Chapter 14: Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy

Mahihko chuckled softly as he propped his chin up with an elbow on the concrete half-wall atop the roof. He could see Lone glaring back at him and he waved his other arm cheerfully while watching as the all-terrain vehicle disappear around the bend. It certainly wasn't the first time that he and Lone had separated on an adventure, but he was having trouble remembering the last time Lone was heading off with a bunch of aliens to hunt a bunch of other aliens while leaving Mahihko behind. There were a lot of new things happening in this scenario.

He smiled and shook his head in amusement, then shoved his hands into his pockets and wandered along the edge of the roof. He circled it slowly, his eyes skimming the darkness; he wasn't exactly looking for anything in particular, but was instead trying to become familiar with the surroundings. He didn't care about memorizing as much as he simply wanted to know when something was off. He paused when he noticed a shuffle of movement in the treeline of the nearby wooded area.

The wolf came to a stop, standing motionless as he focused on the vegetation intently...only to blink a moment later when he saw a flash of deep crimson hide. Ah. Must be our horsey friends and their demonic buddy. Mahihko laughed quietly and continued his brisk stroll around the top of the base. They must have been rather serious about finding a tobacco substitute for Graceful Melody. Addictions -- weren't they a tricky thing?

Mahihko concluded his loop back at the ramp that led inside the base and wandered back down on auto-pilot. With Lone and the three locals departing, it meant the rest of them were on their own to pass the time. Sarge had given Donut a fairly simple order -- keep the base clean and try not to destroy it. And while he'd technically told Mahihko to help Donut with the didn't mean he couldn't multitask. Besides. This wasn't just some hidden civilization living hundreds of miles from any modern settlements. This wasn't even a lost city, separated by impassable mountains and frozen in a time long since forgotten. Mahihko had experienced those kinds of things before.

No, this was a literal alien world. With living, breathing aliens, who were not (currently) trying to kill him. Who inexplicably spoke the same tongue and boasted a similar level of technology and cultural standards. Whose anatomy was, so far, remarkably similar to the various species from Mahihko's home. A slight grin parted the wolf's muzzle. He supposed it would be appropriate to begin there -- might as well go ahead and be sure just how far the physical similarities went...

Mahihko found himself meandering into the kitchen as the smell of scrambled eggs tickled his sensitive nostrils. His tiny grin spread slowly as his eyes fell upon Donut...or rather, Donut's exposed backside. The chupadore was humming away happily at the stove, a white apron tied neatly around his sleek frame. A loose-fitting t-shirt covered his torso, but his lower half was bared to the world. Or at least to Mahihko.

As Donut ran his claws musingly along a small selection of spices, Mahihko moved on silent paws into the kitchen and then hopped onto the raised counter behind the chupadore with only the softest whisper of fur. He crossed his legs primly and leaned forward with the same shark-like expression. "Damn, hon, this has gotta be one of my top five ways to wake up!" he sang out, making Donut squeal in surprise and drop his spatula onto the range.

The chupadore spun around, pressed back against the opposite counter instinctively as his hands grabbed into his tail and clutched it tightly. "Oh! You scared me, Mr. Wolf!"

"Please, Mr. Wolf was my history teacher," Mahihko purred, propping his chin up against a closed fist as his eyes danced mischievously. "Although he did seem to like when I yelled his name out just like that. Shame they fired his ass for sleepin' with his students. Or at least with one of 'em."

Donut cocked his head curiously but Mahihko continued smoothly before he could speak. "Anyway! Gotta say I didn't expect to see your cute butt up this early. I figured you'd take the advantage to sleep in a li'l bit, what with Sarge draggin' them other two boys off on their adventure." He grinned, his gaze shamelessly locking onto the visible slivers of Donut's hips poking past the edges of the apron. "Didn't think I'd find ya up makin' such a lovely-smellin'' with the perfect view, to boot."

Donut giggled and flipped a wrist sheepishly, his paws shifting a bit and making his waist sway to one side. "Oh, you! Well I was out of clean under-armor, but I'm still following Sarge's rule! No nudity anywhere there's sharp edges, open flames or live ammunition!"

"'Bout to add to the list of sharp edges 'n live ammo up in here," Mahihko murmured, teeth gleaming as he leaned forward slightly. "Hon, you ain't gonna hear a damn complaint from me. You go on with your bad self, don't let my admiration of your fine assets get them eggs burnt..."

The chupadore tittered again, waving a hand dismissively a few more times and then twisting around neatly on his toe claws to face the stove once more. "You're too sweet! And here I thought we'd never have anyone in this base who appreciated a nice apron and semi-decent cooking!"

"Oh, that apron is bein' appreciated," Mahihko replied in entertainment, licking his lips idly as he watched the way Donut's tail flicked from side to side, naturally drawing his gaze downward to his ample rump. "You sure do got a natural sorta rhythm 'bout ya, Donut. Surprised that don't get ya caught up in shit considerin' the vibe I been pickin' up on the way folks like us get treated on this planet. Ring. Place."

"People who actually care about culture and the way they look?" Donut provided without a hint of irony. It only made Mahihko grin more broadly. "I know, right?? Oh well, it is nice to finally have someone who understands!" The wolf nodded with a quiet chuckle but otherwise remained silent as Donut returned to the skillet to tend to the eggs. "But, oh, I didn't want to sleep in just 'cause Sarge was taking Grif and Simmons on their little road-trip. He gave me a job! And I take all my jobs very seriously." Donut grunted in emphasis before glancing over his shoulder at Mahihko, apparently not minding the devilish expression on the wolf's features. "Sooo...since you and your other alien friends are gonna be sticking around here...uh. What do we call you? We sorta use last names here, but um. I don't even think some of you have last names."

"Yeah, them fellas from the pony-world are weird as fuck, dunno how they come up with their names," Mahihko commented. "Guess for Amdusias it makes sense. As much as it makes sense to realize you're talkin' to a damn flesh'n blood demon. Anyway, I get why y'all do it, 'cause y'all're soldiers 'n shit. But none of us are, so...first names are fine, sugar. An' if Mahihko's too much a mouthful, then just tap my hip twice and I'll ease up." He winked and gave a winning smile, but Donut only nodded firmly.

