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Things We Hide, Things We Seek

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The last twelve hours had been the worst of Banshee’s life.  Admittedly, he only had about three months of experience to compare it to and most of that had been fairly terrible - life under a Warlord was like that, and it had taken him a while to realise that she must have reset him when she’d acquired him- but this was a new low.

 

That morning had not started well after a night of restless sleep, and had very quickly gone further downhill.  He didn’t even know what he’d done to earn his mistress’ ire, but the application of an Arc surge to the back of his neck had sent him to his knees, and the kick to the abdomen she had followed it with had left him limping out of her chamber.  He only vaguely remembered passing a stranger as he made himself scarce; a mountain of a man in orange and white armour with an ostentatious horned helmet. Another Warlord? He hadn’t much cared at the time, had only averted his eyes and given him a wide berth as he retreated to the little corner he’d been allowed as a workroom.  He knew how he must look to a Risen; weak and pathetic, not even a shirt or shoes to his name as there were so many others in the fortress who needed to stay warm more than an Exo did.

 

He’d barely gotten back there when everything went to hell.

 

The explosion rocked through the fortress, sending its battered, worn civilians scurrying for cover.  Shouts followed it, gunfire and flares of Light, and he ducked behind the workbench just in time to see ‘his’ Warlord come hurtling backwards through a reinforced door, her Ghost appearing and rezzing her just as the orange-armoured Warlord slammed out after her.  Banshee didn’t think twice; he grabbed the most complete gun he could see and an ammo clip and bolted before he could be dragged into it.  

 

His way was blocked by one of her lieutenants, a younger Risen who had always seemed to take delight in bullying the Lightless and was currently barring a corridor to stop them from fleeing the scene of battle.  Banshee raised the gun and fired without even slowing, catching him between the eyes and dropping him. “Come on! He won’t be down long!” He shouted, his voice rusted and rasping from disuse, and was almost surprised when a gaggle of scraggly teenagers followed him.  He understood. This was their one chance to escape the Warlords’ clutches. He didn’t remember what lay beyond the walls but it couldn’t be worse than their tyranny, and he’d heard stories of what Warlords would do to people they took from their rivals to force them into line.  

 

A Solar grenade bounced off the wall behind him and he had a moment to react before it exploded.  He threw himself between it and the kids, felt it sear the sensors in his back plates and scorch the paint loose, heard a distant metallic screech and realised it had come from him, then kept running.  Better him than the humans.

 

Time stretched and skipped as they ran, out into the maze of corridors and rooms that made up the outer reaches of the fortress.  He took another Risen by surprise, one volley of bullets bouncing off shields and armour before the next took him in the gut and dropped him, diverted to avoid a third and fourth, and then their luck ran out.  The teenager at the front of the group skidded to a halt, nearly ran into the wall of a corridor that turned into a dead end, and swore desperately as he pounded his fists against it. They turned as one to get out, to try and flee in another direction, but Banshee threw up an arm to stop them.  He wasn’t sure if they heard it, but Exo hearing was a sensitive thing.

 

They fell silent, and he knew they’d heard now.  Footsteps. Heavy ones, with the metallic clank of armour overlaying them.  Banshee felt his vents catch as he backed up a step, as quietly as he could.  Maybe they could just hide; if they lurked at the end of the corridor perhaps the Warlord wouldn’t see them, would pass them by and they could live another day.  He motioned for the kids to try the doors on either side of them, but they seemed to be locked. Whatever he had instead of a heart dropped. There would be no sanctuary there.

 

If this was it… well.  Maybe he could buy them a moment, a chance to escape.  They would only have one life, and he had lived thirty-three of them even if he didn’t remember them.  He checked his ammo, cocked the gun. Not enough. Maybe enough to stagger a Warlord, give them a chance to run.  

 

The footsteps came closer.  The teenagers huddled behind him, barely daring to breathe.  Banshee dimmed his eyes as far as they would go, in the hopes that they wouldn’t show in the dim light.  

 

“Ah, there you are.”  The horned helmet looked far more menacing silhouetted against the lights of the main corridor.  Banshee took aim, his systems coursing with an electric thrum. It was madness. Suicide.

He wasn’t going back.

 

“Leave them alone!”  He snarled, trying his best to be intimidating.  This man- this Risen- would crush him like a bug.  

 

To his complete lack of surprise, the Warlord laughed.  Much more surprising was that he held up his hands. No summoned weapons, no Light singing across his form.  “I admire your bravery, Exo, but there’s no need for that. I have no desire to hurt any of you, I promise.”

Banshee squinted at him, his grip on the gun tightening when he took a step closer.  “Easy now. My name is Lord Shaxx. You are under my protection now, and I take that very seriously.”  He shifted his weight, and Banshee couldn’t help how his eye was drawn to the dark smears of blood across the hands and forearms of his pale armour.  

 

“You killed her.”  

“I did.”

“Permanently?”
“Regrettably”
“Why?”
“Because I saw how she treated her people.  I came here to bargain, but I have no love for tyrants.”  

 

The helmet hid any expression he could have read for deception, but the voice sounded earnest at least.  It was odd. It was the kind of voice that didn’t feel like it was capable of being anything but sincere, and it didn’t fit the fearsome Warlord exterior at all.  Slowly, Banshee lowered the gun. Lord Shaxx stepped back away from the corridor mouth and slowly, cautiously, humans in tow, Banshee stepped out.

 

A lot seemed to happen after that, most of it a blur of days and activity and rest.  They moved elsewhere, another fortress a day’s walk away where they were greeted by people who were tired and threadbare, but far less tired and threadbare than those he arrived with.  Some of them even smiled. He was given food- something he barely remembered- and at some point found himself with a shirt and boots that, though worn, were sturdy and comfortable. There was even a mechanic who saw to the Solar burns across his back with care and gentle hands.  It was far from perfect; scarcity still dogged them and keeping everyone fed and safe seemed a heavy task, but the thick, choking blanket of fear that had hung over him for as long as he remembered seemed to lift a little.

 

And always, there was Shaxx.  He was easy to spot; head and shoulders above everyone else and always clad in that white and orange armour.  The helmet seemed to be a permanent fixture and Banshee wondered if he even took it off to sleep but didn’t dare to ask anyone.  His former Warlord had rarely prowled the corridors herself, had sent her lackeys instead, but Shaxx seemed determined to check up on everyone himself on a regular basis.

 

It was, Banshee realised quite quickly, checking up rather than supervising.  Shaxx’s people greeted him, they looked him in the eye- or at least, as close an approximation as they could- they didn’t shrink and bow and flinch away from him the way the newcomers did instinctively.  He helped.  Banshee thought he’d finally gone insane and started hallucinating when he saw the Warlord personally hefting a massive steel beam and holding it in place while it was welded to repair a breach in the wall surrounding his fortress.  He thought he’d shorted out and died when he saw him carrying four or five children around, on his shoulders and slung under his arms and clinging to his back.

 

Much to his concern, Banshee seemed to have caught his attention.  On the walk back Shaxx had fallen into step with him, chopping his stride to meet Banshee’s shorter one, and asked him about himself.  As soon as Shaxx had gleaned that he had some skill with machinery and weapons craft he’d gotten visibly excited and asked him a dozen other questions of varying degrees of technicality, surprising Banshee with his intellect.  He’d expected a brute, not someone who eagerly asked him to look over some schematics on their return.

 

Shaxx’s armoury was extensive, and the workshop attached to it simple but well-stocked.  Notably, he didn’t have the intimidating, threatening presence of some would-be Warlord lackey looming over him while he worked there; he was left alone for the most part after the first few days.  Banshee supposed that, to Shaxx, any rebellion on his part would be a nuisance at best. It wasn’t as though he’d be able to permanently kill him and he’d already shown his colours as far as being a threat to the civilians here.  

 

A week passed, two, three.  He got to know people, got to eat most days even though he technically didn’t need to.  He looked over Shaxx’s plans with him and had to admit that some of the designs were downright inspired; Shaxx knew what he was doing, and he was delighted to hear that Banshee thought so.  One of them became a project, and Banshee was grateful for the work to occupy his mind. It helped to distract him from waiting for the other shoe to drop, because he realised very quickly that that was what he was doing.  It had to be an illusion somehow, this relative safety, and every time he was alone with Shaxx he expected… something. Nothing happened.

