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Carole Cummings


IT WAS almost a... mystical thing, the exertion. Which sounded a little "woo-woo" and nudged his practiced practicality into a bit of a knee-jerk "oh please" but there it was. The push-pull of muscle against bone; the stress of sinew over ligament, veins swelling and popping beneath sweated skin gone winter-pale. Dallin liked the physicality of labor, liked the way the resultant weariness felt oddly clean and somehow more satisfying than just about any other form of fatigue-as-aftermath.

Just about.

He grinned.

There hadn't been much left to do, in truth. Carver had helped him run the pipes, adjusting the last of the fittings and slathering joints with the sticky pine-resin paste he swore would resist leaks through winter, though he--respectfully, but very sternly, as few here dared to do toward Dallin--made sure to point out that winter was hardly ideal for this type of work, and he wouldn't be responsible for any cracked or broken pipes.

"It'll have to be re-done come spring," Carver had said, all laconic authority. "That's if it lasts the winter. It surely won't last two."

Dallin had merely smiled and thanked him sincerely; he didn't mention that Wil wouldn't be here to enjoy it another winter, anyway. He made it a careful habit not to mention that to anyone, even Wil, though they all knew.

Dallin decided not to think about it now and took a look about as he absently scrubbed the last of the thick mud from his hands and onto his trousers. It would harden and cake, and he reminded himself to fill himself a pail to soak them this time. He already had one trouser statue to commemorate his inexperience at actually creating something, and the scrapes where he'd had to chip the stuff off his skin had been a study in innocent-deception-for-the-good-of-the-surprise when Wil had asked if Dallin had pissed off a squirrel or something. Wil knew something was up--Dallin could tell just from the narrow slant of the green eyes, the lift of a black eyebrow, the slight twitch at the corner of his mouth--but Wil had let it go, probably thinking to give Dallin enough rope so Wil could laugh when Dallin hung himself. Wil had a unique sense of humor.

He'd managed to keep it through their stay here in Lind, thus far, but Dallin could see it wearing thinner. He wasn't sure Wil would ever get used to people being nice to him "just because," didn't think Wil would ever completely trust genuine consideration and open respect without wondering what the one offering it wanted.

Strangely, it was Woodrow who'd made Dallin see it plainly. He'd understood it all along, but there'd been nothing against which to compare it--no empirical evidence to prove the theory--until Woodrow. Until Wil's physical recovery was complete, and the Old Ones' tutoring had begun; Wil and Dallin had been drawn in separate directions, coaxed apart when Dallin could tell Wil really didn't want to be. But what else was to be done?--they didn't have all the time in the world. Their winter in Lind was to be no holiday. There was more for them to do, and they needed to learn how to do it.

Quiet panic had set in for Wil. Dallin had seen the flailing hidden beneath the snark, the hunt for Self and Place in this world that belonged to the Aisling and not Wil. Wil was still trying to figure out who he was, and Dallin was still trying to decide if he should do anything about it, when Woodrow had just sort of... happened.

There was some surprise for Dallin at the bond Wil and Woodrow had apparently formed, but only because he hadn't thought about it 'til then; he'd been looking at it from a completely different angle. Woodrow was one of the most ingenuous and kindhearted people Dallin knew. It wasn't that he couldn't hide his thoughts and motivations--it was that he didn't even try. And his thoughts and motivations were generally simple and benevolent. There was nothing beneath it to read, so Wil didn't have to exhaust himself trying. Woodrow genuinely liked Wil, for nothing other than the fact that Wil was Wil, and Wil genuinely liked him back.

Dallin understood it, once he really thought about it, because he had the same experience every day. It wasn't that the people of Lind didn't like Wil for who he was, but the Aisling would always be who he was to them. Dallin would always be the Shaman to them, so everything they said to him, every action they took in his sight, was ever colored with that same subliminal expectation. Dallin had lived his whole life as something other than what he was now, something relatively normal and unremarkable; Wil had never had the chance.

He'd reveled in it with Woodrow. Corliss couldn't help but mother Wil, and though Dallin knew Wil enjoyed it--not that he'd admit it--still, she'd accepted Wil because she was Dallin's friend. Same with Creighton. Minus the mothering part.

Dallin snorted. He stepped over and primed the pump before opening the spigot.

Woodrow had left with the others before the snows moved from the mountains to the valley, and Dallin had watched Wil wave goodbye to the first real friend he'd ever made. It had been poignant but gratifying, too. It was amazing, after all, that Wil had managed to hang on to the courage to take the risk. Then again, Dallin thought with another snort, this one a little grim, Wil was all about risks.

