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It was intended to be a power move. I’m giving you another chance, the note said. Expect me for dinner, and a time written in pen; with a post script, added in cursive with a sinuous flourish: Let’s take our relationship to the next level. It made his intentions plain; and yet was still ambiguous enough, Professor Venomous thought, for deniability if the letter were intercepted. The Boxman Jr. project was still tightly under wraps, but it was no secret that Venomous’ lab had a renewed business relationship with Boxmore, and that Venomous—with or without Fink—traveled to the factory regularly to check on the progress of his recent large purchase of robots, to negotiate and troubleshoot. Nobody outside of Venomous and Boxman, hero nor villain nor minion, knew about the weeks of innuendo; the subtle (and not-so-subtle) caresses made in passing; or the recent long evenings they’d spent in Boxmore’s private theater, their physical proximity more responsible for their racing hearts than the images of fiery explosions or geysers of blood onscreen. And Venomous intended to keep it that way; it was nobody’s damn business but his and Box’s. But Boxman’s response to the letter’s mandate was full of such heart-on-sleeve excitement, such sincere enthusiasm to prove himself and please his guest, that Venomous was almost ashamed.

Boxman more than made up for the previous charred-ham fiasco. Seated at Boxmore’s long formal dining table—this time with the placemats arranged crosswise the short way, so they wouldn’t have to raise their voices to converse—Venomous found himself wearing an embarrassingly goofy grin as Boxman trotted out from the kitchen, smile stretched ear-to-ear, and presented the plates with a flourish of his hand. Duck breasts, scored with mechanical precision, with exquisitely crispy skin over succulent dark meat. A side of miniscule potatoes with taut spice-dusted skins and fluffy centers. And roasted carrots with just the right amount of char to enhance their sweetness, still bearing crowns of green stem calibrated for maximum charm. And as accompaniment, a proper adult drink: beer layered over cider, poured with care so a clear division between the amber and the dark brown showed through the glass. Venomous nodded in appreciation, wondering if Box knew about crème de cassis, vowing to gift him a bottle.

“I am truly impressed,” Venomous said, letting a purr infuse his voice. Boxman blushed; he glowed.

Venomous took his time enjoying the meal, savoring each bite. Boxman, meanwhile, gulped his drink and poured another one, a tremble in his hand spoiling the layering effect, making the colors swirl and blend. He scarfed his potatoes and carrots and picked at the duck breast. And then, while eyeing Venomous finishing his meal across the table, he began to… shrink?

“Uh… Box?” Venomous ventured.

All that was visible of Boxman above the table-level was the top halves of his eyes, his furrowed brow, and his hair, which was slowly freeing itself from a formal slicked-back state into its familiar wild crests. “Mmmph?” Came from somewhere under the table.

“What are you… Are you going somewhere?” Venomous smirked.

“Mmaymtryeenttplay footsie,” the muffled voice seemed to come from the table itself. “Pummai LEGS ertoo SHORT.”

“Oh? Like this?” Ven raised one foot, already smoothly drawn free of its boot, and ran a toe along the inside of Boxman’s thigh. The scalp across the table turned brilliant red, and the table transmitted a gratifying yelp.

Ven took a last long sip from his glass. He swallowed his last bite, swept the plate with the back of his fork and licked it, raised his napkin to dab at his mouth, and set the napkin back on the table in neat folds. He looked at Boxman, and waited.

Boxman spoke, eyes shining with expectancy. “The kids are all on the other side of the house. I set them up with PG movies. They won’t bother us.” He hadn’t raised up to sit properly in his chair again, but was instead tilting his head back so that his mouth could clear the level of the table, like a drowning man gasping for air.

“So… What shall we do?” Ven let the question hang in the air for a moment. “… We could play ‘Union Buster’. Remember that time we played a six-hour game with everyone? Fink got two hotels on Promenade, Darrell was trying to cheat by swallowing money, and then Shannon shredded the board? Good times.”

Boxman was changing colors again; not to the warm rosy glow of before, but a frustrated maroon. Ven suppressed a chuckle. He shouldn’t tease him like this, he really shouldn’t, but he was just so easy to fluster, it was irresistible.

“We could watch a movie ourselves. You did say you had a new newsreel of demolitions, didn’t you? That would be a pleasurable way to pass the evening, wouldn’t it?”

A lone drop of sweat rolled from Boxman’s hairline and out of sight under the table. Ven thought he could hear a whistling sound, a teakettle about to boil over.

“Or…” Ven paused, one eyebrow arched, “… we could do whatever you feel like doing.”

Boxman’s eyes widened and his skin returned to its normal wan color. “Ah… ah… anything?” His tone rose to a stratospheric, inquisitive point.

An… ny… thing,” Venomous leaned across the table, presenting each syllable like it was giftwrapped.

And suddenly he was being pulled out of the room, feet flying off the ground, Boxman’s arms wrapped snug around his middle.

Venomous threw back his head and laughed, letting his body go limp and trail in the wake of Boxman’s rush. He was going to get laid, he was going to get ravished, and it was going to be awesome.

A long dim hallway flew past, a corner and a door, another hallway? The twists and turns of the building blended together as Ven rode a wave of anticipation and tried to keep his head from hitting any walls.

Then they entered a room, finally—Ven spotted a bed out of the corner of his eye before he was pushed up against the wall with such hasty energy, he thought he could feel Boxman’s body flattening around him with the force of impact and then bouncing back into shape.

Boxman was reaching up to his shoulders, to his face, bird claws dimpling the nape of his neck, pulling him forward and down like he was a sapling topped with a single tempting ripe fruit. But he turned his head and received Boxman’s kiss on the side of his neck—he was already one step ahead—to watch his right hand as it deftly, rhythmically undid buttons down Boxman’s shirt. Boxman saw what he was doing and a feral grin spread across his face; he straightened out his bird hand like a karate chop, and in one smooth motion, like a letter opener, tore open the buttoned front of Ven’s vest, sending buttons pinging across the floor. He pulled Ven’s shirttails free from his pants and slid his hands around his partners’ hips, dragging his fingertips across the small of Ven’s back before cupping his small firm buttocks. Ven made a low purr of encouragement and pulled Box close, grinding his growing erection into his belly. The move drew a delighted grunt from Box, so Ven bent his legs into a crouch to line up their heights more conveniently and slipped his hand to the waistband of Box’s pants, inside, down. And felt… nothing.

Ven had already known—from a surprising-then-awkward-then-illuminating make-out session—that Boxman’s avian side meant he had internal genitalia: testicles within his body cavity, and a penis that stayed safely tucked inside his body until he became erect. But…. certainly… this should be the time?

Ven stopped and drew back to look Box in the eyes. “Is something wrong?”

“No no! Of course not!” Box announced in his usual brassy tone. Then his gaze slipped to the side, down, settled at floor-level; his snaggle-tooth slipped over his lower lip. “I er… ah um…” His voice quieted, drifted into its lower register. “I’m a little nervous.”

Ven squeezed his shoulder with one hand, cupped his cheek with the other and guided his head up so he would make eye-contact again. “Ah. That’s fine.” He gave a sincere, reassuring smile. “Let’s take this slower. …Shall we?” Keeping his one hand lightly on Box’s shoulder, he steered him to the bed.

Ven gave the area a critical eye and set about preparation. There was something… yellow?... on top of the rumpled sheets. He picked it up and, with a touch of trepidation, gave a sniff… oily fried starch, liberally salted. And stale. He swept at the bedspread with a brisk hand, and, when more hidden crumbs sprang out of its folds, he took it by the edge with both hands and gave the whole blanket a sharp snap. He peeked underneath the bed… lost screws and metallic junk, golfball-sized dust bunnies, and… a box of tissues! Perfect. That went on the bedside table, within easy reach. Before traveling over he had squirreled a small bottle of lube and a couple of condoms in his pockets, in high hopes; but setting that out now could create too much pressure, so he left them stashed. Satisfied with the set-up, he nudged Box to take off his pants and shirt and sit on the edge of the bed.

After getting undressed himself, Ven climbed onto the bed and settled comfortably behind Box’s back. He flexed his fingers and rubbed his hands together vigorously so they wouldn’t be so cold, as Box wriggled out of his briefs and dropped them on the floor. “Just relax,” Ven breathed, and set to massaging Box’s shoulders. Box’s torso rose with a deep breath, sank again.

This approach wasn’t entirely unselfish… as Ven rubbed and kneaded he was also probing, trying to feel those bulging muscles that he had seen back during their first meeting, during the revelation with the pie gun. Here on the left side just behind the shoulder there was a huge knot—of course, this was Box’s dominant tool-wielding arm… Ven pressed his thumb into the middle of it, hard; felt Box tense, yelp, squirm, then relax again with a sigh of relief.

