The unloosed wires hiss, spitting sparks. The streetlight teeters and tips, falling at a too-fast clip. David tears his gaze from the flickering light and moves until he feels cool, rippled leather shifting beneath his palm. Eyes like a roiling winter sea flow over, ebb away from his face as he shoves.
He feels a bright shock of pain and then the pale afternoon tilts, turning on its side so that thin clouds become shooting stars racing the wrong way.
Cement scrapes David’s cheek; grit as sharp as canines bite into his temple. A sickening smack mutes an idea he has, that the metal caging the lightbulb might have been colder than Killian’s jacket. The question that surfaces next would warrant a frown, if he could find the energy to make even one muscle move. Right then he’s too tired to work out why the broken piles an arm’s length away are bleeding color, going white.
Just for a minute, he promises himself, and closes his eyes.
Knuckles rapped against David’s shoulder. Blindly batting at the fingers trailing down his arm, he missed the mark and huffed. “G’way. Sleepin’.”
“Aye, I can see that,” a warm, amused voice said. “Unlike you, having apparently mistaken a barroom for an inn.”
David lifted his head from his bent elbow, blinking. “I know where I am,” he said, but looking over the crowd, people he’d never met before, and the walls covered by unfamiliar tattered tapestries, he considered revising his statement. “Maybe.”
He sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. Several creases snaked down his cheek, where his wrinkled sleeve left its mark on his skin. Looking down at the material, there was a small damp patch on his forearm. A grimace pulled at his lips before he flattened them.
“Charming, that,” the stranger said with a grin, pointedly lowering his gaze to David’s arm resting on the bar top. “With that face of yours, however, I’d wager your young lass is more than willing to overlook such things.”
“I don’t have a young lass,” David mumbled, ineffectually rubbing his thumb pad over the spot on his sleeve. He sighed again and gave up. “I suppose I should thank you for waking me.”
“Don’t trouble yourself over it, mate. I was after your seat, since you weren’t using it in the pursuit of securing a drink, as I was—am—attempting to.”
David opened his mouth to respond, the only thing coming immediately to mind a lame, “Oh.”
The young man laughed, short and soft with a wicked edge. “Your charm extends beyond a bit of drool on your arm, then. How will I ever manage to resist?”
“No one’s asking you to,” David snapped and realized, immediately, the implication. “I didn’t mean—Not that I think—You know what, let’s start over.” He extended his hand. “I’m David.”
“The name’s Killian.”
Killian’s grip was firm, his skin chapped. Shallow splits braided beneath his fingers, above his palm. David’s hands were littered with a few extra calluses, but the similarity set him more at ease. He let go, folding his hand over Killian’s lingering heat.
“You work with ropes. On a farm?”
“That sounds--” David cast around for a word and finally settled on “nice.”
Killian snorted. “Nice is hardly the word for it.” On the long trek from his farm, David had glanced up as the clouds parted to see the broad shape of the moon suddenly revealed. Like the night sky had, Killian’s eyes brightened. “There’s nothing in the world quite like being out on open water.”
“I’ll, ah, take your word for it.”
“Seasick?” Killian guessed.
“I have no idea,” David answered, shrugging. “I’ve never been on a boat.”
“Oh, mate,” Killian said, mournful as a dirge. “You haven’t lived.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
It was a token protest, and it was obvious Killian didn’t believe him. But there, blanketed in the barroom’s low light and lulled by the hum of other conversations, David was reluctant to use words like duty, responsibility, to explain. His mother and the farm were not obligations, even if his skin sometimes felt too tight when he looked down the road, watching as the dust kicked up by riders on horseback traveling who-knew-where settled.
“Keep insisting, you might have yourself convinced one day.” Killian eased into the narrow space between David’s stool and the one to his left, occupied by a trim older man with a tight queue of steel gray hair. “Now,” Killian said and leaned in, closer. “How about a drink?”
David licked his lips. “I don’t--”
“Tonight, you do,” Killian interrupted, signaling for the barkeep. The man approached, rolling once ivory, now threadbare sleeves over thick forearms. Killian looked up and flashed a smile. “Evenin’, Gallows. Rum, for me and my friend here.”
