Sound is the most commonly recognized form of sensory impairment. Hearing impairments can affect someone's ability to communicate and possibly also their balance. With Hypo-sensitive hearing, an autistic person may only be able to hear sounds in one ear. The other ear might have only partial hearing or none at all. Also, they may not acknowledge particular sounds. Some might enjoy crowded, noisy places, or banging doors and objects.
Thank you for stopping by the blog on this year's autism tour. :)
This year I was a bit ambitious. I wrote a short using the Salvaging Toby's Heart world. If you haven't read the story, it is a free read that I wrote last year for the GR's Don't Read In The Closet event. You can find the free download at the MM Romance Group's blog or All Romance.
The short story isn't a romance. The two characters I chose to write about, Maximillien and Rectacon, aren't in a place to look for lovers. Max is a playboy adjusting to his desire to help someone he barely knows. Tac has spent the majority of his life in captivity. He has several issues, along with problems with his senses, that he needs to overcome. So this is beginning of their emerging friendship. I don't know if they will be lovers later on. They may end up being best friends or have a bromance, but right now, Tac needs a friend and Max finds he wants to be that person. I hope you enjoy the story.
One Call Away (Salvaging World)
Copyright 2016 Lexi Ander
Maximillien Wentowrth stepped off the ship and was immediately surrounded by the lush flora and fauna of the Genesis Nine, the Vohnahs homeworld. The humidity was a bit overpowering, especially after spending a couple of weeks on a spaceship in a temperature controlled environment. It was just a reminder why he preferred travelling in the vast beyond to being planetside and dealing with wet, sticky humidity. Whatever his dislikes, he couldn't keep himself from taking time off work and hopping on the first vessel headed to Genesis Nine at the edge of nowhere.
Why his brother loved living on this backwater planet, Max couldn't fathom. But Toby truly seemed happy, so Max refrained from giving him a hard time. Max was a firm believer that the Wentworth men needed more in their life than work, work, and more work. Max knew his brothers didn't approve of his playboy ways, but they never once chastised him for it—unless he kept one of the vessels out too long because he'd lost track of time. What could he say? When he found someone willing to have a bit of fun, he got sidetracked and forgot the vessel had to be back at home base by a certain time. He didn't want to be like Toby and Wolfe. Max wanted to have fun and live life to its fullest. Sure, he enjoyed working for the family business, Wentworth Salvage, but he didn't want his whole life to be about business. He needed more, and if he had fun during his search for something he couldn't put a name to, then he didn't come away empty handed, right?
Max was fine with how he lived his life, well, until the last time he visited the Vohnahs' homeworld. Toby and his small crew had stumbled upon a ship that was kidnapping indigenous beings from protected planets. The experiments performed were torturous to the captives. When Quintessential Chemicals and PHR Labs landed on the Vohnahs' homeworld, they attempted to take children. The Vohnahs, with Toby's help, had stopped the abduction, turning the crew over to the Federation, but they had kept the eighteen people who were found in cryo-containers.
One-by-one, the beings were awakened and returned to their homeworlds, that was if they'd wanted to return. A couple did choose to stay with the Vohnahs. Though there were some success stories, there were a few that sat in a sort of limbo. Those held the longest had the most problems acclimating to their newfound freedom.
On Max's last trip to Genesis Nine, he'd been in a rush because they'd received reports that Toby and Nicius had been taken captive by the natives of the planet. Their father had pulled every vessel he owned and sent them all to the Vohnahs' homeworld to rescue Toby. Before Max had arrived, he'd received a revised update that Toby wasn't a captive, but had helped the Vohnahs defend their young from scientist who'd come to kidnap them. Wolfe and their father stayed a couple of days to ensure Toby was indeed all right. Max had convinced their father to let him stay a while longer. He had some time off as it was and their father agreed, still worried Toby was under the sway of some kind of pheromone.
Unsurprisingly, Max had thoroughly enjoyed his time spent with the Vohnahs. The coupling tents were fantastic and Max had fallen into bed with of the doctors who oversaw the rehabilitation of the captives. The doctor, Arun Keyfaren, was the one who introduced him to Rectacon. Since then, Max couldn't get out of his head the timid person who'd called him 'angel' and often fell asleep listening to Max sing—not that Max would ever admit to singing for anyone.
