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Assumed Dead


Becky Black



Published by Becky Black at Smashwords

Copyright June 2016 Becky Black


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Blurb


The zombie apocalypse left twelve people trapped, but safe, at a scientific research base on an Arctic island. Three years later, with supplies critically low, they know they can’t survive another harsh winter. But all of them fear what awaits them on the mainland.


Former grad student, Matt Warner, has retrained as a nurse under the group’s doctor, Peter Lane. Training is not the only thing Matt wants to be under Peter for, but Peter has always resisted responding to Matt’s interest in him. Before all this started Peter had a husband, Harrison, back home. A husband he desperately hopes is still alive.


Despair finally weakens Peter’s resolve and he and Matt begin sharing a bed. It’s Matt’s dream come true, even if he knows Peter’s feelings for him aren’t as strong as his for Peter. But everything changes, when the group learns of the existence of a vaccine against the zombie virus and they escape the island to search for the people distributing the vaccine. Matt fears their relationship won’t survive, because Peter wants to search for his husband—even if only to confirm his death. And Peter knows if he goes looking for Harrison, he’ll lose Matt forever.


A sequel to Patient Z


Table of Contents


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

About the Author



Chapter One

Matt Warner sighted his rifle on the midsize male caribou. It was far too busy sniffing around a female to know it was about to start its journey to becoming caribou casserole.

Sorry, mate, but you should never let yourself be distracted by a fine set of hindquarters. He almost stopped breathing as he prepared to pull the trigger. He had one shot. If he missed, the group of caribou would be racing for the horizon before he could try again, and he’d go back to the base with nothing to show for the trip. He always found it hard to meet everyone’s eyes then. It should be an easy shot. He’d crept close, and a caribou was a big target. The wind was strong, but he corrected for it, his aim excellent after over two years of practice. His finger caressed the trigger, began to squeeze.

The distant roar of an ATV engine shattered the quiet, and the herd instantly whirled and fled. They charged away over the tundra, sedges and soil churned up and flying in their wake.

Damn! Matt tossed down his rifle and scrambled up, ready to ask Stav what the hell he was doing revving the bike. But it wasn’t Stav Marinos, who’d been standing by the ATV he and Matt had rode here on, on polar bear watch. It was the second of the group’s all-terrain vehicles, coming up over a rise in the ground. Matt and Stav exchanged a look and a shrug when Matt jogged over to Stav’s position. The figure on the ATV was impossible to identify, wearing a bulky parka, goggles, and a scarf. Matt couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman.

The all-terrain vehicle stopped by the two young men. The rider shoved up the goggles and pulled down the scarf to reveal the well-weathered face of Jay Gordon. She shouted over the sound of the idling engine.

“Matt, you’re needed back at base. Dr. Lane needs you right now.”

Matt’s mouth dried. “Is someone hurt?”

“No. It’s Vicky.” She grinned her gap-toothed smile. “It’s started.”

Oh man. Oh man. About now was when he regretted deciding to retrain as a nurse—that being a more useful job than climatologist in a world that emitted little in the way of greenhouse gases anymore.

“Take my bike,” Jay said, climbing off. “It’s warmed up. I’ll come back with Stav.”

“Are you sure?” He didn’t mind perching on the ATV’s cargo rack while someone else drove, but he was twenty-five. She was more like fifty-five. Not that he’d ever dared ask.

“Of course. Go on.”

Maybe Stav would let her drive while he perched. Matt didn’t argue anymore. Peter needed him. Vicky too. But Peter… He secured the rifle on the rack in the ATV’s cargo space and climbed aboard. The machine vibrated beneath him like a living thing. Like a horse desperate for the start of a race. He wrapped his scarf across his mouth and nose and pulled down the goggles he’d had on the top of his head under the fur-edged hood of his coat.

He revved the engine, gave Jay and Stav a last wave, then released the brake. The ATV leaped forward, and he bumped down the slope Jay had come up. Behind him he heard the other ATV coming to life. Stav and Jay would be following, but more slowly. Slowly was how they should drive on this terrain. The tundra was uneven and full of hazards he’d never imagined until he got here. He dreaded hitting a rock cunningly disguised as a clump of dryas shrub. Or sinking into a frost boil. Either might turn the ATV over and send him flying to the ground, which was still hard this early in what they laughingly called “summer” around here. At least Stav and Jay would come and pick him up and he wouldn’t have to lie there waiting to see if he froze to death before Molly or Frodo found him and ate him.

But he handled the ATV well. He’d been riding quad bikes around his family’s farm in New Zealand since he was too young to be allowed to ride quad bikes. The ATVs were like a bigger, heavier version of those. He managed to avoid frost boils, rocks, and this year’s resident polar bears—the Molly and Frodo he didn’t want to be eaten by.

He was grateful for his goggles and scarf as he drove into freezing fog near the base and the cold wind threw tiny ice particles at him. On bare skin they felt like a faceful of grit or sand. Not pleasant. He slowed in the fog, fearing he’d lose himself and drive right past the base and probably into the sea, where the last of the pack ice was hanging on. But in a few minutes the dark shape of the science station’s buildings loomed out of the mist, and he brought the bike to a halt right by the main entrance.

R.J. Russell met him as he climbed off. “Get inside, kid. I’ll put the ATV away.”

“Thanks.” He ran, slipping a bit on the iced-up concrete yard, but made it inside without going flat on his ass. Dr. Crawford opened the door for him as he approached, and he hurried inside. She helped him off with his parka and several of the layers under it.

“Just drop them,” she said. “I’ll hang them in the drying room.” This was like a relay. R.J. was taking care of the ATV for him. Dr. Crawford was hanging up his clothes for him. Not something you generally expected from one of your professors.

“Thanks.” He dropped onto the bench by the door to heave off his boots, getting his hands wet and dirty. He hated to leave the dirty boots for the professor, but he was expected elsewhere.

