Verse 13: Getting Closer


"Holy fuckin' shit, Fiffy actually pulled this shit off..."

Andee lifted his cap with an expression torn somewhere between a grimace and a smile while gazing down at the expansive chamber. His perch high up on the ledge allowed him to observe the entire space as the last of the decorative colored lights and paper lanterns were hung across the open area. Bats were flitting about, stocking a bar along one side of the cavern, placing chairs and tables around an impromptu arena that would serve as the dance floor for the hours of gyrating and stomping to come. A small stage had been erected at one end of the arena, two bats busily hooking up cables to a massive stack of speakers and arranging a cluster of thick, oversized mushrooms alongside several percussive instruments.

The last fading rays of sunlight trickled in from the long, narrow shaft behind him, throwing a gentle glow across his shoulders. But there would be no need for the multiple natural atriums that let in the beams of sunshine during the day, not once the festivities began. Several fire pits had already been ignited throughout the cavernous room and the cheery gleam of the crisscrossing stringed lights and lanterns filled the space with Xulod's famous cozy atmosphere.

None of this was due to Samael's efforts, though. The bats did this every year, after all, that in itself was nothing impressive to Andee. No, it was the fact that, as these final touches were being put into place, a small group of chupas had entered the celebration hall...and not a damn shout or cry of indignation had risen up from the bats beginning to gather for the event. Christ, his stupid puppy really did know a thing or two about diplomacy. Or at least how to suck a mean dick...because really, what was better at easing tensions than a good blowjob?

Andee smirked to himself when his eyes settled on Nelson first, the hulking chupa somehow still the most threatening one of the group despite being hunched in her wheelchair. Still built like a tank even though her legs no longer worked -- she made even a big motherfucker like York look less impressive when she rolled into a room, damn the fact she was a woman. Andee wouldn't have been surprised if she did have a dick somewhere on that goddamn rolling death machine, too, but he'd never be stupid enough to accuse her of it. The bitch was no doubt at least partially responsible for Samael being the dumbass he was...but she was also one of the few surface-dwellers Juwo openly trusted, and she'd gone above and beyond ever since learning about Xulod to not only have a solid grasp of their language and culture, but to also respect and keep their privacy. That made her worth of a tiny bit of respect...at least enough to not be accused of tucking a dick.

She was flanked on one side by a tall, quiet female that Andee recognized from one of his recent trips to Sidewinder. Ex-Freelancer...hadn't been all that shocked to see him the first time, which he still wasn't sure if he took as offensive or not. Nibbles...Nebbie? Neb. Something like that. She was alright, and she usually seemed to be a decent force of concern for Samael, which was nice, since Nelson sure as fuck wasn't one to stop the insane redneck from going all out on every job he did. The dumb shit could use more voices of reason like hers.

Behind her was that chubby pussy Trevor. Newest guy at Sidewinder, apparently some kind of computer genius...though Andee wasn't ready to confirm that, considering he'd been recruited on the infamous Pony Express, where a ticket only cost the low, low price of fucking Samael until you were ready to throw away all your common sense, give a middle finger to Omega, and join the resistance. Andee snorted to himself. He wasn't jealous or anything that all these fucking newbies were having so much play with the stupid shortstack -- they weren't the ones providing the midget motherfucker with art and a new bat-made blanket for his stupid redneck bed-cave-room. They were just visitors at the whore house known as Samael Wurlitz. He didn't care he and Samael had only shared their one moment in the grassy field so far...they'd been fuckin' busy, after all.

At Nelson's other side was the one person on Sirca who might have held a candle to Samael's over-the-top personality and lack of filter -- Ashley Goddamn Mills, the crazy bitch of a pilot who had gone out of her way to prove that bats didn't have a monopoly on huff, despite the fact they'd fucking invented the rhythmic vocal music. Andee still owed her a showdown after the last time he'd caught her at the Lactan base bar, spitting rhymes to an improvised beat to keep the whole room fascinated -- cultural appropriation if Andee had ever seen it, goddammit. She looked her usual manic self, grinning like an idiot while gesturing emphatically along with whatever story she was telling the glowering rebel leader rolling next to her.

And finally, another member of Samael's gay harem, that flighty fairy Vinny. It was hard to tell who was jumpier between him and Trevor -- Vincent had the benefit of a hooded sweatshirt to withdraw into, though Andee wasn't sure if that made the awkward bastard look more or less wimpy. For what it was worth, Vincent flinched far less when Andee slung insults at him; Andee supposed even if he had a quiet demeanor, his hoop upbringing had given him a steely resolve. It was far more entertaining to bark at Trevor, send that fucking hacker wuss scrambling up the rock walls in surprise.

Andee took a moment longer to glare down at Vincent. The lanky bitch had presented Samael with a hoodie of his own after the cave-raised whore had showered him with enough compliments on the look, and of course it barely fit the double-wide bastard, and of course it looked stupidly hot on him, and Andee hated to admit it was one of the few times he'd actually frozen in place for a moment or two when he'd seen a picture of him wearing it.

He and Samael had taken to exchanging photographs and stupid little letters through the bat delivery system, since Nelson had threatened to rip Samael's tail off if he kept using the radio for personal reasons. Andee smiled slightly as he thought about the dumb picture he had nailed up in his apartment, the first one Samael had sent him a day or two after their meeting with Juwo. Him posing with the guitar, blissfully nude, grinning like the inbred idiot he was. Normally that kind of correspondence wouldn't have been received well by any member of the bat postal service...but then again, the guy who delivered to Sidewinder wasn't just any bat. As always, Andee knew a guy.

