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We'll Begin Here, With a Ship and the Open Sea

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“My heart is pierced by Cupid, I disdain all glittering gold. There is nothing can console me, but my jolly sailor bold.”

The eerie sound of a mermaid called over the vast expanse of sea before them, the ship creaking with the weight of the churning waves below. The storm had been brewing for hours, and Piers knew it would come crashing down on them if they didn’t reach Hammerlocke in time.

“We’re more likely to get there in one piece if you don’t distract my crew,” he said dazedly, as much under the thrall of the voice as any of them, though he knew she was capable of leaving them all completely senseless rather than just vaguely intrigued.

“Not long till we make land.”

Piers opened his eyes to find Nessa had scaled the side of the ship while he had been lost in thought. He shook off the remaining fatigue and reached down over the railing, gripping her hands to hoist her up the rest of the way. She trilled in delight, fingers stroking where gills would be if he had them in greeting.

“We?” He asked, looking out in the direction they were headed. He was…perhaps a little overeager to get to the parley about to take place.

“Well, you will be,” she countered easily. “The ‘royal we’ or however you humans say it.”

“Better hope the ‘royal’ anythin’ isn’t there today,” he said cheekily, though the thought of everyone’s expression if Captain Leon suddenly burst in on their meeting was more amusing than he’d ever admit. In all honesty, he wouldn’t put it past the Crown’s favorite to get that helplessly lost. The man couldn’t find his way out of a narrow inlet with obvious land at three sides.

“Well, you’d better hope that. I wouldn’t mind seeing Milo again.”

“And he likely wouldn’t mind seein’ you. Nor Sonia for that matter,” he teased.

“They have good taste, if I do say so myself,” she replied haughtily, making him grin. “If only you could follow their example and get yourself someone of quality.”

He flicked her nose, leaning forward so she could climb onto his back and travel with him, her tail heavy but manageable enough. “I’m sorry, is ‘dragon with a hoard the size of a small island’ no longer in fashion then?”

Nessa hooked her chin over his shoulder, tsking at him in exasperation. “Not if he doesn’t love you. Thrice-damned blind fool. You could do better. And anyways, at least a third of his treasure came from stealing your loot.”

“Consider it my contribution to the household,” he quipped, trying to ignore how much his chest hurt. “A loveless marriage is a convenient one.”

“Sure, if there’s no love lost on both sides,” she said, stealing his hat and putting it on her own head. She bared her fangs at a pirate who was approaching them, no doubt to inform his Captain that they’d be making port soon. He hurriedly turned away, thinking better of the interruption. “But you, my dear, are tragically terrible at holding your ale and unfortunately that means I have to hear your heart breaking when you come back from these things.”

“Gives you prime singin’ material though, doesn’t it?” He said, not willing to give her the satisfaction. “How many ships have you lured to the rocks with my songs?”

“For the love of—just throw me back over the side of the ship if you’re going to be like that.” Her harsh tone was belied by the fact that she was petting over the sides of his neck worriedly. He carried her towards the bow of the ship so she could sit on the railing. “I just don’t like seeing you so miserable.”

“I know,” he murmured, letting her fret over him and return his hat. “M’not sayin’ it isn’t…difficult. But the cards fell where they did, and I certainly didn’t draw the worst hand.”

She looked away, nodding. “You’ll make it before the storm hits, don’t worry.”

“I’m never worried when you’re around.”

She laughed, shaking her head. “Strange, foolish human!” She kissed him on the cheek before she flipped herself gracefully off the ship.

“Be careful, I’ll wait in the caves to the East if you need me for anything,” she called up to him after she resurfaced, her voice carrying hints of a song and he waved down at her in thanks.

“You’re a treasure and no mistake,” he murmured, knowing she could hear him nonetheless. She beamed at him and flicked her tail, scales overtaking her entirely as she shot off into darker waters. He missed her already.

“She gone?” One of his crew looked over nervously and he patted the lad on the shoulder.

“Aye, but you know we’re safer when she’s with us than not,” he reminded him. “If one of you falls overboard, the chances of drownin’ are much slimmer when she’s nearby.”

“Course, Captain. It’s just, some o’ the lads, well, they think you’re either barmy or brilliant, tamin’ a fair sea lady like that,” he stammered, awe in his voice.

He smirked, ruffling the boy’s hair as he walked by. “Tamed, that’s a laugh! Don’t let her hear you say that. She could have had us all for dinner several times over if she so chose it. Just because she chooses to spare us doesn’t mean she can’t change her mind.” It was always better to keep the men on their toes. Nessa deserved every ounce of their respect, and he had never encountered another mermaid like her.

Her friendship was well-worth nearly drowning.

“Does she come around for your songs, Captain?”

Piers sighed and waved the boy away. “Don’t you have chores to do before we get to Hammerlocke?”

“Aw, please, sir! Promise I’ll finish it all right away. But your voice is even better than hers, I hear!”

He rolled his eyes to the heavens and leaned against the railing. “If that were true, we wouldn’t spend half the time we do takin’ on ships the old-fashioned way. I’d just sing them into the rocks and be done with it.”

“Wouldn’t be half as much fun either.” They shared a grin.

“No, it certainly wouldn’t. Now off with you, I need everythin’ in place before we arrive. We’ll not be comin’ back aboard this ship.”

The lad scampered off and Piers turned back to face the looming fortress he could just make out through the mist and grey of the sky. His heart beat harder in his chest, wondering if Raihan was already back yet, or if he’d be joining them that evening. He did so love a dramatic entrance. His hand came up to play with the gems at his neck, the weight of them comforting in the absence of his dragon’s warmth.

Not long now…

There was a flurry of activity as his crew called out joyously upon the first sight of land, their delight and relief buoying his mood. He strode to the middle of the deck, calling out orders to the helmsman to guide them in as they approached the docks, catching sight of half a dozen ships already there and waving his down.

His ship burst into song as they got closer, a bawdy tune that had those on shore shouting raucously and joining in, until the air itself seemed to echo their mirth. Eventually, their ship was pulled in and the crew greeted with hearty applause and people loudly talking over each other in excitement as they realized exactly which ship had just docked in their harbor.

“Is that the bloody Champion Time or has the mead finally sent me round the bend?” The familiar voice of Gordon was a welcome sound in the midst of all the chaos, and Piers suddenly found himself lifted up and squeezed within an inch of his life by his fellow Captain.

“Unhand me, you oaf!”

“Please, as if you ain’t dyin’ for a hug or five after how many months at sea? I swear you’ll kill yourself, mate, or turn into a siren with how long you spend out there,” the other laughed, patting him on the back when he set him back down.

“Hm,” Piers sniffed, trying and failing to hide his wide smile at his friend. “And yet, I seem to be the one in possession of Captain Leon’s beloved ship. If being out there too long makes me a fool, at least I’m now a wealthy one.”

“Aye, and you’ll not see me believin’ a single lie you tell about how you managed to get your hands on her!”

“Don’t worry,” Piers said, leaning in conspiratorially. “You’ll hear all seven versions of the tale by the time I’m out of the cups tomorrow.” Gordon roared his approval and bustled him off towards the fortress, both of them stopped frequently by townsfolk and fellow pirates alike. It was good to be home, whatever that term was worth outside of Spikemuth.

“Oooh, lad! You’ll have yourself a time trying to keep that ship through the night. Captain Raihan is going to covet that beauty something fierce,” Madame Opal said when he was pushed into a chair at the innermost tavern. He raised Gordon’s beer in salute, ignoring the other’s indignant protests at his drink being stolen.

“Not the only thing of Piers’ he’s going to covet,” a tired Bea said, slinging herself into the seat next to Opal.

“Bea!”

“Please, Gordon, you weren’t the one that had to room next to them at the last gathering! Admiral Kabu’s walls are quite literally paper thin!” She griped, waving to Piers when he winked at her smugly. “Luckily I don’t have to put up with your wailing and warbling when we’re here.”

“I could get up on this table right now,” he threatened idly, watching her drain her flagon with a haunted look on her face.

Please don’t.”

“What? No repeats of the infamous Battle of Circhester?” Gordon cackled. Piers flushed, putting his head onto the counter despite knowing it probably wasn’t the cleanliest of ideas.

“It wasn’t even a battle! Just Piers drunkenly out-singing that poor bard as if he wasn’t already hopelessly outclassed already!”

Piers groaned. It was at the top of the list of reasons he would be going straight to Hell when Davy Jones finally caught up with him. Not the blood he’d spilled, nor the riches he’d stolen, not even for dragging his sister into this life when they fled from their burning city.

No, it was the crestfallen expression of a man just trying to do his job and make a living and the knowledge that the poor sod would never sing again in that town because Piers just couldn’t keep his gob shut.

“He was so off key,” he whimpered into the grainy wood. “I couldn’t take it anymore!”

“Here, here!” Opal said fervently, downing her fancy wine like it didn’t cost more than half the jewels in Hammerlocke’s vaults. “You did us all a favor, darling.”

“I don’t think—”

He was interrupted by a sudden round of cheers as Melony and Kabu strode in, the former Admiral with his crew of those previously employed by the Crown and the captain of Winter Gale saluting her son.

“Getting a head start on tomorrow’s regrets?” Kabu asked, and the tavern raised their glasses in agreement.

“Come on then!” Gordon cheered eagerly. Everyone was starting to head towards the massive Hall where thousands of people would stream in and out for the evening as they celebrated the gathering of pirate Lords. It was a rare occurrence for everyone to be able to meet all at once, and they never missed an opportunity when it presented itself.

Piers closed his eyes as they walked over the threshold of the fortress, the deep magiks of the place assessing him. It trailed over his spine and whispered across his cheek, an invisible caress that felt like Raihan as it greeted a familiar presence. The storm was growing outside, everyone pressing in too quickly for Piers to enjoy it for long.

Many of the Lords had homes and opulence aplenty, but nothing could come close to the splendor of a dragon’s keep, even if many didn’t know that’s what it was. The Hall could rival that of the King’s, its walls draped in tapestry and the finest rugs and cushions upon its floors with low tables scattered throughout. Countless people among them had never known such luxury, and it always ensured Raihan never wanted for a fine crew, everyone eager for a taste of the riches that came with following their Captain.

Hundreds upon hundreds of their people moved throughout the space, spirits soaring and music already in full swing as the pirate Lords stepped up to their table. More would join them soon, but for now, the festivities could commence and three or four days later most of the people gathered here would stumble back to their ships to begin the cycle anew.

“In all my years, I’ve not seen a gathering such as this!” Kabu’s voice rang out over the din of the crowd, everyone quieting as he walked the dais before them. None could make speeches quite like the former Admiral, a hush of anticipation riding on his words. “The legends of old hold no such tale as what I look upon tonight. I see before me not a mere collection of ships, no loose band of pirates, but a fleet. One to rival that of the Royal Navy, for we have called upon each other’s aid many times to fight back our enemies and those who would send us to our deaths below the waves.”

The crowd rumbled, many of them pleased at being reunited with the comrades that had fought together, won and lost together, and survived together.

“Our alliance stands strong, and we shall endeavor throughout these nights to strengthen the bonds of our leaders and our crews. Enjoy this time together and remember it when we go from this place to seek out fortune and new land, far from the reach of Galar’s King. Let none raise a sword against their family here tonight or any night we spend under the mighty keep of Hammerlocke. Let us parley!”

“Let us parley!” The crowd echoed on a roar, and Piers watched his crew salute the others with pride in his heart. It wasn’t what he would have chosen for himself, for his sister, for these people. But in moments like these when the cares of the world fell away and he could anticipate Raihan’s arms around him for the next few days, well…

A pirate’s life for him.

Chapter Text

 

 

Piers drained his glass while the crowd finished their latest round of hollering as he regaled them with the story of how a particular ship had come into his possession. He would need it to get through the next part.

“Now, mind you, our dear Captain Guzma had already taken fire—and I’m sure he’ll tell you his part of the tale when he arrives—so we had to turn our ship around faster than we’ve ever had to before! Obstinance was made for size and firepower, not speed. Nonetheless, my crew—"

There was a sudden commotion as a peal of thunder sounded off close enough to rattle the glassware. The massive iron doors slammed open, the shuddering bang of them loud in the sudden silence of the Hall.

Ah, the dragon had returned to his lair at last. Dramatic entrance indeed.

Raihan stood in full regalia, lightning flashing behind him and dripping wet from the storm. His body language screamed agitation, and Piers couldn’t help but spread his legs under the table a little as he took in the sight of his lover for the first time in the better part of a year. He traced over what little of the dark skin he could see, looking for any new obvious scars and letting out a quiet sigh of relief when he found none right away. He’d have to wait if he wanted to check the rest of him, but it was enough to soothe the ever-present worry for the moment.

Anyone else would have looked like a half-drowned rat coming in from a storm like that, but it only served to make Raihan look all the more dangerous.

“Why is Champion Time in my city.”

The booming growl made him shiver, but he kept himself in check, his expression a study in neutrality as Raihan surveyed the space, combing over each person in the hall. His gaze seemed to slide right over Piers like the rest of them, and something squeezed in his chest at the thought of being ignored.

“Welcome home, Captain Raihan,” he called loudly, his greeting echoed by the others at the Captain’s table as well as several braver voices among the gathered assembly.

“Where the fuck is Leon?” He snarled, and everyone went eerily still for a moment as his hand went to his sword. Weapons weren’t permitted to be drawn outside of an official duel when they gathered like this.

“Control yourselves,” Kabu ordered, standing and slamming his fist on the table to halt the progression of everyone else starting to go for their swords. “If I see a single hand out of place in this room, you will lose that hand, am I clear? Captain Raihan, I would say it was good to see you, but at the moment, you’re disrupting the peace. If you aren’t too agitated to hear it, I would remind you that we have a code in place for a reason.”

Raihan hissed at the Admiral’s rebuke before slowly backing down, composing himself through gritted teeth.

“Then I’ll ask you again, and maybe someone will actually answer it this time. Where is Leon, and why the fuck is Champion Time. In. My. City?”

Months. Months of not seeing Raihan, and the first thing he wanted to know what where the Royal Navy’s prized Captain was. It would be funny if it didn’t make Piers want to throw up. He kept his eyes on his plate, no longer hungry despite it being the best meal his crew had been granted in ages.

“He isn’t here,” Melony said soothingly, her discomfort only known through how tightly she had her arms folded.

“And yet his ship is,” Raihan countered.

“Captain Piers captured it last month,” Gordon said, a challenge in his voice that Piers hoped Raihan didn’t feel like following through on. “He was just in the middle of telling us the story when you interrupted.”

All eyes flew to Raihan. A quiet murmur broke out at the blatant disrespect, but if Raihan took umbrage with being accused of ‘interrupting’ in his own home, he didn’t show it. Instead, he looked shocked, brows raised in disbelief. Piers could suddenly feel the weight of those eyes on him and for the first time, he didn’t want it. Didn’t want this to be the reason he looked at him after so long apart.

“Piers. Captured the Champion Time. As in, the ship that belongs to every pirate’s deadliest adversary. The one who hasn’t lost a single battle yet.” It wasn’t a question. It was a mockery, and it burned more than a knife to his side. He could feel his anger rising, and he fought to swallow it back.

“One too many cannons go off by your ears? That’s what he just said,” Bea spoke up, glaring as her gaze darted between the two of them.

A slow smile began to spread over Raihan’s face, and his stance fully relaxed before he let out a jovial laugh, making Piers flinch. “I see I overreacted. Looks like the only one we need to fear is the dreaded Captain Piers. Apologies, my Lords, for interrupting the celebration. Next round of ale is on me, but you’ll just have to start the story over, Piers. Hope you remember which tall tales you’ve already told! How much did you pay to have the Obstinance re-painted?”

His plate shattered near the dragon’s feet like a gunshot, and Piers was grateful that the good china was only considered a weapon after it was broken.

