Actions

Work Header

strange attraction

Chapter Text

The guy’s name is Caspar. He has blue hair, a voice six times louder than he is tall and a deeply apologetic expression when he knees Balthus in the junk.

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that, man,” he says, actually sounding sincere as he watches Balthus huff through his nose, hunched over with his hands on his knees. “But you know you owe the boss money, and we got rules.”

In the same breath, Caspar -- which, what kind of hired goon gives his actual name? -- says, “But there are some reasonable financial planners out there! My buddy’s one, let me give you his card.”

“No offense,” Balthus wheezes, “but I think maybe I should, y’know. Avoid doin’ business with your friends.”

“Nah, Lin’d just send actual creditors after you, the kind that just call a lot, you know,” Caspar says, cheerfully. “Though he usually gives a lower hourly rate to my, ah, referrals. Since, if you had money, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

With the pain starting to fade from a bright blaze to low throb, Balthus feels clear-headed enough to ask, “You do that often? Refer guys you beat up to your buddy’s company?”

Caspar shrugs. “Tough world out there, man. Everyone’s just doing the best we can, yeah? That’s why I hope you didn’t take that personally.”

“Nah, it’s cool, I get it,” says Balthus. “Might sing a different tune if you’d broken my kneecaps with a tire iron or somethin’, though.”

Caspar laughs. “That’s not me they send to do that. I’m more your first-warning kinda guy.” His voice sobers. “Just, you know, pay up. The next one isn’t nearly so nice and, uh, you definitely don’t wanna meet Mr. Third Warning.”

“How many are there?” Balthus asks.

“Three, and that’s if the boss likes you,” says Caspar. “Hey, by the way. I was in the crowd for that last fight of yours, the one in Enbarr? Brutal, man.” He shakes his head. “And by crowd, I mean I was watchin’ it in a bar, but that counts, don’t it? It was definitely a crowd.”

“Sure,” Balthus says. He’s not inclined to argue with a man who surprised him before his shift at the bar with a groin kick and a financial planner’s business card.

“Anyway, totally sucked that you got hurt like that. Sucky way for the King of Grappling to go out.”

“You’re telling me,” says Balthus, who ends up signing his autograph on a cocktail napkin for Caspar. “You sell this for any money, let me know, yeah? I got enough napkins here, maybe I can pay your boss what I owe from the proceeds.”

“I doubt it,” says Caspar, with a chuckle.

Balthus sighs. He glances at the card, which has the name Linhardt von Hevring, Financial Analyst on one line, a phone number, email address, and legitimate inquiries only, please in small print on the bottom left-corner.

“Who the hell was that?”

Balthus shoves the card in his pocket as Abyss’ owner and Balthus’ boss, Yuri Leclerc, strolls out from the back. Yuri, a former exotic dancer, had given Balthus a job as a bouncer even though Balthus had straight-up told him he was in debt to some pretty shady people. Well, kinda. He’d said I owe some money to people who don’t garnish your wages, you catch me, and Yuri had just raised one perfectly arched eyebrow and said, Yes.

“Guy sent to knee me in the balls,” says Balthus.

“Any particular reason, or...?”

Balthus flashes a grin at him. “I got that kind of face, I guess.”

Yuri sighs. “Balthus. This situation with your debt --”

“Yeah, I know. Trust me, I’m figuring it out,” he assures Yuri, though honestly, he’s not sure he won’t be living out of his car before too long.

Things were not like this a year ago. Balthus had been high on the best MMA season of his career, called the King of Grappling around the circuit, selling out crowds and raking in royalties from pay-per-view fight specials. But Balthus had gotten cocky, and he was good at fighting but he’d never been good at money, and soon he was losing fights and racking up debt faster than he could keep up.

The last fight had been a shitshow. He didn’t think his opponent cheated -- Raphael Kirsten wasn’t that kind of guy, he was just younger and hungrier and hell, the guy’d taken Balthus out for a beer after their fight. But there’d been something off the entire day, and Balthus was superstitious and should have known when his blender top blew off and soaked him in his protein shake that morning that his fight was going to end badly.

That was an understatement. It ended not just with a loss, but a tear to his ACL that meant his grappling days were over. No one wanted to go out on a loss, but a career-ending injury and a loss? Hell if he wasn’t the most unlucky son-of-a-bitch to ever live. The worst part was that it wasn’t anyone’s fault but his own. Balthus had done a stupid risky maneuver, knowing he was going to lose, and it paid off about as well as all his bets on wyvern racing.

“I wish I could help you, but I’ve already got you on as many shifts as I can,” Yuri says, now, pushing his long, pretty violet hair out of his face. He’s gorgeous, Yuri, and Balthus would be sad he’d missed his exotic dancer days if he didn’t get the occasional private show when Yuri was in the mood to show off.

Which was why, even if Yuri could help him out, Balthus wouldn’t want him to. He’d already done enough, and he liked their friendship-with-benefits too much to fuck it up by borrowing money. Not that Yuri had any to spare; all his assets were tied up in Abyss, which hadn’t been opened long enough to turn a profit.

“I’ll figure something out,” Balthus says. “I always do.”

“Do you, though?” Yuri tilts his head and sighs. “Wash up the glasses for me, yeah? Ask Coco if she wants a few nights off, you can take over at the bar. Tips aren’t bad, especially if you don’t wear your shirt.” Yuri gives him a playful leer.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Balthus says, but he knows he won’t. Coco -- Constance -- is bartending while putting herself through school, and she and her girlfriend Hapi, the other bartender, don’t make enough to sacrifice a lucrative weekend night just because Balthus thought driving a Hummer was a good idea. A Hummer he’s going to be living in, if he can’t pay his rent on time this month, so good thing it’s so roomy. Given how expensive gas is and how it’s been on Empty for two months, at least he’ll get some use out of it.

***

“Seriously, B, you need a side hustle.” Hapi, wiping down the bar after the last reveler has stumbled their way out of the door, makes a face and scrubs at something sticky. “Why do people always spill the stickiest things and not, like, water? Ugh.”

Balthus swipes the rag and rubs at the stain for her. “I’ve been tryin’ to think of something, but Hapi-girl, I’m not qualified for much. Bouncing, but who needs a bouncer during the day? Anything else I could do’s a nighttime job, and I like working here.”

“I think you’re selling yourself short.” She holds her hand out for the rag once Balthus has eradicated the sticky mess on the counter. “There has got to be something you’re good at besides tossing people out of buildings. Something more daytime appropriate.”

Balthus winks at her and stretches his arms over his head. “Sure. I can think of a few things.”

“I said daytime appropriate, B, but...I mean, brothels are legal.”

“Brothels do their business at night, though, yeah?”

“Uh. Maybe you could cater to the daytime cougar crowd? Is that a thing?” Hapi asks.

“Ain’t real sure, but I think cougars get their freak on at night like everybody, don’t they?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“Why are you asking me?” Balthus asks. “And hey, maybe I could make more money at a brothel, but I don’t wanna leave Yuri in a bind. Could find a day job moving shit, I guess. I’m good at heavy lifting.”

“That sounds pretty tiring,” Hapi says. “Carrying other people’s furniture all day, then hauling drunk idiots out of here until 3 am?”

Balthus finally figures out what’s going on. “Got something in mind, do you, pal? Let’s hear it, I ain’t very good at guessing games.”

Hapi beams. “Bingo. Look at this. Coco and I found it the other night.” Hapi shoves her phone at Balthus.

He takes it and frowns, trying to make out the words under the cracked screen. “Sweet Delights? What’s this, like, a bakery? You ever seen me try and bake? I’m defeated by packaged cookies.”

“Well, that’s why. You’re supposed to eat those raw, not cook them. But no, it’s not a bakery, keep reading.”

“A -- sugar baby? Is that what this says?” Balthus can’t really make heads or tails of this. “Hap, stuff with kids is illegal.”

Hapi stares up at the ceiling. “You definitely took one too many hits to the head. No, it’s to find a sugar daddy, or a sugar mama! One day, me and Coco are gonna find a sweet sugar baby and spoil her. Once we have some money. Now it’d be, you know, ramen noodles and generic-brand soda on our floor.”

“Hey, that I like ramen,” says Balthus. “So that’s what this app is for, huh? A way to find someone to buy noodles for?”

“I can’t...I mean, sure, yes, it’s not noodle-specific, but that’s the gist. It’s for people who want to spoil someone. With money and material goods and also probably their rent.”

“Uh-huh.” Balthus snorts, scrolling through the photos. “So it’s sex. Why didn’t you just say that?”

“But it’s not... I mean, okay, fine, maybe sometimes, but the actual point is to pay for things for people.”

“I ain’t got money for my rent, Hap, what makes you think I --wait. Come on,” he laughs. “No one wants to spend money on a guy in his thirties with a torn ACL who’s only talents are grappling and beating up drunk people. Is there an app for people lookin’ for guys to beat up their asshole exes?” Maybe he should ask Caspar if his boss is hiring.

“That’s going to end with you in jail and you know it. But I’m just saying, you never know. Maybe you’d have to drop a bouncer shift one night a week, or even take off a weekend every so often, but look how much some of these people are paying!”

He looks. “Most of these people want women, Hapi.”

“B, really, use the filters, are you new to websites?” Hapi scoffs and grabs the phone, showing him. “See? Look, there’s at least four people looking for….well, there’s no preference, which is basically the same thing as muscular, hit in the head too many times, great body, sort of loud.”

Balthus flashes her a killer grin. “You and Coco wanna share your ramen and generic soda with me, that it? Is this all a ploy? Could’a just asked, Hap.”

“Ha, ha, no thank you, you’re too...you, and also, a dude. I mean, you can come over but you bring your own ramen.”

Balthus yawns, tiredness dragging at his eyes. Truthfully, he probably does need to find a job that pays more or else get a second one to supplement his income. He really needs to pay off his debts, especially the ones that might end up with him floating face down somewhere in a river or buried in a shallow grave.

But this kind of thing? Agreeing to let some rich guy or gal pay for him to...what, take them to dinner? Maybe fuck them? Can he really do that? Would anyone even want him to? Balthus is pretty sure no one who’s wanted to hook up with him would ever think it required a down payment or something, first.

When Balthus gets back to his apartment, though, he notices a few things.

One, his Hummer is gone. Repossessed, probably. Which, well, there goes his housing plan if he can’t pay the rent in his apartment. Maybe he can sleep in the back office at Abyss. It’s barely big enough for him to stand up in, but then again, you don’t sleep standing up, right?

He has bills shoved under his door, one for the Internet and one for an old credit card he thought he’d dodged, but so far so good as far as power and he’s been stealing the Wifi from the chicken joint across the street -- cluckyone is not a very strong password -- and so that’s all right. His next two paychecks can go to avoiding Mr-Ms-Mx Second Warning, and the car...he can walk.

Farewell, Hummer.

Balthus takes a shower, eats some cold pizza and falls into bed wet-haired and wearing a threadbare pair of gray sweatpants. He puts his arm above his head, and he’s tired but thinks he might need to do something to relax so he can sleep. Porn is the obvious solution, and hey, maybe he should get into that? He can rail people no problem, no matter the gender. Do they do porn shoots in the daytime? It sure looks sunny in all these videos where people are fucking by a swimming pool.

Out of curiosity, he downloads the Sweet Delights app and takes a look, plays with the filters, just so he can tell Hapi that he did his due diligence and her idea is dumb, then get her advice on an appropriate porn name. Balthazar something? Yeah. Balthazar Beefcake? Nah, that makes him sound like a professional wrestler. Balthazar Bolt?

No. Balthazar Blaze. Probably better in porn if you come across as hot rather than fast. Right.

He’s just about to close the app when a new listing pops up under most recent.

“Hold up,” Balthus says, sitting upright. “What’s this?”

Wealthy scientist seeking moderately attractive person of any gender to attend parties/conferences as a plus one, all expenses paid. Conversational skills must either be exceptional or awful enough people will try once and stop. Need to have a strong constitution for badly-catered food, boring speeches, and my personality. The fact I’m warning you about it should tell you all you need to know.

Balthus is moderately attractive, surely. He cut mold off bread the other day for a sandwich, so the constitution for dubious food isn’t a problem. And he deals with drunk people all the time, so, how bad can one dorky scientist and their cohorts be?

There’s no picture with the entry, just a username, but hey, he might as well try. Balthus navigates to the set up a new profile and starts typing.

“All right, DarkSpikes228, get ready to meet your future sugar baby...BalthazarBlaze69!”

***

Lysithea von Ordelia, holder of two PhDs and the youngest ever recipient of the Royal Fodlan Excellence in Science award and youngest-ever PhD graduate of the prestigious Almyran University’s astrophysics program, puts her hands on her face and considers throwing her phone into the fire.

Not that it would do anything more than make a smelly, stinking mess of melted plastic and shattered glass, since the actual reason for her panic is an app that could just as easily be deleted. But the thought is still promising. It would be nice to watch something metaphorically destroyed.

Instead of burning her phone, she places a call to her best friend and keeps calling, over and over, until the frustrated and slightly-panicked voice of Hilda Valentine Goneril, fiancee to the crown prince of Almyra, says, “Lysithea, what the fuck, do you know what time it is?”

“I got five responses to my stupid post,” she says, because of course she knows what time it is, she just doesn’t care.

“Did you say -- five responses already?” Hilda’s voice goes from cranky to intrigued. “I -- hang on, wait. No, it’s fine, go back to sleep! It’s Lysie. I -- Claude, shh, no, I’m not telling her that, ugh, I -- fine.” Hilda says, into the phone, “Claude says you’re up too late and your babysitter should get in trouble.”

“Ask him if he’s gotten his AARP card in the mail yet,” Lysithea says. She smiles a little when she hears Claude’s laugh in the background and pads over to her laptop, which is open on the desk in the corner of her room. She’s at her parents’ “lakehouse,” which by most people’s standards would qualify as a mid-sized mansion, the doors open to let in the cool night breeze from the water.

“I kind of can’t believe you did it,” says Hilda. She was Lysithea’s college roommate, assigned entirely by chance, and by all sense they should have hated each other on sight the day they met.

Hilda was bubbly, popular, beautiful and studying fashion. Lysithea was two years younger than all the other freshmen at Garreg Mach University, caustic, small for her already young age and deeply enmired in her goth stage, and a physics major. Hilda joined a sorority, Lysithea joined the math club. Hilda started dating Claude von Riegan, an actual member of royalty. Lysithea lied to Hilda’s over-protective big brother about it every time he called. Claude sweet-talked her into attending the University of Almyra for her doctorate, probably because he knew Hilda would be less reticent to move there if she had her best friend nearby.

