One month ago
“No, gods damn it! I will not go away. Look at me!”
Caelius took a deep breath and wondered how long it would take before Cato flipped around and punched him in the gut. He was ready for it. This was too important to give up now. He kept his eyes steady and refused to budge when Cato’s chair squealed in agony as he twisted around and leaned forward. The white-knuckled grip on the armrests spoke of his valiant effort to keep from lunging from the seat. Two deep furrows marred his brow, and Caelius wasn’t surprised at the thunderously evil voice that issued from his twisted lips.
“You’re skating dangerously close to pissing me the fuck off.”
Clearing his throat, Caelius steeled himself. The Insedi staring at him with baleful eyes was not the same one he had spoken to at the club two weeks earlier. This one was severely tormented. He was unshaven, and his clothes were wrinkled. He looked like he had been wearing them for days. This whole scenario felt bad on so many levels. There was no time to waste. The male looked ready to blow at any minute. If he was going to get hurt, he had no plans on limping away empty-handed. He deepened his voice to stress his purpose.
“I can see you are very busy, but I really need the slang language information, Cato. The sooner you hand it over, the faster I will be out of this room. You told me to come by, and now I am here. Did you lie when you said that you would share it?” He readied himself for the attack and was surprised that Cato simply leaned back, narrowed his eyes, and grunted.
“Who the fuck are you?”
Caelius felt his eyes widen at the odd question.
“I am Caelius. Are you in need of medical assistance, Cato?” The laugh that came out of the Seeker’s mouth was not one to be associated with mirth. It sounded downright demonic.
“You really do need the damn thing, don’t you?”
Caelius felt his face flush, and it pissed him off. The question may have had the words to reflect understanding of his need, but the way it was spoken brought the image of his encounter with a complete stranger outside of class slamming to the front of his brain. He could not hold his tongue, or the anger traveling with his words.
“Fuck you, Cato. I know that you meant that in a derogatory manner, but I am not sure how. This is the exact reason I am here. I was spoken to in that same condescending manner today. I heard a human male refer to a female classmate as a ‘MILF,’ and I thought it to be offensive. I readily defended her honor. A kind man had to explain that it meant ‘Mothers I’d Like to Fuck.’ I now know that a human male considers this a compliment. I still think it to be disparaging, yet I would like to have known the common meaning before I made a fool of myself. Now give me the gods damn information so I can finally get the fuck on with my life!”
Cato surprised him by grunting and swiveling back around to face the bank of monitors he had been staring at moments ago. He barely heard the gravelly response shot over a hunched shoulder.
“Well, at least you’re growing some balls, finally. Come back tomorrow. My Occasio is missing. She cleared her bank account, and I have no gods damn idea which way she headed. I don’t have time to listen to your shit right now.”
Caelius felt heat flash up his spine and clenched his fists to keep from yanking Cato from his chair. Leaning forward he hissed his discontent against the Seeker’s earring-studded lobe.
“Well, at least you know who the fuck your mate is! I am still looking for a ghost!”
Expecting a head butt to the nose, Caelius stepped back as Cato’s head slumped forward and his fingers ceased pounding on the keyboard. Instead, his back expanded and retracted before a frustrated sigh filled the room.
Cato shoved his boots hard against the floor and slid sideways to a set of cabinets. He yanked open a drawer and snatched something from within. Caelius hoped he didn’t swing around with a short blade clenched in his fist. Rolling back to the monitors, his unrecognizable friend attached a small cord to the side of what looked like a handheld computer, pounded on the keyboard a few times, and then tapped his fingers impatiently on the desktop. When a soft chime sounded, he jerked the wire out and whirled around. Caelius grunted when the small computer was slammed up against his gut.
“Here, gods damn it. Tap the blue menu button on the front screen, and you’ll find everything you need to know. I swear. If you ask me anything else, I won’t be responsible for my actions. Now for the love of Dii, leave me the hell alone.”
Caelius snatched the equipment from his hand and stomped toward the door. “Fine. Thanks!” Hesitating, he allowed his shoulders to drop a few notches and sucked in a hard breath. He hated leaving things this way between them. He admired this worthy male too much to leave with animosity clinging this thickly to his skin. Without looking back, he said what he really felt.