He ran his manicured fingernails up Box’s back and was rewarded with a pleased whimper, watched goosebumps raise along both arms. On the right arm, the human arm, the fine hairs were invisible; but on the left, the feathers raised and fluffed, their edges becoming defined. Ven smiled to himself, remembering that chaotic night on Billiam’s yacht, with Box standing in the wreckage, coaching his facial expression from a maelstrom of conflicting emotions into feigned nonchalance; his feathered bicep still puffed to twice its normal size with avian aggression. At their first meeting Ven had assumed that Box’s bird arm was a simple stitch-job, but he certainly couldn’t think that after getting a clear look. The quills of the larger feathers sprung organically out of the human skin of his shoulder, their bases swathed in silky wisps of down.

Box’s skin was deliciously soft. Ven leaned in to put his mouth and nose against the broad triangle of flesh where shoulder connected to neck. Opening his mouth slightly to fully engage his keen senses, he took in Box’s scent. To be perfectly candid, initially he had had some concerns about… well, Box sometimes seemed to be rather oblivious to his own organic nature, which did make a sort of sense given his complete immersion in a world of mechanical work, mechanical companions… Ven had had some concerns about hygiene. But Box’s skin smelled clean, warm, fresh with the recent memory of Ivory soap. There was a slight coppery undertone too, but you didn’t set out to fuck a cyborg without fully expecting that.

Pricked by an impish, lustful impulse, Ven laid his mouth against the base of Box’s neck, closed his lips, and gave a sharp strong suck. Box made a high-pitched sound somewhere between a grunt and a giggle. Ven drew back and admired his handiwork: the pale skin was blossoming handsomely with little red dots—this hickey would last for days, he thought with satisfaction.

Now might be a good time to apply some lube to his palm, to facilitate what he planned to do next; but this moment called for a bit of pageantry, not just simple practicality. He leaned around to the side and guided Box’s head so that he was watching. Ven laved his tongue over his fingers and palm, building up a slick layer of saliva; he inserted his fingers into his mouth one-by-one, letting the slight fork in his tongue play around the edges, lowering his eyelids in a show of lustful promise. Box’s eyes grew wide; he sweated and gulped.

Now Ven slid his hand around to Box’s front. From behind, from this angle, he couldn’t see over the roundness of Box’s belly, but his position was comfortable and his arm was long enough. He reached to his groin and—yes!—his hand closed around firmness. He ran his palm over the head for a few smooth, slippery swipes, then found the shaft and ran his closed fist up and down, up and down. Box’s breathing quickened, a shudder rippled up through his body. Ven felt the firmness grow until he had a substantial handful. “So powerful,” he breathed into Box’s ear; and, to his delight, the contents of his hand grew even more.

It wasn’t long before Box’s jagged deep breaths were interspersed with incipient fragments of moans, were turning into wheezing. His body twitched, twitched again. Ven settled into a regular rhythm, alternating firm and soft strokes. So their first liaison wasn’t going quite as he had pictured it; that was fine. Box was clearly enjoying himself, and soon he was going to come. After release he wouldn’t be so tense, and they’d be able to explore each other’s bodies with more ease, to feel out the rest of the evening.

But then…

“Wait!”

Ven stopped his motions; picked up his hand; twisted his torso and head to look at Box’s face.

Box’s chest was heaving irregularly and covered with a rosy sex blush; his forehead was dewed with sweat. He was clearly close… very close. So… what…?

“I’m… ah!... I’m dizzy,” Box gasped. Ven waited. “It’s the beer. Nnnnn… Need… water. Could you…?”

Ven paused a moment more, and then disentangled himself from Box’s back, rose to stand beside the bed.

“There’s a cup… in the bathroom.” Box tilted his chin to indicate one of the doors along the wall.

Box watched Ven walk away, admiring his nude body. His limbs were so lithe, his movements painfully graceful. His back was spangled with the little round scars of healed acne, like his cheeks; but Box appreciated that too, he liked that Ven’s skin wasn’t smooth and flawless like shiny plastic or brushed steel, but varied, complicated, unexpected… like the sky on rare nights when the smokestacks of Boxmore factory were shut off and Boxman stepped outside and remembered that there were stars.

Box sucked in a deep breath; held it inside his chest; let it out slowly through pursed lips. It was scary to be with someone like this. It was scary to be vulnerable. Under the ministrations of Ven’s hands, with his body held against his body, Box’s heart had beat harder and harder… and suddenly the sensation was too much like panic; the feeling of losing control made his subconscious remember times in the past, just before he’d regain his senses to realize that he’d made a fool of himself once again.

But this wasn’t like that. He hadn’t lost control; control had not been taken from him. He had made a request and Ven hadn’t questioned—even if it didn’t make sense—he hadn’t mocked or sneered, he had listened, he had gone and done it. Box took another deep breath, this one easy, and felt the knot of worry in his guts loosen. This was fine. This was good. He could let go.

Ven was returning now, with a cup in his hand and a mild expectant look on his face. And Cob, he was gorgeous. Tall, taut, dark… oh wow… erect

A swell of warm pleasure rose inside of Box, and this time he didn’t fight the feeling; he rode it, savored it… Ven was going to give him the water—an act of kindness, an act of trust—and then he would wrap his body around him again, he would touch him again, he would tou… he… ah… hnnnnn… oh no.

Not now, Box ordered his body, but it was already too late; his wave had crested, he was spilling over, falling, crashing… He barely had enough time to think Not on the floor and grab a tissue before white static closed over his vision and his body gave a pulse of ecstasy.

He came to his senses again, tingling in the wave’s wake. And the first thing he saw was Ven, standing in the same place, with glass still in hand and an inscrutable blank expression on his face. Box tracked Ven’s eyes as they travelled from his flushed, sweating face… to the now-damp tissue clenched in his hand… to his groin. Box didn’t have to look to know that his penis had already retreated like a timid woodland creature.

And now Box thought he could interpret the look on Ven’s face. It had to be the same expression he’d seen there many times before. It was shock, and it was disappointment.

Now another, very different feeling rose inside Box, just as irresistible. Tears sprang to his eyes.

“Box…” Ven said. His voice wasn’t angry, it wasn’t disgusted… it was soft and kind… And that was even worse.

“I knew it! I knew something like this would happen,” Box’s voice grated with frustration like the squeal of rusted gears. The sweet feeling of relief that had settled between his hips curdled into a sensation that disgusted him. Tears rolled out of his eyes, and his chest heaved with a sob as he spoke through clenched teeth. “I’ve ruined everything.”

Eyes screwed shut, Box didn’t sense Ven approaching until he was by his side, had dropped to a knee so he wouldn’t loom from above.

“Box… listen to me.” Ven laid a hand on Box’s knee. “It’s all right. Nothing is ruined.”

Box paused, looked at him and sniffed. Oh Cob now you’re sniveling, how pathetic.

But the velvety low tone of Ven’s voice was steady, and his eyelids drooped in his familiar unconcerned expression. “It happens. Nothing to worry about.”

“Really?” Box quavered, giving him a watery smile.

“Really. Now, dry your eyes… NOT WITH THAT TISSUE… Here, drink your water.” As Box drank, Ven took the crumpled tissue gingerly between fingertips, looked in vain for a trashcan, and then dropped it surreptitiously beside the bed, hoping it wouldn’t have too much time to make friends with the dustbunnies. He saw Box watching him again, and let a sly smile bare the tip of one of his fanged canine teeth. “In fact, I’m kind of glad. Because now… it’s my turn.”

Venomous sat on the edge of the bed, spread his legs, and guided Box between them. A level -10 villain kneeling on the ground in front of him, a level -10 villain about to suck his dick… Ven felt an electric frisson as he waited for Boxman to start.

And waited. Box was kneeling, looking intently, brow furrowed as if he were thinking through a complicated circuit.

“Is… something the matter?”

“Just taking a moment to familiarize myself,” Box huffed. “Grabbing equipment before you understand it is a good way to lose a hand, you know.”

Ven snorted and smirked. “Oh my Cob, you’re not romancing Lady Dentata. It’s just a penis. Not so different from yours.”

“Kinda different,” Box said, voice distant. “I’ve only ever been with…” He stopped short, and a high truncated note sounded from somewhere in his skull, like he had built a set of words and was about to launch them from his mouth but then thought better of it and drop-kicked the whole lot into his sinuses. “Well I don’t have this,” he said in a rush, a little louder than necessary, and gestured to Ven’s second penis.