“We tried to call you on the radios,” Crawford said, “but couldn’t get through, so Mr. Russell sent Jay out to fetch you.”

“The batteries must be flat,” Matt said. He pulled off his woolen hat, his hair crackling with static as he did. Good thing it was a matter of safety to always say where you were going and go there and not somewhere else. It made sure the others could find you in case of trouble. Usually that was if you got in trouble, though.

He shimmied out of the waterproof pants he wore over his jeans and dropped them. Then he opened the inner entrance door and ran, tossing back a thanks to Dr. Crawford for her help.

In his socks he ran up the southern corridor, skidded on the turn into the main corridor, and ran up that, past the rec room, the dining room, and the kitchen, to the infirmary. Most of the other members of the group were waiting outside the door. Tension buzzed from them. They spoke in whispers. As he pounded up to them, they parted to let him inside. A couple of people spoke to him, but he took little notice. He ran into the infirmary. Someone had put a privacy screen not far inside the door, and he nearly went into it in his headlong rush but dodged around it.

Dr. Peter Lane, African American, ten years older than Matt and as approachable as a polar bear, was standing by the bed that held Vicky Prince. He looked up with a scowl at the intrusion, but seeing Matt, he smiled. Louise Newman, at the supply cabinet, wearing scrubs, grinned at him.

“Late to the party again?” she asked.

Matt nodded, panting. “I went out for a smoko.”

She snorted. Peter left Vicky’s side. The bed was turned so she was facing away from the door. Kasper stood beside her, holding her hand and wearing the hopeful and worried expression of a man about to witness the birth of his child.

“You didn’t have to hurry like that,” Peter said. “She’s only in early labor. There are hours to go yet.”

Matt grimaced in sympathy with Vicky. But sighed with relief, as he’d pictured himself running into the room and catching the baby like a rugby ball.

“Go get washed up and put some scrubs on,” Peter said. “And get something hot inside you to warm you up. I can feel the cold pouring off you.”

Matt gulped and tried not to see any double-entendre possibilities inherent in getting something hot inside him to warm him up. That fantasy would have to come later. He had a job to do here. Peter put a hand on Matt’s shoulder.

“Don’t be nervous. You’re going to do fine. Everything is proceeding as normal so far.”

For all the reassurance in that deep, calm voice, Matt saw fear in Peter’s eyes. He was scared too. If anything did go wrong, there was no help to call on. All they had here on Shriver Island was one another.

* * * *

Peter walked back into the infirmary after seeing Vicky and the baby safely ensconced in her and Kasper’s room. Matt was standing by the sink, and for a second Peter saw him with a hand over his face, his shoulders shaking. He coughed to announce his presence, and Matt straightened up and splashed water on his face before turning to Peter. Even so, his eyes were still shining and rather red.

“Are you okay?” Peter asked.

“Yes,” Matt said, voice husky. “I’m fine.” He scrubbed an arm across his eyes. “I’m being daft.”

“It’s all right,” Peter said. “Believe me, I’ve cried a few times after delivering babies.”

He walked to the locked drug cabinet, opened it with the key around his neck, and rummaged deep inside to find a half-drunk bottle of whiskey. It had some dust on it. He found a couple of small measuring cups and poured them a shot each. Liquor was technically banned at the base. Alcohol and arctic weather did not mix. Either it made a person more vulnerable to hypothermia, or it led them to doing something stupid that would result in injuries a long, long way from any hospital. But there were a few bottles of this and that around. Peter didn’t usually drink himself, but he would make an exception this time for such a special occasion. The group’s first baby. That had to be marked.

“Here.” He handed one of the shots to Matt. “For medicinal purposes.” He hoped that never became literally true. That he’d never have to use booze as emergency anesthesia or antiseptic. Their fingers couldn’t help but touch as Matt took the drink.

“Thanks.”

“To Hope,” Peter said, raising his cup. “That’s what they’re calling her, Hope.”

“That’s great.” Matt raised his cup to join the toast. “To Hope,” he echoed, and they drank. Matt erupted into coughs, and his eyes shone with tears again. Peter tried not to smile too much at him. Such a puppy.

“Too strong for you?”

“Ah, I’m more a beer man,” Matt said, voice cracking. He cleared his throat and pulled himself together.

“Let’s sit down,” Peter said. “We can finish tidying up in a minute.” He led Matt into his office, though left the door open, and the door from the infirmary to the corridor was open. Voices sounded faintly from other parts of the base.

“I mean it that you shouldn’t be embarrassed to cry,” Peter said, perching on the desk, while Matt sat down. “Birth is powerfully emotional.” Kasper had sobbed like a baby himself when Peter handed him his daughter for the first time.

“Have you delivered many babies?” Matt asked.

Peter shook his head. “Not so many. It’s rare for a woman to deliver in the ER. But sometimes a baby sprinted into the world faster than the team from obstetrics could sprint to the ER.” He sipped his drink. “Hope is number fourteen for me.”

“It was the most amazing thing I ever witnessed,” Matt said, voice quiet and rather awed. “One minute there were five of us in the room, then suddenly six. And she was…she was more real, more alive than any of the rest of us, even though she’s so tiny and helpless. When she took that first breath and cried, I almost broke down right then.”

Peter nodded. He’d felt it himself. Along with a flood of intense relief that all had gone well. “You did great. You and Louise.”

“Thanks to your training.”

“You’re both good students. I’d have hated to be doing that alone. It was frightening enough even with help from you two.”

“You? Frightened? You were calm as a millpond all the way through.”

Peter looked away from him, across the room, out of the window at the desolate landscape, nothing in sight but tundra and sky. No help could have come to them.

“I’ve learned to project that image. It’s an important part of the job. But I was scared to death, Matt. If there had been complications, more than I could have dealt with here…”

“Vicky knew there was that risk.”