Everyone shrank back. If looks could kill, Raihan would be six feet under and then some.

Obstinance is gone,” he said, voice like ice as he fought back tears thinking about his precious ship. He would not break in front of every crew from here to Postwick. He’d sooner fall on his own sword. “She sleeps at the bottom of the ocean now. Perhaps you’d like to visit her.”

To anyone else, it sounded like a threat to send his lifeless corpse to the depths.

To those who were aware of Raihan’s draconic origins, it was something else entirely.

“She sunk?” Raihan breathed, taking a half step towards Piers, only to stop when he stepped on the plate, staring down at the glittering shards of it.

Piers didn’t deign to answer, sitting back down calmly, ignoring the worried looks from his fellow Captains. “Champion Time is mine now. My retribution for the loss of my ship. If you or your Navy mutt want it, you can take it over my dead body.”

The shockwave of horror that ripped through the room was nearly palpable. Raihan reared back, mouth open as he locked eyes with Piers and saw how serious he was. He actually thought Raihan would ever—

“No? Then kindly stop drippin’ on the good rugs and let everyone get back to their evenin’.”

There was a tense, awkward silence for several agonizing moments before Opal nudged one of the musicians on the shoulder and the music tentatively started back up. People quickly averted their eyes and got back to their conversations, trying to ignore the stare down happening behind them. The room slowly filled with noise again, and it eventually broke the spell.

Raihan stepped up to the table, eyes downcast as he made his way to the end of it, despite his seat usually being next to Piers. Everyone graciously shuffled one down for him, not even pausing in conversation as they did. Piers was going to send them so many nice gifts later.

The celebration was one of the best he’d ever seen, all things considered. Opal and Melony plied him with drink until he was smiling and laughing freely again. Gordon made sure he ate until he felt like he’d burst, and Kabu was an incredible source of stories through the evening, his ability to tell a tale capturing everyone’s attention as he spoke about his recent trips to new places, further than most of them could ever dream of going.

There was singing and dancing and merriment that he couldn’t help but get swept up in, no matter how much his heart hurt. He danced until his feet were sore, finally collapsing onto a stool near the wall, laughing as he wiped the sweat from his brow and thanked his latest dance partner.

“Think you have one more in you?” Came a quiet request, and Piers looked up to find Raihan with his hand out and still not looking at him.

He stood and pushed past the taller man, declaring to his fellow Captains that he was exhausted from the excitement of the day and would be retiring to his room for the night. He was baffled when more than just his crew booed and demanded that he stay.

“Really, you all will just have to wait for the story tomorrow,” he said placatingly. “It will keep. And anyways, triumph is meant to be shared over breakfast! What could be sweeter than bread and honey with a side of victory?”

The crowd roared and toasted to that, letting him slip away as they thought of more things that required a celebratory drink.

He half expected Raihan to follow him, and firmly reminded himself that he did not want that. His body ached as he undressed, a headache quickly taking root now that there was nothing to distract him from how tightly wound he felt. He tried to banish the mocking words from his head, but it was an impossible task. He’d just wanted to spend the evening with his lover. Dancing with him, drinking with him, bringing him back to their rooms and being able to pretend for a while that they were making love and not just fucking. Whispering to his dragon that the ship was for him. That he’d intended it as a gift, a way to prove he was worthy enough to bring the crowning jewel to Raihan’s hoard.

So what if he didn’t have a ship? He could stand being stuck on land for a while as he waited for a new one to be commissioned. Or perhaps Raihan would combine their crews for a while and let him come aboard and travel together for once.

Anything was better than this.

He finally let some of the tears squeeze out before he firmly reminded himself that they were wasted on someone who didn’t love him back.

He fell asleep sometime in the early morning, too exhausted to dream, and clutched the pillow closer, wishing it was Raihan.

 

////

 

Morning came far too soon, and he blearily blinked his eyes open, groaning when his hangover made itself known with a vengeance.

“Bloody fuckin’ witch, what does she put in that mead?” He whimpered, staggering to his feet and splashing cold water onto his face from the basin on the table.

A noise behind him made him tense, hand flying to his waist only to curse when he remembered that he was naked. He whirled around, ready to charge at whatever intruder was stupid enough to think he was defenseless without his weapons.

He blinked when he realized it was Raihan, knelt on the floor and looking more tired than Piers had ever seen him outside of a multi-day battle. He was staring at Piers, taking in pale skin and the heady blush that was spreading over the pirate’s face. Piers narrowed his eyes when Raihan’s hands twitched in his lap, like he would let them touch him after…

Yesterday’s disappointment came crashing back into him and he marched over to the bed to grab a sheet to wrap around himself.

“What the fuck are you doin’ in here?”

There was no reply for a moment before Raihan cleared his throat, his voice barely a rasp.

“These are my rooms.”

Piers glared at him before looking away again. “Have them, then. I’ll—” He suddenly went wide eyed, taking in the scene again. “How long have you been there like that?”

Raihan winced, head down and his eyes kept out of sight. Piers felt ready to snap.

“Will you bloody look at me?”

Raihan looked up, and Piers instantly regretted the demand. The swirl of emotions behind them could capsize a ship. “Since you fell asleep.”

“What?”

“I’ve been here since you fell asleep. Knew you wouldn’t want me in the bed, but I don’t mean ‘these are my rooms’ as in all the rooms of Hammerlocke are technically mine. I meant it as in, ‘these are the rooms I’ve been staying in,’” he explained. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

“I’m sure any number of pretty faces would have been happy to have you stay with them.” It was a low blow and it landed with deadly accuracy. Raihan reeled back as if he had been slapped.

“Don’t,” he growled before visibly unclenching his fists. “I’m not saying I don’t deserve whatever comes next, but you know I would never betray you like that. Please don’t insult my devotion to you.”

“Devotion!” Piers burst out, a hysterical laugh escaping him before he could stop it. “I can’t insult what doesn’t exist, Raihan.” He almost regretted it when Raihan let out a choked noise and hid his face in his hands.

“I know I fucked up,” he said, voice an agonized note of misery that had Piers fighting the instinct to go to his side and comfort him. “I know I did, I haven’t stopped thinking about it once all night.”

“You said…said all of those things. In front of my crew. In front of every crew from here to bloody Wyndon! Why, Raihan? What the hell were you thinkin’?” He shouted, not quite feeling guilty enough to worry about whoever was rooming near him. The walls were thick enough.

“I wasn’t,” Raihan replied immediately. “Wasn’t thinking at all. I saw the ship in the harbor and thought we were under attack. I didn’t see Obstinance, thought something had happened to you and I just…”

“You insulted my skills as a pirate, as a Captain in front of everyone. That’s a funny way to show you’re worried,” he bit out, something loosening in his chest a little despite himself.

“I know,” Raihan whispered, his entire posture utterly defeated. “And not a word of it was true. You’re one of the most capable sailors I’ve ever met. I guess I was just…jealous. I’ve been trying to capture that thrice-cursed ship for years, and it was…a lot to take in. That you succeeded in what I’ve failed at for so long. I lashed out, and you paid the price and I am so sorry.”

“It was supposed to be for you,” Piers blurted out, cursing himself for a fool when Raihan’s head snapped up, mouth dropping open in shock. “Fuck, I can’t do this right now. M’hungover and tired and we have to be dressed soon. Just…get up off the damn floor and we can finish this later.”

“Piers,” Raihan breathed, his legs shaking as he stood from having been on the floor all night. “What do you mean, it was for me?”

“You’re more studied than I am,” Piers hissed, angrily digging through his bag for a clean shirt. “Don’t act stupid.”

“You were going to—”

“I didn’t beat Leon in a fight, if that’s what you’re thinkin’. It wasn’t like that. He gave it to me.”

Raihan blinked, sitting on the edge of the bed to watch Piers pace agitatedly around the room. “Leon…gave you his ship? His favorite ship. Piers, what the fuck?”

“If you had fuckin’ arrived on time instead of being the dramatic twat you are—”

“Then tell me now,” Raihan begged, catching his hand and tugging him over to sit on the bed with him. Piers slapped his hands away. “Piers, please. None of this makes sense and we both know whatever conclusions I arrive at on my own will be the wrong ones. What happened?”

Obstinance sank,” Piers choked out, covering his face like it would do a damn thing to stop the sobs shaking loose in him. “Leon was…it’s your fault anyways, the way you help lead him out when he gets lost. He clearly had no idea where he was, so I did what we always do and I caught his attention so he’d give chase. We were almost out. He’d have been on the correct course again and we could make our getaway. And then Guzma showed up, thinkin’ I was in trouble.”

Raihan sucked in a sharp breath. His rivalry with Leon was legendary, and Piers was one of the few that understood the complexity of it. Dragons were immortal when left to their own devices. Only a violent death could end them, and it made for a very restless and boring existence. Any promise of challenge was a welcome one, and for a sea serpent like Raihan, exploring the ocean was the best decision humans had ever made.

Losing Leon’s skill as an adversary would be akin to losing a limb. Something vital would be lost to him when the Navy Captain eventually passed into the next world, and he did what he could to postpone that as long as he was able. One of those things was helping the man when he inevitably got so lost it became a threat to his life rather than something to laugh about.

Piers didn’t see things like him. To his lover, Leon represented the looming hand of the Crown. He was everything Piers fought against; the reason he had become a pirate in the first place. And yet, when Raihan had asked him to keep an eye on Leon when he couldn’t, Piers hadn’t hesitated. He’d griped and complained the entire time, but their next encounter with the Navy Captain had ended with the two of them racing to see who could escape Champion Time faster. It had long become something of a game to them.

The same did not apply, however, to other pirates.

“He started to fire on Champion Time, and Leon returned fire faster than I’ve ever seen. Guzma would have been dead in the water within the hour if I hadn’t turned us around. It was impossible, tryin’ to keep the attention on us without sinking or riskin’ too much cannon fire and accidentally killin’ Leon. Guzma was able to escape, and Obstinance had already taken too much damage, so we sent up our surrender and he accepted it.”

Raihan could see the haunted look in his eyes as he thought about his ship slowly disappearing beneath the waves. He felt like a monster. Hadn’t losing Spikemuth been enough? And now Piers had lost his ship, probably some of his crew, and he’d almost—

Raihan pushed back against the thought. Leon was a fun challenge, a distraction in a long life that often grew tiresome when humans weren’t feeling particularly innovative. He would be devastated when he died, and he would eventually recover.

But Piers…

Piers was his everything.

He knew it was stupid, knew that Piers didn’t feel the same. Humans seldom did, didn’t know what it meant to truly covet another person. It scared them, and they were right to be afraid. Dragons weren’t particularly kind creatures, but Raihan had always done his best to keep that part of him reigned in so he could be what Piers needed. The pirate deserved his own life, his own ship, to not have to answer to anyone but himself, and Raihan would sooner let any of the pirate lords fell him before he ever took any of Piers’ choices away from him.

It didn’t stop him from wanting to.

He craved Piers beside him like he craved the tides, the coves, and the treasures of the earth. If he had his way, Piers would be on his ship every day and his bed every night. They would build a fleet to rival the Navy’s and take the world by storm. He’d drape Piers in riches and take him on piles of soft furs and protect him from any that would dare try to take his treasure from his side. Raihan was always aware that if Piers ever chose to untie his life force from Raihan’s, that eventually he’d die. There would be no recovery.

“He could have killed you,” Raihan said, the fear of it threatening to overwhelm him.

“But he didn’t. He isn’t stupid, he knows what we’ve been doin’. He doesn’t understand why we help him, of course. He has no idea what you are, but he was grateful. He is…strange, to say the least. Requested that we accompany him to the next port and treated my crew with respect. I spent nearly a week trying to come up with a way to not get caught and hung when we made land, but he smuggled us into Wyndon with little trouble and right back out again when the ship had been repaired. I thought he’d try to press us into joinin’ him, but instead he left the ship to us, sayin’ he had another waiting for him.”

“Another ship?”

“Somethin’ far larger and more deadly than Champion Time. We heard rumors while ashore. I have Captain Marnie keeping watch for when it takes to the seas. It’s why she won’t be here for another few days. In any case, his debts are paid and his ship will be of little use in a battle against him when he already knows her more intimately than anyone else. So I thought I’d bring her here to rest in your hoard. You might not have bested him in combat yet, but you are the reason he still lives. It’s a fitting tribute,” Piers said, playing with the edges of the sheet.

Raihan was silent for a long while, and Piers could feel the heat of his anger slipping away, leaving him tired and wishing they were not expected in the Hall soon. He could do with more sleep.

When the dragon slipped off the bed and down to kneel in front of Piers, there was little of his bitterness left to cling to.

“Do you want me to retrieve her?” Raihan asked quietly, and the pirate bit his lip, trying to control himself. Raihan could do that. Could swim down to the depths and retrieve the ship that had been his home for so long. Obstinance was a capable ship, she could be repaired, made whole again. He knew the right people for that.

“No,” he murmured, letting the vision die with the last of his hurt. “Let her sleep.”

“Will you permit me to shelter in her when I am below the waves?” Raihan’s eyes were fathomless and Piers could never say no to them, not when he’d drowned long ago. One did not argue with Davy Jones when the water had already claimed them.

“Of course,” Piers said, reaching out to run a hand through Raihan’s locs. He watched the way the other leaned into the touch and wished Raihan was not so far from his reach in other ways. This, however, was familiar at least.

 “And will you permit me to show you how very, very grateful I am for the gift you have brought me?” Raihan asked, slowly pushing Piers’ legs apart and settling closer, something hungry in his expression that had the pirate finally drawing him near.

“It is a nice gift if I do say so myself,” Piers sighed, leaning back on his hands when Raihan parted the blanket wrapped around him, taking in the soft, naked skin with a rumble of approval.

“’Nice gift’ he says,” Raihan scoffed, leaning down to kiss the curve of Piers’ thigh, breathing in the scent of his lover as he trailed his lips up and down, teasing until he could taste the want simmering beneath. He bit carefully, knowing it would make Piers squirm, wanting far more than little nips and tugs of his teeth. “As if it hasn’t consumed my hunts for years. You know I am unused to bleeding, even in this form. And yet how much of my blood has returned to the water in pursuit of that ship?”

Piers moaned low in his throat when Raihan surged upwards, pushing him back against the pillows to loom over him. The pirate gazed at his lover for a moment before he slowly turned over, letting his hair slip over his shoulder to let Raihan do what he would.

The gentle licks and kisses made him squeeze his eyes shut. He needed to stop wanting this to mean something more than it did.

“And here you are,” Raihan continued, voice honey and hypnotic and he brushed his lips down Piers’ spine before crawling back up to settle over him, spreading him open just enough to nudge the thick length of his cock along the crease. “Nary a scratch on you, handing me what I covet. My clever, clever mate.”

Piers could hardly breathe. This is what he’d craved for so many lonely months at sea. Raihan hard and wanting and reminding him that for all he wished things were just a little different, they were each still the one the other had chosen for one reason or another.

“As if I would let such a prize go unrewarded,” Raihan whispered, reaching for the oil at the bedside. He slicked his fingers, the sound of it sending tremors down his spine in the quiet of the morning. Seeing Piers like this after he’d feared the other might have finally given up on him was—

The knock on the door startled them both.

“Piers! You alright, mate?” Guzma’s voice would be a welcome one nearly any other time, but Piers stifled his groan of irritation into the pillow.

“Don’t answer the door, maybe he’ll go away,” he whispered.

“Heard the idiot dragon really put his foot in it last night, you ain’t been drinkin’ yourself to death, have you?”

Raihan went very still.

Piers wasn’t fast enough to stop him from scrambling off of him. He watched with his mouth agape as Raihan grabbed his shirt and leggings, teeth bared in a snarl as he snatched up his coat, leaving his weapons and everything else behind.