True to his viperous DNA, Venomous had a pair of phalluses (conveniently human in appearance, without the spines and elaborate ornamentations he might have inherited). One was erect, and had drawn Box’s eye during Ven’s trip from the bathroom back to the bedside; but the other was flaccid, and Box gestured at it. “Should I be worried about this?”

A hurt look shot through Ven’s eyes. Box stammered, backpedaling. “Uhm I, I said that wrong, I just mean…” The feathers on his shoulder rose defensively. “Well, you asked me first!”

Ven’s expression relaxed, understanding the question; Box relaxed in turn, and his feathers settled.

“Ah. Everything is working fine,” Ven answered. “And there’s nothing more you should be doing, either. I can only get one erect at a time.”

“But… but I mean, will it feel everything the same as the other? Even when it’s not, you know…”

This question brought Ven up short. Most of his past partners, on discovering that he had two penises, immediately wanted to know what he could do for them… and many had been disappointed to learn he couldn’t give them two simultaneous erections to play with. He couldn’t recall a time when a partner’s first concern had been what they could do for him with his set-up. “Yes… ah… not quite as sensitive, but… If you… That is, I would like it if you…” Now, to his surprise, Ven was the one getting flustered. But Box just nodded, understanding.

Ven felt an impulse to share something else, to trust Box with more information. Or at least to avoid the surprise he had seen on the faces of past partners. “And I have hypospadias,” he said.

“Hype-a-what now?” Box asked. Ven reached down and lifted his penises to show the underside, just above his scrotum. “It won’t affect my… performance here.” He paused, spoke quieter. “But I have to sit to urinate.”

Box raised his eyebrow into a steep why-are-you-telling-me-this angle. “Um… doesn’t everyone?”

Ven smirked in chagrin. “Lots of people expect men to stand. Some get… inordinately discomfited by men who don’t.”

Box gave a bark of laughter. “Really!? As if I’ve got that kind of time, to fluff up a hard-on every time I want a piss. The factory’s not gonna run itself!”

Ven felt the release of a fear he didn’t know he’d been carrying. Once again, he’d been needlessly tied to some societal expectation, some pressure to measure up to standards, real or imagined. Once again Boxman had crashed through his assumptions and his hang-ups, leaving him a little freer than he had been before.

He relaxed, sighed, and rolled his shoulders. He was ready.

But still Boxman hesitated: now he was looking at his hands.

Ven was starting to feel frustrated. “Can I… offer any guidance?”

“I was just wondering which hand will feel better to you,” Boxman mumbled. “Because this one,” he held up his left hand, the bird hand, “Is strong! Dexterous! Exceptionally capable!” He held up his right-side, human hand. “But this one doesn’t have talons.”

A low growl rose in Venomous’ throat. “Oh for Cob’s sake, Box. Sometimes I think your mouth is big enough for. Like. Half a dozen dicks. Use that.”

Boxman’s pupils dilated, and his eyes unfocused into the middle distance. A slow smile spread across his face, and his snaggletooth stuck out again.

Ugh, well done me, Venomous thought, Now he’s dreaming about half a dozen dicks. Acting on impulse, he reached his hand forward and snapped his fingers in Boxman’s face. And immediately felt shame.

He liked to think he was so much better than the other villains. They’re all too blinded by their silly prejudices to see Boxman’s worth, ha, how foolish of them. He let himself feel superior… not to Boxman, but to those who felt superior to Boxman. It was true he had denigrated Box too, before he had spent time with him—had even belittled him to his face—but that was all in the regrettable past. Or it was supposed to be. And yet, now he had let his guard down for one moment, and he had done THAT. Dominant behavior in the bedroom was one thing, dominance was a tool that could be wielded to enhance everyone’s enjoyment, but THAT had been something else, THAT had been imperious, condescending. He felt a shock of fear that Boxman would rightfully take offense, would end what was happening between them.

But he didn’t. He… responded, as if on autopilot. His eyes snapped back to clear consciousness, then closed, and he leaned forward and took Ven’s erection into his mouth.

The anxious thoughts fled Ven’s mind and he hissed with pleasure, feeling warm wetness envelop him, melting into the sensation. It had been too long.

For all that Boxman often acted reckless and chased after impulses, he was a lifelong learner and a methodical thinker, capable of intense and sustained focus when he enjoyed the subject. He experimented, moving his tongue and lips this way and then that way, repeating the motions that drew hisses or low moans from Ven. And then Box pulled back a moment, and licked at his human hand. He was trying to imitate Venomous’ seductive show from earlier in the evening, and he looked utterly ridiculous at it—but that didn’t matter; it was actually rather endearing, Ven thought. Then his mouth was back on Ven’s erection, and now he added his human hand, fondling Ven’s second penis with a deft, delicate touch. A few minutes later, after Box had shifted his weight to get more comfortable and take pressure off his knees, his other hand hovered, as if looking for something to do. Ven guided it to his balls, holding his own hand over it to demonstrate the touches that would feel best. Box picked up the technique quickly; Ven took his hand away, leaned back and braced himself with both hands, and closed his eyes.

Ven had been with many other villains, and there was usually an infuriating amount of pomposity, of pride-stroking, of showmanship in their liaisons. Listen to my erotic monologue. Praise my magnificent cock. Look at us in that giant mirror; don’t we look wicked together? It had all been fun, up to a point, but soon it had started to feel shallow and performative. Box, though… Box just looked for the best way to get results and got down to business. It was refreshing. Ven appreciated his candidness in all areas, but possibly more now than ever, as he felt arousal coil in his pelvis, tension building tighter and tighter.

A level -10 villain… kneeling between his legs… giving him the best damn head of his life. This was not going to take long. This was not going to take long at all.

He leaned forward to stroke Box’s hair. “I um… I’m getting cl…” Boxman’s tongue executed a particularly sultry pattern of swipes. “Oooh-mmmMMUH GET READY!” Ven tangled the fingers of both hands in Box’s hair, holding his head steady.

Box’s eyes popped open at having his head restrained; but then he glanced up into Ven’s face, watching with excitement, with pride, as Ven’s eyes tightened for just a moment into an expression like excruciating pain, as his lip drew up and bared the sharp edges of his teeth, as a thin whine came from his chest and a shudder gripped his body… and then he gasped, a sheen of sweat breaking out on his forehead, an open and careless smile splashing across his face, and Box had to swallow quickly.

Ven took a moment to savor the aftershocks, to let the rush subside enough to regain use of his arms. Then he pulled Boxman up against his chest, pulled him up into a kiss. Ven could taste himself on Boxman’s mouth, and he relished using all of his senses to take in what had just happened. He drew back, blinking slowly to show how he’d been overwhelmed by the sensations he’d just felt. “Well… done…” he breathed.

Boxman coo’ed with delight and returned the kiss. And deepened the kiss. He leaned forward, hands clasped around Ven’s shoulders, and pushed him back onto the bed, keeping their lips locked. Climbing on top of Ven, he ran his hands through his hair, down his neck, dragging his fingertips over his pecs and abs, reaching down to grip his hips… And then rocked back onto his heels, sitting astride Ven’s thighs, panting.

Finally feeling rumpled the way he’d wanted from the beginning, Ven laughed with abandon. He followed the line of Box’s puffed-out chest, eyes tracking down, and saw that his erection was making a second appearance. “Ah! So… What do you want now?” Ven asked, voice low and inviting, body still jelly.

Box paused. His wild triumph subsided, and he regained some of his shyness from earlier in the evening. “I would like to… get what I just gave.” Suddenly bashful, he ducked his head and peeked up at Ven, seeking approval.

“Excellent choice,” Ven hissed. He wriggled out from under Box, guided him to sit where he had been sitting, and set himself to reciprocation.

Ven had developed quite the repertoire for his lips, his forked tongue, his throat, and he brought all his skills to make Box’s pleasure achingly intense. He ghosted his fingertips across Box’s thighs and perineum and buttocks, exploring, applying pressure, teasing and satisfying in turns. Boxman grasped at Ven’s head with both hands; not to control its movements, but like he was holding on for dear life.

But for all Ven could tell that Box was fully immersed in his pleasure, for all that the twitches and blushes of his body promised a powerful orgasm on its way, and soon, Box was… surprisingly quiet. He was usually so vocal about… absolutely everything. But now, where were the yelps, the cackles and grunts and growls that he usually used to express himself in even mundane situations?

One of Box’s hands disentangled itself from Ven’s hair, and he opened his eyes and looked up to see Box press a finger to his mouth, squeezing his eyes shut and holding back a cry. But he had said that all the robots were on the other side of the house, far out of hearing range, so why…?

