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Ultraviolet

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Safe as Sanctuary III was, Zane Flynt found it highly mundane - which meant that he actually preferred running and gunning through hoards of shrieking, weapon-flailing, spit-spraying bandits. 'Course anyone who knew of him would have expected that.

Unfortunately, that was now in the past...or what remained of the COV had been left back on Pandora, his lack of action resulting in him growing steadily stir crazy.

As if he wasn't already enough of a maniac. Everyone had shot him the most incredulous looks when he'd been dancing his hot arse off and blastin' bloody holes through bandits - and worse when he'd hooked arms with the digital construct that shared his dashing likeness, all so they could shoot in a gleefully murderous display...so why would anyone think it wise to keep him held up on an enclosed vessel?

Ah, maybe because his advanced age - badarsedness bedamned - suggested that he really meant the bullshite he'd spewed about retirement...which had happened. Technically. After all, he'd removed himself from the intergalactic hitman docket long before he found himself actually missing it.

Honestly, the silver-haired operative didn't think much about it - or anything else for that matter. Nowadays the life he lived was impulsive at best, and he'd hardly been joking when he'd told the others how he always heard screams. That particular snippet of personal information had to have been halfway accountable for him finding himself in Sanctuary.

He sure as heck wasn't sitting there at Moxxxi's bar in deep contemplation, no sir, but he was doing a great deal enough of thinking'...'bout how he wasn't ready to leave the wee band of misfits he'd linked arms with back on Pandora. While his enlistment in the Crimson Raiders hadn't really been his intention when all was said and done, going through all the shite the Calypso twins had put them through convinced him to stick around his new favorite group.

Wasn't like he had any family left on Pandora anyway - or like he'd ever belonged with them to begin with, which was why he'd ditched 'em in the first place...for bigger and better things.

Still, Zane had had a funny feeling when Ava had addressed him in private earlier that day. Really, he should've seen it coming, knowing more seasoned Vault Hunters often split off in solo-ventures. Upon receiving her ECHO transmission, he'd already half expected why it was she had wanted to talk with him.

What a young lass she was to be put into such a substantial position.

"You're meant for the part, Zane, since you know how to find information. You really have more experience than the rest of us. You know how to do shake-downs and dig up dirt. Anything you could find about other vaults or, you know, other assholes looking for them would be really useful to us."

He'd looked at her for a moment, absorbing what she'd suggested. And then laughed, abruptly, leaning to slap his right knee. "Thank Christ, I thought ye were gonna tell me to go back to Pandora an' keep its shite together, since it was my home planet and all! Ahhhh, whatta relief!"

She'd giggled at his outburst, clearly entertained by his vocal theatrics. "Nope. Not today, though mayyyybbee…"

The teen was set to learn that it wasn't easy to get under his skin, 'specially when he'd given her an angle - not that hers wasn't a smart idea, what with the leftover COV still disoriented in the wake of their dead idols. Made them ripe them for picking as far as other tyrannical nutjobs were concerned. Easier it would be to let those bloodthirsty bandits kill themselves and keep a distant eye on them in case someone else tried starting shite with the vault. Unlike his brothers, Zane had no inclination to lord over anyone.

Considering the idea the teenager had introduced, the operative knew she was by no means wrong. He wasn't exactly reserved about his accomplishments and talents. Over many decades, he'd perfected his skills of espionage and assassinations. Had been the go-to operative for the highest bidders, and had built one heck of an arsenal of cutting-edge technology - and, most importantly, his know-how. Additionally, up until partnering with the three other newest vault hunters, he'd been a lone wolf. He'd enjoyed being all by himself in his own brand of high-stakes, flamboyant insanity.

Ordinarily he'd be eagerly out the door and on his merry way to some chaotic, violent solo-assignment, retirement bedamned, but now...it seemed some things had changed. After meeting Amara, Moze, and FL4K, there was no one he'd rather brush boots with but them - 'cept his own clone, naturally, that handsome bastard.

Curious thing their partnership was.

What a kick in the nuts it was to finally give a shite about somebody else for a change. He'd been chummy with damn near everyone but authentically friendly with few. He guessed that was how teamwork was suppose to go.

"Aye, you'd be right," replied Zane affably. I'll get to thinkin' about it...but lemme tell ye, I was gettin' a bit cozy with my boyos. Gotta admit I ain't exactly ready'ta leave them to someone else, ya know? Wouldn't feel quite right if I wasn't gettin' their back...

"Yet," he'd added, then shot the teenager a cocky smirk. "'Ey, I'm tryin' to retire here!"

Sure didn't seem like it but feck it. After some more chit chat, he'd been dismissed and had nearly walked into Amara as he'd exited bridge. Turned out his favorite siren had made arrangements with Ava to train their mystical skills, what with the teenager just having gained hers and the Partalian not having yet known the potential of her own. Tannis, being the sociopath she was, had no part in it that wasn't purely scientific, as far as he knew. Wasn't like the others needed her to cramp their style.

In past conversations, Amara had disclosed that she and the youngest siren were studying the book Maya had passed on. They regularly sparred and were determined to expand on their abilities, their ambitions of surpassing the Firehawk fueling their determination. From how busy the training had kept his purple-favoring friend, who'd been increasingly absent from their team's bonding times and greatly missed, it was a given that Amara took it all very seriously.

Naturally their conservative band of vault hunters were proud to support her and left her whatever impressive weapons and trinkets they collected on her behalf. The four of them still traveled to planets together, but on the occasions they left without her, they knew it unsettled her. Didn't upset her, necessarily, but bothered her, tough as her exterior was.

Zane, personally, had few qualms about comforting her with bribes of scavenged eridium, in particular. He figured she deserved it as a siren, given that she could make the most of it.

Together the operative, gunner, and beastmaster made sure to share all the boring details of their travels with their siren, assuring her that she hadn't really missed anything. If anything, being left out of their landing party due to her other preoccupations had exacerbated her curiosity.

"Ain't like we'd be leavin' ya outta anything actually worth doin', silly," he'd formerly assured her over a beer, with both Moze and FL4K nodding in practiced reinforcement. "In fact, it sure sucks to be us doin' layman's work when you're bein' all badass. Rest o' us might as well be scrubbin' shite outta toilets."

Moze chuckled, running one slim finger around the rim of her own frothy glass. "Too true. I didn't even have to use Iron Bear last time. Poor guy is getting rusty."

Zane couldn't remember if that was exactly true or not but drank to the angle she was using. After finding that his mug had run dry, he'd raised it and waved it at the barkeep - that was until FL4K reached for it.

"Allow me," offered the AI, for once not spouting some profound statement of death. "My pets require sustenance."

"Doin' the Lord's work, me good friend," smiled Zane, and then to Amara, going for another appeal with gusto, "We gotcha on speed dial, gorgeous. Better yet, when ya learn all them nifty siren tricks, ya can read our minds thinkin' 'Shite! Sure wish Amara was here to save me sorry arse!' And teleport right on over. Zoom!"

The curl of her full lips suggested she'd started thinking of the many occasions she'd hoisted him off his ass and to his feet when he'd gotten a wee bit too reckless.

Similarly Moze was grinning, clearly entertaining the scenario in her head - probably with him running around in flames, shrieking. "Grandpa's got a point there."

In good nature, Zane groused at the soldier before knocking back a gulp of the house brew. Using the back of his glove to wipe off the froth lingering on his mustache, he then talked behind the flat of his hand.

To Moze's amusement, he pitched his voice low as though sharing total scandal, his own mouth twitching with a smirk. "I gotta warn ya, though, 'bout learnin' to poke 'round in me brain - it's a scary place!"

Taking a swallow of her drink, Amara seemed placated enough...far as he knew, so he was surprised that her curiosity had rekindled during their more recent meetup beyond the bridge.

Naturally she gave in when he'd initiated a high five, now wholly accustomed to his antics and what happened if she didn't play along. Their gloved hands collided with familiar gusto. He'd then made a show of rubbing his palm, hissing at her with a wink. "Easy there, Partalian Tiger."

"Tiger of Partali," she'd corrected as always, rolling her eyes in mock irritation. She couldn't hide a small smile as he offered the same hand again but now at a lower elevation.

"Gonna gimme one down-low or are ye gonna be a buzzkill?"

Zane didn't give in to the temptation of making her miss and flippantly adding, 'too slow, Joe'. Not when she was reporting to official business. He didn't need to go wasting her time like that. More than that, he had an extra hankering' for a pint or two after the conversation he'd just had.

As though she was a predatory feline and her curiosity did indeed get the better of her, Amara fixed him in a serious gaze. She kept her voice a little lighter than her usual sternness, though, for reasons unknown. Maybe she thought he would tell her what she wanted to hear if she didn't seem all that interested?

Tough as shite she was, Amara was still a woman and intentionally or not, they all played their mind games. He'd know - he'd been a fool for most of them at one time or another.

"Anything I should know?" she asked.

"Uhh, no?" he casually circumvented, like he had not a care in the universe - just like he typically didn't. He'd then hooked a thumb over his shoulder, gesturing back to the bridge and added airily, " 'least not that I know, but ya ain't here to talk with lil' ol' me, are ye?"

Unable to disagree, Amara lightly scoffed at him and brushed past. The operative found himself half turning to casually follow the purple sash trailing behind swaying hips. He'd then snorted bemusedly at himself and walked off, hands in his pockets.

Eventually he'd begun whistling a cheery little ditty, thinking he should've maybe tried to stick around and see what the two sirens did among themselves.

All be told, Zane couldn't really imagine Ava having much to offer the older woman. Maybe some new understanding, obviously, since the Partalian hadn't been cooped up in the protective bubble of a monastery - but then Amara did a lot of meditating, didn't she? Unless being face-down, passed out drunk counted, it wasn't like that was an activity Zane practiced. Either way, he assumed her spiritual self-reflection had something to do with figuring herself out.

From what he'd seen, Amara was the most physically powerful siren. God knew he'd been in awe of her strength aplenty. Not having understood the extent of her own potential, she had focused on refining the brute strength she'd worked so hard to develop. Far as he was concerned - not that he really knew shite - the rest of her training could be a cakewalk if she'd already harnessed so much dangerous potential. She'd only have to find new ways to utilize - or shape? - it, he guessed.

Either way, he had nothing to do with it. He had a dick, after all, and was not an exception to the siren system like Troy had been. 'Course it could be argued that the deceased Calypso brother, having worked in tandem with his narc sister, hadn't had balls at all. 'Least not any of his own.

Didn't matter now that he'd ceased to exist, so Zane went about considering what Ava had recently made so personally relevant.

All things told, the operative had nothing against earning his bread and butter the ol' fashioned way, but going off on his own meant he'd waste a good deal of time having to look over his shoulder. That wasn't the most of his problems, though, 'cause if Crimson Raider chronology had anything to say, it was that their people only got killed when they went off doin' their own shite. What was the saying - security in numbers? All their members were skilled, yeah, but happened to cross a whole lotta paths with psychotic bastards and equally unpredictable extremists.

Knowing himself better than anyone, Zane knew he'd be best doing as Zer0 had done and go off on his own. After all, his fellow assassin still assisted the Crimson Raiders while calling his own shots. Seemed just right to him.

