Changing Worlds

A lot could change in a month.

As a child, a month had been near-interminable for Jason Kim, the passage of time grindingly slow. But by the time he was in the military, each month had become the same as every other, time passing in a strict, reliable, and mostly unexciting way. Working as a civilian had been the same, regimented and stable and safe. Dull. Then, a month ago, Ferran had come aboard his ship.

Ferran: Perel, alien, and unlike anyone Jason had ever met in his life.

Jason had found love like he'd never experienced before and lost it far too soon. Ferran had left him, restricted to his home planet after a brief period of liberty, like all male Perels, and Jason had taken a leave of absence and returned to his own home to mourn something he'd barely had a chance to discover.

Now, less than a month after he'd given up hope, Ferran was back. He and Jason were, for all intents and purposes, married, and both of them would be moving back to Perelan in the company of the Federation ambassador tomorrow, to begin training Ferran as a diplomat.

And Jason? He didn't know what role he was going to play on Perelan, other than husband and resident alien oddity. To be perfectly honest, he didn't care. For the first time in a long time, Jason was content to live in the moment—not because he had nothing to look forward to, but because he was happy.

The whole thing still felt slightly surreal.

"What about this?" Ferran asked, looking over at Jason from where he sat cross-legged in front of the closet. He held up what looked like a plaster imprint of Jason's five-year-old hand.

They were packing up the last of Jason's belongings that would come with them to Perelan, and Ferran was incredibly inquisitive. It was fortunate Jason didn't have much capacity for embarrassment; otherwise, he'd have been constantly red. He'd had no idea his mother had kept so many of his childhood things.

"That can stay," Jason said, carefully folding one of his favorite sets of casual clothes, made from actual silk and cotton. They wrinkled if he wasn't careful with them. He set them in the open case next to his dresser.

"What is it for?" Ferran asked, setting his own hand curiously against the imprint. His fingers were long and milk-pale, capped with thick, blunt nails that were almost out of place on his otherwise delicate hands.

"It's just a child's gift," Jason said. "We made them in class one day. I thought my parents had gotten rid of that long ago. Where did you find it?"

"In a box in the back," Ferran said. "There's a mask as well." He pulled out a brightly-colored dragon mask, the features almost perfectly colored in by a young Jason. He'd been something of a perfectionist even then. Ferran put the mask in front of his face. "It's very fierce, but a little hard to see out of."

"Your eyes are a little bigger than mine," Jason remarked, amused. Ferran's eyes were easily twice the size of his own, with amber irises and large, dark pupils evolved to capture any trace of light. Ferran pulled the mask away and grinned, and for a moment, it was all Jason could do not to stop sorting through the closet and take him to bed. Again. But they'd only been given a week for their impromptu honeymoon, and spending so much time absorbed in his lover earlier was giving Jason a headache about finishing everything now. It wasn't like he owned a lot of things. Packing should have taken half a day, max, but it had stretched out, slowed down, and crawled to a halt as Jason let himself get lost in the reality of having Ferran with him again.

Forever, he reminded himself, turning back to the last of his clothing. We have forever now. I don't have to count every second. But the anxiety within him refused to be soothed, and he abandoned the clothes in favor of joining Ferran in front of the closet. "What else is back there?"

"I haven't checked yet," Ferran said, but he looked eager to keep going.

"Let's find out." Jason reached back into the lichen-scented depths of the closet and closed his hands around a small tube. He pulled it out and sat back a bit further to escape the strong smell of the preservative. "These are mine, actually." He barely remembered burying it back there a year ago.

"What's in it?" Ferran asked curiously.

Jason unscrewed the cap on the cylinder and pulled out a sheaf of thin films. "They're pictures."

"Pictures of what?"

"All sorts of things," Jason said absently, remembering why he had stuffed most of the pictures he owned into a tube and shoved them into the back of his closet like a petulant child. It had been an unusually turbulent moment for him, one of the few times when he let emotion carry him away into actions that weren't logical. Instead of getting rid of the pictures that bothered him, Jason had completely cleaned house, emptying both his quarters on the ship as well as his home of photographs.

"Do you mind looking at them?" Ferran was an empath, like every Perel, and he was undoubtedly picking up on Jason's resistance.

These pictures weren't really things he wanted to look at right now, but he didn't have any choice. He had no idea when he'd get the chance to come back to his childhood home, and he wasn't a child any longer. He couldn't hide from things that made him uncomfortable. "It's all right," Jason said gently. "Let's look at them."

The first one was a retro style black-and-white photograph of his parents. They sat side by side in profile, looking out from the balcony of their house at the crashing waves below the small, cliff-top colony of Jacksonville. They both looked stern and a little distant, but that was how his parents had always looked in pictures. You had to be with them in person to see the grace of his mother's movements or really tell that the lines in his father's face came from smiling. They had been older than most couples when they'd had him, and he'd lost them far sooner than any of them had guessed. He shouldn't have hidden this picture away.

