by Aosora Hikaru (青空ヒカル)
illustrated by DragonReine
The cards were not in my favor tonight. My supply of credits had dwindled down to nearly nothing, and I didn’t even have enough to deal in for another game, much less feed myself the next day.
“Tough luck, Andy.” The dealer gave me a half-hearted smile. “Maybe tomorrow.”
“Yeah, maybe.” God, I hate it when people call me Andy. I tapped at the screen on the table a few times and opted out of the game, taking my glass as I left.
My name is Andrew Barton. I, like others who frequent this and many other casinos through the galaxy, operate a cargo ship. It’s one of those jobs that little kids dream of having and most adults would never admit they dreamed of. It has a great element of freedom, since if you work small enough you’re the only person on your ship. Nobody else to worry about, nobody else to cater to — except for your client, of course.
It’s a simple job, and I have always appreciated the simplicity. The best part about running a cargo ship route is that you don’t have to think or solve problems; you just pick up the shipment, deliver it to its destination, and then hit the local casino to relax, drink, and spend some of your payment.
Or all of your payment, like I had tonight. I needed to find a quick smuggling job before the night was over, or else I’d get to find out if I left any emergency rations hidden in my galley.
This casino was one of the nicer ones. There are plenty of more questionable places, especially in this system; with more cheaters and more games where the stakes are higher than your money. You can always tell as soon as you walk in: the more vaheera there are pole-dancing along the walls, the better off you are. I was far from Earth right now, clear across the galaxy. There’s always a nice mix of alien races, but those slender vaheera with their hair that somehow glows in the fucking dark prefer the classier, upscale places. Less guns there, normally. Not that it matters; most of the aliens I encounter could break my neck with their fingertips.
It takes balls to smuggle.
Since I’d been gambling there, the casino supplied me with free food and alcohol. The exotic suashani cocktail I’d been sipping was nearly gone, but at least I didn’t have to worry about going to bed hungry that night. The longer I had played, the more critically the dancers along the walls had looked at me, because of course if I could sit in games that long they assumed I had lots of money to burn.
The dancers aren’t just eye candy, they’re samples on display. For the right price, they can take the sting out of losing, or so they say. The human dancers, of course, are familiar and comfortable, good for when you’re homesick. The vaheera have only slight differences from humans, like the females’ lack of breasts despite familiar face shapes, and differences in their sexual anatomy. They’re more… flexible about what they are willing to do, and even with what they’re capable of doing. The suashani dancers, though, are unlike anything most humans have ever seen, from what I’ve been told; I’ve never had the desire to hire one.
I preferred not to spend my money on them, and I planned to keep it that way. I’ve had a rough life. My dad abandoned us when I was a kid to become a cargo courier — ironic, I know — and I ran off as a teenager. I got caught up in bad crowds, got into a lot of street fights, fucked a lot of guys just to have a place to crash for a night. The idea of paying someone for sex brought up too many fucked-up memories.
A look around the gambling floor told me there was nobody there who would hire me for a smuggling job. Maybe I’d have more luck at the bar…
“Hey there, cutie. Where you going so fast?”
I’d passed too close to a dancer, and his sights were locked on me. He leaned against the doorway, blocking my exit into the bar. He was human, with red hair that hit him about mid-back, making me aware of my own sloppy, self-cut brown mop. His body was skinny, clad with clingy clothes. With his face turned up to me, I could see the glitter shimmering on his cheeks and the false eyelashes scattered among his own.
So he was looking for a male customer, then. He had to be, with this attire. If I were interested in sleeping with one of them, he would probably be the one I’d choose.
“That’s none of your damn business.”
He cocked his head to the side and pushed his lips into a dramatic pout. “Don’t be like that, sugar. That’s no way to greet someone.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and heaved a sigh. Fine. No use being rude. “Name’s Barton. Who are you?”
“Oh, well, I can be whoever you want me to be.” His blue eyes danced with his wide grin. “I’m flexible like that.”
My eyes rolled so hard, it damn near felt like they were about to fall out onto the floor. “Don’t pull that shit. It isn’t going to work on me. Seriously, how fucking cliché can you be?”
He laughed. “Call me Caerwyn. I see you’re going into the bar,” he said, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder. “Why don’t we get a drink?”
While another drink would have been nice, I knew that what he meant was, Do you want to buy me a drink? which always leads to Where are you staying? and Why don’t we go back to your place?
Even if I had the inclination or desire to fuck a whore, I couldn’t afford it.
“No. Not tonight.”
He sighed again. “All right. Sad to give up spending the evening with such a handsome guy as you, though.”
“I’m sure you’ll survive. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have business to attend to.”
He nodded and slipped back to his spot along the wall, his body picking up the rhythm of the music. The way he wrapped his body around the pole drew my attention for a few minutes. There was strength in the way he lifted himself with his arms and spun himself around the pole, then controlled his descent. I had to admit he was good for this job, very pretty. Lithe, I guess, would be a good word to use.
Once I arrived at the bar I discarded my empty glass, then turned my attention to the patrons contained within. There had to be someone here who needed something moved without attracting the attention of the authorities.
There in the corner in a secluded booth, I saw Claudius Blackrake, known to most as a good, law-abiding businessman. He’d hired me to smuggle a few times before. No guns, he never moved guns, but he did move drugs. They weren’t illegal, not technically, but anyone caught with the amounts he always wanted me to smuggle would be thrown in jail long enough for them to have become grandparents, if they had any children.
I approached his table with my head held high. This was no time to be nervous. I passed his bodyguards without care for their reactions. “Claudius.”
He grinned wickedly as he leaned forward onto the table, bringing his face into the light. A handsome, wealthy man, he usually had his pick of woman — or women — with him in his booth. Not tonight, it seemed. “Ah, Mr. Barton, so lovely to see you. I take it your gambler’s luck wasn’t with you, tonight?”
“That’s not important, Claudius. I know that when you come here, you’re usually here looking for someone to hire. If that is why you’re here, I’m your man.”
Claudius laughed, then waved off his bodyguards. “Fair enough. I have a job, yes. Simple transport. Nothing risky, just black crystal.”
