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How Sammy Met Andee

A gay jaunt into the memories of how Sirca's favorite couple came to be, as transcribed by CrossroadsPony

Verse 1 | Verse 2 | Verse 3 | Verse 4 | Verse 5 | Verse 6 | Verse 7 | Verse 8 | Verse 9 | Verse 10 | Verse 11

Verse 12 | Verse 13 | Verse 14 | Verse 15 | Verse 16 | Verse 17 | Verse 18 | Verse 19 | Verse 20 | Verse 21

Verse 21: Time in a Bottle

Andee wasn't sure where he was when he stopped. He wasn't sure if he was still in Womb, if he was still in these shitty caves, if he was even still in Sampi.

He wasn't sure how he hadn't broken a wing or set himself on fire during the drunken escape through the winding tunnels, weaving past the occasional gawking tribe member and making more than a few harrowing passes near crackling torches. He wasn't sure how he'd avoided colliding with every smooth rock wall at the end of every breakneck turn he'd taken. He wasn't sure if he was even still flying in that final, remote cave, his claws drawing long furrows through the loose dirt before he'd even realized his legs were moving stiffly to bring him to a stumbling halt.

He wasn't sure if it was sweat or tears that blurred his vision as he clung to the jagged rocks, his chest heaving uncontrollably with physical and emotional exhaustion alike. He wasn't sure if anyone had followed him, if anyone would find him, if anyone would even care.

He wasn't sure he wanted them to.

As he shivered and quaked against the wall he'd smacked into, Andee turned around and then slumped back against the stone, allowing himself to collapse weakly into a quivering puddle. There was a single torch dancing above him, but otherwise this small cavern seemed abandoned. He knew the flames didn't keep themselves lit through magic, but he also didn't give a long as none of those wide-eyed motherfuckers were here now, he was safe.

As long as Samael wasn't here...

He closed his eyes and shook his head violently. He was drunk, he was overwhelmed, he was drained. Thinking about that idiot wasn't going to help a damn thing.

But he knew he'd been right. Days ago, weeks ago, he'd known that this whole thing with the chupa could only end at one conclusion. He wasn't made for this, he never had been. Samael was too naïve, too emotional, too...real. Samael made Andee vulnerable, made him hurt like nothing else on Sirca, and that was dangerous for someone like Andee.

Andee had even told him that their personal lives and their business lives needed to stay separate. Samael was never supposed to be more than just his slavering helper, a damn good lay who could also take a punch, stop a bullet and intimidate any motherfucker who got in the way on a job. But Andee had been weak, and he'd let the inbred bastard creep closer, and closer, and closer, until claustrophobia had set in. It was Andee's fault, if anything: he'd set the ground rules, and then he'd let himself be lulled into a soft position, drawn snugly to the chupa's chest and held so tight that every safe, secure, well-defined line had been smudged.

It had gone so far that he'd put his own fucking life on the line to save Samael's -- the one thing that Andee had always snarled protests against, the one unapproachable subject that constantly tore an untenable rift between them, no matter how many times they tried to talk about it. And yet there Andee had been, wrapping himself in a rope without any appreciable hesitation, making a nice, neat bundle for Samael to carry into the afterlife so they could die two shitty, useless deaths. Together.

It was a decision he never should have had to make. Andee didn't sacrifice himself for others, he'd already toed that line fetching his idiotic puppy from inside Highguard instead of leaving him to fend for himself the way every instinct had told him to. Not to mention that the job below Sidewinder had been entirely for Nelson's benefit, with almost nothing of value for Andee to stuff into his pockets. It was bullshit, and it was just the kind of thing Andee had always avoided by never letting himself give a shit about anyone else.

His eyes opened to bore silent, frozen holes into the dirt beneath his trembling thighs, the icy reality of every bitter thought refusing to leave without a fight. It hadn't just been a sense of obligation that had lured him into agreeing to these jobs, nor had it been Nelson's stark threats. The truth was simpler; the truth was stupider.

It felt good.

It felt really goddamn good to work with someone he could trust, with someone he knew had his back, with someone whose back he in turn wanted to watch. It was the first partnership that had felt indomitable, one that could tackle quiet infiltration, loud distractions, smooth diplomacy and even rigid, ancient tradition.

But it had all been a fucking facade, because he'd let himself be fooled. Promises of honesty and openness didn't mean shit when his so-called 'partner' slipped behind his back to go to a best friend for some fucking biological ritual, just because he didn't trust Andee to handle it. Because he didn't trust a bat to handle it, he needed a fellow chupa to depend on.

Andee's stare became white-hot as his claws clenched slowly into his palms, his glower dangerous enough to turn the loose dirt to molten slag. He didn't know how he'd missed it. That fucking bastard Wulok had spoken hard truth those quarters ago -- what could Andee actually do if Samael had desired something from him, something Andee didn't want to give up? Sure, the redneck had never forced anything...not in any obvious way, at least. But he had a gifted tongue, one of the finest tongues Andee had ever felt curl around his most intimate places, a tongue that had slipped past every barrier to whisper forbidden requests to his soul.

Samael had been enamored with Andee from the day they'd met. He'd chased the bat relentlessly, suffering doggedly through insults and arguments and bitter, cruel accusations, all so he could maintain the intimacy he so desperately craved. It was a cute joke to think Andee had ever truly controlled anything, no matter how tight he held the leash. Samael reveled in his own worship, used it to bend Andee to his whims, forced him to feel, to genuinely feel in ways that left him more vulnerable than when he'd been strapped to a chair in the middle of the Lactan jungle awaiting his own execution. And it had all culminated in this...this parade back into Samael's homelands with the chupa's shiny, one-of-a-kind prize hoisted over his shoulders.

What did Samael's devotion mean if Andee was nothing more than a cardboard crown atop his head, a make-believe cape of bed sheets tied around his neck? Samael was a broken child stumbling through a cold world, unaware and yet capable of so much, determined but suicidal, hopeful but hopeless...he didn't need a gaudy, useless trophy, he needed Tracer to come back from the fucking grave to rescue him from himself...he needed York to shove away that shitty, cruel squirrel and give him something real...he needed anything but a--

"Well, fuck me -- guess the li'l shits weren't just huffin' snow."

Andee stiffened up as his spiral was abruptly unraveled, whipping his head up to glare past damp cheeks toward the source of the interruption. A slender chupa female leaned against a dim archway beneath the singular torch in the small chamber, peering down at him with unreadable features. He'd somehow missed the narrow opening in his drunken stupor, and his vision was still a bit too blurry from what he told himself was only booze to make out more than a flowing dress and a tail adorned with multiple, colorful bandannas. "Who...who da fuck're you?" he slurred, unable to care about the ugly sob he choked down.

The entertained chuckle was easier to understand than the fuzzy smile. "I'm the lonely bitch who's gonna hafta rewrite a shitload of books 'bout the inhabitants of this goddamn ring, apparently." Andee swayed in place, his confusion overcoming the alien emotions. She must have been a mind-reader like Samael, since she required no response to continue. "If yer tryna avoid the pack, c'mon with me. I ain't quite as popular as the half-sized hunter you rode in on." She reached up to extinguish the flame above the archway, then turned to disappear within as the bandannas fluttered invitingly behind her. "Follow me if ya like yer peace 'n quiet..."

Andee swallowed more bitter tastes than he could count, then shoved himself to his feet to stumble after her. He couldn't imagine a more enticing offer.

"You ain't gonna start askin' me a shitload of questions about bats, are you?"

The minuscule, morally-conscious part of Andee's mind shouted in protest, and he did his best to tamp it down. He didn't need to be reminded that he was trying to avoid the rest of the tribe, that pissing off the one person who seemed content to let him lay low might get him tossed back to the gallery of uncomfortable stares.

He didn't care, though. He was too exhausted to try and filter himself anymore.

Luckily for him, his host only quirked a half-smile as she stoked the fire beneath the percolator she'd prepared after Andee's eyes had lit up at the offer of coffee. "I should -- it's kinda my job." Andee's eyes narrowed and her muzzle shifted to an entertained grin. "But I ain't blind. You don't look like yer up to the task of sittin' down for no interview..."

He pulled his shoulders together and shifted his weight on the wooden rail he'd claimed for himself. "I've had my fuckin' fill of bein' a goddamn exhibit to all you redneck motherfuckers," he spat out, self-consciously drawing his wings around his body while looking around the surprisingly well-lit cavern. "I'm just waitin' for this fuckin' buzz to fade so I can get the fuck outta here and back to somewhere that ain't gonna treat me like some fuckin' alien..."

"You think you'll get all that far before li'l Samael tracks you down, scoops you out of a snowdrift all half-froze?" she inquired from the comfortable-looking rocking chair she'd plopped into. The asshole's name made Andee's hackles stand on edge and he bared his teeth, though he couldn't snap back fast enough. "Don't get yerself all riled up, now -- I'm just talkin' truth. Cold as hell out here an' I'm guessin' you ain't too familiar with this cozy corner of Sampi."

"Ain't that fuckin' hard to find west and start flying," Andee muttered, rubbing at his arms within the protective embrace of his wings. "I managed just fine for a long fuckin' time on my own. That hasn't changed for shit."

She shrugged amicably. "Don't doubt it. You seem a real capable kind, little flapper. And Samael ain't gonna get himself no damsel in distress, it'd be a real independent sort he'd hook up for more than a couple rolls in the nest."

"The fuck you know about Fiffy?" he snarled, unable to stop himself from using the familiar pet-name. He closed his eyes for a moment and cursed his weakness, cursed the flicker of desire he felt desperately trying to come to life amid the frozen darkness of his heart. "Or Samael, as you backwoods fuckers know 'im..."

"Shit, I might not be writin' no book on the sudden discovery of talkin' bats, but I'm at least puttin' my damn foot down until I get yer fuckin' name," she replied bluntly, crossing her arms with a muted smile. "I'm Mattara, one'a the tribe's storykeepers. We pass our traditions down through the spoken word, but a few of us got the task of puttin' history to paper. Keeps us honest."