Piers had a moment of dread as Raihan wrenched the door open, but he didn’t even look at Guzma, who yelped and sprung back when he realized it wasn’t his friend at the door. He shoved past the shorter man without a word, leaving them both to stare after him.

“What in the depths of—”

“Guzma, what the hell?”

His fellow Captain finally seemed to realize he was there, hurrying inside and closing the door. “Mate, what just happened? Why was he here?”

“This is his fortress—” He slid out of the bed, angry at having been interrupted, hunting for his clothes. He had to be with the other Captains soon anyways.

“You know damn well what I mean!” Guzma hissed, and Piers looked away. “If any part of what happened last night was true, you should have thrown that—that—”

“Tread. Very. Lightly,” Piers said, voice dangerous.

Guzma ran his hands down his face in agitation. “Was it true?”

“I don’t know what you heard, but most likely.”

“Then why the fuck—”

“Because he apologized, Guzma! People do that. Dragons do that.”

“Puttin’ his cock in you isn’t—”

“With his words, Guzma!” Piers yelled. “Harpy’s tits, mate, I do have some self-respect!”

Guzma threw him a dubious look but didn’t comment, opting to change the subject. “Was on my way to the Hall, you plannin’ on joining me?”

“Not if you’re goin’ to be a git about this!”

His friend threw his hands up and stormed towards the door. “Fine then, I’ll see you when you get there.”

“Guzma,” Piers growled, and the other stopped, arms folded and looking more hurt than Piers had expected. Piers did his best to soften his tone, feeling wrong-footed. “I know you’re concerned. Seems like everyone has been lately. Things have been…rough since Obstinance sank, I won’t deny I’ve been somethin’ of a mess.”

“I’m so sorry for—”

“Don’t be,” Piers said quickly, striding over to put his hand on the other’s shoulder. “You thought I needed help, and you did so despite knowin’ what would likely happen if you did.”

“I cost you your ship,” Guzma said mournfully. “And for nothin’.”

“That’s not how I see it.”

“You’re too forgivin’, that’s the problem. What kind of pirate lets go of a grudge?”

Piers grinned and pulled him in for an embrace despite the other’s squawking over his lack of clothing. “Serves you right for interrupting the first lay I could have had in months. That I will not be forgivin’ you for.”

Guzma made a disgusted noise at him. “Just sayin’, you could have your pick of the lot. You don’t need him if he ain’t lovin’ you for more than your gold and your pretty face.”

He rolled his eyes heavenward. “Go start a guild with Nessa and Gordon and leave me out of this.”

“Aye, think I will at that! Now c’mon, the lads are all gatherin’ and I know mine have been goin’ barmy over wantin’ to hear the tale of what happened after we got away.”

“They’ll have to wait awhile longer then, because I’m not sayin’ a word of it till I have some of Melony’s latest finds in my belly.”

“Heard she and Bea brought some kind of new fruit from her visit to the Stow settlement,” Guzma agreed dreamily.

“The devil are we waitin’ for then?”

Chapter Text

 

 

Raihan sat at the center seat of the table, staring into his cup like it held all the answers to what he was supposed to do now.

The allies were starting to gather, Kabu to one side of him and several of the others in their places and talking amongst themselves.

“What’s on your mind, Captain?” The Admiral asked, sliding his share of salted pork over to Raihan, who accepted it gratefully, trading it for the greens.

“I’m sure you can guess,” he replied, automatically looking towards the entrance of the Hall, hoping Piers would be coming through it soon. He wasn’t proud of the way he’d fled, but Guzma’s words kept rattling in the back of his mind.

He felt so foolish, being called an idiot dragon by someone who had always been there for Piers. Someone whose opinions mattered to his lover. He’d gone back for his sword and guns, decided he wouldn’t get angry even if Guzma said something directly to his face—he knew he deserved it, knew Piers was always too quick to forgive when his less than courteous nature made itself known. And then he’d heard what Guzma said about his lack of love for anything but the treasure Piers brought to his hoard and his appearance and…

Piers hadn’t disagreed.

Piers hadn’t said much of anything. Like he didn’t know that Raihan worshipped the sand he tread on.

Or like it didn’t matter.

“Did you apologize to him last night?” Kabu asked, and Raihan sighed.

“This morning. He was…far more understanding than I deserved.”

“And yet you still seem troubled.” It wasn’t fair that he was much older than Kabu by human measurements, and yet the man could make him feel like a hatchling with such ease.

“If asked by a stranger, would you say I’m in love with him?”

Kabu looked surprised, leaning back against his chair as he pondered the question. Raihan waited, pushing his food around on the plate nervously.

“I suppose I assumed your relationship was one of mutual convenience,” Kabu said slowly, and Raihan’s heart plummeted in his chest. His face must have shown everything, because Kabu’s brows furrowed and he put a hand on his arm. “Is that not the case?”

He shook his head, putting his head down on his arms. He didn’t know what to think. Was this Kabu’s opinion alone? Did everyone think that about him and Piers? If they did, had they silently hated him all these years and only tolerated him for Piers’ sake? It wasn’t as though Piers was bemoaning any supposed lack of love, though, and the pirate Lords had always been affable, skirmishes like last night aside. Their marriage was convenient, when it wasn’t getting weighed down by Raihan’s feelings.

“Why is it you do not travel together?” Kabu asked, and Raihan made a sound of anguish, a jolt of understanding striking him like lightning to a mast. Of course people assumed there was no love lost between them. They didn’t know what it meant when a dragon asked for another’s hand, much less a human’s. Hell, marriage wasn’t even an accurate descriptor as a dragon, but he’d been living among humans long enough to decide that he liked that word best. He hadn’t thought twice when it came time to consider how things would play out with their living arrangements.

“Dragons don’t live together, per-se.”

Kabu looked at him with interest. “No?”

“Most are too territorial, or too jealous of the other’s hoard to not try and take what isn’t theirs. We live too long to make enemies of each other, especially our mates. Living apart is…I suppose it’s about survival. If we don’t tempt ourselves, there is little that can come between us. And that’s necessary for successfully raising a hatchling to maturity. Baby dragons need constant attention, even more so than human children. Different dragons will deviate in how they do things here and there depending on where they live, but one consistency is choosing a neutral location for rearing our young. And no one dares brings treasure to that nest.”

“Is it the same with a human mate?” Kabu asked astutely, making Raihan smile sadly.

“No. At least, I don’t think so. I’m the only dragon I know of that has ever courted a human. And Piers has never been one to care for material goods. Now that his sister has made her own way, he has no one to spoil. Once his crew is paid, the rest usually finds its way into my grotto or the vaults. I suppose he thinks I’ll better appreciate it than it being sold off or cluttering up his ship.”

“If it’s not too personal a question, what do you do with it?”

It was too personal a question, and Raihan fought not to bare his teeth at the Admiral. He wasn’t asking so he could find and take it from him. The man had far more honor than that, whatever they might say about honor among thieves.

And he had never been able to talk about this with someone who didn’t already have opinions about how he chose to use his wealth.

“I’ve been…saving it. For Piers. I want to rebuild Spikemuth for him someday.”

He suddenly realized it had gotten very quiet at the other end of the table. He hissed under his breath. Fine, let them listen.

Kabu’s expression was fathomless, something complicated and…sad? But why would he be sad about Spikemuth being rebuilt? It had been a loss to everyone.

“You would give up your hoard to rebuild his home?”

It was something he had come to blows over with other dragons, who thought him weak for his stance on the matter. Thought they might take what was his because of it.

They didn’t think he was weak anymore. He had scars, and they were dead.

“Without hesitation.”

He heard a low noise to his right, and stared at Bea, who was looking at him strangely. “Something wrong, Captain?”

She didn’t answer for a long while. “I’m not going to apologize for listening,” she finally said, and Raihan nodded in acknowledgement. It wasn’t as though it was some large secret, he just hadn’t known anyone would care before the task was complete. “It’s not exactly common for humans and dragons to interact long enough to know these things about each other. You said that it wasn’t the same as with other dragons. Does that mean you and Piers could travel together?”

Raihan shrugged, looking back down at his plate. “He doesn’t want that.”

“Yes, he does,” Opal said, so firmly that everyone turned to look at her.

“What?”

“Opal—”

“No. I’ll not sit here and let them be in pain when we know differently. Raihan, ask him to sail with you when we all part ways.”

“I can’t just—”

“You can,” she said decisively. “When we begin negotiations, bring up that you would like to combine crews. We’ll cast our votes in your favor.”

Raihan sat back, awestruck by the vehemence in her tone. Did Piers really want…

“And in return?”

“Well, I certainly won’t protest if you decide you’d like to do some courier work for me—dreadful stuff, can’t stand it and you move much faster through the water than we can—but it really is not necessary. We want Piers to be happy. We want you to be happy. I know that boy, he won’t take Champion Time, though he ought to. He’ll be without a ship, and he is too proud to come with any of us. He would go with you if you asked him to, though.”

Raihan shook his head, trying to dispel the thoughts of what it might be like to sail with his lover. Whenever they joined forces in battle, it made his whole world as golden as the shine of his grotto. How much more incredible would it be to sail with him, make port together or journey through new places, pouring over maps and deciding which treasure rumors were worth chasing? It was one of the many benefits of going about things the human way.

Dragons were mostly uninterested in learning about each other, at least in a way that humans could understand. They had so much time, it didn’t make sense to rush. New information would come naturally, sporadically, and they often spent more time apart than together anyways.

Humans weren’t like that. They couldn’t dive down into the deepest reaches of the Earth and just sleep until things became interesting again. They lived fast and died even faster. They were capable of changing and adapting quickly, and every time they came together like this, Raihan couldn’t help but marvel at how much the world had moved for them in so short a time.

If everything stayed its course, Piers would be able to be with him as long as Raihan was alive. But though it was one of his favorite human traits, it was also where all his vulnerability lay.

They were notoriously good at changing their minds.

He wanted to know everything about Piers, because what if one day he woke up and decided he didn’t want to be with Raihan anymore?

Dragons collected, it’s just what they did. He wanted to collect as many experiences with his mate as possible so that when eventually Piers grew tired of him or tired of the thought of living forever, he would still know more of him than most dragons did of each other in a thousand years.

But then, if he did travel with Piers, there was just as likely a chance that he would drive him away even sooner. Raihan knew he could be an ornery bastard. Sometimes—last night a clear demonstration—he spoke without thinking. Sometimes he felt things so strongly that he let all human pretense go.

And he would never be able to forget the scent of terror when Piers had first seen his other form.

“I’ll…consider it,” he finally said.

“Tell us when you arrive at a conclusion,” Kabu said gently, and patted his back when his head shot up at the sound of his lover’s voice coming through the door. “Everything I know about Piers says he is capable of a great deal of understanding. That is something in low supply in this world, and I would see it protected.”

Raihan nodded, a grateful smile making its way to his face when they all greeted Piers and Guzma and hustled him to sit beside Raihan.

“Are you alright?” Piers asked as he took his seat, voice carrying no trace of anything but concern, and Raihan breathed out slowly before he took the other’s hand, gauging his welcome.

The reaction was instant, the other tightening his grip like Raihan would try and take it back if he so much as blinked.

“I will be if you grant me a dance tonight,” he said, voice low, kissing the palm of the other’s hand. The heat from earlier was simmering below the surface, evident in the way Piers looked him over.

“Aye, think I can manage that.”

“If you two aren’t too full from having each other for breakfast with your eyes, try some of this,” Melony said as she brought over a plate laden with several strange foods neither of them had seen before. She laughed, delighted when they immediately dropped each other’s hands in favor of tasting everything.

“Captain, have I offered you all the riches of the world recently? Because the offer still stands if you ever feel like trading territories,” Raihan groaned and Piers echoed his sentiment while they savored the new tastes.

Melony patted his hand with a grin. “Afraid not, darlin’, but I’ll leave the plate.”

“I would wed you this very instant were it not for your unfortunate son.”

Piers nearly choked on the fruit, cackling when Gordon shouted in offense.

“Thin ice, you overgrown sea lizard! Thin fuckin’ ice!”

“Lads, are we ready to let everyone else in?” Opal asked, pouring another glass of wine for Bea and Kabu.

There was a chorus of agreement and they began to clear the table, bringing forth their supply of maps, quills, and parchment. Their crews arrived in droves, and Raihan was pleased to see his crew looking far more alert than he had expected.

Food was passed around and several among the crowd came up to the dais to pass along their requests for negotiation points, each taken down by either Raihan or Kabu. Among the Lords, only the Admiral, Melony, and Raihan could both read and write. Most of them could read, though some could do neither. It would have been a far larger problem among less trustworthy leaders.

Raihan stepped to the front, calling for the Hall’s attention. “Today marks the beginning of negotiations. Today’s agenda will include the motions your Captains have already asked to be discussed, as well as the requests of those who have just stepped forward. Any additional motions brought up today will be deferred until tomorrow. While most of the decisions will fall to the Captains, we will call upon you for certain topics and your opinions. If you wish to participate, you will be granted a tally on our records. If you have relevant information to the issue at hand, you ought to approach Melony with a request for a turn to speak. As ever, you are free to come and go as you please.

With the usual opening statements concluded, he moved back to his place at the table beside Piers, feeling suddenly nervous as he thought about Opal’s words.

“We will begin with a motion concerning the disputed territory near Motostoke…”

The smell of tension and anticipation in the room skyrocketed, and Raihan grinned.

It was going to be a long day.

 

///

 

“Thank you for your…very enlightening comments, Mr. Skulldan, I will make a note with your contribution,” Kabu said, everyone at the table glancing over to where Guzma had his head down against the table, grateful that most of their crewmembers were too drunk by that point to notice his embarrassment over one of his sailors. This was why Kabu was in charge as far as they were all concerned, his diplomacy barely breaking a sweat over what had the rest of them ready to scream.

Piers snickered under his breath and Raihan shared an amused glance with Bea from across the table.

“Next motion on the table is…” The Admiral paused, and Raihan sat up a little straighter, eyes narrowing as he watched a battle play out on the usually impassive face. “The next motion concerns the joining of Captain Piers and Captain Raihan’s crews for the foreseeable future while a commission is drafted for a new ship for Captain Piers.”

Son of a—

The entire Hall erupted into chaos, the volume of the crowd tenfold what it had been even in the most heated debates throughout the negotiations.

Raihan gritted his teeth and glared at Kabu, while the other stared him down evenly. There was no such item on the page, and they both knew it.

Saying something would be a direct challenge to the other’s integrity, however, and unless he wanted an official duel to the death—and he didn’t, despite the tantalizing image of keelhauling the Admiral for his cheek—his hands were tied.

Piers was silent beside him, and he glanced over to find the other staring at him, mouth parted and more questions in his eyes than Raihan could answer right then.

“Raihan?” He asked, voice low, intimate despite the shouting around them.

“I…” Raihan swallowed and raised his voice, looking at Piers as he addressed the room. “I would like to formally request a temporary travel alliance between the crew of Stormbreaker and Champion Time.” They both winced slightly, their minds leagues into the depths where Obstinance lay silent. “Let the record show this.”

Piers’ breath faltered and Raihan felt like he had when he had first thought to explore any number of ruins, caves, and wrecks at the bottom of the ocean. He hadn’t known yet that there were things more ancient, more terrible, and far hungrier than him dwelling there.

This was beyond what he was prepared for.

“The terms?” Piers finally asked, and the volume in the room got that much louder as people shouted a mixture of approval and disdain for the idea.

Raihan thought quickly, careful not to look back at Kabu, though he longed to ask exactly what the Admiral had intended with this.

“The alliance will consist of our fully combined crews, at a minimum of one hundred and five sailors if there are any who wish to abstain, though I would prefer upwards of one hundred and thirty. Contract for two years unless Captain Piers and I decide otherwise by mutual agreement before witnesses of at least three of the Lords currently present, with the promise of another ship gifted to Captain Piers should the time be cut short.”