Yeah, nothing risky, just the sort of drugs that could get me stabbed or shot if people knew I had some. Wicked addictive, just the withdrawals were enough to drive a man to murder. “All right. How much?”
“Fifteen crates. I’ll pay you twenty thousand credits upon your safe return here with proof of delivery.”
Fifteen crates was a lot of black crystal to move, but twenty thousand credits was a lot of money. A tough call.
Of course, there was the matter of feeding myself and making sure I had enough fuel for the trip. “All right, but I’m going to need five thousand of that up front, for overhead.”
The seconds ticked by as Claudius looked at me, holding my gaze as if he hoped merely staring me down would persuade me to wait for my payment in full. Once I had proven that I was serious, he nodded. “All right. Five thousand credits now, and an additional fifteen thousand upon your return with the delivery receipt.”
I nodded. “You’ve got a deal, Claudius.”
Claudius took a long draw from the drink in front of him, then slid a contract over to me. “Is your ship in the same docking bay as usual?”
“Yeah, same bay as always.” I took the pen offered to me, signing my name with a flourish. “I’m looking forward to it.”
After Claudius accepted the signed contract, he pulled out his palm computer and tapped in a few commands. “The five thousand will be in your account by morning. Understand that if you fail this delivery, you will need to repay this. Until the delivery is complete, it is merely a loan. The stock will be ready for you to load in two days.”
Two days. All right, I could handle two days. As long as I didn’t waste it all on booze and card games, I could make it. “I’ll be there.”
I had a good hand. Chances of me winning this game were excellent, and then tomorrow I would load up my cargo and leave with more money than I’d received that morning. I reached down to tap the screen in front of me on the card table, but stopped when a breathy whisper ruffled the hair over my ear.
“Hello, Barton. How lovely to see you again.”
I increased the bet, then turned to raise a brow at Caerwyn, who took a seat on the empty stool next to me. The dealer reached over to activate the screen in front of him for the next game, but Caerwyn held up his hand and shook his head. “No need; I’ll just be joining Mr. Barton here for a bit.”
I paid close attention as the other players cast their bets or folded, then drew my next card as I hissed, “Why are you here?”
Caerwyn peered over my shoulder and regarded my cards with an intense gaze, then whispered again, “You should discard this one here, then draw again.” His fingers when he reached out to touch the card in question were long and slender, the fingernails immaculate with their pearlescent gray lacquer. The way his pale skin stood out against my own darker complexion was breathtaking.
“And just why should I take gambling advice from you?”
He grinned, then leaned in, making a show of the way his lips brushed against my ear. “Because I have been here long enough to see many games and figure out some good general strategies. Discard that one, then draw again. Trust me.”
I shivered from the combination of his body pressed against mine and the teasing brushes of his lips on my ear, then shook my head quickly. Everyone else around the table looked worried as they stared at their hands. Either way, I would do well this game. I discarded just as Caerwyn had indicated, then drew another card. I bit my lips against a gasp as Caerwyn’s hand slid along my thigh, the slender fingers teasing along the seam at the inside of my leg the whole way up.
“See? You can’t lose with this hand. It’s impossible. Go ahead and call it. End the game. Take your spoils, then buy me a drink.”
Caerwyn was right; he’d gotten me a game-winning hand. And with the way his fingers chased along the seam ever-closer to my rapidly hardening dick, it was becoming increasingly more difficult to come up with a reason why I shouldn’t buy him a drink. What harm could one drink with him do? I’d been planning on buying myself one anyway.
My winnings from that game doubled my pocket money, and at Caerwyn’s urging I quit while I was ahead. Normally I would have kept going, kept pressing my luck until I had nothing left, but he was firm in his insistence — as were his fingers under my balls, pressing against that spot that left my underwear feeling more damp by the passing moment.
When I transferred the winnings to my palm computer and rose from the table, Caerwyn slipped under my arm. He was shorter than me and his cheek rested against my chest, which was a pleasant sensation. Even if he was only pretending to be interested in hopes I’d pay for the chance to fuck him, I could at least imagine that he genuinely wanted me because he was attracted to me, as I was to him.
Fuck, what happened to me? I was seriously interested in a fucking whore.
I resolved to not spend the night with Caerwyn. I would buy him a drink, we would talk, and then I would go back to my cot on my ship alone. No prostitutes. That was my rule, and I would stick to it. It felt too close to what I used to let other men do to me.
Caerwyn rested a hand on my chest, fingers splaying open over the thin material of my shirt. It wasn’t cotton, that was only from Earth, but a soft flax-like material that grew on the suashani’s home planet. Cheaper on this side of the galaxy. The touch was comforting in a way only the reminder of what another individual’s touch felt like could be. All of this was adding up to just feel right.
I shivered again when Caerwyn rose up onto his tiptoes and dragged his tongue along my ear. “Blue looks fantastic on you. So mysterious and sexy.” His fingers trailed down my chest, dragging up the hem of my shirt to brush the hairs on my lower stomach. “I can’t resist you like this.”
Alarms sounded in my head. This was dangerously close to seduction, something he was obviously very skilled in. What should I do? Should I just turn him down and remind him that I’m not going to pay him for sex, or should I just go through with the date and not take him home? What’s the protocol for cuddling? Will I have to pay him for that, too, or is the drink sufficient compensation? Why did the whole thing have to be so fucking complicated?
“What do you want to drink?” I felt awkward even asking and knew the words sounded stilted. It was such an abrupt change of subject, and I was certain it’d kill his mood.
Instead, he smiled, his fingers moving the hairs on my stomach just enough to tickle and remind me they were still there. It felt good, just barely shy of too much. “I’ll just have vodka and juice. Whatever kind you like.”
I knew why he said that; I knew that he hoped for me to kiss him and taste whatever I liked to increase the likelihood of taking him home. Even knowing that, I’d still order bitterfruit juice with his vodka, a combination I enjoyed. At the least, his breath would smell of the fruit even if I wasn’t aiming to kiss him tonight.
“All right,” I said, following his lead to a secluded booth in the corner of the bar. “You stay here. I’ll go get the drinks.”