"Okay! It's not that bad of a name, I've heard worse!" Donut announced as he lowered the heat on the range and searched for a plate.

"N-no, I meant...shit, yer a funny one..." Mahihko tilted his head, his smile growing curious once more. "Anyway. I can appreciate a guy who's serious 'bout his responsibilities, even if I'm complete horse-shit at it. You got 'nuff eggs for everyone?"

"Sure, I think so! Uh...your big wolf friend went with Sarge, right? I didn't see the little guy with the wings or his friends when I got up, though..."

"Eh, think they're out lookin' for somethin' Graceful c'n smoke. Which, by the way, I find y'all's lack of cigarettes 'bout as bafflin' as he did. It's crazy to think y'all got wars 'n guns 'n religion 'n shit but...never found somethin' to roll up and smoke."

"That's such a strange habit..." Donut shook his head somewhat as he transferred the eggs to a plate, reaching for the carton only to find his claws bumping against a furry hand. He blinked and looked down to see Mahihko at his side, the grinning wolf deftly plucking out two eggs at once while letting his hip brush lightly against Donut's thigh. "Oh! Right, you said you liked to cook, too, right?"

"Mhmm, do some'a my best work in the kitchen," Mahihko replied silkily, using his free hand to snag the mixing bowl and then cracking the eggs simultaneously against the rim. He didn't even bother to watch, continuing to smile up at the chupadore as his fingers neatly split both eggs and allowed the insides to slip into the bowl without so much as a fragment of shell. "So tell me a li'l bit more 'bout yourself, Donut. What're your passions, 'sides raisin' hell in the kitchen, showin' off your regulation-bustin' rump an' havin' a trained eye for fine fabrics?"

"Gosh, I didn't realize I was breaking protocol with my butt!" Donut exclaimed as he looked over his shoulder at his own posterior, which of course prompted Mahihko to peer back at it as well in mock curiosity. "Sarge never said anything about it!"

"Ah, don't worry, we can ask him 'bout it when they get back," the wolf reassured with a helpless laugh, shaking his head bemusedly. His tail wagged slightly from the sheer entertainment of just how strangely unaware Donut seemed to be, and it slapped against the chupadore's exposed buttocks a few times.

"Ooh, that tickles!" Donut cried out with another giggle, nudging Mahihko gently with an elbow and then putting his hands expectantly on his hips. "You gonna whisk those eggs for me or not?"

Mahihko flashed a toothy grin once again and dutifully tossed the egg shells into the sink before hefting the bowl against his chest. "Ain't gotta tell me twice, I don't mind gettin' orders from a face as adorable as yours." He snatched up the whisk with a grand flourish, spinning it once in his nimble fingers and then quickly beating the yolks and whites. "Man, I get that this is perfectly normal for y'all, what with how long the daytime and nighttime lasts...but it's still kinda hard to fathom for me. Goin' to bed when it's dark, gettin' six hours of sleep an' then ya wake up and it's still fuckin' dark. So now we're makin' eggs in the middle of the night and it ain't even the slightest weird for you."

"I guess it's a little weird, since I'm not just making eggs when it's dark outside, but...I'm also making eggs for a whole bunch of aliens!" Donut commented with a laugh. He took the bowl from Mahihko when it was offered, nodding once to him and then pouring the eggs into the hot skillet. "Oh, so...other than cooking and cleaning and, of course, fashion...I like tea, flowers and reading!"

"Tea ain't bad if it's made right 'n flowers are...well. Flowers are pretty an' they smell fuckin' delightful, and both those could describe you, as well, so count me on board," Mahihko drawled while rubbing at his chest with a half-grin, his short claws scratching idly at the fabric of his own snug undershirt. Predictably, Donut all but cooed at his line, and the wolf laughed softly while casually pressing into Donut's side under the pretense of peering into the pan. "But readin', huh? What kinda books? You strike me as the romance novel kinda guy -- not that there's nothin' wrong with that. I'm sorta just more the cheesy-action, crazy-impossible-plot story kinda fella."

"Oooh, girl, then have I got a series of books to show you!" Donut announced in a sing-song voice, holding up one finger. "It has romance, intrigue, action, adventure and so much more! Oh, and the main character is such a dreamboat!" Donut wiggled his hips in excitement while reaching for the salt shaker to sprinkle some over the pan. "He's actually a real person, too! His name is Diamond and goodness is he just to die for! I've got all his books and clip-outs from some of his best photo shoots -- he's a model, as well! -- and my dream is to meet him one day but even if I can't...I can still act out my favorite scenes as..."

Donut paused and gripped the spatula like a pistol before whipping around and leveling it at Mahihko with an enormous grin. "...Double-Oh-Donut! Super-spy and suave-secret-stopper-of-hearts extraordinaire! Double-Oh-Diamond is my favorite!"

Mahihko grinned back and admired the chupadore's pose for a moment before reaching out to poke his spatula lightly. "Fuckin' hell, hon, you got me hooked already an' I ain't even seen a cover yet." He winked as his tail swung from side to side slowly again. "You might hafta show me some of these books after breakfast...damn if I don't wanna have a closer look..."

"Yes! We usually have a little down-time after eating so Sarge can go around and find things to try and make Grif I guess it'll be okay to wait a little bit before I start cleaning." Donut looked positively gleeful as he returned to the skillet to scrape the eggs from the bottom as they began to form. "Oh, I'm so excited! No one else ever wants to talk about Diamond for some reason!"

"I'm sure they just ain't been introduced the proper way yet," Mahihko replied coyly as he rested an arm on the countertop next to the stove, smiling up at Donut with half-lidded eyes as he traced a claw slowly along the rim of the mixing bowl. "But you'll find I'm quite the voracious...reader."

"Well then it's right to the bedroom after our meal!" Donut announced brightly with another happy flick of his tail. "We've got to get you caught up on the culture of Sirca!"