Andee chewed on his tongue but remained silent for a few seconds. It brought a smirk to her features as she flicked her decorated tail with bemusement. "Where's the joke about findin' the one literate redneck in all'a the caves?" she teased.

Andee snorted despite himself. "Name's Andee. And it ain't a joke when I've seen for my-fuckin'-self how stupid ya precious wanderin' son is. Jackass still has trouble with words any longer than his own dick..."

He didn't expect her laugh to be so easy; these tribal bastards were supposed to be some tight-knit family. "Not sure my apology will mean too much, but I'll offer it all the same. Brother Samael left earlier than most, though I ain't sure if another couple years of learnin' woulda helped him much, anyway. Sorry you found yerself partnered up with our li'l roamin' idiot."


Andee resisted the automatic response. Samael was his own private business, as was the so-called 'partnership'. He knew he was worn thin, he knew that looking for a friendly face would only be asking for a quick knife to the ribs. For all he was aware, this bitch was just another one of Samael's mamas, waiting for the right moment to convince him to give the halfwit another chance. Hadn't he just told Samael earlier that day how his people wouldn't judge him? And now here one of them was, calling him an idiot. Maybe this Mattara bitch was just as slick with her words as the midget. He only gave her a brisk shrug and let his eyes wander the hideaway in lieu of a proper response.

He'd lost track of just how far he'd flown in his drunken stupor, but he imagined her cavern had to be situated at an extremely remote branch of the sprawling cave structure. She hadn't exaggerated about the quiet -- even his sensitive ears couldn't pick out the whisper of another soul, only the crackling of the fire and the creak of her chair filling the moderately-sized chamber.

The air here felt, it was more than that. It felt alive, like he was standing in the enriched dirt outside Xulod. He wrinkled his muzzle as his eyes drifted from the multitude of candles and lanterns situated around the chamber to what he now realized were several plots of carefully tilled soil. He gazed at the countless sprouts and flowering bushes that grew in defiance of the relative darkness, their pale leaves stretched eagerly toward the brightest of the lanterns.

Andee frowned but was unable to stop himself from muttering: "How the fuck you growin' shit in here? Where's the goddamn mushrooms?"

Mattara grinned triumphantly. "Ha, you bat-folk ain't the only ones who know how to make the most of a dark cave. Besides, dirt out here ain't great for mushrooms -- but we can grow us a good few herbs 'n flowers. Makes fer nice tea 'n some real fancy perfumes that we can trade for the coffee yer about to be treated to."

Andee pursed his lips but only grunted again while rubbing his fingers slowly along his folded arms. Her cave was also occupied by a tent-like structure -- it looked similar to Juwo's, albeit without any of the imposing spears or decorative vases that marked his status. The tanned hide was stretched across a wooden frame, perhaps providing her a place to keep all the texts she had mentioned studying and writing, like some kind of stupid redneck library.

He sensed something approaching and his eyes whipped back with a snarl halfway from his muzzle until he realized it was Mattara offering him a steaming mug. There was no apology he felt like uttering but he at least dipped his head quickly while snatching it out of her grip.

She didn't seem to mind as she took her own mug and wandered toward the tent. "You want anything to add to it?"

"I like it black. I don't drink no fruity-ass shit since I ain't no faggot," Andee grumbled while closing his eyes and allowing the tendrils of steam to soothe his frazzled features, inhaling the strong scent with relish. It smelled smelled enticing. Then again, a percolator always made even the shittiest beans taste good. Didn't say shit about her brewing ability.

"Heh, 'course ya ain't," she replied bemusedly from inside the structure. Andee's ear twisted toward her to pick up the sound of liquid being poured. "Me, I'm learnin' to appreciate the finer aspects of life before it's too late. A little buffalo milk and moonshine go a long way out here."

"Probably explains the smooth brains that come outta this shit-hole," Andee retorted icily before sampling the coffee. was good. He scowled but chose to accept it silently while taking a longer guzzle and welcoming the old, familiar burn.

His eyes lifted to watch Mattara flop back into her chair with little regard for propriety, letting out a satisfied groan and then throwing one leg over an armrest so she could sprawl lazily and slurp from her drink. When Andee raised an eyebrow, she smirked and lifted the mug. "I was born just a few years before Samael, got to see the stumpy bastard grow up. Older generations always look out fer the younger ones, helps the parents get some rest in."

Andee immediately shrunk his shoulders again and gave her a withering glare. His venomous silence spoke for him as he only nursed the mug, not even bothering with a careless shrug this time around.

She again failed to show any kind of concern for his frigid demeanor, reaching her free hand up to push the messy bangs out of her features. The inebriation had started to fade and Andee could now see that Mattara wasn't some old lady who'd given up on socially-acceptable behavior due to being near the end of her life. The storykeeper's features were vibrant and the only wrinkles permeating her easy expression came from the entertained smile she flashed as she continued on her own accord. "No surprise to you, I'm sure, but he wasn't no good at anythin' that involved sittin' down 'n shuttin' up. Terrible with his readin' lessons, didn't learn a lick from the classes 'bout the rest of Sirca." She paused thoughtfully. "Always did pay attention durin' prayers, though. Elders let him lead blessin' ceremonies earlier than most."

Andee grit his teeth again, but refused to react. Showing he was pissed off would only make it clear he cared. He didn't want to care. A quick shrug was offered instead as he clutched the mug to his poncho in both hands. "Big fuckin' shock. Probably sucked that motherfucker Zebulon's dick real good to earn it."

Another peal of laughter, even more raucous than before. Andee failed to hide his bewilderment at the lack of humility, especially after the way he'd seen Samael all but throw himself to his knees out of respect for the elder. "You ain't wrong 'bout Samael, though ol' Zeb ain't never been much for the intimate touch." Her toothy grin spread even further. "The stiff-necked bastard probably only contributed four or five kids to the pack, he's always been too far up his own ass to enjoy havin' anythin' else up there."

This time Andee's choked laugh couldn't be held in, a bit of coffee spilling over his arm as he yanked down on his cap in a lame attempt to cover his beguilement. "Heh. Reminds me of a skinny, squirrely bastard I know..."

"It's the worst," Mattara chortled while kicking a paw idly at the air. "Anyway, it also meant he wasn't no big fan of Samael's tendency to covet a dick over the traditions of the tribe. Suppose I get where he was comin' from, though..." She lifted a leg and reached an arm out to scratch at one of her toes in a show of carefree flexibility. "We don't tell no one what they're s'posed to be, but most folks got a clear path before 'em." Andee scrunched up his muzzle but went back to his coffee as he waited for her to proceed. "Everyone figgered on Samael takin' a spot as one of the pack's best hunters -- he had a knack fer that shit -- or hell, even an elder one day." Andee barked out a laugh and she smiled easily. "I know. But you ain't no idiot, Andee. Tell me he ain't got more faith 'n spirit in him than most you seen, no matter how much he's fucked up. Don't gotta be smart or no natural leader to have folks look up to you."

Andee chewed on his bottom lip, still tasting the blood from the heart-racing experience on the earlier hunt. He hated the truth in her words. "Yeah. He's got spirit, alright. He's got so much that he don't got no fuckin' room left for any common sense...his ass shoulda never been let outta this place, he ain't got a fuckin' clue how the real world works..."

"You ain't wrong," Mattara acquiesced as she tipped her head and then took a long drink from her coffee before smacking her lips a few times. "He shouldn'ta left the pack. He wasn't mature enough. He wasn't ready."

Andee snarled and slammed the mug down hard enough to send a crack through the glazed clay. "Then why the fuck did you assholes let him go with that old bastard?!"

Mattara regarded him silently for a few seconds, unfazed by his show of anger. "His heart belonged to Sirca, not the pack. Elders saw that, clear as day, and after he passed his trials..." She shrugged. "It weren't our decision. His soul wasn't content here in Womb and that shit goes beyond all that 'common sense' you hold so tight, bat."

"It shouldn't," Andee muttered darkly, even as he exhaled and then grudgingly took another sip of the burning coffee. "Common sense is how my people's lived safe for so long. You fuckers doomed him, you know that? I ain't even just talkin' about Tracer, stuck as he was between bein' a pedo an' bein' Sirca's most wanted hero. Samael thinks he can make a fuckin' difference, thinks he can save the fuckin' ring. Thinks it deserves to be saved..."

"I ain't never said Samael wasn't an idiot," she retorted before flicking her tail and causing the cluster of bandannas to snap through the air. "And you sure it's Sirca that don't wanna be saved?" The purposeful look into his eyes might as well have been a shouted accusation, one he would have shot down had she not continued calmly. "Anyway, we all thought he'd be back, week or two, tops. Get his thrills from a li'l tour of the outside, but then miss the pack too much to stay gone long."

Andee bit his cheek. "I wish he had come back," he replied bitterly. "I wish he never stepped a fuckin' foot outside these fuckin' caves. Tracer might still be alive, war might already be over, and I sure as fuck wouldn't be out here in the middle'a Sampi just so some fuckin' stupid, underdeveloped midget could show me off to his fuckin' family like some goddamn shiny medal he won..."

He'd intended to sound infuriated, to voice the rage that had driven him to escape the clutches of that needy asshole. But his words only trailed off as his shoulders drooped. He was just tired now, tired of being disappointed, tired of not understanding why he hadn't turned his back on all of this earlier when it would have been easier. When it would have been less painful.

"Wait, wait, wait...that's what yer all fired up about?"

Andee blinked and stared over at her, too shocked to be pissed off.

Mattara propped her head up on the other armrest and gestured to him with her mug. "Maybe I gotta take back what I said about you not bein' an idiot," she noted soberly. "All the reasons you got to be mad about the shrimp and that's what's got yer nuts in a twist?"

The rage found its way back as he flung his mug aside, shattering it against a nearby post as he shoved an infuriated finger toward her. "What the fuck do--"

"Ay!" she interjected as she sat upright and threw her own arms wide indignantly, launching the remains of her coffee across the dirt. "That's fuckin' rude!"