“I only did it because my date cancelled and you know it,” Lysithea says, opening up the web interface for Sweet Delights on her laptop. She’d originally asked her friend Leonie to go to the conference in Derdriu with her. Leonie had agreed, but then her girlfriend had surprised her with a trip and of course, Lysithea wouldn’t want her to miss out on that. Even if she couldn’t imagine preferring camping over a five-star hotel.

“Can you imagine going camping with Leonie and Shamir,” Hilda says, snorting. “Do they stay in hostels, or are those too fancy for those two?”

“Are you kidding? Leonie said all they’re bringing is a pocket knife, a tarp, a pack of matches and some beef jerky.”

“That’s not a vacation, that’s capital punishment. And you’re sure you don’t want to ask Cyril?”

Cyril was a mathematician she’d met in Almyra and been on two dates with before realizing they were better off as friends. “He’s got a conference of his own in Enbarr that weekend. Maybe I should just delete these messages, and the app, and go solo.”

“Nope. You woke me up in the middle of the night, you’re going to read them to me. Out loud. Come on, you know that’s why you called me. If you weren’t curious, you would have deleted them without ever telling me they existed.”

Hilda knows her a little too well. Lysithea sighs.

“Well. First, there’s an ad offering to introduce me to, quote, chatty singles in my area,” says Lysithea. “From a girl in a string bikini.”

“Is she hot?”

Lysithea considers the smiling woman on the ad. “She’s not not hot, but also not my type. Also I’m pretty sure she’s a bot.”

“Like a robot? You like robots, don’t you?”

“Hilda,” Lysithea chides, deleting the message. “I’ve never bought your bubblegum brain act, stop that.”

Hilda gives an indelicate snort. “Right. What else?”

“This one is just says send nudes,” says Lysithea. “But they misspelled nudes as newds, unless that’s some slang I don’t get because I’m boring.”

“Either way, trash it,” Hilda agrees.

Lysithea opens the next message. She reads it halfway through, then says with quiet horror, “this person wrote me a story.”

“Ooh! That’s good! Unusual, and unique, I approve.”

“An erotic story,” Lysithea clarifies.

Hilda coughs. “Oh. Is it any good?”

Mistress I want you to step on me and tell me I’m a bad boy and call my penis small --” She pauses. “Penis is spelled with two n’s, by the way.” She scans the rest of the message. “It’s all one paragraph and there aren’t any punctuation marks. Also they want me to spit on them and asked if I’m into watersports.”

“You do have a lakehouse!”

“Hilda.”

“Sorry, sorry, wow, that’s...awful.”

“Yeah. And, oh, the last message is from someone named BalthazarBlaze69 so I should probably just delete this and also the app, and pretend this never happened.” She moves her cursor to the trash can next to the unopened message.

“Noooo, Lysie! You can’t. Also, Claude says he’ll get you a cushy job as his science advisor for his council when he’s king if you send him that erotic story.”

“It’s a constitutional monarchy, can he even do that?”

“He says yes, but I’d ask for it in writing,” says Hilda, shrewdly. “Just read the last one, come on!”

“Ugh, fine.” She clicks open the message and scans through it.

Hi there, I’ve never done this before so I hope this is what I’m supposed to say. Not real great with science talk, but for dinner I ate two-day old pizza so I’m sure the food at your thingy’s gotta be better, that pizza wasn’t even that great when it was fresh. And I deal with drunk people at a bar -- I’m a bouncer -- so as long as you’re not trying to yell in my face or crying after taking six Noa Fruit Jello Shots in a row, I’m guessing I can handle it. Anyway, I don’t know if this helps but I have nice abs, people like those. Thanks.

“This one,” Lysithea says, staring at it. “This last one. It’s not...not bad.” She reads it to Hilda.

“Well? How are the abs?”

Of course that’s her question. Lysithea sighs and checks out his profile.

Wow. No one she’s ever seen in her whole life outside of television has abs like these.

“That bad?”

“Fake, probably, I don’t know,” Lysithea says, but something about the message sounds...very real. The cold pizza, the job as a bouncer. Her gaze returns to the abs. “But if they are real, yeah, they’re nice.”

“Might mean he has an ugly face, though. You can’t bring him shirtless to your party, can you?”

“What kind of parties do you go to that you’d ask me that?” Lysithea bites her lip. It’s late, and she should be asleep, but her night-owl tendencies from college never have changed. “Should I message him back?”

“Can’t hurt, right? If he sends you an epic erotic story, just delete it. Maybe he’s just a nice guy who could use a break, isn’t that why you went with the app in the first place?”

“I guess.” Lysithea honestly isn’t sure how Hilda managed to talk her into downloading the app, much less setting up a profile and posting a message. It’s not like Lysithea was desperate for a date or anything, she just wanted someone to go to the conference with her so she had an excuse to leave dinner early. Like when they brought you dessert and it was fresh fruit with whipped cream or bread pudding, or something equally awful. Then you left, went to your room, put on your pajamas and ordered the far superior room service desserts while watching Haunted Fodlan and sleeping with the hotel bathroom light on because ghosts still freaked you out, even if you were a scientist in your twenties and --

“Lysithea!”

She blinks. “Oh, uh. Sorry. I’m here.”

“Great.” Hilda yawns loudly in her ear. “I’m going to go back to bed. Just message him, Lysie! You came this far, shouldn’t you, I don’t know, see your experiment through? Isn’t that how science works?”

She opens her mouth to explain the finer points of experimentation procedure to Hilda, but...actually, she’s not entirely wrong. “Fine. But if I get another story about worshipping my toes like Sothis Herself, you will never sleep again.”

Hilda chuckles. “Let me know how it goes tomorrow. Preferably after noon.”

“You’re going to be the laziest queen ever,” Lysithea mutters.

“Uh, newsflash, but that’s a good thing. It’s the ambitious ones who always cause trouble, don’t you remember history class?”

Lysithea smiles briefly. “I guess. You’re just in this whole queen thing for the accessories, don’t lie.”

“Damn right.” Hilda makes a kissy noise and hangs up.

Lysithea stares at the message for a few minutes, considering. She finally replies with a quick note.

I’m going to Derdriu for a conference about astrophysics. If that doesn’t sound too boring for you, meet me for ice cream on Tuesday. You can see if my personality is agreeable enough for a weekend. I’m interested in bringing someone I can use as an excuse to leave dinner parties where the desserts aren’t up to my standards. Yes, I’m serious.

There. That looks good. She’s about to close the app and go to bed with the notification pings and she sees she has a message back from Mr. Balthazar Blaze the 69th.

Great, just let me know what time/place and I’m there. My name’s Balthus. Here’s my actual face.

The attached picture is a guy with eyes of an indeterminate color of gray, messy purple hair, and a smile that says I eat trouble with my protein shakes for breakfast. His profile says he’s in his thirties, and used to do MMA, whatever that means.

A quick Google says it means he was a professional fighter. A reverse-image search gives her his name, Balthus von Albrecht. He was apparently good at fighting until he wasn’t, which seems like that’s how things like that work. Either way, she’s intrigued. Not only can he go to dinner with her, he could carry her suitcase. And her car, probably.

Lysithea suggests they meet at a local sweet shop she likes, then clicks around her computer looking for a half-decent photo. In the end, she picks up her phone and puts on the selfie mode, and sends him a picture of her from the neck up -- unsmiling with her hair loose, which is how she looks a lot of the time, so.

My name’s Lysithea.

She’s a little on-edge waiting for his response -- is he going to say something stupid about how she looks young, and that’s why she picked an ice cream place? She hates coffee, and if this is on her dime, she’s going to go where she wants.

Instead, she gets back see you Tuesday, Lysithea! Great place, love their sundays!

It’s not really how you spell sundaes, but it’s better than misspelling penis, so she’ll take it.

The last thing she does before bed is copy-and-paste the entire erotic story into an email and send it to Claude. Long live the king.

Chapter Text

“You want some, like, gummy bears on there?” the teenager says, eyeing her. “Not sure it’s got enough sugar, geez, lady.”

Everyone here has an attitude. It’s kind of why she likes it. “Sure, soCamilla’s is empty when Lysithea arrives on Tuesday, trying -- and failing -- to ignore the nerves fluttering in her stomach. She’s there early, just to get her bearings, but it hadn’t occurred to her until she’d parked her Valkyrie that maybe he would do the same.

There’s no sign of a purple-haired guy, though. Just the little white tables with the chairs, the counter with the red-and-pink striped awning, the bored teenager in the sailor hat behind the cash register.

“I’ll take a cake batter ice cream sundae with double hot fudge, sprinkles and extra cherries,” Lysithea says, pulling out her frequent-buyer card.

unds great.”

He snorts and finishes making her the sundae. Lysithea settles at the table with it, spoons up some and checks her phone. She half-expects Balthus to be late or cancel, but at two o’clock sharp the door opens and a very - very - tall man enters. He’s got messy purple hair, is wearing worn dark jeans, boots, and a gray t-shirt that looks clean and maybe a little too tight. His hair is pulled back and he’s got a pair of sunglasses pushed up on his head.

He’s -- definitely not bad looking. All right, so he’s actually hot. She can handle hot. Right. She takes a bite of her ice cream, the sweetness cutting through her nerves as his gaze falls on her.

“Lysithea?”

He has a loud voice, though maybe it’s just because the place is empty. She stands up, not like it will do much, and puts her spoon in her ice cream. It occurs to her maybe she should have waited for him to get there before ordering. “Yes, hello. You’re Balthus, I’m guessing.”

He beams at her, wide and easy, and reaches his hand out for hers. “That’s right!”

She waits for him to say something about her looking young or being short, but he just shakes her hand a little vigorously and flashes a smile at her.

“Do you want some ice cream?” She should get him some, right? That’s how this works, being a sugar mama. Literally, she’s buying him sugar.

“Sure,” he says, shrugging. “You not a coffee person? Usually people suggest coffee shops for like, meeting up or whatever.”

“No. I like sweets.” My personality is bitter enough, I don’t need to make it worse with coffee. She walks to the counter, acutely aware of the sheer size of him behind her as he scans the offerings. “Oh, uh.” Lysithea pulls out some money. “Get whatever.”

Balthus orders a banana split, which is acceptable, and takes it back to the little table. Watching him sit on the delicate wrought-iron chair is sort of funny, but he clearly enjoys the treat, so that’s good. No sugar baby of hers is ordering something gross like frozen yogurt.

“So, you’re a scientist and you need a date to some kind of dinner party? For scientists?”

Balthus’ voice booms throughout the empty ice cream parlor. Lysithea, who thought it would be easier to talk somewhere without a crowd, is beginning to think that was a mistake. She hears the teenager snort, and shoots a glare at him before answering. “I’m a scientist, yes. I have an upcoming conference in Derdriu, and it’s just easier to bring someone with you, especially if you’re me and don’t like small talk or other people that much. Or the dinners. I mentioned they were terrible, right?”

She didn’t mind other people in small doses. Conferences were just a lot, even with people who had similar interests. Maybe that’s why they were a lot. Her arch-nemesis will probably be there, and she’ll have to argue about theoretical physics while eating bread pudding, ugh.

“Well, I, uh. Can’t say I know very much about science, but...what kinda scientist are you? Is it cool?”

He looks so hopeful. She wonders what constitutes cool science, and figures hers probably does not count. Lysithea says, “I’m an astrophysicist. Specifically, I study antimatter.”

“Woah.” His eyes go wide. “Is that, like, in space?”

“Well, yes,” she says, amused. “It’s everywhere, actually. Including space.” She takes a bite of her sundae. “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to talk about science. You just have to put on a suit, sit by me, and let me use you an excuse to leave.”

He points his spoon at her and winks. “I can do that. Well. Define suit, I have...a tie and a sports jacket?”

She waves a hand. “That’s fine, I can get you a suit, isn’t that how ---” she can’t actually say the phrase being a sugar mama out loud, it turns out. “Isn’t that how this works? Trust me, I have more money than I’ll ever spend in three lifetimes.”

He leans forward and tries to whisper. “You’re not like, selling antimatter on the black market to make all that cash, right? No shade, but if you are, let me in on that action.”

She actually smiles. Also, he smells...good. That’s distracting. “No. If you’re asking where I get my disposable income from to spend on -- uh, this stuff -- it’s family money. An inheritance.”

“Nice, nice,” he says. “Well, sure, I can do this, but, can I ask you a question?”

“Is it about my age? Or why I look so young?” she demands, immediately suspicious. The last time she’d walked into a college classroom to guest lecture for her old professor, one of the students asked her if she was there on a high school visit and told her that college was awesome and she’d love it and did she want to go to a dorm party, later?

He blinks. “Your profile says you’re in your twenties, yeah?”

She shrugs, a little embarrassed at her instinctive reaction that people will treat her like a child. “People think I’m younger since I’m not very tall.”

He shrugs. “Darlin’, I’m six-foot-six, everyone’s shorter than I am. And I have no idea how old antimatter scientists are, usually. Or any other kind of scientist.” He spoons up another bite of his sundae, head tilted. “To be honest, Lysithea, I don’t think much about that kind of thing. Age, I mean. As long as you’re legal, I don’t think I’d sleep well on those jail bunk beds.”

She almost laughs. The teenager behind the counter definitely does. “What’s your question?”

“You’re cute,” Balthus says. “Got that whole goth girl thing going on. You sure don’t seem like the kinda lady who needs to sign up on a website to find a date.”

Lysithea clears her throat. He has no concept of an inside voice. She might never be able to come here, again. “I’m. Prickly.” That’s the nice way of saying it. “I don’t connect easily with other people.” A side-effect of being sick for so long as a child, but she doesn’t say that.

He doesn’t seem to mind the explanation. “Sure, yeah, I gotcha. Just think, you know, pretty girl, smart, loaded…” He looks around. “Thought I was on a prank show, that’s all.”

She shakes her head. “Not unless we both are.” And then, someone will die. “You want to tell me why you’re doing this, since we’re sharing?”

“I’m broke,” Balthus says, cheerfully. “I was an MMA fighter -- mixed martial arts -- for a few years. Was good at it, made some bank, then I got injured and had to retire. I owe some money, and while I like my job it’s not, ah. Not really paying for the important things.”

“Like rent?” she asks.

“Well...more like, the, ah, people I owe money to,” he says. “The kind that send a guy to kick you in the nuts if you haven’t paid yet. Not the sundae kind of nuts, either.”