He beamed at me and despite how bright his smile was, I could see vulnerability and a hint of fear in his eyes, see the way the smile faltered for just a moment. How many times, I wondered as my heart skipped a beat, had he been abandoned there while his mark was ‘getting drinks?’
I waited at the bar while the tender made the drinks: Caerwyn’s requested vodka and juice, and my own simple vaheera liquor. I left a generous tip and grinned at the bartender, then took the drinks back to the table. Caerwyn’s face lit up again, confirming my earlier suspicion. Of course, my previous treatment of him probably didn’t help, either; he had good reason to worry I’d leave while he wasn’t looking. I could swear there was a vise gripping my chest with the knowledge of what I’d done to him.
“One vodka and bitterfruit.” I slid the glass in front of him and started to shift into the opposite side of the booth. I thought better of it, though, and sat next to him, draping my arm over the back of the seat. The least I could do was actually give a hint of how interested I was in him.
He picked up the drink and took a sip, then hummed with pleasure. “That tastes wonderful. Thank you.” He scooted closer, nestling himself against my side again. I let my arm drop from the back of the seat to wrap around his shoulders, and our bodies fit together in a way I’d never experienced before. It was as though the universe made his body to complete mine.
That was total bullshit, of course. There’s no such thing as a soulmate, right? Especially not one you meet in a casino, trying to get you to give him money to suck your dick.
I enjoyed talking with him as he was far more interesting than I could have anticipated, but then again, he earned his money by being interesting. Nobody would pay to fuck someone who bored them. He had extensive knowledge about gambling and card games, as he had proven earlier by showing me a trick I hadn’t figured out on my own. We discussed the various tricks and other tactics until our drinks were gone, and through a second round that I had flagged down a server for, unwilling to leave him alone there. The idea of not holding him against me was too much to bear. He was less elaborately made up tonight; no false eyelashes framed his blue eyes, but he was still breathtakingly beautiful. It’d hurt to go home alone tonight, but at least memories and imagination are free.
“So what’s your first name?” I could hear the grin in his voice, close against my ear as he spoke to be heard above the noise. “I know your last name is Barton, because obviously no parent would curse a son with that.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with Barton.” I picked up my glass and swirled the dredges of the vaheera liquor with ice. “I think that’d be a perfectly handsome first name.”
The exasperated look Caerwyn gave me showed that he wasn’t joking. He actually did want to know my name. Was this part of his game, an attempt to try and get me more invested?
“Fine. It’s Andrew.”
“Now that’s a perfectly handsome first name, right there.” Caerwyn nuzzled his nose against my neck. God, if he could have just kept that up… “I like it. Andrew Barton.”
“Caerwyn can’t be your actual name. If I’m correct, prostitutes don’t generally give clients — or potential clients — their real names.”
Caerwyn grinned, sliding his hand up my thigh again as he said, “You’re right. We don’t.”
“And you’re not going to tell me?”
It was getting harder to think with Caerwyn’s fingers moving against the fly of my pants, teasing my dick as it sprang to attention once again. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
His grin grew even wider and he said, “As serious as the plague. I won’t tell you.”
“Not ever? Not even if I ask really nicely?”
He laughed, shaking his head. His cheeks were even more ruddy than they appeared normally, and the rosiness only added to his beauty. “I’ve seen you around here enough times to know that you aren’t capable of asking anything really nicely.”
I canted my head to the side and regarded him with an amused gaze. “All right, then. What can I do to persuade you to tell me?”
He grew serious for a moment. “I won’t tell you until I get you to fuck me without wanting to pay.”
“Wait. How are you sure that I won’t just take you up on that?” I turned to face him. “Fucking guys for free is bad for business, after all.”
He grinned once more, leaning in close. “See? You’re not nearly as bad a guy as you think you are. I trusted that you wouldn’t take advantage of me like that. I like that about you.”
“You don’t know nearly enough about me to make that sort of judgement.” That took me by surprise, though. I’d assumed he was after me for money, but with him talking like that, it felt like he truly was interested. It was an intriguing revelation. I turned my face away to keep him from hearing and muttered, “At any rate, you’re closer to that than you think.”
Caerwyn made no indication of having heard or being curious about what I said last, so I let it be. I had only planned on one drink, though, so I leaned down to Caerwyn’s ear again. “Hey, I need to go. I have a job in the morning.”
He made a show of a dramatic pout, but straightened up and let me bring my arm back down to my side. I felt odd as he leaned away, like I’d just removed a comfortable piece of clothing. It left me feeling cold and somewhat naked.
“All right. I had fun tonight,” he said, then smiled and slid out of the booth after me. He reached up and cupped a hand to my cheek. “I hope I get to see you again very, very soon.” He tapped at the screen at the end of the table a few times, then pressed his thumb to the reader next to it. Obviously he’d need his print to exchange money; he had no place to keep a palm computer. “I’ll take care of the tip for the server.”
I nodded while trying not to think about how strange I felt without him in my arms. “Yeah, I hope we’ll see each other again. I’ll see you around.”
When Caerwyn walked away, hips swaying, my eyes betrayed me by checking out his ass. It was perfect, just round enough to draw your attention but not so round that it dominated his small frame. There were things he could do with that ass, I was sure, but my brain was producing too many examples for me to pick one specific idea out.
His timing was impeccable when he looked over his shoulder to see me staring, mouth slightly agape. “Try not to drool on your shirt,” he mouthed. He dropped another wink before turning his attention to a woman and immediately laying on the charm.
Oh. So it wasn’t just men he sought.
Flustered, I scrubbed a hand down my face and turned to leave. I would need to jerk off before my brain would wind down enough for me to sleep tonight.
As promised, Claudius had a group of his men waiting in my docking bay with fifteen crates of black crystal. They refused to let me help, and stated that they had very clear instructions from ‘Mr. Blackrake’ that I was not to touch the crates; once I arrived at my destination a few faster-than-light jumps away, a crew from the recipient’s entourage would unload them. All told, it made me very uneasy, but I couldn’t complain about the pay. What right did I have to question this?
My job right now, though, was to try to act as naturally as possible so as not to attract the attention of the station’s security.