David frowned at Gallows’ wide back as the man ambled down the length of the bar to retrieve a bottle. “Rum?”
Gallows returned shortly, two tarnished copper cups clenched between his fingers, the bottle in his other hand. The cups placed gently down, he poured while his gaze roamed over the crowd, looking out for trouble or his next patron, David wasn’t sure. When the cups were half full, the rum like still water, Gallows pulled up the bottle. He nodded at Killian, leaving as quietly as he had approached.
Killian nudged one of the cups towards David. “You’ll love it.” Watching David sniff at the dark liquid, he smiled. “Go on then.”
Inhaling deeply, steadily, David put the cup to his lips. The spice on the tip of his tongue was pleasant, warm. He swallowed and scrunched his nose, the opinion he’d begun to form abruptly altered. Suppressing the cough scratching at his throat, he rasped, “It’s not bad.”
Killian laughed, clapping David’s shoulder. “An acquired taste, perhaps.”
“Well, there’s the rest of the cup.” David’s lips twitched, stretching into a small smile. He tapped the rims of their cups together and took another, smaller mouthful that, thankfully, went down easier.
“That there is,” Killian agreed and drained his cup. He swiped his thumb across his bottom lip, slipping the tip into his mouth to lift the rum from his skin.
David’s stare snagged on skin slick and flushed from Killian’s teeth, absently tugging, lightly scraping. Heat streaked across his cheekbones, a burn that put to shame what the sun managed when he was a boy, unused to prolonged exposure. Distantly he realized he should look away. He wondered, instead, if the rum would taste better on Killian’s lips.
“--all right, mate?”
David blinked, his mouth silently rounding. A swath of hair slipped free of his ear, sliding against his temple as he ducked his head. He made no move to push it back but cleared his throat. “What--whatever you just said, I missed it.”
“It’s no wonder. A man can hardly hear himself think in this din,” Killian said, his voice muffled as though he was in the process of turning a glare on the room.
Casting a sideways glance at Killian, David dropped his shoulders, the muscles between loosening. “It seems to be getting louder by the minute.”
“Well, then.” Killian arched one dark eyebrow. “Fancy a walk?”
“A...walk?” David watched Killian nod, half-expecting a different answer. “Where?”
“Down the road? Along the water?” Killian tipped his head. “Does it matter?”
Later, when David was alone, when faint traces of salt and rum no longer lingered in the air, he might consider where his answer came from. “No.” He might question the trust he gave over with both hands. But that was later. “It doesn’t.”
“I hoped you’d say that.” Killian swept an arm out, offering David the lead.
“Our drinks,” David remembered, his hand falling to his hip, patting along his belt. “What the--No.” Scrambling off the barstool, David searched the floor beneath it, silently cursing the shadows stretched out and shifting like grass in a meadow. He dropped to his knees, reaching beneath the bar. “No, no. It’s got to be here, somewhere.”
“What are we looking for, mate?”
Killian’s voice, hushed by confusion and very near his ear, turned David’s head. Expertly balanced on his haunches, Killian had three fingers steepled over a knot in the floorboard, partially concealed by David’s knee. His intent gaze lifted to hold David’s wide eyes.
“The pouch I carried coins in,” David murmured, raking his hair back with unsteady fingers. “It’s gone.”
“You’re certain you had it when you entered?”
David sat back and took a deep breath. He remembered dragging his feet down lane after lane, bone-tired from traveling all night and most of the day. He remembered squinting up at a sign with a lit candle standing next to a tankard topped by thick froth, how his lower back had ached as he stood there, debating. He remembered the balls of his feet throbbing, sharply protesting every step he took towards the back of the bar and the only empty stool in the place. Shaking his head, he said, “I’m not sure, I was tired.”
“And someone took advantage. The pouch was likely stolen while you slept.”
David closed his eyes, briefly, before he stood. “I’ll ask Gallows if he’ll let me work to--”
Killian interrupted, looking up from where he still rested on the floor. “The drink’s taken care of, if that’s what has you concerned.”