Lysithea thought those kind of people only existed on television and in movies. “Huh. Is that why you signed up for the Sweet Delights site?”

“That’s real?” the teenager says. “I thought it was an urban legend.”

“Could you go in the back and play on your phone like everyone your age in service jobs?” Lysithea demands. “I’ll leave a tip on the table if you do.”

The back door is swinging shut before the words are even out of her mouth.

“You gonna leave him a tip, really?”

Lysithea pulls a pen from her bag and scribbles don’t eavesdrop on a napkin. She shows it to him. “A tip.”

He throws his head back and laughs. “You are a spitfire. But yeah, that’s basically my story. I’ve got a good job, I like it, but it’s just not payin’ the bills. Was looking for a way to make some extra money, and one of the gals who bartends with me showed me the app. Figured it couldn’t hurt to take a look, and hey, there you were.”

“So we’d have to go on a trip together,” Lysithea says. “I think I should probably get some references. Considering you used to fight people for a living, and you’re also apparently consorting with gangsters.”

“Well, they’re more like...money people with, uh, experimental loan recovery methods. But nah, that makes sense. If you ain’t busy tonight, come by Abyss. That’s the club where I work. You can meet my boss, my coworkers -- the girls who told me about the app. They’ll vouch for me. I got a best friend, Holst Goneril, you can call him. Just maybe let me explain why, first.”

“Wait,” she says, eyes wide. “Did you say -- Holst Goneril?”

“Yeah, why?”

“My last name’s von Ordelia,” she says.

He throws his head back and laughs. “No shit? Small fuckin’ world, yeah? Your family’s got a lot of land near Holst’s family’s place, do you know him?”

“The person who told me about the site is Holst’s sister.”

He stares at her. “What? Seriously? You know Hillie?”

She nods. “She was my roommate in college. I’m in her wedding.”

He beams at her, putting his hands behind his head and leaning back in the chair, which is probably going to go badly because he’s just so big. She can see the shirt he’s wearing, tight on his muscles, and it pulls up a little to show a glimpse of his abs. There’s also a slight hint of dark purple hair, there.

And she thinks maybe his nipples are pierced. That’s. That’s something.

He catches her looking and grins. “Well, hell. If you know Hilda, just call her up. Ask her about ol’ Baltie and she’ll tell you I’m on the up-and-up. But you can still come by if you want. Hilda ain’t seen me in a while, truth be told.”

How can someone so apparently guileless -- which is a nicer word for the one she would use, otherwise -- be in debt to loan sharks, to the point where they’re assaulting him at work? Lysithea doesn’t ask. “I’ll call Hilda, and yes, all right, I’ll come by tonight. But first, tell me how much you owe the loan sharks?”

“Loan sharks?”

She flushes. “That’s what they’re always called on television.”

He tells her. It’s not a lot, but it’s not insignificant, either. She can at least help him out with a payment to safeguard his other kneecap for the time being, and honestly, getting him out of debt won’t make a dent in her own fortune. That she really doesn’t need.

“You sure? I feel bad taking this,” he says, once she hands him a check. He seems to genuinely mean it, too. “I’m supposed to do stuff for you, right?”

“You can throw my trash away,” Lysithea says. “And yes, I’m sure. There’s no point in checking your references if you’re going to end up with concrete shoes in the river before the conference. What are the chances I’d meet someone who was friends with my best friend’s brother again?”

“That’s probably true. I appreciate it.” He tucks the check in his wallet. “So, I really can’t go read up on something before this shindig? Watch a YouTube video?”

“That’s not necessary, no.” She smiles a bit. “Taking the trash will do for now.”

“You should still swing by tonight,” he says, swooping up her empty bowl. “Abyss opens at eight, but I won’t be there until ten. Give me a wave when you get there and I’ll wave you through the line. VIP service for my sugar momma.” He grins.

Lysithea turns the approximate shade of the maraschino cherries on her sundae and mutters, “Good to know.”

***

“Baltie? Your sugar baby is Baltie?” Hilda howls with laughter. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, just don’t take him gambling, he sucks at it.” She’s still laughing. “Wait until I tell Holst! So are you gonna go for it?”

Lysithea stares at herself in the mirror. She’s wearing one of her favorite gothic lolita dresses -- still her fashion aesthetic, fuck the haters -- and applies another swipe of heavily-pigmented red shadow to her lids. Her phone is resting on the counter, on speaker while she applies a last coat of liquid liner to her eyes.

“As long as no one tells me he’s a jerk, I guess,” she says. She wonders if she should feel apprehensive, bringing a guy in debt to the underworld with her to a professional work conference. At least it’s a conversational topic to get her out of ice breakers. Those are the worst.

“He’s just loud,” says Hilda, who has absolutely no room to talk. “And bad with money. Also math.”

“Well,” says Lysithea. “Usually those are related.”

“Right. Well, I’m still amazed, what a small world! Oh, hey...soooo, are you gonna, you know?” Hilda’s voice gets sly and teasing. “Hit that? I mean, in the sexy way, not the kneecap way. He’s pretty hot, or he was the last time I saw him.”

“My Fast Travel cab’s here,” says Lysithea, and hangs up on her without answering.

She doesn’t know about that part. Her plan was really just to hire a fake date for the weekend and, if it went well, keep him on a monthly retainer or something. Sex would just complicate that, probably, and she couldn’t get a read on if he’s even into the idea or not. He’s attractive, and he smells good, and his abs are the kind she thought were photoshopped and not actually real, but...well, it’s not important right now.

Maybe she’s not totally…adverse to the idea. And he’d said she was cute, hadn’t he?

Lysithea grabs her purse, shoves her phone and her red matte lipstick in the front pocket, and heads out to meet her ride.

Abyss isn’t terribly busy when she gets there, but it’s a weeknight and it’s only a quarter til ten. She vaguely remembers Hilda going out in college with her sorority sisters on weeknights, and she’d leave the house when Lysithea was settling down with a snack in her pj’s to study.

Lysithea takes a seat near the door and orders a sweet drink with extra cherries and coconut rum. It’s a weeknight, so the bar isn’t too busy yet, but she already likes the aesthetic. She fits right in, really; it’s very steampunk, with the stone walls and sconces and faux-wrought-iron accents.

“Cool skirt,” the bartender says, bringing her drink over. She’s got red hair and red eyes, and a gold circlet headband that looks lovely against her light brown skin. She’s wearing a green velvet dress with bell sleeves, and has the coordination to keep them from getting in the drinks on her tray.

“Thanks,” says Lysithea. “College goth phase.”

“Nice,” the woman says. “Mine’s from when I was really into ren faires. Went every weekend. Had a belt with a pottery mug tied to it and everything.”

Lysithea smiles briefly. “What is it with the obsession with the middle ages? It was probably miserable.”

“Yeah, well. Ren faire middle ages aren’t the same, right? It’s like, Middle Ages Light.” The bartender studies her. “I’m Hapi. As in, that’s my name. Not my mental state. I’m Hapi, and I’m bored. Tuesdays are so dull since Yuri had a falling out with the aerialists.”

“Wait, what?” Lysithea blinks up at her.

Hapi waves a hand. She has one of those bracelets on it, the kind connected with a thin chain to a ring. She’d probably like Hilda’s stuff, come to think of it. “We used to have aerialists here from the pole studio. The owner -- you know, this story isn’t that great. But I’ve not seen you here before.”

“Oh, I’m here to...actually, speak with you.”

Hapi narrows her eyes. “Are you here to, like. Serve me papers?”

“No. I’m Lysithea. I’m here because of Balthus, he --”

“Wait.” Hapi’s voice goes cold and her shoulders straighten. “Are you...the second warning?”

“No, I’m the reason he’s not getting one,” says Lysithea. “If you’d let me finish, I’m here because he contacted me on an app, and --”

Hapi’s entire demeanor goes from coldly calculating to delighted so fast, it nearly makes Lysithea dizzy. “Wait, you’re -- hot damn.” She claps, then motions at her. “Come on, sit at the bar and I’ll give you as many of those drinks as you want. On the house. Extra cherries, even.” She grins. “And I’ll dish about Balthus, so.”

“All right.” Lysithea grabs her drink and her purse and stands up. “Lead the way.”

She settles at the bar, and Hapi slides a couple extra cherries in her drink. “So he’s okay, then. Balthus.”

“Oh, yeah. I mean, don’t get me wrong.” Hapi starts washing glasses. “He’s loud, he’s really not very good with money, he thinks he’s a way better gambler than he is --”

“Really selling me,” Lysithea says, deadpan. These are basically the same things Hilda told her, so. No surprises.

Hapi grins at her. “I like you. But like I said, Balthus is...he’d do anything for you, you know? Half of why he’s in money trouble in the first place is that he bought a bunch of stuff for his mom. His parents got divorced when he was a teenager, and his dad made sure she got shit in the settlement and she and Balthus were living in a car or something for a while.”

“Oh,” Lysithea says. “That’s not...I thought it was poor budgeting or gambling.”

“Yeah, no, that’s definitely the other half,” Hapi says. “That’s the thing about Balthus. He gets into these situations that are pretty good for him, then manages to do something and fuck it up, excuse my Faerghan.”

Lysithea thinks about this. “Does he keep gambling?”

“Well. He did it to try and pay off his debts? Because that always works.” Hapi shrugs. “He’s got a good heart, though. And you don’t have to worry about him being some kind of creeper. He’s respectful. Never seen him hit on anyone here that shrugged him off. Seen him jump in when people are being bothered, though.”

“Isn’t that his job?”

“Yeah. Sure. But not a lot of guys would do it the way he does. He likes people. Thinks the best of them, really. Which is stupid, people suck and mostly just look out for themselves, which honestly, he should do a little more of and --”

“Hapi,” a smooth voice interrupts. “What are you doing, telling tall tales about our Balthus?”

“He’s nine feet tall, Yuri-bird, what other kind of tales are there?”

Lysithea glances at the man who appears, swan-like, from the back room behind the bar. He’s gorgeous, with soft violet hair falling around a pretty face and artfully draped over his eyes, which are the same color as his hair and rimmed with a slightly lighter shade of lavender.

“Yuri LeClerc,” the young man says. “I own Abyss.” He leans against the back bar. “Haven’t seen you around before. Asking about Balthus, are you?”

“She’s -- um, a friend.” Hapi says to Lyisthea, “Yuri’s good people. So’s Balthus. Speaking of…”

“Hey, bossman! Gotta ask you for some days off, maybe -- oh, hey, you’re here early. Uh. Lysithea? That is you, yeah?”

She turns and there’s Balthus, wearing what she supposes passes for work clothes when you’re a bouncer. A too-tight white sports jacket, a black tank, nicer -- and tighter--jeans than the ones he’d been wearing that afternoon, and a nicer, less muddy, not scuffed pair of boots. His hair’s down, and it’s either styled messy or got that way on his way into work.

“There’s my little mama!”

“No,” Lysithea says, immediately. “No.

“Ah,” Yuri says, grinning slyly, though he looks like the type who doesn’t grin any other way. “This is your, hmm, new friend, yeah?”

“I don’t care if they know how or where I met you. But no one is calling me mama, ever,” Lysithea says to Balthus, who...clearly has showered and smells even better than he did, that afternoon. Like a cupcake but spicy, too. She wants to lick him, and run her hands up his muscular chest and that’s probably the...liquor. The liquor, and the fact he smells like a baked good, and how he’s standing very close in tight jeans and a tight shirt and she might have, occasionally, looked at that picture from his profile of his abs.

Just a few times. It’s fine.

“Yeah, okay,” Balthus chuckles, and grins at her. “Lesson learned! But this is Hapi, that’s Yuri, and Constance -- Coco -- might show up a little later.”

“Nope,” says Hapi. “She has a test tomorrow. Coco’s my girlfriend,” Hapi says to Lysithea. “But she’ll tell you Balthus is a good guy. It might take her six or seven dramatic sentences but that’ll be the gist of it.”

“That’s fine,” Lysithea says, a little overwhelmed by the attention. “I’m just going to. Drink this.”

“A girl after my own heart,” Hapi says, and winks at her. “Just for that, you can have extra cherries.”

Lysithea settles back on her chair and watches Balthus work.

He cards people until almost quarter til midnight, and then he moves around the club sort of lurking and looking very big and capable. A few times he comes over and leans against the bar next to where she’s sitting, and Lysithea sucks down her increasingly-stronger coconut rum drinks and single-handedly depletes the bar’s stash of sticky-sweet cherries.

“It’s not quite the same as a Friday or Saturday,” Balthus says, over the music -- which is EDM, at least she thinks that’s what it’s called, Annette would know -- and it’s obvious why bar bouncer is a good choice for a career, for him. He’s loud enough she can hear him over the music, and the few times someone’s rowdy he just has to look at them before they chill out and stop acting up.

A few times, someone comes over and slurs something absolutely incomprehensible at him. Once, Balthus just hauls the guy out like a naughty kitten, literally by the scruff of the neck, when he starts getting angry over whatever it is he’s ranting about.

“What was his problem?” Lysithea asks, when he comes back.

“Too much booze and an ex-boyfriend getting married next week,” Batlhus answers, grabbing a bottle of water out of the air that Hapi tosses to him. “People got a lot of feelings in bars, little lady. You never noticed that?”

Lysithea tries not to notice other people and their feelings if she can possibly help it. Balthus, it’s clear, is good at it. “I don’t really go out much.”

Before she leaves, Lysithea jots a note to Balthus on a napkin and tucks a check in it. The note says I don’t know anything about men’s suits, but get two. And whatever else. Text me your address. I’ll pick you up next Friday at 9 AM. If you change your mind, keep the money and no hard feelings. Please save your kneecaps. LvO.

She doesn’t know if he sees her leave, but when she wakes up, there’s text message with good to go c u friday! from an unknown number.

Lysithea puts his name in her phone, deletes the Sweet Delights app, and goes back to sleep.

Chapter Text

“So let me see if I got this right,” Holst says. He sounds amused. “You’re a sugar baby.”

“Hell, yeah. It’s a pretty sweet gig so far,” Balthus says, from his suite in the Failnaught Resort and Conference Center. It’s an adjoining one with Lysithea’s, the kind with a door between the two, and he’s got a huge bed and whirlpool tub, a 75-inch 4K television with surround sound and free porn, a gaming console he has no idea how to play and a view of the Derdriu harbor out of his widow, sea sparkling in the afternoon sun. “Honestly, I think I might be better at this than fighting.”

“Pre-or-post ACL injury?” Holst asks.

