cypher: (marquis of hotness. I mean Athlum.)
marsupial fruitcake ([personal profile] cypher) wrote in [community profile] hardmode2011-07-18 06:58 am

"Valor's Heart" (Last Remnant, David/Rush)

Title: Valor's Heart
Author: [personal profile] cypher
Beta: [personal profile] vikarmic, who gave my vague idea some actual shape, and [personal profile] lassarina, who kept my self-doubt from eating me whole. ♥ you both.
Media Creator: the fabulous [personal profile] subtext!
Media Link: embedded in story and also at this direct link
Word Count: ~13,500
Fandom: Last Remnant
Characters/Pairing(s): Mostly David/Rush, other side pairings, ensemble cast
Rating: explicit
Warnings: none
Summary: AU: When his sister is kidnapped, Rush comes to the city trying to find her, and meets David Nassau, the handsome young Marquis of Athlum owner of one of the fanciest pleasure houses in the city. It turns out Dave's assistance is exactly what he needs.



By the time Rush makes it into Elysion he's exhausted, and it's late—he'd be able to read the stars to tell the time back home, but here there's the distant glow of the Remnant in the sky to block them out. His feet hurt and he's so hungry it feels like his stomach is starting to devour itself, but he's finally made it—this must be where those guys were taking Irina.

He stumbles through the streets, past shops that are shuttered for the night, trying to figure out where to start—it seemed like such a simple plan: go to the city, find Irina, bring her home—but he hadn't counted on Elysion being so, well, so big. Or so creepy, down the little shadowy streets where the lights don't quite reach. Rush finds himself picking the more well-lit street every time he comes to a corner, and eventually he finds himself on a street full of...taverns, probably? Places where there's a lot of light and warmth, and sometimes he can hear laughter floating out of an upstairs window. At least it doesn't feel so creepy here.

Outside one of the doorways, a slate-blue yama leans on his pike, like he's guarding the place, but casually. He's a little intimidating—eight or nine feet tall, probably five hundred pounds of pure muscle, and there weren't many yama on Eulam to begin with—but he gives Rush a friendly wave. "Evening, friend," he says. "You looking for a girl?"

Rush stares at him. "How did you know?"

The yama shrugs one huge shoulder. "You get a feeling for that sort of thing eventually, in this business," he says. "Come on inside, and I bet we can help you out."

"Wow, really? Sweet," Rush says. "Thanks!"

The yama opens the door for him, even, and bows like it's a big honor for Rush to come visit them. Rush nods his thanks and slips inside. The place turns out to be really fancy, all these gauzy curtains and low couches, and people who are dressed like...like there's a festival on, or something. There are people from all races, and Rush tries not to double-take, because if yama and qsiti are rare on Eulam then sovani are totally unheard of—he's never seen one in real life before, and there are two of them here, dark-furred, one standing by the wall and the other lounging on one of the couches. Rush looks around the room instead of staring. There's no bar anywhere he can see, so he can't just ask the bartender about promising rumors. So—

One of the mitra gets up from the couch, and okay then Rush is staring, because that is the most drop-dead gorgeous guy he has ever seen in his life. He's wearing soft black trousers that cling to him in this really distracting way, and a sleeveless red tunic that bares honey-brown arms and throat. His hair is pale, pale gold and his eyes are rich, dark gray, and he's looking Rush right in the eyes and smiling, oh man.

"Welcome to Valor's Heart," he says warmly. "It's your first time here, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Rush says. "Um." He can't afford to get distracted. "I'm looking for my sister."

The gorgeous guy looks disappointed for a second, but it doesn't last. He glances around the room. "I see," he says. "Ordinarily I would recommend Sheryl for that sort of thing, but she's already entertaining this evening, and I assume you'd like to see someone tonight."

"Well, I mean," Rush says, "I could wait, if that's really going to be better. Is this Sheryl person really good at finding people?"

Finding...oh," the guy says, his eyebrows rising. "You're actually looking for your sister."

Rush blinks at him. "That's what I said," he says. "Anyway, I know it's a long shot, but if you've seen her or know any place where I should look—her name's Irina, and she's about this tall, with brown hair...." The guy's shaking his head. "No, huh?"

"I'm afraid there's nobody here by that description," the guy says gently. "How long has she, ah, been missing?"

Rush sags. He doesn't like to think about how long it's been already. "She was kidnapped three days ago," he says.

The guy's expression turns kind of pained. "I'm sorry to hear that," he says, and he sounds like he really means it. "I wish I had some information to offer you."

The sovani who was standing by the wall earlier has been sort of drifting their way as they talked, and he stops behind the gorgeous guy now. "Is there a problem, Lord David?" he asks.

"It's fine," gorgeous Dave says, making a don't-worry-about-it gesture. "Don't trouble yourself, Torgal."

"As you wish," the sovani says, and bows just a little before he steps back. Sovani have really scary eyes, Rush thinks. As if the extra arms and the claws weren't scary enough.

"Sorry to, um, disturb you here," Rush says.

"It's quite all right," Dave says. "I wish there were more I could do to help you."

"Well..." Rush chews his lip. He wishes he could keep going, keep looking for Irina right now, but he's so tired he feels about ready to drop where he stands, and there probably aren't a lot of people who'd be willing to help him out at this hour anyway. "I just got into town and don't really know my way around at all. Can you recommend any place I could stay?"

Dave ducks his head a little, looking up at Rush through the fringe of his hair in this way that's just—seriously, he's a heartbreaker. "To be honest," he says, "when you first arrived, I hoped you intended to stay here tonight."

"Wow," Rush says, and his heart does this kind of fluttery thing. He looks around again, trying not to stare at anyone for too long. They're all so fancy. "So, uh...this is some kind of an inn?"

"Not quite, no," Dave says, with a little smile. "Valor's Heart is a house of pleasure."

"Oh," Rush says. "Oh." He can feel himself blushing. Wow, no wonder that conversation started off so weird. "So, um, you run the place, huh?"

"I own the house, yes," Dave says. "Though I do also entertain patrons from time to time."

"Man, I really wish I had the money to take you up on that," Rush says. "I mean. I hope that's not rude, to say that."

Dave's smile gets a little warmer, and the corners of his eyes crinkle. "Not at all," he says. "I'm sure it would be an enjoyable evening for both of us."

Wow, seriously. When he manages to find Irina, Rush thinks, and gets everything sorted out, he really needs to come back here.

"As things stand, however...you have nobody in Elysion you could stay with?" Dave asks.

"I wish," Rush says. "My parents work for the Academy, but they're on assignment in the field, so their place in the city is all closed up. And even if I could find it, I'm not sure if I could get anybody to let me in."

"Certainly not at this hour," Dave agrees. He looks thoughtful for a minute. "Well. It might not come with any additional amenities, but I think we can at least provide you with a place to sleep tonight."

Rush's eyes widen. "Seriously?" he says. Man, of all the places in the city that he could have randomly walked into, he found one run by a guy who's gorgeous and amazingly nice. "You don't even know my name, Dave."

Dave laughs, and shrugs one shoulder casually. "So introduce yourself," he says.

"Right," Rush says. He holds out his hand. "I'm Rush. Rush Sykes."

"And I am David Nassau," Dave says, taking Rush's hand. "A pleasure to meet you, Rush." He bows over Rush's hand, brushing his lips across the knuckles lightly, and Rush gets shivers all up his spine. "Please. This way."

He doesn't let go of Rush's hand when he turns, so Rush holds on, following him between the low couches and toward the back of the room. There's a doorway there draped with red curtains, and when they slip through it they come into a dimly lit hallway with doors on either side. Some of the doors are open, but a few of them are closed, and as they pass one of the closed doors Rush can hear a soft tenor voice moaning. He swallows hard, and his cock thickens a little just knowing what's going on behind that door.

At the end of the hall, there's another closed door, heavier than the ones they've been passing, with fancy carvings in the wood and a serious-looking lock. Dave pulls out a key and unlocks it, then beckons for Rush to follow him through. "This is the private part of the house," he murmurs, "so you'll find it's less ornate than the rooms our patrons see."