If those shots meant him breaking into dance or pelting out tawdry folk songs, so be it. If the circumstances called for infiltrating enemy territory, disabling their defenses, and destroying them from the inside before they knew what feckin' hit 'em, he'd have that covered too. Contrary to what his fellow vault hunters expected of him, he was perfectly capable of it, and he always had his tech to back him. With his augmentations, his digi-clone and sentinel drones were technological extensions of him.

Zane wasn't bothered by keeping his own ass safe because he'd done it so feckin' long. He goofed off during firefights and showed off with exuberant flare because he could, his extensive experiences able to afford it. But how much did Moze, Amara, and FL4K have? Wasn't like he knew how long the hobo robot had been in commission, but he didn't want to see any of them pull a Roland or Maya stunt. Speaking of the blue-haired siren, didn't she serve as recent proof that arseholes liked targeting sirens for their powers? He didn't like the though of Amara being singled out by any number of gobshites.

Nah, he didn't yet trust anyone in command to make the right shots. Him and the new crew didn't have enough skin in the game, yet, not to call their own. He definitely didn't trust that any one of his boyos wouldn't get themselves in too much trouble without his handsome mug. Besides, who else took point with such finesse like he did?

In ways that still surprised him, Zane didn't think much of their team having looked to him for direction. He only knew that his extensive experience and louder personality had resulted in him adopting some semblance of leadership. And he knew he didn't need to officially associate as a Crimson Raider. As one of the oldest surviving hitmen, his arse kicking skills meant he didn't need their street cred. His was intergalactic.

Was he bein'... protective? Call it a new habit. He didn't like fighting hip to hip with many fellas but felt an odd sense of kinship with their ragtag foursome. He suspected the others felt the same, though they hadn't really chatted about it. Among other things, they tended to keep to themselves in ways that supported his theory.

They were teammates. Friends. The best of friends someone could have in lives like theirs. The term was relative. What mattered was that Zane knew he trusted them with his life and knew that the feeling was reciprocated. They'd already proven it by watching out for each other and guarding over the fallen.

He didn't need to think much of Ava's suggestions now that they'd mutually decided to put that subject on a hiatus. The wee lass was still hopeful of Lilith's returned and admitted she wasn't really ready to be anyone's boss.

He'd still haggled with her, acknowledging her position of authority - said he'd be a useful resource for her, and he'd meant it. The young commander didn't deny that she could use all the help she could get while learning the ropes of her new position.

That got him to thinking about his unofficial status among his team. He wasn't a superstitious man, but if Vault Hunter chronology was any indication, leaders were the ones who lost their lives. First that Roland fellow, then Maya. He supposed that if he similarly represented his unit, chances were he'd end up next in line at the chopping block.

Didn't seem so bad, since he wasn't at all afraid of death - and FL4K's fixation on it had no influence on that. Men didn't do what he did with inhibitions. He had told Maya that he'd been born kickin' arse and he'd die doing the same. He hadn't been boasting or otherwise lying. In all seriousness, Zane figured it'd be better him dead than any of them. The mere thought of losing another team member downright pissed him off, which was no small achievement.

Until shite hit the fan, he sure wasn't planning on kicking his own bucket, and he wasn't such a betting man that he'd take a gamble on it. Considering all the craziness he'd been through, it was hard to believe he'd have such bad luck. Some mega monster from a vault would have to be the one to end him, ornery ol' bastard he was, and he'd already killed those that'd tried. Needless to say, the odds weren't in their favor.

One thing was certain: that he'd go out in a blaze of glory. Of all the uncertainties throughout the six galaxies, that was guaranteed.

Truth be told, Zane understood that he wasn't important in the grand scheme of things, and it didn't bother him in the slightest. Very few of them were. Only the sirens proved to be necessary tools in opening the vaults. The rest of them were as good as expendable and that was the cold hard truth. They either survived to unveil the contents of the vaults or died trying. It was a risk they all knowingly signed up for.

'Course the reward of getting one's hands on unknown alien technology came with the risk of also endangering the universe. Seemed to him like opening Vaults was a massive gamble with potentially fatal consequences, considering the Eridians had used their technology to seal away creatures capable of wreaking mass fatalities and destroying everything in their wake.

Did he know the stakes? Aye. Did he play a hand in it? Also aye. Far as he figured, someone would access those vaults if given the knowledge and resources. Better him and the folks he fought alongside than the real sadists - and that was the exact justification he had in doing it. That, and he'd done basically everything else in his day. What else was a thrill-seeker like him to do?

For now 'til someone coughed up a vault worth plundering, there was nothing to do. Nothing.

Not much went on for the rest of that day. Sanctuary still hadn't budged due to what were likely unexpected delays, since shite usually happened that way.

Hours later, Zane found that he still felt off. Spent most of the time aimlessly wandering the less occupied corridors of the ship. Few people who wandered past him spoke up besides the random "Go Vault Hunter!" encouragements. He'd taken up whistling a cheery tune and kicking a random piece of rubble that had been tracked aboard. Later, he'd settled on the floor with his back to the wall and eavesdropped on assorted ECHOnet chit chat while repeatedly ejecting and slapping home a clip in his newest fancied sidearm over, and over, and over again.

The only unusual part of that day was when Moze showed up and gave him a look, like she was thoroughly contemplating using Iron Bear to drag him by the ankle to the on-board diner - as if she was irritated that he hadn't already there and two pints in. Meals eaten together had become their thing, after all. It was like she had to remind him to be hungry, and he had indeed been, so he'd forced himself to his feet with an audible crack in his ol' bastard back to follow her.

"Getting older?" smirked the short-haired gunner, regarding him with a thumb on her cute lil' chin.

"Eeeevery damn minute," was his gruff response. He twisted to realign his spine, the bony column popping loudly in evidence.

Maybe, at lunch, he'd underestimated how distracted he'd been - and that his fellow vault hunters had noticed.

Together, their foursome occupied their usual table in the corner and...well, he'd been too preoccupied to notice details. He knew only that he'd sat there and chewed absently on a mystery burger. It was leathery and a little tough, but salty and vaguely meat-like...and to his knowledge, didn't contain ratch.

Not like he was asking.

"'s good enough for me," he'd shrugged when Moze inquired about it, poking her head over each of their plates to inspect what she might consider ordering the next time. Small girl had one crazy metabolism.

If she said anything else, he couldn't remember. The others talked among themselves as he replayed his conversation with Ava in his head...and reconsidered what it entailed.

He couldn't deny that he was in a beneficial position to assist the other Crimson Raiders in what they did. He didn't doubt he knew at least a dozen leads to power-hungry bastards in high places who would love to crack open a vault of their own. He had connections throughout the six known galaxies and enough wealth of his own to access the right channels of intel.

Besides, wasn't it imperative to stay on the down-low when digging for vaults and their keys and not spread the existence of them to other competitors? And not dragging the other Crimson Raiders along meant none of them would have to deal with the crossfire of people trying to collect bounties on him because that shite got real old real fast.

As if his own reputation didn't get him enough recognition, his origins also made going undetected a wee bit more complicated. He'd ditched Pandora forever ago to make a name for himself and he was still, by blood, associated with his infamous brothers, dead as they were. Seems someone always had an ax to wield against his family tree.

He wondered, again, how his sister managed as she did.

Didn't retirement usually entail a whole lot of travel and exploration anyway? Not to mention he was such a handsome bastard that he could easily charm any new siren - on the off chance he encountered one - and convince her to join the Crimson ranks.

Regardless of all theoretical outcomes, him leaving the others didn't sit right in his gut.

And he didn't think he could blame his burger.

...

He'd gone on to shower later that night. Had taken a pint in with him - because why the feck not - and had still managed to feel drier than a Pandoran desert.

He'd promptly turned off his ECHO device and tossed it onto his workstation, narrowly avoiding his backup digi-clone module. Then he'd promptly sauntered his way down to the drop pods. Hadn't even needed to make arrangements with Ellie, voluptuous badarse lass she was, since she was off overseeing vessel maintenance.

Oh well. If they needed him, they could find him - or the drop pod, at least. No doubt there was a digital log of each dispatch, and he knew for certain that each had an electronic tracker, providing it was currently functioning. Anyone who knew of him would suspect he was at a nearby bar...simple as that.

Sanctuary had been lingering in orbit around a planet named Xeros. Wasn't really worth anything more than a pit stop - a place to stock up on minerals and whatever trade supplies they could scrape up. Sanctuary III was one heck of a beast to be traveling the galaxy with, and with so much to it, it consumed considerable amounts of resources. What Xeros lacked in scenery, it made up for in raw materials that could be manufactured into vessel components.

And alcohol, he'd come to find, unrefined as it was.

First thing he'd done after recovering from his hellish landing was saunter his way toward the nearest settlement and navigate to where bottles clinked and filthy booze flowed. It ended up being a hole-in-the-wall joint that was just how he liked them: empty except a few arse-ugly fellas who were minding their own worthless business.

Thanks to the drop pod experience, Zane was more in need of getting hammered than he'd been previously. He still couldn't feel his arse when he occupied a rickety stool and his back reminded him that it wouldn't tolerate many more crash landings. Was a good reminder for him to scan the hangar dimensions and order his team their own ship - one with far safer, survivable landings...and one with a bitchin' sound system, because it he was gonna pass space-time in a vessel, he liked rendering himself deaf in the process.

Also added to his mental shopping list: a better coffee maker than the questionable one already on Sanctuary. The sludge that came out of it was too foul for his standards even when he was hungover. And for a man who was often stir crazy to the point of severe insomnia, he needed massive doses of tasty caffeine to keep him functioning...or else it sometimes caught up with him and he crashed for days. Was damn hard to get his bedhead under control after that.

Considerate soul he was, Zane was mentally ordering double to pass one onto Lorelei, that sexy Promethean spitfire.

Funny how being in the saloon felt like Pandora while being a heck of a lot quieter. Didn't have any bastard cultists running around. He hadn't seen any creatures lurking outside waiting to cause any trouble either. 'Course, he figured that was what most of the food on the arid planet consisted of, including what was being hauled onto the ship. Chances were local folks earned their keep by mining rock and butchering meat.

Fortunately for Zane, he wasn't hungry. He was too busy thinking thoughts and drinking for that. Already, he'd knocked back two decent pints of ale and was eyeballing the visible selection of alcohol advertised on dusty display. As long as it didn't poison him or otherwise shite himself to death, he didn't care what it was he ingested.

The fact that he didn't whip out his digi-doppelganger to piss in the wind with meant he really wanted to be left alone.

Rapping two knuckles on the counter, the operative got the barkeep's attention, then guided it to where he wanted it by making a finger-gun at a particularly interesting bottle of god-knew-what and pulling the trigger.

Good ol' boyo he was - and providing no one would try to shoot him - Zane was just getting started.

...

Sitting there, hunched over the bar with the taste of bitter ale on his tongue, he found himself starting to miss Pandora - not because he was homesick, but for the very specific memories of him and his small band of vault hunters and how they'd spent their nights lounging at makeshift camps.

Being on Sanctuary just wasn't the same as roughing it in a wasteland somewhere, feeding stories of total shite to his crew. All the feisty banter and smartarse joking had taken him back to simpler times: back before his eldest pyromaniac of a brother had burned out his eye. Back before all the leading-edge digitech and personalized constructs. Back before he'd left Pandora and all its dust in his dust and his ambition had taken him to far bigger, better, lavisher things.

