The fireworks show won’t start for another hour or so, not until it’s full dark, but Eustace has already claimed the high ground: a dune a little way off from the boardwalk and food stands, where he can watch the excitement without being overwhelmed by it. Djeeta and Lyria are practicing the islanders’ dance that they learned earlier in the day, and Eustace assumes Vyrn flitting around their heads is helping somehow. “Helping,” at least. Zeta takes off for the water at a run, Beatrix shrieking as she follows. Vaseraga and Ilsa sit with Eugen and Rackam, no doubt sharing a bottle. It’s good. Almost everyone Eustace worries about is accounted for and happy. Everyone but—
Ah, Cassius is climbing the dune toward him now, long hair reflecting the rosy gold of the sunset, carrying two large glasses with umbrellas in them. "Good evening," he says as he reaches the peak. "Am I intruding on your peace and quiet?"
"Not at all. Please, have a seat." Eustace gestures to the sand beside him. Cassius kneels elegantly, keeping his yukata neatly arranged, tucking his bare feet under him. Well, neatly arranged apart from the way he always wears it open so far, but Eustace has practice not staring at that. "What do you have there?"
"Lucio said they are called 'Auguste Sunrise,'" Cassius says as he hands Eustace one of the drinks. "He insisted this was appropriate even though it is currently sunset. Also I believe they are mildly toxic."
Eustace nods. He's found himself looking forward to Cassius' questions lately, and almost thinks he'll miss them when Cassius is so well acclimated that he doesn't need to ask anymore. "Skydwellers sometimes drink ethyl alcohol in small amounts, usually diluted with something more palatable, to enjoy the experience of intoxication."
"Fascinating." Cassius peers at his drink. "There are no ill effects?"
"If used in moderation, no long-term ones." Eustace takes a sip; the bright tang of the fresh juices almost covers the taste of the alcohol. "In the short term, the desired effect is relaxation and mild euphoria, often accompanied by decreased coordination and lowered inhibitions."
Cassius gives Eustace that beautiful bright smile that he wears so much more often now that he's home for good. "Skydwellers are so fearless," he says fondly. He takes a sip of his drink and frowns thoughtfully, then takes another.
You're pretty fearless yourself, Eustace thinks but doesn't say. Sometimes it's easier to just bask quietly in Cassius' presence than to put things into words that need explaining. He's content right now. Not everything is resolved, but they've all done so much for the skies and for each other recently. It's getting easier to let go of the past and live in the present.
They sip their drinks in comfortable silence, watching the shimmer of the setting sun on the water and the antics of the crew down on the boardwalk. Cassius shifts to the side eventually so his feet won't be pinned under him, and his shoulder rests against Eustace's after that. It's nice, that warm point of contact.
"Pleasing," Cassius says when he puts his empty glass down on the sand. "My augmentations appear to be counteracting the coordination effects, while still allowing some relaxation."
"The best of both worlds." Eustace replies. He drains the last of his own glass, and when he puts it down he discovers Cassius is staring at him. "What's on your mind?"
"I would like to ask you what may be a personal question."
One of Eustace's ears flicks. "Go ahead." He wonders briefly if this is the alcohol lowering inhibitions—but then, Cassius has never seemed terribly inhibited in his curiosity in the first place.
"When we reunited with everyone following the battle with Diaspora, you bent down to allow Djeeta to touch your ears." Cassius' gaze flicks upward to look at them. "Is there a particular significance to this gesture?"
"Not really," Eustace says. He can blame the warmth in his cheeks on the alcohol. "It's... intimate is perhaps perhaps the best word. They're sensitive. But there isn't any specific meaning attached to it. Why?"
"I've been wondering what it would feel like." Cassius is still looking at his ears. "They look very soft."
"I suppose." He hasn't had many people to compare them to, and wouldn't say they're softer than any other erune's, but that doesn't seem to stop humans from being fascinated. He considers it for a moment: how close Cassius already is, how comfortable it's become to have him nearby. How pleasant it is to think of Cassius' hands on him. "You can touch if you want."
