1a

Mak comes to in a puddle of blood. His head aches so badly he has to probe at his skull with careful fingers to convince himself none of the blood is his. There's a burbling to his left. It sounds like someone's taking a piss, but it keeps going and going and going.

As he pushes himself to his knees, a wave of nausea jolts prickles of sweat over his back. He blinks down at the blood on his hands, turns around, and sees the first body.

The guy's meaty, about five-ten, well over two hundred pounds. He's propped against a table—looks like solid oak, and fuck, that's worth more than Mak makes in a year. The man's head lolls against his chest, a wash of dark hair obscuring his face. He's got defensive wounds on his hands and arms, but it's the gash to his femoral artery that killed him, why Mak is wearing his blood.

Mak raises his hand to call it in, fingers hesitating on the com implant tucked behind his ear.

The guy has a red tattoo on his forearm.

Mak swallows hard, tasting iron, and pitches to his feet. He staggers over to the source of the bubbling noise—it's a goddamned fountain, of all fucking things—and finds the second body. She's sprawled over the fountain's lip, facedown in the water, blood still eeling from the stab wound at the base of her skull. The arms floating out to her sides are corded with wiry muscle. Her shirt's ridden up, exposing the red patch of ink in the small of her back.

He tries to get his bearings. He's in some kind of foyer, big enough to fit half the entertainment complex in Mak's neighborhood even though this is clearly a private residence. Ostentatious displays of wealth are everywhere: natural textiles, exotic plants potted in real soil, the fucking fountain that's spitting pink-tinted water. He's never stepped foot in a place like this before, but he's afraid he knows exactly where he is.

He follows the bodies deeper into the house like a trail of breadcrumbs. Out of habit, he's mindful where he steps. Part of him wants to linger in the opulent rooms just to gawk at the weird shit obscene amounts of money can buy, but he doesn't know how much time he has.

Not every room has a body, but every body has an efficient knife wound: lung, axillary artery, popliteal artery, liver. Most of them put up a fight. It doesn't look like it made much of a difference.

Mak stops looking for the tattoos. He knows they're there.

In the bowels of the house, he finds where the last of them made their stand. The tracks on the wall tell him one of the bastards had a projectile weapon and he's utterly fucking outraged in spite of himself. There's no sign of the weapon now, though. That's good. No chance for it to walk off the crime scene later.

He steps over the bodies and crosses the threshold to the bedroom they were guarding. The room is huge, floor covered in a thick rug that's got to be real wool, and dominated by a four-poster bed like something out of an old Earth drama. The last body's sprawled across it.

He's wearing a silk robe. Rings glitter on his fat fingers. His face is frozen in an expression of shocked hatred. His throat is slit from ear to ear so deeply Mak glimpses bone in there. This wound's not efficient—it's thorough.

An all-too-familiar knife, dripping with gore, sticks out from where it's embedded in the headboard next to Sinto Varez's body like a signpost.

Mak makes it to the toilet in the en suite bath before he loses the contents of his stomach. When he's finished, he rinses his mouth with tap water that doesn't taste even faintly of chlorine. He rests his forehead against the gilt-trimmed mirror above the sink. Over his shoulder, he can see the body reflected back at him. From this angle, he catches a hint of white curled inside Varez's right hand.

It's hard to bring himself to pry the note free when he's not wearing gloves, when he doesn't have an evidence bag, but Mak does it anyway. He's pretty sure the message is for him.

Sector 12 Gamma dock berth 08

0230

He crushes the note in his fist and, despite it all, bursts out laughing.


1b

Mak breathed deep as the sector gate hissed shut behind him. The public terra dome was out of his way and its vendors gouged the hell out of their customers for the same reconstituted shit he could've picked up a block from work, but the dome's honest-to-god O2 just smelled better than the algae crap they pumped in everywhere else. It was worth sacrificing half his lunch hour on the trip.

Unfortunately, judging from the line trailing back from the Pik-A-Stik guy's cart, he wasn't the only one who felt that way. He sighed, missing the ugly blue uniform for the first time since he'd traded up. It was easy to look harried and duck to the front of the line when you were in uniform; no community-spirited citizen would openly begrudge a Blue Boy his quick bite. He contemplated flashing out his new credentials but decided it wasn't worth the trouble.

Careful to keep off the grass clinging to the dome's thin layer of soil, he found his way to the back of the line and settled in behind a lady who looked like she'd had more than her fair share of Pik-A-Stiks already. He shoved his hands in his pockets and started people watching.