Balthus pads over and flings himself down on the bed. “Hell, pre-ACL, man. This is great.”

“Still can’t believe it’s Hillie’s friend,” says Holst. “What are the odds, man?

 

“I know, right?” Balthus chuckles. “Even I wouldn’t have bet on that.”

“Uh-huh.” Holst sounds suspicious. “I’ve learned not to believe you. But the important question is, do your sugar baby duties include, y’know…” Holst sighs. “I can’t think of a way to say this that doesn’t make it sound like a video on the front page of PornPort, you know, those, uh, pretend-incest ones--”

“You’re losin’ me, here, pal,” says Balthus.

“Let’s try this again. I looked her up on Hilda’s friendslist on Crestbook, she’s cute. Love me a good post-college Goth chick.”

“Dude,” Balthus says. “She has, like, a PhD.”

“In being a Goth?”

“Naw, man, somethin’ smart about science. She tried explaining it. You ever heard of antimatter?”

“Wasn’t that the band Mythrillica’s last album?”

Balthus rolls his eyes. “Point is, she’s smart.”

“Aha.” Holst chuckles. “Too smart to fuck you?”

“Probably,” Balthus says, not taking any offense. “But I mean, not like wouldn’t, sure, but I don’t think she’s into it, man.” She’s eyed him up a few times, but Balthus isn’t sure that wasn’t because of how he barely fit in her tiny car.

There’s a knock at the door connecting his suite with Lysithea’s, so Balthus says goodbye to Holst and goes to open the door.

Lysithea is wearing a black dress with a white silk collar and cuffs, the buttons on which are tiny black skulls. Her icy-white hair is neatly pinned up, a lanyard with Dr. Lysithea von Ordelia printed on it, along with a bunch of other initials that make no sense to him. “Hi. How’s the science going?”

She shrugs. “My arch-nemesis is here.”

“Wait, huh?” That’s the last thing he expected her to say. “Science people have nemesis...es?”

“Yup.” She crosses her arms over her chest. She’s so tiny, Lysithea. As tiny as her impractical, ridiculous car. It was like trying to ride a roller skate all the way to Derdriu. The only good part had been watching her drive, her small hand shifting gears and the fact she drove like a character in a heist movie.

It was hot. Actually, a lot of the things she does are hot. The smart thing, the goth aesthetic, the way she’d practically verbally eviscerated a guy at a stoplight who whistled at her and asked if she wanted to race...he definitely wouldn’t mind putting his talents in the bedroom to use if she’s into it.

“Is your nemesis like, a bit proponent of non...anti...matter? Is he pro-matter? Is that a thing?”

She smiles, and it’s not something she’s done a lot of in the short time he’s known her, so that makes him pretty proud of his admittedly dumb joke. “Pro-matter.” She shakes her head. Then, she laughs. It’s cute. “I can’t believe that made me laugh.”

Balthus grins and waggles his eyebrows at her. “Your sugar baby’s got talents, little lady.”

She sighs, but not like she’s really mad. “This other astrophysicist, he’s always yammering about black holes and publishing articles contradicting mine in journals.”

Balthus blinks at her. “That’s...real dorky, Lysithea. Like. The tamest battle ever.”

“You say that, but you’re not around academics. The funny thing is, he’s always at these events and hardly talks to anyone but his husband.”

“What’s his name? If I see him around. I can glare at him for ya.” Balthus hits his own palm with his fist.

“Jeritza von Hrym,” she says. “His husband’s a professor but a lot nicer. I don’t know how that happened. Anyway, they’ll probably be at our table for dinner. They tend to group us by specialities.” She gives a wistful sigh. “I should have studied black holes instead. Just to prove him and his stupid dark matter theories wrong.”

He has no idea if she’s joking or not, but at least he’s heard of those. “Right, those are the things that suck you in and you end up in hell. I saw that movie.”

“With the evil robot? I loved that one when I was a kid, too,” she admits, and there’s that little smile, again. “Anyway, is your room okay?”

It’s the nicest room he’s been in since before his parents divorced and he left five-star hotels behind with his father and his new wife. “It’s great, thanks.”

“There’s a pool. And a weight room. You look like maybe you like those.”

He nods, then says, “I hope my weight-lifting nemesis isn’t here, though. I’ll have to get you to fling some antimatter at him.”

“You’re teasing me,” she says, flatly. “You do that a lot.”

He tilts his head, realizing that he really wants to kiss her. He can’t help it. She’s so serious. Even about jokes, she’s serious. Sure, he’ll have to pick her up since she’s so small, but he can handle it. She’s not wrong about his weightlifting.

“Yeah, you look like maybe you need it. Don’t take this the wrong way, Lysithea, but you’re awfully serious.” He reaches out and bops her on the nose. “For someone so cute.”

A blush blossoms over her face -- along with a scowl. She swats at him. “Stop that.”

“Really? I mean, I will if you want, but I ain’t doin’ it to be mean. And you are cute.”

“Bunnies and kittens are cute,” she says, in the most flat tone anyone has ever said either of those words, hands on her hips.

“Okay, okay, you’re pretty, how’s that?” She is. Small but hot.

She blinks, then glances away, her face still red. “I’m not fishing for compliments.”

“What if I am?” He wants to see her smile again, and wonders if this is his hint to back off the flirting.

She stares at him and says, with all the deadpan delivery of a straight-man in a comedy duo, “You’re very pretty, Balthus.”

He laughs, loud and genuine, at that. “Thanks. The room’s fine, don’t worry about me. I’ll check out the pool, lounge around, maybe take a nap. Just tell me when to be ready for dinner.” He has a new suit and everything. Tailored, because it had to be, given nothing off any rack, ever, would fit him.

“I’ll come by at six. And I’ll warn you, this is going to be very boring and the food will have way too many vegetables, so if you hate it, just order something when we get back. That’s what I do. They have terrible dessert choices at these things, who wants savory bread pudding, answer, no one.”

That’s the most animated he’s ever heard her. “Maybe you shoulda been, like. A baker. Not a scientist.”

“Somedays I wonder. There’s a bar by the pool. Just don’t get drunk before dinner. It’s not fair if you have more fun than I do.”

He laughs again. She really does have a good sense of humor, deadpan as it is. “It takes a lot to get me drunk, sweetheart.” The endearment makes her blush, but he notices she doesn’t tell him not to use it. Interesting. “I don’t know if your bar tab could handle it.”

She shrugs. “It could. I mean it, just do whatever you want. You couldn’t spend all my money this weekend if you tried.”

“I think you might be wrong about that, you’re talkin’ to a guy who had his Hummer repossessed ‘cause he spent his car payment on a downpayment for a pyramid scheme.” Balthus pauses. “You need any supplements, by the way? Or, hey, looking for a way to be your own boss?”

She gives him a puzzled look, then says, “I don’t know what any of that means, so I’m leaving now. Have a nice afternoon.”

He bites back a smile as she turns to leave, and maybe, just maybe, stares a bit at her ass. It’s as cute as the rest of her. He’d be able to grab her with his hands, lift her no problem. If she wanted.

He’s sort of surprised at how he hopes she might.

***

Balthus spends a few hours at the pool, drinking light beer that will not get him drunk, reading the newest Bernadetta von Varley romance about childhood friends turned enemies turned lovers and wondering why he ever thought working for a living was a good plan. This is way better. He wonders if he can convince Lysithea to just keep him on as some kind of hired muscle with an exorbitant salary and very little actual effort required on his part.

Also, he wonders if these two guys are gonna bang in this book before he has to shower. Probably not for another two-hundred plus pages. They don’t call this author slow-Bern for nothing, damn.

He does scan the people at the pool for the afternoon, wondering if her science nemesis is there. He sees a lovely, curvaceous lady in a sunhat reading across the way -- is it the same book? -- and a man with teal hair lazily swimming laps in the pool. Maybe they’re bring-alongs to this conference, too. None of them look like the arch-nemesis type.

Balthus falls asleep at the pool, sprawled out on a lounger, and wakes up in a panic that he’s about to fuck up the easiest thing he’s ever had to do for actual money by oversleeping.
Why isn’t everyone on the website looking for a Sugar Person? This shit is amazing. And Hapi said his abs wouldn’t get him anything in life, ha! Clearly she was wrong. The profile pic of his was genius.

It’s only 4:30, though, so no problem. Balthus makes his way back to the room, showers in what is maybe the nicest shower he’s ever been in, ever -- it’s actually tall enough, which is rare for a man of his height -- and the bath towels even wrap around his hips, which give them one up on the pool towels. Balthus shaves and puts on some aftershave -- he’s almost out, it’s a sample Coco gave him that smells like cupcakes but at least it’s better than the vaguely musty one he found shoved in the back of the medicine cabinet at home. That might not be his. Or, come to think of it, might not be aftershave.

Balthus ties his hair back and gets dressed, and he has to admit the suit is the nicest thing he owns. The suit is fitted and midnight-black with a dark, charcoal gray shirt and vest, and a tie a few shades darker than his hair.

Balthus hears the knock on his door -- the one leading to the hallway, not the connecting suite -- and goes to open it, smiling as it reveals Lysithea. She’s in a purple-plaid skirt with a wide belt, an off-the-shoulder long-sleeved top that shows off her pale skin, and heeled boots that give her a few more inches of height. She has a velvet ribbon around her neck, and her white hair is up in two knots on either side of her head.

“Hi,” she says, and her eyes are slightly wide. “Um. That’s -- the suit.”

“Yeah, is it okay?” He holds his arms out. “Gotta make sure little mama approves.”

She makes a face at him. “Didn’t we talk about not calling me that.”

“Right, right! Sorry, just, come on, it’s sorta funny, you bein’ a sugar mama to a guy almost two feet taller than you.”

“You’re at least a foot taller than most people, you know,” she says, chin raised. “But it’s okay, yeah.” She sighs, then says, almost grudgingly, “Actually it looks...nice.”

“Thanks! The tie kinda matches my hair.” Balthus checks for his room key, then pulls the door shut behind him and joins her in the hall. “I walked in and you should’ve seen the tailor. He took one look at me and almost cried. I’m guessing guys my size and a rush job are good for business, bad for sleep.”

“Oh, I didn’t even think of that,” she says, as they walk. “I have to have my clothes altered, too.”

“Yeah, your impressive height, huh,” he says, and laughs as she turns and punches him in the arm. He winces and stumbles theatrically, and then holds his arm out to her. “Oh, here, let’s do this proper. Should I get you a corsage?”

“It’s dinner, not prom,” she says, but lays her small hand on his arm.

He feels a pleasant rush of heat, thinking about what else she could touch. Maybe after dinner and some drinks, he’ll check in. See if she’s into anything else he could do for her besides be a convenient exit strategy from dinner. Although, wait, that’s not very cool, is it? He shouldn’t wait for her to drink first. Right.

“Hey, do you, uh.” Balthus doesn’t know quite to say it, which is funny because he’s never been shy about sex a day in his life. But he gets absolutely no read on her whatsoever; for all he knows, she’s not into dudes at all.

Lysithea jabs the elevator button. “Hmm? What?”

He goes to rake a hand through his hair, remembers how he actually combed it and tied it back neat for once, and drops his hand. “Is this stressful? Not dinner but the whole, you know. Thing you’re...doing.”

“You really have no idea what this is, do you,” she says, and sounds amused. “It’s a scientific conference where I have to talk to people, so yes.”

“I could help you relax,” he says, hoping she takes his meaning. “If you wanted.” Just in case, he adds, “I mean, like. Sex, or whatever. Just so you know.”

Her face turns pink. “I don’t...it feels weird to pay someone for that.”

“Well you can do it for free,” he tells her, grinning outright, because if that’s her objection then maybe it’s not that she’s not into him. “Just, you know. I’d be into it. If you wanted.”

“Why?” She turns to look at him. “You’re decent enough company, I have a lot of these to attend, I got you two of those suits so it’s not like you can’t wear them again. I wasn’t planning on firing you as my sugar baby. As much as I hate that phrase. You don’t have to put out if you’re not into it.”

He bursts out laughing. “Honestly? The way you say shit like that, I can’t help it, I’m always easy for people who give no fucks and say it like it is.”

“You want to fuck me becasue of my personality?” She cocks her head. “That’s literally the first time anyone’s ever said that to me.”

He ignores the curl of desire at hearing her say you want to fuck me and says, “I mean, sure, you’re also hot. In case you don’t know.”

She opens her mouth, but the door to the elevator opens and Lysithea grabs his arm, her nails digging in through the heavy fabric so hard he can feel the sting all the way through his shirt, on his skin. If he’s honest, that doesn’t help the arousal go away, either. Kind of the opposite, actually.

But standing in the elevator is the man with the teal hair he recognizes from the pool that afternoon, and next to him is a tall, blond-haired man in a suit who has the most blank stare Balthus has ever seen on a person before. He aims his glassy, empty ice-blue eyes at Lysithea and says, in a voice mournful as a funeral bell, “Dr. von Ordelia.”

The man with him smiles. “Hello, Lysithea.”

“Professor Byleth.” She all but drags Balthus into the elevator. “Dr. von Hrym”

Oh, ho! So this is her nemesis, is it? Balthus gives her a pointed look; she stares, stony-faced, at the doors as they slide closed. He’s going to get a full-on erection if she keeps that up with her nails, though. The suit’s tight enough that it might be obvious, too.

Balthus slides an arm around her waist and smiles down at her.

“I read your last article,” Dr. von Gloomy says, behind them. “You once again fail to understand the simple effects of gravity on the event horizon of a black hole, and --”

“Save it for the ApJay,” Lysithea snaps. “If they’ll even publish you after that whole debacle with you positing that dark matter is responsible for --”

The doors open, and Balthus steps forward immediately, tugging her with him. “I’ve been in enough fights in my time to know when one is imminent, little lady,” he says, when she gives him an affronted look.

“This is a professional conference,” she says, stiffly, but doesn’t try and pull away. Or tell him he’s wrong.

He gives her an experimental squeeze and she slams an elbow into his side, which, Goddess, it’s so pointy. “I was a professional fighter,” he reminds her, as they make their way to the ballroom. “Kinda an expert, yeah?”

“If there’s really a Goddess and the world isn’t a collection of mass chaos and drifting particles, we’ll be assigned to sit with literally anyone else,” she says, as they approach the check-in desk. “But it never happens, because the universe is basically cruel.”

Lysithea hands over two tickets, gets a table number and swings by the bar in the corner of the room immediately. “Give me something with a lot of liquor that tastes like candy,” she demands.