“I am sorry that you have lost your potential mate, Cato. I wish you the best of luck in finding her soon. Be of ease, warrior.” He straightened his spine, strode quickly through the front room, pushed through the glass panel, and walked quickly to the cab waiting for him at the curb. He never heard the soft “Forgive me, amici” trapped on the other side of the door.
Crawling into the back, Caelius gave the cab driver his address. Slumping against the seat, he let the tension drain from his muscles. That had been intense. Outside of the training compound, he had never displayed that much aggression toward another Insedi. Glancing down to the handheld, he figured it was time to stop trying to suppress his natural instincts. Obviously, their release produced results.
Caelius narrowed his eyes when remembering the many instances of teasing he’d received from the others due to his lack of Earth knowledge. It was going to stop, and quickly. As much as he loved his brethren, even they should know when to draw the line. He’d never experienced any of that on his home world. He took no comfort knowing it was not just him that suffered. Any new warrior got the same treatment, but it became tiring very fast. If they only knew how difficult it had been for him to hold back a punch to the jaw or a kick to the balls, they would have been wary of their ease in using him as a target of ridicule. Next time they would know his feelings without hesitation.
Snorting, he thought of his roommate. Only Maxim could get away with the innuendos or jokes at his expense. His friend knew how to deliver the jabs while allowing a male’s pride to remain somewhat intact. If Maxim did not tease you, then you should feel slighted. Even so, his dependence on others was going to come to a halt. He was a fully-grown male and needed to change his circumstances. He knew the exact step he needed to take to make that happen. Caelius tapped on the glass that separated him from the cab driver.
“I will need to change destinations. Could you please take me to the nearest auto dealership?”
“Sure, buddy. What type of car are you looking for?”
Frowning, Caelius leaned closer to the front seat. “I had not thought that far ahead. Do you have any suggestions?”
“Sure, but it depends on how much dough you’re willing to shell out to get one.”
Caelius shook his head. He knew enough to know that you could not acquire a vehicle with uncooked bread. Why could these humans not speak correctly?
“Money is not the concern here. Let us say that I would like to find a vehicle that is sleek and sexy. I have seen some on the roadways that sound as if they growl and go very fast. That is what I want.” The driver’s laugh was pleasant.
“I got the perfect place for you then. We’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Leaning back, Caelius smiled. “Good. I am looking forward to arriving.”
* * * *
Pulling into the parking spot next to Maxim’s Hummer, Caelius chuckled and left the car running as he watched his mentor walking down the stairs from the apartment. Perfect timing. It took no longer than three seconds for the big warrior to narrow his eyes and his mouth to drop open when Caelius gunned the engine.
If anything, Maxim was a connoisseur of automobiles and could recognize the make and model of any transport on sight. One large shelf on the entertainment center had been claimed by his numerous car-related magazines and books. He knew exactly what he was staring at, and the appreciation was evident across his features.
With narrowed focus, Maxim strode quickly across the grass and stood motionless in front of the hood. His eyes drifted all over the car as if he was taking in the first sight of his mate’s naked body. As expected, he began the full circle walkabout to appreciate every angle before ending back in the same spot. Caelius had to turn off the ignition, get out of the car, and call his name several times for it to sink in that someone had been inside the entire time he did his inspection.
“Maxim. Maxim. Hello? There you are. You want to check out the interior now? It’s pretty sweet.” He laughed when Maxim’s eyes widened as he tried to figure out why his roommate had just crawled out of the hottest-looking car in the parking lot.
“Son of a bitch! Is this yours? Damn, Caelius. I’m actually fucking jealous of you right now. That’s an F-Type R Jaguar.”
“Yes, I’m fully aware. I have the paperwork to prove it. Do you think I made the right decision on selecting the black tornado wheels? It seemed appropriate to further enhance the ebony black of the car. It’s a totally vicious ride, isn’t it?”
“Hell, yeah! This car is beautiful, Caelius. Hey. Wait a minute. Did I just hear you using contractions and slang? Who are you, and what did you do with my roommate?”