The shouting stopped, even the drunkest among them reassessing as they listened. More than a few mouths dropped open at the offer. Raihan could feel the sweat trickle down his neck, knowing he was showing his hand at how much he wanted this, and unable to stop himself.

“Spoils will be split sixty and forty percent, with deference to my larger crew. While our chain of command is a loose practice, it will remain in my people’s favor at all ranks below my own. Captain Piers and I will share command equally, even concerning each other’s crew. Terms of disagreement on orders will be written out together at a later time, as well as disciplinary measures, schedules, and payment, should this motion be affirmed.”

It was possibly the most generous offer any here had heard before. A nearly even split despite Raihan’s crew being nearly triple the size of Piers’. Co-equal command over one of the finest ships in the world. Captain Piers and his crew would be fools not to immediately affirm the motion. This wasn’t a business transaction. This…was something else entirely.

Everyone waited with bated breath, eyes on Piers as he looked at his fellow Captain.

“Counter terms,” he said quietly, and everyone gasped. Counter terms? What more could he possibly—

“My Quartermaster maintains sole control over schedules and disciplinary measures. I maintain sole control over command in battle when encountering anythin’ not controlled by the Navy.”

It was a testament to each of their crew’s devotion to them that not one was among the indignant calls asking what the hell he was thinking.

Raihan felt something dark and altogether starving skitter up his spine, his eyelids lowering.

His mate was testing him.

The heat stirred low in his belly as Piers maintained a stoic demeanor despite the fact that Raihan could smell how affected he was, his coat the only defense against the rest of the room finding that out as easily as Raihan could.

He wanted to know how much Raihan wanted this. He had figured out Kabu’s game and was placing the decision back in Raihan’s hands, though it could cost him the best contract his crew had ever seen and their respect if Raihan turned him down. Meanwhile, if he gave in to such terms, his own control over his crew would be limited, and that was more danger than any Captain would accept.

It was trust and a public test of their ability to negotiate under pressure, and Raihan ached to take his mate right there on the floor for his cleverness.

“I affirm the first counter motion without reservation,” he said on a growl. “The second will pend acceptance on the condition that the first two encounters under such terms end in solid victory. I’ll not risk my crew’s lives if you cannot demonstrate your ability to protect them.”

Piers’ smile was for him alone, the tiniest lift at the corner of his mouth, and it took everything in the dragon not to abandon all pretense and draw him close.

“Agreed. The motions as they stand are accepted. Let the record show this. We will put it to a vote of our crews, as this affects them the most.”

The entire Hall exploded back into mayhem, everyone talking amongst themselves, the members of Piers and Raihan’s crews the focus of every other person present. The two Captains moved from the dais to join their crews, answering questions and reassuring those who might be less than pleased at such a venture.

“Are you sure about this, Captain?” Victor asked. Raihan turned to his Quartermaster and put a hand on his shoulder.

“I am.”

Victor glanced over to where Piers’ Quartermaster was assessing him. She smiled and nodded at him, and he returned the smile tentatively. “Then I will vote in favor.”

Raihan beamed proudly at him, ever grateful for the loyalty of his crew. “You have my thanks. And reassure any who are concerned about the lucrativeness of the venture. I will not let them go without.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Melony called for the decision, and one by one, everyone from Piers and Raihan’s crews stepped up to the parchment to cast their vote. Raihan gave a sigh of relief as the tallies in favor grew, far outnumbering the handful of those against the motion.

They were going to sail together.

The realization was dizzying, and Raihan sought out Piers’ eyes, catching them and grinning as Melony declared the results and the final affirmation was given.

“This concludes the first day of negotiations,” Kabu said when the contracts had been signed and an agreement struck to write out the other documents before they set sail again. “At last,” he added with a smile, and the crowd cheered and toasted him raucously. “Let us have the music and spend our night in celebration of what we have accomplished!”

 

///

 

When those who had been present looked back upon that night, most would agree that their memories were more than a bit hazy. They could all agree upon the drinks, the songs, and the food having been exquisite, of course, but few would be able to say what had been going on at any given moment.

It was a fact Raihan was counting on as he rolled his hips against Piers, the drums a pulsing counterpoint to the drunken revelry surrounding them. They moved against the wall of a darkened corner, eyes fixed on one another as they pressed close, a dance unlike the ones they had shared throughout the night.

Piers gasped, parting his legs to take one of Raihan’s between them, riding the guttural rhythm out against it. Had his sounds not been drowned by the sheer volume of the people gathered there, they would have been by Raihan taking his mouth in a fierce kiss, hands greedy against his lover’s body. The heat was unbearable even with his shirt open and his coat long discarded. He licked at the sweat dripping down the side of Piers’ neck, dragging the other harder against him to bite at his neck when he had lapped it up. He could feel how Piers responded to it, the way his leggings grew slick as he rubbed his aching cock against the strong muscle of Raihan’s thigh.

“We need to get to our rooms,” he growled into the other’s ear, holding him tighter to him despite his words.

Piers moaned and shook his head, hands parting his shirt further and caressing what he could of Raihan’s chest. Raihan bit his lip when the other leaned in to bite and suck at a nipple, the smaller man pushing him back into place against the wall.

“I haven’t lain with you in months,” he said, tugging Piers up by the hair, shivering at the way it made Piers go just a bit more lax in his hold. “I want you in a bed.”

Piers grimaced at him but slowly parted their hips, panting as they took a moment to set themselves to rights, just enough to hurriedly make their way through the writhing crowds. Many had been engaged similarly, the music infectious and enough to have bodies moving and dancing together with no inhibitions, and Raihan could spare little more than a thought for where his fellow Captains might be. He would apologize for their hasty retreat tomorrow, after he had thoroughly satisfied his lover.

The journey to their rooms felt endless, both of them shoving each other into unoccupied alcoves on the way for just another taste, just one more kiss. Finally they stumbled through the door to their rooms, and Raihan immediately gripped Piers’ legs to hoist him up, the pirate’s hands tight around his locs as their mouths claimed one another, wet and messy and fuck but the sounds Piers made when he was this riled up were—

He lowered Piers onto the bed, letting him push the shirt off of his shoulders before he stood to quickly strip off his boots, belt, and trousers, leaving him in naught but his necklaces as Piers did the same. His lover lay back naked against the sheets, and Raihan took in the sight of him hungrily. He stroked his cock from base to tip, thumbing at the slit when Piers reached down to take himself in hand. His gaze was feverish and Piers’ eyes answered him in kind.

He reached for the oil as he climbed onto the bed, laying it near them as he kissed across the other’s body. He left bites and bruises in his wake, a map he could follow blindfolded from Piers’ neck to his thighs, licking the head of his cock, up and down the sides to make him whimper before he swallowed him down. The taste of him was everything Raihan had been craving for months at sea, the pleasured sounds he made all the sweeter for it being his voice.

He let Piers control the pace, let him fuck his throat as deeply as he wanted until he could feel the other getting too close to the edge. He drew back despite Piers’ protest and flipped him over, knowing it thrilled the pirate that his weight—the wiry strength he possessed—was still nothing in the face of a dragon, true form or not.

It was a mimicry of the position they’d found themselves in this morning, and this time he would have Piers until they were finished, come Hell or high water.

“Raihan—ah!” Piers moaned as he was yanked back by the hips, the dragon spreading him open to drip slick between his cheeks, dipping his fingers in the oil and stroking a thumb over his hole. “Please!”

He was so pretty when he begged. It only ever happened when it was like this, the two of them too long apart and starved for every touch, and Raihan cherished each moment of it.

“Please?” He asked impishly, pushing a finger into him and making him cry out. He set to work opening him up, unwilling to wait when he hadn’t felt Piers body hot and wanting around his in far too long. He licked his other palm and reached down to stroke Piers’ cock while he added a second and third finger.

“I need you in me,” Piers said without shame, and Raihan made a pleased sound low in his throat, pushing his length into his fist to coat himself in the oil before he shoved Piers down by his shoulders, keeping his hips raised. The other went easily, no resistance in him tonight, and Raihan kissed his neck gratefully, mounting him. He choked on a breath when Piers reached back to guide him, rubbing the head of him against his slick hole.

He pushed in slowly, the tightness of his lover too much after so long without, and he waited for Piers to adjust each time he thrust in a little deeper, biting the back of his neck to keep himself from moving too fast.

Eventually he felt the other relax, his forehead pressing against the pillow when he reached back to wrap his hand around the back of Raihan’s thigh, urging him closer.

“Hard and fast,” he whispered. “Don’t stop till you come inside me.”

Raihan moaned and tangled their fingers together against the sheets, snapping his hips forward to make Piers sing for him. He didn’t let up, rutting hard and deep into his mate, loving every broken noise the other made each time Raihan brushed over the spot inside him that made his cock drip against the bed.

“Fuck! Oh fuck, like that!” Piers choked out, taking one of Raihan’s hands to push it into his hair until the dragon wrapped it up in his first to pull at it. “Want this when we board Stormbreaker. Feels so good, you have no idea how long I—nnh!

Raihan dragged him up for a filthy kiss over the pirate’s shoulder, heart hammering in his chest as he realized he could have this as often as Piers would let him. He could make love to him and hold him through the night. He would wake with him in the mornings, kiss him as they got dressed, co-command a ship with him.

“I’ve wanted you beside me for longer than you know,” he murmured against the other’s spine when their mouth parted with a slick sound to match the ones where they were joined, the thick squelch of it driving Raihan wild. He traced his fingers over the puffy rim, drawing out till only the tip of him was still inside before he slammed back in and finally earned a scream from his mate.

“Please, please, please!” Piers chanted. “Want it leakin’ from me, want to be loose and open in the mornin’ and have you push right back into me.”

Raihan keened at the thought and rode him down against the mattress, using his weight to keep Piers still, dragging him back onto his cock until he was crying out Raihan’s name and falling apart under him. He didn’t stop, thrusting harder into him. He waited until his lover was spent and aching from overstimulation, trembling under him as he’d requested before he let himself careen over the edge.

He came with his face pressed tightly against Piers’ shoulder, cock filling him until every lingering thrust felt sloppy and come dripped around his length.

He could still faintly hear the music in the Hall over their harsh breathing, basking in the sounds of home and the feeling of his mate tucked close to him. They came down slowly, and Piers let out a soft, satisfied noise when Raihan pulled out and gathered him up to wrap his arms around him. He pulled the blankets over them tiredly, and for once they didn’t speak in the aftermath, content to simply exist in the same space as they drifted off to sleep.

If Raihan whispered his love to the man sleeping beside him, feeling hopeful in a way he hadn’t for a long while, it didn’t matter that he couldn’t hear it.

There was finally time now.

Chapter Text

 

 

Piers awoke to a warm, wet mouth on his cock.

He moaned softly as he blindly reached down, hand missing Raihan twice before he was able to caress the back of his head in appreciation. He could feel the dragon laugh around his mouthful, the hum of it making Piers shiver and weakly shove his hips up to chase the feeling.

He took stock of the rest of himself, the aches and pains that brought the night before into sharp focus, and he sighed contentedly when his lover pulled up to tongue over the head and kiss along the ridge. Raihan went down again, throat working around his length and held himself still for a while, nose brushing back and forth minutely against the curls at the base of his cock.

“Good mornin’,” Piers whispered, voice rough and feeling a flush spread over his face as he remembered exactly why it sounded like that.

Raihan didn’t respond, opting instead to meet his eyes with a grin in his own, making Piers laugh breathlessly. “Shove off and come be with me. I’ve not had my fill of you yet.”

Raihan pulled off, licking his lips and kissing his way up the other’s body to take his mouth in a slow caress that had Piers wrapping his arms around the dragon and parting his legs for him to settle between. Something had moved last night, he could feel it. They had been together like this countless times, but never quite like they had last night.

He was so afraid to hope, but he couldn’t help it.

He let out a quiet breath as Raihan slipped back inside him, still loose from the early hours of the morning. If the feeling of fullness had been overwhelming and wild the night before, it was a comfort now. His skin felt like the lightning that had raged upon Raihan’s arrival, like the shivery grate of a hull over a reef, but it was Raihan through and through. Familiar to him and safe.

“You accepted my counter terms,” he breathed out, and could have kicked himself for it were he not engaged in a far more pleasant pastime.

“Aye,” Raihan agreed, licking at his neck as he began to move in slow thrusts, eyes closing in pleasure. “Is there a question somewhere in there?”

“Why?”

He had to know. He couldn’t spend the next two years—maybe longer—of his life like this, always wondering if they could…if maybe they might—

Raihan leaned up to look at him, hands framing his face and watching how each thrust affected Piers. “Because I want you on my ship,” he said, and Piers could have screamed.

Why do you want me on your ship?” He asked, voice just shy of pleading, hands going to Raihan’s hips to bring him even closer, move inside him more deeply. “Why now? I’ve been—” So lonely, waiting for you to want that. He wouldn’t say it. Let Raihan come to him this time.

Raihan looked away, but he stole one of Piers’ hands from his sides to kiss his palm.

“I…I don’t think I can stand not being with you for another year, only able to see you by chance or the times we come ashore,” he started, voice more uncertain than Piers had heard in a long while from him. “Had it affected no one but myself, I would have ceded to any demands you made so long as you agreed.”

Piers took in a sharp breath, wrapping his legs around Raihan. His mind was racing even as their bodies stayed gentle against each other. “What would you have done if I had refused?”

He watched the way those stunning eyes narrowed, the way something rumbled dangerously in his chest for a moment before he pushed it away. Any who dared ask if he had been afraid when he’d bound his life to Raihan’s had never seen this. The cataclysm at the place where Raihan was a dragon first and foremost, and yet so willing to re-define what that meant.

His massive body had lain upon the rocks before Piers, barely a fraction of him out of water, his lower half churning along with the waves as the storm raged over them. The screams of Spikemuth were ringing in his ears, the smell of smoke choking him, and he could barely see the behemoth form in front of him through his tears. Marnie was sobbing in his arms, and he would have done anything to make it all stop.

“I need an anchor.” His voice was cliffs crumbling into the sea and bone dashed upon a rocky shore. “If I am to destroy a fleet that size, I will need to call upon the waves and a storm more powerful than any I have ever been capable of summoning. Bind yourself to me and I will see your city avenged.”

It was the first time he had seen that form, monstrous and terrible and despite it all, it was not Raihan who he feared. Not the strange, draconic friend of Spikemuth who had come to them in their time of need. It never would be.

He was afraid of himself. Of the decision he was about to make. His home, his people, his city; gone, taken from him, and as Marnie cried and cried and cried, he decided that of all the creatures in the world, the monsters people should have always feared most were each other.

“Consider this my ‘I do.’ Kill them all.”

“I would have stayed,” Raihan said quietly, and Piers held him all the more closely, the gentleness of his voice chasing the violence of the memory away. “Had you chosen to wait for a new ship, I’d have sent my crew with the others, or paid their way to a different venture. Stayed with you here.”

“You would confine yourself to land that long?” Piers asked, stunned.

“There is sea aplenty I could have traveled closer to home if I grew too restless. And smaller boats we could take if you wanted to join me. Two years is not so long. Not if they were spent with you.” His thrusts were growing erratic, the words laced between panting breaths as he made Piers cry out and pull him down for a kiss.

He would never have enough of kissing Raihan, he sought it out like the treasure they hunted. It felt like so much more, riding on the words that were so very close to everything he wanted.

“I thought you didn’t…you never said…”

“But I do,” Raihan whispered, and Piers raked his nails down the other’s back. “Fuck, Piers—ah!” The pirate shoved at his shoulder until he rolled them over, eyes fixed on his mate and Piers threw his head back when he sank down on Raihan’s cock, hands braced on the dragon’s chest. “Didn’t think you’d ever feel the same.”

“Tell me.”

Raihan gazed up at him and Piers felt his heart finally start beating again, the dust and hurt shivering off in the wake of the way the dragon was looking at him.

