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Aboard Undina

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Dara will be the first to admit, in what is rather a paradoxical way given the subject, that he is not exactly the most forthcoming man on the planet. Even by the usual male standards of bloke-ish reticence, he knows he's an outlier. Which is one of many reasons, though he's significantly more unlikely to admit to this in particular, that he enjoys alcohol. There are barriers that naturally exist between a man and his, for lack of a better word, feelings, and since no man can live behind walls all of the time, there is the necessity for a mechanism that lets him lower them without penalty, if only for a while.

He is simultaneously appreciative of and mystified by the mindset of teetotalers, and respects (and, on mornings when he wakes up with an excruciatingly stomach-twisting hangover, envies) their self-control. But he occasionally, to his shame, finds himself unnerved by them, in ways he can't quite explain. He suspects it has something to do with their side-stepping of the social contract that comes along with imbibing: namely, the mutual acknowledgment that one might make a bit of an arse of oneself, and say things that one wouldn't necessarily say when one hadn't swallowed half a bottle of Laphroaig, and pass out on one's mate's couch with one's drool seeping into the good throw pillow and one's irritated wife calling one's mate's mobile because one's own phone is turned off and one forgot to text her. And that, even though one might do all those things, they were never to be held against one in the cold, sober, deeply hungover light of day, provided one acknowledged his aforementioned arse-like behavior and offered to pay to get the good throw pillow cleaned.

This uneasiness is part of the reason that he and Griff don't usually socialize, outside of the setting of BBC-enforced wacky funtimes or the odd lunch spent talking about their upcoming program with Griff's ill-advised venture into boat ownership. He doesn't socialize with Rory either, but that's because Rory is a pillock. Whereas Griff would likely be rather good company, if only he didn't look at Dara with that piercing expression, like he sees more than Dara wants him to see, and worse, like he'll remember it all in the morning.

Which is why it's all the more surprising when Griff calls him in the middle of the day on a Friday, and makes a preposterous suggestion.

"D'you want to come out and have a look at her?"

Dara frowns at the television, flipping through the channel guide, and shrugs, even though Griff is somewhere in the arse end of Wales and shrugs aren't exactly audible. "Why?" he says. "I trust that it's seaworthy. I'd hardly notice if it weren't, given our last boat."

"That was a perfectly serviceable little skiff that did a magnificent job --" Griff starts, and Dara has to laugh. He tosses the remote to the couch and stands up, pacing toward the kitchen, then turning back and scratching the side of the neck when he realizes he's feeling awkward and self-conscious for no reason given that he's alone in his house with just the lesser twat of the two most pedantic twats in existence on the phone.

"You love that stupid thing," he says. "You'd have taken it with you if you could've."

"Possibly," Griff admits. "She was charming, in a rustic sort of way. Though I think I would've given her a pass, in the end -- it'd be difficult to scrub out the lingering stench of McGrath."

"Not much of a pleasure boat if it smells like McGrath's dirty shirts," Dara agrees. "You realise the same thing's about to happen to your million-pound yacht?"

Griff sputters for a moment, and Dara grins, then realizes he's pacing again and makes himself sit down on the couch. He switches the phone to his other ear and drums his free hand on his thighs restlessly, listening to Griff start a series of rebuttals, abandon them mid-syllable, and end with, "Oh, hell, you're a cock."

"Proudly," Dara says.

"I'll just wrap his bunk in plastic. I can't risk him ruining the upholstery -- I just had it refinished."

"Wrap him in plastic instead, that'll save time."

"Certainly," Griff says. "So I'll see you tomorrow, then?"

"What -- oh, Griff, no, I just, I don't want to spend any more time on that boat than I have to --"

"Come on," Griff says impatiently. "You'll make a fool of yourself if the first time you see it is on-camera for the show, you'll know how to fake it better if you've seen the damn thing before we start rolling. Come and visit for an evening, get a feel for her, and then start writing all your jokes ahead of time so you can make McGrath look like an arse."

