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The Wild Black Yonder

Logan’s personal phone had been quiet for far too long and it was starting to get to him. The company phone had been active enough, of course, and he’d handled giving estimates and discussing projected shipping times without much trouble, but every few hours he found an excuse to check his messages and every few hours there still weren’t any. The deadman’s switch reports in the surveillance room all read normally, which should’ve been a comfort; instead he’d found himself mentally cataloging all the ways you could interfere with their data while still absolutely fucking wrecking the unit. It didn’t help that he’d learned—and used—some of them himself during the war.

Words like “evening” didn’t mean very much in a false-atmos environment where you didn’t even have weather unless someone programmed it in, but that didn’t stop Logan from using them anyway, and that evening saw him taking a little extra time to scrub hangar crud out of his hair. He spent a downright unfathomable amount of time on personal hygiene for these days out of necessity. You could know how to reassemble an engine block blindfolded, and you could have a stellar military record before your honorable retirement, and people still treated you like shit if you showed up with too much grease under your fingernails whether you were a company founder or not. A healthy company meant having to give a shit about people with fingernail opinions, so in the name of prosperity he’d become intimately familiar with grease-cutting soaps and brushes with bristles so stiff they could probably strip plastic. Being a civilian was a real pain in the ass sometimes.

He let the shampoo sit in place a bit as he scoured away at the patina of grunge that was a mobile unit mechanic’s constant companion. Having a private-enough shower was an improvement over life in the Navy, at least, and nobody was breathing down his neck to finish up in three minutes or less; civilian life also meant being able to turn the water up to thermonuclear levels of heat to really ruin grime’s day. After settling on borrowing some gel scrub—it had a cloying cologne smell that he didn’t like on himself, but sometimes soap was soap—Logan made a mental note to stop by the belt’s supply depot for more of the kind he actually used. It wasn’t like it would be a frivolous trip, after all, since there hadn’t been any powdered eggs in the larder for days. Once his hands were more their natural brown than the gray-green of machine oil that clung to them half the time, he rinsed his hair until it squeaked and stepped out into the chilly bathroom.

If it was a perfect world someone would’ve been waiting for him there. The world Logan got was still and empty like the starry void outside, but he was used to it by now. He wiped off his fogged lenses on a corner of his towel, checked his phone again, then prepared himself for bed.

He rested on his back on top of the covers, the pillow behind his shoulders angling him enough so he could see out the window on the opposite wall. Stars lost some of their mystery after you’d been on cruise in the void long enough; he imagined old sailors went blind to the sea the same way he barely saw space anymore. Maybe the navigators longed to dip their heads in nebulas after they left the service, and he knew at least some of the pilots had to find new wings or they went a bit land-sick, but he’d been stuck in a mobile unit bay for his tours of duty, and seeing the void when you were in a deployed carrier’s hangar meant something had gone terribly wrong. He didn’t dislike stars, though. They gave him something to look at when the house was quiet.

Then his phone rang.

Logan sat up bolt upright and fumbled for his phone, juggling it from hand to hand a few times before he was able to hold it steadily enough to unlock the screen. He glanced over the alphanumeric ID key. It was a valid ansible proxy relay, apparently out of Qilin Point Station’s array, and more importantly he recognized the phone number paired with it. He ran a scrubber over it anyway; you didn’t give your entire young adulthood to the United Sectors Navy without getting in a few habits, and you never really knew who might be on the other end of the instant-transmission line. Logan drummed his fingers on the comforter as he waited for everything to return the all-clear. Waiting the thirty seconds for the comm scrubbers to vet everything felt longer than the entire wait for a call combined.

He was halfway amazed the icon pulsing on his phone’s screen hadn’t yet vanished by the time he approved the connection and flicked his end off of mute. “Logan St. Claire speaking.”

“Hello-o-o out there, I was starting to wonder if you were dead or something,” said a familiar voice on the other end of the line. “Were you dead, boss? One ghostly moan for yes, two for no.”

“Oh, fuck off, Bajram,” said Logan with a half-smile.

“What took you so long? Were you outside or on the shitter or something? I thought your specs told you when I found a valid proxy site. Were you taking a nap, boss? Resting those old man bones? Hope you didn’t break a hip getting to the phone. That’d suck.” Everything Bajram said came out in a furious torrent of words, some so close together Logan could barely interpret them. Pilots were always a little difficult to talk to when they’d been plugged in for a while; interfacing with spacecraft at speeds far beyond human limits had its share of side effects.

Logan made himself a nest of pillows and made himself comfortable. “Jesus, kid, slow it down some,” he said. He clipped a portable earpiece over his left ear to free up his hands to rest behind his head. “If I can’t understand what you’re saying I’m going to hang up right now and save myself the migraine. You really want that?” It was a threat as effective as it was empty. Bajram needed attention like a fire needed wood, and neither of those things were easily available in the void.

Bajram raspberried. “You’re not my dad,” he said with exaggerated slowness.

“Last time I checked I was your goddamned boyfriend, and somebody has to keep your wayward ass in line.”

“Here I am checking in to tell him where I am and how I’m doing and he calls me wayward,” said Bajram with a scoff. “So what kept you for real, boss?”

“It was half a minute of security protocols, same as always.”

“Bullshit that was half a minute, you kept me waiting a good forty-one-point-one-eight-five seconds. I counted.” There wasn’t any video support with the call but Logan could still picture Bajram tapping one of the ports set in his temples. Put a little cyberware into a man’s brain and he’d get all these obnoxious ideas about being a walking computer.

Logan ignored him in favor of studying the alpha key again. “Where are you, anyway? I know your proxy but I don’t recognize your prime source.”

“It’s a little sit ‘n shit out Xi-wards. It’s, uh, the Bonny Starman Mobile Lodge or something? I think that’s what it was. There’s a bot stop attached to it where I got some food that wasn’t nutrient paste for a fuckin’ change. Everything’s real campy, I mean real campy, I mean unbelievably campy. I can put a token in a slot on the bed and it’ll jiggle. I am also, I shit you not, looking at a pair of antlers mounted on the wall above the TV.”

“How’d they get a deer all the way out there?”

“Bet you a scrip there’s just some button you can push on a matter printer that makes ’em.”

Logan grunted. “Probably.” He flipped through the notebook he kept on the side table. “Before you tell me about your adventures in the Gas Station Galaxy, you want me to review the jobs on the table?”

“Please and thank you, boss.”

Logan went over some of the offers they’d gotten over the days since they’d last spoken. The Talay Premium Shipping Company had more couriers than just Bajram, but being a co-founder meant he got first dibs on deliveries, and even with all the mandatory post-flight physical therapy between trips he was off the ground as often as not. What was surprising about this batch of potential clients was that he seemed uninterested in every single one, even the exotic plant delivery that’d send him to what looked like, for all intents and purposes, an entire planet that doubled as someone’s luxury estate. Bajram was Earth-born, sure, and from everything Logan had heard there was a huge difference between the real thing and a terraformed pleasure rock, but it seemed a little weird Bajram wouldn’t want to visit somewhere that reminded him of home.

He reached the end of the list and frowned. “So you’re not going on any of these?” he asked, his pencil tapping against the paper. Being a generalized luxury goods transport service meant you never saw the same job twice, so it wasn’t like they were all more of the same.

“Oh, I don’t know, boss, I’m sure I’ll grab one of them,” said Bajram. “I’ve just been sitting down for a few days straight and now I’m a little dizzy from not moving at ludicrous speeds through the wild black yonder. I’ll probably change my mind two days into the goddamn PT routine.” He chuckled to himself. “Until then, though, I can’t wait to put on my ugliest shorts, park myself in a lawn chair, and be a tremendous piece of shit! I have seen the future and there’s watermelon flip-flops in it.”

Logan hummed thoughtfully but didn’t say anything. He did a bit of math in his head, which unlike some people in the call didn’t have much other than meat in it. They lived well within their means so it wasn’t like he had to push Bajram out the door as soon as possible just to keep the oxygen on, but too much time off would mean problems with paying for the special cargo he was waiting to hear back about. And that was assuming there weren’t more processing fees lurking in the wings, which were a good deal less flexible than a box of food powder….

“I didn’t fuck up, did I, sir?” said Bajram, and that snapped Logan right back into the conversation. The S-word didn’t usually come out on its own unless Bajram was either horny or worried about something, and Bajram was not the kind of man to get a boner from logistics.

“You’re fine, Bajram, don’t worry about it.” If he could get Bajram talking again it’d help the mood greatly. He groped for a topic and seized one. “You said there’s a flight stop there? Do they do the whole pie-and-coffee thing?” Logan had never quite understood that tradition.

Bajram crowed, his mood instantly brighter. “They do pie and coffee and greasy-ass diner food, it’s great! There’s a shop full of shitty little souvenirs and everything. There’s a gaggle of other teamsters staying here for a meal or some rest or whatever, so it’s not like the place is dead, but this is out in the fucking boonies, boss, like way out.” He paused. Logan could practically hear the Cheshire grin spreading across Bajram’s face. “I’m probably the hottest piece of ass out here for light years, boss. You should’ve seen the heads turn when I stepped in for some hash browns.”

“Probably because you’re rank as shit after a few weeks in a plugsuit, kid,” said Logan. No matter how much bioengineering they did, the top brass just couldn’t figure out how to keep a pilot spending more than a day or so marinating in recycled moisture from stinking up the place. Bajram had started keeping little tree-shaped air fresheners in his cockpit ever since the first time he’d popped the canopy after a long flight and Logan had refused to let him inside until he’d hosed himself off. Plugsuit technology had a long way to go before it matched the movies. Logan couldn’t entirely hate anything that tight and form-fitting, though, no matter how garish the color scheme was.

He was rewarded with a sulky harrumph from Bajram. “I washed first, thanks, this isn’t my first milk run.”

“And then put the damn thing back on?”