The bartender stares at her. “Um. Could you maybe be a little more specific, ma’am?”

“Try a Faerghan Fling,” Balthus suggests. “It’s tooth-rottingly sweet.”

“Great. I’ll have that with extra cherries,” Lysithea demands. “And whatever he wants.”

Balthus orders an Old Fashioned, and they take their drinks to the table they’ve been assigned. Lysithea sees who’s already there, makes a disgusted sound and takes a swallow of her drink that makes Balthus’ back teeth ache in sympathy. He can’t understand how she can drink what tastes like sweet syrupy sugar with added sugar and garnished with more sugar.

“You sure you don’t wanna peace out and go order room service?” Balthus asks, because of course their table companions are her nemesis and his husband.

“What? No. I’m not afraid of Jeritza von Hrym, and besides, Byleth is a former professor of mine.”

“In, what? Smart Science People Kindergarten?” Balthus shakes his head and sips his drink. “He looks about your age. Is this what happened to people who studied in high school, instead of skipping out to play video games and drink their parent’s vodka?”

“Yes,” Lysithea says. “We got conferences and arguing in journals and boring catered meals, and you know what the best drinks are to order and can have a conversation that people understand.”

“I’m in debt to the mob,” Balthus reminds her.

She shrugs. “Not anymore.”

Before he can say anything, he hears a voice shrieking, “Lysie!” and turns to see a small, red-headed woman flying across the ballroom. She’s accompanied by a serene, smiling blond woman who looks vaguely familiar and who reaches out with preternatural reflexes to catch a chair the petite redheaded tornado knocks over in her haste to get to Lysithea.

“Annette, hi,” says Lysithea, and hugs the woman -- Annette -- before turning an actual smile to her far less bouncy companion. “Mercedes.”

“Hello, Lysithea. Always so nice to see you.” Mercedes smiles. “I see you’re at a table with my brother and his husband.”

Wait, the nice sweet blonde lady is the brother of Lysithea’s nemesis? Huh. He realizes why she looks familiar, though, when she turns to him and says, “Oh, hello, I saw you out by the pool today. I was admiring your musculature. It’s very impressive.” Her gaze is direct, sharper than her sweet voice might suggest.

Balthus was not expecting that, but he’s not one to turn down a compliment about his body. He winks. “Thanks. You had a cute hat.”

She beams at him and holds out a hand. “I’m Mercedes, this is my wife, Annette. Are you also a scientist?”

“Nah, I used to be an MMA fighter,” he says. “I’m here with Lysithea. I’m still not sure how ice works.”

“That’s why you look familiar!” The redhead, Annette, says. “My friend Felix, he likes watching MMA. Hi! Lysie, I didn’t know you were dating anyone!”

“I hired him off an app,” says Lysithea.

“Which app would that be?” Mercedes asks, eyeing him with such frank appreciation that Balthus almost blushes -- and that’s not easy. “Annette and I have an anniversary coming up to celebrate.”

“Mercie!” Annette exclaims. “She’s very. Honest.”

“He’s here with Lysithea,” she says. “I don’t think he minds. You have a fascinating aura, Balthus. Were you recently beset by money troubles? I have some crystals for that.”

“He doesn’t need crystals, he needs money,” says Lysithea. “Like most people with money troubles. Rocks are only going to do any good if they’re diamonds and you can sell them.”

“Real good thing I don’t got a fragile ego,” says Balthus, dryly. “But we could go back to talking about my abs, if you wanted.”

“Let’s just go sit down.” Lysithea says, to Mercedes, “if you have a crystal that will keep me from strangling your obnoxious brother, though, I could use that.”

Mercedes doesn’t seem to take offense. She slips a pretty crystal bracelet off her arm and hands it over to Lysithea. “Rose quartz. I actually made that for you, in case you’d be here.” She chuckles. “You two and your debating.”

“She doesn’t get that I mean it when I say I want to strangle him,” Lysithea mutters, as they make their way to their table. “If he starts arguing with me about ApJay articles again, I’ll use this fucking bracelet to do it and then she’ll see how her psedoscience nonsense is just selling overpriced accessories to overworked millennials.” She holds up her arm. “Pretty, though.”

“Matches your eyes, yeah. What’s ApJay?” Balthus asks, since he can’t think of a single thing to say to any of that.

“It’s what we call the Astrophysics Journal,” she says. “Where we publish papers.”

“Oh, right,” says Balthus, as if that makes much more sense. “Sure.”

As they sit down, they’re joined by an older gentleman with a monocle -- Balthus always thought those were a joke or a comedy prop and a woman with a sly smile and super impressive rack -- and a few other people who all seem to know each other. Lysithea just introduces him as Balthus and when it’s clear he’s not part of the science crowd, they mostly fall into small talk with their plus-ones or going for drinks at the bar.

Balthus goes to get another one for Lysithea, who demands that he not let them skimp on the “extra” part of the extra cherries this time, and returns to a heated discussion happening between his date and the dour-eyed man who was the crystal-peddler’s brother.

“But gravity doesn’t do that,” Lysithea says, hands on the table.

“Says who?” Jeritza asks, dreamily. “You?”

“And about twenty-five other respected names in the field of astrophysics,” Lysithea fires back. “Did you even read that paper that came out about detecting antimatter in the theoretical event horizon, or do you just not look at anything that might put a spike in your dark matter theories?”

There’s something on Jeritza’s face that almost looks like a smile. It’s there and gone so fast, and Lysithea’s so heated, that Balthus wonders if she even noticed that her nemesis seems to be enjoying their verbal battle.

Balthus sees Jeritza’s husband, the man Lysithea said was once her professor, smiling slightly. “He likes this kind of thing. I’m Byleth.”

“Balthus,” he introduces himself. “Do you study science, too? Uh. Antimatter?”

“I teach astronomy,” he says. “The basics. Less about dark matter and more the things you can actually see.” He smiles fondly over at Jeritza, who is being verbally berated by Lysithea and seems to be enjoying every second of it, occasionally tossing out barbs for her to respond to.

“I only understand about two words in any of this,” Balthus says.

“Yes, their sort of astrophysics is very high concept. Just let them go. They’ll have to stop to eat.” Byleth sips a fizzy drink that might be alcoholic or might not, looking completely unperturbed.

“They are bringing out the salads,” says another person at the table, the older man with the monocle. “And you’re both wrong about that application of Cichol’s Theory.”

“The salads won’t be enough to stop them,” Byleth says, shaking his head. “Lysithea’s not real into, uh. Vegetables.”

“Salads are pointless,” Jeritza says, in the same tone he’d just said if your theory is correct, the universe will die of heat death in mere centuries.

“True,” says Lysithea, though grudgingly, as if she doesn’t want to agree with anything Jeritza says, even if it isn’t about science. “They bring rolls with it, though. Everyone likes bread.” She pauses, then adds in a low, challenging voice, “everyone.”

Balthus pats her on the back. “How about another drink, there, spitfire.” Not a word he’d ever thought he’d use about a scientist, but if anyone deserves it, it’s definitely her.

Chapter Text

By the time she learns that the dessert is, in fact, bread pudding, Lysithea decides they’re done with dinner. She’s also a little drunk, but luckily she’d switched out the Faerghan Flings for non-alcoholic cherry soda midway through dinner. Easier to tear down all of Jeritza von Hrym’s stupid science theories that way.

“And you know, they’re just theories,” she fumes, holding tight to Balthus’s arm as they head to the elevator. “No one even knows about dark matter!”

“Right,” Balthus says. He looks amused.

Lysithea, who doesn’t often drink enough to be buzzed, pats his arm with more affection that is her usual. “Sorry. I can’t imagine how boring this is. I’ll, uh. Pay to get your -- what was it? Zinger? -- back.”

“My zinger,” Balthus says, and then laughs. “My Hummer? Thanks, but you know, I’m thinkin’ about downsizing. Doing my part to stave off that heat death of the sun or whatever.”

“Ugh, he’s speculating about wildly unstable mathematics that don’t -- uh. Sorry, you’re joking.” She sighs and presses the elevator button. There are other people on there with them, so she takes the opportunity to covertly study him as they stand there. He’s so tall it’s easy to see his reflection in the shine off the doors.

He looks...nice, in a suit. Very nice. She appreciated the messy-hair, tight jeans look as much as anyone, but the suit somehow makes him look taller and broader - she can imagine how much sleep the tailor lost, getting his suits ready in such a short amount of time.

He’s been a perfect gentleman this whole time, and a champ for sticking through her fighting with von Hrym during their lackluster dinner. Despite being a big, brash, loud man, his manners were impeccable. He’d pulled her chair out for her, and absently, like it was so ingrained he didn’t even realize he was doing it.

Well, Hilda had told her he’d grown up wealthy, hadn’t she? That his family had an estate near the Gonerils, but he’d taken off with his mom when his parents divorced? She could probably ask, but she hates talking about her childhood so she’s certainly not going to pry about his.

And she keeps thinking about that moment before they got in the elevator to go to dinner. His offer to help her relax, which of course she understands what he meant. And he’s attractive, he smells amazing, and he genuinely does seem to like her. But she’s paying him to be here, she’s taking care of all his debts and she likes it, there’s something satisfying about using her money to do something nice for someone.

But she’s not entirely sure his motivations for wanting to go to bed with her aren’t just gratitude, and she’s not interested in that at all. So it’s probably best not to mess with it. She honestly thought it would avoid this complication, to have someone she was literally paying to be here. She just hadn’t expected to want to climb him like a tree.

“Lysithea, can I ask you something?” Balthus asks, as they head out of the elevator and back toward their suites.

“Sure,” she says, a little anxious. What if he asks her if she wants to join him in bed? Does she want to? Would she?

Yes, you want to, at least admit that. And you probably would, right now, because you’ve been drinking, which means you probably shouldn’t. Maybe.

“What’s antimatter?”

Lysithea blinks, then turns and says, with a straight face, “Nothing. What’s antimatter with you?”

He looks confused for a half-second, then gives her a slow smile that makes her knees feel wobbly in a curious way. Then, he laughs. “Did you just...wow. Wow, little lady. I did not expect that.”

“No one ever does,” she says, secretly pleased she made him laugh. “Do you really want to know? It’s okay, you know. If you don’t care about my job. It’s not going to offend me. Just don’t watch bad sci-fi movies with me and you’re good.”

“No, no, I do want to know! I mean, I ain’t real sure I’ll get it, but some of that stuff you were, ah. Yelling at Dr. von Gloomy, there, about black holes? Sounded fake, but also, cool.”

“Experimental physics in a nutshell,” she says, smiling a bit. “I’ll tell you, but let me change clothes first.” She snorts. “Dr. von Gloomy. Accurate.”

“Sure. You want some better dessert? It’s funny how you knew it would be bread pudding.”

“It’s always bread pudding or Enbarr-style cheesecake,” she says, shaking her head. “Order something and we can share. Just make sure it’s not, you know, savory-whatever masquerading as a sweet. I want something sugary. Like cake, but none of that whipped icing, it’s for quitters.”

Balthus bows as they arrive at their suites. “I don’t get science, but girl, trust me, I get snacks. Gimme ten minutes.” He winks.

She nods, a little surprised at herself for agreeing, and goes into her room to change. Her pajamas are simple; a pair of lounge pants with a galaxy-print, including pegasuses flying on cupcakes and some unicorns thrown in for good measure, and a simple black tank top. She waffles over pulling on a shrug for a few seconds, then grabs it and slips her arms in before knocking on the connecting door.

“Yeah, come on in,” Balthus calls, and she opens the door.

Her mouth goes dry immediately.

He’s in a pair of low-slung sweatpants clinging low to his narrow hips, and he’s shirtless. She notices the tattoos on his arms, the cut lines of his abdominals and the fact his nipples are pierced all at once, and her confused, horny brain apparently doesn’t know what to focus on. Luckily, he’s on the phone, still, and staring at the menu for room service so he misses how she’s looking at him like he’s dessert.

What is wrong with her? She’s had sex before. With Cyril, with Leonie, and once, thanks to Almyran whiskey and a game of truth-or-dare, with Hilda and Claude. It was always enjoyable -- even if Hilda was a lot of effort -- but she honestly never felt as feral about shoving someone on a bed and sitting on their face before.

She’s so flushed and turned on just looking at him that she almost turns and goes right back into her room.

“Yeah, one of those, too.” He glances up at her, smiles that disarming, wide grin and says, “You want another drink, babe?”

Normally she would hate the overly-familiar use of endearments, but apparently she’s so distracted by his amazing body and the fact he smells like a cupcake that she just doesn’t care. “No.” She definitely does not need another drink. It’s going to be hard enough to control herself as is.

Why are you? A voice asks. It sounds a bit like Hilda’s. He thinks you’re hot, you want to lick him, what’s the problem?

Balthus hangs up the phone and grins. “Cute pants. Are you gonna tell me how the unicorns and the pegasuses work, with the antimatter? Is antimatter cupcakes? It’d make sense why you’re so into it.”

“No, Hilda got me these. And, um.” She wonders where she should sit. He’s got a little sitting room, but the bed is right there and it’s a lot more comfortable. And if she -- if she really is thinking about having sex with him, that’s good. Being comfortable. Right. Her eyes narrow on something there on the white fluffy duvet. “Are those M&Ms?”

“They sure are. I grabbed some earlier when we got gas. Here, you want some? Figured it’s like. Dessert appetizer.” He waves. “Sit, sit. Eatin’ fancy desserts in a big fancy bed in your pjs is on everyone’s bucket list, yeah?”

She smiles a bit at that and climbs on the bed, sitting cross-legged. “I didn’t know you had all those tattoos.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Got ‘em when I was fighting.” He turns and pads closer, leaning in so she can see them. “Flowers and crowns and chains and shit, not very, y’know, symbolic. But I like ‘em.”

She can barely breathe, and gods, she wants to run her hands all over him. “Um, I -- yes. I thought about getting something, once. But I’m not real. Real fond of needles.” She clears her throat and grabs for the M&Ms before she changes her mind and grabs his pecs instead.

“Yeah, you know, it’s different than the kind of, like, medical needles. The tattoo machine, you can’t even really tell it is a needle. Like a real sharp marker, really.”

She shudders, not wanting to talk about her childhood illness or the myriad of needles and tests that went along with surviving it. “The -- piercings, though. Those are needles.”

“Yeah. I made Yuri go with me. I just didn’t look.” He studies her. “You’re lookin’ paler than usual, there. I can put a shirt on.”