A harried mother held her stroller steady with one hand while she reached out to tug her toddler back by the strap of his overalls. The kid stomped his feet in frustration, hands still grasping for one of the sickly-looking bushes that dotted the path. Further down the path a man wearing the distinctive purple jumpsuit of the recyc plant's third shift dozed underneath one of the dome's sparse trees. On a nearby bench, a couple dressed in crisp business casual were having an argument. The woman waggled her protein snack in the man's face before seeming to remember what the food was for and snapping off an angry bite.

Mak's attention wandered, flitting between the dozens of other citizens taking advantage of the station's communal green space. He shrugged off instinctive disappointment at seeing all was well, a holdover from shifts walking patrol in a reasonably respectable sector. He was contemplating biting the bullet and striking up a conversation with the big woman in front of him when a hint of movement at the shadowy edges of the dome drew his eye.

A trio of figures huddled around the scuffed housing unit of one of the nutrient delivery systems that kept the green space green, or as near to it as the underpaid park techs could manage. Mak craned his neck, trying to get a better look at what they were doing without losing his place in line. The silver flash of a wrench had him taking half a step toward them. Collaring a few punks for theft of public goods wasn't the most glamorous of busts, but it'd do for his lunch break.

Then he glimpsed the red tattoo on the back of wrench guy's hand.

Shit.

He froze, eyes darting to the very similar ink one of the other figures sported, the edges of its design peeking out from the neck of her t-shirt. The third man had a red band fastened around the worn sleeve of his jacket.

Mak shifted his weight back toward the line, hoping the movement looked more like a bored fidget than what it really was—him deciding in a hurry to back the fuck off. If anyone was watching him, their attention undoubtedly shifted a moment later when the nute system's casing crashed to the rebar below.

Dozens of heads shot up in unison, drawn by the alarming sound. Mak looked on with morbid fascination as the woman with the neck ink booted wrench guy in the ass. Neither of them looked terribly worried about the noise.

Almost in unison again, most of the heads in the crowd turned away, citizens finding something of interest anywhere that the vandals weren't. Mak hunched his shoulders, wishing he could dissolve into the fat lady's shadow. Anticipating the handful of accusatory, uncomfortable glances that would be directed his way any second now, he considered hightailing it out of there—to hell with his lunch. When the glances didn't come, he was grateful all over again to be rid of the Station Security uniform.

The lady in front of him gave him a wan grin. He returned it before deciding to peruse the three-item menu stenciled over the Pik-A-Stik cart with devout concentration.

"You know," a conversational voice behind him drawled, "someone should stop them." Mak couldn't keep himself from wheeling around; even back when he was in uniform and theoretically an acceptable target for complaints, he hadn't heard anybody publicly speak out against the reds in a long time.

He opened his mouth, ready to remind the guy of the inherent wisdom in keeping his opinions to himself, but the weird familiarity of the man made the words dry up.

Mak thought he recognized those shrewd, dark eyes, and he could tell the low ponytail was all-wrong, even if he didn't know what would've been right. The guy shook his head and shrugged casually before shifting his attention away from the very public theft of communal resources and back toward the line. He shot Mak a quick, wry smile. The flash of white teeth against dusky skin was like a word on the tip of Mak's tongue. The man held Mak's gaze for a charged moment before letting his eyes slide further up the line.

"I think you're almost up, ma'am."

The fat lady stopped gaping, hastily facing forward and shuffling to occupy the empty space in the line. When Mak looked again, the man rolled his eyes and grinned and, just like that, Mak knew who he was. How many times had he turned around at his desk and seen that exact same expression when the senile bat "teaching" Intro Chem fucked up and scribbled the wrong equation onto the holo system?

"Ravi?"

The grin widened. "Wondered how long it was going to take you to notice. I thought I recognized you coming out of Sector Five. Long time no see, Mak." He extended a hand.

Mak accepted the handshake. Out of habit, he squeezed with bruising force even though this wasn't some low-life informant or even a fellow security officer who'd decide he was dickless if he didn't crush their hand. Surprisingly, Ravi didn't seem to mind the punishing grip. He matched Mak's strength but didn't up the ante.