He shook his head and decided not to think about that, either. The Old Ones thought about it enough for everyone. They'd rather swooped in on Wil's free time, once Woodrow wasn't filling it anymore, wasn't keeping Wil busy and content while Dallin learned to use his magic and prepared for when they would be the ones venturing out of Lind. Dallin had already learned to be the Guardian; he was learning now to be the Shaman. Teaching, as Wil had insisted; updating defensive tactics; training Weardas, as his father had done. It was good, exhausting work, too, but there was a taint beneath it, the knowledge that he was doing it for a reason, the awareness that they needed it because he wouldn't be about to see to it later.

Dallin preferred this. Building something with his own hands. Handing a gift to someone who'd received gifts so rarely he almost didn't know how to accept them when he did. Anticipating the look on Wil's face when Dallin presented it to him.

He'd been surprised, when he'd first noticed Wil's not-quite-aversion to the bathhouse in the common. Surprised, because it was rather luxurious for Lind--perpetual hot water, and attendants, and soaps and soft bath sheets--and Wil did like his baths. Wil liked a bath as much as he liked sex, and Wil really liked sex.

There'd been no problem at all, when they'd stayed at the Temple for those first few weeks, and before Corliss had decided she'd been away from her brood and her job for too long. It was smart to strike off before winter moved down from the mountain and into the valleys; neither Wil nor Dallin could negate it. They'd only watched the blue and brown fade into the distance as Corliss dragged her small contingent back to Putnam.

They'd been presented with the house immediately thereafter. And they'd both been more than ready to leave the kind-but-cloying atmosphere of the Temple.

Only a small house in Lind-proper, but quite luxurious by Lind's measure. Rough and rustic by general standards, and downright archaic by Putnam's, but for Lind, it was pretty much royal treatment. It was nice, it was comfortable--it was private. They could speak to each other without lowering their voices; they could lounge in a pile of limbs for hours and not feel decadent; they could make as much damned noise as they wanted to, and bloody hell, but Dallin loved the noises Wil made. Plus, Dallin could have all his weapons where he could get at them quickly if he wanted to. Dallin was pleased, Dallin was grateful, Dallin couldn't have asked for more, under the circumstances.

Wil hadn't said anything--had, in fact, seemed quite content with it all--and Dallin had bivouacked in worse conditions, so it hadn't occurred to him for at least a week or more. Not until he noticed Wil opting for a quick wash from a basin in the bedroom more often than not, instead of venturing down to the common baths at least once every two days--sometimes daily--as he'd done before Woodrow had left.

Something was off with Wil. And Dallin was not at all pleased that he had no idea what it was.


"They... stare," Wil had told him. They were lying in bed, the fire stoked high, and Wil scrunched down into the furs, almost wedged between the mattress and Dallin's left side to absorb his body-heat, as well. Wil's fingers were idly toying with the springy hairs on Dallin's chest, his steady, even breaths like a warm little bellows ghosting over Dallin's ribs. "They try to be polite by not 'disturbing' me with talk, but I can feel them staring, and they all stop talking when I walk in. It's... I just don't like it. Woodrow just sort of... well, he was company. I didn't notice it as much when he was there." Wil shrugged. "Anyway, it's fucking freezing here. It takes me a bloody half-hour to get undressed, which makes them all stare even more."

Dallin had not snorted at that mental picture--unpeeling Wil from layer-after-layer-after-layer had become one of Dallin's favorite pastimes. He'd sighed, though. He'd had a very long day, and he knew Wil had, too. He was too tired for this, he should never have brought it up now, but he couldn't help it. He'd watched Wil shiver over the damned basin again this morning, and all day--through the drills and the practice maneuvers and the tactical tutorials--he couldn't get the picture out of his head. Wondering at it, and unable to figure out why he couldn't let it go. And now, with Wil warm against him and Dallin fully aware of how much he liked Wil warm against him, how much he'd grown to need it, he couldn't sleep. Something was wrong, Wil was unhappy--Dallin should be able to fix it. Wasn't that what he was for?

Plumbing was a luxury in Lind, a somewhat decadent afterthought. A small outbuilding housed an acceptable privy behind the little house, but a bathroom was unheard of, a private bath unprecedented.

Maybe Dallin was concentrating on the wrong things. Maybe he should have been just as worried about dragging the world into Lind as he was about dragging Lind into the world. Maybe plumbing was just as important as... as reading, or learning proper tactics.

Wil had, in his own words, "frozen myarse off" for three winters, while he'd been on the run; he shouldn't have to do it again, now that he wasn't. A bath without enduring awed stares wasn't too much to ask--not for the Aisling, and certainly not for Wil. Wil should have everything he wanted. Wil should be coddled and spoiled and petted and indulged, and what the hell kind of Guardian was Dallin, if he couldn't even--?

"What?" Wil huffed, voice rumbling low with near-sleep, but piqued with impatience, too. He'd been drifting off when Dallin had started off on this little mental puzzle, Dallin could tell just by the uneven pulse of his caresses, and now he hovered on the verge in-between, apparently feeling Dallin's unease, waiting for him to unclench a little so they could both sleep.

