Mathias spun and shadowstepped and dodged, kicking anything he couldn't stab if it got too close to Flynn. He'd used all his throwing knives. The circle of corpses around them grew, but there were too many still standing, too many closing in. Flynn groaned and rolled to his side, clutching his abdomen as he gasped for breath. Mathias's enemies were more cautious now, after the first rush, trying to stay out of the reach of his daggers. He stood over his fallen lover, panting and trying to keep his attention everywhere at once.
It was never going to work. As he tired, he took more hits, the thick winter coat blunting only some of them. By now, Flynn had passed out, limp beneath him, still bleeding. Mathias would never have time to mourn him. He was exhausted, his chest aching, every damned one of his wounds crying out in agony as he bled from a dozen places.
Among the cries of attacking naga and pirates, Mathias heard a new sound, and his heart froze in his chest. The gutteral gurgling battlecries of murlocs and the clatter of crab claws sounded behind him. He wiped blood from his eyes with one wrist and turned to face the new wave of disaster that bore down on him, only to see Sir Finley leading the murloc swarm, mounted on a battlecrab, waving his machete over his head to direct the tiny army.
It was over in minutes, the murlocs swarming everything, shredding nagas and pirates alike as they screamed and gurgled. In the silence after the battle, Mathias could only hear his own sharp panting breath as he wobbled in place, exhausted. "Flynn," he gasped, reaching out to Finley.
Finley garbled in Nerglish, directing the unlikely rescue party, and brought the largest battlecrab to Mathias. "Here," he said. "Mount up and we'll hoist him up to you. Murloc healing isn't terribly efficient but it should keep Captain Fairwind from bleeding to death before I can return with Firebeard."
The healer. Mathias nodded and slung himself onto the broad carapace of the crab, cradling Flynn's limp form in his arms as the murlocs handed him up. He was still breathing, thank the Light. Trembling, Mathias unwound his green wool scarf from his neck and pressed it into the gunshot wound, trying to stanch the bleeding.
Finley rode out as fast as the battlecrab could carry him, a second large crab in tow, the late afternoon fading to evening around them. The murlocs led Mathias's crab at a quick pace toward their little coastal village. Its eight-legged gait was so smooth he barely realized they were moving. He was grateful for the gentle motion, because he didn't think Flynn would be able to take much jostling. He held Flynn close, numb in the aftermath of battle.
On crabback, the village wasn't far. He couldn't speak to the murlocs, nor they to him, but Finley had apparently given them sufficient information that they knew what to do. He gently handed Flynn down from the crab into waiting hands, and they carried him into a small cave out of the wind. Mathias dismounted and staggered after them, pain, exhaustion, and blood loss starting to catch up with him.
At least they were out of the wind. Murlocs wouldn't have anything resembling a blanket, and it was going to get cold once darkness fell. Colder. Fucking freezing. Several murlocs started looking Flynn over, and Mathias did his best to stay out of the way, nervous as they ripped the man's clothing open to get at the gaping wound.
Soon, they had stopped the bleeding and bound Flynn's worst wounds with bandages of seaweed. Satisfied, they backed away. Mathias pulled his single small crimson vial of healing potion from his pouch, tilting Flynn's head and letting it trickle in, making sure he swallowed most of it. Moments later, Flynn's pained breathing eased somewhat. It wasn't nearly enough, but it was all he could do.
The murloc medics tugged at Mathias's clothing after that. He let them. He was bleeding as well, and needed patching up himself. He'd not be able to take care of Flynn until Firebeard arrived unless he managed to stay conscious. They bound the worst of his wounds and brought him large shells filled with fresh water. He drank gratefully, then tried to get some into Flynn.
Once Mathias felt a little steadier, he arranged Flynn as comfortably as he could and gathered material for a fire. It took time, and more energy than he had to spare, but he wasn't going to let either of them freeze to death before they could get back to the ship. Two of the murlocs saw what he was doing and helped him gather dry things, bringing them into the cave for him. Before he met Finley, he'd not have imagined they'd be quite that clever, though most murloc tribes had little wooden or bamboo structures to ward off the worst of wind and rain. Now, he knew better.