 

His sleeping mind tried to fill the gaps for him.  Nightmares were nothing new to him or any Exo that he knew of, but the violence of his dreams took on a more specific form now.  Instead of hopeless battle he dreamed of small rooms, of a figure larger than life in orange and white, of armoured hands pinning him down and taking him apart and that blank, unreadable helmet looming over him, that earnest voice asking him if he was alright, to wake up…

 

He jolted.  The dream faded.  The helmet remained.  He wasn’t sure if it was Exo programming or human instinct that moved his hand, but he regretted it the moment his fist collided full-force with white plasteel with a sickening crack and crunch.  Shaxx jerked back and Banshee scrambled away, missed a handhold on the side of his bunk and hit the ground hard with his fans roaring, trapped between the bed and the wall. He was going to die here, he knew with a panicked certainty.  He’d dared to attack the Warlord and he would destroy him for it.

 

He’d cracked the helmet.  He stared, wide-eyed in the dark as Shaxx stood and touched the damaged part with slow, probing fingers.  Surprise, or just drawing it out so that Banshee would know how badly he’d fucked up before he killed him?  That blank face turned his way and his fans stuttered and stopped, every joint locked up.

 

“That’s an impressive arm you have on you, Banshee.”  Shaxx remarked, and he almost sounded amused, “I never quite realised how strong Exos were.  Come, let me help you out of there, it’s alright.”

The hand that was extended to him was open, honest, gentle.  Baffling. “You’re not gonna kill me?” Banshee blurted before he could help himself.

“Why would I do that?”  Shaxx tipped his head to the side, his hand still in place, “I think I would react just the same if I found someone in my room unexpectedly.  Especially after such a nightmare.”

How did Shaxx know that?  Why was he in here? He shouldn’t keep him waiting, he realised dimly in the wake of his relief, and let Shaxx pull him back upright onto the bed.  “Why were you…”
“I heard you shouting.  It sounded like you were being attacked, so I meant to intervene.”  Shaxx sat down on the other end of the bed, giving him space without looming.  “I found you just sitting staring at nothing. I made some assumptions. I apologise if I was wrong.”

 

Banshee was horribly conscious of how small he was compared to the Warlord, and he had to resist the urge to hunch over where he sat and make himself even smaller.  “No, no I… it happens. Exos don’t dream well, I'm used to that. Thank you, m’Lord.”  

“Think nothing of it.  I had no idea your kind dreamt at all…"  he paused a moment, then shook his head and stood.  "I'll let you rest."

"Thank you."

 

Shaxx left, and Banshee thought he saw him rubbing at his jaw through the helmet as the door closed behind him.  He didn't sleep for the rest of the night, mind racing between possible explanations and simple relief that he was still alive.

 

Nothing happened for a couple of days, other than that by the time Banshee saw him again Shaxx had fixed his helmet and there was no evidence of what had transpired.  The Warlord left him alone, didn't come by the workshop to check on his projects even, and though that wasn't unusual it made him antsy. It still felt like he was waiting for something.

 

It happened three days later.  He turned on the workshop light and stopped dead, staring.  The surface of his bench had been covered in a layer of wildflowers, some slightly crushed and a little wilted but still varied and beautiful, a black case nestled among them.  He circled the bench warily, looking for any sign of a trap, but he saw nothing. Carefully, he picked up a long-barrelled sniper rifle from a rack and used it to prod the case, half expecting it to explode or otherwise injure him.

 

Nothing happened.

 

He stepped closer, reaching out to brush flowers from the surface of the case at arms length.  It was hard and slightly rough to the touch and it seemed old, though so many things here did. The clasps were secure and he had to actually approach and use both hands to open it.

 

Nothing jumped out at him, nothing exploded, no corrosive gas or mysterious liquids escaped.  Within the case was a set of tools, all beautifully polished and meticulously organised by size and function.  He didn't remember ever having seen tools that seemed so well cared-for, and he gently ran his fingertips over them in wonder.  

 

There could only be one person who could have orchestrated this.  The civilians of the fortress wouldn't have left its walls unaccompanied and wouldn't have anything like this that they would be willing to give away.  It had to be Shaxx.  

 

But why?  What had he done to draw such a gift?  How was he supposed to respond? More to the point, how did he respond without angering the Warlord?  His taking offense could still be deadly, even if he'd been merciful last time they'd met. He ran his vents in a long sigh and started carefully clearing the flowers away to a safe spot.  Throwing them away seemed like a surefire way to cause offence. He set the tool case on a shelf next to the bench and settled in to work with his usual supplies instead- they seemed far too nice to mar with oily hands and the scratches and scrapes of actual use.

 

The next day brought far less flowers - not none, but less- and his bench held a collection of polish and wax and small pots of paint in colours suspiciously similar to his own plating.  None of those were traps, either, and he opened each one to examine it before setting them on the shelf with the toolkit. Some of them seemed to have been used previously, but he wasn't going to complain about that.

 

It was a quiet day, so he used some of the paint to touch up some scrapes and marks along his forearms that he'd had as long as he could remember, and moved on to trying to tidy up the markings on his face once he'd gotten used to handling the brush.  It was strange, seeing himself looking put together and fresh, but he felt a little better about his situation after that.  

 

It might have been his imagination, but next time he left the workshop and passed by Shaxx he could feel the Warlord watching him.  

 

The next day it was a set of little brushes, meant for cleaning between delicate joints and seams.  They looked new, the bristles made of some kind of animal hair carefully embedded in thermoplastic, and he was loathe to use them and ruin them.  It was getting too much. He couldn't let Shaxx keep giving him things, not when he didn't know what he would want in return.

 

He looked to the project weapon he'd been building for him.  He could finish today, he suspected, and surely that would put Shaxx in a good mood.  It was an excuse to talk to him at least, and maybe he would bring up the gifts and Banshee would have a chance to ask why without marching up to him unprompted.  He shook his head and set to work.

 

It took a lot longer than he'd thought, and by the time he was done he had no idea what time it was but the sounds of life beyond his door had long since subsided.  He straightened and stretched with a creak of joints before wiping gun oil from his hands and surveying his work. It was a little piecemeal, mostly assembled from recycled materials, but he was certain that it would work as Shaxx had desired.  He checked the clock on the wall behind him and winced. If he were mortal the Warlord would likely be asleep by now, but he had no idea if Risen even slept like normal people. Tomorrow, then, he would enact his plan.

 

At least, that was what he thought as he tidied up and turned to leave.  The door opened before he could touch it though, and he froze as it swung back to reveal the enormous form of Lord Shaxx taking up the entire doorway.  Tucked under his arm was a small box and dangling from his hand was a rusty bucket full of wildflowers. Somehow, despite the helmet, he managed to look as much like a deer in headlights as Banshee suspected himself to look.  Neither of them spoke for a few seconds, and then Shaxx tucked the bucket behind his back as though there was any chance left of being subtle.

 

"Ah, Banshee, I… didn't expect you to still be here."  He remarked, doing a very bad job at acting like he wasn't flustered.  Banshee took a moment to come up with something intelligent to say, so thrown by what he was seeing.

"Yeah, I was uh, finishing off that project for you m'lord.  It's done." He added, jerking a thumb at the bench helpfully.
"Oh.  Oh right, yes, that.  Excellent. I had hoped to leave you a gift but it seems you've given me one instead."  He fished the box out from under his arm and held it out for Banshee to take.

 

He did so, finding it to be lighter than he'd expected.  Shaxx was watching him still, or at least appeared to be, and he found himself incredibly conscious of how he opened the box.  A pungent smell burned its way through his olfactory sensors and he blinked a couple of times, peering down at the small jar of reddish-brown powder within.  He'd never seen anything like it before, but the smell set off something long-forgotten in the back of his mind. "This is… food? For food?"  

"In a manner.  I did some research and learned that it's much easier for Exos to taste strong flavours.  I thought a little spice might make the food here more palatable for you."

 

Banshee's brain stalled on that.  Of all the things for Shaxx to be considering, his enjoyment of the food wasn't exactly high priority.  He fed him, what more could Banshee have possibly wanted? "I… my Lord, I can't accept this…"

"You don't have to call me that."

It took him a moment to gather the courage to reiterate.  "Shaxx. I can't accept this. I don't even need food. It'd do way more good for the rest of your people.  I know you care about that and you've done a lot for me already…"

 

Shaxx was silent for a while, and Banshee resisted the urge to back away from him.  What good would it do? There was one way in and out of this room and the Warlord stood between him and it.  "I understand," Shaxx said, shoulders sagging a little, "and your concern for them is admirable. Did my other gifts please you, at least?"

"I… yeah.  A lot, actually.  But I… my... Shaxx, why?  I don't understand what I did to deserve this."