“It’s fine,” she says, so quickly he arches his eyebrows at her. She blushes hot. “I just. Was sick when I was younger, and I don’t want to talk about it but needles aren’t my favorite things. Your -- you can put on a shirt if you want but it’s not...it’s fine.”

She hates how she’s stammering like a schoolgirl. She might be younger than him by at least a decade, but Lysithea’s been through some shit. She’s smart, she’s got two PhD’s and a masters and two bachelor's degrees! She is not going to be undone by a hot shirtless guy with tattoos and nipple piercings.

Of course, then he says, “Well, I’ll warn you up front, they’re not the only piercings I got,” and she nearly faints as she realizes what he must mean, eyes flickering very briefly to the front of his sweats.

She tears open the M&M bag and ignores him grinning at her. “Do you want to know about antimatter or not?” She’s about to pull the shrug off her shoulders. “And turn the air down.” It’s way too warm in here.

His laugh is low and amused, and she’s positive she’s not fooling him for a second. “Sure.” He pads over and messes with the thermostat, then pulls on a black t-shirt that’s too tight and makes him look hot in a totally different way, then torments her further by climbing on the bed and sitting way too close.

She eats a handful of M&Ms as a defense mechanism and then dumps them on the comforter. “Okay, so.” Science. Right. She can talk about science. She starts separating the candy into colors. “There’s a complicated way to tell you this and an easy way, but...you know the math equation, x-squared equals four?”

“Wait,” Balthus says. “Like, do I know the answer?” He thinks. “Is it two?”

She smiles. “Yes, Balthus. It’s two. Well, it can be two, or negative two. Both will come up with the same answer.”

“How can you have a negative number, I never did get that. Nothing times nothing...ain’t that still nothing?”

“Well, yes, but...theoretical mathematics is a whole other thing. But just, you get that, right, that you can have the same answer with a positive number and a negative one?”

“Yeah, if you say so, science doc.”

“Okay, well. That’s how physicists knew there was antimatter. If the positive version -- matter, which is, you know, everything -- existed, then the equation proved the negative one had to exist, too.” She waves a hand. “Don’t think too hard about that part, it’s more complicated but that’s the gist of it.”

“Uh-huh,” he says. He sounds amused. “I’m waitin’ for you to use those M&Ms in a visual example, now.”

“Good, because I’m going to.” She takes the green M&M’s and puts three in a line. “Pretend these are three molecules of matter. Just regular, plain matter.”

“Delicious, chocolatey matter, got it,” says Balthus.

“Right.” She takes three yellow M&M’s. “So, that’s your positive matter. Now, say these are three molecules of antimatter.” She lines them up so they’re each in pairs. “And they meet. Wanna know what happens?”

“You bet I do,” says Balthus.

She takes them all in her hand, pops all six candies in her mouth, and eats them. “All gone!”

“Gobbled up by a cute girl in pajamas,” Balthus says, sadly, shaking his head. “Oh, the fucking humanity.”

“Destroyed,” Lysithea says, pretending she doesn’t like him calling her cute when she once punched her friend Lorenz for doing it, two weeks ago. “So, antimatter is the opposite of matter, and when it meets, that’s the end of both. People will tell you that matter cannot be created or destroyed, but it’s more. Energy? Anyway, during the Big Bang -- you know about that one, right --”

“Oh, I sure do,” Balthus says, and laughs, low and warm.

Her face heats and she thinks about that bulge in his sweatpants and sort of wants to roll off the bed and scream into the carpet. Instead, she sets up the M&Ms again. “Okay, well, during the Big Bang, um, the matter and antimatter collided and caused an explosion.”

Balthus grins at her. “More than one, if you know what you’re doing and you do it right.”

She throws an M&M at him. “Stop making this dirty, it’s science and you asked.”

“Sorry!” He catches the M&M with reflexes that seem at odds with what a big guy he is, then tosses it in his mouth. “Explosion, got it, all the matter blew up.”

“Every piece of matter has a matching piece of antimatter, like a pair, right,” she says, adding two extra green pieces and then swiping away the pairs of yellow and green candies. “But after the explosion, a small amount of matter remained that didn’t have antimatter around to destroy it. So, that’s it. The universe.” She waves her hand at the two remaining M&Ms. “Billions of molecules destroyed each other, but a few stragglers were too stubborn and stuck around.”

Balthus looks legitimately interested. “Huh. Why?”

“Well. That’s the part no one knows.” She shrugs and pops another candy in her mouth, because they’re there. “That’s what I like to study. But antimatter, people have seen it, they’ve isolated a few molecules in a particle accelerator.”

“And your nemesis, what’s his deal? He doesn’t think it’s real?”

“He studies dark matter,” she says. Lysithea puts some more candies down. “If this is matter, dark matter is the stuff you can’t see around it. The universe has all this stuff we don’t know about just...out there. It’s not like antimatter, which we can study. It’s unknown. Very theoretical. And you can, you know, come up with wild theories about black holes and no one can prove you wrong because --”

There’s a knock at that door.

“Hold that thought, nerd,” says Balthus, laughing, unfolding his large frame with grace and heading to the door.

She flushes and eats the rest of the candy as he reveals the hotel staff member with a truly impressive array of desserts; a decadent melted chocolate lava cake with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel sauce, a cheesecake with noa fruit, and a blondie brownie with white-chocolate sauce. There’s two bottles of water and a beer, which he offers to share and she politely declines.

“So black holes,” he asks, once they’re settled. “Tell me about those.”

So she does. They eat around at all the desserts, and Lysithea talks, and maybe it’s the combination of her favorite subject and her favorite thing -- sweets -- that has her being chatty and easygoing in a way she almost never is. Balthus goes a little quiet when she talks about how the universe is expanding into nothing, but she gets that. Most people do, if they think about too long.

She talks a little about her infamous arguments in academic journals with Jeritza, and he’s laughing by the time she’s finished. It’s late, and he’s long since moved the heavy tray out to the hallway, and is leaning back on his elbows on the bed, long legs spread out in front of him.

“You know, it really is fine,” he says, when she realizes she’s been staring at him like he’s the next dessert left to demolish. “I know you think I’m only offering ‘cause you’re...payin’ for stuff, but look, if it makes you feel better, I’d totally hit on you at the bar if I saw you.”

“I don’t know if that should make me feel better, actually,” she says. It kind of does, though. And she’s sober now, though relaxed, and can at least admit that even if she’s not sure she could have sex with him at the moment...maybe she could. Try something. Just to see.

They stare at each other. Lysithea’s mouth is dry, and she licks her lips. “I wouldn’t mind...kissing you.” Her face feels so hot she wants to grab the leftover water and pour it over her head. “I’m not...very good at this kind of thing.”

“Kissing?”

“Talking about it,” she says, hands fisted on her lap. “I’m not inexperienced, I just --”

“Hey. You know about antimatter, I can handle this part. C’mere.” He holds out a hand. “We’ll stop. Whenever you say so.”

Her problem is less a worry that he won’t stop, and more that she won’t be able to say it. But she puts her hand in his, and he tugs her across the bed with ease.

“Probably easier if you just hop up here,” he says, and that should be silly, not hot, but it has her breath coming faster and warmth curling in low in her stomach. He’s not wrong, though; their height difference is enough that it probably is easier, and he’s likely trying to not overwhelm her by trapping her beneath him. Not that she’d mind that, either.

But he pulls her so she’s on top of him, and he’s so. Warm. There’s so much of him. It’s almost too much contact, but before she can wrap her brain around how it feels to be lying on all that warm muscle and skin, he puts his very, very large hand around the back of her neck and tugs her in to kiss her.

He’s. Very good at kissing. And nothing about how he’s doing it suggests that he’s not into it, either. His mouth is firm and hot against hers, and she’s kissing him back just as eagerly in seconds.

His hands move down her back, and he murmurs, “You’re such a tiny thing,” which she’s heard before, but the way he says it doesn’t make her angry like it usually does. “All that smarts and attitude packed in this hot little body.”

She sucks in a breath and presses her face into his neck, inhaling the delicious scent of him. “And you have all this wasted space.”

He laughs, and she feels it rumble through his broad chest. “That wasn’t very nice. True, maybe. But not nice.”

“I already told you I wasn’t nice,” Lysithea says, raising her head.

“Maybe not,” he says, eyes heavy-lidded and warm. “But you sure are sweet. Must be all those desserts.” He pulls her in and kisses her again. “You can touch me, you know. I saw you lookin’ at me.”

Ugh. He’d noticed. “I just don’t see people who look like you, a lot.”

That laugh again, and he kisses her until she’s breathless and panting. Lysithea’s not entirely in a position to touch a lot, stretched out on top of him as she is, but she runs her hands over his broad shoulders while he kisses her. She’s pressed up against him and can feel his cock is starting to get hard; the urge to grind herself against it is overwhelming.

So she sits up, wriggles a bit until she’s straddling him just above where his cock is starting to thicken, and tugs at his shirt. “Take this off.”

“I knew you didn’t want me to put it on,” he teases, and half raises up to pull it off his body. She can feel all his muscles tensing as he does it; it’s very attractive. She’s not above appreciating his physique, and that’s only fair, isn’t it, considering how hard he clearly has to work to keep it?

“How do you even look like this,” she mumbles, running her hands over his bare chest. “You have muscles places I didn’t even know they existed.”

“Damn,” he says, putting his hands behind his head. “You’re good for my ego. I work out a lot. Like you with your brain, but I use weights.”

She glances up at him and smiles. He’s funny, Balthus. Easy-going. Gorgeous. This is such a bad idea. She leans in and kisses him again, then pulls the shrug off her shoulders and tosses it aside. “You can, um. Touch me. Too. If you want.”

“Oh, I want,” he says, and his hands slide around to her front. He pauses with his fingers on the hem of her tank top.

Well. It’s only fair, right? She nods, and he pulls it up and off, whistling low when he bares her chest.

“Look at those perfect tits,” he says, and honestly, how is he saying things like he’s in a porn video and making it work? Antimatter isn’t the only mystery in the universe, apparently. He glances at her. “I like having the piercings tugged a little. You can be rough with me, sweetheart, I can take it.”

Lysithea’s entire body seems to melt, hearing that. In all her fantasies, that’s what her partner tells her. No one she’s ever been with is all that into it; Leonie likes to be bossed around, but the one time Lysithea pulled her hair, she’d ended up apologizing when Leonie yelped in a very “this is not sexy” way. Claude hadn’t minded being scratched up, but they’d only ever messed around that once. They were a bit too similar, but Hilda was a pillow princess and definitely not into anything rough.

So when Balthus covers her breasts with his palms, making a pleased sound as he does it, she reaches down and gives his nipple piercings a twist.

His head goes back, exposing the line of his neck, and he moans.

Lysithea leans down, and bites him. Hard.

Balthus bucks his hips up, and she does it again. His hands slide from her breasts to her hips, and he moves her as he pushes his heels into the bed and thrusts up -- he’s moving her so he can grind his cock against her, and it feels so good she thinks she might die. She could probably come like this, if she could take off her pants, which are too bulky for her to get the friction where she wants it.

“You wanna ride me, gorgeous?” he asks, grinding up against her, hands on her breasts again while she scratches at him, pulls his piercings, bites him. “Wanna sit on my face? I bet your pussy is as pretty as the rest of you. I bet it tastes just as sweet.”

She feels -- wild. Out of control. She does want to ride him, hard and fast, wants to rub her clit and come on his cock and watch him fuck up into her and feel the bed bounce beneath them. Wants to sit on his face, absolutely, yes, she wants that. Wants to see the piercings on his cock.

It’s late. She has an early session she needs to be awake for, and not thinking about Balthus’s huge dick or what he could do with it. “I -- do, but I....”

“Yeah. It’s late.” He flattens his legs out, tugs her up so she’s not quite rubbing on his cock and tucks her against him. His hands rub on her back again. “Better cool off, then.”

He really had stopped. Lysithea is both grateful and frustrated, and when she eventually climbs off him she grabs her shrug and leaves the tank top, covering herself only because if she doesn’t, she’s not going to leave. “I. Tomorrow, I have. Meetings and panels all day, so … you should. Do something fun.”

He’s lying on the bed, shirtless, his hair messy -- she’d done that, hadn’t she, grabbed his hair while she’d kissed him -- and sporting a tent in his sweatpants. As she watches, he reaches one hand down and rubs it over himself.

“Gonna take care of this, first,” he says. “You’re welcome to stick around and watch.”

She’s tempted, but she knows very well she won’t just watch. And it’s getting so late that she’ll be off her game entirely if she’s up much longer. And that cock of his -- she’d be up much, much later than she needs to be. Right.

“Goodnight,” she chokes out, and flees just as he shoves a hand beneath the waistband.

“‘Night, little lady,” he calls after her, and she can hear him laughing as she flees through the door to her room.

Lysithea pulls the shrug off, tosses it on the floor and steps out of her pants and her underwear. She makes sure her alarm is set on her phone, plugs it into the charger, then grabs her vibrator out of her suitcase. She brought it with her on a whim, and while she probably doesn’t even need it, she’s glad she gave in to the impulse to pack it.

She flips on her stomach, shoves the vibrator beneath her and turns it on low. It only takes a few seconds of humping against it for her to come gasping into her pillow, thinking about him stroking himself off in the other room and thinking about her while playing with his cock.

She comes again, quickly, the second orgasm strong enough that she’s groaning and hopes he can hear her -- as unlikely as that is, probably. Goddess, if it feels this good getting herself off, how good would it feel if she was grinding on his mouth, his cock?

She comes once more, panting and sweaty, then wriggles the vibrator out from between her legs and puts it on the nightstand. She’s still catching her breath, body liquid and twitching, her cunt still pulsing gently from the intensity of her orgasms.

Eventually her breathing settles and she falls into sleep; it won’t be enough, but it’s better than if she let herself get up, storm back into Balthus’s room and use him like she’d just used her toy. Which she has to stop thinking about right now, or Jeritza von Hrym might finally get the better of her in their early-morning panel and she won’t stand for that.

Chapter Text

Balthus wakes up the next morning at half-past ten, naked, his stomach itchy from where he came all over himself imagining Lysithea riding him and coming on his cock, then his face. He’s pretty sure she was in her room doing the same thing, getting herself off, and the thought of it is enough that he spends a nice leisurely hour in bed jerking off to the thought, again.

By the time he’s up and dressed, she’s of course long gone being a science nerd and so that leaves him with an entire day to do whatever he wants. She’s left him enough cash that he could buy a boat, it feels like, and so he books himself on one of those boat-cruises of the city and enjoys a nice cold drink while the cruise guide tells him about the war that was once almost fought there.