“Fuck yeah I did!” said Bajram, proudly. “I wore my jacket over it, the nice one with the sheepskin collar and my callsign embroidered on the back.” Logan knew the one: Bajram loved wearing a pair of goddamn aviators with it, presumably because he had a bone-deep yearning to look like an enormous tool. Logan also knew how nice that firm ass of Bajram’s looked peeking out from under it, so the jacket had swiftly become yet another stupid, tacky thing Logan liked more than he should. Much like Bajram, who was still talking. “Like I said, boss, I turned some heads. Not all of them, like, I’m sure a few people in there aren’t into dudes or don’t know a good thing when they see it or whatever, but I could feel eyes on me. All alone in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by thirsty pilots. It was great.

Logan raised his eyebrows. The years around the war had been very kind to Bajram, and from what Logan knew of his family he was slated to age into a silver lion of a man, but he usually didn’t bother flaunting his looks unless he had an ulterior motive. Logan also knew Bajram better than to assume he was going to tomcat around in a rest stop in some godforsaken corner of the void, at least not these days. That still left plenty of questions. “Continue,” he said, letting his tone skew authoritarian.

Something rustled on the other end of the line. It sounded like some sort of poly-fill motel blanket, no doubt with an awful pattern on it, and the way the material rasped against itself it was probably cheap and nasty. So Bajram was getting comfortable, too, was he? Two could play at that game. He twiddled with some settings on the nightstand and the blinds hissed closed across the window. God bless modern technology.

illustrated by Iron Eater

As Logan settled in, Bajram cheerfully launched into the meat of his story. “So I’m eating a big plate of deliciously shitty food, right,” he said, “when this guy slides into the other side of my booth. He’s got pilot’s ports but they’re not military, at least not any I recognize, and he’s not suited up so he’s presumably been on the ground a while. Maybe a one-for-two, one-for-three kind of guy, right? Definitely not a long-hauler like yours truly. Nasty expression. Guy looks like a real fucker, so of course he gets my attention a little bit. You know what I mean, right, boss?” Logan snorted, which just made Bajram laugh in that self-satisfied way he’d perfected.

“So this guy’s creeping on me hard but I ignore him, because holy shit I need some food that isn’t intravenous, right? Guy does not like that one bit. ‘Pretty thing like you could use some company,’ he says, and I don’t say anything because there’s sausage gravy that needs to be in my body fucking yesterday. So this guy leans forward and tries to get in my space some, saying, ‘I said it sounds like you could use some company,’ and I say, ‘I heard you the first time,’ and he’s all, ‘You too good to take a compliment?’ and I say, ‘I’m eating,’ and he says, ‘You got a serious attitude problem,’ and I say, ‘I sure do, and so does the man I got back home, and he doesn’t like people touching his things,’ and it looks like he’s about to start something when the server comes by with more coffee for me, and she’s got muscles on her muscles and gives him this look, so the shitty guy backs off, and you know there’s nothing I like more than sending some fucker packing with a frustrated boner.” Logan’s head ached a bit from the sheer length of that sentence.

There were a few critical details he’d picked up on that were more important than demanding Bajram take a breath for air more often. He tugged his undershirt back down from where his hand had been resting against his stomach. “You’ve been drinking coffee?”

“Just a little,” said Bajram, guiltily.

“You’ve got several days of flying left to go and instead of actually sleeping a few consecutive hours you’re having coffee?

“It’s fine, boss, it’s fine, if I come up short I’ll just cycle a little extra when I hit an open zone.”

“Shutting your brain off for a fraction of a second every few seconds is not the fucking same as getting some proper fucking sleep!” he roared, his good mood evaporating. Cycling wasn’t technically shutting down the entire brain, just the bits involving consciousness and similar processes, but Logan’s usual strict adherence to technical accuracy had to take a back seat to his temper. You heard about pilots ramming into planetoids or clipping space debris while cycling on too little rest; it happened all the time. Just because those slivers of seconds added up to hours in the long run didn’t mean a tired body would use it the same as bed rest. He wasn’t a fan of the practice, necessary or not.

Bajram wasn’t cowed, because unless he was play-acting Bajram wasn’t intimidated by anything short of an entire battlecruiser pointed at him (and even that was a long shot), but he didn’t sound as cocky as usual when he defended himself. “It’s just a little caffeine. I’m going to be staying here a full regulation twenty-four while they refuel the unit, and I can’t spend all of that asleep, boss. You don’t yell at me when I talk to you instead of sleeping, anyway, right?”

Logan scowled at the wall. Just because it was correct didn’t mean he liked getting called on his own double standard.

“Besides,” continued Bajram, “don’t you want to hear more of the story, boss? Because there’s more to it. I bet you there’s a real happy ending involved.” Whoever had taught Bajram about puns was a menace to the entire universe, there was just no getting around it.

“I’m still mad at you.”

“Yeah, but you miss me, boss.”

Logan sighed. “Yeah. I do.” He ran his fingers through his hair, still kept cut within regulations no matter how long it’d been since he’d retired from service. The time he’d tried growing it out longer hadn’t gone well. “So you were busy being a cocktease…?”

“Right! Right, right, right. So I thought that was going to be the highlight of my meal, because you just can’t ask for anything better than shutting down some fucknut who thinks he’s God’s gift to queers, but then I see some punk roll in who really gets my attention.” He paused for effect. Logan rolled his eyes and took his cue.

“And how did he do that?”

“Glad you asked, boss! So you know how people get plugs put in for everyday interface stuff, then get casemods for them so they look like fancy shit?” Logan was very much aware of that because Logan was very much aware of cybernetic enhancements in general. You worked in the hangar long enough and you learned how to tell the different plug arrays apart from twenty paces, and if you had certain less than innocent opinions about a man with some hardware modification going on you could practically fucking smell the difference. There was no expert quite like a man with a fierce paraphilia on his side. “Well, small fry here has gone and tried to pass himself off as ex-Navy. And it is just the shittiest chrome job you’ve ever seen. Like I bet he got it done in a drinking buddy’s basement, that’s how shitty.”

“Christ,” said Logan, trying not to sound amused.

“It gets better! So I try to let him have his fun, because nobody needs to be That Guy, right, boss? Weekend warriors out in Nowheresville don’t hurt anyone. But then someone goes and asks where he served during the war, ignoring that he was probably going to junior prom the day before the armistice, and he goes and says the USS Wendy Davis. So that makes my ears go up because now it’s personal, right? I want to see just how much of a fuckup he is with the details, even if it means biting my lip clean through to not be Lieutenant Um Actually.” He giggled to himself. “So everyone’s oohing and aahing about our wannabe flyboy and he’s making up all these details about various battles, and at least he’s read the newsfeeds or something because he gets those more or less right. And then someone asks him what callsign he went by. You’ll never believe what he said next.” Bajram laughed again. “Go on, go on, guess!”

Logan groaned. “He tried to say he was Meltemi, didn’t he.”

“Oh, you’re good at this, boss.”

Some days there just wasn’t enough headache medicine in the world. “Did he have an excuse for why he didn’t have the ID tattoo?”

“That’s the thing, he had one, but it was just the most embarrassing thing, like the coding was upside down and there were two Ls in ‘Meltemi’ and the numbers might as well have been 420-69 for how accurate they were. By then I’ve paid for my meal and I just can’t stand not saying anything, so I go over there and I ask to take a look at his tat. First off the kid doesn’t note the writing on my jacket, or maybe he thinks I’m cosplaying or something, because fuckin’ nerds, right? So I take a look at yep, up close it’s still the worst. And I ask where he got it done, because I’ll still give the little shitstain a little room to redeem himself and fess up that he’s not exactly yours truly, ace fighter pilot, but he has the audacity to say, ‘In the Navy, duh,’ and oh my God, boss, when it comes to social graces this little fucker makes me look like a bastion of modesty. Ask me what I said next!”

Logan shook his head with a grin even as he cringed from secondhand embarrassment. “So what did you say?”

“I said, ‘Huh, I thought the tattoos you got in the Navy looked more like this,’ and I pulled my arm out of the jacket sleeve and rolled up my suit a bit and whoops, guess whose ink looked extra godawful next to the real thing? If he could’ve just melted into the floor right there he probably would’ve.”

“That’s a little mean-spirited, kid,” said Logan, unable to hide the approval in his voice.

Bajram made a sound usually accompanied by a dismissive hand gesture when he did it in person. “Learned it from the best, boss!” he said, which made Logan laugh ruefully. God protect him from sassy submissives. “I made it up to him by telling war stories for, like, an hour, I wasn’t going to leave him like that. I mean, he was the most adorable clueless baby. Did you know he had no idea you could take a Huitzil on a ground mission? He asked me how many girls I got while deployed, and I told him the number was a big fat zero, but I had a guy waiting for me at home I met in the service, and while I’m pretty sure he’s straight as an arrow he could at least appreciate that, so that went okay.”

“So is that the happy ending you promised me?” asked Logan. He checked the time on his phone’s screen. They’d been talking for quite a while now; it was probably just as well that Bajram would be staying put for an entire 24-cycle at this rate, but there was work to be done in the morning on Logan’s end….

“The what? Oh! No, I was thinking that could be the end result of a little more interesting discussion just between you and me. Assuming you’re not too tired, boss. I know how you need to rest up for a long day of telling teens to get off your lawn.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Logan. Bajram was being especially puckish, but two could play at this game. “You were making it sound like if you had anything to say you would’ve said it a good hour or so ago. I think I closed the blinds for nothing.”

Bajram whined. “Boss, please, I’ve been stuck in a flying tin can for just shy of forever with my hands hooked up to all kinds of mechanisms, and I’ve been out of band of any ansible relay worth a shit for almost that long. I think my dick has cobwebs on it from disuse. I’m dying, here. You’d hang up on a man in need?”

“I might.”

“You wouldn’t.

“You’re forgetting which of us has more experience in being a takes-no-shit hardass. Or did you forget one of us actually worked with enlisted folk his entire career?”