It worked at first; idle small-talk with Claudius’ men was enough to distract the guards from paying attention to me. A few asked why they were there, and I told them it was a shipping job. Conveniently, one of Claudius’ men had a false shipping manifest, and that was enough to convince the curious guards.
I let my mind wander to the night before. Caerwyn had been a pleasure to spend time with, and now I felt a measure of guilt for being so rude to him the first time we met. His intelligence and gentle nature proved that he deserved far better than I had given him, and I never had apologized for it.
The corners of my mouth pulled down as that dawned upon me. He seemed willing to see me again, and his behavior last night convinced me that he was at least interested. I may not have been willing to hire a prostitute, but I was willing to try to date. If he could ignore the fact that I smuggled not-quite-illegal substances on the side for extra money, I could accept that he occasionally took money to let people fuck him.
“Excuse me, sir.”
I looked up to see a security guard in front of me, and a second one watching Claudius’ men with a suspicious eye.
“Yeah, what can I do for you?”
The guard in front of me jabbed his thumb back toward the cargo. “Can I ask what’s in these crates and why you have Claudius Blackrake’s men here helping you?”
Shit. These guards were smarter than average. “Well, I’m loading up to haul a few crates a few FTL jumps away.”
“That’s an awful lot of cargo for ‘a few crates.’ What’s really in there?”
I cleared my throat and rubbed a hand over the back of my neck. “Uh, well–”
“Oh, there you are, darling!” Caerwyn’s presence interrupted us, and the guard cast him a skeptical look until he grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me into a hard kiss, his tongue thrusting past my lips to stroke against my own. My eyes slipped closed and I let out a soft groan barely muffled by his mouth. His arms came around me just as I pulled him close, and we embraced there in front of the guard without care.
The guard cleared his throat, and while I released Caerwyn’s shoulder, he stayed glued to my side, his arm around my waist. After shifting his weight uncomfortably from one leg to the other, the guard said, “About that cargo…?”
“Oh, the cargo.” I brought my arm up around Caerwyn’s shoulders again, trying to ignore how it reminded me of the night before, and how much I had enjoyed his company.
Caerwyn spoke up before I could formulate another lie. “My dearest husband here, Mr. Barton, is loading up my purchases for our new home.” He cast a glance up at me, looking appropriately penitent. “I’m sorry, honey, I know you told me not to spend too much, but I couldn’t resist! There was just so much I fell in love with… Oh, I’m so happy that we’ll finally have the perfect home together!”
I smiled down at him, praying that it didn’t look too forced. “That’s all right. I’ll just have to pick up a few extra routes to make sure the house is exactly the way you want it. I want to make sure you have only the best.”
“Oh, you’re the sweetest!” Caerwyn cooed, reaching up to tap his fingertip against my nose.
“Well, if that’s what this is, then… I’ll leave you two to it.” The guard nodded to his counterpart and left with an extremely uncomfortable look.
Once I was sure they were out of earshot, I leaned down to Caerwyn’s ear. “Thank you,” I said, keeping my voice low. “You just saved my ass.”
He gave me an unrepentant grin and squeezed said ass. “You owe me, Andy.” He raised onto his tiptoes to kiss me on the cheek, then winked and left.
“Don’t call me–”
I actually didn’t mind him calling me Andy.
That was weird.
I looked up to meet who I presumed was the leader of Claudius’ men, surrounded by the others. He held his hand out and said, “You’re all set. Remember not to touch anything. They’ll report back to Mr. Blackrake if you do.”
“I understand.” I nodded and shook the man’s hand. “Don’t touch anything, make sure it gets there in one piece, get the delivery receipt.”
The man nodded in return, then led the group out of my docking bay.
I guess that was it. I was ready to head out. I double-checked my cargo hold’s lock to make sure it was secure, then boarded the ship and started her up. She was a simple freighter, and in some places it seemed like she was being held together with duct tape and a prayer, but she’d never failed me.
She was registered as the Saint Peter’s Hope, but I called her Daphne.
The undocking protocol was second-nature by now, and once I had set the course for the first faster-than-light jump, I got up to putter around the rest of the ship. Daphne was a good girl, and she’d get us there without me babysitting her. Of course, it’d take a couple of days until we got to the first checkpoint, but for the time being I could enjoy my solitude. I had books I could read, vids I could watch. A few games I’d been neglecting in favor of waiting for my next cargo run.
It only took a few hours for me to get antsy.
When I would sit and try to do something, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something critically important.
That night when I curled up on my spartan cot alone, I realized what it was.
I sat up and scrubbed a hand over my face. Caerwyn. Fuck. I had spent only a few hours in his presence, and now I missed him? I punched the pillow in frustration, then fell back onto it. This was going to be a very long two weeks if I was going to continue to feel like this.
The docking procedures for a moving vessel are always more complicated than the docking procedures for a stationary dock, like on a space station or a planet. I was glad for the distraction the process required, because the last two weeks had been hell. Every waking moment had been dominated by thoughts of Caerwyn, and no amount of jerking it could relieve me of them. I had never felt such all-consuming want before, and I was, quite frankly, terrified.
As promised, I didn’t have to lift a finger to unload my freighter, and after I confirmed that the delivery confirmation would be sent to my palm computer, I took the opportunity to go to a casino — not to gamble, I actually felt no need to for once, but to have a drink since I kept my galley dry. Hurtling yourself through space at faster-than-light speeds was a terrifying enough prospect while sober, anyway.
This casino wasn’t quite as classy as the one I generally preferred, back at my port of origin. You could feel the dirt when you walked in, giving you an overwhelming sense of urgently needing a shower. Men and women that you knew you didn’t want to mess with sat in shadowed alcoves, their eyes boring into you if you got close enough to overhear their conversations. Dancers dotted the walls and flitted between tables, peddling their wares and trying to get a warm bed to sleep in for the night.
I took a seat at the nearly-deserted bar, and tapped two fingers on it to get the bartender’s attention. I was closer to Earth now, and more familiar comforts were within my reach. The whiskey was expensive, but worth it after the fortnight I’d had.
