After the End Ch. 01

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Amateur

Author’s note:

I’m excited to finally share this series with you! What started as a single scene evolved into a 70,000 word novel over the past year, which I have divided into seven chapters. All seven are completed and will be posted in sequence. I plan to add additional chapters over time.

This story is a genre romance: It is a fantasy about the progression of a relationship, with an interplay of both sexual and emotional elements. I personally find the sex to be very hot, and the romance to be very satisfying. I hope you will as well, but the two elements can also be enjoyed separately, depending on your interest or mood. All chapters include sex, but some focus on it more than others. (For example, chapters 4 and 7 almost entirely consist of sex.)

A couple of notes on the story as a whole:

— I am new to writing, so I’d love to hear what you responded to or didn’t. I have very much appreciated all the feedback I received on my first story.

— I am genderqueer but biologically female, so I don’t always have first-hand experience with the m/m sex depicted. However, I have done my research, plus I’ve done my best to use what I personally know to tell a realistic story.

I hope you enjoy!

Tags for this chapter include: #bisexual, #bisexual male, #romance, #gay romance, #m/m romance, #gay first time, #first anal, #future, #post-apocalyptic, #novel

_______________

Avery:

Stomach churning, I stalked through the sprawl of half-ruined buildings and faded canvas tents that made up my home. I was on my way to see the most intimidating man I’d ever met, to confess the very last thing I wanted him to know, but I could see no way to avoid it. Either I faced him now, or I watched him leave tomorrow, without me. No matter how much I didn’t want to do this, losing him altogether would be worse.

Orange sunset flickered behind the leaves overhead as I approached the crude wall of our encampment. Gunners stood watch on platforms in the trees, alert for any unexpected movement, ready to respond to cries from the scouts further out. They nodded to me as I passed out into the forest. I’d taken my turn up there often enough.

We’ve always kept tight security around our community, but the guards weren’t pressed into action quite so often at our old settlement, Acadiana. That territory had been claimed three generations ago and defended against countless attacks from man and nature, until finally, last year, we were forced out by a new, more powerful militia. You’d think, with so much empty land, there’d be enough room for all of us to live in peace. I guess for some people, enough is never enough.

I’ve heard stories about how things used to be in my great-grandparents’ time: bustling towns with bright lights, motorized vehicles speeding along paved roads, huge indoor markets overflowing with packaged food. I’m only twenty-three, so I’ve seen nothing of such extravagance except cracked foundations where there used to be neighborhoods, and grassy corridors where there used to be highways.

That much wealth isn’t lost overnight, but the details have blurred over the past century. It all traces back to far too many people, burning far too much energy, far too quickly. It’s hard to imagine now, but at one time, billions of people lived on this planet, stripping it for parts and thickening the atmosphere. Just about the time the fuel ran out, the weather effects kicked in. From what we’ve heard, decades were lost in chaos and misery: Devastating storms, unstoppable infections, far too much rain or none at all. Energy shortages, economic collapses, widespread homelessness. Crop failures, mass extinction. Sickness. Starvation. Violence.

Now, populations are measured in thousands, not billions. Those of us who remain dedicate our energy to the basic requirements of human survival: Air. Water. Food. Shelter. There isn’t time for much else.

“Off to rescue another hunting party, Avery?” a female voice called as a slender figure stepped into my line of sight.

“If the job needs done,” I replied, eyes climbing appreciatively from Harley’s long legs to her flat stomach, to the outline of her breasts visible beneath her tight top, and finally up to her thick-lashed eyes.

“I heard you shot a mountain lion that was about to rip Steven’s throat out,” she continued, one hand at her waist. Her fingers rested on her bare midriff, and I recalled placing my own fingers there. Her shapely lips curved, probably at the same memory. She moved closer, tilted her face up invitingly. “You could come over tonight and tell me about it.”

“Maybe another time.”

She didn’t seem to understand my refusal any better than I did, but she let me pass. Until recently, I’d enjoyed frequent female companionship. Sure, my attraction to them was as shallow as their attraction to me: They saw my lean body and confident posture, my wavy black hair and dark eyes, güvenilir bahis and nothing more. I didn’t care, as long as it resulted in a beautiful woman like Harley opening those fine legs for me.