 

Shaxx averted his eyes for a moment, or at least turned his helmet away.  “I find certain things about you… appealing. You didn’t hesitate to threaten me to protect others even at the risk of your own life, and you are Lightless but punched me hard enough to actually hurt.  There’s not many who can do that. I know you are wary of me - understandably, perhaps rightly so- but I had hoped to gain your favour.”

 

When Banshee didn’t respond straight away, his thoughts reeling too fast to leave his mouth, Shaxx ploughed on.  “I wouldn’t take anything from you that you’re not willing to give, of course. There’s no obligation here. Just… an offer, I suppose.”
Banshee’s mouth light flickered as he tried to find his voice, his fans whirring softly.  He suspected he knew, but he didn’t know Shaxx well enough to be sure. “An offer of what?”

“Companionship.  More, perhaps. I’d like to get to know you better at the very least.  Anything that happens will be at your pace, of course, I’ve no interest in a relationship based on fear.”

 

Shaxx’s face was unreadable behind his helmet as always, but there was that earnestness in his voice again that made him far easier to trust than he should be.  Banshee nodded slowly, the box of spice still clutched in his hands as though it might hold answers. “I’ll… think about it?”
“Of course.  You don’t have to decide now.  But… well, you may as well have these, anyway.  I spent half the evening picking them and it’s a shame to waste them.”  Shaxx held out the bucket of flowers and Banshee took them, noting how bright they were among the greys and browns and whites of his workshop.  Blue cornflowers and yellow dandelions, pale forget-me-nots and vibrant buttercups. Shaxx had clearly had a theme in mind. He wondered dimly where the Warlord had gotten so many flowers, whether they grew just beyond the walls where Banshee had never seen.  

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.  Go and rest, you’ve done me a great service building this weapon.  We’ll test it in the morning, and I won’t mention this… other business, again until you give me an answer.”

 

Shaxx departed, and Banshee waited a couple of minutes to ensure he wouldn’t awkwardly run into him again before disappearing back to his own quarters.  His dreams were unusual that night, disturbing in their calm. The Crypt loomed as it so often did but he and Shaxx walked alone through a sea of golden grass, a place he’d never seen in the waking world.  At least, not that he remembered. No words were spoken and Shaxx never touched him, but somehow it felt like they came to some kind of understanding. He woke more gently than he had in months, but it didn’t feel like sleep had refreshed him much.

 

He spent the morning tinkering with various unimportant bits and pieces and repairs in the workshop, his mind occupied elsewhere while his clever hands worked away on autopilot.  How did he feel about Shaxx?  The fear of him lingered still, of course.  But if he wasn’t afraid, what would he feel?  He’d learned a few things about himself quite quickly in the four months that he remembered; firstly that sex drives were a thing that happened to Exos, and secondly that his tended to be directed towards his own gender.  He hadn’t really had much opportunity to act on that, between avoiding his former Warlord’s ire and scraping to survive, but he had looked and seen others look at him and he had imagined.

 

Imagining Shaxx in that context was… distracting.  He had no experience to draw upon, but his mind seemed to know how to fill in the gaps of what might happen, and though he had no idea what he might find under the Warlord’s armour the thought of it made him fumble and drop the pistol he’d been working on.

 

Typically, that was when Shaxx let himself in, right as Banshee was bending over to retrieve the fallen weapon.  He heard the door creak but couldn’t quite straighten in time to avoid giving the Warlord a fantastic view of his backside, and he thought he heard Shaxx stifle some kind of noise as he turned around and ducked his head.  Shaxx looked as composed as ever.  A little tense, maybe, but it was hard to tell under the armour.  “Are you ready, Banshee? I’ve set up the range for us, I’m keen to see what this beauty can do.”

 

Seeing Shaxx handle the gun solidified his thoughts.  It shouldn’t have, but the professional part of Banshee’s mind admired how well Shaxx managed the powerful weapon, how excellent his aim was.  The less professional part noted his height, the breadth of his chest and the thickness of his arms and his thighs, the ease with which he rearranged the heavy barrels he was using as targets, the deep timbre of his voice when he laughed in triumph after scoring a particularly excellent hit.  Really, it should have made him more frightening to know he was both huge and a competent killer, but it was very different to know that all of that power was on your side.

 

He was supposed to be observing the testing, and part of him was actually doing that.  The other part got very distracted thinking about those massive hands on his waist, how easily Shaxx might lift him despite his heavy metal frame.  That part was very much winning by the time Shaxx looked over at him, tipping his head as he asked what he thought. He froze for a second, trying to manage a coherent response.

"You handle it well,"  He started, then corrected, "of course.  You're the expert here far as that goes. Looks like the power output is what we expected, any adjustments needed to sights or recoil?  Hard to tell how it'd be for someone… mortal." He at least stopped himself from saying 'smaller', though it was hard with Shaxx looming over him.

"We could find out.  I felt a little recoil but the sights are perfect."  Shaxx held the gun out to him. He hesitated a moment before taking it, startled to be trusted with live ammo.  He supposed it shouldn't surprise him, not with what he knew about Shaxx's opinion of him.  

 

The gun was heavy, but he'd expected that.  He knew this gun like the back of his hand. It was the first one he remembered building from the ground up but he knew it couldn't be the first, it had felt far too natural, and bracing it against his shoulder to aim down the sights at Shaxx's impromptu targets also felt like something he had done a thousand times.  He slowed his fans to steady himself and squeezed the trigger.

 

The recoil nearly knocked him back a step, but the shot hit dead centre and Shaxx let out a triumphant exclamation.  "You're a fantastic shot, who would have thought?"

"Might need more dampening if it's for someone other than you."  Banshee remarked, avoiding his gaze as subtly as he could and thanking whoever had built him that his Exo features didn't betray how he felt about the compliment.  They had been rare things in the past, but Shaxx was so free with them.

"That may serve me well if someone tries to steal it.  No, I hoped to keep this for myself. Thank you. You've certainly earned a reward, if you so desire."

 

Banshee's mind went to some interesting places, and he flushed his vents with a gust of air before he tried to respond, trying to hide their whirr.  "You've done enough for me. But… I did give what you said some thought…"

"Oh?"  The hope in Shaxx's voice was strange to hear, eager and open.

"I think I would be willing to… be persuaded.  See what being your uh, companion would be like."

There was a little crackle across the surface of Shaxx's armour and for a moment a flash of fear rippled down Banshee's back, but all the Warlord's body language seemed delighted.

"That's wonderful!  You won't regret this, Banshee, I assure you!"  He declared. It was just as well they were alone, he thought, because Shaxx had a very loud voice.  Something must have shown on his face because Shaxx paused and continued in a lower tone. "Will you join me tonight for a walk?  I usually patrol the fortress before retiring for the night. It's pleasant, especially up on the walls where the view is good."

“Sure.”  He tried for his best approximation of a smile, which was more of a squint and flicker of his mouth light, but Shaxx seemed to understand.

“Fantastic.  I’ll fetch you after dinner, just before sunset.”   He promised. Banshee made to hand the gun back to him, but Shaxx put his hands out to stop him.  They had to be twice the size of Banshee’s, and that certainly gave him a lot to think about. He had never really thought of himself as a small man before.  “Take care of this for me, will you? It can go in the armoury until it’s needed.”  

 

Banshee nodded and, once dismissed, hurried back.  Had he just agreed to a… date? With a Warlord? Someone who could snap him in half with barely a thought and certainly no consequences?

 

Maybe Exos really did lose their minds when they got reset too many times.

 

He spent the rest of the day distracted and when dinner finally arrived he ate quickly, on the lookout for Shaxx.  The Warlord seemed to eat alone, or at least Banshee had never seen him in the communal hall where the Lightless gathered.  He assumed that Risen needed to eat, at least, but what did he know? He hung around for a little while, but Shaxx only found him when he was on his way back to his room.  “Ah, there you are!”

He jumped when the voice sounded behind him, and Shaxx somehow managed to look apologetic.  “My apologies, Banshee. Did you have anything else to attend to or are you ready for me?”
“Oh, no, I’m ready.”  Nervous, but ready. Shaxx didn’t seem inclined to hurt him, after all.  If he’d wanted to he could have just dragged him off and had his way with him, he reminded himself as he fell into step with him and they headed for the fortress wall.