He couldn't help the grin when a familiar drawl drifted up to his perch, and his eyes swung around to spot Samael walking backward with his arms wide as two bats accompanied him. It was the first time he'd seen the three from a distance and he took a moment to...ugh, was it appreciation? Yeah. It probably was. He wouldn't say it to any one of the three assholes, but he had some good-looking friends. They made a nice vision as they moved together -- Samael, who looked like a stubby, overbuilt gnome next to the average chupa, but who nearly fit in with the bats. He carried himself with the same pride, same self-confidence; he had no shame about the fact he looked different, the fact his body was decorated in a way that made him happy.

Mutt, a giant among his people, his body decked out the most of the gang with a series of patterns and symbols on both muscular arms -- the black burns stood out proudly against his dark-orange fur, accented more so by the rich maroon of his wings and thick legs. He had more piercings than either Andee or Samael...and the mixture of studs and rings looked damn good in the guy, making his beef form snag even more gazes whenever Xulod's colorful lights caught one of the silver and gold bits of metal.

And even Paneko, normally the quietest of the three bats, now chuckling and arguing spiritedly with Samael like the dumb redneck was one of them. Paneko was an outlier in the sea of browns, blacks and oranges that dominated the underground, his coat a dazzling near-white that made his piercing green eyes stand out that much more. He didn't have any piercings, and his only tattoo was the dashed-out omega on his thigh; Andee could still remember the day he and Mutt had convinced their nervous friend to get it, claiming if he got in the same place as Andee, it would barely hurt. Took the lanky bat a few very long days to forgive them. But Andee and Mutt loved him like a brother, and then some, considering the intimate friendship the trio shared.

And now...now they were four. Andee hated to admit it, but Samael was one of them now. It was even more obvious from here as Andee smiled a bit, watching his companions interact like it had always meant to be.

Mutt laughed raucously, the huge bat shaking his head in amusement while Paneko jabbed a wing at Samael in accusation of something or another. Yeah, it had been pretty goddamn great to see the look on Pan's face when he'd delivered Samael's little gift, and Andee had taken more than just a note of pride at the way Samael's body -- even in a damn picture -- made his childhood friend look a tad wanting. Paneko had, of course, sworn up and down he wouldn't be their personal messenger boy...but so far, he hadn't failed to deliver a single one of their dumb little exchanges. Andee smirked and adjusted his cap as the trio continued their easy argument far below. Alright, alright, he had to admit Fiffy was doing okay with the whole honorary-bat thing so far.

Andee glanced back to see Nelson's group stopping at the bar when one of the friendlier bats called out to them. Yeah, they'd be fine. Juwo's little speech to Xulod had been met with a surprisingly low number of grumbles and complaints, even from the older, more traditional denizens of the subterranean city. Apparently Cakkco Fif and his goddamn bottomless capacity for forging bonds or some shit had more of an effect on the secluded population than Andee had expected. Shouldn't have been a surprise, considering all the shit he got after the well-deserved boot he'd given Samael following their little display in the Xulod plaza. Everyone loved that dumb redneck.

He snorted to himself and then spread his wings while stepping off the ledge so he could glide toward his trio of companions. He supposed it could be worse -- imagine if his tastes had been as fucked up as York's, he could be stuck with a tight-ass squirrel instead of an inbred cave-midget. Skinny little bastard probably sucked in bed, anyway.

Samael's eyes lifted from the debate when Andee soared toward them, his already-cheerful features brightening even further. Andee did a poor job hiding his pleased grin and made a beeline for the stocky chupa to collide forcefully with his chest while cackling...only to wheeze when Samael barely stumbled backward, the muscular bastard merely grunting and then promptly wrapping his thick arms around the bat to hug him tightly. "Andee!!"

The bat flailed uselessly as his two friends snickered behind him, Mutt's voice commenting casually in their native tongue: "Looks like Puppy's been rubbing all that gay off on Andee, eh?"

"Ahhh, shaddup," Andee muttered against Samael's masculine breast, shoving against the chupa in a show of futility. "Dammit, ya fuckin' short-bus motherfuck, put me down!"

"Nah, don't do that, Fiffy, you two are cute as hell, and Andee loves when people call him that, too," Paneko added with a grin as Andee gave him a horrible look over one shoulder. "He thinks all those piercings make him look tougher, but we know the truth -- they just make him look sparkly."

"I'mma fuckin' make you deliver a fuckin' dick pic next time, ya fuckin' traitor!" Andee swore as Samael only giggled and then at last released his partner so Andee could flutter to the ground with a sliver or two of his dignity still intact.

"Oh please, like the first damn thing Sammy sent wasn't that, exactly," Paneko retorted. Samael grinned shamelessly while Andee squinted first at Paneko, then back at Samael as he jerked a thumb into the rebel's stomach.

"Ey, he didn't have nothin' blue showin', don't get your goddamn wings in a tizzy," Andee grumbled while straightening his half-poncho. "Anyway, what the fuck you three douchebags goin' on about, eh?"

"Sammy try to convince us that his people make better booze," Mutt replied as he and Samael shared a playful growl between themselves. "I tell him he has mushy brain."

"He sure as fuck does!" Andee declared while smacking his wing against Samael's legs. "All that fuckin' snow makes all them Sampi fucks soft in the head! We did some'a that famous 'shine last time I was out at Sidewinder -- it wasn't shit!"

Samael leaned down to whisper very loudly: "Sweetie, you was passed out after four shots. Like dead to the world, knocked out, toasted." Andee's eyes widened despite his efforts as he bared his teeth at the grinning rebel.