The wolf's grin was impossible to hide. "Y'damn right we do," he rumbled before forcing himself to turn back to assisting the soldier with preparing a few more plates of eggs for their other off-world companions.

Donut and Mahihko chatted amiably as they went through almost all the remaining eggs to put together enough breakfast for the two equines (and their demonic companion, even if Mahihko wasn't sure Amdusias actually needed food). The wolf was tenacious in his advances, although Donut seemed all but oblivious. Mahihko wasn't sure if it was all an act...or if the soldier really was that blind to the explosive sexual energy crackling between them. Either way, he was fine with it. Lone might have been a little flighty and anxious to find their way back home...but Mahihko was already starting to feel attached to this new place.

It helped that the natives were so easy on the eyes. But even beyond his usual lust-riddled desires, something about this world, about called to him. He and Lone had both gotten themselves into plenty of trouble before by following their gut, and he wasn't sure if the other wolf would eventually come around. But if he did, and if they both felt an instinctive draw to explore the ring-world...well, that would just be a bad idea to ignore it at that point, right?

Mahihko hummed quietly to himself as he scrubbed the skillet briskly, glancing over his shoulder to see Donut carefully arranging the multiple plates of food around the table. Graceful and his two companions were still out in the dark somewhere, so it looked like Mahihko would be having breakfast alone with Donut. He smiled to himself. He certainly didn't mind, even if Donut continued to be almost painfully unaware.

Donut trotted up behind Mahihko to peer over the top of his head and into the sink. Mahihko was somewhat on the short side back, it looked like he was all but a child compared to most of the chupadores. He smiled slightly and looked up at Donut while rinsing his hands off. "What's up, hon? You makin' sure I'm doin' a good job here?"

"Oh, I doubt I need to check on your work! You seem really good with your hands!" Donut replied cheerily as Mahihko all but snorted laughter. "I just think it's interesting you washed the pan now, before we eat! Normally people do that afterward..."

"I like to clean as I go," Mahihko explained before grinning coyly. "That and...the less there is to do after we eat, the faster we can get to checkin' out these books of yours."

"That's a good point!" Donut smiled brightly and squeezed Mahihko's shoulder before prancing back to the table with several forks in his other hand. "You seem really excited to see my Diamond collection!"

"What can I say...I gotta thing for hard, shiny things, an' where to hide 'em," the wolf announced, running his tongue across his lips. "Any guy would be crazy to not want to see your, uh. Collection."

"I guess not everyone's able to squeeze so much awesome into themselves!" Donut reasoned amicably, giving an easy shrug as he laid out the silverware.

Mahihko wiped his hands on the dish rag as he turned around to appreciate the soldier's nimble movements -- even something as mundane as setting the table was enjoyable to watch considering all the life Donut injected into it. "I guess so," the wolf replied with a half-smile. "No point lettin' this get cold...I'm sure our friends c'n figure out how to reheat shit whenever they get back in, if they ain't gonna show up to enjoy this fine treat of a meal ya so kindly prepared."

Mahihko approached the table and then graciously pulled out a chair while winking at Donut. "Well, what a positively fine little gentleman!" Donut crowed as he clasped his hands together by his cheek and danced over to plop into the chair. Mahihko moved to the other side of the table, taking the seat across from the chupadore as Donut sighed happily and dropped his muzzle into both hands. "And you even know where to sit for a proper date! Why do all those silly movies have couples sitting side by side...just because it's less camerawork doesn't mean you should skimp on the details!"

Mahihko hid his amused smile, although he was undeniably tickled at how much these little gestures seemed to enthrall Donut. "So now we're a couple, huh?" he teased as he leaned forward a bit, gesturing to the chupadore with his fork.

"Yup! A couple...of guys!" Donut replied, his expression beaming as he continued to rest his head in one palm while using the other hand to jab at his eggs. "So you know what I like to do...what about you?"

"Li'l ol' me?" Mahihko intoned, placing a hand delicately upon his chest. "Oh, y'know. Stealin' shit. Explorin' strange lands. Divin' into new experiences." He leaned in closer with each sentence. "Slippin' into private places." Donut was subconsciously moving his muzzle closer to match Mahihko's pointed cadence. "Biiig fan of spelunkin'!" Mahihko added with a toothy grin as their noses practically bumped together. "An' of course meetin' new friends!"

Donut giggled despite himself as the two pulled back simultaneously. His long tail flicked a few times as Mahihko scooped up some of the eggs on his plate, clearly waiting for his reaction. "Wow! You almost sound like a character from a Diamond book! I'm kinda jealous!"

Mahihko laughed softly, then paused to chew on the scrambled eggs for a few seconds. He didn't have to fake anything -- they were pretty goddamn tasty! He smiled around his fork, his eyes widening a bit. "Sonuvabitch, hon, these turned out great!! Nice job!" Donut smiled back happily and finally dug into his own food as Mahihko continued: "An' don' you worry 'bout a thing -- I c'n give ya all the first-hand experience you want if ya really find me all that interestin'..."

"I absolutely do!" Donut quickly replied, his expression remaining excited as the two enjoyed the simple but tasty meal. "I just wanna squeeze every last drop of experience outta you, it's so boring here!"

"Ain't gonna hafta work hard for that," Mahihko purred under his breath as he bit lightly into the fork to try and at least pretend he wasn't already dressing down the seemingly naive chupadore. The chase was supposed to be half the fun, after all...

Donut and his alien date enjoyed the late-night breakfast in peace -- whatever Graceful Melody, Riffraff and Amdusias were up to in the woods, there clearly weren't in a hurry to return. But Donut didn't seem overly concerned, as he explained to Mahihko that he'd spent plenty of time in the forest looking for wildflowers, herbs and other things he could plant in the garden he was planning to start in the soil that Sarge had so thoughtfully turned over when he'd set off the landmines with his jeep. The wild animals around here hardly constituted much of a threat. That, and Mahihko somehow didn't think between the terrifying, angry pony and his actual demon that most fauna would present a terrible amount of danger.

