Kalith descends into the safehouse with his sword still solar hot, silver flecks of ether on his robes. There's dust ground into his shoulder and peppered in his hair from a hard skid on his Sparrow, but there's nowhere to take a decent shower on the Tangled Shore, so the dirt is just going to have to stay. The Spider won't like that, he thinks, grinning to himself. He's very particular with his possessions. He pauses at the last bend before the audience chamber to undo his hair and comb it with his fingers, brushing loose most of the dirt and rock.
His lip is split where the butt end of a spear caught it. He can't help probing it with his tongue, worrying the torn edges with his teeth. The Spider will probably say he doesn't like that, either, but Kalith knows he likes to see the blood.
"Want me to transmat down some alkane for trade?" Pelagia asks. "And maybe see if we can get a good deal on--"
"Not this time," he tells her. "I'm planning to be here a while."
The points of her shell contract in something like a wince. "Right. I'll be pretending not to know that in the Orbital Grid if you need me." She gives a delicate little blink, then vanishes in a spray of shimmering particles.
Then he's on his own in the scuffed metal hall, surrounded by crates of contraband and netting shrines full of lights like gleaming red eyes. There are probably cameras here, too, cloaked and tucked in some discreet gap between bundled cables; the Spider knows better than to leave his own doorstep unguarded. The eerie thrill of being watched makes Kalith shiver.
He ties his hair back up and straightens his clothes. Weighs his offering, listening to how the metal fragments click and jingle.
His footsteps ring on each stair as he descends.
The door at the back of the Spider's safehouse slides open with a mechanical hiss. Kalith crosses the rumpled green rugs, the detritus of etheric spirals and seraphite slivers, and drops a net full of Ghost fragments at the foot of the Spider's throne. The Fallen standing guard on either side shift uneasily. They're used to Kalith by now, but he doesn't think they like how he just walks in whenever he feels like it. "I'm looking for more bounties," he says. "What do you have for me?"
The Spider clasps two hands over his stomach, resting his chin on the other two. "Careful, Guardian," he murmurs. His voice is rough with ether, his eyes bright with intent. "I might think you're getting a taste for this work."
"And if I am? The hand that wields the sword shouldn't complain that it's sharp." Kalith clasps his hands together behind his back, lifting his chin to meet the Spider's eyes. Blood wells over the curve of his lip and trickles down his chin. He doesn't wipe it away.
The Spider inhales, and it feels as though he's drawn that breath from Kalith's chest. Kalith's ribs are tight with longing. "My sword. My Guardian."
Kalith dips his head. He looks up at the Spider through thick lashes, every breath steady and measured and slow. "Yours," he answers, low. "Do you have a use for me?"
The Spider's cool blue eyes bore into him, and Kalith lets himself be appraised. He knows his own worth. The Traveler has chosen him and woven Light and lightning through his veins. He is a prize beyond price, a treasure that cannot be bought--and there's nothing beneath the sun that the Spider longs more dearly to possess.
The Spider gestures to his guards. "Leave us," he says. "We have business to discuss."
One of them (Arrha, Kalith thinks) starts to protest. The other cuts him off with a quick barrage of Eliksni, too fast for Kalith to follow. Something about honored and permitted. The two of them salute and leave single file, their claws clicking over embossed steel.
The door closes behind them with a gust of dry air, and Kalith is alone before the Spider's throne. He sets his weapons aside, then slowly sinks to his knees on the piled rugs--a knight before his king, a captain before his Kell.
The throne creaks as the Spider leans back. His expression is unreadable behind his helmet, but Kalith knows those gracefully angled wrists, those eager fidgeting fingers. He knows how the Spider's legs splay in expansive invitation when he's thinking of letting Kalith swallow down his cock. All right, Kalith thinks with an inward smile. Now it's a party.
"Get up, my elegant friend," the Spider says. "Let me see you."
Kalith rises, already skinning off his clawed Ahamkara gloves and undoing the clasp of his bond. Next, his bare hands find the catches and closures on his robe. He lets it fall in a pool of black and gold, then drags his undershirt over his head and drops it to the ground. In the warm air of the safehouse, his chest is already slick with a thin film of sweat.
The Spider's eyes flash as his gaze flicks over Kalith's body, taking in his narrow shoulders and the deep vee of his loins. Kalith's skin prickles at the scrutiny. He's already half-hard, cock swelling along one of the creases of his trousers, and there's no way the Spider's missed it. "More," the Spider says, rolling his tongue over the word's rough edges. "Show me everything you're offering."
