Commodore Hugo Melançon has evaded the laws of men and forsaken the oaths of gods, but there’s one thing he’s never managed to outrun:
It’s his last coherent thought as storm-touched waters thrash him about, erratic current tugging him in any and every direction at once. The ocean saps the warmth from him until he carries a chill in his lungs, his teeth, his very bones. Lightning flashes and illuminates his surroundings for the space of a blink despite the depths to which he’s sank. Thunder shatters the night, though between the deafening roar of the churning sea and the blood in his ears, Hugo barely registers the sound.
There’s a delicious irony in the situation that he’d appreciate if he weren’t halfway to death by drowning.
His lungs go from frostbite to flame. Animal panic sets in, spurring him to one last frantic effort to swim toward the surface, to taste the sweet nectar of air that consumes his thoughts. The privateer uniform Hugo spends so much time maintaining now bogs him down, tapered jacket and billowy slops heavy with water and hampering his efforts, sword at his waist like an anchor. He sees the bottom of L’Amarante like the belly of a whale above him—impossibly out of reach, yet close enough to bear witness to his death. As he watches, a final tidal wave fractures the ship in one massive blow, the hull cracked open like a nut. When Hugo exhales the last of his air in a pathetic stream of bubbles, it provides one glorious second of relief to mitigate his hopelessness.
The relief doesn’t last.
Water slips like a silken knife into his mouth and lungs. Hugo imagines the Fury herself gripping his throat in her icy hands as his body rebels, damning him even as it tries to save him. Blackness creeps at the edges of his vision, and were he capable of praying, he’d pray to any god who would listen to make his suffering stop.
In the last seconds before unconsciousness claims him, he hears (or hallucinates) a voice he once knew as intimately as a lover:
We’re not finished with you yet.
Furysworn Gabriel Berthelot, Captain of the Screaming Squall and scourge of the imperial navy and unsuspecting merchant vessels alike, has a technical expression for situations like this. Shading his eyes from the sun with one broad, calloused hand as he scours the horizon for any sign of his ship, he decides it’s high time to make it official.
“I’m fucked six ways to sundown.”
Granted, coming to the Unchartable Leagues hadn’t been his first choice. Or his second. Or his eighteenth. In fact, it hadn’t made the list at all. But when Xeheia says jump, Gabriel asks how high, and in this case ‘jump’ meant ‘search for an ancient cache of treasure including a magical relic I want you to reclaim’. He’d come prepared for a long trip and all sorts of opposition.
What Gabriel hadn’t come prepared for was a cursed island that stymied all of his attempts to leave.
As far as uninhabited islands to be stranded on, it was pretty luxe… y’know, except for the whole magically cursed part. The white sand transitioned to fertile soil with mountainous clusters of rock and stretched far enough that Gabriel wasn’t actually sure if he’d explored every nook and cranny yet. Copses of trees formed tall emerald clusters in the center of the island and provided wood, bedding, shade, and something to look at aside from the endless stretch of sapphire ocean in every direction. A convenient oasis of freshwater provided by geography and frequent rains meant he wouldn’t die an excruciating death by dehydration, and the foraging prospects would supplement his rations nicely until his ship arrived.
If his ship arrived.
The plan had been for the Squall to return for Gabriel after three days regardless of his success in finding the aforementioned treasure and relics. Though other members of his crew were acolytes to the Watcher of the Fathomless Depths in addition to fearsome pirates in their own right, only Gabriel himself was Furysworn and able to set foot on the island. When he’d attempted to bring backup they’d fled in screaming, preternatural terror as soon as they exited the rowboat and stepped on the isle’s surface.
Yeah, yeah, he knows how it sounds in retrospect. Not his brightest idea.
Still, he didn’t get to be captain of one of the most infamous ships sailing the Fourfold Seas without an enterprising—or ruthless and stubborn if you were feeling less charitable—nature. Gabriel crosses the low tide sand until he comes to a fallen tree trunk, its surface marred by the tell-tale forks of lightning, and takes a seat. His hands go to the string of shells, bones, and beads draped across his bare chest, fingers grasping it near his collarbone as he begins to work his way down, praying by rote as he goes. A strong breeze coasts across the island and brings sweet relief from the still, humid air, tousling flyaway hairs freed from his braid and black leather vest alike.
It’s unlike his first mate to get lost, so Gabriel assumes the same forces trapping him here are preventing the Squall from finding the island again. He’s cast off in his rowboat and ended up right back where he started enough times to stop trying at all. The signal fire he maintains sends up thick plumes of smoke, so no need to add more fuel to it at the moment. As he worries at the familiar shapes of his necklace, Gabriel unfocuses his gaze, taking the first steps towards communion with his patron. So far, Xeheia seems disinclined to answer his metaphorical knocks on her door, but he’s running out of options.
Gabriel gets about halfway down the strand and into his trance before a noise jolts him back to the searing sun and rolling waves of the present: a rustling sound he immediately recognizes as a blade hacking its way through the island’s shockingly dense foliage.
He’s not as utterly alone as he thought.
He springs to his feet and draws his cutlass from the leather sheath at his belt in one smooth motion. Though he’s a large man in every sense of the word, Gabriel knows how to take advantage of his stride and reach, and he does just that as he heads toward the source of the noise. It’s not hard to pin down, especially when Gabriel catches sight of the unnatural movement at the edges of the trees to his left. Adrenaline and tension wind him tighter than a furled sail. Eight paces are all that stand between him and the possible threat. He doesn’t know who or what to expect—only hopes it can meet a swift end on the edge of his blade.
The man… and it is a man, as far as Gabriel can tell… who emerges from the vegetation is the absolute last person in all the known world he expected to see:
Hugo fucking Melançon.
Shock and confusion muffle the pending shriek of Gabriel’s rage at the mere thought of Hugo’s name. Stunned, he stares as he struggles to piece together both the situation and the monumental odds against it. Is he in the late stages of heat stroke, somehow? Has some unknown, hallucination-causing parasite infected him? Even on a cursed, deserted island, utterly isolated from the rest of the world, Hugo manages to look put together—though he’s as worse for the wear as Gabriel has ever seen him. Granted, it has been almost five whole years, so maybe the stick Hugo habitually shoves up his traitorous ass has finally started to take its toll. Or maybe his mysteriously afflicted mind is generously conjuring a dishevelled, haggard Hugo to soothe his ego.
When their eyes lock across the sand, a vise squeezes around Gabriel’s heart. Even from this distance, the pure sea green of Hugo’s eyes shines like a beacon in the late afternoon sun. There’s a generous amount of grey in his dark brown stubble and spattered at his temples, and the worry lines around his mouth and forehead are deeper than Gabriel remembers. (He wishes to the seven hells he didn’t remember those details at all). His rumpled uniform—in a cut and colour he can’t place, which is a point for maybe this not being imaginary after all—still fits him like a godsdamn glove, deep crimson coat accentuating his lean musculature.
Most surprising of all, Hugo looks as shocked as Gabriel feels. He lowers the tip of his precious officer’s sword, golden basket guard flashing in the sun, thick brows furrowed.
The nickname breaks the spell on Gabriel. How dare he have the utter audacity to let the single, intimate syllable fall from his lips after his betrayal nearly cost Gabriel his life? He swore if he ever crossed paths with the son of a bitch named Hugo Melançon again, he’d make him pay.
No time like the present.
Gabriel lunges towards Hugo with a snarl, cutlass swinging through the air. It only takes a single stride beyond the first movement to bring him within reach. Metal on metal rings out as Hugo expertly parries the strike, nearly disarming Gabriel altogether with a dexterous slide and flick of his wrist. Shit, Gabriel had forgotten how fast Hugo is—once upon a time, it had made them a good pair, their respective strength and speed positioning them as vanguard of most boarding parties. But that was then, and this is now, and in the now Gabriel lets white hot rage sear through him like the lightning his goddess commands. Power surges in his limbs, and he bares his teeth in a frenzied grimace as he drives Hugo steadily back toward the ocean, keeping him on the defensive.
“You!” Gabriel roars. He slaps Hugo’s thinner, razor sharp blade away with an inelegant but effective chop.
“You’ve—” Hugo falters as he’s forced make a nimble sidestep and avoid being eviscerated, drawing a frustrated growl from Gabriel. “You’ve lost whatever modicum of good sense you still possess.”
Gabriel makes an angry, overhead chop which Hugo blocks with the fanciful but effective basket guard. His chest heaves as he struggles to find enough air, fury stealing the breath from his lungs. “Nah, you’ve got it twisted, mate. This is the smartest thing I’ve done in a long time.”
“Ah, yes,” Hugo snaps, taking a dangerous step inside Gabriel’s guard. Before he can seize the opening, Hugo flips the point of his blade up toward Gabriel’s face and nearly takes an eye with it. “You would consider murdering the only person stranded on this godsforsaken island with you a wise choice.”
Gabriel bellows as pain blossoms along the left side of his face, followed by a familiar warm rush of fluid. Pink tints his vision as blood pours from the wound. If he was pissed before, he’s truly enraged now; the last of his logical brain notes the emotion making him sloppy, his swings too broad, too careless, but Gabriel can’t bring himself to give half a crown about it.
“Death to those who betray the depthless sea!” Gabriel bellows. He presses onward, heedless of the minor cuts he takes, driving Hugo further and further across the beach. Though Hugo has sank into the icy, chilled control of his fury, he shows signs of flagging; slower to parry Gabriel’s strikes, sweat plastering his hair to his head and dripping down his (still infuriatingly handsome, damn him thrice over) face, exhaustion evident in the way he heaves in great, sucking breaths. A wicked smile curves across Gabriel’s lips, the same satisfaction of a shark sensing blood in the water. Then suddenly, the terrain changes, wet sand sucking at his footsteps and causing him to lose his balance.
In a blink, Hugo attacks. He knocks Gabriel’s cutlass from his hand and sends it sailing out of reach with an expert swipe.
Then, pink-tinted sky fills Gabriel’s vision as he finds himself flat on his back, wheezing as the air’s knocked out of him. Fucking Hugo. Before he can so much as roll out of the way, let alone get to his feet, Gabriel feels the sharp point of a blade kissing his pulse and the first spike of true fear. He glances up and finds Hugo studying him from above, sea green eyes cold and critical. It’s not the first time he’s been held at sword point (or beneath Hugo, a gibbering part of his mind adds), but it is the first time those two situations have combined into one infuriating conundrum.
“Could we perhaps try using our words, Gabriel? Or are you going to persist in this short-sighted attempt to smother your feelings in violence?” Hugo, who Gabriel knows to be a smug bastard in the best of times, becomes downright insufferable when he has the upper hand.
Or when he thinks he has the upper hand.
In response, Gabriel risks lifting a beringed hand and making the rudest gesture he knows at Hugo.
Hugo sighs, the noise so soft the island winds almost swallow it whole, gaze and blade still pinning Gabriel to the sand. For one moment, he looks every weary year of his age—he’d be just past four decades now compared to Gabriel’s three and a pinch, not that he kept track or anything. The edge of Hugo’s sword pricks against the thin, tender skin at Gabriel’s throat and interrupts the train of thought, sending another fresh wave of adrenaline through his body.