As Mahihko rinsed off the two plates, he tried to convince Donut that the trio really wouldn't care all that much if the food was left in the open. But Donut was nothing if not a gracious host and the soldier insisted on wrapping each plate snugly with a sheet of foil while Mahihko finished tidying up the kitchen. Yeah, Sarge had definitely made the right decision leaving Donut behind to keep the base in order.

Mahihko was leaning against the doorway with a smile when Donut finally seemed satisfied with the arrangement left behind for Graceful and company. Donut trotted up to him, then promptly giggled into a palm when the wolf -- obviously not deterred by his short stature -- offered his arm for Donut to reach down and cling to. "Lead the way, Chef...I'm ready for dessert."

"Gosh, I don't know if I have much in the way of sweets," Donut pondered as he led Mahihko toward his room, tapping at his chin thoughtfully. "I managed to get some grapes on the last supply drop! I might still have some of those left..."

Mahihko's grin might as well have been a neon sign. "Ain't no concern, sweetie. Sure we'll figure somethin' out..."

The wolf didn't need to make use of his expertise in noticing fine details to figure out which door belonged to Donut. Something told him the giant papier-mâché rainbow and flowers indicated the right option. He nonetheless allowed Donut to gesture proudly to the door before opening it and throwing an arm out. "Welcome to Casa de Donut!"

His room was immaculate compared to most of the other spaces Mahihko had seen so far in the base. He imagined only Simmons had a neater space, though not for the same reasons. Donut's walls were covered in posters of movie stars, musicians, unbearably adorable animals and one particular chupadore with light blue fur that made the wolf completely freeze in his tracks. His eyes widened slightly and he felt his heart catch once in his throat. Holy shit, nature ain't supposed to produce nothin' that perfect...

Donut nudged the door shut, which stirred Mahihko from his brief reverie. The wolf grinned over his shoulder, ready with a suggestive remark...only to find himself giving a far more amused smile when he saw the chupadore throwing his arms out at the poster on the back of his door. It was the same gorgeous creature he'd been gawking at a minute ago, which made Mahihko wonder if this was the oh-so-famous--

"Diamond! This was a limited-edition print, and he signed it, even!" Donut exclaimed as he pointed to the looping scribble near the bottom corner, which had been embellished with a heart. "Can you believe it? He touched this poster...and now I'm touching it, too! I touch it a lot!" The chupadore mashed his face against the door, his muzzle resting on the chest of the handsome male that grinned down from the poster. "What do you think, huh? Isn't he just the most dreamy?!"

"Y'know, normally I'd be a little grumpy, but uh...goddamn," Mahihko murmured, his hands on his hips as he tried not to show nearly as much excitement despite the way his fur seemed to tingle. "He is one fine fella, ain't no two ways 'bout that..."

"Right? Ugh, so glad someone else finally gets it!" Donut lamented as he ran a hand down Diamond's half-exposed torso before he finally tore himself away from the door and bounded up to Mahihko. "So! You wanted to see some of the books, right??" He squeezed one of the wolf's arms, then pranced past him to pose next to a small shelf crammed with what appeared to be a mixture of romance novels, spy thrillers and home living magazines. "Where do we even start?!"

Mahihko's eyes had yet to be torn from the poster of the famous chupadore, and he had to force himself to turn around and face Donut. Between the effusive sexual energy they'd built up in the kitchen and the dashing figure of Donut's starstruck adoration...Mahihko's focus was narrowing to a honed point. He licked his lips and grinned while sauntering toward the beaming soldier. "I dunno," he murmured huskily, stopping only a few inches away and reaching up to brush a hand ever-so-delicately past Donut's neck to snag a title from the shelf behind him. He'd caught the words at a glance and the coincidence seemed almost impossible. "How 'bout this one?"

The cover of the novel had the pale-blue chupadore standing nude in front of a well-positioned vase, a bandage across his head and a gun held in one hand as the other held a gasping female tightly against his side. "Ooh, Raw Diamond! That's a great choice, it's one of his character's origin stories!" Donut gushed as he grabbed the paperback in both hands and hopped from paw to paw. He didn't seem to notice Mahihko slipping out of his tight undershirt as he jabbed a claw into the cover. "In this one, Diamond gets pushed to the very edge and he's forced to strip himself of everything he knows and go full hardcore to get the job done! It's a rush!"

"You don't know the half of it," Mahihko murmured, peering up past the book as Donut at last seemed to notice that he was standing in front of him wearing only his cocky grin. "Tell me, Donut. How truly oblivious are ya?"

Donut found himself speechless as he stared down at the wolf's very sleek and very nude figure, his eyes growing to the size of dinner plates. For a moment, it seemed like he might actually have been confused...until he carefully set the book on the nightstand and grabbed Mahihko's wrist to draw him to the bed. "No one's that oblivious!" he replied with a breathy giggle while hurriedly trying to undo the strings of his apron to free it from his svelte torso.

"Good, 'cause I was startin' to get worried..." Mahihko chuckled somewhere deep in his throat as he slid smoothly into Donut's lap. His teeth gleamed eagerly at the sight of Donut struggling with the knot at his back -- amusing, considering how little something like an apron mattered for what was coming next.

Donut's preferences might have been on display for the world to assume...but they didn't mean he was an expert. Not that Mahihko minded one bit. "Lemme help you with that...'cause I been goddamn anxious to see how far the similarities go..." Donut gave him a shy smile despite his all-too-obvious excitement, moving his blunt claws away from the string of the apron to allow the wolf's nimbler hands to slip behind him. With the ease of a close-up magician, Mahihko's fingers deftly undid the knot and then tugged the apron up and over Donut's head, dropping it casually next to the bed. "'S better," he murmured while leaning up toward the chupadore's parted jaws. "But not quite perfect yet..." He reached down and closed his hands around the hem of the loose t-shirt as the soldier gave an excited giggle.