The reputation he'd earned himself had lead him to command the highest prices and the greatest demand in the business. He'd lived a lifestyle of cash riches and willing bodies, but somehow that didn't compare to the kinship he felt when making Moze giggle, Amara snort, and FL4K narrow his lens in some semblance of dry humor.

He hadn't expected to find family on Pandora - at least, not the closest he'd come to having one. His brothers and nephew were long dead, not that he gave a shite, and the remaining zealots who inhabited his home world - scratch that, Great Vault Key - he didn't share any similarities with.

At least, for the time being, the others were safe and secure as could be in Sanctuary. That was a load off his increasingly foggy mind. Had they not been, it was damn certain he would have been with them, spilling blood like a calculated madman. Why was he even thinking of that? He wasn't out to stir up trouble where it wasn't warranted. Was he some breed of guilty for finally going somewhere without them? Christ, he'd cut and fled marriages without any consideration.

Guess that said a whole lot about him.

Gazing absently into the wood grain spread out before him, and the half full glass in his hand, the operative inwardly sighed. That evening, he didn't have any particular goals to reach so far as booze went. Wasn't like he planned on drinking himself as stupid as he had back after the twins had been destroyed. Smirking to himself, he recalled how he'd ended up positively sloshed at that partyMoxxi had likely built another establishment from his patronage alone.

Zane barely remembered anything from that celebration but didn't doubt the consistent renditions his friends told: that he'd tripped twice and taken chairs with him - and in one instance, an entire table. That he'd been belting out deafening songs no one in the universe could understand in his particularly incoherent accent, later described by FL4K as an "indiscernible and therefore untranslatable" language. That he'd planted a big, sloppy kiss on Amara's cheek before she's shoved him away with a grimace at his turpentine breath. That he'd then knocked four people down in his desperate race to yank Moze's helmet from her head and vomit into it. And that he'd soon after slapped Zer0 on his skinny alien arse.

Zane was still counting his lucky stars that he hadn't lost a hand.

For him, the party had ended when FL4K had slung him over his capable shoulder and promptly transported the operative to the infirmary, where he'd later woken with such a skull-splitting headache that he'd been too agonized to notice the spiderant perched on his chest, exhaling foul insect breath onto him. He'd assumed the odor had been his.

"Spiderants detect and observe their hive members for disease," FL4K had explained in that deep resonant voice of his, matter-of-fact as always.

Wasn't the most flattering attention Zane had ever garnered but the fault had been his own. And he'd woken up next to far worse in his day.

"Aye, " the operative had barely managed to croak over the threatening churn of his sour stomach, but the real question needed to be asked: "-but did I get married again?"

The looks he'd gotten for that one.

Chuckling to himself at the memory, Zane polished off another pint of amber liquid. Still, there was something more hollow to his humor than his glass.

Brooding wasn't becoming of him. It was never something he did. Never. Hit a nerve thinking that Ava's suggestion had tipped his attitude in the wrong direction. He only looked the part of a grumpy, albeit handsome, old bastard. But despite how cheeky and impulsive he seemed - and was - he'd known serious moments that, well, weren't his favorite.

Like jolting awake from nightmares of a self-proclaimed goddess clasping her hand around Amara's throat. Powerlessly standing and witnessing as his teammate kicked desperately, the sounds of her panicked choking waning as Tyreen drained her of her energy. Or waking with his fist in the wall, the metal dented beside his bed, with his last memory being of him beating Troy into mince meat, Amara's dust at their feet. Because of stunts like that, his knuckles had seen better days beneath the well-worn leather of his gloves.

That wasn't like him. Not at all. And feck, why was he even thinking about it?

So he redirected his thought with another bottle of booze, grateful that a real creature was tending the bar instead of a glitching, frustrating bot. Sirens, well, weren't they a clever thing? Never ceased to amaze with all the things they could do. He figured he'd have to rib Amara later and ask what all her meditation was for, since she evidently had more abilities to uncover. Wasn't like hers weren't impressive, because they damn sure were, but it seemed like she had a lot to learn from Lilith...whenever, and if ever, they found her.

Far as Zane was concerned, determining the fate of the infamous Firehawk was Tannis' specialty

Until then, he'd drink.

...

What Zane didn't expect was getting into an actual altercation over Amara. A real bare-fisted, cursin' donnybrook that happened for reasons he couldn't quite comprehend but involved a lotta greasy sneers and guys makin' ten too many lewd gestures while passing around a printed picture of her - and he just didn't like it for some feckin' reason.

'Course he could have blamed all the liquor he'd knocked back since arriving there. Feckin' tasked like it'd been distilled in a goddamn rusty bathtub and it smelled like the sludge from spiderant glands - and he only knew that from the nasty shite he'd seen FL4K's excrete when answering the call of nature.

Didn't stop the contract killer from drinking more of it, which he did with a hefty swig. He reached the state where he hardly noticed a hooker cooing and walking her fingers across his leather-coated shoulders. Wasn't until she tried to sit on his lap that he shrugged her off and blocked her pouty lips by draining another bottle. Like a fly, he shooed her off, and then hooked one boot on the base of his stool before waving on another pint.

As a vault hunter, he was into collecting loot - not diseases.

He sure wasn't some randy teen anymore, but he was a sexual man with a healthy appetite. Contrary to his audacity and uninhibited boisterousness, there was actually a balance to his madness. There was far more calculation to his conduct than he let on and that included his flippant behaviors. He'd learned long ago how to walk the fine line between self-denial and indulging in his libidinous urges.

There was a skill in harnessing just the right amount of sexual frustration. A good dry spell kept him alert and aggressive. A drought could drive a man beyond the right amount of crazy. Men weren't meant to fight with their balls because they were easy to lop off. He planned to keep his so he could think with them when he wanted. He didn't need to use them on a purchased piece of arse.

Besides, being as charming as he was, sex was a free commodity.

He had standards and was more than willing to have a go with anyone who satisfied them, providing the chemistry was right and his dick wasn't too whiskied. Needless to say, he wasn't there yet, but if he wanted someone, he'd damn well find one and seduce her - or him - out of their clothing.

Since joining the Crimson Raiders, he'd minded himself. Took care of matters with a slick fist. Sanctuary III's personal interface had an unexpected plethora of pornography, its monitors oh-so-conveniently installed overhead of the beds like it'd been constructed knowing the ship wouldn't frequent intergalactic red light districts.

Heck, some of the selection was even new to him and that was dark territory to play in.

Still, it had been a while since he'd bothered and he hadn't given a shite. For now, he found himself feeling unusually cantankerous. Made him raise a curious brow at the assortment of glasses and bottles he'd sat there collecting. He didn't need to go spoutin' curses and shovin' his way into conflict just to cause one. Oh no, he was surrounded by gobshites dumb enough to be goaded right into his fist.

He'd known the types. He'd thrown many of 'em through windows, after all. Meatheads who only needed someone to look in their general direction before raising their dukes or weapons.

He'd heard alotta folks talk shite but them pissin' on Amara's reputation wasn't gonna happen on his feckin' watch. Was their fault for being there before he'd walked in. Didn't they feel trouble comin'? He had no reservations of sending a few nobodies to their graves even if he wasn't getting paid. Hitman he was, he still had hobbies on the side.

"Lass ain't none of ya damn business," he'd slurred over them, and then he was cracking his knuckles, his neck, his back, bones audibly popping - as if he'd needed the help earning their attention.

It wasn't like he tolerated their type - or anyone, for that matter, who ran their mouths so loud, it interrupted his moonshine guzzling. Normally he went about his business and didn't bother looking at anyone but himself, providing he was talking piss with his clone, but that day, that group of gobshites had damn well earned the withering glare he'd shot 'em with outta the corner of his blue eye.

"Mind your damn business, ya old fuck," the tallest of the trio spat at him and then guffawed at his buddies with a loud smack on one's back. "Ain't like your grandpa dick is working', ya scrawny old bitch."

Then they made the mistake of removin' their eyes from his hands and instead, flashed him their seedy, tooth-missin' grins.

Despite himself, Zane's grip on his bottle tightened, just like his molars that ground together. Yet somehow, he wrenched them apart to invite in another swig of liquor that spilled like turpentine down his throat.

Feckers just didn't get what that fine woman did for them by ending the Calypso twins. Hadn't saved just a few planets but potentially the whole goddamn universe. And they clearly weren't thinkin' how she kicked a whole lotta deservin' ass as her day job just to protect all the innocent folk out there - and had earned a whole lotta fans to prove it.

Then there were these assholes, waggin' their diseased dicks at her image, gettin' off on disrespectin' comments -

Had they been wankin' off to anyone else, Zane sure as hell wouldn't have given a flyin' feck, but he'd fought alongside her and, well, he was hammered, wasn't he? And they were insultin' his handsome, functionin' dick!

"Yeah, she's a siren a'right," said the nobby bald one, fatter than the rest. He just went right on talkin' like the operative didn't even exist. "Got tits of a goddess. How I'd like to fuck my dick between 'em and cum s'more tats on her bitch face-"

Zane's holding a broken bottle before he knows it and that jackass is balled up on the floor howling in pain. There's blood running slick and familiar down his gloved hands, staining the navy of his sleeve black, and pooling on the ground but he doesn't stop there, no sir. It's almost like a dream, the way he keeps busting bones and breaking jaws, and all that time, there's that vile taste of moonshine and dusty air until he takes a fist to the face.

Feckers never stood a chance.

When he feels done enough teachin' those shiteheads a lesson, he tears himself away with a slight stagger. Doesn't care that there's shards of glass in his hand pinning his gloves to skin. Doesn't care that he's audibly snarling, or that he overpaid his tab as he slapped a handful of currency on the counter and went to call it a day.

He only then realized that he'd finally found a place where he could throw back a pint in peace. Then what'd he do? Went and fecked it all up to hell...but for as good of a reason as any.

What he didn't expect was to turn around from the pile of groaning bodies and see Amara there. Right there. Standing, with strong arms crossed, almost identical to the photo that was now in shreds on the ground. That illuminated blue was fading from the elaborate scrolls embedded in her skin, suggesting she'd been using her powers, and he was really dumbfounded as feck that he was suddenly staring at her. He even did a double-take at the scattered bottles abandoned at his seat, reaching to pick one up so he could squint his one good eye down the neck of it as though double-checking its contents.

Yep, it was Amara. That print-out was still salvageable if he needed reminding - which he didn't. He had half a mind to look past her, expecting their other two counterparts to be close behind, but they weren't. That meant FL4K and Moze were likely still back on the ship, where they'd been installing some much needed improvements on Iron Bear.

He'd know - tech addict he was, he'd been up to his elbows in it 'til Ava had requested him at the bridge.

Amara was not amused, even as Zane pointed an intact bottle at her like a telescope. Through the brown glass, he saw her fingers drum along one forearm.

"What in the hell do you think you're doing?" she demanded in that thick accent of hers - not that he was one to judge. "All this time, we've been trying to get a hold of you and you've been what, getting shitfaced?"

Oops. Time to slather on the suave real thick.

"Aw shite, ya mean ya been callin' me?" he asked with sincerity because honestly, he had been oblivious. "Blasted ECHO device must be fecked up. My apologies, lovely."

Except he'd left it in his quarters aboard the ship, letting him avoid responsibility for a wee while, but Ms. Serious didn't need to know that. As if that tidbit would improve her attitude any.