“You’re a bad, bad man, Logan St. Claire.”

“Less griping, more convincing, kid,” said Logan. Sure, a lot of it was an act on both their parts, but making Bajram jump for attention like a cat lunging for a creature teaser was a hell of a lot of fun no matter how genuine the complaints were or weren’t. He went for a metaphorical flick of the feathered stick. “Did you have something in mind?”

“Well, maybe,” said Bajram, sulkily. “I was thinking it’d be nice if you were here—”

“That’s no surprise.”

“—and we’d be eating in the diner, since they’ll make their omelets out of those fucked-up fake eggs you like if you ask, and more importantly it means there’d be all these guys who keep giving me the eye and fuming over how I’d not be so much as glancing at any of them. They’d be so jealous of you, but they couldn’t do shit.” He practically purred. “After all, you don’t like people touching your things, right?”

It’d been a conversation they’d had back when the war had first ended, Logan having surpassed his time in rate during wartime and not wanting to deal with extending that if it meant a promotion to chief, Bajram instead being obligated to stay in the service a few months more. They’d be apart for a while, and Bajram needed a lot of people time; Logan had assumed suggesting Bajram find someone, or several someones, to fill in the gap while he was out trying to rejoin society was perfectly reasonable. What he hadn’t expected were the hurt feelings.

The whole mess had been weird, and then with time it’d downgraded to awkward, and then after another long talk (which Logan had honestly never seen himself having) they’d established that he was the boss; what that meant was nobody else was allowed to handle the boss’s property. You couldn’t exactly send out cards announcing your weird new sex thing to family, at least not unless you had a kind of personality Logan most certainly did not, but he’d put the date in his calendar app anyway and found an excuse to do something nice for his favorite intensely fucking annoying person every time the anniversary rolled around again. In exchange, Bajram flaunted his hands-off status at every opportunity. Logan could picture him leering at people before fawning over Logan with gleeful abandon. It was a very nice picture, indeed. He hooked his thumb in the waistband of his close-to-standard-issue-as-possible underwear and nudged them down a bit. The blinds hadn’t been a waste after all.

There was still a role to play, however. “So we’re eating and people notice that you’re conventionally attractive. So what? That’s a goddamn Tuesday. You’re going to have to do better than that, kid.”

“Well, I was thinking that it might be a booth on the end, so there’s only one bench in it, right? I’d have to cuddle up close for us to have enough room.” Those were some small-ass diner seats if that was the case, but Logan wasn’t going to interrupt now that Bajram was finally getting to the good part. “Like, maybe I’d have to be half in your lap to fit right. Not all the way, ’cause then you couldn’t actually eat your fucked-up fake egg thing with, like, ketchup on it or whatever, but enough that it’s real easy to get your arm around my waist all possessively.”

“That just makes you sound like so much arm candy,” said Logan.

“I like being arm candy, though.”

Couldn’t argue with that. “Fair enough. So you’re presumably trying to grind on me with one buttcheek and I’m having some kind of breakfast scramble. Still not really keeping my attention,” he lied, his thumb tracing little circles on the side of his cock.

Bajram clearly didn’t buy it, but he kept going. “Well, I was thinking you might get tired of people checking me out so much, and you’d remind them who’s in charge by, like, licking my neck or something where everyone can see, all, ‘Fuck you, this is mine.’ You’d grab yourself a handful of whatever you wanted to make it crystal clear, right? And you’d finish your meal, throw some money on the table, and basically pull me back to the room, since you’d be tired of seeing other people eyefucking me and you want to remind me who’s in charge, too. That sound about right?”

“More or less,” said Logan. “Sounds like you’d be wanting me to remind you some, too. Guilty conscience?” In reality he didn’t care who looked Bajram’s way since he had no illusions about how the man had the kind of looks used to sell politics or products or both, and who wouldn’t get distracted by that perfectly sculpted body with its perfectly installed enhancements, but in the land of make-believe he was a vicious, jealous son of a bitch, so Logan wasn’t going to complain about the characterization.

“Maybe you’d think I liked getting admired too much. You’d have to put me in my place, and my place is on my knees. Just put some weight on my shoulders and boom, I’d fold up to just the right height for you to use me. How hard would you be?”

Logan hummed thoughtfully. “How hard you trying?”

Real hard, boss. I’d have my lips parted and sometimes I’d mouth at your jeans some, you know, to show I’m interested. I’d be begging for it just the way you like. Hands off, though, since I know I don’t get to decide when I can actually get my tongue on you.”

“You’re goddamn right,” said Logan. It sounded like Bajram wanted some consensual frustration that evening. Frustration was something Logan could do. “You know what? I’d have probably seen that act before. I’d put my hand on your forehead and hold you in place as soon as you tried that mouthing thing. That sounds to me like you’re trying to get away with something. Instead you’d have to sit there and watch while I slowly unzip and pull myself out, just a little too far away for you to do anything.” He mirrored his fictional self, the air conditioning cool against his skin, and rested the palm of his hand against his glans. He had to pace himself for these things. “Any reason I should bother giving you what you want, kid? I can’t think of any.”

Bajram’s breathing was pleasantly ragged. “Please, boss, let me. You know it’d feel good, and you always tell me how hot I look when I’ve got you all the way down to the root. I use that fancy lip balm just for you.” That was another falsehood, since Bajram had been applying that natural beeswax stuff he got in care packages since before Logan had ever met him, but it was nice to think he had a little more reason to do so these days. “I want to feel you fuck my mouth until you come and I want to drink everything you give me. I want it so bad.”

Logan stared off into space and imagined it: Bajram’s long-lashed eyes, his omnipresent smirk, the hungry look he got when he was really turned on and desperate. His jaw would be trembling. You had to respect the kind of man who knew exactly what he wanted out of life, and that particular something had turned out to be as much of Logan’s cock as he could reliably acquire.

Yes, that mental image would do nicely. “I suppose I could let allow you that honor, just this once. You better not fuck it up.” The now tell me how part didn’t need saying.

“Oh God, boss, I’d just consume you,” said Bajram. “I’d lick your head so I wouldn’t waste any of your precome, and I’d keep my lips just close enough together so you’d feel like you were really spreading me open as I take you inside, but just loose enough so you could enjoy how soft I keep them. My mouth would be really wet, too, ’cause I’d have had plenty to drink back at the diner, and I know you like it that way….”

The rustling sound from before was louder now; Logan updated his mental image to include that ridiculous plugsuit tugged halfway down in places. The imaginary Bajram was clawing his fingers against Logan’s ass while one rough, uncaring hand firmly held his head in place, and the real Bajram was presumably sprawled on his back in his shitty motel room and rucking up the comforter as he touched himself. Both were nice to think about. Not having to choose between the two was an added bonus of the whole “committed relationship” thing.

Unfortunately, Bajram was much better at giving head than describing it, as after the initial stage-setting it became very repetitive. Logan was horny enough that he could’ve gotten off on Bajram reading the back of a detergent box by that point, but Bajram was going to be completely unavailable until he actually got on the ground again and it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity. Logan hadn’t spent the vast majority of his adult life solving problems and fixing expensive government robot jets just to not take advantage of the situation through a little creative thinking.

“You’re gonna do something for me, kid,” he said, his voice low and demanding.

“Yeah? What is it, boss?”

“You’re going to remove one of the inserts near the base of your spine. Put it wherever, it’s not important. What is important is that you finger all those little exposed interface surfaces while you jerk yourself off.” Logan wet his lips. He knew every inch of those ports and how sensitive they were to the touch. Plugging in to a fighter had to be a little bit like getting fucked all down your body, or at least it had to be for a personality like Bajram’s, and it was trivial to extrapolate from there to the bedroom. Logan could still feel the faint battery tingle of bare cybernetics against his tongue.

“Yeah…?” repeated Bajram, a little more dreamily.

“That’s it. You’re going to touch yourself both ways and I’m going to listen to you, and if you inspire me enough you get to hear me come. You got a problem with that?”

“No sir!” Logan didn’t ask for the S-word as much these days, since “boss” did a lot of the heavy lifting in their arrangement, but the part of him that’d spent his Navy career obligated to defer to officers ten years his junior reveled in making a lieutenant (retired, sure, but that didn’t matter) call him “sir” and suck him off.

It was much more interesting this way. Bajram gasped and hissed—that part was probably from popping out the insert and replacing it with a fingertip—then made little rhythmic whimpering noises—which were almost definitely from rubbing against the receptors. Inserts were specially designed to have a localized numbing effect for basically this exact reason: Logan had once read a history book talking about the hypersensitivity of early pilot interfaces and it was borderline barbaric how much feedback they forced on a human body. Now that modern science had worked some of the kinks out of the whole “artificial nerves” thing, though, they were perfect for indulging in kinks of another stripe.

The little bottle of lube in Logan’s nightstand was depressingly full. He squirted a dollop into his hand and let it warm up a bit before applying it to his shaft with a few careful strokes, Bajram vocalizing all the while in his ear. He cracked his knuckles against his thumb and worked his now-slick shaft with agonizingly slow motions, occasionally swiping his palm over the head; he was very hard and eager for his own touch, but if he came too soon it would ruin the little scenario they’d put together. Times like these required a little self-control now and again if you wanted the best results.

He made sure to growl into the headset a bit to let Bajram know he was still paying attention, though whether Bajram actually registered anything Logan was saying was anyone’s guess. It didn’t take long for his panted cries to intensify in both speed and volume, woe betide any neighbors who were trying to sleep right then, and he finally crescendoed into a muffled moan. It sounded a lot like when Logan would cover Bajram’s mouth to keep him quiet when they were fucking, though given how both of his hands were occupied this one was probably the result of leaning hard into a pillow. The sound made Logan’s heart race.

“You’re going to tell me what it looks like,” he said, making sure it was clear in his voice that it wasn’t a request.