"He'll look like an arse even if I spend the entire program with my mouth sewn shut."

"And I'd be so much happier if you did," Griff sighs, and Dara laughs. "Come and see the boat, Dara. I think you'll love her and I'd like to hear your thoughts." There's a pause, and then Griff sighs again. "I'll give you dinner and a bottle of whisky if it'll get you here. And I won't do the cooking."

"Your bribery is most convincing," Dara says, and thinks, Well, whisky, that's good, and, Oh, hell, it's not a bad idea, in the end. Something in his chest feels too tight when he says, "I'll come visit your stupid boat, just to test it out, and anything I hate, you'll change?"

"Of course not," Griff says. "But you're welcome to get me to try."

He hangs up before Dara can respond. Dara twists his face in annoyance. "I don't know where I'd even begin," he tells the dead air, and snaps his mobile shut.


The marina where Griff's boat is docked isn't terribly far away from Dara's house, and after gauging the weather and finding it unnervingly pleasant for London -- and finding himself annoyed because he won't have "it's pissing down outside" as an excuse to back out of visiting the stupid boat -- he sets out walking for the river.

Which turns out to be a bad choice, because walking gives him far too much time alone with himself, and he inevitably starts to resent the upcoming evening, the upcoming program, Griff's boat, all boats in general, Griff himself, the notion of appearing on telly altogether, and himself for agreeing to do yet another program on a boat with the two most annoying men in existence, to say nothing of the dog.

Though they haven't yet decided if the dog will accompany them this time. Perhaps he can at least weasel his way out of the dog element.

By the time he arrives at the marina, dusk has fallen and Dara has talked himself into near-seething disdain for all things nautical, Welsh, telly-related, or canine. He walks past gin palaces and pleasure cruisers of all shapes and universally vast sizes, until he reaches the dock where Griff had said Undina would be moored.

All right, he thinks. So it's really quite lovely.

"Griff," he calls, feeling stupid shouting at an empty deck. He waits a moment, then reaches out and grabs the railing at the boat's edge. "Griff, are you in there?" He steps over the gap between dock and boat, and passes through a nauseating moment of dizziness in which the river seems to swell and yawn open under him, and then he has both feet on the deck and the moment has passed, leaving him shaken and, somehow, even more annoyed.

"Dara." Griff climbs out from what Dara assumes is the cabin entrance, and holds out a hand to shake Dara's own while pushing his crooked glasses back up his nose with the other. Dara hasn't seen him in a month or so, not since the production meeting. He looks skinnier, somehow, and pale in the waning sunlight poking its fingers over the heads of London's buildings. "You're supposed to ask permission to come aboard."

Dara huffs, but shakes Griff's hand. "My apologies, Captain."

Griff grins at him, either not caring about the sarcasm or missing it entirely, and sweeps a hand toward the cabin. "Well, all right, come have a look and tell me what you think of her."

There's a ladder that leads down below decks into the cabin. This doesn't bode well, Dara thinks, and swings his legs over to climb down.

"Christ on a carpet, could this be any smaller --" Dara stops dead with one foot planted at the base of the ladder, head stooped to avoid unfortunate contact with the ceiling, staring at what he's convinced is his own personal Hell. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you've got to be fucking kidding me."

"Lovely, isn't she?" Griff calls from above him. Dara fights the urge to slap a hand to his forehead and drag it over his face. "All that wood, it's chestnut and cherry, very well-preserved overall --"

"The beds, you clot," Dara shouts up the ladder. Griff bends over to look through the entrance to the cabin. "Tell me there's a full sized bed hidden somewhere. There's a third floor to this thing, right?"

"Ah, well." Griff rubs a hand over his chin. "Not as such."