"You don't think it's fuckin' rude to make it sound like I should just be okay with belonging to some fuckin' smelly-ass, tribal-ass motherfucker?!" Andee seethed as he leaped from the rail to land on the table, thrusting a wing out dangerously close to the cracking fire beneath the bubbling percolator. "I ain't some fuckin' trophy!"

"You dumb sumbitch, since when has Samael shown a flyin' fuck about material shit?!" she returned just as intensely, jumping to her feet and glowering down at the bat. "Holy shit, son, I thought you were the goddamn brains of the operation!"

Andee was left speechless for a few seconds, his jaw working stupidly in silence before he sputtered: "The fuck you on about, bitch?!"

"Naw, naw, yer talkin' now, asshole, so you go on and get it out!" she demanded while slapping her mug firmly onto the table, then crossing her arms expectantly. "You think you got this shit figgered out, lemme hear it!"

Andee blanched but was too stunned to try and protest, shoving a finger toward the entrance of her cavern. "Ever since we got out to these fuckin' caves, Samael and every other motherfucker been talkin' about me like I'm just his fuckin' wife, like I'm just some pretty fuckin' ornament," he snapped. "They's all treatin' me like I ain't nothin' but his goddamn property! You think that shit feels good to hear?!"

He looked down and his outstretched arm trembled as the fury slowly melted into discomfort. "No one in their right fuckin' mind wants to be talked about that way," he added hoarsely, struggling not to accept the realization. "Like they ain't got nothin' to say, like they ain't got nothin' to do. Like they ain't needed." He dropped his arm and his shoulders sagged once more. It felt pointless to lie now.

No one seemed to like this bitch either, anyway. Who would she go yapping to?

"Those motherfuckers...Samael's family...all they see is some exotic, shiny loot he brought back from across the fuckin' ring," he murmured hollowly. "And why shouldn't they? Sammy...he. He don't need me. He ain't needed me for a long fuckin' time, and I sure as fuck ain't needed his bullshit since the day we met. It was fun while it lasted but...but nah, I ain't gonna just be some silent treasure mounted on the fuckin' wall. That ain't me."

The last of his vitriolic defiance snaked out of his quivering frame and he half-twisted around before dropping down to the edge of the table, slumping forward and letting his legs hang free. "Be better if we went our own way. Maybe he'll see it too now that he's back home where everyone loves him. Actually loves him."

He waited glumly for the explanation of why he was wrong, why it was worth it despite all his reservations, despite his insecurities and his fears.

But he was instead gifted with a disdainful sniff, followed by the sounds of paws stalking away through the soft soil. He blinked and looked over his shoulder to see Mattara approaching from the tent with another mug, and a jar of some smooth, creamy liquid. He wrinkled his brow in confusion but she only poured a healthy measure of the stuff into the new mug, then reached over to grab the percolator and fill it nearly to the brim before, forcing it into Andee's hands.

He opened his maw to demand an explanation but she pushed a claw into his nose before he could speak. "You sure you ain't that skinny, squirrely bastard, got his head up his own ass?" He reared back but she only leaned closer. "I didn't think Samael would keep bumpin' nuts with no tight-ass, some rigid stick in the mud who don't know how to make a scene as big 'n loud as the half-sized runt's."

"Bitch, you don't know me!" Andee yelled, only to stare in disbelief as she prodded a finger into his snout once more. "You touch me one more time--"

"How long you sit out there with the pack, all moody and quiet? Took me talkin' about Zeb's dry-ass dick before you even started chattin' to me, and yer still half-drunk!" she challenged. "How long you spent just bein' mad, refusin' to participate because you thought this was all stupid, because you thought this whole trip was a waste of time?"

His gaping jaws slowly shut after a moment or two and she grunted in satisfaction. "That's what I thought, dumbass. You ain't picked up on the social nature of these people? You too fuckin' stupid to see how much they love yappin' to each other, the way they share just about everythin'? Sure they're gonna stare at you, you're a fuckin' bat, you're literally somethin' no one out this way has ever seen! But what the fuck else do you expect 'em to do if you ain't gonna do nothin' but sit there lookin' all weird 'n shit?!"

He stared dumbly, barely noticing the splash of coffee as she shoved at his shoulder. "I already know Samael musta been talkin' up a storm, but how about you give 'em a fuckin' story? How 'bout you give 'em somethin' else to talk about, like maybe the fact that a goddamn chupa and a goddamn bat are workin' together to do the kinda shit most of these people only dream of doing? People out here got simple lives, they ain't gonna see even a sliver of all the wild things y'all experienced."

She ran her tongue across the end of her muzzle and then snatched up her empty mug, gesturing at the bat with it. "Hell, more'n that, asshole. Bet my left tit that you wasn't no fuckin' shrinkin' daisy on any'a those jobs you two ran. I remember Samael, and I remember how tough he was...but you look me in the fuckin' eye and tell me he woulda survived all the crazy shit y'all musta been through if you weren't there, bustin' yer ass, coverin' his ass."

Her demeanor hardened and she refilled her mug before at last dropping back into the chair. "All that spirit he's got makes him strong...but it makes him blind, too. I ain't sayin' the pair'a you are meant to be, I ain't sayin' you even gotta love the li'l bastard. But don't you fuckin' blame him for makin' you feel useless. That's on you and you alone. He ain't the one who gave you yer fuckin' insecurities."

Andee scowled, or at least tried to. He knew he should have been enraged, halfway through breaking another one of these cunt's mugs before setting fire to her shit and getting the fuck out of these caves.

But she wasn't wrong, and that was mortifying.

He remained speechless as she exhaled firmly, then drank deeply from her coffee. "And since yer makin' me spell all this shit out to ya, might as well talk about how one of our separated kin comin' home ain't no small thing. It's a big fuckin' deal to leave the pack and it's an even bigger deal to have the balls to swing back through for a visit." Mattara leaned across the table and pointed a finger at Andee around her mug. "He wouldn'ta asked you to come out here if you was only some flashy jewelry, some pretty adornment. Womb's children don't bring back shiny trophies because -- in case you missed it -- we ain't exactly materialistic out here. When one of us lays claim to someone else, it ain't a fuckin' subjugation."

She dared to reach out and prod his shoulder again and he dared not to stab her in the arm. "It's a goddamn honor. The pack shares everything, shares everyone. So if yer the one spirit held above all else...then you're the most fuckin' precious thing on Sirca to that sumbitch. Ain't just some tacky addition to their life, you're a part of it. I know you ain't too familiar with this concept, but for once, be honest with yerself 'n tell me if he's ever tried to tie you down or put you on some high shelf."

Andee swallowed thickly and stared into the creamy coffee as a different kind of fear replaced the terror from before. He worried his lip again and then gave a shaky breath. "I dunno. Sammy's fucked up in the head, he...he's fine with the way I talk to him, way I order his ass around. And he always treats me like somethin' he's so fuckin' proud of, too, like he don't even get the way I been tryna keep things separated. He's always wantin' to work together, ain't never tryna make me stay behind. When we got sent out to Highguard, I saw--"

"I don't fuckin' believe I'm sayin' this," she interrupted in a mutter, Andee trailing off to glare at her with a mixture of frustration and curiosity. "It might be my fuckin' job, but...geezus, don't tell me this fuckin' story." She jerked her head back to the entry of her cavern. "Go tell them. Go prove yer more'n just the pretty trinket yer fuckin' shitty self-esteem thinks you are."

He flattened his expression and then lowered his ears as the brutal accuracy of her soothsaying overrode his annoyance.

"You don't gotta plan to stay with Samael forever, you don't even gotta plan to feel the way he does," she added bluntly. "You're plenty strong enough to do this shit solo. I don't gotta know yer backstory to know that. And if you don't wanna be here, then I'll give you a book on how the fuck to get outta here." He glanced up as Mattara threw a thumb over her shoulder toward her tent. "I got a shitload."

She leaned toward him with a half-smile. "But if yer done feelin' sorry for yerself, actin' like you ain't got just as much goddamn soul as Brother Samael musta seen in you from the get-go...then you pull that stick outta yer ass, drink that fruity-ass shit and stop frontin' long enough to have a good time out here. You two will get back to business in a few periods; maybe shit gets better, maybe it gets worse. Maybe you finally figure out how to break things off, or maybe you decide it's worth all the stares 'n the whispers 'n the judgments." His eyes flicked back to the polluted coffee, hating how enticing the messy imperfections were. "Least you c'n do is enjoy what ya got while ya got it."

He grimaced and studied the mug for a few more seconds, then formed a wry smile that he directed back up to her. "For the only literate motherfucker in these shitty-ass still sound like a fuckin' moron when ya talk." She snorted laughter and he gave his own quiet snicker while tracing a claw along the rim of the mug. "Is this stupid feast gonna be any good?"

She winked down at him. "I know this might be hard to believe after wrappin' yer tongue around Samael's tasty blue beef-stick, but it's gonna be the best meat you ever had between yer jaws, bat. Not worth missin' out on."

Andee smirked back despite himself and swirled the tan-colored coffee thoughtfully. "Knew you was a buncha incest-y bastards," he declared. "You gonna show me the way back?"

"Fuck no, you ain't no fuckin' pup, you can find yer own way," she retorted before draining her mug and burping loudly. "Besides, it ain't my kinda thing." She grinned and returned to lounging across the chair while firing a finger-gun in his direction. "I ain't no faggot."

Andee couldn't help mirroring the expression as he lifted the mug toward his muzzle.

What was the harm in riding the high just a little bit longer?

Mattara might have been a mouthy bitch, but she must have been telling the truth about the feast. Andee hadn't made more than a few tight turns through the twisting corridors before the powerful scent of roasted meat had drifted into his sensitive nostrils and had his jaws watering at the aroma alone. It had made it easy to navigate his way through the unfamiliar caverns.

The thought of returning to Samael -- especially in front of his stupid family -- left Andee unsettled. He'd thought more than once about spinning around and returning to Mattara's quiet corner of Womb to get wasted on her booze, maybe see if he could scrounge up something vaguely narcotic from her collection of plants. He felt certain she wouldn't have cared all that much, and he was good at ignoring disappointed expressions.