 

He learned a lot about Shaxx in the next couple of hours, ambling along the perimeter with him and watching the sunset shoot fire across the mountains around them.  He liked to read anything and everything he could get his hands on, knew the names of the birds they saw and the plants that grew in the cracks in the wall itself. He knew a lot about his people too, knew every Lightless by name and made an effort to have them trust him rather than fear him, worried about that even.  He valued loyalty and bravery and willingness to protect. Shaxx learned rather a lot less about Banshee, by virtue of there being much less to learn, and he stared at him for a long moment when Banshee admitted he only remembered about four months of his life. He ended up explaining what he understood about Exos and wandered off into talking about guns, the one thing he reliably knew about and didn’t seem to have forgotten.  Shaxx asked questions, he was interested and curious, far more intelligent than Banshee would ever have given him credit for when they met and far more respectful than he’d imagined anyone would ever be to him.

 

At some point one of those huge, gauntleted hands brushed against his metal fingers in a silent question, and Banshee hesitated a moment before turning his hand so that it fit into Shaxx’s palm and could be gently held.  Despite himself, he was enjoying this and it didn’t hurt to appease the Warlord, after all. Shaxx didn’t acknowledge it aloud, but there was a sag of his shoulders that Banshee interpreted as relief as they wandered on hand in hand, the conversation continuing.  They parted after perhaps half a minute, but Banshee would swear he could feel a faint tingle of electricity in his hand for several minutes afterwards.  

 

Their patrol eventually returned them to the halls of the fortress and ended outside his door, where he cast about for something to say that wouldn’t be awkward.  “Thank you,” he said, since it seemed like a good start, “don’t think I’ve ever had an evening like that.”  

“Well, I’m always happy to repeat it.  You’re delightful company,” Shaxx said, and it sounded like he was smiling behind the helmet, “if you enjoyed yourself, of course?”
“I did.  Yeah, I’d like that.”  He nodded, trying to meet where he thought Shaxx’s eyes might be.  Was he waiting for something? Was there something…

 

His mind chose that moment to remind him that kissing was a thing, but that was ridiculous .  Shaxx had kept his helmet on and Banshee… well, Exos weren’t built for kissing, really.  Sensual face biting, at best. Luckily he was saved from that by Shaxx reaching out to gently take his hand again.  He bent down a little and raised it to where his mouth probably was, allowing Banshee’s knuckles to graze his helmet before letting go and straightening.  “Well. I’ll… let you rest, I suppose. I’ll come and see you again soon.” Banshee could only nod, fairly certain that from anyone less sincere the gesture would have been far less charming, and stare at the Warlord’s retreating back as he left before slipping into his room, a little stunned.

 

A few days passed uneventfully before Shaxx snuck into his workshop to leave gifts again, this time a wide, woven scarf of some kind of soft material that wrapped comfortably around his shoulders and ended up staying there, even though he felt a little bad that someone else could probably have made better use of it.  A note on actual paper fell out when he lifted the folded fabric, a bold hand inviting him to join Lord Shaxx in his library that evening.  

 

He went, and told himself it was because displeasing the Warlord was a bad idea, but he knew that wasn't the only reason.  Shaxx's genuine interest was appealing and it drew him in; being desired was something he had no memory of and he found himself wanting more of that attention.  He wore the scarf, draped loosely and tucked into itself around his neck, and when Shaxx came to the library door he perked up visibly to see him. "Banshee. You liked my gift, then?"  He asked as he stepped aside to let him in, "I know you fret about others going without but fear not, such things are easily made here. Most are just not so decorative. I wanted you to have something nice of your own."

"I do like it."  He said, toying with the fabric with his fingertips as he gazed around the library, instantly distracted  "Where did you get all of these?"

 

He had had a vague understanding of what a library was before this, but he hadn't expected so many books in one place.  Datapads stacked on shelves that could contain thousands of pages of data each, storage media he didn't recognise at all and actual, physical books of paper and ink, ancient and yellowed and no doubt fragile.  There were even a few engrams awaiting decryption, lighting the areas around them in blue and purple and drawing the eye to their cases. The room wasn't particularly large- enough for a couple of chairs, a couch and a rough-hewn table nestled within the circle of shelves- but it was tall, ladders extending up several stories into the towering stacks. Shaxx chuckled quietly.  "Somehow I expected you to be curious. Some of them I found myself, some were scavenged by exploration parties from here or taken from other Warlords, and some were given to me in the hopes of winning my favour. Suffice to say, it worked. I think it's important to preserve knowledge and culture where we can, and I allow those who have my trust to share in this collection. That certainly includes you, now."

 

Banshee managed to pull his gaze away from the library's grandeur and back to Shaxx, who seemed to be watching him expectantly.  He didn't know what to say, so he settled for "Thank you."

"Think nothing of it.  You deserve it." Shaxx gestured to the room at large.  "Feel free to explore, take your time. Read with me a while, perhaps.  This is probably the quietest place in the fortress, even if we might not always be alone here."

Shaxx settled onto the couch and picked up a datapad from the table, still looking comfortable there even in full armour.  It was an odd sight, but no more odd than Banshee had come to expect from the Warlord. He wasn't sure if he was actually reading or just pretending and watching him, but he decided to obey and moved to one of the shelves to investigate.  

 

He soon forgot to be self-conscious, caught up in investigating the vast and varied collection.  Everything from technical manuals to ancient, pre-Golden Age literature to cookbooks to poetry, organised by some system he couldn't determine if they were organised at all.  It took some time to decide on something, and he ended up with a datapad of old novels with a crack across the screen, which he held with exceeding care as he made his way back to the seating area.  The self-consciousness returned; would Shaxx expect him to sit on the couch with him or prefer his space? He was a large man, but there was certainly room to join him and Banshee was struck with the bizarre notion of leaning into his bulk and getting comfortable.  He dismissed it instantly; far too forward, might give Shaxx the wrong idea, and settled instead for taking the opposite end of the couch.

 

Shaxx was a remarkably unobtrusive presence as he settled down and got utterly absorbed in the book, and Banshee lost track of time entirely.  He didn't notice he was dozing off until a large hand gently took the datapad from his fingers, where it had started to slip. He turned his head and froze when he found Shaxx leaning over him, the helmet less than a foot from his own face.  Neither of them moved for a moment, Banshee unsure whether he should feel threatened or… something else. Shaxx retreated first. "My apologies if I frightened you. I thought you were asleep and didn't want you to drop this." He said, waving the datapad vaguely.  

"It's okay.  I'm not scared of you."  He said, his voice coming out slightly distorted.  He hoped Shaxx would mistake it for having just woken, rather than that he was flustered.  It was mostly true at least, so he didn't need to worry about Shaxx calling him on a lie. The man was still intimidatingly huge, but he'd given Banshee no reason to believe he would actually hurt him.  Compared to everything else he'd known in this life, Shaxx was a saint.

"Hmm.  You have no idea how much it pleases me to hear that."  Shaxx remarked, his voice oddly soft.

 

Banshee wasn't quite sure what possessed him afterwards.  It seemed important to prove himself, and perhaps Shaxx was just that charming, but he was seized by the urge to lean up and bump his mouth against Shaxx's helmet in his best attempt at a kiss.  They met with a gentle clink and he stayed there just for a moment before retreating.

 

Shaxx remained unreadable, and for a moment Banshee worried that he'd been too forward.  The Warlord lifted a hand to where Banshee had touched for a moment, then slowly reached out to take his face in his palm and draw him up to touch their foreheads together.  Banshee could feel his gaze on him even though the helmet was as opaque as ever. "You're very brave, I love that." He said, just loud enough to be heard. Banshee felt almost electrified, plating tingling where they touched, and he found himself wanting more.  

"Not gonna kiss me back?"  He asked, trying to keep his tone light and almost playful.  It wouldn't do to demand anything from Shaxx. The Warlord let him go.  

"I want to, but not here.  It's… complex." He explained, looking away and pushing himself to his feet where he began to pace back and forth.  "Come and see me again. Tomorrow night, at my quarters. If that's not too fast for you? I might have a solution."

Banshee's jaw twitched and his mouth flickered slightly, but he couldn't reply right away.  It seemed strange, but then he'd never seen Shaxx without his helmet, even in places like this where he should be able to relax.  Clearly it was important to him, and it was strange to catch a glimpse of such an insecurity from someone usually so loud and confident.  He was curious, but… perhaps it was too fast. Shaxx's quarters suggested more than just a kiss could easily happen...

 

Shaxx must have interpreted his hesitation as refusal, because he shook his head.  "Never mind. I'm sorry, Banshee. I didn't mean to push you. I'll leave you to your own devices, I only ask that you don't take anything out of this room."

He turned to go, and Banshee found his voice as he pushed himself to his feet.  "No, wait. It's… not a no. Just not yet. I want… I don't know what I want yet.  Tonight was good though. I definitely want to spend more time with you." He said, sagged a little.  "I'm sorry."

