fic, art and original work by lio

fanfic fanart original work the forsaken and the forsworn about

No Job Too Small

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World of Warcraft
Flynn Fairwind/Mathias Shaw
Flynn Fairwind, Mathias Shaw
December 2019 - October 2022
Mouth Soaping • Non-Sexual Discipline • Brat Taming Gone Wrong • Drunkenness • Moral Greyness


"I'm lax with you," Shaw says, drawing his belt knife. "I know that. But you can't expect to speak to King Greymane in the same manner and walk away uncorrected."

It's raining out, and the miserable grey drizzle has soaked everyone present to the bone. The open fire in the Harbourmaster's office is roaring and the air is stiflingly hot and moist, making this already disagreeable meeting even more so. Having so many high-ranking individuals in the same small room together puts Shaw on edge. There is only one exit to keep an eye on, but there is only one to escape from, too.

As soon as the last of their number deigns to arrive and the latest round of negotiations on Kul Tiras' reintroduction into the Alliance can get underway, the better. Today it's seaway and docking privileges. Edifying.

Fairwind's loitering nearby, leaning against the hearth and in an animated conversation with Fordragon's girl, looking all the world like he belongs here. If Harbourmaster Cyrus doesn't chase him out soon, Shaw will.

He's preparing to do just that when Genn Greymane finally makes his entrance.

There's a brief lull in conversation, and Fairwind's voice carries on far too loudly. "Ugh, do you smell wet dog? What smells like wet dog?"

Taelia Fordragon stares at him wide-eyed. Greymane's hackles go up.

"What?" Fairwind says. "I'm just saying, it's a very distinctive—"

"Commander Wyrmbane." Greymane is visibly bristling. "See that this man is disciplined."

Harbourmaster Cyrus straightens up as though to interject. Fairwind is under his authority insofar as he's under anyone's, and it would deal a severe blow to negotiations from the outset if Cyrus were to object.

"My Lord, he's not enlisted with—" Cyrus begins, ignoring Fairwind as he glances around the room, hopefully feeling some trepidation at the upset he's caused.

"I don't care," Greymane growls. "See to it."

Cyrus looks to Wyrmbane. Wyrmbane looks to Shaw. Greymane follows his gaze with a raised eyebrow, and just like that, Fairwind has become his problem. Shaw suppresses a sigh.

There's little love lost between him and Greymane. Shaw is forever tempering his tendentious inclinations as tactfully as he can, and he knows Greymane's all but earmarked Shaw's position for his daughter, besides—and without King Anduin to calmly intervene, Shaw suspects he won't be able to deescalate the situation.


"I'll take care of it," he says.

Shaw escorts Fairwind onto the Redemption and into his cabin. He has an air of sheepishness about him but is generally unrepentant, as is usual.

"So, what's it to be," he says. "A flogging? Five across the rear, sir, please and thank you."

"You're a thorn in my side," Shaw tells him. He sets a pitcher of water on the floor, opens his wash kit and takes his bar of soap from it. "What were you thinking?"

The answer is, of course, that he wasn't. Shaw doesn't often raise his voice, much less shout, but the urge rises in him like a physical thing. He wrestles it down. Fairwind only shakes his head and shrugs lackadaisically, watching as Shaw takes off his gloves and lays them neatly beside the pitcher and wash kit.

"I'm lax with you," Shaw says, drawing his belt knife. "I know that. But you can't expect to speak to King Greymane in the same manner and walk away uncorrected."

He begins to shave thin curls of soap from the bar, collecting them in his palm. Fairwind's smile capsizes. Perhaps he has just realised that Shaw takes his duties seriously, and that he isn't going to be let off with a stern word and a slap on the wrist this time. He goes as though to sit on Shaw's bunk, but Shaw stops him.

"Stay standing," he says. "Feet a shoulder's width apart. Wider. Good. Hands behind your back, if you please."

"No job too small, huh," Fairwind says, clasping his wrist in the small of his back. He swallows.

"I do what's required of me."

Shaw wets his fingers and takes a pinch of the soap shavings. They soften between finger and thumb. He grips Fairwind's jaw and applies pressure until he opens his mouth.

Fairwind tracks Shaw's fingers as they rub the soap into a foam. "Don't tell me," he says, failing to keep his tone as light as usual. "This is gonna be worse for you than it is for me."

"Assuredly not," Shaw replies.

Shaw has had this done to him a time or two, but not since he was a child, full of young pride and eager to impress. It had always gotten back to Grandmother Pathonia when he had been talkative about Guild business. She had been matter of fact about carrying out his punishment. Stern but not unkind. He had quickly learned to keep his tongue, and thus kept his tongue. In turn, he has administered it to SI:7 cadets, though infrequently, and usually as an example.

It has been a while since. Shaw rubs his fingers along Fairwind's tongue and the insides of his cheeks, working the soap into a good lather. Fairwind endures stoically, though he wrinkles his nose. A flush rises on his face but Shaw doubts he's enjoying himself.

The soap shavings have warmed and softened in Shaw's palm and become malleable. He presses some of them into the flat of Fairwind's molars. Fairwind makes a tiny choking sound, his tongue sliding against Shaw's fingers. His breath begins to hitch.

The last of the shavings he rubs onto Fairwind's teeth. By now he's trying not to swallow, his throat convulsing with the effort, and his saliva is making the soap froth from his mouth. It dribbles into his beard, and he coughs. Suds fleck Shaw's uniform.

"Be more mindful of what you say, and to whom," Shaw says, softly enough it could almost be beseeching. "I don't want to have to do this again."

Fairwind stifles another cough and finally swallows as shallowly as he can. His mouth is pulled in a miserable grimace; tears shine in the corner of his eyes that Shaw chooses to believe are from managed anger or the burning unpleasantness of the soap. To his credit, he keeps his chin up and his hands behind his back.