"Griff." Dara lets go of the ladder rung and glares as effectively as he can while feeling like Igor, hunched over as he is. "Look at me. You're a bony short-arse toothpick, so I'm sure one of those beds is your idea of king size, but --"

"Try it before you whine at me, you big girl." Griff disappears from the entrance. Dara swears under his breath, picking his way across the floor and trying not to think words like oaf and clumsy at himself, as if that'll save him from tripping over the nonexistent space and punching a hole through the hull with his head.

The bed is tinier than Dara has ever, even in his worst nightmares, imagined it possible for a bed to be. He braces his hands on the side of the bunk and sighs, then starts to climb in.

"Well, is it as bad as you thought?" Griff steps off the ladder and comes to stand in front of Dara and the bunk, his arms crossed over his chest and eyebrow arched expectantly -- and quite smugly, for someone who can see exactly how bad it really is.

"I haven't been this cramped since the womb," Dara says. He's curled on his side, knees tucked to his chest and chin resting on his closed fists. This position probably mitigates the glare he's giving to Griff in an attempt to convey the sentiment of 'I would light your eyebrows on fire with my mind if it were possible.' "Griff, I won't ever survive three hundred miles in this thing."

"You don't have to," Griff says. "You'll be awake for most of those."

"I can't survive three hundred miles in this boat." Dara tries to gesture and ends up clipping himself on the nose. "Sweet mother of Christ, this is absurd."

"You're right." Griff has one hand covering his mouth. Dara is convinced he's trying to hide a grin, and feels his stomach do a strange little flip, an unnervingly similar sensation to what he feels when an audience laughs at the first joke. "It's utterly absurd, but it's going to make for brilliant television."

"It had better," Dara says. "It's going to need to pay for my back surgery."

"Your point has been made, sir." Griff gestures at the cabin. "Don't you want the rest of the tour?"

Dara hoists one leg over the edge of the bunk with a grunt. "Is there more that I can't see from here?"

"Well." Griff looks to one side, then the other. "There's the inside of the fridge. You can't see that from there."

"Christ, I forgot about food," Dara huffs and manages to throw his other leg over the edge. The back of his neck is pressed up against the top of the bunk and he's forced into staring at Griff's feet. "You'd best go elsewhere and give me a moment," he says. "This is going to be hugely embarrassing."

Griff's feet back out of Dara's line of vision. "Oh, by all means, continue."

The back of Dara's neck goes hot and flushed, and he twists his head to scowl at Griff's stupid face. "Go away, you arse, it's your fault I'm in this fucking spot in the first place and I won't give you the pleasure of watching me break all my bones to get out of it."

"All right, all right, I'll leave you to your contortions." Griff turns his back on Dara and begins to pull items out of the galley fridge. "Shepherd's pie for dinner?"

"Kill me now," Dara moans, and manages to twist himself free of the bunk with a move that his spine will forever punish him for. "I'd forgotten about your cooking."

"It's not crayfish. You have nothing to complain about."

"I taste those beasts in my nightmares." Dara starts for the ladder, every muscle in his body aching for a good, long stretch. His lungs feel too small, his skin feels too small, the space around him feels too small, and he's starting to think that this trip really might be the one that drives him insane. Unless the last one managed it, and he's only just figuring it out now that he's back in person with Griff. "I'll be up top."

"Above decks," Griff calls after him. "Get it right, you clod."

"Requesting permission to throw you overboard, Captain Arsehole," Dara grumbles back, and emerges into the warm night air with an overwhelming wash of relief. He drapes his forearms over the railing at the edge of the deck and stares down into the brown water lapping at the hull, trying to get his breath back. He's not a claustrophobic man, but that had been distressingly difficult, what with Griff standing there, grinning and looming over him all folded into that bunk --

Dara scrubs his hand over the back of his head furiously, like he's trying to rub the thought out before he can complete it. "Hell," he mutters, then jumps when there's a thud behind him.