Of all the captives, Tac had been held the longest. He didn't remember his homeworld, or the name of his people. For the longest time, he refused to acknowledge the doctor's questions, retreating to a corner where he rocked himself with his back turned to everyone. Unwittingly, Max had helped to bring Tac out of his shell, and when he had to return home, Max found he was reluctant to leave. But he wasn't a doctor and really, there was no reason for him to stay.
When Toby had called their father to touch base, Max had been in the office. He'd teased Toby about his lover Sol, which Toby took good naturedly, but before the call ended, Toby confided he was worried about Tac. Vaguely, Max recalled his brother had stared at him with a knowing grin, as if he waiting for some sort of reaction. Perhaps he would've taken note of it before the flight if he hadn't been so worried. As it was, Max didn't consider Toby had manipulated him until he was half way to the Genesis Nine. Normally, he would've been pissed Toby had done something to get under his skin, but in this instance, he couldn't complain, especially if Tac's breakdown was as severe as Toby had implied. And he should know since he was the liaison between the Federation and the Vohnahs. Toby was responsible for updating the Federation on the progress of the captives after the human doctors had been booted off the planet when they attempted to interfere between the Vohnahs' doctors and the freed captives.
Before Toby had disconnected the call, Max had asked if he could come for a visit. Toby already had the approval drawn up and sent to Max's wallet before they'd even said good-bye. On the flight over, he'd tried—quite unsuccessfully—to make himself believe he was only visiting Toby. He did miss his brother, but he knew the truth. As much as he loved and would enjoy the stay with Toby, his brother wasn't the person he was really there to see. Max shifted the heavy duffle on his shoulder. Everything within had not been packed with Toby in mind, but for Tac, the strange lonely alien Max could get out of his mind.
He glanced up from the path to see Toby hurrying toward him. He'd exchanged human clothing for Vohnahs, wearing a color of blue that made Toby's blue eyes pop. Working in space left Max pale, almost pasty when compared to Toby's now golden skin tone. At least Toby hadn't taken up the Vohnahs penchant for going shirtless, although, with as tight as Toby's clothes were, Toby might as well as have been partially nude anyway. Max hid a grin, wondering if that was Sol's influence.
"Your flight is early. I wanted to meet you on the tarmac." Toby caught him up in a tight hug that Max returned one armed, the other had a white-knuckled grip on his shoulder bag. "It's good to see you. Many of the Vohnahs will be happy to know you're here," Toby teased.
Max's cheeks heated. He wasn't embarrassed. He was known for indulging in a lot of sex and he'd definitely taken advantage of the Vohnahs' openness when it came to sexuality. If he'd come to merely blow off some steam, he would've teased Toby back. When he didn't respond to Toby's ribbing, his brother shoved him out to arm's length, his laughing gaze turning contemplative.
"Would you mind letting the others know this isn't that kind of visit." Max barely kept himself from nervously shuffling his feet. If he'd come just to fuck and visit with family, Max would've pushed his brother away and laughed, looking forward to the pleasure to be had. The real reason for his visit though… He couldn't remember the last time he went somewhere only with the intention to help someone. He felt extremely shy and defensive, but he didn't want to snap at Toby.
Max dragged his gaze from Toby's probing one. His brother already knew he was here to see Tac. Max suspected that the call to their dad had been Toby's sneaky way of letting Max know that Tac needed a friend. It would've been hard for Toby to ignore that fact that Max ended up spending most of his time with Arun at the rehab center. But he felt awkward, out of his element, bringing out a shy side Max wasn't aware he had. He enjoyed his life, his love-them-and-leave-them-with-fond-erotic-memories had worked well for him. He didn't form many true relationships. He had his father and brothers. There were one or two people he worked with who he considered as friends. Those were the people he counted on to have his back. That he was concerned for someone he barely knew was out of character for him and something he couldn't easily explain to himself, much less to anyone else.
"Sure, Sol can relay that you won't be visiting the coupling tent." Toby threw an arm around his shoulders. "Come back to the house and you can—"
"I'd rather visit the Rehabilitation Center first, if you don't mind." Max avoided Toby's knowing gaze.
"Are you here to see the doctor you were with last time you were here? Aki… Aquire…"
"Arun Keyfaren," Max supplied, pretty sure Toby already knew the name and was simply being an ass. No matter his bed hopping, Max never forgot a name. "And no, I'm not here to see Arun specifically. I want to check on Tac."