He starts up a set of stairs, and Rush takes the first step or two after him. "Is it really okay for me to be back here? I mean, if it's private, and all."

"It's fine," Dave reassures him. "It's no trouble." He takes Rush's hand again and leads him up the stairs, pointing out the washroom on the way to a small, neat bedroom. Dave lights the lamp on the bedside table and gives Rush another one of those great smiles. "I hope you'll be comfortable here," he says. "I'm afraid I can't stay, since we'll still be entertaining for a few hours yet."

"That's totally cool," Rush says. "Really, you've already done way more for me than I could have expected."

"My pleasure," Dave says. He steps in close and reaches up, brushing his fingers across Rush's cheek just for a second. "Sleep well, Rush."

After Dave leaves—well, first thing, Rush has to take a few deep breaths to get over being stunned stupid by how hot Dave is—but then he goes to use the toilet and wash up, which goes a long way toward making him feel less destroyed by the last few days. He was lucky he wound up here, after just showing up in town and picking someplace at random.

Back in his room, Rush toes his shoes off and strips out of his overshirt and his pants, draping his clothes over the footboard and crawling into the bed gratefully. As soon as he gets off his feet he can tell how badly he needed to—the ache of relief is kind of overwhelming. And despite what Dave said about it being less fancy up here, the bed's pretty nice, soft sheets and a comfy pillow with a faint, comforting herbal smell. Rush douses the lamp, and passes out almost as soon as his head hits the pillow.

*


In the morning, he wakes up feeling better than he has since he left Eulam, way more rested than he was after trying to sleep along the road. He's also pretty starving, come to think of it, but he has at least a few coins in his pockets. He must be able to find some cheap food around here somewhere.

He climbs out of bed and gets dressed, then makes the bed before he leaves the room. Dave's been really nice to him—the least he can do is be polite.

Just in general, he thinks Dave's pretty impressive. Not just hot—though he's definitely hot—but also really together, running this place and being so cool and composed, having everyone else here willing to work for him. Sovani, even, who are supposed to be really stuck up and unwilling to listen to other people. But Dave acted like it was no big thing, and the sovani from last night, Torgal, treated him like the boss.

Once the room is straightened up, Rush steps out into the hall. Most of the doors up here are shut now—probably not a lot of people get up early here, if they work so late. But it sounds like somebody's moving around downstairs, so Rush heads that way to see who he can track down.

Downstairs, he follows the sounds and the delicious smell of something frying to the back of the house, where there's an open kitchen and a big dining table. All the kitchen stuff is really low to the ground, and there are two qsiti at work in there, an almost-black one chopping up vegetables and a brick red one poking things on the stove. Torgal is sitting at the dining table, a steaming mug cradled in one pair of hands, and he looks toward the doorway as Rush walks in. "Ah," he says, "here he is now."

Rush grins. "I'm the morning's gossip, huh?"

"Course you are, boy," says the qsiti at the stove, turning to gesture at Rush with the wooden spoon in his hand. His eyes are only a shade lighter than his skin, and his mouth curls up at the corners like he's trying to smile but his face doesn't really work that way. "Not every day the young master brings an outsider upstairs! There's got to be something to it, if you ask me."

"You let your imagination run away with you, Maddox," the other qsiti says. He waves his knife to make his point, and a little piece of pepper or something goes flying. "Not everything's part of some grand design, you know."

"Indeed, Sibal," Torgal says. His voice is low and rumbly. "However, Lord David rarely does anything without a reason." He takes a sip from his mug. "What that reason is in this case, we have yet to see."

"Man, you make him sound so sneaky," Rush says. "He was really nice to me last night."

Torgal blinks at him slowly, flicking one ear a couple of times. Rush has no idea what that's supposed to mean.

"You're crowding the doorway," a woman says from behind him, and Rush jumps.

"Sorry," he says, taking a step further into the room. The mitra woman who comes in behind him looks like she's all business, serious and alert even this early in the morning. She's older, probably about Rush's mom's age, and the look on her face as she looks Rush up and down is almost embarrassing, it's so intense.

Her lips quirk in about half a smile. "You'd be our visitor, then," she says. She steps past him toward the kitchen, where she helps herself to a mug and reaches for the kettle.

Rush nods. "I'm Rush. Rush Sykes."

"Emma Honeywell," the woman says. She gives him that turning-you-inside-out look again, like the strictest teachers Rush ever had at school. "Sykes, did you say? Any relation to the Remnant hunters?"

"Yeah, actually," Rush says. "They're my mom and dad." And people always treated them like a big deal on Eulam, but he had no idea they were famous enough for people to know who they were even in Elysion. "You've heard of them, huh?"

Emma nods, taking her cup of coffee and going over to sit down at the table with Torgal. "I haven't seen her in years, but I used to know Marina rather well."

Rush processes that for a minute. Emma knows his mom, and she works here—"Wait a minute, you mean my mom—I don't think I wanted to know that."

Emma laughs at him, shaking her head. "I haven't lived here all my life, you know. I met Marina when we were both young women. I was traveling, and she was making some of her first discoveries in a ruin east of the city." She takes a sip of her coffee and leans into Torgal's side. "What brought you here?"

So Rush tells them the whole story, how he and Irina grew up on Eulam, mostly by themselves while their parents were out on one site or another. How those black-coated thugs showed up, and they tried to fight, but they weren't a match for those guys, and Irina got dragged off. How Rush tried to get it together as fast as he could to follow them, and managed to get enough information to be pretty sure they were heading for Elysion, but not a whole lot more than that.

Other people drift in as he talks: male and female mitra, a couple more qsiti, a blue yama with golden fins and piercings in his lip. The qsiti cooks keep plates coming, serving up eggs and rashers of lizard for everyone. Even Rush gets a plate, which is really nice of them when he just showed up on their doorstep pretty much by accident the night before. And everybody seems really sympathetic about Irina.

"It won't be easy to track down the men you're looking for," Torgal says thoughtfully. "Much happens in Elysion, and they will have connections."

Rush takes a breath to argue, but then doesn't know what to say. He is pretty freaked out about this.

"But Rush will not be entirely without resources, either," Dave says, walking into the room as if he's already totally up to speed on the conversation. Everyone shifts and scoots around at the table until there's room for him, almost right across from Rush. "We're willing to help as much as we can, of course."

"Really?" Rush says. "Thanks, Dave." He frowns, thinking about that for a second. "So, uh, no offense, but how could you help exactly? I mean, it's not like you guys are fighters, or something."

Emma snorts, and Dave smiles. "You might be surprised about that," he says. "But at the very least, we can help you gather information. We see patrons from all over the city, and we hear rumors from many of them. We can learn far more than you would be able to alone."

Rush thinks about that for a minute, taking another bite of his fried egg and lizard. "That makes sense," he says, and then swallows because talking with your mouth full is rude, he's pretty sure. "It'll be good to have the help. So, uh, I guess I should stop back here soon and see if you've heard anything, huh?"

For a second Dave frowns just a tiny bit, but it's gone so fast that Rush thinks he might have imagined it. "Please do," Dave says smoothly, and smiles at him in the way that just makes the whole room light up. "And let me know if there's ever anything else we can do for you."

"Sure thing," Rush says. He is so lucky that he met Dave when he did.

They see him off after breakfast, giving him some advice about places he could look for information and parts of town to be careful in. Rush thanks all of them for looking out for him, and holds on probably a little too long when Dave clasps his hand to wish him well. Man, he wants to come back here when things are better—and that thought keeps him in a good mood as he sets out to explore.

Finding Irina in a place like this isn't going to be easy. Mom and Dad talked about it when they came home to Eulam sometimes, how nice it was to get away from the bustle of the city, but it never really sunk in that it would be this intense. Elysion is huge, and there are parts of it that Rush can't even get to at all—the guards at the Academy turn him away without giving him a chance to make his case, and the soldiers on Embassy Row tell him he'd better move on if he doesn't have any proof he's there on official business. One time he sees somebody who might be wearing the same kind of black hood as the guys who took Irina, but when he follows he just comes up against a dead end.