"No kidding, man," he said, resisting the urge to shake the feeling back into his fingers when Ravi released them. "I thought I'd seen the last of your skinny ass back when they shipped you off to Elite." He stepped back so he could look the other man up and down. Casual slacks and sweater, but in clean, tailored lines, and the fabrics looked like they might've been produced planet-side. Back in school Ravi had been all knees and elbows, folded into his desk like a praying mantis. The expensive clothes didn't hide the fact that the guy was still spindly as hell. Mak took thuggish satisfaction in the knowledge that he could easily take him down. "What are you doing slumming in a pit like this, anyway?"

"Working on a contract." He tipped his head toward the front of the line and Mak stepped up, ordering a Jumbo Stik from the greasy vendor before stepping off to the side to wait for Ravi.

"Contract, eh?" he said, gesturing for the other man to lead the way. He regretted it immediately when Ravi chose an unsurprisingly empty bench with a full-on view of the theft in progress. "You sure you wanna sit here?"

In answer, Ravi plopped down on the bench, tilting his head curiously at the crew. His expression—a mixture of amusement, incredulity, and faint horror—was freakishly reminiscent of the one he'd worn after he'd hacked the security cam into Instructor Sipe's office and they'd spent thirty minutes spying on one of her private "tutorials" with Svee Higgs, watching her rub and smack their classmate's bare ass until it was red and shiny like a lozenge. "Why isn't anybody doing anything?"

"You know how it is," Mak said, trying to inconspicuously slant his face and body away from the goons. As far as he knew, everything was cool between him and Varez's people, but he wasn't eager to see whether the memo had worked its way down to the grunts. He waited a beat for Ravi to catch on, then realized maybe Ravi wouldn't know how it was. Guys who got plucked away to finish their Junior Levels at Elite Academy tended to live in places where men like Sinto Varez didn't flourish. "So, uh, what sort of contract you here on?" he asked, hoping to shift the topic of conversation.

"Just the usual business. Consults on station efficiency. Can't really talk too much about it. Non-disclosure agreements." The corners of his mouth twitched sardonically. "You know how it is."

"Sure, sure," Mak said, even though he wasn't. He spared himself from having to elaborate by tearing into his lunch.

Ravi followed suit, tackling his food with less enthusiasm. Mak imagined he was used to eating much nicer fare on his consultant's salary. The man seemed content to lapse into habits from long ago, sitting back and allowing Mak to bolt his lunch in peace while continuing to watch with keen eyes as Varez's crew went about disconnecting the nute system from the terra grid. Mak tried not to let his gaze wander in the same direction. It was none of his business. But when Ravi choked on his drink, Mak couldn't resist taking a peek.

Neck-tattoo was shaking her head in disgust, arms held out in front of her dripping brown sludge while the kid with the armband frantically wiped at more gunk on her pants. Wrench guy wrestled with a runaway nutrient hose. Mak bit the inside of his cheek and focused back on Ravi, but the moment their eyes met it was like fourth section study period all over again—Instructor Andersen flailing at the control console to stop the loop of depraved pornography Ravi'd rigged to play on repeat over every screen in the room. Mak couldn't hold back a snigger.

Ravi raised a thick eyebrow. "Where are the Blue Boys? I can't imagine a better time for them to happen on this scene."

The question sobered Mak in a hurry and he coughed into his fist. "Who knows with those guys?" He balled up his stik wrapper and tossed it the few feet to the nearest recyc pod. "Buncha crooked jerks."

"Mmm." Losing interest in the increasingly inept thievery, Ravi turned his sharp focus back on Mak. He'd almost forgotten that specimen-under-the-glass feeling Ravi's undivided attention could bring. "So what are you up to these days? I could never quite picture which training section you must've signed on with after I left."

"I, uh," Mak said, rubbing the back of his neck, "I got interested in the legal track."

"Really?" He slung an arm over the bench and leaned back, scanning Mak from head to toe, no doubt taking in his scuffed boots and rumpled jacket. Not exactly lawyer-wear. "Process server? Discovery tech?"

Mak didn't take offense at the assumption—couldn't blame the guy for going with the evidence. He decided to run with it to avoid an awkward conversation. "Something like that." A twiddle of notes squeaked from his com implant, the reminder he'd set so he wouldn't miss an interview with a cagey potential witness over in Sector Nine. "I gotta head out," he said, gesturing behind his ear. "Appointment."

"Right, of course." Ravi wiped his hands on his pants before extending the right one for another shake. "It was good to see you again."

"You too," Mak said, gentling his grip this time.