Max saw the teasing light in Toby's eyes and was thankful Toby held back. Toby would have questions about Tac. Big brothers were nosey that way and Max knew couldn't avoid Toby's probing forever, but for the moment, he wanted to concentrate on helping Tac and worry later about how he would explain he'd become—was becoming friends with Tac.
As they walked, Toby talked about his work and the projects he and Sol were heading for the Vohnahs. Only a month had passed since Max's last visit, but Toby's time was consumed with helping Sol and his people, which was good for Toby. Max knew his brother hated to be idle but he hoped Toby didn't work all of the time. He nodded, listening to Toby's banter with half an ear while he flipped through all the excuses he could give the doctors at the rehab center for his visit.
"Are you even listening to me?" Toby's shoulder bumped his playfully, bringing him back to the present.
"Sort of. Sorry." Max's cheeks heated.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Toby stopped outside the entrance to the rehab center.
Max made himself meet Toby's concerned gaze. One thing about being the youngest, there was always an older brother Max could turn to if he needed help. Even if it was just to talk. And the assholes could be quite persistent.
"Can it wait until afterwards? I'll answer your questions then." Max tried to give Toby his best grin that usually implied he was fine, but by the look in Toby's eyes he knew he failed.
Toby grabbed him by the back of Max’s neck, pulling him forward until his forehead rested against Toby's. "You don't have to explain anything to me you don't want to. I just… as long as you're happy, you know? I'm here for you."
"I know, you pest." Max attempted to keep his voice light, but could hear how terribly he failed. Fuck! What was wrong with him? He couldn't remember being so nervous before. "Nothing's wrong, I just…" And that was what he couldn't explain, which would be what Toby would latch onto. If he knew his brother at all, by the time he made it to Toby's place, his brother would've called and spoken to their dad and Wolfe. When one Wentworth worried, all the Wentworths worried. Nosy bastards. But he loved them all the same, perhaps a bit more than he'd let on.
"I'm fine," Max said, managing to sound more convincing even though he wasn't sure he told the truth.
Toby released his neck, patting Max's shoulder before stepping away. "Well, you know the way to the house. Come by when you're finish here."
Max watched Toby walk away, his military bearing evident with every stride. When Toby was out of sight, Max rubbed the palm of his hands onto his pants before pushing the door open. He hadn't been this anxious since… he couldn't remember.
The Rehabilitation Center compromised one of the largest trees on the compound. The largest was the medical center, and seriously, Max thought the trees were as big around as most medium sized vessels. The naturally hollow echo tree opened to a cool lobby. The attendant was rather young by Vohnahs' standard, her bright green tentacles were only three or four inches long. She smiled broadly at him. "Good to see you, Max. Are you here to see Arun?"
"Hi, Neebo. Actually," Max cleared his throat, his mouth suddenly dry. "I was hoping Tac—Rectacon was seeing visitors." He shifted the duffle he carried to his other shoulder.
Neebo glanced over Max's shoulder, and he turned following her gaze. Arun stood at the interior door leading further into the center.
"Max! So good to see you." Unlike the attendant, Arun was much older, his tentacles nearly reached his slender waist. Unlike Sol and some of the other unmated males, Arun wasn't bulky but elfishly slender. His honey yellow skin was highlighted with vibrant orange accents. Max still found the color combination relaxing, and he felt the tension slide out of his shoulders when Arun smiled, almost shyly, at him.
Turning his attention to the attendant, Arun said, "I'll take Max back."
Max gave him a tentative smile. Arun had been a thrilling lover and spending time with him had been fun, but Arun was very much committed to the welfare others. Max couldn't help but feel a certain fondness for Arun because of his dedication. When Arun motioned to him, Max pushed through the door. Glancing back, he caught Arun's worried expression.
"Is everything all right with Tac? Toby said there had been some issues, that Tac had to be placed in cryo-sleep in order to calm him down. When I was here last, I thought he was doing better."
Arun fell into step with Max and clasped Toby's shoulder, he always forgot how much taller the Vohnahs were until he stood next to one. Arun's tentacles flipped through Max's shoulder length hair. "I'm glad you came. I think Rectacon could use a friendly face. Not that the staff isn't friendly," he said when Max glanced sharply at him. "But he hasn't bonded with any of us. He merely sits through his check-ups, doesn't talk unless he's answering our questions. You're the only one he's truly responded to since he came to us."
