“Glad you could make it,” sir. Old man. “Saren.”

“Getting out of board meetings is as simple as it is liberating.”

“Sure. You and your Spectre mind tricks.”


“Never mind. Tea?”

Saren took the cheap aerogel cup with gloved hands and set it on his side of the table. He watched the steam curl and uncurl. Then he sighed and took a sip.

“How is it?” Nihlus swirled his half-empty cup and drank a good mouthful.

“Typical spaceport fare.” He gave the cup an accusatory glare. “No redeeming qualities.”

“Give them a little credit. It’s fresh, at least.”

Saren gave a noncommittal hmph. He was looking outside, avoiding his eyes. “You’ve waited long enough. Let’s go.”

He stood up. Nihlus caught one of his hands with both his own. A-ha. Now he had to look.

“You just got here.”

“I thought we were merely stopping by.”

The teahouse was a modern affair: a row of sleek, seamless machines, a selection of colour-coded taps, and tall columns of gel cups. The promenade ran through it, dividing the vending and the seating, masking the plastic carpet with matte stones and a living carpet of moss sprouting between the cracks. The glass above their heads was fogged with moisture, and so were the steel trusses.

Saren was right. It was just a waypoint. Nihlus stood as well, sealing and pocketing his cup. And when he stepped onto the uneven path, Saren’s hand was outstretched, waiting.

The road ahead was long. Nihlus took off at one point, sticking out an arm to shake the dewdrops from the thin, blade-like leaves lining the chest-high planters. He looked back, rolled up his soaked sleeve-cuffs, and pulled a face. Saren laughed.

He laughed more easily these days. In vid chats and voice-chats, over the reverb microphone with perfect transmission for all three tiers. The on-throat type irritated him, he’d said. Something about the emitter frequency and the resonance was all wrong. Never mind the first twenty years of his career. Nihlus knew enough not to press.

His mandibles were spread as far as they could go, telescoping rods and hidden ball joints pushed to their limits. He looked fucking ridiculous. Like he was smiling and grimacing at the same time. But the rolling bass of his voice tugged Nihlus’ eyelids shut, and he laughed in return.

He fell back into step before Saren remembered enough to disapprove. Saren sighed and wiped Nihlus’ dew-flecked forehead with a corner of his robe. It was Nihlus who looked away this time.

It was almost dawn. The tip of a tower glowed orange, shimmering in the distance. Cipritine was awake, but drowsy. Its lower arcologies were painted in faint greens and violets, shrouded in morning mist and Nihlus could spot the blocky outlines of trucks and cars weaving in and out of the haze. Sky traffic was light, the promenade empty. The moisture on the glass was beginning to coalesce into droplets that trickled down meandering paths. Two of them merged over the faint reflection of his left mandible.

A few last pats before he was dry. The harsh words didn’t come. They’d stopped coming some time between last year and yesterday. Nihlus had an idea that they were always lurking behind their titanium bars. Or maybe Saren swallowed them, bitter and whole.

He didn’t say anything, either, when Nihlus slid into his lap instead of the fine reclining seat beside him. He only reached for the release and pushed his own seat back, far back, taking Nihlus with him. The skycar canopy lowered and sealed. Nihlus simply rested there for a while. The synthetic flesh warmed his cheek, even through layers of clothing.

“Are you done yet?”

Nihlus propped himself up and shrugged, the tip of his crest pressed against the tinted window. He placed his palm over the warm patch. “I’m curious.”

“As always.”

He took that as a challenge. The clasps were familiar; he could have undone them blindfolded behind his back. He leaned in to examine the exposed piping between the artificial ribs. Then licked them. Saren made an indignant sound.

“Can you feel that?”


He raised a browplate. “Does it feel good?”


He said Nihlus’ name more often these days. Nihlus returned the favour with trails of kisses. This time – up his keel and neck and chin, pressing a final one against his lips before pausing and staying, nose-tips touching. Strong arms pulled him even closer, flush against a broad chest. One of the arms felt heavier than the other.

“Yeah?” he whispered, between quickened breaths and the soft clinking of belt buckles against his talons.

“We’ll be late,” Saren said, helping Nihlus out of his own pants and boots.

“But fashionably late, right?”


And that was his cue to kiss him again, deeply, mandibles interlaced, tongues entwined. He kicked their discarded boots beneath the dash, and pulled Saren’s legs around his waist.

Nihlus fiddled with his seatbelt.

“I’m sorry about—“

Saren cut him off with a raised palm. “I have other robes.”

He lifted his gaze to find an expression of utter peace on Saren’s face. Behind him, the sun was rising.

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