With an almost frightening smoothness, Mahihko peeled the shirt up and over Donut's chest. The chupadore lifted both arms to let the fabric be removed completely, and Mahihko tossed it unceremoniously over his shoulder before gripping into Donut's biceps and grinning up at him. As Donut bit his lip almost nervously, one of Mahihko's hand slipped around his waist as the other snaked around his neck to pull him down into a sudden kiss. Whatever echoes of adolescent hesitation Donut felt were quickly melting away...and when he felt Mahihko work their muzzles together with practiced ease, they simply disappeared. Donut wrapped his arms around the alien creature, pulling him closer as they fell back on the bed together in a rush of unstoppable passion.

Lone sunk down further in the back seat of the jeep, doing his best to ignore the senseless debate between Simmons and Grif. Sarge was uncharacteristically quiet, though that might have been due to the fact he spent the first thirty minutes ranting about how Grif needed to stop treating the vehicle like a baby and drive it 'like a man' if they wanted any hope of catching the Blues. Now, Simmons and Grif had somehow gotten into a heated discussion about the efficacy of using guns against bladed weapons. Simmons was firmly on the side of science -- and plain logic -- as he insisted blades were all but useless...while Grif retorted with arguments that invoked the existence of ninjas and elite strike forces with training in every variety of weapon under the suns.

It wasn't that the conversation bored Lone. It was more the fact that now he was the odd one out, surrounded by...non-aliens. It probably didn't help that he kept thinking of himself as an alien. Who the fuck ever had to come to terms with being an alien? The wolf supposed he could at least be grateful that the awkward stares had mostly tapered off. Sarge no longer appeared to be suspicious that he'd suddenly turn on them, and...clearly, Grif and Simmons were occupied.

The journey had been fairly uneventful, at least. Grif had kept to the road, although it was becoming more and more rural as they headed in the direction Sarge felt was best. Lone forced a good amount of his instincts down -- a rather loud part of his conscience wanted to throw out suggestions and scream protests. He'd been on chases before. He'd been on plenty of chases before. But he knew this wasn't his place, and that he was lucky enough just to have been allowed to accompany them on this silly pursuit. There was little point in making waves now.

Lone shifted to try and find a more comfortable position to maybe doze off...only to be jolted upright when Mahihko's voice crackled out from his side. "Lone! Come in, Lone, Lone Christie, do you read me??"

"Oh fuck you, Simmons, like you could fight a...what the fuck?" Grif halted in mid-protest to stare into the rear-view mirror. Next to the wolf, Simmons was giving him an equally-concerted look, and Lone cleared his throat while fumbling through his side-packs.

"Uh...sorry, just...a sec," Lone muttered, trying not to look awkward as Mahihko's voice continued to sing out, sounding strangely...out of breath.

"Loooone! I know you can hear me! Ooh, Donut, that tickles! You're too much a pussy to turn off the damn radio, you'd be paranoid about missin' an important message! Omigawd, ya devious dewberry, it's still sensitive!"

Lone was cursing now as he half-hung out of the jeep to try and find the pouch that contained the radio. Simmons stared across the small stack of supplies between them, his face screwed up in confusion. "Christ, how many packs do you have??"

"Clearly not enough!" the wolf half-shouted in a strangled tone before he finally dug out the radio with a barking laugh.

"--and believe-you-me, this here's one helluva important message!" Mahihko's voice continued to chirp.

Lone rolled his eyes, trying to ignore the rather judgmental looks of the three chupadores as he all but yelled into the receiver: "Yes, yes, I'm here, holy fucking shit, what is so important?!?"

A brief pause. "Um. Wow. You don't hafta be a complete jerk." Mahihko paused, and Lone swore he was stifling a delighted moan. "Y'know, I get that you don't respect meeee--unngh, goddamn--or like me or even care about me 'cause I'm a terrible, im-m-m-mmmm--Donut, you tease!--moral person whose flaws outweigh any possible chances at redemption..." Another pause for an incredibly dramatic sniffle that barely drowned out a giggle in the background. "...But I'm still a person, dangit!"

Lone sighed and slowly dropped his forehead against the radio, mumbling to himself for a moment. "Y'shouldn't be so rude to your partners!" Sarge announced from the passenger's seat. "That little space-dog's nothin' like Grif! In fact I'd take him over Grif any day! You're lucky to have someone as skilled and willing to help as that Hee-ko fella is!"

"Oh, if you only knew..." Lone muttered to himself as he forced a slow, measured breath into his lungs. Find your center. A pound of sand in your right hand. A pound of iron in your left. He exhaled evenly and then brought the transmitter up to his muzzle. "I'm sorry, Mahihko." He mostly meant it. It was just that the little fucker was really good at scraping his nerves. And what was going on in the background?? "I read you just fine. What's up?"

"Okay, so great news from the home front!" A brief pause as Mahihko's voice grew faint with a laugh. "I'm tellin' them, I'm tellin' them! Uh so. These alien chupa-thingies? Dude, they got dicks exactly like ours like I mean down to the shea--" Lone's eyes bulged and he choked out a furious shout as he desperately tried to turn off the radio. Simmons pressed violently against the opposite side of the jeep while Grif made a disgusted sound, the vehicle swerving wildly as a result of his horrified twitch.

Sarge maintained the calmest reaction, even as he grunted in disapproval. "Hrrnn. Take back what I said about that boy. Donut knows Recreation Hour ain't for another twenty minutes or so!"

"--nd the best part is, they fit just fine, both ways! Isn't that awe--" Lone finally managed to yank the volume knob down all the way before glaring at the ear piece that was still wrapped around the receiver. Would have been smart to plug that in first... He tried to take another careful, long breath while jamming the plug into the jack and then shoving the other end into an ear as he silently prayed for the seat to swallow him whole. But it did not, and his tall, bulky frame made it difficult to hide all that well -- even slumped down as he was, he could see over the top of the crates between himself and Simmons to catch the chupadore still casting awkward looks in his direction.

He could feel Grif's eyes boring into him through the rear-view mirror and the wolf grumbled darkly to himself. He was about to mutter some variant of an apology when he was stopped by Mahihko's voice tittering into his ear. "Loooone, oh-mah-gawd, Lone, hon, you...gotta hook up with one of these guys, I think they're all pent-up as hell! Donut here's just...ah...just fuckin'...g-goin' t-t-toooohh fuuuuck!"