The first time Tac had been woken from cryo-sleep, he'd lashed out. Afraid and alone, knowing only the brutality and torture of the scientific tests. The doctors sequestered Tac to a room with very few amenities, worried he would use something to harm himself. They played greeting messages in several languages to see if he recognized one in order to communicate since his planet was of unknown origin. It took them weeks to realize he understood merchant Standard English because Tac didn't react to any questions.
When Max first met Tac, he'd gone to the rehab center to see Arun. As he passed an open door, he'd been singing an old tune his mother had taught him when he was little. He back peddled to see Arun crouched in the middle of a mostly bare room, talking to Tac who was huddled in a corner. Both Arun and Tac had stared wide-eyed at Max. He hadn't known at the time that Arun had been trying to calm Tac down. Later he found out that sometimes Tac would become so agitated he'd hit his head against the wall, and Arun hadn't wanted put Tac back to sleep. Unaware of any of these issues, Max had entered the room. To his way of thinking, rehab centers were places where people recovered from physical injury, and it didn't occur to him Tac's wounds were psychological. Max was always up for meeting new people and didn't hesitate to extended his hand, and introducing himself to Tac. That was the first time Tac called Max angel.
"I'm glad you're here. There may not be much more we can do to help Rectacon," Arun replied. "He has days when he functions well, and others where we struggle to keep him from self-harm. We've tried everything we know of, but our efforts are falling short. I wish we knew where he came from. If we could return him to his homeworld, perhaps his people would know how to help him. We have been discussing where to send him. The scientists either don't know his origins or aren't saying. He came to them through less than legal channels and has been with them for almost a decade, if not more. He isn't well enough to be on his own. He needs supervision and constant care. We thought perhaps one of our sanctuaries, but even that wouldn't be ideal for him."
Max refrained from wrinkling his nose, afraid he would offend Arun. The Vohnahs' sanctuary house the very old, and sometimes the senile would have bouts of aggression that needed to be contained. Max hated the thought of Tac going there, and struggled with his anger at Arun for even suggesting it.
"Is he well enough for visitors?" Max asked gruffly, his gaze daring Arun to tell him no.
Arun's tentacles waved slightly as he pierced Max with his assessing gaze. "He is well enough to see you."
Max narrowed his eyes at Arun. Why him and not anyone else?
As if Arun read his mind he said, "You're the only human he… I would dare say, he likes. He merely tolerates us. Besides, he's asked after your welfare on more than one occasion." Arun grinned for the first time since he'd motioned Max to follow him. "Don't look so shocked. You've enthralled him from the beginning."
Goddamn it, how many times was he going to blush today?
They topped the stairs and entered a room with a round desk where three medtechs sat. The circular room held a half dozen doors, and if they were like the floors below, they led to individual rooms.
Max stopped in the entry way, turning to Arun. "I've been doing some research of my own." He dug the data chip out of his pocket, handing it to Arun. "I know he's not remotely human, but some of his behavior reminded me of a condition some humans are born with. I'd like to try a couple of things."
Arun accepted the chip, his brows drawn down in a frown. "I don't know that human experiences would apply to Rectacon. Physiologically, he may have a humanoid shape, but I highly doubt his brain would function in the same way."
"Just let me try. You said you're out of ideas. Everything I brought is harmless." Max quickly opened his bag, now excited to share his thoughts even though he worried Arun would turn him away. Sure, it was probably foolish or stupid to draw lines of similarities to Tac's issues and a human condition, but if even one of the things he brought for Tac helped, then perhaps Arun would have someplace new to research. Max wouldn't give up on Tac and wouldn't let them send him away because they believed there was nothing more to be done.
Arun stared into Max's bag for a long time as if he was arguing with himself. Finally, he glanced back to Max. "We will be watching. If he becomes agitated or… I will have to ask you to leave." His gaze pleaded with Max to understand, and Max did. Arun's responsibility was to his patient and if Max upset him, Max would be the first one to kick himself out. He gave a quick nod.
Handing the duffle back, Arun said, "Rectacon is in room four."
After thanking Arun, trying not let on his rising excitement, Max rounded the desk to the door marked four. He didn't knock because he had a hunch and was he wasn't disappointed when the door swung open.