Ravi held on beyond the cursory one-two pump. There was a familiar, teasing glint in his eyes as he refused to let go. He pulled Mak closer, leaning in to speak at his ear as if he was trying to prevent their proctor from overhearing. "Have dinner with me tonight."

Ravi's challenging look stirred more memories—Mak waking in his bunk at 0300 with Ravi's skinny legs pinning his own, hot breath against his throat, in his ear, whispering schemes to reallocate their dorm mates' water ration or scam the delivery service into dropping Chaz Tong's care packages in their room, the words coming faster and faster as Ravi's hand worked under the covers.

Maybe Mr. Elite really was up for a little slumming.

Mak kept his voice cool. "Sure. Why not?" He could pretend to be a process server for a few hours.

"Excellent." Ravi released his hand, smoothly pressing a little polymer disc into his palm as he withdrew. "We can finish catching up. Maybe I can even get to see you chew your food, for once."

Mak nodded, glancing at the simple scan code listed on the chit. No name, no title, no job description. Pretentious consultancy mystique. Figured. "I'll give you a call."

He stepped away but paused when he heard a screech of metal on metal from the goons' direction. Might as well give the guy some idea of how the station worked before he got himself into trouble. He turned back and leaned close to Ravi. "A word of advice, friend: you want to do business around here, it's best to mind your own when you see a citizen with a red tattoo."

Ravi pulled back, amused eyes dancing across Mak's face. "Mmm. Thank you, Mak. I'll try to keep that in mind."

###

The potential witness in Sector Nine pulled a no-show act and Mak wasted his afternoon hustling her friends and co-workers, flashing his credentials when he needed to and his smile when he didn't. He'd dropped in at every karaoke dive and tacky VR parlor a girl working at the peptide processing plant could possibly frequent on her day off. When he finally tracked her down two hours into the station's second shift and went on a streak of aggressive questioning, it turned out she'd only been cagey because she was scamming the plant's timekeeping system. She hadn't even been around the day of the robbery.

He was in a foul mood as he rolled Ravi's little contact disc between his fingers on his way out of the station. He considered forgetting the whole thing, but the dehydrated noodles and carton of off-brand beer waiting for him back at his apartment tipped the scales in Ravi's favor.

"Sohal," a clipped voice answered when Mak scanned the code through his com.

"Ravi? It's Mak. Am I too late for dinner?"

"Mak." His voice shifted into a liquid purr. "Not at all."

They made plans to meet at a place in Sector Three near Ravi's hotel in an hour. Mak groaned inwardly at the sector choice and detoured home for a quick shower and shave. He slicked ashy hair off his forehead and cleaned his teeth. He changed clothes, but didn't bother dressing to impress. Even if he'd cared to, he didn't have much that would fit the bill.

Fortunately, Ravi chose a place that was way down market for Sector Three and Mak didn't look too much like an interloper. The air inside the shop was humid and spicy, the lighting dim, the tables few. Mak found Ravi at the back, long legs kicked out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. His face brightened and he stood to draw Mak in for a handshake, pulling him close enough to catch a trace of citrusy soap, warm hand cupping Mak's elbow. He'd changed into new clothes that were as casually expensive as the previous set but sent a subtly different signal: pale, overlarge shirt that complimented Ravi's skin tone nearly sliding off his shoulder and navy pants that were tight enough to showcase lean thigh muscles. He wore his dark hair loose, subtle waves falling just below his chin.

Mak was glad he'd put in the effort to clean himself up.

The sounds coming from the kitchen spoke of genuine cooking instead of glorified reheating. A waiter approached to tell them about the evening's dishes—no menu or pricing—and Mak revised his initial impression. Not down market; too posh to be bothered. He decided implicit in Ravi's invitation was an offer to foot the bill and so didn't worry about it. When Ravi requested a Negroni, Mak asked for a whiskey, neat. They made small talk while they waited for their food, Ravi recounting the byzantine series of slingshots and jumps he'd had to take to make it to the station.

"What did you expect, trying to get all the way out here?" Mak said, sipping his drink and relishing the burn of spirits. Assuming his understanding of the bill was correct, even if the remainder of the evening didn't pan out, the trip was worth it for the booze alone.

The way Ravi ran a finger along the rim of his own glass hinted that the drink would be the least of the evening's rewards. "Come now, Mak, it's the primary hub for an M-type asteroid. Even if mining operations quadruple from their current levels, the mineral resources won't be tapped for more than a century. Meg-4 should be much more developed."

Mak snorted into his whiskey. "Nobody around here calls it that, you know. It's El Abono, man, and it's a shithole."

