They don’t stop running until the smell is gone. That sea hag stinks something awful and at some point during their frenzied escape the stench fades, replaced by the usual smells of Bilgewater proper. Fishy, still, but not that fishy.
Graves leans against a wall, heart still thundering in his chest, desperate to catch his breath. Gods he ain’t run like that in a long time, barrelling across slicked docks, cutting corners. His lungs ain’t used to that kinda legwork. T.F. neither. He’s all red in the face and panting like a dog. Staring up at the bright sky like he’s praying for the gods to bless him with more air. His brown hair hangs in his face, mostly undone from the getaway. Graves wouldn’t say anything about it, but he kinda likes it when T.F. looks a little messy. A change of pace, he thinks.
“Well that is uh—” His partner straightens up and sweeps his hair back with one hand. “Enough of that.”
Graves grunts, still regaining his composure. He shares the same sentiment though. Enough of that. He wants to go back to the inn and just put his feet up and be still. Maybe take a midafternoon nap. Spend a gold Kraken on a heavy tankard or two. That’d be nice. He looks around, trying to get his bearings. They’re right behind a butcher shop, hidden between barrels of garbage and rot. Bones and other things people aren’t supposed to swallow. He waves a hand in front of his face and steps out of the alley onto the main drag. Tobias follows, and as the wind changes directions Graves smells his scent. Charcoal fires and humid summer nights. Like a secret evening spent on the banks of a lazy river. If Graves didn’t know it so well he wouldn’t be able to recognize it through the sweat and expensive Piltover cologne.
“So seventy-thirty, huh?” T.F. snarks behind him as they head in the direction of their inn.
“Listen, I saved your ass back there.” He scrapes a speck of dirt off of Destiny’s barrel. Maybe a polish when he gets back to the room instead. “Was compensation.”
“Yeah and I saved both our asses. You heard that witch. Talkin’ bout one thousand years of sufferin’ or whatever else.”
“Missy Fortune tossed you a bone. Otherwise you’da been a sinking ship.”
“And you woulda sunk with me.”
Graves rolls his eyes. That’s how they always go. Talking in circles. “None of it matters anyway. Not like we got her to collect that bounty. A lot of money too.”
T.F. goes quiet. Malcolm thinks he knows him well enough to tell what he’s thinking. Something like imagining all the fancy outfits he could get with his share. Plenty of hats too, maybe even with feathers. But he glances behind him and Graves frowns. There’s something in his look. Something serious. Maybe he’s not thinking about new clothes.
“Anyways I saved you first,” he adds.
T.F. doesn’t respond, pulling the brim of his hat low so Graves can’t see his brown eyes at all. Course Graves is right about all of it. If that redhead hadn’t felt the faintest pity they’d both be who-knows-where experiencing who-knows-what. Even so, Malcolm feels the slightest twinge of guilt. He probably would have split the bounty down the middle eventually. This is just what the two of them do. Bicker and scratch until one of them meets reason or they both find each other under wrinkly bed covers. You have to start high so you can talk em down low after all. Usually T.F. wouldn’t wimp out like this.
He stops and turns around, the hustle and bustle of Bilgewater seamlessly moving around them like a school of fish. “Alright, what is it?”
T.F. is terrible at acting unbothered. Or maybe after all these years Graves can read him better. He’s still annoyingly mysterious but at least the alpha can tell that something is off. “Don’t play with me. I know you’re thinking ‘bout shit. So speak up.”
The man meets his eyes for only a second, then he looks towards the ocean. Now he’s unreadable, but that’s only ‘cause he’s trying really hard. Locking his feelings up behind his poker face. Graves doesn’t think that kinda stuff is particularly healthy. It’s a person’s right to be upset or sad or happy or whatever else they are.
“We hafta meet in the middle. Split things fifty-fifty. That’s the deal,” T.F. says. Shady with the way he works his words, flips them just like his cards.
Graves grits his teeth. A cigar would be nice to bite on right now, “This is what you’re honestly worked up about?” He’d thought that it was their usual banter. They talk shit to each other all the time.
“Naw, Mal I’m serious.” T.F.’s got a gold Kraken weaving its way between his thin fingers. Nervous.