Tac looked better than he'd had the last time Max was there. His ebony skin used to have a flaking gray cast. The dullness was gone and now he shone as if he was covered in a pearlescent sheen. Tac didn't have a nose, just two small holes above his thin lips. His large violet eyes squinted as if he wasn't used to the light. Looking behind Tac, Max could see that he had covered the window as much as he could, dimming the bright sun.
"Angel!" Tac breathed the endearment as if in relief. Max ignored the fact he was blushing, again, and smiled.
Tac's gaze bounced away from Max, staring instead at a point on the door. Max had noticed Tac had trouble looking at people. At the best of times, holding gazes made him blink rapidly, and he quickly retreated to a corner, his face almost pressed into the crevice. If he was made to look at something he didn't want to, Tac panicked—at least Max thought it was panic. Tac had a difficult time trying to describe what he felt so it was hard to tell. But while away, the habits Tac had niggled at Max until he did some research of his own.
"Please come in, Angel. Will you be… are you staying long?" Tac moved behind the door. Max shrugged off his duffle in order to slip through the opening.
Max was uncomfortable with the nickname Tac had given him. He'd almost asked Tac to stop until Tac explained why. While captive, one of the scientist used to talk to Tac about angels. Those stories were the sole bright spot of Tac's forced stay with the scientists. When Tac heard Max sing, Tac was positive that was how angels would sound. Max didn't have the heart to break it to Tac that he had no angelic qualities. Playboy, slut extraordinaire, slacker—yes—but when he thought to press the issue, he realized he didn't want to disappoint Tac.
Glancing around the room, he took in the small desk, bed, and the colorful rug under his feet. He didn't ask how Tac had been doing because he didn't want to put a damper on his visit. Besides, he already knew. "Do you like your new room?"
Tac had more amenities, but not as many as Max believed Tac capable of handling. Of course, Max didn't have a degree to back his opinion but surely Tac could have more, something to give the room a homey feel. Tac had spent a majority of his life in sterile rooms, he didn't need to have another one.
"I don't like the window," Tac said in his sandpapery voice. He rocked back and forth on his heels, watching Max from the corner of his eye.
Max glanced at the covered window, streaks of sunlight around the edge of the blanket the only illumination. Without giving away that he watched Tac's reaction, he asked, "Have you said something to Arun?"
Tac rocked faster. His voice come out in a hushed whisper. "No. They have done so much for me already and I'm afraid they'll take other things away if I complain."
Max's heart squeezed. From what he'd seen so far, Tac avoided confrontation. He went out of his way to sidestep any. It was as if he agonized over all of the what-ifs and wound himself into a panic because he had too many choices. Eventually Tac would retreat to a corner and rock himself, something Max identified as Tac soothing himself. But Tac was also still thinking like a captive, and what he had been given was due to his good behavior for the Vohnahs. He knew Arun and the medical staff had done their best. He'd heard Arun tell Tac more than once he was free. Only time would prove to Tac they spoke the truth.
Carefully noting Tac's body language, Max dug in his bag. "I brought you a couple of things."
"A gift?" Tac whispered, his rocking coming to a halt.
Max pulled a set of goggles out of his bag. He'd wanted something that would fit securely to Tac even though Tac didn't have a nose or ears. The straps were adjustable and Max glanced at Tac to gauge how close together to adjust the lenses. The pair resembled something he'd once seen at a steampunk convention. Damn if that hadn't been a fun three days and four nights. If Tac liked them then perhaps he could have decorations made that attached to the circumference. But he was getting ahead of himself. There was a chance he was wrong and the goggles wouldn't work.
"I brought something you can wear over your eyes. There are different lenses so you can adjust to the different light levels." Max said in a rush, suddenly nervous that he was completely wrong.
Who was he to assume he could actually help Tac? What did he know? He didn't have a medical degree just a bunch of useless knowledge he picked up reading on the long voyages. The only things he was good at was being a pilot and sex. In those few moments of panic, Max tried to tell himself that if Tac didn't like anything Max brought, then it was no big deal. But he worried. What if Tac hated the goggles or they made his problems worse? He hesitated but he couldn't throw the glasses back into the bag, pretending he hadn't said anything.