With the glass in front of me and nobody around to disturb me, I started to think.
Caerwyn, if I opted to sleep with him, wouldn’t be my first. I’d whored myself out, once upon a time, for the same reason these dancers here were. I was homeless and hungry, and desperate men would give me a hot meal and a bed for the night, in exchange for my dignity.
I hated the idea of inflicting the same thing on Caerwyn. Would it be different for him, if I fucked him not as a client, but as a lover? Would he even view it that way? Would it feel just as disgusting, just as seedy? There wasn’t an easy way to ask if that’s how he would feel about it. Did he even know what that would feel like, to be considered his partner’s equal, and not just some tool to be used?
The other fact was undeniable: I was infatuated. Hell, I was probably falling head-over-heels in love with the guy, which was pretty hilarious considering I didn’t even know his real name.
Of course, I could have just been thinking with my dick. Would I feel the same after I’d had my way with him? Once I’d come, would I still feel the same, or would I personally regard it as a transaction, even if there was no money involved?
I didn’t want a one night stand, either.
I scowled down at the whiskey, as if it were holding back the answers to my questions. This was not an easy dilemma I had found myself in. This was the sort of thing that would gnaw at me, making my stomach churn and my pants too tight every time I thought about it — or him.
I knocked back the glass in one shot and shuddered with the burn, then tapped the bar again for a second.
I wouldn’t be flying back tonight, anyway. I could just drink myself into a stupor and sleep for one glorious night without having a dream about him.
I had the glass half-drained when I felt a slender hand on my shoulder. “Hey, sweetpea. What’s a guy like you doing here all alone?”
Behind me stood a vaheera. Male, by the looks of him, which made it a bit more difficult because I couldn’t blow him off because of his gender. Obviously he was desperate if he was here in this casino instead of a nicer one.
“Nothing. Just dropped off a delivery. I’m leaving again tomorrow.” The lack of heavy drinking recently had taken its toll; my speech already started to slur.
“Aw, only staying for the night?” He sank gracefully onto a stool next to me. The fluid movement reminded me of Caerwyn and my chest felt too small for my lungs. “What are you drinking?”
“Whiskey,” the bartender said. “Interested in buying him another?”
“No,” I said, at the same time the vaheera said, “Yes.”
He looked at me, his face illuminated by the soft glow of his hair. He was beautiful, I could see that despite the dim light of the bar with my vision starting to blur at the edges from the alcohol. Even Caerwyn couldn’t hold a candle to his supernatural beauty, and yet I felt nothing.
“I’m sorry,” I said, knocking back the last of my second glass.
“Please, let me buy you another,” he said, his voice soft and tinged with the sing-song musical tones they always seemed to carry in the nuances of their words. His violet eyes were locked with mine, and while the offer would have sounded tempting to me in another life, I shook my head.
“No. I… I have someone.”
The excuse shocked me, because I believed it. Caerwyn wasn’t even truly mine, but I wanted him to be, so badly. I didn’t want him to have to sell himself for food and housing. I didn’t want other hands on him, other mouths claiming his. I didn’t want him to feel another’s body against his own.
He was nearly mine, and I was feeling possessive as all hell in this moment.
Jealous anger welled up within me at the thought that he could be with another person at that moment, and I pushed myself back from the bar, jabbed a finger at the screen in front of my stool to pay my tab, and left without another word.
I needed to get back there. I needed Caerwyn. I needed him to be mine.
The closer I got to the docking port, the more anxious I grew. I knew I had to give Claudius Blackrake the delivery confirmation, but beyond that, I was at a bit of a loss. Could I just march onto the gambling floor to find Caerwyn? If he wasn’t there, I wasn’t sure what I would do.
If I caught him with another person — especially a man — I wasn’t sure what I would do, either. I wouldn’t be mad at Caerwyn, that much I did know, but the thought of what I might do to the person unfortunate enough to have his attention was the big question mark.
The last two weeks had been a bit of a roller coaster, mentally. I had swung widely between jealous fits at the mere thought of Caerwyn with someone and the realization that Caerwyn was a grown man capable of his own decisions. Besides, it wasn’t like I’d made a confession to him or anything.
“You owe me,” he’d said. What did I owe him?
Probably at least the common courtesy of not punching out the poor guy he was hitting on.
Even after I was docked, I sat in my cockpit in silence. I was paralyzed with the decision in front of me. I had no idea how to handle it.
I sighed and got up to leave Daphne. She’d done well. I knew she would; she was my girl. I could always depend on her, even if I couldn’t depend on anyone else.
I patted her lovingly as I jumped off the loading ramp. “That’s a good girl. I’ll be back later, baby.”
The bar was a bit more crowded than normal, but Claudius was there like normal, sitting in his secluded corner booth. This time he had a set of twin sisters with him, one on either side. They looked identical. I fought back the urge to let my disgust show.
“Claudius, I’ve got your delivery statement.”
He looked up at me, first annoyed at the interruption, but the expression quickly bled into a placid smile. “Ladies, if you’ll wait just a moment, Mr. Barton and I have a bit of business to conduct.”
The girls giggled and picked up their drinks, too self-absorbed to care what we were about to discuss.
“You didn’t touch the cargo, correct?” He asked, picking up his palm computer to find the delivery confirmation I’d already sent over.
I shook my head. “Not a finger. Let the other guys do all the work, both loading and unloading.”
He pursed his lips and nodded. “Heard one of the dancers here got you out of a bit of a sticky situation.”
“Ah– er– you could say that, yes.” I fidgeted, glad for my mixed blood’s giving me dark enough skin to hide my blush. Of course his men would have told him about Caerwyn and me.
“It’s a shame he doesn’t work here anymore,” Claudius remarked casually.
“What?” Oh, God, was the ground gone? Was I going to fall into the center of this God-forsaken planet?
“At least, I haven’t seen him around. Ladies, have you noticed a small dancer with long red hair around here lately?” Claudius cast his glance to each of the girls next to him. They each turned to me with the same vapid expression and shook their heads.
“I haven’t seen him in a few weeks,” the one on my left said.
“Yeah, like, almost a month,” her mirror image added.