Ravi paused, feigning confusion as he worked out the translation, then smiled indulgently. "'The Compost'? Charming. Because of the magnesium deposits, I take it? Compounds for fertilizer?"

It'd been more than a dozen years, but he somehow still recognized Ravi setting him up for a good line. "No, genius, it's 'cause of the smell."

"Mmm," Ravi said, pleased. "Is that what I noticed after docking?"

Their food arrived and Mak upgraded his assessment of the evening again. Had he not known better, he would've sworn there was animal protein on his plate. Even if he parted ways with Ravi after dinner, it'd still be the highlight of his week. But the man's focus on Mak's mouth as he chewed suggested things wouldn't be ending so quickly. Mak reminded himself to take his time and use his napkin.

They chatted pleasantly over the meal, light reminiscences, the unsurprising discovery that neither one of them had kept in touch with any of their other classmates. Mak didn't discuss how he'd fared after Ravi's ascension. Ravi didn't volunteer information about his time at Elite or pry too deeply into Mak's path to El Abono. They each polished off a second cocktail.

Mellow, content, and increasingly confident in his read of the situation, Mak sank into a study of his former friend. With his hair down, if somewhat tamed, it was easier to see the teenager the man had been. He still talked with his hands and cut his food into ludicrously small bites. He'd grown into his beak of a nose, but he still had too much forehead. His adolescent scraggle of facial hair had become an enviable three-day stubble beard that begged to be tasted. Ravi wasn't classically handsome, but he'd channeled the nervy intensity of his youth into a potent charisma.

Mak hadn't wanted anyone this much in a while.

After confirming they wouldn't need anything else, the waiter placed the billing chit neutrally in the middle of the table. Ravi toyed with the ice in what was left of his drink, unconcerned. Limited seating in the restaurant had to mean their table space was at a premium, but the waiter was too classy to hover. Hell, the prices were probably high enough they could afford a little slack in their turnaround times. Mak controlled the urge to stare at the little disc. Wasn't going to be his problem, right? Ravi hadn't so much as glanced at the thing, but he'd also stopped talking. He watched Mak with interest, amusement, a hint of challenge.

Mak knew better than to play a game of chicken with such lopsided stakes, but he smirked and held Ravi's gaze anyway. Met those dark, laughing eyes, inviting trouble like they always had, gauging how far to push. Mak held out for an admirable minute before the pull of the chit grew too strong and he shot it a quick, uncomfortable look.

Ravi smiled and immediately scanned the disc, gratification dancing across his face as if he'd just won a bet with himself. Little bastard and his games.

But so many of them had been so much fun.

"Well, Mak," he said, patting at his lips with his napkin, "It was nice catching up. I have to say running into you has brightened what promises to be a rather tedious and unpleasant job."

It was a workable opening. "Hey, man, I know it's a backwater junk heap, but it can't be that bad, right? Bet your clients put you up in a pretty nice place?" He waggled his eyebrows and grinned.

Ravi chuckled. "Why, Mister Makarski, are you trying to invite yourself up to my room?"

Mak stifled the correction he'd been issuing every chance he got for the last month—that's Detective Makarski to you—and swiped his tongue across his lower lip. "Yeah, yeah I am."

###

Ravi lounged against the back of the elevator, observing him from the corner of his eye. Mak flexed his hands at his sides, itching to touch but hesitant about closing the distance. When they were sixteen, Ravi had always been the one bold enough to initiate things. Also prickly enough to remove a clumsy hand from his thigh and declare himself "not in the mood" the few times Mak worked up the nerve to try something on his own.

It seemed they were both in the mood now, though.

The elevator dinged and opened up onto a dizzying view out of the station's port side. Lucky timing in their rotation meant it was all inky darkness and stars, no pods or mechs or scarred surface of the mineral-rich rock that sustained El Abono to mar the image. On this level of the hotel, the entire left wall was viewport. Mak hadn't realized Sector Three jutted so close to the station's rim.

Ravi cleared his throat and started walking. Mak tore his gaze away from the black expanse and followed, appreciating the less celestial view of Ravi's high, tight ass. Anticipation fizzed in his belly, making the hall seem longer than it was.

"Here we are," Ravi said, opening the door to the suite—of course—at the end of the hall. "Would you care for something to-"

Mak didn't let him finish, pushing him through and then spinning them around, using his mass to pin Ravi against the door as it snicked shut. "No thanks," he breathed against the warm skin of Ravi's neck, snaking an arm around his waist. "I'm good."