For some reason, ever since he'd met Tac, Max had the strong desire to help him. He thought of several reasons why, but they all seemed to fall flat. There was something about Tac, about his struggle and his quiet strength that Max admired. He found he'd really like to be Tac's friend. That Tac even spoke to him was amazing since he'd spent his life surround by twisted scientists. Anyone else who'd walked in Tac's shoes would've been suspicious, filled with rage, and wouldn't call any human 'angel'. Max would never intentionally do anything to break Tac's trust.
Shoring up his courage, Max held out the goggles. "I'm not sure these will help you, but if you're willing, we can try them on to see." He waited patiently for Tac answer and when Tac nodded his head, Max stepped closer. "Will you allow me to put them on you?" Max never touched Tac without asking. In the past, Tac didn't have a say in when or who touched him. Arun explained that giving Tac the choice allowed Tac to have control.
Silently, Tac nodded, bowing his head as he wrung his three fingered hands. One time, Tac had allowed Max to hold his hand when Tac seemed to spiral into an anxiety attack. Until that day, Tac had carefully avoided touching others. Since Tac loved Max's singing, he sang a song, hoping the soft lyrical words would help Tac calm down. Tac's had grabbed Max's arm in a surprisingly firm grip, and Max had laid his hand over Tac's. Lacing a couple of his fingers over Tac's, he'd belatedly realized Tac's palms were covered in hundreds of mini suction cups. The soft popping sound Tac's hands now made by twisting them together, reminded Max of bubble wrap.
Without a word, Tac moved closer to Max, still squinting and not meeting Max's gaze. Softly, Max explained how to adjust the straps for comfort and what to do to change out the lenses. Gently, he slipped the goggles over Tac's slightly oblong bald head. Tac closed his eyes tightly, and Max carefully held the glasses in place while he tightened the band in the back.
"If the strap is too tight, let me know. These aren't supposed to hurt. If you don't like the material, we can look at others until we find something more suitable." Max held his breath even as Tac's quickened. Max's chest tightened with the knowledge of just how much trust Tac placed in him. Max didn't think he'd ever receive a greater gift. "You can open your eyes now."
A few seconds passed before Tac drew in a sharp breath, his head swiveling from side to side, taking in the room. The only disadvantage to the bulky goggles was Max couldn't read Tac's expression. He waited with bated breath, needing Tac to give him words, to tell him that everything was all right.
"Should I take them off?" he asked when Tac was quiet for too long.
Walking around the room, Tac ran his fingertips over the outer edge of the goggles. "Angel, what are these?"
"On Earth, some humans wear sunglasses during the day to protect their eyes from the bright sunlight. You are always squinting and shading your light sources. I thought they would help." Max shrugged uncomfortably. Now that he said what he'd been thinking for the last month, he sounded like an idiot. What had he been thinking? Tac didn't need a pair of sunglasses.
"Oh, Angel." Max stopped silently berating himself at the awed tone in Tac's raspy voice. "Things… images aren't breaking apart when I look at them. Sometimes the light made things jump around. And you said I could change the dimness of these? If there is a lens dark enough, do you think Doctor Arun will allow me to go outside. It's been so long since I've been under a sky."
The longing in Tac's voice had Max stepping forward, wanting to promise Tac he could do anything he wanted. "I think Arun would be thrilled if you wanted to go out. I brought a case with darker lenses. If they are insufficient, I bet Arun could find others that would work better." Internally, Max did an enthusiastic fist pump. Perhaps he wasn't too much of an idiot after all.
Tac moved to the mirror that hung on the wall above the small desk, removing the cloth that covered the reflective surface. Max thought the goggles along with a flight cap and uniform, Tac could pass for a steampunk cosplayer.
Moving up behind Tac, but not too close, Max said, "We could have different frames made for the goggles if you wanted. Any colors or shapes you fancy." Max wasn't able to hold back the grin as he watched Tac explore his room, as if for the first time. Perhaps Tac was seeing the space anew. If he was light sensitive, then it was very possible Tac focused on a single detail rather than the whole object or room. Tac kept glancing at Max's duffle sitting on top of the little desk. The lumpy sides advertising there was more items contained within.
"Did you bring anything else?" Tac ask, almost shy in how he held himself in check against the interest he seemed afraid to show.
Max grinned, crossing the room. "I brought a couple more gifts. You don't have to accept them if you don't like them." He added so Tac wouldn't feel pressured into taking anything Max offered. He rifled around for the small box, and soon Tac was looking over Max's shoulder. The first obvious act of curiosity Tac had shown.
