CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: PRACTICE KISS
Jace slept like the dead. He didn’t remember any dreams like he usually did, but those probably weren’t dreams, but training. Gehenna didn’t need to put him through his paces any longer. He would do that when he was awake. So his sleep had been peaceful and restful as if he were sleeping on the bottom of the ocean.
The Osiris had a sound, like a purr, that he could feel through his bones. On Youtube he found channels that claimed to have that “spaceship sound” that he’d used to fall asleep to sometimes. The Osiris didn’t exactly sound like that, but it was similar and soothing. But there was also another sound, something added that had never been added before to his sleep period.
It was the sound of someone else breathing.
His eyelids cracked open. He’d set no alarm, but he immediately knew that it was 11 a.m. in Sunrise. He also knew what time it was all around the globe, not to mention several other worlds. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep last night, but he’d been exhausted. Beyond exhausted really. The Osiris had pushed him over the top and into unconsciousness.
Khoth and I were supposed to talk!
He was about to jerk upright when he realized that he was pinned beneath the covers on one side by a heavy body. That was where the breathing was coming from. Jace slowly turned his head.
Khoth was sleeping on his side with his face towards him. He had one arm under the pillow beneath his head. The other was sprawled over Jace’s chest. One of his legs was also crossing Jace’s legs. Khoth’s eyelids were closed and his mouth was slightly parted, emitting a little wheeze with each breath.
I guess I wasn’t the only one exhausted last night.
Jace swallowed a little as he realized--not that he thought Khoth meant it this way at all--that this was the first time he’d slept with another person not related to him. His various sensitivities had made dating practically impossible. Laying beside someone at night? Ah, no, talk about agony. So Khoth was the first guy he’d slept with.
He was touched that Khoth hadn’t left and gone to his own quarters. Had the Thaf’ell Commander simply fallen asleep too? No, he would have been in a chair if this had happened by accident. A quick look down showed that Khoth’s boots were removed. So he had laid down on purpose. He likely hadn’t started lying down curled around Jace. His mother always teased his father that he was an octopus when he fell asleep, needing to wind all around her. Looked like Khoth might be one too.
Well, I’m not going to wake him. I can lay here for awhile.
He stared up at the red planet that was slowly turning above him on the ceiling. It was turned just so he could see its rings. There were rings of smooth, fine material, but there was a chunky material ring or two in there as well. He saw the glint of a defense array, still active, swinging around the planet. He heard the faint electronic whir from it. If he wanted, the Osiris could tell him what it was saying.
Osiris, do you know what Khoth wanted to talk to me about? Jace had told himself the night before he wasn’t going to ask this, but with Khoth here now he couldn’t help himself.
Okay, is it bad? Jace braced himself.
You know what I think is bad so that’s… bad, Jace reminded it.
While I understand you qualify certain things as “bad” those things are very disparate, the Osiris pointed out. A skinned knee is bad, but so is getting a test question wrong and so is someone you are sexually attracted in turning away from you in a hallway--
Yes, yes, that was Jeremy Trainor and he was hot! And I was… the school freak so yeah, let’s not go there, Jace quickly got out.
Khoth does not want to turn his back on you in a hallway. That is what concerns you, yes? That is what is the “bad” you fear, the Osiris said.
Jace considered proclaiming otherwise, but that was rather pointless, wasn’t it? The Osiris knew what he was thinking even if it didn’t completely understand.
Yeah, I guess that was my main fear. So he still likes me after seeing his mother, Jace said. Likes me as a friend, of course!
His vitals indicate that you sexually arouse him, the Osiris pointed out.
Jace pinked. Ah, we talked about privacy issues and--
Why is sexual attraction private? Especially in this case when the knowledge extinguishes your anxiety allowing you to perform at a more optimal level? the Osiris pointed out.
Because when you like someone like that it’s… scary and exciting and joyous to share it with them on your own time in your own way, Jace explained.
The chase is part of the pleasure? The uncertainty makes it more… emotionally satisfying? The Osiris asked.
Yes, exactly. It also makes it angsty, but angsty is good sometimes, Jace said. But you really haven’t given the game away, because you can’t know the important thing.
What is the important thing?
Sex doesn’t equal liking someone. It just means your body finds their body attraction on some level, Jace said.
His heart beats faster when you smile, the Osiris said.
Jace’s heart started beating faster. Oh…
That is more than simple arousal in your opinion? The Osiris asked.