He started a fire in the cave, knowing he'd have to stay awake to tend it himself. It was going to be a painful, miserable night. Flynn lay on the bare sand. His wounds might be bound, but Mathias was terrified to move him, lest he open them again and cause the bleeding to restart. Once the fire was going well enough not to need constant tending, Mathias lay next to his lover, covering him as gently as he could with his own aching body, trying to keep him warm. He'd probably be in a fever by morning, but there was nothing else Mathias could do.
His night was painful, cold, and restless. His shin ached from its old break. Memories of his long imprisonment in the Broken Isles haunted him, wrenched out of their burial by the Red Blade crew's appearance. His wounds were painful, and the salt in the seaweed bandages was irritating. The blood in their clothing dried and stiffened, and part of Mathias's hair was matted with it. He wanted a healer, a bath, and a bed. A drink, at least, to numb some of the pain. Light, he wanted to be warm again. His pack and Flynn's had been abandoned where they were attacked; they were light and contained food and supplies, but no change of clothing. There would be blankets, though. Mathias sighed. There was no way to ask the murlocs to get the packs for him, and he'd been far too focused on fighting and Flynn's survival when they came swarming over the rise to think of anything else.
A few hours before dawn, Flynn's body started warming quickly. Fever had come. He hoped it wouldn't burn through what little strength Flynn had left before Thurin came. The dwarf and Finley would no doubt start out at the first sign of light, but it would likely take a few hours after that to get to the murloc village. He waited, silent, watching over his lover, heart aching. Flynn's hair grew wet with sweat and he moaned quietly, growing restless in his sleep.
"Hold on, Flynn," he murmured, miserable, brushing sweat-drenched hair from the man's forehead. "You're not allowed to die on my watch. I won't have it, do you understand?"
Flynn said nothing, his face twitching with pain.
When dawn came, Flynn was still with him, still feverish. The murloc medics arrived to change the seaweed bandages on their wounds. Flynn moaned through the procedure, thrashing weakly, and Mathias had to hold his limbs to keep him from doing harm to himself. The sounds he made broke Mathias's heart, and when the murlocs were finished, he cautiously took Flynn into his arms and held him close, even knowing it could injure him. He had to hold him. If Flynn died of the fever before Thurin arrived, at least he'd wouldn't die alone on the cold ground.
The murlocs brought him water again, and he helped Flynn drink a little before he had any himself, holding the shell to his unconscious lover's lips. Setting the shell aside, he rested his forehead against Flynn's and ran his fingers through Flynn's damp hair. He hoped the man could feel enough through his pain to take some comfort from it.
Sooner than he expected, Thurin and Finley arrived, bustling into the cave. Thurin dropped a pack and knelt next to them. "Oh, the poor lad. He's been hard done by. We're lucky I got here in time."
"Please," Mathias said, aching and desperate, "don't let him die."
"Let's get him laid out flat so I can treat him." The three of them carefully shifted Flynn onto his back in the sand. Thurin's thick hands moved, gentle but swift, to examine the bandaging and run his hands over Flynn's feverish body. "This'll take time, Shaw, and he'll not be fit to move back to the Arva until at least tomorrow, afterwards."
Sir Finley dug in the pack and produced a blanket, shaking it out and wrapping it around Mathias's shoulders. "Here. Warm up, old chum. I've brought some hot green tea from Yun." Mathias tugged the blanket around himself as Thurin took a deep breath and started to move the Light, working on Flynn. He took the proffered container of hot tea when Finley handed it to him, sipping and letting it slowly warm him.
Once Finley was satisfied that Mathias was as comfortable as he could be under the circumstances, he went out and gabbled something at the murlocs. One of them mounted up on a crab and rode out. "I've sent her for your packs," Finley said. "Best not to leave them behind.