But his defiance was louder than his cowardice and he set his jaw stubbornly while gliding through the winding passages toward the sound of muted conversation. He knew he was to blame for the lack of spirited laughter and the cheerful, drunken reveling from before, but he wasn't gonna let that be his legacy among these redneck motherfuckers. This was supposed to be a dumb celebration for a visit from their dumb midget son and his dumb bat-shaped boyfriend, and Mattara was a cunt for even remotely suggesting he was anything like that stiff-necked bastard Wash.

These assholes were gonna learn that he could be a goddamn party animal when he wanted to.

The bright flicker of firelight drew him into a massive chamber where a towering bonfire illuminated a gathering of what he imagined was the entire pack, at least a hundred chupas clustered about the conflagration. The roaring flames licked eagerly at the carved chimney high above and allowed Andee to quickly skim the countless faces until he spotted Samael slumped in the arms of his of them, anyway.

His sagging features were hardly brightened by the glow of the fire, and his proud, strong figure hung limply despite the encouraging ministrations of a few packmates. It looked like he was telling some story, but the booming baritone had been usurped by a withered murmur that could hardly be heard over the crackling inferno. It was disheartening even to the most heartless bastard in the room.

Andee took a deep breath as he flew forward. He wasn't surprised when Samael's gaze caught him before anyone else, the rebel sitting up stiffly as his pupils widened. A thousand other eyes cascaded toward him but Andee ignored them all as he beat his wings powerfully and propelled himself toward Samael. The midget shakily climbed to his feet and lurched forward with a tremble, his tail quivering violently enough to make the piercing ring out across the hush that fell through the crowded cave.

Andee watched the way Samael didn't waver despite his tangible apprehension, how his indomitable puppy kept stumbling toward him despite knowing that he risked a cruelty colder than the unforgiving landscape into which he'd been born. Andee knew this was how it would forever be, that this was what he'd signed up for at the edge of that crater. Samael was his to command, and one day he'd be brave enough to utter the final, singular order.

But it wasn't going to be today.

He rammed into Samael's chest and the impact surprised the chupa enough to knock him back onto his ass, his arms automatically clutching into Andee's smaller body as they tumbled. But Andee was ready, grunting and then immediately shoving a foot into his partner's chest to slam him onto his back, then dropping to kneel on his broad torso as he wrapped a wing around the back of his skull. He stared down into shocked eyes that nonetheless still drowned him with undeserved adoration. Andee soothed himself with the submission before suddenly throwing his other arm out to gesture to the gawking tribe in a sweeping motion, his talons clamping firmly into Samael's chest.

"This is my fuckin' redneck!" he barked before reaching down and brushing an unexpectedly tender finger along Samael's quavering jaw. "He ain't yours no more...Fiffy belongs to me." He glanced up again as Samael whimpered happily, glowering at the speechless faces surrounding them. "You inbred assholes got that?!"

He was met with a multitude of slackened jaws until Jo cleared her throat loudly and called out from somewhere inside the crowd: "You c'n have 'im! He ain't gonna bring nothin' to the pack 'cept stubby legs and a terrible taste in men!"

The laughter began nervously until Andee smirked and ran his claw crudely along the bottom of his maw. "Remind me again who had to fetch the main course for his own fuckin' party??" he jeered, earning a loud cackle and middle finger from Samael's sister as the rest of the pack broke into relieved chuckling.

The hum of easy conversation smoothly built up around them and Andee looked back down at Samael, pretending to disregard the numerous intrigued stares locked onto the pair. He could feel his companion's heart thumping wildly and he smiled faintly while lowering his head closer to the chupa's. "I'm...sorry, Fiffy. You's an idiot, but..."

"I'm so sorry, Andee," Samael whispered as he clutched tightly into the bat's hips. "You ain't just a--"

Andee reached down to push Samael's lower jaw shut, looking pointedly into his eyes as the chupa obediently silenced himself. "I know. Fuckin'...just let me apologize for once, asshole. We's partners, right?" The vulnerability set off countless alarms but Andee paid them no mind as he focused only on the affectionate gaze of his stupid, faithful puppy. "You fuck up all the time, but. But I ain't perfect, neither. So if we's gonna do this...then remember what I said first time we met that Sov bitch." He knelt on Samael's chest and shifted his grip to the rebel's shoulders. "Let me make my fuckin' mistakes. I know that you. me, for whatever fuckin' reason." He held up a finger before Samael could babble a reassurance. "If you really mean that shit, then don't pretend I'm someone that I ain't. Makes me feel like I ain't even really here when you act like I'm some flawless bastard, like all the shit between us is just a flashy paint job." He stroked a claw along Samael's jaw studs. "All or nothin', Samael."

Samael nodded desperately and Andee tasted both relief and trepidation. But now wasn't the time to think about the future. He wanted to relive the delicious realization from the Himroc, when he first knew without a doubt that Samael belonged to him and him alone.

"All or nothin', Andee..."

Andee's eyes refocused on the quivering chupa and he smiled before grunting and jerking his head toward the surrounding tribe. "Then quit that mope-job, Fiffy, and let's have us a fuckin' good time."

Of course Mattara had been right, the know-it-all bitch. Samael had been mumbling about some of the recent vehicles he'd 'acquired' for Sidewinder when Andee had returned, but as soon as Andee cuffed his head and asked why he wasn't talking about the custom ATV they'd taken on their first heist together, the mood of his glum puppy shifted along with the entire pack. He'd jumped automatically to Samael's shoulders, allowing the smiling chupa to support him above the tribe's heads as he launched into a detailed story of the souped-up goose...and of course, the portrait Mutt had later painted of Andee and the gleaming four-wheeler. He hadn't even minded when Samael happily proclaimed it was the best thing he'd ever hung on his walls, then added with a grin that not only was the ATV gorgeous, but it had carried them in record time to Episemon for the heist that had probably been the biggest headline in the province for at least a day.

Andee swiftly returned to leading the recollection, but found himself trading off naturally with Samael as they both gestured emphatically and spoke with unrelenting intensity about every unexpected rich fat guy, soldier-filled dropship and high-speed chase that had followed. Nearly every other conversation had faded throughout the crammed cavern with the pack's undivided attention trained on the duo and their storytelling, the mass of chupas drawn in despite how inconceivable it all sounded, or perhaps because of it.

But this time the thousand eyes locked onto him weren't just regarding a freak, or some exotic treasure. No, they were wide with anticipation, hanging onto every word as the collective crowd leaned forward and occasionally shouted out a cry of disbelief or demand for more detail. Not even the shocked squeals from the children could deter Andee as he improvised the noise of the exploded dropship, nor could the toothy, eager grins while he'd purred the lurid details of their muddy excursion into the disheveled bathrooms deep inside the abandoned subway tunnels

Didn't matter these were dumb, backwoods chupas -- he basked in the same rapt attention he garnered from a gathering in Xulod, the same respect and awe he drank from deeply as he and Samael regaled their friends with the embellished stories after every insane, near-death experience. He'd hardly noticed Samael's closest packmates squeezing in nearer, all but encircling the pair with an affectionate group hug while Andee dramatically mimicked the suicidal stunt he'd performed in the chasm beneath Sidewinder to save his hapless redneck. The nourishing guzzles of moonshine helped, sure, but above all else...the sheer act of the partners sharing these stories to such a captivated audience made every uncomfortable invasion of his personal space worth it.

"Well, whaddya know, even if he's got the shortest legs in the pack, ol' Shroom turned out to be the fastest runner of us all!" Azazel teased.

Andee should have been ashamed of himself for feeling the flare of pride; not pride in himself, but in his goddamn puppy. Yet there was only indignation in Samael's name and he accepted the intoxicating rush. He whipped his head around to find Azazel's sloshed features grinning up playfully from Samael's lap, sprawled as he was in the amalgamation of pack members that had surrounded them.

The bat leaned over Samael's skull and shoved a finger down into Azazel's muzzle, causing the enormous chupa to giggle drunkenly. "Ay, you best not be callin' Fiffy a damn coward! He knows how to fuckin' throw down, too!!" He leaned forward as Samael bowed a bit with the weight of the bat fully pressed into his head. "Sure, he c'n be a pussy sometimes, actin' like he don't wanna pull the fuckin' trigger...but he don't run from no goddamn fights!"

He glanced into Samael's eyes and caught the sheepish expression as the stout rebel raised a finger with a half-smile while peering over at the cluster of elders situated to one side of the gathered tribe. "Um...y-yeah, I...I do m'best to not take no souls I don't need to."

Andee snorted and studied his partner's nervous features a bit longer before squinting at Zebulon and who he assumed was the rest of the tribe's council. "I kinda figured Fiffy learned that pacifism shit out here," he retorted, grinning toothily and shoving a wing into the air. "But that ain't all he knows! We had this job his rebel-momma sent us on, heh..." Samael's shoulders shifted slightly beneath his talons, but the bat was surprised to feel his spine remain straight. "Buncha assholes that was causin' all kinds of trouble." He lowered his voice and leaned toward the hushed crowd to add with delicate purpose: "You redneck bastards woulda loved to see the kinda righteous ass-whoopin's Sammy was handin' out! He beat the shit outta those fuckers, and then boom!!" He flung both arms up and several tribesmen flinched back in surprise as Azazel squeaked from the safety of Samael's thighs. "We set off enough explosives that they probably saw that shit in Omegrad! Blew those bitches sky-high!!"

He fired another grin down to Samael and was pleased to see the midget only looked a little ashamed compared to the last few times the story had come up. He sniffed in approval before glancing around their audience and then frowning at the mixed expressions of hesitation and concern.

"That sounds kinda like what they's doin' in the War," one of the voices in the crowd murmured before an elder seated near Zebulon spoke up.

"We ain't keen on bringin' judgment onto folks under the orders of no one else," she chided with a tilt of her head. She looked from Andee and then shifted her gaze to Samael. "Pack respects all life, young'ns -- part'a the reason we stay far away from all that mess the Omegites got the whole ring caught up in."