“As always, your gift for unnecessary complication of difficult situations shines. Truly a talent.”
“Better than your talent of being a dirty rat and oath breaker.”
“You speak of what you don’t understand.”
Anger flickers to life again, twining with the fear to make a heady, intoxicating sensation, one that imbues Gabriel with a foolhardy level of bravery. “I understand enough, you cocksucker. You sold us out, sold me in particular out, all because what? Your guilty conscience? Sincerely and from the bottom of my black, evil heart, fuck you.”
Mouthing off to someone one twitch away from spilling his lifeblood out on the sand is the second most foolish thing Gabriel’s done in a week. Strangely, Hugo doesn’t react to the goad in the way Gabriel expects. The worry lines in his brow deepen as he frowns, his weight shifting from foot to foot as he locks eyes with Gabriel.
“If you knew the whole story, perhaps you’d feel differently.”
It’s the exact wrong thing to say. It’s just like Hugo to stand there and lecture Gabriel about how wrong he is, to act like he has Gabriel’s best interests at heart when he only cares about saving his own worthless, bleeding carcass. So, brimming with anger like high tide spilling over, Gabriel banks on the fact that Hugo doesn’t actually seem to want to kill him and rolls out from under the tip of his sword. Basking in the blatant shock on Hugo’s ridiculous face for one moment, Gabriel levies a kick with his thick, powerful legs right at Hugo’s kneecap and watches with vengeful glee as his leg buckles under him.
From there, he pounces.
Gabriel catches Hugo around his wiry, lean midsection and tackles him to the ground. The pained grunt Hugo makes as he gets the wind knocked out of his sails is like music to Gabriel’s ears. Unfortunately, Hugo loses his grip on his sword finally and it goes flying out of reach, which means Gabriel is in short supply of things with which to stab him in the heart. It’s easy enough to bear down with his superior weight and strength and keep Hugo and all his firm muscle pinned beneath him, knees on Hugo’s shoulders to keep him from producing any hidden weapons. Greying hair in disarray and chest heaving, Hugo glares daggers up at Gabriel with those absurd sea glass eyes.
“I’ve fantasized about this moment so, so many times.” Gabriel reaches for Hugo’s hair and grips the short strands, wrenching his head back roughly. “It’s even sweeter than I imagined.”
“I suppose it is a delightful novelty for you to be on top of someone for a change.”
Gabriel pulls on Hugo’s hair and delights in the hiss of pain it draws from the other man. “You’re not really in a position to be making crude jokes right now.”
Hugo has the nerve to roll his eyes as though the notion bores him. “You have no idea what I’ve been through in recent days. If you’re going to kill me, get it over with, Gabriel. I’ve no interest in your preening and posturing.”
“A traitor and a quitter. The Hugo I knew, may he rest in torment in the fathomless depths, had more fight in him than this.” Gabriel watches as red drops patter down onto Hugo’s tanned, stubble-covered cheeks and belatedly realizes the blood is his own.
“Are you quite done?”
“Mmmmm, no. I wanna enjoy this.”
“The only thing it seems as though you’re enjoying is the sound of your own voice. In other words, not much has changed.”
Hatred flows through Gabriel, warm and comforting, but the longer he stays with Hugo pressed against his body, the more other threads—old ones, confusing ones—start to weave through it. “What do you know anyway? I’ve changed.”
“Have you?” Hugo lifts one cool eyebrow, the suggestion of an arrogant smirk tugging at a corner of his mouth. “If so, only for the worse. You must be enjoying tearing your way through innocent ships to try and get to me for the past few years. How many civilians have you killed for no other reason than your own vengeance? So much for pirate’s pride. So much for the Watcher’s glory.”
That’s all it takes for the chokehold Gabriel has on his self control to loosen. He releases his grip on Hugo’s hair and instead winds up, intending to deliver a haymaker right to Hugo’s impeccably chiseled jaw.
As though waiting for an opening, Hugo heaves beneath Gabriel, reminding him anew that despite the difference in their sizes, Hugo has always been stronger than he looks and exactly as crafty as he seems. It’s enough to toss Gabriel to the side, and by the time he re-orients himself, it’s Hugo who leaps at Gabriel, the first signs of outrage sharpening his features like a knife.
They grapple and roll across the sand, neither one of them keeping an advantage for long. Hugo groans when Gabriel’s knee digs hard into the tender flesh of his lower gut, and then retaliates by sinking his teeth into Gabriel’s forearm until he howls with pain. If he weren’t so fucking furious, if there wasn’t a storied history of death and betrayal laid out between them, the delicious slide of Hugo’s hands across Gabriel’s sweat slick, hairy chest as they wrestle on the beach would be the prelude to a different tale altogether. Hugo, always a dirtier fighter than his misplaced sense of honor lets him pretend, viciously tweaks one of Gabriel’s nipple rings, following it up with a headbutt to his jaw while Gabriel’s distracted by the pain.
Aching and sore and bleeding from multiple places, Gabriel ends up on top of Hugo again. He’s lost his elegant cravat somewhere in the melee and his shirt is ripped at the top, a bruise already forming across his eye and jaw and blood dripping from his split lip.
“Go ahead, Gab. Do your worst,” Hugo taunts, silken baritone dipping low.
When Gabriel reacts, he expects to reach down, draw the knife from his belt, and finally slit Hugo’s lying throat. That’s what he thinks he’s going to do. It’s what he has been swearing he’d do every day for nearly five years.
Instead, he crushes his mouth to Hugo’s and captures it in a bruising kiss, groaning at the both the coppery taste of blood and the unexpected softness of Hugo’s lips. He drinks the taste of his former lover and captain down like he needs it to live, and somewhere in the back of his mind, the one shred of emotional awareness left to him suggests maybe his hatred isn’t so cut and dry after all. He expects Hugo to struggle, to bite his lip or nose or knee him in the dick or any other number of dirty tricks Hugo has.
What Hugo does instead is, unmistakably and confidently, kiss him back.
There’s a familiar, strong grip at the back of Gabriel’s neck as Hugo draws him closer, pressing his tongue past Gabriel’s lips and kissing him the same way everything else in their relationship has played out: like a sweet lie, a storm at sea, a knife in a fist. When Hugo grips the length of Gabriel’s braid and yanks it down, the groan Gabriel gives has barely anything to do with pain. Their bodies press closer together, sweat and salt and warmth, breathing life into Gabriel that he hadn’t realized he was missing, complicating the inferno of his rage even further.
They roll and suddenly Hugo is above Gabriel, framed by the endless blue of the sky above. He reaches for Hugo’s neck with the intent to strangle him before he can embarrass himself further, but as he has one broad palm around Hugo’s throat, Hugo leans into the touch instead. There’s the wet drag of his tongue against Gabriel’s cheek, and with an aching pulse in his groin, he realizes Hugo has licked the literal blood off his face.
“I hate you,” Gabriel hisses. He grabs Hugo by his fancy tailored shirt and hears a satisfying rip when he pulls Hugo down into another searing kiss, all messy tongue and grazes of teeth, swallowing down Hugo’s low moan in the process.
“If this is hate, then you’ve hated me for a long, long time.” Hugo mouths at Gabriel’s neck, sucking with enough pressure to both leave bruises and have Gabriel half hard in his slacks.
Gabriel lashes out, striking Hugo’s lean thigh with his palm and earning no more than a sharp inhale for his trouble. Sluggishly, he realizes he could be struggling harder. Should be struggling harder. “You don’t know the first thing about me anymore, asshole.”
“Don’t I?” Hugo asks, amusement laced through his voice as he bears his weight down on Gabriel’s broad waist and roughly jerks his head back by his braid. “I know you’ve always enjoyed a side of pain with your pleasure. I know how much you love a good fuck after a fight.” Gabriel feels heat flood his cheeks and groin when Hugo licks down his throat, over the firm ridge in its center and all the way south to his collarbone. “And I know you never watch your left.”
Gabriel has exactly one crystalline moment to register the shift in Hugo’s body weight, the flash of gold rapidly approaching his head, and then he registers nothing at all.
Hours later in the comfort of what must be Gabriel’s tent—a vast improvement from the lean-to Hugo constructed on the other side of the island—Hugo has far too few answers for the numerous questions flooding his thoughts.
First and foremost: what to do with the man currently tied up in the tent beside him.
He's assisted the ship's surgeon enough in his time to make sure he hadn’t done lasting damage with the blow to the head, and despite Gabriel’s overreaction when he got it, the cut on his face isn’t even deep enough to merit stitches. There are bruises, cuts, and bites covering his tanned skin, but otherwise…
The years have treated Gabriel kindly. More kindly than he deserves by some accounts, one of them Hugo’s. His barrel chest rises and falls in steady breaths, padded with a more generous layer of fat over the undeniable muscle than Hugo recalls. He’s thicker all over, Hugo realizes, from his chest to stomach to ass to thighs, and then he promptly swallows down the inappropriate desire following on the heels of the thought. Hugo focuses his attention instead on the giant kraken inked on Gabriel’s back. The avatar of Xeheia rises out of a pool of indigo ink at the base of his spine, crushing ships in her mighty obsidian arms, some of which extend up and over Gabriel’s sturdy shoulders. His blond hair has generous streaks of red in it, and though his braid is in a state of disarray, tangled and chock full of sand, it’s much longer than it was the last time Hugo saw Gabriel. Sacred script in flowing, esoteric curves has been inked on the skin beneath the shaved sides of Gabriel’s head; it takes most of Hugo’s willpower not to lean in and trace the words with his fingertips.
So Gabriel Berthelot, one time bilge rat and upstart, rose to the rank of Furysworn after all. Just as he said he would. The holy prince of pirates. Hugo allows himself the luxury of an ironic laugh. Once, they’d sworn to serve Xeheia together as Furysworn, protecting the sacred waters of the Fury and collecting tribute as was her due.
Not so much anymore.
As the brilliant orange-reds of sunset begin to pour through the open tent flap, Hugo places his palms on his crossed knees and considers the facts as he knows them so far. The first seems clear: forces beyond the mortal are clearly at play here, between Hugo’s miraculous survival of the L’Amarante’s destruction and Gabriel’s presence on the island. The second: from what Hugo can recall of his star charts from memory, the island he sits upon rests somewhere in the Uncharted Leagues. Between that, the presumable loss of both his vessel and his crew, and his complete lack of resources beyond what he nearly drowned with and what can be found on the island, Hugo doesn’t like his odds.
The last complication, wrists neatly bound behind his back and ankles given the same treatment, is Gabriel.
If Hugo wants to get off this island, he needs an ally. Gabriel has, for the quarter hour he’s been conscious in Hugo’s presence, been disinclined toward allyship, even on a temporary basis. Hugo hums an old mariner’s shanty as he makes a mental correction: not entirely disinclined. As hard as he’s tried to set the encounter aside, it was Gabriel who kissed him first, Gabriel who yielded, Gabriel who blurred the lines of their brawl on the beach.
And of course, Hugo used it to his advantage.