“I can’t let you--”
“You don’t want to let me,” Killian said with certainty. “Entirely different, and something we can both ignore, if we choose to do so. I’m willing. You?”
It chaffed at him, but there was no reasonable way David could refuse. “All right. Thank you.”
As though he had won a prize but was loathe to gloat, Killian kept his grin to one corner as he rose, fingertips skimming down his thigh, where dust left a fine, distracting trail on his dark trousers. “Am I wrong, thinking that’s not the whole of it?”
“No, you’re not wrong.” Rubbing firm circles into his temple, David explained, “My mother’s birthday is coming up; I thought it might be nice to surprise her with something extravagant, at least for us.”
“And now you can’t pay for it,” Killian concluded.
“I paid half upfront.” David’s stomach clenched, cramping tightly. “I had just enough to cover the rest and to buy food for the journey back.”
“I would lend you what you owe except--”
“I wouldn’t take it.” David looked, unseeing, at the door. “I’m not going home without this gift.” He turned to Killian. “Do you know where the sheriff--”
“I’ll stop you right there.” Disdain curling his lips, Killian said, “He’ll be of no use to you, unless you have a few coins to motivate him to take action. You see the problem here.”
“But it’s his job. He has to--”
“Aye, well, someone forgot to tell him that. I’d prefer not to break with tradition.” After a moment’s consideration Killian shrugged. “There’s nothing you can do just now but distract yourself. And with that, I can help.”
“Distract--I can’t, how am I--”
“We’ll work something out, but until that miracle happens,” Killian said, “let’s take that walk.”
David should have found it absurd, how quickly his mind settled, soothed by Killian’s vague assurance. There was that lilt that almost turned spoken words into a song, and there was a work-scarred hand lightly squeezing his shoulder, but David knew it was mostly because he believed Killian: They’d find a way to turn things around, together. To make sure David didn’t go home empty-handed.
Cutting through the crowd with Killian on his heels, David passed through the door and stepped out into the coming night, into an embrace of cool, seaborne air. Birds circled overhead, their white bellies and light grey wings still discernible in the falling light. They chattered amongst themselves, swooping low over the docks. The men milling there, perched on shipping crates and passing around a flask, paid the gulls no attention.
“Infernal creatures,” Killian muttered, turning up his coat’s collar. He jerked his head to the left. “This way, shall we?”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” David said with a grin, falling into step beside Killian. “Speaking of, how long have you been landlocked?”
Killian winked at David, his smile slicing a dimple in his cheek. “Before this evening I would have said too bloody long.” Looking out over the water, he added, “If all goes to plan, we should be departing soon. As early as the morning even.”
David dug the heel of his hand against his chest. “Oh.”
“We’ve plenty of time,” Killian assured him.
“For whatever you’d like.”
David stumbled slightly, thrown off balance by Killian’s low voice, by words that felt like sparks thrown from a fire. Certain he’d mistaken generosity for suggestion, David met Killian’s heavy-lidded eyes, dark blue slivers like the curve of a hook. His gaze fell to Killian’s mouth, slightly parted, and David was suddenly aware of the rapid rise and fall of his chest.
“Killian.” David swallowed roughly. “What’s your last name?”
David nodded. “Thank you.”
Killian’s brow furrowed. “For?”
“I’m going to kiss you,” David said, his gaze fixed on Killian’s mouth. “It’s important I know your full name.” Fisting his hand in Killian’s shirt, David yanked him close, so close. He found Killian’s bottom lip with his teeth, tasted a hint of rum on Killian’s tongue. It wasn’t enough. He reluctantly pulled back, his breathing ragged, wrecking his voice. “I--I know a bed’s out of the question, but--”
“Come with me,” Killian said and took David’s hand, linking their fingers.
Towed quickly along, David glanced at the storefronts they passed and couldn’t have said what the merchants sold in even one of them. When Killian finally stopped it was in front of a stable; David didn’t hesitate to follow him inside.
Killian nodded towards an empty stall at the back. “There.”
They stumbled into the stall, Killian moving forward, David shuffling back until a short stack of hay bales pressed against his legs. Sitting, tugging Killian down by his shirt, he groaned into their kiss when Killian’s weight settled on his thighs. He shoved his hands up, under Killian’s coat, felt the muscles beneath his palms shift, shiver. “Killian.”