"Thank you. What's the Arva's status?" He drank more, trembling with an exhaustion that was as much emotional as physical.
The little murloc sat next to him and patted his knee. "First Mate Miller and some of the other crewmembers have taken it upon themselves to find and destroy the Red Blade vessel. We don't know what they were doing this far from their usual territory and are hoping to discover why they were here. We hope this will also remove any threat of pursuit from the remaining Red Blade crew."
Mathias nodded. "Good. One less thing to worry about. With any luck the Red Blade won't know they're coming until it's too late." He sighed and looked out of the cave over the shallow, rocky waters beyond the murloc settlement. He wanted every one of those bastards dead. He, Flynn, and Finley would have prevailed when their only enemies had been the naga. The Red Blade had murdered Amber Kearnen and nearly cost Flynn his life and it lay like a burning stone in Mathias's gut. His past was never going to let him escape.
His entire life had been dedicated to killing. There was more blood on his hands than could ever be washed away and he'd killed or ordered the deaths of more people than he could remember. Most of those, he was sure, had been for a good cause, for the right reasons. He should have been numb to death by now, immune to an emotional reaction to it, but this was Flynn. He swallowed roughly and turned his face back to his lover, taking Flynn's limp hand in his own and squeezing as Thurin worked.
"It must be… quite difficult," Finley gurgled, quiet, watching him. Mathias nodded, silent.
"We'll get him through this, Shaw, don't worry," Thurin said, not looking up from his focused work. "I promise ye, he'll live."
Mathias set the empty tea vessel down and huddled into the blanket around him, shifting slightly closer to Flynn and Thurin, and wrapped his arms around his knees. Finley added wood to the fire. He closed his eyes and tried to rest, Flynn's hand clasped in his own.
What felt like hours later, Thurin finally sat back from Flynn's limp body. "Fever's broken and I've managed to repair most of the internal damage, but I'll need to work on him again in a few hours." He took a deep breath and sighed it out. "It was bad, and I won't lie to ye about it. Another hour or so and it woulda been too late for him. As it is, we'll have him back aboard the Arva tomorrow and we can set sail for Stormwind."
Mathias nodded. "I'm grateful. Do you have any idea when he'll wake?"
Thurin shrugged. "Couple of hours, I think. The lad needs rest and he'll need proper food and drink when he does. He'll have to build up his strength again, and that'll take time." The dwarf moved over and sat next to Mathias. "And after I've had a snack to restore me mana, I'll see to you as well."
With a sigh, Mathias said, "All right."
Thurin patted Mathias's shoulder. "Safe to move him a bit now. Physical contact'll likely help the both of you. After I've patched you." Thurin dug in his pack and pulled out a sandwich, making short work of it. Mathias just gently stroked Flynn's arm as he waited. "Right, then," Thurin said, brushing crumbs from his greying beard when he finished. "Let's have a look at ye."
Mathias shed the blanket and let Thurin examine his wounds. He didn't take his eyes off Flynn's still form. "It's always worse when it's someone ye love, laddie." Thurin's voice was soft and gentle. His broad hands were on him and the warmth of the Light spread through Mathias's body, slowly easing the pain and stiffness he felt.
By the time Thurin was done, the smallest of Mathias's wounds were gone without a trace, and the worst was only a smooth scar down his side. He ate what Thurin handed him, not tasting it, though his body appreciated being fed. "You should wash off some of that blood, Shaw. You'll feel better."
Mathias sighed. The healer was right. The blood in his hair had hardened and pasted it to the side of his head, prickly and nasty. Finley had returned by then and was heating water for him in a small pot over the fire. The murloc brought it to him with a cloth and Mathias did his best to clean up, but he was still desperately in need of a bath. Once he'd washed away some of the blood, he wrapped himself in the blanket again. Thurin and Finley left to scout the area and keep watch for any encroaching naga.