"Pull yourself together," Shaw says more neutrally, and turns away because he suddenly can't bear to look at him. He takes the pitcher of water and a dented enamel mug from his desk. His hands are slippery with soap and spit. "Come with me."

He glances over his shoulder just as Fairwind goes to wipe at his mouth, in time to make a sharp noise to deter him. Fairwind drops his hand and Shaw leads him out and to the aftdeck, past a handful of crew and several Alliance soldiers. Further embarrassment for him, but it will ensure word will get back to Greymane that the choleric old bastard's demand has been satisfied.

Up on the deck, he pours Fairwind some water and hands him the mug. "Rinse your mouth and spit," he says. Fairwind does, leaning over the rail to retch it out into the ocean. Shaw pours him more water and repeats his instruction, and again, until Fairwind shakes his head and wipes at his eyes and nose with the back of his hand.

"Yeah, I think I'm about done here," he says wetly.

"You're done when I say you are." Shaw pours him the last of the water. "Drink."

Fairwind gulps it down, his throat bobbing, and then doesn't seem to know what to do with the mug. Shaw takes it from him before he tries to balance it on the gunwale.

"I can still taste it," he mutters. "Tides, I won't be able to wash my face without thinking of your fingers in my mouth."

Shaw suspects he may actually be incorrigible. "It'll fade," he says, and before he can stop himself, wipes at his own mouth. His hand smells overpoweringly soapy. He takes a short breath. "Captain—"

"I got it," Fairwind says. "I got it, don't worry."

I know, Shaw wants to say. But I want you to get this, too: you can still speak freely around me. However, he knows that may only serve to undermine his lesson, and if that were the case, it would render it a punishment without purpose. Shaw doesn't care to be that kind of cruel. He's not here to break Fairwind's spirit.

Instead, he rests his hand on Fairwind's shoulder and gives it a squeeze.

The smile Fairwind offers him is half-hearted, but a welcome playfulness has started to creep back into his voice. "Could've been worse," he says.

"Next time it might be," Shaw says, and watches with distant regret as Fairwind's face falls again. His hand remains on Fairwind's shoulder until the man musters up some eye contact, then Shaw gives him a curt nod. "Captain."

Fairwind heaves a sigh in response, and a long moment later, realises he's been dismissed. "Spymaster," he says, takes a step back, then turns and leaves.

Shaw finds himself lacking focus. He has to put pen to paper, but whenever he rests his elbow on his desk and puts a fist to his chin to compose his thoughts, he catches the scent of soap on his fingers and has to pause a moment. Finally he gives it up as a bad job and sets it aside for the time being.

He drops his pen into its well and leans back in his chair. He has no compunction about disciplining those who earn it. As far as harrowing things he has to deal with on a regular basis go, it barely registers. Should barely register. Without thought, he presses the ridge of a knuckle to his mouth. Again, the soap, and with it an urge that drives him to his feet, where he casts off the bulk of his armour.

It is vitally important to both his politics and his principles that he does not let his opinion of someone affect how he manages them. However, if he is to get on with his day he will first need to settle this—this hindrance to his focus.

That's not something that needs to be done in an official capacity. He digs out a light shirt, and takes his leave to head into Boralus.

Fairwind is in a sober mood when he answers his door, though not in a state of sobriety by a long stretch. He is, as far as Shaw can judge, absolutely stinking drunk.

"He-ey," he says in poor imitation of his usual enthusiasm. He leans heavily against the doorframe, shirt halfway open and its sleeves rolled high over the soft bulk of his arms. His face is blotchy. With alcohol, or perhaps not. "Master Shaw. Almost didn't recognise you without all your fancy, uh." He gestures in the vicinity of Shaw's unarmoured shoulders. "Bits."

It's quite clear he is upset. This is outside of the natural order of things, and Shaw doesn't like it when things aren't in order. He's not inclined to small talk at the best of times, and so this only encourages him to get to the point.

"Captain," he says.

"That's me."

"I came to see that everything was all right."


"Are you certain?"


Fairwind regards him with hazy curiosity. Silence falls like a stone. Shaw tamps down his immediate aggravation at this. Fairwind is supposed to fill in the gaps.

"May I come in?" he asks, perhaps more crisply than he intended.

"Suppose there's no good reason you can't."

"That's not a yes."

"Tides—all right then, yes, please do come in, Spymaster."

So far, not an exemplary tactical success, but an invitation is an invitation even when an arm has been lightly twisted.

Fairwind's apartment is everyday and mostly ship-shape. Disarray encroaches from the usual quarters: a table busy with incidental paraphernalia, his longcoat slung over the back of a chair, a heap of unmade blankets on the bed. Aside from the door, the only exit is a window on the eastern wall, fogged with condensation. A log smoulders in the hearth, rimed with white ash and at risk of going out if it's not soon tended.

"Can I get you something?" Fairwind says. "Drink?"

There is already a second glass set next to the half-empty bottle on the table. Shaw can't help but feel that he is late to a meeting of his own design. He also feels that it would be a mistake to refuse this dubious hospitality.

No, not just a mistake. Injury on top of injury.

He mentally reviews the paperwork on his desk, recalling each report by its stack and position like a memory game. There's nothing that won't keep until tomorrow, as far as he can recall.

"I would like that," he says.

Atypical methodology, but whatever gets results. At least Fairwind is somewhat buoyed by it.

"You say that now. It's a cheeky little number." He pours Shaw a generous measure, and then pours some more. Shaw assumes that asking him to water it down won't win him any prizes.

"When," he says.