She did. And shortly before the birth she’d told Peter, if it came to it, if disaster struck, he must save the baby, even if it meant her death. That he should perform a cesarean even though in these conditions it would certainly have killed her. He’d never have had to make that choice in the old days. There’d have been help for him to call on. More senior ER docs, the obstetricians, the surgeons. But here there was only him.

He folded his arms as if hugging himself. Comforting himself. Tonight he’d probably cry, as Matt had, but alone in his bedroom off the infirmary. Cry with a delayed reaction to the relief and joy he’d felt when he saw the smiling and weeping Vicky holding her healthy baby. But not before then. He had to stay strong. He was the group’s doctor, and he had to be strong for all of them.

Behind him Matt stood up, and Peter thought he would leave, leave Peter alone with his fear and relief churning in a toxic whirlpool in his gut. But instead Matt put a hand on his shoulder, and Peter turned to him. Matt hugged him. It was a bit awkward, as Peter still had his arms folded, had to uncross them quickly. But he settled into it gratefully. Matt was a brawny lad, shoulders and arms well-developed from the work he did around here—he was always the first to volunteer to chop wood or clear snow—and long hours of lifting weights in the rec room, during the winter months when they barely stepped outside if they could avoid it.

Being held in such strong arms was a comfort. But it was also something he shouldn’t encourage. Matt didn’t press closer to him, didn’t put his hands anywhere he shouldn’t, but he buried his face against Peter’s neck, and his breath was warm on the skin there. He could so easily start to kiss and lick, and in this vulnerable moment Peter didn’t know that he’d have the will to make him stop.

“Peter,” Matt whispered softly. His hand moved on Peter’s back in what felt like a caress even through the three layers of clothing Peter wore. Peter stepped away quickly, though he left one hand on Matt’s shoulder, squeezed it.

“Thanks,” he said, pretending that last couple of seconds of the hug had not happened. As if it had at no point been anything more than comfort. “You look beat. Go and get some sleep.”

Matt looked more disappointed than tired. But he bounced back quickly. The puppy Peter and Harrison had bought a few years ago used to do that. Charge around until he ran into something, look dazed for a second, then shake it off and carry on like nothing had happened.

He told himself to be wary of such thinking. Matt was no puppy—even if that was how Peter had viewed him since the first day he’d arrived with the expedition group. He was a man, who could be hurt. Peter knew Matt had feelings for him. He must be careful never to lead him on and let him down. It would be too easy to give in to partaking in flirty banter and smiling back at the joyful smiles Matt cast him. Too easy to let the fact they were the only two gay men here become a bond that promised Matt something Peter could not give.

“I’d better eat before I sleep,” Matt said. “I haven’t had anything since, I dunno, sometime ages ago. What time is it?” He looked at the clock. “Six. In the morning?”

Peter smiled, taking his hand away. “Yes, in the morning.”

“Where’d the time go? I bet Vicky didn’t think it flew by.” He was brisk and hearty again. Smiling through his tiredness. “So brekkie will be on soon. Let’s finish cleaning up and go get some. I think I fancy bubble and squeak this morning. You know, for a change…”

Peter laughed, following him out. Their meals had become monotonous. The “bubble and squeak” Matt spoke of meant last night’s leftovers fried up. Perhaps with some eggs on the side. One thing about being stuck on an island with a ludicrous number of seabirds, no shortage of eggs. Though arguments continued from the expedition party, several of whom had originally come to study the birds, about eating the eggs. Eventually Professor Crawford had convinced her students that twelve people were not going to cause the extinction of the species by taking a few eggs. It was a matter of mathematics, she said. They’d have to eat eggs all day and night to make even a dent. A couple of holdouts had boycotted the eggs for a while, but in the face of the ever-dwindling food stores, and how delicious the eggs smelled when cooking, they had eventually given in and quietly started to eat them too.

The caribou had the same mathematical argument applied to them. One butchered caribou lasted the group long enough that two more had been born in the time it took them to eat it. Chandra had had to be convinced from a book that caribou was far enough away from beef that she could eat it. Yes, the meals might be monotonous, but the arguments over them certainly had plenty of variety.

By the time they got into the dining room, the breakfast was on the table in big serving dishes. Louise was almost ignoring her food as she regaled the rest of the table, talking nineteen to the dozen about delivering Vicky’s baby. She was as awed about it as Matt, though rather chattier. Telling everyone over and over what an amazing thing it was. Most of the others were nodding along politely, or ignoring her and concentrating on their food. But Edvin was watching her with a rapt look on his face. He was the younger of two Norwegian scientists who’d been at a small station on the north end of the island, but had joined this group in the larger base at the southern tip when the world…ended. Kasper was the other one, and he and Vicky had paired up within a few months. But Kasper spoke better English than Edvin, who also seemed quite shy. He and Louise had been overcoming their communication difficulties lately though.

Jay was the first to spot Peter and Matt coming in, and she banged on the table and lifted her mug of tea in a toast. “To the other two heroes of the hour.” A chorus of agreement and a forest of raised mugs made Matt grin sheepishly and blush—which was ridiculously cute on him.

Peter acknowledged the praise with a nod. “Thank you. But the real hero in a birth is always the mother.” Chandra poured them both tea from the huge insulated pot, and Peter raised his mug. “To Vicky. And to baby Hope.” Another chorus in reply.

“To Hope.”

Chapter Two

Matt wandered into the rec room, still struggling to get his arm into the right hole of his sweater, and yawning. It was going to take him days to recover from that all-nighter. A few years ago he wouldn’t have flickered at one. It must be true that everything went downhill after you hit twenty-five.

His sleep had been fitful with the sounds of people moving around in the station. Sometimes Stav or Rich slipped into the bunk room to get something, trying their best not to disturb him but not succeeding. Eventually he’d woken from a doze dreaming of eating freshly caught crab, washed down with beer, and realized it was almost dinnertime.