"No, don't be.  This has moved quickly and you owe me nothing.  We'll take a walk tomorrow instead?"

"That sounds good."

Shaxx departed, and Banshee waited a few minutes before heading back to his own room, his systems slowly winding down now that he was alone.

 

The next day was uneventful until, typically, half an hour before Banshee was due to finish and go and meet Shaxx.  The heavy duty rocket launcher he was supposed to be repairing had been badly damaged and the casing wasn’t cooperating with him, so of course the sensible option had appeared to be trying to slide the blade of a flat-headed screwdriver under it and pry it off.  Which worked. Sort of.

 

The casing sprang free and the screwdriver kept going, jamming itself several inches into the joint between his wrist and his thumb where he had been holding the launcher.  He jerked back with a loud, distorted curse and grabbed his forearm, watching as the tool stayed lodged and black hydraulic fluid leaked down over his hand, his fingers going limp.  The pain seemed to pulse along his forearm and he resisted the first instinct to yank the screwdriver out. More damage, more pain.  

 

The flow of fluid stopped as emergency valves closed in his forearm and he squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, trying to will his pain receptors to turn off.  No luck. He sank into a chair and let out a hiss of static, head tipped back against the wall and jaw clenched.  

 

Of course, that was when someone knocked on the door.

“Little busy.”  He ground out, trying to keep his vocaliser from glitching and failing.
“I heard shouting.  Banshee, are you alright?”  Shaxx. Of course it was, because he needed the Warlord to see that he’d stabbed himself.  

“Minor accident.  I’ll be fine.”  

“I’m coming in.”

Oh no.

He opened his mouth to protest but Shaxx had already entered, already seen the slick trail of black on the floor and Banshee clutching his arm, his eyes flickering a little as they focused on him.  He crossed the room in two strides and knelt before Banshee, taking his arm with far more care than might be expected from such a huge man. “What happened?”  

Banshee felt whatever he had instead of a heart flutter in his chest and had to gather himself before he could speak.  “Slip of the hand. It’s jammed in there pretty good.”

“Right.  So I see.  Is there any danger of this getting worse?  Can you bleed out?” Shaxx wasn’t looking at his face as far as he could tell, instead carefully examining the screwdriver.
“Don’t think so.  Can’t move my hand and it fucking hurts but it’s not gonna kill me,”  At least, not as long as Shaxx didn’t think he was too useless to keep alive with damage that stopped him from working.  

“Might need some help fixing it.”  He dared to admit. He didn’t want to think too hard about that, because if he did he’d become far too aware of his metal skin, the wires where nerves and sinew ought to be and the hydraulic fluid slick over his hand that should be blood.  That way lay death, though he refused to tell Shaxx that.


“Don’t worry about that.  We have another mechanic.”  Shaxx assured him, his fingers hovering over the shaft of the screwdriver.  Banshee couldn’t help flinching, but Shaxx removed his hand immediately. “I’m going to take you to him.  It’s alright, I won’t hurt you I swear, and neither will he.”  

 

Banshee moved to push himself up, then suddenly found himself swept up in Shaxx’s arms.  He yelped, a sound like microphone feedback, and clung to the Warlord’s shoulder with his good arm.  “I can walk!”
“This is faster.  People tend to get out of my way.”  Shaxx remarked with just a hint of amusement, then set off.

 

Infuriatingly, Shaxx was right.  People did get out of his way, flattening themselves into doorways or up against the wall to avoid him.  Banshee just hid his face and hoped that somehow they wouldn’t notice that Shaxx was carrying one of only a handful of Exos in the fortress rather than a human.  Not that he was ashamed of the Warlord’s fondness for him, but… well, favouritism didn’t always play out well for the favourite. Luckily, the mechanic didn’t even question it as he slid out from under the vehicle he’d been repairing and apparently effortlessly switched gears to Exo repair.  Banshee kept his eyes closed and tried not to think too hard about what was being done to him.

 

The mechanic was masterful, teasing the screwdriver loose and patching the damaged lines with sealant, and within half an hour Banshee could move his hand again.  It still hurt, but that would fade as his self-repair mechanisms did their work. Shaxx stayed with him, his hand resting between Banshee’s shoulder blades for support, and he found himself leaning into it.  It was strangely soothing, and when they were done he found himself not wanting to lose that. When was the last time someone other than Shaxx had touched him gently? He genuinely couldn’t remember.

 

“I suppose our walk will have to be postponed.  You should rest after that.” Shaxx said to him as he escorted him back to his room.  He allowed him to use his own legs this time at least, but he had a sinking feeling that people might still talk after this.
“Doesn’t mean we can’t spend the time together.”  Banshee pointed out, sticking close to him. Being repaired had left him a little off-kilter, feeling a little less human, and contact seemed to help.

"I could stay with you, if you wanted?"  Shaxx's suggestion was accompanied by a big arm tentatively going around Banshee's shoulders, and though he knew it should be intimidating he leaned into it as best he could while still moving.  His mind still snagged and tried to remind him of the wrongness of his body, but being able to feel the weight of the arm and the texture of the armour helped to chase away the nagging discomfort.  

"Please.  I'd like that."

"Your room?  The library? Mine?"

His room was cramped.  The library wasn't fully private.  Shaxx's room was an unknown quantity.  At least it would give him something else to think about.  "Yours."

 

They diverted down a different corridor.  Shaxx didn't live all that far from him, apparently.  A brief flash suggested the appearance of Shaxx's seldom-seen Ghost as it opened the door for them and was immediately gone again, and they slipped inside.  

The room was about twice the size of Banshee's, with a bed more suited to a man of Shaxx's stature and a cluttered desk in the other corner.  A hand drawn map covered one wall, depicting the fortress and the area around it with various pins stuck into it, labelled with symbols Banshee didn't recognise.  A smaller bookshelf held various tomes and trinkets and an armour stand stood empty nearby, two ancient-looking swords crossed on the wall above it. A light flickered to life overhead as they entered, illuminating the space in a soft yellow-white light.

 

Shaxx let go of him and stepped away, considering.  "Make yourself comfortable. I'm going to take some of this armour off."  He said, then laughed when Banshee blinked in surprise, "I do remove it sometimes, you know.  I don't think you're going to stab me right now, unless I've aggrieved you somehow and not noticed."

"Fair point.  I'm not really in a stabbing mood, no.  I'm more of a gun guy, y'know?" It was a long shot, but it did seem to amuse Shaxx and he chuckled.  

"Sit.  I'll join you in a moment."

 

He sat, the mattress sagging under his weight.  He did his best to avert his eyes while Shaxx undressed, since it seemed respectful, but when he felt the mattress move with his weight he dared to look.  

 

Shaxx had kept the helmet on, and that was the first thing he noticed.  The next thing was that even without his armour, he was a massive, well-muscled figure.  The black undershirt and form-fitting trousers he wore under his armour left little to the imagination even though almost all of his skin was covered, and Banshee felt his fans spin up as Shaxx settled back against his pillows, apparently entirely comfortable.  He caught himself staring and looked away, focused on removing his boots rather than what might come next.

 

"You're nervous."  Shaxx observed. "It's alright, you set the pace here.  If all you want is to sit and talk then we can do that."

"I'm fine."  He said, closed his eyes for a second to steady himself and turned to scoot a little closer to Shaxx once the boots were removed.  He knew firmly what he wanted for the first time since this had begun but asking Shaxx for it seemed daunting. Warlords didn't cuddle, of this he was certain.

"I can see you thinking.  It's alright, say what's on your mind."  Shaxx assured him.

 

He took a moment to organise those thoughts before he let them be vocalised.  "Takes a lot to kill an Exo, physically. But getting hurt does stuff to us. Reminds us what we are.  That we're not human, and that… I know it's weird, but that can kill us on its own." He shifted, letting his back rest against Shaxx's arm, "doing human stuff helps.  Eating, sleeping, contact with people. Y'know?"

"I think I understand."  Shaxx said, his arm extending to tuck around Banshee's shoulders and pull him in against his side.  He was warm and the tingling sensation where they touched was stronger without the armour, but not unpleasant.  Banshee released some tension he didn't realise he'd been holding through his shoulders and settled against him.  

"Thanks."

 

They stayed there for a while, quiet and peaceful, the warmth of Shaxx and the deep, steady sound of his heartbeat soothing the agitated corners of Banshee's mind.  It left him room to think about other things, like Shaxx's hesitancy the night before. "Did you still want that kiss?" He asked eventually, breaking the silence. To his surprise he felt Shaxx tense slightly.

"I do.  With some caveats…"

"Yeah?"