Ravi huffed out a laugh. "You, ahh, certainly seem to be."

Mak grunted an affirmative, inhaling the clean smell of him before trailing up to mouth along the stubble of Ravi's jawline. He felt the other man's chest swell against his own as Ravi drew in a deep breath. Enjoyment, or gearing up to speak? Ravi's stream of disconnected chatter had been the soundtrack to all of his earliest sexual experiences, but Mak now preferred encounters where communication was more limited and direct—there, harder, more. He decided to preemptively shut Ravi up by licking into his mouth.

It was strange for a moment, kissing him again. In their teenage fumblings, with time and privacy at a premium, a kiss was often just a press of lips to signal intent at the start of a mutual jerk off session. But they'd occasionally slowed down enough to really explore, making out until their faces were slick and red. Once, they'd traded back and forth on sucking each other's tongues in a dreamy haze until Mak had unexpectedly come in his own shorts.

He wondered if Ravi remembered that, because he sucked Mak's tongue now, and fuck, maybe it was a trick of the imagination, but Mak thought Ravi tasted just the same as he had all those years ago. He buried his hands in thick hair, deepening the angle, and groaned.

Ravi indulged him until they were both hard and grinding against each other, then shoved at his chest and kicked his ankle. He plucked at Mak's shirt. "You're wearing far too many clothes, Gordon."

Mak snorted. When was the last time anyone dared call him by his first name? Back at the training center some of the instructors, the ones who were assholes, insisted on it. Students too, in that last shitty year. During his earliest days at the security station, it'd earned a few guys a punch in the mouth. "You tryin' to piss me off, Ravi?"

"Maybe..." Ravi touched his tongue to the bow of his upper lip, eyes teasing.

"Button-pushing prick," he muttered, but he did step back and began to peel off his shirt. He took it slow, looking down and then coyly back up at Ravi, stretching to show off his powerful shoulders. Mak had always been broad and athletic—his natural build alone had made him a decent prospect for the Blue Boys—but then he'd excelled at the physical training. Heavy bag, suppression techniques, some hand-to-hand. Mak's body was an asset, strong and toned from real work, and he knew it.

Ravi eyed him admiringly. "Mmm, very nice."

He acknowledged the compliment with a cock of his hip and a pointed look at Ravi's shirt.

"Yes, yes." Ravi skimmed the shirt over his head with far less fanfare and then shimmied out of his pants as well. Mak amended his previous label of spindly to very lean, but there was more wiry muscle than he'd expected, and it was all covered in flawless golden-brown skin. Likely the product of some poncy skin care regimen, but Mak wasn't in a position to argue with the results. His gaze followed a trail of wiry hairs that began at Ravi's navel down to the edge of white briefs. He gave a satisfied smirk. The man's body had filled out everywhere in the intervening years.

Ravi steered him back through a swank living area that he scarcely noticed and into the bedroom, nipping and kissing while Mak struggled with his own zipper. The pants got tangled somewhere around his calves. This gave Ravi an excuse to plant a palm in the middle of Mak's chest with the aim of prodding him to collapse onto the plush bed. Just to prove a point, Mak planted his feet and locked his knees instead.

That got him a bright, delighted smile. "Going to be like that, are you?" Ravi asked, running his hands down Mak's sides before sliding into a crouch, close enough for Mak to feel a hot puff of breath against his still-covered erection. They'd only just gotten around to using their mouths on each other shortly before Ravi's departure, but god, he'd jerked off to the memories for months afterwards. He resisted the urge to rub himself against Ravi's face. The man looked up at him through a fringe of black lashes and, never breaking eye contact, carefully stripped the pants from his legs. Mak's boxer briefs followed.

"Very, very nice."

When Ravi rose and shucked his own underwear, Mak allowed himself to be pushed to the bed. The soft, slippery cover was cool against his back as he scooted up, making room for Ravi to settle between his legs. Skin-on-skin, they nudged against each other, sharing hot, deep kisses. Mak shifted to line them up together, keeping it slow and relaxed, holding the other man's hips. If he'd still been in school, it would've been enough to get him off, but Mak wasn't sixteen anymore and he wasn't in any hurry now. The not-quite familiarity of it all was a nice change of pace from a typical one-night stand. He could do this for a good long while before he'd need anything else.