Fairwind throws him a contentious look, then tops the glass up to the very brim. At least he's still inclined to act the boor around him, even if it's relatively bloodless. When Fairwind thrusts the drink into his hand he accepts it without a fuss, although some of it spills onto his shirt. The liquor bottle is unlabelled. He tries not to think about its provenance as he lifts the glass to his nose and sniffs. The firewater stings his nose.

He takes a tentative sip and restrains a cough. Tastes like the air smells after a round of gnomish explosives. As the liquor sears its way down to his stomach, he recalls, with some regret, the dinner he'd left to go cold at his elbow.

To the point, while he still has a sober head on his shoulders.

"What happened earlier today," he says. "It's not something I'll apologise for, but I consider it my duty to ensure that you're in good order."

Fairwind kneels to provoke the guttering fire back to life and feed it a fresh log. It catches around the edges, bark curling off and burning bright and hot. "Aah, you know me. Water, duck's back. Soap's far from the worst thing I've had in my mouth, you know."

One of the first thing Shaw learned about Fairwind is that he likes to make people react to him. Shaw is not interested in playing this game at present, nor is he inclined to ask a question that he doesn't want to know the answer to, so he says nothing.

"I once won ten gold because nobody'd believe I'd eat a live octopus," Fairwind tells him anyway. "Went wriggling straight down. Easy money and a free meal, what's not to love."

"Only ten gold?"

Poker in hand, Fairwind gestures with worrisome vigour. "That's the part you're poking holes in?"

Take his wrist, apply gentle pressure. He'd drop the poker. Shaw could catch it mid-fall and return it to the companion set, then put Fairwind into his chair in turn. It'd be just rude enough that he'd be able to excuse himself without argument or, ideally, further affront.

Instead he says, "None of it is entirely true, but that's the most obvious lie."

"So you're implying people would think I'd eat a live octopus. Okay, I can live with that. Not the, not the worst." Fairwind straightens up with a wobble. "Right, how about this one. There was this one time in the drunk tank—"

"I don't want to hear the rest of this story."

"It's a perfectly polished pebble of a tale, Spymaster. Come on, I want to know if it moves you."

"Give your pebbles to a pengling," Shaw says. "If you're trying to get me to leave again, I'd rather you were direct about it."

"I'm trying to get you to crack your sorry excuse for a smile," Fairwind says, who clearly regards Shaw's ongoing refusal to laugh at his jokes a significant defect in his personality. He flops into his armchair, leaving Shaw on his feet. "Something bothering you?"

Shaw's glass is already empty. Concerning how directly it's gone to his head. He mimes a sip nonetheless. "What makes you say that?"

"You asking if I'm okay."

Shaw tilts his glass. It's smeared with his fingerprints.

"I don't follow," he says, buffing it on the front of his shirt.

"You have eyes. You can see how okay I am. Top up?"

"Only if I can pour."

Fairwind gestures to the table. "Knock yourself out. Take that as literally as you like."

He eyes Fairwind while he tips the bottle to his glass, perhaps less subtly than he would've done if one or both of them weren't mildly tipsy at minimum. He's slouched back in his chair, legs stretched out in front of him, watching Shaw back with vague expectation. His knuckles are unabraded, so his distress or insobriety hasn't extended to punching any walls. His tail is loose and uneven, more hair escaped from one side than the other. From this, Shaw surmises he's slept at some point. Whether he'd started drinking before or after is academic.

The measure he's put into his own glass is just as immaterial. He'll drink this one slowly.

"Sound," Fairwind says, eyeing the level on it. "So." He polishes off his drink and gestures; Shaw hands him the bottle and he pours himself an equally generous measure. "Come on then, what's got your sheets in a snarl."

"I'm fine," Shaw says. "I don't know why you'd think otherwise."

"Because, Master Shaw, it's three in the afternoon and you're drinking with the likes of me."

The man has a point. Not one he can easily deny, considering how steadfastly he's rebuffed Fairwind's invitations, begging off on grounds of temperance when nothing else would deter him. Fairwind is the kind of social exertion he has little energy for and an object lesson in why one should establish a clear divide between the personal and the professional.

And yet, here Shaw is.

He stares at the contents of his glass. "I'll tell you the truth," he says. "On the proviso that you tell me the truth first."

As a rule, he prefers to leave a lot out when he does such a thing. A lie of omission is one of the many ways he practises discretion, but if Fairwind hasn't realised this, it's on him.

Fairwind leans forwards, forearms on his thighs and glass dangling between his fingers. "I'm okay." He shrugs. "It's not like it hurt."

This sincerity could as easily be a lie as not. Shaw finds him surprisingly opaque in this instance.

"Are you sure?" he asks quietly.

Fairwind inspects the contents of his glass and sighs, a long exhale through his nose. Rakes at his moustache with his lower teeth. Scratches at his tattooed forearm. Eventually, he says, "You know—if it had been anyone else, I would be."

An emotion Shaw refuses to articulate catches in his throat. If it were anyone else he would be sure. If it were anyone else he'd be okay. If it were anyone else, it wouldn't have hurt. Shaw isn't certain which he means, nor which is worse, but if he presses him on it he'll have to risk an answer. But if he drinks, he won't even have to meet his eyes. So he drinks.

Fairwind's talking. Fairwind just talks and talks, goes off on one tangent, veers away on another, takes a sideways, meandering course to an unknown destination, filling up the space with his body and the silence with his words. Shaw doesn't mind. No one ever learned anything while they were talking, and so as long as he's rattling on, he won't notice how closely Shaw is watching him, and how, in his inebriation, he might be giving things away.

And if he realises he has, Shaw is prepared to feed him however many white lies it takes to muddy the waters. He shifts in the chair he'd relocated from the table to beside the hearth. Its legs are uneven or the floor is; it jolts him backwards and some of his drink spills.