As though sensing Hugo’s tentative foray into emotions he has no wish to untangle now (or perhaps ever), Gabriel gives a low groan and shifts in his bonds. The placid movements grow more animated as Gabriel presumably realizes he’s been restrained, and Hugo watches his thrashing with a strange mix of satisfaction, apprehension—and arousal.
“You may as well conserve your strength. My knotwork remains unparalleled. It’ll take more than flopping about like a dying fish to get out of those bonds.”
Gabriel manages to flip himself to his other side, hazel eyes full of vitriol as he stares at Hugo. “This is fucked up, even for you.”
“We have varying definitions of ‘fucked up’, I’m afraid. Restraining a man who tried to kill me on sight seems like good sense to me.”
“Right, because every shitting thing is ‘good sense’ to you.” Gabriel’s lip and nose, both pierced with gold rings, curl up into a sneer. “I’m sure you found a way to justify ratting out your crew as ‘good sense’ too.”
“You’ve made it abundantly clear you’ve no interest in hearing my side of the story, so I don’t intend to give it.” Hugo leans to the side and takes up one of the items he found while raiding Gabriel’s supplies, a heavy flintlock pistol, wooden and brass handle worn with use. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve had my hands on one of these. In fact, I wonder how it came into your possession, but I suspect you won’t tell me.”
“Perks of the job. Finder’s keepers and all that.”
“Yes, I rather suspect it was.” Hugo makes sure the pistol is pointed in a direction away from himself and Gabriel and examines the weapon, satisfied when the key mechanisms make the appropriate sounds and motions under his deft touch. “Finder’s keepers indeed.”
Gabriel raises a studded, skeptical eyebrow at Hugo. Only the deliberate swallow he makes betrays his nervousness. “Finally going to finish the job, huh? Took you damn near long enough. Didn’t think you had it in you to get your own hands bloody, since you had the law do your dirty work last time.”
Hugo runs his free hand through his salt crisp, tousled hair in exasperation and heaves a loud sigh. “For the last time, Gabriel, I have no intention of killing you, nor did events play out as you think the last time we saw one another,” he snaps. “In fact, in the spirit of cooperation, I’ll even tell you my true motives and untie you if you’ll give me your word you’ll stop trying to slaughter me.”
“You must think I was really born yesterday, yeah? You do remember the last time you promised me everything would work out fine? I ended up on the fucking gallows and would have hanged were it not for Xeheia and the crew.” Furysworn suits Gabriel as a title; his anger lights him with righteousness, even if it is entirely misplaced. Hugo watches the swell and flex of Gabriel’s muscles as he struggles against his bonds anew, letting out a long stream of swears when he finds them as impenetrable as ever.
Slow to anger himself, Hugo relearns how talented Gabriel is at igniting his temper. “Have you ever considered that I myself was lied to, you obstinate fool? All I wanted was a chance at a legitimate life, and I paid a higher price than you know. Not that you’ve ever bothered with such inconvenient notions as ‘truth’ or ‘facts’.”
“Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night, Melançon. Or is it captain now? Did you trade up for the legal model?” Gabriel manages to make a smirk look furious.
Gabriel rolls his eyes. “A pirate with papers. Seriously. I thought I hated you before, and now I hate you even more. You gave up what we had to play pretend with the navy.” After a pause, Gabriel’s gaze takes on an assessing glint. “Let me guess—you found yourself a new, young, strapping piece of ass to replace me? Or you know what, actually, maybe you didn’t. Explains the way you were so eager back on the beach. Tongue down my throat as soon as I gave you the chance.”
A foreboding calm descends on Hugo, a familiar protective detachment. “If memory serves, you kissed me first.”
“You kissed back.”
“A strategical choice.”
“That what they call it in your part of the sea? Strategy? From my vantage point, seems like plain old lust.” Gabriel’s tone, though heated, takes on a familiar teasing note. “That why you tied me up, Melançon? Wanted to make sure you got some of this? I can’t blame you. Lots of folks of all sorts have enjoyed my attentive company in the years you’ve been playing pretend. Celibacy ain’t for me.”
A thousand conflicting interests war within Hugo. He wants to slap the shit-eating grin right off of Gabriel’s face and hope it imparts some sense as well. He wants to shove a gag in his mouth so he doesn’t have to listen to Gabriel talk anymore if he won’t make productive contributions. Most of all—and the realization makes shame bubble in his guts—Gabriel is too close to the truth for comfort. An animal, hormonal part of his brain wants to lick the sweat from between the generous swells of his pecs. To bend Gabriel over and fuck him until he can’t walk straight. To stroke him until he spills strings of come all over Hugo’s hand and the floor of the tent.
“Congratulations. I fail to see how tales of your sexual prowess will get you off this island, but as long as it improves your morale.”
“Ah. There it is. The ‘I’m horny but I’m Hugo so I’m trying not to be’ voice. I’m right here if you’re so desperate. We both know there’s no low you won’t sink to, so you may as well take advantage.”
Something snaps inside Hugo. After making sure his newly acquired pistol is far out of reach, he shuffles over to Gabriel, looking down at him from where he kneels. The dusky rose flush spreading across Gabriel’s chest, neck, and cheeks reminds Hugo of better times, less complicated times, times where Hugo was content trading his freedom and morals in exchange for Gabriel’s love and affection, for the sense of belonging that came from divine and mortal approval. Unlike those times, there’s no capacity for gentleness in him now. Hugo grips Gabriel’s ruddy bearded jaw in his hands and tilts his face hard until their eyes meet.
“If you want to be fucked so badly, Gab, all you have to do is ask.”
Gabriel sputters with indignation. “I wouldn’t fuck you if you were the last person in the whole damn world.”
Hugo makes a deliberate show of dropping his gaze, taking in every inch of Gabriel where he lays on his side: prayer beads, hairy chest and golden studded nipples exposed along with his tattoo (with Hugo having stripped him of his useless vest earlier), loose pants made for freedom of movement on the high seas. Not loose enough, however. Hugo reaches down with his free hand and runs his palm across the swell beneath Gabriel’s breeches, caressing the considerable and erect length of his cock beneath the careworn fabric.
“I see you’re still a liar.”
“Don’t touch me,” Gabriel spits even as his hips roll upward, seeking the friction provided by Hugo’s hand, lust and outrage at open war in his gaze.
“Tell me to stop and I will.” Hugo moves his hand faster, heat pooling in his own groin at the way he feels Gabriel grow harder beneath his touch, cock twitching and throbbing as he strokes it beneath the fabric.
“Fuck you, Hugo.”
“That’s not stop.”
“Figures you have to tie a man up to get—gods!” Gabriel’s taunt cuts off as Hugo brings his palm down hard on his ass, the crack echoing in the small space. Hugo follows it up with a second, harder slap, relishing in the soft and frustrated groan Gabriel makes.
Hugo leans down close, his mouth against the shell of Gabriel’s ear. “You want me to take what I want so badly? Then I will.”
His heart pounds as he rolls Gabriel to his opposite side—though not without resistance on Gabriel’s part. He slides his hand along the tattooed expanse of Gabriel’s back once he’s facing away, delighting in the carnal sacrilege of touching Xeheia’s mark as a man no longer bound to her. As much as he detests what Gabriel has done in the name of revenge, as much as he wishes things could have played out differently between them years ago, his desire for Gabriel is a bottomless well, as deep as the unknown trenches of the sea. And, judging by the way Gabriel slowly grinds against Hugo’s palm where it’s gone still on his cock, he’s not the only one.
Physical chemistry had always been the least broken thing between them, Hugo supposes.
Hugo unlaces Gabriel’s trousers with deliberate slowness. Some tiny part of him holds out hope that Gabriel will say to stop, break the fever of his sudden and intense lust, to grant him a reprieve from the shameful yet undeniable need guiding his hands. But Gabriel only grunts and squirms beneath Hugo’s touch.
“Hurry the hells up, won’t you?” The way Gabriel’s bass has gone low with desire makes Hugo’s dick twitch in his stiff trousers.
“First you claim not to want me at all, now you’re telling me to go faster. Impatient and indecisive as usual.”
With a shrug Gabriel can’t see, Hugo obliges, more from his own impatience than any true desire to give him what he wants. The fabric strains against Gabriel’s massive thighs as Hugo tugs the fabric halfway down them, bringing the undergarments with it. And…
Gods save him, Hugo can’t help but look down.
The generous curve of Gabriel’s cock, head flushed purple and leaking beads of precome as it strains towards his beringed navel, makes his mouth go dry. It’s as gorgeous as Hugo remembers it being, and as though he senses Hugo looking, Gabriel tosses an arrogant look over his shoulder as best as his bonds allow.
“You gonna stare or do something about it?”
Hugo glares and reaches down to undo his own slops, untying the single knot much faster than he did Gabriel’s and only pushing them down enough to expose himself. Once it’s freed, he grips the base of his cock and presses his chest to Gabriel’s back as close as he can, bound fists behind Gabriel’s back the sole obstacle to full skin to skin contact. He guides his length between Gabriel’s flexed thighs and shudders at the combination of slick sweat and friction against his dick, at the too-warm-but-perfect heat enveloping him. Hugo groans and wraps his arms around Gabriel’s waist, fingers finding a bruise from their earlier confrontation and pressing his fingers hard into it.
Gabriel hisses and thrusts backwards at the same time, effectively stroking Hugo’s cock with his lush, strong thighs. “Same old moves, I see.”
Hugo lets his hand drift down and curls it around Gabriel’s dick, swirling his thumb around the head covered with precome and feeling Gabriel’s bass groan vibrate in his own chest. “Looks like I don’t need any new techniques.”
“Tch.” Gabriel bucks his hips into Hugo’s touch, the velvet soft skin hot to the touch. “Stop bragging and fuck me like you mean it then, asshole.”
He fucks Gabriel’s muscular thighs with all the pent-up desire and frustration he’s bottled up over the past five years, burying his face in Gabriel’s neck and biting down hard at the same time. The natural musk of Gabriel’s scent unlocks a thousand old memories that he immediately shoves away. Hugo chases pure carnal pleasure with each thrust of his cock between Gabriel’s perfect legs, seeking the cradle of warmth formed at the apex of his thighs, right beneath his cock.
“Close your thighs more,” Hugo growls.
“You want them tighter, you shoulda tied them shut yourself.” Despite his quip, Gabriel complies, groaning as Hugo snaps his hips faster with a low rumble of pleasure.
The two of them are tidally locked, bodies rocking in tandem, nothing but the rhythmic noises of skin slapping against skin and urgent, animal sounds of pleasure filling the space. Hugo pointedly doesn’t think of how he must look—one hand around Gabriel’s perfect cock and stroking him in time with his thrusts, the other fisted in his hair, holding him utterly still as he uses his body for his own pleasure. Heat and need twine a tight spiral in his groin, spurring him forward.
When Hugo comes, its faster than he expects, a broken noise escaping his lips as he holds himself in the middle of Gabriel’s thighs and coats them with pulse after pulse of release. He rocks his hips through the aftershocks, not missing the borderline needy noise the still-hard Gabriel makes. Hugo hasn’t forgotten how much Gabriel loves to be covered in come, whether it be on his chest or thighs or ass, and it seems his body sank into old habits without his mind’s explicit consent.
