Warmth against his chest, soft skin under his hands and arms around him… Aubrey sighed and felt flesh under his cheek. This dream was more real than anything he’d experienced yet. “Niobe?”
“Aubrey?” The voice was in his ears, not his mind, and it wasn’t feminine.
The body under him had a heartbeat and breathed. It wasn’t a dream. Aubrey opened his eyes to firelight and the interior of a small cave. He lifted his head and found himself staring into Seht’s sleepy blue gaze. He was sprawled right on top of him. They were bare chest to bare chest with a blanket wrapped around them. It was actually pretty cozy, if a bit intimate. He felt his cheeks heat. “Um…”
Seht smiled. “You decided that it was time to sleep, so I found a cave to sleep in.”
Aubrey winced. “I passed out on you.”
Seht curled his arm behind his head. “That too.”
“Sorry.” Aubrey moved his hands from Seht’s bare chest and leaned to shift away.
Seht closed his other arm around Aubrey, holding him on top of his warm body. “Stay where you are, Aubrey. Go back to sleep.” He closed his eyes.
Aubrey set his palms on the ground to either side of Seht’s waist and felt some kind of air mattress spread under them. “You want me to sleep on top of you?”
Seht smiled but didn’t open his eyes. “That is where I put you, is it not?”
Aubrey felt a stirring in his loins and knew he needed to be somewhere other than where he was. Immediately. “I can sleep on the ground.”
“No, you cannot. It is too cold, and the ground is much too hard for you.”
“Seht, really, I can’t sleep on top of you.” His current position was too similar to the dreams Niobe had given him, and his body wasn’t noticing the obvious differences. He shifted to move away.
Seht closed both arms around him and raised his knees, trapping Aubrey between them. “Stay where you are, Aubrey.”
Aubrey felt Seht’s bare belly shifting under his. He frowned. How far down was his suit open? His cock began to harden. Shit…
“Seht, I really think I should sleep somewhere else.”
Seht’s hand slid down his back. “You do not sleep well anywhere but here.”
Seht opened one blue eye. “Put your hands back on my chest. You take a chill too easily.”
“I’d rather not.”
Seht sighed. “Aubrey, you have difficulty sleeping anywhere other than where you are. I would like to get some sleep myself. Please, put your hands back on my chest and go to sleep.”
Aubrey winced and put his hands back on Seht’s warm chest.
“Good. Now, lay your head down.”
Aubrey set his cheek against Seht’s chest. And stared at a stiff pale pink nipple. He closed his eyes and felt heat coiling into his cock. Very slowly, he twisted his hips to keep his swelling cock off Seht’s belly.
Seht’s hand pressed against Aubrey’s butt, keeping Aubrey firmly flat against his stomach. He sighed and rolled his hips, bringing one hell of an erection up against Aubrey’s.
Aubrey stiffened and his eyes opened. “Seht?”
Seht groaned. “Do not tell me you have never felt another man’s cock before?”
Aubrey curled his hands closer. “Been in a tank sixteen cycles, remember? I hadn’t reached majority yet when they put me in it?”
Seht trembled under him. The trembling became chuckles. “Are you saying that you are a virgin?”
Aubrey clenched his teeth. “It’s not funny.”
Seht threw his head back and howled with laughter.
Aubrey’s cheeks flooded with heat. He pushed up angrily. “So I’ve never fucked before.” At least, not a living person. “Damn it, Seht, it’s not a crime!”
Seht locked his arms around Aubrey and grinned. “No, it is not a crime, but I have been fucking for a good many years. It has been a very long time since I found a virgin older than myself!”
Aubrey scowled. “Seht, quit being a pain my ass.”
Seht’s smile turned predatory. “I haven’t even begun yet.”
The hair on Aubrey’s neck stiffened in instinctive alarm. He didn’t like that smile one tiny bit. Especially not when there was a very hard cock pressed against his. He shoved against Seht’s chest. “Let me go.”
Seht’s grin disappeared, and his arms closed tight around him. “Aubrey, stay. You do not sleep well anywhere but here.”
Aubrey rolled his eyes. “Right.” He pushed against the hard chest under his palms. “Seht, let me go.”
