Time: Several weeks after the end of Shax's War
“You really don’t have to, cupcake,” Shax murmured from where he studied his desk screen with ferocious intensity. “The Brimstone’s scrubbers do a fine job with all that.”
“I know.” Ness kept blindly stuffing laundry into a carry sack. “But we’re planetside. With laundries and water. It’s nice to have one’s laundry smell like…well, laundry once in a great while.”
“Hmm. Just make sure nothing leather goes in a washing machine. Or silk. Really not good to wash silk in water.”
“I know how to do laundry.” The sharp bite of his words shocked Ness and he found himself staring into Shax’s dark eyes. Wounded, unsure.
Shax turned in his desk chair to give Ness his full attention. “Have I done something? Not done something?”
“No. Yes.” Ness closed his eyes and drew in a slow, measured breath. “Things ache. I’m sorry. And I—”
“You what, love?” Shax’s murmured in what sounded like equal parts encouragement and dread.
The days when Ness feared to say what he thought were long gone, but he still had difficulties saying things that might breed conflict. “I…I do wish you wouldn’t imply that I’m stupid quite so often.”
Shax leaped from his chair and crossed the floor before Ness could draw his next breath. “No. Damn it. No. Flaming yellow sulfurous hell pits, no.” Slender demon arms flung around Ness, the strength in them still surprising after all this time. “My heart, my own. I’m just an imperious prick sometimes. I’ve never, ever thought you were stupid. A bit naïve, perhaps. A bit unfamiliar with certain parts of life. But quick as light and hundreds of times brighter and…I’m sorry.”
Ness hugged him tight, recognizing this for what it was. Leftover, weary frustration from weeks of recovery for Ness, which had made him irritable, and bone-deep guilt for Shax. Misplaced guilt, of course, but Shax refused to hear it. Every wince, every flinch, every small sound of pain since he’d rescued Ness from the Polyphemus had crawled under Shax’s skin and Ness had held him through several bouts of tearful recrimination. He should have known. He should have prevented it. He should have found Ness sooner and saved him all the pain.
All ridiculous, since no one else could have pulled off the rescue and shut down those horrid labs so quickly.
A few murmured reassurances later, a few anxious questions from Shax about wearing his comm and his tracker and taking a sidearm or three, and Ness was striding through Amnesia spaceport with the carry sack slung over his shoulder. He still found it a fascinating place with all the colors and scents, both enticing and foul, and the amazing variety of people. Amnesia offered everything a weary space traveler might want or need and many things Ness had never thought of, but he wasn’t a raw, new spacer any longer. The delights of the marketplaces and shops only distracted him three or four times along his way now.
The golden dildo in one shop window nearly did sidetrack him, shining, curved and decorated with lovely ridges, but Shax had intimated several times that the prettiest sex toys didn’t always feel the best.
Out of the several laundry facilities, Ness liked the one owned by the cat triplets best. They weren’t truly cats, of course, just body modified humans with cat ears and tails. Clean and well lit, their complex offered both water and chemical machines, and access to an enormous data library.
With late twentieth century music playing in his ear since he was trying to understand Shax’s obsession with the period, Ness set his sack on the ledge in front of one of the sorting machines and began to slide items into the appropriate slots. Shax’s black leather pants went in the “bioskins” slot. The blue silk shirt with the silver buttons went in the “non-hydro bio” slot. Several pairs of socks, utility pants, a thermal shirt with bloodstains, and everyday briefs went in the “hydro wash” slot. The--
What in the world is this?
Ness pulled out a little contraption that looked like a carriage harness for a mouse or perhaps the world’s smallest horse with extra straps at the— Oh. With his face heating, he slid the leather harness into the bioskin slot and tried not to think about how parts of it were sticky. When his brain made the connection between cock harness and Shax, his face burned hot enough that he glanced around furtively. He had to be glowing and people had to be staring.
No one noticed. He shook his head at himself and continued sorting. Sock…sock…fishnets… Fine, he remembered those from the other night and he was not thinking about the beautiful curves of Shax’s perfect, compact legs in stockings, or how the silky material felt wrapped around his waist. He fed the stockings into the synth wash, banging his head against the wall in a slow, steady thud to distract himself from increasingly frustrating thoughts.
“Sir? Are you all right?”
Ness stopped giving himself a blunt force headache and found one of the owners addressing him, her cat ears flicking and twitching. How they managed to alter human ears to do that, he couldn’t imagine, but having been the recipient of unnecessary, radical surgery, and having survived, he was willing to believe anything.
“My, ah, lover—” He nearly sputtered the word, not out of shame but because he simply wasn’t used to saying it in public. “His laundry tends toward fussy and, um, complicated.”
While he spoke he had reached into the sack for another pair of rolled up work pants, which unrolled in front of the kitty woman to reveal a rather astounding variety of underwear—lace, silk, and leather in thongs, briefs, and micro shorts. When is Shax wearing all these things?
“I see.” Kitty woman’s mouth had twisted in a tight line and Ness was certain she was fighting a fierce skirmish against laughing.
“Is this silk or synth silk?” Ness murmured in distracted fashion as he held a pair of red briefs with a hint of lace around the leg openings.
Kitty woman took the briefs and rubbed them against her cheek, purring. “Silk. Definitely.” Her eyes sparkled as she handed them back. “Your lover has expensive taste.”
“He does.” Ness choked out, wondering why he hadn’t set fire to his clothes yet.
Two hours later, Ness had puzzled through some things. The first was that he had never seen most of these items because Shax was using them as stimulation in private. The second was that demon sex drives, or at least Shax’s, were more prodigious than he’d thought. Third? All of those times Shax excused himself to freshen up… Ness had resigned himself to blushing permanently.
When he reached their shared cabin where Shax still studied whatever reports or articles he’d been reading, Ness flung the carry sack on the bed and took out the carefully stacked and folded pile of Shax’s special underthings.
“Pick something,” he demanded in his best command voice as Shax startled and whirled in his chair, dark eyes wide. “Five minutes. I want you ready and waiting for me.”
“Ness? You’re…angry at me for underwear?”
“I’m annoyed that you haven’t been telling me what you need. Five minutes. Anything from that pile.”
Though Shax lowered his head in a pretense of shame, a little smirk tugged at his sinful mouth. “And where are you going?”
“I’m going to ask Ivana for a drink.”
Shax blinked at him. “You don’t drink in the middle of the day.”
With a raised eyebrow, Ness waved a hand at the unusual collection. “Somehow it feels like a good day to start.”