He doesn’t understand where this is coming from. On any usual day this would never be an issue. So what’s changed? Maybe—
“Are you—” He lowers his voice till it’s hushed and husky. “Are you heatin’ soon?”
“Oh—” Tobias’ face flushes with embarrassment. “Dammit, no I ain’t.” He sighs loudly, looking like he’s got a frog in his throat. Graves waits. Gods he wants a smoke.
“I—I’m pregnant,” T.F. admits, low and under his breath.
“You heard me.” The man’s words die as he’s saying them, like he can’t commit to the idea of it either.
Graves blinks. His mouth moves but no words come out, just silence. All of a sudden he stumbles across the wooden road to brace himself against the beaten up wall of a tackle shop. Feeling beyond sea sick, a ship on the roughest waves right after eating a three course meal. T.F. trails behind him, hands jammed in his pockets.
“You ain’t serious.” Graves looks up at him.
“I am,” Tobias croaks.
A strangled groan escapes his throat. Might just cough up onto the docks, right here and now. He focuses on the sound of the wind and the people. The splintering wood beneath his fingers.
“Hold on, hold on,” Graves cuts him off. “I need a minute.”
Eventually his head stops spinning and he straightens up. T.F. stands awkwardly next to him, fidgeting with that coin again. Faster than before.
“Well what’re we gonna do about it?” Graves asks. The question falls like an anchor over the both of them.
“I—I don’t know.” T.F. doesn’t have any quick wit this time. Graves wishes he did. His head spins again and he doubles down against the wall. All that Bilgewater fish stench really isn’t helping in this situation. Thoughts of the future spirals ahead. Admittedly Malcolm doesn’t think farther than next week, but just the idea of a baby fucks everything up. Life would change in more ways than he could possibly imagine. Would they even be able to run around like they do now? There’s no way.
“We can’t have a kid. You see this environment?” He gestures around them. “Gonna grow up with stink and filth no matter where we go. How are we s’posed to be on the run with a kid?”
The other man sighs again. Remarkably calm, given the situation. “Too late for that, not like I can undo it.”
Graves flattens his fingers over his mustache. He whirls to face him. “How long have you known, Tobias?”
“That ain’t my name no more.”
“How long, Tobias.”
T.F. looks up at the sky. “A couple weeks I reckon.”
He thinks back. That does seem to check out, certainly. “You didn’t tell me sooner?” He wouldn’t admit it but Graves is perhaps a little hurt. Suddenly the world feels so out of his control.
“Idiot—what difference would it have made?” T.F. crosses his arms. Upset. He’s actually upset. A pretty rare occurrence, Graves thinks.
“Well I reckon it’s more the significance of it,” he huffs. “If I’d have known we could have skipped this whole racket!”
With a scoff, T.F. turns his back to him. “I didn’t want to skip it.”
“Yeah well I don’t want a kid.”
A card is in Tobias’ hand now, practically pulled from thin air or his sleeve. It flashes blue. “Get your head outta your ass, Malcolm,” he snaps, sounding sharper than any harpoon. With a gleam of light he disappears.
For a few more minutes Graves stands there. He doesn’t expect Tobias to come back but he’s still processing everything. Pregnant. What a fucking mess. Eventually he starts off, legs aching, to the inn. Those Krakens won’t spend themselves.
Halfway through his first tankard he loses interest. It’s so easy to get used to drinking with someone. Graves nurses his mug sourly and puffs on his cigar. In the moment he often gets caught up being angry. All worked up that he can’t always think straight. Now almost an hour and a half later he runs their fight through his head. A fight. It’s weird thinking that. Sure they always argue but it’s all good fun. Nothing like a little bickering to get the blood pumping. Keeps the mind fresh.
Looking back, maybe he handled that poorly. The smoke’s helping his head clear. He’d initially interpreted Tobias’ announcement as a secret that’d been purposefully kept from him, which it was, but—maybe it’d been kept under wraps not because of nefarious purposes or spite. T.F. probably hadn’t known how to approach the situation. For all his gaudy words and clothes he’s certainly a bastard when it comes to talking about his own important shit. Malcolm shakes his head to himself.