"Give me a hand," Griff says, holding a bottle and tumbler over the top of the ladder. Dara takes them from him and Griff passes him a paper plate with a steaming pile of shepherd's pie dumped in the center. "It's microwaved," he assures Dara, as he climbs the ladder and balances his own plate rather precariously. "And out of a box. You philistine."

"Thank god for small favors," is all Dara says, and follows Griff to the two camp chairs set up on the other side of the deck.

The shepherd's pie is blissfully unlike anything Griff had ever attempted to cook before, and the bottle is a Penderyn single malt -- both to Dara's surprise and satisfaction. It's all unnervingly pleasant, he thinks.

"Cheers," Griff says, raising his plastic cup of seltzer at Dara, who lifts his tumbler in acknowledgment.

"What are we toasting?" he asks.

Griff tilts a crooked smile at him. The lights from the surrounding boats are reflecting in his glasses and obscuring his eyes. Dara looks away, unsure if he'd been meeting Griff's gaze at all. "We have a lot of options," he says. "How about, to safe journeys?"

"Sounds about right," Dara says, and nudges his glass against Griff's cup.

The whisky goes down beautifully, a liquid warmth that lingers like the stroke of a lover's palm down his spine. He exhales slowly and opens his eyes without realizing he'd closed them, and finds Griff looking at him over the top of his glasses with an expression that seems to open Dara up down the middle. Dara looks down at his plate and swallows again, chasing the burn out of his mouth.

They talk about nothing through dinner and Dara's second glass of whisky, trading stories told so often that they're as comfortable retelling them as they are with favorite routines. Dara tells a story about a surprise trip to Sainsbury's with Stephen Fry and a terrified QI work-experience kid that has Griff laughing and sprawling back helplessly in his chair, one hand spread over his face like he's trying to keep his amusement from getting out at all, and Dara finds himself grinning into his glass, trying to convince himself that the warm feeling in his chest is solely from the whisky and not the sounds of Griff's laughter bouncing off the million-dollar hulls surrounding them.

He slouches down in his chair a little more and stretches his legs out in front of him, letting a small, pleased sigh escape as he does. The neck of the whisky bottle brushes his fingers and he wraps them around it, just holding it for a moment, like knowing it's there will reassure him, and then pours himself another glass -- third, he thinks, but the bottle's too low for that. He feels too aware of himself for it to be four.

"Hmm."

Dara looks up at Griff, who's reclined in his chair in a position that would mirror Dara's if Griff weren't such a short-arse. Griff's hands are folded in front of him and he taps them against his chin as he looks back at Dara, his expression making Dara feel uncomfortably like he's being studied, examined, and found lacking in a multitude of inexcusable ways. He wants to look away but something stubborn in his mind tells him that to do so will merely reaffirm Griff's worst suspicions about his character," so he meets Griff's gaze and digs his teeth into his bottom lip.

"Hmm," Griff says again. "That bunk really is going to be awful for you, isn't it."

Dara nods, then shrugs, then shakes his head. "It's small, but." He shrugs again, feeling like he has to apologize, like he's insulted Griff somehow by not finding his boat perfect. "We'll figure something out. It'll be funny."

"It certainly will." Griff tilts his head to one side and rests it against his closed fist, still not looking away from Dara. The glass in Dara's hand is slippery with sweat from his palms. The night can't have gotten warmer, but Dara feels as if his skin is prickling with heat all over. "I'm glad we're doing this," Griff says quietly. Dara has to shift and lean forward to hear him over the sound of water splashing against the boat's sides, and the plastic chair creaks under his frame. "It'll be good, I think," Griff adds.

"People liked us last time," Dara agrees. "I think ..." He looks down at his glass, swirls the whisky in it for a moment, then looks back up at Griff, his eyes sliding away from Griff's own and down the slope of his shoulders, the line of his forearms, anywhere but Griff's face. "I think we're good together."

"We make for good television," Griff says. Dara makes a noise in the back of his throat, an involuntary chuff of frustration at the noncommittal tone in Griff's voice. "What?" Griff says. "You don't think we make for good television?"