When the fog of pleasure clears, humiliation sinks in. Hugo, who prides himself on his self control, realizes what he’s done even as his cock softens between Gabriel’s legs.
“Well? Either untie me or don’t leave me hanging.”
Desperate to regain some measure of control and pride, Hugo doesn’t reply. Instead, without bothering to clean up the mess he left, he pulls Gabriel’s trousers back up, trapping his leaking dick between fabric and skin, then gives the bulge there a condescending pat even as Gabriel sputters.
Then, because he’s not completely cruel, after Hugo stands and puts himself to rights, including gathering up the weapons he found in Gabriel’s tent, he nudges a dagger ever so slightly towards the pirate priest and his former lover. It’s not quite within reach, but with some effort, Gabriel can get there.
“Do it yourself.”
Setting himself free proves to be a more painstaking process than Gabriel anticipated. Hugo, for once in his cursed, useless life, wasn’t lying about the knots he tied. The task distracts him from the shame and embarrassment lurking around every corner of his thoughts. He’d thought it would be… a victory, he supposes, to goad Hugo into fucking him right there on the tent floor, to divert Hugo’s notoriously rigid self control for his own gains. To humiliate him.
Why, then, does it feel like Gabriel took the loss on this one?
It’s a problem for future Gabriel (if any Gabriel at all—he hasn’t risen to his place in the world by constant bouts of second guessing and guilt). Current Gabriel washes the sticky mess of come Hugo left between his thighs, scrubbing at them furiously with a wetted rag and pointedly not thinking about how it got there, lest his traitorous cock get other ideas. With a scrap of Hugo’s billowy white tunic torn during their fight, he wipes the worst of the crusted blood from his face by feel. Freed from his bonds and anger stoking back to life, the idea of storming to Hugo’s side of the island and going for round two—the murder bit, not the fucking bit—holds a great deal of appeal.
However, despite Hugo’s claim to the contrary, Gabriel isn’t shortsighted or lacking in sense. With all of his weapons aside from one miniscule, dull knife gone, he’s at a severe disadvantage. Well. Not as much of a disadvantage as it might seem, but bringing down the Fury's wrath for one man seems like overkill. As amazing as charging headfirst back into the chaos and violence seems to Gabriel, he needs a plan. So, after taking stock of his remaining supplies—including, much to his relief, a circular pouch hidden on the underside of the bench in his rowboat—he plans.
After he plans, he sleeps. Eventually. If he furiously stroked himself to what can only be described as a resentful orgasm beforehand, well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing he’s done in the past day or so, and it’s no one’s godsdamn business but his own.
The first actual step in his new plan involves morning prayers. After thoroughly scouting the tiny beach for any signs of Hugo, he walks to the edge of the aquamarine water and kneels in the wet sand. The tide laps at the fabric of his breeches. It’s annoying, but Xeheia responds better when Gabriel has a connection to her domain, however tenuous. His fingers move down the beads and bones by rote, murmuring incantations, and soon he slips into the trance brought on by prayer.
Gabriel flings one singular question into the black void of worship: How do I get off this island?
For several long moments, there’s no answer. He half expects to be struck down by lightning where he kneels for daring to even ask. The cold, endless deep of his prayer trance proves comforting, rejuvenating him. He waits in the all-consuming calm, imagining himself floating adrift in the lightless depth of the sea, growing ever closer to where the fold claims Xeheia’s physical form resides. Gabriel is three heartbeats away from releasing his trance and bobbing back up to the surface of mortal awareness when he actually receives an answer.
To forge a path forward, you must look to the past.
Cryptic as all hells, as usual, but Gabriel thinks he catches Xeheia’s drift.
Three days pass with Hugo so constantly looking over his shoulder that he fears his neck will get stuck in a craned position. Not that he’d notice much with all the other aches and pains; between the natural deterioration of age and Gabriel doing a number and a half on him, Hugo feels every one of his forty odd years like anchors tied to his limbs. He imagines getting shot at point blank range by a cannon would feel marginally better.
He’s spent his three days of paranoia berating himself for his loss of control even as he relives it over and over in his mind. The salt and citrus taste of Gabriel. The warmth of his powerful, plush, downy-haired thighs. The fact that his body has apparently not received the missive from his mind that Gabriel is to be hated and kept at a distance, not reeled in like a prize catch.
Hugo knows there’s a remarkably simple solution to his Gabriel problem, one involving the fully loaded pistol he now possesses. A slug of lead to the temple would eliminate the constant fear of a six foot plus, burly, incensed Gabriel springing from the miniature forest and murdering him.
Unfortunately, Gabriel is also his only chance of getting off this island.
There’s no one coming to rescue Hugo. Even if his ship hadn’t been destroyed in the storm and his crew hadn’t perished along with it, they would assume him dead. (He certainly should be dead, and he tries not to think too hard about how he survived or why Xeheia would save an oath breaker in the first place). If he doesn’t want to eke out the rest of his days subsisting on waternuts, grubs, and whatever fish he can catch until he dies from an illness or wound or storm, he needs Gabriel.
Needing Gabriel in any sense of the word has never worked out in Hugo’s favour. Not when they were shipmates, not when they were lovers, not when they parted messy ways, and least of all now, not stranded with him on a deserted island.
At the sound of snapping branches, Hugo whips his head up, abandoning his attempts at a firepit for the surprisingly cold nights. He reaches behind him and withdraws the pistol shoved through one of his belt loops. By the time Hugo directs his gaze forward, there he is, as though summoned by his cynical introspection.
He’s cleaned up in the days since Hugo left him tied up in the tent, though the line scoured down his face might scar and his wavy blond-red hair halos his head in a wild cloud. Gabriel’s thick beard does nothing to obscure his knowing smirk.
Hugo points the pistol in his direction and cocks the hammer. “Take another step and I’ll ensure you die a slow, painful death from a gut wound.”
Gabriel throws his head back and laughs hard enough to set his belly jiggling. “Relax, Hugo. I’m not here for a rematch, as tempting as it sounds.”
“You sincerely expect me to believe that?”
“Well, yeah, I do.” Gabriel shrugs his mammoth shoulders like it should be the most obvious thing in the world. “Dick move to love me and leave me, but you know, I’ve had a few days to calm down. To use my head. You should be proud of me.”
“If you’ve come looking to be praised for the bare minimum, I’m afraid you’re sailing in the wrong seas.” Hugo clenches his jaw so tight he fears his teeth may crack.
“And if you think I’m crawling back to you for scraps, you’ve got it twisted in that big head of yours.” Gabriel raises his hands in the air in the universal gesture for surrender and, mercifully, stays still. “In case you haven’t noticed, you and I are in a bit of a predicament. Again.”
The first flicker of a shadow crosses Gabriel’s face. “Listen, I said I’d calmed down, not that I’m gonna sit here and listen to you insult me. You wanna hear me out or not?”
“Want to? Not particularly. I have a feeling you’ll say your piece regardless.”
Gabriel’s second belly laugh twists the snarled knot in Hugo’s gut tighter. Once, Hugo would have done anything to draw that noise from Gabriel, all bass pleasure and warm joy. Now, he struggles to school his features to neutrality because the sound is directed at him.
“I’d consider it mighty courteous if you could lower the gun and let me take a few steps closer, so we can talk like… what was it you said before? Rational folks.”
If Hugo had any notions about not being an utter fool, they all vanish like fog in noonday sun when he lowers the pistol as Gabriel requests. He waves the barrel of the gun in a circle to enunciate his words as he says, “Then start talking.”
All swagger, head held high, Gabriel saunters forward and looks for all the world like the ship cat who caught the rat.
It doesn’t escape Hugo’s notice that he’s the rat in this case.
“So, since I’m sure you and all your book smarts have figured it out already, we’re smack dab in the middle of the Unchartables.”
“I did piece together that much, yes.”
Gabriel lowers himself to the sand twelve or so paces away and sits with his enormous legs crossed, then magnanimously gestures for Hugo to do the same, as though they’re dining in the stateroom of the Squall together instead of hot and sweaty and sunburnt on a deserted island. “What I’m not understanding, and what I’m very curious about, is how you ended up here. Especially since I ain’t seen so much as a single plank of a ship.”
Hugo sits and then hesitates. Admitting the truth would put him at a severe disadvantage; Gabriel has always had a nose for tender spots to press the attack, and Hugo’s relative helplessness is a glaring one. On the other hand, as much as Gabriel enjoys playing the common man, he’s razor-sharp in his own ways.
Truth it is.
“My ship was at the edges of the Unchartable Leagues in pursuit of a rogue vessel that had been pillaging the Kyrithos Archipelago. A furystorm took us by surprise and I went overboard. I assumed I’d drowned, but I woke up beached on this island with only the clothes on my back.”
Most of the truth. He doesn’t want to mention hearing Xeheia’s voice or his suspicion she plucked him from the sea herself, or the fact he saw his ship destroyed.
“She does have a temper, doesn’t she? And yet, she spared you. Wonder why that is.” Gabriel’s hazel eyes narrow as he studies Hugo.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Funny enough, I don’t have to guess. I have it on good and divine authority Xeheia spared you for a reason, and that reason is why I’m here to talk.”
Hugo swallows around the sudden lump in his throat. Phantom pain engulfs his back, the somatic echoes of a memory he wishes he could forget. “Go on.”
Gabriel flashes a feral grin. “As a show of good faith, I’ll let you in on why I’m here. Xeheia sent me to find a lost relic as tribute, but so far, I haven’t had much luck. The way I reckon the situation, Xeheia sent you to me. You might be an oath breaker, but you’ve always been more… huh, attentive to details. Observant. Head full of knowledge from all those books you’ve read.”
“You want me to help you find this relic.” Hugo gives Gabriel a flat stare. “The island isn’t overly large. If you haven’t located it yet, what makes you think I’d be able to?”
Gabriel waves a broad hand dismissively. “Weren’t you paying attention? Much as it pains me to admit it, you’re a better investigator. Nosy as all hells. If there’s anything to find you’ll find it.”
Suspicion spikes in Hugo’s chest. “And what precisely would be my motivation to assist you? Last we saw one another, your primary goal seemed to be to send me to the seven hells.”
“You know me. I have a… mercurial nature.” Gabriel’s lips curve in a self-satisfied smirk. “If you went overboard, you and I both know your crew thinks you lost to the sea. They’ve scattered chicken bone ashes in place of yours and are already looking for a new captain. Sorry, commodore. Which means no one is coming for you. And I just so happen to have a sturdy ship and hale crew coming back in a week’s time to pick me up.”
“Are you offering to take me with you off the island when your ship returns?” Hugo tries and fails to smother the nascent hope flickering to life in his chest. He knows logically he can’t trust a word Gabriel says, and yet…
“I am indeed. Help me find the relic and I’ll let you hitch a ride. Can’t promise I’ll drop you someplace nice, but I’ll at least drop you somewhere inhabited, and you can find your own way back to… wherever it is pirates with papers go.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t survive a single night on your vessel. I suspect the crew also has incorrect notions of what happened when I gave up the captaincy.”