The rec room was quiet. He’d come in at journaling hour. Just because they’d been left stranded while zombies took over the world, and might die here of cold or starvation, didn’t mean there was a reason to let standards slip. Scientists recorded everything. If you didn’t write it down, it hadn’t happened.

So the hour before dinner had become journaling hour, when people wrote up their observations about the day. A couple of them were continuing the work they’d come here to do. Chandra had written her doctoral thesis, and Dr. Crawford—and Rich and Vicky—had assessed it and said she’d have a PhD, if there were still a body to award one. With that project completed, she appeared to be working her way through every scientific reference book in the base’s library.

Matt still kept a journal, but it had turned into more of a personal diary. He’d wait until he went back to the bunk room and snuggled in the blankets to write up his thoughts on the wonder of nature he’d witnessed the night before. He’d given up his scientific work—since humanity was putting out fewer emissions than in the Middle Ages. Retraining as a nurse, a more practical skill, had given him something to focus on and feel he was making a valuable contribution. The fact it meant spending a lot of time with Peter was an added attraction, he’d admit.

Peter wasn’t in the rec room. Maybe he was still sleeping. He stood a better chance of doing so in private quarters. Matt found a seat and grabbed a book off the shelf at random. He wrapped himself in a blanket and started to read what turned out to be a romance, with a girl in a sun hat on the cover, relaxing at the beach. Matt seriously envied her. They had beaches here, but if you tried to sunbathe on one, you’d die of exposure before the man of your dreams chanced along.

The only other person in the room not writing up a journal was Jay, who also sat with a book. Even R.J. had caught the journaling bug. As manager of the facility, with the responsibility of keeping everything working and keeping them all alive, he wrote a log. It was technical stuff about inspections and maintenance and about how little stored food and diesel fuel they had left.

Matt was starting to wonder when everyone would stop scratching away in their journals and get dinner going, when the quiet was interrupted by an uncharacteristic squeal from Chandra. She jumped up and ran to meet Vicky and Kasper, who were coming into the room, Vicky carrying Hope, all bundled up.

Journals were cast aside. Even Jay, the crusty old bird, joined the group of women cooing over the baby. The men all gave Kasper handshakes and slaps on the back. Peter slipped into the room, looking sleepy, clothes creased and rumpled. He smiled at Matt when he caught his eye, but then looked away, started talking to Vicky.

R.J. had left the room for a few minutes, while everyone chatted and little Hope slumbered on, oblivious to all the noise. Vicky sat on one of the couches and held court, Kasper standing close by.

When R.J. returned, he brought something wooden and bulky and put it in the middle of the floor.

“We don’t have a lot of wood to spare, so we had to improvise,” he said. “Me and Jay put this together in the workshop.” He grinned, looking absurdly proud, quite different from his usual stern demeanor.

It was a cradle. Or rather, it was a drawer. One large enough to give Hope several months of growing space. Each end had a semicircle of wood screwed to it so it could rock side to side.

“We sanded down any rough edges and varnished it,” R.J. explained. “So there’s nothing she can hurt herself on. I guess you can put a blanket or a pillow in the bottom for a mattress.”

“R.J., it’s wonderful,” Vicky said. “We had planned to turn a drawer into a bed for her, but you turned it into a cradle. Thank you.”

The group trooped through to get dinner after that, a livelier than usual night, celebrating. But soon Vicky had to go back to bed, and Kasper left with her. The rest of the group lingered over tea around the table, in no hurry to start clearing up. They were quiet and thoughtful, until the point it became awkward.

“It was kind of you to make that cradle, Mr. Russell,” Matt ventured at last, trying to crack the growing ice.

R.J. shrugged. “Kid needs a bed.”

“And she has a drawer,” Rich Brooks said. “No disrespect, you did a nice job. But the baby’s still going to be sleeping in a drawer.”

“I doubt she’ll notice,” Matt said. Rich snorted.

“As she gets older, she’ll notice that there isn’t much we have that’s suitable for a child to eat. She’ll notice how cold she is.”

“Better to be alive than not, though,” Louise said.

“I agree,” Edvin said quickly. He usually did with Louise.

“Brooks isn’t far wrong,” R.J. said. “This is no place for a baby.”

“But Inuit once lived on this island with their babies,” Dr. Crawford pointed out.

“And they all left,” Rich said. “What does that tell you?”

Matt had seen the remains of the Inuit villages. In fact they’d stripped what wood remained in them. They weren’t archeological sites—they’d last been used in the 1930s. The scientific base was quite sturdy, and even that creaked and rattled in the winter storms. He’d hate to imagine living in one of the small wooden houses, with children.

“Doctor, you must agree with me,” Rich said, appealing to Peter. “It’s not a healthy place for a child, is it?”

Peter looked thoughtful, never one to jump in and babble the answer to a serious question. “Between our restricted diet and the lack of sunlight up here, rickets is a serious risk. She might become malnourished. We’re all malnourished here. We’ve got enough calories—for now—but not enough variety.”

“All those eggs and caribou meat,” Louise said. “It’s like that time I was on the Atkins diet.”

“For a child, the lack of variety will be a worse problem,” Peter said. “It will hinder her development.”

“What’s the alternative, though?” Matt asked, hating to disagree with Peter even as he did. “That we wait here for rescue that will never come, until we all die? We have to move forward. Repopulate the planet and, you know, stuff like that. We have to have hope that there’s a better future waiting for us. Having children is…choosing the future over the past.” He finished the last dregs of his tea. “And we won’t be here forever. I’m sure of it.”

“Fantasy,” Rich snapped. “Who’s going to come and rescue us? The fairies?” He sneered at the word “fairies,” and the double meaning was clear enough to everyone in the room.

“Really, Richard,” Professor Crawford muttered in mild reproof. Matt let the nonsense wash over him. Rich was a bigger hypocrite than anyone else around the table knew. And he should be careful. Matt might get…chatty one day about certain incidents.