"Hey, you told us the two of you boned like friggin' tree-hoppers last time you were out that way," Paneko teased as he and Mutt both leaned toward Andee with matching smirks.

Andee huffed before scowling when Samael put his hands on his hips with a dramatic sigh. "Tell ya what, fellas, not even a dang handy. Poor guy was snorin' 'fore I could even think 'bout gettin' my pants off."

"I would have jerked on him," Mutt noted with a wise nod. "Teach him to fall asleep before fuck time."

Andee's cheeks flushed and he crossed his arms. "Listen, ya fuckin' toolbag, me'n the puppy gots business we're takin' care of first, eh?? Not everyone's got fuckin' time to go around swappin' dick-juice all day!"

Mutt was quick to grin cheekily and slide toward the two, his eyes dancing playfully. "I have five minutes. Plenty of time to give Fiffy dick-juice."

Andee heard Samael's muffled snort behind him and he pursed his lips at his long-time friend. "Not tonight, Mutt -- you better go find some other fuckin' surface-dweller to plug, keepin' my dumb fuzzy whore on a short leash since he's gonna be surrounded by a buncha you drunk fuckers and you already know he's got a thing for our kind!"

"Oh, I can see in his eyes, he has very good thing for bat-kind," Mutt replied, the piercings in his brow seeming to glint with their own mischievousness as he winked at Samael, then reached down to prod a claw into Andee's chest. "Puppy probably want to know if bat can do more than just wing-job!"

Paneko failed to mask his own snort while Andee wrinkled his muzzle and flailed his arms briefly before blinking in surprise when Samael chuckled and rested a hand on his shoulder. "Aww, c'mon now, Mutt -- ain't Andee's fault, he's right, we both been busy. 'Sides, I ain't in no rush, we'll get to it when we get to it. After all, Andee ain't like all my other ninety-seven boyfriends!"

"Damn fuckin' right I'm not," Andee mumbled as he folded his arms again and glowered at Mutt before he blinked and then scowled back over his shoulder at Samael. "Wait, don't fuckin' call me that, ya know that sounds gay as shit!!"

"I'm terribly sorry, hon," Samael spoke graciously as he bowed low enough that the end of his muzzle bumped one of Andee's ears. "I fergot that us rubbin' our dicks together out'n in the middle'a the mornin' sun ain't gotten us enough points to qualify fer the Gay Club -- remind me what we gotta do fer membership?"

"Pretty sure you will have to do sixty-nine," Mutt responded sagely before laughing and backpedaling to avoid a wide swing of Andee's wing. "Don't worry, I will leave to you!" He paused and leaned sideways with a grin toward the bar. "Besides, I see other fish in trees."

"It's 'in the sea', ya stupid bastard," Andee muttered even as he and Samael both turned around curiously to see where Mutt was peering.

Paneko gave an exasperated sigh as he smiled and threw an arm around Mutt's broad shoulders. "Trust me on this one, Mutt -- she is not only out of your league, but she's not even into guys."

Mutt pouted and crossed his own arms as he stared wantonly at Nelson from across the room. "She is real woman. And her little twig girlfriend probably needs hand with her -- I should ask for threesome."

"Yer gonna be askin' fer three rounds'a buckshot in yer beefy ass, you do that," Samael announced with a cackle while Andee snorted and nodded in agreement.

"No fuckin' shit, Mutt -- you remember what happened the last time you talked to that crazy bitch, right? Also, did ya not notice the fuckin' wheelchair she grew since the last fuckin' time she was here??"

"Is just meals on wheels," Mutt mumbled even as he rubbed the back of his head with a sigh. "It is not good night to be shot, though, agreed." He grinned slightly as his eyes flicked to the other chupas with Nelson. "That is okay -- I see other sexy fishes." He threw an arm around Paneko as well, then thrust the other toward the bar. "Come, friends, we must make nice with Fiffy's people! Sage has ordered it!"

Andee rolled his eyes but smiled all the same as the four of them approached Nelson's crew. More bats were filtering into the huge cavern as a trio hopped onto the stage to break into a gentle rhythmic performance that made for pleasant background noise as the sun continued setting outside the Lactan caves. It was starting to feel like an actual party...and as much as he'd been against Samael's plea to invite all these other chupa fucks, he couldn't help but marvel a bit that it was happening, all the same. Felt kinda nice, felt kinda...prophetic. Maybe ol' Juwo really was serious about steering away from his damn hypocrisy.

"Hey, wait, you're the big bastard who taught Nelson bat-talk, right? Didn't you try to fuckin' ask her bull-dyke ass to dinner or some shit?!"

Andee glanced up with a smirk as Ashley grinned at Mutt, who squinted back evenly while Nelson gave them both a horrible glare. "You must be thinking of other bat. This doesn't sound like Mutt," Mutt replied flatly as Paneko chortled at his side.

"Juwo has you teach me your fuckin' language, and you still talk common shitty enough to make Wurlitz sound like a fuckin' literary genius," Nelson grumbled before giving the smallest grin as her eyes flicked to Mutt. "And Mutt's right -- he didn't ask me to dinner." Mutt started to grin back before Nelson added calmly: "He offered to show me what else his tongue could be used for besides bat-speak."

Next to her, Trevor, Vincent and Nebraska all widened their eyes, the two males choking almost simultaneously on their drinks while the ex-Freelancer only flushed and seemed very close to giving a sheepish grin of her own. Ashley, on the other hand, burst into loud peals of laughter as Mutt cleared his throat and did his best to maintain some semblance of his usual cool demeanor. "Ahaha, holy shit, ya fuckin' flyin' beefcake, how the fuck are you still standin'?! Oh goddamn, I woulda killed to see that!"