Oh. Of course. Habits ingrained by long years are hard to break. Alone in this huge building, the corridors packed with children as inquisitive and energetic as he was, he must be used to getting what little sexual release he could find hurriedly, hidden away, silently. But, Ven thought, Box had broken him out of his assumptions and his calcified, constricting habits; time to return the favor.

Ven continued his rhythm, his patterns, until he recognized the signs he had seen earlier in the evening, the signs that meant Box’s arousal had built to the burning edge of intensity, was a thin moment away from breaking.

And he stopped.

Body trembling, Box’s eyes fluttered open. “Mmphf?” he whimpered. And then, “MMMFPHSFH!!!” a moan-whine of desperation that rose up from his belly.

“I’m going to make you come like you’ve never come before,” Ven drawled through flushed lips, voice deep and husky, every word dripping with promise. Mouth shut tight in a pleading grimace, Box nodded so enthusiastically he almost knocked himself off-balance.

“But I need you to do something.” Ven drew back for just a moment; and even though his head was lower than Box’s, he seemed to loom above, the low light of the room drawing hollows under his cheekbones and eyebrows, his eyes shining with blazing intensity; every inch the villain. He grinned, baring his fangs, as he rasped his command: “Scream for me.”

And he took Boxman deep into his throat, the feeling hot, tight, and irresistible.

The sound started deep within Boxman’s chest, a baritone rumble that grew, and then faltered, and grew again, climbing in volume and in tone. It rose and rose and then cracked, returning louder in his higher octave. His body shook and shook as his voice climbed even higher, turned into a full-throated scream, and then it cracked again—either his voice had gone silent, or dogs would now be howling across the city—and he arched his back, face turned up towards the ceiling, eyes screwed shut and mouth open, teeth bared, helplessly carried away by the mind-melting intensity. Ven swallowed once, twice, again?? hadn’t he come already not an hour before?

All at once it was over. Boxman’s voice returned back from whatever plane of existence it had traveled to, sobbed in his throat before turning into a soft moan, then a sigh of bone-deep satisfaction. Ven gently continued holding his penis in his mouth as it softened and retreated, finally planting a soft kiss on his slit, and drew back to admire what he had done to his lover.

Box leaned forward, slumping with fatigue. His cheeks flushed, his eyelids drooped, and a smile of contentment spread across his face as he realized that he felt happy; and not with the giddy feverish endorphin hit he got from attacking heroes—how long had it been since he’d felt any other sort of happiness?—but with organic, genuine joy.

* * *

Jethro hadn’t intended to disobey a direct order. He hadn’t wanted to. But he and his brothers and sisters had all watched through the credits scene, through the little logo animation, into static; and all the games—the fun games anyway—were on the other side of the house. They’d all drawn straws, and even if Raymond had seemed to take an extra-long time arranging the straws in his fist, fair was fair.

The route back took Jethro past Father’s bedroom. He scooted past the door as quickly as he dared, as quickly as he could without dropping the board game balanced on his head, thankful that his tire treads didn’t make footstep sounds.

Not a minute after he had passed the door, Jethro heard a scream.

There was nothing unusual about Father’s business dealings involving him screaming. But this scream was something Jethro had never heard before, had never imagined hearing before. The sound was long, and loud, and bleedingly organic. Father must be hurt—not hurt as in his usual disappointment, but suffering some sort of melt-down of his organic components—and Jethro was instantly ready to spring to his rescue.

But as many times as Boxman’s recursive “honey-do” list had included “give Jethro move backwards,” he had never actually gotten around to doing it.

So with the board game fallen and forgotten, pieces scattering across the hallway, Jethro sped away, whining “I am Jethro” in a panicked undertone, back to his siblings.

* * *

Chapter Text

Venomous helped Boxman lie down and moved him backwards on the bed, trying not to grunt with exertion. Boxman didn’t usually feel too heavy—whether he had bird-like bones or if it was just that his strength and energy meant he carried his weight well—but now that his body had gone limp he was damn tough to move.

Smiling woozily, jaw just slack enough to expose his snaggletooth, Box felt what Ven was doing from a muzzy distance. From under heavy eyelids he looked down the length of Ven’s body… and noticed that Ven’s second penis was half-erect. He gave his hand a lick and reached for it.

Ven caught his wrist in the air with a gentle but firm grip. “I appreciate it, but no. Not now.”

“But I had two. That’s not fair,” Box whined, sounding more drunk now than he had earlier after chugging two snakebites. He reached out again.

Ven chuckled, catching Box’s hand a second time and pushing it back against Box’s chest. “No, really. I’d like to, believe me. I’ve loved everything about tonight. But if I get the second one off too, I’ll be useless for hours. I still have to drive home.”

Boxman’s dazed expression turned to something like horror as realization sank in. “But… no. Stay.”

Ven shook his head, chuckling. By now Boxman was laying properly in bed, head on the pillow, sheets pulled up to his chin, with Ven resting one knee on the edge beside him. “I have to get back to Fink. I have to let the babysitter go home.”

“B-b-bu-but can’t you just… bribe them?” Boxman said, catching at Ven’s chest with one hand. “You’re rich! Do that. Stay.”

Ven stroked Boxman’s cheek, his hair. “You don’t know how much I wish I could. I’d like to curl up next to you right now. I’d like to feel the warmth of your body as we fall asleep. I’d like to wake up tomorrow morning and still be here.” He drew his hand away. “But if I break one more babysitter, I’ll get blacklisted. No more nights out. And…” His smile wavered. “There’s one other inconvenient fact. I’m already starting to feel the beer. And I’ve seen your bathroom. And I am not going to set foot in there again.”

Boxman’s eyebrows pulled down in consternation as his eyelids closed in one last glacial blink; but Ven was unsure if he’d even heard a word. He was gone; his chest rising and falling in slow, steady rhythm.

Venomous collected his clothes where they’d been dropped on the floor. His vest had just one button left, hanging by a thread—good thing he’d put a full change of clothes in the car.

He turned to give Boxman’s sleeping form one last look, and then opened the door.

Four robotic teenagers fell inward, landing in a stack of limbs and distraught faces. Their landing made a monstrous clanging cacophony; from the very bottom there was a sonorous popping sound as Jethro was squashed flat.

Ven clenched his teeth, face going bluish with shock. “How long have you been here?”

Darrell entangled himself from the pile of struggling robots and staggered to his feet, pointing a finger in Ven’s face. “Jethro thought he heard a scream and called us over.”

Jethro popped back into form. “I am Jethro!” he interjected, indignant.

What have you been doing with Daddy?” Darrell demanded.

Ven relaxed partially, realizing Jethro had only caught a hint of the end and the rest of them hadn’t actually heard a thing. “You don’t want me to answer that,” he intoned.

The end of his sentence was cut off by a shriek from Shannon; she’d looked past him to the bed. “He’s dead!”

Ven tried to catch at her arm as she ran past, hissing, “He’s asleep… Stop, you’ll wake him!” He had a horrible vision of her ripping off the sheets and leaving Box naked before Cob and the whole fam-damn-ily. But she stopped beside the bed, popped a hand-mirror out of her forearm, and held it under Boxman’s nose. She didn’t relax until she watched it steam over twice; despite the fact that Box was snoring loud enough to be heard across the room. Ven had a moment of concern thinking she might walk around to his other side and see the hickey on his neck, mistake the bruising for a sign of violence—but she didn’t. Satisfied, but still giving Ven a stare that could melt plastic, she strutted back over to her brothers.

Darrell took another aggressive step towards Venomous, jutting out his lower lip, shoulders thrown back and hands balled into fists. “We’re his family, and we take care of him.” He narrowed his eye. “Nnyou should remember that.”

Ven struggled not to smirk at Darrell’s threatening display; he was like a little puppy growling. He held up his hands in a pacifying gesture. “I respect that. I do. I get it. I’m protective of Fink, and she’s protective of me.” He tilted his head back towards the bed. “But you have to respect his choices, too. There are things you can’t do for him,” Ven said with weight, hoping he was making his meaning abundantly clear without being explicit. He didn’t know much about how Box fathered his robots, but he’d gotten the feeling that he was stricter with them than Ven himself was with Fink.

“Oh nnyyeah?” Darrell had only gotten more worked-up. “Like what?”

Ven had suspected the robot teenagers were on the naïve side… but this was ridiculous. Even Fink would have caught his meaning, at least well enough to make a look of disgust and run off singing “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” She actually knew quite a bit more; he’d installed safe search restrictions on her smartphone, but she’d wormed past all of them. He hadn’t realized she’d been exposed to explicit content until she had, with wicked glee, regaled him with a story about dingalings and hoo-haws having a party. He had, in quick order, scolded her for using childish euphemisms instead of anatomically-correct terms; sent her to her room for disobeying his set boundaries; and increased her allowance for being clever enough to get past them without his noticing.

