?//

 

But Steel didn't answer, at least not directly. Not a wholly unusual occurrence, albeit more than a tad irritating. //Do you trust me?//

 

//With my life,// Silver sent, before thinking about his words. He partly expected a negative reaction to the somewhat inappropriate phrase. Instead Steel chuckled, causing Silver's mouth to fall open and Steel to slip a finger inside, which in turn made Silver's body quiver.

 

//An apposite comment,// came the dry response. The words smiled in Silver's mind, just as Steel now smiled for Silver, not his cynical smile, nor his fractional turning-up-lips smile, but a true, honest smile. Silver couldn't prevent himself from gulping, which seemed only to increase the amusement.

 

"Seriously though," now Steel spoke, the light-hearted man vanishing and the serious one reappearing; Silver hoped the transformation was only temporarily. "Do you trust me? Will you trust me?"

 

//Yes,// answered Silver, And then, for good measure added, "Yes. Of course."

 

"In that case, you'd better show me where that bed is you invited me into earlier." Steel held out his hand.

 

It took some of Steel's great strength to support Silver for the first few steps as the stunned man led the way into his bedroom.

 

Once there Steel let go of Silver's hand. Silver felt as though all the warmth had gone from the room. //Is this what you really want?//

 

"Yes." Silver answered verbally. He met the steady grey gaze that appraised him carefully. Steel's face was impassive; but then it usually was.

 

"Very well," was all Steel said. He pulled Silver into his arms and began once more to kiss him.

 

Silver found himself lying naked on his own bed, shivering slightly as Steel's hands moved over his body. "No," he said, suddenly as the hands became warmer. "Please."

 

Steel looked down at him, smiled softly and let his body temperature slip to its normal level once more. His hands continued to map Silver's body, touching Silver in ways that he had never before been touched, giving him sensations that he had never even dreamt of.

 

Silver groaned and arched his back, then tugged Steel's head down for another kiss. Then he realised something. "You're still dressed." And Steel was, at least partially. His jacket, tie and shoes had been removed, but he still wore his trousers and shirt.

 

//I know. It's better. Trust me,// he added, as Silver opened his mouth to object.

 

Silver knew that he had no choice. His life was literally in the man of steel's hands.

 

Those hands returned to caressing and making love to Silver's body. Never before had Silver been so aroused from such relatively innocent strokes. But the touches he felt were more than merely physical, he was receiving flashes of things he had never seen; things he had not known existed; things that proved, if indeed proof was needed, that Steel had spoken the truth earlier. Not that Silver had ever doubted it.

 

Then as Steel once more put his lips to Silver's, Silver felt the great mind once again touch his, felt it take as well as give. For a moment he tried to raise the few barriers he had; but as earlier it was futile. Silver had shared a bed with several of his fellow elements, with varying telepathic abilities, but none of them had come close to the level with which Steel touched him. He was being stripped naked inside as he had been outside. That level of joining was rare, not unheard of, but normally only existing between beings who were prepared to make a commitment to only be with one another. Silver's previous dalliances had never even come close to that.

 

And yet he knew that Steel wasn't about to take everything Silver had, at least not without Silver's permission. The knowledge that his lover could take as easily as he could crush a glass, but was still prepared not to, moved Silver. Without any real conscious thought, he let the useless barriers fall, inviting Steel into his mind, letting him take from it whatever he wanted.

 

As Steel's hands continued to move over Silver's naked body, Silver felt his lover drop more of his own barriers, far more than he needed to, of that Silver was acutely aware. He was invited into the joining, into Steel's mind. He saw things he couldn't even name, colours he had never known to exist, he saw just what Steel was, and just what he could do. He saw how dangerous and deadly Steel would be should he ever choose the other side. And he saw how much the other side would want Steel.

 

He felt . . .

 

He had ceased to feel.

 

What it was he was experiencing was beyond mere feeling and sensation.

 

The hands on him became ever colder, so chilled now that Silver wasn't certain the touch was pleasant. Yet it was above being pleasant.

 

With little warning, completion was upon him. Like all of his kind, his control fled and he fell into a mental and physical blackness.

 

When he opened his eyes, he found himself cradled, there was no other word for it, in Steel's arms, his head in Steel's lap, a blanket wrapped around him. Not that he needed the blanket, because his lover had pushed his body temperature up by several degrees and warmth like a summer's day radiated from him and wrapped itself around Silver.