"I could not fly for at least one week," Mutt mumbled as his own friends snickered amusedly. "Giant mijsoc giood was not very nice."

"Heh, bet we could get a repeat performance if we get the big bastard drunk enough!" Andee exclaimed while Mutt huffed and shoved lightly at him. "Anyway, I'm surprised you fuckers actually showed -- you feel some sorta fuckin' motherly duty or some bullshit like that, ya broke-back bitch?"

Nelson's nostrils flared magnificently, her instantaneous reach for the revolver hidden somewhere at her side stopped automatically by Ashley, whose hand seemed to already know where Nelson's was headed. "I don't give a fuck if it's gonna ruin the night or make the fuckin' cave-demon cry, I'm about two seconds from giving you the last set of piercings you're ever gonna get!" she snarled as Samael snickered into a palm. Her eyes immediately shot to him as she shoved a finger toward him. "You better tell that little fucker to watch his tongue, Wurlitz!"

Andee only half-hid behind the rebel as Samael chuckled and took a friendly step toward Nelson with his arms held out. "Ayyyy, it's all good, Mama! C'mon, y'all been invited to one'a Xulod's fuckin' sweetest parties, ain't no chupas ever been allowed to hang out fer this shindig before!" He tipped her a wink. "But be honest, yer here 'cause you care about yer li'l Sampi Sweetheart just a li'l bit, right?!"

"I swear to god, Wurlitz," she thundered as Ashley laughed again and quickly shoved a glass of the bats' berry-based liquor into Nelson's hands.

"Hey, look -- the little snowblower and his fruit-bat went outta their way to get us out here!" Ashley announced while throwing her arms around Nebraska and Trevor, who showed equal levels of awkwardness at the pilot's egregious friendliness. "So fuckin' calm them big sexy tits, ya she-beast, and let's get crazy!"

Nelson responded with a guttural sound that might have been tinged with a grumble of acquiescence as she downed the liquor and then gestured irritably for another as the entire group relaxed somewhat. "Might as well get some fuckin' booze in me before Agent-Fucking-Washington and his merry band of turncoats show up." Nebraska shifted and awkwardly raised a hand, opening her muzzle to say something, and Nelson jabbed a finger toward her. "Cram it, chrysanthemum! You get a fuckin' pass since you were smart enough to join us instead of them -- don't make me fuckin' regret not having Wurlitz kick your ass back out into the fuckin' snow!"

Andee shook his head bemusedly as Paneko and Mutt both helped themselves to glasses of the local alcohol as well, the skinnier of the two hopping onto a bar stool as Mutt very pointedly sauntered up to Vincent with a second tumbler in one hand that he offered with a toothy grin. Andee hid his smirk -- Vinny must have been the other sexy fish. He looked up at Samael as the group drifted into a casual conversation mixed with introductions for the ones who didn't know each other as well.

His dumb redneck looked -- as he always fuckin' did -- perfectly at ease. He really was built for this kind of social bullshit, never a goddamn nervous bone in his body no matter what kind of situation he was shoved into. Andee had experienced the whole damn range of emotions about it by this point...annoyance, amusement, wonder, grudging praise, all the way back around to annoyance again. It made it pretty goddamn frustrating to think about the fact that Andee was the king of making deals and getting whatever the fuck he wanted out of someone else...just to realize that even his smoothest transactions with a client were jagged pieces of chicken-shit compared to what Samael could lay down.

...But that was why they worked, wasn't it? At least when it came to doing a job together. He wasn't here to fuckin' get all emotional and inward-looking or anything like that, this was still just business. This was still a job, sort of. He and Samael had worked their goddamn asses off to get this celebration ready for these chupa assholes to join. The payment was shit -- just some nonsensical bullshit about the "memories crafted" or the "potential bridges to be built". Nothing he could toss into his safe and stow away to spend later, but eh. Not every job cashed out right away...or ever. Didn't mean this was anything but that. He'd helped Samael get everything lined up, and now the puppy owed him. Seemed pretty clear-cut to him.

"Freelancers just pulled up outside!" a bat called out as she flew past. Those who could speak the language glanced up at her before Samael grinned slightly and reached down to run a claw gently along the inside of Andee's ear.

The pleasant shiver that ran through his body almost distracted him enough to not hear his words. "Heh, that's my cue." Andee glared up at him even though he recalled Samael having mentioned something earlier about this. "Need York to gimme a hand with the additional party supplies we gots tucked away!"

Andee made a face and put his hands on his hips as Samael fired a pair of fingerguns to the rest of the group. "You fuckin' serious, Fiffy? These assholes are all here 'cause of your meddling ass, now you gonna go play hide-the-blueberry with that fuckin' were-mutt??" There was a bolt of real jealousy that he pretended was just indignation with being left alone with all these other bastards. "What the fuck?!"

Samael saw right through him, his smile far more tender than Andee deserved. He dropped to a knee, speaking over the percussive music so only Andee could hear him: "Promise I won't be long, hon. Just gonna grab the extra booze 'n niblets we got prepared fer everyone -- don't ferget we got yer special treats locked up at the shack, too!!"

Andee sighed, then grumbled and nodded. He glanced briefly at the others, but they were engrossed in their chat already, affording the bat a welcome lack of judgmental stares. "Yeah, yeah, fine. Don't forget your stupid guitar, too." He waved a wing dismissively. "Hurry your puppy ass up. This is your big dumb gay party, asshole..."

Samael smiled again, and Andee hated how he could feel the permafrost around his heart melting. "It's our party, hon," he corrected softly before quickly leaning in to kiss Andee's neck before the bat could protest. A delightful little tremble raced through his slight frame again even as he shoved Samael's muzzle grumpily away and did his best to only look exasperated. "Thanks fer helpin' make this happen."