Laughing, Caelius stepped away from the driver’s side door and allowed Maxim to plant it in the front seat.
“I’m the same Caelius.” Grinning, he lifted the handheld up for inspection.
“I finally got the training manual from Cato and studied it while the dealership completed the paperwork and prepped the car. I’ve barely started the program, but have learned so much already. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I’m going to lock myself in my room and learn as much as I can. It was worth every bit of grief I got from our resident Seeker.”
Maxim looked up and frowned. “What do you mean?”
Shaking his head, Caelius walked around to the passenger side and got in. He took a moment to inhale the intoxicating scent of new car and ran his fingers over the soft black leather and suede performance seats before he spoke.
“When was the last time you saw Cato? You might need to make a trip over there. I almost didn’t recognize him. He practically bit my head off. I thought we might actually come to blows. It broke my heart.” He watched Maxim’s lips twist into a grimace.
“Ah, shit. I should’ve told you. Luna, his Occasio, overheard a conversation between him and Kallon. She took off before he could explain himself. He’s been holed up at the agency trying to locate her. I didn’t realize he’d gotten out of control.”
“He looks like crap…or is that ‘shit’? I get the two confused.”
Maxim laughed and tapped him on the chest with the back of his fist. “It’s the same thing. You got it right. I’ll let Kallon know that our boy is going down the crapper. We’ll figure out some way to haul his ass out of there.”
“Crap, crapper, shit, shitter. Ah! I get it now. Very clever.” He was happy to hear Maxim’s hearty laughter and not have it directed at him this time.
“You’ll get this in no time, buddy. I always thought you were smart, Caelius. You know I only teased you because I like you, right?”
“Oh, yes. I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re my friend, Maxim. I know that you mean me no harm.”
Snorting, Maxim turned his attention back to the dashboard and wrapped his hands around the leather steering wheel. He had the same look on his face when presented with a plateful of bacon.
“Dude, I’ve always been surprised that you haven’t beaten me with a baseball bat while I slept. I thank you for that. Now, are you going to let me drive this bad boy, or what?”
“Definitely. Despite the horror that was evident in your eyes, you allowed me to drive yours while I learned. It’s the least I can do. I must admit that I fully understand your trepidation now. Sitting on the passenger side makes me feel helpless to the outcome.”
Nodding in understanding, Maxim turned the ignition and grinned.
“Damn. This is one fine car. Listen to that purr. That’s enough to make your dick stand up. Fuckin’ A.” Caelius jabbed him with an elbow.
“Perhaps I should name my car ‘the beast,’ too. The car’s name represents a very sleek and powerful animal, so it would be very appropriate. In fact, I’m positive I could personally live up to the nickname as well.” Caelius chuckled at the immediate growled response he was expecting.
“Fuck no! Don’t make me get out and scratch your car, Caelius.”
“Ah, but then you’d have to take cooking classes with me, Maxim.”
Snorting, Maxim glanced over and Caelius could tell he was fighting a smile.
“Shut the fuck up, asshole. You won’t catch me in a cooking class. Our brethren would never let me hear the end of it. I don’t know how you stand the teasing.”
“Ah, but you have it all wrong, Maxim. I haven’t been teased for some time now. What you don’t understand is that a cooking class is full of females. If anything, the others will become quite jealous of you. Why do you think I rotate which warrior I ask to drive me there? I’m always ten minutes early and wait for all my classmates to walk past the warrior before I get out of their vehicle. Sometimes I don’t need fists to punch a guy in the gut.”
The fake anger melted from Maxim’s face, and he slumped back in the seat. “Well, hell. I never thought about that. I didn’t punish you. I fucking rewarded you. You’re hiding your brilliance very well, my young friend. I’ll have to keep that in mind.”
Snorting, Caelius gestured to the window. “You do that. Now, let’s take this for a spin. Oh, and Maxim?”
“You hurt my car and I’ll kick your fucking ass. Feel me?”
Maxim’s bellowing laughter could be heard above the roar of the engine as they sped from the parking lot.