Samael lowered his head but Andee only gave the greying woman a scowl, then wrapped his arm around Samael's maw to gently lift it out of the shameful dip. "Whoa, whoa -- don't go shittin' on the morals of your rebel son," Andee demanded, sweeping his wing out to the rest of the tribe. "Me 'n Samael might not see eye-to-eye, and part of that is because he goes outta his goddamn way to spare every asshole he can, no matter what they're guilty of!"

He gazed down and saw Samael's eyes full of apprehension. But Andee only grunted and nodded once before locking his stare with the elder once more. "But those assholes weren't like the others. Fiffy ain't done what he did because he got told to, because he had orders. He lost someone 'cause of those bastards. Someone who'd been like a brother to him." Andee exhaled loudly but forced himself to look at Samael again. He knew he'd feel this sinking despair again if anything happened to Nelson, to Vinny, to that stupid nerd York. "So don't you fuckin' judge my puppy," Andee added with a growl while casting a glower across their audience. "Those motherfuckers got his brother killed and then talked some real cowardly shit about his ass after, too..."

A different silence fell over the tribe. Andee remained defiantly perched on Samael's strong shoulders, closing his eyes when his partner's maw opened as he anticipated the attempt to soften the bat's bloodlust. "Andee...Andee's right."

His eyes opened and he looked down to see Samael fearlessly meeting his gaze. "North was like kin. I loved 'im like he was blood an'' those folks, they ain't had a drop of respect for 'im, for the way he gave his life to save 'em. Couldn't let 'em insult the spirit of a brother."

A few more seconds passed, the cavern filled only with the crackle of the bonfire. But then Cass leaned forward, cradling two half-sleeping pups in her arms. "You sure as hell couldn't, child." She flicked her eyes toward the elders, a note of defiance slipping into her voice. "The pack's more'n just these stone walls."

Zebulon snorted as he stood...and then tipped his head forward in the duo's direction. "Hush that yap, Mama Cass. Brother Samael still has Womb's respect, no matter how strange his new tribe." He smiled coyly at Andee, who huffed in return but found himself savoring the way Samael's fingers closed tenderly into his leg. "If someone's gonna spill the blood of your family --"

"You spill theirs first!" Jo roared as she thrust an arm into the air, joined immediately with a chorus of approval as a wave of clenched fists rose around them.

Andee flinched with a grimace as Azazel excitedly shoved his arm up just past Samael's muzzle, the bat's weight shifting when Samael's shoulder rolled to join the salute. But he knew Samael wasn't swearing loyalty to the pack, no -- this might have been his family once, but his eyes remained trained solely on Andee throughout the display of tribal pride. No matter the theatrics of his earlier show claiming Samael as his, he was painfully aware that the stumpy rebel would live and breathe and bleed and die for him, more than he would for his pack, for his friends, for his angry wheelchair-bound momma, even for his big-puppy-brother. But what was it Mattara had said? Enjoy what he had...

...while he still had it.

"A'right, you dumb, inbred, stone-cold-killer rednecks!!" Andee hollered over the passionate din of the crowd. "If ya all done promisin' to stab any motherfucker that says shit about yo mommas...I'm ready to fuckin' eat and listen to whatever the fuck passes for music among you moonshine-riddled bastards!" A peal of laughter washed over the primal clamor as Andee crossed his arms and then smirked, adding in a shout: "And I still need someone to tell me how many cousins this midget's fucked, 'cause I still ain't got no straight fuckin' answer!!"

"An' you prob'ly never will when it comes to Samael!" Azazel cackled, hopping up from Samael's lap and offering his hand to the partners. "C'mon, we get first dibs on that sweet-ass deer since Shroom brought 'im down! An' then yer puppy's gotta show everyone if he even still knows how to play that purdy five-string!!"

Samael grinned and gripped into his cousin's forearm so he and Andee could be yanked off the ground, the bat clinging to him to maintain his balance before puffing his chest out. "Fiffy's gonna jam so hard, you gonna wish you had gotten a blowjob from him!" Andee boasted, earning a proud giggle from his companion as Samael's enormous kinsman flashed a teasing grin back down in return.

"Then I guess I'll hafta see if he's gotten any better since the last time," he replied in a lilt, winking and then jerking his head as he led them through the crowd and toward the food in the midst of being carried out.

Andee blinked and then shook a wing in frustration. "Since the last time?!? With a guitar or a blowjob, goddammit!!?"

Azazel only laughed cheerfully and pranced off to fetch a few plates as Andee scowled and then squinted down at Samael to find the rebel smiling happily at him. "I'mma find out, ya damn lawn gnome, just you wait."

"Guess we'll hafta stay here as long as it takes to finish yer investigation, huh?" Samael chuckled, earning a flat expression that barely managed to mask the smile beneath. "Let's go, hon -- we gotta get us a good piece'a leg!"

Andee snickered and relaxed as they moved through the writhing pack. "Yeah, yeah. But later on, you gonna owe me a piece'a ass, Fiffy!"

"It's all yers, Andee!"

He could never tell Samael, but fucking hell...the roasted deer might have been better than sex. Maybe it was because he hadn't eaten anything for the last thirty-some hours, having only imbibed moonshine and Mattara's coffee. The moment they'd set out for Samael's homeland had been the moment Andee's unspoken paranoia had kicked into overdrive; food usually wasn't a very high priority whenever that happened, or when he had a big job coming up, or an important meeting, or when Samael was coming over, or if it was a fucking day of the week that ended in 'y'.

So maybe the flavor he experienced was exaggerated, but all he knew was that it was hot, it tasted amazing, and it was apparently in endless supply as another healthy-sized slab of steaming meat was nudged onto his plate by one of the countless tribe members lounging near him. He mumbled a complaint he didn't mean and proceeded to tear into the succulent hunk of venison with a low moan of delight.

"Goddamn, Shroom, Andee tear up all kindsa meat the same way?" Jo teased as she tipped a hearty wink to the bat. "I'm pretty fuckin' jealous and I ain't even got a dick!"

"'S what I been tryna say!" Andee choked out around the deer before turning his attention back to Samael as his puppy sat down atop a grungy speaker with his guitar clutched to his chest. "Ay, we finally gonna get some tunes?!"

"Yer tiny, wingy partner always so impatient?" Zebulon grumbled while running his fingers along the multitude of keys that lined his accordion. "Here I thought we had it bad with you, li'l wanderer..."

Samael smiled lamely at the elder before casting a loving gaze across Andee, one that the bat had no hope of avoiding. "Aw, he knows how to take his time when the moment's right," Samael replied, an impish expression replacing the shyness when Andee smirked back at him.

"Ten minutes...all I ever asked the spirits was ten minutes where Samael ain't thinkin' about someone's dick," Zebulon complained, even as an amused smile tickled the corners of his maw. "Go on 'n lead us, roamer. Been curious how much you still remember 'bout yer roots..."

There was no silver-tongued quip, only another smile in Andee's direction. He felt the heat from the night of the Himroc, he heard Samael's promise to always make him proud. The gathered tribe was but a sliver of Xulod's population, and there was none of the pressure of a vaunted festival built upon centuries of tradition...but there was nonetheless something equally gratifying about Samael fearlessly breaking into a jaunty melody under the judgmental gaze of his elders.

Andee grinned when Zebulon arched an eyebrow in barely-repressed surprise. An excited shout sounded from behind him and he glanced back to see Azazel offering a jar of moonshine while beaming toward the gathered musicians. "Yer 'Fiffy' ain't just fer show, huh?! He still got it!"

The bat didn't bother hiding his satisfied smile, snatching up the liquor and turning his attention back to the stage as Zebulon recomposed himself with an animated whoop. "He always will, too," Andee answered smugly while the other musicians followed Zebulon into a rousing accompaniment to Samael's solo. "That midget ain't gonna get dull on my watch."

"He's a lucky sumbitch!" Azazel hollered over the music with a bright smile, holding up another glass of the potent liquor.

Another grin was inevitable even if Andee rolled his eyes while clinking his jar to the chupa's before trading the feast on his plate for the one prancing gleefully around with the glinting crimson guitar, encouraging his fellow performers while his own fingers continued dancing along the strings. "He sure is," Andee declared, his eyes locked once more onto his partner. "He sure fuckin' is..."

The musical performance had all the trimmings of an impromptu jam session in spite of the implications of having to impress the rowdy pack surrounding the band. Tribe members slipped in and out of the circle with their chosen instruments, some slinking away into the writhing, dancing crowd after failing to earn a boisterous approval while others played with enough talent that even Zebulon flashed an endorsing grin.

Strangest of all, Samael wasn't the star attraction as he had been at the Himroc. He instead melded easily with whatever family members joined him, strumming a simple accompaniment to a young girl's banjo arrangement, then crooning soft harmonies to a spiritual hymn performed by Jo and a few of the mothers.

Andee had always wanted to be frustrated by that facet of his puppy, his exasperating ability to adapt to any given scenario, no matter the other participants. He'd seen it right from the start when Samael had ingratiated himself to Xulod so quickly, earning the love and adoration of the normally-xenophobic people like he'd always belonged. Few things had been as painful as having Andee's own kind look down on him after the first big fight they'd had in the plaza.

Yet he'd also come to realize it was why they made such a good team. They were both bombastic, they both had personalities that broached the extreme -- it had never made any sense for them to work successfully together. But they did, because while Andee had the wit, the common sense, the intelligence and the connections, the need for perfection, the drive to seek more, the willingness to say whatever it took, to do whatever it took...Samael had always been more than just the brute strength, more than just the grinning face. He provided the gentler side of negotiations, he could read social cues better than he ever would any kind of literature. He was willing to bend, bend until his bones ached, but he'd do it with a smile, and he'd murmur encouragements even as his own spine threatened to snap.

Samael wasn't the only lucky one. But luck didn't last forever, regardless of how talented your manipulations to keep the tables turned in your favor.

Except it hadn't run out yet, and Andee wasn't about to let his handful of aces go to waste.