Dallin rolled his eyes at himself and set his jaw. Wil would have an answer, now that it had occurred to him there was one to be had, and there was no sense in pretending Dallin could get around it. Not that he wanted to, but he still didn't know exactly what the question was in the first place, so how was he supposed to know how to pose it? He took a page from Wil and just came right out with it:

"I was just, um..." Well, tried to. "I hadn't realized you were... well, it hadn't occurred to me to wonder until just recently, and you know, not that it wouldn't be your... that is to say, you shouldn't have to... well, I don't want you to feel like you have to-- Ow, fuck!"

Dallin jerked across the mattress, and away from the damned-strong fingers that had just pinched and twisted his right nipple. Still swearing, he pressed a hand to his chest, hiked himself up on his elbow, and glared. "What the hell was that for?"

"You were babbling." Wil was still burrowed like a tick in the furs, blinking up at Dallin with an innocent look of harmless concern that Dallin knew he wasn't really trying to pull off, because he was letting the smirk curl rather obviously. "You never babble, so I thought you must've been dreaming." Wil's eyebrows went up, eyes wide. "Aren't you supposed to pinch a person to wake them up?"

"You're supposed to pinch yourself," Dallin growled, still rubbing at his chest, scowling now, because ow, fuck. He supposed he was lucky Wil hadn't gone for the stones.

"Oh." Wil yawned and somehow managed to stretch and tunnel down deeper into the furs while he did it. "Sorry."

Yeah, he looked real sorry. The smug little prick.

"You were saying?"

Dallin narrowed his eyes, opened his mouth and... frowned. Apparently, he hadn't been saying much of anything before the pain had chased away the dull stupidity that had been driving his mouth. Probably just as well. With a dubious shake of his head, Dallin flopped back down on the bed and sighed.

"Nothing," he said. "Doesn't matter."

Well, it did, but Dallin hadn't quite figured out what the hell was bothering him yet, and the babbling hadn't exactly helped move things along.

"It did a moment ago." Wil shoved in close again, fitted himself to the angles and curves of Dallin's body and went about absently fluffing the rest of the nest about them both.

Dallin's arm went automatically around Wil's back to draw him in tight. "A moment ago I still had both nipples," he groused.

"Aww." Dallin could hear the grin in Wil's voice, could feel it against his pectoral as Wil fidgeted until his mouth was hovering just above Dallin's chest, hot breath skimming over the lingering heat from the sting of the pinch. "I only torture you because I care." Long fingers roved beneath the furs, stirring arousal Dallin couldn't have helped if he'd wanted to. "Kiss it better?"

Wil paused, waited until Dallin answered, "The least you could do," trying to pout fetchingly and probably not quite getting there. A flash of white teeth in the half-light of the fire was the first part of Wil's answer; a gentle kiss to Dallin's nipple was the second. Small, warm shudders rippled through Dallin, fuzzing his brain just a little. He opened his mouth to sigh, maybe groan, maybe tell Wil, Yeah, that, do that, gah, tongue, I like the tongue, but what actually puffed out was, "It isn't that bad, is it?"

It took a second for Dallin to realize what he'd said, what he'd asked, and another to wonder what the hell he'd actually meant. And why he'd said it now, because Dallin had really liked the direction things had been headed a second ago. There'd been tongue, for pity's sake--maybe it had melted his brain.

"I mean... it's... I know you don't like the cold, but... I want you to... I mean, I don't want you to..."

What the fuck? He was babbling again. And he didn't even know what the hell he was trying to...

Shit. Maybe he did.

He left it hanging, because he was pretty sure now what he was trying not to ask, and why he was trying not to ask it.

Wil's head had come up; Dallin could feel those eyes on him, staring, probably bemused. Maybe there was a smirk there, too, because Wil's sense of humor was not only unusual, but fairly wicked. In pretty much every sense.

A gentle brush of fingers up the center of Dallin's sternum, then: "I want to be here." Wil's voice was soft and low, sincere. If there really was a smirk there, Dallin could hear no evidence of it. "You're here, so I want to be here. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. You're stuck with me, Guardian--even if Lind is the coldest place in the whole fucking world--so suck it up and stop worrying."

That was where the unease had been coming from.

What if we find out we don't even really like each other?

Wil had asked the question once, in a moment of high emotion and low confidence. Dallin had given it the barest thought, because it wasn't an issue for him--he'd liked Wil right off, even back when he wasn't supposed to. And love, as both concept and fact, had been out there and acknowledged between them before it had ever actually become a question. Dallin hadn't realized until Wil handed him reassurance to a question he didn't even know he was asking that perhaps his own confidence wasn't what it should be. Wil was Home for Dallin, wherever he happened to be; that Wil would willingly give that back to him was... something for which he had no words. Something humbling. Something transcendent.