That killed the conversation stone dead, and people began to clear up and drift off. Matt was on washing-up duty that night along with Stav and Chandra. He took the washing and let them do the drying, loving the chance to get his hands into the hot soapy water. They only got showers every three days here—to conserve energy—but needed washing-up water every day.

He happily washed, wide-awake and wondering if he should stay up all night or try to sleep again. Stav and Chandra were talking to each other quietly. Matt gave them a glance now and again. Looked like they were going to pair off too, like Vicky and Kasper, and Louise and Edvin. He doubted things would move fast between them, though. She was a shy girl, formal and polite, from what sounded like a very traditional family in India. Matt would lay money on her being a virgin—not that money had any meaning anymore. And not that it was any of his business.

He supposed it would mean he and Stav would never…give each other a hand, as they had in the past. Stav wasn’t gay. Wasn’t even bi, in Matt’s opinion. If they hadn’t been stuck here, he’d probably never have thought of touching another man. But it was like prison, Matt supposed. You took what you could get.

It was a shame. Stav was cute, with loads of thick black hair, big brown eyes, and a sexy Greek accent. In good shape, though only five-six, a bit short for Matt. But Chandra, at five-two, didn’t have a problem with it, looking up and smiling at him.

Matt sighed as he finished the washing up and emptied the bowl for the last time. He left the two of them finishing the drying and went back to the rec room. Empty. He grabbed a couple of the blankets, made himself a nest on a couch, and brooded.

He couldn’t begrudge Chandra pairing off with Stav, because Stav wasn’t who Matt wanted. When he and Stav had given each other some mutual relief, Matt had always closed his eyes and imagined Peter’s hands moving on him. Darker-skinned, more sure, more expert. A doctor’s hands, and the hands of a mature and experienced gay man. Oh God, the thought was making him hard. He ignored that as best he could. Peter turned him down every time he made even a small advance. Because Peter had a husband back home.

It drove Matt crazy. He didn’t say, Harrison is probably dead, and even if he’s not, you’ll never see him again. You didn’t actually say that to someone. But he’d hoped Peter would come to the conclusion himself. So far he hadn’t and went on resisting Matt. Not that Matt was pressing his attentions, but he always made it clear he was ready and willing. He tried to take care of his appearance. It was easy to let yourself go here. Stop shaving. Let your hair grow out until you turned into some kind of mountain man. But Matt kept himself well shaved, and his hair trimmed and looking as good as the various amateur barbers and hairdressers around here could manage. And still Peter resisted.

It was resistance, Matt was sure. Not that he simply didn’t fancy Matt, or white guys in general or something. He was damn sure Peter was attracted to him. He’d been sure of that before they’d become trapped here. He wouldn’t have acted on the attraction back then, not once he’d learned Peter was married. He’d kept his feelings quiet. But afterward…a man wasn’t made of stone.

Except possibly Dr. Peter Lane.

Chapter Three

The arrival of baby Hope had given the group the most excitement they’d had in months. After a second long winter where they huddled in the base and barely went out, the baby was like a springtime all by herself. People grumbled about the noise when she cried, especially at night. But it wasn’t long before everyone at the base had become a substitute grandparent, aunt, uncle, or big brother or sister.

“I was obviously particularly glad when Hope was born,” Matt said one day in June as he and Louise worked in the kitchen, on that evening’s meal. He liked being rostered with Louise. Her British sense of humor was the closest to his Kiwi one.

“Why’s that?” she asked.

“Because finally I’m not the baby of the group anymore.”

She laughed. “Aw, I’ll always think of you that way.” She shrugged. “You or Chandra anyway.”

“She’s six months older than me. We compared.”

“She seems younger.”

“Yeah,” Matt agreed. He rummaged in one of the kitchen cupboards looking for a pack of dried onion flakes. He found the box, but it was almost empty. “Damn. I’ll have to go grab some of these from the storeroom. Anything else we need?”

They searched through the list for the meal and found a few things to collect.

“Okay, back in a sec.” Matt crossed the corridor to the storeroom. From a shelf outside he took a flashlight. That saved on lighting the large storeroom. Unfortunately it also turned it into a creepy maze of shelves and racks. Cold too. He shivered and hurried about his task, wanting to get back into the relatively warm kitchen as soon as possible. He passed the banks of empty shelves to the ever-dwindling number of occupied ones. They’d been lucky in that the base had been fully restocked when their expedition started. Boat trips in Hudson Bay were something to keep to a minimum, so two years of food for a full station had been deposited. They were coming up on two and a half years.

Rationing helped, along with supplementing their food with caribou meat, eggs, and fish. Adding two extra people hadn’t been a tremendous problem, as the Norwegians brought their food stores with them. But nobody could ignore how low the stores were getting. They couldn’t grow food. Only sturdy arctic sedges grew on the tundra. They’d shortly be eating an Inuit diet.

Matt checked his list and gathered the items. The sound of a door closing made him look up. It was the door at the south end of the room, not the north end near the kitchen where he’d come in. Whoever it was didn’t use a flashlight. They must have better eyes than him if they could find their way by only the light from some small high windows.

“Lou?” Matt called. Couldn’t be Lou. She’d have come in the north door. Must be someone after some nonfood supplies. Maybe a new notebook to start yet another journal.

A dark figure coming close made him jump, and he swept the flashlight up to reveal Rich Brooks. Rich raised a hand to shield his eyes and turned away.

“Dammit, Matt.”

“Sorry,” Matt said, lowering the flashlight. He set it on a shelf. “You startled me. Are you looking for something?”

“I wanted a quick word.”

“Make it very quick. I’m expected back in the kitchen in a second.”

“I was wondering if…there was any chance you’d…you know.”

