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A Girl Walks Into A Bar

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gwiabblood

You’d had a bad day. Murphy’s Law was created for the sole purpose of explaining the day you’d had. Your car is fucked, sitting in a shop currently as you just have to wait for a phone call about the state it’s in and what limb you’ll have to sell to afford the work. The bus was late, the coffee machine at work wasn’t working and you’d dealt with assholes pretty much everywhere you’d went.

The bratty 16-year-old and her father that were in the studio that day had certainly earned the not affectionate in the least title. The Rolex wearing father, not attentive, blue tooth headset and nose stuck to a phone screen for the entirety of any communication you had with. He’d first insulted you, telling you to go fetch them coffee, tossing you a twenty while his clearly in need a smack and a therapist daughter barked a nonsensical order to you. You didn’t go to Starbucks, you didn’t know what the fuck any of this meant. You eat it anyway, as your boss is sighing and trying to keep the situation under control, seeing your known temper rising to the surface. You turn with an annoyed nod to leave, the father then smacking you on the ass on the way out. If your boss hadn’t grabbed your arm, he would’ve been dealing with a broken pair of glasses and hopefully a cracked eye socket to accompany it.

You return from your errand, where of course, the barista was a dick. Still feeling insulted, seething as you see every switch and knob has been messed with in your absence. You hear the pterodactyl screech of this spoiled child from the booth, ignoring her while you fix what she’s fucked up. Her father rushing you and claiming he was paying for this time and you were milking it.

After fixing others mistakes, you have to deal with the voice of the girl. You play it back over and over for her, she screams it sounds wrong, that you’ve fucked it up and it’s your fault and you don’t expect anything less from her at this point.

“Well it sounds wrong because you can’t sing.” you finally state matter of factly. You see your bosses hand go to her forehead, mouthing the word fuck.

The pterodactyl screeching does not falter, you are unphased despite the father now being tugged by his sleeve to you in the booth by his tantrum-throwing daughter, your boss walking in behind them.

“This is fucking insulting and I’m not doing it. This is a fucking studio for artists, not the next god damned Rebecca Black and her absentee fucking father! This is a place where we make MUSIC, we make ART here! Don’t fucking insult my work here with this bullshit! I’m not here to cater to this fuckin’ blue tool wearin’ mother fucker and his piss baby of a kid!” you shout and you do not care. You started as an intern here, you worked your way up and you knew you value. No one else knew the technical side of things AND knew how to play instruments. Your boss knows this and knows she needs you as you both ignore the shouting from the two fuck heads who are still crying about things being unfair and unprofessional.

“I know. We need the money, I’m sorry. Why don’t yo-”

“NEED THE MONEY?! BULLSHIT!” you shout, “If you needed the money so bad maybe don’t go indulge your post-divorce crisis with plastic surgery and a new car CeeCee!” you grab your coat and angrily put it on.

“Just take the rest of the day off, Bella. This is clearly out of hand and no one can work like this.” she says, not even mad at your words, you were never known to hold back your thoughts and knowing each other for years now your comments didn’t phase her. You were a very passionate woman and it was all part of your process she’d quickly learned. Can’t be as knowledgeable about music and art as you are without having a burning passion inside you for it. Unfortunately for you, this fire extended outside of your work and hobbies sometimes and made you a bit of a hot head. But at this point in your fuming, you were growing tired, so you cut it short.

“You’re fucking right!” you shout as you slam the door behind you. “Take the rest of the day off,” you mumble and mock her in an immature way but man, you were pissed. It was already after 5pm what rest of the fucking day was left! You’re reminded of your car being gone as you stand in your reserved spot, staring at the freshly fallen snow that lay where it should. “Fuck.” you groan, pulling on your gloves and tugging your hat over your wavy dark auburn hair. You had to walk to the bus stop and all you wanted was to go home and get drunk, so you in your winter wear, jeans and big black boots over them, a fleece lined leather jacket over your hoodie, all tied up cozy with a bow and a beanie. At least you’d checked the weather before you left the house so you were prepared for the walk.

You hear the sound of music as you walk down a street you’d driven past mindlessly countless times. You’re on the outskirts of the small community, outlying the city where you lived in a duplex, and much to your delight, you had to upstairs neighbors currently. No one to bitch about your music being played too loud or your guitar playing well into the night. As you round the corner, just a few blocks away from you’re assuming still shouting assholes, you let out a sigh as you recognize a guitar riff. It immediately sends the impulses you need to your muscles, your shoulders lowering finally form their tension. You’ve reached the source of the sound, you look up to the sign above the dark stone and wood front of the…bar…it would seem. You’d been past this place so many times and never stopped to look. "The Trading Post.“ you say to yourself, biting your blushed from the cold lips. You see the welcome neon advertising beer and you sigh. You stand there for a few moments, considering just stopping in here, they were playing Zeppelin after all…how bad could it be?

You must’ve been wearing your foul mood all over your face because one of the men standing in a circle of other men, all wearing biker vests turns to watch you go in.

"You ain’t lookin’ for trouble are ya?” he asks, eyebrow raised.

You show no sign of intimidation. “I’m going in to drink to make myself forget about the fuckin’ trouble.” you say, moving your gloved hand to the door.

“I ain’t never seen you here before.”

“That’d be because I’ve never been here before.”

“Yeah…” he looks you up and down in judgment and not in a sexual way, which you’re relieved by. “But I’ve been told to keep out the riff-raff.”

“Well no offense but one might think you guys are that riff-raff.” you say with a stare and an attitude. One of the other men laughs.

“What’s your name?” his eyes narrow.

“What’s yours?” you ask with the same swing of your chin.

“They call me Southie.” he answers.

“They call me Bella.” you nod back, extending your hand and he looks at it in a surprised way but takes it, a gentle shake.

“Well don’t do in there to fuck with no one, especially not Declan now, you hear? He doesn’t take too kindly to folks running their mouths much.”

“Who the fuck is Declan?” you ask. All the men laugh.

“You must not be from around here.” he grins.

“I work a few blocks back, but I don’t live in this neighborhood, no.” you explain.

“Ah. Well…” he huffs out a laugh. “If you’ve not heard of him, you’ll still recognize him when you see him.” he nods and the other guys chuckle again.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” you ask with a shake of your head.

“Just let the girl go get a fuckin’ drink, man, she’s clearly in a bad mood, just let the little firecracker go.” he laughs. You narrow your eyes at him, not sure if that was a compliment or not.

“Alright.” he shrugs. “Go on, get in there baditude.” he says with a nod of his head towards the door.

You pull it open, your eyes don’t have to adjust much because the lighting is dim, just as a bar should be in your opinion. There are lights in strings across the corners of the ceiling, neon signs placed with no rhyme or reason on wood paneled and brick walls. You look down the line of booths on the wall, all an old green that only existed in the 70’s you’re pretty sure, worn and patched up with duct tape. The table tops with carved words of love and hate on top. To your right, there is a long wooden bar, a beautiful old monster of a thing. Looked like it’d been there longer than the building and the building looked very old itself. There’s a faint smell of mildew, smoke and cheap cologne in the air. Had you just by chance walked into the dive bar you’d always wanted to call your local? When you catch sight of the man behind the counter, you know you have.

His back is turned to you, even from the doorway you can tell he’s tall. As you walk closer, pulling your gloves off and stuffing them into your pockets he just gets bigger and broader the closer you get. A clearly well loved, thin t-shirt is all he’s wearing in the dead of winter. You suppose maybe the past the shoulders mess of waves and curls that fade from almost black to a lighter brown towards the ends is keeping him warm. Or perhaps the lights that dotted the line of the bar, some covered with colored gels, some broken, you found it very charming.

You’re reaching for your zipper as he turns, guessing he’s heard the door shut behind you. He turns as if he’s expecting someone else, his head tilting just slightly as you move closer. An intimidating face to match his stature greets you. His thick beard, just left of unkempt sits course, a full lip buried in the midst of it peaks out at you. His complimentary to his olive skin and dark coloration of the brown with yellow coloring eyes look over you under a heavy brow and hooded lids. His almost Disney villain like naturally arched brows raise at your appearance in the bar. The act of unzipping your jacket while his eyes are on you makes your face flush. Or perhaps it was the heat in here. Hell, it could be both.

“What can I get ya?” he says in a deep but friendly toned voice.

“Uhhh…” you mumble for a moment, eyes looking over the bar back full of a plethora of bottles, some you’ve never heard of and for your Irish half self, this was surprising, as you’d known your fair share of alcohol in your life. “You have any real ale?” you ask with a wrinkle of your nose as he’s looking to throw a towel somewhere out of sight to you.

His handsome face looks back up at you, this time a big grin appears, which you respond to with a few slow blinks. “We certainly do, babe.” he says with a nod of his head, clearly supportive of your choice. Your eyes narrow as he turns at the use of the pet name. But you weren’t getting a creepy vibe off this guy, but you were still withholding judgment. And as if your questions were meant to be answered, a man and woman walk into the bar, you feel the cold air move down and brush past your face.

“Oh hey, baby doll! Wasn’t sure you’d show.” he says, grabbing a box off the floor and walking it around the bar towards the man with the small woman.

“Hey Declan.” he greets him, he picks her feet up off the floor with the entrapping hug he gives her. It makes the corner of your mouth want to pull back at the kindness behind the gesture. Looks like baby was just a word to him and part of you is grateful. “I’m running late sorry. I can’t stay but I know I needed to get this before the morning.”

“Otherwise you’d have me up at dawn waiting for you tomorrow to come to pick these up.” he grins.

“It’s like you know me sweetie.” she grins up at him. He gives a hearty slap to shoulder of the man with her in greeting.

“You kids have fun then. That spots great for camping out up there. Just keep a lookout for bears.” he says with a point of his finger at them both.

“Yes I know.” she nods. “I googled everything, we’ll be fine. Food up off the ground and everything, Got it.”

“Good girl.” he says patting her head, something she frowns insincerely at.

He returns to behind the bar, reaching back into a standing fridge and popping the top off a bottle before he slides it to you. “This one’s my favorite.” he says with a nod and a smile, your fingertips examine the green glass in your hands. He moves to shut the door to the room he’d retrieved the box from for the now gone, girl. You settle in on the stool, taking your jacket and hat off, fluffing your hair with one hand as he comes back. Your lips to the mouth of the bottle as his eyebrows raise at you in question.

“Shit man, that’s good.” your eyebrows raise as you look at the bottle. You hear a small grunt of laugh from him. “This looks like what those people just walked out with.”

“Nah. Same people brew it, same label, different brew.”

“Tastes like…fuckin’ cherries or something.” you say smacking your lips. “They must ferment it differently.” you say, basically to yourself but it catches his attention. You knew your ale.

“Yeah they ferment it at a higher temperature, makes it have that fruity taste to it.” he educates you further.

“This local?” your voice inflects with curiosity, meeting his eyes with yours.

“Yeah. But you aren’t are you?” he says with that same warm expression.

You shake your head. “No.” you take another drink. “I live closer to the city but I work just a few blocks over at the little studio on the corner.” you explain.

“That sounds cool. I didn’t think I’d seen you around before.” his eyes narrow in thought.

“It can be but not today.” you shake your head. “I’ve driven by this place every day on my way to work and never stopped before. With my car in the shop and after the shit day I’ve had the appeal of alcohol and Zeppelin I heard from outside earlier I just couldn’t resist.” you shrug and take another bigger drink.

“Well, I’m glad you did. I’m Declan.” he extends his hand, you’re struck with the size of his arms as one swings closer to you.

“Thanks. Bella.” you say with a more friendly tone. Now you weren’t strangers. “This your bar?” you ask.

“She’s mine alright.” he nods. Your eyes wander down the long thin space of the booths and bar, as he walks to the end, and to your surprise he walks over to you, pulling a stool from between his legs and sitting next to you, elbow propped up on the bar. You see a larger room lies past, it remains dark and you can’t tell much. But the warmth you feel coming off of his large body, now daunting next to yours, and close pulls your attention from your curiosity. He scratches his head, scrunching his face, you look up at him from under your brow as his biceps appearance throws you more off than you’d like to admit. You see he’s in light washed, slightly baggy jeans, holes, and scuffs galore, just as you’d expect from what you’d seen of his upper half. His boots have much the same appearance as him, sturdy and worn. “What’s brought you to me and my humble second home tonight, Bell?” he asks, head tilted, eyes matched to yours, the laid-back vibe he had put you at ease and you welcomed it as it and the ale warmed you up from the inside out.

“Oh I’ve had myself a fucking DAY, Declan.” you say with a roll of your eyes. He seems to like the use of his name. He likes the way it sounds, seeming to come from you so easily and without any loaded backstory attached.

“Sounds like it.” he says with a lazy smile.

“I don’t want to just sit here and bitch at you while you’re working.” you say shaking your head, not wanting to take the entirety of the man’s attention.

“It’s a weeknight sweetheart, do I look busy?” he asks with a smirk. Your big green eyes move around the bar.

“You’ve got a point,” you say with a nod, taking another drink. “If you want to hear me bitch I mean…I’ll sure as hell oblige.” you say with a shrug, and he smiles, chin raised to show he’s listening.

“Well, it all started…” you begin. You’re about to get into the girl touching the recording equipment when a seemingly harmless middle-aged balding man bops around the corner of the back room you can’t see.

“Gimmie a loooooong neck!” he shouts, drunk but not angry.

He turns with a frown of apology to you, which was needless but you appreciated it. “Get it yourself Gary, you’ve been drinking the same thing for 20 years.” he shouts back, looking back at you will an animated roll of his eyes. When his eyes fall back on you, you’re smiling. The first smile he’d seen since you came in. He knew he wanted to see more of them from you. “Don’t mind him. You were saying something about a rejected sweet sixteen applicant?” he grins.

He listens, and intently, eyes always on you every time you look up from the bartop or from your bottle. He raises and slaps the bar top. “That’s it girly.” he says, moving back behind the bar again, “On the house.” he states, putting another bottle in front of you.

“Wha-?” you ask with a wrinkled nose he finds charming.

“Your drinks tonight. On the house.” he says as if it’s obvious.

“Uh…” you stutter and show your surprise. “That’s very kind of you but-”

“Nope. I see a dollar of your money and I’m not giving you any more of that.” he grins, pointing to the bottle.

Damn, he was nice. You thought, a subtle frown on your face as he turns to reach for a bottle with a stopper in the top, sitting two shot glasses in front of you. Damn, he was really fucking nice.

“Christ, dude you giving me Jameson too?” your eyes are wide and you take a deep breath as he takes the glass in his hand, you mirror the action. “My ancestors applaud the choice” you say with a chuckle that he returns.

“Oh you’re Irish?” his chin lowers and one eyebrow raises.

“Half yeah.” you give a quick nod.

“Oh well then get the fuck outta here.” he manages to get out without sputtering with laughter.

Your face scrunches up and you let out a louder laugh, your shoulders moving with it. “To…” you pause to think for a moment. “To this hangover not killing me tomorrow.” you say with a wide smile he’s thankful to see as proof that your mood is improving.

He nods, you tap your glasses on the bar top and shoot them back. “Won’t think less of me for drinking on the job will ya?” he says with a smack of his lips.

“It’s your fucking bar, man do whatever you want, who am I gonna tell?” you smirk.

So time passes and the drinks pass with it. People come in and out of the bar, you switch from stool to booth to pool table and back. You playfully argue about White vs Rob Zombie, as per the shirt you’re wearing.

“At least I’m not Mr. Dad Rock over here, I bet you put on the B side of IV on and give a girl a six pack and the panties just go FLYING don’t they?” you say with a loud laugh he matches, both smacking at each other.

“You sound like you’re speaking from experience baby doll,” he says with a sigh, wiping his face as his eyes started watering from the goofiness of your banter through the night. “Sound a bit salty about it, to be honest.” he teases.

You snort and smack his knee, “I might be speaking from both.” you admit, a laugh that grows and you shut your eyes with it. “Who says you can’t learn from your mistakes?” you say with a goofy shrug.

At this point in the night there are only two other people, as you’re wiping the tears from your eyes you notice this, then your phone lights up and you see the time. How the fuck was it past 10 already. You pick it up and look at it. “Fuck it’s later than I thought.” you say, pushing your hands on the countertop. You stand and feel his arm around you before you even realize your knees are knocking.

“Woah there, hun.” he says, hands on your sides, eyes clearer than yours and more concerned than drunk.

“Oh you went and got me fuckin’ druuuunnnnnnnnk.” you say in a deep scolding voice.

“In my defense, you did the drinkin’ there babe.” he chuckles, still holding you steady as he stands.

“Never rode the bus wasted before. This’ll be a fuckin’ story to tell you next time I come in here for sure.” Although he didn’t think you wouldn’t come back, he’s glad to hear you were already thinking about it.

“You are not riding the damn bus like this. Not at this time of night.” he says, shaking his head. “Not anytime actually. You baby foal. I thought you could handle your liquor.”

“I can I’ve just been sitting for 12 hours straight haven’t I? Makes the legs no worky.” you explain with a frown and he laughs at you again.

“Whatever you gotta tell yourself, darling.” he pats your head, as you steady yourself with one hand.

“If I were shorter I’d be mad about that.” you say. You hear him huff out a laugh as he moves behind the bar and retrieves a huge coat. Guess he was human after all, he could be part sun god for all you knew. Maybe that’s why those dudes warned you, a mere weak mortal walking into the den of god. Oh wow, you were drunk.

“You want a ride home babe?” he asks very politely with a hand on your shoulder. He was going to beg if he had to, he wasn’t letting a nice girl like you alone whether you were drunk or not.

“Ugh,” you say, putting your arms in your jacket in a fussy way. “It’s like 20 minutes away Declan, I can’t put you out like that I’ll call an uber or somethin’.”

“I close soon anyway, you aren’t putting me out. Mike’s here to lock up anyway.” He didn’t trust anyone else to make sure you got where you needed to go, feeling protective over you. And of course feeling partially responsible for the amount of alcohol you’d consumed. He’d given you some shit over being drunk but damn did you hold it well. You weren’t wobbly as you step away from the bar, bending at the knees and stretching your sides.

“Seeing as I’ve been seen here I don’t think you’ll murder me. Will you? Promise me you won’t murder me and I’ll let you take me home.” you say with a nod, a smirk on your face as you shove one of your gloves into your mouth and pull the other on.

“I solemnly swear I will not murder you, Bell.”

You playfull narrow your eyes at him. “Cross your heart?” you say before a silly smile spreads across your face.

“And hope to die.” he chuckles, moving his finger over his chest.

“Only a real fucking asshole would break one of those promises.” you narrow your eyes again, tugging your hat on and moving towards the door. “And don’t tell anyone but I don’t think you’re an asshole either.”

“Oh she’s got compliments.” he says with a fan of his face in jest at your words.

“Nah she’s just drunk on Jameson.” you laugh as he stands right behind you, reaching down to open the door. “Oh fuck.” you whisper as the ice hits you immediately. It was snowing. And hard.

“Looks like you wouldn’t be getting that bus tonight anyway.” he says, pursing his lips, hand on your back as you make your way out the warm, sepia-toned confines of his bar and out into the crisp, cold biting air of the cool-toned night.

You make it a few steps before you slip, which for the state of the sidewalk, was not something that was to blame on your sobriety.

“Ya gotta be careful.” he says, catching you for the second time that night in his oversized hands, feeling their grip past the layers you wore.

“That isn’t from being drunk, I promise. There’s ice.” you say, wide, honest eyes looking up into his.

“I’m inclined to believe you.” he says with another warm, whiskey toned softly spoken words.

“Wait. Can you drive? Are you drunk?” you suddenly recall. He laughs and puts a hand around your elbow, the other around your waist as you head down the sidewalk slowly.

“I am not.” he says with a reassuring smile. “Takes a bit more the get me drunk than it does a little thing like you.” he explains, no teasing in his voice. You suppose to him, everyone was little in comparison so you take no offense.
—–
The weather’s worse by the time he pulls into the small driveway you’re extremely lucky to have in this part of town. The usual 20ish minute drive you’d promised had turned into almost an hour. You felt bad about him doing this. But then again you weren’t used to the level of attention and thoughtfulness he seemed to naturally exude. He did drive slow but an untreated road no matter the speed was an obstacle in an of itself, even in a four-wheel drive.

“You…uhhh…” you start, your hand on the handle of the door of the truck. You purse your lips, brow furrowed as you force your eyes to meet him. “It’s really shitty outside, you want to come in for some coffee or tea or something before you try to get out in this?” your tone isn’t suggestive, and he never took it that way.

“I-uh…” he begins the same as you. He didn’t want you to think that him going inside had been part of this plan originally. Didn’t want you to think he was that kind of guy. But you weren’t being seductive, your face reading as more concerned than anything. "Yeah.“ he nods. "At least wait to see if the salt trucks start running through anytime soon.” he says, corner of his mouth pulled back.

“Alright. Good.” you say, a half smile at him before you move to hop out of the truck. You’re taking your time making your way up the walk as he comes up behind you, hand hovering behind you just in case. You dig into your pockets inside your jacket.

You switch a lamp on in a narrow hallway, he takes in the hardwood floors, a colorful long run lays down the hallway that leads to a darkened archway. You throw your keys on a hook, taking off your layers. “Lock the door behind you please,” you say, toeing off your boots. “Hang that cool ass coat up before I try to steal it.” you say with a pleasant smile.

“Oh thanks.” he says with a proud little grin, following instructions.
You lean across a doorway, slapping a wall and hitting a switch, multiple lamps come on in the living room.

“Go ahead and make yourself comfy.” you say, moving your face back to him before turning to walk down the hall. “And don’t mind Robert, he won’t bother you. ”

“Robert?” he asks, eyes looking over the aesthetically pleasing room, wall decorated in paintings, framed records, and hanging guitars. You were getting more and more appealing the longer he stayed around which enticed him to see where the night would go. He opens his phone to the weather, to see just how bad it’s supposed to get.

“Yeah my cat.” you call from the kitchen. A light switches on, another doorway illuminated to him as he looks up to see you moving around an exposed brick and steel filled kitchen.

“You named your cat Robert?” he laughs, looking up, his eyes landing on a small bookcase, filled with vinyl he sees. His lips form an excited O as he moves and kneels in front of the records.

“Yeah, he’s a little weirdo. He likes to sit in the flower pot in the window all and do nothing like a plant.” you explain, he hears a tap turn on, a fridge open and close.

“So you named him robert?” he asks with a laugh.

Your head appears are the corner. “Yeah. Robert Plant.” you say with a straight face as his head tilts with an exasperated expression of ‘really?’ at you. A huge smart assed grin appears on your face.

“Clever girl.” he says, looking back to the shelves.

“I’m starving Declan, you want something?”

“What ya got?” he asks, raising and moving to lean in the doorway as you stand before an open fridge.

“Well. I was thinking some grilled cheese and bacon or something.”

“Fuck yes.” he says in a drawn-out deep way that makes you immediately turn and laugh at him.

“My sentiments exactly.” you say, moving to retrieve the ingredients and plant yourself in front of the stove. He’s planted himself in front of the records, you hear noises of approval so you think his review of your taste will be good.

“Oh hey little man!” you hear him exclaim. Robert must’ve decided to appear. You hear the familiar meow. “Oh you’re a cute, big-eyed thing aren’t you?” you hear him coo, the sweet tone making you smile. Robert did a bit of a smushed face, bless him, with big orange eyes that were a touch too googly for his fluffy calico body, but you loved him just the same. “What a funky little dude.” you hear him surmise. You laugh out loud at the comment.

“No one wanted to adopt him because he is a little disproportioned, the poor baby.” you explain. “But I saw him and his scruffy little face and I just fell in love with him.”

He smiles contently at the cat, your words just giving him more reason to like you, you were a low key sweetheart, he could tell that much in all the…six or so hours he’d known you. How was it only that much time? You felt like old friends already. The cat quickly loses interest and goes towards the delicious smell coming from the kitchen. He moves back to inspecting your musical compatibility, you were doing very well so far. Rock and Roll in general, a touch of harder, a touch of softer. Good bit of Motown and disco, some newer looking records that he didn’t know of and this intrigued him.

You walk into the room, a plate in each hand, each holding two grilled cheese sandwiches, multicolored cheese and bacon chunks oozing out the side. “C'mon.” you motion your head towards the couch.

“I knew that smell was making my mouth water but they look even better than they smell somehow.” he says, licking his lips at the sight. So he was motivated by food it seemed, and who could blame him. It wasn’t like you learned how to cook because you hated food.

You set yours down on the coffee table before retreating into the kitchen and returning with bottled water, two cups, and a small teapot. You pour him a cup, your hands steady as the liquid steamed.

“They could taste like shit.” you say with a straight face and he laughs, taking the plate from you as you sit cross-legged on the sofa next to him.

“There’s no way in hell.” he says, both hands on the sandwich already. You place the plate in your lap and move to take a bite. You both moan on contact.

“Fuck.” you groan.

“Shit.” he exclaims. “Babe these are amazing.” he says, another bite taken before the first is even swallowed. You can’t help but feel proud. When the only other person you cook for, your friend Charlotte, is super picky it’s harder to enjoy cooking because you so rarely got an enthusiastic reaction like his was without any coaxing.

“Thanks.” you say after swallowing, not inhaling yours in the same manner, you sip your tea and watch him happily devour the plate of food quickly. You aren’t even finished with your first sandwich and you give him a closed mouth, happy smile.

“These representative of your taste in music?” he asks, cutting the silence, hand motioning towards the bookcase.

“Oh yeah. I mean, I usually just listen to one of the music apps but I’m still a sucker for vinyl for things I really like.” you nod in explanation. “Also just stuff I find at flea markets that strikes me as interesting, so it’s a mixed bag. I just like some of the old album art.”

“Oh yeah I get that.” he says with a nod, eyes moving to the walls. “Like these?” he asks, the framed series of records on the wall to your right.

“Yeah, except that one.” you point to one in the corner. “That’s the first one I ever played on that we did at the studio.”

“Ah, so you play? Guitar I’m assuming?” he nods to the two hanging on the wall, one acoustic and one an axe. What an interesting combination, he thought.

“Assuming right.” you say after chewing another bite. “I went through a real big 80’s metal phase and bought the axe on a whim.” you chuckle while you chew.

“Looks cool as hell.” he says with an impressed pursing of his lips.

“Agreed.” you grin smugly before sipping your tea.

“You get to play a lot on the stuff you record down there?” he’s leaned back on the couch now, phone left on the coffee table by yours, eyes intently watching you.

“Sometimes. I do rhythm and the technical aspects the most. But on that one I had to stand in for their guitarist after he got in a fight and broke some fingers…so I stepped in.” you elaborate, finishing off your sandwiches.

“That sounds really cool. Seriously.”

“Well I think being a bar owner sounds cool.” you say with a shrug.

“Sometimes.” he says with a nod, withholding his usual enthusiasm so you change the subject.

“What’s the verdict on the weather?” you ask, taking the plates to the kitchen.

“Mmmm” he says, looking it up on his phone, you walk from the kitchen, switching off the light and moving to the big window in the living room.
By the noise you make he knows the verdict of your judgment on the aggression of the storm to not be favorable. “I’m afraid it’s not good, dude.” you say, still looking out the window and shaking your head.

“This says much the same.” he grumbles, raising to stand behind you and get a look himself. The roads still untouched, his truck already covered in a layer of snow.

“Uhhh…Declan?” you say hesitantly.

“Yeah Bells?” he asks, you both look to each other.

“You’re gonna have to stay. You realize that right?” the corner of mouth draws up in thought.

“Is that…” he starts, pausing to shift his eyes for a moment. “Is that okay?” he hesitantly asks. “I don’t want you to think that’s what this was about.”

“At least we’re on the same page. I didn’t want you to think I was getting fresh with you. You’re just…you’re nice and I don’t want you putting yourself in danger in this.” you admit.

“Well aren’t you sweet.” he smiles down at you.

“Eh. Wait till you deal with me in the morning and then see if you want to say that.” you laugh, shutting the curtains. “I’m gonna grab some blankets.” you say, moving into the closed door off a small hallway near the corner of the living room.

You appear again, a stack of comforters and pillows that tower over your head. As soon as he see’s you with them he moves to take them from you.

“Couch is a pull-out, by the way. No way your tall ass is gonna be comfy otherwise.” you laugh as your move pillows.

“You don’t have to move stuff on my account.” he hurriedly says, setting down the pillows into an empty chair.

“Hush, you brought me home and didn’t have to, I can move some metal a few feet for you,” you say with the shake of your head. “You can pull the coffee table over there though.” you point to the far side of the room.
So you’ve got it all, blankets, pillows, space heater, all boxes checked.

“Alright. Remotes are there if you can’t sleep, phone chargers on the side table, get whatever you want out of the kitchen, I’m the door on the left if you need me.” you motion to the dark wooden door in the small hallway he’d seen you retreat to earlier. “You good?” you inquire, eyebrows high at him.

“More than, darlin’, you talk about me being nice.” he says with a smirk.

“Like I said. Just wait.” you nod and chuckle. You move to switch off the lights, the glow of the space heater now the main source of illumination. “Night Declan.” you lilt as you round the corner.

“Night Bella.” he says in a soft, sweet tone that you let make your face form into a girlish smile since he can no longer see it.

Chapter Text

You lay in your bed for over an hour looking at your phone. You weren't surprised you were having trouble sleeping, you two were very old and close friends at this point. With there being a man you barely knew in your living room, just on the other side of the wall you were staring at, you were even less surprised you couldn't sleep.

So you kick off your covers and move quietly to your door, your feet in thick knee socks, wearing leggings and a pulling a large hoodie over you before you click open your door. You peak your head around the corner of the wall, trying not to be obvious.

He's sound asleep, looking entirely unbothered and you found it comforting in a way. At least he felt safe around you, that was something. What you'd give to be able to fall asleep in a strangers house without reservation. But if you looked like him you'd be scared of less too. It's not like you'd learned to defend yourself and worked out just for the vanity of it, after all. From the intimidating vibe the men outside the bar were giving you, you're guessing that he looked the way he did for many of the same reasons.

You see you haven't woken him and when a small snore and grunt make their appearance your nerves ease as you see he has no intention of doing anything besides sleeping and he's apparently doing well in his endeavors currently. You rest your hip against the doorway, watching him.

The night is biting cold, you can feel it creeping into the house from the window, the heater balancing out the warmth of the room. You can see him in the warm orange glow of the light of it, his relaxed face looks soft, despite the hair that covered it and the scar marking his brow. He looked hard but not menacing, which seems like a very difficult thing to achieve for a man looking the way he did. You wouldn't deny he was handsome, how could you? It was the heat that rose to your face when your eyes first met that made you admit it to yourself. You were working on trying to admit when you found a man attractive, having learned too many lessons the hard way in your youth, you now found it hard to trust men. Well, hard to trust just about anyone. You'd buried yourself in your hobbies which turned into a career, keeping your head low, focusing on yourself and being independent of your past. Perhaps you needed to start working on a new phase of accepting new people into your life. This polite and kind man seemed like a decent place to start. His friendship would even come with a bar, and thus even more new people to meet. You weren't sure if you were ready to make new friends, but a part of you knew that you would never be fully ready and perhaps the universe was intervening, making you walk into that bar yesterday to give you a push in a new direction.

You eventually fall asleep, telling yourself this Declan Harp wasn't going to kill you, he wasn't going to try anything in the middle of the night and you eventually grew tired, meditating to tell yourself it was okay to relax enough to fall asleep. And eventually, you did.

You wake up to your work alarm and you groan, smacking at the phone in annoyance. Work? No. Not today. Not after yesterday, not with this snow. You call Karen and tell you aren't coming in. She doesn't seem surprised in the least. Apparently, the weather was bad where she was too, there'd already been cancellations on appointments today so she wasn't worried, it's not like you missed work often anyway.

You still didn't hey nearly enough sleep, but you were used to functioning at this capacity. At just before nine you creak your door open, peaking out just the same as the night before, but now you could see a lamp was on. He'd already put up the bed, bless him, sitting snuggly on the couch with a blanket over him, scrolling through his phone.

You move into his view, running your fingers through your sleep-tousled hair before stretching and tugging back down your hoodie.

"Mornin' Bells." his voice is deep and gritty and sounds like honey being poured over whiskey stones looks. You let out an involuntary grunt as it hits your ears, clearing your throat to cover your reaction.

"Morning, Dec." you grumble, another yawn coming as you walk slowly into the kitchen. You figure if he can already manipulate your name, that you could do that same to his. He doesn't seem to mind as you can feel him watching you walk by.

He doesn't mind the nickname, but he's actually gotten distracted by how you look this morning. It having been dark in the bar and through the night, and you wearing layers he didn't get a close look at you. But now, sunlight in through the frosty panes he couldn't help but follow your lower half as you stomped sleepily across the room. Seeing a clearly strong thickness in your thighs that rested under an ass of the same description, just peaking out from beneath the bottom of your hoodie. "I didn't keep you waiting too long did I?" you say a little louder, your own voice deep and slow from sleep still.

"Nah." you hear groaned as the couch makes a similar noise as he rises.

"Not been up even thirty minutes. Just checking my phone out of habit." he shrugs, but you don't see it, pushing his phone into his pocket, wearing a tank top that you guessed was under his t-shirt from last night and his jeans.

"Mmmph." you nod in response, hearing him walk into the kitchen. "Want breakfast?" you ask, your eyes half-lidded and blinking slowly.

"After those sandwiches last night I'd be an idiot to say no."

"Mmm." your lips purse as you rest your hands on the counter, leaning against it. "Flattery, huh?" you let out a low rumbling chuckle. "This early?" you quirk your head at him.

"You warned me you'd be mean this morning..." he raises a brow and you know he's being a wonderfully intuitive person, making sure he defused any situation before it even started.

You give him a closed mouth smile. "So you're smart too, huh?" you finally give a laugh, another low rumble from your chest as you move to the fridge.

"My actions would usually speak against that." he grins, looking down at the wooden floor. "But I won't turn down a compliment." his head shakes slightly, his hair moving back and forth over his face as it hangs down.

"Breakfast burrito alright?" you ask, looking at the contents of the fridge and finding yourself not wanting to make anything from scratch.

"Fuck yeah. Sure." his voice is full of amusement and more than a bit of hunger.

You lean into the freezer, picking the pre-made burritos out of their container, all individually wrapped, part of your meal prep you tried to keep up with. "Big boy like you'll eat two I imagine." an amused smile on your lips as you push the buttons on the toaster oven to heat them up.
"You make these too?" his voice sounds impressed.

"Yeah, I like to make them ahead of time. Easy to grab before I go work out in the mornings."

"Ah. Makes sense." he gives a thoughtful nod, finally moving from his position of leaning on the doorway to the table. "What's in 'em?" he asks, chin in his hand, watching you move about the kitchen, starting the coffee.

"Uhh...lots of veggies." you nod. "Eggs, goat cheese, bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach, pork sausage, some salsa." you name off things as you back and forth from the counters on opposite sides of the room, one with your coffee, tea and appliances, the other with the stove, toaster oven and sink, the fridge sitting daunting between the two, cabinets on either side of it.

"Sounds almost healthy." he laughs, still low and easy going, rumbling around his chest before escaping from his smiling lips.

"Could be a lot worse." you nod and sit a glass of water in front of him, sitting in the chair closest to him at the round table that took up one half of the kitchen. You look out the double patios doors for a moment, your fenced in backyard covered in deep snow. "I figure...with as much as I drink sometimes, and my tendency to eat really unhealthy greasy junk food late at night, I can try to eat well the rest of the time." you look over to him and shrug, rising when the coffee pot beeps.

"Not a bad approach. I feel like somedays I only work out because I eat so much." he laughs at himself, chin still in his hand as his eyes follow you.

"Can't relate." you laugh with a shake of your head. You make your coffee, setting it on the table. "How ya take it?"

"Fuck it, just black this morning." you give a stern nod and comply.

"Take your coffee much like yourself." you chuckle to yourself, his brow furrows in amused question at you as you sit down. "Straightforward. Dark. Strong." you let out a laugh, your nose wrinkling as you take a sip.

"What's your's say then?" he asks with a quirked eyebrow.

You hum in thought, looking into your mug. "Bitter base with enough artificial sweetener to make it tolerable." you let out the first shoulder-shaking laugh of the day.

A grin spreads across his face. "I heard artificial sweetener is bad for you, you know." he says with no scolding, still teasing you.

"Alright, mom." you chuckle into your mug. "I'll be sure to add my emotional shortcomings to my list of things to work on. Try for more raw sugar and less aspartame." you smirk.

"Oh shit, I didn't mean it like that." you can see his posture stiffen.

"Don't worry Declan, no offense taken." you shake your head and give him a genuinely warm smile that eases his nerves. "Stick around me long enough you'll start to understand my fucked up sense of humor. I'm always like this." you grin at yourself, standing to get the burritos from the small oven after it dings.

You slide the plate in front of him, just as last night he doesn't hesitate to attack your offering. "So you meal prep...and you said you work out..." he says between bites." Do you do competitions or anything like that?" he asks.

You grin as he makes contented noises as he eats. "Oh, no." you laugh. "I just like lifting weights. I like being strong." you nod, taking a bite yourself now. "You clearly workout, you do competitions?"

He laughs, a mouthful of food before forgetting his manners. "Nah." he shakes his head. "Kind've comes with the tough guy territory," he explains with a slight shrug. "Bar owner, ex-member of a biker gang. People try to start shit with me a lot." he rolls his eyes.

"Makes sense." you add to show you're listening. "Ex biker? I didn't think they let people out of those things?"

"Well these guys did. After all the shit I've done for them, sorry, all the shit I still do for them, " he chuckles, "You tell them you want out, they listen." his eyebrows raise with his explanation. So he certainly seemed to be someone you wouldn't want to fuck with and his words back up this theory. He was becoming more and more intriguing the more he spoke.
"I saw the vests and patches on the guys out front that gave me a hard time, I was hoping I wasn't going to walk in and someone tries to make me ride bitch with them." you joke.

"Oh ignore them." he moves his hand dismissively. "They like to act all tough but they won't give you any trouble. Not with me around anyway. One of them so much as insults you, you let me know. I'll set 'em straight." he gives you a friendly wink.

"What if I'd rather set them straight myself?" you grin.

"Well if you think you can take them, go for it babe." he chuckles, "I won't stop ya."

"They behave better when you're around?"

"Yeah. They know I don't want all the violent bullshit in my bar. Not like I can totally avoid it, kind've comes with the territory. We get too much flack as is with stereotypes. Don't want to attract the wrong kind of people ya know? I don't' want to deal with that bullshit anymore."

"Very smart and professional of you." you say supportively.

"Can I get that in writing? You do reviews?" he laughs, finishing his burritos. Taking down two in the time it took you to eat one.

"The Trading Post. 5 stars. Personal chauffeur service. Personal attention and great fuckin' music. If you love the smell of years of liquor being spilled into old wood floors, you've found your new local." you let out a slight giggle.

He opens his mouth to retaliate against your comments.

"That was all meant to be a compliment." you push your chin into your chest.

"Ah, I see." he nods slowly. "Good thing you came in then, wouldn't want to lose you to one of those gentrified gastro pub's that keep popping up."

"Now my friend Charlotte, that's more her scene," you explain, taking the plates to the sink. "She took me to one once, not my style." you shake your head, "I like dives. I like age and grit and rough around the edges. Dark and rugged...that's more my style."

You turn to face him, he's already standing, stretching and letting out a roar of a groan as he does so. You can't help but notice the line of skin exposed from the raising of his shirt, warm tan skin with a light dusting of hair that you blink rapidly to forget. Don't go getting distracted by a nice body, that's never done anyone a bit of good. Even though this body seemed to have a good brain inside it, you'd wait to hold judgment until you'd known the man at least 24 hours.

You look at the clock on the wall as he smacks his lips and rubs his neck.

"Salt truck should've ran by now. Let's see the verdict, shall we?" you shrug and walk past him to the window in the living room. "Good news!" you lilt, turning quickly to let him know the roads were salted but he's already towering over you, peaking out of the curtains above your head. Jesus, he was tall. You bet he was around a foot taller than you and you can't help but feel physically intimidated standing in his shadow. Who would be stupid enough to mess with this guy?

"House arrest over." he laughs.

"Salt trucks ran, sun's out, you've got four-wheel drive...you should make your break to freedom before another front moves in." you look up at him with big blinking eyes, he meets them with a warm smile, seeming to study your face for a moment before moving to the couch to grab his t-shirt.

"You need a ride anywhere?" he asks, pulling on his boots.

"Thanks but no." you shake your head. "I'm not going anywhere today." you frown but not in a sad way as you move to the front door.

"Well...in case you do..." he says, leaning over the small desk in the hallway by the door, scribbling down something. "There's my number. The buses suck shit in my part of town so don't think you're gonna be bothering me."

"Written down instead of texted. Old fashioned. I like it." you give him an approving nod. You pull your phone from your pocket, entering in the number and texting him your name. He puts on his coat, seeing the numerous locks on your front door, trying not to be obvious as he thought about why'd you have so many. Three deadbolts seemed a bit much but...you were a woman who lived alone.

"I'm not as cool as you so I just texted it to you." you shrug.

He flicks the screen with his thumb. "Bella Fiore." he grins. "So that other half is Italian huh?" That explains the olive complexion and dark hair he thought. He'd known you were half Irish but only the light freckles on your cheeks that he could see now that you weren't wearing makeup, and your green eyes gave any illusion to the heritage.

"Afraid so." you grin.

"Well..." he lowers his head almost as if he were bowing. "Thank you, for letting me stay. For real. And you fed me...twice! So I owe you." he chuckles. He brings you in for an unexpected hug, but you certainly weren't going to fight him. You'd seen him do the same to the girl the night before so you still don't feel like he's being forward with you.

"Just repaying you for dealing with and taking care of my drunk ass last night." you say, noticing that distinctly masculine smell that's unique to every man, his being particularly pleasant to your senses as your fae rests on the soft leather of his coat.

He let's go, an inviting smile on his lips as he looks down at you. "I don't get many people as cool as you coming into the bar so don't be a stranger, alright?"

"And miss out on more of that Ale? Don't be stupid, Declan." you give him the same kinda smile back before unlocking the door and opening it for him. "You be careful!" you say loudly, holding your hand over your eyes to shield it from the white reflecting off the snow-covered street. He waves before getting in his truck to leave and you watch him depart from the living room window.

The house felt oddly empty now. "Oh hello baby." you coo as Robert appears, rubbing against your ankles. "Got distracted feeding someone else and left you out huh?" you baby talk him, scratching under his chin as you carry him to the kitchen. He meows and purrs, not seeming to be angry about it.

So you feed the cat and place the heater back in your room. You sit on the edge of the bed, wondering how to spend your unexpected day off. You figure you'll check in with Charlotte, your oldest and best friend.

"Hello?" you hear the usual weariness in her voice, having just had a baby.

"Hey mama." you try to sound cheerful to offset her exhaustion.

"Hey." you hear her yawn.

"Didn't wake you up did it?"

"Ugh, no. I've not been to sleep."

"Sam being a booger still?"

"He's not stopped since conception." she hums in amusement at herself.

"I had a great night and I thought you might want to hear about it."

"Please. Yes. Let me pretend I'm not covered in spit up and breast milk and that I've showered in the past two days. because I have a life still."

She had been living vicariously through you as of late. It had been the other way around previously. She'd found a banker, a nice enough dude to marry her and those were all things that felt not in the cards for you. Rich guys she tried to set you up with just really didn't seem down with what you were offering, but then again, you weren't really looking to be anyone's wife. You'd agree to a blind date and it'd end amicably but there'd never been any follow-up. Rough around the edges was a polite phrase you'd heard one too many times now to describe yourself.

"Well I went to a new bar, I'll have to take you eventually, it's rustic and strangely endearing." you pick at the cat hair that's gathered on your hoodie from where you carried Robert around. "And I met this really nice guy."

"You're kidding." she says flatly.

"Nope. He even stayed the night last night." you say suggestively, purposely leading her on and she bites the bait hook, line and sinker.

"HE WHAT?!" she shouts. You hear the baby start crying. "Oops." she says in a tone that shows she's only disappointed with herself.
-------
Declan arrives back at the bar, Mike's already there dealing with deliveries.

"Back late I see." his eyebrows raise as he looks down on a clipboard.