I closed my eyes and counted to five, then blew out a slow, steady breath. “Thank you. Claudius, I expect the pay will be in my account by morning?”
“Of course. Thank you, Mr. Barton. It was a pleasure doing business with you.” The smile he gave me felt too predatory, like he could see into my soul, like he knew what this was doing to me.
I muttered an agreement, then went to the bar. Soon, a vaheera cocktail was in my hands, more alcohol than anything else, and I went out onto the gambling floor.
I didn’t even want to gamble, despite how much I enjoyed the pastime usually. I wandered the floor from table to table, but none of the games interested me. I watched a few hands, my mind half-focused on everyone else around me.
A few times I thought I caught a flash of red hair, but I was always wrong.
Maybe I had some sort of space sickness or space madness or something. I was seeing things, or at least seeing him. Even dealing in for a few losing hands of my favorite card game didn’t distract me. All I did was watch the dancers along the walls, praying that a small, red-haired one would still be there, in his normal spot on the last pole.
It stood empty all night, mocking me.
Once I’d lost half my pocket money, I sighed and discarded my warm, half-drunk cocktail. All I wanted to do was sleep and pray that when I woke up, everything would be as it should have been.
The air outside the casino was damp, and the cold wormed through my thin clothes to nip at my flesh. It would rain tonight, and it was best that I got back to Daphne before it started. The rain here was brutal, always heavy and nearly half ice. Being caught in it was sheer agony, the combination of the cold and the pain from the ice practically torture.
A rumble of thunder echoed in the distance as I stepped into my docking bay again. I ran my hand over Daphne’s hull before triggering the switch to lower her ramp. “Hey, darling. It’s a good thing I pay for a covered bay. I wouldn’t want you to be caught out in this storm, baby.” I looked out at the horizon, where the ominous storm clouds were building to close in on the city. “I wouldn’t want anyone to be caught out in this.”
In the middle of the night, I was awoken from a dead sleep by a frantic pounding on Daphne’s hull. Terrified that someone was trying to break in or steal her, I grabbed my pistol and lowered the ramp, cautiously creeping down with the gun held at the ready. Nobody was going to steal Daphne, not while I still breathed.
When I saw who had been banging on her, I nearly dropped the pistol from shock.
He shivered too much to respond. He was soaked to the bone, his long hair plastered to the sides of his face and neck, sticking to his shirt as it went down. Hard pellets of hail still clung to the strands, melting slowly from his body heat. A large puddle had formed beneath him, and I could hear his teeth chattering from a yard and a half away.
“Oh my God, Caerwyn, get inside the fucking ship!” I reached out to take his arm, frantically pulling him up the ramp to the bathroom. I yanked at his wet clothes, stretching and tearing the fabric to get them off of him as fast as I could, since he could barely stand, much less undress himself.
After I thrust him under the warm spray, I gathered up the ruined scraps. I felt a pang of remorse for destroying them, but it wouldn’t do him any good to be in wet clothing. I found a towel and a pair of pants that fit me better a few years and couple thousand cocktails ago, then laid them out with a shirt that I’d always found a little too tight anyway.
I poked my head into the bathroom again and paused when I saw Caerwyn in the shower, slowly coming back to himself, and very, very naked.
I’d been so absorbed in trying to get him warm and comfortable again that I hadn’t even realized I’d stripped him nude.
“Hey,” I said, just loud enough to be heard over the spray.
He turned and smiled, a little bashful. “Hey. Sorry about coming so late.”
I stepped closer, shaking my head as I approached. “Don’t be. I’m glad you did. I heard you don’t work at the casino anymore?”
Caerwyn caught his lower lip between his teeth, then looked down. “Yeah, I meant to tell you that. But… I didn’t get a way to contact you before you left, and then I missed you at the casino tonight.”
“Why did you quit?”
He shrugged as he turned off the water, almost immediately starting to shiver again. I darted back into the other room and came back with the towel. I wrapped it around his shoulders, saying, “Please. Why did you quit?”
“It just didn’t feel right anymore, doing that.”
I furrowed my brow in confusion as I led him back to the bedroom, then gestured to the outfit spread on the bed. “Here’s some clothes I found for you. I… sort of ruined yours. I’m sorry.”
“For what?” He turned to look at me, the towel still drawn around him. “Why would you be sorry? I’m the one that went through that storm to get here. I’m the one that chased you down. You cared enough to help me after those incredibly stupid decisions.” He sat down on the bed, but made no move to take the clothes.
Was there a reason he wasn’t getting dressed? “Well, I mean… I don’t know, I probably would’ve helped anyone.”
He threw his head back and let out a genuine laugh. The sound brought a smile to my face, followed by a laugh of my own. As I wiped at my eyes, I said, “All right, all right. I’d have probably thrown a towel out there if they were lucky, you’re right.”
“I wanted to see you,” Caerwyn said, meeting my eyes again. “I missed you while you were gone.”
I sighed, sinking down onto the bed next to him. “I did too, honestly. I don’t even know why, it’s not like you and I spent all that long together, and… I mean, why would a guy like you want to be with a guy like me?”
It was time for him to look confused, and a frown pulled at the corners of his lips. “What do you mean? I was the one who fucked anyone who’d pay.”
“Well, it’s not like I’m the innocent guy, myself.” I gave him a half-hearted grin. “I smuggle shit on the side because I can’t stop gambling long enough to feed myself. Guess I should also tell you I probably drink more than I should. And I used to–”
As I talked, hIs expression had faded from puzzled to irritated. He grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed me hard, then drew back. “Are you going to fuck me, or what?”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Andrew. I have been naked for this long and you haven’t gotten the damn clue?” He dropped the towel from around his shoulders, pushed me down onto my back, then climbed on top of me. His thighs, beautifully toned from so much dancing, squeezed my hips and I could feel how turned on he was through my pants.
His hands found my wrists, and he pressed them down into the mattress on either side of my head, then flashed an innocent smile as he moved his hips. The sensation was dulled by the layers of clothing between us, but his dick slid over the bulge in my pants with each movement.