"So there we were—" Fairwind pauses to snicker at Shaw as he wipes his thigh down. "So there we were, the wind at nor'east'ard." He cups his hand like a sail caught by a fresh breeze. "And the ship was sailing close-hauled on the starboard tack. She had to be put about and got on the port. Right?"

Shaw has a grasp of the basics of seafaring, like how to keep his feet under him the majority of the time and how under no circumstances should you eat the mystery meat, but the more involved aspects are out of his wheelhouse, so to speak. He'd lost track of the technicalities of this anecdote some time ago, and he suspects Fairwind is making half of it up anyway.

He shakes his head and shrugs, and Fairwind scoffs at him as though he has failed to grasp something utterly rudimentary.

"No, look, see. If the ship's too near the wind," he says, slowly and with more than a dash of condescension, which—turnabout is fair play, Shaw supposes, "she'll likely miss stays when the helm is put a-lee, and...?" He raises his eyebrows as if he expects Shaw to understand anything after however many shots of his damned awful swill.

Shaw rubs his eyes, quite ready to be on a horizontal surface. As soon as Fairwind finishes this circuitous tall tale, he will make his escape. He can't recall how the beginning went.

"And?" he tiredly prompts.

"Tides take me. Grass-combers. And if that happens when there's not fus—fushish—"

"Take your time."

"Aaah shut it, you bloody... blood spiny... starfish. What was I saying. Sufficient! Not sufficient way through the water, no shiver, and her head won't fly up into the direction of the wind, which is what you need to get her on the other tack in such circumstances, then..."

It's salt-soaked nonsense. Shaw stares blankly. Fairwind makes an exaggerated noise of frustration.

"Okay, doesn't matter. Doesn't matter. Long story short, we ran aground, shed a short ton of gunpowder onto the beach, then it, er, then it blew up. Now. You might be thinking that doesn't sound great."

"Doesn't sound great," Shaw confirms.

"That's 'cause it's not. But." Fairwind leans in. "If a pirate ship 'splodes where the Admiralty can't hear it, does it really make a sound?"

"Yes," Shaw says with conviction.

"They fucking well see the smoke, I'll tell you that!" Fairwind throws his head back and roars with laughter.

"Your language gets worse when you're drunk," Shaw says, mostly because he's not sure why that was supposed to be so funny, but has enough presence of mind to know that letting on to the fact will only earn him mockery.

"Yours doesn't." Fairwind subsides into hiccups. "Really disappointing, to be honest."

"There are more reliable ways to get a curse word out of me, if that's your aim."

Fairwind sprawls back in his chair, all the better to be predictable. He rakes his low-lidded gaze over Shaw from head to toe. "Do tell, Spymaster."

Insufferable. "I didn't come here to flirt with you."

"Yeah, noticed. Doubt you came to drink, either, so why are you here then, eh?"

"I told you that."

"I guess. Doesn't explain why you're still hanging about, though."

And here they are again. Shaw finds he is less equipped for this conversation the drunker they get. He gets. He really should leave. He places his glass on the floor, sits back up too quickly and startles when the chair and its Light-bedamned uneven leg rocks under him. Fairwind chortles. All Shaw can think to do is roll his shirtsleeves up in sharp indignant jerks, like a cat grooming himself after toppling from his resting spot.

Fairwind watches with interest. He clicks his tongue. "Where'd you get that beauty?"

Amidst the patina of slashes and gouges and scattershot shrapnel wounds on Shaw's forearms is a shiny white crescent of puncture wounds. Teeth marks. Well, there were worse scars he could have noticed. This one doesn't have a particularly fraught origin, and it's a convenient derailment from the matter at hand. He's reasonably happy to share it.

"A gnoll bit me," he says.

"A gnoll!" Fairwind laughs like a hyena. "Was he a pirate? I love a gnoll pirate. Wonderfully nasty buggers."

"Not as far as I know. He got me into a headlock. I talked my way out of it. After that, things escalated."

"Wait, wait, hang on a minute. This isn't how you tell a tale, mate. Set the scene. Where the blazes did this go down and why haven't I heard about it until now?"

"Dalaran, and because, unlike some people I could mention, I fastidiously curate my reputation."

Not that Fairwind has ever been fazed by Shaw's reputation. He leans forward avidly, gesturing, and Shaw sighs.

"Cantrips and Crows, in the underbelly of Dalaran city."

"Oh, an underbelly. Sounds seedy."

"It is. You'd probably like it."

"Maybe. We should go find out."

Shaw ignores this. "My tip had foisted the minutes to a PTA meeting onto an agent instead of the information he'd promised, so I was there to take umbrage. He wasn't around. His bodyguard was."

"The gnoll was his bodyguard?"

"A superb deduction."

"Oh, stow it, crabby. Okay, then what happened."

"There was a fight. I won."

Fairwind tips his head back and makes an exasperated noise, which is apparently further critique of his underdeveloped sense of drama.

Shaw pinches the bridge of his nose. Hadn't he meant to leave? Enough condensation has gathered on the windowpane that it has begun to form rivulets. It's dark outside, and cold, and he is involuntarily comfortable, for a given value of such. He rubs his cheek, which is warm and curiously numb.

A fresh glass of liquor is pressed into his hand. Active ongoing sabotage. The fire burns high, its warm light flaring in Fairwind's red hair as he settles back into his armchair. He's foregone his own glass and is now drinking directly from the bottle. Had he done just that before he'd poured this measure? Fairwind's mouth has long bothered him, so perhaps this is merely a variation on a theme.

Shaw stops thinking about that and forces himself to think in immediacies instead. Fine. All the lurid details. He sips his drink while the room persists in shifting around.