Bajram laughed between deep, contented breaths. “You know those pictures I’d send you back when we were just starting out, boss? Like that, except I’m in a plugsuit instead of a nice crisp uniform. I got jizz all up my front. It’s getting in my navel. I think I better do some spot cleaning on my suit after we’re done here. This hideous thing I’m sprawled out on is safe for now, but I’ll have to do something soon or the cleaning staff is going to hate my gay ass forever.” He paused, then started again, this time a little more needy. “I did it just the way you told me to, boss. Was it good like you wanted?”

“Good enough,” said Logan through gritted teeth. His hand slid easily along his cock, his thoughts alight with the thought of Bajram’s perfectly spattered torso peeking through fitted polymesh. Christ, what a crime it was that he couldn’t be there in person to see it happen, and ansible relay wasn’t secure enough even with encryptors or he’d have been demanding photos, or maybe even a video feed, from the get-go. His strokes became faster. It wasn’t just about getting off anymore, either; he’d made a deal, and it was his duty to uphold his end of it.

As he came into his hand he thought of nothing but Bajram’s sigh of pleasure at a job well done.

They stepped away from the call for a moment to clean up after themselves, and their conversation during the afterglow was the sort of pointless nothingness Logan had learned to cherish. They reviewed timetables and talked about home repairs, interspersed with more of Bajram’s ceaseless flirting. It felt natural.

Unfortunately, being exhausted after a long day of welding things onto other things was also natural. “I’m going to have to let you go, kid,” said Logan after the third time he’d caught his eyes drifting closed mid-sentence. “You think you can call in once you’re back in normal broadcast range?”

“You got it, boss.”

Broadcast range was still a long way away. There was a lot of work and more quiet nights until then, plus checking on the special cargo, plus whatever other bullshit came up. Logan didn’t want to think about things like all the different ways long-haul spaceflight could go wrong, even on a routine delivery like this one had every sign of being. Staying behind on the ground was harder than it looked.

“Bajram? One final request for you.”

“Sure, boss, what is it?”

Logan took a deep breath. Damned if he was going to be the kind of man who assumed everyone could read his fucking mind all the time. “Take care of yourself, you little shit.”

“Can do, boss. G’night.”

He waited until Bajram had hung up and there was nothing but a looping no signal detected notice before terminating his end of the call.

The encryption indicator displayed a brief summary of what it’d been up to before it faded from the screen. Logan looked at his phone for a long while until it put itself to sleep; he then placed it on top of the empty pillow next to him, rolled onto his side, and let sleep finally take him, too.

The problem with special cargo was all seventeen trillion special little permits that went with it. Logan was ready to grind his teeth into powder as he verified the most recent set in triplicate; he shouldn’t have been surprised, because anything that so much as fluttered its eyelashes at the government was always much more of a pain in the ass than you’d think it would be, but the sheer amount of red tape was staggering, even for someone who’d cut his teeth dealing with Navy requisitions. If he was going to suffer through another fucking background check and another shitheel at a desk somewhere making little sympathetic noises about having such a high amount of artificial human in his ancestry, as if that explained so much as a goddamn thing about his record, he was going to up and pop like a tick on an aerosol can. He kept having to click the little undo button on the side of his stylus as he filled out each form in turn on his smartpaper. Thank God they didn’t expect him to submit tree-pulp versions, too.

What was baffling is how he knew for a fact they had most of the information available already, and from multiple sources, at that. Some twerpy little surveyor had been by just the month before to measure the hangar to ensure it met the nebulous “high standards” the people between him and the cargo kept going on about, and she’d been meticulous when it came to checking details like ceiling clearance and energy hookup compatibility. You could tell people what carrier you served on, which transforming robot jet you kept going for a period of however many years, and even which fucking bathroom you used most frequently and they’d still side-eye you like you were some kind of farm kid who assumed “mobile unit” was some kind of dick reference. It wasn’t like it was what he’d spent his entire adult life doing, aside from the part where that was exactly the case.

“Yes, I am personally certified in the maintenance of metamorphic-chassis vessels up to and including Huitzil-class fighters,” he said into his headset. He was thankful for the lack of video since only by furiously flipping off the wall was he able to keep himself together as he navigated the paperwork morass. “On the records I’ve submitted you can see that the Talay Premium Shipping Company keeps a modest fleet, chief among them our flagship the Albatross-class vessel the Flying Ray, and our most recent inspection records are both in the submitted packet and a matter of public record. We have been certified as an A-graded organization since our founding, also a matter of public record.” Did these fucking people even read what he sent them? Those court-mandated anger management classes from way back when were the only thing between him and hurling the phone at the wall some days.

He thought of entire planets covered in calm blue oceans as he went through the grueling process of telling the suit on the other end of the line the same information he’d been telling suits for months. When were they going to actually give him a date for this shit? He couldn’t arrange for payment options (much less start looking into a loan) until he knew when the damned cargo would be on the premises and therefore legally His Problem, but he couldn’t get a date until the suits deigned to throw one his way, and the suits wouldn’t tell him a thing until they had enough data points to choke a whale, and Jesus H. Christ, who knew when that would be. What he needed were answers, but he’d settle for a shoulder rub. A shame he wasn’t likely to see either of those any time soon.

“Yes, I am aware of the permits required to handle goods of this sort regardless of how long they will be staying on the premises. That’s part of why I’m calling. We take contraband extremely seriously at this company and I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of concrete information I’ve been given.” It wasn’t right-out accusing anyone of anything shitty, he told himself, simply a private citizen wanting to be sure an expensive transaction was on the up and up. The contraband thing was true, and the concern was true, and just because the first part of that sentence wasn’t actually related to the second didn’t invalidate either statement. If someone wanted to look for subtext that wasn’t there, well, he was just a retired enlisted man trying to be polite on the phone, what did he know about fancy mind games? Retired enlisted men definitely didn’t time sending sponsorship information so the Talay family’s credentials would pop up on the receiving end at a convenient moment, that just wasn’t something a man who only got his GED a few months into the service was capable of.

The person on the other end took the bait and began furiously backpedaling. Logan smiled nastily to himself. He usually didn’t bother bringing Bajram’s family into things—partially because why would he; at best they were common-law in-laws to him and he’d only ever seen half of them in person at Bajram’s retirement ceremony—but desperate times called for desperate measures. The phone drone graciously placed him on hold. Logan didn’t mind; on hold was better than being hung up on, and at least he could fill out more of the goddamn paperwork in peace.

A few minutes and three more completed pages later, the pleasant hold music evaporated into a very harried-sounding person apologizing to Logan at length. He let them talk. It was all so much noise until he heard the magic words—a date! an actual date!—which prompted him to tap the little save icon in the corner of his smartpaper and put the stylus down.

“Thank you, that’s very helpful,” he said, counting to some unspecified integer in his head to keep up the illusion of being polite and thankful and not still fuming mad. He probably sounded sharper than the voice expected, but if people were going to keep him on the line while he needed to be working and then expect sunshine and smiles they were always welcome to go fuck themselves. He turned the smartpaper over so it’d be ready to receive a new document. “I’m prepared to transmit funds for the first payment as a show of good faith, provided we can get the contract handled today. I have our crypto functions ready in advance. Who may I ask will be officiating?” Punk kids from nowhere mining stations didn’t know about contract procedure, mused Logan as the flustered suit hunted for someone with sufficient authority, but punk kids from nowhere mining stations who did their fucking homework sure did.

All the waiting, insistent calling, and veiled threats were finally paying off. The actual date was coming up much sooner than he’d expected given all the bullshit he’d dealt with getting a straight answer in the first place, almost as if by some mysterious method they were trying to be done with the angry man with the TPSC as soon as possible. Logan flipped through his calendar and allowed himself a small smile: it would be arriving right towards the tail end of Bajram’s physical therapy window, which meant an extra set of hands Logan trusted in addition to everything else. It couldn’t have been more perfect if he’d tried.

They discussed the matter of money because somebody had to, even though the person on the line seemed slightly offended that they had to give numbers using their own mouth. How many rich collectors did they have to vet on a daily basis? The payment itself was going to exhaust most of his private savings until the next delivery processed, but that was fine. He glanced at the cabinet, which still didn’t have any egg powder in it, and counted the remaining cans. Assuming he was careful with how he rationed out things for himself there wasn’t anything to worry about. It would be fine.

Fine or not, he still felt a brief nervous twinge as he signed his name to the agreement to hand over most of what he’d been saving up since they’d started the company.

“Thank you for your time, Petty Officer St. Claire,” said the phone voice in a tone that was either very self-satisfied or thoroughly cowed. Given what an even-keeled terror Logan had been regarding everything up to that point it very well might have been both. “Your status tracking numbers have been transmitted and you are welcome to contact us at any time if you have further questions or concerns regarding your contract. We’re pleased to be able to assist a veteran in any way possible.”

Your eyes must be brown given how full of shit you are, thought Logan, but he managed not to say as much. “I appreciate your assistance. Have a good day.” The call terminated with a boop.

Logan was still for quite a while, simply reading over his copy of the contract over and over. His personal phone chimed to inform him of a major pending charge, which he verified, and then the icon in the seal on the contract changed from gray to brilliant green. There was no going back now. It was real. It was happening.

If he’d been a younger man he would’ve whooped and pumped his fist, and maybe there’d be time for that later, but Logan was satisfied with just cracking a beer and thinking hopefully about the future.

A brassy tone sounded—not an emergency one, thank God, but insistent nonetheless—in the middle of mopping the kitchen floor, which had Logan tripping over every chair in the house between himself and the hangar’s control room as he rushed to intercept it. VEHICLE REQUESTING CLEARANCE, said the primary status screen. There wasn’t a visual, because you couldn’t exactly get visuals on things keeping the several-hundred-mile regulation distance, but he knew the serial number by heart. Only his intense respect for protocol kept him from keying in the clear codes before Bajram’s pilot ID and vessel schematics popped up on a different screen.