I could see my shocked face reflected in those blue eyes. “Fucking hell, Caerwyn.”
He leaned down and brushed his lips across my cheek before he breathed one word into my ear.
I froze. Was he really saying what I thought he was saying? “You…”
He nodded, incredibly sober in comparison to even how he’d been a few moments before. “My name is Callum Reid.”
After taking a moment to let that sink in, I decided that him telling me his actual name was probably the most intimate thing he’d ever done with a potential lover. I strained against the grip on my wrists as I tried to sit up to kiss him again, but he smiled as he leaned forward, both coming closer and putting more weight into my bindings. “What, you don’t even want to try to test it out?” He teased, darting his tongue out against my lips.
“Please… For fuck’s sake, man, stop teasing me.” He made no move to give me any freedom, still looking at me expectantly with that damned smile on his face. “Callum. Please.”
A satisfied grin grew from the smile, and he bent to kiss me again. It was demanding, sucking and nipping at my lips, with his tongue sliding between them. He wasn’t asking me to let him in; he was simply informing me that he was going to take it.
I let him. I heard soft moans and groans again and knew they were mine, muffled by his hungry kisses, and I lost myself in the feeling of it. The dual sensations of his dick rubbing against mine and the fabric of my pants and underwear teasing the sensitive skin, I knew that I could easily come dangerously close to humiliating myself before I even got naked.
“Oh my– Oh, God. Callum, please, I need you, I need you so fucking bad, please!”
He grinned again, releasing my wrists and slipping down just far enough to yank my shirt up to my chest. With my nipples exposed, he took his time to play with them, tease them with his tongue, and pinch them just hard enough to elicit soft groans from me. When his fingers crept lower to pull at the button and zipper of my pants, he spoke with a soft, but stern voice. “When I get you naked, you will get up, get a condom, and be ready to fuck me.”
I sat up just enough to tug my shirt over my head and toss it aside, then worked at kicking off the boots I’d thrown on in my haste to see what the noise outside had been. “I don’t get a say?”
“No,” Callum said, shaking his head. “What you get is to fuck me, just like I said.” He yanked at my pants, pulling them down with my underwear in rough jerks. I lifted my hips to help, but made no further attempts to clarify or argue.
Maybe another time I would test that limit, see what he would do. If he thought I’d always give in without a fight because of this experience tonight, he’d be sorely mistaken. Still, when he threw my clothing aside, I sprang up from the bed to go grab a condom out of my bedside table. Just to be sure I grabbed the bottle of lube, too, and fumbled to hold both the bottle and tear open the wrapper at the same time.
Callum had settled onto his hands and knees, looking back at me, and as I approached he held out his hand. “Give me the lube.”
I set the bottle into his waiting hand, then ripped open the package with ease. The noises Callum had started to make drew my attention, and I looked up with the rubber rolled halfway down my cock.
He had two fingers buried in his asshole, and the way they turned within his limited range of motion and spread apart on every withdraw was mesmerizing; I found myself unable to look away. God, just the way he rocked back against the fingers, his back arching up to spread his cheeks farther apart. A soft flush had begun to spread across his shoulders, and when he turned his face to look back at me again, I could see it settling in on his cheeks, as well.
“God, you’re beautiful,” I breathed without even thinking about the words.
He laughed and dropped his hand from behind him. “Shut up, get that condom on, and fuck me. Jesus Christ, I’d think you’re more interested in talk than sex.”
Oh, I’d show him what I was interested in. I was pretty damn sure that he’d feel like heaven around my dick, and I intended to find out just how gorgeous his voice sounded while he was getting fucked stupid.
I rolled the condom down the rest of the way and, just for good measure, I stroked my hand along the hard flesh of my shaft as I stepped forward. Kneeling on the bed behind him, I scooped up the bottle of lube and smoothed more along the outside of the condom, then lined up and started to push in.
“Oh, fuck yes!” I was right, he did feel like heaven. Hot, gripping, unrelenting heaven.
Normally I would have taken my time, drawn it out to enjoy it, but Callum had insisted upon being fucked, not made love to. I pushed forward without cease until my hips butted up against the swell of his ass, and the loud groans and gasps he’d been making finally found pause. I gave him time to catch the smallest of breaths, then drew back to thrust in again, just as deep as I’d gone before. Sweet mercy, he felt just as good, maybe even better, with me fucking him hard and fast. Beneath me, he clawed at my bedsheets, his head thrown back. The way my skin stood out against his milky porcelain only added to the beauty of the moment that seemed so perfect.
Just as I started to worry that I was being too rough, his moans started to take the shape of words, and I could hear that he was pleading for me to go faster, harder. I was already approaching the edge of my endurance, but I grit my teeth and slammed myself into him as hard and as fast as I could. Our groans and curses drowned out the sound of my skin slapping up against his.
I longed to see his face, how he strained to accept this pounding I was giving him; however, he kept his face buried in his arms. I drew my throbbing hard-on out, shoving him over onto his back. “If I’m going to fuck you like you want, I get to watch you while I do it.”
He stared up at me with wide eyes, panting through red, slightly parted lips. The rosiness I’d seen earlier in his cheeks had spread to his chin and forehead, adding a layer of innocence I’d never seen in him before. His hair spread out around his head like a fiery halo, and combined with his expression, he looked angelic. Debauched and depraved, but the perfect image of a fallen angel — one I had helped push over the edge. As I guided his knees up toward his chest, he reached down to grasp the backs of his thighs, pulling them closer and spreading himself wider.
“Yeah, that’s more like it.” I took my cock in my hand, pushing it into him again. He was still open and accepting, and I picked up the hard and rough pace I’d set before; my fingers dug into the mattress slightly on either side of him. Staring down at him now was one of the best shows I’d ever seen; I could see every gasp and moan before they even slipped out of him. He looked up at me when he could, blue eyes wide and trusting, but when I’d manage to angle up to hit his prostate they’d slam closed. I lifted one hand to tweak one of his nipples, and the way his chest lifted toward me was beautiful in ways I’d never imagined it could be.