“I love you.”

Oh.

Years and years and years, and nothing would ever be so sweet as those words.

“Dràgon gaolach,” he gasped, his world narrowed to the way Raihan thrust up into him, the way he moaned his name and pulled him down until they were moving tightly together. He never wanted to go from this place, never wanted Raihan to leave the haven of this bed. Piers was no dragon but when he craved, when he wanted, when he coveted like this, it sometimes it felt like he was one.

“Mo chridhe. Mo leannan—nnh! Tha goal agam ort oh gods, please! Raihan—”

The feeling of his lover spilling inside him sent him over the edge, clinging tightly and slicking Raihan’s chest with his come, drinking down the sounds his dragon made as he spent himself in the tight heat of his mate’s body.

His dragon.

For once, it didn’t feel like a betrayal to his own heart to think that.

He collapsed against Raihan and they lay together, waiting for their breathing to slow. Piers traced over the scars on the other’s chest, reaching up to twine his necklaces around his fingers, the gems ever-beautiful against Raihan’s skin. His hair was stroked and Raihan made soft sounds of contentment. Piers had long since given up on getting him to agree it was a purr.

“We will be expected soon,” Raihan eventually said, heaving a sigh and kissing Piers’ forehead. “Do you think we would be missed overmuch if we stayed here? I have wanted to tell you how much I love you for too long. I can’t do that while we’re in the Hall.”

Piers pressed his face to Raihan’s neck and kissed him softly. “I want that, too. Our crews would never forgive us if we did.”

Raihan groaned when Piers sat up slowly, lips parting on a slow exhale when he felt Raihan’s come leak down his thigh. “Sittin’ for negotiations today is goin’ to be a nightmare.”

The dragon laughed and Piers swatted his arm in retaliation. “It will be your turn tonight,” Raihan said, leaning against his forearms and eyes traveling over Piers’ naked form as he got up to start cleaning up and getting dressed. The bruises already blooming across his fair skin settled something deeply possessive in him and he grinned at the thought of what his back must look like.

“Aye, you’ll not be havin’ my arse again while we’re here,” Piers snickered, fastening his own necklaces around his neck and making Raihan’s heart swell at the sight of them. “Insatiable beastie.”

Your beastie,” Raihan said, and Piers’ eyes were warm in a way Raihan hadn’t seen them be in even longer than they had been apart.

“Mine,” he murmured, feeling elated and just a bit giddy as he let the understanding that Raihan loved him fully sink in. “Hm. Think there might be somethin’ to all that hoarding after all. I could get used to that.”

 

///

 

Piers glared at Raihan when his back twinged for the fourth time in as many hours, imitating a dagger’s slash to the throat when it just made Raihan chuckle under his breath.

“The next motion will concern Captain Gordon’s request for use of Hammerlocke’s ports upon his return from his travels to Hoenn’s waters.”

Raihan nodded as he was passed the papers. “You are always welcome in my ports, Gordon.”

Kabu paused, and Raihan stilled his hand from where he held the contract. “Captain Gordon wishes to request access to the vaults of Hammerlocke. For storage and…the keeping of treasure too heavy to transport easily when provisions are restocked.”

There was a collective murmur as many in the crowd perked up at the potential conflict. The day had been far too dull, most of the negotiations passing without incident. Captain Raihan didn’t open his vaults for anyone.

Raihan set his elbows on the table and leaned forward with a dangerous look in his eyes.

“Since when has a ship of Stonjourner’s size been unable to carry all the loot you could possibly want?”

“Won’t be takin’ her. I’ll be usin’ The Golem for this particular venture,” Gordon said easily, leaning forward to match Raihan’s aggressive posture, but keeping his voice even.

“Why Hammerlocke’s vaults? Why not Shadeland’s,” Guzma asked, and Raihan could have kissed him. He breathed out carefully, grateful when he felt Piers’ brush his leg with his own, a reminder to remain calm. “We would be much closer, and you would be able to restock supplies right quick if you make it back durin’ our harvest.”

“It’s a generous offer, Captain Guzma, but it’ll be Hammerlocke’s vaults we’ll be needin’.” There was no compromise in Gordon’s voice, and Raihan gritted his teeth.

“No one enters my vaults,” he said, colder than any winter in Circhester. “Not without a very good reason.”

“No need for hostility—”

“Tell me why, and I’ll at least pretend to consider it. Otherwise it just sounds like you want unfettered access to something you know bloody well is inappropriate to ask me for. Unless you’re planning on leaving the loot there indefinitely,” he bit out, the sarcasm heavy in his tone.

“I am.”

Even Piers leaned back, shocked.

Raihan stared at Gordon, who looked at him like he wanted to speak directly into his mind with how hard he was staring in return.

“You are, as in…”

“I am planning on leaving it there indefinitely.”

“For what purpose?”

Gordon seemed to weigh his words, cocking his head until he settled on what he wanted. “For similar purposes to your own.”

Similar pur—oh.

Oh.

“The purpose of my treasure?” He asked, feeling the weight of the confusion throughout the room, his heart racing.

“Aye,” Gordon breathed, nodding fervently, relieved.

“You would—”

Without hesitation,” Gordon interrupted, and Raihan watched Bea’s eyes light up in understanding.

“Admiral,” she spoke up hastily. “I would like to add my name to this motion. The Stow settlement’s vaults have been too vulnerable as of late, as we have been gone throughout most of this past year and there are not enough people left behind to defend it. It would be better protected here.”

“What the bloody buggerin’—” Piers murmured, and Raihan could scarcely take his eyes from the others.

“Granted. Any further names to be added to the motion?” Kabu asked, and Raihan saw him scrawl his own name into the contract.

“Aye,” Opal and Melony both spoke at once, and Raihan sat back with his heart beating hard in his chest. Guzma met Piers’ eyes over the table, neither of them having any answers to the questions apparent between them.

“Very well. Captain Raihan, do you have any further questions or counter terms?”

He shook his head, holding his hand out for the papers.

It was…a gamble. He knew that. He knew that better than anyone. They couldn’t speak plainly about this. Not here. The language was beyond ambiguous and relied solely on what he thought he understood. For all he knew, he was signing half of his treasure away to five extremely intelligent pirates Lords who knew that Piers was his weakness.

They would have known that he wouldn’t say no if it meant the chance at having that kind of alliance in gathering for the hoard. With their skills, he wouldn’t put it past them to have enough to rebuild Spikemuth within three years, possibly less if they spread themselves out more.

With both Raihan and Piers out of the way for the foreseeable future, Hammerlocke would be without its greatest defense. And Opal had been the one to bring up their traveling together…

Piers kicked him under the table and he realized he had been staring at the paper. He looked over at his mate, seeing the minute shake of his head. He didn’t know what they were offering, he only knew that it was foolish for any other reason but the one he had.

He looked back to Kabu, who gazed solemnly at him, knowing the internal war he was waging. His shoulders relaxed a little when the man pressed a hand to his heart in salute, making it look like an idle movement.

Reassurance.

The Admiral’s word had never failed him before.

“I will agree to the motion,” he said finally. “Let the record show this.”

He looked at the document, each of their names listed so innocuously. He wanted more than anything to be able to trust them. To trust their love of Piers, if not their honor.

He thought of a King. And a fellow dragon, with scales like sapphire, ruby, and amethyst, who had trusted and paid dearly for it. A dragon dead, when there were too few of them left.

He signed his name, put down the quill, and prayed that history would tell a kinder story this time.

They all sat back, exhausted as the rest of the room erupted as it always did with these kinds of decisions, everyone shouting their opinions until Kabu settled them at last.

“We will defer the last of the negotiations until tomorrow. It has been a long day, and I am eager to enjoy the company present tonight. I wonder, Captain Piers, would you and your crew grace us with song tonight?”

Piers looked away from Raihan, and the dragon was grateful for the brief touch of a hand on his to steady him. They would discuss this later.

“Aye, if you’ll be havin’ any requests and we’ll be knowin’ them.”

A round of ideas sounded out, all of them garnering agreement despite none of them being the same request. Everyone laughed, and the Admiral shook his head.

“Something of Spikemuth,” Kabu said gently. “It has been too long since I heard song that did justice to its beauty.”

Raihan touched his own hand to his heart in a mimicry of Kabu’s gesture, grateful beyond measure. Piers lived to sing about his homeland.

Piers swallowed hard, closing his eyes and nodding.

“Think we might have something then,” he agreed with a rough voice. He smiled at his Quartermaster, and Gloria took up a stringed instrument to accompany him. Her fingers plucked lightly and her voice sweet on the air as she hummed to find the tune.

She waited for Piers to open his eyes, seeing far past the Hall, beyond the faces here to those that lived only in his memory now. She waited until the pain in his features had softened to wistfulness, and she played.

Seinn an duan seo dhan Innis Àigh,

An innis uaine as gile tràigh;

Bidh sian air uairean a' bagairt cruaidh ris

Ach 's e mo luaidh-sa bhith ann a' tàmh.

Many called Piers a secret siren in jest, said that he must have mermaid blood somewhere in his lineage, for no human ought to have a voice so entrancing lest it be heavy with magiks.

None could think to laugh, however, when his voice carried throughout the Hall, laden with more sadness and longing than his years should have seen.

Càit' as tràith' an tig samhradh caomh

Càit' as tràith' an tig blàth air craoibh

Càit' as bòidhche an seinn an smeòrach

Air bhàrr nan ògan? 'S an Innis Àigh!

 

Tiugainn leam-sa chun na tràigh

'S an fheasgar chìuin-ghil aig àm an làin,

'S chì thu 'm bòidhchead 's an liuthad seòrsa

De dh'eòin tha còmhnaidh 's an Innis Àigh.

Piers and Gloria’s voices twined and danced along the melody, one with the yearning for a home long since gone, the other for one she had never gotten to see. The doors of the Hall opened slowly, the creak of them loud in the quiet as everyone listened and ached in their own ways for what Galar had lost. Piers choked on his words at the sight before him, and Captain Marnie’s voice took his place in the song as she and her small crew came in from the night. She and Gloria stayed in accord, their voices taking the words into something more hopeful, less burdened by smoke and ash and fear.

O 's geàrr an ùine gu 'n teirig là;

Thig an oidhche 's gun iarr mi tàmh.

Mo chadal buan-sa bidh e cho suaimhneach

Ma bhios mo chluasag 's an Innis Àigh.

They let the notes linger, and Piers came down from the dais, meeting his sister halfway even as the song still rung out in the echoes of the Hall. He pulled her as close as when she was a bairn and he’d had naught but his voice and his arms to quiet her. She kept her expression stoic, only her grip around him telling of her grief and how much she had missed Piers. There would be time enough to cry later. Time enough to tell him what she had discovered, the storm she sensed was not far from brewing.

For now, she let herself have a moment of calm, held in the safest place in the world.

She was glad to be home.

Chapter Text

 

 

Raihan silently passed Piers another blanket, smiling softly when the pirate shot him a grateful look and tucked it over Marnie’s sleeping form.

“I’ll be just outside,” he whispered, and ducked out into the corridor to wait for the other. He heard Marnie stir slightly as Piers gathered his things, her brother reassuring her of where they would be and to get some sleep. No matter how much time passed or how old they grew, she would always be his wee bairn of a sister.

Piers closed the door quietly and stepped up close, tilting his head up for a long, deep kiss in the silence of the night. He ran his hands up Raihan’s arms to hold his shoulders, sighing softly when the dragon reeled him in closer, hands at the other’s waist.

When they broke apart, Piers leaned his head against Raihan’s chest, each still trying to process what they had heard tonight.

“Not here,” Raihan said, a reminder for them both. He took Piers’ hand and they walked through the fortress together, the quiet so vastly different compared to the noise and joy of not so many hours past. They made their way outside, meeting very few people as they went, grateful for the emptiness of the streets.

Raihan couldn’t help but be nervous as they got closer and closer to the docks. He looked longingly at the smaller vessels they might have used with more time, but there was no use in wistfulness now. They went onwards towards the cliffs at the edge of the water, well out of the sight of the city. The moon was a distant goddess, far away tonight and looking on in apathy from her perch among dark clouds that made the dragon ache to make them heavy with rain, if only to mask just a bit of his trepidation from Piers.

“Raihan?”

Right, they were at the water’s edge, Piers waiting patiently beside him.

“Do I ever frighten you?” Raihan asked, kneeling down to look at the waves below. He shivered and felt the call more strongly than he’d felt in a long while. He wondered if the waters knew of his contentment now that Piers had promised to be beside him when he next set sail. He hoped they did, the sea deserved some joy after the weeks of storms.

“Yes,” Piers said, and Raihan closed his eyes, doing his best to push down the bitterness and hurt. He had befriended Piers thinking he knew everything. Foolish and so certain his heart would be safe from this mortal who sang sweetly and had captured his attention with a gold coin and some good-natured teasing. And here he was, all he’d longed for in his grasp, and still wanting more.

He threw himself into the water, letting the salty sting of it flood his lungs and begin to tear up his fragile human shell into foam and ichor. Pushing through the agony, he swam further out and then down, down, down as he felt his bones cracking and his flesh ripping apart. He had always been too large for this form.

His mouth opened on a scream that became a roar echoing through the depths.

 

/////

 

“They say you’re the dragon that sleeps beneath Hammerlocke.” Raihan looked up from his ale to find a young man with an infant strapped at his shoulder, her tiny mouth open and drooling against his shirt as she slept.

“Been sleeping under Spikemuth of late, but I’ll not argue the point,” Raihan had said with a grin, showing off his teeth and pleased when instead of being unnerved, the other came closer. “Pretty place, this.” He looked over his companion, assessing from the corner of his eye. “What does a lad like you need with a dragon?”

“Oh. Nothin’ really. Just wanted confirmation. Folks said it had been since before my time that you’d visited here. My name is Piers.”

“Piers, it’s a pleasure. Most here know me as Raihan. And it seems likely it’s been that long. I tend to lose track of the decades here and there. Humans go through bouts of being terribly boring,” Raihan drawled, and smiled when the lad laughed.

“We can be, I suppose. Even we need rest from our own ridiculousness. Though I would say that since I’ve not heard even one tale of dragons creatin’ much of anythin’ besides trouble, your lot must be even more dull than mine.” Oh, he liked this one.

Raihan threw him a mock offended look and placed a hand over his heart. “You wound me, friend! Not even the strongest metals can pierce my hide, but your words cut me to the quick!”

“Good to know I might fell a mighty beast should he ever cease being a friend to Spikemuth,” Piers quipped, and Raihan felt something soften in him when the infant at his shoulder barely started to fuss before he was soothing her back to rest with some soft words.

“The waifish warrior says as he croons a baby back into dreams.”

Piers grinned fiercely and turned to show off the small human. “Her name’s Marnie, my little sister. Loveliest bairn this side of the sea. And lucky she is, I’d be shite at this if she were even a mite more fussy than she already can be.”

Raihan leaned closer to get a better look. Her presence felt…off. Odd, and not human. He narrowed his eyes and Piers hurriedly drew her back.

“Now, don’t you be lookin’ at her like—”

“Changeling child,” Raihan hissed, suddenly recognizing the fae presence. He hadn’t felt it in too long. His last venture to the Court had been…uncomfortable, though not entirely unpleasant. “Did you know—”

“Aye, I know it,” Piers growled, standing suddenly and clutching her close, like Raihan might try and take her from his arms. The dragon blinked in shock. “And I’ll thank you to shut your gob about things that aren’t your business.”

He reared back, surprised at the lack of care this lad had for who he was speaking to. Most of the town gave him a relatively wide berth, though they were good to him and would welcome him in whenever he pleased. And they had the choice. Spikemuth was a land of old magiks, and it knew how to defend itself against all manner of things that were not quite human.

This city knew what weapons might slay a dragon.