"Got snowed in." he gruffs out.

"Mmmm Hmmm. Yeah, sure ya did." he chuckles.

"I very literally did." he responds flatly.

"And how was the girl? What was her name again?"

"Bella." he says, a small smile on his face as he takes his coat off and hangs it on a hook in the back room.

"Ah. Bella. Pretty name for a pretty girl." he says, checking off his list.
"And how did Miss Bella treat ya last night Mr. Harp?" he grins.

"Nothing happened that would warrant that tone being used." he shoves his shoulder as he passes him with a chuckle, moving over to a pile of boxes.

"If nothing happened then how was she? Not had a woman we didn't already know in this bar for ages. You two seemed to get along really well, actually." he inquires.

"She's..." he pauses, a tilt of his head in thought. " She's really nice actually. And cool." his eyes narrow in thought.

"Oh goodness, nice and cool? Such aggressive descriptors from you about a woman." Mike cackles.

"Shut up Mike." he grunts, still grinning to himself as he lifting the boxes to carry to the walk-in fridge.

Chapter Text

You had thought about stopping by the bar after work a few times that week. You'd stared at many half-written texts that would be reaching out to Declan., but you'd always found an excuse not to send them.

Work was work, CeeCee being understanding as always of how belittling people who didn't work or make music could be, doesn't berate you much when you return. The father and daughter had gotten themselves added to the list of people to never work with again. You'd take a listen to what the other girls, Mary and Jean managed to put together for them in your absence, and it wasn't their fault it was awful. It was the fad that had made its way into even smaller towns, far away from California thanks to Rebeca Black and her song Friday, of tween and teens coming in with parents that had more money than sense and wanting to cut a track. This one was worse than Friday, by a landslide. It was high pitched, the autotune was lending no favors and super nasally. Friday you had gotten used to, it was an internet classic at this point, but this song would never pollute the ears of anyone else if you could help it, and you deleted it off the drive. Whoops.

You'd gotten word your truck was still being worked on. Being an older model it was harder to find parts and people willing to work on it, but you just couldn't give Betty up. So you were still without a ride and as Friday afternoon rolled around with everyone else busy, you found yourself walking. You followed the same path, this time no looming snow clouds overhead but the harsh biting winter wind was worse this time. You'd been bundled up beyond recognition, beanie over your two-day-old curls, dry shampoo being your best friend this morning. Your scarf was up over your nose, and the sherpa collar of your oversize denim jacket was flipped up. If it weren't for your figure, no one would've even known you were a woman.

The windows in the front of the bar are too tinted to see inside but the neon advertisements were blazing through. Motorcycles were lined up against the sidewalk, more than you recall last time. You notice they're all black and have varied wolf head emblems on them. You hadn't looked at their vests last time when you were stopped before entering the bar, perhaps this was their symbol.

The bar is the same, a steady bass and wavering guitar come through the speaker's placed along the tops of the walls with the blinking strings of lights. The same stained floor creaks in greeting before you look up to see every person in the bar turned to see who came in. You stand your ground, a hard look on your face as you unravel the scarf from around your head. At the appearance of a woman, most of them turn back to their mates and mumbled with raised brows. You see the man who hassled you on your first visit and you give each other a nod in recognition with hard faces.

"Look who decided to show up." you hear the familiar deep, gravely voice come from behind the bar as he wipes his hands down on a towel before throwing it over his shoulder. "Haven't heard from you all week babe, I was beginning to wonder if you were gonna come back." he says in a playfully defensive, whiny way/ He moves around the corner of the long bar occupied by men in leather vests, you now note the banners across their backs that read "Black Wolf". You assume this was the group of bikers he'd been talking about in your kitchen that morning after the storm. You put your gloves and hat on the bar top at the very end chair, a few seats between you and the nearest person. His broad form comes to your side and wraps his around you, you manage a small smile and pay his back in return. He smelled as good as you remembered, masculine and musky with the hint of liquor you're guessing was seeped into his shirt from working.

"It's Friday I needed my ale." you say with the small smile lingering after he stays with his hands on your shoulders, smiling down at you.

"Ah," he says nodding and looking to the back of the bar with a smirk. You were as reserved as ever, you weren't as much of an outwardly animated person it seemed. At least not in public, or maybe it was all the other men staring, making you aware you were the only woman in the bar. "I won't make you wait. Comin' right up, Bells." he says and moves smoothly, shoulders shifting as his long legs carry him to the cooler. You look at the guys staring at you as you sit down, erasing the smile from your face and lowering your brow at them. You're met with mostly indifference to your cold glare.

"Thanks, Declan." you say with a relieved sigh, taking the bottle to your lips.

"So..." he says, leaning his elbows on the bar top across from you. "You have any other crazy customers this week?" he says with a warm smile.

"Nah. I mostly worked with just one band this week." you say with a nod and a noisy swallow. "They're out of downtown, a new group that plays up at Stiver's on Saturday nights." you explain, not making so much eye contact, feeling the heat coming off him through your jacket, making you extremely aware of his physical presence. You weren't intimidated, but you weren't used to this sort of platonic attention.

"It's been forever since I've gone downtown for any reason besides business." he shakes his head. "They any good?"

"Yeah, actually. Not a bunch of dicks like the usual dudes we get in there." you let out a huff of a laugh.

"Always good. I wouldn't know anything about that, I'm always surrounded by these assholes." he chuckles and motions to the guys sitting at the bar, some groan in retaliation.

"I'm not interrupting a meeting or anything I am?" you ask, side-eyeing the guy next to you as you take another drink. "I don't recall them all being inside last time."

"Nah." he says with a gritty response. "The cold finally ran them all in here." he dismisses the suggestion.

"Yeah it's fucking freezing out there." you agree, your shoulders starting to lose their tension, remembering how to have a friendly conversation again.

"You still walking in this weather?" he asks with an almost big brotherly scolding tone.

"Trucks not fixed yet." you say with a pursing of your lips.

"Hell, what'd you do total it?" he laughs.

"No, I had to have some work on the transmission. They've had to order parts and it's taking a while since it's an old truck." you say, the Ale warming you as you unbutton the thick sherpa lined denim jacket to reveal a black knitted sweater underneath.

"What kind ya got?" he asks with a tilted head.

"1949 Ford F1." you answer with a small nod.

"Seriously?" he asks with an amused face, his brows shifting in surprise.

"Yeah?" you say obviously, blinking slowly. "Why would I lie about that?" you ask with joking narrowed eyes.

"Just surprised is all." he shrugs and smiles again. "Don't think I really took you for an old truck kind've girl."

"Well, you don't really know me that well do you?"

"Not yet no." he says in a playful way. "But I'm tryin'." he gives you a big charming smile and it causes a much more subtle than his, but a smile nonetheless on your face.

You realize he's making an effort, trying to get to know you. He hadn't made a move on you, not in any sleazy or unacceptable way anyway. So you sigh and take your phone out of your pocket and go to your photos. Remember, you were trying to make new friends, not keep up your old habits. "Here she is this past summer." you say, laying your phone down on the bar top to show him.

"She?"

"Oh yeah, she's a full-bodied woman." you nod and grin.

"This cute lil lady have a name?"

"Betty."

"Black Betty, huh?"

"Maybe." you say with a deep dip in your voice, a half smile that shows your teeth coming across your face.

"Solid choice. Suits her." he nods, "Can I?" he asks, pretending to swipe the screen.

"Since you asked first." you nod and give a subtle thankful smirk, taking another drink. Because you hadn't been with anyone, it wasn't like you had any nudes or even any recent selfies in your phone. Pictures of Robert, mainly. Some of your family, food, guitars you wanted, various other music or work-related things and Charlotte and her new baby. The fact that he asked before scrolling was deeply reassuring to you.

"Declan!" you hear in an English accent shouted from the man you'd seen last time in the bar, even if the memory was fuzzy. "Can you get some money out the safe? SOMEONE's decided to pay with big bills and I need some change."

"Be right back." he looks to you and gives a nod. You return the motion with a face that says it's perfectly fine. He hits the bar in front of you before disappearing through the back door.

"You were in here last week." Mike says, slowly nodding. "You're Bella... right?" he says with a knowing tone and narrowed eyes. He was wanting to meet you again after Declan had talked about you. Declan didn't really discuss women much, he hadn't really given them much attention in a while, having made his way through the available pool of them locally and hook up apps weren't really his thing.

"I am." you say obviously, your face straight.

"You were pissed last I saw ya, I dunna know if ya remember me." he laughs, reaching his hand out. "Mike." he says with a warmer smile and you accept it politely. "Declan behaved himself at your place didn't he?" he says quietly.

"Yeah, he's been unusually nice. I'm waiting for him to ask me something pervy and weird to be honest." Mike chuckles. "Like he wants to wear my skin or something." you suggest with a shrug.

"Nah he's too big a boy to fit in you innit he?"

You lower your chin and smirk at him.

"Oh, bloody hell." he rolls his eyes. "Not what I meant. I swear it." he laughs. "I was gonna make a joke at his expense, sayin' if he did say somethin' like that it'd be because he can speak without thinkin' but I've gone and put me own foot in me mouth instead." he says with a nod and pout, his eyes away from you as he continues to exhale noisily. "My apologies."

"No offense taken." you say with the smirk still in place. "He... doesn't wear people's skin in his spare time, does he? Just so I know?" you ask with a deadpan delivery that makes him laugh.

"He is many things but he does not wear people's skin, no." he chuckles.

"I'm guessing you'd know?"

"Declan and I go way back. Years and years I've known the big idiot." he smiles with fondness. "We were mates long before we were business partners." he further explains.

It was good he had old friends, showed he could be loyal and manage relationships, you think. "He seems like a really decent guy." you say with hesitation in your voice. "Are you willing to vouch for him? I'd really hate to find out he's only nice to get girls into bed with him and have to kick his ass." you say with a slightly parted mouth and low brow to show your half seriousness.

"I can see why he likes you." he laughs. "I like ya too, lass." he nods and wags his finger at you. "Any woman threatenin' Declan for behavin' in such a way is alright by me." his voice is warm and friendly and you're thankful to hear the tone. He had grown used to new girls coming into the bar looking to bed Declan themselves, seeing this wasn't the case with you set his mind at ease. "He isn't that sorta man, no. Take him at face value, and you shouldn't be too disappointed." he shakes his head and gives you a closed mouth smile with kind eyes.

"Good. I don't need any more jerks disguising themselves as decent in my life."

"I share the sentiment." he nods. "Here's the devil we speak of." he says with a non-suggestive wink, heading back to cross paths with Declan as he walks down the bar to serve.

"Mike not bothering you is he?" he jokes, leaning back on the counter, turning your phone back on and picking up right where he left off.

"No, just talking shit about you." you say with a straight face and he looks over to Mike who gives him a cheesy grin.

"Gonna give me a chance to redeem myself?" he chuckles, eyes moving back over to your face.

"Maybe. Depends on how quickly you notice this bottle is empty." you say with a smirk, holding it up and shaking it.

He gives a low, rolling chuckle that makes a tingly sensation prickle up your neck and into your hairline. With a word he reaches out, his hand over yours with no sign of hesitation and takes it from you, moving to the cooler for another. He gives a rough shove to Mike's shoulder on the way there and Mike laughs, knowing he'll get an ear full later. On his return, he goes back to your phone as you take another sip and you watch his eyes. You see his jaw clench, his face less soft as he comes across something. You take another sip, narrowing your eyes and wondering what he could've come across.

He's found a picture of you that Charlotte took because you were rather pleased with yourself at the time. It was the middle of summer, and you dressed for the heat. High waisted, distressed denim shorts, frayed edges resting over the top of your upper thigh tattoo, a cropped and cut up Led Zeppelin shirt that hung off your shoulder, showing a strap to a bralette underneath.

"You uh..." he begins, carefully considering the direction to take his next words because what he'd found lies beneath all those layers was something he wanted to see more of. He suddenly was very eager for warm weather. "You look almost happy here." he decides to go with the tease, moving the screen to her point of view.

"Ah. Yeah." you nod and the corners of your eyes soften. "I decided last summer to enter her into a car show. So I got her all cleaned up and chromed and apolstered and everything. She needed it anyway, truth be told. She deserved a makeover." you explain. "She actually placed and I was the only woman to place so I was feeling pretty proud of myself."

"Congrats on that. You win anything else?"

"No, that's the only time I entered. Too much money for up keep and cleaning and not worth the payoff. I've got other things I'd rather spend the time and money on."

"LIke tattoos?" he grins. "Didn't know you had any." he muses.

"Well it is winter so... ya know... clothes." you say with an understated laugh.

"What is this?" he almost mumbles, enlarged the picture to your thigh, the only visible one in the photo.

"Ram's head." you say bluntly.

"Dude that's fuckin' sick." he says with a wrinkle of his nose in enthusiasm. "That's bad ass Bella." he says, looking back over to you.

"Thanks. It's one of my favs." you say with a small nod to the bewjeweled and metal inspired ram with large horns that permanently lived on your thigh.

"That one of those, astrology sign things?" he asks. "I dunno which is a ram but one's a ram, right?" he asks.

"Yeah, Capricorn." you nod. "But I'm not one, no. It's just badass like you said." you give him a smile, pulling up the wrist of your jacket to show a small black scorpion tattoo. "This is my sign. First tattoo too." you say rolling your eyes.

"Ah. Scorpion. Nice." he says leaning further forward to look at the now worn ink. "You have more?"

"Yeah." you say flatly, eyes studying his enthusiasm. "And no you can't see them." you chuckle.

"Wasn't gonna ask. Just curious." he shakes his head and hands your phone back to you. "I"ve been told Scorpios are mean, but you've not been mean to me." he says defensively.

"You've not been around me long enough." you huff a laugh into your bottle. "I'm not speaking on behalf of all scorpios but, I'm only mean to people who deserve it." you shrug. "And you've been pretty nice so far so..." you shrug and take another drink.

"Yeah you've been good comapny to keep." he gives you a softer, closef mouth smile. "Especially after being around these dicks all the time." he motions with his head down the line of men at the bar, leaning in and whispering to you.

"Bar needed some estrogen it seems." you grin.

"Certainly couldn't hurt."

"I would say the same of the bands I work with too. Should be more women in 'em." you nod and take another drink, your face appearing mroe serious.

"Not many women working in music?"

"Our studio is entirely women right now. But, with the musicians, the groups themselves, they're mostly men. The women do more solo stuff and don't seem to get booked as much. Which sucks, because it always seems their shows are only on days I can't go." you say more amused and with a tugging back of the corner of your mouth.

He listens intently, chin resting in his hand as his eyes stay focused and yours wander around the bar. He was pleased you were sharing, opening up a bit again. You seemed guarded and even though he certainly understood the compulsion to be so, it was something he worked hard to overcome for himself, and he couldn't help but want the same for you. You seemed really funny and nice underneath the hard leather shell. Or rather, denim shell tonight. "Your job have weird hours?" he asks with a tilt of his head.

"It can. I mean, you gotta follow the muse sometimes, if something's going really right you don't want to just cut it off and try again tomorrow and hope it sticks again. Creativity doesn't really work that way, unfortunately. I gotta travel for training and conventions and stuff a few times a year, sometimes people can only record on weekends so my days off are out of wack."

"That I can certainly relate to."

"Yeah, I'd say so. You probably have to work every day and hour most people are off."

"Yeah. But I'm a night owl, it's not too bad."

"Damn, I bet you never get to go to shows," you say with an almost pout he appreciates. "Having to work nights and weekends."

"Owning the place helps." he grins.

"Yeah you got me there. Not an owner, but a partner so I get a little wiggle room." you shrug. "But my best friend had a baby recently, so I lost my going out partner so all I do is work anymore it seems. You been to any good shows lately?"

"I have not. Live so close to a music town and never take advantage. Seems like you go a lot though."

"I try to. Support local acts, network, try and fail at making friends." you laugh into your bottle. "Without Charlotte it's not as fun. Guys are gross, you know how it goes." you roll your eyes.

"Unfortunately yes." he nods. "If you.. .and if I'm being too intrusive here tell me to fuck off, please." he flashes a wide charming smile your way "But if you ever need someone to go with you..." he shrugs and then places his hand under his face as if he were displaying himself. "I could always help keep the gross guys away." he offers and you study him for a moment. He wasn't being weird about it or nervous or awkward and you chew your bottom lip for a moment. With a giant man with a mean mug like him with you, you certainly wouldn't have to worry about dudes getting near you. And you knew you could trust him to get you home if you got too drunk. A role Charlotte used to take on often.

"Yeah," you say with a drag to your words. "You would." you nod in thought. You're trying to make new friends, Bella, you're trying to make new friends, you chant to yourself. Open up, it's not a date, he's offering to run interference for you. Just accept someone's help. "We seem to have similar taste in music too." you muse, recalling your passionate arguments of rock and metal the last time you were at the bar.

"It would seem so yes." he gives a wide nod. "And I need to get out more anyway, to be honest. All I do is work too. I miss being fun." he laughs.

"Big fuckin' mood, man." you give him a real laugh that reaches your eyes. Just do it Bella, you're the one making it weird now, just fucking let yourself enjoy something for once. "There's one on Sunday, this week." you begin, keeping your exterior cool and indifferent as you swing your eyes to his. "If that's not too short notice. Actually, there are some girls playing I'd like to see." you add with a tilt of your head.

"MIKE!" he yells, not looking away from you.

"WHAT?" he shouts back across the room.

"I WON'T BE HERE SUNDAY NIGHT!" he says leaning back and projecting his already loud and booming voice to his business partner.

"Oh?" he asks, making his way towards you.

"Me and Bella are gonna go see a show. I offered to keep the sleazeballs away." he says almost proudly.

"I see." he says with an insinuating glance. "It's been year's since you've been to a show."

"Yeah give away how out of touch I am, thanks." he chuckles.

"I'm glad someone's gettin' ya out of here. Let me get some fuckin' work done." he teases before he walks away.

He turns back to you to see a smile on your face and he feels hopeful. "So what time is it?" he asks.

You get out your phone, "What's your Instagram? I'll DM it to you, I found it on there." you murmur, scrolling through your likes.

"dhwolff. Two f's." he raises two fingers.

"There. Sent it." you say, already looking forward to stalking his feed later. "It starts at 9. So we can stop by some food trucks beforehand or something, beer isn't too expensive at this place." you say with approval in your voice.

"You want me to pick you up at your place? You're closer to town."

"Works for me." you say with the first smile that had an inkling of real excitement behind in what could've been years.

Chapter Text

You stand in front of the full-length mirror in your bedroom, scuffing your black leather mid-calf combat style boots.

"Too much? Not enough?" you turn to your cat Robert who is watching you and swishing his tail from the bed. You turn and present yourself to him. "I don't wanna show to much, but I haven't been able to dress up and show off in so long." you make an excuse to the peekaboos of your torso and leg that were showing through your destroyed vintage Motorhead t-shirt. It showed your sternum and stomach tattoos and your black bra underneath in slices and holes through the thin and aged fabric. "I've not shown the girls off in so long I'd forgotten what size bra to buy. Well, that or I've put on some weight." you huff out a laugh and adjust your new, surprisingly sized C cup bra. Maybe it was the chest days you'd been having more of with your workouts, either way, you weren't complaining.

You sigh and scratch Robbie's head at his indifference as he purrs at your manicured maroon nails that matched your toes and your lips. "You don't care do ya lil dude?" you smile down at him as he rubs against the texture of your fishnets under the holes, frays and distressing in your light wash jeans. You fuss with your hair some more, picking Robert's mixed color fur off your shirt. You're picking your chest length, almost black wavy, messy hair out of your fake lashes, grumbling about the choice to wear them. You jump at the sound of your doorbell, almost poking yourself in the eye and swearing. You shoo Robbie out of the room and shut the door behind you.

Your worn in boots move silently across the wooden floor and southwestern style rug in your living room to your front door. You peep through the hole you'd had installed, couldn't be too safe, and see Declan with wide eyes, messing with his long hair the same as you had been yours just moments ago. You undo the multiple hard locks screwed into your door. He waits and tries to figure out how to greet you as he hears the heavy metal clicking on the other side of the door.

"It's just like any other hang out." he mumbles to himself, hands shoved into the pockets of his thick leather and fur jacket, his jewelry clinking as he moved, boots crunching against the salted concrete towards your door. "It's not a date, bro, chill." he whispers, nodding his head and staring at your door. "You're just hanging out with a friend. A...new friend. Who happens to be the only girl you've done something with in...jesus..." he rolls his eyes and groans as he pushes the doorbell. How long had it been since he'd been on a date? Wait, this wasn't a date, he shakes his head and lowers his brow. He was just getting out of the house with someone who needed the same. Just so happened you were cool and cute, that shouldn't complicate things so much and make him feel this nervous.

"Hey, Declan." you say with a friendly smile, your arm resting on the door as you make eye contact with him. You certainly didn't appear to be nervous.

He hesitates for a moment, being surprised by your appearance. He stops himself from looking at anything but your face, but with its dark eyes and lips, surrounded by styled hair he was struck by how pretty you were. He thought you were pretty before, intense eyes, strong jaw and naturally pouty lips that were unfortunately usually set in a scowl. But now you looked even more intimidating with your smokey eyes and long lashes, the friendliness on your face offsetting the severe decoration of it and he found himself with a new appreciation for it.

"Hey, Bella." he says with a softer tone than he meant to speak, with a nod of greeting your way.

"C'mon in I gotta turn off the lights and everything." you say with a wave of your hand, letting him shut the door behind him. You move around your space, setting things up out of Robbie's way, placing his favorite planter in the window, as he liked to wait for you to return from the perch. You fill his bowl and switch off the light, making your way back to Declan, unaware of the set of dark eyes that had been watching you move the whole time.

As soon as you turn around, it's like he's drawn to look at your body while he has the chance. Get it out of his system while he can. It would be hard not to notice the way the high waisted stretch denim was painted onto your thick, strong legs and ass as you bent over to pour food into the cat's dish. The thin fabric of the old t-shirt clung loosely to you, he could make out the blurred shaped of tattoos on your upper arm and back, but couldn't make out any of them, only getting shifting windows of your skin and bra underneath as you moved. You lean over, cleavage pressing together, shown through the slices of the shirt as his nose twitches in consideration of seeing you as a sexual being.

He shoves his hands into his pockets, looking at the floor as you layer on your gray zip-up hoodie and leather jacket. "It's still fucking freezing outside I take it?" you say with a smirk as you zip up your soft layer.

"Oh yeah, it's super shitty." he chuckles, his face downward but his eyes shifting up to meet yours.

"Good thing you're driving then." you grin, shoving your phone into your pockets. "Won't have to wait outside the venue though. So that's good." you say, switching off the final lamp in the hallway. You grab your wallet off the table by the door, attaching the chain to it you hadn't used in years. You didn't like carrying purses and when in a tight space in the city, you didn't want someone stealing something out of your pockets so the relic from your teenage years was a reasonable option.

"Oh damn a wallet chain?" he laughs, shoulders moving with it.

"Yeah. Years of hanging out with metalheads." you shrug. "Old habits die hard I guess." you nod and purse your lips. "Why? You want to talk shit?" you grin and raise an eyebrow at him.

"Psh, no." he says, showing you his hip where a chain rested in the pocket of his jeans, pushing his heavy shearling lined brown leather coat back from his torso, covered in a lived in Sabbath shirt.

"It's a reasonable thing to wear when you don't have a purse isn't it?" you say enthusiastically. He can tell you're relieved he wasn't picking on you for it and it found it rather endearing. "Don't want anyone stealing it, don't wanna have to keep up with it."

"Plus a chain y'know. Good accessory for bad asses don't you think?"

You nod and laugh. "Unfortunately also for bratty mall rats with nothing really to rebel against." you say with a look of reluctant acceptance.

"And which of those groups did you belong to?" he teases as you open the door and he walks out. He feels a weak shove to his back and a quiet snort from you that makes him grin.

"I like to think a little of both. Only retrospect though y'know?" you say as you turn to put your keys into the pocket inside your coat. "But if you'd asked me when I was 16 I would've punched you for suggesting anything other than badass." you roll your eyes as you make your way down the big step and follow him by his side to his truck.

"Looks like you ended up living up to it though." he says, nudging your arm with his elbow. You look up at him, a warm and friendly smile on his annoyingly handsome face, half obscured by the large shearling covered collar and lapels on the coat.

"I'll take it." you say with a lighthearted, lip pouted nod.

He opens the truck door for you, which was another rarity in men as the years went on you'd found. He takes his coat off before he tosses it at you in the benched truck seat.

"Hard to drive with that big thing on." he says, shaking his arms before he took the key to the ignition.

"Damn this thing is heavy." you laugh, folding it and laying it between the two of you.

"Warm as hell though."

"This is another one I might steal from you." you say, running your fingers across the worn and supple leather.

"Ah, ya like it? Thanks. I've had it for years. I like yours too. By the way." he glances over to you as he pulls out of the driveway.

"Thanks. I've had it for years too. The only good leather jacket is one you've had for years." you say with certainty.

"Same for shirts too I take it?" he smirks.

"I know you aren't talkin' shit about my shirt now, son." your voice raising and a smile on your face as you give him a look.

The fact that you called him son made his body shift with laughter. A woman over a foot shorter than him, talking to him like she could kick his ass. But then again, who knows, maybe you could?

------

Parking is as much of a hassle as it ever is in the city, but you find a garage and walk the short blocks to the venue, surrounded by young people with beanies and glasses they didn't need to see, sipping their IPA's and arguing over album supremacy. You walk down the stairs to the door, hidden on a lower level with an unassuming door blocked from the street and covered by a severely weathered awning. As you enter the hallway, the smell of sweat and stale beer hits you, exactly how a venue should be in your eyes. You turn back to take Declan's hand.

"It gets a bit tight in here sometimes," you say, lacing your fingers into his and he's happy you don't seem hesitant to touch him. "Don't wanna lose you, so just keep close and follow me, I know the right hallways to move down." you explain. As soon as you make it through the small, entryway with the old intricately tiled floor the sound of music hits him. "They've got Zeppelin on tonight. Mark must be working." you laugh, even though you know Declan doesn't know who that is. "I work with at the studio sometimes. He plays drums. He's a fucking wizard on 'em." your voice raises as the volume of the music does, moving down the crowded dimly red hallway.

"Hey, Doug." you say the bouncer who gives you a polite enough nod as you pass with a raised hand. "Mark over the house tonight?"

"You hear the music don't you?" he smirks.

"I do." you smile widely, tugging Declan along behind you. The bald man doesn't pay Declan any mind, which he appreciates, he knows he looks like he's trouble. He guesses if they know you here, they knew you wouldn't bring in any trouble with you. "Mark really loves Zeppelin, which means he might play only that until the show. Lucky us." you say with a quick spin in his direction and a flip of your hair. He noticed the bounce in your step immediately. A much more approachable expression stays on your face as you mouth words and your head starts to bob, soon followed by shifting shoulders and swaying hips. He watches you with amusement, finding that it must be music that really makes you happy, as he's never seen you look so relaxed.

You squeeze through a few hallways with bathrooms and offices with frosted glass in the doors of the old building on the way to the open space of the bar and stage. The room must've been an old theatre he believes. A long bar against the left wall, arcade machines and pool to the right, a drop off of a few steps onto a floor in front of a raised stage with old gilded columns and ceiling that would almost go unnoticed in the darkness. Differently gelled lights color the stage in reds and blue's, basic laser lights move across the bodies shifting on the floor, shouts and the muffled murmurs of so many shouted conversations over the sound of the music hit his ears and he feels taken back to younger years he used to go to these sorts of places every weekend. He'd been looking for trouble back then, or rather trouble always found him no matter where he went, but he felt a certain confidence that he wasn't doing that anymore. He'd made the choice to leave that life behind after it tried to take everything away from him.

He turns his attention and thoughts back to you as you walk backward to the bar, both your hands now holding his. "What ya wanna drink?" you shout, pulling him against the bar with you after squeezing into a spot and using your hips to make room for him next to you.

"Depends. How long we gonna be here?"

"Long enough for you to get a little tipsy with me then switch to water." you say with a grin. "Start with something hard then we'll go to beer then finish off with something sobering. How 'bout it?" you ask as you lean over the bar to seek out a bartender.

"Sounds good. Whiskey?"

"Whiskey." you give an affirming nod. "Mallory!" you shout out a bartender. He's endeared towards you and the fact that you seem to know the people who work here. Showed you were a humble person to remember the names of people who didn't own the place.

"Hey!" she says cheerfully, reaching across the bar as you give a one-armed hug to each other. "Haven't seen you in a while!" she says, wiping her hands on a towel. "What ya drinkin'?" she asks before looking over to Declan "This tall drink of water?" she laughs, nodding her head towards him.

"This is Declan." you laugh, patting his stomach. "Declan, Mallory."

"How's it goin'?" he asks, leaning in to be heard.

"This one yours?" she asks with a suggestive smile.

"I mean, he's with me here tonight," you say and chuckle. "Give me two whiskeys." you say, changing the subject of conversation.

"Comin' up." she calls out. "You be good to her, alright? Or she'll kill you." she laughs and moves down the bar.

"You have quite the reputation Bella." he says, both of you leaning on the bartop with your elbows, the crowded bar forcing your bodies together.

"I've been coming here for years," you say with a shake of your head. "I know Mallory from high school." you explain. "I've been here in the off hours, helping set up the stage and work with the sound tech's and what not."

"So you don't just work in the studio?"

"That's my job, yeah. What I get paid for." you elaborate. "But I love live music too. I love the culture of it all, the bars and the bands. I don't want to just do one thing y'know? So when I went to support friends and help them set up, I started asking questions, learning about the tech setups and what not, started helping the staff and the roadies and everything."

You look from the shifting stage lights back to him. "You're really passionate about music aren't you? Just...in general I mean."

"Yeah. It's always been important, but I decided to make it a career and now it's my life pretty much." you say with expressive eyes that almost read as innocent. He was pleased to see the happiness in your face as you talked about something with passion, he felt like he was really starting to get to know you as a person, breaking throught the hard outer layer you kept. After a brief break in conversation, you see thoughts running behind his eyes. "What about you? What are you passionate about?" you ask, leaning in closer, finding the conversation deep for the environment it was taking place in.

He considers his answer. For so many years revenge, vengeance, justice would've been knee-jerk reactions to the question. But with the passing of his own revenge on the one man he'd focused it on for so long, he found himself having to figure out where his life went from there. "People?" he says with a tilt of his head. "I mean...I'm from a really rough neighborhood. I grew up watching all sorts of terrible shit go down, cops and violence and everything." his eyes narrow and he looks down at the bar, you saw a depth to them as they opened up to you that you liked. "So I guess...I like helping people now. I used to be out for myself but...time made me realize there's more than just me in the world." he nods, his voice loud but soft in its delivery, a thoughtfulness to the words he chose. "So I try to take care of the place and the people that need it now. I've got the bar for people so they don't get in trouble anywhere else, that was my first step. Tried to create a safe space for people that found trouble anywhere else they went."

"For people with resting bitch faces and bad tempers like me?" you give him a smile to lighten the mood, the last thing you wanted was him to be somber while out with you.

"Yeah, for outcasts and bad attitudes no one takes the time to understand the source of." his smile softens, and you felt like he might actually see through you for a moment.

"You're a good dude Declan. I don't know why you're wasting your time with me." you say with a shrug.

"Because you say things like that." he chuckles. "Bad people don't say things like that, Bella. You're not a bad person. Just got a mean face like me." he says giving you an exaggerated smile.

"Drinks!" Mallory announces, sliding the glasses towards you. You give her your card and she slides it through the reader on the iPad in her apron. "Thank you and thank you." she says with a lilt. "Ya'll look good together, by the way." she says giving you a wink and a grin before spinning and moving back to the other barked orders from your side of the bar.

He expected you to blush or be shy, but he should've known better. You didn't seem like the bashful type. "I mean...we do look good." you say with a straight face before you let out a loud laugh and sigh before taking a drink.

"We're two good lookin' people." he says with an enthusiastic nod of agreement and it makes you chuckle in your glass. Yeah, this dude was alright.
---
You're two drinks in, to his one and you're feeling great. Zeppelin is playing over the speakers and you're in your happy place, you leave him at the table you'd manage to snag by vulturing over the edges of the show floor. As it always does when you drink, the music moves your body and you don't even realize it. Although you are slightly dancing your way to the bar on purpose.

"Three bottles of Guinness." you tell Mallory with a flip of your hair. Declan watches you from the table, tall enough to see over the crowd to keep an eye on you. He sees you greet a few people, and only the women with hugs, he notices. The bass in D'yer Maker moves your hips and shoulders as you move through the crowd he has to admit he likes the sight. You lean over the bar to shout at your friend and he clears his throat as your hips sway to and fro. You turn around to wait, eyes looking out into the crowd, shoulders swaying and mouthing the words, unzipping your hoodie as you let your eyes shut for a moment and take in the bass from the speakers.

He sees you holding the bottles, giving a head nod, reading your lips saying "Fuck yeah." as Houses of the Holy starts. He laughs under his breath at the cute expression on your face with your tongue slightly poking out from in approval. You hold the bottles up high, making your way through, down the stairs, raising your layers off your midsection and giving him a peek to the true span of your bodies movement, in a very appealing waist to hip ratio. As you approach the table you don't stop singing the words the closer you get and you see the laughter across his face. You wrinkle your nose and move your body with more visible purpose and no subtly before you hand one of the bottles off to him.

"I'm gonna have to listen to Physical Graffiti when I get home tonight." you muse, head bobbing still.

"This on that album?"

"Have you not listened to it?!" you say with wide eyes.

"No! No I have, but I don't know every song that's one every album off the top of my head."

"Ah. I was afraid I'd have to get a cab home." you laugh and take a drink.

"You'd think this would've been on the album that has the same name, y'know?" he says, leaning in with a lower brow to drive his point home.

"It was written for that album actually." you say, putting your leg up in your chair and leaning across the table. "But Atlantic thought it was too similar to other songs." you take a quick drink, he can tell the information stored in that attractive head of yours must've been massive with the way you could pull out facts like you were a musical game of Trivial Pursuit. "An album with Dancing Days AND House of the Holy would've been amazing. I can see why they'd think Dancing Days was a better fit for the time period...better fit overall for the album too really. But Houses of the Holy is so eclectic it'd be hard to have something out of place on it." you continue speaking with your hands. "You've got everything from reggae to ballads to some fifties style Spector kinda vibes. It's a major creative force." you conclude, your face finally moving back to his and focusing.

"Are Led Zeppelin your favorite?" he asks, an almost teasing look on his face.

"I mean..." you blink rapidly, realizing you might've been boring him, talking too much about the music as was easy for you to do when you got comfortable. "Possibly yeah," you say with a huff of a laugh. "Am I talking about them too much?" you ask with a low dip in your voice and a quirked brow.

"No, no." he says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "You just know a lot about them."

"Yeah. Comes with the territory. Gotta know about music." you say with a more pleasant expression.

"You definitely do." he smiles and you mirror the expression with a slow blink unintentionally. "I can see why you went into it. You're clearly passionate about it. It's nice to see."

"To see what?" you ask, leaning in closer to him.

"Someone passionate about something. Only thing I hear people care about is alcohol on a daily basis." he says with a forced exhale and a purse of his lips. "Or illegal things I'm not at liberty to discuss." he says more playfully.

"Yeah I found a healthy way to deal with my obsessions. Luckily."

"That's rare. Hard to do." he nods in approval.

"You'd know, you own your own business. That's hard to achieve." you offer, your face unknowingly soft and open.

"You know, you're actually pretty nice, Bella." he says with a teasing tone.

"If you tell anyone I'll hurt you." you threaten, a flash of a smile before you turn the bottle up to take another drink.
------
The set was over and you were going to grab a soda for the road while he went to the bathroom. The place was still crowded, people on the move as the audience started to break up into sections.

"Biggest bottled soda ya got for the road." you say to Mallory, leaning over onto the bar again so she could hear you over the voices as she took a moment to restock some glasses.

"Got it!" she calls out.

You stayed on the bar, considering cracking open some peanuts when you feel someone touch you. You immediately stiffen, the hairs prickling up on the back of your neck as the pleasant expression from your face falls into a low brow scowl quickly. You hesitate only a moment, and another touch, this time clearly a whole hand rubbing over your ass and squeezing. You react quickly as your temper has taught you, you see the man starting to lean over the counter next to you and identify his weak points as your self-defense training had taught you.

You turn your body quickly, hopping off back from the bar and correcting your posture. You didn't know this guy, not that it mattered, and you react before whatever sleazy greeting he was gonna spew out could pass his lips. You shift your center of gravity, your fist moving back and positioned to knock him right in chin before the gross smirk even left it. You hit him with a hook, his body twisting and doubling over the bar before sliding down into the floor.

You stand and hiss, shaking out your hand as the rings on your fingers make the joint ache from the impact.

"Back at it again I see?" Mallory says, tossing you the bottle.

"Fucker grabbed my ass." you say without looking up from the body slumped into the floor.

"HEY!" you hear Declan, who has his hands on your arms quickly, turning you to face him. "You alright?" he asks, looking you over and finding your face calm, eyes blinking up at him like he was the one acting strangely.

"Yeah. Hands hurts a little." you mutter.

"What'd...who...are you okay?" his voice rises in pitch.

"Yeah dude, I'm fine. This douchenozzle grabbed my ass." you roll your eyes.

Declan looks to the body and back to you. "You knocked his out I see." the fear moves from his face and is replaced with bright amusement.

"Seemed fair." you say with a shrug, twisting the cap off the soda.

"You just..." he shakes his head, his hands on his hips. "Damn." he starts to laugh.

"Told ya if you mess with her she'll kill ya." Mallory laughs and hands you your card back across the bar.

"What the fuck!" a guy comes up to the bar, kneeling by the unconscious offender. "What happened?"

"You with him?" you ask.

"Yeah."

"He grabbed my ass so I knocked his out." you say casually, looking over your hand. "Fucker better not've cracked my ring." you mutter.

"He touched you and you do THIS? What the fuck, he just thought you were hot." he says defensively.

"Maybe he should learn how to compliment women instead of touching them without permission. He touched me in a way I didn't want, I touched him in a way he didn't want. Even stevens." you say with a nod. Declan watches your cool demeanor with a dumbfounded smile on his face. You were full of surprises.

He looked you over and Declan is on high alert, ready to defend. "He probably didn't even mean to touch you, I mean...you are one thick bitch."

You sigh and decide to go with a threat instead of leaving two bodies. You lean forward and get his balls in a vice grip and he squeals. "This is how he grabbed me. So does this seem like an accident to you?"

"No...FUCK, no!" he grunts and tries to push you away and you let him go. "God damn, you're fuckin' crazy you-"

"Watch it." Declan says intervening before another name called would cause you to knock this guy out too. He thought the physical warning was more than fair. "Looks like you need to get your friend out of here. And reconsider how to talk to women, huh? I'm sure you wouldn't like it if I told you what a needle dicked pussy you are, so don't go callin' names... callin' the woman a bitch." he almost growls out.

He eyes Declan and is rightfully intimidated but the guys pissed and he even considers taking him on for a moment. His eyes shift back and forth between your short frame and Declan's tall one before stepping down and hoisting up the now groaning man. "Both of you are fucking crazy." he says in a weak defense, dragging the guy alongside him.

"Thanks." you say with a weak smile.

"On my own constitutions couldn't let him get away with bad mouthing you like that twice."

"I get it." you say with a subtle smile. "Thanks for not trying to puff up and defend my honor. I hate that shit." you roll your eyes and pat his arm.

"It didn't look like you needed it." he says with a laugh that carries across his face.

"I didn't." you give a small chuckle back, handing him the bottle. "You ready to get out of here?"

"You need ice for your hand or something?" he asks, motioning towards your clenching and unclenching fist.

"Nah. It's freezing outside. If it gets bad I'll put it out the window on the drive back." you say only half joking.

"Whatever you say, Tyson." he jokes, moving his arm out in a sweeping motion for you to lead the way.

"More like McGregor." you say with a laugh before shaking your hand again.

"I'm inclined to agree with whatever you suggest from now on or some reason."

"Because you're smart." you grin nod your head, letting him know he was under no threat from you.

Chapter Text

You're currently feeling the cold wind against your fingers as you wiggle them out of the truck window as Declan drives you home. You aren't too deep in thought, mainly wondering if you'd bruise and have to explain yourself to your coworkers. Declan clears his throat and breaks the silence.

"So uh...do you hit guys like that often?" he asks with his usual naturally deep tone.

"Not anymore no." your answer with a deep and mildly amused tone.

"That hit made it seem like it wasn't the first time you'd done that."

"It was nowhere near the first." you let out a soft huff of air in amusement.

"You in a fight club or somethin'?" he glances your way, his face playful. "Well I guess you couldn't tell me even if you were could you?" he grins.

"No fight clubs, no." you shake your head.

"So do you do like, MMA or something?' he offers up for conversation.

Alright, Bella, you think, slowly blinking. He's trying to get to know you. Be nice. Being honest won't' be hard for you but being graceful about it might be. "I've taken plenty of self-defense courses but I've never trained to fight or anything." You pause for a moment, considering what to share with him. He'd told you a piece about his past, you suppose it's only fair to share something with him in return. "I hung around a rough crowd when I was younger. Lots of dudes and surging testosterone. The bad sort of metalheads you see in show parking lots that are fighting and crushing cans on their heads and screaming and acting like assholes." you shrug. "So... and I don't mean this in a self-absorbed sort of way, just in a self-aware one. I know what I look like, y'know? And...it used to not be as bad I guess, guys coming onto me and everything, but with the popularity of big asses in the past few years I mean...I've literally got a target on me." you make yourself chuckle. "So I fought a lot growing up, and now...I still have that fighting instinct when dudes touch me like that or won't take no for an answer I just fuckin' go for their throats. So to speak." you say with a weak gesturing of your hands.

"I don't blame you. I was more impressed than anything. You had some good form." he nods supportively and you're relieved. You were afraid he might be judgey about it, find it unladylike. Which was a phrase you hated because of the endless times you'd heard it. Especially from guys you thought were decent, but were just assholes in disguise.

"Thanks. I can kinda snap sometimes. I don't have the best temper." your voice dips lower and he hears the mild disappointment in it. "I can black out and go ham on someone if they push up on me. I mean, it's been years since that's happened but, I've also not put myself in situations where it could happen so...there's that." you say with a shrug as you look out the window. "I guess I just have no patience for men who can't listen anymore. If you touch women without consent and won't listen when they say no in this sort of society today, there's no excuse and I figure they deserve to get their asses kicked."

"And by a woman." he chuckles.

"Especially by a woman." his reaction makes you smile a little and you gaze out the window at the passing street lamps and strobing lights, the hiss from the wet road coming through the cracked window.

"I've been in my fair share of fights too." he says as he keeps his eyes on the road.

"You look like a guy who had been. No offense meant."

"None taken." he shakes his head and smiles. "Unfortunately it leads a lot of people to think I WANT to fight. And I don't. Just...when you try to protect people from bad people, there's gonna be violence to some degree."

"It's admirable of you. At least you're doing it for a cause. Unlike me, I just have a temper."

"Nah, you're doing it to teach people a lesson."

"Didn't take you for an enabler, Declan." you laugh.

"Well I've not seen a woman knock a man out like that in...maybe ever and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a nice change of pace from the usual way those situations go down."

"If I keep up this reintroduced habit of going out you'll prob get to see it again." you smirk.

"Assuming I'm with you. If not, I'll happily take an after photo." he laughs.

But who would you be going out with if not him? Charlotte was really the only friend you had that you felt comfortable enough with and liked enough to do things with and she was incapacitated. The girls at work were nice, you liked them well enough but not in the way to go and do things with them outside of work. Plus you liked to keep work and personal separate, and all they ever wanted to do was try to pull information out of you about your private life and there wasn't anything to give. And even if there was you didn't want to share it. With your drive to your house coming to a close, you figure you're close enough to avoid painful embarrassment if he reacts poorly, but if tonight was any indication, you didn't think he would. You roll up the window, your fingers sufficiently numb.

"I can probably manage that. I'll pose like a hunter with a deer." you chuckle with a slight smile.

"If it weren't incriminating evidence that'd be good for Instagram." he laughs with you.