"I noticed that sound is sometimes too much. If you were light sensitive, then I thought you could also be sound sensitive." The earlier doubts slithered unwanted into his thoughts. Max hastily pushed them away. It was too late to second guess himself.
Tac's wariness of Max's gifts was gone, replaced with an excitement Max hadn't seen Tac exhibit since he'd known him. "Sometimes I can hear conversations at a distance and if there is too much background noise I can't think or concentrate. It's overwhelming and hurts. Trying to find something to concentrate on when so much is crammed in my head is like... Everything is clamoring for my attention at once."
"That was how you knew I was outside your door?" Max asked even though he already knew the answer.
"Yes, I heard you speaking to the doctor. I don't mean to eaves drop, I just can't turn it off." Tac glanced away from Max, his hand s fluttering with obvious distress. Max wanted to hug Tac but he didn't dare.
"Tac, why haven't you shared any of this with Arun or one of the other doctors. You do know they would've done everything in their power to make you comfortable?" Tac's movements became more agitated. Max was immediately sorry he'd pressed. He didn't want to upset Tac. Calling himself all kinds of stupid, he withdrew a small box from his bag, trying to figure out how he could redirect the conversation.
"I have… I don't trust anyone." Tac huffed out, sounding aggravated. "With you…" He glanced away, twisted his fingers together. "I know it makes no sense that I trust you. You're human and all I know of them is mixed with pain and despair. But… when I first heard you sing… then you spoke to me as if I wasn't any different than anyone else, as if you didn't care that I was broken and my pieces weren't matching up quite right. The Vohnahs have been nothing but nice, yet I keep waiting for them to give up and shove me in another box because I'm too much trouble. I don't remember my life before captivity. I don't know how I'm supposed to act or feel. I keep waiting for the pain because there was always pain. Ever since they woke me from cryo-sleep, this has all seemed like a dream. So I keep everything to myself, waiting for the inevitable to happen."
Max blinked several times, his sight wavering as his throat closed over. He wanted to pull Tac into one of the famous Wentworth hugs. Instead he said, "Do you mind if I tell Arun so he can make you more comfortable?"
Tac didn't answer, only took the small case from Max's hands and opened the top to reveal several clear slender shields.
Max pulled out one. "I was looking around for some kind of ears plugs for you. You don't have ears like mine and a friend told me about these. They adhere to the skin around your ear holes and will filter out background noise. I didn't know how strong they needed to be so there are a variety. The ones you like the best, I'll order more of. I also brought some noise cancelling headphones that can hook into the playlist I made for you. Since you enjoy hymns, there is a variety of choirs you can listen to."
While Tac tried on the different patches, Max stood on a chair and screwed hooks into the cross beams. He wasn't sure if the center would allow Tac to keep the next gift. If they thought he would use it to hurt himself, then Max could be putting it up only for someone to come in and take it down. Hopefully, the devices Max had given Tac so far would make enough of a difference that Tac's anxiety and panic attacks would decrease. Max didn't dare hope that they would go away. But if the tools he'd given Tac helped, even in a small way, then Max would count it as a win.
"What is that?" Tac fingered the rope net, frowning. Max didn't think about how it would look. Was Tac captured with a net?
Quickly he hopped down from the chair and slid into the hammock, the netting hugging him on the sides. "You like to rock yourself and I thought you might enjoy this more."
Tac stared down at Max with wide concerned eyes. "Doesn't it hurt?" He poked at the ropes again before Max answered.
"No. It's like laying in a cocoon. I can rig it to lay more flat if you don't like the sides touching you. But the best part—" Max reached out and used his fingertips to push against the wall, making the hammock sway. "The motion can be quite relaxing."
The last thing Max expected was for Tac to climb in the hammock with him. There for a moment he thought they were both would topple out. He laughed in surprise and pleasure. Tac never touched anyone unnecessarily and here he was, cuddling against Max's side. He automatically looped his arm around Tac's shoulder. He held still waiting for Tac to wiggle away and dump both of them on the floor. Instead, Tac rested his head on Max's chest as if it was something they did every day. Relaxing, Max tapped his fingers against the wall and set the hammock into a slow swing.
A few minutes went by before he heard Tac make a humming noise very similar to a purr. "You're correct, this is very nice," Tac said into the quiet.
"I had hoped you'd like it." He smiled, brushing a kiss on the top of Tac's bald head.