Trying to talk to people for rumors has pretty much the same problem—there's just so much to take in, so many people to talk to and so many things to try to keep straight. In some places, the bartenders won't give him any information at all until he's bought a drink first, which makes it extra annoying when they don't have anything helpful to tell him. By nightfall, all he's learned is that Elysion has way too much going on at any given time, that nobody trusts the Academy, and that there are at least half a dozen shady groups in the city that could have been involved with a kidnapping, even if nobody's willing to say anything for sure. He's tired, and his heart hurts, and he really hopes—as he spends most of his remaining gold on getting a room for the night—that Dave and everybody at Valor's Heart are having better luck than he is.

The next day is more of the same. Rush visits the temple district, passing the little stalls of souvenir trinkets, going in for a brief visit to the temple of Marion itself. He wanders through the market districts, both the older buildings of Tula Street and the newer, busier ones of Hendler. He gets lost more than once and has to retrace his steps, looking for distinctive carved buildings or patterns of street tile to tell him where he's been. Everywhere, he asks about Irina, describing her, wishing he'd thought to bring a visistone with him when he left home. Most people are pretty sympathetic, except for that one yama who tells him she's never been good at telling mitra apart in the first place, so it's ridiculous to think she could remember one just based on Rush's description. But nobody has any concrete answers to give him.

His money runs out in Hendler that afternoon, buying a little gift pack of sweet rolls with five-petaled Remnant flowers scored into the tops—"Blessed Buns," the lady in the shop calls them, before she tells him that no, she's sorry, she hasn't seen his sister. Rush thanks her anyway and tells her he's sure it'll all work out in the end. She says she'll pray for him, which is kind of nice.

Rush sits on the broad set of steps leading up to Hendler's upper terrace, gift box in his lap, eating the first of the buns and wondering how long the pack of six will last. They are pretty good, just like that guy in the pub said—soft and fluffy on the outside, with a filling that's creamy and sweet and...sort of flowery-tasting. Rush eats two of them before he manages to convince himself to put the rest away for later.

He's kind of reaching the end of his rope, he realizes unhappily. This is just...it's so daunting, trying to track Irina down in a place like this. He's doing everything he can on his own, but he's just not sure it's going to be enough.

Maybe Dave will have heard something, though. Or maybe he'll have some ideas who Rush should be talking to, or how to get into the Academy and send a message to Mom and Dad, or...something. It'll be better than just sitting here feeling stuck, that's for sure.

Rush gets up, dusting off his hands, and sets off again. He makes one or two wrong turns trying to find his way back to the street he'd wandered into the other night, but he figures it out eventually. Before sundown, even. The same slate-gray yama who'd been hanging around outside is there again, and he makes a better landmark than anything else Rush could think of.

"Hey, there you are," he says when Rush comes up the street. "The boss said to keep an eye out for you."

"Really?" Rush says. "Awesome!" He feels better already, just knowing that Dave was waiting for him to come back. "So, what, is it your job to hang out here and greet people?"

"More or less," the yama says. "I'm house security, me and Torgal. But I usually get the door, because he makes people nervous about coming inside." His broad tail sweeps back and forth as he talks, and there's something sort of relaxing about that. Like this whole thing is casual. "The name's Baulson, by the way. I don't think we got properly introduced the other night."

"Nice to meet you, Baulson," Rush says. "I'm Rush. I guess you probably already heard that." He holds out his hand and Baulson takes it with a nod. His hand is huge and scaly, dry and just a little rough-textured. He shakes Rush's hand carefully, like he's holding his strength in check.

"Nice to meet you, too, Rush. You can go ahead on in. I'm sure the boss will be happy to see you."

Rush tries to remind himself to play it cool, but it makes him feel pretty good to hear that. "Thanks," he says. And then he has a sort of awkward thought, and feels himself blushing a little. "Um. He's not going to be...busy, or anything, is he?"

Baulson laughs. "Nah, you don't have to worry about that. We don't get busy here until most people are closing up shop for the night, and he doesn't take care of a whole lot of people personally anyway."

"Cool," Rush says. "Okay." He takes a deep breath to psych himself up, then heads inside.

He recognizes most of the faces from being here before, even if there are one or two new ones. There's a blond mitra girl sitting in the lap of the yama with the piercings, playing cards with a dark-skinned mitra boy and a golden qsiti. Torgal is sitting down instead of looming threateningly, giving the other sovani a back rub with all four hands. Sovani are probably amazing at back rubs, Rush thinks. And there's Dave, getting up to greet him, holding out a hand in welcome.

"Rush," he says warmly. "I'm glad you've returned." He takes Rush's hand and bows over it the same way he did before, kissing the knuckles gently.

"Yeah," Rush says. Before Dave can let go, he returns the gesture—he's not as elegant as Dave about it, but it seems like such a cool greeting, such a sexy greeting. And wow, he likes the way Dave is looking at him when he straightens back up. "I wish I could say everything was fine and I was just here to enjoy myself."

Dave squeezes his hand sympathetically. "No luck yet?"

Rush shakes his head. "Nothing," he says. "How about you?"

"Nothing definite," Dave says. "A few possibilities, but nothing I feel confident of yet."

"Still," Rush says, "that sounds like you've got something. I—what did you find out?"

"Come," Dave says. "Sit down with me." He leads Rush over to one of the couches, seating himself gracefully. "I'm wary of moving too quickly," he says. "If these villains should realize that someone is investigating them, they will go to ground, and tracking them will become that much harder."

"But—" Rush clenches his fists in his lap, trying not to lose control of himself. "They've got my little sister, Dave."

"I know," Dave says. "Truly, I wish I could provide you with an instant answer." He takes Rush's hand again, just holding on this time. It is kind of comforting. "Your sister...inherited some of your parents' talents, did she not?"

"Yeah," Rush says, frowning. His parents are really good at Remnant hunting, thanks to Mom having this instinct for where to look for them. She says it's like she can feel their presence, sometimes. "Why?"

"The rumors I've been hearing suggest that there is an underground group of Remnant hunters planning an expedition." Dave looks Rush right in the eyes, his expression fierce and serious. "They want to use her skills, Rush. That will keep them from harming her, but it also means they'll be difficult to track down."

Rush swallows hard. Remnants are really valuable, really rare—they're relics from hundreds of years ago, and they can have crazy amounts of power. It makes sense that shady people would try to go after them, but still. "Those jerks," he says.

Dave smiles a little. "Indeed," he says. "I do believe that we can track them down, Rush. But it will take time."

"Damn," Rush says. "I mean—it's great that you can do it." He looks down at his hands, shaking his head. "I just don't know what I'm going to do. I can't just go back to Eulam when I know this is where she ended up, but I don't have any money or anything to stay here, and those Academy jerks won't even give me the time of day."

"You'll find a way," Dave says. "There are plenty of places in Elysion where you could find employment, so that you'll have the resources to stay."

"Yeah?" Dave sounds so calm, so reasonable. It's really reassuring, when everything feels this daunting. Rush looks up. "You got any suggestions where to start?"

Dave shrugs. "Why not here?"

Rush chokes, and his face gets really hot. "What, seriously?" he says. He waits for Dave to laugh it off, say it was just a joke, but it doesn't happen. "But—I don't know, aren't you guys really good at this? I mean, it's not like I...." He's really actually saying this, isn't he. "It's not like I have the experience to qualify."

"Giving pleasure is a learned skill, not an inborn talent," Dave says. "If you don't think you'd care for it, that's reason enough to refuse, but if all you're lacking is practice...." His smile turns warm and teasing. "I'm sure we can help you acquire some of that."

"You...." want me here, Rush almost says, but that's totally out of line. He's pretty sure. "You think I'd be good at it, huh?"

"I do," Dave says. "You're handsome, outgoing, and considerate, all of which are qualities that would serve you well here."