He's a nice person, Bella. Accept it, you tell yourself. Why was telling someone you had a good time and would like to hang out with them again so hard? You weren't even dating or anything in the traditional sense, there was no reason to be so hesitant. Your ineptitude at showing vulnerability in any form was bubbling up and really annoying you. Couldn't even openly tell someone you wanted to hang out, it was as if you were saying you needed them around, which you knew was an illogical jump but your brain made it all the same.

"If you were down with it, if I do end up going out to something like this again...would you wanna go with me?" You propose, turning your face towards him, your eyes a little larger than you'd like them to be.

He glances over and see's your eyes wandering and he wonders if the overly cool way you asked, the lack of inflection, was a way for you to cover up your uncertainty to his answer. He wonders if he'd been giving off a vibe that too nonchalant tonight in his attempt to not scare you off or seem too eager. He hadn't meant to, he had a really great time and hoped the guy hadn't ruined his chances of getting to do it with you again.

"Yeah," he says with a lowering of his brow in an obvious tone, answering quickly. "Yeah I'd like that." he nods, turning his eyes back to the road to turn onto your street.

"Good." you say with a smile he can catch for a moment as the street lamp by your house illuminates it as he pulls to the curb. "I had a good time tonight." you say and want to curse at yourself. How cliche and overdone was that saying?

"I was hoping that guy didn't ruin the whole evening for you." he says, turning slightly to face you, you rest your hand on the door handle.

"Oh, no. They win if you let them ruin your whole night." you look down and smile with a closed mouth. "Take a lot more than that make this night a total wash." you admit, your eyes uncertain but a friendly expression.

"You want me to walk you to the door?" he asks, pointing in the direction of it.

"No that's fine, I got it." you rush out, fingers gripping on the handle. "Thanks though," you say finally pushing it open. You stand with the door open but not all the way to not let all the heat out. You lean your head into the cabin of the truck. "I did have a good time tonight. Despite the guy..." you say with a huff of a laugh.

"I did too." he gives you a smile that's much more expressive. "We should do it again soon." he insists with a nod of his head.

"Yeah we should." you nod and finally give him a smile that shows teeth. "I'll text you this week sometime. We can....figure something out." you say with large, almost hopeful eyes.

"Sounds like a plan to me."

"I'll talk to you soon. Be careful." you say with a sheepish smile as you pull away from the truck.

"Only because you told me to." he grins, nodding a goodbye at you.

"Night Declan." you say, involuntarily tucking your hair behind your ear.

"Night, Bella." his deep voice hits you harder than you want it to.

You give him a nod and shut the door. He stays until you're inside the house, waving goodbye to him, like a gentleman. You watch him leave through the window in your living room, greeting Robbie's meowing face with a scratch to the chin.

"Yeah, I did have a good time bub," you say, looking back down once Declan's truck was out of sight. "Mama got to knock a guy out and hang out with a very nice man." you say with a smile that you didn't have to hide from anyone. It wasn't like Robbie would tell anyone.
--------------
As you had before, you stare at the unsent texts you drafted up. But unlike last week you actually send them this time. You were relieved to find his way of talking through text wasn't annoying. No one letter or one-word answers where they weren't granted, no bombardment of lots of texts at once. He didn't demand any of your time and you picked up and dropped conversations easily throughout the week.

You spent some time on his Instagram, trying to figure this guy out. He seemed pretty straightforward and that seemed confusing in itself. You were so used to people pretending to be a better version of themselves on social media and he was just...Declan. You find the bar's page, which isn't super active and follow it too. You find pictures of Declan in his feed that span back years, lots of pictures with people in the woods, camping and bonfires, and keggers. It seemed he and Mike did go way back. Lots of half blurred photos of him smiling, clearly drunk. A particularly funny one with him holding Mike above his head and Mike's limbs a blur but you could see his mouth screaming. He didn't just take pictures with guys though, which was refreshing. He hugged girls just the same as he did the guys, pictures with kids with kool-aid mouths and big smiles peppered throughout.

His page is mostly him with other people, as opposed to yours which was mostly pictures like what was in your phones photos, Robbie, guitars, and a scattering of selfies. The last selfie you'd posted was months ago, up until the one you'd taken after you got home from the show. You'd shown your hand with your garnet ring on it, tagging the company you'd bought it from and bragging about how sturdy it was to stand up to an asshole's jaw after the phrase, "Got out of the house. Put on my acceptable female form for public consumption". It got some attention, which you didn't really care about it, you just thought it was clever, but you did notice that Declan liked it. And you did seem to care about that.

After you'd posted your selfie from that night, he'd posted one he'd taken while you were at the bar, it was him in the haze of lasers and dim lighting with you barely visible in the background, your back to the camera while you were getting drinks. "Big thanks to @hellsbells for actually getting me out of the bar for once." is the caption. You liked it.
------
You had plans on going by the bar and were even looking forward to it although the only person you'd admit that too was Robert, But your recording session ran long and you had to stay late. He seemed to take it well enough. By the way his face fell, Mike could tell from across the bar that he'd gotten bad news. But you couldn't see that. You told him you'd make it up to him. You got drunk at home alone that night, and to your surprise the next morning you'd ordered a handful of vintage records. Along with an automatic feeder for Robert, a pack of replica Pick of Destiny's and a Bobbie Brown biography. It was certainly not the worst drunk haul you'd ever purchased.

You'd slept in that next morning, waking up around noon and you didn't feel the least bit guilty about it. You're downing a Gatorade, eating dry toast and scowling in your oversized hoodie when your phone dings and you wince.

"Have a good night?" the message from Declan reads.

"I got home after 1 and drank Jameson on an empty stomach. I don't really know if the night was good or not." you send back.

"Ah. Well you seemed to have a good one based on your IG stories..."

"Oh God." you send before going to check.

"I'll wait lmao"

You find you talking over videos on your laptop of 80's hair metal bands. Cherry Pie, overrated but a classic. Van Halen vs. Van Hagar and singing, almost literally, the skills of Eddie Van Halen. "Well at least it's all on brand." you roll your eyes and rub your forehead, chuckling.

"That it is. I have never heard anyone with an opinion so passionate on Van Halen. lol"

"Well that's me in a nutshell. Full of useless passionate opinions. I was already aware I love VH when I'm drunk."

"It was impressive tbh. lol. And I won't hold it against you."

"I mean these explain the Bobbie Brown biography I bought."

"Oh no did you go drunk online shopping? lmao"

"I did. Which means I'm now the owner of a few new records. And a duplicate 1984. Guess I forgot I had an original print of that. Oh well."

"What was the damage?" he inquires.

"Overall not too bad. I got some original ACDC, Some live White Stripes, the Wombats, Rob AND White Zombie...we've had that discussion before lol, and Sam Cooke, aw, how sweet of me."

"Overall not a bad selection. No idea who tf the wombats are tho."

"They're on Spotify. idk if they're you're kinda thing, british indie pop rock. Speaking of, I bet my search history is going to be a mess. I've gone and fucked up my algorithm."

"Oh no how will you ever come back from that? lol"

"Shut up. lol I work hard on my algorithm. If you actually listened to music instead of wearing the shirts of bands you never listen to you'd have a heart and empathize."

"cry me a fuckin' river, Bells lmao."

You laugh out loud and a smile comes across your face for the first time that morning. "How about you come get schooled by me in person instead of in my IG stories? I have a lot of stuff to listen to coming in soon apparently." you see an opportunity and you take it. You didn't feel up to going out tonight, you already knew that. You'd be here recovering and picking up the house that you'd neglected the past week.

"Only if Robert will be there."

You laugh out loud again. "I see. Invite a man over and all he wants to see is my cat. .... Waitaminute...I thought you were a good guy and it was all a ruse wasn't it? what an ass. "

"they don't call me a pussy hound for nothin'. it's just not the translation people expect"

"i'll get you one of those keychains like in kill bill. also no one calls you that. Mike told me you hadn't been on a date in 100 years."

"well i think a century is a bit of an overstatement."

"by what 1 year? lol"

"ya got me."

"same. big mood. etc."

"So when am I coming over to be harassed further? lol"

"i'm off early Monday since I worked for over 12 hours yesterday, can you get away from the bar that evening? I can make dinner."

"As if I weren't sold already."

"Man's gotta eat. (Me. I'm that man.)"

"Can this lady eat too?"

"of course she can, does she like ragu? I've been wanting to make some pappardelle, what about that?"

"Are you making up words? bc I seriously can't tell. lol"

"It's Italian food you uncultured swine! lol meat and tomato sauce, homemade thick pasta noodles. If I'm not too lazy I'll make garlic bread."

"holy shit are you serious?"

"I don't joke about food Declan. especially not pasta."

"I might not leave if you make all that...but if you're willing to take your chances I am more than down to eat homemade italian food. i don't remember the last time I had homemade food."

"Then it's been too long. Come over at like...7 ish? I'll need time for the sauce to cook down."

"gotta put my phone in rice bc i've drooled all over it sorry."

"Text me later so I'll remember to do the dough. I need to get my ass off this couch and clean this house. I've been a neglectful house mother this week. too busy."

"you're MAKING the bread? fuck dude, I'll remind you every hour on the hour for that!"

"Please don't. lol" you laugh and sigh, putting the phone into your hoodie pocket and shaking your head. You let it rest on the back of a couch and are quickly overtaken by a big yawn.

Mike watches this interaction go down, Declan with his elbows on the bar, thumbs moving quickly and ignoring the work to be done to set up for the early crowd. He wipes down glasses then moves onto the tabletops and floors but keeps his eyes on his business partner. He hadn't seen Declan so enthralled in a conversation since he'd discussed the range opening with his cousin Sokannon. Mike recognizes the smile on Declan's face because it's the same one that came across his face whenever he'd think about Sokannon. Although not being together in any official capacity, a few flings and years of friendship together had led him to being smitten with her for some time now. And Mike knew Declan and he knew Declan didn't get giddy, didn't get attached or talk about girls in his downtime. He knew something was clearly starting between the two of you, and he hoped it was mutual because he'd hate to see Declan lose that low key glow he'd had since your so-called not a date, night out. He didn't want him to go back to seeming aimless and dazed, he preferred this preoccupied Declan any day.
----------------------------

You spend the rest of your weekend recovering from drinking yourself under the table on Friday night. You certainly couldn't hit the hard liquor like you used to. After saying you were leaving the conversation to clean, you ended up taking a nap, but at least after that you kept your promise. On Sunday you finish up, do your laundry and prep food for the next week. You get your work in, you run errands and you end up going to sleep with everything checked off your to-do list, which was always a good feeling. You curl up with Robert to go to sleep and admit that you're excited about Declan coming over tomorrow. You ask him if he's excited and he does nothing but purr, so you take it as a good sign.

The only thing you change about your work outfit is going from jeans to leggings once you get home. You have your hair down, as usual, the waves formed from braiding it while it was wet falling around your shoulders. You forgo the leather jacket as you turn on the stove and oven, knowing it'll warm the house up enough to not need it. The men's style band t-shirt is long enough so you won't be self-conscious about any camel toe situation that may arise, and you exchange your plain socks for knee-high fuzzy ones with grippers on the bottom, foregoing the houseshoes.

You hadn't cooked for anyone but yourself in months, as Charlotte had been your buddy to do these sorts of things with. You figure you could do almost everything you could with Charlotte with Declan and that was a reassuring feeling to have someone to be able to do things with again. You didn't know where he'd stand on painting each other's nails and doing face and hair masks, and you certainly couldn't walk around naked with him around but overall the trade-off wasn't too bad. No offense to Charlotte, but Declan was more appealing to look at.

He's less nervous than last time as he drives over to your place. Wearing basically the same thing he had last time, he carries a box of your favorite Ale under his strong defined arm as he makes his way to your door, he runs his hand through his hair, a quick fluff before seeing you through the long thin windows that run up the sides of your front door.

"Hey, c'mon in. I just started cooking." you say, ushering him in.

"God, it smells amazing in here babe." he says, greeting you with a one-armed hug, a quick rub to your back you don't entirely mind. To be coming in from the cold he was awfully warm. You return the hug lightly, a slight upgrade from last time, slowly getting used to this casual physical affection he seemed to be so practiced in.

"Thanks. Your boyfriend Robbie is asleep in his bed in my room if you wanna go see him." you smirk. He follows you with a cheeky stare to your bouncing form as you make your way to the kitchen, grabbing the long wooden spoon from the countertop and going back to warming up the ragu sauce you'd started yesterday.

"I think I'll let him rest." he chuckles. "I brought your favorite." he says, holding the cardboard box out with both hands.

"Aren't you a saint?" you say, half turning and a half smile thrown his way. "Just set it on the table and put a few in the fridge for us, please." you say, motioning to the fridge with your spoon. "You didn't have to do that." you say obviously, shaking your head and stirring the steaming pot in front of you.

"Eh," he says shrugging and taking his coat off. "Wanted to." he says as an excuse. "You're cooking for me and I needed to bring something besides my winning personality to the table. Literally." he lets out a rumbling deep laugh that makes a smirk appear across your face involuntarily.

"Well that's very nice of you, thank you. But I've been looking for an excuse to cook, to be honest."

"I will be happy to be that excuse." he chuckles, sitting in one of the chairs at the table, hanging his coat on the back of it.

"Hold out your enthusiasm until you've eaten." you chuckle.

The house falls quiet while you take things in and out of the fridge, work the dough one last time before throwing it into the loaf pan as the sounds of Use Your Illusion I move through the air.

"This is Guns n' Roses, right?" he asks with narrowed eyes, his head tilted to the side like a puppy hearing an unfamiliar sound.

"Yup." you say with a nod. "Don't Cry." you elaborate. "One of the first ones they wrote actually."

"I think I've heard it before." he says, totally unsure if he had, but he didn't want to look ignorant when you knew so much it was intimidating. "Hard to miss his voice isn't?"

"Oh yeah." you nod. "Bayy bayyyy" you sing with the song in matching gravel and nasal to Axl Roses as you turn your attention to the now boiling water on the stove.

"You drunk order this one too?" he grins.

You let out a soft laugh, wiping the excess flour off of your hands, unknown to you creating two white handprints on your black leggings on your butt as he silent laughs and grins at the sight. He wonders about being able to joke with you enough to dust the prints off of you, thinking it'd be funny. But he decides not to even attempt it. Things were going so well so far he didn't want his natural inclination to be physical to ruin things.

"No I've just been listening to a lot of guitar solo heavy stuff, wanted to hear some Slash." you explain. "Been doing a lot of really basic guitar stuff lately and I wanted to hear something more elaborate."

"That stuff get boring? Since you're good?" he asks, looking at the guitars around your living room.

"Not boring really...just not super stimulating." you shrug.

"You ever get bored with making drinks?" you offer, relating it to something he'd be able to understand.

"Ah. I see exactly what you mean now. I mostly just pour liquor and serve beer."

"No one appreciates a good pour around here?"

"Not enough." he says supportively.

"You'd think people would be more grateful for someone who knows how to give good head." you manage to get it out before you start laughing quietly, your shoulders shaking. (Foam on top of the beer is called 'head')

"Oh she's got jokes." he says with a big laugh and smile that you turn and shrug exaggeratedly at him.

"I do. I have jokes." you nod and laugh before tasting the sauce. You bring the spoon over to him and hold it out. "Taste?" you ask with a sweet tone and almost innocent expression that make his smile spread up to his eyes.

"What jokes you got?"

"Don't you know you aren't supposed to put someone on the spot for a joke?"

"I do now." he grins. He leans forward closer to the spoon. "But I had to ask."

"Alright...here's a really basic one. How do you know someone's a good guitar player?" you ask with a tilted head.

He pulls back from the spoon and with wide interested eyes he lilts "How?"

"Don't worry...they'll tell you." you roll your eyes.

"Ha." he says with a snort through his nose. "I appreciate some self-deprecating humor." he nods with pouted lips of approval. He leans forward and sips from the spoon and his brows shoot up. "Holy shit dude." he says, grabbing your hand around the spoon and bringing it back his way to lick the spoon and you laugh and his lack of grace about washing the spoon make your shoulders shrug and your eyes crinkle up as you shake your head and try to pull away.

"Down boy!" you laugh, using your other hand to lightly smack away at him.

"Fuck that's good Bella." he smacks his lips.

"It's usually a hit. Except with the vegetarians." you shrug.

"Is that beef?"

"And panchetta." you say, taking another taste. Yeah, it was pretty good.

"What's that?"

"Oh?" you ask, not used to people not knowing about meats with your Italian family. "Its Italian bacon basically, pork belly."

"Bella bacon then." he grins.

"Sounds a bit crude but..." you shrug and chuckle.

"Now you KNOW I didn't mean it like that." he says with a low brow and a teasing tone.

"I do." you smile and test the pasta.

"You just like giving me a hard time then?" he grins.

"Only because you're such a good target." you say innocently with a quick shake of your head.

"Only because you're a fuckin' sucker who walks into it, Declan." he says in a high pitched voice.

"Hey." you turn and point the spoon at him. "Your words. Not mine." you grin and move to the stove to plate.

"You ARE mean!" he says in faux offense and it makes you laugh out loud. What a good sport he was. A man that could take your sense of humor was hard to find, they either truly didn't get it or took everything way too seriously. And the worst was taking all your dirty jokes as a direct offer to fuck. But Declan seemed to have a goofy streak a mile wide running through that distractingly large body of his.

"Nah. You can take it." you shake your head. "And this is done. Wanna eat and listen in the living room?"

"Whatever you wanna do Bells." He certainly did know the right things to say.

You set up camp on the floor in front of your entertainment system. You put on the Wombats, to see if he did in fact like them, and he did not. You were thankful he was honest about it. A man that wasn't afraid to have his own opinions was nice. As the hours pass, the plates long ago went to sit in the sink and you shared a pint of gelato, which he'd also never had. It was an interesting dynamic, hanging out with someone who didn't know you too well, like Charlotte did. Charlotte knew you when you were a shitty like punk ass teen and knew your family. There's a different sort of vibe when you hang with someone new but it didn't feel uncomfortable with Declan and you couldn't help but notice how he always responded genuinely to things whether they were in agreement or not. A few Ale's down you've sat almost on top of each other, thigh to thigh and arm to arm, holding a records sleeve between the two of you as you look at the art and you tell him trivia bits about the music. He seems interested, and that's more than you could ask for from someone who didn't work in your sort of career.

He notices how much more comfortable you get with him everytime he sees you and he's more than pleased with himself for getting you to warm up to him. You'd come in so cold and now you were sharing a spoon, your arm behind his back as he held a record and you happily rambled about rock and roll. You go off on tangents and he was happy to listen, always learning something when he was with you, and that was more than he could say about any girls he'd met, let alone dated in years. You clearly weren't looking for his approval or wanting him to make your life interesting, you made your own life interesting and you were inviting him into it.

He'd get distracted watching you sit up and bend over and reach out to lift the needle and find the perfect spot on the records. You were well into your remastered High Voltage, you bobbing and grooving with it, lamenting on Highway to Hell being possibly your favorite album ever, and this one being ridiculously underrated and not popular enough with the masses. You move to speak of sex, drugs and rock and roll, and fairly unfiltered, which he appreciates. He finds out you've done more than a handful of shady things in your youth, taking the moniker of sex, drugs and rock and roll a little too seriously and following a crowd that did the same. It was comforting to know you also were trying to move on from a past you weren't particularly proud of, but didn't deny was a part of where you came from. He shared the sentiment and you could tell from his intently listening eyes that he understood.

You wondered if he'd had a similar upbringing with shit head friends but you weren't going to be nosey and ask, that was his business. Maybe after you knew him a little better, but then again maybe he'd just tell you himself. You were surprised at how fast you loosened up around him. You normally didn't share, and not that you were oversharing, speaking in generalities, overstepping the particularly dark parts. But you liked how he listened. You weren't used to men listening to you. They mostly waited their turn to talk. But something about Declan made you feel comfortable, which was more than you could say for anyone you'd met in a long, long time. He didn't seem to have such a hard time being warm with people like you did. It wasn't your natural inclination. But Declan was a good time, good company and seemed to love your food and dare you say, even your company. You tried not to think too much into it as you sat inches from his face in silence for a few seconds too many after noticing how late it was getting.

But as he pulled back, stating, no matter how hesitantly he did so, "You uh...yeah you need your sleep, Bella." he clears his throat and sits back on his hands. "I'll help you clean up and I'll get out of your hair." he says with a nod before clapping his hands together and standing, offering you his hand to help you up. You knew you didn't need his help getting up, and your knee-jerk reaction was to refuse his hand and get up to show you didn't need his offering of help. But you didn't'. You looked at his hand a few seconds and took it in your own as he yanked you up with no problem what so ever as if you weighed nothing. You watch his shoulders shift as he walks into the kitchen with the empty carton of gelato, licking the spoon one last time. You knew you didn't need Declan's help...but you certainly didn't seem to mind it.

Chapter Text

As it had been going, it was the day of your weekly meet up at the bar with Declan. It'd become a welcome part of your routine and a much-needed stress reliever. The men that were usually at the bar were used to you now, being on a first name basis. They weren't exactly warm to you, they didn't invite you over to talk with them or anything, not that you wanted that, but they would give you affirmative nods when you'd enter and that was a nice feeling. Always better to have the bikers on your side than against you.

This day was much like the first that had brought you to the bar in the first place. You'd been mansplained to for the day by boys half your age about guitar. You weren't as angry as you were tired, but at least you had your truck back to comfort you instead of being stuck on foot. So you rumble up in your old Ford, parking at the end of the sidewalk after all the motorcycles took the good spots in front of the bar. You take a deep breath and rub between your eyes, not wanting to go in with a bad mood looming as you wanted to enjoy the time you spent at the bar. You had the tendency to come in with a chip on your shoulder from work on Fridays, and you didn't want Declan to think that you were only capable of being grumpy and nothing else. Although historically, and if you asked anyone who knew you, friendly would not be at the top of the list of descriptors for you.

It's April now, over three months since you'd become a regular at The Trading Post. The cold and wind were still holding up strong, especially after the sun went down. You feel the wind bite at you as you pull your leather jacket tight around you, your company logo sweatshirt not providing much insulation. Your boots crunch over gravel and coarse salt, hand shoved into your pockets as you make your way into the warm shelter the bar offers.

The heat flushes your face as you walk in, the bar moving with bodies as it was on a Friday night. Mike passes you, a friendly smile a strong nod that you politely return, starting to peel your jacket off. You begin to move to your corner of the bar that you like to perch at, but find it taken. You twitch your lips in consideration for where to sit, as you don't want to sit between two men you don't know anything about except their nicknames. You choose a booth and even though he's currently focusing on filling pint glasses, Declan sees you walking past to a different seat than usual.

"Mike!" he calls out, watching you slide into the green patched leather benched seat.

"I know! Got it!" Mike says, finishing wiping down a table as he quickly moves to behind the bar. He knew Declan had been waiting for you to show up like he always did. He hadn't given him any shit for it yet, at least nothing more than a few insinuating glances, but if he left him alone once the bar got crowded, he would have a lot more to say to him once you left.

Declan pats his back as a thank you, as he carries himself with a confident saunter towards you, your favorite ale in hand. "Hey, Bella." he says with an earnest smile, the words spoken almost in an exhale that made you warm on sight. You rise from the booth, and as is customary now, you let him hug you.

"Hey Declan." you try to sound more enthusiastic about his appearance but words come out as a grumble against the soft flannel of his shirt. He didn't usually wear a lot of layers, but he had a worn t-shirt underneath flannel shirt tonight and you'd be lying to yourself if you said the added bulk wasn't serving him plenty of favors in the attractiveness department.

"What's wrong babe?" he questions, a sight rub to your back as he sets the bottle in front of you and you both slide into opposite benches. "Work again?" he suggests, putting the bottle cap to your ale into his pocket to throw away later.

"Yeah." you groan and roll your eyes. "Stupid kids half my age tryin' to tell me I don't know what I'm talkin' about." you take a big swig of your drink.

"About music?" he scoffs with raised brows, making the arches even more prominent over the dark hazel eyes.

"Mmm Hmm." you nod, sucking your teeth and looking around the bar, with more people filing in.

"Are they fuckin' stupid?" he says with a laugh. "No one I know knows more about music than you."

"Thank you." you give him a supportive nod. "The little asshole knows three chords and think's he's gonna be the next Cobain when he can't write lyrics for shit. It was popular in the '90s because it was new. It was the beginning of a movement. It's not as groundbreaking to write angst over some banged out chords nowadays. Everyone one of these little pricks think they're so fucking talented." you shake your head.

"Ah. White teenage boy?" he chuckles.

"They're the worst." your groan turns into a chuckle. "The only upset they have in their lives is their mothers buying them the wrong color iPhone for Christmas and they think they know pain." you rub your temple. "He literally had the words, I hate my parents, I hate myself, I hate you... like...what am I supposed to do with that? Tell him it's any good?"

"Is that what your boss told you to do?"

"Nah, CeeCee is understanding. She's the brain and I'm the heart. So if I don't feel anything from it, it won't be any good." you shake your head and take another drink. "She trusts my judgment." your face softens a bit and he's glad to learn more about where you work, you never really talked about your coworkers.

"That's more than most people get." he says supportively.

"Oh yeah, no, I'm lucky she understands me and my lunacy." you smile. "But privileged little boys do NOT, however." you purse your lips. "I told him I could lie to him, but I wouldn't because he was paying for my expertise. He didn't want constructive criticism though."

"Most people don't." he grins. "Can't handle it. Takes a secure person to realize they might not be right all the time. And those are few and far between." he muses.

"Amen." you say, reaching out to clink your bottles together. You take a drink and you take a second to look him over, admiring the lumberjack vibe he was giving off. You must've looked a little too long.

"What?" he asks with a grin.

"Could I give you some constructive criticism?" you throw a cocky nod his way.

"Will it make me cry?" he pouts.

"I don't think so." you grin.

"Then hit me." he says, thwacking his hand on the table.

"I fully support this... lumberjack vibe you got goin' on." you say, moving your hand in front of you.

"OH!" he says with a genuine smile. "Thanks." he lets out an almost bashful chuckle.

"Any reason you've strayed from your usual humbled rockstar look?" you tease.

"We had a bunch of orders come in today, spent most of the day with the back doors open and loading and unloading trucks from the street. Get's cold." he says, tugging on the black beanie on his head.

"I like it. Works for you." you give him a considerate nod. You are aware you'd just given him a compliment, and by the way his lips tug back, the tension in his jaw as he holds back from it growing farther across his bearded face, you can see he certainly noticed.

"Thanks." he says proudly, letting a smile break through, showing his teeth. He knows a blush is growing, not expecting a compliment from you and thinks of a way to hide it. He pulls the beanie off, throwing it onto the table and ruffles his naturally loose curled hair, hanging past his shoulders. You get hit with the smell of him and your pupils dilate. You were defenseless against pheromones. Or whatever delicious, masculine smell was coming off him. A faint musk, whether from him or cologne you weren't certain. Faint smell of woods or ocean, maybe shampoo. He scratches his head and scrunches his face, letting his scalp breathe again. "What about you? Sweatshirts aren't something I've seen you in before. And with a heart on it? That's not on brand at all." he lets out a deep teasing chuckle.

"Oh but it is!" you say condescendingly. "This is the name of our company." you say looking down and holding out the logo for your and Grace's studio. A logo with a cartoon heart and an italicized word 'sounds' after it in bold text.

"I didn't know it was your company." he says impressed, he thought you only worked at the studio. "Me and CeeCee went in half and half on it when we first started. I was working at a music store, squirreling away every bit I could, playing bars on weekends and teaching guitar lessons, just trying to get by. CeeCee, at the time, was married to a rather well off guy and we met by fate one night when I was playing at his office's new years party. We oddly hit it off, which is rare for me." you roll your eyes and smile. "And a year or so later we started this company, bought the building and the equipment, all that. We're legit." you nod and say with a proud smile.

He looks you over for a moment, the pleased smile, the new knowledge he had about what made you, you, it all gave way to a feeling of being proud of you himself. It explained the long hours worked, the clear passion and intelligence about what you worked in, the skill you'd honed in your instrument of choice. It was clear you were very driven and had been for some time, the realization makes him like you more. In his experience, things that were worked hard for had felt more worth it in the end and with how he was slowly chipping away at you he was hoping the initial hardness and hesitancy you had shown to letting him in would also fall away and in the end be worth it. He saw a lot of potential in you, for a lot of different things. An honest and loyal friend, someone to help him with his business, as you were running a successful one and he could always learn from you. And the one that he didn't want to admit yet, but was becoming more and more obvious to him, he saw the potential for you to be more than just friends. But he didn't want to get ahead of himself.

"I thought it'd be another band I've never heard of." he shrugs. "But the truth is much more interesting." he says earnestly.

"It usually is." you grin. "You wanna know another truth?" you ask leaning in closer.

"Duh." he laughs.

"I'm only wearing this because it's laundry day." you laugh and admit, taking another drink.

"Ah! The most dreaded of all days. Free ballin', shirt you don't really wanna wear and jeans that have gone one too many days without being washed." he muses and you laugh.

"You get it!" you let out a more animated laugh. "Although there isn't much free ballin' happenin' on this side of the table." you snort. "Due to the lack of... well... balls." you say in a goofy way with a motion of your hands in explanation.

"Yeah, what's it called when girls do it?" he narrows his eyes in thought.

"That's just commando right?" you wrinkle your nose as you think.

"Ah, yeah." he nods. "I forget that's the unisex term for it."

"I call it free ballin' too." you chuckle. "To be fair." you shrug and take another drink. "Just... sounds more crude and funny."

"Which seems like your kind of thing."

"Most definitely." you laugh.

He sees you looking over his shoulder. "What?" he asks, turning around.

"Lots of people in here tonight."

"Yeah, it's Jon's birthday," he says, turning back. "There'll be more people in the closer it gets to nine." he explains.

"Do I know Jon?" you ask with a tilted head.

"You referred to him as a second rate hype man that couldn't shut the fuck up." he laughs.

"Yeah I remember that guy." you nod and take a drink. "I guess that means a good business night though." you say optimistically.

"Yeah." he drags the word out. He was grateful for the bump but, it meant he wouldn't be spending his time sitting and talking to you and he didn't see you as often as he'd like already. But he also didn't want to ask to hang out and make it weird. With someone like you he had to let you come to him. "It is getting busy..." he says in a distracted way. "I guess I need to go help Mike." he says, sucking his teeth and downing the rest of the bottle.

"Yeah, go ahead. Don't need my permission." you smile and wave him towards the bar.

"You gonna stick around?" he asks, you can hear the hopeful lilt to it, how could you say no.

"And miss these guys make asses of themselves? No way. 'Course I'm stayin'." you give him a friendly smile to take the edge off his disheartened eyes.

"Might need you around to help me keep these guys in line." he smirks.

"At your service." you nod supportively. "Maybe we can try to hang out before next Friday? Since there won't be much hangin' goin' on tonight?" you offer, testing his reaction to see if he was hesitant to leave your company and in his long exhale you see your guess is correct.

"Yeah, on a night when it's slow." he nods.

"Let's make it through tonight and when it thins out and you can come talk to me again, we'll figure it out." you say casually with a shrug, leaning back and taking another drink.

"You always have good plans, Bells." he grins and shoots a finger gun your way before heading back to the bar. You see Mike give him grief, and you're guessing by the way they both laugh and shove each other it might've been about you.

You're left looking over the carvings in the table top. All crudely done with pocketknives and surely the vandalism was motivated by alcohol. Dates go back to the '80s, you run your fingers over the letters and names, Dina + Ronnie 4 Ever '88, Shirley + Lenny '94. You wonder where they're at now, and how hanging out at a bar had worked out for them. It seemed to be working out pretty well so far for you. You weren't entirely sure just yet. Neither of you were making any moves to have the relationship push past friendship, and you were forever grateful for that on his behalf. For now, a good friend was what you needed, and he certainly seemed to fit the bill. You knew you should make more of an effort to hang out with him outside of his work but he did work a lot, and also the hours when you traditionally would be off of work. You were sort of working with what you were given.

You watch him working, his flannel now unbuttoned, hat shoved in his back pocket with his soft hair bouncing around his shoulders. He engages with every person, being warm and friendly and you wonder how he does it. His tall form leans over the bartop for hugs and cheek kisses, to both men and women and you find yourself charmed. It was hard not to be, the man looked like he could crush you but his demeanor was like that of a puppy's, and who didn't love puppies? You wonder when cheek kisses might be introduced into the repertoire of your greetings. He'd worked hugs in pretty seamlessly, you have to give it to the guy. If the girls at work saw you hug a guy they'd assume you were married. You weren't the hugging type. But it seemed you'd made an exception for Declan, hadn't you?

He was turning out to be an exception to the rule for men for you as well. Polite, humble, hardworking and still somehow also extremely good looking. You weren't sure how that all managed to fall in place, but you figure you should bake his mother some cannoli or something for the work she must've put in to raise such a man. Maybe that's what it was? He was a man. He wasn't a boy. He was a giant dork and goof ass sure, but he was responsible and kind, intelligent and industrious and you wondered if he was the first man, besides your father, you'd spent any real time with.

All the boys you'd dated before were just that...boys. Your first relationship, a hellish shit show of a Greek tragedy that'd turned out to be. You still had the physical and emotional scarring and trauma to prove it, A few casual encounters of off and on dates that never lead anywhere, not that you'd wanted them to. One night stands more often when you were younger, but it'd been a long time since you'd had the urge for that. You'd deleted tinder ages ago and work had replaced any time you'd spent putting effort into finding sex. There had been one guy you thought was nice, but in hindsight maybe that was because he just did everything you told him to. You suppose it doesn't really matter, that one was nipped in the bud fast too. You finish the rest of your bottle, brow furrowing in thought at how it ended, and if it'd happen again if you tried. You decide you don't want to think about that tonight and go get another bottle. Declan opens it with his hand by raising his shirt up and twisting it off for you, a not too suggestive wink to you as he hands it off and he's beckoned by people much louder than you to the other end of the bar.

You take your seat back, watching the crowd, eavesdropping and staring into a mirror that reflected a dark room in the back, you still hadn't found out what was back there and just as you feel the pull to explore, someone sits in the booth across from you. Much to your surprise, it's a girl you haven't seen before. Thin body and lips, blonde hair and a strong jaw sit with a seemingly friendly indifference.

"You mind if I sit here?" she asks, taking off her jacket. "Everywhere else is full or too full 'a drunks." she says with a smile.

"Uh, yeah that's fine." you say with a shrug, your face straight, you go back to nursing your drink.

"Thanks. Bella, is it?" she asks, holding out her hand.

You did like a woman who shook hands, but you weren't sure how she knew your name.

"Heard Declan call ya it when you went up to the bar." she explains, watching the realization come across your face as you blink slowly and nod.

"Oh, okay. I was about to say..." you let out a huff of a laugh for politeness's sake and raise your brows to show your uneasiness and to push back any unwanted pursuit of friendship.

"I'm Clenna," she says with a nod, taking out a pack of cigarettes. "I'm a friend of a friend of Mike's," she explains further. "Here for Jon's birthday." she lights it and thankfully blows it away from your face.

"I'm just here to drink." you say flatly, raising attention to your bottle. "I don't know Jon or anything." you elaborate.

"Oh, you not here for Declan then?" she asks, a furrow in her brow that you aren't sure if you like or not.

"Excuse you?" you ask with only a hint of unfriendliness.

"I saw him with ya earlier." she motions to him with her hand. "With that sorta attention I thought you two might be seein' each other."

You stare at her. What you were was none of her business. She takes a drag and picks up on your unwillingness to share, your confident look of question at her telling her you weren't like the other girls that she'd seen after Declan. They were too open, bubbly even, and usually much, much more drunk. "No." you answer flatly, taking another drink.

"I mean ya no harm," she says leaning in closer. "I just thought it was a good thing you were with him now... ya know... instead of years ago. Seein' as he seems like a different man now 'n all." she says in a more serious tone.

"I'm not with him. We're just friends."

"Well good on that then." she nods. "What with his history 'n that." she says, looking over to him.

You sigh, seeing she's trying to rope you into something. And granted, you knew very little about Declan's past and you could just ask him about whatever she told you later. "Alright. I'll bite." you say with pursed lips.

"If you were thinkin' about bein' with him in any capacity, as one woman to another, there are some things I'd want to know if I were you." she begins. "He is a decent man now, rather peaceful for the sort of place he runs, but he wasn't always ya know."

"Go on." you say, leaning in closer to her on the table.

"I've lived 'round here forever, hell, I even dated Mike for years when's we's young." she shrugs and huffs out a laugh. "And I've heard of the things he's done, seen what consequences people faced from crossin' him. Although if you'd asked him, he did everything in the name of justice, only givin' it to people what deserved it. But to some violence is violence, no matter tha motive." she nods. "He was the man you went to when you had trouble with someone." she lowers her voice. "Known for his ability to find people, his fondness for knives..." she adds with a raise of her brows. "It's even rumored 'round here he's behind the death of a cop."

"I knew he was a part of the Black Wolves." you say, gesturing to the room full of vests with patches that reflected that sentiment.

"Aye. He did leave that. And he got out because of murderin' that man so I'm told." she takes another drag. "The Wolves ain't so much murderers 'n rapists 'n all that nonsense. They love their bikes and their beer and to have their fun and not be bothered. Rather loud and rough, seemingly trouble to anyone who don't know 'em. But anyone who gives themselves a name, calls themselves a gang, there's gonna be rivals and those others might not be as civil as they are, ya know?" she shrugs. "So there's police sniffin' 'round sometimes, lookin' for men to blame. There have been murders, I won't pretend like there's not been... but you know men." she rolls her eyes. "Territorial and that." she nods. "A person can only take so much before they'll retaliate ya know?" she says in a less mysterious tone.

"Why are you telling me this?" you ask with a deeper tone.

"Like I said, I saw him give ya a wink and leave his post to talk to ya, I thought there might be somethin' going's on. I don't know ya, so I know ya ain't from 'round here, so I was tryin' to let you know what sorta trouble might be lurkin' 'round if ya were to stay with this sort of company. If I were someone who didn't know, I'd want to know. That's all."

"Are you some vengeful ex or something?" you flatly ask.

"Oh no." she chuckles and shakes her head. "Only dated Mike, and we's teens then. Water under the bridge now. But I knew Declan then, and I know of him now, and as much as he's cleaned up his act there's always a threat 'a violence around this sort. I know Declan likes to act like he forgets his past, that's he's beyond it now, but... you don't live that hard for that long and just one day leave it behind forever." she sighs. "As one woman to another I dinnae wantin' ya gettin' in over ya head."

"Okay." you nod and take a drink. "If that's true then... thanks." you say with a suspicious glance.

"What the fuck's she doin'?" Mike mumbles, looking over at Clenna talking to you. He knew you didn't know each other, and from the look on your face, the conversation seemed to something you were paying attention to, and something was rubbing him the wrong way. "Fair warnin'." Mike says as the bar starts to thin out. "Clenna was talkin' to Bella earlier."

"Yeah I saw." he mutters, wiping a glass.

"We was busy, didn't catch wind of the topic but..." he shrugs, lips tight.

"Yeah, I get it." Declan says low, looking over to you as you scrolled through your phone alone.

Every time he'd look up and see a guy sitting across from you, he'd get a tingle in his spine that had to right to be there. A knee jerk habit of possessiveness that kept coming back. When they'd end up leaving, or you would, it eased his mind. You'd sit there, sometimes not even looking up from your phone, others he could feel the air from your heavy sighs as they tried to talk to you. As the night went on, and they got more drunk, you became more obvious with your rejections.

You'd get in on a game of pool with a group of older, less wasted men. He could've watched you bend over that pool table all night and he knew he wasn't the only one. But after losing a few games, feeling defeated and not as self-assured, he could tell by their poor postures that they weren't going to be a threat. But as they thinned, the younger, drunker ones caught eyes of you and your ass in those tight jeans and descended. He only worried a little, knowing you could probably handle yourself and was thankful that proved true. His ears perked up the one time he hears your voice raise but watching the interaction go down, he trusts you to handle it. The last thing he wanted was to piss you off by treating you like some damsel. He didn't catch what the guy did but you had him against a wall with the pool cue pressed against his neck and he quickly surrendered, moving to sulk somewhere else. No one really wanted to play with you after that and seeing that you actually knew what you were doing, beating them after they kept offering to show you the ropes. Seems your stories of hanging out and playing in bars were true. He wondered if you also knew how to play darts.

Only a handful of people remain, and you've settled back into a booth, and your thumbs moved fast on the screen, wearing a rather adorable unfiltered face of concentration.

"We survived." he says, plopping down in the booth across from you and startling you out of your focus.

"Ah." you saw, looking around and seeing the bar much emptier than the last time you'd looked. "So we did." you nod and give him a soft smile.

"Can I be nosey and ask what you're doing?" he leans in and asks.

"Playing trivia." you say with a small smile and setting your phone down.

"Any good?" he inquires with a lifted brow.

"I am." you nod and lean forward on the table. "But I think I'd rather ask you some questions if that's alright."

You face isn't angry, your voice isn't accusatory so he agrees. "Okay?" he says with a shrug.

"Who's Clenna?" you decide to start with. Seeing what truth there was to their relationship would be a good starting point for who was telling the truth.

"Right," he nods, pursing his lips. "Mike said he saw you talking to her." his tone doesn't sound too happy about the fact.

"Yeah she was telling me some things." you reply slowly, considering the tiredness now showing in his face.

"And you'd like to know if what she told you was true." he remarks with a sigh, setting up straight and popping his back before leaning in on his elbows.

"I would." you agree without any b/d attitude. "So who is she?" you ask again.

"Mike's ex. She's around from time to time, occasions like tonight, birthdays and stuff." he answers with a shrug.

"Not yours?" you specify.

"Nah." he quickly answers with a shake of his head.

"Funny. She only talked about you."

"She's been known to sort've...feel girls out before that we're seeing." he begins. "Not that I'm seeing you I just...I guess she saw us together?" he asks.

"That's what she said."

"Kay." he nods. "So what'd she say?"

"That you had a past that I might want to know about." you stay vague.

"Yeah..." he rubs the back of his neck. "I thought that might be it." he sighs and looks away.

"Any truth to that?"

"I don't know what she told you but...yeah, there is." he admits and you nod slowly, happy with how this was going.

"Alright." your voice inflects upwards and his eyes dart to you, expecting to be met with something other than curiousness. "So violence, you were known to "take care of people" I guess is how she put it. Can we start there?"

"Yeah." he draws out again, leaning in closer. "I mean, I've mentioned I ran with a bad crowd. I lacked a father figure growin' up, he wasn't around much and then he got killed." he says with a sadness slowly glazing over his eyes. "So I had a lot of anger and my mom was working her ass off, as a single mom ya know how that goes." he purses his lips. "Got in with a bad crowd. I was big and angry and I beat people up. Got older, got into the gang, more people wanted to mess with me and I had a chip on my shoulder and something to prove. So I did. Often." he nods and shrugs. "Lots of guys I knew, a lot I still do went to jail or got killed so...I felt responsible for these people ya know? The kids and the girls left behind, they didn't have anyone lookin' out for them so there was a lot of standing up for them I took on. Beating up abusive boyfriends mainly, that sort of gig." he explains. "I'll be honest. That still happens sometimes. I try not to interfere but...I really care about these people and a lot of them grew up to make better decisions but sometimes there are still assholes that'll see a single mom and still try to take advantage and if I've promised the guys on the inside I'd look out for them then-" he begins to speak faster, you feel it turning into excuses instead of information.

"Declan." you interrupt and he looks back to your eyes, his large and sad. More of the look that lead to making you refer to him as a puppy. "It's okay," you say quietly, reaching out to put your hand over his. His eyes dart down to it for a few seconds, eyes blinking fast to possibly push back tears that were building with his anger. "I get it," you say with a half smile. "Point of this wasn't to make you upset. I didn't want you getting sad or angry about it." you say with kind eyes that take him entirely off guard. "I just have one more thing I gotta ask." you say with a wince.

"Yeah?" he rasps out.

"There was something about...killing a cop?" you say quietly.

"Yeah." he nods and sniffles as you retreat your hand. "Yeah I..." he lets out a loud sigh. "It's a whole complicated story but...I know you don't want a bunch of grief so...yeah I did." he whispers the last part, face prepared for an onslaught against him.

"Okay. How are you not in jail?" you ask obviously.

