Every Shand baby inherited a family name that was seldom used, except in public records. By the age of six months, children were given a single name by their parents or guardian. When they reach eighteen, they selected a third name. To the Shand people, three was a sacred number and the third naming ceremony was an important rite of passage to adulthood.
Names were not given at random, but reflected a characteristic of the person. His parents had called him Stare, due to the intensity of his eyes, even in infancy. Growing up, he had learned to use his icy blue eyes to control others. He'd found that many adults couldn't endure his gaze and often bent to his will. He thought long and hard over the perfect third name. After the rite of passage, during which he fought three full-grown warriors then used the ritual poker to burn three small spheres into his chest, he became known as Blackstare.
On the same day, four other boys also took the rite, among them his oldest friend, Darkrock, and a youth called Rocksurf, who had recently come to their sector.
Rocksurf wasn't as tall or burly as most Shand warriors, but he was strong and very quick. During his matches at the third naming rite, Blackstare couldn't help admiring him. He had dark brown hair that he wore fairly short. It dampened with sweat as he fought, the glossy tendrils matting to his head. He had strong features, an aquiline nose and wide-set eyes of a very rich brown. Other than his height, Rocksurf was a perfect example of a Shand male--dark and ruggedly handsome with enough scars on his sleek body to make him respectable.
Blackstare, on the other hand, was ugly even by Shand standards. There was nothing wrong with his body--few males could compare with his nearly perfect proportions--but a shuttle accident when he was fourteen had left him covered with scars. He wouldn't have minded if he'd won them in battle, but they had been the result of a stupid error by a pilot during training maneuvers.
After the ceremony, Blackstare, Darkrock and the other boys--now men--decided to celebrate in the city. Rocksurf glanced in their direction, then turned and walked away.
"Hey, aren't you coming?" Blackstare called. Something about this guy gave him the same rush as battle.
Rocksurf paused and turned, looking rather surprised. They'd never met before today, but after sharing the rite of passage together, they were no longer strangers.
"Come on," Darkrock said, motioning with his head toward his shuttle, which they'd be using for their trip to the city.
Rocksurf approached and fell into step beside Blackstare.
"You're new to the sector, right?" Blackstare said, unable to keep his gaze from his new companion. On Shand, male-male relationships were common. A typical Shand marriage consisted of two men and one woman. This was done for two reasons. First, three was a sacred number. Second, on the planet Shandra men greatly outnumbered the women. If two men didn't share a wife, then many males would never have the opportunity to marry and have children.
Blackstare hadn't thought much about having a family. Dedicated to his career, he focused on perfecting his skills and serving his sector. Yes, he'd been with men before and even an occasional woman, but this was the first time anyone had ever made his pulse race just from walking beside him.
No doubt Rocksurf felt the intensity of his gaze. Blackstare excelled at using his eyes to get what he wanted.
A slight smile played around Rocksurf's full lips and he moistened them with the tip of his tongue. A jolt of desire shot through Blackstare and his cock actually leapt in his trousers.
"I get why you're called Blackstare," he said.
Shrugging, Blackstare grinned and ran a hand over his shaved head. His gaze never left the dark-haired youth. "What's the significance of Rocksurf?"
"My parents' shuttle broke down on a tropical island. I was born on the beach, so they called me Surf. I picked Rock because I've excelled in hand-to-hand combat. In my old sector they nicknamed me Rockfist."
"I noticed in your matches during the ceremony you have a bastard of a right hand."
Rocksurf's lips curved in a crooked grin. "Thanks. You looked pretty advanced too."
"I'm enrolled in sector-wide security training. My family has always been in security."
"Mine too. That's what I'm enrolled in. Maybe we'll get assigned to the same unit."
Blackstare's stomach clenched with anticipation. He hoped so.
In the city, the group went to a bar where they had a meal and drank spiced ale, except for Darkrock. He passed on the ale since he was the designated pilot. Afterward they watched an array of exotic dancers at a local club.
For some reason none of the dancers appealed to Blackstare nearly as much as Rocksurf. When the others decided to head for another club, Blackstare asked Rocksurf if he wanted to go to the beach instead. While waiting for his reply, Blackstare thought his heart might beat through his chest. Given his appearance, he'd learned to shrug off rejection, but tonight was different. Rocksurf was different.
"Yeah. I've had enough clubs for tonight," Rocksurf said.
"See you at the barracks," Darkrock said to Blackstare, who nodded.
Though he and Darkrock were close friends, they'd never been lovers.
The others left and Blackstare and Rocksurf waited for the shuttle bus. They got off at the beach on the outskirts of the city. It was too early for the crowds to arrive, so other than an occasional person they had the beach pretty much to themselves.
While they walked, they discussed fighting, favorite sports and their plans for the future. The conversation drifted toward more personal subjects and Blackstare knew without doubt Rocksurf wasn't just another comrade, but had the potential to be much more.
"Mind if I ask how you got the scars?" Rocksurf ventured.
"Shuttle accident about four years ago," Blackstare replied. "It was during training. We veered off course and crashed on an uncharted islet. We were there for about five days before they found us. By then it was too late for the reconstructive treatments to fully work on my skin. If you can believe it, my face was actually worse at one time."
"There's nothing wrong with your face. Besides, everyone knows scars make you look like a more experienced warrior."
"That's fine if you got them in actual combat, not some stupid accident."
"You can wear them."
Blackstare narrowed his eyes. "Are you laughing at me?"
Their gazes locked and another strange, almost excited feeling came over Blackstare. They had reached the coastal caves and paused.
"Want to check them out?" Rocksurf nodded toward the caves.
The two headed inside, using the light sticks on their utility knives to brighten their way.
After several moments, they entered a small cave, partially hidden behind an enormous boulder.
Blackstare's heart thumped wildly as he placed an arm on either side of Rocksurf's head, trapping him against the cave wall. He wanted to get a hell of a lot closer to this guy, but did Rocksurf feel the same?
The dark-haired youth moistened his lips, his gaze fixed on Blackstare's. "Are you safe?"
"I got my disease control shot last week with the rest of my unit."
"So did I."
Tilting his head slightly to the side, Blackstare asked, "You wanna fuck?"
"Do ships fly?"