Rush squirms, pretty sure he's blushing even harder. It's great stuff to hear, but he wasn't really prepared for how blunt Dave is about it. "I, um," he says. It does kind of sound like Dave wants him to stay.

"We won't be busy here for another few hours," Dave says, looking Rush up and down with this slow, thoughtful expression. "How would you like to come see the rest of the house, and perhaps pick up some of that experience you're missing?"

*


Rush barely sees a thing on the tour of the house—he can't take his eyes off Dave. His thoughts keep trailing off in variations of He wants to or We're going to—and even when he doesn't finish that mental sentence it has him getting hard.

Dave takes pity on him in one of the private entertaining rooms, stopping in the middle of an explanation about...common yama interests, maybe? Rush is pretty sure that came up at some point. "Forgive me," Dave says. "This isn't what you need right now at all. You're distracted."

"No, ah, it's fine," Rush says. "I mean, I would, um, need to know this stuff, right?"

"Eventually," Dave says. "But the first crucial rule for being successful in this profession is to pay attention to your patron's needs." He closes the door behind them. "Theoretical lectures are not what you need most at the moment, are they?"

"When you put it that way," Rush says. His heart is pounding. They're really going to do this. The hottest guy he's ever seen has brought him into this fancy little room so they can have sex. "I guess I've always learned better by doing than by listening."

Dave steps closer, close enough that they're almost touching. "Allow me to be of assistance," he murmurs. He slides one arm around Rush's waist, and his other hand cradles the nape of Rush's neck, and he leans in for a kiss like it's the easiest thing in the world. His mouth is soft and warm, cinnamon-spiced, and the press of his lips makes Rush immediately, almost embarrassingly hard. His tongue teases, coaxes, flickering against Rush's own, and his fingers toy with the short hairs at the back of Rush's neck. Rush moans, settling his hands at Dave's waist and pulling him closer. Man, he feels great, warm and solid, holding on tighter when Rush grinds against him. "Rush," he breathes. "Will you allow me to undress you?"

Will Rush let him? "Oh man, please," Rush says. "I want this so much, Dave."

"So do I, Rush," Dave says, unsnapping the front of Rush's overshirt. "You're lovely." He takes his time stripping Rush out of his clothes, stopping to touch and kiss and lick every time he gets new skin bare. Rush tries to keep up, because wow, he really want to touch Dave, too, but it's just so overwhelming—Dave's skin feels great under his hands, warm and smooth, and he looks amazing when he takes his clothes off, but every time he touches Rush he seems to find new sensitive spots, and Rush's brain is kind of having a meltdown.

That's okay, he decides, when Dave finishes getting them both naked. Dave is showing him the ropes, right? So it's fine to let himself just go with it and follow Dave's lead for now. Especially since following Dave's lead means getting pulled up close against him, shoulder to shoulder and chest to chest—they're almost the same height—and their cocks pressed together between their bellies. Dave kisses him breathless, hands wandering over his skin, teasing and stroking.

"Dave," Rush says, "wow, Dave, please." His cock aches, and his skin feels like it's on fire everywhere Dave touches him, but Dave seems totally content to go slow, to kiss him and tease him until he just can't even stand it. "Please," Rush says again, and Dave hums against his throat. "I'm sorry, I know you're trying to show me stuff, I just—you feel so good and I want to come so much."

Dave laughs, soft and low, and his teeth graze Rush's earlobe and that feels so good Rush thinks he's going to die. "I'd be happy to oblige," he says. "We can always continue once your need is a little less immediate." And just like that he's going down on his knees, slowly, kissing his way down Rush's stomach and wrapping his hands around Rush's hips like he's trying to hold him steady.

His breath is hot against the head of Rush's cock, and Rush whimpers. "Please," he says. "Dave."

"My pleasure," Dave says, looking up at him with this amazing, smoldering expression before he leans in closer and takes Rush's cock in his mouth.

Rush immediately decides that's the best thing ever, the slick wet heat of Dave's mouth and the amazing thing it does to his cheekbones when his mouth is stretched that wide and oh wow, the feel of it when Rush slides all the way down his throat. Within about fifteen seconds Rush is shaking and holding on tight to Dave's shoulder and worrying about how he's going to keep his balance because seriously, so close already, and then Dave makes this noise like he's purring around Rush's cock—and that's it, that pushes him over, and he's coming in Dave's mouth so hard he sees stars.

Thirty seconds and done. Rush has to laugh, giddy with the release of tension and the ridiculousness of being so easy. When he looks down, Dave is licking his lips, sitting back on his heels and looking smug. "Sorry," Rush says. "I feel a little silly right now. Good job me, finishing in record time."

Dave's smug look turns into an amazing, hungry smile. "Oh, but you're not finished," he says. "You needn't worry about that at all."

He gets to his feet, smooth and confident, and leans in for another kiss, steering Rush backward toward the bed. Rush grins into his mouth, and lets himself be pushed.

*


By the time Dave is done with him, Rush is giddy and shaky with exhaustion, sticky and slippery, muscles sore all over. He curls up against Dave's side, his head on Dave's shoulder, and just kind of basks in how good he feels. "Man. You get paid for doing this, huh?" he says after a while.

Dave laughs softly, nuzzling Rush's hair. "I must admit, it doesn't always go that smoothly," he says. "Some patrons are more of a challenge than others, and very few of them are quite so delightful as you."

That really makes Rush feel special. "Thanks," he says."You're pretty great at it. I mean, you must hear that all the time."

"I'm still glad to hear you enjoyed yourself," Dave says. He pets Rush's back in slow, lazy strokes. He sounds just as comfortably worn out as Rush feels, and it's just...really nice, being here, curled up with him.

Rush has to ask. "So, uh...if I take the job, and I stick around...can we do this again?"

"If you stay," Dave says slowly, "you'll likely spend most of your energy on your patrons. And I hope you'll take the opportunity to learn from the others here, as well." Rush tries not to be disappointed—they've only just met, and they don't really know each other, and probably this wasn't as big a deal for Dave as it was for him.... And then Dave adds, "But yes, I enjoyed this very much and I would definitely like to do it again sometime."

"Thanks, Dave," Rush says. It's a pretty good deal, isn't it? He'll have a place to stay, people to help him out while he tries to find Irina, and friends to help him keep his spirits up. His spirits and other things, he thinks, grinning into the hollow of Dave's shoulder. "Okay, so. When do I start?"

*


Turns out he can't just start working right away, because first he has to see the house medic for a checkup. (Just a routine physical, Dave assures him, before he gets into what's actually a pretty athletic line of work.) The house medic is one of the card players from when Rush arrived, a mitra named Rhagoh with dark skin and a soft voice. He's really polite about it when he asks Rush to get undressed for him, and it's almost not awkward at all. Better get used to it, Rush reminds himself. It's kind of in the job description.

"So, is it common for pleasure houses to have their own medics?" Rush asks as Rhagoh examines him. It seems pretty extravagant to him, but maybe trained medics are more common in the city and it's not such a big deal.

"It isn't common, no," Rhagoh says. He touches an old patch of scar tissue on Rush's elbow—Rush had a bad habit of climbing things and falling off them as a kid—with careful fingers. "I see patrons as well, but I already had medic training when my sister and I arrived here, and Lord David offered me a stipend on top of my patrons' fees if I would take care of everyone's health."

Rush nods. "You had some other job before, huh?"

Rhagoh brandishes a tongue depressor, and Rush opens his mouth. "We were mercenaries," Rhagoh says. Rush raises an eyebrow, since he can't say really? with his tongue pressed down. "It was Kate's idea. She's always been fiercer than I have." He nods at whatever he sees in Rush's mouth and steps back. "Eventually we took on a job that was too much for us, and my skills were barely enough to keep her alive. She let me talk her into quitting the business after that."

"Wow," Rush says. "Sounds pretty intense."

"That's one way of putting it," Rhagoh says with a little smile as he takes Rush's wrist. He's quiet for a minute as he counts Rush's pulse, then says, "Sometimes I think Kate misses the excitement, but I'm a lot happier here. Even a bad day of having sex with people is better than a good day of monsters trying to kill you, in my opinion."