“Know what?” Matt said. Then clicked on when Rich flushed and wouldn’t meet his eye. “Oh.” Like with Stav, he’d given Rich a helping hand in the past. But it had stopped, because Rich refused to touch Matt in return. Matt didn’t expect a blowjob or kisses or making love. But a bit of simple reciprocation didn’t turn a straight bloke gay if that was what bothered Rich. It was creepy anyway. The guy wasn’t old or anything. Younger than Peter, in fact. But he was one of Dr. Crawford’s team and had been in a supervisory role over the four grad students. Matt had never liked the idea of shagging his teacher.

“Sorry. Not going to happen. You know why.”

Rich scowled. “I know you do it for Marinos.”

“Stav’s willing to give in return.”

“Is that all sex is to you? A transaction?”

Matt gave a short laugh. “That’s pretty funny, Rich, because it didn’t sound like you were proposing marriage to me. What were you planning to offer in return?”

“I can take some of your chores. I know you hate doing the laundry. I could take a couple of your shifts there. Five of them. Ten if you…if you…with your mouth.”

Matt tasted bile in his throat. “I’m not a fucking whore, you know.”

“I didn’t offer money,” Rich protested. Of course not. What use was money in this time and place? He’d offered the only thing of value they all had—their labor.

“I said no,” Matt said.

“Be different if I was Lane, wouldn’t it,” Rich almost snarled. He took a step closer to Matt, who backed off and came up against the shelving unit. It was bolted to both floor and ceiling and didn’t budge. “If I was Lane, you’d be on your knees in a flat second, sucking him off.”

“Shut your mouth,” Matt snapped. He would not listen to Rich make what Matt felt for Peter sound sordid. He moved to get away, and Rich lunged at him.

Matt dodged, dropping the box he was carrying. Rich fell against the shelf and scattered some items on it. Matt hoped nothing broke open to spill on the floor. Rich grabbed his arm, and Matt stopped worrying about spilled food.

“Get your hands off me!” He lashed out and caught Rich a blow across the face. More a slap than a punch—he was no fighter. Rich let go and fell back, holding his face.

“You fucking hit me!”

Matt pulled himself together. No fighter he might be, but he was bigger and stronger than Rich. He had no reason to be afraid. He drew himself up, using every inch of his six foot height. “You touch me again, you’ll get worse, I promise you.”

“What’s going on?” Louise’s voice made them turn. She was standing up at the north end of the aisle of shelves, a mere dark shape. Matt must have missed hearing her come in the door. When Matt turned back to him, Rich was vanishing into the darkness. A few seconds later the south door opened and then banged closed.

“Matt?” Louise arrived at his side. She frowned down at the boxes and packets on the floor and started to pick things up, checking them for damage. “What just happened here?”

“That bastard Brooks!” The words burst from Matt, his adrenaline surge turning to anger. “Thinks he can put his hands on me. Thinks he can ask me for… I won’t share a bunk room with him anymore, I’ll tell you that. I want him out. Away from me. And from Stav and Ed. I wouldn’t trust him around any of them!”

She gaped at him, a box in her hand, forgotten. “He attacked you?”

“He…” Could he say “attacked”? Rich had lunged at him. That had been a lunge for sure. But Matt had hit him and… Shit, that was going to leave a mark, wasn’t it? And Matt didn’t have any marks or evidence on him. “He tried it on,” he finished a bit lamely. “Um, maybe I should forget about it. I dealt with it.” Still, the thought of being in the bunk room with him… Matt would never sleep.

“No way.” Louise slapped down the box onto the shelf with unnecessary force. “That creep needs to be nipped in the bud. He’s got handsy with me before—at least until I started seeing Edvin. He looks at Chandra like…” She stopped. Matt felt pretty sick at that. Chandra was such a slip of a thing, and timid. She couldn’t give Rich a black eye the way Matt probably had. And if the straight guy was desperate enough to start trying it on with the boys, Matt would bet he’d try with the girls—the ones not spoken for, that was.

“I bet the only reason he hasn’t tried anything with her is that he knows R.J. would kill him if he did.” Louise finished putting boxes on shelves, then took one off again, the onion flakes Matt had come in here for.

“R.J. has a thing for Chandra?” Matt boggled. “Why am I always the last to know these things?”

“Because you’re too busy gazing like an infatuated puppy at Peter. But I wouldn’t say a ‘thing.’ He probably knows he’s too old and too macho and intense and all that bollocks for her. But I think he’s more protective of her than of the rest of us. Never mind that. You have to make a complaint about Brooks. Get him moved out of the bunk room. You shouldn’t have to put up with that shit. I’ll back you up.”

“Lou, you didn’t actually see anything.”

“I saw enough. You made the accusation right away. Come on, Matt. Don’t chicken out and let the bastard get away with it.”

Matt bristled immediately. She knew how to push his buttons.

“I’m not a chicken.” She was right. He had to do it, for the sake of the others who at least needed a warning. “Okay. I’ll do it. Let’s get dinner on, then call a meeting.”

* * * *

Everyone gathered in the rec room after dinner. Matt had said at the table that he had something to talk to the group about. He didn’t elaborate, but Peter had seen Rich Brooks immediately becoming nervous. Rich with the black eye that he wouldn’t let Peter take a look at. Peter sat next to R.J. but leaned over to talk to Vicky, who had Hope on her lap. The baby snoozed peacefully.

“No more colic?” he asked. Hope had been up half the night with it, keeping Vicky and Kasper and Peter up on and off too. Whatever this meeting was about, Peter hoped it would be over quickly so he could get to bed.

“No, she’s fine,” Vicky said. She looked as tired as Peter felt. “I think we’ll all get some rest tonight.” The baby opened her eyes, then made a soft mewling sound. Peter smiled at her and touched her hand when she thrust it out of the blanket wrapped around her, stretching, yawning. Her tiny pale fingers circled his thumb and held it tight. She’d have that palmar grasp reflex for a few months yet. Then he told himself to stop thinking about reflexes and enjoy the moment as the life he’d helped enter the world made contact with him, with her hand and her eyes. She looked right back at him.