His hadn't been the best choice of words. He figured that from the way her violet eyes narrowed at him in sober scrutiny. She seemed curious to determine if he really was slurring - until one of the floored thugs gave a groan. She stepped over to kick him, silencing his pathetic suffering.

"Let's go," she ordered, her ponytail swaying as she jerked her chin toward the direction she wanted to go. "There's plenty to drink at Moxxxi's."

Forcing out an exasperated sigh, Zane let his head tip back childishly, silver hair hardly shifting. "But interspace travel is so borin'!"

"You'll live," challenged the siren. She then turned for the door, not so much casting a glance back with all her self-assurance that he would obey her.

And Zane did, because she was bossy. Not 'cause she was the boss, but because she could damn well use her powers to drag his arse back to Sanctuary. She was right, too, about Moxxxi's - had he gone there, he wouldn't have bashed skulls together. Not that he minded that any, but since leaving Pandora and saving the universe or some such, things had been a wee bit bland for his tastes.

A guy like him got downright cagey when he was stuck in one place for too long. That'd been one draw of the assassin trade: he'd always been on the move, tracking down one target or another. Or he'd been free to satisfy his wanderlust, searching for something to fill his hunger for chaos.

But wasn't being cooped up in a ship a lot like the retirement he'd been aiming for? And if he didn't like squatting with the Crimson Raiders, what was keeping him around? What was making him follow that blue-tipped ponytail instead of leaving on his own?

Comradery, for one. That was a new thing for him. He'd had partners, on rare occasion, but only for as long as his missions dictated. Flying solo had always been his calling, but there was no denying how the four of them, excluding the other Raiders, worked in some crazy sort of sync. They didn't give two shites about his stint as a corporate hitman and weren't trying to shoot him in the back, 'cause they'd had innumerable chances already. That wasn't to say they wouldn't turn on him ever, but they had bigger fish to fry and vaults to crack, and, well...they were his boyos.

They weren't the band of brainless bandits he'd grown up with. Instead, they had some sorta virtues. Maybe he was starting to see that the universe wasn't entirely about power and riches, even if those were still big players. Maybe he just liked that he was free to enjoy his brand of insanity while still having buddies who accepted his craziness.

Shite, he thought to himself, did it really matter whyhe was tagging along with them? Wasn't like he needed money 'cause he was so feckin' rich. Bein' a free spirit was how he lived, and it wasn't like he'd really considered what retirement entailed. He was still ornery enough to have a few more naughty years in him.

Together, the vault hunters stepped out in the night, and he'd be damned if his swagger wasn't a little teetering. Maybe he was a wee bit tipsy, but that was the point of drinkin', wasn't it? 'Course he didn't miss the way Amara walked more closely to him than needed. Found himself snorting audibly before reaching over and pushing a playful knuckle on her shoulder as though rejecting her unnecessary hovering.

"Damn, girl, don't go thinkin' I need a crutch, aye? I sure ain't that piss-faced," he assured her with a lopsided grin. And then hit his brakes, hard, when she suddenly whirled on him and seized him by the wrist.

At first, he thought he'd gone too far. That maybe Amara was mighty ticked that he'd needed retrieving. Or maybe that she'd boot him in his poor nuts for touching her - but that was nothing new or uninvited, was it? After all, their group was always patting each other on their backs or some such.

It didn't dawn on him what the matter was until she jerked his captive hand to her face. At the bloodied sight of it, angry shards of glass still protruding in places, the siren bit her plump lip and cocked her eyebrows skeptically.

"Seriously, one got the jump on you?" she questioned as though in disbelief - to which he snorted and rolled his exposed eye.

"Did it to meself," he chuckled, flexing his fingers despite the burning pain and weeping stains of crimson.

"You were fighting with your clone?"

He couldn't very well blame her for misinterpreting now, could he? 'Cept he and his digi-clone were best of pals, so that didn't make much sense of her. How could he even think of knocking the teeth in on his own gorgeous mug?

"'Course not! Things didn't go that arseways," he scoffed, then pulled his hand closer to his own vision to better inspect the damages. "Quit your worryin', lass. It's still attached."

He gave his wrist a hefty shake to prove it, and then added cheekily, "'Sides, if it wasn't, y a'd have plenty to spare, aye?"

Watching those purple eyes roll as hard as they did was reward enough to him. He waited until she pulled her hand back and resumed walking before strutting alongside her, assuming the matter was all said and done until she spoke up again.

"For the record," she warned, "I don't need you standing up for me to a couple of nobodies. And I can't say I took you as the type to defend anyone's honor."

Well, that made two of them.

He wagged his thick brows at her, shooting her his cocky smirk. "Well I am a jack o' all trades, y'know? And I already said was gettin' plenty bored of bein' cooped up on that blasted ship."

Truth be told, flashy metropolises akin like Promethea were more his preference, but they weren't in that style of solar system now, were they?

Unable to pass down a golden opportunity to crack a joke, he couldn't resist the smartarsed curl of his own lips. "Ain't like I know ya can't handle them."

"Zane," she breathed sharply before continuing despite him. "So let me get this straight: you decided to make yourself an appointment at the infirmary? Which, by the way, is precisely where your ass is going."

He refused, shaking his head dismissively. "Nope! Still got plenty'a hypos. Soon as we get on the ship, I'm gonna head on to the jacks and take care o' it. It'll be good as new."

Amara looked at him with a slight degree of confusion, likely lost by his atypical dialect.

"I'm gonna wash it up in the shitter," he clarified. She nodded and sighed, crossing one arm over the cobalt calligraphy of the other.

There wasn't much said between there and Sanctuary. Just the sound of plentiful insects partying out in the night air and the scuff of their boots on the sandy soil. Sure, he could have chatted her up more. Exchanged some witty banter to uplift her spirits. He was always up for some feisty conversation, especially with Amara because her serious exterior usually caved without too much effort from him.

But he didn't. As of now, she just seemed to thoughtful...or tired. He couldn't tell which. He was one hell of a handsome bastard and good at damn near everything but what he wasn't was a mind reader.

One thing he didn't approve of was having Amara or anyone else worry their pretty lil' heads over him, so he spoke up again, disregarding how his breath clouded once it hit the cooling nocturnal climate.

Zane figured she'd either be amused by his comment or roll her eyes out of her head over it. Or she'd phase lock him. Or flip him off with any number of her middle fingers, anatomical or not. Whatever the outcome, it was better than her acting like she'd had to pry a rabid skag off his ass.

"No need to go troublin' yourself over me, lovely. Ya can't say ya got nothin' better to do. I hear that Axton boyo is back aboard," he suggested flippantly, reaching to loop one leather-clad around her solid shoulders and draw her within whispering distance before pitching his voice low. "Ya should go meet up with that Axton fella - the one with that badarse turrent, yah? Seems like you two were gettin' a wee bit friendly last time ya met. Pretty sure he was makin' eyes at ya too. Ain't any o' my business, I know, but it sure don't hurt to have a wee bit o' fun now an' then."

He then let her go to give her a playful nudge of his elbow and a suggestive wink of his unaugmented eye. Saw the faint darkening of her cheeks before she pointedly looked away from him, reaching to push one errant hair behind her ear.

Ah-ha! thought Zane to his prideful self. As always, my instincts are bang-on! Jus' call me Cupid, I'm so good at shootin'!

"Are you sure about that?" she asked, pointing an accusing finger at him. "You're the one impressed by his gun. I wouldn't want to interfere."

Implying what, that she was in fact interested? Or was she deflecting his ribbing by putting up her own form of shield?

"Ha! Girl, I got years on you," he brayed amicably. "I bet ya pretty head a pint that no one's as irresistible as this ol' bastard."

They went their separate ways soon after boarding Sanctuary, but not without him turning down the offer to accompany her to Moxxxi's.

"You're really done for the night?" tested Amara, visibly considering how many drinks he'd consumed before she found him - like she'd underestimated him.

"You sayin' ya want me to get in more trouble on this fine evenin'?" he countered with a saucy smirk...to which she shook her head, crossing her arms as she seemingly always did.

"No one here to fight and all the right reasons to be on good behavior."

Zane, naturally, thought otherwise. It was ingrained in him to be suspicious of his surroundings because his survival depended on it. He had no way of knowing who could be bought by any number of his former benefactors, enemies, or spiteful competitors. He already knew for a fact that they had some of the heftiest bounties out for his head. On multiple occasions had been attacked in the weirdest of locations, and successful mercenaries were never as loudly advertised as the Calypso twins.

Sanctuary, despite its name, was no exception.

Wasn't like he'd have anything to worry about had he been pullin' from a pint with FL4K, Moze, and of course Amara - and it wasn't like he hadn't occupied one of the bar stools in Moxxi's establishment before. He couldn't go that long without wetting his appetite for booze, and what he personally supplied aboard never lasted long enough. Plus, the atmosphere just wasn't his preference but it wasn't like Sanctuary had a broad selection of choices.

As for Moxxi, well, he'd already plundered her loot over a long weekend Meridian's most exclusive casino. How could she not remember, he still wondered? He'd bent her over every inch of the presidential suite he'd supplied. Maybe that was it: he'd fucked her to amnesia. That, combined with all the spoils he'd reaped and the extensive selection of booze he'd tasted had made the trip memorable - the latter which seemed backward, didn't it? Maybe all the alcohol was to blame for Moxxi not recalling being pounded inside-out. That had to have been it.

Since having stepped on Sanctuary, Moxxi had made all her suggestive comments and one unmistakable offering for him to jog her memory, that smart lass, but he hadn't yet taken up her invitin' offer.

"Hate bein' a party pooper but I'm takin' a raincheck," he presently assured the siren, using his hands to flip through an imaginary calendar and scribbling down a mental note. "No offense to Moxxi but I sometimes like a lil' less tits with my pints," he half-way explained with a shrug. "And, y'know, less folks. I had my fill o' 'em for tonight."

Busy joints full of plastered patrons were only good for one thing, and that was blending in. That task always involved being equally boisterous and belligerent as to not stand out and draw attention to oneself. And though he had the wealth to do it, the older operative didn't feel like settling among those who lost at gambling when they couldn't afford to. Not all were as generously compensated as successful contract killers.

Unlike the rest of their ragtag group, Amara was accustomed to being surrounded by people. Old dog he was, he'd been more of a professional miscreant and as such had kept to himself. He'd never put down roots, never grew attached to anything because it had all been impermanent…so it'd been odd enough to share a bond with the other vault hunters. Now, expectations of him doing the same with an entire ship of Crimson Raiders was one hell of a stretch.

He wasn't lyin' when he claimed that Moxxi's wasn't his everyday type of honey. She was a fine piece of arse, he couldn't deny, but she was just too easy. Sure, he knew Zer0, who sometimes perched his lanky body on one of the bar stools. He loved amusin' himself by responding to the assassin's haikus with tawdry limericks. But all in all, he was better at keeping to himself...even if his jovial and deceptively outgoing personality earned him a lot of attention.

He'd waved goodbye to Amara, who gave him a "See you around" and spun on his heels toward the crew quarters. Strutted his way confidently toward the little nook he temporarily called home. If the Tiger knew what was good for her, he could trust her to go have a little fun and lighten up a tad - 'least 'til their next adventure. As for him, he had quite the bit of maintenance to do on all his beloved gadgets before then.