Rush has to laugh, and that makes Rhagoh smile a little more confidently. He's not a knockout in quite the same way Dave is, but he is pretty good looking, especially when he smiles. "What's it like?" Rush asks. He'll be finding out for himself soon enough, and everything, but it can't hurt to learn a little more before he gets started.

"It's a little different every time," Rhagoh says. "Different people want different things from you, of course, but even the same person might want to be treated differently from one evening to the next. They come to us for...I think they come to us for kindness, really. Wanting to spend some time with somebody who'll make their happiness a priority."

"That sounds really sweet," Rush says.

"You'd probably get different answers from some of the others," Rhagoh says. He beckons Rush over to stand on a scale. "But that's how I think of it, and that's why I'm happy here." Rush stands on the scale, and Rhagoh slides the weights along the arm until it balances. "Thank you. Almost done." He steps away from Rush and takes a few little bottles out of a cabinet, measuring ingredients into a cup.

"What's that for?" Rush says. "Don't tell me there's something wrong with me after all."

"Oh, no, not at all," Rhagoh says. "This is a precaution we all have to take. All of us mitra, I mean." He adds some powdered something to the liquids in the cup. "You won't be able to see any female mitra patrons until you've been taking it for at least a week. It's a contraceptive."

Rush blinks, trying to figure out which question to ask first. Do a lot of girls come here? is the most obvious, but probably he'll find out the answer to that one naturally. "Just mitra, huh? What about everyone else?"

"For qsiti, reproducing and taking pleasure together are different acts," Rhagoh says. "And female yama have to release eggs consciously to be fertile. I think they both think we're a little odd."

"Huh," Rush says. "...And sovani?"

Rhagoh shakes his head. "You could try asking Torgal if you really want to, but I don't know if he'll tell you anything. We've never had a female sovani visit here, as far as I know." He finishes mixing up the contraceptive medicine and hands Rush the little cup. "Try to drink it all quickly," he says.

Rush looks at the stuff dubiously. "What, does it lose potency if it sits?" he asks. He lifts the cup to his lips, catching a whiff of bitter herbs.

"No, not for some time," Rhagoh says, as Rush tilts the cup. "It's just the taste."

Wow, he's not kidding, either. The medicine hits the back of his tongue, bitter and oily, and Rush coughs, his eyes watering helplessly. He makes himself swallow in a hurry, but yuck.

Rhagoh grimaces sympathetically as Rush hands back the empty cup. "I'm sorry," he says. "I've tried adding things to it for flavor, but that really only seems to make it worse."

"I'll live," Rush says, wiping his eyes. "Really want something to get the taste out of my mouth, though."

"Understandable," Rhagoh says. "Should we go see if the kettle's on?"

*


It's easier to get used to the routines at Valor's Heart than Rush would have thought it'd be. Most of the others are friendly, which helps—well, okay, Gabriel is obnoxious sometimes, which Dave says is probably because he only sees female patrons and he must be worried about Rush poaching his clientele, and the other sovani, Allan, is a jerk. Allan's a jerk to everybody, though, even Torgal, who is apparently his boyfriend? Or whatever the sovani word for it is. So Rush tries not to take his attitude too seriously.

Mostly, though, people are pretty nice. Rush sees his first few patrons, who seem to be pretty excited about the idea of trying out the new guy. Most of them are mitra, but there's a yama lady one night, with green and gold scales, who gets him to put his entire hand and half his forearm inside her. He winds up needing an ointment for bruises on his arm after that one, she comes so hard. The whole experience is a little weird, but it's also kind of awesome to know he could get to somebody that much.

Another night, a little mixed group of qsiti come in together, and take over one of the bigger rooms with Pagus, Maddox, and Sibal. When Rush goes by the door later, it looks like the whole bunch of them are having a really excited argument over something—when he mentions it, Dave explains that it's a philosophy league that meets there once a month, and those guys get as excited about a good debate as most of the house's patrons get about hot sex. Rush has to admit he doesn't really get that, but whatever makes them happy, right?

The most ridiculous thing that happens to him on the job is when the house gets a visit from their apothecary, this chatty, hyper girl called Khrynia, and she agrees with an over-the-top leer to take half the payment for her medicines in trade—and that means Rush winds up spending the rest of the afternoon with her and Sheryl, doing his best just to keep up. Khrynia talks dirty more playfully than anyone else he's met, and Sheryl is fond of offering constructive criticism, especially when she's watching, and they both like to pull hair when they want something faster or slower or a little to the left. By the end of the day, between the exhaustion and Khrynia's "super awesome herbal supplements," he's completely loopy.

It's not bad, though, none of it, and everybody is really nice about Irina, letting Rush know any time they hear something that might help. The hardest part is just waiting for news, but it sounds almost certain that the guys who kidnapped her have headed out of town without giving anybody good hints about where they went. Elysion is their base of operations, though. They'll be back.

In the meantime, Rush is making friends with most of the house, and hooking up with a lot of them at least once or twice to get an idea how it's different. He spends more time with Dave than anyone else, though—Dave hardly ever seems to take on patrons of his own, so he's almost always free, and Rush only likes him better the more they hang out. They trade stories and talk about all kinds of things, and curl up with each other to just snuggle in between taking care of visitors. If Rush still has some energy left when they close up for the night, more often than not Dave will be the last person to screw him before he's really actually done for the night. Falling asleep in Dave's bed, sticky and warm and worn out, becomes one of Rush's favorite things.

He never would have expected it, but he's happy here.

*


The latest news in town is that this big-time general has come home, this guy who's such a hotshot that people just call him the Conqueror. Some of his soldiers have stopped by the house already, spending money on all the most extravagant stuff they have to offer—mostly they're pretty decent guys, though one or two of them have had to be thrown out for getting rowdy. Torgal takes a turn on the door, because he's more likely than Baulson to just refuse to let guys in if they smell like trouble. Baulson lets himself get dragged into the afternoon card game, even though he tries to make excuses a couple of times first.

"You know I gotta save my money," he says, as Rush drags him down into a seat. "I got Naira's birthday to worry about, and I gotta get her something nice." Still, he's letting Rush do the dragging in the first place, so he can't be that upset.

"That's right, she's going to be legal soon, isn't she?" Sheryl says with a grin. "Is she still sweet on Blocter? I bet she'd be thrilled if you bought her a night with him."

Baulson sputters, and Blocter laughs. "I'll put that in for my stake," he says, "how's that?"

"I'm not gonna—she's my little sister!" Baulson protests. "I don't even want to think about—"

Then the front door opens and everything in the room just kind of goes still for a minute, like suddenly nobody can breathe. This guy walks in, big and muscular for a mitra, older, with long blond hair and a jawline like a battleaxe. He's dressed all in red, and he has this expression on his face like he owns everything he even looks at.

Dave is the first one to recover, getting up to offer the guy a deep bow. "My lord Conqueror," he says, "we are honored to receive you."

The guy—the Conqueror—just nods, slowly, like that was no surprise. "You're available," he says, not making it a question at all, his voice low and rumbly. He reaches out and takes hold of Dave's chin, tilting it up like he's studying Dave's face. Rush starts to get up, and Emma grabs him and shoves him back into his seat.

"Be still," she tells him sharply.

"It would be my pleasure to entertain you," Dave says, totally calm, like the Conqueror isn't a big scary creep at all.

"Lead the way," the Conqueror says, letting Dave go.

Emma doesn't let go of Rush until they've disappeared into the back of the house. "Calm yourself," she says, when he wants to go over the back of the couch and follow them.

"But that guy was bad news," Rush says. "Anyone could see that! We should be kicking him out, not inviting him in to mess Dave up!"

"The Conqueror is a dangerous man, true," Emma says, "but he is not here to harm David. This is not his first visit to us. Torgal would not have let him in the door if he had proved himself a poor risk the first time."

"But he—" Rush frowns. This just doesn't feel right, any way he looks at it. "Somebody should be keeping an eye on him."