He turned his attention to Flynn, who was still far too pale after losing so much blood. His face was no longer tight with pain and his breathing was soft and nearly normal. Mathias slipped an arm beneath his shoulders and gently slid behind him, resting Flynn's head on his shoulder and tucking his legs to either side of the man to hold him close in the circle of his arms. He pressed a kiss to Flynn's head and let the tears fall that he'd been desperately holding back. There was no one to see, no one to care that Mathias Shaw, the cold, relentless head of SI:7, was weeping over his injured lover.
With Flynn folded into his arms, Mathias was warm, fed, and knew that backup was nearby. He let himself sleep.
Mathias finally bestirred himself to get up, move around, and relieve himself while Thurin worked on Flynn again later that day. The afternoon was brilliantly sunny with only a mild breeze, though still bitterly cold. He walked north along the coast for a couple of miles, thinking about what Thurin had said. It's worse when it's someone you love.
He'd had friends before, when he was younger -- Edwin. Baros.
Edwin, whom Mathias had known all his life, whom he'd taught every detail of the assassin's brutal arts in the hope of recruiting him. Edwin, who'd attempted to destroy Stormwind, the very city he'd rebuilt.
Baros, who'd died on Draenor without ever calling in the favor Mathias had owed him.
The loss of both had hurt, though for different reasons. He sighed and shook his head. Mathias had fucked any number of people, some for information, others purely for the physical pleasure of it, but love… that was something he'd denied himself. The youngest member of the Assassin's Guild could never afford that kind of attachment. The Master of SI:7 couldn't afford that kind of attachment.
Mathias Shaw, the man, found himself needing, wanting. Valeera Sanguinar had encouraged him in it, before he'd been ready to speak to Flynn. Before Nazmir. Happiness is a fleeting thing. Find it while you can, Shaw.
He'd reached out to Flynn when he got home, after that warm, desperate hug on the deck of the vrykul merchantman, in front of the King and the Lord Admiral. Flynn had reached joyfully back, enveloping him in warmth. Fuck caution, fuck slow, fuck what he'd told Valeera; he'd been desperately miserable and alone and he'd told himself it was just the price of being who and what he was. He'd repressed it for decades until it was suffocating him. Flynn was so good at finding joy in the moment, and Mathias… Mathias wasn't. Shaw knew duty and loyalty and far, far too much loneliness. He didn't think he could legitimately say he'd ever been happy before Flynn. The entire concept had been alien to him, barely worth contemplating.
The stones of the beach crunched under his feet as cold waves lapped at the rocky shore. The salt breeze rumbled in his ears and fluttered through his hair and he thought of Flynn, running his fingers through it at night when they lay together. He closed his eyes, chest tightening, and clenched his fist for a moment, struggling for control.
Love. Did he even have a right to it, after everything he'd done in his life? His failures were catastrophic, his misjudgments disasters. The only thing he could give the man was an aging body and inherited trouble. There would be people amused by the fact that the Spymaster had finally taken a lover, eager to use him as leverage, or as revenge. Eager to hurt Fairwind so that they could hurt Shaw and, through him, potentially the Alliance itself.
He turned and headed back toward the murloc village. It was too late to walk away from Flynn now and he was too weak to even want to at this point. They'd been together for a month, public and visible, in Stormwind before they shipped out. Any damage on that front was already done, and all Mathias could do was prepare to deal with the fallout when it inevitably arrived. Flynn was a capable fighter, a competent captain, and had friends in high places now, far different from his orphaned childhood and his time as a pirate. The one useful thing Mathias did have in all this was power, and he'd use every shred of it to protect Flynn. He would gladly guard the man with his life.
When he was most of the way back to the village, a curl of smoke in the distance caught his eye. It wasn't rising from where the Arva lay at anchor, but in the same direction. As he walked, he heard the distant rumble of explosions like thunder on the horizon and the smoke grew slowly thicker, eventually becoming a dark column against the sky. It rose high, ultimately striking a layer of moving air above that dispersed the highest point of it. He sighed and ran, needing to consult with Thurin and Finley.