Boots off, then trousers. Underclothes last of all; the leggings peel away like a second skin and leave him bare and exposed. Kalith raises his arms at his sides and turns, slowly, letting the Spider see his strength and his scars and the dance of solar Light across his palms. He knows how well the golden light illuminates his dark skin, picking out the shadows beneath his lean muscles. "Well?" Kalith asks. "Are you satisfied with your purchase?"
The Spider laughs, but Kalith doesn't miss how his fingers flex on the cables of his throne. "I don't remember paying for you. And I'd hate to think I left a transaction unfinished."
"Your gift, then." Swaying closer, Kalith insinuates himself between the Spider's legs and lays a hand beneath the ether ports of his helmet. He finds the catches by feel, clicking them open one by one until he can ease the entire helmet off. "Your Guardian. Your property."
The Spider's nostrils flare at the rush of oxygen, and he grins, shark-toothed. He traces the point of a heavy, blunt claw down Kalith's jaw, then swipes his fingertip up through the blood spilling from his split lip. "You always did have a silver tongue, my clever friend. Why don't you put it to work."
Kalith's mouth waters at the invitation. He tilts his head and leans in to lap at the pad of the Spider's finger, tongue flooded with the coppery tang of his own blood. He closes his eyes and groans, and the Spider recognizes the invitation in it. He works his finger past Kalith's lips, into the hungry hollow of his mouth. Kalith takes it in to the second joint, until he feels the rounded claw brushing the back of his throat; when the pressure begins to gag him, he swallows and urges the Spider deeper. Pain and pleasure mix, blend, crash together in waves. He tries to breathe in through his nose, but he can barely fill his lungs. It feels dizzying, like drowning. The Spider's skin tastes of blood, but also of metal and earth and something spicy and musky at once. He can't get enough of that taste.
Kalith slides back with a long, slow lick. His head is spinning. He's achingly hard, leaking precome, and his skin is flushed and heated. "Again," he breathes, and sucks both of the Spider's fingers down.
The Spider gives a rumble of pleasure and draws him in. Kalith climbs up into the Spider's lap, straddling one massive thigh with his toes braced on the edge of the throne. Two hands settle over the swell of Kalith's ass, and a third combs out his hair until the tie comes free. "Filthy," the Spider murmurs, and whether it's about the dirt in his hair or the way Kalith looks when he's deep-throating the Spider's fingers, Kalith doesn't care. He wouldn't be here if he didn't want filthy.
He grinds in close to get a little friction, but there's too much armor between them, and the joints and spines hurt--bad hurt, small and sharp and irritating; nothing like the glorious burn of being stretched open. He pulls off to kiss the Spider's wrist, right under the strap of his bracer, where flexible exoskeletal plating gives way to tender skin. "Let me undress you. Please."
Spider laughs and combs back Kalith's hair. Claws track searing lines over his scalp, down to the base of his skull. "You beg because you're in no position to bargain."
"I have what you want." Kalith snakes his hand down beneath the Spider's painted waist wrap, to where the paired plates of his groin are already beginning to strain apart to let his cock emerge.
The Spider cants his hips up into that touch, but he doesn't let Kalith go, and he doesn't move to undress himself. His palms are warm and sure on Kalith's back, in his hair, curled at his cheek. "What I want is already mine. Make me a better offer."
This is still a game, Kalith tells himself, but a part of him knows how easily it could cease to be. He's killed on the Spider's orders, brought him intelligence on enemies from every corner of the solar system, stolen for him and lied for him and broken laws for him. But this is the Shore; there's always another, deeper abyss waiting, and someday the Spider will send him into it. And then Kalith will have to decide whether to jump.
There's a pretty fiction in which he's the Spider's prized property--an extension of his will, both more and less than a sword. That story's gotten him off more times than he can remember.
He doesn't know whether it would anymore, if it started being true.
"Give me a request," says Kalith. He dips his middle finger into the slick gap between those plates, circling slowly around the nodular head of the Spider's cock. The Spider's eyes drift closed as his cock swells and pushes into Kalith's hand, huge and heavy and mouthwateringly wet. He groans deep in his throat, a hungry and inelegant sound that Kalith feels from his chest to the base of his spine. Kalith leans up to press his lips against the tender skin at the Spider's throat, right beneath the hinge of his mandible. "Tell me what you need."