"I'm going to turn the lights off."

 

Banshee sat up a little, turning to look up at him.  "I don't get to see your face?"

"You don't want to see my face."  Shaxx shook his head, paused. "You can't see in the dark, can you?"

"My eyes glow.  I'm never really seeing in the dark."

"Damn.  Can you… turn that off?"

"Can try."  Banshee nodded.  It was strange, but Shaxx had made such efforts to make him feel comfortable, he could give him this much.  

 

As it transpired he could in fact turn his lights off, though the only reason he could tell was a shift in the reflection in Shaxx's helmet.  "Alright. If you want to do this…" he leaned over to flick the light switch by the bed when Banshee nodded, plunging the room into near-total darkness.  Banshee heard the soft click of the helmet catches releasing and the quiet whirr of his own cooling systems, but waited until Shaxx guided him up with a hand on the back of his head before he moved.

 

Soft, human lips brushed his mouth and he parted his jaws ever so slightly.  He wasn't experienced at this but something in the back of his mind knew what to do and his hand lifted to seek out Shaxx's face.  His fingers brushed through short hair, his palm rested on a stubbled chin and strong jaw and he wondered why this was so secret. Shaxx's tongue pressing into his mouth distracted him and he tilted his head to accept it, cursed his inability to return the gesture that was sending little prickles of pleasure down his spine.  It was surprising how quickly his reservations evaporated under that gentle yet insistent touch, Shaxx exploring his mouth as though it fascinated him, his large, callused fingers tracing the delicate joints in the back of Banshee's neck and the small antennae dotting his head.  

 

He did his own exploring, his thumb following the curve of Shaxx's jaw down towards his chin and finding an abrupt edge where the texture changed from prickly to smooth and strangely ridged.  Scar tissue? He drew back slightly, brushing his fingers over it and finding an interruption, a gouge that seemed to go into bone. Shaxx pulled away with a startled sound and Banshee froze. "I'm sorry" he said immediately, taking his hand away.

"No.  You're curious.  Which I suppose is to be expected."  Shaxx sighed heavily.

"I… can go, if you want?  I won't say anything."

"Don't.  Please. I didn't want to drive you away, that's why I didn't show you."

 

Banshee didn't think that was the whole story, but he didn't argue that point.  "Given what I look like, I'm not gonna be bothered by some scars." He told him instead, leaning in to where he thought Shaxx's face was to try and touch their foreheads together.  He missed slightly, headbutted him gently in the nose instead, and startled a laugh out of him before Shaxx rearranged them into the desired position.

"That's sweet of you.  I don't want you to see but… well, I suppose if I want to kiss you you're going to have to touch my face.  And I do want to." Lips brushed his mouth again briefly, and he felt Shaxx's fingers brush his forearm and adjust to take his hand and bring it back to his chin.  "Go ahead."

 

Banshee hesitated a moment, then let his fingers follow the line of scar tissue.  It widened, crossed Shaxx's lips in a jagged band and carried on over- no, through- his nose and into part of his eye socket.  He felt Shaxx close his eye as he touched near it, and on impulse he followed the touch with a kiss as he drew his hand back. "What happened?"

"I don't know.  I was reborn like this."

"Huh…"  he wanted to say it wasn't so bad or that Shaxx was handsome anyway, but he knew it would be bullshit.  It didn't matter. It was strangely easier to be bold in the dark, he found. "Doesn't matter to me. You've treated me right and I'd be lying if I said I didn't like looking at you, helmet or no."

"Really now?"

"There's a lot to look at."  He slid his hand down Shaxx's shoulder and onto his arm to squeeze his biceps and felt him chuckle as much as heard him.  

"And here I thought you were intimidated by me."

"At first, yeah.  I know better now.  You won't hurt me."

"You're so sure."

"Just saw you panic about me stabbing myself by accident.  And I've seen how you treat people normally, too."

"I'm not like other Warlords, hm?"  Banshee heard the smile, and leaned in to kiss him again gently.  Shaxx took the invitation and it was easy to melt against him, sparks dancing across Banshee's plating where they touched and making his vents stutter and his vocaliser crackle.  It shouldn't feel so good and he was well aware of how much Arc Light could hurt, but here and now it set his systems thrumming with a low burn of desire. He leaned in and wrapped his arms around Shaxx's neck, wanting more contact as an anchor in the dark, and he felt the Warlord's hands around his waist, holding without trapping him.

 

Ending up in Shaxx's lap hadn't initially been the plan, but it was just easier to kiss him like that even if the extent to which he had to stretch to get a knee either side of his thighs was almost obscene and extremely distracting.  Shaxx, to his credit, kept his hands entirely above the belt and when Banshee pulled back, fans running hard and his plating warm, he didn't chase him. "Alright?"

"Yeah.  Yeah, just, hm, maybe I should stop before I run outta nerve.”

“Of course.”  Shaxx let him go, let him clamber off onto the mattress again.  He was a little glad of the darkness, that Shaxx wouldn’t see the effect he’d had on him to its fullest.  “Did you want to stay the night, or should I put the lights on so you can find your way out?”

“I won’t impose on you.”  If Shaxx wasn’t happy having his helmet off around him, how was he going to go about waking up with him?  He would have to fumble about in the dark and most likely it would end up embarrassing for both of them.

 

He heard the scrape of the helmet against the bedside cabinet, a click of clasps, then the light came back on.  He squinted a moment as his eyes adjusted, their lights flickering back to life, and there was Shaxx as Banshee had always seen him, helmeted and inscrutable.  “You can find your way back?”
“I’m getting pretty good at this place.”  Banshee nodded, carefully sliding off the bed and onto his feet.  “Thanks, for taking care of me, and for… y’know, being patient.”
“It’s alright.  You don’t owe me your affection, you know.  I’m grateful for what you give.”

"I know.  I'm doing this coz I want to.  Haven't gotten to make a whole lotta choices that I remember."

 

Shaxx sat up a little, then seemed to restrain himself from whatever he'd intended to do.  "Well, I hope that that isn't the case here. You have a choice. Even outside of… this, between us.  Even if you'd rather pursue different work or… Well, I wouldn't advise leaving, certainly not with winter coming, but if you were set on it I wouldn't stop you."

"Don't worry.  I don't want to leave.  I mean, not the fortress.  I'm gonna go…" he jerked a thumb at the door awkwardly.  Big conversations about feelings and choice were for another time when he wasn't half-tempted to just give in and fall into Shaxx's arms and let him have his way with him.  Shaxx just nodded and bid him goodnight, and he hurried back to his room.

 

Sleep, though, proved elusive.  Something inside him ached, seemed to think it had missed out.  It was a familiar itch that he'd never been alone or relaxed enough to scratch in his old home, but here in the dark and quiet of his own space his body remembered what it wanted.  He rolled onto his back, hand sliding down his body to tease the closed panel between his legs. It parted easily and his cock slid free, ready and waiting after being denied earlier.

 

Jerking himself off was no substitute for what he imagined while he did it, but considering how quickly he came perhaps it was better he got some experience on his own first.  It did at least help him to sleep, and for once his dreams weren't unpleasant.

 

They did, however, leave him with a raging hard-on that had to be dealt with before he could get up and go about his day, which wasn't a problem he'd experienced before.  His body seemed to have gotten a taste of what could be, and now demanded he make up for his neglect of that particular need. Even without trying he found himself thinking of Shaxx, his strength and the stretch in his thighs when he'd straddled his lap the night before.  He'd never imagined that something like that could be so arousing, but here he was imagining himself splayed open and bared for the Warlord as he shook himself apart and buried his face in the crook of his arm to muffle the weird microphone feedback sound of his pleasure.

 

It was odd, going to his workshop like normal after that.  He couldn't get Shaxx out of his mind, his thoughts circling back over and over to the breadth of Shaxx's thighs, the rough calluses on his hands touching his face and neck.  He considered himself lucky that he was mostly left to his own devices to work, so it didn't matter too much if he was distracted and he sometimes forgot what he was supposed to be doing with the parts he found himself holding. It was annoying though, even though he tried to deny that anything had changed for several days.

 

He still went for walks with Shaxx, around the walled perimeter, and occasionally their hands would brush and he would feel a shiver of anticipation down his spine that he tried to chase away.  They talked just the same, but Banshee found himself mentally checking every word out of his mouth for double meanings and innuendo that he didn't necessarily intend, so certain was he that his body would betray him now that it had had that little glimpse of Shaxx.