A chime replaced the horrible tone as soon as he pressed Enter; the Flying Ray had acknowledged the go-ahead and was closing the gap between its holding orbit and the hangar, ETA under an hour. Bajram had called in as soon as he’d begun his systems approach, but that had been less than half a day ago; even adjusting for Bajram’s hotshot flying habits Logan had assumed he would have a little more time to get the house together. An hour barely gave him a chance to put some boots on before he had to start keeping an eye on the atmos envelope, but it would have to do.

Dinner prep was simple, mainly because he’d cooked a lot of it in advance, and he kept his eye on the clock as he laid out place settings for two. The bed had been made and ready since that morning but he adjusted the covers anyway; Logan had strong opinions about when fucking on mussed sheets was sexy and when it just made the owner of said sheets look like they didn’t give a shit, and the first session of a reunion was definitely in the latter camp. Working a dirty job meant you had a greater appreciation for a clean homestead. He checked the clothes he’d laid on the bed, swished with mouthwash, then forced himself to keep to a walk as he returned to the control room.

The average Albatross-class mobile unit was nowhere near as fast or maneuverable as the Huitzils he’d worked on in the Navy, nor were they usually the iridescent green that Logan had perfected repainting, and the Flying Ray was no different: aside from some safety orange around the loading area it was indistinguishable from an off-white flying brick. Logan’s trained eye could spot it among the usual noise of the starfield, though, and he kept an eye on the slow-moving bright dot as he went through the usual dance of making sure the breathable air would stay where it was supposed to while accepting an incoming spacecraft. This part always sucked. A pilot had to be completely invested in making a mobile unit going at absurd speeds touch down on a small piece of rock without wrecking, and that meant radio silence, and having spoken to Bajram earlier that same day didn’t make things any easier. Sometimes having an imminent boyfriend was worse than having an absentee one.

Logan flipped on the lights around the VTOL pad before he shrugged into his safety gear, since you didn’t look directly at a re-entry without your goggles on unless you hated your eyes and wanted them to be punished. The re-entry itself went off without a hitch, going from bright and intense to lightly steaming in the expected amount of time. All life signs and landing equipment read normal. So far the distant little smudge was behaving exactly the way it was supposed to. The closer it got the more he could tell there was something strange about the silhouette, though: it looked almost like….

“Oh, for God’s sake.”

At some point during the last hour Bajram had triggered the transformation function in his vessel, and the usual boring cargo vessel was now a vaguely humanoid figure with its collapsible hold stuck between the ailerons on its rear wings. You couldn’t really hook up a human brain to a mobile unit without some sort of two-arms-two-legs base state to imprint on—rather, you could do it, but people who did so had to get very special, irreversible surgeries that more or less installed them into their robots instead of vice versa—but it was common knowledge that you wanted to keep the thing shaped like a jet or a tugboat or a big blocky space toaster because it was the most efficient way to do things. Nobody really changed them over unless you needed some power lifting or specialized demolitions work (or, Logan allowed, specific military ground missions) done.

Bajram either didn’t get the efficiency memo or, more likely, drew a dick on it before tossing it in the trash; at least once between each transport nowadays Logan would find him joyriding around the belt in biped mode, zipping merrily between unpopulated asteroids, and today saw him doing so for the actual goddamn approach. The “checking for skywaymen” excuse sounded faker every time. Since when did space pirates care about the belt? At least it was harmless, though, since you couldn’t swing a spanner without hitting another sad story about a pilot who’d been grounded too long and turned to less savory methods to cope. Fucking around like the hero of those terrible old documents Bajram loved studying and writing essays about was a lot easier on the pocketbook than other forms of vice.

Waves of heat washed across Logan’s face as the Albatross drew near and he retreated to behind a blast shield. His ear protection vibrated. The tablet he’d clipped to his clipboard didn’t show so much as a hint of shimmer even as the sonic force ramped up in intensity, though; not being able to rely on extra help being in the hangar meant investing in good equipment so you could stay out on the floor during a docking procedure instead of sitting in the control booth and praying. He tapped through the stages with his stylus without a hitch. So far, so good.

A cheery voice crackled over his headset as the Flying Ray‘s feet touched down with a familiar boom. “Lucy, I’m ho-ome!”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” asked Logan as he checked one diagnostics screen after another. So far everything was in the green, and it’d be easy enough to maintain the mobile unit that he could potentially have one of the apprentices look at it when they came back from schooling upbelt. Not that he would, of course; you didn’t maintain someone’s neural interface grid for a few years without getting a little possessive.

“It means you’re supposed to applaud me for being so clever at finding a way to once again reference historical English-language media in everyday life,” said Bajram. The Flying Ray strode through the hangar door and took its place in its usual spot, still ridiculously bipedal. Cleaning that thing was going to be such a pain in the ass if he left it that way. “I’m too smart for my own good and I demand a cookie. Chocolate chip, s’il vous plaît.

“No sweets until your bloodwork’s done, kid,” said Logan, though this time he felt in on the joke. “Sit tight for a minute and I’ll get the disembarker in place.” He waited for the mobile unit to stop blasting superheated steam before hauling over a fuel cable, its black and yellow length as thick around as a sludge drum. “You seriously leaving it like this?” he asked, eying the vessel’s leg. You couldn’t just hook anything up to something you were going to transform later; even back in high school they’d show you the awful old videos of what happened when something got pinched between an arm becoming a thruster or what have you. It was a good way to lose a mobile unit and a horrible way to lose a pilot or any ground crew that were too close at the time. It was also prone to scratching the paint, which Logan couldn’t abide, either.

The Flying Ray‘s frame shuddered, but not in the way that meant it’d start rearranging itself. “Nah,” said Bajram, much to Logan’s irritation. Thankfully that wasn’t the end of the explanation. “One of the rear landers was being a little hinky when I was heading out from my last stop, see,” Bajram continued. “This way it’s up off the ground so you can get at it better, right? And it won’t have the weight of everything on it. You know I wouldn’t be shitty about you doing your job, boss.”

“And why didn’t you mark it on the system summary earlier?”

“‘Cause it’s just being hinky, boss, not unusably weird or anything. Besides, I was going to be, like, a zillion miles away for weeks. You’d worry the entire time if I pointed it out then.”

Logan muttered sourly to himself as he hooked up the fuel cable. Just because the statement was true didn’t make it any less annoying. The offending lander appeared on his tablet almost immediately; true to Bajram’s word, it didn’t look serious, but Logan was already preparing to strip it down for a full rebuild just in case. At least it’d give him something to do while waiting to hear back again from the cargo people.

He straightened up and cracked his back with a grunt. Teardown would come another day; for now, there were more important things to attend to. “You ready for me to get you out of there, kid?”

Now it’s time to leave the capsule, if I da-a-a-are,” sang Bajram in a warbly voice.

Logan could sing sailors’ working songs until he was blue in the face but he was helpless when it came to dealing with someone who put up with historical research for fun. “…The fuck?”

“Ah, sorry, boss, I always forget you’re not familiar with half this stuff. I do know a ditty that was all the rage when you were about my age, though: Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon….

Logan frowned. “You know I don’t speak any Turkish, kid.” Bajram just laughed at that, same as he always did. Logan never did get what was so funny. God save him from mouthy kids with brains stuffed full of microprocessors and book learning, but he still wouldn’t trade Bajram for the world. He tapped in the commands required to swing a walkway out at the proper height for a bipedal-mode Albatross-class vessel. The stairs leading down to the floor clanked in place with calibrated precision. “You’re good to go. Come on out.”

The cockpit popped open with a hiss and a blast of stale air, revealing Bajram inside, still hooked up to everything. Save for the grin framed by the little bit of facial hair he’d affected since leaving the service, he was barely recognizable, or would have been had Logan not seen him crack open a cockpit dozens of times before. The micromanipulators connected to the ports in Bajram’s hands looked like big sleeves from the outside. Each element detached itself in turn—even with years of experience and intimate familiarity with the technology Logan never quite got used to just how long the parts that plugged into Bajram’s temples were—and Bajram swayed in his seat a bit. He’d once tried to explain to Logan the sensation of adjusting to see with his eyes again instead of with a gaggle of cameras, but Logan’s lens-assisted vision could barely handle the usual human scope, much less wrapping his head around 360 degrees of awareness, and after half an hour of increasingly strained metaphors they’d both called it a lost cause.

Bajram shivered as the elements along his spine retracted. He grabbed the rungs over his seat and hauled himself out with a grunt of effort. Part of his military implant procedure had been internal reinforcements and improved artificial circulation so he didn’t need special braces after every flight, but he was always quick to complain about the pins and needles feeling that walking around gave him for the first few hours. Extended flying involved exponentially more bullshit than the fighter runs he’d excelled at in the Navy. He rolled up one of his plugsuit sleeves to allow Logan to take a blood sample, then breathed into a different gizmo so they could analyze whether his lungs were handling air properly. The care and feeding of a space pilot was an involved affair, requiring endless tests and exercises and layers upon layers of preventative maintenance to make sure the pilot in question was ready for next time. Logan could have done it in his sleep.

Once Logan had finished taking the last sample, Bajram collapsed on him affectionately. All that metal and plastic really added up; part of why Logan kept up with his exercise routine was so he wouldn’t get knocked ass over teakettle whenever Bajram inevitably flopped against him like a large, spacefaring cat. He braced himself against the railing and let Bajram nuzzle his chest for a bit. While he couldn’t really feel the little kisses left along the front of his protective gear he wasn’t about to complain about them. It was nice being wanted.

“I missed you, too,” he said, allowing himself a smile. He shifted his weight into his shoulders and hauled Bajram upright by the scruff of his plugsuit. They kissed briefly as soon as their mouths were around the same height. “Now get your ass inside. It’s shower time.”

“But—”

“Kid, you’re the light of my life, so know I don’t mean anything personal when I say you smell like shit and that I have an intense interest in seeing that addressed immediately.”