A storm cloud darkens Gabriel’s features. His tone drops low and serious when he speaks. “They’re my crew now, not yours, and even though they won’t like it one lick when I order them not to slit your throat in your sleep, they’ll obey me without question.”
Hugo nods and decides pressing his reservations on that front can wait until later. “And what if we don’t locate the relic? What if it’s not here, or has already been taken, or doesn’t exist at all?”
Gabriel spreads his hands with his palms face up. As the muscles in his forearms and biceps flex, it looks like the kraken arms are flailing across his skin. “I’m not the type to punish someone for giving it their best effort.”
“Gabriel. I’ve watched you plank captives on several occasions for failing to meet your exacting expectations, and that was when you were my first mate. So forgive my skepticism when I say I don’t believe you.”
“That was only a few times. And besides, you’ve always been special. An exemption if you will.” Gabriel tilts his head, palms on his knees, and gives Hugo an expectant look. “So whaddya say? Do we have an accord?”
Shoving down the flare of warmth at Gabriel calling him special—even if he knows it’s bold and false flattery—he grimaces inwardly. Hugo’s weakness for Gabriel’s praise persists, it seems. He clenches his fists. It’s a good deal. Too good.
But it’s his only option.
“Deal. Shall we shake on it?”
“Depends. You gonna shoot me if I come close enough to shake on it?”
“Not so long as you behave yourself,” Hugo counters, finally stowing the pistol away with a triple check that the straps around it are secure.
Gabriel stands, waggles his eyebrows, and makes a low rumble Hugo can only describe as a purr. “Commodore, please. I’m but a humble Furysworn trying to pay homage to his goddess.”
“You wouldn’t know humility if it slapped you in the face.”
“Fair enough.” Gabriel laughs.
For one beautiful moment Hugo forgets his predicament, forgets how Gabriel can turn on a copious amount of charm when he wants something, and simply enjoys the sound, transported for a rose-tinted instant back to when loving Gabriel was easy. The moment passes when Gabriel spits into his calloused palm and extends it to Hugo. Hugo follows suit and takes Gabriel’s hand in his, grip firm as they pump their fists up and down.
“I brought a little something to celebrate our newfound truce.”
Hugo tenses when Gabriel reaches for the satchel slung around his shoulder, distracted momentarily by the trail of hair from stomach to beneath his trousers. When he produces a razor, Hugo recoils, springing back and putting distance between them with a suddenly racing pulse.
“Gods, you should see your face. You think I really did all this to try and off you with a razor?”
“What, pray tell, do you intend with the razor then?” Hugo snaps.
Gabriel’s gravelly bass is downright sinful when he says, “If I remember right, and I’m very fucking sure I do, you used to like when I did this for you. Seems like as good a way as any to commemorate our alliance.”
‘Like’ may be an understatement. Hugo feels arousal begin to mingle with no small amount of fear as he stares at the razor in Gabriel’s hand in defiance of whatever self-preservation he possesses. He had enjoyed Gabriel’s steady and attentive hand, once upon a time, had enjoyed the way shaving often lead to more licentious pleasures. Those were times when Gabriel hadn’t tried his hardest to murder him three days prior, however.
“You must think I’m sun addled to let you anywhere near my throat with a blade.”
“What sense does it make for me to say I need your help and then kill you right after? Like I told you, it’s a peace offering. A white flag.” Gabriel’s cocksure smile goes languid.
“I wouldn’t put anything past you at this point.”
“Does it help if I say I don’t want to look at your scruffy, pathetic excuse of a beard for the next however long it takes us? It’s selfishly motivated, which seems like something you’d believe of me.”
Trap. Every single thing about this offer screams ‘trap’ to Hugo. The only sane, sensible option would be to decline Gabriel’s suggestion as firmly as he can manage and then go back to his own camp. And yet…
“Alright,” Hugo agrees in a voice barely above a whisper. “To foster a spirit of cooperation and trust.”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself, Commodore. Cop a squat.”
Tension fills the air like static before a storm as Hugo sits down in front of Gabriel, both of them cross legged on the packed soil beyond the sandy beaches. Physical attraction has ever been a riptide between them, and apparently five years and several double-crossings haven’t dampened it much. Hugo catches the scent of Gabriel’s natural musk and some sort of woodsy fragrance and feels drunk on it alone. Still, he keeps his features passive, flicking his eyes to where Gabriel digs through his satchel, ready to lurch away if he produces a weapon.
Instead, Gabriel has a circular engraved wooden container—a shaving kit, by the looks of it, though not the one Hugo gifted him a lifetime ago—in one hand. In the other, he holds a waterskin, which he hands to Hugo. Hugo accepts it with a questioning eyebrow.
“Go on and wet your face, then.”
Part of Hugo bristles at being told what to do, at the absurdity of obeying Gabriel’s instructions when the memory of Gabriel trying to choke him out is so fresh. Still, he cups his palm and splashes a modest amount of water across his cheeks, handing the waterskin back to Gabriel after he does so.
“If you change your mind and decide to slit my throat, know that I will make it my mission to haunt you for the rest of your days,” Hugo says, a hundred times more calmly than he feels.
“Now wouldn’t that be something to see. The thing is, I really believe you’d try.” Gabriel keeps his tone conversational as he tips one of the vials into a massive, calloused hand. Sunlight catches the gold and green flecks in the brown of his eyes, sparkling like buried treasure, and Hugo curses himself for being distracted. He needs to stay alert.
When Gabriel leans in, he’s close enough for Hugo to feel the warmth his body radiates, somehow perceptible from the early summer air around them. At the first touch of the shaving oil to his face, Hugo bites the inside of his cheek to keep from making any untoward noises. His body remembers the history laden in the careful motions of Gabriel’s large hands, working the oil across his cheeks and down his throat.
“See? A perfect gentleman.” Gabriel’s teasing, Hugo knows he is, but he doesn’t take the bait. “It’s more than you deserve after the other night. I know I’m irresistible, but the least you coulda done is stick around and return the favour.”
“I had other concerns. Namely fear for my life.”
Gabriel smiles slowly, gold lip ring glinting in the afternoon sun. “Didn’t feel like fear when you had your prick between my thighs.”
Hugo’s heart makes a valiant effort to punch through his throat. “A momentary lapse in judgment.”
“Oh, that what we’re calling it? A lapse in judgment?” Gabriel cups Hugo’s cheek in one hot, rough palm, and it takes all of Hugo’s willpower not to lean into the touch. “Looked more like plain old want to me.”
“That’s why I’m the observant one between us.”
The combination of Gabriel’s low chuckle and touch goes, regrettably, straight to Hugo’s cock in one aching stretch. “Using my own words against me. Another one of your signature tactics.”
Hugo parts his lips to reply. His words falter when Gabriel removes his hands and lifts a porcelain mug in one palm, dipping the ivory handled brush from the shaving kit in the other. Gabriel works the shaving cream into a lather with quick, efficient motions and begins to apply it to Hugo’s face. His skin prickles into goosebumps at the first touch of the supple bristles—purely provoked by the texture and not by Gabriel’s intense, focused gaze as he covers every inch.
“Cat got your tongue?” Gabriel asks, sounding far too confident and amused for Hugo’s liking.
“Simply letting you work so we can get this grand gesture over with.”
“Now who’s impatient? Relax and enjoy this, Commodore. Not many people get to be on the receiving end of my tender affections.”
Despite himself, Hugo barks out a single laugh, heedless of the foam covering his cheeks and upper lip and neck. “How generous, Captain.”
“You’ve no idea.” Gabriel, apparently satisfied with his lathering job, sets his supplies aside and lifts the wooden handled razor, snapping out the blade with practiced ease. “Hold still, now. I won’t be blamed for any nicks if you squirm.”
The closer the blade gets to Hugo’s cheekbone, the harder his heart pounds against his ribcage. He’s half hard in his trousers, twin pulses in his throat and groin beating in tandem. It’s reckless, it’s foolhardy, and yet here he is entrusting himself into Gabriel’s hands.
The first scrape of the blade against Hugo’s skin ignites long-dormant desire in him. He’s one second away from having his veins opened up, deliberately helpless, and yet Gabriel truly seems intent on shaving him. He works in careful, slow strokes, one hand pulling the skin of Hugo’s cheek back to get a closer shave and the other dragging the blade down. Gabriel has leaned in so close it feels like they’re sharing the same air, and Hugo has the passing, delirious thought that if he’s rash enough to get himself killed this way, at least it would be a fantastic way to die.
Far better than drowning.
“You used to get so hot for this,” Gabriel says in a low voice. Thankfully, his eyes are fixed on the path he’s shaving along Hugo’s jawline instead of meeting Hugo’s gaze, because Hugo might be completely lost if he had made eye contact. “Is it working?”
“No.” There’s far less command in the controlled syllable through his pursed lips than Hugo would like. There’s far more blood flowing south than he would like as well.
“Now who’s a liar? I can see your hard on from here.” With one side of Hugo’s face finished, he moves on to the other. “Some kinks stay with you, huh?”
Hugo chooses not to reply. Instead, he tries to will away the aching erection between his legs, which is a fruitless effort as long as he’s breathing Gabriel’s scent, beneath his touch, a literal razor’s edge separating arousal from danger.
Although… perhaps, much like hate and love for the pirate prince are entwined in Hugo’s heart, arousal and danger are also two sides of the same coin.
“Also, don’t think I didn’t notice you wearing my shirt. Clever of you to tie it back and hide it under that fancy coat of yours, but I recognize my own shit.”
Embarrassment joins the arousal and fear at Gabriel’s words. “You ripped mine to shreds.”
Gabriel’s deep, rich, smug laughter vibrates through Hugo’s limbs where they’re connected. “Guilty as charged. Still, it’s insult on injury to steal a man’s shirt along with his gun.”
Whatever retort Hugo might have made is lost when Gabriel takes him by the chin and tilts his head upward. With each pass of the razor against his sensitive, vulnerable throat, Hugo gets harder and harder. Thank the gods Gabriel probably can’t see the flush beneath his slightly sunburned cheeks. Gabriel’s consistent pressure and speed never falter, though Hugo swears Gabriel’s breath is coming faster than it was when they started this. Convenient of him to leave out how much he enjoyed this activity as well, especially with Hugo at his mercy. The reprieve of needing to rinse the blade only for it to be at Hugo’s throat again is the most torturous kind of teasing, and judging by Gabriel’s permanent smirk and sparkling hazel eyes, he knows exactly what he’s doing.
By the time Gabriel finishes his second pass, going from side to side against the grain, and performs a final rinse, Hugo is a raw nerve. An aching mess. He can feel himself straining against the fabric of his slops and leaking a wet spot of arousal into his undergarments.
He’s just trying not to show it.
After stowing the items from the shaving kit, Gabriel leans back and meets Hugo’s eyes. “How’s that?”
“’Fine’? Just fine?” His gaze drops to the tented fabric between Hugo’s legs. “Looks more than fine to me.”
“You got your truce,” Hugo snaps. “What more do you want?”