Andee met his eyes for a moment as a whole goddamn sheet of ice broke off to reveal the thudding organ beneath. Goddamn this emotional piece-of-shit puppy... Andee pushed down his flicker of desire and instead reached up to prod a claw against Samael's chest. "Just don't fuckin' take all night. Shit's gonna start rampin' up soon and you better be back by then."

The redneck beamed and nodded firmly, standing up again and hollering a quick farewell to the group before loping toward the entrance to the cavern and leaving Andee at the edge of their little gathering with a sour expression. Well, at least he could listen in, maybe pick up some juicy gossip. He did say this dumb party was a job, after all, right?


Samael took a quick peek back over his shoulder as he jogged out of the cavern, a grin creasing his features when he saw Andee squinting and then making some comment that was likely a protest as he gesticulated expansively. God, that little bastard was a delight to watch. He did feel a little guilty about running off, but this damn evening had to go just right! Besides, he and Andee had both spent a lot of goddamn time preparing the food and booze that was waiting in his little Fiffy Jxusb, as the bats had taken to calling the small abandoned building they'd given to him to use as a sort of storage-locker-slash-living-space, since he was practically a secondary citizen of their underground city, now. And while it would have been nicer to maybe just...you know. Be able to have a place in Andee's apartment...well. Baby steps, right? Anyway, they had plenty to share with the attendees, and Samael figured it'd be a damn shame if they didn't present everyone with the fruits of their labor.

His smile persisted as he tossed out cheery greetings and waves to the bats he passed, recognizing most of them and receiving warm responses from even those he didn't know. It had been a little uncomfortable right after the public dressing-down Andee had given him...but things had recovered swiftly for both of them after they'd met up again. He wasn't so self-obsessed to think he mattered to these people that much, but it did nonetheless feel really goddamn special to have them care, not only about him but about his yearning for one of Xulod's most incorrigible sons. And no matter how much Andee had mocked and teased him over being so insistent about sharing this celebration with some of the other chupas...he remained warmed to his core that they'd earned Juwo's blessing to do so. He really did love this place, and he really did want to bring these two worlds together.

...Although, yeah, maybe he also really wanted to see that goddamn aerial stampede of pantsless bats flying over his head in the warm Sirca sun one day, too.

After turning another bend, he spotted a familiar trio and immediately grinned before breaking into a joyful trot. "Ayyyy, my favorite ex-mercs-turned-heroes-of-the-underground!"

Wash, York and CT all turned away from the bat who had been giving them directions to see Samael bounding toward them. York was the first to return the huge grin as he threw his arms wide. "If it ain't my favorite redneck whore!!" Behind him, CT flashed her own amused smile while Wash only crossed his arms and gave the approaching rebel a sour look.

Samael paid him no mind, however, only laughing and leaping without hesitation toward York, who caught him and wrapped him up in a fierce hug, spinning once with the stout chupa held against his enormous chest. "You guys made it!" Samael exclaimed. "I was a hair worried li'l ol' Wash'd throw that invite away!!"

"Oh, you know he tried!" York chortled as he set Samael back on his paws before the two grinned at one another and promptly shoved a hand at each other's crotch. Their palms came to a halt inches away from their targets, their muzzles pressed end-to-end before they both winked and flicked a finger against one another's inseam. The simultaneous yelp and laugh made Wash sigh loudly, but York and Samael only shared matching smiles before Samael strutted past York as each of them gave a firm smack against the other's rump.

"I believe it, hon! Bet you 'n CT weren't gonna miss out on this fine adventure, though, eh?" Samael replied as he approached CT with a fist held out. "How ya been, hot stuff??"

CT eyed him for a moment before she broke into her own grin and thrust her fist forward. "Pretty good, shortstop!" Their knuckles slammed together, then pushed back apart as they opened their hands to slap their palms, then brought their wrists back to smack the backs of their hands before finally gripping into each other's forearms as they both lifted their opposite hands to point at each other. "You been keeping outta trouble?"

"Eh! More or less!" Samael announced as he and CT broke their grasp so he could spin around to face Wash, whose arms were still tersely folded. The stocky rebel grinned and strode forward with his hands held out to either side invitingly as several awkward seconds passed while Wash only fixed him with a dour expression. Samael waited another moment, then simply flashed his teeth and fired two fingerguns at him. "Ayyyy! Yer still a warm bowl'a moa noodle soup, too, Wash! Great to see ya!"

"Is it too late to leave already?" he asked in a strained voice, flinching when York laughed and wrapped an arm around his slender shoulders. "This is a terrible idea..."

"Awww, it is not, little buddy!" York insisted as he leaned down to mash his muzzle against the side of Wash's, making the smaller chupa squirm and gave Samael an awkward look. But Samael only smiled as he studied them affectionately. He still had a lot of goddamn questions for York...but based on the friendly chats they shared over the radio whenever Nelson wasn't on the warpath, he'd picked up more than just a hint that what he'd witnessed in the boat while taking them back to Lactan hadn't been just some fling...at least not to the big fella. "This is gonna be great! We get to chill out, enjoy some good company, free booze and just be ourselves without anyone to wonder why their silent, awkward leader is bustin' a move with his best friend!"

"Hell yeah, I know you got some dancin' skills hidin' under that super-scowl you always sportin'!" Samael encouraged, earning an even more severe glare as Wash groaned.

"The only thing I'm going to do is get fucking plastered and avoid Nelson and Kiden because at least one of them is going to use tonight as an excuse to shove some bullshit or another at me," Wash mumbled as York chuckled and squeezed his shoulders.