As Samael and the other musicians prepared to launch into another rollicking number, Andee thrust the half-finished moonshine back toward Azazel. Samael's cousin widened his eyes a bit, perhaps anticipating another outburst of fury, but Andee only pushed the brim of his cap back with a pompous grin. "I see you eyein' Fiffy's ass -- fuck you, Azzy, that's my man tonight!" he announced.

Azazel blinked stupidly as he clutched Andee's jar of liquor before breaking into his own grin as Andee shoved his way up to the circle of performers. "Hell yeah, Andee, you go get 'im!" he yowled.

Samael gave his own surprised look when Andee stomped through the circle of musicians and right up to him, his fingers lifting awkwardly from the guitar while the rest of the band played on around them. "A-Andee?"

Andee reached over to jerk the cord from Samael's guitar with a loud crackle, clutching into his partner's waistband and then firing Zebulon a challenging look. "You fuckers had him long enough -- it's my turn!" he shouted over the lively tune.

The elder squinted but continued playing the accordion as he smiled bemusedly and eventually gave a slight bow. Samael giggled excitedly and quickly removed the guitar from his torso to prop it against the speaker before Andee dragged him out of the impromptu stage and back into the energetic crowd.

He kept his finger hooked into Samael's belt, reveling in every rich emotion that poured from his companion's affectionate gaze. "I hope you ain't too tired yet," he warned with a smile he couldn't hope to hide. "We gotta show all these damn rednecks how to dance properly."

Samael beamed enormously and offered a curtsy that brought back every glorious, swirling memory beneath the colored lights in Xulod. "You lead, I'll follow!"

That smile tipped to a full grin as Andee stepped close and wrapped a wing around Samael's waist. "Nah, Fiffy. We do this shit together."

Some might have called it cruel to demand so much of Samael after he was already drenched with sweat from his energetic musical performance, but Andee was wiser. For better or for worse, he understood this stupid shortstack more than most and he knew what Samael could handle. He knew what Samael wanted, what he craved. Who he craved.

There were plenty of days when Andee regretted being that desire, a regret bolstered by a multitude of dark, stormy memories and searing retributions related to his place in Samael's heart. But there were other days when it was okay. Hell, some days when it felt fucking amazing...and it wasn't hard to decide what kind of day this was.

It hadn't mattered how tired Samael was, how damp his fur had already become. As they'd begun to step, hop and twirl together among the stomping pack, Samael's essence glowed. And Andee knew it was glowing for him, that every ounce of Samael's energy belonged to him.

It would have been crueler to deny it.

Andee started by insisting he could learn Womb's particular dance style...and it had been a breeze, of course. The lumbering rednecks might have had a slightly better grasp of rhythm than the average surface-dweller, but they still stamped their big-ass feet like they were determined to test the stability of their caves the same way the bats did. Andee mocked the simplicity yet found himself grinning delightedly as he and Samael bounced and shimmied around themselves, slamming their hips against each other while releasing feral howls whenever the music peaked.

But before long, Andee had grabbed Samael's waistband to jerk him down low so he could be heard over the revelry. "Your turn, Fiffy! Watch me 'n try to fuckin' keep up!!"

Sweat dripped from Samael's muzzle but his grin was as vibrant as ever as he bowed deeply. Andee smirked, then started slow and sinuous, sliding his talons smoothly in a simple waltz to the melodic tune. Samael observed eagerly for a few seconds, then giggled and tried his best to follow, moving his huge paws as delicately as he could in loose time to Andee's demonstration.

His technique was sloppy, lacking the usual finesse he showed in every other goddamn aspect of his life...though Andee didn't mind. He jeered and teased, but neither of them ever stopped smiling as they twisted and spun together, oblivious to the rest of the tribe surrounding them, muffling them, towering above them but never completely overshadowing their passionate duet. Andee's heart was racing again, the way it had at the Himroc, the way he hated to admit he loved for its rare occurrence, as rare as the sensation of being so in tune with someone else.

At some point, the nearest members of the tribe had turned to face them, forming a whirling circle of excited cheering and clapping. They shouted invigorated encouragement as Samael and Andee traded dance steps frenetically, the duo's eyes never leaving each other while they inched closer and closer until Andee's feet were merely a blur weaving nimbly around Samael's slower shuffling. Andee's heart sang and in those indescribable moments, it all felt possible. Their partnership...their relationship, their future together, no longer marred by a fear of commitment or vulnerability or the loss of the numb independence upon which he'd built his whole life. He could see a real foundation, strong enough to support their wild spirits, safe enough to withstand their fiery souls. The music built higher and higher, and every ragged, devoted breath that Samael panted across his features was a burst of intoxicating vitality that filled his veins with the kind of rhapsody he knew he'd never achieve artificially.

And then the music stopped.

Andee's eyes widened but he had no time to process the shattered illusions as Samael shouted joyfully and immediately scooped him into a tight hug while hefting him high. The pack erupted into deafening applause, bits of dirt tumbling from the ceilings as they leaped up and down while shouting hoarsely for yet another encore.

Andee's senses were overwhelmed as he stared around from his vantage point, watching the entire tribe writhing and swaying in varying states of exhaustion. He looked over sluggishly as Zebulon half-fell against one of the speakers, raising his arm with a tired grin and croaking out some strained response. Andee brought his head back down to look at his partner, Samael still embracing him fiercely to his soaked chest as his dazzling azure gaze battered Andee with the emotions he hadn't yet found a way to understand. Only then did he find enough clarity to force his consciousness into gear.

"Izzat...all you!" he managed between heaving breaths, supporting himself with one hand on the rebel's broad shoulder as the other removed his cap to brush at his damp brow. "We ain't even...shown these fuckers...Xulod's best moves..."

Samael let out a weary giggle, his tail piercing jangling softly with the sway of fatigue. "Ah think...yer batty endurance...gonna lay us all out." He winked and worked a hand slowly up along Andee's spine as the bat failed miserably to avoid the low moan of pleasure. "Pack's strong...but ain't that strong..."

Andee's wing slid around Samael's neck and he allowed himself to sink into the chupa's tired but strong form, barely hearing the rasping announcement from the tribal elder for everyone to get the cavern tidied up before their rest. "Maybe not...this dumb pack," Andee mumbled, tossing aside his wiser judgment to instead loiter in the depth of his partner's tender gaze. "'S why...we got our own...right?"

Samael's smile melted the lingering frost from the corners of his heart. "Tha's right," Samael murmured back as he clutched his companion close. "C'mon, hon. Le's go...hit the showers...'fore bed."

Andee grinned crookedly, pretending that his heart didn't kick into overdrive. "Heh...ya big...beautiful...whore," he panted softly while stroking a claw along Samael's muzzle. He bumped his nose into the chupa's snout before glancing around as the tribe began to break off, some of them dutifully dragging themselves along to straighten up the chamber while others led the half-asleep children out of the celebratory space. "Hurry up, then, Fiffy," he added with a fatigued chuckle. "I ain't help clean up...our own fuckin' party..."

Another giddy -- if flagging -- titter as Samael squeezed him lightly. No response was needed, the rebel keeping him held close while he wound his way through his old family members and murmured salutations to everyone they passed. Andee was deaf to it all, lost in the grudging realization of what he had before him, of what his aching soul cried desperately for him to consider.

His pulse thudded in time with Samael's, and as he searched his partner's eyes, he wondered if the rhythm would be enough to keep this dance from ending.

Only one way to find out.

~ * ~ * NSFW * ~ * ~

Andee shut his eyes as Samael's muzzle settled between his ears, resting one of his hands upon the rebel's wrist while Samael's fingers roved sluggishly through his chest. "Sorry if I pushed you a li'l too hard in front'a everyone," Samael whispered against an ear. They could hear the shifting of other pack members around them, no doubt settling back down to their respective places of rest now that the headliner event had come to an end.

A delicate wrinkle formed on Andee's muzzle and he dug his claw a bit more firmly into the chupa's wrist. "Ay -- I toldja I can handle it," he protested before adding in a softer voice: "We showed these fuckers they still got lots to be proud of in their stupid lost son, right?" He chewed on his lip gently as Samael trembled happily around him. "Same way I am. The way you handle my shit, Fiffy, way no one else can...we'll." He hesitated. "We'll see how far we can get together, yeah?"

"I'm gonna be there 'til the very end, Andee."

Andee opened his eyes to stare into the fire. The truth hurt more than any lie ever could.

"I know, Sammy." He took a slow breath, then tipped his head back to nudge his muzzle against his partner's while squirming backward into his masculine frame and doing his best to ignore the awkward shifting. "But c'mon, we given ya fuckin' incesty family enough entertainment today...shaddup 'n lemme sleep before I start regrettin' the fact I let you stay inside."

Samael's soft giggle provided a bit of relief, aided by the affectionate smile Andee felt atop his head. "You got it, sweetie. I can't wait to find out what they ranked our li'l show!"

Andee started to groan, only for Jo's voice to ring out from the darkness behind them: "Ten outta ten! Next time I wanna see the bat plow the midget, though!"

He groaned anyway, but let the pleased smirk drift into place while resting back against Samael and closing his eyes again. "Fuckin' rednecks..."

"It'll also work real nice to cover up them love-bites!" Lailah noted with a sly grin. "Guessin' you wasn't cold at all inside these walls last rest..."

Andee flinched and then scowled as he self-consciously moved a wing up to cover his neck. "Geezus, what comes next, you gonna fuckin' grade Sammy to see if he still remembers all the blowjob tips you bastards taught 'em in redneck-school?!?"

A red-furred chupa Andee had been introduced to as "Mama Lilith" also grinned toothily as she leaned toward Andee and Samael. "Based on what we heard at first-meal, our li'l Samael picked up more'n what he learned from Womb." She plucked a stray thread off the knit scarf Andee grumpily clutched to his chest. "He must have a real fine teacher."

Maybe she meant Tracer, maybe she meant every other motherfucker Samael had fucked in the last few years, maybe she meant his best goddamn friend York...but Andee chose to pretend she meant him. He puffed himself up and shook the fuzzy earmuffs gripped in his other hand. "And I'm just fuckin' gettin' started, I got all kindsa good shit to teach this dumbass puppy!" he boasted. He squirmed when Samael's huge arm draped around his shoulder, but then lifted his head while lowering his wing so everyone could admire his battle scars. His neck ached like it had been used as a chew-toy, and his bow-legged walking had hinted at his immense soreness ever since he and Samael had blearily stumbled out of the sleeping chamber.