Wil had been willing to die for Dallin. He'd intended to. He'd believed all his life that Dallin was meant to kill him, and yet, when it came to it, he'd stepped willingly in front of the bullet meant for Dallin. Dallin's hand went automatically to the scar on Wil's shoulder, but he stopped it before Wil noticed.

Dallin had decided right then--with Wil lying in the bed beside him with his furs and his fire, looking at Dallin like that--what he was going to do about Wil's little problem-that-he-wouldn't-acknowledge-was-a-problem. There was a nice, thick bank of evergreens behind the house, and the well wasn't too far from it. Wil never even ventured outside if he didn't absolutely have to, and Dallin doubted he even knew what the back of the house actually looked like. If Dallin was careful to only work on it while Wil was with the Old Ones--maybe even get Hunter to drag him about for a while, if Dallin needed extra time--Dallin figured it wouldn't be too hard to keep the whole thing under wraps. With the admittedly very little Dallin knew about building things in general, he was aware that building things in the winter was both ill-advised and appallingly difficult, but... well, bugger that. It was for Wil. Dallin would drag every builder in Lind out into neck-deep snow if he had to, and he'd lay down some serious money that none of them would complain.

Another kiss to his nipple then a long lick drained any remaining disquiet from Dallin's nerves and strengthened his new resolve; the gentle scrape of teeth and a soft almost-purr turned it into instant lust. "All better?" Wil hummed against Dallin's skin, a cheeky smile in the dark--Dallin could hear it--as Wil drew back some and feigned retreat.

Retreat. Ha.

Not acceptable, so Dallin made his mouth curl down and his eyebrows draw together in a scowl. "Absolutely not," he growled, slipped his fingers through Wil's silky hair and molded his hand to the curve of Wil's skull. Gave him a little shove. "Still hurts."

Wil gave Dallin a shove back, but it was with his hips, and so much more effective. "Sissy," he murmured, gently mocking, as he added a bit of a grind. Bloody hell, only Wil could go from almost sweetly reassuring to come-and-get-the-sex in ten seconds flat. Dallin was going to die at the height of orgasm one day, and fuck if there wouldn't be a great big ridiculous grin on his face when he did it.

"Sissy who could kick your arse," Dallin managed, almost a groan, but fuck, he couldn't help it when Wil did things like that. "Don't know if you've noticed, but you don't move very fast when you've got sixteen shirts on under--"

"Perhaps I wasn't clear," Wil cut in, dipping down again, hot breath sweeping Dallin's throat. "Sex. Now. Talking is not conducive to sex."

"It is when you do it," Dallin told him. "The things that come out your-- ah, gah, do that again."

"Shh," Wil hissed then did it again--some twirly thing with his fingertips to the hollow of Dallin's hip--and seemed to simultaneously sprout another few hands while he was at it. Dallin lost track of all of them right around the time Wil sucked Dallin's abused nipple into his mouth and made it all better. Made the throb sharper and the ache not something that ached but didn't hurt, a sweet-hot anguish of exquisite torture. Dallin forgot about unease and insecurity. He forgot about layers and layers of clothes and mountains of furs, and the knowledge that Wil would never tell Dallin he resented the necessity of either, even if he did.

For all that Wil was constantly griping about the cold, his skin was always warm. Right now, he was all heat and winding limbs as he made himself another nest--furs above and Dallin below--and pressed his hips down 'til Dallin obligingly gasped. A groan Dallin couldn't help and didn't want to puffed loose from his throat, and he pulled his knees up, fitting Wil against him even more snugly as Wil's mouth worked up Dallin's breastbone to his throat. Sharp teeth nipped lightly, just enough to stir a bit of a twitch, before Wil swiped his tongue in a long stripe, transforming the sensation from sharp to silky before brushing his lips over Dallin's mouth.

The kiss was sex defined. Wil could be a wanton thing when he wanted to be. Lust incarnate, Desire made flesh. A yawning necessity that moved like a contagion from Wil's mouth and right down Dallin's backbone, made him a mess of nerves and reactions, its heart thrumming out mindless want. The languid drag of Wil's body over his turned Dallin's bones to butter.

"Fuck, I love how you feel," Wil breathed, moist heat against Dallin's cheek, handshandshands all over him, tracing muscle and sinew, and sending slippery little shocks thumping along Dallin's nerves.

"Yeah?" Dallin ran his hands over ribs and spine, swept them inward and up over ridged torso and chest. "Wouldn't it be better if you could feel more of me?" He pushed his hips up, just in case Wil didn't get the hint.

Right. As if.

A lazy little chuckle and another flash of teeth. Long limbs, corded now with packed muscle, ventured out from beneath the mountain of furs as Wil reached for the little clay jar on the bedside cupboard. Dallin couldn't do anything but touch as Wil stretched over him--everything, everywhere--sating his own need for more contact while driving Wil's arousal deeper, stronger, pulling it out from beneath his skin 'til Wil almost dropped the jar.