Emma raises a skeptical eyebrow. "Are you volunteering?" she asks. From the sharpness in her tone, even Rush can tell she's not suggesting it to do him any favors. He's not sure he cares.

"Fine," he says.

"Rush." That's Blocter, sounding worried. Most of the others are looking away, like this is awkward. "Don't let it get to you too much. The young master knows what he's doing."

"I...I know," Rush says. "Dave's smart. He's got it together. More than I do, I know that. It's just...."

Emma puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes. "You can't save him from his own choices," she says, more gently this time. Now she really sounds like somebody's mom. "And even if you could, he would not thank you for it."

Rush nods unhappily. "I'm just worried about him," he says. "I mean, come on. The guy calls himself the Conqueror and I'm supposed to believe he's going to play nice?"

"Would you be reassured if he did?" Emma asks. Rush blinks at her. "If you discovered that David was being well-treated and enjoying himself, would that forestall your objections?"

"I—yeah," Rush says. He looks down at his hands. "I just want him to be okay."

Emma sighs. "If you promise to control yourself, I'll take you to look in on him," she says.

Well, it's not as good as just having the guy get kicked out, but Rush has to admit that's fair. At least he'll be able to see for himself if Dave's okay. Not that he doesn't trust Emma or Blocter, it's just...it's just hard, is all. "Thanks," he says.

"Take a few moments to calm yourself," Emma says. "I don't want you having another outburst and disrupting them."

"Yeah," Rush says. He takes some deep breaths, trying not to think about what that creep could be doing to Dave. Calm. He can do that. He can be reasonable. "Okay. I got it under control."

Emma gets up from the couch. "Off we go, then."

She leads him down the main hallway, past the entertaining rooms, and in the back of the house—in the private area where the patrons aren't allowed—there's a little half-hidden door that leads into a narrow, dark corridor headed back toward the front. Emma puts her finger to her lips, be really quiet, and when Rush nods she steps into the corridor.

Rush follows, listening to the sounds that come through the wall, the low growls as Allan has a dominance fight with the sovani who hired him, the moans of the society lady that Gabriel's taking care of. And just as Emma motions for him to stop, he hears the familiar sound of Dave's voice, low and sweet. Rush swallows hard.

Emma slides back a tiny curtain, barely visible against the wall, and suddenly they have a little round window open on one of the entertaining rooms. Rush opens his mouth to ask how they keep something like this hidden, and then he realizes it has to be one of the mirrors that hang on the walls in there—most of the entertaining rooms have a few little mirrors on the walls with fancy frames, like they're decorations. Pretty sneaky, to use them like this.

Then he actually looks through the mirror-window.

The Conqueror still has his pants on, but Dave's completely naked except for a soft-looking black blindfold. He's leaning back against the Conqueror's chest, his hands behind him, like maybe the Conqueror has his wrists pinned. One-handed, because the Conqueror's other hand is wrapped around Dave's cock, stroking it really slow. He says something into Dave's ear, the words too quiet for Rush to pick out.

"Yes, sir," Dave answers, breathy and intense. "Yes, please, sir."

The Conqueror laughs, and Dave arches against him. "Good boy," he says. "You may."

Dave shivers, moaning, and his voice is so hot, and then he's coming, white streaks splashing his bronze belly. He nuzzles at the Conqueror's shoulder, and the Conqueror lets go of his cock, swiping thick fingers through the mess of Dave's come and feeding it to him. It's slow, sensual, like he's—like they're both—drawing it out, making a tease out of it. Dave pants for it, lapping at the Conqueror's fingers, whimpering when the Conqueror smears his come across his lips for him to lick clean.

Rush feels like he can't breathe. Okay, he has his answer. Emma was telling the truth: demanding, but not hurting Dave at all. That looks...like the opposite of hurting, pretty much. Rush's cock is hard from watching even just this little bit of it. But it's also—he isn't sure he really wants to see this, but he can't look away, either.

The Conqueror takes his hand away from Dave's mouth. "Kneel," he says calmly. Dave does, thighs flexing smoothly, no questions asked. The Conqueror takes a step back, then another, putting some distance between them. Then he undoes the laces of his pants and bares his cock. "Now come over here and give me your mouth."

"Thank you, my lord," Dave says. He turns, and Rush can see that his wrists are actually tied behind his back with red silk rope. He doesn't get up, just shuffles blindly on his knees toward where the Conqueror waits for him. When he gets there he leans forward, resting his cheek against the Conqueror's thigh, then nuzzles his way upward until he can find the man's cock by touch and wrap his lips around it. The Conqueror threads his fingers into Dave's hair and pushes him down on it, all the way. Dave makes a wet little choking around that turns into a whimper, his shoulders going limp and relaxed—and the Conqueror looks straight into their mirror, meets Rush's eyes, and smiles.

Rush bolts, halfway down the corridor by the time he's had a second to think, all the way back out in the light by the time Emma catches him. She practically knocks him down, too, getting an arm around his throat and a vice grip on his right hand. "You are not going to interrupt them," she says, quiet but really fierce.

"I know," Rush says. His throat feels tight and he's kind of shaky and there is no way he wants to go face that guy down. "I know, I'm not going anywhere."

Emma lets him go, then, and sighs. She says a lot of different things by sighing, but Rush thinks this is the I'm sorry this is happening, but what can you do? sigh. "Take the night off," she tells him.

"What?" Rush says. "I don't need—I'll be fine."

"You will," Emma says, "but not right away." Rush starts to protest further, and she holds up a hand. "I'm not doing this to coddle you," she says. "You're distracted right now. You won't give your best to anyone who comes to see you if you're thinking about David the entire time."

"I—" Rush starts, but he doesn't have a good argument. He doesn't know how he'd be able to put those images out of his head right now, really.

Emma nods. "So take the time you need." She hesitates. "I'm expecting someone tonight, so I can't stay with you, but...Rush.... Take this time to think about what you want from him."

Wow, that makes it sound serious. "What I want from him?" Rush says.

"None of us can promise to share pleasure with only one person. If that's what you need..." She shakes her head. "Well. Think carefully about whether that's something you require from someone close to you."

Rush watches her go, turning those words over in his head: what he needs. His chest feels tight. "Dave," he says.

*


When the sky starts to lighten to gray outside the window, Rush gives up really trying to sleep. He's been doing a bad job of it all night, tossing and turning and wondering whether he's making a huge mistake. The Conqueror didn't leave until it was almost time for the house to close up, and Dave came stumbling up to bed in no shape to talk about anything—so tired he was swaying on his feet, and acting kind of out of it, like maybe they'd been sharing some of Khrynia's special herbs by the end there. He crawled into bed and pretty much passed out on Rush right away.

Rush rolls over—carefully, because Dave still has an arm thrown over him—so he can see Dave's face. Dave is still sleeping, his mouth soft, his hair spilling across the pillow. He's gorgeous, even when he's not trying. And he's...everything about being with him has been good, up till yesterday.

Rationally, Rush is pretty sure that's ridiculous. He knew this was what Dave did for a living. He's been doing it himself, and it's been a fun job. But somehow it feels different when he sees Dave do it, and when it's so intense like that, and...when it seemed like he wanted it so much.

Okay, that makes Rush feel like a jerk.

He sighs, burrowing into his own pillow a little deeper. He can figure this out, right? The fact that this is messing with him so much just really means that Dave is important to him. It wouldn't hurt if he didn't care.

Dave makes a little sleepy noise and snuggles closer. Rush tenses up without meaning to, still awkward in his own head, and Dave stops. "Rush?" he says, his voice kind of sleep-fuzzy.

"Yeah," Rush says. "It's me."

Dave props himself up on one elbow, peering at Rush in the dim light. "Are you all right?"

"I'm—" fine sticks in Rush's throat. "I saw you with him," he says.

"I see," Dave says. Already he sounds less sleepy. "And that bothers you."