But Ravi had other plans. He pulled back from the kiss, teasing. When Mak craned up for more contact, he bit down punishingly hard on Mak's lower lip. He squawked a protest and glared, earning himself an apologetic swipe of tongue, but as soon as they got back into another languid rhythm, Ravi sank his teeth in again.

"Ow, fuck!" Mak yelped, grabbing a handful of Ravi's hair to pull him off. He licked at his tender lip, tasting iron. Bastard. He tightened his hold, tempted to shake some manners into the prick, but before he could get himself too worked up about it, he noticed the expression on the other man's face. Ravi's mouth had gone slack. His pupils dilated.

Interesting.

Mak fisted the hair at the base of Ravi's neck and wrapped it around his hand like a leash. Gave an experimental tug. Dark eyes fluttered shut as the chest above him heaved.

This was new.

Not one to squander an intriguing opportunity, Mak leveraged the grip on Ravi's hair and his own superior strength to flip them over, letting his weight press the man down. He caught a skinny wrist in his free hand and pulled it up over Ravi's head. Ravi arched back into the pillows, offering up his other hand so that Mak could pin both wrists together and still keep his handful of silky hair.

"You really were trying to make me angry, weren't you?" Mak asked, skating his teeth along Ravi's throat.

That elicited a shiver and a shaky laugh. "You've clued in laudably." Mak bit down gently, giving his hair a jerk. Ravi's hips twitched, thighs tensing. "Ahh, god...kudos."

"Little shit," he murmured, grinding down. Ravi obligingly spread his legs slutty-wide. Back in school, they'd never fucked—too young and unsure of themselves. But before Ravi left, Mak had vaguely assumed if they ever did make it that far, it'd be him getting fucked since he'd mostly just been along for the ride where all things Ravi were concerned.

He'd fantasized, though. Clutched at the other boy's ass, grazing daring fingertips along the crack. Snuck a finger inside himself when he was alone and imaged he did it to Ravi.

Mak was going to fuck him through the motherfucking floor.

He gave up his fistful of dark hair to press his fingers against Ravi's lips. To compensate for the loss, he tightened his grip around Ravi's wrists, pushing them into the mattress until he could see the strain in rangy biceps. Ravi hummed his appreciation, opening for Mak's fingers, licking and sucking until his cheeks hollowed. Mak watched his fingers fuck into that busy, scheming mouth, feeling the wet heat all the way down to his groin. God, if he'd known this was the way to shut Ravi up when they were kids...he probably would've come in his pants substantially more often.

Inspiring as the current view was, it built a sense of urgency. Mak pulled his hand away and trailed damp fingers down Ravi's sternum, gratified at the harsh rush of breath, the quick rise and fall of the slim chest below him. Ravi squirmed and clenched oddly beneath him.

A thought for practicalities snagged some of his attention. He hated to pull Ravi out of the scene asking after lube, but no matter how obvious it was the man liked it rough, Mak wasn't about to fuck anyone with only spit and a promise. Still, he was willing to try a little of the prep work with just spit slick fingers.

Giving Ravi's wrists another squeeze, he kissed him hotly and slid his other hand down and back. Ravi moaned and spread his legs even wider, granting access. What the...? Mak jerked his head back, furrowing his brow at what he felt.

Slick. Dripping slick.

For a moment he wondered if Ravi had prepped himself before dinner. It seemed like the sort of thing the cocky little prick would do. But no, even Ravi wouldn't have been able to sit through dinner like that; he was so sloppy wet he would've been walking funny, his underwear sticking to his ass.

Mak pulled his hands away and sat back on his heels. "The fuck, Ravi?"

The other man heaved a frustrated sigh and propped himself up on his elbows. "Implant," he said, rubbing his heel against Mak's thigh. He smiled crookedly. "Comes in handy sometimes."

Jesus. Mak, like most Commonwealth citizens, had been fitted as a baby with a basic medi implant to protect against a battery of infections. He had the standard credit ID chip embedded in the webbing between this thumb and forefinger. And when he'd signed his contract with station security, they'd laid out for his com unit. But organic implants, fancy recreational organics—he didn't think even the highest priced escorts on the station shelled out for those.

Consultancy must pay very well indeed.

The realization that Ravi liked a cock up his ass so much he'd bought a sex implant hookers would envy washed away the bitterness and put Mak back in the game. "Handy, huh?" He leaned back down and gave a lazy thrust.