I don’t--I don’t know. Jace smiled. You know… you’re sounding a lot like Gehenna.
Jace chuckled and Khoth stirred. He bit his inner cheek to stop the noise and not disturb Khoth.
Where is Gehenna? She’s hiding from me, Jace realized as he sought out his personal AI.
She is building a new body that is… cuter, the Osiris did not hide its disdain for this.
Really? I can’t wait to see what she picks. Hopefully, it will have a voice box, Jace said.
A physical form such as she takes is not logical nor efficient, the Osiris said.
You’re a ship.
I am an artificial intelligence. I am not a ship, the Osiris answered.
But you’re 1s and 0s are all located on the Osiris itself, he pointed out with a slight frown.
No? Gonna elaborate on that? Jace’s lips curled into a smile.
Not at this time.
That’s very… elucidating. Not. Osiris, Jace sing-songed, are you being coy?
I am telling you what you need to know when you need to know it. You do not need to know this now, the Osiris said.
I’m too amused by all of this secrecy. You’re just as bad as Gehenna with all this body, no body business, he pointed out.
I am all. I am everywhere. I am inside of you, the Osiris said.
Jace blinked. Inside me?
The Osiris did not answer him back.
You should use this time to rest further. There will be as much activity this time period as last time period, the Osiris answered.
Oh, God, Jace groaned. I hope not! I can’t take another day like yesterday!
You can “take” many days. Your form has been evolved, the Osiris informed him.
Well, my brain--
Is also evolved. You must not be… lazy, the Osiris interrupted,.
Really? Lazy? I can’t believe--
Shall I put you into a restful state? The Osiris threatened.
Jace narrowed his eyes. No, I want to just lay here and… enjoy this beautiful view.
The Altaeth planets are quite exquisite, the Osiris said.
Jace quirked a grin. Yeah, the planets are too.
There was a silence then the Osiris stated, You should wake him and engage in sexual relations if he is taking up that much of your concentration.
I’ll consider it, Osiris.
Jace considered the strong lines of Khoth’s jaw. He longed to run his fingers across it to see what the Thaf’ell’s skin truly felt like. Would it be like his? More rubbery? Or silky? And what about Khoth’s hair? Was it coarser or finer than his own? He yearned to touch the selchitte and hear them clack. He wanted to know what each one meant.
And then he wondered what Khoth’s cock looked like. Heat bloomed between his thighs. Did the Thaf’ell have sex like humans did? Was there blue goo? Did Khoth have semen? What if he had like a barbed cock like a dog? Did the Thaf’ell engage in anal intercourse? Was Khoth a top or bottom?
Halfway through these questions, the Osiris began answering them.
No! No, don’t tell me! Jace cried and wished he could cover his face with his hands in embarrassment.
But you asked about basic Thaf’ell anatomy and sexual practices--
That’s another thing like the liking thing. Private. Don’t want to know scientifically exactly. I want Khoth to tell me or… to show me if he wants to, Jace tried to explain.
I already informed you of his sexual interest. If you wish to know these things through practical experimentation, you may wake him with a kiss, the Osiris suggested.
Jace’s mouth went dry at the very thought. He imagined pressing his own mouth against Khoth’s. He’d kissed someone. Sammie, actually. It hadn’t been a romantic thing as he had always known he’d like guys and he was not her type, but they’d wanted to practice kissing. Sammie had a much better chance of getting someone to use that practice kissing on, but Jace had been game nevertheless. It had been nice. A little wet. And they’d clacked teeth a few times. But nothing to set his heart aflame. Yet he was pretty sure if he and Khoth kissed that it would be quite a bit different.
He licked his lips. His gaze was focused on Khoth’s mouth. He could almost imagine how that lips would give under his. They would be soft and pliant. They would part and he would taste Khoth for the first time. What would Khoth taste like? Citrus? Or spice? Or something altogether different?
In his sleep, Khoth would move his tongue lazily against Jace’s. They would slide past each other. Khoth’s canines were sharper than a human’s. They would rasp over the top of his tender tongue. The thrill of that pleasure-pain would skate over his nerves and go right to his cock. Just the thought of it now did that. He was hard.
It was then that Khoth slowly opened his eyes. Those blue-on-blue eyes that were slightly luminescent in the darkness. Khoth blinked sleepily as he stared at Jace as if he wasn’t sure if he was awake or asleep.
“You’re here,” Khoth stated. His voice blurry still from sleep.