My fault, he thinks, though it’ll be a year before he’ll ever say that aloud, especially to someone as smug as T.F. He’s always smug, that rat. Got some ace up his sleeve or in the brim of his hat. Graves pictures his face. He certainly knows it well. Narrow cheeks and a hawkish brow. A fox’s smile. Eyes often light up when pulling a con or when they’re alone. Always masks his scent with—
Tankard momentarily forgotten, Graves peers across the bar as the ocean breeze ushers in someone new. His excitement is quickly replaced by disappointment. Not him. Just some brass-buttoned nobody that also happens to use Piltover perfume.
He turns back to his drink, chews on the end of his cigar.
“Shit,” he finally mutters under his breath, tosses a coin to the barkeep, and leaves.
The saying in Bilgewater is “The higher you climb, the less likely you are to drown.” Using that logic then, the easiest way to find T.F. is to go up. The inn they’re laying low at is already located in one of the fancier districts (some jobs really do pay a pretty penny), so that at least leaves Graves less walking to do. He wanders across the cascading walkways and scaffolding, patchwork pathways winding farther and farther up, searching for that familiar hat.
Daylight quickly fades into darkness as he looks, frustration ebbing into desperation. Finally he stops in one of the highest districts above Butcher’s Bridge. His feet ache. Lanterns are turning on across the harbor and as he looks at the dark smudge of land across the water it begins to shine with tiny lights. He’s missed this part of Bilgewater. Looks like rows of stars.
As he turns back to his quest, a glimmer of blue is caught on the edges of his vision. Graves almost dismisses it as a trick of the light until it happens again. He quickly pinpoints the location. Several stories above him a lonely bridge threads a row of side shops together. Malcolm can see someone sitting on the edge of the sturdy wood, a shadow were it not for the blue light.
Right. More walking then. He hurries through the dwindling crowd, following the serpentine paths through the port. As Graves gets closer he confirms his suspicions. That hat. It’s certainly him. The cologne too. Tobias is flipping one of his cards and every time he does it sparks blue.
He stops turning it as Graves approaches, which is the only sign that T.F. knows he’s there. The card rests tightly between two fingers like a threat of escape. He’s always been good at running away, Graves knows that bitterly.
“Y’know how bad my legs are killin’ me?” He speaks up. “I won’t be runnin’ for a year.”
“Oh.” T.F. doesn’t look at him so Graves sits down heavily next to him, letting his legs dangle over the side of the bridge.
“Worried the sea witch found you,” he hurries to fill the silence. It’s never this uncomfortable. “Ain’t as much fun drinking by myself.”
“You’ll have to get used to it,” T.F. says coldly.
It takes Graves a moment to understand what he means, and once he does he really wishes he’d chosen his words better. He’s not as good with words as Tobias is. Most of the time he just says the first thing that comes into his head. Malcolm blows a puff of smoke out over the harbor. His cigar doesn't have much time left in it. T.F. really is mad . He can tell because when they’d just started scheming together he’d get the same way. All cold shouldered and hard to pin down. More slippery than a fangmouthed eel. Graves actually has to fix this. Messed up real bad.
He sighs low under his breath. “I thought about what happened. Sounded like a selfish prick, huh?”
T.F. glances at him. “Sure did.” He flips his card and it glints. Graves is disastrous at apologies, and from the look he’s being given Tobias wants him to suffer. But they both know that’s the best apology he’ll come up with.
“I don’t know what to do,” Graves confesses, leaving all pretenses of confidence and indignation behind.
The omega ducks his head, one hand holding his hat on the off chance the wind picks up. “Me either.” He sounds miserable. For a couple seconds Malcolm lets the silence sit, dismal and unhappy, as he racks his brain trying to work out what to say. Nothing sounds right in his head. Every sentence is too coarse and heavy handed.
“Aw hell,” he grumbles after a while, giving up. “We’ve got time, we’ll figure it out.”
“We can’t just ‘figure it out’ it’s a baby—”
“So what if it’s a baby?” He nudges him with his shoulder. “We could just lay low for a while, or stock up with some backup coin, or—somethin.’ I don’t know yet. Somethin’.”