Man of many talents, he was just as good at procrastinating as he was handsome - at least when he could be, so all intentions of being productive were thrown to the wayside when he saw his bed. Approaching it, he'd kicked off his metal boots with gusto and ignored their loud steel clang as they hit the floor. All he'd felt like doing was stretching his toes out without all that metal surrounding them...and drinking, naturally, so he went about finishing the bottle in his room. That way, he could check that additional accomplishment off his itinerary.

As he'd told his purple-clad companion, space life was a bore. He'd been there and done it all before - a thousand times over. Was hard to pass the time now after so many years of having painstakingly done it. If he wasn't arm wrestling someone, he was usually gambling them out of their money. His expertise as an assassin made him one hell of a stellar liar and having only one organic eye enhanced his poker face. 'Course he loved breakin' outta it and guffawing after he took their sad arses to the cleaners.

"It goes to a good cause!" he liked to assure them. "I drink half of it 'way and use the rest to buy me mates their weapons upgrades!"

And that was the truth, 'cause he had plenty of riches in the bank as it was and he wanted his teammates as well-armed as could be. More than any of 'em, he appreciated the advantage of having gizmos and gadgets that kicked a whole lotta arse. Clearly he used 'em often, which was why his current accommodations, while not as lavish as he was accustomed, were full of 'em.

Another way to pass the time, and definitely the most wholesome, was spent running energy out of the poor children trapped aboard. Heavens knew those kiddos deserved entire planets to explore. He felt for them and had, on occasion, sent his sentinel drones buzzing around the ship for their chasing entertainment. He was but a grown kid at heart, after all.

All that cuteness had made Zane think, for a crazy second, that he should've fathered a couple kids, but also knew he was a Flynt. Just because Captain had didn't make it a good decision. Now both he and Sparky were dead. But boy, him being' the grown goof-off he was, he was sure great with them.

Fortunately for him, he didn't believe in regrets.

In privacy, Zane sighed as he went about fixing his wounded hand. Now, there was a wee bit of teeth gritting and minor cursing as he went through the process of peeling the blood-saturated glove off his injured skin. It was a shame to see that his former pint had betrayed him like that. Really, he was to blame, he reminded himself as he went about plucking the glass remnants of his flesh, alternating between "loves me, loves me nots" until they were all in the trash.

Come to think, he couldn't remember what he'd left off on when he'd proceeded to flush out the gashes and then retrieve a hypo from the stash he'd accumulated.

Zane didn't question the contents he injected into his hand. What was certain were the results: the cells of his damaged skin began multiplying until the surface mended itself with tender pink tissue. Deeper damage took longer to repair itself but for his purpose, the hypo worked just swell. If the rest of his body was any indication, it proved that the technology wasn't scar-proof, but it had held him together well enough over the years.

Shame about his glove, though, thought the operative as he held it up for inspection. Real soon, he'd have to meander around Sanctuary and find some means of having another synthesized. No biggie, especially when he had time to kill - as in, that was all he'd been killing.

Normally, in his free time, he drank. When he wasn't drinking, he either fiddled with his tech and cleaned his gear or played cards with his digi-clone. He wasn't an unusual sight in the command room, boots kicked up and long body lounging back at one of the consoles, and a time or two, he'd busied himself playing fetch with one of FL4K's pets. Other than that, there wasn't enough aboard to occupy him all that well. There was plenty of opportunity to keep his facial hair trimmed and pester everyone for some excuse to form a landing party, enabling them to burn off some much needed energy.

As it was, he'd spent the last few days waiting for something electric to happen. He was an adrenaline junkie, after all, but damned if it didn't take absolute chaos and planet-shaking explosions to get him off.

Oddly enough, Zane found himself highly unmotivated that evening. Didn't even have the will to use his ECHO device and peruse the airwaves for something mildly entertaining. Come to think of it, he didn't even care to tinker with the multiple droids he'd had in various stages of disrepair around the room. And he wasn't of mind to log into his computer to see what contracts, out of curiosity, had come onto the market.

Instead, Zane kicked back on his bed and spent a mind-numbing amount of time - could have been minutes, could have been hours - tossing back and forth one of the elastic masses of sap he'd collected off a previous planet. So far, he hadn't subjected it to Chomper's snapping jaws, which had been his intention of keeping it.

The way he saw it, there'd be plenty of time to throw the rubbery blob for FL4K's eager skag later. For now, he flung and caught the mass, the sound of the ricocheting material resounding through his quarters.

Ka-thud. Ka-thud. Ka-thud.

A sharp, electric chirp interrupted the predictable noise. It made him glance at the the rooms sealed door, recognizing that someone was trying to get his attention. He wasn't sure if he was irritated or not by it, faltering for a moment to see if whoever was on the other side was determined or not.

Ka-thud. Beep beep! Ka-thud. Followed by an incomplete toss, the mass ka-thumping to the floor.

"-The heck is it?" he rasped, grunting with exaggeration as he hoisted himself off his mattress. "Better not answer that door an' have ya bitchin' that I'm makin' too much racket."

Going from lone operative to cohabitating with others was just weird, and he probably wasn't the best at it. Apparently Amara had appeared to be the judge of that, he discovered as he opened the door and saw that familiar bronze siren standing there, clad in what else? Black leather with amethyst accents.

She didn't look all that impressed with him.

"'Ey, gorgeous," he greeted cordially, his tall figure cocking one hip against the door frame. His brogue was as pronounced as could be. "What can I do ya for now?"

Amara certainly looked like she wanted to say something, but there was reluctance in her purple gaze. Come to think of it, in all their running into firefights together, guns blazing at numbers easily twenty times theirs, he'd never noticed her looking so uncertain.

Maybe he was reading her wrong, but he'd regularly gambled with his own life and significant wealth on his ability to judge others - and being unsure of Amara seeming equally unsure of herself had him contagiously confused.

Not like he showed it, of course. He always had to be smooth and charming, after all, especially if someone needed some cheering up. So he opened his mouth to deal out a silly lil' quip - somethin' to get her eyes rolling or her lips smiling - and stopped short as she continued to stand there looking at him expectantly.

Leaning to look around behind her, he gently gripped her above her left elbow and pitched his voice low. "We got some secrets to share, aye? Somethin' ya don't want others to hear?"

If that was the case, what in the heck had he done to earn the privilege?

The look she shot him suggested otherwise: that he'd shite in her cereal. He hadn't meant to. What was she doing, holding an uncharacteristic grudge because she'd fetched him from that planet?

"You're so frustrating," she breathed, further solidifying his suspicions.

His pale brows furrowed now, and damned if he didn't feel like he had something to admit to or explain. And with how she stepped into his quarters, pushing him with her, he figured, ah shite, he was really in for it.

The door slid shut. She was reaching for the flaps of his jacket, yanking him down toward her, and then her mouth was against his, plump lips brushing his mustache.

The unexpected contact sent a sexual heat pooling between his legs. He was a man, after all, if a shocked one, and Amara was attractive, even if the unexpectedness of everything blew his brain circuits.

Among more pleasant reactions, Zane felt like he'd just choked on his own feckin' tongue. And he was sure, for now, that it wasn't Amara's.

He couldn't even react as her leather-clad hands cupped his face, thumbs stroking his sideburns. His stunned mind struggled to register the occurrence on top of everything else, the tender gesture so unlike all the feisty jabs and shoulder claps they'd exchanged as rewards for a jobs well-done. And it most definitely wasn't the same kind of touch as when she wrapped his wounds or yanked him to his feet on the occasions he'd been knocked onto his ass.

Except maybe it was because suddenly, Amara was using that same contact to shove his face away and then she was making some frustrated sound. Just as aggressively, she turned on her booted heel and began walking briskly away, toward the door, before he could even blink.

Stunned as he was, Zane's immediate instinct was to question what he'd drank earlier. Were vivid hallucinations a side effect of consumption or had he nodded off and was having one doozy of a dream?

The thought wasn't too far-fetched. He'd dreamed of Amara in the past but hadn't thought much of it. It'd happened back when they'd been in pursuit of the Calypso twins and their foursome had settled down in a shack one night. He'd woken with his nose pressed to her hair and morning wood pushing against his pants. Hadn't done anything with it but breathe it away when he'd finally stretched out his aching back and hobbled off to take a piss.

As for the present-

His feet responded faster than his mind did, unaccustomed to women who'd kissed him walking in the other direction. He tried not to trip more over the fact that the lips against his own had been his teammate's - not someone he wanted to let get away.

He'd said it before and now he thought it loudly: What in the actual feck was happening?

"Amara, c'mon- hoooollld up-" He needed to ask her, didn't he? Or do whatever needed to make amends and not have her pissed off at him. Having her assign him to her shitelist really wasn't what he wanted.

The aggressive sway of her retreating ponytail said oh yeah, he's on it.

"Amara-" he called again, unsure how she went so fast, and shite, he could have chosen his words less like a fumbling idiot. "- the heck y'go and do that for?"

Had he given himself a moment to compose himself, he might have sounded less incredulous. Maybe would have maintained some of his charisma, but there it went: poof, gone for those important seconds.

He'd personally gotten married more easily and with less blunder than this - all because of his wanderlust and knowing he'd cut and run soon after. All because the attraction on those occasions had been so fickle. All because his other relationships hadn't been like this.

Amara's expression, when she rounded on him, looked like she wanted to punch him. At her sides, her hands opened and closed into tight fists repeatedly. He could sure see how lesser men ran from her. She was bloody scary when she wanted to be.

"Zane," she snarled like a literal Tiger of Partali, "how fucking dense are you?"

That was indeed a proper question - and on any other day, he would have recognized her rhetoric loud and clear.

"Moderately!" he replied - and then again moved to get to her.

He couldn't say she didn't give him a fair warning.

Going to follow her might've been a mistake but one he had to make. 'Course, being allies, he didn't expect what happened next. Didn't think he'd ever be at the receiving end of her siren abilities.

Zane felt like a truck hit him, one large sensation overcoming him. Was like nothing he'd felt before - like he'd been flash frozen into a block of ice - and then it dawned on him. As if the illuminated scrollwork on the siren's arms didn't give it away, the orb and the giant underlying hand did.

"-t'feck?!" he managed to gripe, and even managing that required all his strength and no small degree of determination. Overall, he sounded real damn pathetic, like a trapped mouse - and that just wasn't acceptable for an infamous Flynt.

A look of concern had Amara's jaw dropping and he felt some constriction lesson with it, but just barely. His feet were still trapped in place, his limbs fixed in their reaching for her, but his digits could twitch and his jaw wasn't so painfully tight.

Her awareness renewed at the dangerous potential of her powers, Amara held her tight. There was still an absence of apology. And she was still controlling him like a puppet, so there was that. He hadn't made much progress yet.

"'Ey!" he sniped, none too happy with his predicament, "Y'aint s'pose to phase lock your boyos! It ain't nice!"

Shite, they'd soon be attracting a whole lotta unwanted attention at this rate. As it was, the commons were eerily - and conveniently - empty.

"I won't have to use it if you leave me the hell alone," she snapped back, making herself heard. "I mean it, Zane. Leave. Me. Alone."

"An' if I don't want to?" he challenges and then immediately backtracked, not wanting her to get the wrong idea - he wasn't arguing, wouldn't, for the sake of his phase-locked balls. "I mean, look," he redirected, forcing his bearded chin as far anatomically south as he could, "does it look like I feckin' mind? Christ, lemme down!"