It was hard to forget the confidence they'd found in front of that fireplace, though, and he allowed himself a proud grin when he caught a few gawking faces from across the dining area. Yeah, maybe he regretted some of the things he'd said, some of the decisions he'd made to give the impression that he belonged to Samael as much as Samael belonged to him.

But a part of him felt good about it. It felt good to acknowledge that this truly was a partnership, a real relationship that went beyond exploiting a stupid, obedient puppy to make the most of both business and pleasure.

Mattara's advice made it easier to bear, because nothing had to last forever. Andee had long ago learned that every aspect of life, both satisfying and cruel, was short-lived. The only eternal thing upon Sirca was Sirca herself. But apparently it had taken the smartest redneck in Sampi to remind him that he possessed that same almighty power right there in his own hands. He didn't have to wait for fate to bring this wonderful illusion crashing down around him -- he could do it himself.

"Heh, I wonder who's gonna end up teachin' more to who," Lailah replied as she smiled between them before reaching down to squeeze Samael's shoulder. "I see that look in yer eyes, Samael." Andee frowned and glanced up at his partner, who offered him a warm smile in return. "Still can't decide how it makes yer Mama feel."

"What fuckin' look is that?!" Andee demanded with a huff, firing a squint between Lailah and Samael. "This squishy fuck ain't about to propose or some shit, is he?"

"As if you'd mind him droppin' to his knees for you," Lailah retorted, winking and then nodding toward the bat. "Just hang on as long as you can, Andee."

Andee snorted and tipped his cap back to give her a wary look. "Lemme guess -- 'cause I'd be an idiot to give up ya precious short, stumpy son?"

She simply smiled again as she gazed at them both. "Not at all. I'm just willin' to bet that it's gonna be one helluva ride."

Lilith chortled and leaned down to give Samael a tight hug as well. "It'd also be real nice to see ya 'round here again, li'l bat. Makes us all feel a tiny bit better knowin' he's got someone watchin' his back."

The two mothers turned to stride away as Andee huffed at their retreat. "Only thing I'm watchin' is Fiffy's fine ass!" he called after them before poking his companion's bare stomach. "Why the fuck is all yo mommas a buncha cryptic bitches? Or is that just 'cause I can't understand half the shit comin' outta ya redneck-ass mouths out here?"

"Shit, maybe," Samael drawled while they wandered toward one of the many offshoots from the dining chamber. "You sure are good at puttin' stuff in this redneck's mouth, though!"

Andee smirked despite the elbow he jabbed into his partner's side before he gazed down at the handmade gifts he'd been offered. He didn't want to admit he was touched by the generosity, silly as it was to deny it. He knew these assholes didn't care about material things, but he sure as fuck did. And they weren't some half-assed bits of scrap sewn together by a bored granny, no. The scarf was knit from some kind of dyed, conditioned wool -- it was softer than Xulod's finest silk garments and was warm to the touch even without wrapping it around himself.

And the earmuffs weren't just a novelty item, either; the damn things were a cheeky shade of pink, no doubt the machinations of that whore Mama Cass, but they too were like gripping into clouds just about as soft as his fiffy's ass, not a hard edge to be found despite the fact that a sturdy, metal-enforced strip of leather connected them. He'd been joking when he'd told them to make guesses about his measurements...except the psychic bitches had been right on the fucking money. They fit over his large ears easily, even covering his silver earring to keep at least one of his piercings protected from the elements.

They were gifts that shouldn't have mattered as much as they did, that should have just been something he rolled his eyes over and tossed into a corner of his apartment as yet another few trinkets bestowed upon him by some emotional chump who thought he'd give a shit. And while it wasn't like Samael himself had crafted them, these people were an extension of the rebel's life, his past. His family. The gifts had been made with love, the same stupid, sappy love that the midget oozed whenever he got within fifty meters of Andee. These people truly had accepted Andee as one of their own, and even though he had no intentions of leaving the small but kick-ass gang with Mutt, Paneko (and...yeah, maybe Samael, too), it felt. Good.

It felt good to be accepted.

"Heh heh heh, goddamn, Shrimp, you really have gone out and made somethin' of yerself!" Andee blinked as his meandering thoughts were interrupted by a scratchy voice approaching them. "An' here I thought that ol' man who had you spinnin' on his dick woulda just sold ya into sex-slavery!"

Andee snickered, looking the scrawny chupa up and down as Samael gave a forced laugh and slung a playful punch into the guy's arm. "Hot damn, Koko!! Sheeeit, yer one to bark, I'm surprised yer still hangin' around these caves, all that big talk 'bout startin' yer own hoop!"

Andee tilted his head inquisitively while studying Samael's fellow tribesman. He was only a few inches taller than Samael, and his fur was a creamy orange, marked with messy blond locks that formed his braided mane and similarly-styled tuft. Andee's eyes caught the multiple beads woven into the small, tight braids before drifting to the gold and crimson rings that lined the bottom of the chupa's lower jaw. His clothing certainly made him stand out from the pack, though -- instead of torn jeans or a revealingly-tight vest, 'Koko' sported baggy cargo pants and a long canvas jacket over his plaid button-up shirt. It all seemed to hang a bit loose on his skinny arms and legs, which was certainly a look Andee was familiar with.

"Hey, hey -- I'm still yer elder by a couple years, show some fuckin' respect!" the newcomer retorted before grinning toothily between them. "Anyway, who wants to deal with their own fuckin' hoop when they can just do business with a whole buncha hoops instead!?"

Andee's interest was piqued.

"Haw, some things don't never change," Samael replied with a small smile before he squeezed his arm around Andee's shoulder. "This here's Andee!" Samael lowered his voice to a loud whisper that was not actually any lower. "He's mah super-sexy bat-boyfriend from the jungle!" Andee rolled his eyes but allowed his partner to continue brightly: "Andee, meet Kokobiel! He might be even worse'n me 'bout stickin' to the traditions of the pack!"

"Our fuckin' traditions are old as shit, and they sure as fuck don't do no good out in the real world," Kokobiel retorted. "Unless you've managed to start leadin' them damn rebels in prayer circles to ask fer the trees 'n the rocks to end this shitty war!"

Andee grinned again while tipping his head inquisitively. "Koko, was it? Heh, where was you at the goddamn party last night? I mighta had a better time if there was someone around with half a fuckin' brain still intact!" He paused and then shifted his weight as his own guilt jabbed him between the ribs in time with the small noise of dejection that slipped from Samael's maw. He'd actually enjoyed himself far more than he thought he would. It was fine -- Samael knew he was just talking shit, anyway.

"Eh, I had another party I'd already agreed to, though I got back in time to catch the after-hours show you two put on," Kokobiel stated with a half-grin. "Fuck me, 'tween everythin' I heard 'bout the stories y'all told and that little display...gotta say I'm impressed with how far Samael's gone! Thought fer sure that soft brain an' his damn sense of right woulda gotten him killed by now!"

"He's come pretty fuckin' close!" Andee responded mildly before glancing up to see Samael's expression wavering between entertained and concerned. "Either way, I'm surprised anyone missed out on that shindig, seemed like everyone and their dead fuckin' momma wanted to hang out with Samael..." He trailed off, then grunted and crossed his arms. "And me, too, obviously."

Samael's fingers closed a bit tighter around Andee's shoulder. "You still hittin' that snow, Koko? You thought the Movement was gonna get me killed, but I swears up 'n down yer still askin' fer way more trouble messin' around with them folks..."

Kokobiel waved a hand dismissively even as he brushed at his nostril a few times. "Aw, please, I got folks comin' to me for that shit now, I ain't no dumb kid hangin' around for a free bump no more."

Andee's grin broadened further as he elbowed Samael again. "Besides, don't be no hypocrite, Fiffy! Can't tell me you didn't love that last little shroom-trip we took with Mutt!"

Samael's worried expression shifted sheepishly to one of delight. "Heh, well. Yeah, a'right, y'got me there!"

Kokobiel smirked before stepping closer to Andee. "I had a feelin' you was someone who's gotten around -- you been blowin' Samael's mind with all the shit you seen, ain't you?"

Andee's response was unnecessary as Samael placed a hand over his heart and announced proudly: "Even with all the missions I've run fer the Movement, there ain't no one who's worked more deals with more folks than Andee! He ain't scared'a workin' with no one! An' he's been teachin' me all about the stuff I ain't never learned 'bout 'tween bein' raised out here 'n gettin' brought up in the rebellion!"

Andee's chest swelled and he allowed himself to shamelessly absorb the praise. He didn't need to be told how good he was, but he didn't hate the reminders, either. Especially with all the things Samael had proven himself at lately...his physical prowess, his silver tongue, his golden dick, every impossible scenario he'd survived, or even saved Andee from. Sometimes Andee forgot he could do that shit, too; after all, Samael would be an ugly, frozen splatter at the bottom of the Sidewinder gorge if it hadn't been for the bat. "Sammy ain't just huffin' this fine dick," Andee pompously replied. "Him and me been makin' a pretty fuckin' amazing team thanks to my brain and his muscles..." He paused and then flashed a playful grin as he smacked Samael's rump. "And his ass, too."

The rebel's gleeful yip and subsequent hop forward sent delight coursing through Andee's veins. Kokobiel cackled and slid closer once more as he spoke in softer tones. "If that's the case...then whaddya think 'bout the two'a you makin' a run for me?"

Andee's eyebrows lifted, a mix of suspicion and fascination painting his features. "The fuck we look like, a coupla errand-boy-chumps?" he fired back even as he cocked an ear. "You see a fuckin' delivery logo on my goddamn hat?"

He felt the way Samael pressed a bit closer to his side as his voice took on a cagey note: "Me 'n Andee was gonna spend a few periods here 'fore headin' back, ain't sure we gonna have the time."