Lone's cheeks burned as he stared around the jeep and hurriedly turned the radio completely off. Fortunately only he'd heard the very distinctive sound of Mahihko's...moment, but it didn't do much for his embarrassment as he slumped down and rubbed a hand slowly along his face.

He half-expected one of the other three to toss a rude comment his way, or maybe -- just maybe -- a sympathetic note. Maybe even an empathetic one; the rather flamboyant Private Donut had to be some kind of a comparable pain in the ass for the trio. But Grif had his eyes locked onto the hood of the jeep, which in all fairness, was probably for the best with the only real illumination coming from their headlights. Sarge had resumed his gruff posture with his shotgun held loosely against his chest while his eyes skimmed the passing terrain.

That left only Simmons. Lone looked over at him awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck and trying not to look overly pitiful. Simmons was scrunched against the side of the jeep, making a terrible attempt at looking nonplussed as he tapped a claw rapidly against his thigh and pretended he wasn't casting wary glances in Lone's direction every few seconds.

Lone assumed that his attempts at not appearing pitiable were a bust, however, when the soldier finally grumbled and shifted his hips. He remained smashed into the retaining wall of the hog, but at least turned somewhat toward the wolf with an uncomfortable expression. "So, uh. That was pretty weird. I bet you feel embarrassed."

Lone blinked a few times and then scowled. "Well...yeah. That's kinda...rude to point out?" Simmons shrugged and Lone could only sigh after a moment. "But yeah. Guess I do. Sorry for making it weird." He paused. "Sorry for Mahihko making it weird."

"You both kind of make it weird," Simmons retorted, crossing his arms and eyeing the wolf silently. "I don't know if you're aware...but you guys are aliens." The chupadore scrubbed at his face while Lone studied him wordlessly in return. The jeep hit a small boulder and both Simmons and Lone bounced into the air for a moment. One of the supply crates between them threatened to topple over and Lone reached up to snag it before it could tumble onto the soldier, his muscular arm nearly a blur.

Simmons stared, then added moodily: "Aliens that I'm starting to suspect are more capable than us, the actual soldiers who have been at war for several years." He frowned for a few seconds. "I guess that isn't saying much, though. We aren't exactly an elite unit..."

"'Cuz of no fault of my own!" Sarge rumbled from the front, his eyes flicking to the backseat. "You slackers ain't exactly makin' my job easy!"

Simmons saluted sharply as Grif rolled his eyes with a snort. "Doing our best, sir! Grif brings down the curve a lot!"

"Son, Grif is the curve!" Sarge barked before settling back into his seat. "Anyhow, Private Simmons has a point." Sarge fixed Lone with a sharp gaze as the wolf sheepishly straightened the supply crates. "Ain't just talkin' reflexes. Little blue guy with the wings already showed his stuff --"

"He shot me. And then punched me. My jaw still hurts," Simmons mumbled as he rubbed at his muzzle.

"Sorry, Simmons, but you ain't exactly a prime cut, neither," Sarge pointed out, bringing a pout to Simmons's features. "Point remains the same, though. Seen the way you treat a situation. Yer the tactical one, aint'cha?"

This time it was Lone's turn to shrink a bit into his corner, as if having the obvious veteran of the group notice his strengths was embarrassing. "I...I wouldn't say I'm all that good at actual tactics, but.."

Simmons frowned and leaned forward a bit. "Wait, and I just realized -- when we got hit with that smoke grenade and couldn't see shit...your, um. Your friend...he was in there with us. He took Donut's gun...and Sarge's!"

Sarge grumbled while clutching his shotgun the smallest bit tighter. "Wasn't no fair fight, that little bastard used dirty tricks...and right after my long drive! It don't count!"

"Of course, sir!" Simmons blurted in response even as he looked at Lone again. " was obvious he could have killed any of us. All of us. Both of you could. aren't soldiers? I mean, I know you already said you guys have participated in battles and've...never been in an army or anything?"

"Them two space-dogs absolutely ain't no soldiers," Sarge interrupted, glancing back at the wolf as if daring him to claim otherwise. "I know a soldier when I see one. Just 'cuz they got the drop on us don't make 'em military."

Lone raised both hands. "You're right. We're definitely not soldiers." When Simmons frowned again, the wolf could only give a small shrug. "It's true. I can' t speak for the horses, but neither me nor Mahihko have ever had...combat training or anything. We picked up the shit we know on necessity."

" said you were a tomb raider," Simmons replied slowly, causing Lone to grumble and rub at his muzzle. "What?"

"'s...nothing," Lone muttered. "That term has other connotations where we come from. I prefer 'explorer' the very least, 'treasure hunter'. And yes, since your next question is gonna be 'does a treasure hunter need to know how to shoot guns'. Minute some rich or greedy or fanatic asshole finds out that some mythical chalice or legendary lost city might can bet your ass you'll have a buncha thugs -- or worse, mercenaries -- hot on your trail."

Simmons was silent this time as he mulled that over. The reality of life on Sirca meant that living the kind of fantastical life that Lone described seemed literally impossible. Truly only something that could exist in a book or a movie. But here was this alien, a two-legged wolf decked out with twin pistols, a tactical vest and who knew how many tales of globe-trotting expeditions tombs?

He wasn't exactly bursting at the scenes to make conversation with the odd newcomer. At least Lone wasn't nearly as grabby as the smaller one. And if Simmons was being honest, even if he wasn't comfortable chatting up a stranger considering how much time he'd spent with Grif and Sarge and even Donut over the months and years...this was still an actual alien. Someone from another world. Every fiber of his being was filled with questions, regardless of his hesitance to engage.

Lone seemed to sense some of his discomfort and the wolf began to shift away, leaning back to try and make some kind of cover out of the supply boxes between them. But Simmons finally grumbled and leaned forward a bit so he could look over at the wolf. "Were, um. So were you two on When you ended up here on Sirca?"

"Oh my god you are such a nerd," Grif commented drolly, flinching from the punch Simmons sent into his arm. "Ow. Bitch."