"I said what I think," Dara says, lifting his glass to his mouth. It feels too easy to say this, and he knows this feeling, relies on it more often than he likes to think about. Right now, some part of him knows it's nothing but reckless to run with it. The rest of him has things he's been wanting to say for a long time. "I think we're good together."

He looks up at Griff, and for the first time Griff isn't looking back. Instead he's staring at his hands spread over his thighs, and Dara can see the white points of pressure around the tips of his fingers. He feels weirdly triumphant, but isn't quite sure what he's won. Or if he's won at all.

"Griff," Dara says, but Griff gives himself a shake, like he's waking up, and is on his feet in an instant. Dara goes to put his glass down and stand up, but Griff's already heading for the cabin by the time Dara climbs out of his chair. "Griff --" He covers the distance between them in two long strides and reaches out to catch at Griff's wrist as he turns to back down the ladder. "Hang on a moment," Dara says. Everything feels too sharp and too clear, and he can see Griff's eyes perfectly behind the lenses of his glasses. He's staring fixedly at some point over Dara's shoulder, lips pressed into a line like he's forcing words off the tip of his tongue and back so he can swallow them. The look on Griff's face shifts the rest of the world out of focus and all Dara can see is him, all he can feel is the tension strung through Griff's body from its origin point where Dara's hand is wrapped around his wrist.

"Dara," Griff says, still looking away. "Please."

Dara's mouth goes dry and he swallows, turns Griff's wrist over in his hand and strokes his thumb along the pulse. "Please, what?" Griff shakes his head and Dara lets out a hiss of frustration and curls his other hand around the back of Griff's neck, forcing him to shift and meet Dara's eyes. The piercing gaze is gone, replaced with a hundred questions. Dara can only begin to guess at the answers to most of them. "Griff," he says, "please, what?"

Griff's Adam's apple bobs as he swallows, and he closes his eyes with a sigh. "You're drunk."

"Yes," Dara says, and pushes his fingers into the hair at the back of Griff's neck. Griff sighs and lets his head roll back against Dara's hand, and Dara feels his pulse trip under his thumb. "Will you believe me if I say that's a good thing?"

"Will it get me what I want if I say I do?"

Dara tightens his fingers around the back of Griff's neck and leans down until he can feel Griff's breath rushing quick and hard over his own lips. "Tell me what you want, Griff," he murmurs. He feels Griff inhale and something in him is sliding out of his grasp, slipping its leash. "Because I know what I want but I have to know that you --"

"Dara, please -- oh, hell." Griff throws his arm around the back of Dara's neck and pulls him down, crushing their mouths together.

Dara groans into Griff's mouth, kisses him back and pulls him closer, holding him in, fitting the lines of their bodies together like they were meant for this, like they were built for this. Griff sinks his teeth into Dara's lower lip and Dara gasps, and feels Griff's tongue push against his own, and gasps again. "Jesus," he says, or maybe it's, "Griff," or "Fuck me," or "I'm sorry I needed to be drunk to get the nerve to do this."

"It's okay," Griff says, and presses his mouth, hot and damp and slick, against Dara's neck in desperate, open-mouthed kisses. "Just --"

"Oh," Dara says, as Griff nips at his collarbone through his shirt. "Yes --"

"We're going to talk about this," Griff says, leaning back to look at Dara. Dara finds himself nodding helplessly, unable to look away. Griff's arm is still braced against the back of Dara's neck, holding him still as effectively as the wooden beam over the bunk had done to him earlier in the evening. "And you're going to be sober for it."

"Yes," Dara says. "Yes, all right, yes, absolutely. But, right now..." He bends down again and kisses the corner of Griff's mouth, and feels it turn up under his lips.

He'll talk, and Griff will listen, and Griff will talk and Dara will listen, and they'll argue and snipe at each other, and call each other names but never really mean it, and they'll be good together. Dara knows, because they're good together already.