“I meant no offense,” Raihan said, holding up his hands. “I was merely startled to feel such a thing here. Most humans cannot detect the presence of the fae in their midst.”

Piers scrutinized him for a long moment before he finally sighed and sat back down. “Sorry. I can be…quick to anger when it comes to her place here. I can’t…sense her either, it’s not that. I only know because she was put here on purpose.”

“What happened?” Raihan couldn’t help but smile when she yawned widely and burrowed further against her brother’s shoulder. Fae or not, she was a precious thing.

Piers bit his lip and looked out towards the square. “This has to stay with you if I tell you. As far as most of the town knows, she’s the same Marnie my parents had.”

It made sense, and Raihan was already too fascinated by this strange human to betray him. He agreed easily.

“My sister was ill, to the point where the doctors thought she wouldn’t make it through the night. My parents were distraught, and grief that powerful is like a siren call to the fae. One came to our door, offerin’ a trade. A fairy child in exchange for her, since there is no human illness in the Court. He promised she’d be most loved and safe with them. She’d want for nothin’ and the one who came here in her stead would be a good match for my family.”

Raihan wondered if he had ever met Piers’ sister when his visited the Court. He didn’t know if he hoped he had or not.

“My parents…” He gritted his teeth. “Cast him out. Told him they’d rather she die than be taken to live with the loveless fae. She was on her last hours, and I couldn’t stand by and do nothin’. She was strugglin’ to breathe but she cried and cried and cried…”

The dragon put a hand on the other’s shoulder, startling him from his unhappy thoughts. He watched the lad shake himself and smile weakly.

“So I stole her in the night and hoped my grief would call the fairy back. It did. I said I would make the deal, so long as her name became her own, unable to be summoned to Court at their whims. I think he liked that, because he granted her that and still allowed her to keep her status should she ever decide to return to them on her own.”

Raihan swallowed thickly. “Did…have you seen her since?”

Piers shook his head, taking in a shaky breath. “He came to visit this past year to tell me of her recovery. I can’t really trust him, I suppose, but there was a great deal of love in his voice. I’d prefer to think she’s as beloved there as Marnie is here.” He turned his face in towards his sister and kissed her soft head. “They’ve both seen nearly three years now.”

“What of your parents?”

Piers flinched, and Raihan immediately regretted asking. They sat in silence, and Raihan moved just a bit closer, offering his shoulder and feeling inordinately proud when the other leaned against him just a bit without thinking, wrapped up in his own thoughts.

“They left,” he finally said, and Raihan bit back a hiss. “They said…they said if I’d accept a monster for a sister then I could raise her myself, they’d have nothin’ more to do with us.”

Raihan stared at Piers, and the dismay and hatred must have been evident on his face because Piers frowned at him and used a finger to smooth out the angry lines between his brows. Raihan caught his hand and shook his head.

“Had they been dragons, they would have been executed for the abandonment of their hatchlings. I am…I can’t imagine—” He couldn’t even get the words out. He would rend them in two should they ever try to return.

“It doesn’t matter now. The town takes care of us as best it can. We have good people on our side. I’ll make sure she wants for nothin’, that she won’t even notice they’re not here.” The determination radiating from him made Raihan’s heart ache, just enough to be alarming to him. This sort of protectiveness was not often felt for anything that wasn’t of his world. He wondered if perhaps he should start spending more of his time with humans even when they weren’t doing anything particularly interesting.

“And you? What is it you want?”

Piers looked away with a shrug, fiddling with his sleeve. “I don’t want anythin’.”

“Surely there’s something.” Dragons lived in a constant state of wanting. He’d always thought it was one of the few things about human nature he could fully understand.

Piers turned to look at him, and Raihan felt something in the world change. He didn’t know what it was, only that something had been set in motion.

“I suppose I could use a friend.”

Raihan grinned, leaning back on his hands and laughing. “A friend? Hm, that would be a first for me. Dragons don’t have friends, we have allies.”

“Well, then how do we become allies?” Piers asked, leaning forward eagerly.

“An exchange of gifts. Shows goodwill and all that, giving something from one’s hoard.”

“I don’t have a hoard,” Piers murmured to himself. “Oh, but I do have this! Earned it singin’, some rich folk liked my song.” He reached into the pouch at his waist to draw out a gold coin. “Put that in your hoard, and we’ll be allies.”

Raihan eyed the coin greedily, but shook his head. “I’ll not take what might feed you for a month. And I have nothing from my hoard with me to give you in return.”

“A favor, then!” Piers decided, eyes sparkling with mirth. “If I can’t earn enough quickly, I’ll call on you to bring us food or somethin’ like that. Does that satisfy the rules?”

Raihan laughed and nodded. “I suppose it does.” He took the coin and turned it in his hand, admiring the golden gleam of it. “Very well, a favor of your choosing, whenever you should ask it. You have my word.”

So many years after and yet never enough time at all, as he watched dozens of ships burn around him, dragged them one by one to the ocean floor and licked the blood of Spikemuth’s assailants from his teeth, he realized his debt was paid. He’d never felt more hollow.

When he’d returned to the form that could feel as keenly as any human, he’d lain upon the rocks beneath the still smoldering ruins of Spikemuth, gripped the gold coin in his hands and screamed and screamed until there was nothing left of his grief. He had hoped to ask for Piers to be his mate with it, to offer back the most precious piece of his hoard. Piers would have understood what it meant. His favor would have remained, nothing needed in return. A gesture of selflessness from the most selfish of creatures.

Instead, he was left with Piers bound to him because he wasn’t strong enough to destroy his enemies without something to ground him. He had failed to uphold his end of the bargain, didn’t deserve to be an ally or friend to Piers, much less his mate.

He opened his hand and let the coin sink into the darkness of the water.

 

/////

 

His head emerged to the surface to find Piers biting his lip against a smile.

“Do you know, I think I figured out why it took so long for us to sort ourselves out,” he called down to Raihan.

He wavered, uncertain as he assessed what kind of mood the other was in, leaning up a bit to use his senses and—

Everything stopped for a moment and he couldn’t stop the questioning rumble that rattled the stones beneath him.

No fear smell.

No fear smell.

He drew a little further out of the water, emboldened by the way Piers reached for him. He set his claws against the earth to either side of Piers and heaved himself up, tongue flickering out again just to be sure he still couldn’t sense anything but his mate’s amusement and affection and…

And…

He blinked slowly.

“You thought I meant that I was frightened of you.” It wasn’t a question, and Raihan pushed his face against the entirely of Piers’ body, basking in the sweetness of the embrace and the headiness of the other’s arousal. His strange, wonderful, beautiful mate.

“Perhaps we might fare better if we stop assumin’ we know what the other is sayin’ and just listen,” Piers teased gently. “As if I could ever be afraid of you. Quite the opposite I’m afraid.”

“But whenever I’m like this…” He winced at his own voice.

“I’m constantly worried for you,” Piers corrected. “Think of all the times I’ve seen you like this until now. What were we doin'?”

Raihan ghosted over the memories of fighting off ships and fleeing from them and a city burning—

“You see?” Piers whispered and stroked the side of his face. “You frighten me all the time. I live in fear of a day where you don’t come back, with me miles from you and unable to do anythin’ about it. You’re reckless, you ridiculous beastie.” He snickered. “Drives me to drink, I swear it.”

Raihan closed his eyes, the two of them silent together for a long while. He would need time to make sense of this, to understand what it meant for them. It was always easier to wait until he was in a form better suited for that. Like this, the world was simpler. Quieter, in a way.

“We should go,” Piers finally said, and Raihan agreed. The pirate climbed onto his neck and gripped tightly at the spikes near the top of his spine while he carefully sank back down towards the water. He kept his head above surface to keep Piers from getting too wet as he swam towards the outcropping of caves not overly far from the shore. His lover hummed a bit as they made their way past an old ruin from before even Hammerlocke’s time. Crumbling stone and statue looked out sightlessly upon the misty sea.

The elfin knight stands on yon hill,
Blaw, blaw, blaw, wind blaw.
And he blows his horn both loud and shrill.
And the wind has blown my plaid awa.

Raihan’s heart soared to hear the voice of his mate as it always did, keeping time with his movements in the water. It carried over the sounds of the night, and the few souls still awake in the city stilled for a moment, a voice on the wind in the distance, though surely it was nothing but a tired imagination at play.

If I had yon horn in my kist,
Blaw, blaw, blaw winds, blaw
And were in the lad’s arms that I love best
The wind would blow my plaid awa.

His eyes caught on a familiar glimmer under the water, darting towards them, and he turned his head enough to let Piers see it, too. The pirate hummed gratefully for a moment before he reached out a hand for Nessa to catch as she swam up beside them. She took it, letting him tote her along at their pace, drawing closer to the mouth of their preferred cave.

She was quiet as he sang, her eyes closing while she listened. She would be forever pleased with herself for saving this one. Even had they not become friends, the world would have been a lesser place without his voice in it.

When you’re done, and finished your wark,
Blaw, blaw, blaw winds, blaw
You'll come to me, love, and get your sark.
And the wind shall blow my plaid awa.

Blow winds blow, blow winds blow, blow winds blow.

She sang along with the last of the words, not enough time to make it difficult for anyone to keep focus, but still enough to send shivers down Raihan’s form and make him bristle instinctually against the influence of magiks not his own. She threw him a knowing smirk and he bared his teeth at her; something between a threat and a grin.

“Behave,” Piers sighed. “Nessa, did Marnie stop here before she came to the city?”

“No, but I swam out to her as I did to you when she wasn’t so far from Hammerlocke. I’ve heard what’s happening in Wyndon.”

The pirate nodded and ran his free hand over his face tiredly. “It’s why we’re out here. We need to decide what we’re going to do before we involve any of the other Lords. This affects everyone, but Raihan and I have a…vested interest in makin' sure we’re in agreement beforehand.”

Nessa looked up at him sharply. “Explain.”

“We’re goin’ to be travelin’ together,” he said, unable to keep the excitement fully out of his voice. Raihan made a pleased sound of agreement.

Nessa’s teeth were sharp and her eyes dangerous as her gaze flicked to Raihan.

“Have things changed then?” She asked, directed at Piers, and Raihan’s heart sank a little. He hadn’t known, and he wasn’t the only one who had failed to communicate what he wanted, but it didn’t make him feel any less guilty that Piers had been suffering enough that his companions were suspicious of his intentions.

“Aye,” Piers said easily, laying his head against the back of Raihan’s. “In the best ways.”

Nessa’s face softened in wonder and Raihan threw her a guilty look.

“Oh, don’t make that face, Raihan,” she finally sighed. “So long as you treat him well, you’ll have no qualms from me. The more teeth we have to defend this one, the better I feel.”

“I’m perfectly capable of—”

“Hush, Piers, tied to his lifespan you may be, but that only helps if we manage to keep you from getting a sword to the chest. Or cannon fire to the chest. Anything to the chest, really, and the King’s new fleet has weaponry to end every last ship the Lords have. Gods, Captain Leon’s ship alone is capable of felling nearly anything, and if the rumors about the dragon are true…”

“They’re not,” Raihan growled, and Nessa tugged her hand out of Piers’ to swim backwards in front of the dragon as they came into the cave. “Eternatus is dead. Has been dead for centuries.”

“But if the King’s son has magiks like that—”

“We only have the word of one—”

“Marnie,” Nessa growled back as he brushed past her to lower his neck and let Piers climb off into the cavern. “Who would know better than any of us if that lad is a human sorcerer or a changeling child. And she suspects the latter, so I am inclined to worry that powers of necromancy are at work.”

“No one has ever successfully raised something from the dead for longer than a few minutes at most. And never something so vastly powerful!”

“And humans had never successfully killed a dragon before Spikemuth learned to forge its weapons,” Piers murmured, and Raihan shook his head. “Things change, Raihan, not always for the better.”

They all fell silent before Raihan dug his claws into the sand and rock and angrily dragged himself towards the inner rooms of the cave to where their hideaway was. The two of them watched him go before they looked at each other, feeling helpless in the face of what might lay before them.

“I’m going to…let you two talk,” Nessa finally said, exhaling shakily. “I need to speak with my sisters on this matter, find out if we can gather any other information. I will return when you set sail, and we can talk about what you and the Lords have decided then.”

“Be careful,” Piers said, leaning down to let her run her hands over his neck as he did the same for her. He held her there even after her arms had dropped, soothing her as best he could. Her gills eventually returned to their normal pulsing motions, rather than the rapid flutter of panic.

“Thank you,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I will see you soon. Try to stay out of too much trouble before I do.”

“You should know by now a pirate’s promises mean nothin’,” Piers said cheekily, and Nessa rolled her eyes.

“And you should know by now I can and will box your ears if you don’t do as I say. Now, be a good lad and go sort out your dragon.”

“Aye, Captain,” Piers said sardonically, laughing when she put her hands together and jabbed them towards him. “You wound me! No need to flip me off, such a terribly uncouth gesture for a fair sea lass.”

“I’ll show you uncouth,” she muttered, rolling her eyes before she smiled softly. “Be well, I will be beside Stormbreaker when her anchor has risen. Don’t wait for me if I am late, I’ll catch up.”

“Till then,” he replied, and she disappeared beneath the surface, heading back towards the entrance.

He waited until she was out of sight before he took a deep breath and turned to venture further into the cave. He heard the telltale signs of Raihan shifting back into his human form, the crack of bones and occasional scream echoing eerily through the cave making him wince.

He took up some blankets from the pile near one of the walls and brought them over as Raihan finished the process, panting and shivering as his body was made whole again. He wrapped one around the dragon’s bare shoulders, helping him stand and walk unsteadily to the pile of treasure and furs Raihan kept there for comfort whenever they had need of the caves, everything laden with spells to stay as it was until they returned.

He lay him back against the furs, glad to see he was already breathing easier and rolling his neck to dispel the discomfort. He went for the water bucket, grateful the dragon could drink salt water as easily as fresh without growing ill. He brought a cup of it to the other’s mouth and let him drink greedily awhile before he set it aside.

Raihan drew him down to lie with him, wrapping him up in his arms and sighing in relief when Piers rubbed his fingers in soothing circles at his temples. “It would have been easier for you to stay as you were. You’ll have to do all this again when we go back,” Piers chastised without any heat, and Raihan merely nuzzled closer and hummed in assent.

“I can’t be close to you like that,” he said, and Piers took in a sharp breath when the other ran a hand down his side, sliding it under his shirt to stroke over bare skin. “With Marnie in our rooms, I’ll not have another opportunity to make love with you until we set sail.”

Piers shot him a faux coy look. “Gods forbid, that’s a day and some away!”

“Mm, don’t know that I’ll survive it,” Raihan quipped, his eyes warm in their regard. “Not my fault my mate is the most exquisite treasure of any hoard.”

“All the flattery in the world won’t stop us from needin’ to discuss what we came here to discuss.”

Raihan drew back, a far more serious look in his eyes. “One hundred and thirty ships strong at least. Possibly more. And Leon at the helm with the largest, most dangerous ship on the waters. We can’t possibly hope to match it head on. Not even I can take so many ships at once.”

“The King will likely be havin’ eyes on us the moment we set out. If we lose anyone during our travels, we will need to recruit from within already known quarters.”

“Agreed. We should also start preparing our lesser ships to sail. I know some of the others will feel it makes them vulnerable, but we’re going to need to be able to act fast if the King decides to start testing the waters and I don’t want the main ships involved unless they have to be.” Raihan imagined each of the magnificent ships joining Obstinance and shuddered.

“What about land incursions? I worry most that the settlements will be attacked while we are too busy at sea to protect them. I can’t bear to watch another city fall…” Piers tucked his face against Raihan’s neck, unwilling to think about it further.

“We’ll make sure it doesn’t,” Raihan vowed. “Do you think the Court would come to our aid if we asked it? They would be able to defend the settlements.”

