Take Your Best Shot
M/M, Science Fiction, Romance
[24 Pages / 6,500 Words]
Halden Blake was a good soldier and a good man. He never intended to be a hero, and he definitely never intended the events that landed him in intergalactic politics. Now, three presidential terms later, Halden must decide if running for office again is worth five more years of putting his own life on hold.
Isaac Knox has been President Blake's public liaison from the start, an ally and friend through difficult times. Halden has always carefully resisted thoughts of more, and Isaac has never given any hint of returning his guarded attraction. But when Halden finds himself struggling with questions about his own future, Isaac makes a surprising offer that could change everything.
He had reached no conclusions four hours later, when the quiet hiss of the door startled him. He expected one of the station's botanists to politely but firmly evict him; instead Isaac Knox stepped across the threshold and let the double doors slide shut.
"Since when do you have security codes for this floor?" Halden crossed his arms and donned an unconvincing expression of disapproval.
Isaac only grinned, crossing the small room to join him, sitting and draping an arm across the back of the bench. "You'd be surprised how many security codes I've accumulated over the years." Isaac knocked his knee against Halden's in a gesture completely defiant of professional etiquette. He was dressed exactly as he had been in Halden's office four hours ago, uncharacteristically casual. He'd undone another button of his shirt, making the long line of his neck even more distracting in the glow of the nebula.
"What are you doing here?" Halden asked. He uncrossed his arms and leaned his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together in front of him.
"You weren't in your office and didn't respond to transmissions in any of your usual haunts. Security thought you'd been kidnapped."
Halden groaned and slouched forward, dropping his forehead to rest atop his thumbs.
"I tried to talk them down." Isaac shrugged. "Figured you just needed some space to think. But Grii insisted on tracking your bio signature anyway."
Security Chief Willimit Grii, competent, wary, and distinctively arachnoid. Of course he'd insisted on running a station-wide search. Halden should have left some kind of note before going off the grid. He'd never bothered before, but then, he'd never taken quite this long before. It hadn't occurred to him security might panic.
"Hey, relax." Isaac nudged Halden with his knee again. "No one's coming to look for you. Once they had your location they calmed right down. I told Grii I'd check in."
Halden muttered a quiet, "Thanks." He slouched against the back of the bench and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He could feel Isaac's eyes on him, focused and worried. The silence was too heavy, an uneven quiet.
Halden should dismiss Isaac, but the truth was he didn't want to.
"Are you all right, Hal?" Isaac's voice was quiet caution, and Halden finally turned to meet his eyes. Isaac rarely called him anything besides Mr. President, but fifteen years had more than earned him a right to the more intimate nickname.
"I've been better," Halden admitted. There was no point obfuscating. While Isaac was far too polite to press once refused, lying was usually pointless. Isaac knew him too well. "I guess I didn't expect this to be such a difficult decision. It's been fifteen years. How is it anyone still wants me around?"
"Have you met some of your fellow politicians?" Isaac retorted in a deceptively light tone. "Some of them have natural lifespans above two centuries. Fifteen years is nothing from where they're sitting."
"And the rest?" Halden countered dully.
Isaac shrugged again. "They know you're good at your job. And you're popular across key solar systems. It's good to keep a popular president in office."
Halden snorted, self-conscious at the praise. "Earth doesn't particularly care if I'm good at my job."
"No," Isaac agreed. "Earth knows damn well you're a fluke. Once you step down, it'll be decades before another human gets anywhere near the presidency. Centuries maybe. We're not exactly the prom queen of Alliance species."
"And that's a good enough reason to hold onto the office for another term?"
"Hell no." Isaac regarded him blandly. "You can't tell me you'd be doing it for them. You never wanted to be a politician in the first place."
The truth of Isaac's words landed hard, loosening something in Halden's chest. Even now he wasn't a politician. Not really. He held the position by an unlikely accident of history, and he had no intention of pursuing politics when his tenure was through. He wasn't a patriot either, only a soldier who had too much awareness of the responsibilities that accompanied success.
Impossible to ignore the weight of Earth pressuring him toward a fourth term. It was there, a heavy constant at the back of his mind, distorting his efforts to make a balanced decision.
"That what this is?" Isaac asked in a softer voice. "You don't want it anymore?"
"I don't know what I want," Halden admitted. He tilted his head back to look past the topmost hanging plants, out at the distracting blues and purples of the nebula. It was a beautiful sight, space at its most peaceful. Contrarily, it made him think of the Carpathia and the war, the duty that had always driven him. It was with more candor than he intended that he added, "I've spent my whole damn life in service to someone. Earth, the war effort, now the Alliance... It never seems like there's time for more."
Cover design by Yolande Kleinn