Wil swore then snorted. "I think," he said, teasing, as he dislodged Dallin's hand from its grip on his arse, "and I have no ulterior motives whatsoever in saying this," pushed the little pot into Dallin's hand as he striped another long lick up Dallin's throat, "that you are in serious need of a thorough shagging."

Dallin managed a grin as he pawed the lid off the pot. "Serious need, then?"

"Mm," Wil hummed, hand snaking down between them, taking them both in a grip that made Dallin's eyes cross. "Very serious."

Yes, it was all feeling very serious right now, with Wil's hand pumping steadily, and his body arching back so Dallin got a rather inspiring view of how the firelight moved over the definition of muscles in Wil's chest and arm as he moved, and if he didn't stop that very soon, the "thorough shagging" was going to be slightly less than thorough. Dallin snapped hold of Wil's wrist, stopped it. Dallin's hands were greedy, wanting to continue their wandering, but he made his grip firm as he pushed Wil up so he was kneeling upright across Dallin's torso and peering down with a rather evil little glint in his eye. Bloody damn, that... that look.

"Well, I'm certainly serious about sex," Dallin drooled--drawled, Brayden, focus.

Wil grinned. "And surprisingly alliterative."

Dallin had to think about that for a second; his brain was already going to mush. It didn't really help when it finally clicked. Oh, yeah--he was so smooth. He should know better than to try witty banter with the master when the master was currently using his body to turn Dallin into a compliant mess of raw need. Dallin managed to choke back a gasp when Wil slid his hands from Dallin's shoulders to his thighs, but only just. It was the look in Wil's eyes, the honest want, the sincere craving, and the wicked little spark that promised all manner of brain-melting pleasures.

Bloody damn, the things Wil did to him. Dallin set the little pot to the side and got his fingers good and slicked. He was quite proud of himself that he managed a small smirk as he pushed two into Wil's body and watched him close his eyes, head dropping back and torso stretching out as he shuddered and tried not to gasp. Proud of himself because what Dallin really wanted to do was stare and babble words of worship as he watched Wil sink into sensation, but managed to stem the sop in favor of the lust.

This was almost as good as the fucking, watching Wil curl into pleasure, watching his body move, lengthening and extending as he coiled himself into different shapes that glazed his eyes and pulled animal groans from deep in his chest. He didn't wait for Dallin to give him what he wanted--he took it and with no hesitation. It left Dallin's other hand free to roam as it pleased, scrubbing lightly over muscle and bone first, then tweaking nipples, just for payback. A teasing brush to Wil's erection that made Wil groan some more, panting, as the heavy muscles of his thighs flexed, and his teeth clenched as he drove himself down, hands clamping tight to Dallin's shoulders.

"Going to do anything with that?" Wil snapped.

Oh, yeah. Eventually. Right now, Dallin just kept smirking, ran a fingertip, feather-light, from base to tip, watching Wil's eyes narrow down to slits, watching Wil's lip pull up in a half-snarl as the hearth fire popped and flared with wordless threat.

"Showoff," Dallin said.

Wil always tried for patience, but never quite got there--it was one of the best things about him. He swiveled his hips, tried to push his erection into Dallin's palm, and when Dallin didn't cooperate, did it again, the flames nearly shooting out past the fire-screen this time

"Better watch that." Dallin could tell that his grin was a bit evil, because Wil was glaring now, a light sheen of sweat coating his body as he kept moving on Dallin's hand, like he couldn't make himself stop. "As your Guardian, I feel it my duty to caution control at all times."

"If only you could use your powers for good," Wil snarked, "instead of evil, sex-teasing stuff." He lunged for the little pot and had hold of Dallin's erection in a slippery grip before Dallin could come up with a suitable retort. And when Wil growled, "Fine then, if you're not going to fuck me, I'll do it my-damn-self," Dallin gave up on even speaking. Because yeah--filthy, filthy mouth. Guh. It just... really did things to him.

Dallin's gasp and twitch had Wil grinning again, which was fine, because good things always happened when Wil looked like that. And since Wil was busy slicking Dallin up then guiding himself down, Dallin would say this was clearly one of those times.

Bloody hell, he really didn't have to do anything at all, if he didn't want to, just lie there and let Wil fuck himself with the convenient aid of Dallin's body. Then again, not doing anything was just not an option--not with Wil looking like that, all sleek and long and bendy, arching his back and reaching behind him to grip Dallin's upthrust knees as he sank himself down. Heat and pleasure fizzed all through Dallin with the smallest little jerk of Wil's hips. And when Wil began to rock--quick and sharp, just like Wil--fingers digging into Dallin's kneecaps, head thrown back, and low, rolling groans winding from his throat, Dallin couldn't just lie there, even if he'd wanted to. Couldn't.