"You don't know that! Sammy said this whole party is meant to be a chance for us all to spend some recreational time together!" York chirped as Samael nodded several times. "No business!"

"An' no bullshit!" Samael chimed in, his tail giving a matching jingle. He couldn't help the grin when he saw it still made York twitch, barely restraining himself from tracing his tongue along his muzzle. No time for a best-friend-blowjob tonight, they had work to get done. "I made Mama promise she ain't gonna be no super-bitch tonight!"

"Did you also give her the miracle of working legs while you were at it?" Wash deadpanned as York choked on his guffaw. "I'll believe that Nelson won't tear me a new asshole when I see it."

"I dunno how ya ain't gonna see an asshole that's not there, though I suppose it could be somethin' you just feel, y'know, like with yer mind's dick or whatever..." Samael mused while tapping his chin, pretending not to see the horrified look on Wash's face. "But fair 'nuff! You c'n find out fer yerself!" He pranced up to York and wrapped an arm around his waist, which made the giant chupa grin curiously down at him. "You 'n CT go on 'n get yer party-butts down to the rumble-room! I gotta borrow Lap Dog here 'n take advantage of him!" Wash gave him a displeased glower and Samael was quick to poke his tongue out playfully. "To help carry a buncha heavy shit to the party, ya pervy li'l squirrel!"

"God, I fucking hate you so much," Wash muttered even as he rolled his eyes and awkwardly extracted himself from York's arm. "Whatever, christ, you two go do...whatever weird sex thing you're gonna do."

"Hey! It's not...always weird!" York protested as Samael held in his snicker, although CT failed to do the same.

"Please, Sammy's like half your size, he's even shorter than Wash, it has to always be weird," she retorted. "Do you use like a stepstool or a chair or are there just Samael-sized craters in all the walls you slam him against?"

Samael couldn't help the laugh that time as he and York shared a brief grin before he gave an easy shrug and drawled with a hand raised. "Listen here, you...uh...shut up." CT snorted her own laughter as Wash dropped his face in his hand with another sigh.

He started to trudge down the corridor with CT before pausing and looking back at York with an expression that was more vulnerable than Samael was used to from his stony features. Samael tilted his head but was silent as he watched Wash shift uncomfortably and then mumble: "Don't...take too long, we're supposed to be...you know. Spending time with everyone else. That means you, too."

Samael moved his gaze up to York, who only had eyes for Wash despite the way Samael was still pressed securely to his side. Yeah, there was definitely something bubbling under the surface between these two. "You got it, little buddy!" York replied with a warm smile and a firm nod. "You two go hit the bar, we'll be back before ya know it!"

Wash gave some nondescript mumble as a response, though Samael earned a quick glare from him before he let CT wrap her arm around his shoulders and guide him further into the caves. There was something admittedly refreshing about the fact that Wash was still Wash. No matter how much life changed, York was still Samael's best friend and Wash still hated Samael for existing...made for a nice constant.

He felt enormous fingers rubbing into the small of his back and he glanced up to see York's warm smile. "Haw, I gotta say -- it feels like it's been fuckin' ages, big man. Shit, when's the last time we ain't just talked over the airwaves...fuckin'...when I saw Miz Wash balls-deep in you on that boat, weren't it??"

York's eyes bulged even as he grinned stupidly and promptly clapped a hand over Samael's muzzle. "Hey, ya yappy redneck, keep that to yourself!" He giggled -- always a hilarious noise to come out of his massive body -- and then released his friend's maw to instead thump his forehead gently. "That's, uh. That's not quite...public domain yet."

Samael smiled and then jerked his head toward another corridor while keeping his arm around York's waist. "Shit, we both got some catchin' up to do. C'mon, I'll show ya where my li'l Xulod vacay-shack is, you c'n let me know what the hell you been up to an'...I s'pose I can do some'a the same!"

York snorted and draped his own arm around Samael's shoulders. "Uh, yeah, you better! You're gettin' too damn good at dodging all my questions on the radio, yet somehow you manage to squeeze all sorts of juicy info from me!"

Samael grinned confidently as they headed back toward the main city. "Heh. Y'know by now how damn good I am at squeezin' every kinda juice outta you, pal..."

They chatted idly on the way to the small structure, Samael pausing so often to warmly introduce York to the occasional bat that flit past them. He didn't think twice about it, but he noticed his friend had a curious, almost fascinated expression. It took Samael by surprise, since he figured the Freelancers went through Xulod more often than not considering their proximity and the fact that Andee seemed to have such a storied history with them.

"Damn, Sammy -- you really did spend a lot of time out here, huh?" Samael blinked and tilted his head somewhat as York nudged him with an elbow. "Don't look so dumb, ya silly midget -- these bats have been talking to you like you're one of 'em!"

Samael rubbed the back of his head with a sheepish smile. "Bah, they just used to me, I bet...but." He gazed around at the quiet city. "Gawd, I gotta tell ya, buddy...this place do feel like a home away from home now."

"So..." York rolled his eyes innocently and Samael quirked a more bemused smile. "You and Andee...you guys, uh..."

Samael chuckled -- the nibble of guilt was less uncomfortable than before, since...they were doing better, at least, weren't they? "Aw, we're doin' okay!" He paused long enough for the memories of that meadow in Honkal to roll through his mind, his tail flicking a bit. York flexing his arm around his waist brought him back to reality and he glanced up to see the larger chupa grinning thoughtfully into his eyes. Right, keeping things from York was always a challenge. His own gaze went to the key hanging from York's neck, though, a reminder that even the best of pals sometimes still had a few secrets between each other.