“I’m so glad you asked, esteemed Commodore.” Gabriel leans back on his elbows and spreads his tree trunk legs wide, jerking his chin down. “I thought a mutual exchange of trust would be in order. You trust me with a razor near your throat, I trust you with your teeth near my dick, everyone leaves happy.”
Hugo’s composure, already a frayed rope, finally snaps. He makes an incredulous noise, starts to speak only to produce nonsense, and then forces himself to silence.
“Excuse me?” he finally manages, staring openly at Gabriel.
“What? It’s an earnest offer.” Gabriel paws between his legs, arm draped over the curve of his belly, and Hugo’s mouth goes dry when Gabriel grips his own erect length through his pants. “You’re not the only one affected. And you owe me.”
Gabriel grins. “Alright, maybe that’s a mite strong, but still. Tell me you don’t want it and you’re free to go.”
It’s like an inferno rages along every one of Hugo’s nerves. He freezes, torn between storming off and yet stricken by desire as he imagines taking Gabriel’s long, heavy length in his mouth, the salty tang of his skin. Resentment joins the fray of his emotions. He has the suspicion Gabriel has deliberately chosen the acts to weaken Hugo’s resolve.
What’s worse is that it’s working.
“Now who’s desperate,” Hugo says acidly, and though he was aiming for cool and controlled, there’s a hoarseness to his voice that wasn’t present five minutes ago.
“Take it or leave it, Commodore. Last chance.”
Hugo breaks free of his indecision and surges toward Gabriel. There’s no gentleness in the way he plants his palms on Gabriel’s broad chest and shoves him to the ground, the two of them locked together. As he looks up at Hugo from flat on his back, Gabriel seems delighted more than intimidated, dark pupils eclipsing his hazel irises, knowing smirk on his full lips.
“Our ‘debt’ is settled after this,” Hugo hisses.
“Fine by me.”
Resisting the urge to kiss his way down Gabriel’s swollen pectorals and rounded belly, Hugo shrugs out of his jacket and flings it aside, burning up like a sudden fever. He slides down Gabriel’s body, frowning every inch of the way, until he reaches the low-slung trousers he’s gotten intimately acquainted with over the past few days. The last rational shred of his mind screams in protest. Is he really going to suck Gabriel off, right out in the open, just because he said so?
All it takes is exposing Gabriel’s cock to the open air for the feral part of Hugo to decide, without reservation: Yes, yes he is.
For the second time in almost as many days, Hugo is between Gabriel’s enormous thighs, though this time in an entirely different way. As he hungrily regards the curving, thick length a hand’s breadth away from his mouth, Hugo decides if he’s going to do this, he’s going to do it his way.
“Hand me the oil,” Hugo commands, looking up at Gabriel through his eyelashes with a fierce stare.
Gabriel groans, though Hugo has a feeling the drawn-out sound is partly for show. He does so without so much as a single protest, and once Hugo has it nearby, he gives a dark laugh.
“If we’re going to play the game of remembrances,” Hugo says, “I have an excellent memory.”
With a firm downward motion, Hugo strips Gabriel of his trousers and undergarments; it doesn’t escape him that Gabriel lifts his hips and helps in the endeavor. The sight of his bare toes curling in the sand stirs a feeling in Hugo he’d rather not name. He pushes Gabriel’s thighs apart roughly, exposing every inch of his lower body to both the open sky and Hugo’s gaze alike, then slots himself between them. After a pause where he liberally coats his fingers in oil, Hugo smirks.
If Gabriel wants his due, his due he’ll get.
He lowers his lips to the head of Gabriel’s cock and takes it into his mouth, pressing his tongue back and forth against the sensitive frenulum and drawing a low moan from Gabriel. At the same time, he reaches beneath Gabriel’s balls and between the cleft in his cheeks until his fingers make contact with the puckered rim of Gabriel’s hole. As he teases circles around it, Gabriel exhales a sharp breath.
“Oh fuck you,” Gabriel groans, though all he does in response is spread his legs a little wider.
Hugo removes his mouth long enough to say, “As you wish, Captain,” and then begins to work his length in earnest.
It’s alarmingly easy to fall into a rhythm. Hugo couldn’t count the number of times they’d ended up like this in the past, lulled by the waves aboard the Squall as they took pleasure from each other’s bodies. Assuming minimal changes to Gabriel’s preferences, Hugo knows exactly how to take him apart, and he intends to do so with all due haste. He keeps his lips closed around the velvet warmth of Gabriel’s cock as he moves his head up and down, alternating between broad strokes of his flattened tongue and pauses where he swirls it around the sensitive head. He keeps his fingers teasing around Gabriel’s hole, letting them dip down to the expanse of skin between it and his cock, pressing into the tender area and enjoying the moan it gets him in response.
Before long, Gabriel has a hand at the back of Hugo’s neck. His own cock twitches when he glances up, mouth full of Gabriel’s considerable girth and tongue coated with the copious beads of precome Gabriel leaks, and finds Gabriel watching him intently, all traces of the malice he showed during their first encounter erased. As though exposed by Hugo’s recognition, he looks away, muscular chest rising and falling with great, needy breaths.
In what Hugo considers a grand display of skill, he relaxes and takes Gabriel deep in his throat, gratified by the long groan that Gabriel gives as he does. When his lips nearly touch the base, he pauses, groping for the oil and recoating his fingers. Only then does he glide his mouth up, bottom lip pressed against the thick vein on the underside of Gabriel’s cock the whole way. After a few bobs of his head, taking Gabriel in his mouth in shallow thrusts, Hugo returns his fingers to Gabriel’s rim and gently presses into him, the heat and resistance igniting his own lust anew.
Chancing a glance upward, Hugo lets slip a moan around Gabriel’s cock at the sight of his head tossed back, hair wild, face both somehow sharp and soft with pleasure. Sex is one of the only times Hugo has ever seen Gabriel unguarded, and now proves no exception.
By the time Hugo adds a second, slick finger, Gabriel’s dick has gone impossibly hard in his mouth. He moves faster, matching the pace of his thrusting fingers with the motions of his tongue and lips. It’s a delight but not a surprise when Gabriel cries out, long and loud, as Hugo starts to curl his fingertips against the swollen spot inside him. Hugo varies the strokes, applying firm pressure sometimes and more gentle touches on others, relishing in the way Gabriel makes near constant noises of pleasure as he does.
Only the rough, sudden grab at Hugo’s neck and the buck of Gabriel’s hips warns Hugo that he’s about to come. He keeps his movements steady all the way until he feels the first flood of come fill his mouth, at which point he stops and eagerly swallows down Gabriel’s release. There’s so much that he feels some dribble out of the corner of his mouth, though he’s so deep in the throes of lust that he can’t bring himself to care about the wanton picture he must make.
Hugo lets Gabriel’s already softening cock slip from his mouth at the same time as he reluctantly withdraws his fingers. Somewhere, his rational mind is screaming, but here and now, seeing Gabriel’s tanned, tattooed, generous body sprawled in fucked out pleasure, naked from the waist down and without a care in the world… his rational mind has no power here
“Now…” Gabriel begins, deep voice breathless from pleasure, “Was that so hard?”
Hugo would die before admitting it.
After wiping the back of his mouth with his clean hand, Hugo gets to his feet and pointedly averts his gaze from Gabriel. Any longer staring at the confident, thick, hair-covered planes of his body and Hugo will straddle Gabriel’s face and shove his cock down his throat until he chokes on it. After snatching his rumpled, salt-stained coat from the ground, Hugo stands stiffly with his back facing Gabriel.
“Consider us even.”
Gabriel’s laugher is equal parts amused and mocking. “Gladly. See you tomorrow morning, Commodore.”
Before he can do anything else to prove himself a fool, Hugo walks away.
Days pass as Gabriel scours the island with Hugo, and to his dismay, he feels the hold on his hatred for the other man slipping out of his grasp.
Maybe it’s because they’re trapped together on this cursed island. Maybe it’s because, despite the decisions that cleaved them apart, they were once an unstoppable team. Maybe it’s the feeling of getting even for lying through his teeth to Hugo’s face: about the curse, about his imminent rescue, about his feelings in general. Maybe it’s the secret fear that he and Hugo will be stuck here forever with only each other as company until they rot away to dust.
Maybe he just has too much damn time to think.
On the third day, they set out once more, combing over the same pathways through the teeny, tiny island forest. He’s going cross-eyed from searching the same copses of trees, the same bushes, the same fallen logs, the same expanses of sand. Though Gabriel’s frustration mounts regarding the curse, the lack of discovery, his missing ship, and the way Hugo’s presence grows more and more on him despite every reason not to, the morning starts with the usual bickering and bantering. Hugo charges around all prim and proper, back straight, fully dressed every time despite the growing heat during the days. He looks shockingly rested and it suits him, sea green eyes clear as they scour the area for anything he missed.
Why Gabriel cares about how rested the traitorous bastard is, he doesn’t know.
The sun climbs into the middle of the sky by the time Hugo raises a palm and calls for a halt. He’s staring intently at the ground, so still Gabriel can see the beads of sweat rolling down his neck.
“Wait. There might be something here.”
Excitement echoes through Gabriel like a thunderclap. It’s the first breakthrough they’ve had since their extraordinarily tentative truce. “Really? What?”
After shushing him—rude prick—Hugo kneels down to the soil, examining something Gabriel can’t discern among the flotsam and jetsam. Gabriel watches as he reaches down and swipes his palm back and forth, slowly at first, then gaining in speed, those infuriatingly gorgeous eyes brightening in alertness.
“I think… if I’m reading this correctly…” By now, Gabriel can see a panel of stone cleared by Hugo’s effort, slate grey and unlike anything else on this godsforsaken island. Hugo carefully runs his fingers along the exposed stone until they catch on something Gabriel can’t make out.
“Reading? What is there to read?” Gabriel stomps over to stand opposite Hugo, staring at the stone.
“Wait, Gabriel, don’t—"
Only quick reflexes keep Gabriel from falling into a rapidly opening hole in the ground of the island, distant mechanisms clicking and rumbling beneath the surface. By the time the movement stops, a black pit sits in front of the pair of them, grass and soil disturbed around the edges of the opening.
“What in the hells?” Gabriel cries, though his heart races with adrenaline. A secret passage? He’d mostly been blowing smoke up Hugo’s ass when he asked for an alliance, but it turns out he was onto something after all.
“There are stairs leading down,” Hugo says, forehead lined in a frown. “If I were a betting man, I would say this seems as likely a place as any for an artifact to rest.”
Usually, Gabriel would have at least one drop of caution when faced with a mysterious hole, regardless of who or what it belonged to. The combination of elation, excitement, and desire to get to the artifact before Hugo does means he hops over and begins charging down the stairs, stale cool air wafting up from wherever they lead.
“Be careful, there could be traps or magical wards!” Hugo’s voice already sounds distant.
He doesn’t care. All that matters is getting the artifact. Any magical protections, he can sense, and he’ll take his chances with mundane traps. Gabriel bounds down the steps three at a time with his large stride, grateful for the blessing of the Furysworn that lets him see in the darkness. He hears an echoing shout from Hugo follow him down.