He took hold of Wil's hips, risked a snarl and snap as he stilled him, dense-wired muscle straining under his hands. Wil quivered with tension and want, the need to move-snap-thrust radiating from his skin and up Dallin's arms, down to his gut, blooming there like a spill of hot oil. He lifted Wil by his hipbones at the same time that he drew himself back, pushed into the mattress, then snapped up and dropped Wil down. Wil's yell shot right through Dallin's chest, spiked the pleasure, so he did it all again.

It was an effort to pry Wil's hands from their grip on Dallin's knees and wedge them beneath his own as he lifted again, thrust up hard, but Dallin was rather motivated. He did it again, this time trying to listen and suss the things that Wil was saying, because Dallin was sure it was dirty, whatever it was, but it was too mangled and rough to get through the buzzing in his own head. Rocking, writhing--fuck, Wil was writhing, he looked so bloody good when he did that--building the rhythm too quickly as Wil curled his legs so he could drive up with his knees and wrestle back some control. Dallin only twitched a grin, changed the angle and took that control away again.

Wil arched back again, open and gorgeously uninhibited, his hair brushing over Dallin's knees. He kept trying to fidget his hands free from Dallin's, muttering breathlessly at the ceiling. Dallin couldn't take his eyes away from the smooth curve of Wil's throat, the shift of firelight over his chest and arms, until Dallin made out his own name amidst the garble, some choice curses, then: "Damn it, Dallin, just... touch me, fuck, I--"

It wasn't a question of whether to obey or not--Wil wanted it, so Wil should have it. It was a question, though, of what Wil wanted as opposed to what he'd settle for, and Wil shouldn't settle for anything.

"Not yet," Dallin panted, close, so close, "just wait, not yet."

"Dalllllliiiiiin..." A whine this time.

Any other time, Dallin would have snorted; now he only groaned, orgasm building in sharp waves in his groin, swarming through him. "Wait, Wil, I promise--"

"Hate you," Wil groaned, no heat in it, just half-wild and impatient want grinding through everything about him--in the way his hands kept trying to worm out from under Dallin's, the way his teeth clenched and his expression hovered somewhere between mind-blowing pleasure and an extremity of pain, the way he snapped his hips against Dallin's grip in startling little jerks that dragged Dallin's climax from him in a blinding flash of ecstasy that whited him out.

He shouted, he knew he did, he could tell because his throat was aching, and he heard Wil snap something sharp and breathless at him, but Dallin's body and mind were clenched too tight in the grip of climax to stop or wonder what Wil had said, though he could certainly guess. It had sounded pretty desperate, and a desperate Wil was a rather bossy Wil. Dallin almost couldn't move, the pleasure was so intense, but he'd promised, and damn it, Wil should have what he wanted. Still shaking, skin tingling, Dallin sat up, dragged Wil off him, pulled him in and swallowed him down.

A throaty, ragged yelp wheezed out from Wil's chest, and his whole body extended, nearly bending himself backwards over Dallin's arm as his hands scrabbled at Dallin's shoulders, slipped in sweat and so went for his hair instead. Fuck, Dallin loved him, the smell of him, the feel of him, the weight of him on Dallin's tongue--he barely got a taste before Wil was arching back impossibly, stretching his body against Dallin's hands, shouting out, and spilling down Dallin's throat.

Dallin wished he could get it up again, because it wasn't enough--it never was. Hopeless heat pooled again in his groin, but his body just sort of twitched in resignation, as he licked and teased until Wil smacked the back of his head to make him stop.

"Fuck," Wil breathed, pulled back with a hiss and slumped himself heavily over Dallin's shoulder so he was almost hanging upside-down. A floppy mess of quivering muscle over loose bone. And since his arse was right there, Dallin sort of had to bite it--he wouldn't respect himself if he didn't; only a small nip, just enough to make Wil twitch and yip, which he did obligingly, then: "D'you know how much money you could make with that mouth?" he slurred into Dallin's back. "They'd line up for miles. We'd be bloody kings."

Wil's version of romantic pillow-talk. So ingenuous. So charmingly weird.

Dallin blinked, eyebrows rising. "That..." He paused, trying very hard not to let the grin leak out into his tone. "Did you really just say that?"

"Um..." Apparently, Wil had to think about it for a minute, then: "I think so?"

"And did you mean to say it out loud?"

"Dunno," Wil mumbled, "m' mind seems to have gone blank. Maybe melted. Your fault."

Dallin laughed, dumped Wil over on his head and buried him under the furs then dove in after him.

Oh, yeah. Loved him. Wanted to give him everything, anything he wanted. Even the things he'd never ask for.


"What is it with you and blindfolds?" Wil griped, one hand locked to Dallin's elbow hard enough to bruise even through his coat, and the other flailing out in front of him. "Is this some weird control quirk you should have warned me about months ago?"

Dallin just had to snort. "Yeah, I know, like your quirks couldn't take my quirks out behind the woodshed and kick their arses."