 

Shaxx even invaded his dreams again, those huge hands pinning him as they had before but this time their touch was pleasurable, sparking ecstasy through him instead of pain and he woke up trembling for an entirely different reason, his fans running hot and circuits singing from the orgasm that had jerked him to consciousness.  He half expected to find the Warlord in his room again, but he had no such luck. He sagged back into his mattress and covered his eyes with a quiet groan, glancing at the clock he'd built for himself and groaning a little louder at the time. How was he supposed to sleep after that?  

 

He dragged himself out of bed after an hour of trying, deciding to get an early start to the day.  He found food and wandered down to his workshop, processor still working on a proper boot up, and as he opened the door he stopped short and wondered if he was still dreaming.  

 

There stood Shaxx, armoured as ever and looming over his work bench where he seemed to have left another gift.  He turned quickly and neither of them moved for a second, Banshee's eye lights flickering for a moment in an imitation of a surprised blink.  He was, remarkably, the first to speak. "Do you even sleep?" He asked, sounding far more exhausted than he'd intended to.

"Not as much as a normal person, no.  Though I could ask the same of you" Shaxx said carefully, leaning on the bench.  "Are you annoyed that I'm here?"

"No, just… surprised.  Couldn't sleep. Don't really need to, just keeps me feeling human."  Not that he hadn't been keenly aware of the shortcomings of human feelings recently, and being in the small room with Shaxx after that dream was bringing them to mind again.  His eyes flicked to the desk to avoid looking him in the helmet, and his mind jumped straight to whether the surface was sturdy enough to support their weight.

 

He clawed himself back, huffing through his vents to steady himself.  Shaxx was watching him and the Warlord tipped his head thoughtfully. "Are you alright?  Nightmares again?" He asked, his voice full of concern.

Did Banshee dare tell him?  He knew Shaxx wanted him, he'd made that quite clear, and at least part of him wanted him back, but he really shouldn't be thinking with his dick at a time like this.  "Not nightmares exactly," he said slowly, choosing his words carefully, "Just… intense dreams. Too buzzed to go back to sleep."

"Anything you want to talk about?"  

 

Banshee really wished he hadn't asked that question, not when he was still suffering the dream's effects and his judgement was clearly impaired or he would have just said no.  "You got a while?" He said, leaning on the door frame. If Shaxx had elsewhere to be he couldn't just jump him. It would be embarrassing for both of them.  

"A few hours, barring emergencies.  It's very early."

"Good."  He was doing this, it seemed, and he wasn't sure if the prickle up his back was fear or anticipation as he pushed himself off the door frame and approached.  "I dreamed about you. And now I'm wondering if what my brain came up with measures up to the real thing."

 

Shaxx seemed surprised as he planted his hands either side of the Warlord's hips on the work bench.  It might have been sexier or more forceful if Banshee came up higher than his chest, and Banshee was suddenly very aware of that.  Maybe he should have been clearer in his intent, he thought, but barely managed to finish thinking it before Shaxx caught him by the waist.  "Are you suggesting what I think you are?" He asked, his voice noticeably lower and a little more strained all of a sudden. 

"Yeah.  Yeah, I think I am."

"Right here?"

"It's early, right?  Not much chance of interruptions."

Shaxx made a deep, thoughtful noise in his chest that Banshee could almost feel through his armour, and his hands slid down Banshee's back to cup his ass.  He shivered and leaned back into the touch, then crackled and grabbed Shaxx's shoulders as he was lifted into the air nearly effortlessly, his legs going around his waist for purchase.

"Alright?"  Shaxx asked, still holding him up with one hand while the other wandered back up his back, toying with the fabric of his shirt.  

"Don't drop me."  Banshee replied, mostly to cover how damn hot that was, how conscious he was of his crotch pressed against Shaxx's armour, how thin his trousers seemed all of a sudden.  Shaxx just chuckled and tipped his head to nuzzle at Banshee's neck and even without the application of lips he shivered.  

"Have you done this before?"  Shaxx purred, his gauntleted hand making its way up Banshee's spine and setting his plating tingling.

"Don't know.  Doesn't matter.  I want you." He said, his hands trying to find gaps in Shaxx's armour where he could touch him and let him actually feel it.  He made a frustrated buzzing sound when he realised Shaxx would have to put him down to take the armour off, and was about to mention it when there was an odd sparkling sound and abruptly he had to cling tighter with his legs to avoid slipping.

 

"What-"

"Ghosts are very useful things, quite aside from keeping me alive."  Shaxx remarked, amused, as he squeezed Banshee's ass. Or at least tried to, since the metal didn't yield much even to his powerful grip.  He still had the damn helmet on, but the rest of the armour was gone and Banshee could feel the muscles shifting in his back as he ran his hands over them, kneading with the softer pads of his fingers where they were particularly hard and pleasing.  He knew he was heavy, even being much smaller than Shaxx, but the Warlord didn't seem to be straining at all to hold him. He slid down a little, but only because Shaxx seemed to want him to. His vents hitched and he braced one foot on the work bench behind Shaxx as the Warlord shifted his hips to press against him.  He may not have much to compare to, but he could feel how big Shaxx was through the underlayer he still wore and it was all he could do not to grind on him with a staticky moan.

 

“You make such interesting sounds.”  Shaxx said, doing the grinding for him with a long, steady roll of his hips that made it very clear that he was as interested as Banshee was.  Another groan escaped him, despite himself. “I could listen to you all day, if you’d let me.”

“I’d let you.”  He said, though a moment later he wondered where that had come from.  Shaxx’s deep chuckle made him shiver again as he turned them around to lay Banshee back on the bench.  He immediately propped himself on his elbows as Shaxx backed off, squinting at him indignantly as the Warlord looked him over, the movement of his head almost exaggerated so that Banshee would know for sure he was being checked out.  

“I think I have an idea.”  he said, stepping back and groping for the light switch.  His fingers paused on it. “If you’ll trust me to take care of you?”
“I do.”  Not that it mattered whether the lights were off or not.  He was at Shaxx’s mercy here, and he’d brought it on himself.  

 

The lights clicked off and Banshee held still, listened to Shaxx moving around in the dark, the click of helmet clasps and the gentle scrape of it being set aside.  His vents hitched as hands ran up his thighs, working his trousers loose and teasing the flexible plating over his stomach with thick, callused fingers as he tried to remember how to turn his eye lights off.  Shaxx was trusting him with this too, after all. He moaned in relief as his cock was freed, shuddered at a gust of hot breath against the silicone that coated it. Something warm and wet ran from base to tip, and it took him a moment to realise it was Shaxx’s tongue.  The Warlord’s hand rested on his hip to keep him still as he arched up into the touch, the heat that followed as Shaxx’s lips wrapped around him and drew him in. A burst of static forced its way out of him at the faint scrape of teeth, knees drawing up slightly as his hand found Shaxx’s head.  Shaxx paused, thumb stroking a seam in Banshee’s hip in a silent question until Banshee’s grip relaxed a little in answer.
“Sorry…”

Shaxx didn’t answer, just withdrew to drag his tongue over the head of his cock and suck it gently into his mouth.  Banshee groaned, joints in his back creaking quietly as he shifted against the bench and pulled a tool out from under his shoulders.  Less intense, less overwhelming, but no less pleasurable for it. How could Shaxx be so good at this?  

 

He went a little more slowly after that, swallowing Banshee down inch by inch and holding him down so he couldn’t buck into his mouth, even when the need was almost overwhelming.  He loved every moment, the heat and the tiny wet sounds and muffled grunts and moans that Shaxx made, the weight of his hands on his hip and thigh and the occasional tiny Arc jolts that sent sparks up his back and along his inner thighs and had him clenching on nothing.  Shaxx worked over every millimetre of him, tongue and lips and just a hint of teeth at the edges and Banshee sprawled across the bench, blind and reduced to static and half-glitched, stuttering moans.
“Fuck, wait, wait, please…”  He rasped, trying to claw together some self control before he came far too soon.  Surely Shaxx wouldn’t be satisfied with that?

“Hm?”  Shaxx made an inquisitive sound without bothering to lift his mouth off Banshee’s cock and that almost finished him right there.

“Don’t wanna leave you…”  He gestured vaguely, trying to find the right word when his brain was trying to melt out of his ear and his fans were distractingly loud, “wanting.”  

Shaxx laughed, and that did undo him.  He arched with a strained static burst and a roar of fans, having to save himself at the last minute from crushing the Warlord’s head with his thighs.