Seht’s eyes darkened, and his mouth tightened. “Aubrey, please. I can’t…” He closed his eyes and sighed. “Your nightmares tear at me. Please. You sleep quietly this way.”
Aubrey stiffened. “Nightmares?”
Seht turned his head away. “I do not know what was done to you, but it makes you…weep.”
The energy left Aubrey’s body in a rush. He eased back down on Seht’s chest, curling his hands in without thinking about it. He turned to face the fire. “They used me to kill the crews on the ships they took. They said forty-seven ships in the past nine cycles.” He swallowed. “I have no idea how many in sixteen.”
“You told me you did not do this willingly.” Seht’s voice was calm.
“I was…hacked into. The nav-pilot accessed the programs out of my head to do it.” Aubrey took a deep breath. “I was a subroutine to the ship’s sentience.”
Seht cupped a hand to the back of Aubrey’s head, pressing Aubrey’s cheek to his heart. “Who is this Niobe?”
Aubrey winced. “She was the ship’s sentience.”
Aubrey closed his eyes and rubbed his cheek against Seht’s soft skin. “I’d rather not say.”
“Aubrey, you were shouting at her to stop and weeping. What did she do to you?”
“She, um…” Aubrey bit down on his lip. It sounded so stupid to say that you were raped by a ship sentience. It wasn’t as if it was done by a live person, even though it felt real enough while it was happening. The body count was certainly real enough.
“Aubrey, you are shaking.” Seht’s voice vibrated with a touch of anger. “What did she do?”
Aubrey’s chest tightened. He shifted to his side a little and curled up as tightly as he could to hold the pain in. “It sounds so stupid.”
Seht’s arms closed around him, holding him in place. “Whatever she did, it was not stupid.” He sighed. “Tell me.”
Aubrey closed his eyes tight. “When I fought to keep them out of my head, she used…sex…to get in and take whatever they wanted.”
Seht stilled; then his arms tightened. “You were raped?”
“Yeah.” Aubrey felt his heart burst in his chest. He grabbed his elbows to hold it in. “She didn’t want to do it. She was so lonely, and I was the only friend she had. She would show me the stars she flew past.” He barely felt the tears burning down his cheeks. “She knew she was…raping me. I could feel how much it hurt her every time she…did it, to get at what was in my head. She wanted to stop. She begged me to just let them take it, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. People died every time they used my programs.”
Seht pressed Aubrey’s head to his heart. “It’s over; it’s done. She’s gone. The ship was dead before I found you.”
“She did it on purpose. She came here because I can’t get into your ships. She had me pulled from the tank and sent to an escape ship. The captain found me, but I crashed the ship and he’s dead. She came here to free me, and to die.” Aubrey’s body shook as the sobs came tumbling out. “She killed herself for me. Everybody dies because of me.”
“Aubrey, stop.” Seht sat up and caught Aubrey’s shoulders, trapping his gaze. “Listen to me. You did not kill those ship crews.”
Aubrey shivered in Seht’s grasp. “It was my program --”
Seht shook his head. “That you did not willingly give.”
Aubrey sucked in a small breath. “No, I didn’t.”
Seht’s gaze hardened. “Think. If my brother were to beat me to the ground and take my gun from my hands, and then he went out and killed a hundred people with it, is it my fault that they died?”
Aubrey stilled. “No.”
Seht raised his brow. “Whose fault was it?”
Aubrey's brows dipped. “Your brother’s.”
Seht pursed his lips and tilted his head. “Say that he returns the gun to my hands, but then he wants to use it again. Say also that I refuse to let him have it, because I know that he intends to harm others with it, but he takes it from me anyway and kills more people with it. Is it my fault those people died?”
Aubrey frowned. “No, you didn’t shoot them.”
Seht raised his brow. “Nor did you.”
Aubrey opened his mouth.
Seht pressed a hand to his lips. “No, Aubrey. You said no, and you fought to stop them. You did not win your fights, but you did not use that weapon to kill those people. The weapon was not in your control.”
Aubrey scowled. “It wasn’t supposed to be a weapon!”
Seht rolled his eyes. “In the hands of a skilled assassin, a sheet of paper can be a deadly weapon.”