"Everyone that knew him wanted him dead. He was a total bastard. Just a real piece of shit." his posture slumps. "Picked on women and children and my friends. Framed a bunch of guys I knew that are still servin' time for things they didn't do. He came after me and those close to me." you see his eyes go far away for a moment before coming back. "There was only one witness, and they wouldn't talk. They wanted them dead just as much as me." You assume this must be Mike. "And everyone else just...didn't talk when the cops came around. There wasn't anything to point to me, I had an alibi, no witnesses, no evidence..." he gestures broadly with his hands, saying it disappeared.

He watches you blink slowly, thinking and wondering if being honest would backfire. But if he'd lied, you would've found out and you'd be gone anyway. So as much as he hated taking the chance, honesty was the best policy and he hoped you saw that.

"But after that I got out of that life. Or I mean...I tried. That sorta life doesn't just disappear overnight." his voice drops low. "I try to have this place, keep the boys out of trouble as much as I can. I don't take jobs anymore, last I beat anyone up was months ago, before I met you..." he looks over to you with cautious optimism. "And that was because this guy had beat one of my friends in front of her kid... I just... I couldn't..." he shakes his head.

"I get it," you say again, a soft smile and a nod. Once again you surprise him. "Everyone's got baggage Declan. Some's just heavier than others." you say with a frown. "And I believe you. I see you being a decent and gentle man and I've seen flashes of the old you sometimes. I know violence and trauma aren't things that just...go away." you say with a huff of a laugh from experience and it warms him. "You don't have to worry about me holding it against you." you let him know and you see his eyes soften. "Your heart's always been in the right place. And that means more than what you did. In my opinion. If you say the guy had it coming then, as far as I'm concerned, he did." you say with a lighter tone.

"You're really just gonna go and be more understanding than I deserve on top of everything else huh?" he smiles sheepishly, rubbing his arm and sitting back.

"LIke I said... I get it." you say with another subtle but soft smile. But he can see it in your eyes, you did get it, you had something similar that rested behind yours as he did his. Perhaps not the same sort of pain but, there was pain there. And that would've explained a whole hell of a lot about you.

"You do get it don't you? I mean...you've been through some stuff haven't you Bells?" he asks quietly, reaching out and putting his hand over yours and the kind gesture makes you want to jerk back because the look in his eyes was so understanding and lacking any judgment.

You tuck your hair behind your ear and nod slowly. "Yeah. I come with baggage too, Declan." you admit. "But I'd rather not talk about it... as hypocritical as that makes me at this moment." you raise your brows and sigh.

"No! No, of course not." he shakes his head and starts to rise, taking your hand and tugging at you.

"What?" you ask with almost scared eyes as your guard was left down.

"We need a hug, c'mere." he tugs at you.

"Are you fuckin' serious?" you let out a chuckle.

"Sure as fuck am, get in here." he says patting his chest. He sees your eyes moves around the bar bashfully. "No one's here to see, Mike won't tell anyone." he offers with a smile.

"Fine." you say, letting him pull you up and into his arms. He was right. You did need a hug. You make full contact as he puts some squeeze into it. You rest your cheek on his chest, put your arms around his waist and he rubs your back for a moment.

"I"m not here to push you Bella. I'm just here. Okay? You know about me now, you've seen me. And as much as you try to hide it, I see there's much of the same thing in your eyes as mine. So I'm... I'm just... I'm here if you need me, alright?" he squeezes you tighter for a moment and you couldn't remember the last time you'd had an embrace with someone like this. Besides family, besides Charlotte, never. "I know you hate this sappy shit but its real so... deal with it." he chuckles to lighten to mood, seeing you smile against his chest.

"I do. But... thanks." you say quietly, slightly muffled from your cheek being pushed against him. You could hear his heart, feel his breathing as he felt your take a big inhale and slow exhale, knowing he'd gotten his point across.

"Thank you for being so fuckin' cool about it. Didn't want to scare you off." he admits, speaking down at you.

"I"m not the runnin' kind." you shake your head, still embraced and you don't want to run from it. It felt too good. "Declan?" you ask, shutting your eyes and his heart thumps as he sees you sigh out again.

"Yeah?" he asks, a super soft smile on his face, big hands still rubbing your back.

"You give really good hugs." you laugh and then burying your face in his chest as you bounce with his laughter.

"I do! Thank you for noticing! I'm great at it. Fuckin'...king of hugs over here." he laughs into your hair.

"Don't get cocky." you say through the laughter, but in all fairness, he had every right to be.

Chapter Text

You'd fallen asleep in the afternoon after a shower and running errands. You hadn't meant to but apparently, your body had known you'd need it. You wake up to the insistent buzzing of your phone. You grunt and wipe your eyes, answering without looking to see who was responsible for waking you up.

"Yeah?" you mumble.

"So you've been asleep?" you hear the familiar voice of Charlotte on the other end.

"Yeah, I fell asleep. Didn't mean to. What's up?" you groan and pull yourself upright.

"Your mom has been trying to call you." her voice falls rather flat and your brow lowers at the change of tone.

"Something wrong?" your gruff out.

"Not wrong but... are you still sitting down? Are you awake enough to process something important?" she says seriously.

"Yeah. I'm sittin' up in bed. What is it?" you rub your forehead.

"Your mom found out from Rita at the hospital that Richie's been released." she says softly as if her delivery might make the news any easier to take.

You don't respond at first, your heart dropping into your stomach. Charlotte expects this and lets you process. "That all she told her?"

"They cleared him again. Somehow." she sighs loudly. "It had been years."

"Never long enough." you say weakly and let and take a deep breath.

"He's in an outpatient program now, getting set up with some government housing. I figure he'll still have to have visits and stuff like that after he's out. And you're in a new place, new city..." she tries to sound comforting.

"Yeah," you say quietly. "All my social media is set to private already so.." you shrug even though no one is around. Which you are now painfully aware of.

"You'll be fine. And if you're not you're always welcome to stay here. Okay?" she says in a motherly tone that came more naturally to her these days.

"I... I'm gonna call mom." you mutter.

"She's been worried. I'll text you later to check in on you okay?"

"Yeah, I'll... I just gotta process it. I'll be... it'll be okay." you get out.

"Better work on sounding more convincing before you call Gale." she says with a more light-hearted tone that you appreciated.

"Yeah. I will." you clear your throat and throw your legs over the side of the bed.

You hang up and dial your mom after seeing the multiple missed calls from her.

"Are you okay? Why weren't you answering?" she blurts out in her subtle Irish accent. Worn down by years of being in America and living around your Italian father's side of the family.

"I'm fine. I was napping." you assure her.

"Oi I was close to havin' a heart attack. Did Charlotte wake ya?" she asks.

"Yeah she told me." you say solemnly.

"Are ya okay? You need to come over to the house? You know we've got plenty of room." her voice is still rushed and worried.

"No, no. I'll be fine here. Really. I've got the security system and the locks and friends close by if I need them."

"Ya sure? You know it wouldn't be any trouble." her tone stays the same.

"I know. I will if I need to but I can't hide away the rest of my life." you say in a less confident voice.

"Well... I'm just a call away you know." a slight plead to her voice.

"I know, ma." you smile. "I'll text you more often alright? So you know I'm good. But I'm in a new place and I haven't made it easy for anyone to find me so..." you trail off, nodding your head.

"You're a smart girl, I know. I just worry."

"I know you do. But if I need anything I won't hesitate to let you know okay? Let's not worry until we have to."

"I'm not making any promises." you can hear the smile in her words.

"I love you. I'll be okay." you try to convince her and yourself. Trying to let your reasonable self overpower the want to freak out that your anxiety born from trauma was trying to cause.

"I love you more blue bell." she says in a patronizing tone. "You call me. Okay? Don't kill me off so soon with worry."

"I won't. Love you. If dad knows, tell him the same. Love you guys."

"Love you, sweetheart. Be careful."

You stand in front of your mirror, looking to Robbie who was curled up on a pile of clean laundry on your bed. You wish you could be so peaceful. You feel old habits pulling at you, unhealthy coping mechanisms wanting to be indulged in. You didn't think you were strong enough to fight them off today. But you knew just the place to indulge in them.

You get yourself ready, nothing special, just your usual jeans, boots and an old band t-shirt. You text Declan, asking if he's working tonight since it's a Sunday. He says he is. You ask if it would be too much trouble for him to be your DD, that you'd had a rough day and you wanted to get college kid wasted. He asks if you're okay first and an involuntary pout comes across your face. Ugh, he was such a nice guy. It kept catching you off guard. You tell him you had some things you wanted to forget, honestly. You wanted to do it in a safe place and knew he'd get you home safe. The same look comes across his face as he reads, feeling touched you felt safe with him. It wasn't something he was used to being said in regards to him. It was usually the opposite.

Being the good man he is, he comes and picks you up, saying you shouldn't leave your truck overnight at the bar and he didn't mind getting out of the bar for a few extra minutes. You don't even let him get to your door, you wait until he stops and step out the house, locking it all up well before you left. He stands with a tilted head, watching you curiously as you shuffled to the passenger side door. You both settle back in and he looks you up and down.

"You sure you're alright?" he asks with a voice that shows his concern.

"Yeah I just wanted to get out of the house." you nod and take a deep breath, warming your hands on the vents.

He pulls out and waits until you're on a straight to inquire further. "You're not in trouble or something are you?" he asks, eyes darting over to you but hands steady on the wheel. He could read people, he could tell something was bothering you, not just the mild annoyance you usually carried around.

"No." you sigh out and shake your head, fingers running through your hair. "I just..." your lips purse and your shrug. You weren't going to tell him what was really wrong. "I'll be fine. I don't want to talk about it, I just want to forget about it. Hence the plan to get sloppy tonight." you turn with wide eyes, the corner of your mouth pulled back in an attempt at a smile.

"You're a terrible liar, Bells." he says with a deep, knowing voice. He nods his chin your way, "But I'll indulge you this time." he gives a warm, soft smile your way and it makes things better somehow.

Inside the bar, he lines up two shots and orders a pizza. It's a Tuesday and there's hardly anyone inside. Which is how you'd like it. You down the shots and decide to tell CeeCee you won't be in tomorrow. When she calls you instead of texting you back you groan, but accept the call.

"Yeah?" you say, looking at the reflection of yourself in the bar back mirror, your mouth open and your nose scrunched up.

"Figured I'd call to tell you in person. Well, kinda...anyway I got good news. I was gonna tell you when you came in tomorrow but seems you've got other plans?" she asked as if it were a question, but you'd already told her it was personal, said sorry for the short notice and that you'd be unreachable for the night.

"Yeah something's come up." you grumble into the phone, eyes mindlessly looking over the bottles that were stacked on the bar.

"You okay?" Man were you tired of people asking you that today.

"Yeah I'll be fine." you mumble. "What's good news?" you ask, resting your chin in your hand.

"We got some sponsored stuff in the mail today and one of the companies sent us two tickets to that rock festival down in Columbus. I don't remember the name...I don't have them in front of me." she mutters to herself. "There's a camping spot, tickets for early access Wednesday to the finale on Sunday night, the camping spots are good until that Monday morning. Food and drink vouchers, coupons...there's merch in here too." you hear her ruffling through a PR box of things.

"You wanting to go?" you ask with a tilt of your head, you would love to go but going with her wasn't ideal. Not that you didn't like her, just being around anyone for that many days straight in a small space would be a bit much to handle.

"I do but I can't. This has been sitting at the post office for a while, so it's next week." she says regretfully.

"Oh." you with pouted lips, feeling the warm fuzz from the shots.

"You want the tickets? Anyone you know of that could go with you?"

Your eyes move over to Declan instinctually. You watch him and Mike shove each other and laugh, sharing one of the new brews to come in. "Yeah, I'll take them. I think I know someone that'll go with me." you bit your lip in thought. "If not I can find someone else to give them to. Or sell them or something." you shrug and motion for Declan to come back to you, he'd given you some privacy when you said it was your business partner.

"Really?" she says her voice inflecting upward. "That's... surprising." she chuckles. "You aren't taking off for some hot lovers rendezvous are you?" she jokes.

"No I am not. Far from it." you burst her bubble. "But I'll be in Thursday and I'll have an answer for you."

"Sounds good. You be safe or... careful or... whatever." she says lightheartedly.

"I will." you hang up and Declan rests on his elbows, bent over the bar.

"You will what?" he says playfully.

You take a deep breath and consider if asking him is a good idea. Normally you would still trust your judgment after only two shots but the little thrill of excitement that sat in you made you question yourself. Did you want to go with him? Would you be able to stand being around him that long? Did you know him well enough to ask him? You'd known him for months now, hung out with him alone on multiple occasions and he had yet to piss you off, which was saying a lot. So you decide to take another big step. You said you needed new friends. And this would certainly make or break your friendship with him.

"I've got a proposal for you." you begin, leaning in and resting your chin on your fist.

"Bella... I had no idea." he puts his hand dramatically to his chest and it makes you chuckle and roll your eyes.

"In your dreams, pal." you snort and give him a cheesy smile. "I have a real one. A question with weighted significance." you say with a dramatic flair.

"I'm listenin'." he says leaning in closer, his chin low and heavy brow guarding his bright eyes as they stared into yours.

"I just found out that we... at the studio..." You motion with your hand. "Got tickets to the music festival down in Columbus next week. It's got a pass for the whole thing, food and drink vouchers, bracelets, the whole nine yards." you shake your head as you elaborate. You pause, tilting your head and narrowing your eyes at him. "Would you wanna go?" you ask without giving away your hesitation for such a question.

"With you and your coworkers?" his chin raises in inquiry.

"No, no. There's just two tickets. It'd be you and me." you explain, your guarded facade dropping slightly.

"Really?" he gives you an impressed look and it surprises you.

"Well... uh... yeah." you nod and continue to stare at him.

He studies you for a moment. He was the first person you'd asked. "How many days? And when is it?" he says with a more friendly tone.

"We'd have to get down there Wednesday night, find a spot, then it closes out Sunday night, but the camping spot is good until that Monday morning."

"So in a week basically?" he says, looking over to Mike.

"Right." you nod and follow his eyes.

"That's enough of a heads up I think." he says without turning back to you. "MIKE?! How much of a heads up do we have to give the temp service again?"

"Uh... a week. Why?" he asks, walking over to join in.

"Well the very generous Bella has just told me she's come upon some VIP sort've package deal tickets for a music festival down in Ohio, so I'm wondering if you could cover for me next week if I get some temp help in here." he gives him a big grin.

"Oh you had to take him over the weekend didn't ya?" Mike says with no real malice in his voice as he smiles. The thought of getting Declan out and also with you in particular made him happy.

"'Fraid so." you shrug and give him a frown.

"Yeah. I can live with that. I'll be glad to breathe without ya big arse hovering over me all the time." he says as he walks away.

"You call 'em in?"

"Yeah. Fuckin' helpless." he laughs and grumbles.

"So that a yes?" you say with too much hopefulness to your voice.

"That's a fuck yes." he flashes a charming smile your way.

"I guess I'll need to see about renting an RV." you say with a pout, opening your phone back up.

"Nah, nah I can handle it. I got some boys I camp with, I can hit them up."

"You sure?" you ask, your eyes wide as they swing up to meet his from the phone.

"Yeah. It's no problem at all. Or shouldn't be... usually isn't." he shrugs and gets out his phone. "So this isn't a pop-country festival I'm assuming?" he grins as he texts.

"No, it's rock. Lemme look it up." you mumble. "Sonic Temple. Yeah." you nod.

"Oh shit that's a legit festival." he laughs.

"Oh yeah, they sent a whole PR package." you nod enthusiastically.

"Who's playin'?" he asks, eyes back to his phone.

"Foo Fighter. Fuck yes. Joan Jett, HELL fuckin' yes. Distillers Ugh, be still my beating heart." you roll your eyes and put your hand to your chest and laugh. "Action Bronson too. They've got all kinds of acts." you say impressed, losing yourself in the poster.

"Who?"

"Oh Declan... the playlist for the drive down there is going to blow your fucking mind." you chuckle and move your thumbs over to Spotify fast.

"We can't all know everything about music like you do."

"I don't know everything. About music." you add with a cheeky snort.

"Okay we'll need the van Wednesday to Monday." he mumbles.

"Van?" you ask, face rising up to look at him.

"Yeah it's the one we use to go camping." he shakes his head. "If it can hold me, another grown ass man and a big ass dog in it, it'll fit me and little 'ol you. Don't worry." his chuckle shakes his shoulders. "He's got solar panels to power shit and a sink and a hot plate and it's legit. Promise. Not gonna take you down there in a murder van for almost a week." he glances up and grins at you.

"I appreciate that." you give him a warmer smile back. You felt the excitement of uncertainty rise in you. You were really doing this.

"He and his wife take it when they go out camping or road tripping so it's nice."

"In other words, it's decorated and not bare and a tetanus threat that men threw together?" you smirk.

"Exactly." he nods his head proudly.

"Good. I'd hate to be uncomfortable for that long. The bed good?"

"Why you askin'?" he raises a brow and you roll your eyes, rubbing your temple to hide the flush in your cheeks the look gave you.

"Shut up." you spit out fast. "I'll be sleeping on it for almost a week, I don't want to be out in the sun all day and come back to an uncomfortable bed."

"It's a real mattress, it's nice." his deep chuckle soothes your worry. "Trust me, a princess like Laura wouldn't sleep on it if it weren't comfy." he raises his eyebrows.

"So it has a whole makeup vanity in it too?" you tease.

"There's a light up mirror that like... snakes out of the wall if that counts." he offers.

"Oh, shit really?" you laugh. "Okay worries are gone. That sounds legit as hell."

"I wouldn't steer you wrong Bells." he says in a sincere soft voice. "And looks like we've got it." she says sitting his phone back down.

"Done and done." you give a stern nod.

"And a shot to celebrate."

"You keep this up and we won't have problems getting along." you say before knocking back a shot with him. He can hear the relief in your voice and he knows you mean it.

After sharing a pizza with the boys and a few more shots, you're sitting pretty. Well, that's what you tell yourself. You are in fact, drunk. But you're happy and Declan can't bring himself to mind it. You wander off to the bathroom and he gets caught up in a conversation while you're gone. As you exit the bathroom, you look to your left, seeing the empty room that had caught your attention before. "Declan!" you yell out, leaning against the wall.

"Yeah?" he asks, moving down the bar.

"What's in here?" you say with a perky attitude, hips swaying wide as you move towards the doorway. He flips on a light and as you've only seen a few feet into the room before, the dim lighting in the bar from led's in the corner of the ceiling, neon signs and the ancient stained glass lamps that dot the booths and bar, you couldn't be more surprised at what you find.

The room illuminates, a buzzing and flickering light overhead reveals a large room and an old wooden stage.

"Holy shit." you say loudly, walking with outstretched arms towards it. "Why did you not tell me this was HERE?" you ask loudly, turning fast to see him but he's already close and you stumble slightly at his sudden appearance.

"Didn't know you'd care?" he shrugs.

"It's a fuckin' stage. Of course I care!" you say before turning to see what's behind the stacks of hold chairs and a very dusty curtain that makes you sneeze. "Oh!" you say as you see a karaoke machine tucked away. "Why aren't you using this?"

"The boys here don't really care for it. Got it when another bar shut down, never really hooked it up."

"I'm gonna hook it up." you declare, rolling up your sleeves and sneezing at the dust.

"You uhh... you sure you can?" he says through laughter at your drunken self-assuredness.

"If you knew how many of these I got extra money for fixing after my sets at bars you'd know how needless that statement was." you say with your hands on your hips.

He holds his hands up in surrender. "Have at it. Just don't hurt yourself." he says with a shake of his head.

You're emersed and he watches you for a few moments, dirt already on your hands, digging into the space between the wall and stage with a confidence that comes with being drunk. Once he hears you mumbling to yourself about cords he leaves you to it, heading back into the other wing of the bar.

An hour passes quickly for him, looking at his phone and realizing he hadn't heard much besides a stray swear or exclamation from you the whole time. He heads back into the room, a mirrored wall with a mounted bar top against the far right wall. A blank, patched dirty green wall in the middle of that leading to the side of the room with the stage. You'd pushed the chairs out of the way, and he sees a few lights mounted on the metal racks across the top of the stage. Old, ripped and dusty curtains are pulled out, allowing you access to the sides and back. You'd established the machine wasn't that old and found enough extension cords to piece together an almost functioning rudimentary stage set up.

"Uh... Bella?" you hear Declan's voice as you're dusting off an amp you'd found shoved into the crawlspace.

You walk out onto the stage, setting the amp at the edge and sitting next to it. "You've got so much shit back there, Declan." you say scratching your head.

"I haven't looked back there since we bought the place." he walks towards you.

"This place was a bar before you bought it?"

"Yeah." he says, moving to check out the amp.

"That would explain all the old shit." you say, patting the amp. "But that machine is less than five years old." you point the karaoke machine that was now lit up and blinking. "You've even got a small projection screen but there's not stand for it." you look over the pile of equipment you'd gathered against the wall. "You got some bare bones that could be the base for a decent set up you know?"

"I did not." he shakes his head, impressed with what you'd managed to throw together. A single spotlight, a mic stand, and a stool sit on the stage.

"If you dropped some money on a decent sound system, some lights and a good control desk... wouldn't take much in this small of a space, you could host some bands here."

"I'll take your word for it, I don't know anything about that." he shrugs. "Never even crossed my mind, sounds like a lot of work. A lot of money too."

"Well I mean yeah but this part of town doesn't have any decent live venues. You've got a raised stage, room for speakers and space to accommodate like, 100 people give or take." you motion to the big, mostly empty room. "You do a music cover charge for any non-regulars and that's a thousand bucks, plus the drinks they buy. There's money to be made if it's done right." you nod and look at him with clear eyes and he knows you're serious.

"You think a place like this could get people to come to it for music?"

"Yeah. With the right marketing. Places like this are rare, everything's been cleaned up and gentrified. Crowds still want some grit with their music, especially with rock. And if you hosted a karaoke night with THIS sort of stage? You'd make a killing." you say with a stern nod.

"At the expense of my hearing." he chuckles.

"True. But hey, money's money." you raise your brows.

"Is this... I mean..." he scratches his head. "Is this something you could help me with? You clearly know more about it and I'd trust your opinion."

"Are you seriously interested in doing it?" you ask with a no-nonsense face.

"If you think it could bring more money in... yeah. Could we stick to rock music though? If I had to listen to any pop country I think I might burn the place down for the insurance money." he laughs.

"It's your bar. You can do whatever you want." you say, hopping down from the stage. "We've got some equipment at the studio I can loan you, I'll make a few calls to some owners, see if anyone's selling anything, what acts are pulling numbers but aren't too expensive. That kinda thing." you nod and walks back towards the bar and he follows, his head moving fast with the possibilities you were laying before him.

"I can pay you for all this, you know." he states as you sit at the end of the bar. "You are an expert after all. I'm not gonna be greedy with you." he smiles and moves to grab a bottle of whiskey to pour you a shot.

"If you don't charge me to come in, and let me drink free for anything that isn't hard liquor I'll take it as payment. I've never got to build something like this." you shrug. "I'd actually really like to." you nod earnestly.

"How about you drink free if this is successful?" he grins. "But these are on me?" he gives you a friendly nod, pouring three shots in front of you.

"If only all business was so easy," you say with a sigh. "Here." you slide one towards him. "Let's toast." you offer, holding up the glass shot glass. "Here's to making some beautiful music together." you let out a laugh.

"Cheers." he says, clinking them together as you both knock back the shots.

It's approaching midnight and you're back to being floaty and happy, drawing out diagrams on napkins to show Declan about setting things up, happily hunched together as you get to share your knowledge with someone who actually wants to hear it. Once again you have to pee, as is the nature of the beast. Already thinking about the stage again, as you pass it you're drawn to it like a moth to a flame. You get the old acoustic you found, tuning it and humming to yourself. Declan has once again become sidetracked by another conversation with Mike, telling him about what you'd been explaining all night.

"Is she actually any good?" Mike asks, skeptical as was his nature.

They hear the mic hook up, a squeal as it heats up and begins to work again. The other few men in the bar look in its direction as well.
You sit alone, guitar perched on your knee on the wooden bar stool you'd sat on stage. As you usually did when you were drunk, you went for some of the songs you could play in your sleep. You were in a great mood, the cause of coming out tonight behind you for now and you were feeling hopeful and confident and playful. A combination that was rare these days. The sound of you clearing your throat comes of the simple speakers in the room, drawing the men to want to check out the source.

"Looks like you'll get to see yourself." Declan answers Mike's worries as he moves to the wide archway to watch you.

"This is a song... for the ladies." you say with a drunken giggle that makes him beam at you. Your nose wrinkling as you fingers find their place on the guitar. "But fella's... listen closely." you coo into the mic. Declan knows immediately the song you're about to sing and snorts. Of course, you would know Tenacious D. The dumb shit from his teen years come back to him, listening to the albums, watching The Pick of Destiny. "You don't always have to fuck her hard..." you begin with an angelic soft voice that doesn't fit the words and he feels a feeling in his stomach that he hasn't in years. He was getting to see you in rare form, a goofy side to you that you hid from everyone and he was getting to see it. You were putting it out on display for him and he felt lucky to be chosen to see what was behind the curtain.

You sing the dirty, swear ridden song softly, playing it and singing with your eyes closed, showing you'd done it so many times it came as second nature. You giggle and smile between lines and you really let yourself go. You belt out the loud notes, shaking your head and slumping over in your enthusiasm. The other men all stand, some grabbing the dirty chairs and laughing, knocking each other's shoulders at the pretty woman cursing and singing, talking about fucking hard. You end with a huge smile on your face, opening your eyes to find everyone watching you, light applause, Declan being the loudest and most enthusiastic and you laugh, your shoulders shaking as he wolf whistles at you.

"Fuckin' tear it up, Bells!" he shouts, laughing and grabbing a chair too.

"You like the D?" you ask with a smile that stays on your

"You fuckin' know I do." he says proudly.

"Knew you were cool." you nod approvingly. "Okay. So... another one then?" you ask with a tilt of your head. One of the men claps loudly and approves. "You caught me in a good mood. Alright." you snort into the mic as you bump it with your nose. You clear your throat. This is called Master Exploder... and if I fuck it up, forgive me. I only have the balls to sing it when I'm wasted." you laugh and begin hard and sing your guts out.

Declan sits in awe. His brows high and his lips parted slightly as he listens to you belt out the songs.

"Dude." Mike says, knocking his arm with his arm. "Go get your guitar from upstairs."

"Shit. Yeah." he nods. "Wait, you go get it." he says with a bossy tone.

"Don't wanna miss anything huh?" Mike wiggles his brows at him.

"No I don't." he sass's back and shoves him out of the room.

You finish the song and Mike hands you a beer and an electric guitar, a small amp under his arm.

"Oh bless you," you mumble out, taking a drink. "That one will shred your throat." you set the beer down and take the other guitar. "Plug it in for me?" you ask politely. "It tuned?" you ask before strumming it. "Oh fuck no." you laugh and take a few minutes to fix it.

"Okay. You're making demands by giving me an electric." you give a smug smile. "Ya'll want me to show off? That what this means?"

"Of course we bloody do!" Mike says, taking a seat by Declan. "Better entertainment than I've seen in years." he says sincerely, leaning into his mesmerized friends arm.

"Flattery will get you where you wanna go." you point at him and laugh, falling into your old alter ego like ways when you were on stage, the booze certainly helping. "Okay... let's take it back it '75, Dreamboat Annie. Some of my favorite female guitar and vocal work." you say, straightening your back. "You'll know this one." you say as you start the fast-paced finger work for Crazy On You.

"Alright." Mike nods. "Yeah she's good." he says quietly to Declan.

"Told you." he grumbles defensively.

"Never thought her grumpy ass would be capable of this." he huffs out a laugh. "Lass is full of surprises innit she?" Declan sits and stares. "Or I'm bettin' ya hope so." he snarks.

"Shut up I wanna hear her." he bites back.

"Imaginin' her sayin' that to you big boy?" he knocks him with his elbow, only half joking.

And dammit if that wasn't exactly what he was doing.

Chapter Text

Declan has Mike help him carrying his bags and the supplies for the trip to the music festival from the bar. He'd taken the lead to get everything set up beforehand, even charging up the solar panels so you could both just plug in and play once you took the around four-hour road trip to Ohio.

"So ya stoppin' by the store to pick up anythin' else before ya leave big fella?" Mike says with a wink and a knock of his elbow.

"I don't know what kind of snacks she likes so we'll be running in for that, that's why I left the cabinets and that basket empty." He motions to the cabinet in the built-in with a sink on top made into the wall of the cozy, renovated van.

"Not what I meant," Mike mutters. "I figure it was so long ago the last time you brought condoms they'd all be withered and dry by now." he snickers.

Declan turns his head towards him, brow low and a 'huh?' look of confusion on his face. "I wasn't gonna take any?" his voice lilts.

"So you're just gonna knock her up then?" Mike jokes.

"I wasn't planning on having sex with her." he states flatly.

"Really? Ya stuck in this small space for days, sharin' a bed with a girl ya like and ya aren't expectin' to sleep with her?" his face shows he's unconvinced.

"No," he says innocently. "I like her, yeah." he nods. "Which is why I don't plan on sleeping with her. I don't wanna fuck this up by making assumptions." he says defensively.

"What? Ya don't think she wants to?"

"I don't know. I don't think so, which is why I'm not going to. Like I said. You've seen her, does she seem like the kind to jump into bed with someone?" he huffs out a laugh.

"You got a point. A bit cold, that one."

"She's not cold. Just..." he shrugs. "I think she needs a friend right now. Seems kinda lonely, y'know? So that's what this is. I'm gonna treat it like I was going with anyone else." he holds his hands up in surrender. "This trip is going to either make us hate each other or we'll come back a lot closer. I hope it's the latter, cause yeah I DO like her but I want her to like me. She's like a wild animal, dude, you can't be aggressive with her. Gotta earn her trust and then she'll decide what to do from there."

"Your outdoorsman habits are servin' ya well with this one." he grins.
----------------------------
He pulls up to Bella's house and she already has her bags ready by the door, which he truly appreciates. She's relieved to see that the ride is, in fact, a large van, but at least it didn't have a giant airbrushed wizard on the side. Well actually, she wouldn't have minded that so much either. In a sensible navy, beige and tan it looks like it's ripped from a 70's postcard. Declan opens up the side to give her a look as he can see the apprehension in her face to the size of it from the outside. He goes to grab her bags and she leans into the upholstered and homey space. It looked entirely charming and cozy, he certainly hadn't lied about that. The bed took up most of the space, pushed against the back doors on storage risers. A line of LED's across the top would serve as lighting, and she did love some twinkle lights for snug ambiance. She had some in her own bedroom. A sink, cabinet and hot plate are in sight, lots of storage and every bit of space used for something. It went from the very backs of the seats, with thick window covering rolled up over the large front window, to the back doors, a shelf against one wall by the bed, an open space in front of the side door and everything was new and clean lightly stained wood with modern decor. The feminine touches could be seen and were not going unappreciated.

"This is a lot better than I was anticipating." she expresses as she pushes her bags underneath the bed.

"Told you. I wouldn't take you out in some miserable, freezing hippie van. We've got water, power and wifi, what more do you need?" he grins, patting her back before moving back to the house together.

She says goodbye to Robbie, locks up and sets the house alarms, making sure everything is synced to her phone. She had CeeCee set to come to check on Robbie every night, even though there was an automatic feeder and water bowl for him. She'd bought him a new catnip toy to distract him and he was currently just fine with her leaving.

"Here's the cord." he says, handing her the AUX with no apprehension.

"So I do get to be in charge of the most important part of the trip?" she grins.

"You're the music man, unless you want to listen to the same thing over and over or a mixed bag on my Spotify, which is new so it's not like it's customized yet."

"No, no. I made playlists." she nods enthusiastically, sitting her purse down on the soft carpeted floor and pulling her legs into her seat, leaning over on the armrest towards him.

"Gonna stop by the store first, load up on snacks and junk before we hit the road." he says, craning his neck and looking at all the large mirrors on the van.

"Hopefully mostly junk." she mutters as her fingers scrolls through her lists.

"Whatever you want babe. We'll need plenty of calories."

"True. I'm gonna see as much as I can so that means I'm pulling your big ass around with me." she smiles.

"If you think I'd let you go anywhere alone you're wrong." he states obviously, now steady on the road.

She gives him a sideways glance, a more subtle smile on her face before returning her eyes to the screen.

"Don't play the good ones just yet. Wait until we get on the highway." he nods, wagging a finger to the console.

"That a rule captain?" she quirks up an eyebrow.

"Tradition." he nods with a confident, charming smile, hands drumming on the steering wheel. "We're cool, we don't have "rules"." he says with a stuck out tongue and air quotations around the word as she snorts in amusement.

"Don't try so hard, dad." she snickers. "We'll go random until we hit the road. Don't want to upset the road trip gods. We'll be together for far too long to have this be a cursed trip. Don't want people to find us both dead in the van from killing each other."

"Yeah." he laughs with shaking shoulders. "Let's avoid that if at all possible."

They take in a large container and basket, the space for snacks alotted and quickly fill it up. They guess at the space in the mini fridge, keeping the frozen and refrigerated foods to a minimum. To save space he suggests hard liquor, she grabs two bottles of wine and he only gives her a little bit of shit for it.

"Thought you were a whiskey drinkin' woman, Bells."

"Thought you were a bartender who shouldn't make fun of peoples choices." she wiggles her eyebrows at him and grins with closed lips.

"Oh damn, alright. Didn't know you liked wine." he holds his hands up in surrender.

"I usually drink it alone but I'll get dehydrated and feel like hell if I drink hard liquor the whole time."

"Fair point."

"Oh shit we don't have to leave room in this for water do we?" she frowns.

"Nah, nah. I got two cases already in there."

"Good man." she pats his back and he smiles, watching her walk down the snack aisle in her comfy traveling clothes. As always, if he allowed himself her leggings would've been a distraction.

She wears a long, red tank top that covers any bits that would make her uncomfortable. Didn't want to be full camel toe for hours in the van. A long, oversized lightweight cardigan hits her mid-thigh, it's in a dark grey to not clash with the black leggings. It annoyed her to an irrational extent when she wore two shades of black that didn't match exactly. She was trying to keep her cool and enjoy herself, not give away what a basketcase she was.

As she bends over to choose between jarred nuts, he sees a hint of a tattoo between her cleavage. He catches himself with a low brow, concentrating for too long in interest. He wondered with the warmer temperatures expected if he'd get to finally see some of her tattoos. He hadn't wanted to ask, that would be too clumsy of him. As always, he would wait for her to share first then follow her lead.

The drive up is filled with stories and feels easy just like their tipsy conversations did. She shares her knowledge of the headliners, he gets to try to not wreck while she dances in her seat. She raps and sings, feet up on the dash as she hands him snacks and he eats out of her fingers as he keeps his eyes on the road. They were both relaxed, except for the understood stiffness from being stuck in a car for over four hours. Once again he finds himself learning something new every time they were together. There's no talk of work, only music and shows they've been too before, previous festival experiences. She had a few more on him. It was a big part of her life and he saw how important it was to her. He wanted to make this festival one of the best she'd been to. The last thing he wanted ot to achieve with this trip was adding himself to the list of guys that let her down.

The check-in and registry goes easier than it ever had for him, but he'd never had VIP tickets to anything before. They get their stack of wrist bands and find a place to set up the van. It's early in the afternoon, the sun out as advertised with a light breeze. The weather couldn't have been better for it. He's grateful to find she wants to help set up and finds her stronger than she looked. She lifted the awning that rested extended out and rested over the sliding side door, set up the tailgate that came out of the double back doors as he hooked up power and water. Their teamwork was nearly seamless, both sitting and breaking into the case of water as they rested in the shade.

"It's still early," she says, looking through a pamphlet with all the festival information. "But the vendors should be open. Not too many people here yet. Probably won't get busy until tonight."

"Usually how it goes." he nods. "You wanna walk around? Get a feel of the place? It'll be packed the rest of the time."

"Yeah." she nods, putting the paper in her crossbody bag. "Lemme get my boots on and we'll go." she changes out of her flats, he gets to see one of her tattoos up close. A black, green and orange retro style Halloween style cat on top of her foot.

"That's cool." he says with a nod and a point of his finger before she pulls on her socks.

"Thanks." she says with a polite smile. "Hurt like a mother fucker." she chuckles. "I guess you will be getting to see my tattoos this weekend won't you?" she smirks and narrows her eyes at him.

"Am I?" he answers with a huff of a laugh.

"I mean I've got my outfits and stuff so yeah." she nods.

"Outfits huh?"

"Yeah. Festival outfits, ya know?" she says, pulling on her worn combat boots. Wanting support and not caring if they got dirty.

"Not really no." he shakes his head.

"You don't like to get dressed up for these things?" she asks with a tilt of her head.

"I guess I do. But it's kinda how I dress anyway." he laughs at himself.

"True you do have a distinct sort of style."

"Thank you?" he says with a wrinkle of his nose, not sure if it was a compliment or not. Luckily for him, it makes her smile.

"You're welcome. I wasn't being shady," she explains. "I like to dress up. And I don't have an excuse to a lot so I like to do it for festivals." she elaborates.

"You do?" he says with the same unsure look.

"Yeah...why? What's that look for?"

"I've just never seen you in anything but jeans and t-shirts." he offers innocently with a shrug.

"It's been cold." she emphasizes. "Once it's warmer I can get a little crazier," she says standing and stretching. "This is a surprise to you I see." she stands with her hands on her hips.

"Honestly, yeah. Didn't seem like a... high fashion sorta girl."

"Not high fashion. I would agree with that." she wags a finger as she speaks. "But I like dressing like a hooker in the '70s from new york." she laughs. "I'm reading myself, but not too harshly. I like that 70's rockstar vibe ya know?" she nods and sticks out her hip.

"I think I do." he nods.

"Well you'll see some tomorrow won't you." she offers with a smile.

-----------

Now familiar with the layout, and having tried too many of the food booths with their discount they walk back through the steadily growing crowd to the van. They waste time, drinking some sub-par beers they'd bought before heading back, sitting on the bed in the back with the doors open. They sit and go over the bands they'd like to make a point to see, having sampled most, if not all of them on the ride down. He finds himself amused as she makes a list, hunched over with crossed legs with her pen and note pad, writing down who they wanted to see, when they played and where and what they could potentially work out for themselves. He supposes he hadn't expected her to be as carefree as he was, as he was a go with the flow sort of guy. There would be no lists or agenda if it was up to him. He was grateful, however, to get to see how her mind worked. She was detailed oriented and thorough, as he was finding out with her texts and emails about setting up the music venue at the bar. She was almost formal in how she handled plans in her head. In her execution of things that weren't business, she allowed an air of casualness to the actions planned when she was with him. His calm and easy going vibe helped bring hers out. She had missed feeling at ease and with him at an event like this with anonymity, she was feeling him slowly pull the lighter side of her out. The beers were certainly helping this move forward faster.

She's more than relieved when it comes to time to sleep, driving always exhausted her for some reason and being out in the heat setting up the van hadn't helped matter any. With emotions high her body needed to sleep and recover. She kept her usual expression of indifference as it came time to settle in, but he was glad to see her face more relaxed around him, seeing it was clear that when not around anyone else, she seemed to carry herself a lot lighter. The thought had crossed his mind that this could be because he was there with her, but again, he tried not to get his hopes up.

"So," she nods, digging through her bag for her pajamas. "Same bed huh?" she has a playful subtle smile as she pulls pajamas out of her bag.

"Yeah. How ya wanna do this?" he asks, pulling the back doors closed and locking them. "Don't wanna... make you uncomfortable or anything." he offers with a motion of his hand.

She pouts her lips in thought, putting her bag back and sitting on her knees in the floor. "I'll be fine," she says with a wave of her hand. "Let's get changed and then get in and see how it goes. Don't know how we're gonna fit in there. Both our big asses might cause some problems." she laughs as he crawls out of the van to give her some privacy to change.

She gives him the go-ahead, kneeling on the bed facing away from him. His eyes go a bit wide for a moment, getting to see her in a pair of soft linen pajama shorts with little skulls on them, rolled at the waist, her top half covered by a tight tank top that seemed to leave little to the imagination. Or perhaps his imagination was just overactive. He clears his throat, a jolt to get ahold of himself. He was a grown man, not some teenager, he could do this. Just turn it off, he says to himself.

"Your turn." she says with a smile, crawling out and brushing by him, sliding on some rubber bottomed house shoes to wait outside for him.

It only takes him a minute, a quick full strip and pulling on some basketball shorts and a tank top of his own, shoving the clothes he'd had on into a bag designated for laundry before he slides open the door again.

"Damn I wish I could change that fast." she chuckles as she slides the door shut behind her. Just as he had, she finds herself paused for a moment as he fluffs pillows on his knees, moving to unfold blankets.

"I have no secrets to share. Wear less clothes maybe?" he says without thinking and then goes back to concentrating on the task at hand more than is necessary.

"Valid advice." she nods and gives a polite smile, watching his guard go up for a moment, but it gave her time to be entirely thirsty at the sight before her. She'd never seen him in anything but a loose band shirt before and as cliche as it felt to have some slow-mo, hearing Dream Weaver playing in the background moment the first time she saw him exposed, it was happening whether she liked it or not. He looked even bigger somehow without the bulk of clothes. She also hadn't been so aware of how fit he was. He looked big, knew he was strong, seeing him lift things from the trucks at the bar but she didn't expect the visible lean muscle that had been hiding under those shirts. He wasn't ripped, there were no veins or sharp angles to him. Everything looked soft and approachable. With his brown skin looking warm and inviting, she told her heart to slow down in her chest.

For a distraction from the heat she felt in her face, she moves to get her laptop, planning on watching something before falling asleep. She digs out her bag and he's once again faced with her body as he huffs out a burst of air. She looked soft and strong. He could see the results of her weight lifting she'd told him about, but as she'd claimed, her love of food kept her soft. But the way her ass looked in her seemingly innocent shorts was making him feel exactly the opposite. He could see her tattoos, the shapes of them from this distance anyway, the ones on her back obscured by her hair.

"So what do you wanna watch?" she asks, crawling on her knees with the laptop childishly before handing it off to him as he lay back in the bed.

"What do we have to catch up on?"

"I thought maybe we could watch the Woodstock documentary since we're here. I haven't seen the one on Netflix yet." she says, sitting next to him, legs crossed and pulling up her hair, her fingers quick as she braided it back. He got a chance to see her tattoos. A glimpse of what looked like a woman with horns on her back, something peeking out from her shorts, quickly hidden when she yanked her tank top back down. Her arm was the most apparent. A woman's hand with long black nails holding an apple, a snake wrapped around her the wrist and the fruit. It took up the space from her elbow to her shoulder with different flowers surrounding it. even carrying to the underside of her arm. It was clean and colorful and he felt it suited her. It looked sexy and dark and he was starting to hope that was a side of her that he would get a chance to see.

"Sounds good to me." he shrugs, but he would've agreed to anything she said, really.

She leans over as he flicks through her queue, reaching for her bag by the bed. "You aren't sensitive to smells and stuff are you?" she asks. He sees a bottle of what he's assuming is lotion appear as she turns back to him.

"Nah. Go ahead." he says, moving to sit the computer on the shelf opposite them. He settles in under the blankets and smells something amazing come from the bottle. It was deep and sweet, like the ripe berries he looked forward to eating in the summer during his hikes in the woods and a wiff of vanilla. It had a twist, something musky like patchouli. He knew he'd never smelled anything like it before, and watching her rub it over her body was something he wasn't able to watch for very long. "That smells really good." he remarks, giving her a nod.

"I'll be getting a lot of sun so I wanted to moisturize," she explains, holding both her hands out to him. He looks at her with confusions. "You want some?" she asks innocently.

"Uh. Sure." he shrugs, why the hell not. Give her a reason to touch him. She takes his hands and works the excess lotion into them, she was so soft against his calloused hands.

"You definitely did need some." she grins, working it into his palms with her thumbs. "Workin' man hands." she chuckles. "Gotta take care of them or they'll end up looking some old gnarled tree." she gives him a friendly smile. Her two hands wrapped around his one at a time, seeing tiny dots and marks of tattoos on his fingers. With both of her hands on his, one at a time, together they were about the same size. They cracked under the pressure she rubbed into them with but they didn't feel tense as she worked in the lotion to his skin. "There. Now you'll smell better too." she teases, tossing the bottle back into the bag and snuggling under the covers.