“Aw, boss, you’re killing me,” said Bajram with a dramatic roll of his eyes. He pointed at the air freshener tree clipped to his collar. “Isn’t this enough?” It wasn’t, though it did make the three or so inches around itself smell slightly of cinnamon in addition to long-haul pilot stink.

No. Shower.” The ceremonial instant argument was just another part of the routine, sure, but it reminded them both who was (theoretically) in charge and who was (at least until he felt otherwise) taking orders. You couldn’t make assumptions about that sort of thing.

Logan got one arm under Bajram’s and helped him down the stairs, Bajram lightly protesting the entire way. Part of the reason the house was built directly onto the garage was sheer economics, but the other part was because it made the trip from ship to shower that much easier. Peeling Bajram’s suit off was an eye-watering affair—the plugsuit itself was banished to the special cleaning unit they owned for solely that purpose, and thank God Logan still had his gloves on for that—and he prickled with goosebumps once exposed to the open, climate-controlled air. It was probably the first time his skin had seen direct light since their talk when he was back at the motel; the area closest to each of his ports was heavily discolored. Logan sometimes daydreamed about soaring among the stars with countless horsepower at his back, but that sort of thing evaporated instantly upon contact with someone who’d actually been doing so for any length of time.

Bajram seated himself on the little shower bench they’d put in for post-flight cleaning. “Do I get company?” he asked with a hopeful smile.

“No sex until after dinner, kid. You’re nothing but skin and chrome.” Logan ignored the fresh round of whining as he tucked his gloves into his belt and started the water. He left the pressure low as he tested the temperature; pilots’ sense of hot and cold got all fucked up from being adrift in a vacuum full of blazing balls of flaming gases, so it was not unlike checking a baby’s bottle at times. A lot of keeping pilots in flying shape was like that, really. Once satisfied that he would neither boil nor induce hypothermia in his boyfriend, he unhooked the shower nozzle and handed it off. “Wash up nice. I’ve been preparing a meal for us for once you’re decent.”

Bajram, who had been gargling with the shower water beforehand, grumbled. “Can’t we skip the date and get right to the fucking?”

“You haven’t been home in three months,” Logan growled as he put himself right up in Bajram’s personal space, his safety goggles a hair’s breadth from Bajram’s nose. “We’re going to have some goddamned dinner and you’re going to dress like a goddamned adult and it’s going to be a goddamned lovely evening.” He nodded in the direction of the bedroom. “I’ve done you the favor of laying out something nice for you ahead of time, so no claiming you don’t know what to wear. Clean yourself up and do a good job. I need to change clothes and get food on plates. Are there any questions?”

“God but you’re hot when you’re menacing,” said Bajram, chirpily. Logan scoffed, stepped backwards out of the shower, and closed the door. He waited until the pebbly Bajram-shaped figure behind the polyglass started scrubbing itself before returning to the bedroom.

First things first: the gear needed to go back where it belonged, otherwise that was begging Fate to drop a disaster in your lap when your good goggles were all the way back on the kitchen counter or something. He’d have no right to roar at the apprentices if he didn’t walk the walk. After that came a rinse in the side bathroom to make sure there wasn’t any hanger crud clinging to him, then the world’s quickest change of clothes into the newest variation an outfit he’d been wearing to dinner dates since he’d first realized he liked going on dinner dates. If he happened to wear his engineer’s boots with it instead of fancy shoes, well, that was just being pragmatic. Having a formalwear kink was rough when you tried to live on a budget.

From the sound of things Bajram was still in the shower, which was fine; Logan took the presented opportunity to make sure the table was set and the good place settings were all clean and polished. The pieces of dinner fit together like a puzzle, where this needed warming for this long and that needed heating for that long and you only had so much room on the heating element. The brisket alone had been a four-day process with all the marinating and slow cooking the recipe demanded. It smelled amazing. You couldn’t even tell it was synthetic meat.

Logan had just started plating their dinners when Bajram called from the bedroom: “Hey, boss? What’s this thing next to my shirt?”

“Did you read the instructions I left with it?” Logan shouted back.

Silence. Then, “Ohhh.” Then laughter. Then, “Really?”

“Yes, really. And hurry it up! If dinner gets cold because you’re too busy fucking around back there it’s coming out of your hide.” Bajram crowed back something that was probably quite obnoxious but which was drowned out by the sink. Well, that was fine. There would be plenty of time for him to be his usual bratty self later.

illustrated by Iron Eater

The pre-cooking had definitely worked out in Logan’s favor, since the hot things were hot and the cold things were cold and it hadn’t taken that long to get everything into the necessary state. He ladled soup into a pair of bowls and topped it with a sprig of something aromatic and food-grade he’d found in the cupboard. He examined his work: three modest courses, some nice beer in glasses since he wasn’t about to pay the premiums it’d take to import good wine, and a table set using the good plates. What he hadn’t counted on was them being out of matches, but it turned out that a pocket plasma welder did a perfectly fine job of lighting candles. It was going to be a perfect evening.

Or at least it was going to be if Bajram ever got out of the bedroom.

Fortunately Logan had the presence of mind to stick his head down the hall before yelling again, as there was Bajram, dressed to the nines and staggering his way to dinner with the help of the railing that ran along either side of the hallway. There was still half an hour or so to go before he’d be entirely back up to speed, but he was moving at a pretty good clip. That was a good sign. Piloting could fuck you up, especially after a long flight, but just because it could didn’t mean either of them accepted that it had to.

Bajram made it to his chair with minimal fuss and propped his legs up on the matching ottoman underneath the table. He winced a bit when he sat. Logan paid it no mind; if there was a problem he trusted Bajram to tell him about it, and if there wasn’t a problem there was no reason to waste thought on it. He dimmed the lights and carefully walked their bowls to the table, leaning in just a bit too close in order to brush their sleeves as he placed Bajram’s serving on the cloth in front of him. There weren’t any threats or even so much as a stolen kiss, not yet. You had to start slow if you wanted to do this right. Logan set his own place, put his phone down on the table next to his napkin, and tucked in.

The soup itself was nice enough for something that had come condensed in a can, though the dash of spiced oil Logan had added when he’d first mixed it helped bring out the flavor a bit. The first course on a reunion day was never about fancy cooking but about reminding Bajram’s stomach how nice it was being able to digest things again instead of relying on nutrients piped directly into his bloodstream.

“How’re the legs, kid? Got feeling in all your toes yet?” asked Logan after a while.

“Yeah, they’re good.” Bajram scooped the mystery sprig off the top of his soup and chewed on it. He managed it so deftly there wasn’t so much as a spot on his dining gloves. “I think I’ll be able to stand indefinitely once we’re done with dinner. I can think of much better ideas than just standing, though.”

“I’m sure you can.”

They made it through almost the entire course before Bajram pushed away his empty bowl and chose to address the elephant in the room. “So tell me more about this thing I’ve got up my ass, boss. You’re usually not much of a props and toys kind of guy.” That was certainly a true statement. Bajram could never be accused of being insufficiently forward, that was for damned sure.

Logan pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and drained another spoonful of soup. “It’s a straightforward modified anal plug toy with a powerful variable-intensity vibrator built into it. Uses a basic teledildonics framework to determine when it’s active and to what degree, with a few extras here and there to streamline performance. I made an app for it.” He tapped his phone with his finger for emphasis.

“I thought you were more involved with moving parts than code chunks,” said Bajram as he wiggled in his seat.

Logan snorted. “All these years of working on digital interfaces for your damn fool brain and you think I can’t handle a little basic programming?” Not that maintaining an existing framework was the same as making something from scratch. It had taken a lot of library books and a lot more swearing to get the thing working properly, to be perfectly honest, but that wasn’t important. “A man’s got to have a hobby.”

Bajram chuckled. “And you needed another one since I wasn’t around to be mean to, huh?”

Instead of answering, Logan wiped his mouth, cleared the used bowls and spoons, and pulled the main course plates from where they’d been warming in the oven. The roasted asparagus and gravy-drizzled brisket looked fit for…maybe not a professional restaurant, but at least a magazine that regularly dedicated space to making decorations out of spare circuitry and similar household objects. Once again he got closer than necessary when serving and once again neither said anything about it, since that was the entire point of the exercise.

It tasted as good as it looked, much to Logan’s relief; he’d halfway worried that it’d be indistinguishable from the boxes the ingredients came in, but everything was as flavorful as a meal you’d find planetside. It was a fitting homecoming feast. He ate quietly and so did Bajram, and while it was nice at first Logan found himself getting bored with the silence. They weren’t even talking about the weather. Here he had a well-dressed man with a very specific toy in a very specific place, and a reunion just wasn’t appealing if the slow burn was too slow. It was time to play unfairly.

He slowly slid his finger along his phone’s screen and kept his eyes on Bajram’s face. Bajram twitched very subtly; he was able to finish his current bite of brisket, but then carefully put his fork back on the napkin and swallowed hard.

“That’s pretty distracting, boss.”

“Is it?” He flicked the control wheel up a bit. Bajram gasped quietly in response. “It’s on very low right now,” Logan continued, idly nudging the value back down until the little plug was operating at the gentlest tangible thrum. “I think tonight’s goal will be for you to finish dinner without making a jackass of yourself. We can watch some television afterwards. That’ll be easy on your legs, right?”

“You could say that, yeah,” said Bajram. He took a deep breath, picked up his fork again, and went for a bite of asparagus. Logan defied expectations by not suddenly ramping things up mid-bite; there was casual sadism and then there were choking hazards, and he had no patience for the latter.