 

Silver swallowed and searched around in his mind for a word, any word. It was the one part of his kind making love that he hated; the aftermath was far less pleasant than for a human. For a time they were horribly vulnerable, and little more than a physical being, as what made them what they were was still strangled within what they had just done. They were not aware of actions or consequences.

 

He could see though, and what he saw he wasn't certain he liked. Steel's eyes were wide with the kind of surprise or shock that Silver had never thought to see in the grey gaze. He was also, despite his high and still rising body temperature, shaking.

 

Silver forced his mind back under his control, wrenching it away from the pleasure it still wished to experience. The pain involved in severing the connection was intense, but his concern for his lover outweighed it. "Steel," he managed, finding the verbal less painful than the telepathic. He forced a hand out from under the covers and wrapped it around a burning wrist. He shook Steel, aware that his touch was negligible when compared to the great strength Steel had. "What is it?" He shook Steel's wrist again. Then cried aloud as the flesh burnt his fingers.

 

The cry seemed to shake Steel from whatever it was that held him. He glanced down, blinked and seemed to see Silver for the first time. Slowly the heat began to dissipate and return to a comfortable level.

 

"What is it?" Silver asked again. Then, gritting his teeth, forced out, //Tell me.//

 

Steel opened his mouth, frowned as the words he was clearly searching for failed to materialise and closed it. Seconds later he frowned again and shook his head. Silver realised that his lover had tried to use telepathy. Then Steel touched his face and an image flowed into his mind.

 

He gasped. "But I'm alive," he managed. Belatedly realising how foolish it sounded.

 

Foolish or not, however, it seemed to be what Steel needed. After a second he smiled, his eyes became less of a harsh grey and he stroked Silver's hair. "So it seems," he managed; his voice was gravely.

 

"But how?" Silver blurted out. Then a thought struck him. //I mean, I am alive. Aren't I? You didn't . . . Did you? I am . . . // he trailed off.

 

Steel nodded. "Yes," he said, smiling again. //You are alive. And no, I didn't.//

 

"But how? You said . . . You showed me."

 

//I can only venture to guess that it was because I was prepared to share myself with you beyond the mere physical level, and beyond the simple mind sharing we experience during intimacy. I gave you what I never considered giving Jet.//

 

"But why?"

 

"Because I trust you." Steel's voice was soft, as was his touch as it stroked Silver's cheek. He sounded almost surprised by his words.

 

Silver swallowed hard. The images that he had seen in Steel's mind were still there within him; he knew that now. //You could get into a lot of trouble, couldn't you?//

 

Steel shrugged. //'They' need me too much.//

 

Another sudden thought hit Silver. //I could . . . // But he couldn't even bring himself to finish the sentence. It was so abhorrent.

 

Steel nodded. //You could. Yes. I always knew that.//

 

//I won't.//

 

//I know.// Steel sounded amused, as amused as he ever did sound.

 

"I love you." The words were out before Silver could stop them. He froze under the steady grey gaze.

 

Steel ran his fingertips, his once more cool fingertips, over Silver's cheeks. "I do not know whether I know what love is, Silver. Or whether I am truly capable of it, at least not as you are. We are different beings. Nonetheless my," he hesitated and frowned; he appeared to be struggling for a word. When he continued, he switched to telepathy. //Feelings for you, go beyond mere liking and affection, I believe is the term. They are . . .// Once more he broke off. Once more he switched methods of communicating. "Apparently beyond words," he said his tone one of surprise. //If you wish to regard them as love for you, then I have no objection.//

 

Silver looked up at the man in whose lap he still lay. As a pronouncement of love it fell far short of any Silver had heard before, but it was far beyond any he could ever have hoped to receive. For Steel, he knew, the words contained no falsehood; they weren't platitudes. But more than the declaration of love was the word 'trust', and the action of trust, that Steel had shown Silver.

 

Then Steel spoke again. "There is one problem though."

 

Silver asked a silent question.

 

"That whilst I trust you, I cannot allow anyone else to know what you know. Not even Sapphire." He sounded deeply saddened by the final three words.

 

"I'm not going to go around blabbing. I know I talk a lot, I know I appear flighty, but I'm not going to tell."