 

Shaxx pulled off of him and he shivered as the cool air of the room replaced his warmth.  He didn’t go far though, his hands sliding up under Banshee’s shirt. “Was that…?”
“Mmm.  Sorry, I tried, I’m not used to this…”
“Shh, it’s alright.”  He felt lips press against his heated stomach plating, fingers gently brushing the vents at the side of his ribs.  “I expected something… messier, but of course you wouldn’t have bodily fluids…” He sounded fascinated, and Banshee felt his fans spin up again under his attention.  

“Think there’s mods for that…”  He said, though he wasn’t sure how he knew it.  Shaxx chuckled, fingers exploring the seam between thigh and hip that was slick with his spit from their previous activities, “Wait, don’t, you’ll lose a finger in there if I move wrong.”

“That’s not so much of a problem for me.”
“Yeah but it’ll make a mess and that joint’s a bitch to clean.”  Clearly, coming in Shaxx’s mouth- sort of- had done wonders for his ease around the man, and hearing him laugh again only cemented that further.

“Well, I’ll have to find somewhere else to touch you then.”  His fans hitched as Shaxx trailed his hand down, fingers brushing the base of his cock and exploring the edges of its housing before tracing the seam of metal and silicone between his legs until they found the rim of his entrance.  He whined softly, hips tilting to encourage him. Apparently he wasn’t spent, and he certainly wasn’t complaining about that. 

"This might do."  The tip of one finger pressed into him and Banshee shivered, looking for somewhere to hold on and finding Shaxx's other forearm.  It didn't hurt, but there was a stretch and drag that was strange and he suspected it would be uncomfortable if they pushed it too far.  “Hm. Do you have anything slick?”
“Gun oil?”  He suggested, reaching back and trying to remember where he’d left it in the dark.  

“That’ll do.”  Shaxx withdrew, his hand moving to Banshee’s inner thigh like that would help him restrain himself for the time it took to fumble around and find the bottle he needed.  At least the scavenged containers were all different sizes and Banshee was familiar enough with his space to identify it by touch, or it could have gone very badly indeed.  He uncapped it and inhaled through his mouth to give it a sniff before handing it over, just to be sure. The solvents he kept wouldn’t hurt him, but Shaxx might have a bad time with them, and he didn’t want to find out what happened if you put etching fluid on exo genitals.

 

Shaxx took it from him and took his hands off him for a moment, then that gentle but insistent pressure was back at his hole and he gasped as a finger pushed inside, easier than before.  At least, he assumed it was Shaxx’s finger; it felt a lot bigger than he’d expected but there was still no pain, only the ripple of motors inside him squeezing down on the intrusion. Shaxx took a shuddering breath. “Relax.  I’ll never fit if you clench up… there, much better,” he soothed his other hand up Banshee’s chest, finding all the small, sensitive plates that lit his systems up and made him want to squirm into the touch. A second finger joined the first and his head fell back against the bench with a clunk and a glitched out curse, hips rolling to draw them deeper.  The stretch should hurt, he thought, but clearly he had been built with this in mind and he silently thanked whatever Golden Age genius had decided Exos needed to fuck.

Shaxx leaned over him as he pushed his fingers deeper and curled them, exploring his body from the inside and finding the sensitive spots, the rings of contractile motors that adjusted to keep him tight around him without crushing anything.  He seemed determined to find every spot that made Banshee’s vocaliser glitch, seemed to revel in figuring out just how many strange sounds an Exo could make if you pleasured them enough. Banshee was hard again just from this, his fans blasting hot air and his fingers digging into the desk.  The moment Shaxx came close enough he reached up to wrap an arm around his neck, the other trying to sneak between them to touch himself. His knuckles brushed Shaxx’s chest and the Warlord tsked at him, half pulling out before thrusting back into him to make him whine. He caught his wrist and pinned it up above his head, weight on his forearm where he wouldn’t interfere with any joints.  “Not yet, darling. Patience.” He purred, his lips brushing Banshee’s throat, followed with a faint scrape of teeth on metal when he yielded and tipped his head back for him. “Think you’re ready for me?”
“Yeah.  Fuck yes, please.”

 

Shaxx withdrew his hand and Banshee heard him fumbling with his clothes, but was powerless to help since Shaxx kept him pinned.  A hand touched his thigh, grip gentle but firm, and spread his legs so that Shaxx could fit between them and press into him. His mouth light flashed but no sound came out and Shaxx kissed him gently, tracing the edges of his jaw as he sank into him with a shuddering gasp.  “You’re incredible.” He groaned, perhaps a little louder than he’d intended. Banshee turned his head to kiss him properly to try to shut him up, fingers gripping the fabric of his undershirt harder. It felt like Shaxx would split him open, and he would love it and beg him for more.  He already was, wordlessly, his hips twitching up to take more of him.

 

It seemed to take forever for Shaxx to bottom out inside him, his hips flush with Banshee’s ass, and he tilted his head to nuzzle at exposed cables in his neck.  “Alright?”
“Amazing,”  he assured him, arm squeezing tighter around Shaxx’s shoulders, and then in a fit of boldness added, “Move.  You wont hurt me.”  

Shaxx didn’t need to be told twice, and he gripped Banshee’s arm harder as he pulled almost all the way out of him before thrusting back in, his thick cock dragging against Banshee’s sensitive walls and making him gasp hungry static.  His motors tightened a little and the next thrust had him clinging to Shaxx’s shirt, his fingers almost tearing through the fabric as Shaxx moaned loudly and buried his face under Banshee’s jaw to try to muffle himself. Anyone who passed the workshop would know what they were doing instantly, but he found that he didn’t care much as long as Shaxx kept moving, kept pinning him to the benchtop and lighting up every sensor he had.

 

Arc tickled across his plating everywhere they touched and Banshee arched up against him, bearing down on his cock and pressing their chests together with a glitched groan as lightning flashes lit up the dark room.  He still couldn’t get a glimpse of Shaxx’s face, hidden in his neck as it was, but the brief hints of sculpted muscle were beautiful.

 

It didn’t take much of that to reduce Banshee to electronic sounds and roaring fans and clinging hands, legs around Shaxx’s waist and the bench rattling against the wall with every thrust as he urged him on harder, faster.  He could take whatever Shaxx would give, and the Warlord seemed determined to push both their pleasures as high as they would go, his hand flexing on Banshee’s arm and thigh. Banshee tipped over the edge first with a feedback screech of overloaded vocaliser, his body clamping down on Shaxx and dragging him over with him with a barely-contained shout and a hot, full rush inside him.

 

Banshee’s plating trembled slightly as he rode out the high, his legs slowly unclenching from around Shaxx’s waist as he went limp on the bench, his fans roaring and slowly cycling back down to normal.  Shaxx held him for a few moments more before backing off and sliding out of him, and he shuddered at the sensation of something slick and warm dripping down the seam between his thigh and his ass. "Fuuck" Banshee rasped, letting out a heavy sigh through every vent he had and sagging against the bench.  

"You enjoyed that?"  Shaxx asked, and Banshee heard him groping around for his helmet and the scrape as he picked it up and put it back on.

"Mmm.  So good"  He pushed himself up on his elbows and blinked into the darkness, trying to make out the shape of Shaxx in the lights of his eyes, but they didn't penetrate far enough.  "Lights?"

 

They clicked on and he squinted for a moment before his eyes adjusted.  Shaxx had his helmet back on and was tucking himself back into his pants, and he glanced over at Banshee and froze for a moment.  "What?"

"Just admiring the view."  He said, tilting his head. Banshee looked down at himself and felt his fans spin up at the mess between his thighs.  He moved to pull his pants up and Shaxx held out a hand. "Just a moment, here… here!" He cast about for some kind of fabric and picked up an oily rag, then thought better of it and had his Ghost transmat a towel into his hands which he tossed to Banshee.  "We don't want to ruin your clothing."  

 

Since Banshee only had the one pair of trousers he was inclined to agree, and cleaned himself up before he pushed himself to slightly wobbly legs and dressed.  Shaxx put a hand out to steady him and he accepted it, his head swimming in bliss. He didn't want to move, but he couldn't stay on the bench. "We have a few hours before the rest of the fortress wakes up, most likely."  Shaxx added, letting him lean into him once he'd had his armour returned to him. "Think you'll be able to sleep after that?"

Even upright, cuddling Shaxx seemed like a very good idea.

"Only if you stay.  I need a new pillow."  He said with a quiet chuckle, and Shaxx put an arm around him and squeezed gently.  

"That can be arranged.  I have a certain amount of leeway in my duties."  

 

Somehow, Shaxx's bed was the most comfortable place he'd ever been.  The Warlord didn't lay down fully, but Banshee found it easy to get comfortable laying half on his chest as he settled down with a book, and the dreamless sleep that followed was some of the most restful he had ever experienced.