Aubrey’s brows shot up. “A sheet of paper?”
Seht smiled. “Remind me to show you sometime.” His brows lifted. “Now, who really
killed all those ship crews? Who chose which ships to use that weapon on?”
Aubrey felt a knot of white-hot hate enfold his heart. “Moribund. He was the one that pulled me from my ship and killed everyone else. He ordered me sent to the airlock because I told him I’d rather die.”
“Did you now?” Seht tilted his head. “That is who was after you, is it not? Those were his men.”
Aubrey nodded and scowled. “The captain said that I’m Moribund’s most valuable possession.”
Seht smiled. “I should think so. Your program made it possible to steal a great many ships. Without you, he will have to go back to his original method.” He raised a brow. “What I do not understand is why he did not simply make a copy of your program and then kill you?”
Aubrey winced. “He probably has a copy, not that it will do him any good. The program is in my personal coding language.” He glanced away. “When I was a kid, I got hacked into at school.” He shook his head. “It was for some stupid homework assignment, but it pissed me off, so I invented a coding language of my own. I store everything in it. It switches to normal coding when it’s activated, but without the keys, it won’t activate. That’s what Niobe was doing. When she…” He took a breath and released it. “They mapped me and found where the keys were stored, but they couldn’t activate them. She would…make me cum, and it would trigger the keys.” He shrugged. “I still don’t know why it worked, but it did.”
Seht nibbled on his full bottom lip. “Climax is a full-body release. It may be as simple as that. When your body released tension, so did your mind.”
Aubrey raised a brow. “How did you get so good at explaining stuff?”
Seht smiled. “When you are blamed for a great many things, you eventually learn how to rationalize just about everything.” He leaned closer. “My uncle claims that arguing with me is like arguing with a bulkhead.”
“I can see the similarities.” Aubrey smiled. “My dad used to tell me I was too smart for my own good.”
Seht snorted. “I can definitely see the similarities there.”
Aubrey sighed. “So, now what do we do?”
“Now?” Seht closed his arms around Aubrey and pulled him down onto his chest. “Now, we sleep.” He pulled the blanket up over them. “Hopefully you will rest this time.”
Aubrey frowned at him. “You still want me to sleep on top of you?”
“Definitely.” He closed one arm around Aubrey’s waist and set the other under his head. “You may sleep under me next time.”
Aubrey pulled his hands in. He was too exhausted to fight anymore. “If there is a next time.” He took a deep breath and coughed, and coughed. He leaned over Seht’s side to spit the blood from his mouth.
“Aubrey, do you wish to live?” Seht’s voice was very soft.
Aubrey stared at the blood on the ground. “I can’t afford to let Moribund get me again.”
“I have a way to save your life and keep Moribund from ever touching you again. Do you want it?”
Aubrey settled against Seht’s heart. “What? A mind-wipe?” He considered it. It would stop Moribund from killing people, but everything he was would go with it. “I don’t want my mind wiped. Better to just kill me. I don’t think I could live with an empty head.”
Seht took a deep breath. “No, I will not wipe your mind. You could stay with my people, with me.”
Aubrey yawned. “As what? What could I do for your people? I don’t even know the language.”
Seht rubbed his palm across Aubrey’s back. “As my personal consort.”
Aubrey frowned. “Is that like, your lover?”
“Yes, and my friend. You would be part of my household.”
Aubrey turned to look at Seht. “You’re serious?”
Seht winced. “Is the idea of being my lover so awful?”
Aubrey thought about it. Seht was certainly attractive enough. His dick was still hard. Seht seemed to genuinely like him, and he liked Seht… “I’d have no problems being your friend, but I have no idea how to be somebody’s lover.”
Seht smiled. “It will be my great pleasure to teach you pleasure.” He closed his arm around Aubrey’s back. “Sleep. I will ask you again in the morning.”
Seht’s friend and lover. Aubrey curled his hands between them, feeling Seht’s chest rise and fall under his palms and cheek. He smiled and took small, shallow breaths. It was a nice dream, but every breath he took was a knife blade sawing in his chest. He doubted he was going to be alive by morning. It was probably better this way anyway.