In fact, I preferred it that way. I didn’t tolerate intrusive questions about how I felt or what I wanted. It was no one’s business whether I missed my sister, or why my father had left, or what had happened to my mother. My partners learned not to try to complicate sex with intimacy. If they wanted more, they looked for it elsewhere. My friends, because they cared about me, learned not to push my limits either.

What I was about to do broke all my long-established rules, and the thought put my stomach in knots again. After all these years of keeping it casual, why did it have to be Delta who upended it all? Before him, I’d never even looked twice at a man.

In a few minutes, he would be heading back from rounds among the scouts, my best opportunity to catch him alone. Despite holding the second-highest position in our internal leadership structure, he insisted on checking in personally, occasionally taking shifts standing watch himself, when he could get away. It was one of the things that made him such an effective commander.

Sometimes, I wished Delta had found his way to some other community, rather than the one we’d established here at Sabine Ridge. He could have shown up anywhere that day, three months ago, with his casually dangerous bearing and unassailable composure, his handsome face set in stern lines. He’d said that he had been a highly-ranked officer in what remained of the United States military, and he, along with two veterans who came along, no longer wanted to serve the political aims of those in power. He’d refused to provide any other details, not even his real name. However, his deep technical knowledge and top-notch combat abilities backed up his story, and my community has been grateful for his expertise ever since.

If I’d never met Delta, I wouldn’t know how much it hurts to care for someone you can’t have, how powerless you can be over your own attraction. I wouldn’t be a daily battleground of conflicting desires: craving closeness with him, but terrified of having it, or of trying to. I’d still be content with my female hookups, where I felt nothing but afterglow. I wouldn’t lie awake at night fantasizing about him: being in his arms, known and secure; being in his bed, naked and needy. God, the orgasms I’ve had just thinking about the way he would touch me.

Because there’s no way I have a chance with him. Most likely, no one does. His military colleague, Maurice, has mentioned Delta’s preference for men, but I’ve seen no signs that Delta prefers anyone. His looks and prowess in battle attracted plenty of attention when he first arrived, but his cold glare quickly shut down male and female suitors alike. He barely speaks to the two friends he arrived with.

Even if he were to choose someone, it definitely wouldn’t be me. He’s four years older, vastly more knowledgeable, and gives orders like it’s his birthright, while I haven’t even mastered my temper. Next to his flawless, classically-sculpted physique, I just look short and scrawny. He never makes mistakes, never gets upset, and can kill you with his bare hands in about ten seconds. As hard as I try, I can’t come close to matching his skill or stoicism.

And yet, he isn’t inhuman. There was a time, a couple of months ago, when my team was ambushed, and one of my fighters was gruesomely killed. It wasn’t my first loss, but we’d spent some nights together, and I took it really hard. Sick of my own failure, dreading facing her family, I told Delta I wanted to resign my position. Instead, he took me aside and worked through what had happened. He asked about the girl who had died, as if he actually cared what she meant to me.

“I know what a weight it is, carrying the lives of others,” he told me. “But you’re making the best decisions you can with the information you have. That’s all anyone can ask.”

“It’s not,” I argued. “I should have — been able –” I turned away, trying to find the kind of steely indifference that came so easily to Delta.

“You couldn’t have saved her, Avery,” he said with uncharacteristic compassion. “But you did save the others. Your people trust your leadership, and so do I. You should too.”

It was the most he’d ever spoken to me. To my surprise, I actually felt…better. Like I might not be entirely worthless as a person.

Not too long ago, I nearly lost one of my best friends, Rowan. She and I have gotten close over the past few years, as we’ve both taken on more responsibility. We’ve been in some pretty tight scrapes together, and she’s saved my life more than once. That time, I had the chance to free her from vengeful kidnappers, and I screwed it up. They got away, and I completely lost it — running around in a blind panic, sure that she was dead. Delta appeared and pulled me to a halt in front türkçe bahis of him. He tried to calm me down, but all I could see was Rowan getting her throat slashed, after everything she’d done for me.