Kokobiel flicked his tail and trained his attention on Andee. "Sure, sure, that's all good 'n shit. Everyone loves them a li'l vacation." He ran his fingers through his mane while adding airily: "Everyone jus' can't stop talkin' about all the jobs you two pulled together, I figgered you'd jump at the chance to run some...lost hardware I got a line on..."

The suspicion morphed into captivation as Andee let the earmuffs rest around his neck so he could drop a hand to his hip. "What kinda 'hardware' we talkin' about?"

Kokobiel grinned again and shifted his eyes between the partners. "This ain't no toaster needin' to get delivered -- I gotta guy a few towns over with two crates of Hexagon tech." He dropped his voice to an excited whisper: "I'm talkin' long-range missiles. Newest shit they been workin' on, these could take out a HADES dropship at two fuckin' klicks!"

Andee struggled not to lick his muzzle hungrily, though it was Samael who stepped closer first. "Movement could really use that kinda shit..."

The bat scowled. Samael wasn't wrong...and the thought of having something so powerful to shove up the asses of the fuckers who sat on top of the ring was a delightful one. But a deal this keen was hard to resist.

"'Course they could!" Kokobiel fired back as he raised a finger. "But the shit's useless without the activation codes."

Andee squinted up at him. "Then who the fuck would we be deliverin' it to, some asshole lookin' for Sirca's most exotic butt-plugs??"

Kokobiel smirked. "How 'bout a hoop with a coupla Hexagon employees on their payroll?" He waggled his eyebrows while gesturing to them both. "You two take the hardware, cut whatever fuckin' deal you want, take some'a the shit back to yer rebel buddies once you got the codes -- it's a fuckin' win for everyone!"

"I dunno..." Samael began.

But Andee had already started to imagine the possibilities as he held the scarf up to silence his companion. "Hold up, Fiffy, hold up," he ordered while glancing at Kokobiel. "What the fuck do you want outta it?"

Kokobiel lifted his hands innocently. "Jus' the usual cut! Thirty percent of whatever you get! An' I can let Samael know first 'bout any future hookups I hear about, too!"

Andee snorted as his nose ring swung with the motion of his disdainful twitch. "I don't care how good you sucked Sammy's dick, ten percent!"

"Koko never actually gave me a BJ," Samael whispered loudly.

"Not everyone fucks everyone else here," Kokobiel added with a grumble before he grinned again. "Twenty percent! C'mon, you two cock-jockeys can't tell me you'd rather be hangin' out here in these borin'-ass caves instead'a runnin' some rockets across the ring!"

"Ay!" Andee was surprised by the protest in his own voice. "They wasn't so fuckin' boring last period! And you know I ain't just talkin' about the music!" He glanced up and smirked at Samael's proud, unabashed grin. He hated the consideration he felt, but couldn't help the words that fell out next. "But whaddya say, Fiffy? Fifteen percent for this asshole--" He paused to thumb at Kokobiel. "We get to go on a badass job...and we can figure out all the hot shit we can do together in a pickup truck on the drive."

Samael bit his lip, speaking before Kokobiel could sputter his next counteroffer. " does sound good, hon, but...Nelson didn't want me goin' too far--"

Andee could taste his partner's eagerness through the hesitation. Maybe he didn't know how to reciprocate the emotional love Samael poured into him, but he sure as hell knew how to share in the love of adventure. It was pointless now to argue they didn't both revel in the thrill of doing the kind of shit they'd been told their whole lives they had no business doing. And so he pressed forward, extending a wing to wrap snugly around his partner's waist. "Three periods, at most. I seen the way ya drive, Fiffy, we'll be there'n back before ya four-wheeled momma knows it...and you'll have some sweet fuckin' firepower that'll get that battle-lovin' bitch the biggest lady-boner you've ever seen!!"

Words couldn't hope to describe the bliss of watching Samael's misgivings melt into yearning. "Heh..." The rebel's eyes flicked momentarily to his packmate, but whatever wariness he'd held onto was destroyed by the bright smile he finally gave. "Yeah. Yeah, alright! Let's do this!"

Andee grinned again and turned his head back to Kokobiel while shoving a finger toward him. "Fifteen percent! We got us a deal?"

Kokobiel sucked on his teeth, but eventually grunted and flashed a smile. "You two really are a pair'a slick bastards. It's a deal." He waved to them both. "Follow me, I'll get you the details of where the shit is an' who yer gonna be meetin' in Blarganthia. You ain't gonna regret this..."

Naturally, the pack had been disappointed that Samael and Andee were leaving so soon. Azazel had wailed the loudest, pointing out all the things he'd still wanted to do...and not making it any easier for Andee to come to a conclusion about the damn incest. Samael had replied by leaping into the affections of all his packmates, dragging Andee in before the bat could think about escaping. It'd been an uncomfortable thirty minutes, though at least Andee hadn't been subjected to anymore unwanted questions.

...He was pretty sure he'd felt at least three or four of the bastards get a real good grope in on his ass, though.

The council of elders hadn't been so quick to substitute a cuddle pile for the time Samael had promised them, and so the rebel had dutifully marched off to chat to Zebulon and the others about...whatever weird shit they wanted to ask him, while Andee was left to face the tribulations of Samael's numerous parents.

He'd been smothered in more affection and had been convinced to try on the scarf and earmuffs so a few quick alterations could be made on the spot. As Lilith worked diligently with her knitting needles, Andee had an unexpectedly fruitful discussion with Cass and Lailah about his people and his traditions...and then maybe just a little bit of grilling in regards to his relationship to Samael.

But he'd been surprised at the lack of praise for Samael, or clucking about how tightly he needed to cling to this partnership due to what a catch their son was. He was instead thanked for having Samael's back, for providing common sense and a firm will that could stand up to Samael's blazing and impetuous soul. He was expecting intrusive questions, not murmured appreciation for helping Samael navigate a terrifying world and ensuring their wandering progeny wasn't doing it alone.

He didn't have the heart to tell them the same things he told Mattara, though it was partially due to the fact he'd been stunned into silence for most of the conversation. It was a strange sensation to be lauded for his decisions, especially when it came to the relationship with the spastic redneck that wasn't even the same species as him. In the end, it had been easiest to simply mumble that he'd do his best to make sure Samael didn't walk off any cliffs or shoot himself in the face.

After enduring one more round of Andee having his gifts wrapped around him to ensure the fit was correct, Samael returned from his own interrogation. Andee was relieved to see least until he realized it meant another ten minutes of farewells and group hugs from the mob of parents. He had little hope of escaping it and eventually resigned to grumbling from the security of Samael's embrace as the rebel shared a quick word with nearly every one of the parental figures.

He could see just how much this communal upbringing had affected Samael's personality, and it certainly showed why he'd earned the respect and love of Xulod's people as swiftly as he did. This was the environment he thrived in, a crowd of passionate, affectionate people he could love and in turn be loved by.

It was everything Andee wasn't.

When they finally managed to exit Womb after every possible salutation, Andee breathed a deep sigh of relief and leaped into the air above Samael's head. The less-spacious caves of Womb hadn't given him as many opportunities to spread his wings...and maybe the scarf and earmuffs helped beat back some of Sampi's frigid temperatures, too. Either way, it was a blissful sensation to take flight and circle his partner once more.

"Ay, shortstack -- ain't you afraid'a someone fuckin' up that fine-ass guitar I busted ass to get for you?" Andee called down with a scowl.

Samael smiled and continued to lead the way back toward the truck. "You know as good as I do by now that ain't no one in these caves gonna mess with no one else's stuff." He turned his warm gaze up to the bat, who pretended not to notice as he glared into the treeline. "But it'll be safer here, anyhow. We gon' need e'ry inch of the truck bed fer this' somehow I don't think these fine folks we meetin' up with gonna care all that much 'bout a li'l redneck recital."

"Well, that's their fuckin' loss," Andee uttered, hating himself and yet feeling pretty damn good about the praise. "You backwoods bastards...ya know how to throw a pretty fuckin' sweet party," he admitted. He studied Samael from above for a few seconds, worrying his lip and then huffing loudly. "I know you's mostly agreed to this job for me, Fiffy. Didn't you wanna stay longer? This place...ya family, the pack, all that stuff you love 'n care about so much. Figgered it's where you wanna be."

Samael smiled up at him again. "I love runnin' gigs with you, Andee. Sure I wanna stay longer, but...I like doin' things with you even more." Andee turned a face and grumbled to himself. "Besides, it just means we can plan another trip to come on out an' visit again real soon!"

"Aw, fuck me," Andee muttered before twisting in a smaller circle to fly a bit closer to his companion. "What about after this dumb war is over? Don't you wanna come back home? Have a place where..." He hesitated, remembering that he couldn't just slam the wall that quickly into place. "A place like this?"

Samael laughed softly and gazed up again with enough tenderness to melt the very snow he trudged through. "Aww, Andee. Of course not." Andee closed his eyes tightly and did his best to keep flapping his wings. "Sidewinder, Womb...they's all places I got family 'n places I'm plenty comfortable livin'...but ain't none of 'em you. Yer my home now, hon."

Andee swallowed, and it hurt. He didn't know what he wanted anymore. He wanted Samael, he wanted this impossible future...but that's all it was. Impossible, a dream, one that had no chance of survival in the cold, harsh reality of their world. All he could do was try to cling to the visage while it remained, and do his best to prepare for when it ultimately faded to leave him where he'd always end up: taking care of himself.

He looked down at his partner again, and his smile was honest. They'd had a helluva good time out here after all the bullshit -- the dream was far from over. He'd be an idiot to force himself awake now.

"Heh, ya still a big, soft fruitcake, Fiffy," he replied, affection sliding into his voice. "Let's go kick some ass, then, make us a down payment for whatever gay-ass house you wanna build for us one day." He turned his eyes ahead as Samael beamed and broke into a joyful sprint. "Maybe I'll even let ya have a key to it..."

Red vs Blue © Rooster Teeth. Halo © 343 Industries. Concept by Myshu, assisted by The Department of Chupapology.

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