"I mean...y'know, we've...done stuff," he added with a dumb grin, savoring that mid-morning moment one more time before winking up at York while pushing open the door of the shack and sweeping an arm out in welcome. "But at the same time...I still stay out here when I visit, or up in a hammock, 'stead of at Andee's place, sooo..."

York gave a smile both playful and sympathetic as he scrunched himself through the wooden doorway. "Aww, Puppy. I'm sorry. I still feel a little--"

"Aww, quit that shit, quit that shit, you ain't gotta keep blamin' yerself fer nothin'," Samael rambled as he flapped a wrist a few times and slid past York, his fingers gliding across the other male's torso. "Like I said! We doin' a'right, ain't screamin' 'n cryin' at each other no more! Been doin' some more teamwork lately, as a matter'a fact, 'tween workin' some jobs together an' gettin' all this stuff ready..." He yanked a cloth off a collection of jugs, York giving a low, impressed whistle at the batch of infamous liquor. "We gots us that Sampi 'Shine..." He then pranced over to where several covered plates rested atop a low flame, gesturing to them with a bright smile. "Some li'l snacks me 'n Andee whipped up together, should make both bats an' chupa-folk happy! An' then of course..." He jerked a thumb to the corner of the room at a wide platter that had been wrapped almost obsessively with foil. "Andee's brownies!"

"Ohhhh, shit, I have heard some tales," York muttered as he stared at the container for a few seconds. "Our mail-bat swears up and down he saw a guy explode from eating just one..."

Samael grinned stupidly. "Andee made me try one. 'Pparently I was absolutely convinced I could fly an' he had to close the windows of his apartment so I didn't take a dang dive! But I mean, naw, they ain't no big deal," he teased before suddenly perking. "An' oh shit, can't forget the most important thing!" He dashed across the small room again and then snatched up his guitar as York cooed in excitement at the sight of the bright crimson instrument. "Check it out!! Andee got it for me!"

"Hoooooly shit, Sammy, that is awesome!" York exclaimed with a childish grin of his own, trotting up to run a hand along the neck of the guitar. "Wow, I can't believe he got you this...like...that's weirdly thoughtful!"

"Hell yeah it is," Samael murmured, his smile softer as he looked down and traced a claw along one of the gleaming metal strings. "It was...it was a gift he gave to me during our first...y'know. Normal conversation after our, um. Y'know." The huge, gentle hand on his shoulder told him York understood just fine. "He said he wanted me to be here at this celebration tonight, that he figured I could make an ass outta myself up on stage 'front'a all the bat-folk 'n shit..." He gave a crooked grin and glanced back up at York. "I been practicin' my ass off, though -- should be a helluva show!"

"I can't wait to see it," York replied happily as Samael tenderly set the guitar against the red wagon stashed in the corner of the room. "So what...we're just bringin' all these goodies out to the party-cave?"

"Yep! I figured I could make use'a them big ol' arms," Samael explained before smirking and putting his hands on his hips. "And instead'a convincin' you for a quickie up against one'a these structurally-unsound walls --"

"--Which you know I woulda said yes to!" York interjected with a playful grin that Samael returned.

"Don't I know it! But naw, yer gonna tell me 'bout you 'n Wash!" He hefted up one of the jugs of moonshine and then tossed it to the ex-Freelancer. "'Cause more I think 'bout what I seen in that boat, more I'm thinkin' it weren't no fluke!"

York huffed loudly while clutching the glass jug to his barrel-like chest. "Hey, what makes you think I'm just gonna go and tell you all about that, huh??" When Samael only looked up at him pointedly, one eyebrow raised, York's finest pout might as well have been a wet tissue attempting to stop a crawbear. It only took another second or two of the calm smile for York to cave with a groan as he shifted his weight. "Ugh, okay...okay, but...you can't tell anyone, okay?? Because..." He quieted and Samael instantly smoothed his own features as he gazed at his friend. "Because even I don't know what all this means yet, let alone anyone...anyone else."

It was hard not to think of York's bedroom, that afternoon after the heist to retrieve the House stamp. York had gone above and beyond what even most good friends would do, not even counting the absurdly intense drunken sex Samael had coaxed him into. This was Samael's best friend, and just as York had been there for his rough moment with Andee, Samael wanted to do the same. The stout rebel placed a jug into the wagon before turning to fetch another while replying softly: "Y'know this'll stay between us, pal. And you know I ain't gonna judge ya fer nothin'."

York smiled gratefully over at him, tossing the glass container in his hands as he nibbled his lip and then nodded with a quiet rush of air through his nostrils. "Don't lie, Sammy...you'll judge a little." Samael only gave a small smile in return, letting his eyes do all the necessary encouraging. York moved to set his jug on the cart as well before joining his friend to continue with the rest of the supplies. "So...what you saw on the boat..."

"Was 'bout one'a the cutest things I seent all year," Samael offered with a wink as he knocked his hip gently into York. York huffed and bumped his leg back against him before smiling sheepishly.

"It, uh. It was actually the...second thing I shared with my little buddy that day."

Samael blinked and craned his neck back to look up owlishly at York. How the hell was it that he and Wash -- long-time best friends or otherwise -- had been intimate twice in a single day when it had taken him and Andee...no. No, that wasn't fair. He couldn't compare them, he literally met Andee for the first time barely a quarter ago. Wash and York had known each other for years.

But all the same, York had never mentioned any kind of thoughts about him. Hell, even when he'd teased York directly on the way back from the fateful stamp-stealing, York hadn't come close to showing any interest. Samael laughed quietly and let his tail tickle along York's leg. "No shit? I was guessin' someone was ruffin' it, but...c'mon, gimme them details! Y'all definitely didn't look like either of ya hated it!"