Venomous’ patience had reached its limit. He was halfway to exhausted, he was already late to get back home to his daughter and shower and bed, and the longer he stayed the more uncomfortable he would be during the drive back. “I mean sex!” he snarled.

Four sets of eye(s) stared back at him, blinking in shock. Gritting his teeth, Ven strode through the cluster of them, stalked down the hallway, and was gone.

* * * *

The robots filed out of Boxman’s bedroom, silent. Raymond closed the door behind them, pulling it to until it latched with a soft click. “What was he talking about?” he asked, feathery eyelashes fluttering with anxiety.

“He said ‘sex,’” Shannon answered, internal workings whirring as she drew connections to a barely-recalled emotion from some past life. “That’s like… romance…” she gulped, “…that’s R-rated.”

Darrell dismissed her words with a hand wave and a phffft sound. “No way! Daddy’s a great businessman and he’s doing some big project with Professor Venomous. He wouldn’t get involved in something stupid like your romance.”

Shannon bared her teeth and clenched her fists, eyes flashing red. Raymond and Jethro ignored her and looked to Darrell. “So you tell us what he meant,” Raymond asked.

“Well…” Darrell hesitated. “I do know… But I’m gonna look it up to be sure.”

Shannon sputtered a laugh and gave him a scornful side-eye. “You sure you can? Did Daddy ever uninstall those parental controls in your internet access? Did you get that profanity-block removed? Remember that time you tried to do a book report on ‘Moby Dick’ but you could only say half the title?”

“SHANnon!” Darrell barked, “I GOT it.” His expression turned to one of inward concentration as he opened his connection to his hive-mind, consulted his research annex, and ran the search. Then his eye widened and his face took on a dark greenish shadow. “Oh no. I was right.”

“What?” Raymond tapped his fingertips together in nervousness. “What is it?” His velvety tenor dropped to a whisper. “Is it gross?”

“Worse than that,” Darrell said, voice flat and heavy. “It’s… how organic children are made.”

Shannon gasped, clasping both hands over her mouth. Raymond took a step back and his eyes filled with tears. Jethro flopped onto his back and buzzed his tires in horror.

“Guys guys guys.” Darrell held up his hands, face stoic, shouldering his mantle as the oldest and most mature. “Be cool.” He mimicked taking a deep breath, and held a fist to his chest, like an impressive orator should do. “Professor Greasy is right. We have to respect Daddy’s choices.” An oily tear collected in the hollow of his eye-socket. “If it’s something he really wants… We have to let him have it.”

Then Darrell stopped. His internal fans whirred. His eye went vague, looked into the distance… and shone.

Through their own tears, Shannon and Raymond shared a look of anticipation: when Darrell got that thinking look, something interesting was about to happen.

Chapter Text

Fink’s ears perked and she beamed with joy. “Boss!” she squeaked, scampering towards the door to the garage. The babysitter, limbs heavy with fatigue and face shell-shocked, shambled behind her.

The rumbling of a car engine became audible to human ears as it entered the garage, then shut off. A moment later the door flew open.

“ExcuseMeI’llBeRightBack” — Venomous ran past them so fast they could practically hear a Doppler Effect in his voice. Fink yelped with delight at the sight of him, and followed behind as fast as her four-legged gait could take her. The babysitter — watching their client run past was frankly the least surprising thing they’d experienced that night — stood by the front door, drooping with relief.

Just ahead of Fink, the bathroom door slammed shut. She ran up against it, slamming her tiny palms against the wood. “Boss!”

“Fink wait,” Venomous demanded, voice muffled through the door.

Fink turned her back to the door and slid down it, sitting to wait with her head tilted back and resting against the wood. The tip of her tail twitched. She waited as patiently as she could manage, and then gave a mischievous snicker. “I can hear you peeing,” she called through the door.

FINK,” Venomous growled. She giggled again, drawing on her knee with a fingertip to pass the time until she could greet her father properly. There was the sound of the toilet flushing, there was the sound of the sink’s tap running… wait. Her tail lay still as she rotated her ears to listen more closely. Was that a gargling sound? Washing hands didn’t take this long… What was going on?

Venomous opened the door; Fink rolled from resting against it to laying on her back just in front of his feet, smiling up at him, her hands curled paw-like under her chin. “That was very rude,” he scolded, as he stepped over her. He didn’t expect her to be too cowed by the reprimand. Half the time she took his rebukes as compliments — and he wasn’t always sure they weren’t. Sure enough, she didn’t hang back at all, but caught up and grasped at his pant-leg with one hand, chattering. “How was your dinner? Huh, Boss? Hhm?”

Venomous didn’t answer her, but shelled out a stack of bills to the babysitter, and watched from the front stoop as they climbed into their car and drove away. He closed the front door and turned to rest his back against it, sliding down the wood until he was sitting with knees bent.

Fink crawled into his lap and raised her face toward his, closing her eyes, smiling blissfully. He smiled back at her and lowered his head to touch his forehead to hers.

Then her eyes snapped open. Her nose twitched furiously as she stretched her neck, sniffing at his mouth. “I knew it! You brushed your teeth,” she accused.

“I… uh… like to be minty fresh,” Ven mumbled.

Fink narrowed her eyes. “You’re hiding something.” Then a look of revelation splashed across her face, followed by a shocked frown. “You’ve been eating delicious smelly cheeses… and you didn’t bring any for me!?”

Venomous gave an internal sigh of relief. “You found me out. The cheese was just too delicious. I ate it all up. Forgive me.”

“Huhn! Okay I will. This time,” Fink growled. She tucked her head under his chin, nestling against his chest.

Ven stroked her hair. “Do you know how late it is, Little Villain? Past your bedtime. You can choose one story, and then…”

Fink’s nose was twitching again. She drew her head away, eyebrows knit. Then she gripped at Ven’s vest, pulled it to her nose. “This doesn’t smell like Stink-man’s house… This just smells like the car.” She glared into his eyes. “…You changed your clothes? Why?”

Damn it. He’d guessed something like this might happen, but he’d thought he was being so clever — waiting until Fink was occupied with the babysitter before changing into his outfit for the evening, leaving a full change of clothes in the car. Damn rats’ sharp sense of smell.

“I.. uh… sp.. spilled…” Easy there, Professor — this was ridiculous, he was being grilled by a small child and he was folding like a lawn-chair.

She nuzzled at the side of his neck. Too late, Venomous remembered Boxman kissing him there at the beginning of their tryst, rubbing his face against that exact spot. Shit shit shit

Fink drew away, nose wrinkled in disgust. “Stink-man.” she growled. “You’ve been…” her eyes widened with shock at the obscene thing she was about to say, “… making out. With him! Ewwww!” she wailed, swooning.

Venomous caught her just before her dramatic display threw her right out of his lap. “Okay, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “… Yes. We were kissing. So what? I like him, and he likes me.”

Fink folded her arms, the bridge of her nose darkened with disgust, still resting her full weight in Ven’s hands. “Like him? Ugh! Gross!” She curled her fingers in the air in front of her face, claws bared as if she were physically struggling to grasp the depth of her horror. “Ah ah… like take a wheel of brie and slice it the wrong way through so it’s all round and slimy and soggy in the middle… that’s what his face looks like.”

Ven burst into laughter despite himself. “His face does not look like brie. And what are you even talking about? You adore brie.”

Fink’s eyes blazed. “Well then his face looks like some other type of cheese that I hate…”

“That hasn’t been invented yet, clearly,” Ven interrupted, struggling to swallow his laughter.

Fink puffed out her cheeks and looked away from him. “He smells bad,” she muttered, her shoulders slumping.

Ven’s urge to laugh stilled. When he spoke again his voice was tender and sympathetic. “He smells different. Fink, listen to me…” He cupped her cheek with one hand. She kept her eyes averted, holding out for a stubborn moment, before meeting his eyes. “You’re my number one, Fink. Your well-being comes first. Nothing can change that.”

She blinked up at him with damp eyes, but kept her mouth screwed to one side, still looking dubious. Still stubborn.

“But I have to do things for me, too. You can feel however you need to feel. But you can’t make my choices for me,” Venomous continued. “And you can’t mistreat my friends, or my business partners, or any other kind of partner I have.”

Fink gave an almost-imperceptible nod.

“What was that?” Ven prompted.

“Yes, Boss,” she mumbled. And she leaned forward to bury her face against his chest.