They were standing in the village when Mathias arrived, gazing at the smoke themselves. "Master Shaw," Thurin greeted him.
"The crew?" Mathias asked.
Thurin nodded. "Aye, I think so. They must have finally got rid of that Red Blade lot and searched the ship."
"If it's attracted our attention, no doubt every naga on the island is aware of it as well." Despite the visibility of it, the only thing he felt was relief at the destruction of that one small, cursed fragment of his past.
"While that is true," Finley said, "I should venture the opinion that the Arva's guns are perfectly capable of discouraging too much attention from that quarter. Two six-pounders could be regarded as a strong disincentive."
Thurin chuckled. "And there are rifles, gnome gadgets, and goblin explosives on the table there, as well."
Mathias nodded. It was true. There were only a finite number of naga on the island and, logistically speaking, the crew of the Bold Arva had a distinct advantage. "Agreed. The crew can no doubt take care of themselves until we return tomorrow and set sail."
"Fairwind's doing better. Not awake yet, but probably will be soon. No doubt he'll be relieved to find you there when he does," Thurin said, patting Mathias on the back.
"Thank you, I'll go watch over him."
"Good lad. I'll go set meself up a tent for the night."
Mathias took himself to the cavern and ducked inside. Flynn looked like he'd finally been dragged back from the brink of death, and Mathias breathed out some of the fear and anxiety he'd been carrying, his heart lighter now. He sat with Flynn, back braced against the stone, and took the man into his arms, burying his face in Flynn's long, bloodied hair.
He thought about the future. About their future.
An hour or so later, Flynn moaned and stirred in Mathias's arms. He'd been drowsing, content just to hold the man until he woke, and his eyes opened. He was watching when Flynn's did.
"M'thias." Flynn's voice was a raw croak.
He pressed a kiss to Flynn's forehead. "Flynn. How do you feel?"
Flynn coughed and moaned. "Like… th' first day of… three day hangover."
Mathias chuckled. "Those exist?"
"Ohhhh, yes." He groaned and shifted in Mathias's embrace.
Mathias brushed hair from Flynn's face. "You've had a rough time of it. Just rest. We're not going anywhere until tomorrow morning. Are you hungry?"
Flynn nodded. "Thirsty."
"Thurin!" Mathias helped Flynn to sit up, slow and careful.
The dwarf poked his head into the cavern. "Oh, yer up! Welcome back!" Thurin grinned through his thick, greying red beard.
"He could use some food and water."
"I'll have Finley heat up some soup. Y'don't want to put anything too solid in there right now. It'll be a couple of days before yer digestion's back on track after that lead ball ye took. You were a right mess, laddie. Be careful ye don't mess up all my hard work."
Mathias helped Flynn with the soup, as he was still weak and unsteady. Flynn's hands shook, but he did his best. When he was done, Flynn let Mathias set the bowl aside and slumped against him, resting his head on Mathias's shoulder with Mathias's arm wrapped around him. He sighed.
Thurin came in with a mug in his hand. "For you, Captain. Some ale."
"You sure he should be having that right now?" Mathias asked, as Flynn reached out for it.
"Good for what ails ye. That's why they call it ale." Thurin handed it to them. "'Sides, it's watered down a bit. Wouldn't do to get him all potted, would it?"
"Tides bless you," Flynn muttered, drinking it down with Mathias helping steady his hand. They handed him back the mug.
"Make sure he sleeps."
Mathias nodded. "Of course." Thurin departed and the two of them curled up together again. Flynn tucked his head under Mathias's chin. Nuzzling Flynn, Mathias murmured, "I love you." His heart hammered in his chest. The words felt strange to say aloud.
Flynn chuckled under his breath, but didn't move. "Thought so, but never thought I'd hear you say it."
"Well, now you have."
Flynn ran a hand over Mathias's chest and rested it over his heart. "Now I have."
"Get some sleep," Mathias whispered. "We're heading back to the Arva in the morning."