 

Steel brushed his temple. "I know you won't. However," he paused. Again he retreated to telepathy. //When you next join with someone of our kind they will know what you know. That cannot happen. It is not that I object to anyone knowing about our liaison, you must believe that. But they must not know what I truly am. As I cannot expect you to be, 'faithful' is the human term, I believe, I therefore have two options available to me.// The lover had been replaced with the logical, reasoning operative; the one who worked everything out, weighed up the options and delivered his instructions.

 

"And those are?" Silver asked politely.

 

"I can wipe your mind, so that none of this ever happened." Silver couldn't be certain, but he thought that Steel's voice had changed slightly; a mere tinge of sadness had touched it - or it might have been in Silver's imagination. Steel continued his clinical discussion. "Or," Steel broke off and studied Silver; the gaze was like being looked at under a microscope. "Or, I can use a power that even 'They' do not know I possess. I can bury the memories of what I am so deeply within your mind, that only I would be able to access them. You could, if you chose to. But if anyone other than myself tried to get into that part of your mind, the barriers I can build would automatically prevent them from so doing. They would not even be aware that they were being blocked; to them your mind would be as open as it always is."

 

"If you think I'm going to give up the memories of what we did, then you can forget it. So option two is the only choice. Do it."

 

Steel became still. //There is one consequence of that action, however.//

 

//What?//

 

//It will link you to me, and me to you in ways that go beyond words, beyond anything you could even begin to understand.// With the slightly hurtful words, came an image that softened the coldness of what Steel said, and showed Silver what his lover meant. He was not deriding Silver's abilities to understand, he simply spoke the truth. No one could comprehend. No one but Steel.

 

Nonetheless, Silver pushed a little. "Can't you tell me any details?"

 

Steel frowned, and his face took on the look is adopted whenever he was forced to attempt some explanation to the humans they were rescuing. Then the 'why do I have to do this' faded, and the softer Steel reappeared. He touched Silver's temple, lightly, fleetingly; a cool breeze flickered over Silver's skin. "Wherever you were, no matter how far apart we were, I would have a link to you. You to me too, but yours would be lesser, due to your more limited abilities. I would know what you were sharing with another. I would sense things you might not want me to know. For instance, I would share your emotional intimacy when you joined with another." Before Silver could speak Steel added, //That would be painful for me.//

 

"No, it wouldn't," Silver said, his tone matter-of-fact. //Because,// he went on hurriedly as Steel's face began to match his name, //I wouldn't be joining with another.//

 

//I am not asking you to . . .//

 

//No, you're not. I'm telling you what is what.// "I love you, Steel. And you love me, even if you don't want to use the word, or don't know what it means. Your trust in me showed me that. As did your words just now. I want to be joined with you and only you. So do whatever it is you have to do to protect yourself from some being trying to read my mind, and stop chattering on about me and other elements."

 

"I do not 'chatter'," Steel said indignantly.

 

Silver laughed, and finally a faint smile touched Steel's lips. //Are you truly certain?// Again he brushed Silver's head. //It will cause you some pain to begin with. You will have to learn to shut me out, so that you can continue to function. It might be kinder to you if I simply wipe your memories.//

 

"Can you just take away those of what you are?"

 

Steel shook his head. //Until we joined, yes. However, part of our joining involved me sharing my mind with you at a level beyond the normal, and even I do not have the abilities to take those memories from you, not without taking them all.//

 

"I'm not giving up what we shared. Link us."

 

//Are you certain?//

 

Silver nodded.

 

He wasn't sure he was.

 

But he was certain that the other option wasn't the one he wished to take.

 

Then a thought came to him. "Will I . . ." //Will I know when you are joining with someone else?//

 

Steel touched his cheek, his fingers cool and soothing. //There will not be anyone else for me either, Silver. There wouldn't have been, whatever you chose. I trust you.//

 

Silver nodded. He closed his eyes and smiled. //Do it then.//

 

He opened his eyes again and saw Steel's change. He was taking on the true colour of his name, the one that Silver had seen in his mind during their lovemaking.

 

Steel reached out both hands, Silver felt the coldness long before they touched him, and put one on each of Silver's temple. Then he leant towards Silver, and put his icy lips to Silver's own.

 

And so it began.

 

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