"Indeed," Ravi said, teasing a lick to the tip of Mak's nose before letting his head fall back to the pillows. He stretched his arms over his head, crossing his wrists. "Now, where were we?"

###

He remembered it had been good with Ravi at the training center. Of course, at sixteen, any sort of sex was amazing. Back then, the very notion that someone else would touch him—permit him to touch them—had felt like some kind of miracle. But now, pinning Ravi down, feeling slim legs wrapped around his waist, heels digging into his ass spurring him on, it was clear that sex with Ravi was also just specifically good.

Ravi as a teenager had introduced him to sex. Ravi approaching thirty was another revelation.

Mak was close. Sweat dripped down his face, pooled in the small of his back. He freed Ravi's wrists, planting his palms on either side of the man's head to better support himself. Ravi's eyes glittered malice as he brought Mak's hand back up to his own mouth. He sucked two fingers in, swirled his tongue over them.

And bit down. Hard.

It sent a bolt like a taze stick up Mak's arm. His rhythm faltered. Ravi let go and lifted his chin, grinning a challenge as he offered up his throat. He covered Mak's hand with his own, molded their fingers together around his neck, then let his own hand drop back to the bed.

Sick little fucker. Mak's heart hammered, but somehow, trepidation at what he was about to do fed into his desire. Dredging up half-remembered training on shit he shouldn't have known in the first place, he skimmed the heel of his hand over Ravi's windpipe. Splayed careful fingers and thumb to either side of it, finding the drumbeat of his pulse.

He stared a question into eyes as dark as the black expanse. A slight nod was his answer.

Mak pistoned his hips.

And squeezed.

###

Afterwards, they both lay spread-eagled and panting on the bed. Ravi blinked at the ceiling and groaned out a sated chuckle. Sweaty tendrils of hair clung to his neck. Mak could see his thighs were trembling.

"God damn am I glad I ran into you, Makarski." He swiped a hand over his face. "Fucking delightful. Or should I say," he paused, lips twitching, "delightful fucking?"

Mak felt a little queasy now that it was over, but he'd come so hard he knew the experience was going in his spank bank nonetheless. "Nnn. Mind if I use your shower?"

Ravi waved carelessly. "You'll forgive me for not joining you. I seem to have misplaced my legs."

He found his way to the bathroom. Washed off the sweat and spunk with Ravi's fruity smelling soap. Scrubbed a fluffy towel over his hair. Mulled over everything and concluded that, on balance, Ravi Sohal was a motherfucker who deserved a good choking.

So much the better that they'd both enjoyed it.

He was still splayed on the bed when Mak came out to gather his clothes. He turned his head to track Mak's movements, eyes sharp and calculating.

Wanting to distract himself from the feeling of clinical observation, Mak focused on his pants. "So how long you on station?"

Ravi stretched, wincing. "Depends."

"On?"

"On just how inefficient 'El Abono' really is."

Mak scoffed at that. "You don't know the half of it."

"Really?" He sounded pleased. "I guess that means I'll be staying long enough to take you to dinner again."

###

Mak got home very late. When his com began chirping hours before the start of first shift, he was surly.

He tapped at the thin skin behind his ear. "Yeah, what?"

"Rough night, Makarski?" Sergeant Pree wasn't a half-bad supervisor, but at 0530, her voice was like an ore grinder. "I take it the Fakoor case is going well?" She sounded chipper as a stimulant fiend.

"Yes, sir. No problems." He stifled a yawn. "Practically in the bag."

"Glad to hear it, Detective." He heard a chilly smile in her voice. "That means you won't have any problems taking the lead on a couple of bodies in the terra dome then, right?"

He straightened. After his recent promotion, he'd been assigned to Major Crimes—not a bad place to start if you wanted to get your feet wet on some serious shit, even if they did tend to get tossed the random cases other departments didn't snatch up. Homicide certainly qualified as a major crime, but he'd figured they'd let him work a few more thefts and frauds before throwing him at a body. Or a couple of bodies. Damn.

"No problems at all, sir."

"Then get your ass down there before the ghouls from Forensics start planting a bunch of evidence."


AN: Whee, here we go! Started this as a palate cleanser when the bougie angst in Chill Pill was getting to be too much and, well, it's a LOT of fun to write. Going to try to prioritize updates to C.P. for a while since I know there are quite a few followers there, but I intend to keep at it with this one as well. Expect future chapters to follow the a-b/present tense-past tense structure. Won't make any promises with timelines, but follows/faves/reviews are motivating.