Now that Logan’s side project was in play dinner became a lot more fun. While Bajram was talking he was at risk of sudden spikes of vibration, and while he was chewing Logan would slowly tinker with the ebb and flow so it was impossible to get completely used to it. He’d left the definition of what “making a jackass of oneself” meant intentionally vague to see what Bajram would do with it, and it appeared that today’s interpretation was “mentioning the plug or openly acknowledging its presence in any way.” This made small talk very entertaining once Logan started tapping different options to punctuate his statements. Bajram managed to keep his cool through it all, which Logan had to respect; if it hadn’t been for the sweat beading on his forehead it almost would have looked like they were having a perfectly normal little date.

When he cleared their plates a second time he was pleased to see that Bajram both had a furious boner and was trying with all his might to obscure it with the folds in his clothing. Being too forward with his own wants, even without saying anything, might’ve come off as making an ass of oneself, Logan supposed. He approved of that kind of lateral thinking.

“Ready for some dessert, kid?” he asked in his most conversational tone, refilling Bajram’s glass in the process. He’d left the dial on a six and a half out of ten and Bajram was already clutching white-knuckled at the edge of the table. Going off of logarithmic math with its orders of magnitude instead of a strict arithmetical scale had been one of Logan’s better ideas, at least once he’d figured out how to keep the motors from burning out after two minutes.

“I’m happy for whatever you’ll give me, sir,” said Bajram. His voice was shaky. “You’re the boss.”

Logan patted the top of Bajram’s head. “Glad to hear it. Now then, time for ice cream.”

Things went back down to a three for most of dessert, since otherwise Bajram would’ve spent the entire course gritting his teeth instead of enjoying his food, and Logan hadn’t gone through the trouble of finding that one specific peach flavor Bajram liked and a jar of strawberry sauce just to have him stare at it. This didn’t mean Logan didn’t sometimes inch his hand over to the dial and let it hover there just to watch Bajram sweat, of course. Why waste a perfectly good opportunity?

They talked about blatantly neutral topics, like what other ships Bajram had seen during his flight and things Logan had heard over the open-band transmitter, until nothing remained of dinner and both of their glasses were empty. Bajram moved to clear his place, but before he could so much as swing his heels off the ottoman Logan stopped him with a wave of his hand.

“I’ll handle the dishes,” he said. He cocked his thumb towards the living room. “You get yourself comfortable on the couch, okay, kid? I’ll be in shortly.”

“Yes, sir!” His eyes twinkled with mischief. A bit of the usual cheekiness had crept back into his voice over the course of the dessert course, which was good. There was no point in messing with Bajram if he wasn’t enjoying it, too.

Getting out of a chair with the post-flight wobbles was never a terribly dignified process, much less when there were any extracurricular insertions involved, so Logan found excuses to stay in the kitchen and clean things while Bajram limped from one room to the other. He turned the dial back down to its inactive setting just in case. There was enough leftover brisket and potatoes for a lunch or two, which Logan tucked away in the fridge for later; mostly-prepared meals would be extremely useful if they were going to be fucking each other every waking moment. Once the last glass was drying on the rack he flicked his phone back to the time. Seven minutes seemed long enough to keep Bajram waiting, so Logan dried his hands on a dish towel and went to join him in front of the TV.

There were plenty of things for Bajram to prop his legs up on in the living room, chief among them the overstuffed recliner next to the bookshelf he kept full of impenetrable academia, but Logan had told him to be on the couch, which meant he was being a tremendous little shit and sprawling longways on it. Logan palmed his phone from his pocket and brandished it menacingly, which got Bajram’s attention: he straightened up instantly, his heels still resting on a throw cushion. As soon as Logan took a seat Bajram cuddled up against him. Formal clothing was more meant for looking at than being affectionate in, but damned if Bajram didn’t try, even as he had to contort himself to keep his boner from showing too much. Logan put his arm around Bajram’s side and flipped on the screen.

It didn’t matter what they watched, since the point of the exercise was more about messing with Bajram than anything else, so Logan found one of the local streams and bathed the room in a background murmur of news from across the belt. The curtains were drawn and the lighting was cozy, both almost certainly Bajram’s doing. That was enough setting the scene; there was a certain needy boyfriend to attend to.

Logan set his phone on the arm of the sofa and flicked it from its remote control setting back to the far more interesting homemade app. He dragged his thumb along the intensity dial, going from nothing up to two, and then to three, and then wibbled back and forth a bit between three and a half and four. Bajram winced but kept quiet. An outside viewer might have assumed that the two sharply-dressed men on the couch were having a normal couple’s night in after attending some sort of function, and that bit of smoke and mirrors made what was actually going on all the better. Even their measured dull conversation about the equally dull asteroid drift report was doing its part.

The news feed cut to a commercial and Bajram stirred. Logan lifted his arm to let Bajram shift his weight, but that just resulted in Bajram “accidentally” getting a bit too close to Logan’s cock as he did so. As far as Logan was concerned there was only one way to keep a borderline-misbehaving boyfriend in line when they hadn’t been given permission to touch him that way, and that was with a firm and demanding hand. He calmly ramped the meter up to eight.

It got results immediately. Bajram gripped the embroidered edge of his sleeve between his teeth and whined through his nose, his captured hand a tight fist and the other clung to the couch as though his life depended on it. His forehead was shiny with sweat that caught the light nearly as brilliantly as his chromed ports did. It must’ve taken every ounce of self-control on his part not to come right there, and Logan glowed; Bajram was holding back because he hadn’t been given permission to blow his load, and he’d keep giving it his best shot until either Logan said so or Bajram succumbed to his own traitorous anatomy. That was dedication to their weird sex thing.

It would’ve been fun to say nothing and watch Bajram twist in the wind until he finally gave out, but it would’ve been irresponsible, too. You didn’t set someone up for sexy failure unless you agreed on it beforehand. Sometimes they did just that, in fact, but Bajram had just gotten home and Logan wasn’t yet feeling like being the cruel disciplinarian who could never be pleased, so he settled on a suitably achievable goal.

“Hey, kid,” said Logan. He turned the dial back down to a less tooth-rattling intensity. “I’ve decided what’s going to happen next.”

Bajram made a curious sound up in his throat but didn’t say anything. He at least had the decency to release his sleeve, though his free hand was still clawed in a death grip against the cushions.

“You’re going to take your cock out and you’re going to leave it there without touching yourself,” said Logan, “and I’m going to increase the setting on the toy in your ass until things reach their natural conclusion. Give me a good show. If you get any come on the couch that’s it, we’re done, same if you get any on me. Those are your rules. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir!”

The first thing Bajram did was push against the couch with his legs until he was more properly sprawled, his shoulders in Logan’s lap and his head propped up against Logan’s leg. The second thing he did was unbutton his jacket to make the crisp silk underneath ripple like silver in the low light, and the shirt itself followed suit until there was a stripe of exposed tan skin running from the scarf around his neck to the silver-buckled belt at his waist. His gloved fingers unfastened the catch with practiced ease. As soon as he pulled the buttons free of his fly the outline of his fabric-caged cock rose up eagerly. Logan noted with amusement that Bajram had changed into the underwear with the hummingbirds on it. At least it wasn’t the pair that said World’s Greatest Huitzil Jockey on the band. They were already dark with pre-come.

Actually getting his cock out without touching it was easier said than done for Bajram, but Logan hadn’t given him the task because it was going to be easy: with someone who needed as much time and attention as Bajram, you had to make sure they felt like they had to work for it now and again or they’d feel like it wasn’t worth it. He hooked his thumbs into the band of his ridiculous hummingbird boxers and carefully coaxed them away from, and then over, his shaft, and with a bit of finagling he had his entire cock out with his boxers pushing snugly against his balls. He put one hand behind his head and let the other drape across his chest. Logan would’ve paid good money for a painting of how Bajram had arranged himself, birds and all.

Now that Bajram was properly on display it was time to put that body of his to good use. Logan started him off at a fierce, constant five, then let his thumb edge back and forth along the dial. He could feel Bajram shudder every time it edged closer to six. That was good, but not good enough, so Logan listened to his inner evil bastard and set the thing to pulse between a seven and a point a little past eight.

The vibrations were intense enough for him to faintly feel them through Bajram’s torso, which meant Bajram himself was probably having an encounter with the Almighty. It certainly showed: he arched his back and made some truly excellent noises, his voice soon raw from pleading. He asked for Logan to touch him, for permission to touch himself, for the plug to be turned off, for the plug to be turned up, for anything that could get him out of his sexual Limbo one way or the other. Logan wanted to run his fingers through Bajram’s hair and tell him just how good he looked, but he resisted the urge, his face remaining stony. Affection was for later. Besides, if he couldn’t control himself in a situation like this, what right did he have taking responsibility for Bajram when they were doing something that was actually emotionally intense?

Bajram dug his heels into the couch as he writhed. He wasn’t quite thrashing—and he wouldn’t dare, not with his head so likely to crack Logan in a sensitive spot—but he still wasn’t shy about being caught up in the throes of ecstasy. The seconds passed with unreal slowness as his cries left him breathless. Logan could’ve shouted Bajram’s name in his ear and gotten no response, he was so far gone, and the thought of having rendered someone so helpless and having them go along with it was intoxicating. Just as Logan was entertaining thoughts of filming the proceedings Bajram gulped for air like a diver, tensed his entire body, and finally, finally came.

His orgasm left a milk-colored trail up his sculpted midsection and part of the way down his equally defined left oblique, and while his shirt was in imminent peril he’d managed not to get any of it on the cushions. A man just coming off a liquid diet could make a surprising amount of come when suitably motivated. Logan slowly powered down the plug and then flipped it off. Bajram twitched a bit afterward, then looked up at Logan with a look of weary bliss.

Logan squeezed his shoulder. “You did good, kid. I’m impressed you lasted as long as you did.”

“It was a fierce fight between me and my quisling prostate, boss.”

“You and your fancy goddamn vocabulary,” said Logan, stroking Bajram’s hair. He mopped up Bajram’s sticky stomach with a wetnap from a box in the side table. “That was a damn good show, though, I’d say it’s worth a reward. Got anything in mind?”