He hadn't intended for his rather friendly manhood to be put on shameless display as it was. Though he sure as shite couldn't see it, try as he might to invite her attention toward his crotch with his remaining eye, he could feel it strained against his pants.

It certainly wasn't the first time he'd sported wood in his fifty odd years and he hoped to hell it wouldn't be the last.

Forward as Amara been, he couldn't guarantee that the siren wouldn't take offense. If she did, he'd be at her mercy, and one thing he hated was being in a state of vulnerability.

Gravity returned, dropping him to his feet abruptly. Proper color flashed before his eye again, causing his cybernetic implant to glitch momentarily before pixelating back into functionality. It had him reaching up to tap at the device with one hand and giving himself a quick pat-down with the other, ensuring everything else was in order.

He did not, however, perversely linger on his dick.

"...Did I hurt you?" reached Amara's thick voice, her tone intentionally neutral. He'd certainly never heard her ask an enemy that - but then wasn't flattered to be one of the rare, if only, ally she'd phase-locked.

"Only me ego," he admitted cheekily - and then it hit him why she'd behaved so atypically rashly.

His belated realization made him feel like a right bastard and nearly put him on the level of arseholiness beneath the rotting Calypso twins. At his age, he'd admittedly forgotten how to handle the nearly universal insecurities of young folks. Seemed too easy with Amara, in particular, with her mature exterior.

He was frowning now, thick brows drawn together, not wanting to seem like he pitied her but not wanting to appear as dense as accused.

"Aw shite," he sighed regretfully, "I hurt your feelings. C'mon, girl, why'd ya think I'd wanna do that?"

The siren didn't want to admit it, but she held her jaw tightly. She had her pride, and yet he could see how that confident composure of hers was waning, and damned if she didn't fight it with all her might. There was tension at the corner of her lips and a defensiveness to her, and shite, he wish he'd said something better.

"Hey now," he tried again, stepping up to her. With fingertips, he lightly touched her shoulder. Her violet eyes initially flitted away but couldn't resist glancing up to his pale blue. The operative maintained that connection without reluctance, even as he cocked his head toward his quarters.

"C'mon, let's get us some privacy and give it another go."

Moments of misgivings ticked on, the tiger's eyes scrutinizing him in vacillating silence. When it passed, she muttered a "fine" and hesitated to follow his leading footsteps. Through that dark and expansive corridor they went until the dim blue of his room consumed them. In that brief trek, their side-by-side sync seemed casual - and not all at like they were off to…feck? Was that her plan? Was it now, unexpectedly, theirs?

There was plenty of room for it, Zane recognized, but there were a number of drones and tools left on about every surface except his mattress. That including the floor, he notice, since it appeared the ship's last jump had spilled a set of screwdrivers. The bed, of course, looked sat in and was, unfortunately, quite small.

Good thing he was a man of many talents

Since standing there, Zane had fell into his habit of thoughtfully stroking his goatee and lingered on it before finally finding his companion not too close, and not too far, behind him. She was busy looking around, having never given much attention to his personal environment or having even been in it until then. Clearly that was going to change.

"Hey," he urged quietly and not without a small degree of being cheeky, "me eyes're up here."

The second Amara fixed him in that smokey gaze of hers, he tried to cut through the tension with a more sincere smile and what ended up being a more forward proposal: "Ya wanna continue where we left off?"

Because beating around the bush and teasing wasn't achieving anything.

"Do you?" Amara countered, evidently choosing to avoid her own accountability.

What, his dick hadn't convinced her enough? Clearly not, which was a first. Seemed he had a small bit of explanation to do, since obviously Amara didn't take him for a man of hesitation - and for good reason. He wasn't. Had never been. And he didn't plan to be.

Zane's sigh was one of good-natured exasperated. She had to know that much about him. And that his footing was always sure, always fluid, and he used that refined talent to make his move. With a gentle grasp of her wrist, he pulled her close and gracefully bent her backward with a breathtaking kiss.

Amara might have been a siren, unusually gifted as they were, but he was Zane Flynt, and he had charm in a bag emblazoned with his name on it. There was nothing he wouldn't do - except be serious, 'cause he'd had yet a reason to be that. Whether he was with women, men, whatever, it didn't matter, he was equipped to impress. In matters of sex, he didn't need a half dozen gadgets or gimmicks to have his partners seeing galaxies.

It was Amara's turn to be shocked, her mouth twitching at the unexpected tickle of his mustache. Her hands slapped against the beige fabric of his shirt and fisted before she melted into his oral coaxing. They then glided to clutch at his leather-clad back to pull him in.

Cocky lass she was, she wasn't exactly the novice he'd expected but also wasn't the most practiced. She obviously knew some things, her mouth melding with his. Still, he didn't figure her siren lifestyle involved much sex. Most guys had slim dicks and would be intimidated. Others, she chased off with glowing fists. She seemed to know how to kiss but, well, that bravery she always fought with wasn't so authentic there, in that moment.

Made him consider drawing back and reconsider if he was being an arsehole and taking advantage of her somehow. He couldn't miss the hint of sweet Zudroran whisky mixed with the exotic spice of her. Liquid courage, maybe?

To think she'd ever need that - particularly with him, easygoing fella he he'd underestimated her experience. Fortunately for her, he was versed enough for the both of them...making out never went out of style. Amara was still eagerly participating. Why the feck shouldn't he?

Still, he couldn't deny how hyperaware it made him that his bed was so near, yet so far, behind them. Just thinking about what it entailed got his pants that much tighter - but abruptly he also he wondered, would him taking the siren there and fecking her good and proper complicate the rest of their partnership?

Word around was that there'd been relationships between Crimson Raiders in the past. Seemed inevitable given the danger of their wild travels. Working so closely and intensely together made some degree of sexual tension inevitable. With that being so relatable, it didn't seem the other vault hunters would misunderstand the two of them letting off some much needed steam together.

Frankly, Zane didn't give a feck if anyone but Amara had a problem with it. He was his own man, and she was one hell of a woman, and he didn't care about anything but the way her mouth melded with his.

When they reluctantly parted lips, he kept his tone light as always, but the burn coursing through his blood was much less flippant and in no way innocent.

"This can go as far as ya want it to," he assured, "but just so y'know, I had the, ah, inconvenience factor in all of this handled ages ago." Then, so he ensured she caught his drift: "Can't have too many lil' Zanes runnin' 'round, can we?"

There were probably a few out there, but who was counting?

Amara's moment of distractedness gave him a moment to wonder - was what he had said too presumptuous? What he'd meant by it was that neither of them had to divert themselves to the infirmary and hit up the vending machine of contraceptives. He didn't currently have any on him and Amara's fertility had never come up in casual conversation - imagine that.

There were other reasons to use protection. Wasn't as fun but still got the job done. There were, of course, a plethora of other options...and now Zane found himself extra enamored by her mouth. Found himself aching with how badly he wanted it.

"That would be very scary," breathed Amara finally, and then her hands were in his hair, nails sensually scratching his scalp, and she was drawing him down to taste him again, her resolve building. She was regaining her familiar Amara self, if one he hadn't imagined. He'd honestly never expected any of this.

Was this happening? It was happening, wasn't it? There was no time to be confused by it. Amara was tilting her chin up, parting her voluptuous lips, and without hesitating, Zane met her halfway with a husky sound of hunger.

The prospect of bedding a woman was nothing new for the operative. He'd charmed the clothes off nearly every person he'd ever wanted. He was dangerous and women, in particular, lusted after that. His handsomeness was an added benefit. Throughout his years, he'd had more spitfire affairs and marriages than he could remember. Then again, he'd been thoroughly intoxicated for more than a few of them.

What was different now? Now he cared - and it wasn't to say he hadn't in the past a time or two, but his fondness of the siren ran a bit deeper than that.

Were they friends? Feck yeah, they were. Had to be, because for a guy like himself, who'd never trusted a soul 'except his own, he only wanted her and their rag tag team guarding his back. After all the shite they'd gone through, running and gunning and dancing' their way through defeating Calypso's and vault guardians, he bet his own fine ass that they would remain the best of buds.

But now, uh, Amara was shoving her hands in his jacket and then stripping him so fast of it that he feckin' felt like she was using every one of her magic arms to do the deed - or maybe she had some mysterious skill of phasing clothing off him? If he knew only one thing, it was that she was driving him mindless with the whole lot of it, suddenly asking again, "Are you sure?"

Sounding uncertain wasn't very becoming of her, and neither was it like him to sound feckin' retarded, short on words- hell, he could talk his head off and be sly with the best of the best, including the finest women, and yet there he was, dumb as a doorknob with so much blood in his cock. He barely managed an unintelligible grunt that apparently sounded agreeable enough, seeing that it enticed the siren to pull him by goatee like she forgot it was attached. Then she was smothering any chance he had at words with her plump, delicious lips.

Logic was gone for him, not like he had much anyway, but he made damn sure he kissed her in ways that curled her toes - and with that, he embraced her in his arms and seized her mouth in ways that damn well better convince her of what he wanted.

Their hands were less patient, the audible releasing of holsters and belt buckles filling the static air. Her steel-plated gloves hit the ground, hard, followed by the contrasting flutter of her sash and wrist wraps. The spiked leather of her vest slumped to the floor and beige cotton was cast hastily aside. That damned bodysuit of his, though, was the only holdup - at least until Amara growled in hungry frustration and let him peel it off himself before shucking it aside. It was quickly forgiven and forgotten, just like her flimsy excuse for a shirt. He'd had but a second to savor the sight of her nipples straining against it.

Against her tawny skin, he felt pale as feck, but the contrast was erotic. Her hands seemed as pleased with his body as he was hers, lightly grazing as they teased from the breadth of his shoulders to the slim strength of his hips. Along their way, they did hesitate along landmarks within his map of scars, tracing some of them thoughtfully. His extensive career hadn't been without mistakes or inevitable injury, that was for sure, and he wouldn't be surprised if she had a small collection of her own.

They called his a swimmer's build, broad in the shoulders and narrow at the hip. Perfect for fitting between someone's legs, if you asked him. His fingers were convinced, eagerly teasing along the hem of her denim pants.

He paused only to tease at the divot of her navel, languidly tracing the ridges of her and that rose and dipped as she breathed. He could feel her try to overcome his suggestive ministrations, busting herself by pulling off her boots and kicking them behind her. He relented only to kneel before her and assist in shimmying down her jeans, his eyes torn between following those alluring siren swirls.

Zane didn't miss his opportunity to gently nip at her navel and then trace his tongue down the crease to her panties. He felt her breath catch, then her entire body give a sweet shiver as his fingertips grazed her slender ankles.

Teeth teasing at her lower lip, Amara bit back a smiling twitch as he pressed a kiss to the lower rim of her navel - then again as he repeated the motion. To him, it seemed a shame that she stifled her perfectly natural reaction to the brush of his facial hair against her sensitive places.

"Ticklish?" he asked, his one eye glittering with enough amusement for two.

"Better stop before I knee you in the face," was her warning.

"Fair enough!" he laughed.

Zane stood again, his full height towering over her as he went about relieving himself of his remaining undergarment. His bodysuit, vital as it was for keeping secure his most valuable assets, was easy to roll down with his pants. His manhood sprung eagerly from it, straining and ready, and he might've had the mind to wonder if he should have been more gentlemanly - except the siren's curious, if careful hands were quick to comb through the white of his pubic hair and stroke along his velvet thickness.