"I don't have quirks," Wil retorted, managing to somehow look haughty and superior, even though the nose he'd stuck up in the air was half-covered by one of Dallin's handkerchiefs serving as a makeshift blindfold. "I have preferences. You're the one who always has to--"

"Hey, no peeking!" Dallin slapped his hand over Wil's face for good measure, ignoring the muffled cursing as he dragged Wil into a bit of a stumble that couldn't be helped and through the door so he could shut it. He'd spent the entire morning stoking the coals and making sure they were just right while Wil had been with Thorne, and one good cold gust through the door could ruin it.

"All right, all right, get off me," Wil snapped, swatting blind at Dallin's hands when he felt even ground beneath his boots. The swatting rather lost its effect, though, what with the thick mittens--it was like getting butted by a pair of small, fluffy sheep. "I wasn't peeking, I was--"

"Trying to peek."

"I was not! I was..." Wil paused, head cocking to the side. He sniffed. "Where are we?"

"Well, practically speaking, we're in our backyard."

Wil's head tilted a little more. "We have a backyard?"

Dallin snorted. He leaned in and pulled Wil's mittens from his hands; they went immediately to the blindfold but paused. "Not yet," Dallin warned. "And yeah, we have a backyard. And down the hillock a bit on the eastern side, there's a small stable and paddock, so we can move Miri and Sunny from the Temple's stables when it warms up some." It was kind of nice, not having to worry about everyday care and feeding of the horses, and especially since Dallin knew he'd be doing it by himself--Wil preferred to dig in like a tick beside a fire to cleaning stalls. Then again, didn't everyone? Still, he also knew Wil had a visit with "the girls" every time his business with the Old Ones took him to the Temple, so Dallin figured Wil would rather have them here.

"Does it ever warm up some here?" Wil's head was tilting back again, trying to get a look down his nose beneath the blindfold.

Dallin didn't scold him this time. "Well, you're warm now, aren't you?"

"For all I know, it's because you have me dangling over a fire-pit, ready to roast me," Wil retorted. "And how is it that the backyard I didn't know we had is somehow warm, and you're only telling me now? It's warmer here than it is in the house. Two and a half weeks I've been freezing my arse off, and--" His hands once again went up to the blindfold. "Can I take this off now?"

The tone made it more of a demand than a question; Dallin was sorely tempted to tease some more, but there was a fine line between Wil being patiently indulgent and Wil stewing up for a skin-stripping snark. Dallin had another look around, trying to see it how Wil might see it when the blindfold came off. He puffed a somewhat rueful sigh. Well, it would have to do.

"Yes, you can take it off now."

Wil had the handkerchief off before Dallin had even finished granting permission. Long fingers swept unconsciously through dark hair, pushing the mop of fringe out of Wil's eyes for only a second before it stubbornly flopped back again. It was getting longer; Dallin hoped Wil would let it. He loved Wil's hair, thick but baby-fine and silky, sliding through his fingers like--

Dallin cleared his throat and shook himself a little. He waited until Wil blinked a few times, adjusting his eyes to the light.

"We couldn't make it out of stone," he told Wil, half-apology, half-explanation. "Byldan said the mortar would never set with the cold and the snow and all. Anyway, that would've taken more like a month than a week, so we sort of made-do."

"You..." Wil's eyebrows had gone up. "You built this?"

"Well, sort of." Dallin shrugged, flicking another assessing glance about. Not the best example of craftsmanship he'd ever seen, but circumstance had not been his friend in this venture. "I'm not exactly a builder, so I rather commandeered a few who are."

"It's a bathhouse," Wil said, a little redundantly, since his eyes were nailed to the oversized tub stood over the thin bed of coals in the center.

"More of a bath-shed, I think," said Dallin. Actually, more like four walls slapped up around a fire-pit and a tub, though it had truly been a bitch-and-a-half to level out the frozen ground and smooth it down into a pseudo-floor. "And it's not going to hold the heat like it should, though if we're careful and attentive, we should be able to set the coals smoldering and fill the tub in the morning so the bath will be ready, say... after suppertime. And look." Dallin hustled over to the head of the tub and laid a hand to the pump's primer. "No filling buckets or coppers. You just pump water in, set the coals smoldering, and wait for the water to heat." When Wil didn't say anything, just stared blankly, Dallin rushed on, "And no emptying, either. You just take this hose-sluice-thing, set one end in the tub and the other in the gutter out the door--" More like a rough-dug ditch, but they were making-do here. "--and let it drain by itself."

Well, Carver had said it might need some suction to get it going, but Dallin saw no need to point that out just yet. Despite the mental picture the instruction had evoked when Carver had said it, the more Dallin looked around now, the more he realized how truly shabby the little place looked. A far cry from the common bathhouse, certainly. This was more-or-less a tub set in the backyard with walls around it. Wood walls with too-thick splotches of resin Dallin hadn't thought to sand off, tin-roofed and anchored in bare ground, with a jagged vent in the center of the ceiling, because it had taken Dallin almost a dozen tries to get the grip of the metal saw right. He hadn't even thought to set another pit up for steam or hang hooks for bathsheets.