“Aye.” It was a pant, slid between their lips. “The first time’ll be quick. We’ll do better after.”
David’s pulse skipped; he felt scattered, undone, before they’d even really begun. “After?”
Killian hummed, used the hand he had sunk in David’s hair to angle his head back and to the side. David shuddered and closed his eyes, each hot, lingering kiss on his throat loosening his tenuous grip on control. On restraint.
Moaning, rolling his hips, David felt Killian’s laugh like a feather-light breath on the too-warm skin of his neck. “What?”
“I like that you like this, is all,” Killian murmured, dragging blunt nails down David’s chest. His hand between them, he circled his thumb around the head of David’s cock, pinned to his stomach within the confines of his roughspun pants.
Bucking up into Killian’s hand, David gasped. “L-like isn’t the word.”
“No?” Killian nipped David’s jaw as he drew down his pants, freeing the length of David’s erection. “Tell me, then.”
“You...you want me to talk?” David asked, hoarsely, as Killian’s fingers circled and tightened, easing down. “N-now?”
“That.” Killian quickened the achingly slow rhythm he’d set, twisting his wrist near the tip. “And for you to touch me.”
David fumbled to hastily free his fingers from where he’d dug them into the hay and clenched a handful of straws so tightly his knuckles had flushed white. Foolish nerves roused, rioted, his hand noticeably shaking when he lifted it to Killian’s thigh. “Sorry, I’m--”
Killian urged his chin up with a knuckle. “Perfect.”
David looked up at Killian’s flushed face, saw that he meant it, and finally understood: hunger had claws; desire stripped a man of all sense, left behind only instinct and need.
Unwilling to waste another moment, David jerked Killian’s trousers as low as he could manage with Killian’s legs spread wide to accommodate David between them. He heard Killian hiss and smiled, imagined how they must look: half feral, their mouths blood red and glistening, imprinted with the ferocity of an endless string of kisses. Fingers prowling up Killian’s thigh, David dug into his hipbone with bruising pressure. “I’ll be damned if you’re the only one doing the ruining tonight.”
Killian’s teeth flashed, bared by a sharp, slanted grin. “There’s the lion, come out to play.” His thick length slid against David’s palm when he leaned forward to whisper, “Do your worst; that’s my plan.”
David responded with a groan as his knuckles brushed Killian’s wrist on the first descending stroke. The contact was fleeting, but it made his blood feel like it burned with Greek fire, Killian’s low growls, his insistent, merciless touch fanning the flames. Dropping his head to Killian’s shoulder, David watched their hands move in tandem, a quick push and pull that bordered on desperation, until he had to squeeze his eyes shut.
“What do we look like?” Killian asked, his voice a scrape of sound that made David’s stomach clench, made his heart kick swiftly at his ribs.
“Fuck, we...It’s almost...almost too much.” David’s muscles coiled, sensation scorching every nerve ending. “Killian, I’m--You’re close?”
Killian squeezed David’s nape. “With you.”
With pleasure rolling through him in strengthening waves, David didn’t know what he wanted more: to watch as they made a mess of each others' hands, painting their skin in white stripes, or to keep his eyes on Killian’s face to see those long black lashes flutter and shut, to see his throat work, his mouth form a shout or David’s name.
Killian made the decision for him, lowering his head for a kiss. Their lips clung, sensitive skin sticking, as they exchanged hot, ragged breaths, and if David thought it was too much before, he was wrong: the kiss pushed him over the edge, made his hand tighten and twist, taking Killian with him.
Satisfied in a way he hadn’t thought possible, David opened his eyes a long moment later. “That was--”
“Amazing,” Killian breathed, resting his forehead on David’s. “And to think, the night’s still ahead of us.”
A contented laugh rumbled through David’s chest. “Give me a minute to catch my breath.”
“You can have your minute.” Arching one dark eyebrow, Killian smirked. “Then we’ll have our seconds.” He shoved off David’s lap to sprawl beside him on the wide bale. “Here,” he said, tossing over a folded cloth scrap. “It’ll have to do for now.”