"Surprised it doesn't have an eye patch," Amara mused, dragging a surprised laugh from deep in his chiseled chest. Christ, he loved a partner who could surprise the shite outta him.

"Don't ya go sayin' that 'bout lil' Zane," he warned, shooting her a look. "He's a nice fella and wants ya to know the pleasure's all his."

Of course it wouldn't be but he didn't give her time to interject further comment. Their smiling lips met, his clever mouth slanting over hers, their noses brushing. One of her hands scratched lightly through his sideburn, the other admiring what he had to offer, carefully gliding from heavy base to sticky tip.

Such a shameless man he was, having never disappointed anyone. He knew he was in damn good shape - and not just for his age. All of his battle scars, of which there were plenty, only gave him character and proved only half of what he'd been through. And his dick? Well, it spoke for itself, but needless to say, he had every reason to act as confidently as he did.

Besides, it wasn't the equipment that mattered so much as the skill behind it. He hadn't been lying when boasting that he was a one-man armada. And at the time, it hadn't been like he'd been shooting the real firepower he'd been packing. There were different times and places for everything.

Right now, it was time to forget everything but his and her pleasure. Feck what anyone else might think if they knew. Feck if it made tomorrow awkward the next time they were gunning down a gang of bandits and hunting for vault artifacts. As far as the operative was concerned, the siren's hand was wrapped around him and he needed to make quick work of remaining garments like a real gentleman.

He neglected to care about their age difference. All that should've mattered was that they were two consenting adults. And that she initiated when he never would have, but damned if he wasn't grateful that she'd pounced like the tiger she was. He welcomed her hungry lips, and her stroking hand, and yet...

He'd been around the block a few times and noticed there was something off about it. Like it was forced but still very much wanted. Like Amara was pouring all her confidence in her actions to drown out hesitance - because he hadn't asked for it? Was that it: because he wasn't seizing the wheel and steering them straight to sex like they'd deployed his favorite Catch-A-Ride?

Maybe despite initiating, she knew how fecked up this was.

Lucky for her, he liked fecked up. In fact, he liked it a lot.

Still, he wasn't into his partners being uncertain of themselves. Where was the fun in that? And maybe Amara sensed his misgivings because at the first sign of him pulling back, she kissed him again, her fingers carding again through the thick of his hair.

Hers was in his crosshairs. He swallowed Amara's attempt at a protest when his clever fingers released her locks from their confines, denying her that restraint. Her dark, rich hair fell heavily around her shoulders, and it was a real sight to behold. He couldn't recall ever seeing it let down until now and thanked his lucky stars he had such a delightful opportunity.

Leaning back, he took in the sight of her with lust-lidded eyes. Said sincerely, in his husky brogue, "So lovely."

He didn't miss the faint flushing in her cheeks or the awkward way she diverted her face, inviting him to nip along the shell of her ear and draw its lobe between a hint of teeth, sending a shiver rolling through her.

Just like they gunned down the Children of the Vault, they worked in harmony, using that uncanny harmony to divest the other of their remaining clothing.

Amara made a sound of amusement at how effortlessly Zane unhooked her bra with a flick of his wrist and helped her shoulder out of it. It hadn't even hit the floor before his hands were weighing and molding her breasts, his facial hair tickling as he mouthed along the side of her neck.

Callus thumbs circled her pebbled nipples as he leaned back, savoring her in a lingering and appraising gaze. Truth be told, he'd always been more of an arse man, but that wasn't to say her sensitive, feminine attributes didn't send even more of his blood rushing between his legs. He stopped admiring her breasts only to hunch down and grab her behind her thighs, earning a curious brow lift from her. He then stood and hoisted her upward, her muscular thighs cinching around his waist and her varnished nails scratching at his back, her laugh elated and pleased.

For her size, Amara was heavy. She was all muscle, no doubt, and attitude. Wasn't like he cared any, being as appreciative as he was, and he hadn't the mind to do more than focus on the tits now so much closer to his face.

Bracing her against the nearest wall spared his damn back, tired from the years of collisions and violent landings. Plus, it enabled his hands to wander, adroit digits tracing the dimples at the base of her back. His touch made her arch, inviting him to nuzzle at her supple skin, her arms hugging him to her cleavage.

What lovely dark nipples she had, so responsive to the teasing of his tongue. He swore she tasted like some foreign spice he couldn't get enough of, and the way her breath hitched as he sucked at her sensitive tips was positively delicious.

When she pushed at his shoulders to let her down, he obliged - but only so he could fill his palms with her. His large, warm hands cupped her breasts, callused fingers brushing nipples that pebbled at his firm strokes. He pinched them softly, making her gasp. Rolled them between thumbs and forefingers, savoring the way she sighed, and then trailed his short nails over the valley of her cleavage, reveling in the way her skin prickled with sensation.

Between them, her hands were on their own quest. She squeezed him in her right hand, left traveling to weigh and roll his sac, and damn if it wasn't sweet. She was cautious, or maybe just distracted by the way his hands stroked her sides, mesmerized by the tattoo running the entire half her body.

Seeking to encourage her, Zane nipped at her lower lip and then teased his tongue across it, inviting her to sink into him. His hand sought hers, easing one to cup his heavy sac, the other covering her curl around his aching shaft to guide her through a series of firm, tantalizing strokes.

It didn't take her long to learn his rhythm and further it, her pleasant touch tightening with confidence. It drew a rumbling hum from him, his hands grabbing her ass. He felt lust drunk with all of it, palming her shapely posterior, wholly oblivious to the stinging of his recent scars.

For how fit she was, Amara had curves - so, so many of them in all the right places. Her hips, in particular, flared in ways that shattered his defenses like his deployable shield had been shot to shite. Still, he enjoyed itfollowing her sinful shape, filling his senses with every inch of her that he can reach. Savored the way her silky skin belied her hard muscles and how it pinkened as she leaned into him.

She was so willing, it surprised even him. With wanton, she bucked her hips toward his teasing hand. His nostrils flared as they smelled how ready she was, her wetness soaking through the fabric of her violet panties. She all but bit his lip as his digits skillfully wandered, spreading her labia through the soaked material. The thinness of it clung to her swollen sex as he peeled it from her, her thighs parting with desperate permission.

Now he could clearly see that those siren markings ran the entire length of her body. Through the tattered denim of her pants, he'd seen glimpses, but hadn't let his imagination run with them. Now, there was no need, but what where was was a plethora of temptations...and one alluring triangle of neat hair that demanded his attention.

There was no time for teasing now - not with the pace Amara had set. She was so feckin' wet around the two fingers he slipped inside of her, her desire dripping down his hand as he knowingly reached and curled those clever digits where she wanted them. Crooked them deep against the place that made her walls flutter, his cock begging to be there instead. The way she groaned and sagged against him in relief, in pleasure, he nearly couldn't take it.

But he did, because he had to take her further. Craved to make her thighs trembled as they did, her breath catching as he finally, finally glided the pad of his thumb over her clit, feeling it stiffen and plead. With a hum, he swirled wetly around it, his mouth working at her collarbone, sucking and nipping and savoring the way her pulse galloped beneath his lips.

God, how he wanted to take her there, propel her over that edge, feel her coming unraveled because of him. Had there not been that desperate undercurrent between them, he would have finger fucked her properly and had her gushing all over his bed. He hoped to hell there would be opportunities for that later. Cocky bastard he was, he already knew he could entice her.

Those who wrongfully assumed men were the messier gender clearly hadn't pleasured a woman right. His insatiable history of fucking both sexes, hard and thoroughly,meant he was one to know.

He'd fully intended to push Amara to the edge despite her body resisting what undoubtedly were new sensations - but much to his equal disappointed and thrill, she stopped him before he could take her there. What she did instead, he couldn't protest: she shoved him to his bed and followed with hungry intention.

Fine by him - in any position, he bet he could teach her a thing or two.

Who was he to argue if she wanted to take the reins? He knew damn well how to be an active participant in any position, and if it got Amara off being on top, he sure as hell wasn't gonna argue.

Those arms of Amara's were strong, just like the rest of her, and it wasn't like he was resisting any. Still, the force of his calves hitting the bed had his knees buckling, punctuated by his delighted laugh. Like the tiger she was, she pounced to straddle him, her movements fluid as her legs anchored possessively around his.

She was damned gorgeous. Exotic. And looks weren't even the half of it. Zane still found himself intoxicated with the way her coloration contrasted his - warm caramel, purple, and chocolate to his alabaster white. Her skin was so smoldering, and yet her mouth as it plundered his was even hotter - molten - and he swore the air galvanized around them.

They were there, together, pawing and grinding, tongues thrusting and caressing. There was so much he wanted to do that his mind swam with it. So much he missed doing to a woman and wanted to do to her. So much of Amara that he wanted to learn, and yet there was still that sense of needy urgency. He figured it best, amidst the pressing and grinding of their bodies, to let the siren take what she wanted - to prove how much she wanted.

The way he saw it, Amara was behaving like they'd just won the gunfight of their lives and had to fuck before they died.

Damn, though - it had been a long time since he'd had his cock that close to a woman. He'd been too damn preoccupied with survival to prioritize bumping uglies in any way. Even before the cult had demanded exterminating, he'd been too busy watching his back to have a thorough tumble with anyone. Had him wondering how patient he could be.

"Y'know," he started hoarsely, eagerly reaching to assist the siren in rocking her hips against his, driving them both mad with the slick strokes of erogenous skin, "'s been a wee while since I got so lucky. Sad thing about vault huntin' and savin' the universe - not much time to fuck ya teammates, aye?"

It wasn't like he planned to shoot one off early but he supposed he was testing the proverbial waters - and found them just as wet as Amara was: soaked, just how he liked it. He wished, in that moment, that between them they'd had the patience to seat her on his face so he could make proper use of his handsome mustache. His cock jolted against the pressing bodies at the thought of it.

There'd be time later, Zane reminded himself. Unless they fucked each other to death, that was. Regardless, he hoped Amara read into his intent: to suggest that there were no real expectations - for either one of them.

"Same," she managed, sounding breathless and thoroughly distracted. "Not anyone worth my time in Partali."

"Shucks, I'm real flattered," he said coyly, with a wink.

"Zane, please," came her eye rolling, "shut your face." Then she was pushing him further back onto his pillow, shifting to raise herself on her impressive haunches.

"Less talkin', more feckin', he breathed, feeling aloft with anticipation.

As if he wanted it any other way. Wasn't like he had any words left in his head anyhow. And who was he to argue with a siren anyway? He had a brain in him, after all - 'least last time he checked, which sure as feck wasn't now-

In anticipation, Zane grit his teeth, the muscles in his jaw jumping, his hands palming for purchase on Amara's powerful thighs. He could do little else but crave, leaning back into the pillows to support her, unable to stifle his rumbling groan as as he watched her lips spread around his glans. Felt the squeeze of her silken heat as she slid down his shaft, their bodies tensing with sensation.

Christ, how her walls clamped down on his heavy length, her pussy already rippling in her desperate need to milk him. All he knew was wet, tight heat and rich, tan skin. The fissures of lean muscle. The dull, alluring violet of her lidded eyes. Full, heavy lips, and a woman behind them who knew how to use them. And an undercurrent of energy that barely sparked before rapidly catching fire, the building heat bringing perspiration to their skin.