"I know that's dumb," Rush says. "I do. And I...I was fine when I just wasn't thinking about it hard. But that guy freaked me out, and I was worried he was going to hurt you, so Emma showed me the hidden hallway thing and—I just. I guess I wasn't prepared for it to be so intense."

Dave's hand strokes his side slowly, gently. "Intense is certainly an apt choice of words," he says. "I'm grateful he visits us only rarely; I don't think I could play the role he needs on a more frequent basis."

"Really?" Rush says. He wants that to be true pretty badly. "You...looked like you were really into it."

"There is pleasure in the act," Dave says slowly. "Truly, I would hope that you also—that everyone who works here enjoys providing what we can for our patrons."

"Yeah," Rush says. He leans into Dave, drapes an arm over his waist. "Me too. I know that's good. I don't want you to do it and not like it, that would be awful. I'm...I'll get over this, I promise. Sorry."

Dave leans over and kisses his forehead. "You needn't apologize, Rush," he says. "I am touched that you were concerned about me." He kisses Rush's forehead again. Rush tilts his head up and Dave takes the invitation, kissing his mouth, slow and soft. "And...while it's true that I enjoyed yesterday's session, it was also quite taxing. It does me no harm, but an encounter of that nature leaves me...well. You saw me last night. It leaves me very vulnerable, incapable of defending myself emotionally."

Rush pulls him closer, wanting to take care of him, protect him, something. "Dave...."

"When I needed someplace where I would feel safe, I came to you," Dave says. "Remember that, if you find yourself worrying about how much this means. In your arms, I feel—I feel—"



"Yeah," Rush says, "yeah, me too," because putting it into words is hard but he gets it, he thinks. He kisses Dave, and Dave kisses him back, shifting against him so they can really wrap their arms around each other and hold on.

Dave feels so good against him, and Rush is practically shaking with relief, and he just wants to get closer so much, and putting all that together means that pretty soon they're tangled up in each other, legs twined together, Rush's hands splayed across Dave's back, Dave's hands threaded into Rush's hair. Rush grinds against Dave, feeling suddenly so needy, and Dave moans into his mouth. They should be quiet, right, because it's barely dawn and everybody here works a late night, but wanting this is enough to make Rush ache, enough that he'd swear he can feel it in his bloodstream, this certainty that he and Dave should be right here.

And okay, they manage to stay pretty quiet, and Dave sets a kind of slow pace, but it still feels to Rush like this is pretty intense, too. He's doing his best to touch Dave everywhere, to find every sensitive spot he can, and Dave's mouth maps his skin, slow and thorough and hot. The words for how he feels, for what it's like to be with Dave, get caught in his throat, but Rush hopes he's still making himself clear. He follows the smooth lines of muscle in Dave's shoulders with his hands, turns his head to kiss Dave's palm when Dave strokes his face. He catches the tips of Dave's fingers in his mouth and licks, and Dave moans softly.

"Can we?" Rush asks. Usually they try not to get off first thing in the morning—saving their energy for when the house opens.

"Yes," Dave says, low and smoky. His voice, seriously. He grinds against Rush harder, more like he means it, and Rush twists to meet him. The little thrill of Dave's cock sliding against his, both of them hard, still hasn't faded, and Rush kind of hopes it never will. They move together so well, such a good match for each other. Rush catches one of Dave's earlobes between his teeth, gently, tugging on the ring in it just a little bit, and Dave shudders in his arms.

Rush is about to reach down between them for Dave's cock when Dave purrs, "I want you inside me," right in his ear—and that runs right down his spine, turning him inside out.

"Dave," Rush says. "Yes, wow. Anything you want."

"But especially when I want things like that, hmm?" Dave asks with a little teasing smile. He rolls off of Rush, reaching for the bedside table and the flask of oil there.

Rush laughs. "Can't argue," he says. He runs one hand up Dave's back, following the twist of his spine. "You're so gorgeous, Dave."

Dave smiles as he straddles Rush's hips, not the breathtaking I'm-about-to-blow-your-mind smile but something softer at the edges, warmer, like it's just for Rush. "I've never known anyone quite like you," he says. He reaches back with oiled fingers to get himself ready, leaning down to kiss Rush at the same time.

Rush arches up into the kiss, running his hands down Dave's sides, reaching in to cup his cock and stroke slowly. It seems kind of crazy that Dave thinks he's the special one, when he still feels like everything Dave does is amazing. And now he's—they're—this matters for both of them, and it feels wonderful.

Dave draws back from the kiss, rising up on his knees. "Ready," he says, and he seriously can't be asking, because Rush feels like he's been ready since the first kiss, but he nods anyway. He holds his cock steady as Dave lines up on top of him, watching, barely breathing. Dave pushes down, his ass tight and hot around the head of Rush's cock, and that feels great, but he flinches just a little, too.

"Whoa, Dave," Rush says. "Are you okay? If you're too sore, I don't want you to—"

"I want this," Dave tells him, quiet and fierce, like he's daring Rush to argue. "I want you." He pushes himself down, smooth and oil-slippery, leaning down to cover Rush's mouth with his own.

And Rush can't argue, can't do anything but hold on and kiss back, rocking into the rhythm Dave sets. He braces his heels against the mattress and arches up, pushing deep. Dave moans into his mouth, teeth catching his lip, hands kneading his shoulders. Like this, with Dave on top of him and surrounding him and kissing him, everything, it's like—it's like right now this is it, this is the whole world. There's just this, just them, the warmth of Dave's thighs against his sides, the slide of his cock in Dave's ass, the press of Dave's tongue in his mouth. He wraps his hand around Dave's cock again and tries to get their rhythms matched up, so they slide together just right.

Dave shudders, moaning, keeping their pace slow with the steady roll of his hips. Rush lets himself just sink into the moment, heat and friction and the smoothness of Dave's skin against his. He can feel tension building up at the base of his cock, winding him just a little tighter at every stroke, and he tries not to hurry that—tries to relax and just let it happen naturally, give Dave as long as he wants, but wow, it's not easy. Especially when Dave makes this helpless little sound like he can't stand it, and Rush doesn't think he can hold back anymore, wow, and then Dave is tensing around him just as he lets go and oh, oh, he feels his own orgasm twisting sparking through him at the same time that Dave's come spills across his stomach and chest.

When Dave sits back, the look on his face is—Rush is pretty sure that's the definition of a smoldering expression, right there. He runs his hand up Rush's chest, smearing his come into Rush's skin. "I want you here, Rush," he says. "I want you to know how glad I am that you came to us."

Rush nods. "Me too, Dave," he says. He finds Dave's other hand and takes hold of it, lacing their fingers together. "I was really lucky that I wound up here. Everybody here has been really nice, and you're...this is...it's really great. Being with you."

Dave nods. "For me, as well," he says. He leans forward slowly, arching up to let Rush's cock slip free. He's a little bit shaky when he lies back down, but he curls up against Rush's side and settles in comfortably. "It's too early to be up just yet," he says. "I hope you won't mind if I want to sleep a bit longer."

"Nah, course not," Rush says. He squirms a little, settling in. "I think I'll join you, actually." They're sticky and a mess, yeah, but that can wait. Right now Rush feels comfortably drowsy at last, and Dave is here with him, and he just wants to close his eyes for a while and let himself drift.

*


A couple days later, Rush is in the showers getting cleaned up after a job—he just had his first sovani customer, who was gorgeous and felt great, but the musk their fur gives off in the middle of things is a little much—when Rhagoh ducks in with him. "Oh, hey," Rush says as Rhagoh turns on the other shower head. "How was your guy? Caedmon came in while you were busy, and Dave gave him to me."

Rhagoh smiles. "He's very gentle for a sovani, isn't he?" He steps under the water, and when he looks up at Rush he's beaming. "Mine gave me a lead on Irina."

"Really?" Rush hugs hugs him, and they both nearly slip on the wet tile. Rhagoh is laughing when Rush lets him go. "That's great news! What did you find out?"