 

"What? Do I stink?" he asks and lifts his arm to smell his armpit and the laugh that comes from her surprises him, she shakes the bed, her chest rumbling and her face not hiding her amusement from him.

"No." she shakes her head. "Just meant I thought it smelled good." she answers, propping the pillow up and continuing to chuckle as he raised up to hit play.

Thankfully the close space between them wasn't uncomfortable. They touched but, it wasn't an awkward sort of interaction. The movie ends, she lets out a yawn and moves to close the laptop and leaves it on the shelf.

"It's a little crowded up top," she says quietly, taking her pillow. "You don't kick in your sleep do you?" she asks with a sleepy mumble, moving to the other end of the mattress.

"Not that I'm aware of." he replies, moving to lay on his side.

"Do I need to get the lights?" she asks, sitting up under the covers, ready to move.

"Nah. Dimmer's right here." he says, reaching up and pushing a button that turned off everything except the single strand of lights around the back end of the van's ceiling.

"Thanks," she mutters, laying on her side facing his feet. "Your feet better not stink." she says with a quiet chuckle.

"I don't know." he snorts, moving them and bonking her forehead with them. "Do they?" he grins to himself.

Luckily for him, she lets out a laugh and he feels her smack away at him. "Oh my God, you're such a child, Declan." she continues laughing, a loud sigh that follows as she pats his calf and returns her hands to herself fills him with a warm feeling as he lets his head settle into the pillow.

"Everything locked and alarms set?" she asks, almost mumbled as she snuggles into her pillow.

"Check and check." he says with a nod, feeling a yawn coming on.

"Good. Night, Declan." she says softly.

"Night Bells." he answers just the same, a smile on his face as he falls asleep.

---

The first knock to the van disrupted what had so far been a good nights sleep. But as the night went on, sleep was harder to come by for both of them.

"What was?" she murmurs, looking around as the van wobbles.

"Just some assholes outside." he grumbles, having been woken up by their loud voices already.

"'Kay." she says, slamming her face back into the pillow.

This happens throughout the night, people screaming around them, knocking into the van and she tries to sleep. But with the sudden threats her mind automatically shoots towards, she's continuously woken out of sleep, keeping her from relaxing and getting any rest. It seemed like she could see light from the sun by the time the commotion outside died down and she finally started to doze off again.

Chapter Text

gwiab9

In the morning Bella felt a bit ragged. Her sleep getting continuously disrupted from the rowdy crowds outside. She recalled being able to party for days straight, barely any sleep and running on fumes, caffeine and youth. Those days were passed now and she couldn't bring herself to truly miss them, they'd been wasted on people and things that didn't deserve being thought back on.

Another loud thud causes her to give up on her attempts at sleep. "Ugh." she groans, tossing a pillow against the double doors.

"Mmmph?" Declan grunts, raising his head, not bothered by the noise as much as she had been, but still annoyed that she seemed so restless the entire night. He didn't want her to be tired the whole time they were there. "Oh. Mornin'." he mutters, rubbing his face and popping his back.

She lets out a noisy sigh, sitting up and adjusting the neckline of her tank top. "Is it always like that?" she asks, throwing the covers off of her as he follows her lead.

"Is what what?" his voice is still deep and heavy with sleep and would be comforting to her if she wasn't so annoyed, sat on the side of the bed rubbing her face and adverting her eyes from his sleepy mess of bed head and puffy eyes.

"The noise and the knocking around." she grumbles, now stretching as he moves to sit up against the wall, gathering himself before moving. "I'm always in an RV and you don't notice it in those." she yawns, her words expelled forcefully in a sigh as she lays back on the bed.

"Oh. Yeah." he answers apologetically, looking at her pouted lips as she stares at the ceiling being able to see her in full light that comes through the tops of the back windows. As his body tended to be particularly responsive in the morning in ways he wasn't willing to explore right now, he deflects his eyes from her body. He closes them and rubs them, erasing the peak of tattoos on her lower stomach, a softness that sat between the line of her shorts and shirt. Or the wild halo of hair that fell around her head.

"Alright." she laments, scooting over as he begins to move off the bed.

"I'll go get us some breakfast. You start up some coffee?"

"Oh you don't have to-" she begins to excuse his good deeds.

"No, no. I slept better than you, I'll grab breakfast. Plus you aren't goin' anywhere alone? Remember?"

She gives him a sweet smile, her sleepy face affectionate and unfiltered.

He wasn't entirely sure why something that seemed like basic good manners to him made her look at him like that. Perhaps she wasn't used to being treated like this. The passing thought upset him and he gives her knee a pat before he throws her the bag of coffee from across the van. "Plus I have to piss like a racehorse." he moans with a snarled lip and he hears a deep chuckle come from her, happy to see the disgruntled look disappear from her face.

"You like it strong?"

"I like it however you like it." he says with a nod, taking a big, loud stretch outside the sliding door before grabbing his flip flops and wallet and closing the door behind him.

-----------

As Declan returns, arms carrying a large bag full of extra large breakfast burritos and hashbrowns, he sees Bella sitting with her mug and sipping away with a very annoyed look on her face out of the side of the van. As the van comes farther into view, he notices the guy posted up against the van next to them talking to her. She couldn't look less interested without giving him the finger.

"Hey babe I got the food." he says, puffing his chest out a bit as he walks up and completely ignores the guy, moving past him and sitting next to Bella in the van, moving to give her a kiss on the head casually.

"Ugh, thank you baby. You're a saint. You're an angel." she says, pinching his cheek before holding out grabby hands as he tosses a huge foil-wrapped burrito her way. He can tell she's trying to make him seem like her boyfriend. He'd played the role more times than he could count with friends that were women.

"Who are you?" Declan asks, looking up at the guy as he has his hands awkwardly in his pockets.

"Uh. Chris. I'm on the other side of you." he gives a nod, clearly uncomfortable now that Declan was there.

"Hey." he gives him a nod. "You mind lettin' me and the woman eat breakfast in peace?"

"Oh, Sorry. Didn't know you guys were..." he trails off, walking away, not bothering to finish his sentence.

"Oh my God, thank you Declan." she says with a sigh before taking a huge bite.

"I've been a fake boyfriend more times than I can count." he grins, following her lead and taking an entirely ungraceful bite. "I can tell when a woman's uncomfortable."

"Unlike Him. Jesus." she rolls her eyes, digging for a napkin. "Hey, like your tats." she says in a deep dumb voice.

"I'm surprised you didn't tell him to fuck off with it being this soon after you woke up."

"If I had been more awake when he first showed up yes." she nods. "I like having my coffee out on my patio in the mornings when it's nice out. So I thought this was the equivalent of that. But I forget there are people here who can just walk up to you. Don't have to deal with that at home."

"True. This spot is pretty active." he says between bites.

"Would you hate me if I suggested something that would make us lose a chunk of our day today?"

"Is it murder that guy?" he grins.

She laughs with a mouthful of food and shakes her head. "No." she mumbles, finishing her bite. "Could we move the van? Maybe to like, the edge of the field or something? I don't mind walking longer if you don't. I'd just like to be away from the crowds. I'm a light sleeper and I'll be a miserable bitch if I can't sleep."

"Nah I don't mind. I don't want you miserable either." he shakes his head. "We can move. Won't take long since we're just gonna go slow over a short distance." he shrugs off her concerns. "I would prefer it to be quieter too." he mumbles in agreement.

"Thanks." she says with a nudge of her elbow to his side.

"Don't mention it." he says with a mouthful of food and she smiles endearingly at him. She was really warming up to him and she wasn't even having to try at this point.

-------------------

They slowly make their way through the stream of incoming vehicles towards the far end of the field against the tree line. It seemed one other person had this same idea as an older RV was parked and set up with a little fire pit and an awning of tie-dye tapestry off to the side.

"Put enough space between us to where no one else could fit, but like almost enough space." Bella says, leaning forward in the passenger seat.

"Really?" he asks with a grin. "You're gonna make me be that guy?"

"To get some rest? Yes. I would do far worse than do a low key asshole parking job to keep people away from me." she says convincingly.

He shrugs and pulls in, leaving the back of the van to face to the large field that tilted down the slight hill they'd gone up on.

They set up again, and this time it doesn't take much time at all. Bella is pulling out her clothes, getting ready to start getting ready for the festivities.

"Yeah, too much noise and stuff down there." she hears Declan say.

She walks around the van to find him shaking hands with an older couple who looked like they were conceived at the original Woodstock.

"Ah. Here she is." he says, holding his arm out for Bella to come closer. "Meet the neighbor's Bells." he smiles. "This is Joe and Patty. They like the quiet same as us." he explains, giving her reason to let her guard down.

"Yeah, we just aren't quite up to speed with that crowd." Patty's kind face says, a flower on her cheek and her hair loose and wild and greying.

"Yeah I'm a light sleeper, can't handle getting knocked around all night down there. Plus... annoying guys and all." Bella rolls her eyes.

"Oh I remember." she laughs. "Joe was one of those annoying guys weren't you dear?" she calls over to the man in bellbottoms and a worn tie-dye shirt.

"I was never annoying. You were uptight." he teases.

"Can't argue with that too much." she shrugs.

"You having trouble sleeping?" Joe asks, moving closer, only having heard half the conversation.

"Joe..." Patty sighs.

"Yeah, I have a hard time letting my guard down with a bunch of people around."

"Well I can help you with that!" he says cheerfully.

"Joe." Patty scolds, smacking his arm with her hand.

"Nah, nah. They're cool, Pats, look at 'em." he ignores her rolling eyes and takes a joint out of his shirt pocket. "This'll help ya sleep." he gives Bella a wink.

Declan watches the interaction go down, eyes shifting curiously to Bella to see her reaction.

She stands and stares at his outstretched hand, a joint rolled with little strawberries all over the paper. She's reminded of her teen days in parking lots at metal show smoking ditch weed out of makeshift pipes from apples and soda bottles. "You know what Joe?" she says, her shoulders loosening up. "I think you're right." she says confidently, taking it from him. "And I more than appreciate the generosity." she nods and gives it a look. "This is just straight right? Not mixed with anything?"

"Oh goodness, honey no." Patty laughs. "We're simple when it comes to that kinda thing."

"I mean we did some acid and whatnot back in the day but those days are long gone."

"You did do mushrooms last year at Joshua Tree if you do recall."

"Well that's not the same thing now." he says defensively.

Declan and Bella take an immediate liking to the older couple, standing with subtle smiles as they harmlessly bicker. They were rather adorable.

"There's plenty more where that came from." Joe says, ending the light-hearted teasing between him and his wife. "Don't be strangers. Mi casa, su casa and all." he says with outstretched arms.

"If this makes her sleep I'll be back." Declan laughs, putting his hands on Bella's shoulders. "I'd prefer her well rested to all jacked up on caffeine."

"Speaking of which I need to do that and get ready." Bella remarks with a nod. "Thank you for this, again. I appreciate it. It's been a long time since I've smoked but I do remember it chilling me out so. Here's to hoping." she knocks the joint in the air like a glass and politely bows out of the conversation.

"So how long have you two been together?" Patty asks Declan warmly.

"Oh, we're not together." Declan says with a shake of his head.

Patty side-eyes him, a knowing smile from experience. "You just met then?" she gives a slow nod.

"Known each other a few months now." he says, his body language giving himself away as his hands move to his pockets.

"She's a guarded one isn't she?" she smiles.

"Uh." Declan hesitates, wondering how much to divulge to a stranger. But she seemed nice and was certainly not giving him any bad vibes. "Yeah. She is. Just... in general she is." he cracks a smile in his nervousness.

"I have a feeling she'll come around. Wouldn't have come here alone with you if she didn't plan on letting you into her life." she says with a friendly pat to his arm. "You two would be cute together. ARE cute together actually." she chuckles. "I was like her once. Just give her some time. Nice young man like you." she tilts her head supportively.

"DECLAN?" Bella shouts from the van.

"Yeah?" he yells back, tilting towards the sound as Patty grins and turns to move away.

"Go on." she laughs, shooing him back to the van.

 

-------

"Well aren't you just the prettiest thing!" Patty says with clasped hands as Bella walks around the van where Declan sits, waiting and ready to head out for her.

Her hair is big and curly, tiny braids in random places, keeping it out of her face. Covering her black crochet crop top is a long sheer kimono cover-up in the same color. She wears high waisted faux snakeskin bell bottoms, hiding her boots underneath as they skim the ground.

"My word she looks like she stepped out of a time machine." Joe laughs, taking a puff off his joint.

"Thank you." Bella's face lights up, a genuine smile that shows her teeth, her natural makeup with a lot of high lighter shines in the sun.

"You look badass Bells." Declan says, holding his arms out with palms up. She also looked amazingly attractive. The pants tight to show off her curves, getting a peek at the tattoo that rested between her breasts and flares out underneath them.

"I was never cool enough for tattoos. Needles always scared me." Patty says with a shake of her head.

"Never too late to get them." Bella answers supportively.

"This is what you meant by outfit huh?" Declan says, walking over to her and looking her up and down. She notices and doesn't mind, she expects it. Outfits like this deserved to be looked at and she knew she looked good.

"It is. You're gonna have to take some pictures of me for Instagram." she grins and takes her phone out of her small suede fringed bag.

"Oh no. Photographer duty. I'm all too familiar."

"You are? Good." she chuckles, pulling him to the other side of the van.

"See you guys later!" Declan says, half turning and waving goodbye.

---
She knew what she was doing in front of a camera, he had to give her that. "How do you know how to pose like that? I never know what to do in pictures. I do like the same two things." he mumbles, holding up the phone and taking shots as she moved, as instructed.

"Years of being super self-conscious about my body and looking in the mirror."

His eyes move away from the screen to her and he pouts slightly.

"Just an honest answer." she shrugs, posing from the side, getting pictures in with a large floppy hat before they left.

"I appreciate that. As always." he says with a still sad lilt.

"Just do it in the mirror. It's practice. Once everyone started taking pictures constantly that everyone saw online I wanted to look good so I took a lot myself."

"The dark days of Myspace."

"Dark days? Psh. No. The glory days." she laughs and he snaps a picture of her that is his favorite yet. She didn't smile much in photos he'd noticed, but around other people she didn't do it much in general. Yet another thing to keep his hopes up.

"Can I get in some of these?" he asks.

"Yeah, of course." she says with an obvious answer and a shake of her head. "You hold it, your arms are longer. You're like, made for good angles." she grins, leaning in next to him as he snapped a few shots. "Gonna have to keep you around, you're tall as hell and the height makes me look mad skinny in these." she laughs at herself.

"Just call me a human tripod." he announces, handing her back her phone.

She stops and looks up at him, her eyes narrowing as his eyes meet hers. Her lips start tight, holding in a laugh before it escapes as a huff out air from her nose and her shoulders shake. "You sure you want me calling you that? In public? Where other people can hear? I mean... I can but I think that's a bit heavy-handed." he watches her eyes wrinkle with laughter as she wears a broad grin on her face, her wrists limp as she laughs and he joins her. He shoves her away with a snort.

"Jesus Bells, mind out of the gutter."

"Can't help it. I'm garbage, the gutter is where I live." she says defensively as she starts to walk away, her eyes going back to her phone but the same big smile stays and he watches it dutifully until it fades.
----------
The main acts were probably only just arriving in the city itself, the second stages were set to be occupied for the evening though. Mindless chatting, the muffled sounds of people and music coming from tall speakers around the grounds compose their journey. As the day went on the crowds grew tighter and they had to designate meeting spots if they got separated. Their first test of this was Bella waiting by a colorfully decorated Maypole among the variety of tents that rest along the opposite side of the food section of the setup. Declan goes to find the bathrooms and pats her head before departing. He knew she could handle herself but it didn't stop him from worrying. His tendency to be protective over women when he was out somewhere alone with them was rearing its head.

As he walks back to their meeting spot, music playing loudly over the speaker between acts, something he didn't recognize, he sees Bella is laughing and chatting with another girl. They clearly knew each other, drinks in each others hands as they started dancing on and off together to the music. He stops for a moment, his chin pressing back into his neck as he watched her. He'd never seen Bella dance before and he hadn't stopped to consider he'd be seeing her do it at a music festival. But he forgot that girls love to dance, especially when they get together. And currently, he was watching her and this unknown girl half bent and what could only be described by him as middle school dance illegal moves, moving in rhythm together. But her face was lit up, laughing and switching places back to front. He hadn't seen her face look so happy and her body moving without the tension she usually carried around.

"Hey! There you are!" she says enthusiastically as she continues to move her wide hips and strong shoulders as the other girl looks him up and down. "This is Joey!" she says nodding to the girl.

"Hey." she calmly, answers, giving Declan a nod that bounced the braids in her hair.

"Leave you alone and you find a friend huh?" he says with a smile. "What's up, I'm Declan." he says with a return of the friendly nod.

"She already told me that." she grins, taking another drink and spinning, her denim shorts frayed and cut short, her top looking more like something Bella would wear, an old distressed and worn Thriller t-shirt that was cropped short enough to see a peak of red bra underneath. Her dark skin shines, covered in a bright highlighter that looked liked what Bella had also dusted all over her face.

"So you two know each other?"

"Yeah." Bella nods. "We uh... took a class together."

"A class?" Declan asks, knowing Bella hadn't gone to college, or at least that's what he thought she'd said.

"Yeah. A...." they both look at each other and start laughing, Bella shoving her slightly as he swears a blush creeps up her face.

"An exercise class." Joey clarifies with self-assured pouted lips.

"Ah. Didn't know you worked out with other people."

"It's a group thing." Bella says dismissing the topic of discussion. "She's here with her boyfriend."

"He's in line for some band merch he just HAD to get." she says with an air of playful annoyance.

"So are we chillin' here for a bit or..." Declan offers with shrugging shoulders.

"Nah, just waitin' on you big guy." she says with a little chuckle, taking another drink. "Gettin' some dancing out of my system while you're gone."

"Don't tell me this tall drink of water ain't dancin'?" Joey shoots a scolding look his way.

"Nah.I don't really... dance." he says with a shake of his head before looking down at the ground.

"Shame." Joey smirks, elbowing Bella with a knowing grin. "Your girl here can sure dance."

"Shut up Joey." Bella scolds. "Call me if you wanna hang out, we're here all weekend. K?"

"Got ya." she says raising her glass as she takes Declan's arm and starts walking away. "Ask her to show you some moves from class!" Joey yells, a loud cackle heard as he moves his innocent eyes back to Bella's face which was grinning broadly in amusement.

"Moves from class?" he asks with confusion.

"Maybe one day." she glances up his way and smiles. "Get me drunk and maybe you'll get lucky." she laughs, running her hand through her hair. "C'mon. I wanna get closer." she says, moving seamlessly to reach down and take his hand into hers, the woman a foot shorter than him tugging him along like he was on a leash.

----------
The pleasantly warm afternoon turns into a chilly night quickly. After being on their feet all day and a lack of quality sleep the night before Bella lets out a loud an exaggerated yawn. Her mouth open wide, her eyes squinted shut, the now smudged eye makeup growing an extra crease or two as her eyes water and the wear and tear of the day catch up to her, the beer's she'd been nursing steadily all day not helping matters any. "If I wanted to head back to the van would you call me a pussy?" she looks to Declan with sleepy eyes and the seriousness in the question makes him laugh loudly.

"Oh poor baby Bells." he coos, putting his arm around her shoulder and giving her a firm squeeze. "You've been slowing down for a while now. Don't think you can hide it from me."

"I wasn't NOT trying to hide it from you." she shrugs. "It's not even ten o' clock. Oh my God I'm so old." she laughs and wipes under her eyes.

"Not old. Just tired. We've had our first day of full sun for the year, it'll wear ya down if you're not ready for it."

"Can't all be made in the image of a sun God like you." she says with a sarcastic shake of her head.

"She must be sleepy she's handing out compliments." he laughs and rubs her back.

"Let's just get back so I can shed this skin and get some snacks in me." she groans.

"Then look alive, faster we walk the quicker we get there." he says, pulling her clumsily alongside him.

"Your legs are so long! I can't go that fast." she lectures, her other hand playfully slapping at his arm.

"I can solve this." he says letting her go and turning, moving quickly to scoop her up as she no longer feels sleepy being raised into the air, taller than even her tallest heels had ever taken her, now thrown over his shoulder.

"Declan!" she shouts, her voice wavering in its surprise and uncertainty. "Warn a bitch before you go grabbin' her up!" she says, trying to hold herself up against his back.

"Don't fight it. I've got ya. You're not heavy." he says with a shake of his head. "Just relax and it'll be easier."

"That the line you use on all your dates?" she snorts.

"No it is not." he says proudly.

"At least you got that going for ya." she teases.

"You are being held over six feet in the air right now at my mercy you really wanna be talkin' shit right about now?" he laughs.

"Point taken." she says with a nod he feels. "At least I'm not sleepy anymore."

"Look at me. Solvin' all your problems." he says smugly as he hears her sigh and relaxes against him.

------

She's letting Declan change after he so graciously let her get ready for bed first. She gets into her usual tank top and shorts and pops over to see Pat and Joe as Declan had dipped out of their conversation when she'd appeared form the van. Now fresh-faced, her hair still down and wild from the wind and movement of the day she moves to the other side of their RV where she hears music and perks up.

"Oh my god is this Todd Rundgren?!" she says excitedly.

"You've got a good ear there lady!" Joe says with a bright smile.

"I love Todd. There'd be no Bat Out Of Hell without him!" she says obviously. Such a weird but brilliant producer. Big influence on me actually."

"You a producer? I've got a cd of my stuff if you're interested!" he says with a laugh.

"Oh leave the poor girl alone." Pat laughs.

"I am a producer though." she smiles warmly.

"Oh shit really?" Pat says apologetically.

"Yeah my friend and I have a little record company we built ourselves. It's mostly just doing the technical work and some advertising for some local bands but I love it." she explains.

"Well, a musician and a bar owner go very well together." Pat smiles.

"Can't make music together and not fall in love though. Tricky that." Joe laughs.

"I have heard that." Bella gives him a coy smile.

"Are you two dolls going off to bed?"

"I think so. I'm a bit wired now that I'm all cozy and washed my face though." Bella shrugs.

"Time for some of your cool uncle's medicine?" Joe laughs, handing over the rolled joint he'd been working on. It looked just like a cigarette and the smell of fire and incense helped cover up the smell of the weed a bit.

"Yeah, sure. This some mild ditch stuff or some of the super crazy government weed that's out now?"

"Some of our own actually."

"Oh shit really?" she says with wide eyes. "That's cool as hell." she mumbles, weighing the stick in her fingers.

"Yeah we're retired and go around the country in the warm months to festivals, we're based out in California." Pat explains.

"You're a long way from home."

"Nah." Joe says, patting the side of the RV "Got all we need right here." he smiles contently.

"Hey what you kids doin'?" Declan says in his best cop voice as Bella jumps and he laughs as he approaches and pats her shoulders as she puts her hand to her chest and shakes her head.

"Don't do that." she says with a laugh.

"Sorry." he chuckles. "Ya been out here smokin' the reefer without me?" he says in a slowed down voice.

"Hey! I resemble that remark!" Joe replies pointing his finger and laughing.

"Yes you do." he says with a nod and they both let out adorable dumb laughs. Pat and Bella look at each other with shaking heads and closed mouth smiles.

"I hadn't started yet actually." Bella clarifies. "Got distracted talking."

"Well ya gonna bogart it or pass?" he grins down at her as he watches the shadows from the fire dance across her freshly washed face. The frogs and crickets from the woods set a white noise background of sound. Being away from most everyone still, there was a good amount of privacy and darkness surrounding the little camp they'd set up.

"Fine," she says with attitude. "Peer pressure much?" she says with a shake of her head, hand reaching out for a lighter. Pat throws one in a cute little coozie her way without another word. She falls into muscle memory, lighting and inhaling and holding, passing it to Declan.

"You're a fuckin' pro. Look at that." he says impressed.

She exhales and starts to cough and it turns into a laugh. "Gotta cough to get off." she chuckles out. "I smoked a lot in high school. But that's better than anything we had back then. Smoking out of apples and gravity bongs from two liters." she grins recalling the memories in back seats of cars in concert parking lots, taking turns keeping lookout and acting like everyone didn't know they were stoned anyway.

"Take your time that's not some old ditch weed." Joe says as he grunts and sits down next to Pat.

"You hear him Declan? Just cause your big doesn't mean you gotta hit it hard." she says with a wag of her finger.

"But hard's the only way I know to hit it Bells." he says with a dramatic offense taken and she bursts into giggles.

"Oh shit." she covers her mouth and continues with a giggle he'd never heard before.

"Looks like someone's a giggler." Pat says with a grin.

When Bella pouts and shrugs Pat defends her. "It's an adorable laugh, sweetheart, no shame in it. You're happy. Laugh." she says with open inviting arms.

Declan exhales and coughs even more than Bella. "Oh shit." he chokes out. "Fuck." he laughs and hits his chest.

"Told ya." she says with wide and open eyes.

"More?"

"Gimmie." she says taking it from him. The next hour floats by in a haze. All four laughing and listening to music. Bella strums a bit on guitar, finding it easier to play high than drunk. Declan leaves them like this while he hides to pee, with her humming happily, closed eyes and a smile on her face.

When he comes back, he walks right into what trap Pat had set for him to find Bella in. Bella holds a joint in her fingers, dancing in the half-light between the van and the RV, the music playing a bit louder, now from the van, a song he didn't recognize but reminded him of something he'd heard before.

"They're turning in. But she shared her playlist with me." Bella says with her hair brushing across her face and shoulders, her body bopping slightly to the music.

"Yeah?" he says, his mouth dry for more reasons than smoking. The light of the dying fire casts shadows on her blissful face. Her long lashes and full lips are exaggerated in the warm and cool tones of the moon versus the firelight. He licked his lips and found nothing there to comfort the lump growing in his throat. He couldn't help but notice the bounce to her chest and ass as she moved to the beat, lips pursing to sing with the song. Such a pretty voice he thought with a sigh. "What uh... what song is this?" he asks.

"I Saw the Light. The one and only Todd Rundgren." she says without opening her eyes, her head moving to the beat. "And a feeling that feels so strong. About youuuu---oooo--ooooo." her lighter, relaxed voice coos.

"You've talked about him before." is what comes out as he listens to the lyrics, too high to realized Pat had put on something Bella would love and know and he would have to pay attention to and be pushed into recognition of some things. The lyrics were just too well suited. Pat knew what she was doing.

"Mmm Hmmm." she says with a nod, opening her eyes. "I'll go turn it off." she says with a sigh, taking a short drag. "You don't dance so I guess we'll get in the van huh?" she says with a hint of disappointment that shows through her voice.

"You like to dance?" he asks, standing still and not even thinking to offer to help her as she moves to the passenger door and he sees her bend over, her butt stuck up like some cute little bunny tail in her shorts as she undoes the phone from the system.

"Oh yeah. I just don't do it much. Around people I mean."

"You don't do a lot of things around people do you?"

She stops and looks at him, studying his relaxed face. "Guess I don't do I?" she responds with a shrug. "You wanna?" she says, holding the van door open and he stares for a little too long, mind getting distracted.

"Yeah." he mumbles, crawling into the warm and inviting space.

"Here ya go babe." she says without the usual hesitancy she notices. She'd tried to start calling him babe because he called her that. She thought it seemed fair and even. It was one of those things that she was trying to do to not be so uptight. So far she was finding it easier to let loose around Declan more than anyone else. She had tried not to think too much into it.

"Thanks." he says after sliding his bare legs under the covers, only some shorter shorts covering him, the tank top from the night before was now replaced by a cut up t -shirt that had the sleeves gone and the sides split. She couldn't help but focus on his body in it with a clear view like she had.

"You're like... really buff." she says without thinking, eyes still looking him over as he blushes, going unseen in the low light of the van, only the string of dim yellowed lights on as they sat side by side.

"I'm not like... ripped or anything." he offers as a defense.

"No." she shakes her head. "But that's good." she says supportively. "You're already pretty intimidating. And vanity muscle is useless so." she shrugs and chews her lip.

With less coughing this time around, they pass the joint back and forth, eventually opening up the back door because they'd hot boxed themselves on accident. The aftermath is two very giggly friends who were laughing over almost everything they did or said. After Declan falls out while opening the doors she grabs him and pulls him back, them both snorting and eyes watering as they move slowly and clumsily in the bed. They eventually quiet down a bit, both sitting cross-legged after finishing smoking and looking up at the sky.

"It really is gorgeous out here." she says softly.

"Almost as good as being in the woods." he says, both with their eyes on the sky.

"Well we've got the wood right there so..." she chuckles and motions to the treeline.

"You know what I mean smart ass."

"I do." she smiles contently. "You spend a lot of time out there?"

"As much as I can when the weather's nice."

"Do you go to get away from people? That's why I'd go." she muses.

"I almost always go with people."

"I don't know how you do it." she shakes her head.

"Do what?"

"Be around people so much. As a generality... I hate people." she laughs and looks down at her fingers fidgeting.

"I've noticed." he grins back, looking over at her, watching her eyes move slow and unfocused across the star-dotted sky. "But you're here with people." he offers. "Er... a person. Me." he elaborates.

"Yeah but I don't hate you." she says quickly and as if it were obvious and it makes his heart race for a moment. "You're different." she says moving to swing her head his way and meet his eyes.

"Different?"

"Yeah. You don't infuriate me."

"Thanks. You don't uh, infuriate me either." he offers sweetly and it makes her smile.

"That's a first. I'm a real pain in the ass." she laughs, it shakes her shoulders and chest.

"Nah. You're just different." his voice is so soft and polite she feels her stomach churn at the affection in his voice. No one spoke to her like that, she wasn't sure how it made her feel. Her face flushed and her skin broke out in goosebumps.

"Good different?" her honest inquiry surprises him.

"Yeah. Duh." he furrows his brow and shakes his head. "Wouldn't've agreed to come here with you if I didn't like being around you." he states obviously.

He sees her lashes flutter for a moment, looking away in thought as her face turns sad. She really wasn't used to someone telling her that. "Thanks." she says meekly.

"What for?"

"For saying that." her eyes look down at her legs, avoiding his that were still looking at her.

"It's true." he shrugs.

"You're really nice. You know that?"

"I've been told that on a handful of occasions." he grins.

"I haven't." she sighs and shakes her head. "I'm always so mean." she says in a regretful way.

"You're not mean." he suggests. "You're just not..." he stops and thinks for what he means to say. "Easy." he tries.

She nods. "I would agree with that."

"You make people work for it. Nothin' wrong with that. I figure you're just protecting yourself." he says the last bit without meaning to. He didn't want to pass judgment on her.

"Someone's got to." she says without thinking, her eyes far away and his heart sinks.

"I mean... I will." the words come out of his mouth before his brain even realizes what he's saying.

Her face turns slowly towards his, at first her eyes were still a bit sad, then they looked down and away and a smile started to grow as she saw the honesty in his face. Always that honesty with him, she thought. "You're really sweet." she mumbles, shoving his knee with her hand like a kid in the schoolyard that didn't know how to express their emotions properly.

"Someone's gotta be." he says with a grin to break the tension.

"Declan?" she asks softly, their eyes holding each other's gaze.

He feels the heat rise to his face, eyes fighting to not look down at her lips as her teeth worried away at them. "Yeah?" he asks with those soulful eyes that make her want to be soft, to let someone in. Maybe he was the right person to open up to.

"I'm getting really cold." she says with a huff of a laugh.

"Oh shit." he says, shaking his head. "Of course you are." he says hurriedly. "Lemme. Here." he says, moving and quickly shutting the doors back as she crawls to the end of the bed at his feet. "You ready to sleep? Probably. You were tired hours ago." he says, fluffing the blanket and laying it over her legs, giving them a pat before busying himself with his own pillows.

"Yeah." her voice sounds small and unlike herself. He notices but decides to not say anything, he didn't know if he'd tried to make her open up a bit too much in his own open book like state from smoking.

"Uh. Night Bells." he says, reaching up and turning off the light.

"Night." she murmurs. He feels her stay still, staying sitting up with her arms on her legs. She sits in the dark, eyes adjusting, each looking at the other but not being able to tell. She didn't want to sleep this way again. She spent the whole night worrying where he limbs where or if she was kicking him or if she was about to fall out of the bed. She also felt cold. But she wasn't sure if the shiver was from the temperature or if it was from something else. She chews her lip and tries to force herself to speak. 'You're just sitting up and starring like an idiot. Just. Say. Something.' she thinks to herself. "Declan?" she forces out. She had to do something if she said his name. So she started there.

"Yeah?" he says a little too quickly.

"Uh. I don't... wanna sleep head to toe." is all she says. Baby steps.

"Oh." he pauses. "Okay?" he also sits up, legs straight out.

She takes a deep breath. "Okay. I know I'm only gonna let myself say this because I'm high. But I think that's okay. I should say what I want when I'm sober I just..." he hears her let out a grumble of an annoyed sound. "I'm cold and I'm constantly worried about how I'm sleeping like this can we just... sleep together? Like..." her voice is so unsure of itself, something he'd never heard from her. He feels her move, her pillow landing next to his as she moves and slides next to him in the bed. "Like can we lay together? I don't wanna be like... forward or fuckin'... somethin' I dunno." she whines and starts second-guessing herself.

"No! No." he says quickly, laying down. "You wanna... cuddle up?" he asks, the high pitch of his voice showing his excitement he was trying to hide, hoping he wasn't misreading her hesitant and jumbled words.

He hears a tiny hummed, "Mmm Hmm." from her. A flood of relief comes over her as she slides in next to him. She's immediately hit the warmth from his body and it makes her want to let her walls down. "I'm... I'm not good at being... like this. I hate to use the word intimate but sleeping with someone and cuddling IS intimate so..." she shrugs and lays on her back, unsure of what to do next.

"Lucky for you I'm the best big spoon around." she could even feel his smile in the dark. "C'mere Bells." he says gently, pulling her back to his chest. As soon as she felt him against her it was like something broke loose in her. Something grew in her belly, something pleasant and warm. "Don't ever feel like you can't tell me you want something. No judgment from me, alright?"

"Kay." she says with a nod he feels. "You're really nice. And sweet. And understanding. And I'm... not." she lets out a frustrated sigh. "It's really hard for me to open up to people."

"I know. And that's fine." he says with a tone of indifference she appreciates. She didn't want pity. "But... we care about each other. We even like each other. The fact that you even asked me to come with you I knew meant a lot. And I appreciate it. I can respect being vulnerable is hard for you. It is for a lot of people. But... I'm here. I'm not gonna push you away for asking for something. That's not how I roll." he says, squeezing his arms around her.

"Thank you." she says bashfullly.

"Don't mention it." he says with a kiss to the back of her head. "Now you just steal all my warms okay?" he chuckles. "That's your job. Get comfy and stay warm." after a bit of a pause. "Oh yeah and sleep." he adds with a laugh. He can feel a little huff of a laugh from her and he lets out a more relaxed sigh.

"Night Declan." she whispers, feeling her breath travel over her his hand that rested in front of her face, his body much bigger than hers and almost caging her in a way that didn't feel claustrophobic.

"Night Bella." he mutters into her hair.

She lays there and does what he says, shifting slightly and he doesn't complain once. She rests, eyes shut, feeling his breathing, matching it with her own and helping her calm down. She nuzzles into the pillow, eventually getting his arm and wrapping hers around it as she realized she would be most comfortable that way, even if it did sort of shove his arms between her boobs. But he didn't seem to notice. So she reclined there, soaking up the warmth first, then feeling the steady breathing, then the weight of him on her. She hadn't slept with someone like this before. It felt different and odd but, good. She felt her muscles decompress, her lids grow heavy, the pillow feeling like she was sinking down into it bit by bit. Before she falls asleep, she figures out what this comforting feeling is, this new experience before falling asleep she was having. She realized that for the first time she actually felt safe in a man's arms.

Chapter Text

The sun had been up for a few hours, the warmth of the morning starting to break through the exterior of the van. The sunlight washed in the tops of the windows despite their secure curtains and a beam of light causes Declan to stir. He pulls himself out of a deep sleep slowly, his eyes heavy and body heavier as smoking the night before had relaxed him to the point of total surrender. He blinks and squints, his eyes adjusting to the trickling light in the dark van. He noticed first that he still has his arm around Bella, and the moments of vulnerability the night before come back to him. The covers are still over him, and his arm weighed on her waist but with the relaxed look on her still sleeping face she certainly didn’t seem to mind. He’d slept so deep he hadn’t even feel her move, with the way her breathing was so slow he guesses she didn’t know she’d moved either. Her head was against his chest, her cheek smooshed adorably, her lips puckering and blubbing as she exhaled. He watched her for a few long minutes, totally at ease. He wished she could feel like this when awake, but he felt that same thankfulness as he did last night that she was beginning to trust him enough to let him in and see this side of her at all.

With his arm bent under the pillow, he moves it carefully to push his hair back before settling in slightly closer to her. He relocates his hand beneath the covers resting it behind her back, feeling her hair tickling his hand. He moves his fingers, feeling the soft strands between them for a moment before his eyes move back to her face. She looked so sweet and if he was being honest with himself, beautiful. Her freckles that dotted her nose and cheeks, just barely visible with her light brown skin. Her groomed and arched brows were only imperfect from a scar that rested on one of them, but it was unnoticeable from far away when she had makeup on. The same could be said for a pale scar that ran back and disappeared into her hair he hadn’t noticed before, and a divot near her jawline, the softened square that it was, that he thought might’ve been from childhood chickenpox. He had a similar one himself, along with the much more noticeable scar over his brow and upper cheek from a particularly nasty run-in with a broken beer bottle in his youth.

He gives over to the wants of the sleepy haze he still resides in comfortably. The warmth from her body against his under the fuzzy blanket she seemed particularly fond of must’ve made him feel the warm and fuzz carry into his chest. He moves, the covers sliding down her tattooed shoulder as he gets lost in his feelings he usually tries to push away. His cut almost too short fingernails are still holding yesterday’s dirt underneath them despite his best efforts at scrubbing them the night before. They push back the hair that has fallen in her face, as his half-lidded eyes look over her. She stirs, a dreamy expression and a smile on his face, letting himself feel the growing feelings for the woman in his arms while he could.

Besides how effortlessly charming she was to him with her bad jokes and crooked, mischievous smile, he thought about what was drawing him to her so much. What was making him get anxious when he hadn’t seen her for too long? Or what made him light up at a simple text from her? Maybe he saw pieces of himself in her. They certainly had a lot in common when it came to personal taste. She also had a past that held pain for her, and he felt connected to her for it. She was funny and sassy and crass, all traits he needed someone in his life to have to deal with him. She was reserved, a bit tightly wound at times and had the tendency to express her sensitive side through anger and violence. But he knew how to handle that and he could really understand why a woman like her would act in such a way. Maybe it was the softness that she was starting to pull the curtain back on for him. She made him feel special just by wanting to be around him, she had said it herself, she hated everybody else. He watches her brow furrowed at the touch of his fingers boldly in her hair. A small and sweet grunt as she shifts her body against his and he feels his stomach flutter like a schoolboy with a crush. He’d liked her before this trip, but he was only finding reasons to like her more. Particularly while she was nuzzling against him, looking more like a harmless kitten than a hellcat. He could see the damage that had been dealt to her, but he also saw the strength it had left in its wake. He sighs, not knowing exactly where he stood with her, worrying the feelings he had for her that were now unavoidable for him were one-sided. He leans forward and plants a kiss to her forehead while he has the chance.

She feels a tickle, which draws her out of her deep sleep. But she’s so comfortable, feeling so warm and relaxed that she doesn’t want to wake up. After he sees her shift, only moving closer to him he stops touching her hair and lays back, letting his mind wander and listen to her breathing. With his body protectively arched around hers, he let himself daydream about getting to wake her up with kisses and roaming hands.

She falls back into a dream, with a lucidness to it now. She could feel him against her, smell him as her nose and mouth pressed against the scratch of his chest hair. Her hand opens, her palm bravely mapping out the contours of his pecs and chest before wrapping around to his back, letting out a satisfied moan at the lean muscle she felt there. She feels his mouth in her hair, murmuring a good morning as she smiles in response. His skin is so warm beneath her curious fingers, a hardness when pressure was applied to his skin, but a comforting softness overlying it. He was physically so appealing her body was responding to her suppressed need.

“You didn’t try anything last night.” She says, nuzzling between his prominent pecs.

“No. Of course not. I wouldn’t do that to you. You can trust me.”

She hums happily at the perfect response. What any person would want to hear. For a reward, she kisses his chest first, a single peck as she feels his hand move to her lower back, a brief pause before she shifts and kisses his jaw, nose buried in the fluff of his beard before it moves down the swell of her ass and grabs a handful assertively. Her kisses move up and to his neck, his ears, his temples and onto the trio of moles on his cheekbone. A breath away from his pink and soft lips, her thumbs brush across his handsome face. Grazing her nose to his he says her name and she smiles, feeling his lips move against hers. She gives in to what she wants, kissing him, tongue teasing and feeling his big hands move over her curves without hesitation. He says her name again, but she doesn’t want to stop. Then she hears him chuckle. A deep and raspy morning voice full of amusement.

“Bella. Wake up.” He says, watching her squirm and grunt as he watches her mouth move, trying to figure out the words she was saying in her sleep. “You having a bad dream there babe?” He asks, his hand more certain on her cheek before his thumb brushes across her temple and pushes her hair back again.

“Mmmm.” A discontent mewl escapes her as her brow furrows deeply, her hand moving to her face.

“Morning there Cheech.” He teases. “It’s almost 10.” He informs her in a soft voice.

“Sleep.” She says grumpily and slams her face into his chest, pulling the cover over her head.

“Oh don’t be like that now.” A laugh that she can feel rumble in his chest moves through her and makes her let out a deep sigh. At least she was in his arms, she thinks. It wasn’t on top of him kissing him, but that wasn’t exactly the next move she needed to make. But the thought was now firmly planted in her mind.

——————

Bella sits on the bed with crossed legs, her make up bag poured out next to her and her toilette bag on her other side.

“Oh shit. I forgot to put my music on, would you mind babe?” She says with a kind tone that makes him more than willing to do what she says.

“No problem.” He replies, sitting down his water and moving between the two captain chairs and hooking the phone up to the sound system.

“Put it on... upbeat/dancey.” She asks with a playful smile as she brushes out her hair.

“K. Lemme find it.” He mutters, thumbing through Spotify, not yet familiar with it entirely. He sits in the passenger seat and eventually finds her playlists. The usual as he expected, morning mix, shower mix, songs to drink to. But what caught his attention scrolling down to get to the “U” in upbeat, was a string of playlists called Slow Jams. She had Slow Jams Vanilla, Slow Jams Fast, Hard, Rough, lovey, angry and grooves. He smirks and chooses Slow Jams Hard.

She hears the opening drums of Pussy Liquor by Rob Zombie and she stops mid spray of dry shampoo and tilts her head. “That’s not on that playlist.” She states almost as if it were a question.

“Nope.” He grins, his head peeking out at her from behind the chair. “What are these playlists called Slow Jams Bella?” He says with a childish tease in his voice.

She tilts her head and smirks. “I don’t know. What do you think they are Declan?” She mocks back.

“He gives her a wide grin that makes his eyes shut.

“Put it in the right playlist and stop killing my vibe you turd.” She says with a shake of her head.

“You’ve got a lot of playlists.” He says picking the correct one.

 

“I do.” She bods in agreement. “I like having music for every occasion.” She explains.

“You have two shower playlists.” He laughs. “Commute good, commute bad, work, cooking, parents.” He lists.

“I do know what playlists I have I made them.” She smiles and continues looking into the mirror and getting ready.

“You really do like all sorts of music don’t you?” He asks, still
Nosily thumbing through the songs.

“Comes with the territory.”

“But you look like you’re such a... rock and metal chick.”

“It’s my preferred aesthetic. Plus rock is my favorite. Doesn’t mean I can’t also like pop and Motown.” She throws out as examples. “I have to stay current to be great at what I do.” She adds in, and he once again feels that attraction towards her for what commitment she had to her craft.