Max continued to rock them and he thought Tac had fallen asleep, but after about twenty minutes Tac asked, "Do you think Arun will let me go outside today? I think I'd like that."
"We can ask. We could even wait for dusk and you can wear the goggles." Max thought of all things that he could show Tac. There was the possibility Tac would become overwhelmed and they would have to return to the room after only a few minutes. But it was a step forward with Tac actually voicing what he wanted.
"You'd go with me?" Tac sounded excited.
"Sure I would." Before Max thought too much about what he was going to ask, he said, "If you wanted, we could eat with my brother and his partner, Sol. They would love to meet you if you're up to seeing new people."
Tac hummed louder. Max didn't know if it was polite to ask if Tac was happy. He wanted to believe Tac was. Perhaps Arun knew what the sound meant, and Max made a note to ask later.
Max was right on the edge of falling asleep when Tac spoke up. "Angel, what are we?"
With much conscious effort, Max kept from tensing up again. He didn't want Tac to think he wasn't welcome to ask any question, but this particular one Max had been struggling with since he stepped onto the flight headed to Genesis Nine. "We're friends, Tac."
"This is what having a friend feels like?" Tac's voice took on a warm quality, and Max realized Tac sounded happy. Not tentative or wary or shy. Happy.
He squeezed Tac's shoulders in a one arm hug. "Yes, Tac."
"You know, I like how you call me Tac, as if I'm special to you."
"You are special to me," Max relied immediately.
"Since you first met me?" He heard Tac's doubt. "That's when you first called me Tac. You didn't know me then. How could you think I was special?"
That was a hard question to answer. Some people simply clicked, but Max didn't know if he could explain something that happened on an unconscious level and not sound like an idiot. For Tac, he would try. "Intuition. Some would call it a human's sixth sense. I took one look at you and thought—well, I first thought you had pretty eyes. But I could feel your specialness and I knew I wanted to be friends. Sometimes there isn't a logical reason why we choose to have certain people in our life." Yeah, Max was sure he'd completely confused Tac. He wouldn't be the first person to think Max was stupid.
"Is this when a human would call 'bullshite'?" Tac didn't sound confused. Was he being teased?
Max sputtered out a laugh. He'd never heard Tac use foul language. "I wouldn't lie to you about what I feel for you." That had sounded better in his head. Max shifted uncomfortably.
"I think I understand what you mean," Tac said after a long pause. "Humans haven't given me any reason to like them. Everyone that I met has hurt me in some way, and yet… I trusted you from the beginning when all the lessons I learned told me I shouldn't. I just knew. I heard your voice and saw your smile. Your eyes were kind and you didn't treat me as if there was something wrong with me." Tac snuggled deeper against Max, the edge of his goggles digging into Max's chest, but Max didn't say anything.
Max wanted to swear to Tac that he would never hurt him, but there were other hurts that had nothing to do with torture or captivity. Life was full of them and Max couldn't in good conscious tell Tac he wouldn't experience disappointment or wounded emotions.
"How long can you stay, Angel?" Tac's voice took on a wistful quality, and Max wished he could read Tac's expression instead of looking at the back of Tac's head.
"Dad has a salvage out this way that I have to take care of. The crew will arrive in about five days." Max frowned, not liking the fact Tac would be left without someone around he considered a friend. Perhaps he could ask Toby to stop by and see Tac every day. Max could imagine how lonely Tac was. "I brought you a tablet you can use to call me when you want to talk. I'll be just one call away."
"One call away? I can reach you any time?" Tac's whole body tensed against Max's.
"Yes, anytime, but you don't have to worry about that now. In a little bit we'll go and talk to Arun, and make sure it's okay for you to leave with me tonight." Even if Max had to do a little begging or even invite Arun along. "Then we'll have dinner with Toby and Sol, if you're still up for the company."
Tac made a cute noise of agreement and relaxed back into Max's embrace. Soon, Tac's breathing evened out. Max continued to tap his fingers against the wall, keeping up the rocking motion. From what he'd heard from Toby, he imagined this was the first time Tac had relaxed enough to sleep. He enjoyed how Tac felt in his arms and knowing how much Tac trusted him to be this vulnerable with him. Max felt ten feet tall and protective of his new friend. He still wasn't sure if friend was the right word for their budding relationship, but for the moment, it was the one that fit.
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