"First he tried to shank me under the table. Didn't work, because I knew he was going to try it." Shaw mimes how he'd grabbed the gnoll's wrist and disarmed him with a sharp twist. "Gnoll bones are thicker than a human's, not so brittle. I only hurt him instead of disabling his knife-hand. That was my mistake."



"Those were your mistakes. Pissing him off and not taking him out. Two separate mistakes." Fairwind holds up two fingers in what Shaw's garnered is a disrespectful Kul Tiran salute, and takes a long pull on the bottle. "S'what I've learned in life. When you think you've made a mistake, usually you've made two. Or more. A whole barrel of mistakes that just bounce off you till one gives you such a wallop you have to notice it."

"Life lessons from the notorious Captain Flynn."

"You can have that one for free, mate."

"Is that why you didn't notice your crew mutinying until it was too late?"

A pause, in which Fairwind narrows his eyes. "How about you just tell me the rest of the gnoll story."

"Stop interrupting me, and I will."

Fairwind gestures grandly: by all means, go ahead.

The glass is halfway to his mouth again without him realising it. Shaw takes a restrained sip while he organises his thoughts.

"After he tried to shank me and I failed to break his wrist," he says, "the gnoll got me into a headlock." He enunciates the last syllable with a sharp finality that would indicate, if he were discussing this with anyone else, that additional commentary was neither expected nor welcome.

From the look on his face, Fairwind is simply desperate to contribute his two copper's worth. To his credit, he manages to not. He does, however, appear to be picturing the scene to his great amusement.

"Gnolls are quite muscular under their fur," Shaw continues.

He considers this a neutral observation, but Fairwind makes a helpless whimpering noise and claps his hand over his mouth. Tears sparkle in his eyes.

"I couldn't brute force my way out. At one point in my attempts, I grabbed his snout. That's when he bit me. In addition, the stress caused him to express his scent glands. I think it's what prompted the management to escort us from the premises."

Another pained sound from Fairwind. Light, the man was easily entertained. "Musky," he remarks, after taking several deep, ostensibly calming, breaths.


"Sounds like it was a thing of beauty and human sacrifice."

"I doubt any epic poetry will come of it."

"Maybe a limerick," Fairwind says.

"I don't think so."

"Yeah, you're right, you're right. It's absolutely pasquinade material."

Shaw closes his eyes and resumes with dignity. "The nighttime air did afford us some clarity. I assured the gnoll I just wanted a friendly chat, and he did eventually let me go."

"Oh." There's some satisfaction in catching Fairwind off-guard, even for a moment. "Very diplomatic of you?" he says, brows knitting.

And satisfaction in gaining some high ground, even if he's to immediately cede it. Shaw smiles against the rim of his glass. "I'm an assassin and a spy, Fairwind. Not a diplomat. The moment his back was turned I stabbed him in the liver and dropped his body into the sewer. Probably ejected somewhere over Crystalsong Forest, if the underbelly crocolisks didn't eat him. His boss was easy enough to flush out. The gnoll was merely in the way."

"Bit vicious."

Fairwind sounds neither shocked nor perturbed, but it's close to a judgement nonetheless.

Pathologically cautious and precisely violent. If this were a world without a threat around every corner, some might consider Shaw's behaviour disordered. "I'm not certain if you're aware," he says, struggling to keep his words crisp, "but my line of work requires that I deal effectively, and often definitively, with troublesome people."

"How eupheme—mistic of you." Fairwind hiccups. "See, that's nice that we have something in common. Well. Kind of. I haven't had to" —he draws his thumb across his neck and makes a gritty noise, still with his amiable grin— "for a hot minute, but if push comes to shove, you know. If the situation calls for it."

Morality isn't objective, as far as Shaw is concerned. Being able to see the nuances is a necessity in the day to day administration of SI:7. The world can be broken down into solvable problems, and usually those problems are people. Many of the kingdom's ends are essential to attain or maintain, and for all the war and strife the world is embroiled in, the means he embodies remain distasteful to many, to put it lightly. For once, Fairwind's blasé response is refreshing.

"I thought you'd left that kind of thing behind you," he says.

"Ahh, well." Fairwind leans back in his chair and stretches, hands laced behind his head. "You can turn over a new leaf all you like, but some things are bound to bleed through."

"Sounds to me like piracy was an informed career choice."

"Well, yeah. You don't get to captain a pirate crew by accident, you know, or they'll eat you alive. Coveted position. Highly contested. S'not something that happens if you don't seize the opportunity and, ah." He leers. "Relish the work."

There are a lot of things Shaw can say about Fairwind, but that he lacks showmanship isn't one of them. He often sways between amused, irritated, and surprised by it, sometimes in the same conversation, but this time he finds himself reluctantly charmed.

"Mostly smuggling contraband, was it?"

"Cheeky bastard. You know how I love a bit of brigandage. Smuggling and rum-running, sure. Impersonating Admiralty officials—that's a fun one. Looting, pillaging, forgery, coin-clipping, availing myself of the odd plump merchant ship... "

"Getting your hands bloody."

"Comes with the territory. We can pat each other on the shoulder and call each other good men as much as we like, mate, decent men, but as far as I'm concerned, we're not all that. I'm okay with it. Not proud of it, but okay. Don't know about you."

One way of measuring decency is by a person's actions, and decent actions are something Fairwind is quite capable of, on the occasion he bucks his ideas up. Sometimes, when he's feeling less utilitarian and more unrealistic, Shaw entertains the notion for himself. A pious wish.

"Duty and honour aren't always sympathetic to one another," he says. "I deal with it."

Fairwind nods and retrieves his bottle, lifting it in a solemn toast. He knows how to earn the allegiance of dishonourable men. It's a survivalist's skill. Shaw has no doubt that it's served him well, and perhaps continues to serve him in ways he doesn't realise.

He lifts his glass in return. To professional ignominy.