He watches her for a moment, a Bobby pin between her teeth as she pulls her hair half up into two little buns. “You look like a spice girl.” He chuckles.

“That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.” She puts her hand to her chest and gives him a teasing pout. “I need my curling iron out of my bag there if you don’t mind.” She points with her elbow while her hands are busy.

“Yep.” He responds only to show he heard her. She had two bags pushed together in the bottom shelf behind a chair. With his back to her he bunches over one, unzipping and digging his hands through it to find no curling iron. But, what he had done was open the wrong bag and currently had a fistful of her black panties. He flinches, his eyes growing wide as he sees the lace and lack of fabric on some of them mixed among her tank tops and bralettes.

“You got in the wrong one there hun.” She calls out with laughter in her voice. “Get out of my panties ya perv.” She lightens the mistake by snapping a hair tie his way.

“But I’ve never seen panties so small! Where’s the rest of them?” He holds up a g string and has an almost convincing look of innocence on his face

“Well you clearly haven’t dated any fun girls.” She laughs and quirks an eyebrow at him. “Or watched any good porn.” She adds with a snort.

“And you have?” He says with an impressed look, panties now tucked away back in the bag as he opens the right one.

“Oh yeah.” She nods. “Well I mean I’ve not dated any girls but about the porn, a resounding yes.” She says with a smile that shows no embarrassment as she takes the curling iron from him.

“Most girls I know don’t.” He says introspectively, sitting with crossed legs like her in the floor, looking up at her perched on the bed.

“No. Most girls lie about it.” She states with a confident delivery.

“Really?” He asks with genuine curiosity.

“Yeah. I mean there’s such a stigma around women and liking sex, or having a sex drive at all. Lots of shame built in about it ya know? Especially compared to guys.”

“You don’t seem ashamed.” He says politely, but his tone was really an appreciation for the honesty she always brought to their conversations.

“Nah.” She frowns and shakes her head. “Never has much use for it. I mean, have you seen the way I dress?” She asks with a goofy crooked grin that he’s deemed his favorite of hers.
--------------------
As Declan pulls his large half tied boots over his distressed denim jeans, grunting as he finally gets his heel into the shoe he raises his nose and sniffs the air.

“Bella you’re gonna get suspended!” He calls out with a scolding voice. He hears a giggle in response that makes him grin and sigh.

“You’re such a square!” She says loudly before coughing and laughing. He walks around the back of the van, seeing her smoking the joint that they’d been so generously gifted. "Ya gonna be a narc or hit this with me?” She asks with a hand on her hip, other arm extended with its stack of turquoise bangle bracelets.

“Hey, fuck you buddy, I’m no narc.” He says with a puffed up and defensive attitude, playing along.

“Good. I don’t fuck with narcs.” She grins, a cocky of nod of her head following her words. “You gotta take pics of me ya human tripod.” She says with a feminine giggle that makes that same dopey smile appear unfiltered now from the floaty highness he was experiencing.

“I’m glad you are respecting the title.” He tells between coughs.” Ya finished with this ya stoner?”

“I am and I wanted to not be so uptight in the big crowds today. Plus being high and listening to music is just...” She lets out a sigh and a shrug, “the best.”

“Lemme go kill this.” He mumbles, smashing the cherry on the tire and moving to hide the roach in a tin of Altoids.

She’s already taking selfies in the sunlight when he returns. Big sunglasses with her mini space bun hair, a ripped and almost threadbare t-shirt tucked into the front of her cut off and frayed denim shorts. They had enough holes to match the shirt and he was getting a peek at some of the panties he had been wrist deep in earlier. Except not in the meaning he’d prefer to have at this juncture. He shakes his head and loses the thought, more time for that later.

“At least you’re wearing a whole shirt today.” He jokes. His own a look similar with its holes from wear and time.

“Had to give my skin a break. Didn’t want a bunch of sun two days in a row. Gotta go easy on the tattoos.” She explains. “Speaking of, did you need sunscreen?” She asks, beginning to ruffle through her bag.

“Nah. I don’t burn. Well...I mean I have before but it’s rare.”

“Must be nice to be the son of a sun god.” She says in a teasing tone.

“Nah. Just Cree.” He says proudly with a big smile.

“Well c’mon and take pictures of me Sunny.” She chuckles. “Then we can go get some food, I am starving.”

“Because of your peer pressure so am I.” He admits, rubbing his stomach and holding up the camera on them both.

“Not my fault you gave in. Didn’t you go to those assembly’s as a kid?” her body language is much more friendly today, her cheek next to his for photos, her hand on his stomach as she smiled.

“Must’ve missed that day.” He chuckles as he takes advantage of her clearly comfortable body language and pulls her in as she raises her leg over his hip and grabs him around his middle as he smooshes her face into his chest. It’d be one of his favorite pictures ever taken of them, him with a clear look of pride for having her affections, holding her close. And her with a big smile that showed what a goof she really was as she gave into the goofy nature of the face smooshing and raised her hand to act like she was honking one of his pecs. The following pic was one of her favs. It had his genuinely shocked face open with laughter and looking down at her, with her looking up with an open-mouthed laugh that wrinkled her nose. Since she was a kid, she had no pictures of her enjoying herself in such a way.

------------------------

They walk side by side with their mutual gates of swaying steps, hers with her hips and his with his shoulders. They make their way down the field to where it's populated, the spot they'd chosen was the farthest from the stages and it seemed no one else but the hippie's wanted to keep to themselves and that was fine with them. As soon as they hit the first row of parked RV's and trucks, tents and fellow van enthusiasts the smells of festivals past come and hit them both with a wave of nostalgia. Unfortunately, that wave also came with the B.O., old food, smoke and abused porta-potty smell that lingers with a crowded outdoor festival.

They move through the river of people, trickling in from the rows and into one main vein that led into the gate for the stages and food. As soon as it becomes crowded, Bella begins getting knocked around and bumped into. She noticed Declan was avoided and felt jealous of the power his height, look and sex gave him in a crowd like this. Luckily, she just sighs and comes up with a much less angry and much simpler plan to deal with this problem since she was still pleasantly high.

"Declan." she says and he turns back in a millisecond to answer her voice that he thought sounded as if it were a call for assistance.

"Yeah, what's up?" he asks, stopping and still not getting bumped into as she staggered next to him, still having sweaty bodies slide up against hers.

"You mind if I trail you? I mean, I don't know if you noticed but no one's knocking into you and I'm feeling like Mufasa in that stampede scene here." she says, a guy not paying attention knocks his arm into her shoulder without so much as an acknowledgment, proving her point.

"Oh shit. I didn't notice. Sorry babe. Yeah. What ya need? Wanna run red 42? I'll be the line backer?" he jokes, stepping closer and forming a protective bubble around her.

"I don't know what that means so jokes on you." she replies with a sassy shake of her head. "How about we just stay close?" she says holding out her hand. "You lead to the food and I'll be a lil baby duck and you be big daddy duck and I'll waddle behind you." she chuckles, taking his hand without so much as a flinch.

"C'mon then little fluff butt." he lets out that big dumb laugh she loves, a deep rhythmic pulse that shook his chest. She couldn't help but watch his pecs bounce.

He leads, her hand in his behind his back as she moves unscathed through the crowd. She'd be bringing him to every event that had crowds from now on she decided.

After standing forever, having a conversation about what outrageous thing they would be willing to eat with how hungry they were, they finally got to the booth they wanted.

"GBD." she says with a deepened masculine voice, raising her shirt and patting her stomach.

He snorts at the goofiness she's willing to exude in a public space and lets out a giggle. "What the fuck are you on about?" he asks, getting out his wallet.

"Golden. Brown. Delicious." she says with a face as if she were drooling. "I wish we had more hands. Then we could get like... everything." she says with wide eyes, her stomach audibly growling at the smell of fried food.

"I want a corn dog. Period. Everything else is second. I'm fuckin' dyin' for a corn dog." he says, now rubbing his stomach and shaking his head.

"Make it two. Then I want a mega cheese stick. Wait,no, get two foot long corn dogs!" she says with enthusiasm.

He wasn't sure but he felt what could be love surge through him for her words. "Whatever you want Bells." he says staring at her counting on her fingers and hypnotized by the menu.

"Two foot long corn dogs. A mega cheese stick. Oh a tater'nado! A deep fried snickers for dessert...WHAT SPAGHETTI?!" she says with a dropped jaw as he swoons openly.

"Spaghetti?" he asks, turning back to the menu.

"Spaghetti on a stick. Deep fried mozzarella with pepperoni stacked on a deep fried meatball in a fried nest of spaghetti noodles. Fuuuuuuuck." she says feeing the drool accumulate in her mouth. "That's the most insane thing I've ever heard. We need five." she laughs and turns her beaming face towards his.

"How about one?" he suggests.

"Deal." she nods. "I'm not unreasonable." she proclaims.

"Won't your ancestors like... roll over in their graves for this?" he jokes.

"Like yours did when you ate that "Indian Taco" yesterday?" she smirks.

"Point taken." he nods and purses his lips in acceptance of the burn.

"I hope mine RISE from their graves for this. It's Italian... It's American. It's a melting pot ya old fucks, get into it!" she says cheerfully with waving hands.

"You're a fuckin' nut." he says with a loud laugh that he bends to slightly.

"You have no idea." she laughs with him and touches his arm to shake her head and emphasize her point. "Now feed me before I start gnawing on these beefy arms of yours." she snorts and gives his bicep a squeeze.

------

They sit on one side of the bench with both hands full, already having finished the fried spaghetti and corn dogs and now sharing a cheese stick. The dessert still left to go.

"You got a little... well a lotta..." she laughs with a mouthful of fried bread and cheese as she chews and swallows, fingers picking strings of melted cheese out of his beard.

"Oh I got a little?" he says foolishly, acting like he's going to get it but keeps purposely missing the pieces.

"C'mere you child!" she laughs, grabbing the chunk and then pointing behind him, prompting him to look in that direction.

"What?" he says turning back to her chewing. "No." he says with a slow-growing smirk. "You did not."

"Did what?" she asks with faux innocence, her back hunched and her nose wrinkling with guilt.

"Did you just eat that?" he asks loudly and throws his head back into a loud laugh.

"Maybe?"

"You're so gross." he says in laughter.

"I mean... it's been claimed before." she shrugs and smiles widely.

"It's a statement, not a roast." he says for clarification.

"Roast? You got roast in there?" she asks, leaning forward and putting her fingers into his beard.

"Oh my God Bells, STOP!" he lets out a giggle, grabbing her wrists as he pushes her away. "Let a man eat!" he says putting one end of the string of curly potatoes into his mouth.

"No peace as long as a hungry Fiore's around," she says with a wag of her finger, looking to the basket on the table with the two final desserts's on a stick. She watches him chaw and look around, his mustache moving comically over the rapidly disappearing tater'nado. "Don't hog it all." she says, taking the other end and eating it.

"We gonna lady and the tramp this?" he asks without even thinking about it.

"You're the lady and I'm the tramp." she says with a mouthful and they both laugh.

"You're certainly not a lady so I would agree." he sass's back.

She stops sucking up the strand like a noodle and lets him have the rest. She moves sits up straight and burps. "I plead no contest." she says proudly.

"Oh yeah?" he says with a clear hint of challenge in his eyes. He sits up and belches out a noise that clearly is the louder of the two.

"Damn. I concede." she says. "That's a good one, dude." she says raising her hand for a high five that he gladly takes. "Now for the sweets." she says with a shimmy of her shoulders.

"Now this one is MINE." he clearly states, swiping away the deep fried cheesecake. "Since you didn't want one and went with a Snickers. Ya basic." he proclaims before shoving the end into his mouth.

"Since when do you know current slang?" she says with a judgey tone, picking up her choice of fried food.

"I know things!" he says defensively.

She gives him a side eye before biting into her treat.

"I do! Don't give me that look!" he chokes out with a mouthful of cheesecake.

"Fuck that smells good." she says looking longing at this mouth. "Can I have a bite?" she asks politely.

"I dunno. You made your choice." he says with an attitude-filled shake of his head.

"C'mon. We shared the other stuff." she whines. "You can have a bite of mine! It's good!" she offers, holding it out.

"Fine." he says handing over his stick. "But keep yours I'm not much for chocolate." he shrugs.

"WHAT?!" she says in a loud offended tone. "You can take me home RIGHT NOW!" she proclaims acting like she was going to stand.

"I don't hate choclate." he laughs and pulls her back down by her wrist. "It's just not my top pick is all. Plus I'm so fuckin' full." he groans and rubs his extended belly.

"I could eat more." she giggles.

"Well give that back before you do." he holds out his hand.

She shakes her head and licks it and grins.

"Bella...." he says with a warning.

"I like it better." she mutters.

"I told you!" he says shoving her knee.

"I think..." she says sneakily starting to stand and making it look like she was resituating her legs. "I'm gonna keep them both." she says with a calm delivery, slow to throw him off of her plan.

"No, you're-!" he starts. But before it's out of his mouth she's up and running away. "Fuck's sake." he says with a loud laugh, propelling himself off the bench and after her, holding both sticks in her hands and laughing like a child. What a different side to her this trip was bringing out. He has a brief moment of sadness, thinking that it would end soon. But it's quickly forgotten as his long legs catch up fast and grab her around the waist, picking her up off the ground and spinning her a few times as her feet kick out and she squealed like a thrilled child.

"Declan!" she shouts and lets her head fall back in a belly laugh.

Her wiggling and snorts of genuine laughter make his heart thump. Her hair falling into his face and her head on his shoulder as she was suspended helplessly as he shook her back and forth, both snacks still firmly gripped in both hands. He puts her down and they both pant from full stomachs and too much running, still laughing, his hands on his knees.

She watches his face light up. The warm tones of his skin practically glowing, his cheeks coming up and hiding his brown eyes under that masculine hard brow. His teeth too perfect looking for the rest of his rugged face shine with the wagging tongue in his mouth as he laughs with a broad smile. The not sober state she was in, the fullness in her belly translating to fullness in her heart catches her off guard. He was really... gorgeous. "You have like..." she begins, her mind floating in a haze of happiness and endorphins from food and fun. "The best laugh dude." she says softly, her light tone taking him by surprise as his eyes reappear, now wide and questioning as he sees her face set in a soft and honest pose. "Your face just... lights up." she offers with a closed mouth smile, one side higher than the other. "You laugh with your whole body." the smile breaks and shows her teeth. "It's really nice." her face looked almost like pity, but he knew it wasn't. He was scared to acknowledge that it really looked more like adoration.

"You're really sweet Bella." he says standing up and looking down at her with a smile that still beamed. "But don't think all those nice words are gonna get you out of this you little shit." he growls and grabs his cheesecake and gets her in a headlock.

"Noooo! Declan!" she whines and laughs, trying to get her snack to her mouth and failing.

"Punishment fits the crime." he says, proceeding to walk around with his arm around her head and her bent over and laughing.

"At least your deodorant smells good." she snorts.

"Flattery will NOT get you out of this one." he says with a firm nod. But really, she didn't want to get away from having her face pushed into what she'd described to Charlotte as his, beefy tiddies. She giggles at the thought and happily stomps alongside him until he deems the punishment over.
----------------------------

The sets ran late and long into the night since it was Friday, starting off the main stage performances. Bella kept her energy up well past the bedtime of the night before since she'd slept so well. She and Declan made their way through the dense crowds, their fingers in each others belt loops, holding the backs of shirts and holding hands to manage. Bella found it far easier to be at a show with a person that was about 5 inches taller than anyone else around him. He could see lines and empty spaces that others couldn't and she found the whole long day to be much less tiring with her own personal giant chauffer to guide her around.

But the dancing and walking, the shouting and singing all caught up to them both, unfortunately. Grabbing a hefty dose of carbs before the booths closed for the night, they took their bag of food and made their way back to the van with the moon and stars out and bright as the lights of the stages faded away.

They chat and catch up with Pat and Joe, having had spent the majority of the day at the craft and comedy tents. They compared their experiences and suggested bands to check out over the next two days. With a comedic sniffing of their own armpits, they laugh and say they need to find some industrial strength baby wipes to control the sweat they were dealing with from the day. Luckily for them, their new friends were always generous and offered them to use their shower in their RV. A chance they both lept at.

So with showers past, both their hair hanging much the same, damp and slightly wavy on their shoulders they're sitting hip to hip in bed, Bella holding a roach with a bobby pin and smoking with the windows cracked and a mini fan blowing out the evidence.

"This is a neat little trick." he comments, the bobby pin looking miniscule in his fingers.

"Thanks. Learned it while hanging out with bands after I graduated." she muses, a smile that held fond memories as he finds himself mirroring the expression.

She lets out a big yawn, a stretch that shows her soft stomach as it raises her shirt, the fried food, and overeating for the day shown in her pooch. "I dunno if it's the weed or if I really am just THAT tired." she says scratching her head. "That shower really took it out of me."

"Probably everything hitting us at once." he says with a slow nod, feeling his muscles powering down.

"All we're doing is talking anyway. Let's just get ready for bed." she says, pulling off her socks and balling them, tossing them at her bag.

"Sounds like a great idea to me. I'm beat." he groans, snuffing out the roach and hiding it away again. They leave the windows cracked, it let in a pleasant circulation of cool air. With their bodies so close the extra drop in temperature was barely noticed to Bella, but she was buried in blankets and not having at least one random limb uncovered at all times like Declan, due to his size.

He lays on his side, face weighing lazily on his hand. She lays on her back, knees bent and fingers messing with the edge of the blanket. There's a moment of silence as they switch off the lights, but it doesn't feel heavy or awkward. The wear they feel deep in their bodies from the busy day is apparent to them both as they lay on each other with no hesitation to the touch now. They had spent the majority of the day holding hands like a couple of kids on a field trip.

He hears another big yawn from her. "So tired." she says, smacking her lips.

"Big yawn for a little lady." he chuckles, that deep and relaxed sound that makes her close her eyes and hum with contentment.

"So nice to come back here where it's quiet after being around people all day." she says, her voice soft and quiet.

"Yeah it's like camping. I like it." he says, resting his head now on his pillow, propped up a bit above her with the height added from his arm.

"Maybe I would like camping if it's like this."

"You should come with me sometime." he offers.

"I should." she says without reluctance.

"We can even use this van." he offers.

"That'd be nice. It's nice to have this like... little bubble with you to come back to after a long day. Like a little escape from everybody else."

"Yeah." is all he responds at first, a smile on his face for her complimentary words. "It's a nice little bubble we've got here." he says before a yawn catches him.

"I like being here..." her words start to take longer to come out as she starts fading, trying to stay awake and talk like a teenager at a sleepover. "With you..." another pause as the smile still hasn't left his face. "Just so... comfortable." were her final words before she dozes off.

He chuckles and she doesn't even notice. Her mouth slightly open, one hand in her hair and the other on her stomach as her breathing moves to a deep and steady rhythm, he yawns again, wanting to stay in this bubble she was referring to. The moon came in just right so he could get a glimpse of her. He wishes he could get a picture of her like this, so peaceful. He'd just have to stare longer to burn it into his mind.

He couldn't recall the last time he'd had so much fun with a woman like they had today. She was bold and wild, never backing down from a taunt or challenge, and never losing gracefully. Which lucky for her, he found to be highly endearing. And it wasn't only because he got to comfort her after.

Another yawn comes over him, and he knows he's going to lose the fight against sleep soon too. He takes a big breath and makes a decision to bring her in for a cuddle like the night before. He lifts the covers, moving her arm gently down and cupping her back, pulling her towards him as he moved to his back. But unlike the closed-off body language of the night before, she lets out a small grunt and a tiny mewl that makes his breath catch at the delicate nature of it as she moves closer. With her eyes still closed, she slides up against his side, an arm thrown over his waist and her head on his chest near his shoulder. Her face nuzzles with a happy little sound from the back of her throat as he tries to control his heart rate at the sudden affection. She shimmies down and settles, his arm around her back and shoulders, making her feel safe. He gets to indulge once again, his face getting to rest in her hair that smelled like berries, his fingers pulling it away from her face, fingers lazily stroking the strands, still damp at the ends. He held her close, breathing her in, stroking her hair with one hand and the other resting on her arm across his chest. She had her full weight on him, a knee over his thigh, she wasn't being shy like that night before.

They both knew something was starting. She felt comfortable to be herself around someone, and a man of all things. He kept catching himself staring at her in small passing flashes of her showing total abandon to the moment she was living in. She wasn't the same woman she was when they'd first met months ago. They both knew that, and although he was more accepting of it than her, she wasn't denying the change that was happening in her when she was around him any longer. There was something besides a mutual appreciation there. Something more than friendship, but neither knew how to make the next step, afraid of what may happen after. So for now, it would be cuddles and taunts, and maybe she could work up the courage to move forward with the endless support that he was so willingly pouring into her.

Chapter Text

The next to last sunrise they’d see together in the van is wide awake and beaming over the festival. The sites around them beginning to shake off the sleep and whatever else they’d gotten into the night before. The parties after the shows had gone on well into the wee hours of the morning, but Bella nor Declan heard a peep.

She wakes up before he does to the sound of one of the hippies next door. The sound makes her ears twitch as she takes in a deep breath and lets her eyes open at their own lazy pace. She’s met with a close-up view of Declan’s beard, his face pressed against her forehead. She takes inventory of her limbs, arms held in close and protectively to her body, but her leg thrown over his hip completely. His tree trunk sized thighs rest between her legs, a long branch of an arm over her shoulder and back, and a still softly breathing mouth against her skin under a messy canopy of fluffy half-formed curls. He was warm, soft and hard in all the right places. The early spring giving way to him shedding his winter weight, but still not having completely melted away yet. The same could be said for her. But next to him, especially so close, his shoulders seeming twice the breadth of her own she couldn’t help but feel very small and dainty next to him, whether the size of her ass reflected that notion or not.

She was surprised at herself, almost proud really, at how she was letting someone else in, to literally and figuratively get so close. But Declan had certainly put in the work to get to this point. Lying so close to him now, her fingers being brave and venturing to reach out and touch his chest, the expanse of hair there as soft as the blankets that rubbed up against their skin. She tilts her head back, the tuft of his beard, longer on his chin and coming to a point tickles her nose as she brushes against it. He resettles without much interruption onto the pillow and she takes her time drinking in his sun-kissed skin in the morning light.

Even though his appearance was something she’d never denied was aesthetically pleasing, seeing him so close it was impossible to deny his charms. With his hard and intimidating brow now completely lax, a line of black lashes fanning across his scar that ran over his eye, just visible in the right light under his lashes, next to a trio of tiny moles. His natural face structure held no real softness, sturdy bones, and a strong pointed nose, everything coming to a V point to his hidden chin. But she knew all his softness lie within his dark and golden eyes. She’d never been able to meet them and not feel a bit of flush to her cheeks as the genuine emotion emoted from them always caught her off guard. His ability to be fully himself had wowed her and the honesty he gave her in spades only made her want to return it back to him. And she was trying.

She found herself pushing out of her comfort repeatedly for this man. And now, in his arms after this weekend together it was all starting to make sense as to why. Her sleepy half-lidded eyes look him over and sigh out a sound that meant so many things. Frustration mostly. Frustration for her own hang-ups, wondering why she couldn’t just let herself put herself out there so boldly. He was the kind of guy that even if he wasn’t interested in her in the same way, they could still be friends afterward. She felt this fact only making her consider him as a very serious option more. She licks her lips, watching his twitch as a small snort escapes them, making her smile and his nose twitch. How could he be so undeniably sexy and still be so cute? She wondered. Maybe after this trip, she’d tell him she was starting to have real feelings for him. Things she thought she wouldn’t feel again. And certain things that scared her. But having been alone for so long, she was having to relearn how to be with someone. Not just romantically, but in the intimate way friends grew close, the way you let your guard down around someone, let them see you not at your best. And she was proud for breaking through the physical touch barrier between them, as it was always a hard one. And doing this now, in a way that didn’t pressure her to make any decisions was helping her make them that much quicker.

She feels a tug in her chest, realizing the trip was almost over. Then she’d be back to being alone. And she really didn’t want to be anymore.

————-

“On an empty stomach huh?” Declan asks, pulling in his boots as Bella sat with crossed legs, knocking back a shot on the bed.

“Yep. It’s Saturday, the big one. Gonna hit everything hard today.” She gives another nod, fumbling around for a lighter. It’s also to help her forget the way the sun is hitting his dark golden hair, the way his smile made her stomach flutter far more than any alcohol did. But she didn’t think she should share that with the class just yet. Keep your cards to your chest, Bell, she tells herself. Let’s just drown out this incessant need growing in our loins and chest with booze and denial. It’d been working so far.

“Just… don’t get sick and have it ruin your day.” He says before sitting back on his hands, his long legs in his canvas pants stretched outside the van.

“You act like you’ve not seen me drink before Declan.” She answers with not totally unearned confidence.

“I’m acting this way BECAUSE I’ve seen you drink.” He says with a judgmental eyebrow raise.

“You ready?” She asks, ignoring his paternal worry.

“When you are.” He says, hands slapping to his knees before they smoke and wander back into the field.

———

With the booze, the physical contact becomes second nature between them. Holding hands, touching while speaking, picking at each other and Bella’s bad tipsy habit of smacking him when he was being his usual charming goofy self. This led to the bright idea of solving Bella’s usual challenges with his own height advantage.

“I can’t see shit.” She grumbles, sipping on a drink and pouting. “I said those other girls were stupid to wear those big platforms but I get it now.” She admits with a wide sweeping arm as she looks around at the sea of people.

Declan stands behind her with his hands on her shoulders, keeping track of her and not blocking her view himself. He looks around, seeing over everyone’s heads with his 6’4” advantage. He saw no places where he could get her up higher and breathes out noisily.

Bella feels the weight of his palms burn on her bare shoulders. Her white sleeveless shirt feeling the breeze through it the same as the heat from his hands. She takes another drink, eyes looking to see his over sized mitts engulfing her frame that was almost a foot shorter than his. His long fingers reach far down her chest innocently, but it makes her very aware of the lack of coverage she wears under her shirt. A raising of goosebumps across her bare legs that she knows isn’t from any wind chill brushes against her cut off denim shorts and fades into her boots. She takes a deep breath, gulping at the intrusive thought of just how big he was. She’d never met a guy so tall...so...large before. He was not only tall, but there wasn’t a bit of gangliness to him in his long, lean limbs. He was what she’d call stacked. Filled out and broad, a masculine body that looked like he could’ve been a Demigod if she was being honest with herself. And at this moment, with alcohol in her veins she was. With an exaggerated lick of her lips, head turned and so close to his fingers she just wanted in her mouth she has a much more appropriate idea.

“Declan?” She asks, head shooting up and looking at him.

“Mmm?” He answers still trying to figure out how to get her to see anything.

“How about I go up?” She says with raised brows before turning to face him.

“Up where?” He asks, giving her his full attention now.

“On you ya behemoth.” She gives a big friendly smile that he hopes isn’t just from the booze.

“We can do that.” He says with an accepting nod. “You’ll have to put your drink down though.”

She frowns but accepts his ultimatum. They manage with great success to her surprise to get her onto his shoulders. She tries not to grab ahold of his hair like a horses reigns and manages to feel secure, hunching over his head as those damned big hands of his rest so casually on her thick thighs.

“Ya okay up there drunky Brewster?” He asks with a laugh, head turning to speak to her, his lips entirely too close to her inner thighs for her body to not respond in an unwelcome way with the amount she’d drunk.

“I'm good.” She curtly answers.

“Ya being awful quiet now.”

“I’m trying not to fall to my certain death off your bigfoot sized body Declan.” She says in a sassy retort and he smirks.

“This bigfoot body is letting you see the stage right now, best not tempt it to sit you back down huh?” She bounces with his chuckles as the heat from his breath finally moves away from her quickly slickening skin. Sweat that was building for many different reasons gathers on her sturdy legs, his hands not staying in one place for too long and she wonders if he’s as aware of the position of their bodies as she is. She looks to the stage, only at the mentioning of it remembering the point of getting up on him in the first place.

————

As he moved around after the set was over, her still keeping her cool and being slightly soberer she learns to move with his body instead of fearing it. He casually slaps a beat on her thighs, even after she threatens to choke him out-and she could do it if she wanted!

“Declan.” A familiar whine in her voice he hears.

“Yeah?” He says with a drawn-out delivery.

“I gotta pee.” She states, looking at the line for porta potties in the distance.

“Alright, we’ll head that way. Don’t pee on me please.” He snickers.

“Ah man, you’re not into that? Totally misread you on that one.” She jokes and grins to herself.

“I’m into plenty of things but that is NOT one of them.” He fully laughs and shakes his head, his curls tickling her thighs and making her wonder about what those other things are that he IS into. Before she can manufacture a clever and coy question to get more out of him, he’s kneeling to let her down. “Here we are, Miss Daisy.” He grunts, her hopping off his shoulders like playing leapfrog as she stumbles only slightly, both pretending his head didn’t bump up against her ass on the landing. Not that he minded.

She stands with her lips in a tight line, surveying where the line ends. “Yeah...this isn’t gonna work.” She says with a wrinkle to her nose as she feels the effects of the alcohol building in her bladder.

“What do you mean?” He says with a side eye her way.

“I’m not gonna be able to wait that long.” She says slowly, eyes scanning out into the less crowded field.

“I don’t think you have much of a choice? Unless you wanna go full toddler and pee your pants.” He grins. “You’re not even drunk enough to get any pity from it.” He teases.

“I’ll figure it out.” She says with a determined nod, reaching out and grabbing his hand and leading him up and embankment. No one would be in the valley of these small rolling hills because you couldn’t see anything from them. So she sidesteps down a grassy bank and waddles up to a line of bushes. “Tada!” She says, hands out and presenting the shrubbery proudly. “I just need you to be my lookout.” She says her fingers already fiddling with her black western style belt.

“Lookout? You’re really gonna pee in a bush just this far from the toilets.”

She blinks, a flat look to her face and in her tone as if she didn’t understand the statement. “Yes.” She plainly states before moving into the now rustling greenery.

“Fucks sake.” He sighs and shakes his head.

“Don’t peek!” She says in a playful voice.

“Wasn’t gonna.” He says, standing and doing his assigned duty.

“So many pokey bits.” She mutters to herself and hears him laugh.

“Not used to getting so intimate with the great outdoors huh?” He muses.

“I’m not you! I can’t just whip it out and piss and be on my merry way!” She says defensively, now in a full squat and thankful she hadn’t worn a body suit.

 

“True. It is a perk to having a penis.” He chuckles to himself and nods.

“Gotta brush off the 'ol shake and drip dry technique.” She says as she tries to pull her shorts forward and keep her balance while also pushing away a rather cheeky branch. “Good thing I’m not a sprayer.”

“Bella.” He laughs loudly and closes his eyes at her endearing odd choice of oversharing.

“What?” He hears a giggle. “We’re like best friends now Declan. We can’t share these things with each other?” She says with her usual spirited defensiveness.

“Well... I’m not either then.” He informs her.

“See? That wasn’t too hard.”

“I don’t think out of the two of us you’re the one to be preaching about sharing things about yourself with people.”

“Straight for the fuckin' jugular D, DAMN.” She says as she hops out and finishes latching her belt.

“You started it.”

“Oh my, insulting AND childish?!” She says with two hands to her chest “My goodness Declan how are you still single?” She taunts and he rolls his eyes, giving her a smile that accepts her rib. She shoves his arm before taking it and heading back into the crowd.

—————-

The sun had set and the breeze was welcome against the sweat covered skin of everyone in the crowd. Declan takes the long way and waits in line to use the bathroom, at this point mostly to tease Bella as she’s peed twice now in a bush and already had three drinks since the last time. She was a bopping, cheerful little thing when he left her to meet up with her friend Joey.

“Ya already run off the big guy?” Joey grins, a matching boat drink in her hand to Bella’s. Two curly straws between glossed lips set in flirtatious smiles.

“Nah he’s in line for the bathroom.”

“Good. I’d like to look at that one again.” She smirks. “Or am I not allowed to?”

“It’s a free country supposedly so go for it.”

“Well, are you?”

“How could I not he’s huge?” She chuckles.

“You KNOW that’s not what I meant.” she side-eyes Bella.

“And I am choosing not to discuss it.” She retorts with a toss of her hair.

Joey gets closer and tips the drink up as Bella sips. “Need more alcohol in you girl. Loosen up some. Enjoy yourself. YOLO as the children say.” She laughs. “He fine. You fine. Get you a big boy that can handle all this ass.” She grins with her tongue stick out and bouncing one cheek of Bella’s admittedly big behind. “Show him some of those moves from class, he can handle it.”

“I know he could handle it.” She feels her face flush and she knew it wasn’t just from the alcohol.

“Girl look at you, you’re blushing like a grade schooler! You like him don't you?” She inquires with a tilted head and invading Bella’s personal space.

“Yeah I might and that’s why I’m hesitant to throw this at him.” She smirks.

“WHY? He seems nice. Got kind eyes.”

“Because I don’t LIKE people Joey.” She states obviously.

“You like me.” She says with an obvious tone, her hand to her chest.

“Yeah. You’re fun. And taught me how to split on a dick so…” they both start laughing.

“We’re gonna get you all nice and comfy. This sets gonna come up and it’s gonna be nice and moody and got a good beat and you’re gonna dance with him and-“

“He doesn’t dance.”

Joey blinks rapidly and stands up straight with her hands on her hips. “Won’t or can’t?”

“Says he doesn’t know how.”

“What a perfect situation. You CAN dance.”

“I mean, yeah.”

“Then teach that jolly green giant lookin' thing how to move that big ass around!” She laughs and playfully shoves Bella who knows she’s right.

“I’m gonna get another drink. A strong one. I need it.” Bella groans.

——

 

By the time Declan makes it back to the designated site on the edge of the crowd, the music between sets is going, playing popular songs he doesn’t know. He sees Bella and her mysterious friend with huge novelty cups that are around two feet tall and look like aliens. That would’ve been the most eye-catching thing if one of Bella’s favorite songs hadn’t been playing.

The two girls are being eyed and approached by guys from all sides, one by one circling and closing in. Much to Declan’s relief they both shoo them away or shout and flip them off if they find their intrusion in ill taste.

“We’ve been doing this one in class.” Joey days, both girls half bent and shaking their asses as it seemed the song called for.

“Hey biggums! Took you long enough!” Joey says seeing him approach.

“Hey. I see you two are doing fine without me.”

“Nah. More fun with you here I’m sure. Right Bella?”

“Yep.” She says with a wrinkled nose and a face that was drunk, but not wasted and most importantly happy.

“So this...class you teach?” He begins with a polite and hesitant tone.

“Uh huh.” Joey grins and Bella giggles as they both drop down low and laugh.

“Wouldn’t have anything to do with...this sorta thing would it?” he motions to them both dancing.

“It would! He’s so perceptive!” She laughs and turns to Bella.

“He actually is. It’s annoying.” She gives him a wink and a laugh as she shakes her hips in front of Joey who is now behind her and smacking her butt both entirely casual and sipping and drinks while doing so.

“Involves poles though.” She finally admits. “But there’s floor routines too. I mean I teach a few classes but Bella was in my pole dancing class.”

“You were in a pole dancing class?” He gives her a teasing look.

“Yes I was and it was fun and a GREAT workout and I was good at it. Thank you very much.” She says proudly, sipping at her drink, ass still wobbling as her free hand is on her knee.

“She’s not lying. She got rhythm for a white girl.” Joey laughs.

“I’ll take it!” Bella says with a nod.

“Tall thing like you would have an advantage of getting up high on the pole.” Joey says with an almost genuine tone.

“Bet you’d wear the shit out of some platform heels.” Bella retorts and they both laugh. “God, you’d be 8 feet tall!” She says shaking her head.

“I’m afraid I'd break an ankle.” He jokes back. “If I didn’t break a hip trying to do...THAT first.” He motions to the back to back twerking they were still doing, both unceremoniously moving in ways Declan hadn't seen anyone outside of music videos do before.

“Not everyone can do this.” Bella informs with a playful shake of her tail feathers his way. He was thankful for the comedic tone so it would offset the way he couldn’t look away from her thick thighs and round ass wobbling in her denim cut-offs. He wondered if she had those tiny little black panties on underneath for a moment before trying to get ahold of himself. It was like he was being hypnotized. “But everyone CAN dance I think.” She says finally standing and taking a deep breath followed by another long drink from the novelty cup. “And I’m gonna get you to before this trip is over.” She says with a determined grin and raising her glass his way, her hips swaying effortlessly as she walked towards him. “Gonna loosen you up yet D.” She laughs and gives his butt a joking slap that makes him jump at the unexpectedness of it.

“If you’re gonna hit me I guess I have to say yes don’t I?”

“Best just always agree with me. Just to be safe.” Her face is light and fun, a smile that reaches her eyes as she bites her tongue and slaps his ass again. Wanting to grab a handful and see exactly what he was working with. If the rest of his firm thick body was any indication, she’d like to see him bent over and trying to shake what she was sure was a juicy behind.

“Watch the hands Miss Bella, my goodness.” He says with faux innocence she laughs loudly at and gives him another pat. “What if I did that to you?” He says with high brows, looking down at her with a scolding expression.

She stops, puts a hand on her hip and takes a dramatic sip of her drink. “I guess you’d have to do it and just find out huh?” She challenges.In a lucky break for him, her cool and confident demeanor is broken by the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance. “Uh oh.” She mutters.

“That’s no good.” Joey says finally interrupting their little quip off.

“Nope.” Declan frowns.

“It’ll hit you first so let me know when it starts raining.” Bella teases and pats his shoulder.

Not long after clouds move over and they all sigh heavily. Most of the crowd isn’t phased but a few start clearing out. “Looks like it is.” She says, eyes squinting as he feels droplets on his face.

“Looks like this dance off turned into a wet t-shirt contest.” Joey laughs.

“More like a mud wrestling pit out here soon.” Bella remarks, looking at the crowd while Declan’s eyes pass over her thin white shirt that makes him look away and seem to be studying the crowd as he rubs his neck.

“You wanna find someplace to get some cover?” He asks.

“And miss an opportunity to get close to the stage when everyone clears out? Nah.” Bella says confidently.

“A true fan.” Joey praises and puts her hand to her chest.

“I’m not afraid of a little rain.” Bella proudly proclaims.

——

It’s been half an hour and the show was running that far behind, no one wanting to begin with the threat of storms. The lights on the stage were still bright and shifting in the darkness, both Declan and Bella now soaked, but closer to the stage. Joey had tapped out a while ago.

They continue their tipsy conversation, huddled with the other more dedicated fans. Bella stands with her arms crossed over her chest, but it was a poor tactic for covering her now transparent shirt. Declan was attempting to be a gentleman and not gawk. But he could see she had two nipple piercings now, little circles prominent under the soaked wet shirt and he admitted it was one of the more erotic things he’d ever seen in his life.

A final signal of the inevitable news to come, a loud and violent lightning strike hits close to the field and Bella lets out a sigh. With it, a large portion of the crowd starts to move, and she knows they should too.

“Alright.” She mumbles. “Can’t have you getting struck by lighting you big rod.” She says, taking his hand and nodding for him to follow her.

“Where we goin'?” He asks, her feet moving quick paced.

“Back to the van. They’ll cancel or postpone with lightning. It’s been going on too long now forn it to stop anytime soon.”

“Kay.” He happily agrees, already feeling cold from the rain.

Another bolt strikes and she jumps. “Hell.” She says looking up at the sky. The crowds around them now moving faster. She gives him a wide eyed glance.

“You wanna run?” He asks with a challenge fueled by a tiny streak of fear.

“Totally.” She agrees and takes off.

Both heaving by the time they make it back to the van, the light is on inside the RV next to theirs and they know the hippies have settled in as well.

Declan fumbles with the keys and gets the door open.

“We need to change. We’ll soak the bed.” Bella says loudly as the rain was now pouring.

“Get in there.” He says with a nod of his head. “You first just don’t leave me out here long please.”

She nods and moves fast, changing into the tank top and pajama short combo she’d been sporting for bedtime. “Get in biggin’!” She says while rolling the door open and shutting it behind him. “I’ll turn and dry my hair a bit and you can change, that cool?”

“Fine with me. Just don’t ogle my goodies.” He scolds.

“You take all the fun out of it.” She whines and another rumble and bolt carried on outside. She takes a small towel to her hair and gets the excess out, piling it on her head and braiding it to make it curl later.

Declan flips on the bed next to her.

“Want me to get your hair?” She asks before she turns, finding him in his low side cut shirt and loose, soft shorts.

“Would you? Shaking like a dog might get me slapped.” He grins.

“C’mere ya big pup.” She tells and leans over the bed to grab another towel. With him facing her now crossed legged on the bed he misbehaves and checks out her ass as she leans over, some cheek showing and a potential flash of a tattoo for a moment. “I’ll do your hair up to. We can be big curly babies together.” She declares, her hands working fast on the curtain of hair he’s flopped over, once again catching a glimpse of her shaking chest as she worked. Two very hard from the cold nipples and their matching piercings greet him at eye level as she moves. He wonders why he was torturing himself.

She had gone into a delightful lull from the alcohol. Having had some water, not just from the rain, and ate some snacks they settled into a night of listening to the rain pound away at the metal of the van. Even if they hadn’t been smoking and using the bottom opening windows to their advantage it would’ve been one of the most peaceful moments she’d known in a long time. With only the light of the string of twinkling bulbs around the bed, wanting to save energy with the solar power, they were nestled together in a glorious cocoon of comfort.

The storm had died down, the rain still heavy but the threat from the lightning long since passed, having not heard it in over an hour now. They sit and listen to the music they would’ve heard had the event not been postponed and a mood is set that neither mind. The dreamy tones of Tame Impala programmed from Bella’s phone, the vibration from the sound synced from the speakers of the van thuds through them. The orange glow of the end of a joint as they take drags that give an eerie radiance and cozy aesthetic.

Bella is fully relaxed, leaning back with half-lidded eyes against the wall and her pillows. The smoke from a slowly dying cherry wisping across her knuckles as she lets her mind wander. The admittedly sensual music choice sends her body somewhere else, the THC now fully working on her senses as she exhales softly, fingertips tingling and now acutely aware of how the fabric of her clothes rubbed against her skin. She felt good, her head tilted back against the wall, lips parted and eyes shut, chest at a steady rise and fall, her skin still tight from the cold of the rain earlier, her feet rubbing against each other as she lets out a noisy sigh at the feeling.

“You going to just keep that or do I get any more?” Declan asks the totally dazed looking Bella, knowing she was in her own little world, hesitant to pull her out of it.

“Oh shit.” she mumbles, handing it back to him. “I was totally gone.” she smiles softly, her head turned his way and watching him with a dreamy expression that wasn’t all from the high.

“Yeah I could tell.” his voice was judgemental but his face was amused.

“Yeah I’m…” she gives a big closed mouth smile. “Really high.” one single giggle escapes before she licks and bites her lips. He wondered if it was her or the weed that was making his chest flutter.

“Lemme catch up then.” he gives a nod before taking a long drag and holding, smoke escaping his nostrils like a dragon as he keeps in a cough. His attempt to look smooth fails as he lets out a big cough, bending forward and covering his mouth.

“Don’t gotta try to be cool for me.” Bella smiles softly, reaching out to rub his back. Her hand feels so warm against him, staying bent to keep her hands on him for a moment.

Once his breath is caught, he sits back up, but her hand remains, now light and slow on the nape of his neck, nails teasing into his hairline. He hits it a few more times, trying to lose the edge he felt for having her touch him so softly, and it slowly fades, everything melting into that warm and fuzzy goodness. With the lax mood, both now faded and indulgent, he lets out a deep grunt that makes her open her eyes and smile.

“That good?” she asks with a sweet, quiet voice.

“Mmmph.” he answers and doesn’t move, keeping his head hanging down.

“Here. Don’t wanna half ass a good scratch.” she tugs the hair tie out of his hair, still damp but now curly and loose as it fell past his shoulders. “You deserve some good rubbin’ anyway.” she softly admits, her mouth pouring out the words without a filter that she usually kept in place. Her fingers snake up the back of his head, rounded and substantial nails digging their way up to his scalp.

He’d blame the high after the fact, but the fact of the matter was that it just felt so damn good. “Fuck.” he groans, a giggle escaping from her and a flush across her cheeks from the suggestive nature and the honesty of the sound.