At the feel of her atop him, his eyes fought to roll and yet all he could see was her. She was there, a stunning siren, branded and beautiful, her loose hair tipped with that same surreal blue. Her full lips glistened, her own eyes squeezed tight in a mix of bliss and focus.

He wanted to remember every part of it - the pinch of her brows at her fullness. The shuddering breath that escaped her throat as she searched for purchase with polished fingertips and slowly rolled her hips, adjusting to the stretch of him.

Zane savored those moments and appreciated the view, murmuring in gruff satisfaction. Seeing her there, in all her bare glory, hair spilling past her shoulders and her lips parted with wanton, changed everything he had expected of the siren.

He found that he even thoroughly appreciated the bracelets remaining on Amara's wrists. The round beads added another sensation as they brushed and rolled, clicking dully together as she admired his chest. And that purple crystal that glowed like eridium, combined with the crisscross network of her necklace, gave a sense that she was still in a state of undress, them both having wanted to get to this point that they'd neglected those little personal facets.

As if he'd forget this exhilarating experience, but those signature elements of hers, when he later caught a glimpse of them throughout their travels, would take him back here, to this memory, of being buried inside of her.

He should have discouraged those potential distractions. Instead, he reached up to admire the crystal between his forefinger and thumb, committing it to memory. Then, with his other callused hand, cupped her firm right breast, letting her hard nipple peek through the caressing slats of his fingers.

He probably looked damn stupid, staring up at Amara in some sort of surreal fascination. He swore he'd never seen anything hotter than the tight draw of her washboard abs and the flowing flex of those deeply etched muscles as she started riding him. As much as they were always on display to all curious eyes, he could in clear conscious swear that he'd only given them a glance of appreciation - but now he stared at her there, at her everywhere, all at once, as their bodies found their delicious rhythm.

Why was it already so damn good was what he wanted to know. Sure, he'd been in the middle of the dry spell from hell but that'd been his own fault for not giving anyone the time of day. Was hard to take a load off and shoot one off when seemingly everyone was trying to kill him. But with his experience, he couldn't deny the tangible chemistry between them - the sensual shock of electricity they shared with every touch, with every stroke, that had his hips driving upwards into her wet heat and made her powerful thighs quiver, her pussy gripping him delightfully. Maybe that was just how sex with a siren was, or maybe it was because there had been some visceral attraction that begun when she'd reluctantly joined him in that guns-blazing, goofy display of dancing he had initiated. When she'd finally let go.

Whatever it was, Zane wanted more of it, and her body was taking him, the wet sounds of their hips colliding in escalating rhythm growing in intensity.

Moaning gratefully, the operative gave in to his undeniable need to feel her pert, yet pliant breasts mold into his strong hands. As she pistoned herself up and down him, filling them both with delicious sensation, he squeezed them, craved them, pushed himself up to taste the hard buds of her dusky nipples. Rolled his hips up into her, letting the head of his cock rub into those delicious spots that made her legs shake and her trembling breath catch.

Why it had taken until then for him to come to his senses, he didn't know but that had to change. His free hand trailed easily downward, palming the curve of her marked hip, practiced touch slipping between her quivering thighs to press over the aching pearl of her clit.

The effect was immediate - the tidal wave caused by his touch crested over Amara and she threw her head back, disheveled hair spilling behind her. Her pussy fisted around him, the cascade of wordless her praises filling his ears, and the valley of her flushed breasts prickled with exhilarated sweat.

"Keep goin'," he gruffly urged, his body craving its own release but he'd be damned if he'd go just yet, inviting as the siren was. Turned out she was greedier than he gave her credit for, her hips beginning to slam against him in earnest, the smile on her face positively pleased and wicked.

Even then, he skillfully stroked and circled her sweet pulsing bundle of nerves. Backed off when he sensed her becoming overstimulated - increasing his efforts when her quivering snatch begged for him. With his other hand he gripped her ass and helped guide her strokes in eager encouragement. In turn, she leaned over him, the thick curtain of her hair consuming them.

He sighed into her as their mouths met, feeling her purr along their tangle of tongues.

Though he's the one pressed onto the bed, the threadbare sheets clinging to his moist back and his matted hair, she's the one pressing her chest to his and begging with her skin. She's the one digging her fingers into his frosted hair, hers damp and heavy and glowing aquamarine along with the distinct marks on her body. She's moaning, clearly not caring if everyone aboard Sanctuary hears what their doing. And he's panting with it, breathing hard into the aggressive caress of her lips as her tongue takes his in a battle for dominance, alternating between sucking and stroking, and he doesn't give a flying feck who wins because he is right there in that tightening, quivering core of her body, both hands now digging with need into her hips.

Together, they sounded like they'd just covered every story of Promethea at a full-sprint. Best exercise there was, Zane knew. But his determination was running out, Amara overloading his senses, from the explicit sounds of her milking pussy and the wet slap of their colliding bodies to the way her breasts bounced with their fucking.

He couldn't keep the audible strain from his voice, try as he might, his jaw tight and face etched with pleasured exertion. Asking his partner was the gentlemanly thing to do.

There was a time and mood for it and this was one of them.

"'Mara," he husked, and he could feel the crows feet of his eyes deepen with need, "mind if I go?"

He felt her clench at the lusty depths of his voice, a molten shudder running down his spine, and yet he held back, gritting his molars. He could go longer if he had to but feck, he sure as hell didn't want to. Not even the ethereal glow of Amara's spiraling markings, growing brighter with intensity, could distract from his physical needs. And he owed it to her to decide where he'd put it, which would respectfully be wherever she wanted it.

The way she hugged him with her legs and dug her nails into the hair on his chest was permission enough.

Zane Flynt prided himself as being an uninhibited man and an expressive one at that - saw nothing wrong with vocalizing the pleasure he felt with his partner, the urge to groan, throaty and deep, irresistible. Her permission, spoken in a whimper and the begging buck of her body, was all he needed to push him over the edge.

Short, sharp, her breath was panting into his ear, and she's right there with him, grinding downward as he cants his hips and surges into her, cursing desperately. His cock swells and twitches urgently and she moans, melting into the wet heat pumping inside of her.

In those divine moments, there were no wars, no vaults, no anything. Just them together, consumed in that raw, throbbing bliss, lost in the throes of feeling.

The sounds she makes are ones he'll remember when the gunfire dies down...or when he's with her again, reliving the pleasure, grinding her down into some thin mattress somewhere.

With grateful groans, they collapsed together in a sweaty heap, Amara's impressive body reduced to satisfied jelly and his own feeling more relaxed than it had in too long. The minutes that followed consisted of ragged breathing and a sense of cooling as the perspiration dried on their bodies...and the feel of his seed dripping between them.

With that urgency bled away, things got...awkward? Didn't seem to be the word for it. Confusing? Again, not really. Zane knew he couldn't quite put his finger on what the plan was but also wasn't all that worried. He figured he'd let the siren call the shots since that'd been working well so far...since their current condition was encouraging enough.

Amazing woman she was, Amara didn't fit among all the notches on his bedpost. As a man who'd had accumulated more one-night stands than any single person should have, he knew it didn't sit right for her to be shelved among them. Fleeting as his attraction to those people had been, he barely remembered them...but the siren was his partner. Furthermore, his friend. And if she later decided against them screwing again, he would have to graciously accept it. He could do that.

It wasn't like him to take relationships seriously - unless it meant cutting and running, which he had no intention of doing from his team. And making anything heavy of it, he just didn't do - wasn't in the rules - and Amara should have already known that about him.

Still, them laying on his bed, him feeling tongue-tied - the two of them aren't made for these kinds of moments; they don't work this way. He expected her to roll off to the side and that they would both stare for a while at the metal ceiling above them. Or that he'd eventually break the tension with some smartarse quip and they'd be themselves again.

Instead, Amara sprawled a little further on his chest, pillowing her cheek against the silver spread of hair there. He felt her mumble more than he could actually hear her, his heartbeat still slowing from their recent fun. Just thinking of it, combined with the feel of his semen dripping onto him from her freshly fucked slit, ran a hot hook of lust through his gut,

"You're not leaving without me and the others," she firmly told him. "It doesn't matter if you were going to tell us or not - your old ass doesn't get a choice."

Blinking his eye, Zane felt his brows lift of their own surprised volition. Was that what this was about? Had Ava brought their talk up with Amara or had she interrogated it out of the well-meaning, yet naive, commander?

His first instinct was to give Amara a playful smack on that shapely ass but he stopped short. Didn't want her feeling like some cheap fling, so instead he spoke with a tone of reasoning. Wasn't like he wanted her to regret anything.

"Plenty other ways of keepin' me around, girl."

"Oh yeah?" she countered, tilting her face to narrow her violet eyes are him. "Tell me something I don't know. Let's get one thing straight: I did this because I wanted to."

"Color me surprised - sure wasn't expectin' it. Always thought ye exclusively batted for the other team," he admitted honestly. From Amara's expression, he clearly wouldn't be the first to commit that assumption. Then his pride couldn't help but ask, pitching his voice low in happy teasing, "How long's it been since ya wanted to bang me? Since ya saw my gorgeous mug?"

True to himself, the operative flashed the siren his most dashing grin. Her snort was immediate, clearly anticipating the cocky turn of events. "Since I wanted to, boyo. That's all your ego needs to know."

"Maybe other parts o' me'd like to know," he husked, and then had to ask, "This a one-time thing or can I get all excited when ya come knockin' on my door again?"

That assumed he wouldn't be the one standing at her door, ready to lay on thick his handsomeness.

"Leave it open," Amara suggested with a sly smile, and her beauty really was stunning. And he wasn't just thinking that because he was high from a good, thorough fecking. "Or come to mine. Might be a better choice since Moze isn't my neighbor."

She was probably right. The young gunner was probably more likely to bring up the ruckus of their suspicious activities in conversation - or would she? Or would it be FL4K who, being the AI he was and therefore lacking the basic construct of human privacy, might comment on their intentions of procreating?

Chuckling to himself, Zane then sighed as his partner's fingers lazily traced the defined ridges of his abdomen, wandering dangerously close to the thatch of hair surrounding his softening manhood. It twitched in response, a thin pearl still dangling from its tip.

"Easy, tiger," he warned loftily, feeling her smile against his skin. "Let an ol' man catch his breath." Not that he needed to but was pretty sure she did.

Contented as he was, the operative caught on to her implication that they'd keep their affair to themselves. He wasn't opposed to it - he was virtually impossible to offend and understood her potential reservations against advertising the fact they'd been humping. Still, that was assuming everyone on Sanctuary remained none-the-wiser. If others hadn't heard their sexual activities already, it was inevitable that they'd remain under the radar with how sound traveled in the steel vessel.

Hearing Amara breathe in, savoring the moment, he brushed the back of her shoulder with a tender thumb and enjoyed her appreciative purr.

"Aye," he rumbled agreeably, response belated by the comfortable moment. "If they connect those sounds ya were makin' with my room, we can tell 'em I found a vault in a siren. Let 'em know I already looted it an' didn't share 'cause it was too good for 'em."

Flatly, yet bemusedly, she sighed. "You would do that, wouldn't you?"

Rhetoric or not, Zane didn't need to say. And the remark he almost couldn't wait to make wasn't too far from the truth now, was it?