Holding her close, Ven rose to his feet, using the door as a prop. He carried her to her bedroom. “Now. About that story…”

Chapter Text

Fink’s bedroom was lit only by a single-incandescent-bulb bedside lamp (Fink’s favorite, its durable plastic base molded to look like a barrel of TNT with red sticks spilling out). It was soothingly dim, and warm too, and the headboard Professor Venomous rested his back against felt unusually comfortable. As he read, his own voice droned in his ears, the rhyming sing-song cadence of the children’s book turning into a lullaby, leaving him in a drowsy trance. He didn’t realize that Fink had already fallen asleep until he felt a dot of wetness against his chest and saw that she’d started drooling down his shirtfront. Blinking rapidly, trying to wake himself enough to tackle his own bedtime routine, he tucked Fink under the blankets and tiptoed out.

As he shuffled down the hall and into the kitchen, the sharp brightness of compact fluorescent and LED lights shocked his eyes back to some level of alertness. He drank a glass of orange juice from the fridge, feeling the coldness of it settle in his stomach. A possible option… to fall straight into bed, clothes on, as befitted a night of some debauchery and two separate painfully awkward conversations? No. Tomorrow-morning’s-Venomous would have enough to deal with without starting it off feeling grungy and stale.

The shower’s initial cold-tinged blast of water sent an uncomfortable chill through Venomous’ naked body. Almost immediately, though, the well-made system reached a savory intense heat. Ven soaked his head, abandoned his senses to the feeling of hot water flowing over his limbs, and let his mind wander.

The first thought his mind settled on was a memory of the past evening. It wasn’t any of the moments of physical pleasure and emotional connection that he would have wanted to dwell on, but the one moment he would rather forget.

Acting on impulse, he reached his hand forward and snapped his fingers in Boxman’s face. And immediately felt shame.

Why had he done that? As much as he wished he could deny it, he already knew.

After months of business dealings with Boxman—or rather, lack of dealings, as he had funneled orders to Boxmore through Cosma and the rest of the Board, and received back only increasingly outlandish and groveling excuses—he’d thought he’d known the man. He’d pieced together a story from the curl of Cosma’s lip, from the disdain that oozed from Billiam’s tone of voice, from the shadow of a frown that marred Vormulax’s visage. Joke. Fool. Failure. He’d accepted the two-dimensional picture of Boxman with the same jaded, lazy ease as he’d adopted every aspect of the pre-fabricated villainous life he’d found himself leading. And when, at an evil cocktail party, Wat Mel had complained of a missing shipment of automated melon-ballers, Venomous had known exactly what to do. “Oh. Boxman.” He had said just the one word. But the curve of his eyebrow and the tenor of his voice had been as good as a full comedy roast routine; everyone in hearing range had erupted into mocking laughter. And at that time, Venomous had felt proud of himself.

His casual cruelty hadn’t even ended after he had met Boxman. Certainly, he had been as professional as he’d had to be during their first meeting. Certainly, after witnessing the fury of the pie gun attack, he’d recognized that Boxman’s -10 Pow rating was no error and no fluke, but a measure of his true power. Certainly, he’d been sincere when he’d expressed his admiration. But he hadn’t been able to let go of his preconceptions. Not yet. Not hardly. Even as his respect for Boxman’s skills had grown with every visit he made to Boxmore… even as he gradually began to admit to himself that his frequent thoughts of Boxman were not a mark of annoyance, and not simple professional admiration, but were a symptom of growing affection, of desire… he had stayed stuck in his old mindset. He had wanted to stay stuck.

He had canceled meeting after meeting. “I’m only here because POINT’s been breathing down my neck lately.” As cold as that.

He had even disrespected Boxman to his face.

“But I’m a villain!”

“You are a boxman… Boxman.”

And Boxman had simply accepted the dismissal, the degradation in those words, by saying, “Touché.” And then he had worked to transcend them.

“Give me a chance to show you I am more than just a boxman.”

And Venomous had agreed. It wasn’t until later that he thought, he shouldn’t have required feats of worthiness before acting with decency towards another villain.

He had given Boxman the chance to prove his villainous chops, and he had given him the chance to be seen as a person outside of his work role. He had given himself the chance to move beyond his preconceptions. And it had worked out; it had worked out far beyond his first fevered wishes. But Venomous would always carry the shameful secret: he had thought about fucking Boxman before he had ever thought about respecting him.

There was no changing the past, though. The only thing to do was to treat Boxman well in the future.

Venomous took a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing his thoughts to dissipate, submerged in the simple physical pleasure of the shower… the warmth, the wetness, the sensation of it sliding over his skin…

…oh hello. An ache from his second, neglected phallus drew his attention, and then his hand. It stiffened at the touch of his fingers, sending a sweet frisson through his pelvis. Ah well. As good a way to end the night as any.

He gave himself a couple of exploratory strokes and his groin sent a pulse of gratitude up his spine. His thoughts blossomed into another memory, this one something he wanted to linger on, to treasure… to use in planning a sequel…

Boxman... deepened the kiss. He leaned forward, hands clasped around Ven’s shoulders, and pushed him back onto the bed, keeping their lips locked. Climbing on top of Ven, he ran his hands through his hair, down his neck, dragging his fingertips over his pecs and abs, reaching down to grip his hips…

Why had Boxman stopped there? He had wanted to go farther. Venomous had felt it, in the way his fingertips had dug into his shoulders, the way his motion had shifted their weights to press Venomous’ back into the bed, the way his pelvis had thrust against Venomous’ just before he’d taken hold of his hips. He’d wanted to grind Venomous into the mattress, grind him right through the floor. And Ven had been ready, more than ready, to bring out the lube, to start the prepwork, at the first word from Box. But instead he’d asked for “what I just gave,” which was sweet, for sure, but also sounded suspiciously like a way to say, “I don’t have the confidence to suggest anything you haven’t already done.”

Well. If Box lacked confidence, that was a problem to work at solving… later. For future trysts. Now, alone in the shower in the small hours of the night, it was time for just one thing: to get off as efficiently as possible.

Venomous’ hand settled into a rhythm, a familiar pattern, experience and bio-feedback working together to stoke the spark of climax that was starting to catch inside of him. Fragments of memory ghosted through his body, memories of sensations swelling into vividness without regard to chronological order or logic. Hands on shoulders. Groin against groin. Mouth against mouth. Mouth around dick.

Moving faster, starting to grimace, to wheeze, Venomous let his imagination run ahead of his experience.

He ran his hands down… dragging his fingertips over his pecs and abs, reaching down to grip his hips… he teased at his opening with one lube-slick finger, entered… Ven put one of his own fingers to his asshole. Hot water was still coursing down his chest, running down over his belly, his thighs…

Bodies joined, the mattress pressing against Venomous’ back, his legs wrapped around Box’s bulk… Box’s face flushed, intent, as he harnesses the strength of his body, as he surrenders to the strength of his desire, and he thrusts…

Venomous cried out, a yelp as rough as a cough, and spurted into the basin of the shower.

Waiting for his breath to slow, he laid his forearm against the coolness of the tiles and his forehead against his forearm, watching through half-closed eyes as the white was washed down the drain. His head felt light and his legs weak and heavy. Exactly why he hadn’t let that happen earlier. Smart, Professor. He fumbled to shut off the tap, to grasp one of the towels waiting in a fluffy stack, to dry himself to some half-passable degree. He gave his hair a perfunctory tussle with the towel: he would sleep with it wet, and he’d wake with it in crooked spikes; but it always looked that way, more or less.

Venomous shuffled to his bedroom, slithered between the sheets, and was almost instantly asleep.

Chapter Text

Boxman woke like a deep-sea diver surfacing; in slow stages, as if regaining consciousness all at once would boil his blood. Suspended in half-sleep, he felt warm and contented, anchored in his blissful haze by a deep feeling of satisfaction, though his thoughts wouldn’t quite form around a memory of why.

He moved a languorous hand to scratch his belly. His eyes opened. He frowned.

He was naked. Wait… he slid his fingers to his hip, where they should have found the elastic band of his briefs… yep, completely naked. That was a bit of a shock. He always slept in underwear and an old t-shirt. That is, when he didn’t fall into bed exhausted, day clothes on. That is, when he didn’t wake up slumped over his desk, with his paperwork drool-dampened and the shape of a pen imprinted in his cheek.

Then memory flooded in, with the warming glow of a tropical sunbeam breaking through a season’s worth of monsoon clouds. Venomous.

Boxman bounced out of bed. The sudden change in posture made him dizzy, but he turned his stagger into a joyful little spin across the floor. PV was here. And he… and then he… and then we… huhuhu hu hu.