There's a weighty silence as they drink. Fairwind is, of course, the one to break it.

"Ever feel guilty 'bout stuff?" he says.


"I do what's expected of me," Shaw says, rote.

"All right, but that's not what I asked."

With a rigorous hand and starting from a young age, you can condition most anything into, or out of, a person. "Perhaps I ought to," he says. "You?"

"Guilt doesn't get the blood out."

"Very true," Shaw says into his glass. "Cold water and salt does."

For some reason, Fairwind thinks this is even funnier than the gnoll story, his laughter belting out of him unrestrained and filling the room. Once he's done sniffing and wiping at his eyes, he regards Shaw with remarkable measure for the level of drunkenness he's operating at.

"All comes down to protecting our interests in the end, eh?" he says. "Whether it's a boat and crew or a whole damn kingdom."

Hard to think of it in so grand a manner when he carries out so many small, unpleasant tasks to maintain the status quo. Whilst nothing in particular keeps him up at night, Shaw can't feel righteous about a lot of it. He shrugs lightly.

Fairwind snorts. "You know what's funny."


"We're both wetboys. You, because you—" he makes another throat-slitting gesture and mimes an arterial gush. He does enjoy his sound effects. "Me because I'm literally wet. You know, on account of the sea."

"It's not funny if you have to explain the joke," Shaw says.

"I didn't mean haha-funny. Just, kinda funny."

"Just kind of funny."

Shaw curls his hand into a fist, uncurls it, half-curls it again. The lines in his palm deepen and crease. He's scoured blood out of those creases many times. Not so often these days. These days he just gives the order and it's followed through without question. Feels dirtier, not having to scrub. Nothing to clean. Just a word on his tongue. He thinks about Amber. He thinks about soaping his own mouth out.

"A drop more, Spymaster?" Fairwind casually says.

Shaw holds up his empty glass. He must be drunk because he almost feels grateful for it.

A singular event can set the tone for something much more catastrophic, and while Shaw prides himself on always being prepared for that individual moment, somehow it'd slipped by him this time. He's been chasing down which event set off this particular chain reaction, trying to identify which was the progenitor of the unlikely sequence of choices that led him to be here, drunk in a chair in a mercenary's lodgings.

No real purpose to it. Just a thought exercise.

The atmosphere has developed an air of moroseness, and Shaw can't tell if it's his own mood, Fairwind's lapse into a sleepy contemplation of the fire having left him with some latitude to roam inside his own head. An ideal opportunity to leave, if it had occurred perhaps three hours ago. It must be long past midnight, and making his way back to the Redemption at this point seems an unlikely prospect.

"So what would you do, then," Fairwind suddenly says, rousing from the brink of slumber and resuming a conversation Shaw is moderately certain he'd been having with himself in a dream. "What'd you do if I made fun of Wyrmbane?"

"Slap on the wrist," Shaw says.

"Skim a bit off the top of the Alliance's stockpiles?"

"Slap on the wrist."

"Skive off when I should be ferrying your magic rock?"

"Slap on the wrist. Are these escalations, in your opinion?"

"Just trying to figure out what's allowed and what gets me a mouthful of suds."

"None of it is allowed," Shaw says.

"Well, yeah," Fairwind says, "but some of it's less not-allowed. There's degrees to misdemeanours, see. I should know, I'm a professional misdemeanourer."

This man doesn't so much push boundaries as amicably lean against them to see what the give is like. "As long as you're not actively insulting the Alliance leadership," Shaw says with a sigh. "You should be all right."

"But if I do happen to put your blue bloodses noses out of joint again—"

"If you do, then we shall have to revisit things."

"Heh." Fairwind spits into the hearth. "No job too small."

Shaw presses his fingers to his eyelids until he sees fractals. He is not just tired all of a sudden, he is weary beyond weariness. "It was intended as a reprimand, nothing more."

"Yeah, well, get someone else to do it next time."

"Watch your tongue and I won't have to."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you. Does Greymane always smell like that? Must be ghastly half the year."

Shaw takes a slow, calm breath, lets it out. "You never learn, do you."

"A bit unfair, don't you think?" Fairwind says. "When you consider where I came from, I've done all right. Pretty damn well, in fact. Practically saintly, if you compare and contrast."


"Rub me for a blessing from your beloved Light."

"Not that I personally mind," Shaw says, "but some might consider that borderline blasphemous."

"Ah! But not actually blasphemous, which is the best kind of blasphemous," Fairwind says. "I do love a technicality. Don't you?"

"No," Shaw says. "They cause trouble."

"That why you don't like me, then? Too much trouble."

"You're more than a technicality."

"But I trouble you."

"This is—this is not the time to have this conversation."

"No, no, come on. This is absolutely the most perfect time to have this conversation. Why don't you like me? Is it my face? Am I too handsome for you to handle? It's all right, you wouldn't be the first."

"It's your personality, actually."


"You could be more agreeable."

"Well, sure, if your idea of an agreeable person is a person who always agrees with you."

Despite his flippancy, and despite Shaw's dig intending to be halfway a joke, he looks genuinely deflated. Shaw founders. "I don't dislike you," he says. "Even when we disagree."

"Talk about damning with faint praise." Fairwind squints and holds up his empty bottle, staring glumly down the neck of it as though it's a spyglass. A few drops of liquor spatter his shirt, though he doesn't seem to notice.

The fire is healthy enough but Shaw gets up to prod at it. He feels more comfortable with the weight of the poker in his hand. He prefers to be armed when risk is imminent, and they are approaching the crux of things with some rapidity.

"You make things... challenging, sometimes," he says. He stabs at a charcoaling log. "As it happens, I'm more fond than you might imagine."

"Sorry, what?"

"You heard me well enough."