Despite all the extra cash he’s walking around with, Balthus isn’t really one for superfluous spending -- or, no, he is, but he bought things like Hummers and a jet ski and a time-share company that disappeared overnight with a bunch of people’s money. So while he’s in Derdriu, he does nothing more elaborate than have lunch outside at an overpriced pizzeria and text a few people some selfies of him grinning with the bright blue water behind him.

After his second beer on the patio, he pulls up Lysithea’s number and thinks for a moment about what to say.

Hope you’re eviscerating that nemesis of yours with your smart science wit, babe! ;)

After a moment, he hits send.

Her response is, I would like to send him to an actual black hole.

Balthus laughs outright and sends back a message.

That fun, huh? Need me to drop off some emergency M&Ms so he gets it like I did?

like i’m wasting candy on him.

Ah, he likes her. Who knew he was into smart chicks? Balthus orders a decadent dessert and takes a picture, sending it to her with the message come meet me and I’ll share.

Her response is don’t be a tease, Balthus and he studies it for a minute, thinking about last night. Her naked from the waist up, grinding on his erection, sucking his neck, scratching him. Playing with his piercings. His cock stirs.

I can give you something tasty later ;)

He takes a bite of the dessert and wonders if he’s fucking things up by sending her that. He reminds himself she’s been firm with her boundaries so far, and if it’s too much, she’ll tell him. He hits send.

describe that dessert to me.

Right. Of course. He snorts and takes a bite of the dessert, which is a brownie sundae, and sends, it’s sweet and rich, like you, haha.

Wow. Do better.

Balthus’ eyebrows raise. He thinks for a second, takes another bite and types.

It’s warm and soft, like I imagined your pussy was when I got off thinking about having *that* for dessert. The ice cream’s cool and smooth like your perfect tits.There are sprinkles, but I can’t think of anything sexy to think about those. Wanna help?

He’s convinced this is too much but then he gets a message back that says, sprinkles are a garnish, just for fun. Extra sweet on top of something already delicious. Try that.

Well! Who knew she’d be into sexting? Except. Is it sexting if it’s about sundaes? What is actually turning her on, here? It’s sort of great that he doesn’t actually know.

So somethin’ good after an already delicious dessert, huh? Like how hard I came thinking about you last night, and again this morning?

Not subtle, but he can only send so many sexy messages about a brownie sundae.

better, is her reply, followed by, i got off three times last night and it only took less than ten minutes. The second and third were the sprinkles. See what I did there?

He actually stares at this message for a few long seconds and tries to remember how to breathe. His cock throbs in his jeans.

I’m much better at dirty than sweet, darlin’. Would rather eat you out than have a sundae any day. You think about me fucking you? My cock? It’s better than a dessert. It’s a main fucking course :)

The three little dots show up, vanish, and show up again.

I’ve never done this before. I’m in a meeting. I was using the sundae for a reference.

He feels bad, immediately, but only as long as it takes for her to send, I thought about what you were doing when I left your room.

Oh, ho! Look at that. Smiling, he sends back, I couldn’t even take my time, I was so hard for you. Wanted to make it last but I couldn’t. Wanted to fuck you so bad.

It isn’t until he hits send that he realizes his auto-correct struck again and instead of fuck his message says Wanted to duck you so bad.

Hope that doesn’t quack you up in your meeting, he sends.

That was a definite fowl, she replies.

He laughs, and it’s probably for the best they stopped with the hot texts because the server’s back with his change and it’s time for him to go.

Beak romance, am I right? ;)

A few seconds later, he gets, I just laughed out loud and people are staring at me. I’m turning my phone off, now.

Then, before he can answer, Eggcellent pun. I guess.

Lysithea is offline, says his messenger app.

Balthus leaves the change for a tip and heads back out to the street, thinking he may, possibly, be in trouble, here. Because he’s doing this to pay off his debts, not get a girlfriend, since it would be pretty shitty, wouldn’t it, to expect your girlfriend to do that? But what if that’s how you met her?

Balthus is very good at not thinking about things he doesn’t want to think about, though, so he pushes it aside and walks into a fancy-looking candy store. He sees there are collections of little glass jars you can fill up with candy, and sets about making a good-sized one with candy that looks a little like a galaxy -- or at least the colors in the photo that comes up when he searches for galaxy photos on Google on his phone.

He buys that one himself, because it seems sorta wrong to make her buy her own present, then heads back to the hotel. He could swim and have a nap, or watch that porn channel, though honestly, he’s probably just going to read those text messages and jerk off like a horny teenager or something.

When he gets back to the hotel, he knocks briefly on the door connecting their suites -- he’s pretty sure she’s not in there, but he’s not an ass and you don’t just walk into people’s bedrooms without knocking. When he doesn’t hear a response, he tries the door and peeks in -- there’s no one there, though, so he takes the jar of candy and goes to put it somewhere for her to find when she gets back to her room.

And then laughs, because Lysithea’s room looks like maybe she was doing some of those experiments with matter and antimatter destroying each other. It’s a mess, with clothes lying everywhere and jewelry and other odds and ends on the dresser, half-finished bottles of water and electronics with their various chargers plugged in all over.

She really didn’t strike him as the messy type. It’s sort of cute, really, that a smarty-pants scientist would be this disorganized. They’ve been there for two days. How’d she even fit this much stuff in her suitcase? It hadn’t been that heavy!

He glances around to see if there’s a spare place to put the candy jar, thinking if not he’ll just keep it in his room -- Balthus is actually way neater than most people expect -- when his eyes settle on her bedside table.

There’s a vibrator on there.

Balthus grins, snaps a picture and opens his text messages.

you didn’t mention you had electronic assistance when you were bragging how fast you got off, babe. Doesn’t count. I win :)

Immediately after that, he adds, your door was open and i got you a present don’t get mad.

There’s no answer, so he sets the candy down next to the vibrator and goes back to his room and changes into his workout gear. The weight room is down by the pool, so he spends an hour lifting and then heads out to take a dip. You can order nachos and beer by the pool! Honestly, being rich is pretty sweet. He didn’t really enjoy it that much growing up, what with the stifling home life and his parents fighting all the time, but turns out it’s nice when you don’t have all those things yucking the yum.

He’s sending a smug selfie to his coworkers -- another one, can’t have too many! -- when he gets a text from Lysithea.

what kind of present

He laughs out loud.

not a dirty one. I put it on your bedside table.

Her next reply is, give me a hint.

His eyebrows go up. you that bored doing science?

I’m not doing science. I’m listening to someone who’s wrong about potential applications for particle accelerators. Give me a hint about my present.

Man, this is almost too easy -- but Balthus really shouldn’t start texting her dirty things again, he’s in a swimsuit and it’d be pretty obvious if he got a hard on thinking about how much he wants to rail her.

what do you like more than science he sends.

is it candy.

wait and see, pretty girl, it’s a present. Don’t spoil the surprise.

He really needs to not think about her with that vibrator. That she was that hot over him, fuck, but that gets him going. She knows things about how the universe started. Balthus knows how to hit the washing machine to get a free extra load out of two quarters. Who would’ve thought she’d be into him?

He gets a message from Holst a few seconds later.

So how’s the sugar baby life treating you?

In answer, Balthus raises his beer, gets the pool in the picture, and sends Holst a selfie. Think I found my calling, pal, and it’s letting smart, hot people take me on vacation.

Holst’s response is four laughing-crying emojis.

Just realized I remembered Lysithea kinda -- Mom used to make her family casseroles since they were at the hospital all the time. Or Mom made our cook make casseroles for the von Ordelia’s cook to heat up. Rich people style lol.

Balthus frowns. Her parents were doctors? I thought they were just rich ‘cause they were old money. I don’t get this whole being rich and doing actual work when you could do this instead.

Holst sends back, no b/c she was sick. Lysithea. Dude did you not know that they thought she was gonna die until she was like twelve or something? Rare blood disease. She had all these weird experimental treatments it’s why her hair is that color. Thought u knew that?? Hillie didn’t tell you?

Hilda didn’t tell me, no. Balthus frowns. He used to run around with Holst constantly, but he has no memory of Lysithea -- though he’d left with his mom when his parents divorced and she would have been what, two, three?

Huh usually you cant get Hillie to shut up about gossip. Anyway glad to hear shes doing well but try not to break her dude youre a beast lol.

Balthus rolls his eyes and decides to head up to his room. Once there, he strips out of his swim trunks and rinses them out, hangs them up -- he’s not a savage -- and pulls on a pair of sweatpants with no underwear. He’s going to have to shower later anyway.

He wonders if he should ask her about that, being sick, but he figures if she wants him to know, she’ll tell him. He draws the curtains and settles on his freshly-made bed, then scrolls back up to the hot text messages they exchanged. He’s been low-key turned on all day, but honestly, it seems a waste to not look at the complimentary adult movie channels. They’re complimentary. That means he’s supposed to look at them.

It’s like complimentary water, or mints after dinner.

There are several options available, one of which is called Anal Pleasure Pirates, which Balthus swears sort of sounds familiar, and another is Bang Bros on the Beach, which he checks out and watches for a bit as it’s all dudes, and Balthus appreciates porn involving all genders. But the third option, Slut Training, is a little more his style -- especially when he sees it’s two women training a man to be a good slut and dick them out good and proper.

One of them is petite and a little mean, and she’s a bit too made up to remind him that much of Lysithea, but it’s enough that he can imagine her being bossy about how to eat her out. And how to eat out her friend. He’s fine with sharing.

“You just don’t get it, do you,” says porn!Lysithea. “You’re not good enough.”

“Oh, no,” says Balthus, out loud. He palms his cock. “Better get better, there...lady.”

The other lady pouts and porn!Lysithea -- which, maybe he shouldn’t think of her that way, but, well, too late -- smacks her across the face. His cock jumps. He wouldn’t mind watching that.

“Do it again,” she says, then drags the girl over to the dude -- a big guy, kneeling, his hands tied behind his back -- by the hair. “Don’t make me spank you, Amber.”

“No, make her spank you, Amber,” says Balthus. “Please. Give the audience what we want.”

The guy has a gag in his mouth, and porn!Lysithea tosses her very long hair and says, “Now get to it, and you better choke on his cock.”

He’s apparently watching the Spicy Channel, which seems to be for very light BDSM-flavored porn, except it’s still porn, so it’s still vaguely ridiculous. Amber sucks the bound guy’s cock and porn!Lysithea -- no, wait, her name is Garnet, which, are they going for a jewel theme? Is amber a jewel? He’ll have to ask Mercedes the crystal dealer, later -- pulls her hair a lot and tells her she’s a bad girl and smacks her.

“Maybe you should show her how it’s done,” Balthus suggests, squeezing his cock.

“I guess I have to do everything around here,” Garnet huffs, like maybe she heard him. Hell. Maybe she did. Maybe it’s interactive porn? Who knows. This is the premium shit, ain’t it?

Garnet sucks the dude’s cock for a bit, showily, probably not at all like Lysithea would do it. She’s not into posturing, it doesn’t seem like. He can just imagine the way she’d go to town, shoving Balthus back, small hands on his inner thighs, sucking him with the same passion she eats desserts and eviscerates enemy scientists with her brain.

Mmm. That’s a nice image. He likes when Garnet pulls off and leaves the poor bound guy hot and bothered and hard, dick wet and gleaming, and demands Amber go down on her to see if she’s paying attention, which maybe doesn’t make sense but Balthus is starting to stroke himself now and the thread of the plot was already pretty loose to begin with.

“Jet, maybe you should fuck her so she has a little more enthusiasm,” Garnet bosses poor Jet, who honestly has a pretty great view, bummer about his hands behind his back. Which, in the sudden magic of porn, are free and he’s no longer gagged and he’s fucking Amber right into Garnet’s pussy.

“That’s a good slut,” Garnet purrs. “Both of you,” she says, and damn, look at her, training two at once! She must be a pro.

“Yeah,” Balthus says, fisting himself a little faster. “I’m definitely a good slut.” He’s way more into the girl being bossy than anything else about this, which isn’t a surprise, he’s always liked that, but thinking about it being Lysithea is what’s really doing it for him.

Which is why he feels a little bad when, two seconds later, the connecting door opens and Lysithea herself steps into the bedroom. “Balthus, I had a break and I --” she stops.

“Oh,” he says. “Uh. Hi?” His cock is hard and thick in his hand, slick with pre-come, his sweatpants shoved down his thighs.

“Good sluts don’t come without permission, and they definitely don’t come before I do,” Garnet purrs, loudly, on the television.

Lysithea’s eyebrows raise. “A woman with principles. I like it.”

“I, ah,” says Balthus. “Look. The porn is complimentary.”

“Sure.” She blinks, her eyes flickering between the ridiculous large television and Garnet’s slut lessons, and Balthus with his hand on his cock. “I had a break. I thought I’d say thanks for the candy.”

“I made it so that the colors looked like, y’know, galaxies. Looked it up on my phone and everything.”

That he’s saying this with his cock in his hand is making this entire conversation somehow more surreal, not to mention Garnet is smacking someone and saying that’s not how you suck my clit, do it better.

“Anyway,” says Lysithea. “I’ll just.” She turns around.

She didn’t look mad. Balthus says, “How long’s your break? Wanna grab that toy and watch some with me? There’s some other options if you’re not into slut training. How do you feel about Anal Pirates?”

Lysithea turns back around. “I’ve seen that one. It’s not very good. The pirate ship is just someone’s backyard deck. If you’re going to have a theme, you need to commit.”

“Spank me harder, ma’am!” Amber cries, on the television.

Balthus thinks, in that moment, that he might just be in love with her. “Boys fucking on a beach? I watched that for a little bit.”

“How was it?”

“Predictable? Sandy?” Balthus’s breath hitches as she moves toward him. She’s in a similar outfit to the one she’d been wearing last night, but instead of a purple-plaid skirt she’s got on pretty tight pants with the same pattern tucked into some badass biker boots, and a black lace shirt. Her hair is back in a pretty twist, tied through with a black ribbon. Her necklace is a black chain with a skull made out of pink glittery rhinestones.

“Hilda,” she says, touching it. “If you’re wondering why it’s pink.”

A smack, and a moan, from the television. Balthus’ hand twitches with the effort not to move on his dick, but it’s less about the porn and more about the way Lysithea’s staring at him like she wants to climb on him again.

“What if I don’t want my toy,” she asks. She doesn’t toss her hair like Garnet but damn, that bossy tone of voice is enough to make him rub at the bottom of his cock with his thumb. “What if I want to use yours?”