“Yeah I know, it’s good. No man is immune to it.” she chuckles, moving to sit up on her knees next to him, him still long-legged and bent as her hands get into the crown of his head.

“Ungf.” he grunts in agreement. He lets out a loud sigh, his head being gently moved and bobbed under her direction. This was better than sex he thought to himself. It was nostalgic, it felt amazing, and after feeling tense from being out all day, it was so nice to let go and surrender to the pleasure of it. She strokes it back, sleepy looking eyes and a soft smile he can’t see, growing jealousy of his hair as her fingers tingle at the feel of its softness.

“Your hair is gorgeous.” she let’s out, playing with it, feeling it slide between her fingers and under her palms.

“Thanks.” he grunts.

“It’s so soft.” she almost moans, fingertips moving past his scalp and onto his face, rubbing at his forehead and temples. “You’ve got a real lion’s mane going on.” she continues, playing and scratching, rubbing and tugging. “And it even smells good.” she confesses, the strands not even a foot from her face. “Don’t even have to style it I bet. Just wash it and go. You asshole.” she laughs, her face falling into his hair. He feels her breath over his skin and it prickles in response.

“Call me whatever you want as long as you keep doing this.” he gives a cheeky grin she can’t see. “Might put me to sleep though.”

“Too early to sleep.” she teases. “Lemme wake ya up.” She takes her nails and goes hard on him, all over and he lets out another groan.

“Fuckin’ ung, Bells…” he grunts and she sighs contently.

“Gonna make my ego blow up with those noises.”

“Blow it the fuck up.” he grumbles and she gives a bashful grin.

“You want more?” a small and gentle voice asks him.

“Yes. Please.” he says stretching either side of his neck.

“Here. Lemme get closer. Easier than you laying on me.” she says, moving and without any hesitation, he can feel her straddle his legs. His eyes flutter open at the contact, thighs thick, soft and warm on him, his hands freezing and being unsure of where to rest now. But she seemed self-assured and comfortable, hands getting right back to work and he doesn’t even have time to process the feeling before he’s moaning again. He can feel her laugh against him, a gentle shake. “This is the best angle. Hope you don’t mind.” is her way of making sure he doesn’t care.

“Told ya, don’t care if you keep this up.” he smirks and she sees it in the low light, his chin up, head back as his soft lips smile up at her, eyes shut and lashes long over the trio of freckles under his cheek.

“Ay ay.” she teases, watching his eyes flutter behind his lids. Even though she knew it wasn’t the weed to blame, she found herself staring. Her thumbs rubbed his temples, nails still raking across his scalp and making him goo under her hands. Even in the low light his skin was so golden, lips so pink and perfectly pouted. The part of her body that she was thinking with, which was not her brain told her to shove his face into her chest. To hold his head back and kiss that taunting mouth of his. She knew he’d taste like the fruit leather and wine they’d had earlier and she was tempted to give in. To let her nerve endings finally feel his friction against her.

She feels him tense as if he knows what she’s thinking, and for a moment she considers that he might as he shifts and grunts. She tilts her head in amusement of his wrinkled nose.

“Declan?” she whispers, leaning in close to his face. She sees a grin she’s been witness to before. She knows he’s up to no good behind that handsome face.

“What?” his lips turn up into a boyish smile. He keeps his eyes closed as she continues working away on his head.

Her eyes narrow, considering kissing him anyway until the source of the grin is revealed. She sneezes and sticks out her tongue. “Oh God Declan, you didn’t.” he snorts and dramatically gags, the unmistakable smell of a fart finding her nose as he starts to laugh.

“I mean…” he opens his eyes to find her covering her face. “You made me too relaxed!” he claims loudly, grabbing her wrists as she fights his grip.

“No, you are not gonna make me sit and smell it, Jesus christ.” she squeals and tries to escape, legs flying up in the air and rolling on her side as he grabs at her arms.

“It’s not THAT bad!” he cackles, she scrambles against the sheets, and he pounces, grabbing her waist, on his knees and dragging her back on the bed.

“NO!” she squeals and kicks, face lit up and eyes brimming with tears as she laughs and continues to loudly cough and gag. He lets her wiggle free as she plops into the floor. “Christ you are ROTTEN!” she shouts and opens the van door.

He grins broadly, recalling that’s what his mother always told him when he was little and did the same thing. “Oh you’re being dramatic!” he says playfully reaching and tugging at her shirt.

“No!” she giggles and gags, falling out of the van and into the grass.

“Oh my God you’re such a child.” he snorts, sitting on his knees in the floor of the van, watching her fake her own death as the rain came down outside, her squirming on the plush grass.

“It’s a VAN Declan! It’s a giant dutch oven!”

“Such a lightweight.” he rolls his eyes and smiles fully, beaming at her antics. She really was entertaining when she wanted to be.

“I’m much smaller than you.” she reminds him, now just laying on her back in the grass, feeling the rain plink onto her skin.

“That’s fair. Now get back in here.”

“Mmmm. Nah.” she grins, crossing her legs and putting her hands behind her head. “Feels good out here actually.”

“You’re gonna run out of clothes if you keep getting them all wet.” he chuckles.

“And? That’s my problem. Mind your business.” she taunts and takes a deep breath.

“So you’re gonna get sick? Just lay in the rain in the middle of the night?”

“That’s a myth.” she says with a dismissive hand.

“Well maybe I don’t wanna have to sleep with you if you’re freezing and soaked.” he retorts.

“Don’t make me call you a liar.” she teases and wrinkles her nose into a laugh, rolling to move to her knees.

“Oh hardy har har.” he says with a roll of his eyes.

“Maybe I don’t wanna sleep with YOU and your smelly ass.” she shouts and laughs, it shook her whole body which was quickly being distracting and visible under her soaked clothes, her hair half down from the struggle, pieces across her face and shoulders like arrows pointing to the impromptu wet t-shirt contest that was occurring in their square. She was too high and happy to care. So what if he got a peek at her great rack, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to ever happen.

“I can’t call you a liar because that’s entirely possible.” he grins.

“Then get out here with me. Air it out.” she laughs and stands, walking over to him with a happy bounce and outstretched hands.

“I just got dry!” he whines as she grabs his wrists, not budging him at all. She pouts, but it’s quickly changed to a hopeful and bright ecstatic expression as a song she likes comes over the speakers.

“Oh!” she chirps and skips to lunge and turn up the music. “You gotta now!” she rolls out smoothly back to her feet and takes his hands into hers. “It’s Michael Jackson ya gotta.” she begs and her feet start kicking out as ‘I Want you back’ revs up.

“Bella…” he groans.

“I said I was gonna teach you to dance and this is perfect!” she stands up and claps to the beat. “C’mon big boy.” she laughs, rain streaming off her hair as she does the feet work from the video.

“How do you even know this?”

“My mom and I used to dance to it.” she grins and he sees the contagious happiness on her face and gives in to a delighted squeal from her.

“Declannnn!” she claps and jumps taking his hands into hers “Follow my lead. Watch my feet.” she starts simple, in and out building up to a clap and a stomp. “Find the rhythm. That’s all you gotta do. That’s all it is.” she says with shut eyes, bringing her shoulders and hips into it.

“I don’t have hips like yours how am I supposed to…” he trails off.

“You’re selling yourself short babe!” she chuckles and shakes her head. “You got an ass you just gotta loosen up.” she says with a playful tone. “This is perfect.” The Guardians soundtrack slips into the rotation, ‘Come and Get Your Love’ beginning. “Loosen up, don’t worry about looking stupid at first. Just feel the swing in your hips.” She stands in a simple stance with her elbow bent and hips swinging back and forth. “Bend your knees, arch your back a little, now bring in your shoulders.” With her tongue stuck out in concentration, she watches him find the beat, taking his hands again and moving in sync as her face lights up and he can’t help but want to please her.

“I feel a little dumb.” he admits with a sheepish smile.

“You’re doing great. Stop worrying!” she lets go and shimmy’s her shoulders and bouncing her head and spins, doing little pelvic thrusts that make him laugh as he follows her lead. She applauds and nods in approval. The time passes so quickly, their hearts racing and faces lit up as they both forget the rain and enjoy themselves.
-----

“Look at them.” Patty says peeping out of the RV window.

“Well isn’t that just adorable.” he coos.

“Oh young love.” she sighs. “They’re so flippin’ cute I wanna die.” she laughs.

“Used to be able to move my hips like that.” Joe snickers.

“You still can when you get the brown liquor in your dear.” Patty teases. Joe comes up behind her and wraps his arms around her, giving her a kiss to the head. “I bet they’ll get together soon.”

“We makin’ bets now?” He grins.

“Sure.” she nods. “What odds are you taking?”

---
“Perfect!” Bella exclaims as she slides up to Declan’s chest and boldly puts his hands on her hips. “Need to cover slow dancing too.” she says with bright eyes. With the pina colada song playing, he couldn’t help but smile back, feeling his body lose the tension when it thought about touching her. He sees her eyes reflecting the moon that kept peeking through the clouds as the drizzle fell but didn’t dampen anything between them but their skin.

“I went to a school dance I know how to slow dance.” he jokes.

“That’s grade school shit, D.” she shakes her head with disapproval. “I’m talking grown-up slow dancing. This ain’t it.” she chuckles. “You’ve got the most basic…” she follows her own words. “Head to chest, holding hands and hand on the back. Baby stuff.” she chuckles. “You’ve got the real stuff. The stuff that’ll get the girls.” she giggles and put her back to his chest. “Never danced with a guy as tall as you though.” she admits, “So put your hands wherever they hit easiest.” she runs her hands over his on her stomach, “They’re so big.” she titters, in a totally relaxed and playful mood, not a naughty thought in her head yet from the closeness. She’d forgotten what it’d felt like to let your mind go and just have fun with someone, and Declan seemed to be able to bring it out in her.

But his thoughts weren’t as innocent. But how could they be? Her thin also sheer tank top, her wide hips swaying against his and now her hands holding his underneath that chest that clearly showed how cold she was. He gulps as the song fades, not wanting to lose this closeness. And thankfully for him, fate was working in his favor.

“This is like...a top five song for me.” she exclaims, a happy smile as she turns in his arms and takes his hands again.

“I actually know this one.” he says proudly and she gives him a bright smile that makes him swoon as she dances away and he mimics her, arms up and hips knocking side to side, then coming back together for her to wrinkle her nose in excitement and shake their chests together making her laugh. The moment makes him feel bold, he knows the chances of a perfect song coming on again are slim, her smile would fade and they’d go back to lessons, but this moment wasn’t that. He takes her by the waist to her surprise, pulling her flush against him, but her face only goes soft and smiles as he effortlessly keeps her hips in time with his. He spins her out, and back in as she laughs, her hair spinning out and slapping against her skin as she recognizes the warmth of his hands on her, how big those hands were, how small they made her look and feel. A lump grows in her throat, her heart racing and feeling a faintly familiar feeling in her gut she thought she’d lost the ability to feel.

They spin and he leans into her shoulder as her hand reaching up into his hair, blissful shy smiles on both their faces. With a stomach full of butterflies and eyes full of hesitant hope she looks up to him. He wasn’t Swayze, but she certainly felt like Baby with him holding her in his big arms, his hands looking delicate against the lean, flexing muscles. Eyes locked and his looking confident to her bashful ones. She curses the perfect timing, the romantic rain and the light voice of The Weeknd as her breath catches and he feels it. He knows she does do, the tingle across their skin, the goosebumps, and electricity as a song made for a movie about fucking plays from the speakers. Neither pull away, the moment is too ripe, too obvious now. Her fingers begin to slide to his jaw, lashes fluttering in the sudden mood shift, cursing to herself in her head about how good looking he was, how he was taking charge and making a move and she was putty in his arms. She felt alive, a shiver down her spine as he looks to her lips and she follows suit.

But the tingle they both felt was unfortunately not only from the sexual tension but a build up of static in the atmosphere. A sign Declan would’ve surely noticed from his time spent out in nature if he’d been in the mindset to notice. But no, his experience with nature nor women would save the moment now. A bolt of lightning hits in the trees near them. A deafening crack and roar and rumble. Both squeaking, her pulling his hair in her fright, as he squeezes her tight and they both fall into the van, breathless and wide-eyed, and not in the way they had intended.

With one arm still around her back, her legs splayed from being tossed into the floorboard, she was blocked from anything outside the angle by his massive form.

“Are...are we dead?” she asks and sees his eyes flutter before they look down at her.

“I don’t think so.” he says not entirely convinced.

“How would we know?” she asks with a muffled laugh.

“Good question.” he responds relaxing and letting his body flop back and lay against the shelves that held up the bed. “You alright? I didn’t hurt you?” he asks reaching out and pushing her hair back from her face before ruffling it once as she nods in response.

“I’m fine. Just still tingling from that.” she shivers and rubs her legs and bare arms.

From what exactly he wanted to ask. The moment they were just going to ignore or the lightning that almost made them both piss themselves.

“Shit. Now I’ve gotta get dry again.” she mumbles, wringing out her hair before throwing it up in a towel. She scoots to her bags, and groans. “And all my pajamas I’ve worn and are shoved in the laundry bag with the wet stuff.” she pouts like a child, eyes blinking quickly in thought.

“I mean, I’ve got stuff.” he offers with a shrug.

“One of your shirts would be a dress on me.” she gives a small supportive smile. “Here.” she tosses him a towel.”Get changed and I’ll take your scraps.” she grins, moving another towel on the bed to sit on.

“Better put one over your head too. I don’t trust you not to peek.” he teases.

“I’m a man of my word. No peeking.” she shuts her eyes and covers them.

A quick and slick slide out of his clothes, wondering if she was looking since he was butt ass naked and drying off every part of him since the rain did soak him through to what felt like his bones. “‘Kay.” he gives a nod, hands on his knees as he looks her way. “I don’t know how to wrap my hair like that.” he shrugs.

“Here, I’ll show you.” she offers up with no hesitation. She takes hers off, shows him the flip and twist.

“I like this. It’s a good look.” he says fussing with imaginary locks of hair as he flutters his lashes.

“It is.” she nods and adjusts his on his head. “Got anything for me?”

“How about a hoodie? It’ll be cold with getting all wet. It might rain all night so it’s not like you’ll get too hot with this weather.”

“Accepted.” she nods and picks up the item in question he was pointing to. He politely does as she did and covers his eyes. “I might get too hot with you in there though. You’re really warm, dude.” she says with a subtle smile, in this state she didn’t care if he looked. She would’ve preferred it almost because she wasn’t shy about such things. She stared at his hands, and he had to react to her shaking her chest at him so she knew he was behaving. What a shame. Guess that means she had to behave too.

 

The night goes on without much fuss or awkwardness. Turns out Declan was right about it getting colder. With freshly braided hair they snuggled in under covers, her bare legs, only panties under the hoodie that went down her thighs, her cold feet in their knee-high socks rubbing against his as she shivered involuntarily. He rubs her arms, and she melts into the soft fabric, the smell of him surrounding her even more now, the cuffs up by her face and inhaling as he curled around her. They both minded their business. The nature of that business now, neither was sure. They only knew they liked being close. Cuddling like this, dancing, holding hands. Maybe right now wasn’t the time to admit it or explore where it could go, maybe this strange getaway was making them both forget the repercussions of such things in the real world. But they did know, even Bella, that being together like this felt right.

Chapter Text

gwiab12

The last day at the festival went by without much fuss. The same drinks and junk food, the same burp contests and looking out while the other peed in places they weren’t supposed to. It had the same closeness they both were hoping wouldn’t go away after they went home. They held hands, he carried her on his shoulders, both shoving and picking and teasing all day, sober and not. She even got him to dance a little with her and Joey, who applauded his weak attempts at twerking even though Bella told him it would take some work.

The stage schedules are out of whack, the changes going up on twitter and being adjusted, the word of mouth different from all the other things they’d heard and it became frustrating in the muggy and muddy fields. Finally, it's announced the skipped headliner goes on before tonight's, which meant for a long evening. And boy was it.

At a little after two in the morning, Bella feels energized, a second or was it third or fourth, as they went back to the van. “You wanna stay the night again and fight the crowds in the morning or you wanna head out now? I can drive for a bit if you need to sleep.” she offers with bright eyes that he was finding it difficult to say no to.

“You sure? You’re not gonna get on the road and I’m gonna have to slap you to keep you awake?” he retorts with a deep swing of his voice and a chiding face.

“You wouldn’t.” she chuckles, taking her hair down out of it’s braided up-do to something more relaxed.

“Well I wouldn’t WANT to, put it that way.” he laughs.

“We’ll load up at a gas station, coffee and sugar and we’ll be set. Some good music will keep up awake. Just four hours and we get to crash HARD.” she enthuses with bent posture to draw out the word and prove her point as to how good it would feel to do exactly that.

“Fine. Energy drinks and sour worms all around.” he proclaims with a whip of his hand in the air.

“That’s my boy!” she says cheerfully, patting his sides and bouncing into the van.

The ride is long, and the sun is coming up as they cross over the state line, dawn, a new light starting to creep across everything as they pull up to Bella’s house. Declan drives the last part and for the sake of solidarity, Bella stays awake and sings raspily to songs and eats candy, feeding him the occasion piece when he’d open his mouth like a fish and grunt. She didn’t even hate that she found it entirely adorable, and when his lips touched her fingertips, sleep was the last thing from her mind.

“So you want me to bring your stuff by later or…” he asks, rubbing a hand through his hair as he parks the van.

“Nah. Just bring it in with yours.” she answers, reaching for the door handle.

“Huh?” he asks with a quick twist of his head.

“Bring what you’d need in the house with you.” she states as if it’s obvious.

“Why?” he asks, mind fogged a bit from lack of sleep.

“You can stay with me and leave whenever we crawl out of bed tomorrow.” her delivery is entirely casual and his eyes narrow at her. “I don’t want you driving alone, you can even wash your clothes if you want. But you said you had extra so…” she shrugs. ”We can take a good long shower too.” she speaks slowly with a dopey grin, looking forward to it the most.

“Together?” he blurts out, his nose wrinkling only slightly in an attempt to keep his delivery from coming out loud and sudden like a donkey haw.

Her cheeks flush, her jaw going tight. “I didn’t uh, mean that.” she huffs nervously.

“I’m just teasing.” he gives her a friendly smile. Great cover Declan.

“Oh.” she nods and laughs nervously again.

“I can just head home, I don’t wanna bother you any more than I have. It’d be better than the couch anyway.” he shrugs, trying to remain polite.

“If you’re over at my house you’re not sleeping on the couch anymore ya dingus.” she smiles, opening the door. “We’ll share the bed, it’s big, don’t worry.” she says with a playful bounce, getting out the van. “I’m not taking no for an answer Declan.” she gives him a playful scolding look and shuts the door behind her.

They’re greeted by a very vocal Robbie who is airing his grievances to being left without Bella.

“Lil man is pissed at you Bells.” Declan snorts.

“He has the right to be. C’mere my big baby boy.” she coos and drops all her things in the middle of the hall and picks him up to cuddle and kiss him. Declan never thought he’d see the day she’d be so soft with something. Maybe staying with her was a good idea. It could be the sleep deprivation telling him that, but he really didn’t care as he watched her move lightly around her space. She looked relaxed, happy and at ease, not something he was used to. He had wondered if her newly seen bouncy and enthusiastic nature existed outside of the festival, and apparently it had all along, he’d just had to find it.

With Robbie on her shoulders, enthusiastically talking back and she told him about the trip in little snippets, Declan grinned to himself, that heavy feeling creeping over him at the cool air of her home, the light music in the background, the soft couch underneath him as she walked back and forth and did laundry, getting everything ready for them to sleep.

“Bring your stuff in and get cozy while I shower.” she motions for him to follow her into the bedroom for longer than a few minutes, he was looking forward to getting to look at everything. “Robbie might get upset if I leave him with you, so I’ll have the door cracked, he’ll prob come and go but don’t worry about him too much.

“You seem like an independent little fella, I don’t think you’ll be much trouble.”

He mrow’s as she plops him into Declan's lap and he investigates him closely. As Bella turns to shut the door to, she sees them with their noses together and almost ‘aw’s’ at the sight. They say if your cat approves of someone, they’re a good bet. And she was starting to believe it. With Declan's big welcome hands, Robbie doesn’t budge from his lap as they chatter on about the trip, Declan’s muffled baby voice being heard from beyond the heavenly dull sound of the water hitting her skin. With her fingers digging into her scalp, the welcome smell of her shampoo wafting around her, steam filling up the glass and tile box, her body starts to relax, her mind starts to realize it’s home and everything begins to decompress, she lets out a groan, taking a deep breath and letting the water run over her. A simple drag of her hands over her breasts is enough to spark the thought in her mind. The previous thoughts of Declan’s big hands, even if they were being imaging just petting Robbie, she easily imagined it was another cat of hers those tattooed and seemingly nimble fingers was petting. She realized this might be the longest she’s gone without masturbating since...since she started? She bites her lips and considering waiting another night, but hearing his warm laugh come through the small crack in the door is enough to make her body react and she gives in.

A simple fantasy while her fingers work between her legs and she leans against the tile of the wall. Him coming in, catching her and not being able to resist. Getting to yank his clothes off and feel him wet and hard under her hands, lips hard against her skin and no reason to hold back the deep moans from his delectable throat. She wanted him, she beckoned him in to catch her as she rose closer to a fast finish, biting her lip to muffle the sounds, hand fast on her breast, fingers tweaking away at reddened peaks and fingers slick between her thick folds her eyes roll back and she finishes imagining him holding her up and fucking her against the shower wall. The vision slowly fades as her heart rate slows, and she feels like she’s a ton lighter. She hadn’t realized how badly she’d repressing that need. She was suddenly very proud of herself for not giving in on the trip.

As she exits, freshly shaven and scrubbed she facepalms as she realizes she didn’t bring her clothes in. Not being used to having someone around led her to forget that she couldn’t air dry on her way to the dresser. This was going to be painful no matter how she rolled it. Say nothing, walk out confident like she meant to do it, or be apologetic and scurry about saying, oh I forgot my clothes, sorry-sorry. It’s not like he’d be upset, he probably wouldn’t even care, so she goes for the first option.

 

With just a towel and now damp hair with the amount of time it took for her to make herself leave the bathroom in the state she was in, she makes her debut with her modest coverings. It wasn’t racy by any means, but seeing someone wet in a towel led to thoughts no matter the situation.

With a strong posture and a face set soft and friendly, she walks out with bare feet onto the hardwood floor. It doesn’t even take a second for his eyes to move up to meet her emerging form.

“Towels are in closet.” She smiles as he rises, not speaking. She thinks making eye contact might make it worse, or should she act like nothings weird.

He looks at her and feels a lump grow in his throat. He’s seen her in less on the trip why was this coming off so...erotic. Maybe it was because with one swoop he could move in and she’d be naked against him.

“I think I left you some hot water.” She jokes, a forward nod of her head. A clear sign to stop staring and get moving he thinks, clearing his throat and lowering his gaze.

“I’ll uh, be fine.” He says with a raspberry of his lips and goes to touch the door and misses. It cued a small soft chuckle from her that makes a lump grow somewhere else besides his throat.

“Still got it.” She mutters to herself and grins proudly as she shoots finger guns at her reflection before starting the process of choosing what to wear.

Inside the bathroom Declan was quick to turn on the water, leaning against the sinks counter and looking at the ground and exhaling noisily. What was it about being back home that made her seem more attractive to him? Was it that he promised he wouldn’t sleep with her on the trip and technically the trip was over? Was the comfort that settled into his muscles while she showered that made him more vulnerable? He didn’t know but he knew he had to get rid of this half hard intrusion between his legs. He tries to calm down first, hands in his hair, scrub the filth away he muses. But everything smelled like her, his hands on him reminded him that he wanted her to touch him, hands gliding over lean muscle he worked hard for. Knowing she’d been naked right where he was just moments ago, the air still warm, the loofa still sudsy. He looks down at his twitching cock and sighs. He’d done worse things in this bathroom before so might as well add jerking off to the list.

It didn’t take him long either, picturing her with droplets running down her pierced tits, getting soapy hands on her pert and weighted tits and that ass that had haunted him the entire night before. Those little panties, just under the hem of his hoodie. HIS hoodie over her, like she was his, like he had marked his territory and claimed that strong and curvy body underneath. A solid stomach with a touch of softness before the swell of soft lips and thick thighs. His mind pictures her rolling over in her sleep, in putting his hands under her shirt, down that black thong he’d seen and feeling her pant against him. His hand quickly became hers around his now throbbing cock, the leaking going unnoticed as the water ran down his chest to his stomach that had just a small amount of winter weight left on it. A thick fuzz from his chest to his thighs, dark and dense around an uncut cock that was close to giving in as it ached and reddened. His large hands didn’t swallow himself up in one go, his size able to compare to the rest of him. As soon as he imagines her moaning his name, feeling her hot and tight and wet around his fingers as she whimpers that she’s coming, his body takes the cue. Heavy balls pumping out a backed up release of wet dreams from his good behavior the past week. He could feel it deep in his stomach, clenching his jaw as it came out, shooting against the wall and to the floor in thick spurts. With the proof of how withdrawn he’d been now washing down the drain, he shakes his head and rubs his face hard, letting out a noise of frustration to clear his head. He still had to go back to bed with her and his cock twitches at the thought.

“Fuckin...down boy.” He angrily whispers and pushes it down, shaking his legs as he gets out of the shower. “Behave.” He grunts out.

Bella decided on a simple tank dress. Not too long or short, not trying too hard. Unlike her nipples which were practically screaming look at me in the thin material against the chilly air of the room. She sits under her covers, eating one of the burritos she’d heated up for them that he was so fond of.

He emerges shirtless. Although she deserves that. She gulps and pats the bed next to her, his thin sheets hanging from a torso that made her pelvic floor wanna snap her in two. A thick and untamed happy trail disappeared under loose pants, rounding over a perfect swell of belly that lead her eyes to two heavy and strong pecs that flex as he rubbed his hair with a towel, giving her time to ogle.

She shakes her head and tries to put on her good girl face as he raises his to meet hers. A tiny bit of cleavage and a covered lower half with her blankets makes it not impossible for him to act like he had a brain.

She pats the bed next to her. “Beer and burrito on the nightstand.” She announces proudly.

“God, you’re a saint.” He moans, his stomach rumbling.

“Nah. Just a fellow eater.” She smiles as she chews a mouthful of food.

A quick bite and a wash down of their favorite drinks makes for two exhausted and happy babies. “I don’t know the last time I was so tired.” She says snuggling down as he does the same between clean and soft sheets.

“Yeah tell me about it.” He yawns and stretches, leaving his legs splayed and arms up above his head and bent, looking like a meal laid out before her.

“Just cause we’re not forced to now, doesn’t me we can’t-?” She begins, eyes looking uncertain as they look over to him.

He simply reaches over and rolls to his side, grabbing her hip and pulling her to him. Her face is more than pleased, wanting to know it was okay to keep this up now. It was a hopeful start she thought. Also miraculous she still wanted to be close to him after being this long. She would’ve murdered Charlotte by now. But all she wanted was more of Declan. It was new...and it was nice. Only mildly terrifying but...still nice.

“Good.” She mumbles out between pooched lips as she snuggled into his chest.

“You set an alarm?” He asks.

“Nope. I say we sleep to whenever the fuck we want.” Her hand moves to wrap around his body, a rather bold move, not keeping her hands tucked against her own. It doesn’t go unnoticed by him, smiling as the warmth from her seemingly small hands against his skin.

“You’ve got the best ideas.” He mutters with a smile into her hair.

She nods in response and he feels it. His hands feeling bold to return with a new gesture of their own, reaching around her and waiting against her lower back, above the swell of her butt that wiggled as she got closer to him. “Night Declan.” A little voice much softer and breathier than before escapes her.

He grunts, kissing her hair and putting his arm underneath her. “Night babe.” He gives her, casual enough for him, but not her name like he had before.

She feels the warmth of domesticity flood her body. A catch in her chest she tries to hide. Was this what it was like to be with someone? This little slice of heaven she got to taste before buying into the whole deal? It’d been so long since she’d...had she ever slept with a man like this? With someone she liked, cared about, that dare she think felt the same about her. Her hand moves nervously, but she’s feeling warm and soft in his arms, the light blocking curtains and the lamps off, leave them in a suspended night that makes their emotions want to come out and play. Her fingers trace up and down his spine, a lazy back and forth that it only takes a minute for him to know isn’t accidental.

He grunts and resituates.

“Is that-?”

“S’good.” He mumbles out as she sees his lashes fan over his cheeks and the lovely trio of freckles on his cheek. His shapely lips blub out and she smiles, chin to his chest to look up at him. She smiles and sighs. “Keep goin’.” He follows up and she does so gladly. He returns the affection with a gentle rub of his thumb to her bare skin between her shoulder blades. Both fall asleep fast, and there wasn’t much to dream about seeing as that line that had been haunting them about crossing had finally been pushed. They didn’t really want to be anywhere else besides exactly where they were.

————

 

Bella was proud at how little she stalled Declan in leaving the next morning. It was hard not to pull him into a kiss to keep his warmth next to her all day. She woke in his arms and that’s where she’d wanted to stay. After he'd gotten up, all his noises throaty and rumbling from a deep sleep, his hair wild and curled naturally and looking like some magnificent lion hybrid she didn’t sense the feeling of wanting to be close to him fading. It looked like it was here to stay. But herein lay the problem. Bella wasn’t known for being the best at articulating her feelings. In fact, she was usually shit at it. Especially when they were romantic. After a young love gone terribly wrong it was hard to trust again, and when she thought herself able to move on, there was no one to be had that really lit anything within her. She’d been floating, loving her life alone and content with fulfilling her own wants and desires until the day she walked into that bar. She lay with huge sleep-tousled hair, leaving a lovely impression of sex hair on Declan as he emerged from the bathroom to find her barely sitting up and still rubbing her eyes. She was even cute in the morning. Oh man he had it bad didn’t he?

She made him breakfast, or a late lunch really at this time of day. She fueled him up, gave him his clean laundry and sent him on his way. With a chaste but affectionate hug and kiss to the head from him, he left looking well rested and happy. What more could she really want? A lot apparently her inner monologue was telling her. She noticed how quiet it was, how she had no one to tell the dumb things that popped into her head before she forgot them. No one and no reason to hold hands with and be close to. She finds herself looking at her phone in her hand as she plops onto the couch with a heavy sigh.

“Mrow?” Robbie asks, his little feet pressing into her stomach.

“I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” She grumbles and starches his chin.

He chirps and his tail swishes.

“I’m just...I feel off now. Like I forgot how to be alone.”

“Mmrrrlll.” He retorts and pushes into her mouth with his funny little mushed face.

“Sorry, I meant with another human.” She chuckles and scratches his favorite spot just above his tail. “Is it too soon to text him?” She asks, biting her lip. “Fucks sake.” She rolls her eyes. “Is it too soon?” She mocks herself in a high pitched voice. “Who the fuck am I? I don’t worry about dumb shit like that.” She groans. But with the work she’d put in before leaving, she didn’t have much else to do at home now. “Fuck it Robs.” She announces, throwing her hands up. “I’m gonna text him.” She says and puts her thumbs to the screen.

“Feels really weird without you bein connected to my hip now, I’ll be honest.” She types and considers it. Harmless and honest. Send.

Declan is back at work, his bags thrown back into his apartment as he’s faced with a VERY curious Mike who keeps judging him with his elbow.

“Soooo…” He keeps asking like he’ll get a new answer.

“What do you want dude? Nothing happened.” Declan claims again.

“And you’re a terrible liar.”

“Psh. That’s not true.”

“Well, maybe not but ya can’t hide things from me boyo.” He says with a wag of his finger.

“I’m not hiding. I’m not even wearing sleeves where do I have to hide?” He laughs and raises his arms.

“Behind that humor for starters eh?”

“Oh fuck you.” Declan groans and Mike laughs.

“Somethings different,” Mike claims again. “Besides you smellin' like a pretty lady.”

“I showered at her place.”

“Uh huh.” He says accusingly.

 

“Because we were gross from camping out for a week! Jesus.” He rolls his eyes.

“It’s in the eyes Declan.”

“It’s in the eyes, something different.” Declan mocks in a bad Irish accent. “Sound like my mom when I came home from Joe's party when we were kids.”

“Well if I recall you did pop your cherry at that party.” Mike laughs. “Mother’s...they know.”

“Oh yeah, I lost my virginity at the festival. Is that it?” He side eyes and smirks.

“Can’t lose it more than once big guy. Maybe she lost hers though eh?” He chuckles.

“Yeah... I don’t think she’s a virgin.” He snorts softly.

“There we are! Why do you think that? How would ya know? She tells every other guy but you to go fuck themselves.” Mike elaborates with a cheerful grin.

“She’s just...not.” Declan mumbles.

“Because she’s sexy, Mike. Ugh dude, I saw her and I just, I just knew man.” Mike mocks him and gets a punch to the arm.

“Shut up.” is Declan’s only come back.

“Mmmm interesting.” Mike nods.

“I saw her dance and...saw her not sober. She wasn’t shy like she... didn’t know what she was doin’.” He says quietly out of the side of his mouth.

“Well that’s...somethin’. That’s good, yeah?” He offers. “So not even a kiss then?”

“Nope.” He says, withholding the almost kiss Mother Nature herself cut short.

Then a buzz on his phone. He and Mike both look at it and Mike gives him a huge grin. “$5 It’s her.” Mike holds out his hand.

“But what if I want it to be? Why would I take that bet?”

“And he finally admits it!”

“I never denied it!” He says loudly reaching for his phone and posting up against the back of the bar.

“And the verdict?”

“You would’ve gotten 5 bucks.” He says with a smile that wasn’t meant for Mike.

“Oh look at him. That boyish smile. He’s got it bad, he does.” Mike continues wiping down the bar as Declan flips him off only for a second before responding.

 

“I was thinking the same thing babe.” He grins to himself. Mike notices but just thinks it’s rather adorable now. Declan was never good at hiding his emotions.

“Is this what Siamese twins feel like after they're separated?” Bella sends in response and he feels a flutter in his stomach. She could be sweet, you just had to know how to translate.

“I don’t think we were quite that close lol.”

“Speak for yourself. How do you explain this massive scar on my hip?” he snorts at her response.

“Oh yeah, I stole your kidneys. Should’ve mentioned that.”

“I knew it. Using me for my organs. How'd I let this happen again?”

“Again?!” He laughs out loud and Mike rolls his eyes.

———-

The next day while Bella’s back at work she’s shuffling around her office. She felt like a change, rearranging her shelves contents, putting together a new chair she’d ordered from IKEA, she had her music on and her door open as she mulled around.

This went unnoticed by no one in the office. Bella didn’t leave her door open and she didn’t listen to music without headphones. She came in and even said hello to the girls that morning. They were all dying to know what happened while she was away, but knew better than to ask. So it was left to the one that could, CeeCee.

“So…” She begins, hip presses against the doorframe of Bella’s office. “Trip go well?”

“Yeah it was good. Great line up this year.” Bella nods.

“Am I supposed to ignore the fact that you’re listening to Sam Cooke?” She smirks.

“What? He’s only a timeless genius.” She stops and leans on her desk.

“There are usually implications involved when this sort of music is listened to.” she insinuates with narrowed eyes, taking a noisy sip of her coffee.

“There is nothing different now than it was when I left.” is the cryptic answer she gives.

“Mmm.” She nods, tucking her strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. “Who’d you end up taking anyway?”

Bella doesn’t miss a beat. “You don’t know them.”

“Try me.” CeeCee challenges with a nod.

“I’d rather not.” Bella shoots a more playful warning glance her way. Then he phones buzzes again at her black patent desk.

“Seems you forgot some stuff in the van. I can give it to you when you come by the bar but it’s a little...it’s panties. lol”

“I’ve got to take this,” Bella says with busy thumbs that makes her friend roll her eyes and stroll away. “Why are you stealing my panties Declan? Seems beneath you.”

“Thank you for thinking it is. lol But they we’re in one of my laundry bags by accident.”

“Good to know... I can pick them up after work. No big. Just don’t wave them around or put them up the flagpole or something.” She kids, a smirk on her lips.

“Whoops.”

She puffs at his reply. “Rude.”

“I thought you liked Salute Your Shorts?”

“I did, good pull, but that’s a bit too literally for my taste.”

“You were singing the theme when you were drunk because we walked by a pair of boxers on a pole. How could I forget?”

“I’m glad I can then. lol I can’t stay tonight, have lots of mixing to do this week and I need quiet and no distractions. But I can pop in. That work?”

“That works.” He signs off with a nod. He wanted her to stay, get a feel of what she was thinking but he admired how she worked and that wouldn’t stop now. Besides, he knew Mike would be analyzing her every move.

——

 

He supposes he just hadn’t known what to expect when she walked through the doors. After seeing her in such wild outfits over the festival maybe he expected her to be the same now. But she bounced in, a t-shirt dress with a v neck that he could tell was soft before he even touched it. Hugging her body just right, her feet adorning black vans with the green camo print of the dress looked entirely charming to him.

Mikes eyes were glued to them both as he pretended to be busy.

“Hey babe.” Declan practically sighs out, meeting her at the edge of the bar and wrapping his big arms around her tightly.

“Hey.” A soft matched sigh of affection to match his escapes her. She inhales him, missing the way he smelled, missing having him around, the masculine touch he added to a space or conversation just by being there. Their eyes shut for a moment of indulgence. Hands on backs gently rubbing back and forth before slowly parting, palms flat against each other’s bodies as they pulled apart hesitantly.

“I’ve got your stuff, c’mon back.” He says with a nod. She gives him a quick one back and can almost hear the assumptions of the men in the bar looking her up and down. They’d be half right, but she hadn’t left anything with him for the reasons they were thinking. “I hid them in one of my shirts so they weren’t just...layin' around.” He offers it to her with a soft huff of a laugh.

“Thanks. I appreciate it.” She finds her words short, hands passing over the others intently with a slow drag as the skin to skin was already missed by them both. She could’ve just put the underwear in her bag, it’s why she’d brought it in. But the chance to take one of his shirts home with her? She’d never pass up the chance. “Be a little brow-raising to just leave with a fistful of panties huh?” She grins.

“A little.” He smiles as her almost bashful behavior as she tucks her hair behind her ear and holds the shirt to her chest. “You sure you can’t stay?” He offers, rubbing the back of his neck as he looks down at her with a plea in his eyes.

It was hard to turn down those deep hazel puppy dog eyes. But she had to. “Yeah, unfortunately. Trust me,” she offers with a hand to his arm. “I want to I just have work to catch up on.”

“Nah it’s cool, I get it.” He nods. “I’ll walk ya back out then.” He holds the swinging door open and with a hand on her back, he walks her out to her truck.

“Thanks again. I know I haven’t been saying much but...busy...like I said. And not in that ignoring you but being polite way.” She insists with a smile.

“I do admire your honesty.” He chuckles as her almost goofy smile as she really tries to show him she isn’t being sparse for any reason other than work. “I’ll let ya go then. Thanks for coming by, even if it was just for a little bit.” His face looks so soft and open and she finds herself jealous. Why couldn’t she be like that? She felt like a locked and shut box beneath his gaze.

“Yeah, it was good to see you.” She managed and it’s enough for now for him. He leans in for another hug. This one without prying eyes that he’s aware of and kisses her cheek in a spur of the moment decision. It turns rosy under his touch and he wants to do it again. Then again and onto her lips. With a blush, she tucks her hair behind her ear and bows her head down. “I’ll text you later.” She offers with big green eyes that catch the yellowing lights of the bar sign.

“You know where I’ll be.” He replies with a disarmingly charming smile, hands in his pockets as he walks backward and leaves her to her feelings.

“Aw look at ya now.” Mike coos as soon as the door shuts behind Declan. “Two kids in love. I do love love.” He sighs.

“Jumping the gun on that one.” Declan says with a nod and a sigh.

“What no date yet?” Mike asks surprised.

“Very funny.” Declan mocks.

“Did she say no?”

“I didn’t ask her to marry me Mike what the hell.”

“No! I meant a date. Like goin' out.” He responds fast. “But good to know where your heads at.” he shoots him a wink.

“I didn’t ask.”

“Why the fuck not?” he says with exasperated outstretched hands. “Did ya see how the lass looked at ya? All that blushin' and tuckin' her hair back? I’ve not seen her that bashful since I’ve met her. And smilin’? Ya kiddin’ me? She likes ya boyo just...go! You fuckin idiot go ask!” He shoves his shoulder.

“R-really? She’s probably-“ he gets cut off.

“You go fuckin' see ya little boy! Go ask her out on a date like a man.” He says hitting his chest and being insistent.

Declan turns and looks to the door, taking a breath and his long legs carrying him quickly. Luckily for him, Bella’s was processing that kiss to the cheek and was moving slow. Wondering if she had time to stay for a drink before going home. So when she sees him reappear and tap on his window her hearts in her throat.

“Hey.” He simply states with a nod of his head.

“Hey?” She asks back with a small smile.

“You wanna...go do something this weekend?” He asks with an entirely unsure face that she found to ease her nerves. He was just as bad as she was at this. She found it comforting.

“You aren’t sick of me yet?” She asks, the time being teasing but it was an entirely honest question.

“Not at all.” The certainty was back in his eyes, his head shaking a bit to drive the point home.

She nods before speaking. “Okay. Yeah.” She swallows, just act cool Bella.

“Yeah?” He tilts his head like a puppy and smiles with a wrinkled nose.

“Yes.” She nods and smiles. “Do you know what you wanna do?” She offers up, trying to hide the slump in her posture from forcing out her words.

His eyes blink, mouth parted for a moment before he realizes he, in fact, does not. “Uh. No.” He admits with a laugh that draws one from her too. “Just wanted to spend time with you.” He adds and she can’t believe his ability to recover and come back even smoother than he was before.

Another tuck of hair, another sheepish smile that looks away before it makes eye contact again. She nods. “That’s good enough for me.” Her voice is soft and the vulnerability in it makes his head spin.

“I’ll think of something.” He nods and promises. “Something kick ass.” He beams.

“I know you will.” She smiles softly at him over lashes that are trying not to flutter.

He reaches into the truck and she puts her hand in his instinctively. The touch they’d both been wanting. “Drive safe. Lemme know you got home okay alright?” He offers with a warm tone that makes her skin sweat. His thumb rubs the back of her hand before a little squeeze is shared and he pulls away.

“I will.” She agrees and gathers herself. “Night Declan.” She replies with a more sly smile, seeing his shoulders slump slightly at the use of his name.

“Night Bells.” He sighs out, smiling with a closed mouth and shoving his hands into his pockets once again.

He watches her drive away. He’s just asked her out. And she knew what he meant. And she still said yes. This was actually happening. With no moves too aggressive this could still turn out to be just as innocent as he was prepared to act like it could be. He still had to be gentle and patient with her. Her cool exterior now broken as she stuttered at his affection. But it made him feel powerful, a rush to affect someone as tough and hard as her. Maybe all that idle wishing she might also see him as more than a friend had accomplished something. Now he just had to figure out something for them to do.

Chapter Text

Thanks to Bella’s stellar work ethic, she was able to concentrate despite the buzzing in the back of her skull. With her still highly suspicious coworkers she managed to avoid questions with glares, but the bravest and admittedly closest to her, CeeCee, wasn’t convinced.

She stands in Bella’s doorway after hours, door open for the 4th day in a row. She’d been playing old Motown all day, they’d even caught her dancing and singing to herself in the studio, chewing on a pen and swinging her hips as she read over papers.

“Alright. Who is he? Or her, what the hell do I know?” CeeCee shrugs.

Bella's eyes shoot up from her clipboard, looking wide at her ballsy business partner. “What?” she asks with no inflection.

“I’m not stupid. I know you. I have eyes. You’re happy about something.” she says with a jutted forward chin, giving Bella tight lips that show her obviousness.

Bella only stares, her eyes under a deep set brow.

“The Motown all day? Singing and dancing to yourself? I even saw you smile at your phone today. You tell me nothing is going on I’m gonna tell you you’re full of shit.” Her bold statement delivered with a back and forth of her head.

“Then save us bother the time and tell me that then.” Bella snaps back quickly.

“UGH.” she throws her head back dramatically. “Fuckin’ Scorpios I swear to GOD!” she groans and turns to leave. Bella smirks as she returns back to her checklist.