“Yeah, and so are you,” Jace laughed softly, delightedly.
Khoth’s gaze sharpened and the sleep left his eyes. He sat up abruptly, but he was still half on and half off Jace. He seemed almost bewildered like an animal who wasn’t sure which way led to safety.
“Hey, hey, you’re all right. It’s all right,” Jace soothed him.
He was able to untuck an arm from under the covers and touch Khoth’s left shoulder. The Thaf’ell Commander just had on his synthskin suit and Jace could feel the muscles underlying that thin yet powerful piece of material.
“You were asleep when I arrived. I did not wish to disturb your rest,” Khoth sounded a little robotic as if he’d practiced this speech before he’d fallen asleep himself. “The Osiris said you wished me to stay. It would not let me leave.”
Jace’s happiness soured then. “The Osiris wouldn’t let you go to your own quarters?”
You wished him here. He wished to be here. I gave him the excuse, the Osiris clarified.
Not cool, Osiris. You could have messed everything up. If Khoth thinks he has to be nice to me in order to obtain my help against the Khul that will be awful! Jace scolded it.
We will see who is right. He wishes to be with you. His mother recognized this as well. You should ask him, the Osiris suggested.
I cannot believe you, Jace growled.
Khoth started to crawl off of him and towards the edge of the bed. Jace’s mouth opened, but nothing came out to convince Khoth to stay where he was. But, as if it had a mind of its own, his right arm shot out and grabbed Khoth. The Thaf’ell Commander froze and slowly lowered his gaze until it was on Jace’s hand. Jace immediately released him.
“S-sorry! Sorry! The Osiris made you stay and here I am--”
He chose to sleep on the bed, the Osiris helpfully pointed out.
“Here I am… ah, still trying to keep you,” Jace finished with a grimace.
“I thought you would not wish me so close. I chose to rest on the bed, but I left sufficient space so I would not touch you.” Khoth was frowning as if he couldn’t understand how he had wound around Jace.
“I think you may be a cuddler!” Jace teased.
Khoth blued. “I would not do that without your permission!”
The horrified look on the Thaf’ell Commander’s face had Jace waving his hands. “No! I mean… you did! You would have! I didn’t mind! It was… nice to wake up with you here. You’re like my… my anchor. My touchstone. With you here things don’t seem as overwhelming.”
Khoth studied him with an unreadable expression, but he wasn’t leaving the bed. He did though move his hands through his hair, straightening the snarls with his fingers. Jace found himself reaching over to smooth down a place Khoth missed. The Thaf’ell Commander’s eyes widened as Jace finished fixing his hair.
“Oh, you had missed a spot!” Jace looked down at his hands, cursing them.
What am I doing? I just am making this worse! First, the Osiris makes him stay! We wake up like two twining vines! And now I’m fussing with his hair!
“Has the Osiris… have you spoken to the Osiris yet?” Khoth asked.
It was such a strange thing to ask! When did the Osiris not talk to him?
Oh, yeah, when I really want to know something! If I don’t want to know it then it's mum’s the word, Jace sighed.
“Yeah, it was a little chatterbox this morning,” Jace told him.
I spoke only what was necessary. The Osiris sounded miffed.
“But you were wondering if it had told me something… particular?” Jace guessed.
Khoth nodded sharply. His hands fussed with the material of his synthskin suit. It was a nervous tick and nervousness was not something that Khoth showed easily.
So he must be really upset and uncertain, Jace realized.
Jace scrubbed his hands over his face. “Okay, what’s going on? What happened with your mom that’s got you so het up?”
Khoth looked at him through his lashes. “It seems I am not the master of my Xa and Xi as I thought. Both you and Thammah knew immediately that I am experiencing an emotional disturbance.”
Jace’s eyebrows rose. “Thammah, too? I’m surprised that she didn’t get it all out of you before you came here.”
“She would have, but I insulted her in order to end our friendship,” Khoth stated.
“You did what now?” Jace blinked at him.
“I insulted her--”
“Yeah, I got what you did! But why? Why would you do something like that to Thammah?!” Jace grabbed Khoth’s shoulders and actually shook him.
Khoth did not resist him, but allowed himself to be thoroughly rocked back and forth. Finally, he got out, “T-to p-protect h-her.”
Jace stopped shaking him. “What?!”
“I intend to betray the Alliance. I did not wish to involve her in this. A friendship between us would put her under suspicion,” he said simply. “Further, Thammah is very loyal. It will make it easier for her to rejoin the Alliance after I am exiled if she hates me.”
