"I am not your 'babe'."
The declaration caught Harper by surprise. Tyr's tone brooked no argument, but naturally he ignored that.
"Huh? What's wrong with 'babe'? You've got something against endearments?"
"No. But I do not appreciate being labelled a juvenile."
Harper stretched lazily then turned to look at the Nietzschean, who was lying on his back, head pillowed by his arms.
"Juvenile? Unless there's something you Nietzscheans haven't been telling the Universe, there's nothing juvenile about you at all," He grinned sharply, "Unless this is a size insecurity?"
Tyr shifted his eyes sideways in a brief, dismissive glare and then returned to staring at the ceiling, refusing to dignify the comment with a reply.
"Nah, I didn't think it was that," Harper ran his eyes approvingly over the large bulk of his bedmate,"So you think it's too sissy? Beka calls her boyfriends 'babe' and none of them are what you'd call the frail type. Of course, you wouldn't call any of them the thinking type either. Or even really want to call them at all once the night was over, but hey, still definitely not the delicate flower type."
"Your argument does little to commend the phrase," Tyr's voice was dry, "If Beka calls her conquests 'babe' it would seem to me to be an expression characteristically applied to... beefcake."
Harper's eyebrows threatened to merge with his hairspikes.
"Ooooookay, 'babe' is now off the menu. And as an alternative, the Chef's Special of the Day is currently... " he paused, thinking,"Uhm, darling?"
"No, Harper. Definitely not. Go to sleep," Tyr ordered.
Harper's face screwed up into offended poutiness. He turned his back on the Nietzschean, wriggling around on his side until he was curled into a huffy little ball.
The meal had been magnificent even if Tyr thought so himself. An entree of Greenhaven field mushrooms stuffed with soft cheese and Tergret snails had been followed by fillets of Prodan wild salmon in a delicate citrus sauce. The fish had been served with a side of beans and choi, tossed in edral seeds and sweet chilli oil, and stir-fried to crisp perfection. This had been followed by the piece de resistance - wine-poached Reslan orchidfruits with chocolate sorbet.
Weighing the expression of culinary bliss and total relaxation on his companion's face, Tyr decided it was definitely an event he would repeat, despite the time and cost involved.
"Sooo." Harper slouched back into his chair, replete and happy. "How about sweetheart?" he asked.
Tyr's memory took a moment to catch up with the human's non-sequitor.
"I don't believe the appellation is particularly apt."
"That would be a no, then." Harper gave a shrug and grinned. "Sugar? Honey?"
"Both rather...feminine terms."
"Well, I wouldn't want to cast aspersions on your testosterone levels. How about sugarplum?"
Tyr arched an eyebrow, not deigning to even answer that one. Harper's grin took on a manic quality.
"Chocolatey goodness? Creamcake?"
Tyr's tone belied the words, though his mouth threatened to quirk into a smile.
"If cooking you dinner results in a barrage of food-related petnames, perhaps I should refrain from doing so in the future."
Harper sat up, an expression of horror on his face at the threat.
"Shutting up now!"
Rommie turned, but found Harper was looking at Tyr rather than herself. Surprisingly, the Nietzschean was regarding the human with amused tolerance.
"Are we an old married couple?"
"Urk. No. Young, hot and studly, that's us."
Rommie snickered. Harper cast a quick wounded look at her, and then returned his attention to Tyr.
Tyr concentrated on his display, tapping away at the screen.
"What are you talking about?" queried Rommie.
"I'm trying to find a term of affection for Mr. Too-Bad-for-that-Word which he doesn't object to. 'Tyr' is just so, I don't know, bland. And 'hey you' sounds kinda funny screamed during the heights of passion."
The Nietzschean shook his head and said nothing, ostensibly ignoring Harper.
The man who had stared down Death in the shape of Magog invaders, Nietzschean war parties and a hundred other hostile alien forms, flinched.
Tyr straightened up, gave Harper The Look and folded his arms across his chest.
There was a provocative note to Harper's voice now. Rommie blinked, startled to feel a wholly unexpected sensation she classified as the urge to giggle.