Deeper, deeper, deeper he goes, much deeper than he expected. It’s a similar comforting darkness to his prayer trance. It feels like home even as it feels alien, strange—surely the island couldn’t be this deep in and of itself? Despite taking longer than he anticipated, Gabriel finds himself in a singular, simple chamber, a waist high altar carved from stone in the center.
An empty altar.
As soon as his hope had risen, it plummets again, drowning in sudden disappointment. Gabriel curses and swears, his words echoed back to him by the empty chamber. After humiliating himself to make an alliance with Hugo, after promising Xeheia, after getting stuck on this island…
He’s still angrily pacing and muttering by the time Hugo makes his way down. He has a palm on the wall and moves slower than usual, and it dimly registers that it might be pitch black in this place to unblessed eyes.
“A little light, please?” Hugo asks snidely. “You’re the one with the only tinderbox.”
“It’d be a waste. There’s nothing here.”
“I would like to do my due diligence in any case. Giving you a reason to leave me behind when the Squall comes back seems self-sabotaging.”
With a frustrated growl, Gabriel rifles through his satchel for their makeshift torch, formed from twine and collected dry driftwood, then lights it and thrusts it at Hugo.
Hugo shoots an annoyed look at Gabriel and then, continuing his train of irritating actions, starts to circulate around the edges of the room, peering at the walls like they hold some sort of secrets.
Gabriel crosses his arms and sighs, tapping his foot against the stone floor. Without the relic, he will have to change his plan to the last resort option. It feels like several eternities pass as Hugo continues to search every nook and cranny. In the final blow, he approaches the central altar, glancing down and grimacing.
“Nothing,” Hugo says softly.
Throwing his hands up, Gabriel gives a wordless yell of frustration. “What did I fucking tell you?!”
Without looking back at Hugo’s angry, sharp face, Gabriel storms back up the stairwell, already considering his next desperate move.
Once Hugo can no longer hear Gabriel’s footsteps, he lets out a long, shaky breath, then looks down at the altar.
A gorgeous black mask rests on the square platform, matte except for the threaded veins of obsidian woven through it shimmering in the torchlight. Two twisted horns with alternating striations of hematite and obsidian curl away from the oval face. A pair of gigantic rubies are inset where eyes would be, and though there are hints of humanoid shapes in the ‘nose’ and ‘cheeks’, there is only unblemished and unmarked surface where a mouth should be. It’s eerie and unsettling and, to Hugo’s disused perception, wildly magical.
Why couldn’t Gabriel see this?
The chamber now free from Gabriel’s thunderous, furious presence, Hugo goes back to the walls. Parts of the ancient, holy script have been worn illegible. Still others, Hugo can’t read because he’s terribly out of practice. He understands enough to piece together the gist of this place.
A long-lost cloister devoted to Vidakai, Swallower of Secrets, Breaker of the Gods.
It’s no wonder Xeheia sent her Furysworn—sent Gabriel—to find this object. Of all the gods, only Vidakai rivaled her for power, unshackled as they were by the divine laws the rest of the pantheon had to abide. She would want this contained, if not destroyed in the nexus of her power outright, continuing her quest to wipe every last vestige of their power from the earth.
A vestige that shouldn’t exist at all.
As Hugo stands in the midst of the chamber, a presence tugs at his awareness. One of sea salt and ozone and uproarious thunder. Though Hugo’s oaths to Xeheia were broken soon after he left the Squall—left Gabriel—the job was never fully finished. Through the tiny, sparking thread of connection, Xeheia delivers only one whispered imperative:
Until five years ago, Hugo devoted his life to Xeheia, to the coven of pirates, to Gabriel. When that no longer served him, when his conscious caught up to his bloody misdeeds, he tried to forge a moral path sailing in service of the law. Still, all his old instincts scream for him to obey this tremulous thread of command. To beg on his knees for Xeheia’s forgiveness. To be welcomed back into the storm and sea. She did choose to save him, after all.
But Hugo owes neither Xeheia nor her Furysworn anything.
He approaches the altar and reads the old holy language inscribed in a border around its edges once more to make sure he hasn’t lost his mind:
For those who thread their words with lies
For those who set their oaths ablaze
For those who see through life’s disguise
We gift to you The Traitor’s Gaze
With trembling hands, he lifts the mask from the slate grey surface.
A voice, reverberating and genderless and mind-breaking, whisper-roars in Hugo’s mind:
Was it polite, exactly, to abandon Hugo in a dank cave because he was in a fit of pique? No. Has Gabriel ever considered himself a polite man, particularly to ex-lovers who sold out his ship and crew to the law? Also no.
Does he feel a teeny, tiny bit bad about it anyway? Yeah.
If Hugo were pissed about it, he could have come to Gabriel’s camp. It’s not like it’s hard to find him with the whole quarter hour walk across the island. With any luck, he broke his neck on the hidden staircase and saved Gabriel the trouble of offing him in the end.
Currently, Gabriel has more important things to worry about. Namely the pair of golden dice in his hand, carved with esoteric symbols on each face, taken from the pouch he kept hidden beneath his rowboat bench. They seem so harmless cradled in his palm.
“If you get anything through that thick skull of yours, Gabriel Furysworn, know this: what I’ve given you is, like, six hundred million times more payment than I owe you. Do you know how hard it is to imbue a fortune’s favor in an object for later use? No, of course you don’t, because you’re not a luckmage.” Lis jabbed a finger at the pouch she’d just given Gabriel, wild red curls spilling over her shoulder. “When you need to achieve the impossible, set your intention and roll the dice. The rest will be in fate’s hands. But make sure it’s absolutely, positively worth it.”
For three years Gabriel has hung onto this pair of dice, praying he’d never need to use them.
But it seems the time has come.
Let the Screaming Squall find the island and rescue me.
Holding his breath, he rolls the dice along the sand. They tumble further than should be possible, rolling over and over again, heedless of the physics involved. When they finally come to a stop they land on matching symbols. A breath later, they dissolve into gold sparkles, the remnants of which drift into the air like fireflies before disappearing altogether.
Now, he waits.
The days string along one by one, orderly and neat.
Gabriel hates orderly and neat.
Still no sign of the Squall.
He puts up a front with Hugo, continuing to search if only to keep up the ruse, but at this point it’s painfully obvious to both of them: there’s no artifact on this island, if there ever was at all.
The sun rises. The sun sets. The horizon remains empty.
Gabriel grows more and more convinced he’s going to die here, magic dice be damned. Even the thought of antagonizing and/or fucking and/or murdering Hugo loses most of its appeal. That’s how he knows he’s truly in the grip of hopelessness. At least Hugo seems content to keep to his side of the island, leaving Gabriel to his misery.
On the fifth night after Gabriel rolled his dice, the monotony breaks. But not in a good way.
It starts with an electric thrill along his skin. Static shock but multiplied tenfold. He breathes in the scent of ozone despite a clear sky. A warmth follows the electricity, like being dipped in liquid lightning.
Extending his hidden senses outward, he guesses he has maybe half an hour at most before it hits the island. Figures this miserable, cursed island in the Unchartables is also a target of furystorms. Either that or Xeheia is really pissed with him. At least he’s kept up with his prayers and should be able to ward the worst of the storm off for himself, even being separated from the Squall and his source of tribute.
After ten minutes of sulking, it hits him:
Hugo isn’t sworn to Xeheia any longer. He has no shelter, no protection, no way of mitigating the effects.
Gabriel’s first thought: Good, keeps me from getting my hands dirty. Gabriel’s second and (arguably) far more disturbing thought: I don’t want him to die.
He leaps to his feet and paces, churning up sand in big clouds as he does. What does it matter if Hugo bites it? He’s living on borrowed time anyway according to his own damn story. Two birds, one guilt free stone for Gabriel. Hugo was the one who betrayed him. Hugo was the one who abandoned him. Hugo deserves everything he has coming to him.
Except memories flood Gabriel, of the recent and not so recent variety. A razor scraped down a cheek. A desperate kiss in the rain. A copper-stained mouth on bruised skin. A rope tightening around the neck. A scream of Hugo’s name like a hex. A skin of ale passed between their fingers round the fire. A groan of pleasure as Hugo pins him down and fills him to the brim. A watchful sea green gaze as the marquist needles his skin. A rare smile like ambrosia. A sword point to the throat. A broken promise whispered to the midnight sea.
He doesn’t know how much time passes, but then he knows:
Whatever Gabriel decides to do about Hugo Melançon, he wants to be the one to decide it. He won’t let the storm rob him of the chance.
With that, he races towards the west side of the island.
By the time he reaches Hugo’s encampment, the sky has bled from blue to ominous grey. Energy courses through Gabriel strong enough to make him want to peel his skin off. As a captain, he steers the Squall around storms of all kinds to spare the ship, not himself. Gabriel the Furysworn, chosen of Xeheia, drinks down the storm’s power like a man dying of thirst drinks down water.
A startled Hugo leaps up from his woven-leaf bedroll and has a palm on the hilt of his sword before Gabriel can blink. Backing away, he says, “What do you want, Gabriel?”
What does Gabriel want? To break. To destroy. To scourge his conscience clear of every feeling he’s ever had for Hugo. To roar into the wind and the rain. To not have to explain.
Using his superior height, he snarls and closes the gap between them, grabbing Hugo’s bicep hard enough to bruise and stopping him in his tracks. Two weeks ago, Gabriel would delight in the flicker of terror in Hugo’s eyes. Now…
Now he doesn’t know a damn thing.
Gabriel knows what Hugo must see: black swallowing his eyes whole, gaze as fathomless as the goddess he serves, fueled by the power of the furystorm. It has terrified more than one hapless opponent before.
“A furystorm.” Hugo’s tone holds no question.
Locked like the tides, Hugo tosses a challenging gaze up at Gabriel, any trace of fear gone. “You could simply leave me to die. I’d be exposed.”
Gabriel’s voice, enhanced by a magic he can’t fully contain in the approaching storm, cracks across the beach like thunder. “Do you want me to?!”
A heartbeat. Two. Three.
“Then… hells, come here.”
Once, long ago, Hugo found himself in the midst of a furystorm with Gabriel. Then, both of them were sworn to Xeheia, could shield themselves from her wrath.
Now… Hugo is entirely at Gabriel’s mercy.
At first the embrace is awkward. Gabriel holds Hugo to his chest as though he’d rather be traipsing about in the destructive chaos around them. Despite the plush give of his padded muscle, he’s stiff as a board, his ink-drenched eyes staring up at the lightning split sky. If Hugo were to reach up and fully extend his arm, he suspects the shearing winds and flying debris might cut it clean off. Though it wasn’t close to sunset when Gabriel found him, it’s as dark as midnight outside of the protective barrier Gabriel maintains.
As time passes—and between reliving memories of the storm that nearly killed him and being in the embrace of the man he once loved, Hugo has thoroughly lost any perception of how much time is passing—Gabriel relaxes. Which makes Hugo relax. Which, all things considered, aside from the precipitous drop in temperature the barrier can’t quite mitigate, makes it almost pleasant.
“I didn’t betray you. Back when I left the Squall.”
Or Hugo will open his mouth and make it unpleasant again.