Suddenly, Delta put his arms around me, which was the absolute last thing I expected. Too upset to care about my pride, I held on to him, his strength an anchor against the waves of guilt and loss. It was exactly what I needed, and I don’t know how he knew that. I certainly didn’t. Physical affection is not a luxury I’ve had in my life, and I’d long since forgotten to miss it.

When I was grounded enough to use my brain again, he let me go, and then helped me rescue Rowan. It’s been just about all I can think of ever since.

Which is why I was here, tonight, in the thickening dusk of late summer, watching for Delta on the path ahead. A couple of weeks ago, our governing council decided to send a team to establish a new base, far enough from here that enemies or natural disasters couldn’t easily reach both locations. A second settlement would diversify our food supply, give us a place to run to in an emergency, and improve our odds of long-term survival. On a theoretical level, I was all in favor of a new base. There was just one crucial, gut-wrenching problem: Delta was leading the mission, and I wasn’t on it.

Once he left, I likely wouldn’t see him again for months, or longer. The only practical way to travel these days is on foot, with gear carried on your own back or by plodding pack animals. Sixty miles might as well be six thousand. I didn’t know how to handle being six thousand miles away from Delta.

I’d already tried asking the council to add me to the mission. They’d said they needed me here — flattering, but not helpful. The only chance left was to beg Delta himself to bring me with him. The council would listen to him if he insisted, but he wouldn’t do that unless I provided a good reason. I shuddered to imagine the embarrassment of admitting why I needed to go with him. I’d probably never be able to look him in the face after this, but if he took pity on me, at least I’d still get to be around him. I’d still get to hear his steady voice — effortlessly commanding, yet surprisingly gentle when he wanted to be.

The path twisted to the left, and there was Delta, alone, about thirty yards ahead. My pulse pounded at the familiar sight of his long, graceful strides. I didn’t know how I was going to do this. I could already feel heat rising to my face.

I took a deep breath and gathered my courage.

* * * * *

Delta:

I saw Avery on the path ahead long before he saw me, before he’d have been close enough to kill me. The classification of sensory input by level of danger was automatic after so many years of training and discipline. I couldn’t turn it off, even when I wanted to. Every motion, every sound, every expression translated into warnings: low threat, possible threat, immediate threat, lethal threat. Nothing presented no threat. Not in my experience.

Despite the distance, I recognized Avery immediately. Subtle differences in shape, pattern of movement, and carriage have always been noticeable to me. Accommodating the blindness of others is one of my most difficult leadership challenges. Precise observation often makes the difference between life and death. The shift in footing that signals the direction of attack. The flash of a blade as it leaves an enemy’s hand. The number of shots in a burst of gunfire.

At some point, my military habits must have been consciously practiced, rather than deeply embedded instincts, but I could barely remember such a time. In my family, only three things mattered: your rank, your decorations, and maintaining your father’s reputation. My grooming for command began in childhood. In places like where I grew up — government complexes that protect the most powerful — children are seen as political pawns, worth something only if they lead to the strategic capture of greater privilege. My family’s status afforded me the very best education still available on this continent: private tutors, elite schools, and officer candidate training starting at age fourteen. My promotion to captain at twenty was barely even an achievement — it was expected.

Most residents in my new home, this makeshift little encampment in what was technically still Louisiana, had no idea that in a few heavily-guarded enclaves, people still live like kings. Enough wealth will insulate a person from anything, even the end of the world. Those postmodern barons feel just as entitled to make their fortunes off the sweat and blood of others now, as they did before the collapse. And they feel no more guilt about the destruction of the world or the death of billions now, than they did when they could have prevented it.

It was best to avoid such thoughts. They only led to anger, and to memories still sharp enough to cut. Twenty-seven years is too young to be haunted by güvenilir bahis siteleri so many ghosts. If I could, I’d forget it all: the unrepentant excess, the callous neglect, the careful training to violence, the lives lost on my orders. I envied my new neighbors their ignorance. I envied the dead their peace.