He reached up to circle his arms around my neck and pulled me down into a hard kiss. The way his mouth ground against mine made me think of just how hard I was fucking him, and the panting gasps and moans worked with the way our bodies slid together. Beneath me, his body started to quiver, and my own arms were shaking from holding back.
“Oh God… Get–get off of me!” He pushed hard at my shoulders abruptly, and his hand went to his dick immediately to clamp down on the base. “Christ. I haven’t been fucked like that in ages. On your back.”
I raised an eyebrow, panting softly. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. On your back.” He crawled forward, shoving at my shoulders again. “I didn’t say you were done fucking me.”
I smiled in amusement as I let him move me over onto my back. I guess he wasn’t the kind to just roll over and take it, either. “Good, because I’m not done fucking you anyway.”
He grinned in return, straddling my thighs. His hair was wild and tangled in stark difference to the angelic halo from before, and his eyes were bright. “Well, I’m glad, because I’m about to make you work for it.”
I was about to ask for clarification when he bent over, stroking his dick alongside mine in such a slow, torturous tempo that I lifted my own hips.
His response was to lift his hips entirely and shake his head at me. “Ah-ah, Andy. That’s not how this works. Do not move.”
I dropped my hips again but still kept an eyebrow lifted in challenge, but he resumed those maddening strokes again while peppering my throat with gentle kisses. I groaned and wrapped my arms around him, realizing at the last second that it violated his instructions.
“I told you not to move, Andrew. Drop them.” His gaze was stern, his hips lifted off mine again.
“Fuck, Callum, come on–”
He shook his head. “No, not until you’ve earned it. You’ll know when you’re doing the right thing, trust me.” Once again, his dick rubbed alongside mine, but his kisses shifted to the side of my neck and started to involve more of his teeth.
He was claiming me. Too long, he had been claimed by other men and women. Now he wanted to be doing the claiming.
Even though I had once been in his shoes, claimed by countless men, some of whom I didn’t even get the names of, I couldn’t find it in me to be opposed to this. It was freeing for both of us — him taking back his independence as I once had, and me learning to let someone in close enough to allow such a thing again.
The closer those nipping bites and kisses got to leaving marks, the louder I moaned; the louder I moaned, the more he rewarded me with firmer strokes of his hips against mine.
I could feel the flesh on either side of my neck throbbing with the love bites, but I kept my body still as he’d commanded. “Please,” I whispered. “Please, Callum.”
He pressed a soft kiss to my lips, then sat up and grasped my dick. I groaned loudly, gripping the bedsheets tightly as he sank down onto its length. He rode it as only someone whose skills were so refined by a multitude of partners could, and even with the lull we’d just had, I knew my end was coming quickly. He panted and moaned, his hips rolling in ways that made me see stars. My balls throbbed with the need for release, and when it was only a matter of a few more strokes of his body along my cock, I reached up to take his in my hand.
It only took a few tugs, a couple of twists of my fist around the sensitive crown, for him to spurt across my chest. The pearly strands stood out in stark contrast to my darker skin, which was the only thought my brain could summon before my orgasm overwhelmed everything else.
When I could breathe again, I stared up at the ceiling in silence. Callum was collapsed upon my chest, and it seemed that he, too, had been rendered speechless by what we’d just experienced. I wrapped my arms around him, and he didn’t protest.
We shared the quiet for what felt like an eternity; a single perfect moment stretched into forever. If I never experienced anything past that moment, I wouldn’t have minded.
“Hey,” Callum mumbled. His voice was so thick it seemed he was on the verge of sleep. “We should probably clean up. What do you say about a shower?”
I chuckled and squeezed him in a more of a hug than a simple embrace. “I’d love one.”
I awoke the next morning to find Callum in my arms, snuggled up next to me. It still seemed odd to find myself here. A gambling problem led me to this? That wasn’t how that was supposed to work, I thought.
Beyond that, Callum and I had more in common than he thought. He’d cut me off last night before I could tell him what I’d used to do, how I’d used to whore myself out in ways much less classy and protected than he did. I hoped he wouldn’t be disgusted when I told him, but I couldn’t really blame him if he was. Dancing in a high-class casino to garner your clientele is a much different proposition than fucking anyone who looks at you twice in a spaceport to try to keep dry, stay fed, and save up for a cargo ship.
Especially when my clientele specifically chose me because my skin was darker. They figured they could pay me less.
“Mm, good morning.” Callum’s voice was once again thick and drowsy. “What’s on your mind? You look… preoccupied.”
“Oh, uh, I was just thinking about stuff.” I shifted to free my arm from under him, then sat up.
“Like… what?” He propped himself up on an arm, reaching out for me with the other.
I let him stroke my shoulder. “I meant to tell you something last night, but you cut me off. Not that I’m complaining about that; I really enjoyed everything that happened, but… I feel like it’s fair for you to know.”
He grinned and murmured, “It can’t be that bad.”
“Well, we’ll see. I know that you used to… to dance, obviously, but I used to do something similar. I’d just take anyone who came along and was willing to give me money. I was homeless and hungry, and selling my body paid my way.”
He blinked, and the surprise was palpable. I cleared my throat. “I understand if you want to go.”
“No.” He shook his head, sitting up next to me and pressing a kiss to one of the bruises along my neck. “That doesn’t matter. The past is past. So what if you slept with strangers? So have I, in case you’ve forgotten.” I opened my mouth to argue, but he pressed his fingertips over my lips. “I didn’t start in a casino. Now, I’m not worried about it anymore if you’re not worried about it. From now on, only the present and future matter. All right?”
I nodded. “All right.”
He embraced me and I turned to pull him close. After a moment, I said, “Callum, do you have a place to stay?”
“Nah. I was renting out a room at the casino, but truth be told that’s fucking expensive, and too many people there recognize me.”
“I don’t have anything tying me to this particular port. I can run cargo anywhere.”
He pulled away, his brow furrowed. “Are you seriously inviting me aboard your ship?”
“Didn’t you say something about ‘making our home perfect?'” I grinned.
He threw a pillow at my face, but I caught it a few inches away from my nose. I felt the bed shift and lowered the pillow to find him standing in the middle of the bedroom. “Well, in that case, we’d better get going, huh?”