“Can I get everyone’s attention?” Matt had stood up and come to the middle of the room. Louise stood too, close to Matt. The chatting died down in the room. Peter gently extracted his thumb from Hope’s hand and sat back in his chair. Matt looked nervous as hell. He glanced back at Louise, who gave him a reassuring nod.

“Speak up, kid,” R.J. said. “We don’t have all night.”

Technically they had nothing but time. But Peter still wanted that early night.

“Um, I want to ask that one of the unused bedrooms be opened up and Rich Brooks moves in there. If he won’t, then I’ll move into it myself.”

Everyone stared at Brooks, then back at Matt.

“I’m guessing this is something to do with that shiner he’s sporting,” Jay said.

“He… Earlier in the storeroom,” Matt said. “He made a…a sexual advance to me. When I turned him down, he…tried to grab me.”

“He’s a damn liar,” Brooks said. “Why would I make an advance to him? I’m not gay. He’s gay. He came on to me!”

“I did not,” Matt protested. “As if!”

Brooks came to his feet, and Matt dropped back a step, defensive.

“Sit down, Richard,” Dr. Crawford snapped in the old “head of expedition” tone rarely heard these days. Brooks obeyed, retreated, glaring at Matt. Peter looked down at himself and saw he’d clenched his fists without realizing it. He uncurled his fingers.

“I won’t share a bunk room with him,” Matt said. “And I don’t think it’s fair on Stav or Edvin to have to either.”

Stav looked as if he agreed. Edvin, whose English was still limited, was getting a translation from Kasper, and his reactions came slower than everyone else’s. But he looked angry and nodded vigorously. Neither of them seemed to have any objection to sharing with Matt, who they knew was gay. But clearly they trusted Matt. Not like that hypocrite, Brooks. With his homophobic cracks, and secretly wanting sex with Matt. How dare he? How fucking dare he?

“Matt,” Dr. Crawford said. “Do you have any witnesses to this?”

“I came in right after,” Louise said. “There’d obviously been a struggle. There were boxes and things knocked off shelves. Brooks went scurrying out when he spotted me. Matt told me right away what had happened.”

“But you didn’t see it happen?”

“No,” she admitted, sounding reluctant. “But Matt told me right away, and it was obvious there’d been an altercation of some kind.”

But she hadn’t seen it. That made a difference. Especially to these scientists. Empiricists to a man and woman. So was Peter, but he trusted his instincts too. Matt was telling the truth. He was an open and honest kid.

“I’m not gay,” Brooks said, “or bi, or anything like that. So why would I ask him for sex?”

“Because you have before,” Matt said. “And got it—once. You know why I always said no after that.”

Matt was red in the face, looking mortified, but angry enough to keep him going. Vicky was frowning and looking ready to take Hope and get out of there. Chandra appeared deeply embarrassed and as if she was pretending to be anywhere but here.

“You led me on,” Brooks accused Matt. His expression grew slyer. “Does Marinos always return the favor when you jerk him off?”

Stav looked horrified at the words. He gave Chandra a desperate look. She jumped up and ran out of the room. He rose to follow her, but Edvin yanked him back down, maybe thinking the boys had to band together for a Brooks-free bunk room.

“Never mind about Stav,” Matt said. “We’re talking about you.” He turned back to the long couch where Dr. Crawford, R.J., and Peter sat. His eyes locked on Peter’s for a long moment. “I can’t share a bunk room with him. I won’t.”

“We can’t spare the fuel to heat another bedroom,” R.J. argued. “We should be cutting down where we can, not using more of the rooms.”

“Then why aren’t you in the bunk room too?” Brooks demanded of R.J., who was one of the two people who had their own rooms, Peter being the other. “You merit your own room, and Lane does, but not Dr. Crawford? What kind of sexist crap is that?”

“Don’t derail the conversation,” Crawford said. She turned to Matt. “Mr. Warner, you have to appreciate the fuel situation. You know we are short of wood to burn for the underfloor heating.”

“I know,” he said. “And I do appreciate that. But I want something done. I’m a member of this group too. I want its protection.”

“Can you wait outside a minute,” Crawford said. “You too, Richard.” She pointed at the door to the dining area. “In there. Do not go and talk to Mr. Warner.”

Rich bristled, like he was going to demand why he should take her orders. But he gave in and rose with exaggerated dignity and left through the door into the dining room. Matt watched him go suspiciously, then gave his bunkmates and Peter meaningful looks, before he went out the door into the corridor. The message was clear. He expected their support.

Chapter Four

When the door closed behind him, R.J. scrubbed a hand over his face and through his hair. “Shit. Something like this had to happen one day. I’m only surprised it took this long.”

“Do we assume it went down the way Matt said?” Vicky asked. “Rich is the one with the bruises.”

“No way Matt did that in anything but self-defense,” Louise insisted.

“But you didn’t see it happen,” Vicky replied.

“I didn’t need to. I know Matt.”

“He says they’ve had sex before,” R.J. said. He shrugged. “Brooks might have assumed—”

“If he assumed he could do what he liked because of that, then he’s in the wrong,” Louise said. She gave Peter a glare that suggested he might want to speak the hell up here. Peter cleared his throat.

“She’s right that Brooks has no right to assume privileges because of things that have happened in the past,” Peter said. It made him queasy, the thought that Matt had done something with both Brooks and Stav and who knew who else. That bothered Peter. Those guys were straight. If it was for tension release, then a guy didn’t need another guy for that. Peter didn’t like it, but that wasn’t the point. Brooks certainly had no right to expect it because it had happened before. Especially as Matt seemed definite that there was a specific reason he’d stopped it with Brooks.