Gabriel shifts until he’s laying on his side, keeping one powerful arm draped over Hugo to maintain their closeness and contact. “Hells of a time to poke at that particular old wound.”
Spurred on by some unknown force—guilt, maybe, a guilt he’s carried for five years and that has only worsened by hiding the mask at the altar—Hugo keeps talking. “If we die, I at least want to tell you my side of the story.”
“We’re not going to die.” Gabriel snorts and rolls his eyes, a gesture still recognizable even though magic has stained them black. His gaze flicks down to Hugo’s face. “Not exactly exciting work, keeping this shit at bay. It’ll make a good story. So entertain me.”
Hugo inhales deeply, trying and failing not to notice how his lungs fill with Gabriel’s scent as he does. “Up to a point, our stories match. I told you I wanted off the Squall and away from Xeheia’s domain, we fought, you dropped me off at the nearest port and said never to show my face around your seas again.”
“Sounds about right. Though you left out the part where you broke every shitting promise you made to me along the way.”
Hugo winces. “I’m aware. And I’m not disputing my actions on that point. Those actions, I fully own and accept. Though I still don’t believe they merit scorching a path through the vessels of the known seas to get vengeance on me.”
“That was for the betrayal,” Gabriel adds, as though it’s obvious.
Hugo pauses and watches debris fling about outside the barrier, examines the torrential rain making a blur of the semi-circle above them. “Except I didn’t betray you.”
“Who else could have known where our hideout was? Who else could have led the navy dogs right to our doorstep? Who else could have orchestrated the raid?”
“It wasn’t me. At least, not directly. Even as they tortured me, I never gave up a single godsdamn thing!” Hugo hisses. Even Hugo's self-control has limits, and confessing this to Gabriel in the middle of a deadly storm taxes it past those limits.
There’s a long wordless stretch. Only crashing thunder and the distant, roaring waves fill it. Gabriel’s question is nearly lost in the din. “Torture?”
Reaching for Gabriel’s hand, Hugo guides it beneath his shirt, for once not registering the familiar caress of Gabriel’s palm as something to be excited about. He yanks until Gabriel’s eyes widen ever so slightly, until his face crumples into a frown.
“They flayed you.”
“Yes,” Hugo rasps. “They did. Not only did they flay Xeheia’s mark from my skin, they brought in one of their bondbreakers after they healed me from the brink of death. Severed our connection. The price of my entry into the world of the privateers. The price of the title commodore.”
“Gods.” Gabriel, without asking for permission, of course, explores more of the taut scar tissue, ridged in places and shimmery and smooth in others. Hugo has spent enough time staring in the mirror assessing the damage to have it memorized. “They took the whole bleedin' thing.”
“They did, and even as I screamed and bled and wept where I was strapped down, as they peeled layers of my skin down to the naked muscle and left me in excruciating pain, I did not betray you. At least… not intentionally.”
“What do you mean?”
“When they confiscated my belongings, they found an old, outdated map. One I thought I’d burned long ago with the rest of them.” With every word, Hugo sheds a weight he didn’t realize he’d been carrying. He expects no absolution from Gabriel, let alone reconciliation—he’s still not convinced he’s making it off this island by Gabriel’s doing or alive at all. But as much as truth has been a nebulous concept in his career as pirate and later privateer, this truth matters. “And I’ve been paying for the oversight since.”
Gabriel’s hand grows still on the naked, ruined skin of his back. At first, Hugo fears he’s going to be shoved out into the furystorm. It would be as much as he deserved. All he’d wanted was to be free of the pillaging, the senseless murder, the escalating raids, Xeheia’s endless demands. He wanted to go back to the simple, earnest work of sailing the seas without Xeheia’s prices and demands hanging over his head.
He hadn’t wanted to be stripped of his oath to her. Not necessarily. He especially, beyond every shadow of a doubt, hadn’t wanted Gabriel and the rest of his former crew rounded up and nearly hanged. And then, once the worst had been averted, he hadn’t wanted the increasing suspicion and scrutiny he was put under by the navy as Gabriel burned his path of vengeance.
He had just wanted to be free.
“After all this time… I believe you.” Gabriel’s quiet admission spears Hugo through the chest. His storm-drenched eyes lock to Hugo’s and cause his heart to stumble behind his rib cage. “I still hate you even if I can’t get you out of my godsdamned head, and I don’t forgive you... but I believe you.”
Hugo closes his eyes and simply nods. Any words he could conjure right now would feel trite.
The shock of Gabriel’s mouth on his, teeth sinking into his lower lip, pales in comparison to the admission the Furysworn just made. By the time they part for air, Hugo can feel the promise of swollen, bruised lips. He opens his mouth to say… to say what, he doesn’t know. A rough finger against his lips stops him.
“No. Whatever it is, don’t. Just… don’t fucking complicate this.”
Hugo takes the image of him in: abyssal eyes, braided hair, full beard, rugged handsomeness, compulsion in his gaze. He decides, for once in his life, not to argue.
The storm rages around them as they crush their mouths together. After peeling Hugo out of his coat, Gabriel’s hands coast up and down the scarred skin of Hugo’s back as though he’s trying to memorize it. It aches in a way that has nothing to do with the physical. In the worst moments of his healing, stitched together by magic and prayers, he’d wanted nothing more than the comfort of Gabriel’s arms despite knowing he’d burnt that bridge to the ground.
He’ll gladly accept this facsimile now, even if it cracks his heart wide open again.
Hugo fists his hands on either side of Gabriel’s vest and roughly tugs him closer, burying his face in Gabriel’s neck and mouthing at the juncture where it meets his shoulder.
“Harder,” Gabriel growls.
And so Hugo complies, leaving a trail of bruises and red teeth marks from the tender underside of Gabriel’s jaw, a palette in ruby and violet. He decorates Gabriel’s collarbone with a garland of marks that may outlast Hugo himself. He tastes the salt and ozone of Gabriel’s skin and swears, if he closes his eyes, that he can almost feel the current of magic leaping between them as they were once able to share. As it stands, he relishes the radiating warmth of him, the way his curved belly presses into Hugo’s own lean stomach, the hard metal of his lip piercing as they kiss again and again, like they’re trying to devour one another whole.
Gabriel’s hands make their way to Hugo’s ass, squeezing hard as he pulls Hugo flush against him. The press of their clothed cocks together draws a quiet groan from Hugo and Gabriel alike, the noise drowned in a peal of thunder. Every bit of the friction sparks desire anew, sending a wave of frisson from Hugo’s scalp to his toes. He could come just like this, right in his slops as he ruts against Gabriel, their hips finding and keeping the same rhythm as they cling to each other like life rafts in a storm.
The muted pleasure satisfies Hugo for a while, but eventually, he reaches for Gabriel’s vest and urges it down his shoulders. Gabriel makes an impatient noise and flings it out of the barrier, where it’s picked up in the wind and carried off to parts unknown. Hugo can’t help but let out a stifled laugh.
“Yeah? You think that’s funny?”
With one massive hand, Gabriel rips the borrowed shirt right off Hugo’s body. It takes two hard tugs until the tattered ivory fabric is in Gabriel’s fist, and one flick of his wrist until it’s lost to the furystorm as well. The rest of their undressing is proof that some things, you just don’t forget no matter how much time has passed. They shimmy out of pants and underclothes, boots a long-forgotten luxury on their island stay, never straying further than two hands away from one another; Hugo would like to say it’s because he wants to stay protected from the storm, but truly, now that he’s been pressed skin to skin with Gabriel, he never wants to let go.
By the time Hugo reaches between them and holds their leaking cocks together, neither of them are interested in patience, in separation. Hugo groans at the first slide of their dicks together, a noise Gabriel picks up and amplifies both with magic and the natural depth of his voice.
Hugo is reduced to sensation: the flashing lights of the storm, the building pressure behind his navel, the endless black of Gabriel’s eyes, the messy and rough kisses lined along Hugo’s collarbone to match the ones he left on Gabriel, Gabriel’s hands at his back, his ass, everywhere at once.
Their hips pick up the same rhythm as they had when they were clothed, and now that their cocks are pressed together, both of them leaking enough to make it slippery and inviting, Hugo teeters on the edge.
It’s Gabriel who comes first with a guttural noise, a death grip on Hugo’s hip as he covers Hugo’s abdomen in ropes of pearlescent come, eyes screwed shut in pleasure. Through the mess, through the oversensitivity, Hugo keeps moving and chases down the last ounce of friction he needs. The world washes white, erasing Gabriel and storm alike, and then his hips are stuttering and he’s adding his own release to the mess Gabriel already made. There’s a noise of protest from Gabriel as Hugo grinds one last time against his softening, too sensitive cock, and then the two of them lay panting on a bed of leaves, the sounds of their heavy breathing lost in the uproar of the storm.
In the middle of the night, huddled together for warmth and clothed in whatever articles they could find after the furystorm ended, Gabriel awakens.
When he first cracks his eyes open he swears he’s dreaming. Hugo, ever dead to the world when he sleeps, doesn’t stir as Gabriel disentangles himself. He rubs his fists with his eyes, squints, and nearly yells in surprise.
The Screaming Squall rests at the shore, black and gold sails unfurled in all their glory, a single lantern glowing at the prow of the ship like the brightest star in the sky.
The dice. They worked, they worked, they actually worked. He’s going to get off the island—back to the waters of Xeheia, back to the coves, back home. Gabriel’s already five steps toward the ship when he stops.
When he turns back toward the sleeping Hugo.
Gabriel had wanted the chance to decide, and now the moment for the decision has come. To honor the deal they made or not.
A hurricane stirs in his chest, a maelstrom of emotion he can barely contain. There was no denying they shared a moment during the storm. More than a moment. Shame warms his cheeks as he remembers, though in a roundabout way, admitting to still loving Hugo in some part of his furious, vengeful soul. And as he looks at Hugo’s prone, recumbent form, it’s easy to imagine this becoming normal again. To imagine Hugo worming his way back into Gabriel’s ship, life, bed, heart.
He doesn’t want the risk of that pain again. Not when the first time nearly fucking destroyed him.
Decision made, he turns his back on Hugo and continues on toward the Screaming Squall.
There’s a note pinned to the bag of supplies in the fresh rowboat.
Catch me if you can.
Hugo crumples the parchment in his fist. Gabriel’s handwriting is unmistakable, as is his absence from the island.
The betrayal should sting, but strangely, it feels more like a confirmation to Hugo. A beautiful day has dawned, sunrise painting the white sand of the beach in blue and gold. He has been through the furystorm three times and lived—an auspicious beginning.
He also has his trump card. His ace in the hole.
With one last lingering glance at the mask in his hand, Hugo puts on The Traitor’s Gaze and stares out at the horizon.
THE PACT IS ACCEPTED. YOU AND I WILL ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS, FORSWORN.
Immediately the world takes on a hundred new colours, reveals a thousand new secrets. For now, only one interests Hugo: the magical barrier surrounding the island. More importantly, the narrow and twisting path through said magical barrier, revealed by the power of the artifact.
“We’ll see who catches who, Gabriel Berthelot. We’ll certainly see.”