"You're a bitch," Simmons muttered, glancing at Lone when the lupine smiled slightly. "Now what?"

Lone chortled. "Nothin'. Just nice to be reminded that Hiko and I aren't the only ones with a weird friendship."

"Grif and I have never had sex," Simmons stated plainly, earning a disgusted groan from Grif.

"And we never fuckin' will!" he called over his shoulder while at least dutifully keeping his eyes on the dark path.

"Yeah, okay, fair," Lone replied bemusedly, shrugging amicably enough. "But, anyway...uh, sorta? We had been chasing something down. But then we found it. It ended up being the crystals that opened the portal we took here." He leaned against the side of the vehicle in thought, propping his head up on his palm as the other hand tapped at his knee musingly. "Let me back-track a little bit." Lone relaxed somewhat while Simmons twisted to rest back against his side of the jeep so he could focus on the wolf.

"About two weeks ago, Mahihko and I were at the end of a long-ass hunt for an item that a few old manuscripts described as a sort of 'universal key'. I was thinking it was maybe some kind of linguistic index, like a cornerstone of several ancient languages that would finally allow translation of stuff the world thought long-forgotten." Lone looked dreamy for a moment, and it was difficult for Simmons to not stare in awe, himself.

"Great. I didn't actually want you to turn out being another fuckin' nerd," Grif grumbled.

"Fuck off, Grif," Simmons shot back without bothering to spare his companion a glare as he continued looking at Lone anxiously. "That would have been amazing if that was the case. How many languages does your world have?"

Lone blinked. It was a simple question, but was laced with the tone that suggested even two or three different languages would have been incredible to hear about. "Uh. At least a few hundred, especially if you count all the ones that have been lost to time," the wolf explained slowly. " many do you guys have here?"


Lone blinked again. "O-one?" he echoed in disbelief. "As in. All of this planet speaks one language? This...this language we're speaking now?"

"Yeah. We call it 'common'," Simmons explained, ignoring Grif's exaggerated eye-roll. "I'm still trying to figure out how we can understand each other, but..." The chupadore gestured with a hand helplessly.

Lone nodded and ran his fingers along his throat. "Yeah. Mahihko didn't seem too concerned about it, but it's been bugging me since we got here. Once we were done almost being shot. Good thing that Church guy has such shitty aim...."

"Tell me about it," Simmons replied with a snort. "I think every single one of us in this vehicle has been 'shot' by that guy. But...those crystals?" The look on his face indicated he was very much still eager to hear more.

It made Lone smile as he nodded a few times. "Right. Anyway, I was wrong about them. Annoyingly, Hiko was closer to the mark -- he was thinking by the descriptions in the manuscripts that the 'key' was more literal. Kind of like...I dunno, he called it the 'world's sexiest lock-pick', because of course he did. But he was betting on it being something that could open a whole bunch of hidden doors and secret passages and all that crazy shit. As much of our world has been explored, there's still plenty that is a I suppose it isn't that far-fetched." Lone grumbled for a moment. "Still would have preferred my idea, though. But of course a thief is going to value potential treasure over historical discovery."

"Guess it's not a huge surprise to hear that about him," Simmons admitted while rubbing slowly at the back of his neck. "So, what. How do they work? Do you just...hold them up and...I dunno."

"Please suggest that he says some gay magic words, Please, Simmons, for me, please suggest that," Grif mocked from the front.

Both Simmons and Lone rolled their eyes at Grif. "No, there haven't been any magic words involved up to this point," Lone replied curtly. "It was more like...every time we needed to use it, we held it up and it lit up and." The wolf gestured slowly with both hands. "It uh. It. Opened. A doorway."

"And you two just walked through?" Simmons asked in disbelief. "Without...without knowing what was on the other side? What if it was...I dunno..."

"A world that's in the middle of an endless war where you stand out like a fuckin' sore thumb?" Grif offered mildly.

Simmons glowered up at him...but then shrugged and glanced back at Lone pointedly.

"Hey, look. It's kinda right there in the damn title," Lone mumbled. "You can't be an 'explorer' if you aren't willing to explore." He huffed but continued. "Anyway, in a nutshell, yeah. The first time it was just us being curious. And we managed to wander into the world where Graceful and Riffraff lived. Spent some time there, almost got our heads blown off, and ended up opening another doorway to avoid having our asses shot by some mafia bullshit we got caught up in." He frowned a bit. "We crossed paths with them again a few worlds later and then when were all being chased by those flat-faced assholes you guys saw by the...Blue Base, right? Yeah, there was a whole damn army of those fuckers. Long story short, we ended"

"And one of them apparently followed your dumb asses through," Grif muttered. "Great job."

"I don't think that guy actually followed us," Lone retorted before shifting awkwardly. "But I guess it's likely they maybe traced our signature. Or the crystals' signature. Or. Some kinda signature. I dunno. Either way, it was only the one body we found, and your Blue friends killed it--"

"Friends?!" Sarge half-wheezed, half-growled as he frowned back at the wolf, who looked uncomfortable even with his considerable size advantage. "Son, ain't I made it clear ain't no such thing as a Blue friend? They're the enemy! Would rather make friends with a teapot full'a angry crawbears!"

"O-oh, right, right," Lone stammered lamely. "Sorry, I, uh. I didn't forget! I just, uh. Yeah." He cleared his throat. "Point is, we're here now and we kinda learned the hard way that we have no real control over the crystals or where they take us. And honestly, we've probably just been really lucky the last couple times -- ring-world of eternal war or otherwise, at least it's know. Fuckin'...some random pocket of deep-space or a corner of the ocean several thousand meters deep. Also you guys haven't tried to kill us."

"Not for a lack of tryin'," Sarge grumbled while brushing at some invisible dust on the end of his shotgun. "You 'n your li'l space-puppy friend just used dirty Blue-like tactics out in front'a the base. Woulda had yer pelt mounted and stuffed by now otherwise!"

"Pretty sure Donut's taking care of that for you with the smaller one," Grif replied drolly even as he made a face at the thought.

