He had been asleep maybe two hours when Liko’s lips brushed his ear. “Tjiano.”
He tipped his head back. Sleep, and the last of the Opix, was pulling him down.
“All right, sleep then,” Liko said. His weight left their bunk.
Martin rolled over, fighting his eyes open. “Wait.”
Liko leaned on the windowsill in the morning light. “Thought you wanted sleep.”
Liko thumped down to rub his face on Martin’s face. “You need a shave.”
“I need a shower.”
“I didn’t want to say. How was the job?”
“Urr.” Martin grimaced, shutting his eyes.
“Don’t go back to sleep. It’s almost time for lunch.”
Liko started unbuttoning his shirt. “Let me see the damage.”
His cock hardening, Martin watched Liko’s eyes, as dark as smoky quartz. Martin loved this, their bodies warm together. When Liko leaned back to pull off his own shirt, Martin rolled, pushing him down on the bunk. Liko was serious, his eyes lit with pleasure. The skin of their bare chests and bellies together, Martin kissed Liko’s cheekbone, the corner of his mouth. He reached to take hold of Liko’s cock, swollen in the rough fabric of his work trousers. Liko growled. Martin laughed, and slipped down his body, nuzzling the soft hair on his belly, his mouth light on the warm skin.
After, they lay under the rough blankets, their bodies tucked close. Martin loved Liko’s smell, his warmth, the way he let out his breath in a body-deep sigh as he relaxed toward sleep. He loved his long lean body, his bony face, too square to be really handsome, his long mouth, lively with the thousand thoughts he had every day. Nuzzling the nape of his neck, Martin wrapped arms around his ribs. It was cold in their rack, far from the fireplace that was the sole source of heat in the barracks.
Drowsy and warm, they talked about the job, and about Twain’s injury. (Martin didn’t mention Liam, not yet.) They talked barracks gossip, and what had happened with the newest students while Martin had been up the mountain. They talked about Liko’s latest Hillel post.
This post concerned the orphanage mortality rates, which Welfare, the Parliament cabinet that tracked public health, had just released. Though Welfare had not raised any fanfare over the numbers, Liko had made up for their silence. (Lord Astak, Martin had also noticed, had quoted the Hillel post in Parliament, though without citing it.) According to the latest statistics, nearly fifty percent of all infants placed in contract labor orphanages died before age three. How exactly, Hillel had asked, was that better than allowing adolescents access to contraception? Or – pure crazy talk – leaving the children with their mothers?
“Did you read your flak?” Martin asked.
“Some of it.” Liko was petting Martin’s hair, which Martin loved.
“People are really angry.”
Liko’s long mouth flattened. “They should be.”
“Angry at you, I mean.”
“I knew what you meant.”
Martin was silent.
Liko added, “I’m not going to quit writing posts, if that’s what you’re angling for.”
“This is my job. Just like you have your jobs.” He thumped his finger against a bruise on Martin’s face, left there by the Greenback.
“Come home scuffed up and screaming with nightmares, you complain about me?”
“I ain’t say a word,” Martin objected.
“Anyway, I ain’t now,” Martin amended.
Liko kept scowling for a moment, and then snorted, not quite amused. Martin reached to pull him down against his shoulder. “Idiot,” Liko muttered, relaxing.
Martin yawned. “I have that up the mountain this End. And Vermont next week.”
“Did Efram say why yet?” Liko was petting his belly now. He paused to finger the Opix patches just above Martin’s hipbone. Martin was trying to think what bad dreams he’d been having lately. “Why would Lord Harper take you all the way to Vermont City for a job?” Liko fretted. “He must have someone closer.”
Catching his hand, Martin bit the wrist. “I traded Ivy for some smoke. Want to do it?”
“Is that where you got the Opix, too?”
“It’s really good smoke.”
“Lunch.” People were going past the barracks, Liko meant, heading toward the mess: they could hear voices, the faint scuff of boots through snow.
Martin didn’t want to get up. “João will give us something later.”
“He’ll give you something later.”
Martin tightened his grip on Liko. “It’s my fault I’m pretty? I ain’t force the fella go sweet on me.”
“In shit. I’ve seen you around him. You court that son like tomorrow was the End and you were desperate.”
Martin laughed. Liko elbowed him. “That’s just standard precaution,” Martin argued. “Ain’t torque the cook. Everyone knows that rule.”
“Don’t get crosswise to the cook and charm the cook into your bunk, those are two different roads, and countries apart, I am fairly sure.”
“João ain’t even like boys.” He bit at Liko’s ear. He knew he was being teased. It still scared him a little. “That’s first. Second. If I ever did hunt up competition for you…”
“What?” Liko said, fighting a smile, pretending to scowl.
Martin bit him again. “I’d let you help pick him out,” he promised.
Liko grabbed his cock and squeezed. Martin yelped. They wrestled briefly, except Martin was too bruised, and Liko, remembering that the first time he hit a tender spot, made him quit. They rested, Liko petting him and fretting. “I’m kill that fucking Will,” Liko promised.
“He nearly did it for you, is it.” Martin shut his eyes, exhausted, his body hurting. Dallas, coming out of the trees, dark to the elbows with Liam’s blood. They’d been hours getting back to the school, and then hours more at the cave, dealing with Twain’s wound – not serious, at least. Martin, his eyes shut, considered Liko’s reaction when he found out about Liam.
“I’m hungry,” Liko said. “I want lunch.”
Martin pulled him close. “Stay.”
“If you’re going to sleep, I’m going to lunch.”
“No. Stay.” He pulled Liko closer.
Liko gave in, sliding further under the blankets. “You better get me fed,” he warned.