“So,” David said, paying more attention than was strictly necessary to wiping down his hand. “Was this what you had in mind when you said you could help distract me?”
“If it was, it would appear I did a bloody poor job of it.”
“What?” David asked, startled. “No, you were--”
“Oh, I know.” Killian nudged David’s shoulder, pressed a quick kiss to his temple. “This wasn’t what I had in mind, no, but I won’t pretend to be sorry it happened.”
“Surprisingly,” David said and yawned, “me, neither.”
“Surprisingly?” Killian slid his hand into David’s, shifting nearer. “Try dashing my ego against the rocks a little harder next time, David.”
His name had never sounded like a lullaby before, David reasoned, slouching so his head rested on Killian’s shoulder. “Your thriving ego has nothing to fear from me.”
“Glad to hear it.”
David latched onto the soft laughter, the quiet fondness, he heard in Killian’s voice. “Seconds,” he said, slurring the syllables, drifting closer to sleep, “then my...mother’s gift, if...if...”
“Sleep a while first, David. I’ll wake you,” Killian said and untangled their fingers to drape his arm around David’s shoulders, holding him close to his side. “As for the other, I’ve an idea.”
“Sounds good.” Curling in, sliding an arm across Killian’s stomach to clutch the lining of his coat, David sighed. “But just for a minute.”
David surfaces with a quick, harsh inhale. He takes a minute, spends it blinking up at the ceiling, before turning his head on the pillow. Searching, he finds Killian leaning against the white brick wall. “Why didn’t you say something?”
Killian considers David until understanding narrows his eyes. “And that something would have been what, mate? That I’ve never forgotten the night we fucked, that I get hard looking at a straw of bloody hay?”
The words wash over David and it’s like he’s back in that stable, Killian warm in his arms, his weight a rocking pressure on his thighs. And later, when they--He feels himself stir and has to swallow, to look away. “That we met before would have sufficed.”
“And you would have accepted it? Because I think you would have pressed for details, and then what?” Killian shoves away from the wall, steps closer while maintaining his distance. “Had I told the truth--”
“I wouldn’t have believed you,” David finishes for him. He levers up from the mattress, doing his best to ignore the pain knocking at his temple, scraping like sandpaper along his cheekbone.
His expression must have altered, because Killian nods towards the bedside table and says, “There’s water there, and pills for the pain.”
“How long have I been out?”
“Hours,” Killian says. “Henry fetched Whale to assure us you’d live.”
“Your concern is touching,” David says and wishes he hadn’t when Killian’s lips press into a firm line. “Shit, I didn’t--” He sighs and, remembering, smiles slightly. “You know what, let’s start over.”
“I already know your name, mate,” Killian says, but his lips twitch. He steps closer. “In fact, I know quite a bit more than that.”
“Yeah.” David stands. “So do I.”
“What happened,” Killian asks quietly, and suddenly every shallow breath David takes is laced with the scent of leather, salt, “that you’d forget that night?”
“I don’t know,” David answers, sinking his hands in his pockets to keep from reaching. “I wish I did.”
Killian’s eyes flicker up from David’s mouth. “What now, then?”
“How is he, Killi--David?”
He turns his head at the sound of Snow’s voice, watches as her eyes travel the short distance between him and Killian. There’s a question there, in the crease between her finely shaped eyebrows. One he isn’t sure, yet, how to answer. And though he knows he should step back, with the memory fresh in his mind, he thinks if he moves he might end up with a fistful of Killian’s new shirt.
“I’m all right, just a little sore,” he says, finally. “Has Emma--”
Snow shakes her head. “She’s not here. I was coming to relieve Killian so he could pick up the search.”
“Aye, and I had best get to it,” Killian says, but he doesn’t move. “Spend a lifetime hiding in one fashion or another, you become rather adept at it.”
Because he needs to touch him, just once before he has to let go, David grips Killian’s shoulder. “I’m sure, between the four of us, we’ll have her home in no time. If you’re still looking in an hour or so, call me.” Holding Killian’s eyes, David nods. “We’ll work something out.”