What was that reason? What had Brooks done to him? That bastard. Let him get sick or injured and need Peter’s care and see what a doctor could do if you pissed him off. The thought shocked him. As if he’d ever violate his professional ethics that way. He shook himself from his fantasies of revenge as the conversation continued. Crawford asked Stav and Edvin if they’d ever been bothered by Brooks. Neither had.

“Well, I have,” Louise said. “He’s put his hands where he shouldn’t before. Suggested things. I told him to fuck off.” There were a couple of winces at her language, including one from Vicky, which was ironic, as Peter had heard some choice swearing from her during labor. Maybe she didn’t like Hope’s delicate young ears hearing this kind of talk. Though the baby seemed to have gone to sleep again, opting out of this horrible conversation.

It took a second for the translation from Kasper, and then Edvin was on his feet, rage on his face. “When?” he asked Louise. “When he says these things? Ask things? I will…” He gave vent to his feelings in Norwegian. Louise shushed him and patted his arm. Whether she was pleased to see him getting so angry in her behalf, or glad that he’d become an ally in the “get Brooks out of the bunk room” campaign, Peter couldn’t tell. R.J. sighed, perhaps seeing the latter.

“That doesn’t help,” Crawford said. She leaned in to R.J. and Peter. The group didn’t really have leaders. They voted on most things. But the three of them tended to be the de facto leaders, everyone still respecting their positions of authority. “Clearly we have to do something. We can’t expel Richard out into the snow to die. So what do we do?”

“There isn’t much snow out there anyway,” R.J. said. She glared at him. “Okay, so it’s going to lead to trouble trying to make Matt or Ed share with Brooks. But I’m not having him sharing with me, if you were going to suggest that.”

“Nor me,” Peter said quickly. He might be tempted to do something terrible to the guy as he slept.

“Then since we’re so squeamish, we bite the bullet and look at rearranging the rooms,” R.J. said. “We can’t afford the fuel to open another one up. We have to work with what we’ve got.” He nodded at Edvin and Louise. “Maybe those two could share. Chandra moves in with Jay and Dr. Crawford, and Brooks has the room the two girls share. And…no, damn, that still doesn’t give us a spare room.”

“You’re making a big assumption about Lou and Ed,” Peter said.

“You don’t fancy swapping with Brooks and moving into the bunk room, do you?” R.J. asked Peter.

“My frat-house days are long behind me.”

“Could we divide the bunk room?” Crawford said. “Build some kind of partition? Keep Richard on one side and the three boys on the other.”

“It’s only got one door,” Peter pointed out.

“A door is easy,” R.J. said. “The walls are thin wooden panels. I could cut out a door space in five minutes and use a door from an unused room. Won’t have much in the way of draft proofing. That can be Brooks’s side.”

“We’ll have to rearrange the bunks too,” Peter said. “And it cuts down the space for them drastically.” He felt briefly guilty about his room. But it was a tiny space too, originally intended as sleeping quarters only in an emergency, when the doctor had to stay close to a patient overnight in the infirmary. When they closed down as many of the bedrooms as possible to conserve fuel, Peter had opted for that small but private space rather than sharing with anyone. R.J. had done the same, setting up an area in the station manager’s office as a bedroom. Nobody had argued with either Peter’s or R.J.’s choice. Everyone preferred a well-rested doctor, and people mostly didn’t dare argue with R.J.

“Okay,” R.J. said. “Let’s put that to the boys. And caution Brooks to stay well away from…I’d say all of them at this point. After that I’ll have a short word with him. A little man-to-man chat.” He cracked his knuckles in an alarming manner, and Crawford stared at him, looking shocked. Peter doubted R.J. meant to beat Brooks up—not that he’d have minded. He’d known R.J. for five years, summers only for the first two, then living here since. He’d never seen the man hit anyone, or even restrain them. But with his military background, he certainly could. He’d use that presence of his to intimidate Brooks into behaving. It was primitive, almost savage behavior. But it was the situation they were in.

They called for attention and brought both Matt and Brooks back in. Louise went and retrieved Stav, who’d gone off while Peter, R.J., and Crawford were talking. He returned with Chandra in tow, so they had everyone again.

R.J. put the proposal to the group, that they divided the bunk room to keep Brooks apart from the others.

“What do we divide it with?” Matt asked, looking dubious. “We can’t spare any wood.”

“It will have to be canvas,” R.J. said. “We have plenty of that. Doubled up, it will form a good screen. We can spare enough wood to make a frame. Just don’t lean on it.”

Not exactly soundproof, though. You’d be able to hear everything on the other side. Peter doubted they were happy. None of them looked happy. But happiness was rarer than pink polar bears around here. One by one the residents of the bunk room nodded.

“Then it’s settled,” R.J. said. “We’ll build that in the morning.”

“Meanwhile, Richard might find it more comfortable sleeping out here in the rec room tonight,” Crawford said, spearing him with a gaze as stinging as hail in a storm. He looked like he wanted to speak, but thought better of it and nodded meekly.

The meeting broke up. Peter was one of the last to go. Not quite the last. He closed the rec room door on R.J. and Brooks, about to have the promised man-to-man talk.

He went into the kitchen and poured himself a mug of cocoa. Made with powdered milk and no sugar, but beggars, or people trapped on islands in the north of Hudson Bay, could most assuredly not be choosers. He chatted for a few minutes with Kasper, before Kasper left with two mugs of cocoa. Jay wandered in, filled a plastic carafe of water.

“Always something, huh, Doc?” she said. “Always something.”

He agreed that there was always something. She took the carafe of water and headed for the room she bunked in with Dr. Crawford. Peter drank the last of his cocoa, washed up the mug in what little hot water was left after doing the dishes from dinner, and left the kitchen.

He checked around his infirmary, making sure all was tidy and locked up. An emergency battery-powered light gave him enough illumination to find his way around. Leaving that on, in case he was called in the night, he went into the infirmary’s small on-call room he’d made into his bedroom.


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