His bare foot hit the chilly tile of the bathroom floor, and another memory from the previous night shot into his consciousness. Venomous’ voice flat, the bridge of his nose bearing the subtle wrinkle of masked disgust. I’ve seen your bathroom. And I am not going to set foot in there again.

Familiarity, day-in and day-out, had rendered Boxman blind to the appearance of this room—did it matter? At all? He was the only person who was ever in here—but now his awareness of it expanded like an iris-in film transition. The shower walls were peppered with black mildew that, emboldened by its conquest of the grout, was encroaching onto the tiles themselves. The trash can was buried in a fluffy mound of crumpled tissues, emptied plastic bottles sitting on the slopes like snowboarders. On the floor next to the bathtub/shower, neglected water spills and overflows had left marks in an accumulated layer of dust like the fossilized tidelines of an ancient sea. And directly in front of him, the mirror had accumulated so many layers of toothpaste foam flecks that his image had gone indistinct, an obscured blob of green and pink.

And also on the mirror, under the white of the toothpaste foam, there was some sort of… what was that? Some sort of brownish-reddish spot? Curling his lip, Boxman reached for a washcloth—the washcloth was stiff, kept its peaked shape as he picked it up; he tossed it over his shoulder and reached for another—wetted it under the tap, and wiped at the mirror in broad, round, fierce swipes.

He stepped back to look at himself in the cleared circle of mirror. That brownish-reddish spot… wasn’t on the mirror. It was on his body. He touched his fingertips to the bruise, and memory engulfed him. PV’s mouth against his neck, that sharp suck, the bolt of mingled pain and pleasure it had sent shivering down his spine. PV’s chest and belly pressed warm against his back. PV’s breath caressing the outer edge of his ear. PV’s hand moving on his cock.

A tingle of pleasure started in the soles of his feet and surged up through him, prickling across his skin, making him shut his eyes and suck in a breath through his teeth. And then the feeling subsided, and he opened his eyes again to see the mirror reflecting the present reality, a familiar reality: himself, alone, in the middle of the mess he had made.

Grimacing, his throat closed tight and vibrating with a growl of frustration, he stretched the washcloth to the mirror again. But, all at once, his strength drained out of him; he let the washcloth drop into the sink basin, and then dropped his hand to rest on the edge. Who did he think he was fooling? A man as accomplished, as charming, as gorgeous as PV… wanting him? He drew in a deep breath that wheezed in his chest. His hands grasped at the edge of the sink, one talon drawing a marrow-cloying screech against the ceramic. An unbearable tension took hold of his guts. He clenched his teeth, bared their sharp edges. He wanted to destroy something. He needed to destroy something.

No. No. Calm down. He resisted the urge; stood stiffy, shaking, until it subsided enough for him to think again. He drew in a deep breath through his nose and made himself remember what had happened the previous night. PV had been in his home, in his bedroom. PV had been patient and understanding. PV had initiated their lovemaking. Despite all of Boxman’s shortcomings, PV had wanted him.

PV did want him. And if his fears came true, if he repelled PV with his clumsiness and boorishness and personal failures, well then… he had won his heart once; he would just have to try to do it again.

And the first step was to clean up this eyesore…

Later. He had a factory to check up on. He had children to check in with. And although he’d managed to regain control of his destructive urge—quickly this time, he congratulated himself—attacking the plaza would feel good right about now. Boxman draped the washcloth over his eyes, so he wouldn’t have to look at the deplorable failure of a bathroom any more than he had to, and felt his way into the shower.

A half-hour later, with hair combed, tie knotted, lab coat collar turned up high around his neck, he felt like himself again. He cleared his throat in preparation for a morning of barking orders, and opened the bedroom door.

All six robot children stood behind it, filling the doorframe, eyes shining, smiles plastered across their faces.

“Good morning, Daddy,” Darrell said in his ingratiating drawl.

“Guh… good morning,” Boxman replied automatically, as his heartrate slowed from the shock of being greeted by a wall of faces. He cocked an eyebrow. “What’s good about it?”

Ernesto rocked back on his heels, arms tucked behind his back, and shot a glance at Darrell. Shannon and Raymond smirked and also looked at Darrell. Mikayla and Jethro whirred their fans in anticipation.

Darrell’s eyelid was half-lowered in an expression of self-satisfaction. He cleared his throat, in a way that Boxman realized, with a twinge of discomfort, was a clear imitation of the way he himself did when preparing to make an announcement.

“We spoke to Professor Venomous last night,” Darrell began. Boxman’s face blanched. “He told us he was doing something for you. Something that we can’t.”

Boxman sputtered, sweatdrops forming on his forehead. “Heh heh… he didn’t tell you what that was, though,” he waved a dismissive hand, his voice’s tone swooping between its high and middle ranges like a rollercoaster. Then his voice plummeted into its deepest, flattest register. “Did he?”

Shannon blinked at him, eyelids heavy with jaded maturity. “Oh please, Daddy. We all know about sex.”

Boxman’s facial expression contracted with horror, as if the shocked breath he drew had pulled in half his face with it.

By now Darrell looked positively euphoric, beaming with pride. “And I thought... you don’t need Professor Venomous to come all the way over to Boxmore to give you what you want... if we give it to you first!”

Boxman’s chest filled with primal, visceral horror. He didn’t know what exactly Darrell could mean, but every possibility was worse than the last.

As Darrell turned his eye to Ernesto, and Ernesto began to draw his hands out from behind his back, Boxman threw his hands over his eyes. “NO NO NO…”

Nothing happened. “NO no no… no… no…?” Boxman’s voice trailed off, but he didn’t lower his hands. They all stood, frozen like that, for a few seconds.

And then there was … a cooing sound?

Boxman parted the fingers of one hand just enough to peek through. He saw what was in Ernesto’s arms.

“WHOSE BABY IS THAT?” he shrieked.

“Yours, now,” Darrell chirped, tilting his head and grinning.

“No!” Boxman shouted in a way that contained three syllables and two octaves, face going bright red.

The baby stirred, scrunched up its face and whimpered, coughing out a small cry. Boxman lowered his voice, hissing through jagged, clenched teeth. “You can’t just steal…” An epiphany hit him, and the wrathful red in his face drained away to leave him chillingly pale. His mouth smiled, completely independently of his eyes. “Hu hu whooo told you PV was giving me a baby?” he tittered. “Not that it’s... heh heh… not that he is, of course.” He coughed.

Raymond broke in, hands balled into fists of excitement. “We figured it out ourselves!”

Boxman lifted a chiding finger and opened his mouth. He formed an indistinct syllable, but realized halfway through that there was no meaning or thought behind it. He walked over to the wall, shuffling as if he had aged twenty years in the previous minute, and leaned against it with both hands, bowing his head and huffing for breath as he tried to think of what to do.

He turned, having reached some semblance of composure, and stood up tall. He straightened his tie. “Mikayla!” he barked. She sat back on her hind legs, front paws folded over her chest, eager to please. “Take care of this child until I can send them back where they belong!” Ernesto’s eye betrayed a hint of disappointment as Mikayla delicately lifted the bundle out of his arms with her teeth. She nestled on the floor, tail curled around herself, and dandled the baby in her forelegs.

“Other room… pleeease…” Boxman prompted, voice saccharine-sweet. Mikayla nodded, gathered the baby, and left the room.

Boxman ran a shaky hand across his skullplate. “I have so many calls to make,” he giggled to himself. “I have so much groveling to do. I am in such… deep… doo doo.”

Ernesto tilted his head and squinted. “Can… we help?”

“No!” Boxman screamed, letting his frustrations and fears give the outburst the power of a bomb. The bots leaned back with the force of it. “You made this mess! But I’m the one who’s going to have to fix it. You hear me? I’m in trouble now and it’s all! Your! Fault!”

“But… we just wanted to give you what you wanted…” Darrell pleaded, confusion plastered across his face.

“The only thing I have ever wanted from you is children who are not complete idiots!” Boxman waved his hands. “And you can’t even give me that!” The bots cowered.

Boxman let his anger buoy him, carry him along, cover over every other thought that had harried him that morning. “Because you’re clearly too dim-witted to not break international law on a whim, let me remind you of a few simple rules,” he sneered. He pointed at the door to his bathroom. “In there! Organic business! Don’t ever ask!” He pointed to his bed. “There! Organic business! Don’t ever ask!” His strident hand-waving and tone abated. “Except for sleeping. And eating corn chips. You can ask about those things.” His wrath resumed. “But nothing else! And especially nothing involving Venomous. Capiche? Now GO!”

Haltingly, the robots turned and walked out of the door, curved in on themselves with shame, their shoulders hunched around their ears.