Yeah, if anyone’s ever said anything that hot to him before, he’s not sure when it would have been. “You can use anything of mine you want, babe,” he says.

“Good,” she says, and pulls her shirt over her head. “I’m going to. You don’t have to stop.”

He doesn’t, but he’s watching her, not the porn, as he starts stroking his cock again. “Would you take your hair down for me?”

“Hmm. It gets everywhere.” She tosses the shirt aside and takes off her bra, then sits on the edge of the bed to take her boots off.

“Those are hot, if you wanna leave them on,” he says.

“If you want me to leave my pants on, sure,” she says.

That’s not an exchange he’s willing to make, so he says nothing as she pulls off her boots, carefully not mentioning she’s wearing socks with cartoon rainbows on them even though he kind of wants to. She pushes her pants down and her underwear along with it, then reaches up to take her hair down. “What about this movie is getting you hot?”

“Uh, honestly, right now that television screen might as well be blank,” he tells her. “What’s gettin’ me going is you telling me you’re gonna use my cock like a toy.”

“I didn’t say your cock,” she says, and damn, Garnet could take some lessons from his girl, here. “But maybe. Still, this is what you were watching. Why? Because there’s two girls?”

“Huh? Oh, no.” Balthus isn’t shy about sex or what he likes, so he answers her honestly. “I like that Garnet -- that’s uh, the girl with the red hair -- is bein’ bossy and making Amber and Jet get her off.”

“Garnet, Amber and Jet?”

“Yeah, you noticed that too, huh? Anyway, I’m sorta into the bossy thing.” He shrugs. “I mean, sure, the two girls are hot. That guy having his arms tied is hot. The porn’s just hot, babe. Don’t know what else to tell you.”

“You know what’s doing it for me?” she demands, climbing on the bed.

“That I got you some candy?”

“Oh. No, well, that was -- nice of you,” she says, and for the first time, she blushes. “That you get off to bossy women. I’m bossy.”

“Really? Hadn’t noticed.”

She hits him on the shoulder. It’s cute, like being swatted by an angry kitten, which he is not saying because chances are looking real great here that he’s going to get off and not just thanks to Garnet and her exacting slut standards.

There’s a sound of a smack, then another, and another, and Garnet saying in between each, “I! Said! No! One! Comes! Until! I! Do! Now make me come or you won’t be my good slut!

Lysithea pauses, then grabs his hair and says, “What if I smacked you and told you that you can’t come until you make me?”

Balthus smiles at her. “Try it and see. Or maybe don’t, if you want me to follow directions. It might get me off. You already had me hard at a pizzeria, all those text messages.”

“Puns do it for you, too?”

He laughs, a little strangled, because she looks amazing, straddling him while naked and pulling at his hair. People are moaning in the background. He’s not a complicated man, here. “I do like a good pun, darlin’. Go on. Smack me and tell me to make you come.”

For a second he doesn’t think she’s going to do it. Then her chin raises, her pretty violet eyes flash at him and she hauls off and hits him across the face. “Get me off.”

Balthus moans, and has to grab and squeeze the base of his cock so he doesn’t actually come first. “Yeah, fuck, I’d love to, how do you want it?”

“How -- your mouth,” she says, eyes flickering toward the television. Who says porn can’t be educational?

Balthus grins, leans in and kisses her, then flips her so she’s on her back. He kisses her collarbones, her pretty little tits, sucks her nipples and moves lower, down her stomach and to the small trimmed patch of hair. Idly, he notices it’s not the same as the hair on her head and is, in fact, a soft black like licorice.

“Put your legs on my shoulders,” he says, and she does. He shivers at the slide of her warm skin against his, then says, “You don’t like something, tell me. Train me up like a good slut.”

She mutters something and shakes her head. “Do you know what you made me do, today? Your text messages. I -- snuck out of a panel and made myself come in the bathroom. In public.” She shivers and holds her hand out. “See? I bit myself to stay quiet. Someone came in, right when I...finished.”

That’s so hot that Balthus can’t breathe, thinking about her rubbing her pussy and thinking about him. He takes her hand and fuck it’s so small, he can’t get over how much badassery she packs in that tiny frame. That’s what’s so hot about it --she’s got the attitude of a six-foot-six MMA brawler and a dirty fucking mouth, it’s fantastic.

He presses a kiss to the angry red bite mark between her thumb and forefinger. “Should’a just texted me, babe. I would’ve taken care of that for you real quick.”

“You sort of did,” she says. She smiles, and he smiles back, and something kicks at him, deep in his chest, but then there’s her pussy and he’s more interested in that than he is in feelings right now.

Balthus takes her hips in his hands and yanks her down, burying his mouth in her pussy and moaning at the first taste of her. “I knew you’d taste sweet,” he says, glancing up, pleased at the way she’s gasping and grabbing at the bedding. “Remember how I like it rough, you can pull my hair.”

She does -- hard enough to yank his face back into her pussy. Garnet is moaning again on the television, and Lysithea’s quiet while Balthus presses his tongue against her and licks up her slit, moving his face back and forth, fuck, he loves doing this. Her skin’s soft and her inner thighs are trembling, and he can feel the muscles of her calves flexing on his back.

He finds her clit and sucks on it, rutting against the bed as he thinks, again, about her making herself come in a conference center bathroom.

“That’s it, what a good slut, you’re going to make me come, aren’t you proud of yourself?” Garnet coos.

Balthus lifts his head. “Uh. You can turn that off, you know.”

“I didn’t tell you to stop,” Lysithea says, and her voice is all breathless, but then she says, “I like it, but if it’s distracting you I’ll turn it off.”

“Nah. I’m good.” He buries his face back in her pussy again -- he’s great, actually. She’s quiet, but she moves around so much he has to slide his hands over her hips to keep her still and she seems to like that, a lot, gasping and grinding up into his face.

“I, ah, can you -- use your fingers, maybe um, just one --”

He hasn’t heard her sound nearly that affected about anything, and for half a second he has to think about something very boring -- whatever that monocle guy was talking about last night at dinner, for one -- to not come all over the comforter. But he slides a finger down her slit and teases her, gently, laughing outright as she kicks him in the back.

“Be a good slut, Balthus,” she says.

He laughs and kisses softly at her inner thigh. “Yes, ma’am.” He slides his finger in, crooks it, and goes back to sucking and licking at her clit. She likes that, but she really seems to like it when he uses his whole tongue and moves his head up and down, and before long she’s moaning louder than Garnet and Friends, rubbing slick cunt all over his face and coming hard on his finger with these hot, gasping cries he’s not going to forget any time soon.

He’s been with people with clits who are very sensitive after you get them off playing with them, so he tries to pull back but apparently she is not one of them because she makes a huffy noise and grabs his hair to pull him back.

“Do it again, good sluts get me off twice,” she says, and it’s ridiculous enough that he can tell she’s maybe laughing, but whatever, he has no problem with that.

Balthus gets her off again, and when she shudders through her second orgasm she lets her legs fall off his shoulders and that’s when he moves back to look at her there, sprawled panting and flushed and sweaty on his bed. “Well?”

“You -- good, yeah,” she says, eyes closed, hair in her face. “Water?”

“Balthus,” he corrects. “It’s okay. We all forget things when we come that hard.”

She blinks hazy eyes at him. “Water. As in, get me some.”

“I know. You just came too hard to get my joke, that’s all.”

“No, it just wasn’t that funny.” She smiles, though, and makes a cute noise against his mouth when he kisses her, his face wet from her.

Balthus walks over to the coffee service on the dresser, looking for the little glass that’s always in these hotel rooms, frowning. Maybe it’s in the bathroom. “Where the hell are the water glasses? Fancy joint like this, how’re you supposed to get a drink?”

“The mini-fridge,” she says. “Try that.”

Offended, Balthus says, “those are like, sixteen dollars! For a bottle!”

She pushes herself up on her elbows. “The water, Balthus.”

“Right.” He throws a salute at her and finds a bottle.

“Are there candy bars in there?”

He stares at her. “You want a candy bar? Now?”

“For later,” she says, shifty-eyed. “That’s what I meant. Obviously not right now.”

“Uh-huh.” He returns to the bed and hands her the water, which he opens for her, because he’s a nice guy like that.

She drinks it thirstily, then hands it to him. He finishes the bottle, recaps it, and puts it in the trash, which apparently given the number of empty bottles in her room she has yet to learn how to do properly.

Garnet’s sluts have been tamed, as the next program shows a man in elaborate shibari rope bondage being tormented by a woman in latex leather boots teasing his cock with a riding crop, a vibrating plug shoved up his ass.

“This escalated quickly,” says Lysithea, which, for some reason, cracks him the fuck up so much he falls on his back laughing.

“You’re something else,” he says, shaking his head. “You, what, wanna know the backstory?”

“Some build up would be nice. I think it’s why this kind of porn doesn’t do much for me.” She blushes, faintly. “Walking in on you was different, I guess.” Her eyes travel down his naked chest to his cock, which is only slightly less hard now that they’ve taken a break, and to the piercings there. “Those are. I’ve never...seen that. Before.”

“I get that sometimes, yeah.” He settles on his back, plays with himself while she watches. “You can touch, you know.”

“Show me how you like it,” she says.

Balthus does so. He lays on his back, showing her how he likes to be touched. He tugs on the ring through the head of his cock, twisting at the nipple piercings as he does so, occasionally sliding his hand down to rub over his balls and teasing at his hole with his fingers. “Usually need lube for that, and I got some if you want.”

“You don’t use it for - for this?” she asks, and it’s kinda cute that she’s blushing again.

“Nah, my cock gets pretty wet, don’t usually need it. I can also, uh.” He stops. Sometimes girls aren’t into spitting. “Get my hand wet.” He’s amused by how she’s watching, like she’s taking notes. “Better make sure you get this down, sweetheart, for the exam.”

“Oh, stop it. I like to do things correctly if I’m going to do them,” she says. “And yes, I’ve touched a cock before but not yours.”

“You could pat it and I’d like it, baby, I’m not a tough guy to please,” he says, smiling. “Gimme your hand, I’ll show you how to work it.”

She scoots closer, then knocks his hand away and reaches out to touch him. She immediately goes for the piercing, watching him as she tugs it, then curls her fingers around the head of his dick and rubs at him with her thumb.

He sucks in a breath and pushes his hips up. “Yeah. That feels good. See? Hard to go wrong.”

“Mm.” She glances up at the television. “That woman is stepping on that man’s cock with her heels. Are you into that?”

He blinks, looks away to the screen -- honestly he’d forgotten it was on -- and says, “I’m not...not into it, if you wanted to try. Uh. Maybe not that sharp, though. I do like my cock.”

She laughs; low and warm, a little husky. “It’s not bad.” She strokes him, firm even though her hand is a lot smaller than his, playing with the piercing which she seems to enjoy.

“Wanna tell me what you were thinking about, pretty girl? Earlier, when you got yourself off in the bathroom.”

“I -- last night.” She ducks her head, staring at his cock while she plays with him. “I’m not as good at the - the porn talk. As you.”

“The porn talk,” he says, huffing a laugh. “Could’ve fooled me, earlier. Mmm. C’mere.” He tugs her in close to kiss her. “If you want, you could suck on it a little. I won’t come in your mouth if you don’t want me to.”

She pulls back and gives him a very serious look, but then she nods and shifts so she’s half-lying on top of him. “I thought about sucking you, today.” Before he can say a single thing to that, she lowers her head and starts playing with the piercing on his cock with her tongue.

“That’s -- yeah, fuck,” he moans, when she sucks the head in her mouth, then takes a bit more, swirling her tongue around the piercing, getting him nice and wet. “Fuck, that’s it, suck on it, baby, that’s so good.”

Balthus threads his fingers in her hair and talks mostly to keep himself from tipping over the edge. “You sure your break is this long?”

She pulls off and uses her hand for a moment, gasping a bit, and blinks wide violet eyes up at him. “No, but it’s fine, I can miss this next panel. But not the one after that, so.” She gives him a severe look. “Maybe don’t take too much time.”

“What if they solve the mystery of how the universe left over those -- ah -- spare M&Ms, and you’re here, sucking my dick?”

She licks a slow, long stripe up his cock, stares him right in the eyes and says, “No one here is smart enough to do that without me helping.”

Balthus laughs. The surprised, sharp sort of laugh that you don’t expect during sex. He falls back on the pillows and pats her on the head and says, “You’re killin’ me here.”

“Mmm,” Lysithea says, and sucks the tip of his cock in her mouth again. She likes playing with the piercing, and can barely take him that deep but he’s used to that -- the only person who’s ever been able to deep throat him is Yuri. But it feels good, and he’s not really watching the video but the sounds coming from it are hot, and he can feel his balls draw up as she licks at the head of his dick and makes these little sounds like she’s loving every second of sucking it.

“Getting close,” he pants, reaching down to rub his thumb over her bottom lip, just to feel itstretched around his cock. “Don’t wanna be rude about it, darlin’-’”

She pulls off, using her hand, hair messy and lips wet and oh fuck, he wants to fuck her so bad. “I want to watch you come all over your abs,” she says, and well, that’s great because it happens two seconds later regardless if she wanted him to or not.

He hisses out a breath and comes all over himself, her hand, and his stomach. His thighs twitch and his feet flex and she doesn’t stop stroking, keeps moving her hand over him until the last delicious spasm rushes through him and his cock starts to soften in her hand.

“Hey, that’s -- some of us get a little. Oversensitive,” he pants, catching her wrist.

“Weak,” she says, but then he takes her hand and brings it to his mouth -- which means half-dragging her up the bed -- and licks the come from her fingers, and she gasps a little so, yeah, how’s that for inspired?

Balthus lays there, naked and satisfied, while she climbs off the bed and goes to the bathroom to wash up. When she comes back, she gets dressed, borrows his brush to fix her hair, and then eyes him there on the bed.

“What,” he says, because she’s giving him a look.

“Don’t -- don’t come again,” she says, and it’s cute how she’s trying to sound bossy and also blushing. “Okay?”

“Sure,” he says, then, “wait, you mean, ever?”

She shakes her head at him. “I -- no, not -- ugh. I’m going to be late. Just not. Until later.”

Balthus gives her a thumbs up. “Sure thing, little lady,” he says, and of course the second she’s gone he thinks about watching some more of the movie but honestly? It’s probably gonna be more fun if he obeys.

So he switches the channel to a show about haunted battlefields and falls asleep, naked and sticky and satisfied.