T.F. nods slowly. “Something.”
“Point is we can figure it out.” Graves stands up, muscles aching in protest. “Always do.” He offers a hand to Tobias. A second later, T.F.’s thin fingers fit around his own.
He really is bad at apologies. That kind of thing lies outside of Graves’ realm of talents. When T.F. plucks the cigar out of his mouth and kisses him as he’s unlocking the door to their room he sees the opportunity to do him right. Tobias’ lips taste familiar. It’s always been a constant through the years of knowing each other. Malcolm’s memorized the way they feel, the right way to bite his bottom lip to really get him going. When the door unlocks they stumble inside, a clumsy mess of skin. Graves bangs his shin on the tiny end table and he swears, breaking away from their kiss. T.F.’s eyes glitter warmly at him.
“I reckon,” he says with a crooked smile as Graves reaches to take his cigar. “That there’s other ways to keep your mouth full.”
Graves raises an eyebrow, watching as his partner sits on the bed and pulls off his boots. “You take one bath a week and think you’re hot shit.” But he rips off his cloak and gets to work on his own clothes, just as eager.
He wastes no time finding himself between Tobias’ legs. The man’s all leg, as tall as he is, but Graves is more interested in what’s between them. T.F.’s cock stands pink and flushed, and beneath that his front hole invites him for a closer look. Making sure Tobias is watching, Graves pops two fingers into his mouth before reaching down to explore. Well, explore isn’t the right word. Graves already knows this territory well. He knows the best angle to make Tobias flinch. The best way to wrap his mouth around his cock so that his voice breaks.
And it does. His omega chokes out his name (that’s something Graves never tires of hearing) as he pistons two fingers into his hole. The sounds he makes are unabashedly scandalous but Graves could care less about whoever’s staying in the rooms next to theirs.
“Mm—” Tobias struggles to speak. Graves thinks that's another thing he always enjoys about this. His silver tongue just doesn’t work when Malcolm’s mouth is wrapped around his cock. When something’s stuffed inside him.
“M-Mal—” T.F. groans and Graves watches with satisfaction as his hands claw at the bedcovers, muscles rigid. He clenches around his fingers and Graves knows for sure he’s still got it. His cock throbs uncomfortably in his briefs, and his knees hurt.
He yanks off his underwear and climbs onto the bed over him, a self-assured grin on his face, bottom of his beard glistening wet. “Can’t talk too good, huh?”
Tobias shoots him a look like he’s trying to be annoyed but it’s hard to pull that off when his face is flushed the way it is. He shimmies over a little, letting Graves between his legs once more.
“Least you can’t get pregnant twice.” His joke is rewarded by the man’s heel knocking gently into his back.
“Just rail me already.”
Graves chuckles, rubbing up his cock with T.F’s slick. He really is ass at apologies, but when he pushes inside, (Tobias gasping, humming at the fullness) he means sorry. Explains it in the way that he fucks him, rubbing circles into T.F’s hips as they move, rocking him harder than any boat on the waves. Tobias comes one more time before he does, but that’s all Graves needs to feel around his dick for his knot to really swell. He pulls out and taps his hip. The omega quickly turns over, clambering onto his hands and knees so that Malcolm might fill him again.
Graves kisses the back of his shoulder when he comes, knot popping, almost unbearably tight. He grits his teeth and T.F. moans, hips trembling. Slowly they reposition on the bed, Tobias’ back to his front. He can really smell it—the fancy cologne can’t block Tobias’ scent. Not this close. Not from someone who knows it this well. Like a river. Graves can’t explain it, just knows it. A campfire at a creek somewhere, during the middle of summer.
He presses his palm over Tobias’s flat stomach. A kid. A fuckin’ kid.
“We split this one fifty-fifty,” T.F. speaks up, unexpectedly serious. As if he knows what Malcolm is thinking.
Any other time Graves would joke. Maybe say “Sixty-forty” and then haggle it back. But right now he knows it’s not the time. This isn’t some job or reward. Ain’t no busywork. This is a whole new adventure, whether they want to embark on it or not.
“Deal.” He sees the tension leave Tobias’ shoulders. “Fifty-fifty.”