Boxman tugged on the hem of his labcoat, willing his feelings of frustration into determination, and set himself to the day’s work.

 

Chapter Text

Professor Venomous’ phone rang, a slinky sequence of electro-pop beeps. He frowned at the number—he didn’t recognize it. Telemarketer? One of his evil alma maters, using a fresh-faced student to wheedle donations out of its alumni?

Against his better judgement, he hit the button to pick up. “mnyEllo?”

A moment of silence. And then, a familiar voice, the single syllable pitched deep and nonchalant. “S’up?”

The suspicious tension relaxed out of Venomous’ shoulders in an instant. “Box! I’m glad you called.”

“You are?” The voice on the other end cracked into a gleeful squeak. “I mean…” it dipped back into its initial calculated masculine smoothness. “Yes. I’m glad too. That I called.”

A pause; in his mind’s eye Venomous could see Box blinking in nervous hesitation, cheeks reddening. “Uh…”

Venomous grinned and leaned up against the wall. “Last night was good. We should schedule another date soon.”

On the other end of the line, he heard a muzzy sound, the sound of something pressed against the receiver of an old phone’s handset. Then a muffled, distant high-pitched chortle of triumph, hu hu hu. Then Box was back, voice now dancing in his normal mid-range. “I’d like that.”

Venomous took a quick look at his phone’s screen and shifted it to the other ear. “Say… Do you have a new phone? My phone doesn’t recognize this number.”

“Oh. It’s just the old Boxmore landline.” Boxman chuckled then, a forced sound that made Venomous wince, and there was another indistinct sound of a headset being shifted ear-to-ear; Venomous pictured him placing the phone in his human hand so his dominant hand would be free to gesture.

“You’re gonna laugh, but… I threw my cell down the stairwell. And it went bouncing off to who-knows-where. Ernesto’s looking for it now.” His voice increased in volume, gained a forced airiness. “I was just so mad! You wouldn’t believe what I’ve had to deal with today. The children… get this… kidnapped a human baby.”

Venomous’ face froze in a stunned half-smile. “They… what?”

Boxman’s voice dropped to a rough, conspiratorial whisper. “I think they’re onto us. About… you know… unior-jay.”

“Why haven’t you just told them yet?” Venomous intoned, voice and attention distant. And then he blinked rapidly. “No, wait… Back up… did you say your robots kidnapped someone’s child?”

“Yeah. KIDS, heh heh. You never know what they’re gonna do, right?”

Venomous leaned forward, as if the posture would make his words travel through the phone faster. “Is it safe? Are you safe? The robots, are they… what’s…”

“It’s okay, PV,” Boxman drawled, cutting him off. “I got it sorted out. Caught it early, made all the right calls, licked all the right boots.” His voice dropped to a gravelly, half-swallowed undertone—“What’s another censure or five, right?”—and brightened again into feigned nonchalance—“Allll taken care of.”

Venomous blinked at the wall, unsure whether to fit his response to his understanding or to Box’s carefree act. He defaulted to the latter.

“Ah,” he replied, his voice flat like a bar of bittersweet chocolate. “I told Fink she’s not allowed to commit any felonies, only misdemeanors, until she turns 18.”

Thinking of the interaction he’d had with the bots the night before, Venomous paused and swallowed. He ran a hand from his forehead through his slicked-back hair. He steeled himself.

“Box… look. I’m the last person to tell someone else how to raise their kids. But…” He sighed. “I’ve… uh, read… that if you’re too strict with kids, if you don’t give them space as they grow up, they may act out. In dramatic ways, even.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone.

Then that sound again, the sound of cloth or skin pressed against the receiver. In the distance, the muffled, indistinct sound of a voice.

And then Box was back, his voice as light as it had been at the beginning of the call. “Will you look at that? Ernesto found my cell, heh heh… And it’s not even broken at all! Welp. Guess that’s my signal to get back to, you know, the daily grind and all…”

“Wait,” Venomous cut through Boxman’s babble. “Before you go… There’s one more thing I want to say… It’s about last night.”

An expectant silence filled the line. Venomous paused and pulled in a calming breath through his nose. He couldn’t even hear Boxman breathe.

“I’m used to acting in certain ways…” No, that wasn’t the right way to start. He didn’t want to say, or even imply, ‘with my past sexual partners,’ that felt gauche. Especially when he didn’t even know if Boxman was the type that put high value on monogamy. Aie, he winced, That was something else they were going to need to talk about.

He started again. “I feel comfortable with you. Very comfortable. And last night, there was a moment when I… let myself get carried away. So I wanted to check in with you. Was there anything that happened last night that… that you didn’t like?”

There was a pause.

Boxman’s response was soft, warbling with a touch of uncertainty. “I don’t think I understand… Did I make you feel bad?”

“No! No, I’m afraid I made you feel bad. Let me try to say it another way.” Venomous leaned up against the wall again, this time for support, as he felt out his words. He almost wished he had an old-fashioned phone cord to twiddle between his fingers.

“Last night, I acted… well, I got bossy. And some people like that. But you aren’t some people; you’re you. We should have talked before we did anything. About what we wanted to do, and what we didn’t want. About things that make us feel good or bad.”

Boxman made a hiccoughing gasp. “We’ll talk about anything you want! But… but I’m fine, I’m better than fine! Um…” He trailed off.

He still didn’t sound like he was grasping his meaning, Venomous thought. But this wasn’t really the type of conversation to have over the phone anyway.

“We’ve got to have a talk like that before next time. Yes?” Venomous said.

“Next time.” Boxman echoed, in an undertone—maybe without even realizing he was speaking.

And then, back at his normal high volume, in a giddy chirp: “Sure thing!”

Venomous smiled into the phone. “Good. I’ll let you get back to work, then. Talk again soon?”

“Yep! Hu hu hu… Bye!”

As Venomous hit the button to hang up, he could still hear Boxman chortling over the phoneline.

* * * * *

As the day went on and Boxmore tentatively eased back into its usual daily rhythms—the turn of gears, the clang of robots rolling off the assembly line, the angry shouts of youth watching the bodega get destroyed—Lord Boxman brooded, his feelings shifting between pleased and perturbed.

The conversation with Venomous had banished his dark doubts from the morning. He was appreciated, he was desired… could he dare to even say that he was loved? He was over the newly-renovated moon.

At the same time, something was… off.

About the factory… No, about his family.

Usually, berating the robots made him feel stronger, and let him forget his worries for at least a short time. And they had certainly deserved the tongue-lashing they got today!

And yet, this time, he didn’t feel more confident, or more stable, for having asserted his power as Lord and Daddy.

He felt… guilty?

He tried everything that usually silenced that nagging little voice. He let his trigger-finger run amok, sending blind-box after blind-box crashing into the plaza parking lot. He took inventory of the factory, walking its breadth and length until his feet got sore. He ate a massive bowl of popcorn and got a stomachache.

But as soon as his focus wandered, the gnawing feeling returned.

He thought about Venomous—of course, he thought many things about Venomous throughout the day. But among the more private thoughts, he reveled in how lucky he was, how much admiration he had for the striking businessman who had walked into his life and changed it all for the better.

But over and over, an image of Fink popped into his mind as well. The attentive way she listened to Venomous. The way respect and admiration shone from her when she looked at him.

And, oddly, he had never heard Venomous yell at her.

Not once.

And so, late in the afternoon, after a lot of thought and some little bit of surprise, Boxman called the representative individuals of all his children’s models to see him.

The bots lined up, waiting for his next command, heads bowed. Cowed and obedient.

Boxman took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “Earlier today, I said some… things. That maybe weren’t… up to the Boxmore standard of excellence.”

Ernesto’s eye, just barely visible under the brim of his hat, squinted in surprise.

“Things that… uh… things that I might even… take back.”

Shannon and Raymond raised their heads, expressions gone slack with confusion and amazement. Was this… an apology? Darrell’s face, downcast since he had entered the room, remained stony.

“I said that there’s nothing you can give me. But there is. uhSomething, that is.”

Shannon and Raymond’s faces were beginning to light up with a glimmer of hope.

“And it’s something that only you can give me.”

Now Ernesto looked up and focused on him, posture attentive. Darrell’s lip quivered, but he still didn’t raise his eye.

“A hug from my children.” Boxman spread his arms in invitation.

Shannon clasped her hands, hearts shining in her eyes. “Oh, Daddy!”

“Coach,” Raymond said, eyebrows drawn up in pride, a fist pressed to his heart.

Darrell looked up, finally. A tear shone in his eyesocket.

The bots ran forward as one, their arms outstretched.

And Lord Boxman was smooshed flat under a ton of affectionate metal.