He did not want consciousness, not yet. Eyes tightly shut, he shifted to lie on his side, his back to the thin light leaking in around the door. One bulky arm slid around him, held him in place; warm breath ruffled his hair. He slept.
"C'mon, have a drink with your old man."
"I've got things to do, Father."
"What's to do while we're at sea? C'mon, you ain't got that much to do." He laughed, and Billy was dragged up to the bar, where Mason tolerantly poured them each a drink. Jesse toasted the Ethos, Solaris, the kingdom of Aveh, downed two fingers of whiskey each time, and finally he toasted Racquel, soberly, and Billy drank with him.
"Drink this," said a rough voice; his head was tipped back and water poured into his mouth. He swallowed. "It'll keep you from bein' sick in the morning."
"I've never been sick," he murmured. "Not from drinking."
"You never been drunk like that, I bet."
"Don't be." He drank a full glass of water, in small sips, and was rewarded with a warm kiss. "That's better." He was pulled to lie down again, enveloped in cinnamon-scented body heat.
"I haffa," he began, and frowned. "I hafta go."
"Nah." Jesse grinned. "What're you gonna do? You're piss drunk. You prob'ly can't even make it to your cabin right now."
He scowled, spoke carefully. "I haff to check on Primera."
"She's fine," Jesse said, and shrugged, and beckoned to Mason. The butler poured another drink for him, and one for Billy.
"How d'you know?" Billy demanded, angry. "You never are around to know." He got to his feet, swayed, and sat back down, dizzy.
"I checked," Jesse said, "before I came to find you."
"... never around," Billy murmured, staring at his own hands.
"'M'around more'n you think," Jesse said softly.
Despite himself, Billy began to cry, and he called his father several unflattering names, and Jesse sighed. He told Billy quietly of the years he'd been gone, and Billy matched him drink for drink until he stopped crying.
He woke with a dusty mouth and sat up; he fumbled for another glass of water from the pitcher beside the bed, and drank it slowly, and noticed that even the dim light from the hall had vanished, and the room was dark.
He could feel the ocean rocking beneath the ship; it was windy outside, he noted from the feel of it. The ocean he knew -- he had lived on and around it all his life. He did not fear the waves or the wind. But he had never reconciled himself to the darkness, and he felt very small and vulnerable in the blackened room.
"Hey." He started, shivered, looked down. "It's cold in here. Come back," he was commanded around a yawn, and the blankets were lifted for him, and gratefully he sank into the feathery bed, and the darkness lost its strength against him, against the bright warm embrace where he hid.
"I gotta go," Billy said again, finally. "I gotta get some sleep."
"Sure," his father said with a shrug.
He slid off the bar stool, paused as equilibrium escaped him for a moment. With what remained of his dignity, he smoothed his clothes and twitched his cloak around himself. He patted his sides, ensured his guns were firmly strapped at his hips, nodded to himself, and turned to go. It took him forever to reach the door, and he was obliged to keep a hand on the wall as he walked, lest he tip over.
In the hall, he squinted to see. His cabin was at the far end. He took a step forward, marvelled at the incredible distance he had covered in such a short time, and stopped. The ceiling got higher, slowly.
A strong arm slipped around his waist, kept him from sagging completely to the floor, and a soft laugh filled his ear. "Whoa, Father," said a voice that whipped up a frothy blend of anger and jealousy and annoyance and something else he could not identify. "Partaking too much of communion wine?"
"Whiskey," he murmured, and then, "thank you." He turned, carefully, looked up into Bart's single blue eye. "I can go the rest of the way."
"Getting there might be a problem," Bart said humourously, "since it looks like you can't walk right now."
"But I can," Billy assured him. "See?" He watched as Bart got smaller and farther away. He blinked, and Bart was back, still holding him.
"Jeez, you really are hammered. C'mon, I'll help you."
Billy leaned against him, wrapped his arms around Bart's waist, sighed and stood there, comfortable. "You smell nice."
"Uh-huh. It's called 'bathing'. Let's go."
"Okay." He waited.
"Brother," Bart said, and peeled Billy's arms away; he bent down, tucked his own arms around Billy's legs. Billy watched as the floor receded.
"Uh-oh," he said. "I'm floating, now."
If he woke, it would be over, and he did not want it to be over. Not yet. He pulled the blankets over his head.
"It's time to get up." The words were murmured into his hair.
"No," he said, and shut his eyes tightly. But it was.
He grew aware, quite suddenly, that he was no longer floating in the hall, that he was sitting somewhere comfortable, that his cloak was gone, and someone was pulling off his boots. He stared down the long tunnel between himself and his feet.