Bajram smiled like a dog in the sun. “I want to get wrecked.”

Logan raised his eyebrows. That was very good news, indeed, but no matter how good the news might be you still had to follow safety procedures. “And you’re sure that’s you want?” he asked, making eye contact and holding it. “You know what you’re asking for.”

“Just fuck me up, boss.”

Logan molded his features into an artfully disgusted scowl. He took Bajram’s chin in his hand, forced him upright, and tightened his grip just enough to make a point. It was time to get into character. “Ask for it the right way.”

“Just fuck me up, sir.

He released Bajram long enough to stand, then hauled him upright by the lapels and half-pulled, half-dragged him to the bedroom. Bajram obediently fell to his knees with the barest suggestion—both of them careful to keep him on a padded mat for the sake of his circulation—and leaned backwards, baring his chest and crossing his wrists behind his back even as his clothes tried their damndest to fall off of him. It was uncanny how he could look so confident and so yielding at the same time. A man who knew exactly how hot he was was a dangerous beast, and those dark eyes of his hadn’t gotten any less pretty than the first time he’d sucked Logan off in a carrier supply room.

Fancy plots and detailed exchanges had their place, but Logan had been craving some garden-variety dominance for weeks and he didn’t want to risk fucking Bajram too hard while his ass was still tender. Instead he unfastened his dress pants just enough to pull his cock out while keeping the rest of him hidden beneath dark fabric. Said cock was distractingly hard and had been since part of the way through dinner, but he still gave himself a few showy strokes as though he had to convince himself Bajram was worth his time. Logan couldn’t help but be pleased at how hungry Bajram looked when Logan took him by the hair and pressed his cock against the bridge of Bajram’s nose.

A twist of the hand forced Bajram to tilt his head back and look Logan in the eye, Logan’s pink-brown glans still hot and close against Bajram’s skin. “What is this?” Logan asked with a predatory glare.

“Your cock in my face, sir.”

“And why is it there?”

“Because I wanted it, sir.”

“You’re goddamn right,” he snarled, and yanked Bajram’s mouth open. As Bajram’s lips brushed against his shaft he couldn’t help but think of himself as the luckiest man in the belt.

Two full-length sleeps later, Bajram was relaxing on the front lawn in his favorite tacky sandals when Logan’s shadow fell across his face. He pushed down his aviator sunglasses with one finger, his expression somewhere between curious and come-hither; in his defense both were pretty reasonable. Logan tossed him his jacket.

“Go out and get us some groceries, kid. I wrote you up a list and I know you’re already fidgety about not getting to tool around between the stars a little.”

Bajram sat up a little straighter in his chair. “Yeah? You’re actually letting me out of your sight?”

“You’ve been on the ground for two whole days, I’ve fucked you cross-eyed for most of the time you’ve been awake, and navigating the supply depot to pick up flour bags will be a nice lead-in to the coming week’s more focused PT. It’ll be good for you. You’re going to be taking the Sandpiper.”

“Aw!”

“Don’t you ‘aw’ me, kid, I know you’d find an excuse to ignore incredibly reasonable medical advice to go on a sun run if you got your ass back in something suited for interstellar travel. You will get in the flying roller skate and you will like it.” The damndest thing was that Bajram probably would, too, and he’d do so in a completely genuine way. Logan could appreciate a man who knew what he loved.

They reviewed the list briefly, since they had grown up in different enough parts of the galaxy to think of different brands for different topics, and they outlined the approximate expected budget for the trip. After much discussion Logan was even able to convince Bajram to keep his jacket on while shopping; a Sandpiper didn’t require a plugsuit to function, so he theoretically could’ve just worn a tank top to pick up some snacks, but nobody wanted to have the conversation about how all of Bajram’s hideous welts and bruises were given consensually, or at least they didn’t want that in the middle of comparing prices of cereal.

“You remember how to get to the depot from here?”

“Sure do, boss,” said Bajram with a flash of a thumbs up. “It’s over the bowls of memory where every hollow holds a marshmallow.”

Logan paused. “I have no idea what half the shit coming out of your mouth means, kid.”

“That’s cool, I don’t think that author did, either.”

He likely would have continued quoting books Logan had never read until he drew his last breath, so Logan shooed Bajram into the cockpit with a bit of manufactured bluster. They shared a lingering kiss—another thing Bajram could indulge in indefinitely, though a far more welcome one—before Logan stepped back and shrugged into his protective gear. Bajram took the hint; a few minutes later he was already past the atmos barrier and speeding his way towards aisles full of drink mix and dehydrated broccoli crowns.

Logan watched the Sandpiper’s propulsion trail zoom away until even the faintest afterimages faded away, then palmed his phone from his pocket and dialed a number he’d been careful to not even include in his contacts list.

“Okay,” he said into the receiver. “Let’s do this.”

A few hours later the Sandpiper landed on the little loading strip in front of the house, where it dispensed Bajram and two bags of packaged foodstuffs. Logan was waiting for him by the front door. Bajram waved at him between rounds of juggling packages.

“Hey, boss, I saw on the activity report we had a dropoff while I was out. We get some mail-order supplies in or something?”

“You could say that. Come on around back.”

Bajram glanced down at his bags. “Should I put these up first?”

“Just come on.”

Logan strode across the lawn with Bajram in tow. He motioned for Bajram to stand back before tapping a key to the locking mechanism on the hangar. Even in the Podunk, Nowhere parts of the belt Logan would likely never be broken of his habit of locking up after himself, especially after how much breaking and entering he’d done as a teenager. A wise man never gambled with his livelihood.

The doors opened. Bajram dropped the groceries, sending double-wrapped boxes sliding along the hangar floor. “Oh my God.”

Sitting in the hangar was a sleek, freshly-washed fighter; its paint job was a familiar iridescent green, complete with the signature red mark on the undercarriage, and even if it’d been blue with orange polka dots nothing could’ve concealed the silhouette of a Huitzil, herald of death and liberation. The weapons had almost definitely been tampered with to make it a museum piece, but it wasn’t like they weren’t in the presence of a career Navy man who could strip and rebuild a plasma turret in under a day. The Albatross sharing the hangar was technically much larger, but the fighter still managed to dwarf it through sheer presence alone. The name Meltemi was emblazoned on the fighter’s side, immediately above the barbaric-yet-distinctive kill tally that had been incremented after each successful mission.

The special cargo had arrived.

Logan put his arm around Bajram’s shoulders. “You remember how we didn’t know what the brass did with shit once it got decommissioned?” He gestured at the Meltemi. “I found out.”

“Oh my God,” breathed Bajram. “It must’ve cost a fucking fortune.”

“Don’t remind me, kid.” Logan had spent enough time balancing all his books to last a lifetime. He still sometimes dreamed about paperwork. “Worth it, though. I know you missed your other half.”

Left to his own devices Bajram probably could have swooned in place indefinitely, so Logan stepped back and gave him a little nudge towards the fighter. “Go on, say hi,” he said.

No sooner than the last syllable had left Logan’s lips Bajram was clinging to one of the wing segments and stroking its finish. “Hello, sweet baby,” he crooned to it. “Never thought I’d get to see you again. I think about you all the time. Remember how we used to fly together and explode the fuck out of guys? I do….” It was like listening to someone speaking to a very small dog. Logan couldn’t really blame him, though; he’d worked on the Meltemi and the Meltemi alone his entire time aboard the Wendy, and the thought of someone else digging around in its inner workings inspired the kind of venomous jealousy he could only pretend at when scening with Bajram.

After what seemed like an eternity of snuggling his spaceship Bajram wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his plugsuit and turned back to face Logan. “This is incredible. I thought they were going to, like, salvage the parts. Or sell it to a collector or something.”

“Technically they did.”

Bajram raspberried. “You know what I mean, boss. Could it still fly? Maybe?”

“Registered to this hangar and verified void-legal by the Powers That Be, though I’ll be fucked if I’m letting you in that thing without going over the systems myself.” It was for entirely legitimate safety reasons and not just because he was itching to get back up to his armpits in top-quality fighter hardware, or at least that was what Logan told himself was the case. He thumped one of the temporarily offline weapons bays with his knuckles. “If you’re going to go hunting for space pirates you should probably be equipped for if you actually find some.”

“I could even bust up a few parts of the belt into smaller asteroids! It’ll be just like that one historical vector recreation I showed you and you’ve probably already forgotten about!” Bajram laid a kiss next to the I in the fighter’s name. “So do I get my own theme song, too?”

“No.”

“Aw, boss….” Bajram only feigned disappointment for a moment before he found more to explore on the ship. He popped open the cockpit, which was its own source of fond memories: it was home to the first time Logan had ever fucked someone in a fighter, and if he had his say it’d be the only time. Appreciating Bajram’s ass as he leaned inside to ogle the instruments was a whole other ballgame, of course. He was already thinking of excuses for Bajram to “help” with the upcoming calibrations as often as possible.

After a final circumnavigation of the fighter Bajram bounced back Logan’s way to envelop him in a deviously strong hug. His grin was so broad it risked cracking his face. “So this is really happening, right? It’s paid off in full?”

Logan nodded. “It’ll require being careful with my private stuff since my savings are going to be fucking devastated for a while, but it’s entirely in my name. The Meltemi is officially mine.”

“Yeah, he is,” said Bajram, and he moved Logan’s fingers to brush against the ID tattoo on his bicep.

Their eyes met and Logan had to fight to keep from succumbing to his sudden surfeit of emotions. The hangar lights made the fighter’s green paint glow like he imagined the hills of Bajram’s homeland did in the summertime. It was a Moment, a capital-M Moment, and it would have been perfect if Bajram had had the decency to keep his big mouth shut. “So when’s my vigilante license coming in? I wanna go shoot stuff! Have I ever told you about this one English-language archaeodocument called The Last Starfighter…?”

Logan groaned. When it came to metamorphic-chassis vessels, some things never changed.

 

 

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