“You’re--you’re going to betray the Alliance?” Jace’s head cocked to the side. “Why… wait… wait… this is about me, isn’t it? You helped me and now--”
“My mother has two plans. Both of which are absurd and will lead to ruin,” he stated.
It was said calmly as if these were not terrible things, which upset Khoth greatly. But the slight twitching of his fingers against the cloth of the suit told Jace all he needed to know. He was certain that Khoth’s vitals--which popped up immediately for him to compare and contrast--were also off the charts.
“What are her plans?” Jace asked. “Or should you not tell me?”
“I absolutely should not tell you, but I am going to do so, which is how I will be betraying the Alliance,” Khoth told him.
“Then maybe don’t tell me?” Jace suggested.
Khoth’s hands stilled. Then he slowly reached over for Jace. He took both of Jace’s hands in his. The touch was so unexpected and tender. Jace’s lips parted and he found himself speechless again. Heat colored his cheeks and his cock ached between his thighs again.
“I need to tell you though the one that is within my control entirely will never take place and the Osiris will ensure that the other is impossible as well,” Khoth stated.
“Well… ah, if neither will occur then you don’t have to tell me.” Khoth holding his hands was making it very hard to think, let alone get out complete sentences. “If you had to tell me about all the things that are not going to happen we’d never leave this bed. Right? Ha? Yeah?”
Oh, my God, I sound like an idiot! Jace thought.
But he was having trouble swallowing around his throat. Khoth’s thumbs were lightly rubbing along the backs of his hands.
Khoth stared down at his lap. Thankfully, there were mounds of comforter over Jace’s lap or it would have been quite apparent that he had an erection. He hadn’t even had a chance the night before to really check out his junk. He’d thought he was still the same size, but maybe he was bigger. He felt bigger there like he was everywhere else.
“You are correct that telling you negatives would seem counterproductive. But this goes to… motivations and character. Two things that will not change in your interactions with my mother and the Alliance,” Khoth explained.
“I don’t want you to betray the Alliance for me,” Jace answered.
A small smile crossed Khoth’s lips. “And that is why I will for you. You’re not just the Pilot… you are a good and honorable man. I believe that the Alliance would be best served by us being transparent with you.”
“That would be good, but… you only think that because you know and trust me,” Jace answered with a shrug. “Your mother doesn’t yet, let alone the rest of the Alliance. I have to win them over.”
Another faint smile. “I believe if my mother gave you that chance, you could accomplish this. But she will not because she is desperate.”
Jace leaned in towards Khoth. “What’s making her desperate?”
“Several things. I believe the Alliance…” Khoth breathed in, “I believe the Alliance is out of ships.”
“But how can that be? The Osiris just needs to grab some fuel--which it can siphon from Jupiter or any gas giant--and start the production process and--”
“Other ships are not like the Osiris. Such a gift is… unique.” Khoth grimaced. “We can barely fix the Altaeth technology we have. We cannot build more vessels. We are dependent upon finding them.”
Jace’s forehead scrunched. “But surely you have your own technology--”
“It does not work against the Khul,” Khoth gently reminded him. “Perhaps if we’d had time to truly develop it, we might have created something ourselves, but we did not have that time. And though there have been many investigations and attempts… well, we depend upon Altaeth technology.”
“Well, that will be fixed when the Osiris can produce some more ships! And look at all these planets.” Jace gestured to the walls and ceilings where hundreds of worlds had danced and spun. “They all have tech and--”
“Yes, all of this is invaluable. That is why my mother must have it,” Khoth said.
“And there are other considerations. There are internal political struggles where people far more xenophobic than my mother wish to take charge,” Khoth stated. “She has little to no bargaining power to get this information.”
“Meaning she can’t give humanity membership in the Alliance?” Jace slowly asked.
Khoth shook his head. “Humans are viewed as little more than uncivilized animals. To have you as part of the Alliance or even with a foothold… she would lose her position and it would never be approved.”
Jace nodded slowly. “So she’s come here with nothing to bargain with?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Silence fell between them. The video recordings from the night before had been added to. There was a link to more information, secret information, all the information that Jace could want or need.
“So what has she come here with?” Jace finally asked, though he could guess. She had arrived here with a fleet.
“Force. Military might except… the Osiris has shown me--”
“I can control every ship, actually every piece of Altaeth tech, from your armor to your weaponry to--”
“The life support,” Khoth finished.