"Yeah, I did," Fairwind says, laughing. "Pissed as a brewer's fart, aren't you?"

"Not as drunk as you are," Shaw says. After some consideration and a couple of off-target poker-thrusts, he admits, "but substantially, yes."

"Then you wanna give me that before you do yourself an injury, mate—"

The poker clatters to the floorboards. Fairwind lands next to it with a gusty oof. Shaw's knee is on his sternum, his hands around his neck, courtesy of the instinctive part of his awareness that flags a threat before he knows it and tells him to strike before the rest of him catches up. Interesting. Alcohol doesn't slow him down. It simply muddies the signals.

Fairwind stares up at him saucer-eyed; his pulse jumps under Shaw's palms where they're pressed against his rough stubbled throat.

"Uh," he says, and swallows. His cheeks are flushed. "Okay, good thing, uh. Good thing the moonshine's doing its thing right now."

Rather than consider the implications of that, Shaw staggers back onto his feet, gets Fairwind onto his, straightens his shirt for him and politely returns the poker to his hand.

"Apologies," he says stiffly.

"No problem. I mean, it's—" Fairwind attempts to hang the poker on its stand with delicacy, but upsets the whole lot. The tongs and dust brush and shovel clatter to the hearth. He squinches his face up until the noise abates, then continues as though uninterrupted. "It's the point of it all, after all."

"Point?" Shaw backtracks through the conversation, attempting to find the thread he must have dropped, but things are uncooperative. He assumes his expression is not unlike the one Fairwind just made. "Of what?"

Fairwind, poker still in hand, lifts it to rest against Shaw's belly, mercifully slowly enough that it doesn't trip any more defence mechanisms, and nudges him with the rounded tip. "The poking," he says.

"The poking."

"Don't try to tell me you haven't noticed."

"No," Shaw says, "no, I have noticed the poking. I've yet to fathom the point of it, except that you enjoy watching me lose my temper."

"Yes!" Fairwind says, and whips the poker away with enough momentum that it flies from his hand and clangs into a far corner of the room. He barely seems to notice. "Love it."

On the back foot again. It feels as though they've been moving back and forth across contested ground all night, only he hasn't dared inspect what territory it is he's been trying to gain. He waits on Fairwind to unfurl the situation further.

"It's just that you're so screwed down." Fairwind says this from between clenched teeth, his fist bunched in emphasis. Not as obliging an explanation as Shaw might have hoped. "It's painful to look at, mate. So I mess about, you know. Make a pushy nuisance of myself so you have a reason to push back. So you get me by the scruff and let loose. Be a bit mean."

"You like it when I'm mean?" Shaw doesn't mind how bemused he sounds, because he is. All this moping despite Fairwind having got what he wanted in the first place?

"Aah, not mean-mean. Just a bit mean. Mean, but not like you mean it, if you know what I mean. It's good. Bit of a spark, bit of excitement, and, you know—" He laughs. "Your sternest attentions. Yeah, of course I like it."

His playful obnoxiousness is as predictable and unrelenting as the tides themselves. It never fails to get Shaw's blood up when rarely anything does, and it's true that it makes him want to put him back in line.

Sometimes, he wants to shove Fairwind against a wall, or succumb to the bursts of frustration he provokes and pull his hair or pull a knife. Make him gasp his sorries. Make him gasp Shaw's name.

Shaw slowly sits and leans over, his hands steepled against his mouth while he grapples with all of this, and looks up at Fairwind past the temple of his fingers.

Fairwind gazes back. "But you did mean it. Today."

Shaw forces himself to think about how Fairwind had stood in his cabin, shoulders slumped and soap frothing from his mouth, caked in his beard like a rabid dog, and decides to let his silence speak for itself.

"I don't wanna make you feel bad about it. I mean, just doing your job and all. I'm just." Fairwind makes a series of unenlightening gestures. "I don't know. You know? I just, I don't, it wasn't how I... how I wanted you to... ugh, I don't know."

His voice is quavering, to Shaw's immediate horror, though that quickly tempers itself into suspicion. He would have bought a brittle cheer more readily, or the terse friendliness of earlier in the evening. As far as emotionally manipulative sleight of hand goes, Shaw has called out better attempts.

"Don't give me that, Captain," he says, not ungently, though it's hardly the apology or—or whatever it is Fairwind is angling for. "I see what you're doing."

"Damn." Fairwind's pout, at least, is genuine.

Shaw pokes him in the chest with his finger. "Your conniving is never as clever as you think."

"Yeah, yeah. Gave your conscience a smack in the soft and danglies, though, didn't it?"

No, Shaw should have said immediately, but if silence had done his work for him before, now it was damning. A second too long, a second too late to say anything but the obvious. He will admit that Fairwind has his measure this time, Light help him.

"As someone I know might say," Shaw tells him. "Right in the guilty bits."

Fairwind blows over the top of his empty bottle, a low, mournful sound like a foghorn, and slowly grins.

Shaw sleeps without thinking himself asleep for a good portion of the morning, finding himself suffering acutely under the retribution of a hangover. Discovering that he is capable of being just as much of a fool as Fairwind is less a humbling experience as it is a physically devastating one. He is definitely too old for this.

He unclenches his jaw just enough to run his tongue over his lips, though fails to wet them adequately, and turns over, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that he's in Fairwind's bed, and that the blankets are in need of an airing. He makes a sound that is absolutely not a groan. A horrific vision flits through his head: all the things he'd confided to Fairwind last night.

As a small consolation, at least he's not alone in his pain. Fairwind is hunched over in his ratty old armchair, his hands cupped to his face as though trying to pour a headache out into them.

"Awake?" he mumbles.


"Fair." Fairwind rucks about until he's folded up, knees to his chest and his face pressed into the fraying chair-back, and, from the sounds of it, falls asleep again.