"Hey," Bart said, and looked up the tunnel at him. "You woke up."
"Was I sleeping?" he wondered.
"Well, passed out, anyway." Bart set his boots aside.
His guns were gone. He panicked, and looked around, head swimming; his cloak was on the wall, and his guns were laid out neatly, still in the holsters, on a table. He frowned. "They need to be cleaned."
"I don't think you're going to be able to do it," Bart said. "Here, stand up, and I'll get your pants off."
"Don't try anything," Billy warned him, and let Bart pull him to his feet. He leaned against the warm chest and sighed.
"Right." Strong fingers unfastened his belt, rubbed against his stomach, teased him.
"D'you think I'm cute?" he asked.
"Why?" Bart said.
"Jus' asking." He let Bart undress him, pull a nightshirt over his head, and guide him to lie down on the bed.
"Is this... going to be uncomfortable for you?"
"Nah. Nobody really cares who I sleep with before I'm married, long's any kids I spawn get taken care of. Not that it's an issue for you." He flashed a bright smile. "But I understand, if you don't want anyone knowing."
"It's of no consequence to me," Billy said, and shook his head. "I've never taken any vows of chastity." He shifted, uneasily. "But... "
"I won't say anything," Bart promised. "Not unless you want me to."
"I'd rather keep it discreet," he said. "If you don't mind."
"Fine with me. You hungry? I got breakfast on the way."
"I'm starving," he replied, with a nod.
Bart stood; Billy grabbed his hand. "Don't go," he pleaded. "I don't wanna be alone." Bart sat on the edge of the bed.
"I'm just gonna get you some water, okay?"
"'M not thirsty," he said. "Please stay."
"You'll be thirsty," Bart assured him. "I'll be right back." He was gone for years, and just as Billy had gotten used to the isolation, had learned to live dependent on only himself, Bart returned with a pitcher and a glass, which he set on the bedside table. "See? Tolja I'd be back."
Billy sat up with an effort, reached up for him, and when Bart was close enough, he pulled him down and kissed him, and Bart knelt on the bed and kissed him back. When they ran out of breath Billy let him go and they stared at one another.
"Jeez, Billy," Bart said, his cheeks pink, "I don't think you should be doing that."
"Indulge me," Bart answered his protests, and Billy sat quiescent on his lap and let the prince feed him, feeling foolish and attempting to quell his pleasure in being so spoiled.
"I'm going to hell for decadence," he sighed.
Bart stuffed a large melon cube into Billy's mouth. "If you go to hell," he said, "it'll be because of the nasty stuff you were hollering last night, and not because of this."
Billy reddened, unable to answer while he chewed.
He didn't know what to expect, and so every movement was a surprise to him, every sensation sweet and new and intense. He writhed in torment as his arousal grew, frustrated because he did not know how to verbalise what he needed; Bart murmured reassurance against his skin, his breath warm, and rushed nothing. Not a part of him went untouched, unkissed, and when finally Bart was inside him, Billy cried out and clung to him, demanding more, demanding that it never end.
And when it did end he trembled and cried and Bart kissed him tenderly and they lay together in the feather bed, and Billy healed the gashes he'd put into Bart's shoulders with his nails, and he healed the bruises he'd given Bart's kidneys with his heels, and Bart laughed softly and said they were war wounds.
He was dizzy and his mouth was dry, but he was tired and the warm pleasure in his belly drew him into a deep sleep, until Bart woke him gently to make him drink water.
"You regret it?" Bart said, quietly. "Last night, I mean."
"You wouldn't've done it, if you hadn't been drunk. Right?"
"Drunkenness," Billy said, "only removes inhibitions. It doesn't make one do things that one doesn't want to do, on some level."
The bright blue eye glimmered with something wicked. Bart grinned. "So, basically, you've been wanting me since you met me?"
"Now I regret it," Billy said, sourly, and sighed.
"You're not, but I appreciate the sentiment."
"Aw, come on... "
"I fear for your kingdom," Billy told him, "when you regain the throne."
"I'll need a spiritual advisor," Bart said with a leer. "Someone to keep me on the straight and narrow."
"Let's see if you live that long." They sat quietly watching one another for several minutes; then Bart got to his feet.
"I'll go out first, and distract everyone. Then you can sneak out when no one's lookin'."
He watched Bart leave, and sat looking around the cabin for a long moment. He got to his feet, crossed to the bed, buried his face in the pillow and inhaled, deeply, savouring the prince's warm scent.
Then he slipped out of the cabin and made his way to the Gear hangar, where Fei and Bart were fine-tuning their Gears and waiting for him to join them. That morning, they entered the Tower of Babel.