York exhaled slowly, his hand resting on a plate of food while the other scratched at the nape of his neck. His eyes shifted over to meet Samael's and he gave a small smile. "Alright, so. It wasn't a lie when I said I almost lost him out there. We'd taken a dive into a river, a blizzard was rolling in, Wash's pockcom was toast and we had no idea where the truck was. I was probably gonna be fine, I'm sort of like a properly-sized version of you --"

"Hey!"

York grinned but pushed on steadily. "But...you know Wash. Skinny little guy had no damn chance, especially soaking wet as he was. We managed to find a cave, remembered our survival training from Specials, huddled up to try and stay warm, and..."

Samael's grin spread slowly, even as his eyes reflected a tenderness that he knew York appreciated. "Yer pullin' my tail."

York lifted both hands in sheepish surrender. "As true as you are gay, pal! I, uh. I sorta...realized he was in the ruff, and between the delirium and the fact that I honestly thought it might help, I. Told him we should jerk off. To. Stay warm, you know?!?" Samael had broken into a giggle and York laughed helplessly himself as he shoved gently at his friend. "C'mon, don't laugh!"

"I can't help it, hon, it's...so you, but go on, go on, I already love it," Samael chortled, propping himself up against the wall as he gazed at York affectionately. "How the hell did you talk Wash into..."

"I...was as surprised as you are, Sammy, no joke." York puffed his cheeks out before grinning again, far more abashedly than before. "I was only half-teasing, but. Then he didn't stop me when I, uh. When I shoved my hand in his pants. And next thing I know, he's on my lap and I've got us both in my hand and...woof." His grin had notched down to a smile, but it was drenched with what Samael imagined had to be treasured memories, considering the way York practically glowed. "It was stupid because it was obviously only gonna keep us warm for a few minutes and then leave us...you know. Wet again, but. God, Sammy, I...it was..." He fumbled with his words before reaching up to silently clutch into his key for a moment. "I dunno, it just felt really goddamn good."

"More'n just the fact you had two dicks in yer grip, eh?" Samael teased, though his features remained steeped in soft appreciation. "Goddamn, lookit you, hon." York met his eyes with what might have been a hint of shyness, an emotion Samael hadn't seen on him since the early days of their friendship. "You been thinkin' about it."

York flushed and shifted his weight before glancing at Samael again. Yeah, York knew that whole "not being able to lie" thing went both ways. "I...yeah. God, I have. We sorta joked about it when we managed to find our way back to the truck later, but it. It didn't go away. I couldn't stop thinking about it. The weird thing is that...me and Wash, years ago, we..." He trailed off as Samael immediately tilted his head curiously and took a step closer. But York was quick to clear his throat, reaching out to poke Samael's muzzle lightly. "Heh. You got me going on about me again, and you've barely talked about you and Andee, you dick."

Samael leaned back again, smiling even as he kept the inquisitive expression. "Hey, you got all kinds of sob stories from me 'bout him after Lamtha. An' I can tell this whole thing with Wash ain't just no fling to you, considerin' you let the ruffed up li'l squirrel have his way with ya -- hell, you still owe me a chance on top!"

York grinned, his cocky demeanor returning as they both continued to load up the wagon. "Uh huh, you keep telling me how good you are poundin' ass, but every time we've gotten together, you all but jump on my dick -- no need to change up a good thing, buddy!" They both laughed and moved to start transferring the plates of food as York continued after a few seconds. "That whole thing in the boat, it, uh. It actually started as a bit of an argument about...Tex."

Samael raised an eyebrow with a half-smile. "Oh shit, she 'n Wash still, uh...?"

"...Yeah." York practically spat out the word even as he grumbled and rolled his shoulders. "Which, I mean. Whatever, that's fine, it doesn't bother me, it's not like I don't go around and bang everyone under the sun, myself. She's just...I mean. Her and him, it's...ugh."

Samael set down the container of snacks to reach up and squeeze York's shoulder. "She gonna be here tonight?"

"I honestly don't know. She didn't come with the three of us, but...Wash asked her to be here since this is a big deal, us being invited and all that..." York grunted and shrugged even as he reached up to close his hand gratefully around Samael's for a moment. "It's fine, either way -- I'm here for my best friend and...also because my other friend is somehow in so deep with these bats that he got us outsiders permission to show up to this badass party!" York let his grin dance across his features again as he leaned down toward Samael and waggled his eyebrows. "Tell me, just how deep into the bats have you gotten? And seriously, I gotta know, what does their junk look like, is it --"

Before he could continue that extremely important line of thought, the door to the shack burst open and a random bat stuck her head in. "Puppy! There you are -- Juwo is looking for you and Andee, you need to get down to the main chamber!"

York cocked his head as Samael winced and nodded apologetically. "Aw shit, I am sorry. Tell them I coming, please!" He glanced back at York and gave a sheepish grin. "Sorry to dash on ya, pal -- you okay bringin' this stuff while I get my ass back before I get disowned by these lovely folks?"

York stared for a moment at the wagon, already overflowing with food and moonshine, then back at Samael, who scratched the side of his muzzle with a lame smile. "God...dammit, Sammy, yeah, yeah, go go go, these bat-bastards apparently love you, I'm not gonna try and ruin that." He put his hands on his hips as Samael laughed and fixed him with a relieved look.

"Thanks, hon. See you soon!" He tossed a wave and then bolted for the door as York called after him:

"Yeah, as long as I don't get lost, you tiny jerk!"