Simmons sighed, but shifted his gaze back toward Lone. "Okay, I guess I get it. Sorta. It's still really hard to even imagine that there really is other life out there beyond Sirca. Even if I've literally been shot by it."

"And then punched out by it, too," Lone added helpfully.

Simmons glared at the wolf, who responded with a half-smile. Simmons groaned. "Here I thought you were on my side," he muttered under his breath.

"Whoa, who says I'm not?" Lone shot back as he rubbed self-consciously at his lower jaw. "You can't possibly think you were the only one that little fucker's knocked sprawling."

Simmons looked wary, but seemed to immediately recognize the way the wolf nursed his muzzle. "Yeah, well you're probably gonna say you didn't pass out," the chupadore complained.

"Sure, but only because I've taken like...seventy-five blows to the head during my travels," Lone replied with an easy shrug. "The body eventually learns not to pass the fuck out after just one punch. Sometimes."

"Oh, well, that's good news," the soldier sighed. "I'd like to avoid more punches to the face."

"Ain't easy in my line of work, at least..." Lone paused before chuckling briefly. "But luckily for you, we're not on a treasure hunt...right?"

"Not unless yer idea of treasure is chasin' down 'n shootin' the tar outta some Blue cowards!" Sarge called over his shoulder, accompanying it with a grin. "Which I absolutely do!"

"Yes, sir, of course, sir!" Simmons barked automatically while looking lamely at Lone.

Lone realized Simmons was at least somewhat aware of his near-sycophantic behavior toward his commanding officer, but he kept his maw shut. More important to try and make a friend or two with the folks he was apparently going to be stuck with for the foreseeable future. "Uh...yeah, yeah. Down with the Blues?" Lone added halfheartedly. It was enough to earn an approving grunt from Sarge, at least.

The wolf exhaled in relief, then glanced back to Simmons when he spoke up again. "So...this wasn't the first time you and uh. Mah. Mah-hee..."

"You can just call him 'Hiko'," Lone supplied with a barely repressed smile.

Simmons made a face but nodded in awkward thanks. "Hiko. This wasn't the first time you two have worked together?" When Lone arched an eyebrow as if to ask 'what part of we're clearly gay lovers with a history wasn't clear?', the chupadore grumbled again with a flustered expression. "I mean. It's, um. Obvious you two have worked, uh. Together-together before, but. I mean doing the whole exploring, treasure-hunting thing. You just seem to be complete opposites in how you two treat what you do. Or at least what you claim to do..."

"Hey, that sorta stings," Lone muttered, even if he couldn't blame the guy that much. "Fair point, I guess. What separates the explorers from the common thieves, yeah?" He shrugged a bit. "But I guess I know what you mean. And all things considered, we're not official partners, by any means. I have an actual business old friend, Victor Ford. He's kinda...well..." Lone smiled slightly and inclined his head toward Simmons. "He reminds me a lot of you, actually. But, uh. Less smart. And more, um..."

"Nerdy?" Grif supplied easily.

Simmons appeared torn between annoyed and pleased that, despite the comparison, someone was at least nerdier than him.

"Sure, we'll go with that," Lone chuckled. "He's big into tech. And he was always good with getting things laid out in travel, arranging rentals, all that jazz. I'm more I handle the more physical aspects of the jobs. I'm decent with improvising during a changing scenario, too."

Sarge grunted again. "So ya mean you ain't just turnin' tail 'n runnin' when a situation gets FUBAR?"

Lone's half-smile became complete. "Yeah. Pretty much." He paused and rolled his eyes. "Goes without saying that Mahihko is even better than me at that, though. That little fucker thrives in chaos. I have literally seen him intentionally pull some shit just to make a mission get 'exciting', as he would say." The wolf rubbed absently at his shoulder. "Fun fact, 'exciting' usually means someone's gettin' shot and someone else is gettin' laid. Guess which one of us ends up where."

"...Then. Why work with Mah-hee-ko at all?" Simmons inquired, trying to make the other wolf's name roll off his tongue as casually as possible.

Lone snickered despite himself. "You're determined to get it right, huh? You're close, for what it's worth, Anyway, half the time it's not even an optional thing -- little bastard just knows where I am and shows up and crashes the party. And yeah, he often makes off with whatever it is I'm after, he'll never stop being a fuckin' thief. But he's good at what he does. And...maybe at the beginning, way back when we first met, maybe then there were some times I was pretty sure he woulda left me to die had I not found a way out. Not anymore, though. Hate to admit it, but I trust him. With my life, anyway. Not with my shit. Weren't here thirty minutes before he gave my fuckin' shotgun to that giant horse, like the giant fuckin' muscled-up horse needs a shotgun..."

"Son, you just dropped rank in my book," Sarge rumbled without looking back. "Congrats, Simmons, yer back to number one."

"Thank you, sir! I'm...wait, the new guy ranked above me already?!?" Simmons made a horrible face. "What...what the hell, sir??"

"Sorry, Simmons, he earned bonus points for joining the Red Team so quickly after arriving on Sirca! Takes real guts and a smart brain to figure out the right side so fast! But givin' away a that there's a disappointment." Sarge shook his head sadly and Lone wasn't sure if he should feel awkward for the crestfallen expression on Simmons's face or insulted by the lowered mental ranking of him by some guy who wasn't even technically his superior...since he wasn't even in the army.

Lone stammered in an attempt to move forward."W-well...point is, I guess, that he's really good at what he does, and...for those tougher quests that I don't feel comfortable tackling alone, he's." He sighed but shrugged helplessly. "He's one of the best damn assets there is to have on your side. As long as you don't mind a touch of insanity."

Sarge's teeth gleamed in the low light. "Heh. Don't you worry about that, son. We got more'n a touch of that 'round c'mon, Grif! Pedal to the metal, we're wastin' moonlight!!"

Grif rolled his eyes but dutifully slammed his paw down as Simmons and Lone were both thrown backward when the jeep leaped eagerly along the rough path through the forest. Lone was sure of one thing -- this wouldn't be the boring flip of the coin.