As Avery approached, I considered why he might be here. Had something happened? No, if there was an urgent message, he’d be running, and if it wasn’t urgent, they’d have waited for my return. Avery wasn’t on duty tonight — was one of his friends? Sometimes he kept them company in the evenings, but the scouts posted on this side of the encampment were older, not in his circle. It was unlike him to seek me out. Unbidden, a brief fantasy danced across my mind: Avery supple and warm beneath me, arching into my touch, abandoned to pleasure. One night of forbidden passion before I departed.

I sighed. It was best not to think about that, either.

As Avery’s features resolved through the twilight, I was struck, as always, by his beauty. Though still coming into his prime, his lean body had left any teenage awkwardness far behind. His face was a dramatic blend of western lines and eastern curves, emphasized by a strong jawline and dark hair that curled around his ears. His caramel skin was dusted with freckles across his cheeks. His eyes drew the most attention: dark wellsprings of expression that shifted quickly with his moods, from playful to defiant, exultant to distraught. I didn’t think he realized how much of what he felt was displayed on his face. Or maybe it was only visible to me.

“Delta,” he addressed me, stopping a few yards away. That wasn’t really my name, of course, but it was the only one I’d wanted these people to know.

I stopped as well, giving Avery space. He looked nervous, faintly flushed, though he was trying to mask it. He adopted his usual posture, confidence bordering on arrogance — chin raised, one booted foot set ahead of the other. The one I never quite bought.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I wanted to talk to you about the mission you’re leading up north.”

He paused, arms crossed over his dark cotton t-shirt, eyes flickering quickly to mine and away. I waited.

“The council assigned me to stay here,” he continued, “but I want to go. If you ask them, they’ll reassign me.”

“I’m sure you’re needed here,” I replied, surprised. “Your friends will be here. Why do you want to go?”

“I can be just as much use there as I can be here,” he argued evasively.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

I watched with growing curiosity as he seemed to struggle with himself. When he spoke again, he had dropped the arrogance.

“Please just let me go.” His eyes were imploring me to understand whatever it was that he didn’t want to say, but it was beyond even my abilities to read.

“If I’m going to override the council and change the mission, I need to know why.”

Another long pause, while Avery’s face colored noticeably, even in the dim light. I’d never seen him so self-conscious, and I suddenly wondered if I could guess what this was about, impossible as it seemed.

“It’s you, ok?” he said finally, not looking at me.

I swear my heart skipped a beat. I didn’t know it could still do that. “What about me?”

“I can’t stay here if you’re leaving.” It was almost a whisper, and this time, the emotion in his tone left little doubt about his meaning. I stared at him, stunned, afraid to believe.

“Are you trying to tell me that you want to go because of personal feelings for me?”

He hesitated for several pulse-pounding moments, eyes trained on the ground. “Well I was trying not to tell you. But yes.”

Something thawed inside me, and some emotion I barely recognized filtered slowly into my awareness. I sorted through the half-forgotten memories it roused, the dim echoes of smiles and warmth: joy. My last relationship had ended in the midst of the war I started. In the two years since, solitude had suited me better. Sex had been a series of photographs taken by a camera with no film — bright flashes of ecstasy that faded without leaving an image. Danger and sorrow are plentiful enough without the added risk of placing your wellbeing in someone else’s hands. It’s exhausting, trying to anticipate the betrayals, the losses. I’d already buried more comrades and lovers than I cared to count.

Over the past few months, I’d grown practiced at ignoring my attraction to Avery. At first, it was merely physical. If he’d showed any sign of being interested in me, or in men at all, I might have acted. As he didn’t, I left it alone. Over time, I grew to admire his strength and bravery, the determination with which he faced every difficulty. He was such an accomplished leader for one so inexperienced, well deserving of the respect he’d earned from the community. Beneath his bold exterior, though, I began to notice an unlikely insecurity: He was terrified of any kind of failure, and he seemed to doubt his own worth, despite his exceptional abilities. He held himself to an impossible standard of performance and, from what I could see, didn’t share his burdens even with those who knew him best.

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