And Wil was just staring. "How did I not know this was here?" he asked.

"Um, well, it wasn't." Dallin shrugged. "We just kind of threw it together while you were busy with Thorne."

Wil blinked. "You built this."

Dallin wasn't quite sure how to interpret the tone of that one--accusation? disbelief? disappointment?--so he merely nodded. "It's only about fifty paces from the house," he put in lamely. "And it's private, so you won't have to worry about anyone staring at you, and... and... well..."

Wil was silent again, staring about, green gaze taking in everything slowly. "Twenty-three," he finally said softly and peered up at Dallin, his mouth twitching a tentative half-smile. "Twenty-three paces," he clarified. "I was counting."

Dallin almost sighed relief. He should have known. Wil's earlier comment had been less, "You built this," and more, "You built this for me." Dallin was going to have to make a habit of giving Wil gifts more often, just so he could get used to the nuances. The surprise--no, shock--at the realization, the over-bright glimmer of the green eyes, the way Wil couldn't seem to decide if he should smile or not, the confusion, the Why would you do that?

Because he really didn't know. And Dallin didn't think he ever would.

"You... built this," Wil repeated, slowly, like he was tasting the words, trying to get a feel for them. "You built a bathhouse."

Honesty made Dallin add, "Carver tapped the pump into the well and laid the piping, and Byldan actually framed the beams and everything. I only really did the walls." He shrugged again. "I know it's a bit shabby, but I've never really built anything before, and I wanted to make sure it--"

"You put up the walls?" Wil cut in, his gaze less dazed now, and more...

Dallin grinned. There was a definite glint to Wil's eye that Dallin had got to know and love right away, because there was never any question what Wil meant by it, and it always meant something good. Dallin leaned back against the wall and let his grin go cocky. He nodded.

"Which ones?" Wil wanted to know, voice going a touch lower as he shucked his scarf and bulky coat.

Dallin crossed his arms over his chest and jerked his head over his shoulder.

Wil stepped around the tub, laid one hand to the wall to Dallin's left while the other set to work on the buttons of his thick, fuzzy jumper. "This one?" All of them, actually, but Dallin figured that was hardly Wil's point. Dallin just nodded then sucked in a sharp breath when Wil tilted in, ran the tip of his cold nose up Dallin's throat and gave him a quick lick beneath the chin. "So, are you going to fuck me up against the wall that you built for me with your own hands?"

Dallin had never really had the whole clichéd knee-melting experience before he'd met Wil, but now he was rather glad he was already leaning up against the wall. A wall that he'd built, now that he thought about it, and as much as he really, really, really liked Wil's idea, Dallin thought perhaps fucking up against it was not the wisest thing in the world. He knew very well, after all, exactly how many nails he'd bent, and how many times Byldan had oh-so-politely instructed him to remove and replace various boards because he'd cocked them up when he'd hung them the first three times.

He watched Wil set to work on the top layer of the... it looked like four or five--of the four or five shirts he was wearing. Dallin tipped his mouth in a bit of a smirk and flicked a glance over at the tub. "I carried the tub from the wagon by myself." Not by choice, but still.

Wil paused, expression going sly as he peered from Dallin to the tub and back to Dallin again. "Looks pretty big."

And bloody heavy, too.

"I bet you say that to all the lads," Dallin retorted.

Wil grinned and sauntered back a few paces, still working on buttons. "Not all the lads can back it up."

Which was probably as close to a mushy admission--You're the only one--as Wil would ever let slip. Not because he didn't mean it, but because he was a smart-arse and wouldn't give Dallin the satisfaction. Even though he more-or-less "said" it in various ways every day. And oh yeah, it was more than enough. Satisfaction--in every way imaginable--had rather taken on new definition for Dallin since Wil had come into his life.

"Are you going to let me thank you properly, or not?" Wil wanted to know, almost getting down to skin now, and really--was he honestly expecting an intelligent answer?

Dallin was going to have to come up with one anyway. Because this was important.

"No," Dallin managed, and kept his voice soft. He smiled a little at the way Wil's eyebrows snapped up, and his head tilted, momentary confusion. "I'm going to thank you."

Slowly, Dallin pushed himself away from the wall and stalked over toward Wil, watching Wil's eyebrows climb higher. He laid his hands to Wil's shoulders, let them slide down over strap-muscled arms before pushing the last shirt back and off Wil's shoulders. Palms warming against perpetually hot skin, Dallin leaned in and laid a gentle kiss to Wil's temple.

"And you're going to shut up and let me."

Because Wil should have everything he wanted. Even if had no idea he wanted it. And even if he'd never understand why someone just might want to give it to him.



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