"The man I just saw—his name is Jager—comes in often, when he's not out on a job," Rhagoh says. He ducks under the water, wetting his hair. "Usually he asks for Emma or my sister, but today he told David he wanted something more relaxing. So I asked him if something had gone wrong with a job lately."

"And?" Rush says. He should be washing up, but he's just standing there, waiting.

Rhagoh reaches past Rush for a bar of soap. "He talked about having to guard a girl on an expedition who wasn't there voluntarily," he says. "He didn't want to go into detail, but it seemed to match everything we know about Irina."

"Wow," Rush says. He shuts off the water. "Thanks for the tip!"

"Rush, wait," Rhagoh says, grabbing his arm.

"I'm sorry," Rush says. "I gotta catch him before he goes, I have to."

Rhagoh shakes his head. "He's already left. But he's coming back."

"He—what?"

"Before he left," Rhagoh says, "I told him that I knew somebody who might want to talk to him about a job. He'll be back tomorrow."

"Oh, man, you're the best," Rush says, taking his hands. "Seriously, thank you so much."

Rhagoh smiles a little. "I'm glad I could help," he says. "If something ever happened to my sister, I...I don't think I could stand it."

Rush nods. "You're a good guy, Rhagoh," he says. He lets himself be pulled back into the water. "So, I guess, since I don't have to go rushing out of here—you want me to scrub your back?"

*


When Jager walks in the door the next afternoon, there's a second at first when Rush feels like the air has just been knocked out of him. Again. He knows that guy already, recognizes him from when Irina got snatched in the first place. His hands go cold, and he has to swallow hard a few times.

"You okay?" Blocter asks, nudging him about as gently as a yama can manage. "You look a little, uh."

Rush takes a deep breath, lets it out fast. "I'm fine," he says. He can do this. He's finally going to get his chance.

He gets up and goes to meet the guy, who's talking to Dave right now. There's no mistaking him—he's really distinctive. His skin's dark for a mitra, and even though he looks pretty young his hair is pure white, shaved on the sides and pulled back in tiny braids on top. He has these swirls of white...paint? Tattoos? Can you tattoo in white? Rush isn't sure. Anyway, the white marks on Jager's face are pretty damn hard to miss.

"Hi," Rush says, making himself smile. "Been waiting for you."

Jager raises an eyebrow. "You're the one who was looking for me?"

Rush glances at Dave, and Dave just nods at him. "Let's take this in the back, hmm?" Rush says, reaching for Jager's hand. They're strong hands, broad, callused against Rush's fingers. "On the house."

"Shit," Jager says. "Can't really turn that down." He lets Rush lead him into the back.

Rush takes the first open room they come to—it's not like he needs any of the specialized stuff for this. He gets the door closed behind them and takes another deep breath. He feels so nervous. The others are close enough to hear him if something goes wrong, he reminds himself. "So," he says, "um...."

"What's the deal?" Jager asks, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms over his chest. "Place like this, you wouldn't offer me anything on the house unless you want something. Let's do this up front."

"Right," Rush says. That actually sort of makes it easier. He meets Jager's eyes. "Is Irina okay?"

Jager's eyes widen for a second, and then narrow again like he's just figured out who Rush is. "You...were with her out in Eulam, huh." Rush nods, opening his mouth to ask again, and the guy says, "That makes you Rush? Man, she never stopped talking about you."

Rush's heart clenches in his chest. "Please tell me where she is," he says. He takes a step closer without even thinking about it. "I gotta find her. Please."

Jager looks a little uncomfortable, shifting his shoulders, looking away. "The guy who hired us still has her," he says. "He ain't hurting her or anything."

"That's not good enough!" Rush says. "He had her kidnapped and he's keeping her captive! I'm not going to just—" He cuts himself off, watching Jager look him up and down. "I mean." He chews his lip. "I mean I want to go get her back. I'm really worried about her. Can you help me?"

"I got her in this mess in the first place," Jager says. "And now you want my help?"

Rush shrugs. He takes another step closer, and Jager doesn't give him any back-off signals. "You're not happy about it, are you? Leaving her there. You don't sound like you like the idea."

"It was a shitty job," Jager says. "It's just a job, though. In this business you can't afford to make calls like that if you want to keep getting hired."

The urge to argue is really hard to fight down, but Rush does his best. "What about—what about now?" he says. "Does this guy still have you hired?"

Jager's mouth twists up in about half a smile. "Guess not, now that you mention it," he says. "What, you gonna offer a trade? 'Cause I gotta tell you, I think my job's a little higher-risk than yours."

Rush has to grin. "Don't say that until you've been up close and personal with a yama getting off," he says. Jager snorts, and that makes Rush feel a little better about all this. The guy has a sense of humor, that's good. He's not all bad, even if he was working for a real creep. "But seriously, no, I'd want to hire you for real." He and Dave talked this out this morning, making a plan, figuring out what he'd need to say. "I'd pay you, and you wouldn't be working alone."

"You got people lined up already," Jager says.

"Yeah." Rush ticks them off on his fingers. "Emma's in, and Blocter, and Kate. Allan, too, if you think there'll be fighting. He says he'd love a chance to see some combat again."

Jager nods slowly, like he's thinking about it. "Pretty solid crew," he says. "If we do this—and we're still talking if, I ain't agreed to anything yet—then I want to call the shots when we're in there."

Rush chews his lip. "I think we can work with that," he says. If Jager tries anything shady, he's pretty sure Emma would catch it fast. "Payment after we're done, though."

"Fair," Jager says. "What are you offering?"

"I can give you three thousand," Rush says. It's higher than Dave thought he should go for his offer, most of what he's managed to save up from working here, but....

"Three-five," Jager says.

Rush frowns. "You're not taking it on alone, it's not that high risk."

"Gotta be extra careful, though, if I don't want anyone to know I sold Wagram out."

Extra money won't make that easier, will it? This is just about making up for the hassle, Rush is pretty sure. "I...don't actually have that much saved up." He looks Jager up and down. "How about three and the rest of tonight?"

Jager laughs. "You got balls, kid," he says. "Sure, I'll take that deal. Show me what you got."

*


Dave closes the house the next night, when Rush and everybody are headed out to meet Jager—a bunch of them won't be there, and the rest of them, he says, are going to be too distracted to pay attention to people who come in. He's trying not to act like he's fussing over Rush as they get ready, but it's still kind of obvious. He gets Rhagoh to give them all a good stock of medicine, and he gives Rush a heavy leather vest to use for armor.

"My lord," Emma says eventually, "please. Try not to worry yourself too much. We will keep him safe."

"Thank you," Dave says, but the look in his eyes doesn't get any less nervous.

"Yeah, don't worry about a thing," Blocter says. "We'll be home in time for breakfast, safe and sound, with Miss Irina in tow."

"Blocter's right, Dave," Rush says. He takes Dave's hand. "Don't sweat it. We'll be okay."

"I believe you," Dave says. "I have faith in you. It's only that I...." He trails off, and the others kind of back away, toward the door, looking away like they're trying to give Dave and Rush a little privacy. "I hadn't expected that...that having you here would have such a profound effect on me. That sounds silly, when we've only known each other for a few weeks, doesn't it? But—"

Rush shakes his head. "It doesn't sound silly at all. I really—"

"I know this is too fast," Dave says, kind of rushing the words, "and I won't—won't blame you if you just want to go back to Eulam after this, but I hope you'll consider staying here. You've been wonderful to—everyone has enjoyed having you here, none more than I. Rush, I...." He hesitates again and Rush holds his breath, heart in his throat, hoping. "I think I'm falling in love with you."

Yes, wow, yes. "I love you too, Dave," Rush says, and it feels great to put it in words, like a bright light swelling behind his ribs. He leans in for a kiss, and Dave's arms slide around him and just yes, every part of him is sure, this is what he wants. When he pulls back he thinks he's never seen Dave look so happy, never seen him look so good. "I want to stick around. Leave a light on for me tonight, okay?"

Dave nods. "I will," he says. He's smiling broad enough that it makes his eyes crinkle up at the corners, and that's really just kind of the best. "Stay safe—and come home soon."


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