Piers considered it. “For a heavy price, perhaps. But the fae don’t often involve themselves in mortal affairs. They hate to risk their own for the petty squabbles of humans.”

“This is hardly petty—”

“To them it is. They’ve not had a true assault upon their lands in thousands of years, and they are a timeless and forgetful people. It’s entirely possible they will wait until the fight comes to them before they’re willin’ to join the fray. And if the King truly has managed to bring Eternatus back, this will affect them as well.”

Raihan grimaced. “I don’t…know what to think of that. You’re not incorrect that things change and that Marnie is an intelligent and capable Captain and spy. I would put my trust in her word for anything else. But if this is true…if Eternatus has somehow been awoken from the dead, we are not going to survive this. There are already creatures of the deep that could tear me apart with little effort, and Eternatus was the most fearsome of them all. He was not limited to the sea, he ruled land and sky in equal measure. And if he is of the undead, we have even fewer ways of defending ourselves.”

“We will survive this. I’ll not lose a single thing more to that bastard who has the audacity to call himself King. Or his overgrown Wyrm. What’s left of Spikemuth’s knowledge still lies within Hammerlocke’s vaults,” Piers reminded him, holding the other’s face in his hands. Raihan turned into it, kissing his wrist and palm. “Perhaps Marnie or Opal will stay and aid us with findin’ some answers there. Which…I was meanin’ to ask about. What the bloody buggerin’ hell were you thinkin’, giving everyone access to your hoard like that?”

Raihan huffed in annoyance and sat up. “They are trustworthy enough. They know better than to steal from me.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense! You hardly let me into the vaults, and now you’re givin’ access to a group of pirates that have nothin’ stopping them now from takin’ what they will?” Piers looked at his lover closely, sitting up as well. “You’re one of the most vastly intelligent beings I have ever met. So you’re not just makin’ a stupid decision, there is somethin’ behind it. You don’t do things like this without a reason.”

Raihan remained silent, his lips pressed tightly together.

“We’ve not even started our journey yet, and you’re already keepin’ secrets from me?” Piers asked gently, and Raihan hesitated. He finally shook his head, turning to kiss the pirate, laying back and pulling Piers on top of him. Piers moaned quietly when the other slipped a tongue into his mouth, an apology passed from one to the other without words.

“Not ones that will hurt us,” Raihan said when they broke apart. “Just…something I don’t want to discuss until I’m certain of its outcome. Is that alright?”

Piers gazed at him for a long while, his eyes taking in every facet of the beloved face before him. There was no deception to be found, nothing but Raihan’s usual earnestness and willingness to please him. If he pushed again, Raihan would tell him.

“I trust you,” he murmured, and pulled him back in for another kiss.

“What happened to ‘we need to talk about everything’?” Raihan teased, letting his head fall back so Piers could bite at his neck.

“You happened, as usual,” Piers grumbled, the sound turning to a sharp gasp when the dragon gripped the backs of his thighs and ground their bodies together.

“What did I do?” Raihan whined, the indignant expression on his face making Piers laugh.

“Nothin’, mo chridhe. But I have you right here lookin’ like everythin’ I love in the world, so you’ll have to forgive me my weaknesses.”

Raihan grinned at him and spread his legs, hands already starting to make short work of Piers’ trousers.

“You’ll hear no complaint on my part, love, save for if you take an age to get inside me.”

“The absolute arrogance of you,” Piers scolded, wrapping his hand around the other’s length and leaning over to kiss and lick his way down the other’s body. “Makin’ demands when you’re constantly keepin’ me at the edge. I ought to leave you just like this and make you take care of yourself.”

Raihan put Piers’ other hand on his body, running their fingers together over where he wanted to be touched, his eyes losing just a bit of their human facade when Piers followed the trail with his lips.

“You could,” Raihan whispered, eyes closing when Piers eventually put his mouth on his cock and started to sink down, keeping Raihan’s hips still as he fought not to thrust instinctually. He couldn’t think as Piers pushed himself as far as he could go, using his clever hands to make up for the difference on each stroke. The wet heat of it was dizzying.

“I would do as you asked, would let you have me in whatever ways you wanted.” He reached for the oil among the clutter of gems and gold, slicking his own fingers and reaching under himself to start opening himself up. Piers’ eyes were intent on him as he pulled back to watch Raihan’s fingers disappear into his body. Raihan had to stop himself from whimpering at the loss of the other’s mouth on him.

“But I would also implore you to think of how good I’ll feel around your cock,” Raihan said, throwing his head back when Piers coated his own fingers and pressed one in alongside his own. “Fuck, give me another, Piers, please!”

Piers complied with an indulgent smile. “Arrogant, vain, and greedy.”

“Dragon,” Raihan snickered, pulling his lover down to him. The two of them traded playful kisses until Piers’ heart felt like it might burst from how dearly he loved this incredible being.

“And yet somehow the least selfish person I’ve ever met,” he said gently, tugging at one of Raihan’s locs before he reached for the oil again to coat himself with it.

The other’s mouth parted just a bit, his breath coming faster as Piers began to push into him, gasping the pirate’s name when he stopped halfway and gripping the furs beneath him hard enough to tear. “Tease," he moaned, baring his teeth at his lover. “Piers, I beg of you, just—”

“Let me look my fill,” Piers said, and Raihan fell silent for a moment, stunned. “You’re not the only one who will be impatient to set sail. I’ve spent nearly a year from your side. We still have more to speak of before we go back to the fortress, so let me take what time I have.”

Raihan slowly reached up to run his hands over the other’s sides, pushing his hands into Pier’s hair and pulling it loose from its cord. “Mo dràgon beag,” he said softly, and Piers whimpered at the endearment, bringing him close.

The pirate didn’t make him wait much longer, finally thrusting the rest of his length in, making Raihan arch back against the furs and wrap his legs around the other’s waist. His other form was still too close to the surface to stop the scales from making their imprints upon his skin, a mirage in the low light of the cave.

“You fill me so well,” Raihan growled, writhing under him when Piers grabbed his hips for leverage and finally gave him what he wanted. “My body was made for yours.” His breath hitched when Piers pressed his forehead against Raihan’s shoulder and thrust hard enough that Raihan’s claws ripped into the stone beneath them.

The sound he made was inhuman, and it only served to make Piers double his efforts and take up his cock in a loose grip for him to push into. The sight of Raihan falling apart beneath him would always be one of the most beautiful things in the world, no matter how many new lands and people they encountered. He was always awed by the sheer power under his hands, the way Raihan entrusted it to him when he took him like this.

He could hear the water just beyond the cave crashing hard against the rocks, the waves responding to the dragon’s pleasure. He laughed breathlessly and kissed Raihan until he felt him tighten around his cock and grip at his shirt, spending himself in Piers’ hand. He worked him through it, waiting until his lover was keening low in his throat before pulling out and holding the other down by the shoulder to keep him still.

He used Raihan’s come to ease his way, pushing his cock into his fist over and over, until he was biting his lip hard enough to make it bleed with the effort of not crying out.

“Fuck,” Raihan whispered, staring as the pirate collapsed to a forearm over the dragon and came hard all over his chest. It felt like all the air had gone from the cave as they panted together and Raihan took Piers’ hand, slick from the both of them and dragged it down his stomach, delighting in the way it made Piers’ eyes go dark in understanding.

Yours.

Raihan sighed in satisfaction and let himself go boneless against the furs, closing his eyes and listening to the waves settle back down outside. Piers moved to lie beside him, letting Raihan play with his hair while they enjoyed what time they had left.

Eventually, Raihan groaned and stretched, taking in the pleasant soreness of his body and grinning as he loomed over Piers. “Having you on board is going to be terrible for business. I’m not going to get a moment of work done if I know you’re within arm’s reach whenever I want you.”

Piers laughed, flicking his nose. “Aye, I just thought the same. I suppose if we’re goin’ to be facin’ some truly terrible odds, we might as well enjoy ourselves.”

Raihan kissed his forehead and wrapped his arms around the pirate. “Agreed. Hm, see? We already work well as a team.”

Piers snorted, making them both laugh. “Alright, to work then. How are we plannin’ on keepin’ Leon alive if we encounter his new ship among the others?”

 

/////

 

They talked until the first rays of sunlight filtered into the caves, both exhausted but secure in their plans. Raihan was grateful for Piers’ gentle hands after they stumbled onto dry land near Hammerlocke, his lover holding him carefully as he settled back into his skin again. The back and forth hurt more when he pushed himself like this, but he couldn’t regret it when this form could embrace Piers back.

“You alright?”

Raihan hummed and nodded, rumbling contentedly and wondering if he might persuade Piers to send Marnie in their stead for breakfast while they got some much-needed sleep.

“Come on,” Piers said, helping him stand and the two of them cackling when he stumbled like a newborn foal.

They made their way back towards the fortress, leaning on each other every step of the way.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“She is called Leviathan, and the name matches the size,” Marnie said gravely, spreading out her parchment across the table. The Lords were gathered around it, those who could read taking in the details Marnie had drawn and relaying them to those who could not. “My sources found contracts for nearly a thousand crew members, and the ship itself has over a hundred and twenty cannons.”

A low, fervent murmur spread throughout the crowd gathered before them. No ship of this caliber had ever existed before, the sheer power in a war vessel of that magnitude nearly unfathomable.

Piers wrapped his arm more firmly around his sister when she pressed closer to his side. It had been a long time since he had last seen her this shaken, and it made him nervous.

Leviathan,” Raihan muttered incredulously. “The nerve of naming some human-made ship after an actual creature of the deep…”

“What’s more, Leviathan has a fleet with her as we’d feared. The King has unleashed the full might of his Navy. His people are all well-trained, but there is another Captain besides Leon we will need to be wary of. Her name is Oleana, though I was unable to find out much beyond that. Combin’ through the Wyndon archives proved fruitless on further information about her, but it’s apparently accepted in their circles that while she isn’t as effective a leader in combat as Captain Leon, she is twice as ruthless.”

“And she is an unknown entity,” Kabu said gravely as they all sat down. “I never heard of her during my time in the King’s service, which means we will need to proceed with caution when we encounter her in battle. The King doesn’t suffer fools or incompetent leaders lightly. She will be a force to be reckoned with.”

“There’s not yet a price on our heads beyond what already exists, but the command will come soon enough. I imagine he’ll be testin’ us first, to see where we stand and if he can manage to pick us off bit by bit rather than all at once. He’s been fashionin’ his initial tactics after old fae strategies, though I’ve not seen ship configurations quite like those before.”

“Which, speaking of, what news from the Court, Captain?” Melony asked, and the murmurs grew louder. If the fae chose to be involved…

Marnie’s hands balled into fists at her sides.

“We’ll not be findin’ help in those quarters,” she hissed angrily. “I spent nearly a month tryin’ to convince them otherwise, that the threat was large enough to start gatherin’ their forces now. I was no closer to success by the end of it than I was at the beginning.”

The room was silent for a long while.

“In better news, your sister sends her love,” Marnie said quietly to Piers, a small smile on her face. “She is well.”

The ache in his heart was a bittersweet one, and he grinned down at her. “Aye, I know it, since she’s right here next to me.”

Marnie turned her face into his chest, and Piers hoped the meeting would not be so drawn out today. Her time at Court always left her uncertain of her welcome here, and it never failed to break his heart to think that she had spent even a moment worrying that he would ever see her as something less than the most precious person in his world.

“You did what you could,” Bea said softly, and Marnie nodded. “It will be alright. Let’s not think of what we are missing and think instead of what we have. Guzma, your territories are the furthest out. They won’t consider venturing that far unless they have already decimated the rest of us first. What say you to making Shadeland a haven port? I would feel better if the settlements could flee there should anything happen to them.”

“Aye,” Guzma said eagerly. “Not nearly enough room for everyone to stay much past a few months without resources startin’ to get too thin, but I’ll not deny anyone their refuge or passage to the other islands. How will they get there, though? Dividin’ our ships just in case of a land attack seems like cursin’ our own chances ahead of time.”

“I agree,” Raihan said. “We will need to be at full force in order to stand a chance at countering that many ships. We’re already too heavily outnumbered to not have every vessel at our disposal. Opal, your skills in deep magiks are second to none. Is it possible to keep the fight to the waters?”

Opal hummed thoughtfully. “If the King’s son has the powers that Marnie suspects, then it is unlikely. But we might erect barriers to the settlements to buy us some time. They will be focusing on our fleet first and foremost. If Morelull is lost to the fight and I yet live, I will turn my attentions to fortifying our lands.”

“I propose Circhester turn its industry to weapons and ship repair as much as possible, and if the Admiral agrees, Motostoke ought to be our place to gather until it’s safe to be this close to Wyndon again,” Gordon said, to which Kabu nodded.

“I was about to request the same. Raihan?”

“Agreed. Piers, will you allow Gordon to carry what’s left of Spikemuth’s archives to Circhester? They will need it in order to create weapons that can counter the non-human threats we might face.”

Piers sucked in a sharp breath. It would be necessary, but the thought of what remained of his home being moved across open waters, where anything could happen to them…

“I’ll allow it,” he said haltingly. The understanding on his lover’s face helped. “I trust Gordon and Melony’s abilities to wield that knowledge well.”

His friend smiled at him in thanks, a hand over his heart. “Aye, and it’s our privilege and honor to carry on the legacy of our lost sister-city. We’ll guard her wisdom to the last.”

“You have my thanks,” Piers said quietly, Marnie echoing his words. “For provisions, I suggest we work our way back settlement to settlement. If one should fall, we take what we can to the next port and go from there. Make them work for everythin’ and bring them further and further from the capitol until they can’t justify the fight. We can’t hope to match them directly, but if we can drain them enough to make his people take notice they’ll start makin’ noise. And if we make the investors of war unwillin’ to spend anythin’ else, we might yet live.”

“Aye, but how do we plan on dealing with Leon then? There’s no way we’ll be able to go up against a ship like that without all of us at once, never mind that he’ll have other vessels around him. Lest he gets himself lost from the pack,” Bea snickered.

“Not so far fetched to hope for that outcome,” Gordon agreed with a smirk. “But Raihan, what do you think? You’re the only one of us without a sunken ship or more after facin’ off against him.”

Raihan glanced at Piers, and the pirate nodded. They were in agreement that Leon’s life might take priority among some things if they could manage to spare it, but should it come to it, his life was forfeit before any of the ones present in this Hall. This was no longer a game of catch and run.

This would be war.

“I think our focus should not be on defeating him in battle. Instead, we need to sabotage his leadership. A ship is no stronger than her crew and her Captain. If we can make the Navy doubt Leon’s ability to lead them, there is a chance he will no longer have possession of Leviathan. If we cannot accomplish that, then I wish to propose a capture effort. Let the record show this. I am willing to dig deep into the treasures of Hammerlocke for whoever manages to bring him in alive,” Raihan said, and the room immediately buzzed with interest and excitement.

Piers reached out to take the dragon’s hand beneath the table.

“All in favor?” Kabu asked, and Piers was grateful there were no further questions on the matter.

With the vote in their favor, the Lords moved on to other matters. Only time would tell if this new threat was one they would need to make further decisions on, and their own disputes and questions would need to take precedent now.

Piers sighed and settled in. Just one day at a time, he reminded himself. You have enough of them.

Sometimes it was easier to say than to live by.

 

/////

 

“She misses you,” Marnie said abruptly as they walked arm in arm down the halls. As the fortress cleared and readied itself for their last night together in Hammerlocke, Raihan had gently kissed his forehead and told him he’d be staying to help answer questions left over from the day.

“She needs her brother right now. Come find me when you’re ready, I’ll be around.”

It didn’t often take this long, but he had enjoyed her enthusiastic—for her generally serious demeanor, anyways—storytelling while it had lasted.

“She doesn’t know me,” Piers replied, laughing when she frowned at him. “Well, it’s true.”