Cassius looks so delighted that Eustace has to look away. He's glad, of course; he wants Cassius to be happy—it's just hard sometimes to know how to respond to such unbridled emotion. He ducks his head slightly, leaning forward to offer the chance.
Cassius touches him so delicately, fingertips brushing over the rim of his ear lightly enough that they barely ruffle the fur, and Eustace shivers. Cassius hums thoughtfully and strokes again, just slightly more firmly, and it takes effort for Eustace not to lean in for more. It feels so different from when Djeeta does it—her touch is playful and energetic, where Cassius' is slower and focused. Both are pleasant, but this is the first time someone has made his heart beat faster from a touch like that, or the hair on his nape stand up.
"They are very soft indeed," Cassius murmurs, without taking his hands away. "Do you like it? I have rarely seen your shoulders relax like that."
Eustace laughs softly. "You've been paying that close attention?"
"I have." Of course Cassius doesn't take that as a deflection, just meeting the question head on. "I know this is illogical; you are not uniquely better equipped to teach me about this realm than anyone else on the crew. Perhaps less so, in some cases." Eustace winces but doesn't bother to deny it. "But I find you very satisfying to observe. ...And I find your relaxed expression pleasing."
"Then by all means, continue," Eustace says.
Cassius leans a little closer and strokes the outer edges of Eustace's ears again, more firmly this time. Eustace's lips part and a curl of pleasure winds its way down his spine, kindling warmth in the pit of his stomach. It seems strange for such a little touch to have such an effect, but Cassius' fingers massage the bases of his ears and it's all he can do not to moan.
"Ah," Cassius says. "Is that uncomfortable?"
"Quite the opposite," Eustace admits. It would be embarrassing to say that to most people, but Cassius... Well. He might be at the point where he can stop explaining to himself why Cassius is an exception. He pushes into Cassius' hands like a demanding cat and Cassius laughs sweetly.
The bolder Cassius' touch gets, the harder it is for Eustace to restrain his reactions. His breath comes faster and his skin feels sensitive all over, and he's getting hard for this. Thank gods it would look more innocent from down on the boardwalk; he's overwhelmed by every slow stroke rubbing the fur backward and then smoothing it down again. He bites his lip, leaning into the touch and savoring the building heat.
"Quite intimate, I see," Cassius says, his voice barely more than a whisper. When Eustace manages to open his eyes for a second, Cassius is watching him in rapt fascination. "Arousing, even?"
"Beautiful," Cassius breathes. He traces just inside the rim of one ear so lightly it's a feathery tease of a touch that makes Eustace shudder. "I would be very interested in learning more about that with you."
Eustace's cock throbs. He should show some self-restraint when they're out in the open like this but it's hard to—no, he doesn't want to resist, he realizes. "Come here."
Cassius rises up on his knees and shifts closer, carding his fingers through Eustace's hair in the process, and everything feels so good right now that Eustace reaches for him, pulling him closer, and for a second Cassius loses his balance. He tips forward, and one knee comes down hard in the sand between Eustace's thighs, barely grazing the crotch of his pants—but that touch sets off a reaction far better primed than Eustace realized and a sudden, sharp climax crackles through his nerves like Flamek's thunder, making him gasp and cling tighter to Cassius' shoulders.
"Was that an orgasm?" Cassius asks as Eustace is catching his breath. He sounds impressed. "I was under the impression that required much more genital stimulation."
Eustace's face is hot but he can still smile. "In my own case, so was I," he says. "But apparently I was wound pretty tight, and that did feel really good."
Cassius gives him what Eustace is learning to recognize as a teasing smile. "My education has already begun."
"Not quite the way I would have planned," Eustace says. "But I suppose we have to respond to the conditions we encounter in the field."
His pants have an unfortunate wet spot in them, but on the other hand he has a beautiful moon warrior practically in his lap and apparently delighted to be there. Eustace reaches up and carefully threads a hand into that long silvery hair to pull Cassius down for a kiss. Something whistles in the distance, and the first firework of the evening blossoms overhead just as their lips touch.
This may not exactly be peace and quiet. But all the same—Cassius is starting to pet one of his ears again as they kiss—it's exactly what Eustace was looking for.