Dawn creeps through the smeared glazing; the vague grey light of the room steadily becomes roseal. Existence is an optional concept, meant for people with the capacity to move their head without consequences. Shaw likely should have been at his post by now; time is short and his obligations infinite, but standing upright is also a concept designed to be grappled with by men less fragmented than he. Some primordial aspect of his soul is howling for a fried egg and bacon sandwich. He has never had a fried egg and bacon sandwich in his life. Light help him, he might even voluntarily drink the local coffee. He considers passing out again in self-defence.

"How about now?" Fairwind says.

Time is a transitory thing. It's been no more than five minutes since he'd last asked, or perhaps three hours. He forces his eyes open. The sun has burned through the clouds and flooded the whole room with a horrible brightness. He craves that sandwich more than ever.

"Getting there." His voice cracks like a cheap safe. "How are you feeling?"

Fairwind grunts. "Once more suffering the consequences of my actions. Tidemother's kelp knickers... ship my remains home in a puncheon of rum."

Shaw presses a hand over his eyes and tries to curl up like a peabug. He might have needed this. Whether he'd wanted it was moot at this point. Oh, Light help him, he'd told Fairwind about the gnoll.

"I told you about the gnoll," he says.

"I don't remember," Fairwind says lightly.

"Thank you."

"Don't get me wrong here, I remember laughing my backside off, but I don't know what specifically—oh, wreck me, I told you about the octopus."

"That was much earlier in the evening."

"Not what I wanted to hear."

"... I don't remember the specifics," Shaw adds, far too belatedly.

"You're a pal. Redact it in your report though, eh?"

"I don't think this warrants a report."

That gets Fairwind chuckling, then groaning. He makes it onto his feet, scrunching his face up while he stretches and sighs and rolls his head back and forth to ease the knots in his shoulders. His shirt rides up over the thick curve of his stomach; red hair spreads from his navel to below his waistline. "I guess it's kinda pointless once you redact your half as well."

Shaw grunts in agreement. "What time is it?"

"Coming up to six."

"I have to get to my post."

"Oof," Fairwind says. "Commiserations. Coffee?"

"Not the way you make it."

"Trust me, you want it the way I make it this morning."

Shaw considers the tarry sludge the sailors around here drink, and somehow, for once, is not revolted. Maybe with sugar, just for today. On a whim and before he can register how impolite it may be to prevail on Fairwind further, he asks, "Do you have eggs and bacon?"

"Oh," Fairwind says, a low groan of pleasure that is borderline indecent. "Oh, you're right, that's just the ticket."

By the time Shaw has reconstituted himself into a facsimile of a human man, Fairwind has set to work at the caboose stove wedged into the corner of the room. Shaw is fairly certain it's a fire hazard, but the aroma of frying bacon successfully overrides all of his concerns.

Including, for now, the fact that he is late, but so long as Wyrmbane doesn't send out a search party, he doesn't owe anyone an explanation for his tardiness. Fairwind shoves a wedge of a sandwich into one of his hands and a dented enamel mug into the other, the contents of which should be a controlled substance judging from the smell.

"Hair of the dog," he says with a wink.

Shaw will indeed approach it as he might a dangerous animal, though when he gives his thanks, it's genuine.

He lifts the mug. "Do you mind if I take it with me?"

"So long as you don't mind me coming along later to fetch it back. It's my favourite. Sentimental value. Family heirloom."

"No it isn't," Shaw says. "But my door will be open nonetheless."

Fairwind accepts this with a pleasant smile, and Shaw finally manages to take his leave.


"Shaw," Fairwind says. "One sec."

He turns, and Fairwind takes him by the shoulder and pulls him in against his chest. He's warm and smells of stale sweat and the sourness of his hangover. Shaw tenses. Physical contact is a fraught thing and most often a complication he resolves with a whetted edge.

His head pounds. He pats Fairwind on the arm with his sandwich until he lets go.

"Are we good?" he asks.

"I can lie ahull of it," Fairwind says. There's a drip of egg yolk on his sleeve. "If you’re good, we’re good. All right?"

"Good," Shaw says, half-certain of it but trying to sound more so. "I'm good. All right."

"You wanna come by for a drink tomorrow?"

"Light, no." Of that he is certain.

"Oh, come on. It'll only be" —Fairwind tips his hand back and forth— "moderate hedonism."

"How would you describe last night?"

Fairwind takes a deep breath through his nose and looks off to one side, as if judging the intensity, attenuation and overall staying power of his hangover.

"High end of minor. Go on. You owe me."

Shaw bristles. "I'm in no mood to relitigate, Captain. I was doing my job and that's the—"

Fairwind immediately puts up his hands. "Whoa, steady, not for that. I meant for the entire bottle of finest Drustvar moonshine you downed last night."

It's Shaw's turn to assess the quality of his hangover. "Finest?"

"Well, okay, it was some rancid old grog." His grin edges towards sheepish. "Can't blame me for trying. What do you say, though?"

"I don't drink."

"Said with a straight face. I'm impressed. Makes me wonder what that handle of gin in your desk drawer is for, though."

"Emergencies," Shaw says without missing a beat, and resolves to fit a new, more complex lock on the drawer in question. He raises his sandwich in farewell. "Good day, Fairwind."

"Fat chance." Fairwind grins widely, eyes crinkled at the corners, and executes the sloppiest Alliance salute Shaw's seen in a long while.

It's drizzling outside, a grey and coastal morning. Shaw stands on Fairwind's doorstep, the chill air working its way into his joints, and without thinking about it, sips the coffee. It burns his nose hairs then slips hot into his belly.

It has a distinct aftertaste.

Shaw holds the mug up to eye level, and perceives the thin coating of soap upon its rim.

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