The Spider traces a knuckle up Kalith's spine, his touch light enough to be torturous. Anticipation sets Kalith's nerves alight; his skin prickles wherever the Spider's touched, as though he's written himself into the fibers of Kalith's nerves. He arches into the caress and tips his head back, inviting something--a kiss, a bite, another one of those murderously light touches. Anything to bring him closer to the edge.
"2237 Ville d'Ys, red," says the Spider at last. His breath stirs the loose hair falling against Kalith's ear, and Kalith can't help but shiver.
"2237--what the hell is that?"
"Rumor has it, it's the finest wine of Earth's Golden Age," says the Spider. "And if anyone can find me a bottle, it's my clever Guardian and his Ghost."
Kalith lets out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Deal," he says.
"Deal." The Spider chuckles, then leans back until his throne creaks and sways. He undoes his cape, strips his pauldrons and bandolier, shucks his bracers one by one. Then he releases the catches of his chestplate and lets Kalith pull it free, revealing the dark, straining plates of his exoskeleton. Then comes the waist wrap painted with the spider emblem--always so careful about the brand--and the cords with their glittering golden baubles.
It should make him look smaller, stripping away the trappings of his power. Instead, nudity only makes him look more massive. The expanse of him spreads out before Kalith, ether-tall and heavy with prosperity. His throat goes tight at the gorgeous size of the Spider, his broad shoulders and thick waist and his enormous, glistening cock.
"I want you inside me," Kalith says, and there's a roughness in his own voice that he almost doesn't recognize. "Please."
"You're in luck. I'm feeling generous today," the Spider answers. When he strokes down Kalith's back again, the blunt edge of a trimmed claw drags over the skin, and Kalith lets out a strangled cry that echoes from the metal walls. He shudders full-body, raising himself on his knees so that he can climb up to straddle the Spider's waist.
The Spider might call it generosity, but he keeps his claws trimmed for this: so that he can work Kalith open.
A fingertip eases down into the cleft of Kalith's ass, sweeping up sweat. It circles and strokes, smoothing down muscles that Kalith hadn't realized he was clenching--but of course he's clenching; his thighs are straining around the Spider's waist, taut and tense with anticipation. "Relax," the Spider says against his hair. Kalith feels his mandibles twitch in a smile.
He takes a deep breath, tangy with the Spider's scent. "Hard to do that when even your finger's as thick as my cock."
"All the more reason to relax, then."
The Spider reaches out with one hand, rummaging somewhere Kalith can't see. There's a glassy click, then the sound of a bottle opening. That sound that goes straight to his dick; he grinds down again, rocks into the Spider's unyielding bulk, and this time there's nothing but skin and skin and the perfect groove between two flexible plates on the Spider's stomach. Kalith groans at that sweet friction, even as two of the Spider's hands catch either side of his ass to spread him apart.
Something cool and oily spills down between his cheeks, but he only has a moment to register the sensation before the Spider's stroking him open with a practiced hand. It hurts--it hurts so much that Kalith's legs go weak with it--but the Spider knows how to make the pleasure worth the pain. His clever fingers have long ago learned the touches that make Kalith scream, the ones that make him bear down, the ones that make solar energy blaze in his golden eyes.
There is nothing he loves more than having a Guardian under his thumb, and nothing Kalith loves more than being under it.
He isn't sure how long they sit like this, riding waves of pain until they crest into rapture, the Spider working Kalith open as he melts in the Spider's hands. He only knows that at some point, he rocks back down again and the Spider's cock is waiting for him, and he slides down and down and down it until he feels the skin of the Spider's loins beneath him. Just knowing that he's taken all of that in fills him with an exultation that leaves him dizzy, giddy, shaking with joy.
He rolls his hips, testing his body's limits, savoring the way it feels to be filled again and again. The Spider is above him and below him and all around him, hot at all the places where his skin is exposed. Kalith looks up into those four gleaming eyes, searching for something--permission, maybe, or pride.
He sees hunger, and that's better.
One of the Spider's hands closes over Kalith's cock. His thumb brushes over the head in a slow, calculated sweep that sears every raw nerve in Kalith's body. "Don't keep me waiting," the Spider growls, with a snap of his hips that makes Kalith's vision go white.
He comes across the Spider's hand with a shout, still grinding down onto him even as the aftershocks of pleasure fade.
* * *
"I got what I came for," Kalith laughs. "What we're always looking for: our next direction."
As he settles into the pilot's seat and has Pelagia run the specs for the 2237 Ville d'Ys red, Kalith fiddles with a few fragments of Ghost shell until they line up and click together.