"My parents." He handed the film over to Ferran, who took it carefully.

His lover gazed down at the photograph with lively interest. "You look like your father."

Jason smiled. "Thank you." He had always admired his father's way with people, his inner strength, and his calm demeanor. Any comparisons to him were, in Jason's mind, favorable.

"What was his name?"

"Gary. My mother was Min-suh, but my father called her Minnie." The next picture was a portrait of his mother, and Jason handed that one over as well. The one behind that was a candid photo of himself and Blake, and thatů that wasn't quite so easy to look at.

Ferran knew instantly. "This is your last lover?"

"Yes."

"How long were you together?"

"Just for a year." Which was still the longest romantic relationship Jason had ever had.

Ferran was quiet for a moment. "Does it bother you to look at him?"

"A little." He didn't want to lie to Ferran, and he suspected that the Perel would know if he'd tried to anyway. "But you should know about Blake. At the least, you should know that he existed. He was out of my life for a year by the time you met me." Jason put that picture and the two behind it back into the tube. "These ones can stay. I'll take the other two, though."

Ferran held the pictures of Jason's parents side by side and admired them for a long moment. "We don't have anything like this on Perelan. It's considered disrespectful to make images of our loved ones, because it implies that we can't hold them in our hearts without help. Remembrance of the past is important, but our historians do not like dwelling on specifics. I've only ever painted in the abstract."

"You're a painter?"

"It was one of the skills my mother thought it important for me to learn." Ferran handed the pictures back carefully.

Jason took them and set them back on the bed, filing this new information about his husband into the "to be explored" category. Jason didn't paint, but he had access to courses that Ferran might like, instructional holos, and the means to buy any equipment that Ferran might need. Although right now, there wasn't time to buy anything, and Jason knew that nothing was shipped to Perelan without express permission from regulators.

Jason reached back into the closet. After a moment of searching, his hands closed on another cylindrical object, and he felt like groaning for a moment. More pictures? But no, this time, what he took out brought a smile to his face as soon as he saw the scabbard. "I thought this was in storage on board the Silver Star." He partially unsheathed the weapon and looked down at the short, straight blade: still shining, still sharp, just like he'd left it.

Ferran's eyes went a little wide as he took in the sword. "You use this?"

"Not really," Jason said, resheathing the sword and turning it over in his hands. It was painted with a flower pattern and coated with red lacquer, and the metal fittings were embellished with silver so tarnished it was almost black. "Swordsmanship went through something of a renaissance while I was going through military academy. I learned fencing, kendo, and some Indonesian styles. This sword is actually Korean, and a lot shorter than the katanas that samurai used."

"Who are samurai?" Ferran asked.

Jason smiled. "I forget sometimes how few movies you've seen. Why didn't you go to any theaters while you were traveling around the universe?"

"There were other things to do," Ferran replied, a mischievous look in his eyes. "Many other things. And alien films are one of the few things we're occasionally granted access to on Perelan."

"Well, tonight, I'm introducing you to the archetype that is the samurai movie," Jason said decisively. "Movies and popcorn, that's the tradition."

"I like your traditions," Ferran smiled, wrapping his arms around Jason's shoulders. "I liked celebrating your birthday." Jason's birthday was three days ago, and they had baked a cake, loaded it down with candles, and spent the rest of the evening celebrating in a more intimate way. The kitchen was a place they both liked to be, and Ferran was an excellent cook—far better than Jason, even after Jason had spent so many years learning it on his own. The white truffle cake was one of the few things Jason could make that Ferran didn't already know how to improve upon.

"We'll do the same for you when your birthday rolls around," Jason promised, but Ferran shook his head.

"My birthday isn't important," he said, quietly but with complete assurance. "We never celebrate the birthdays of males on Perelan. Instead, each house celebrates the birthday of their reigning matriarch. It's a feast day for the entire family. To celebrate my own birth would say to the others in my house that I was putting myself above them and above a sterile male's station. I don't mind it."

Jason was inclined to insist that Ferran's birthday was important, and they should celebrate it anyway, but he stopped himself. There was a lot he had to learn about Perel culture, and he didn't want to make any assumptions before he had a chance to really sit down and talk with Giselle Howards, the Federation ambassador to the planet. She'd be able to give him a crash course in Perelan and its people without the risk of Jason offending his new husband.

"What is it?" Ferran asked, curling in even closer. He tended to cuddle when he thought something might be wrong. It wasn't a habit that Jason felt like breaking, either. He liked the fact that, for the first time in a long time, someone not just wanted, but needed, to be close to him. The intensity of that emotion was something Jason was still adapting to, but the more they were together, the more he grew accustomed to letting himself need his husband back.

"Nothing that can't wait," he said after a moment. "Come on. Samurai movie time."