“She knows you because I do,” Marnie disagreed, and Piers felt like he might burst from how much he’d missed being able to see her whenever they pleased. He was proud of her, of the tales he would hear of her adventures and the way people respected her as a Captain.

It didn’t change that he missed her presence on his ship like a phantom limb.

“Aye, but you’ve always seen me as more than I am.”

“No, you’ve just never been able to see yourself as you are,” she countered with a smirk. “And you’re one to talk. Everywhere I go it’s ‘oh darlin’ Captain Marnie, but your brother was here not a fortnight past and told us all about you!’” Her smile was…brittle. Ah, the storm was already here, then.

“Am I not allowed to be proud of my wee bairn of a sister for growin’ into a bonnie fierce Captain?”

“Course you are, but I’m just as free to say the same of you. And she’s allowed to feel that as well! Why do you always insist on denyin’ that you miss her too?”

Her tears were starting to well over and Piers couldn’t stand it. He bloody hated when she went to Court. He pulled her into his arms and held her tight, wishing he could be better at words when she needed him to be. Her arms were stronger than his own, the strength of a place beyond the here and now always running through her.

“I don’t deny it,” he said, cursing the unsteadiness of his voice. “I miss her constantly. I’ll never get to see who she’s become, never get to hold her like this and tell her I love her without it bein’ from someone else’s mouth.” He leaned back and took her face up in his hands, brushing her tears away. “But why is it you think my heart isn’t big enough to hold you both?”

“Sometimes I don’t even know how you can stand to look at me!” She yelled, and Piers stepped back with a sharp breath.

“What?”

“Look at me, Piers! I’m livin’ in the skin of someone you love. I get to come and go and do as I please while you’re both trapped, never to see each other again! I could vanish tomorrow and go back to the Court if I wanted, and then what? What would you have givin’ up everythin’ for, hm? Your parents, your sister, your home, your freedom to choose someone other than Raihan, hell practically your whole life—what would be the point? All I’ve ever done is stolen from you, and I couldn’t even secure the help we would need to stand a chance at survivin’ whatever that bastard is about to throw at us! I—I—”

Her tears were anathema to everything in him, and Piers stumbled forward to gather her close again, unwilling to listen to a second more.

“Marnie, Marnie, stop!” He begged, and it only made her sob harder. “Mo phiuthar, you are the point. Held your tiny little self in my arms and there hasn’t been a moment since I’ve regretted when it came to protectin’ you.  It was the most selfish choice I ever made, choosin’ her livin’ over her freedom and the course your life would take. You stole nothin’ from me, it’s exactly the opposite. If things were different, I’d have never seen her again anyways. But instead, I get to go through my days knowin’ that she’s alive and happy, even if I can’t see her. That would have been enough, but then I got to have you in my life and I wouldn’t trade you for anythin’. Do you hear me? Not one single thing.”

“But—”

“Marnie,” Piers said, looking her in the eyes, needing her to understand. “Not one. Single. Thing. You are my sister, my family. I would let Spikemuth burn a thousand times over if it meant savin’ you. We don’t need the rest of the fae if they’re not willin’ to see reason. The most important one is already here. The King can try and hurt you over my and Raihan’s cold, dead bodies.”

Her tears were starting to slow, and he leaned their foreheads together. He waited until she closed her eyes before he did the same.

“Without hesitation,” he said firmly. “Don’t think of her and worry that she could ever take your place, because she can’t. I love you both, wholly and separately. You are not her, and she is not you. If you can, remember that she is your sister as well. Someone who loves you and is beyond delighted when you go to visit her.” A sudden vision of her smile filled his mind and he bit his lip against his own tears. “See? You already know it. Look how happy you made her. That’s how I feel when I see you, too, and when I see her through you. How can you think you are anythin’ less than perfect to me?”

“M’not,” she mumbled. “Couldn’t even get my own people to—”

“What the fae choose to do is not on your head.”

“But if he has a dragon, we’ll need them!”

Piers smiled. “Spikemuth’s knowledge remains with those of us who still live. I think the Court will join us sooner than they expect, but even if they don’t, we still have a fightin’ chance. And don’t forget, we have a dragon of our own, and one who shares my feelings on makin’ sure you make it out of this alive.”

“And who will ensure you do the same? Do you think I could ever accept an outcome that sees me havin’ to mourn you?”

“Good thing I have a particularly cunning and resourceful sister to keep an eye on me, hm?”

She frowned at him and he snickered, glad to see the stubborn set of her jaw rather than the defeat that had emanated from her.

“You can’t possibly mean to have me sail with you again. Not after you’ve finally convinced Raihan to do the same.”

“Not necessarily on Stormbreaker, but The Whisper is exactly the type of ship we’ll need for reconnaissance, if you were so inclined as to join our venture,” he said, watching her eyes soften and a tiny smile quirk her lips. “Raihan and I already discussed the possibility.”

“Really?”

“Wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t hopin’ you’d say ‘yes’. I’m always in favor of any plan that has us workin’ together. And I know a certain Quartermaster who’ll be keen on havin’ you within quick reach,” he said nonchalantly, unable to keep a stoic face when she blushed to the roots of her hair.

“One kiss does not a hearth make,” she quoted firmly, and he laughed.

“Aye, though it’s certainly more to go on than a retribution bond.”

Marnie swiped the last of her tears away and took his arm once more. “I suppose. But you’re happy now? I’ve been waitin’ for you two to finally understand each other for so long. It was hell watchin’ you both dance around each other.”

 He hesitated, and she looked up at him, concerned.

“Piers?”

“I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” he admitted quietly. “I’m just…not very good at not waitin’ for the sword to fall. It’s often when I start thinkin’ that I might have somethin’ forever that it gets ripped away. Life putting me in my place, I suppose.”

“What are you most afraid of with him?”

He let out a startled burst of laughter. “Bit like invitin’ the worst, isn’t it?”

She hummed thoughtfully. “Not necessarily. Gives it less power, like…like when I need to hear you say that you still love me even though I should already know it. And do already know it. It’s just easy to forget sometimes if I let myself keep it in my head for too long.”

He rested his head on top of hers. “Too wise for your own damn good, I say.”

“Is it that you think he’ll get killed?”

He shook his head, suddenly realizing they had started to wander back around towards the Hall unconsciously. His North was always Raihan.

“I do worry about that, but I also trust his ability to protect himself, and in my ability to protect him as well. It’s…” He ran a hand through his hair. “What if while we’re out there together, he grows bored of me? Or worse, if the things he likes about me begin to annoy him?”

“You could just as easily turn that around. Do you think it’s somethin’ he worries about, too?”

“I…” They stepped back into the Hall and he watched as Raihan laughed at something Victor was saying. The dragon suddenly looked up and caught his eye, a bright, toothy smile stealing his breath when the other waved at him and sent him an inquisitive look to see if it was alright to wander over. Fuck, but his smile never failed to make Piers weak.

“He’s so in love with you,” Marnie murmured. “Chances are you’re both worryin’ about the same thing. Talk to him about it. At least then he’ll be able to do for you what you did for me. Don’t think I can stand another bout of you passin’ each other like ships in the night.”

“And you’ll be takin’ your own advice with Gloria?” He asked slyly, and to his surprise, she giggled and shrugged.

“I will if you will.”

“A deal then, let the record show it and all,” he agreed, and she wrapped her arms around him for another embrace as Raihan came over to stand beside them.

“Captain,” he said jovially to Marnie, and she smiled.

“Captain.”

“How are my two favorite people?”

“We saw you hardly an hour past,” Piers said incredulously.

“Lot can change in that time,” Raihan said seriously, catching Marnie’s eye and holding his arms out in offer. She stepped into them and Piers thought his heat might beat its way out of his chest when she gave a contented sigh and leaned against the dragon. “You two alright?”

“Aye,” they both said in unison, making him grin.

“Good. Will The Whisper raise anchor with us when we set sail tomorrow?”

Marnie looked at them both for a while, before nodding. “Barring the absolute distaste for the idea from my crew, she will. I’ve missed you both.”

Raihan let out a shout of victory and she swatted his arm. “Don’t let it go to your head. I have to see about a lass.”

“Wouldn’t happen to be a certain Quartermaster would it?”

Marnie shot a withering look at her brother. “Does everyone know my business?”

I didn’t say anythin’, you are obvious. Kissin’ a bonnie lass in front of four ships worth of crews will, in fact, set tongues waggin’.”

Marnie snorted inelegantly and glanced over to where Gloria was hurriedly looking away, a pretty flush on her dark skin, a matching one on Marnie’s cheeks. “Well, that’s encouragin’ at least. Thought I might have been a passin’ fancy.”

Raihan nudged her shoulder. “No sense standing here talking to us when you could be in fairer company. We’ll see you when the dancing starts. Ten crowns says we’re the better dancers by far.”

Marnie’s eyes gleamed with mirth. “Did you forget what I am?”

“Not at all. Fae or not, there’s a reason I keep getting invited back to Court,” Raihan said smugly.

“I can almost guarantee it’s because you’re among the only species who can appreciate our food, not for your skills in dance.”

Raihan mock staggered to his knees, clutching his chest and Marnie laughed as she strode off towards Gloria, the Quartermaster looking beyond pleased at the attention.

“Your sister is merciless,” Raihan chuckled, leaning into Piers’ hand when he pushed them through his locs.

“She is,” Piers said proudly, bending down to kiss his lover on the forehead. “Up with you, your wounds aren’t so grave that you can’t come sit with me awhile for a drink before tonight’s festivities.”

Raihan beamed at him and got to his feet, tangling their fingers together. “I know a place.”

“Lead on, love.”

 

/////

 

Piers sighed softly when Raihan pulled him into another alley to kiss him senseless, the rum making his head swim pleasantly. “We’ll never make it back if you keep distractin’ us,” he chided without any real force.

Raihan leaned in to kiss his neck, a hum of acknowledgement tickling against his skin.

“Can’t get enough of you,” Raihan murmured, raising the pirate’s hand to his lips and kissing the back of it. “Tonight is going to be torture, holding you close when we dance and not being able to be skin to skin with you when we’re done.”

“Tell me what you’ll do when you have me aboard Stormbreaker,” Piers whispered, resting his head back against the wall, closing his eyes when Raihan came back up to kiss the side of his face. “When the night falls tomorrow and I come to your bed.”

Raihan took in a sharp breath and shook his head. “Not unless you’re planning on not making it back to the Hall tonight.”

“Temptin’.”

Raihan laughed breathlessly and captured his mouth in another kiss, this one gentle and slow. When they parted, Piers let his fingers wrap around Raihan’s necklaces as he leaned against the dragon’s chest.

“Then tell me somethin’ else,” he said quietly. “When we misunderstand each other, or disagree, what will you do?”

“Do?” Raihan asked, the confusion apparent in his voice.

“If I give a command you don’t like, or say somethin’ that angers you, what will happen afterwards?”

Raihan was silent for a long while, thinking the question over and swaying them side to side.

“Well, I suppose if it’s in the middle of a battle, we’ll have to be quick on our feet and do our best to get out alive. After though, we’d talk, wouldn’t we? Try to figure out what went wrong and apologize and try to avoid saying or doing those things in the future? That’s the human way, isn’t it? Am I missing something? What else is there to do?”

“What would the dragon way be?”

Raihan snorted. “Dragons hardly speak to each other enough to get angry at each other, and if it’s over gold then it usually ends with blood, but that’s different. If a dragon gravely insults another, they’ll likely never speak to each other again. The world is large enough, they can avoid each other if they feel so strongly about whatever was said. Or the feud might die off in a few centuries, you never know.”

Piers’ stomach roiled to think of it.

“So they just…leave.”

Raihan’s hands framed his face and tilted it to look him in the eyes. “Ah, I see. You asked what dragons do, not what you and I do.”

“Are they different?”

“Did you think about leaving when I said those careless things on the first night?”

Piers shook his head.

“Why?”

“Because I love you,” Piers said immediately. “Knew you’d apologize and mean it if I let you. And I know your heart holds nothin’ malicious in the first place, even if you don’t always think before speakin.”

“And are you exempt from that?”

“Course not, I say dumb shite all the time!”

Raihan grinned and flicked his nose. “Then what’s the conclusion you draw from all that?”

Piers looked over the dragon’s expression for a moment before he sighed and tilted his head up for a kiss, letting the relief spread through him.

“That you’ll do the same for me,” he answered when Raihan’s tongue slipped from his mouth. “And we’ll talk about it.”

Raihan brushed their noses together. “Won’t always be perfect at it, but I like the human way for this.”

“Begs the question, what’s somethin’ you prefer your way?” Piers asked, tugging on one of Raihan’s locs.

Raihan leered at him and Piers rolled his eyes. “Besides that, you beastie!”

He loved to hear his dragon laugh so freely, his voice joining the general din of the streets as people went about their lives, uncaring of the two of them hidden away here, laying out fears and assurances between a tavern and a haberdashery. It was ridiculous of them and everything he’d needed before they set out on this journey together.

“Well, the one I just thought of is related to that, but I’m sure you’re not interested.”

Piers groaned. “M’fraid I’m almost always interested when it comes to you, that’s the bloody problem. Let’s have it, then.”

Raihan suddenly seemed oddly hesitant, his eyes darting away to look out towards the street.

“It’s…when you and I were bonded, it wasn’t exactly…a romantic situation, but usually dragons make a rather big to-do of a first mating. There’s gifts and all the usual fare, but we also bring each other foods from distant places to show how far we will go to provide for our mates. We dance and sing and read to each other to show off our ability to entertain through the endless years. We fly, run, or swim together to display our inherent freedom and unwillingness to be kept from our movement, knowing that we will be apart more often than we are together because of it.”

Raihan’s eyes were hypnotic as they bored into his own, and Piers released a shuddering breath that felt loud compared to the quiet intimacy between them. He parted his legs enough to let Raihan push up close to him, though they both knew they couldn’t linger here much longer. It didn’t matter, the need simmering under his skin went far beyond the physical, into a place where he craved nothing but Raihan’s presence and his eyes on him.

He closed his eyes when Raihan leaned down to run his lips over the pirate’s jaw before crooning in his ear.

“And when it’s water dragons like me, we’ll go to the shallows and lie with each other on the shoals. We change the tides for a time, to suit our moods. We only stop when we can no longer control the waters safely.”

Piers let his eyes ask the question for him, and he shivered when Raihan grinned that beautiful smile at him.

“Days.”

The pirate moaned softly and rubbed his aching cock along Raihan’s leg before he got himself back under control.

“Fuck, we need to leave before I take you here against the wall. Neither of us are in any state to be seen by our companions like this.”

“Aye, but let me ask one thing more.”

Raihan tilted his head and nodded, eyes traveling over Piers’ body when he finally managed to step away from the pirate’s warmth.

“Could we…do all that anyways? I know it isn’t our first, nor can we do everythin’ at once when we’re on the ship, but…” He trailed off at the sheer awe and joy on his lover’s face. “Raihan?”

“You would want to share that with me? Even though it won’t be nearly as perfect or complete as you deserve?”

Piers kissed his palm. “Of course I would. This is our last night here for a while yet. There will be food gathered with lots of dancin’, and singin’. Let’s start there. I have many a song I can give to you if you’ll have them.”

“My clever mate,” Raihan said softly. “I love you.”

“Tha gaol agam ort,” Piers returned, laughing when they took in the state of the other. “Perhaps we should walk a bit first. And no more dark, hidden places for the two of us tonight.”

“You are absolutely no fun,” Raihan said with a pout, and Piers entwined their fingers as they slipped back out onto the street unnoticed.

“Hm, you’ve put it in my head that I’m owed a bit of wooing. And that I might do the same for you. I promise I can make it entirely worth our while tomorrow night.”

Raihan growled and pinched his side, darting ahead when Piers squawked indignantly and gave chase back to where the music was just beginning to ring out over the city.

The lights of Hammerlocke guided their way.