“Oh, God,” Jace breathed. “I can imagine what the Osiris showed you.”
“Yes, it was quite clear that any use of force against you would be… unwise,” Khoth stated with a dryness that had Jace almost smiling.
“The others who are against her… can they be reasoned with?” Jace asked.
“You think to go to her enemies?”
“I’m sorry, Khoth, but… yes.”
Khoth nodded as if this was quite logical. “I believe that they would have even less use for humanity.”
“Would everyone in the Alliance think this way?” Jace asked.
Khoth considered this. “You likely could convince some of the members who are not considered first tier--and therefore have no power--to side with humanity. But it would do little.”
But Jace wondered if that was true.
“Well, we cannot let your mother attempt to attack us, and I’m not letting Earth and humanity stay out in the cold… I’ll have to think about this.” Jace tapped his chin.
“You must think about it quickly as the negotiations will start today and I don’t think she will hold her hand for long,” Khoth cautioned.
“The Osiris and Gehenna will make sure they can’t attack us. They won’t know why either… until I tell them, if I do,” Jace murmured as he started to consider this. He shook himself and asked, “What was the other thing? The thing that you wouldn’t let happen?”
Khoth looked down at their still clasped hands. Khoth cleared his throat and swallowed.
“She wished me to seduce you and, thereby, convince you to simply give yourself and the Osiris over to the Alliance, abandoning humanity,” Khoth said stiffly.
Jace laughed. Khoth’s head snapped up and he blued so deeply that he almost purpled. He started to draw his hands back.
“You find the suggestion that you would desire me so absurd?” Khoth asked.
“What? Ah, well… I mean… you would never do that. Like never,” Jace laughed.
But Khoth looked even more perturbed. “No, I would not dishonor you or our friendship but--”
“Khoth, you’re totally desirable enough for plenty of bad decisions to be made on my part!” Jace assured him, even as he couldn’t quite treat this seriously. “But suggesting that you would hurt me like that… no, never. Just never.”
“You believe me incapable of harming you like that?”
“You wouldn’t be the you I--I, uhm, like… ah, you wouldn’t be you if you did that. And if I fell wildly in love with you that I would betray my own principles you would never allow me to actually do anything bad!” Jace struggled to explain. “You’re honorable. That’s the core of you. Making people follow their best values is your strength.”
Khoth’s head lowered, but Jace thought the Thaf’ell Commander was more than pleased by his answer.
“You are not angry?” Khoth murmured.
“At you? No--”
“My mother,” Khoth qualified.
Jace considered this. “Like I said, she doesn’t know me. She’s got a lot of pressures on her. Asking you to do the ah, seduction thing just sounds… desperate and sad. But I am angry she put you in this situation. You've got to betray the Alliance to save it.”
Khoth’s head jerked up again, but this time his expression was one of joy. “You understand!”
“Of course, I--oh!”
Khoth stopped him from speaking with a kiss. It was a bare press of lips. It was done and over in a moment. But the heat was imprinted on Jace’s mouth. Khoth was no longer kissing him though. Khoth was not even on the bed. He was somehow a few steps away from it, sliding his boots on.
“I will… I must… I should not have done that… after what I just told you,” Khoth got out through gritted teeth.
“It’s okay! I wanted it,” Jace assured him.
Khoth stilled. “Until my mother is dealt with…”
“Khoth, I don’t believe any of this is because of your mother. Quite the opposite,” Jace assured him.
“Still. I need you to know I am not influencing you unduly,” Khoth stated stiffly.
Jace wanted to argue with him, but he knew he would get nowhere. “All right. I’ll accept this for now. But once I deal with your mother, you’re all mine.”
Khoth’s head lifted. A smile threatened to break across his lips. “I see.”
“That’s right, Khoth. We get to revisit this!” Jace nodded firmly. “So, I’m going to take a shower and take--take care of some things. Afterwards, we need to talk more about strategy.”
Khoth’s eyes slid down to the mounded comforter over his lap that covered many sins. “I understand. I will leave you to… deal with things.”
“The Osiris will show you to your quarters where you can… deal with your own things,” Jace told him, cheeks burning. “Meet me back here in an hour. We can eat together.”
Khoth gave a formal bow and then left his bedroom. Jace sat there, unmoving, for some time. But then he smiled. He now knew that Khoth tasted of spicy citrus. Like nothing on Earth.