Piras shook his head as if reading Lokmi’s thoughts. “Since Kila’s not here to make his bad jokes, let’s have a talk.”
“Don’t get defensive. I just want to know if you’re okay with everything so far. If you’re all right with Kila and me.”
Lokmi swallowed. He had to force himself to meet the other man’s gaze. “I am. Which is presenting a problem in itself. Things between us are going too well.”
Piras snorted. “I thought you wanted to get to the point where you could see yourself as the Imdiko to this clan.”
“I do! Damn it.” Lokmi barely kept himself from throwing his tray at the wall in frustration.
“Easy, Chief. I just wanted to check in and see if there was anything I was doing that needed to be addressed.”
No, Piras was handling everything exactly the way he should. He was the strong Dramok Lokmi wished he could be; commanding without being authoritarian. Sure, Piras’s temper was nasty when someone did something stupid, but he was just as tough on himself. Even Kila, with his unforgiveable habit of screwing with Lokmi’s engines when the mood took him, had been the very essence of compromise.
They were going out of their way to not push Lokmi’s buttons, to let him be both an Imdiko and a Dramok, respecting his needs. Helping him learn to be the best of both breeds. And yet his first reaction to joining their clan continued to be one of fear…fear that they’d ignore the half of him that was every bit as alpha as they were, that they’d somehow make him the least important of their partnership.
Piras didn’t push him. Instead, he switched to mentor mode. “How are things with your staff?”
“Great.” He was grateful to Piras for the guidance he’d never received in dealing with the non-Imdiko urges that had hamstrung him throughout his career as well as his relationships. “I’m not letting my Dramok side see every question and critique as a challenge to my authority. No one has taken a swing at me in days.”
Piras chuckled. “It’s tough walking that fine line between being reasonable and kicking someone’s ass. The ancestors know I still land on the wrong side too often to count.”
“You joke, but moderation is a bitch to figure out at this stage of my life. Don’t be a doormat, but don’t yell at the first provocation. I don’t know that I’d have found that middle ground without you as a teacher.”
“I’m glad to be here for you. And that you’re trying to do as I say and not as I do.”
“I’ve watched you, and you don’t get mad at mistakes done out of lack of knowledge,” Lokmi said. “You only lose your mind when someone’s being a willful shit or not paying the attention he should. Maybe you go overboard when it comes to discipline, but it’s never arbitrary.”
“I’m glad you approve.” Piras picked up his tray and started eating again.
Lokmi looked at him, feeling warmth fill his being as he contemplated the one Dramok who understood his difficulties. Much the same that Kila was the one Nobek he felt he could trust. Both men had shown him so many things he hadn’t known about himself. They coped with his poorly trained Dramok instincts and encouraged him to listen more to his under-utilized and unappreciated Imdiko need to nurture.
It made him sad to feel he was so close to realizing a happy relationship with the pair, only to deny himself the very thing he wanted so much. Needing Piras to understand that, he said, “I do want to be with you as a clanmate. Some days I think I should just do so, and never mind the terror the thought brings. Ancestors, if I could just get over my fears.”
The man many had called the Terror of the Fleet gave him a look that could have melted the heart of the most bloodthirsty Nobek. “It will come, Lokmi. Little by little.” Before he could get too tender and possibly ruin his reputation, Piras’s grin turned wicked. “I suppose it helps that Kila isn’t fucking with the engines every couple of days?”
“I know it’s making him crazy. He’s a born tinkerer, all right.” Rather than amusing Lokmi, it sobered him even more. “The fact he’s doing it for me…and I know that’s his reason…makes me feel even worse that I can’t just say yes to you two.”
“You will figure out he’ll let you have your Dramok side, in the right situation.”
Lokmi already knew that. Knowing had not dislodged the dread that blocked the words that would make him their clanmate. “I owe you thanks for giving me the time to sort myself out. I can only imagine how my reluctance is hurting you.”
“I’ve dealt with worse. You are worth the wait.”
Releasing Summer 2017