Tyr pressed a finger to the screen, shutting down his workstation, and walked off the command deck.
"Sweetcheeks?" Harper's voice followed him out, his gaze on a certain part of Nietzschean anatomy. "Babycakes? Hey, you can run but sooner or later you gotta choose."
Rommie decided this was one piece of security tape she should review. Several times.
Harper's head and shoulders were hidden under the generator, Tyr crouched beside it, talking and handing tools to him. Dylan paused at the door, confused by the subject matter.
Came Harper's muffled voice.
"Is the name you give small ornamental quadrupeds."
Tyr scoffed, ignoring Dylan.
"Entirely too precious."
The distaste in Tyr's voice was matched by a curl of his lip.
"Public usage would necessitate homicide."
If anything, Harper sounded even cheerier.
"The aforementioned applies."
"Not if you wish to live to see your next birthday."
Oddly enough, there was none of Tyr's usual soft venom in the threat.
"Ah, Tyr, Harper."
Dylan interrupted. There was a wriggle of body mass and Harper's tousled head appeared from beneath the machine.
"Hey Dylan. How's tricks?"
For what felt like the one million, four hundred and fiftysix thousandth, nine hundred and thirtysecond time, Dylan deeply regretted the loss of High Guard Military Protocol.
"Mr Harper, I'd like you and Tyr to take the Maru to Damar-5 tomorrow and pick up the supplies we ordered. We'll meet you at Pirestia."
"Oh, OK. Beka should probably come along too. I know what we need, but she's been there before and it's a bit of a snakepit."
Obviously considering the matter resolved, Harper slithered back under the generator. Caught off guard, Dylan concurred without argument.
He stood watching them, surprised at the relaxed amiability of the scene. Tyr rested on his heels, looking up at him. Dylan broke the awkward silence, "So, what were you talking about?"
"We are negotiating relationship idioms."
"Oh." He couldn't think of anything to say to that. "Well, carry on."
It didn't hit him until he was halfway to the lift. Negotiating relationship idioms? Harper and Tyr were in a relationship?
There was a break in the firefight as Harper dashed to the cover of the freight container. Tyr handed him a new powercell as Beka covered them.
"Thanks, big guy."
Harper panted. Tyr frowned.
"Not that one either?" Harper said with exasperation, "Running out of ideas here."
"Stud?" offered Beka.
Two faces looked at her, grimaced and simultaneously chorused, "NO!"
Their voices renewed the attention of the Damari pirates and a barrage of weapons fire rained down on their position. Conversation was abandoned for combat.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Harper yelped as Tyr lifted him onto the medbay bed, "Thank you so much, liebchen."
The last was said through gritted teeth and with very little grateful intent.
"I told you to stay where you were." Tyr responded coolly, "It isn't my fault that shot grazed you. And contrary to popular opinion, I don't require the application of Old German endearments to feel as if my life is a space opera."
"Says you. Well, you never said foreign words were off limits." Harper bit his lip as his boots and trousers were removed and Trance started to clean the wound. "How about mon petit chou? Fron-say - ze Language of Lurve."
"And that means?"
"Er. My little cabbage?"
A sheepish smile broke through the discomfort on Harper's face.
The rejoinder was dry enough to evaporate water.
"OK - lyubov. Ancient Russian for - ouch! Trance! - for dearest. Or something."
"I would prefer not to be called 'something'. And your accent is atrocious."
"Arakanga? Torran for 'partner of my fondest wish'."
Was all Tyr said.
"How about 'elrinpoppatolf'?" chimed in Trance eagerly, "That's Kerop for 'one who stands to gain greatly in my last will and testament'."
Harper and Tyr exchanged incredulous looks. Harper closed his eyes and groaned.
"I give up."
Tyr murmured into soft blonde hair.
The response was sleepy, but Harper snuggled backwards into Tyr's embrace to show he was listening.
"I have finished evaluating all the options you offered."
"Huh? Wha...oh. You've finally picked one?"
Harper sounded bemused at the thought.
"So what did you decide on?"
The body he was curled around went rigid for a couple of seconds, then relaxed with a huff of laughter.
"OK. G'dnight, babe."