----

All Declan had told her was to dress comfortably and for movement. To say she was curious was an understatement. She’d suggested something fun that would help her forget the hard week she’d had. While it had been tough, there was something different, something that kept her mood from crashing despite the workload and meetings. She’d not told him about that part though.

With his advice in mind, she’d dressed comfortably. She struggled to find the balance between form and function, fussing over if she looked “cute” enough. Which was something she hadn’t weighed in many years. But he made her want to consider things like that again. He brought out something in her that made her want to be feminine. After years of leather and denim, of hard brows and severe hair, she’d found herself shifting. This was also something CeeCee noticed. She’d even worn a dress to work more than once in the past week, and on a non-meeting day. Wearing her hair down and loose, softer make up in lighter colors and less black, she felt a part of her opening up that hadn’t since she was young. Her armor of leather not feeling as needed when she had him around, she didn’t feel the need to protect herself so much. She knew she was in good company.

Declan makes it to her house, the roar of a motorcycle surprising her as she fussed over Robbie before having to be out the evening.

“You’re fucking kidding me?” she scoffs out a playful laugh. She watches him pull up on an old bike, something like her dad would’ve ridden when she was small. A surprising shade of turquoise, but what was more surprising was how he looked.

He was no stranger to showing more skin in the warmer months, just like her, but riding a bike requires a bare minimum of coverage to still be responsible. Plus maybe he’d gone to the gym every day this past week, gone up to the woods and started clearing out his stomping grounds of the winter build up. Maybe he’d wanted to look good for her. She was making him consider his appearance just the same as he was her. He hoped he succeeded, as he knew she’d look good to him no matter what.

She wracked her brain for the long since buried information on motorcycles she had from her childhood. Her dad having his and treating it like a member of the family before his wreck. After it he’d dabbled a bit here and there, helping friends work on theirs. But he’d kept being a fan of them, trading road trips for magazines as he got older. She gets washed over with an odd, warm nostalgia. She thinks of the old pictures of her parents, him in his leather jacket and her in her bell bottoms and flowing dresses. She wonders if this was what her mom had felt like when big Sandro had rolled up to take her out all those years ago. A deep pull in her gut that she didn’t want to acknowledge told her yes.

She jumps and shakes out the nerves. “Be cool. Be cool.” She whispers, stretching her arms and neck as he makes his way to the door. “Be cool. You can do this. It’s just a date.” It was a date right? Shit, had he said date? She knew he liked her, no room for wondering there, the almost kiss was still burned into her mind. So it was a date. Or was he going slow? Was he going slow because of her or because he wanted to? Her brow furrows and she scratches her big wavy hair, falling past her collar bones now as she’d opted out of the usual spring cut. The doorbell makes her jump and she rolls her eyes at herself in harsh judgment. She counts to ten slowly and breathes, then goes for the door.

Declan stood with gleaming shoulders in the late afternoon sun. His tank top long and loose, faded over dark jeans and his usual shit-kicking boots and chain. The leather vest was something she’d not seen him in before and to say she was a fan was an understatement. She wonders if there’s more leather where it came from and if he had a collection to rival hers. She doubted it but filed the curiosity to his kinks away for later.

“Hey, Babe.” She greets first and boldly, pulling the door back to welcome him in.

“Hey Bells.” A broad closed mouth smile that makes his eyes nearly disappear comes across his face at the sight of her. A dress cut in at the waist with a little ditzy floral print of white and yellow against a black background reminds him of some cool girl from a 90s sitcom. It brushed at her knees and he saw her same little boots loose around her ankles. With effortless hair and makeup, he wanted to hold her against him and feel that softness. The cotton of her dress under his hands as he leaned in to hug her, the warm berry vanilla scent of her as he kissed her cheek and made her blush as she side-eyes him before moving away.

“Gonna grab my purse. Say hi to Robbie if you want. He missed you.” She tells over her shoulder with a tone that suggested he wasn’t the only one.

“I’ve missed him.” He responds in a deep and even voice, Robbie already loudly announcing his presence and rubbing between Declan’s legs. “Hey, baby dude.” He mrmurs with a scratch to his fluffy butt. Robbie purrs in approval.

 

“Alright.” she announces with a black leather crossbody bag to match the jacket. Warm for the weather but she wouldn’t get on a bike without it.

“I know I said comfy but, I don’t know if a dress will work for what I’ve got in mind.” He responds with a hesitant face.

“Oh, I’m prepared.” She responds proudly, hand reaching down to lift the hem of her dress to show shorts underneath. “Got bike shorts underneath.” She grins.

“Always prepared huh?” He nods in approval.

“I try.” She smiles sweetly, bending to pet Robbie one last time. “We’ll be back, kay? I put your catnip toy on the bed for you.” She coos at him, taking out her keys.oo

“Hope you don’t mind.” He says, shrugging to the bike.

“I should’ve known you had a bike really. Black Wolf and all.” She answers, putting her keys and zipping shut her purse. “But you’d never mentioned it.”

“I don’t ride her in the winter. Well, not this one anyway.”

“She special?” Bella asks as he moves to grab a helmet out of studded leather saddle bag

“The most.”

“So this is the woman I’m competing with huh?” She chuckles.

He feels his face flush slightly, thankful for the color he’s gotten in the woods the past week to hide it, skin now a warm-toned tan that caught the sun like a dream. Bella wanted to run her fingertips down those muscled arms and feel every curve of muscle he’d earned. “Yeah. My first love.” He explains after clearing his throat. “First bike.” He clarifies, handing her a black matte helmet, same as his. “My mom hated it, so I painted it her favorite color as a way to suck up to her.” He grins at the memory.

“Did it work?”

 

“Eh. Not really.” He fully laughs and mounts the bike, holding his hand out to her. “You got it?”

“Oh yeah, don’t worry about me. Dad had bikes growing up.”

“Seriously?”

“Mm hmm.”

“Ugh. Lucky.” He remarks, getting out his keys and readying his foot to kick off. “You gotta tell me about that later.”

“Can do.” She nods with her helmet on, now fearlessly wrapping her arms around him, the warmth of his stomach and chest against her palms and fingertips as the unbelievably soft shirt shifted in between her fingers with the flutter of the wind. He wasn’t reckless or fast and she appreciated it greatly. It’d been decades since she’d been on a bike.

 

They pull up and Bella peels herself from the hot skin of his leather vest, looking forward to seeing all of in motion as she’d gotten her fair share of his arms during the ride. Although driving out of town had been an unexpected but lovely detour, the site of his arms, which up close rivaled the tree trunks on the sides of the two-lane road they rode on. They pull up to a long line of fencing. His bike not the only one there, but by far the coolest in her opinion.

“Forest Fortress?” She states out loud with a wrinkle of her nose in question as she shakes out her hair from her helmet.

“So you haven’t been here before. Good.” He proudlydeclares and takes her helmet.

“You gonna tell me what it is or do I have to keep waiting?” She smiles.

“Have you ever played paintball, Bella?” He asks, half bent and securing the helmet in the saddle bag.

“No, but I’ve played laser tag.” She offers.

“Think of it as laser tag that hurts.” He laughs.

“So this is a paintball place?” Her brows go up and she shakes out her dress.

“Hope that’s okay.”

“Hell yeah it’s okay.” She answers with a big grin, bouncing on the balls of her feet slightly. “My legs are gonna get totally fucked though.” She lets out an amused noise.

“Nah, they have protective gear you can use. Wouldn’t have let you leave in that if I thought I’d be bringing you back all bruised. Robbie would never let me live it down.” He kids with a straight face and she manages to suppress a girlish giggle at him beaming a killer smile her way.

With his charisma and gentle guidance, he found that smile that he was worried might only exist at the festival still fully engaged as they went through the steps of putting on gear and teaching her how to use the guns. People knew him there, half bro hugs and slaps to the back in greeting all the way until they were both equipped and ready to head out into the obstacle course.

“So you do want to be on the same team or different ones?” The guy at the last stop before the entrance asks, knowing she was a newbie.

Before Declan can even turn to look at her she answers definitely “Different.” With a big and challenging smile.

“Look at the balls on this one.” the guy laughs and slaps a blue stripe on her gear. “And red for you D.” He remarks with a firm slap to his back. “Clean fight guys. You heard the rules.” He commands and opens the gate to reveal a scattered and varied series of wooden and rope courses in a fenced-in area of the forest. A rainbow of paint colors splatted all over everything. Tarps, haybales, stacks of giant tires, it was essentially a playground for adults. Which was a perfect choice in Bella’s eyes as she scurried away as soon as they crossed the threshold much to Declan's surprise. He was more than thrilled with her enthusiasm for his choice and the feisty competitive behavior it was bringing out in her.

The alarm blares and the shots start. She decides to keep an eye out for Declan, but take out anyone else if they popped up. She took out one person, her smaller size and workout routine she’d amped up for the warmer months helping her out. Declan was at a disadvantage with his height, she would see his back arched and bobbing around but could never get him head-on. So she uses the pole dancing classes to her advantage and shimmies up behind a terrace, thighs burning as she aims and misses. He whips around fast and sees nothing and she decides to just have some fun and jumps on his back, the unexpected attack knocking him to the ground as he hears her distinct laugh from on top of him as he moves to face her.

“Got ya bitch.” She snorts and laughs.

“Jesus Christ Bella!” He mutters out as he scrambles. “Where you even fuckin' come from?”

“Always look high.” She answers rolling off him as she keeps laughing quietly to not draw more attention to them.

“You didn’t shoot me though.” He grins wickedly and holds his gun up to her.

“I missed.” she shrugs. “Worth it though.” She leans back and sighs and smiles at him.

Well dammit, now he didn’t want to shoot her, laid back looking all soft and smiling at him.

“But you haven’t shot me either.” she raises a brow and grins, gun pointing at his chest now.

“Seems we’re at an impasse partner.” he says with a cowboy twang that makes her snort.

“If we eliminate each other, we can start over, or go back to town and eat. If we don’t, we have to walk 10 paces and try our luck with everyone else.” she replies with a playful wrinkle of her nose.

“I am hungry.” he answers with a pout of his lips.

“You know I am.” she smirks.

“A truce? A duel?”

“A...betrayl?” she tilts her head, finger on the trigger as another alarmingly charming smile comes across his face.

He flinches like he’s going to shoot her, only wanted to get her to wince and give her shit for it, but instead he knocks her gun and sets it off when he startles her, shooting him in the thigh. “Oh shit!” She squeaks, covering her mouth and sitting up as he balls up and groans. “Please tell me I didn’t just shoot you in the dick.” she begs with a serious face that makes him contorted up in discomfort, snort and laugh loudly.

“Glad to say you did not.” he groans.

“Oh, thank God.” she exhales sharply, rubbing his arm and frowning. “I didn’t mean-”

 

“Nah, nah I know. My fault.” he shakes his head. “Guns involved. Shouldn’t have fucked around.” he grunts out, sitting up. “It fuckin’ hurt but I’ll live. Be a nasty bruise. That was so fuckin’ close.” he lets out a pained chuckle.

“Yeah that had to hurt, dude, I'm so sorry.” she gives him an entirely genuine apologetic face, leaned in close to his that was still grimacing as he rubbed his leg.

“I’ll live.” he gives her an exhale and a nod, giving a good show of his words. “Well you know what might help?” he says, leaning and looking at the splat of paint.

“What?” she asks so earnestly he feels guilty already.

“You could kiss it and make it better.” he responds with a straight face and she shoves his shoulder so hard he hits the ground, forcing out a laugh from his chest.

“Maybe later.” she rolls her eyes and stands, dusting off her legs. “You fuckin’ goof.” she shakes her head and reaches her hand down to him. “Timer’s about to go off.” she nods towards the large LED board above the box where the scorekeeper watched.

They walk with his arm around her shoulders back towards the front, her arm around him as if she were helping him along.

“The 'ol seduce and betray. I like it.” the guy at the front holds his hand up for a high five as she passes.

“Oh fuck you Kyle.” Declan bellows out.

“Thanks.” Bella grins wide and answers the guy's gesture enthusiastically.

Since she’s mildly maimed him, they decide to go eat instead of going for another round. The energy sourced of nearly an hour hunting other humans had taken its toll on them both. The same closeness, the same warmth, and smiles they’d grown so fond of from each other over more junk food in a shitty little diner he liked. They talked bike’s, his and the ones she’d ridden, the ones her dad worked on, how he’d wrecked and her mother wouldn’t let him ride now out of worry. He learned about her family a bit and was glad to see she’d had a good upbringing, parents still alive and together, something he’d always wanted in a family and for himself. At that small table in the crowded room that felt like no one else was around, they sat and talked for nearly two hours without even checking the time or their phones, it felt to oddly effortless. They both felt heard and like they were interesting to someone else. They talked about nature, about music, sharing their favorite things that everyone else told them they talked too much about.

So when the time came for Bella to go home, her gut was telling her no. In fact, it was screaming it at her. He’d left with another cheek kiss and a tight hug, proving to her he was more than decent. She watches his broad shoulders slumped, jacket now on to guard against the night chill as he rode, his hands shoved into his jean pockets and biting his lip, wondering if he should’ve kissed her.

'You can’t let him leave', her conscience tells her. 'Don’t let him leave. This day was damn near perfect. You KNOW he wants it and you’re brave enough to admit you do too. Just… get his attention. Do something.' Her brain scurries and her throat turns to stone, her mouth open and trying but her nerves wanting to keep her quiet. It would be real if she made a sound. It would turn into more if she called out for him. Knowing you’re living a defining moment is funny. You can let fear freeze you, taking the easy way out, or you call push your cards all in on the table and win big. Or lose everything. But isn’t a life lived with failures better than a life lived with what if’s?

“Declan.” she forces out, the keys in her hand shaking from her nerves, not even moved to be put in the door.

He shuts his eyes for just a second, hiding the relief on his face. God, he had wanted to say something. “Yeah?” he asks over his shoulder, his hair soft around his shoulders, skin still warm and seemingly glowing in the sconces by the door and the solar pikes in the ground along her walkway despite the sun being long gone.

“I-” she starts and doesn’t know where she’s going. But she started. That was like half of the job, wasn’t it? “I don’t... uh...” she licks her lips and puts her keys back in her purse. “I don’t really wanna go home yet.” she manages, looking down before meeting his eyes.

“Oh.” he says, hiding his delight with pursed lips and a nod. “Well that’s, y’know, fine with me.” he shrugs and turns fully towards her, taking slow steps as her feet also carried her towards him.

“You wanna... I dunno... go somewhere else? Like... somewhere you like to go on a nice night like this?” she offers, eyes hopeful as they looked up at the man nearly a foot taller than her as he ran his fingers through his hair. The night was almost as lovely as he was. Almost.

“Yeah. I’ve got a place. Can’t tell anyone though. It’s a secret.” he leans in and gives her a wink that she doesn’t act exasperated by, just a lazy smile on her face.

“I won’t.” she replies softly.

“Let’s go then.” he whispers, taking her hand and walking her back to the bike.

---

The ride is serene and gorgeous. The moon out, bright light dropping through the tree canopy, the long dull roar of the bike as she held herself against him both rumbling together with the motor. She doesn’t know how many times she sighed, but she couldn’t stop. This day had been so nice and it really was a perfect night to be outside.

To a small clearing they drove through a barely broken in path to a large tree on its side. A marked stopping point, a few others having been removed offered a little meadow to see up into sky. Out in the forest, there was no noise or light pollution to take away from the view. They check that their phones were on silent subtly, they weren't taking any chances of being interrupted.

“This looks like someplace in a movie where teens come to get in trouble.” she remarks with a grin, fluffing her hair and shaking her jacket, standing as he turned to sit sideways on the supported bike.

“Or some 30-somethings looking to get away from everyone else.” he offers with a voice that was deeper and more even when he was among the trees. His face fell softer as if he felt at home there.

“You make this?” she asks, looking around, the moon giving enough light to see around up to the tree line.

“Somewhat. Cleared it out a little. Beat out the path over time. I like to get away up here. Sometimes I camp out.” he shrugs his explanation.

“It’s really nice. It’s so quiet.” she whispers.

“Don’t have to whisper.” he gives her the same warm smile that made her give him a chance in the first place.

“Feels like I should.” she remains quiet, standing closer to him, almost between his legs.

They both occupy the silence, looking up at the stars, feeling a slight breeze, taking in the sounds of nature. She wasn’t used to it. But she certainly felt like she could learn to like it. “I can see why you like this so much.” her voice still soft. “Only missing one thing for me.”

“Wassat?” he mumbles, looking at her with her eyes shut and face to the sky.

“Music.”

“Yeah...no wifi out here.” he chuckles.

“I’ve got music saved actually.” she announces, pulling out her phone and ignoring all the usual alerts.

“‘Course you do.” he gives her a smile, watching her nose twitch in thought as she was lit up from the phone screen.

“What? Should I not play it?” she asks with more genuine concern that makes him even more certain there’s a real soft kitten under that hard exterior.

“No, go for it.” he answers with a casual shake of his head.

“‘Kay.” she bites her lips. “There’s only one playlist I have saved, but it’s a great one. My parents wifi up at their cabin is shit so I saved this one so they could listen to it once I hooked up their stereo in the house for them.”

“Please tell me your parents aren’t country fans.” he snarks.

“No, no. They’re cool. Well I mean, I think they have good taste in music anyway.” she smirks. “It’s all Motown and 60’s stuff.” she explains as the Supremes comes over the phone, she sits it on the back of the bike. “One of moms favs.” she reminisces with a happy expression, moving her hand and hips in rhythm. “We’d watch old recordings and do the dances. I still remember most of them.” she admits with a shy smile. “Guess it’s the dance training. Or we just did it way too much.” she chuckles.

“Dance training?” he asks with a nod of his chin.

“Yeah, I danced as a kid. Mom with her pop culture dances and wanting me to learn the Celtic stuff. She thought I was good at it, so she put me in classes. Dance team in school, that whole thing.”

“Should’ve known.” he huffs out.

She turns her face to him, feet still playing out the easy steps.

“You’re good.” he offers with another charming smile.

“Oh.” she looks back down and smiles at the ground with her eyes crinkling at the edges. “Thanks.”

“You don’t think so?”

“It’s not that it’s just...I’m not really the best at taking real compliments.” she admits with a nervous laugh.

“I caught on.” he offers softly and leans forward.

She continues to sway and he contently watches her, wondering if he should make a move or just let her be. “You have a favorite out of these?” he suggests, thumbing through the long list.

“A few of course.” she snickers at herself.

“I wanna know what you're into... pick one out for me.” he urges, his voice slipping deeper and her body notices as it tightens and reacts.

She nods and leans in, getting close and bending over his long legs. His eyes turn a deep shade of brown, growing more lidded as he moved in close enough to smell the sweet scent of her perfume in her hair. Goosebumps bloomed over her skin at the feel of his breath, she gulps and plays it cool, making another little list of her favorites. She thought maybe she could set a soundtrack. Set a mood that couldn’t be ignored, interject with her encyclopedia of knowledge on the music of the time. She decides to loosen herself up first and get a laugh out of it, always a good place to start.

“Alright. Hit play.” she orders with a cheerful smile, Jackson 5 coming through and it wasn’t what he expected. She starts with the dance steps he knows to be associated with them, little turns and hand gestures and he sits back with crossed arms and nods his head to the beat. He applauds with an impressed face even though she didn’t do much and she bows. A cute smile with flushed cheeks as she leaned over to check the playlist.

 

“Don’t worry about it. Just relax. That’s what this place is for.” he whispers and stands, pulling her away from the bike. He’d seen the songs on the list, he knew he didn’t have anything to worry about with any mood being killed. With the night ripe and the air tense between them, he wanted to facilitate what he thought she wanted and knew he wanted. Maybe she was more timid with things like this than he realized. Her confident front falters as he takes her into his arms, a hand sliding under her jacket to her back pulling her in, another taking her hand, elbows bent with fingers laced together. The moon was bright enough to see her face, surrounded in a soft frame of thick wavy, naturally almost black locks. Her green eyes caught the light as they sat wide and almost innocent as she spanned over his chest and to their clasped hands. He leans his face down closer to her, his voice sweet and calm, trying to ease any nerves she had about getting close to him.

Her first thought when being taken into his arms was boy, is he bigger up close. But the quick second was realizing how close they’d been already. They’d slept skin to skin, nestled like little bunnies together and she hadn’t had a problem with it. So why was standing close and holding his hand erupting a fire in her stomach that threatened to bubble up and out of her throat with words that took away from the moment? It was like when bypassing her mind, her words changed from yes, I want this, to, did you know that when this song was recorded- putting up her wall to keep her from getting too close. But there was nothing to be afraid of at this point. He’d proven himself on all fronts. He was one of her best friends so quickly it threw her off her game, she didn’t bond quickly with people, she didn’t attract good men who helped their friends and cared about other people. Why was all this happening now?

With AlGreen lending him the mood, he keeps her close, looking down curiously as she looked thoughtful but almost frightened. “Thought you might want a dance.” he speaks, making her look up at him. “It’s all you bothered me about down there, thought you might want to show me a thing or two when it isn’t pouring rain outside.” he offers with a soft smile.

“Or getting electrocuted.” she adds and he feels her take a deep breath, her posture straightening and watching her come back to herself slowly. “Need to slow dance properly.” she almost mumbles, but he’s close enough and observant enough to catch the words. His choice of song isn’t lost on her. “Good one to do though.” she offers with big eyes that catch the moon and shine, making him sigh and only nod in response. He moves his hips to the beat and hers follow suit naturally. “You’re better this time.” she praises.

“Good teacher.” he says with a kind smile.

“Oh. Go on.” she looks down and chuckles nervously.

“Maybe I will.” he speaks low and pulls her closer.

She has to respond so she closes her mouth and blushes. The moments build, the last push in Tired of Being Alone, the vocals screech and he moves them fast in a circle, causing the tension to break as she squeaks much to his delight and he moves his hips and shoulders faster. “Keep up Bells.” he laughs, she does she as she throws her head back for a moment, the song fades fast, her head falling to his chest and she chuckles at how nervous she is. But it wasn’t any match for the next song. One of her mom’s favorites she’d sing to her father when they were being sickly sweet with each other. Natural Woman by Aretha, a song that could move even the most stubborn heart. And Bella was no exception. From the get she knows she’s doomed. Or would it be blessed at this point? Maybe it was a sign. One of those moments her mom told her about. When the universe just tapped you on the head and said, pay attention girl. So that’s what she did. She danced with the one man to make her feel anything since she was young to the song her parents slow danced to when she was young, thinking she wasn’t awake, peeping down the hall to see them swaying in the living room. The string section builds her confidence and takes a deep breath and does what she really wants for the first time in a long, long time.

She looks up at him and gives a little smile, finding him already watching her intently, his face as dark and calm as the sky behind it. She bows back and puts her back to his chest, swaying with both hands interlocked in his for a moment, placing them across her stomach, and she felt no resistance from him. He even bent his knees like she told him, feeling his nose in her hair as it brushed close to her ear. This was how this should've gone at the festival, this was the way they were dancing before and now without a cloud in the sky, there wouldn't be any interruptions.

From his vantage point he watches her shut her eyes, her chin up and head rested on him, one hand rubbing over his, a slow and smooth ascent up her own body, fingertips grazing her neck, pushing her hair out of the way before it snakes up and touches his face. With eyes still closed she turns her head towards his, he can feel her heartbeat racing under his palms. Her fingers are soft and light up his jaw and into his hair. He shivers at the touch, an almost grunt coming from him, putting his head even closer to hers. He wasn’t going to pass up another invitation when she was so boldly presenting it. The words ring too true, and she knows she has to face what she’s doing. She has to be the one to do it, because he’s too good too.

When she opens her eyes he’s already there, looking down at her with his deep, dark brown eyes. A heavy brow almost hiding them if the moon hadn’t been so full. With a brief flutter of lashes at how handsome he really could be so close up, she looks to his lips. His parted just as hers were, trying to calmly get more air as their heart demanded more of them as their pulses raised. As the song rolls into Percy Sledge smoothly, they both know there’s no turning back this time. Nothing to break them apart except themselves, and neither wanted to. A melodic organ he feels in his chest, this’ll be it.

He watches the lump in her throat bob and he smiles, grazing his nose against hers and feels her body give a little shudder when he got close. The air is thick and tense, the night air hot only around them, the moon and stars the only witnesses to what felt like such a monumental moment for both of them. With her head twisted, chin lifted to meet him as close to the middle as she could, they share one more glance between them, a final chance to bail and neither take it. Back down to their lips their eyes move, sharing a breath, his hand moving up to her face, as hers still rested in his hair. They break on the blare of a horn, both their breathing halted with the warmth that washes over them all the way down to their toes.

What starts as one press of lips, almost chaste with his rough fingers against her smooth jaw grows deeper, turn after turn of their mouths, until Bella can’t stand it any longer. With a tiny whimper, the sweetest sound he’s ever heard, she turns in his arms, only parting for a moment and in a flash he runs cold, afraid the moments gone before she crashes her lips back into his, hands on his chest and the other in his hair, he gives over to her, leaning back against the bike, arms moving tightly around her to hold her close between his legs, splayed fingers working lower than they ever had before to her hips and between her shoulder blades, not wanting to even catch his breath as her arms slide around his neck.

They could’ve stayed like that forever. They both wanted to. This perfect moment, him surrounded by nature and her picking the soundtrack to her life was something they both wanted to hold on to for as long as possible. Her chest felt like it was full of fire, the butterflies in her stomach only fanning it with the rapid assault of their wings. Her fingertips tingled, only feeling warmth where he touched her, feeling the press of his impressive hands against her body under her jacket. His lips were softer than they seemed for a man that looked like him. The strong cupids bow and pinked color they natural held were always hidden at least in part by his facial hair, but she was getting to experience the full breadth of them tonight.

The kisses turn softer, more lips, more breathing, and her hands move to his rising and falling chest. With closed eyes still living in the blissful moment, their foreheads rest together as they take a few breaths. Wow, they both almost said. Few kisses felt like that one had. Some might never experience it. A painfully strong mutual attraction based on more than aesthetics. Built on friendship and trust and months of earning a place in each other's lives. It was real and raw and those things felt so rare for both of them.

“I can’t believe I waited so long to do that.” she eventually whispers, eyes still shut as her breaking the silence between them makes his eyes open to see her eyes flutter, half-lidded and pupils blown, fingertips light and shakey on the thin material of his shirt.

“You did it at the perfect time.” he coos back.

“Ugh.” a hand moving up to push back his hair as she beams up at him. “You’re so nice. Sweet, I mean.” she shakes her head, still trying to get the blood to flow to it and not the other brain that was shouting orders at her she was ignoring. “And… patient.” she adds with a huff of a laugh.

“Worth it.” he grins, kissing her cheek, the warmth flooding her all over again.

“Can we just... do more of that?” she lets out a girlish giggle he’s never heard, her head falling into his chest as her shoulders shake. She brings her head back up, shaking the hair out of her face and tracing her thumb over his cheek. “I’m so rusty at this.” she admits and he sees no shame or hesitation in her eyes now, only brightness.

“We can do as much of that as you want.” he kisses her softly. “And you don’t feel rusty to me.” he purrs back against her lips, eyes dark under a relaxed brow as she hummed happily.

“Not bad yourself, Harp.” she nudges her nose to his and smiles into a kiss, a content sigh shared as a kiss grows again. It felt so good, so right, just like she hoped it would. Just liked it should she thinks. He was so hot and pliant to the touch, a small lick of her tongue to his bottom lip makes his nostrils flare, a slow and teasing exchange between them. He bites on her full bottom lip and her eyes roll back in her head, a heavy sigh escaping her. She sucks on his after he releases it with a pop, her tongue moving to explore his own as they shared a more messy kiss, one that was clearly doing something for him as his hands ventured lower. He finally got his hands on that ass of hers, her letting out a little moan as he gave it a slight squeeze.

“Too far?” he asks, still learning the origin of her noises.

She answers by moving up into his lap, thighs on either side of him and shaking her head, putting his hands back where they had been. “No.” she answers before another wrestling kiss forms. Even with the advantage of being on him, he was still not taller than her. This was new for her as well, she’d never been a man this tall this... big. All over big. Or at least she hoped the hard place resting between her thighs was growing proof of that. Her hands slip under his jacket at the shoulders, far past her own in width and she moans as how hard he is under her hands. She greedily explores the planes of him, and he does the same. Hands down his chest to a stomach that was almost hard, fingertips pressed into shoulder blades that shifted as he easily picked her up to resituate her. Which she really didn’t mind at all. In fact she thought she might’ve found a new kink. No man she’d been with had even been strong enough to pick her up and throw her around so to speak, and literally. Her mind was full of racing ideas for him.

They kiss like teens at a make-out point as she’d teased upon arrival. Moans and pants exchanged against now swollen and wet lips, tongue in and outside of mouths as they explored what worked and didn’t, and so far there wasn’t a thing that didn’t feel good. It all felt too good and that was another problem entirely. One of those good problems she’d always heard about but never had herself.

She felt like taking her tits out of her dress, him getting those shapely lips on them and grinding on him until they both came. But she didn’t. She’d like to say she knew better, but she didn’t. She only knew not to go too fast, which is where she’d been burned before. “I know we have to stop at some point. But I don’t want to.” she half moans into a lippy and loud kiss.

He smiles against her. “I know babe. I know.” he groans and moves his hand back up to her waist. Hers on his jaw, thumbs swiping over the short sides of his beard as she kissed the corners of his mouth, the tip of his nose, wanting to feel every part of him against her lips.

“Mmph. That’s nice.” he hums with closed eyes and continues to his cheeks, that masculine brow, over the scar that lies there and one to his forehead.

“You’re very, very kissable.” she giggles, nuzzling his face with her nose. Touching him felt like a drug.

“So you are. Among...other things.” his nostrils flare as she bites her lip at him.

“Will there be time for that later?” she whispers, an almost naughty turn to her words.

“All the time you want.” he raises his brow, his voice deep with grit and hunger.

“How about we make time for it?” she asks, fingers into his beard and scratching, wanting to take in as much of him as she could.

“Mmm?” he asks, grunting as a response to her question and to the affection.

“We should make time. We’re both busy, I don’t want to go another week without seeing you... without... this.” she coos and kisses him softly.

“Then let’s do it. Let me take you out. A real date.”

“Oh, a real one huh?” she teases, kissing his cheek.

“Yeah. We’ll go downtown, meat, and wine the whole thing. Wine and dine.” he says playfully.

“Wine dine and...sixty nine?” she asks before her nose wrinkles and her face falls into a giggle.

“Like I said, whatever you want babe.” he grins.

Chapter Text

Bella found herself floating like a much younger girl who’d never been hurt, slumping against the door after a slow and tortuous goodnight kiss.

She could smell him on her hands where she’s buried them in his hair and under his jacket, feel the plumpness of her lips, swollen from kissing him so long. She hummed with calm energy, biting her lip and smiling with no one around to make fun of her girlish behavior. No one except Robbie anyway.

Declan had a dopey smile on his face that he didn’t try to hide from anyone. Smile staying as he kept sighing, feeling a fullness in his chest as he drove home. The line had been crossed, his patience had been rewarded with an amazingly soft and sweet Bella and kisses of the same description. His moody little badass, his low key sweetheart and an absolute stunner in his eyes. And she wanted more. Of him, specifically which made his shoulders go slack and his insides melt at the words. A big puppy getting its belly rubbed is what he felt like, all warm and wiggly and excited. A kiss like the one they shared could only mean that other things between them would also be good. Man, they had chemistry, he thought to himself as he grew only slightly distracted on the empty road at the late hour. He knew he’d be thinking about her until he saw her again. He already wanted to. But he had to show restraint. Didn’t want to come on too strong for a woman like her, scare her off. He had her purring like a kitten in his arms, a smile on her lips after he kissed them, whispering she was looking forward to the date and more of this. It’s exactly where he’d wanted her, and he was going to make her his.

———

Mid-way through the workweek the whole office is buzzing about Bella. Did you see her in PINK lipstick? Hear her listening to Al Green? See the way she smiles at her phone when it lit up now? Her normally curmudgeon behavior had softened its edges just slightly. At least when she thought no one was paying attention.

“You gonna fess up yet?”

“Nothing to confess.” She says brow still low as her fingers shifted through a binder.

“Then tell me why you’re smiling at your phone at least? If it really is nothing I can squash the rumors.”

“Rumors?” She scoffs

“You know, secret boyfriend, secret girlfriend? Hitched in secret, pregnant with a hidden long term partners child?” She offers with a smirk.

“None of those things.” She replies looking up with a not hateful but not accommodating face.

“You gonna blame it on dog memes again?” CeeCee quirks a brow.

“To be fair…it usually is dog memes.” She lets out a low chuckle.

“Fine. I’ll find out one of these days.” She calls out as she walks down the hall.

——

“I closed up before you even got back, boyo.” Mike already grinning ear to ear as he puts on his apron, Declan sat at the bar and going over his books.

“It’s because I got back after that.” He says in a sash tone Mike is used to.

“And…? How’d it go?” He asks leaning on his elbows on the opposite side of the counter.

“Great.” He says plainly.

“Oh c’mon!” He says and shoves Declan’s shoulder.

He takes off his reading glasses and purses his lips at Mike.

“Ya not talkin? That bad? Or that good?” He asks with a jutting out chin and smile that read as patronizing.

“I don’t kiss and tell.”

“You’ve not had no kissin TO tell in so long and Christ knows I innit gettin’ any so give me somethin’. Let me know my boy’s heart’s intact. That we’ll be seein’ little Bella again.”

“If I told you and she found out she’d be pissed.”

“Likes her privacy eh?”

“Anyone with a brain would assume so.” He shoots Mike an obvious glare.

“So there’s somethin to tell?”

“There’s not…nothing to tell.”

“Fuckin spit it out, if ya can’t tell ya best mate who the fuck can ya tell?”

He sighs and gives in, having her on his mind constantly he wanted to tell someone bless him, it was in his nature to share good news to those close to him. “Paintball was a hit, she was great, liked it. Ate at Tony’s, perfect. Talked for hours. She was…well ya know. I think she was amazing.” He muttered the last part.

“Oh look at him! A wee blush to his cheeks! He’s got it bad he does!” He pinches Declan’s cheek and he smacks him away. “So ya didn’t take her to bed yet eh? Never known two adults who like each other so much to take it so damned slow.”

“We didn’t sleep together but…” he smirks, “I did kiss her.”

“There he is! Lady killer! Get her boy!” He growls and cheers enthusiastically as Declan grins at him slapping his arm.

“We’re going out on a real date this weekend.”

“Oh, a real one eh? That mean you need to clean your apartment?” Mike teases.

“Already did so, jokes on you.” He answers with a groan as he stretches his back. “But I might not be back that night.” He adds.

“I sure as fuck hope not!” Mike says obviously.

————

One part of Bella didn’t want to seem too eager, but another part of her brain wanted to just say “fuck it!” and get all sexed up. She knew he would be looking fine as hell, how could he not? They were going to a place that required reservations, so she takes her time planning her date night look.

It’s been years since she’d cared about such a thing. Dates were casual and in most cases led to nothing after. There were jeans sure but there was also the occasion high heel thrown in the mix, the clipping in of a few wefts of hair, but as she stood in the bathroom and gathered all her things to prep and shave and scrub she remembered that this particular bit had never been fun. Bella wasn’t one to make a big fuss over body hair. Particularly at her age where her main opinion was if he doesn’t want hair on it, he’s too immature to eat it. But with a want to impress she found herself considering it. She shaved her legs and pits and trimmed the rest in the end. Maybe Declan would be into it? And shrugs at the thought and starts to wonder what sort of situation she’ll find on him.

With successfully not getting distracted and having to masturbate before the date thinking about him, unlike the past week where her toys had seen ample use, she now stands in front of her closet in the dress she’d picked out. Should she go for the fuck me pumps she’d splurged on years ago, thinking she would surely find an occasion to wear them, and she hadn’t much at all? Certainly not enough to warrant what she paid for them. But the bottoms matched her tight red dress and she decided she couldn’t pass it up.

Teased and polished she sways and looks at herself in the mirror, knowing another check of her bed would warrant nothing new. She’d cleaned and situated everything just so.

“Can you believe mama might be getting some tonight?” She asks Robbie.

He seems disinterested as he lays on his toy mouse on the corner of the bed.

“I sure as hell can’t.” She mutters, primping just for the hell of it, taking selfies and letting the Slow Jams Hard playlist fill the room.

Declan admittedly hadn’t put so much prep into his look. He was a very low maintenance kind of guy. Plus everything she’d ever complimented him on was covered, wavy hair and beard intact he only trims a little on his face for good measure. He trimmed a little below the belt as well, just as torn on the decision as Bella had been. Neither would have cared ironically. Bella was really into the natural look anyway.

He takes a cab, something that throws her off but shows her he plans on having some fun. And she would always be down for fun with Declan.

She peeps out of her window, strappy black heels ticking across the hardwood floor. “Fuck.” She whispers. God, he looked good. In a black button-up shirt that was tight in all the right places, a few undone at the top to reveal a charm necklace he looks positively edible to her. He cleaned up well, and she wasn’t normally a fan of dress clothes on men, but he’d changed her opinion on so many things already she shouldn’t be surprised. He still wore his big black boots, she could hear them heavy on the front porch, a jingle of a chain, a deep voice clearing his throat as a tingle ran down her spine.

She opens the door before he even knocks, being more than ready to see him face to face after being without him for days. She’d thought about him more the past week than she had in all the months of knowing him.

With his hand raised to knock, he forgets to lower it for a moment as she reveals herself. He felt underdressed despite the slacks and button-up shirt because next to her he thought he’d look downright sloppy.

“Hey…Bella..” a drawn-out and delayed greeting with eyes not meeting hers as he looked at her in her tight red dress. Just a hint of thigh, thin straps over her shoulders holding a chest that demanded he looked with its glimmer. Her skin gleamed as she moved but nothing compared to the smile he found on her face when he managed to drag his eyes up to hers.

“Hey yourself.” She gives him a cocky nod, getting the reaction she wanted out of him. And she better have, what with how much this lingerie had cost. She’d never spent so much on such little fabric before. But she was a fan of an indulgent purchase from time to time.

He turns and holds a finger up to the cab driver and moves inside to shut the door. “Can I tell you just how fuckin’ good you look without you slapping me?” He asks with glazed eyes and a smirk.

“I insist.” She purrs in response, her heels making her so much taller than before, standing up closer to his 6’ 4” daunting frame. He was a beast of a man but he could play civilized as she was seeing in his choices tonight.

“I’m glad we have reservations because otherwise, I might just tell that driver to fuck off.” He says with a slight laugh to his voice, hands moving to her bare upper arms and leaning in for a kiss.

“I’m not so glad about it.” She speaks softly back and gives him a playful tug at his bottom lip with her teeth. “Because you look so good in this, Declan.” Her voice breathy and, making his heart race. Her hands rub up against his chest, fingertips over the bare skin to his neck where she gives his beard a tug to bring him into another kiss. Round after round, the kisses could’ve gone on forever, but he wasn’t about to miss out on his hard attempts to woo her properly. Or at least what he thought she deserved.

He isn’t sure what he expected from her, but this sultry sort of behavior hadn’t been it. He’d been behaving himself, not sure where to put his hands at first, but when her fingers with their long nails snaked up the back of his neck, scratching into his scalp he moaned, a low chuckle against his lips. “That’s what I want to hear.” she smiles, looking up at him and his closed eyes. “You don’t have to be so well mannered Declan. We’re past that now, don’t you think?” she asks sweetly with naughty intentions with a tilt of her head, tongue giving his lips a little teasing lick. Man, was she feistier than he anticipated. But it only made him more eager to know more of this side of her.

“I didn’t wanna…insult you, ya’know? Didn’t want you to think that’s what this was all about.” he says with still closed eyes as she continues to scratch.

“You’re too sweet Declan.” she coos. “You don’t have to to worry about me dropping you for touching me. You’ve proven you’re not just around for a fuck. Besides… I really want you to touch me.”

With expressed permission, he forces his eyes open and looks down at her, a seductive portrait of a woman, and looking at him with long lashes and a wicked smile that told him everything else he needed to hear. “Good.” a deeper, more masculine voice and version of him emerges, no longer trying to withhold himself from her. Perhaps she was only hesitant before, and now that she felt she trusted him, all the walls that had been up that kept them from expressing just how much they wanted each other were now rubble, a clear attraction finally able to be confessed. “Because I’ve thought about touching you all week.” he adds before taking her for another deep kiss, big broad hands finally wrapping around her waist. She was so soft. Moving further down he gets handfuls of her ass, lifting her slightly which makes her let out another soft laugh into his mouth that he eagerly eats from her. The hard bars of her nipple piercings pressed through a thin bra up against his chest, just barely visible under the skin smoothing fabric.

“So have I.” she says, pulling away, hands to his cheeks now as she gives him one adoring look that makes him want her on more than a sexual level. How long had it been since a woman look at him like that? And a sober woman, with more than just a quick fuck on her mind. There would be nothing quick about his plans for her if he could help it. He wanted time with her, more and more the more he got. Any question he’d had about how the night would end was certainly answered for him now.

——-

Their hands gave away their want first. Walking her everywhere with one secure to her back as he moved, making sure no one nudged her or got in her way as they walked down the busy street and into the just as full restaurant. With a leather jacket over her dress, she still looked like she belonged in the most upscale place he’d possibly ever been. They were more than a few pay raises over the usual crowd from The Trading Post and she looked much more at ease than he did.

Bella had been in these sorts of places before. She certainly didn’t prefer them to places like Declan’s, but being best friends with a woman who married a businessman who was given a high position in one of the huge, mirrored window buildings that dotted the city skyline because of who his father was meant mixers, business parties and her and her new fancy friends wanting to sip skinny girl cosmo’s and talk about how hard it was to get their children into the best pre-school. Bella had nothing to really lend to these conversations. She’d gone to public school, so had her parents, and if she ever had a kid, it would go to public school as well. She wasn’t bred well, the daughter of an Irish hippie and a blue-collar Italian and had no illusions of being more. But despite the bad vibes from the picture-perfect women she had to stand with and nod politely for Charlotte’s sake, the buildings and food themselves were never that bad. So with the current company, someone else willing to slum it like she was, she wasn’t worried in the slightest about anyone else and what they thought in that bougie restaurant.

Declan for all his goofiness, was thorough when he wanted to be. Reserving a small U shaped booth near the back for some privacy and coziness, too close to the kitchen for most of the clientele she imagines. There was none of his usual almost clumsily loose body movements tonight, no big eye wrinkling grins, just a controlled and intense version of the sometimes puppy-like man she’d grown so fond of. She was unknowingly getting a glimpse at Black Wolf, the behavior that gave him the nickname. She watched him situate after settling her in, low brow over dark and questioning eyes, surveying the space.

“You didn’t have to bring me to a place like this you know.” she says with a soft and sweet tone, speaking low as he scooted right next to her, his arm around her and stretched across the back of the booth, taking up space and looking predatory.

“I know I didn’t have to.” his smile read more in his eyes than anything else now. His voice low and smooth and making the corners of her mouth slowly rise to give subtle approval to his words. “But I wanted to.” he leans in and nods.

“It’s really nice. Thank you.” she says with a polite bow of her head before crossing her legs towards him and patting his thigh. “Have you been here before?” she asks, looking over the market price only menu after sliding her jacket off, and of course, him lending assistance. With her highlighted shoulders now on display, his hand moves down to rest on her upper arms that were so close to showing definition she’d been momentarily angry they didn’t lean out before the date. But as his thumb swept across her buttery skin, slow drags of callouses from work, it was far from her mind.

“Nope.” the corner of his mouth twitching upward as he leans in close to read with her as she brings the menu between them.

“Me either.” she admits. “Places like this but not here.”

“Doesn’t seem like your kind of haunt.”

“It’s not. I’ve gone with Charlotte and her fancy ass friends.” she dismisses with a shake of her head. “I bet the meat here is amazing.” she says quietly, looking for him to add on his interests but he’s distracted by the fluff of her curls against his nose as he smells that intoxicating blend of deep patchouli and warm, sweet vanilla that he’d never smelled anywhere but on her.

He grunts and she looks up to him with curious eyes. “You smell amazing, babe.” he admits with a deep coo that forces a wider smile across her face, her bold red lips looking even more inviting to him set in the welcoming pose.

She leans in closer to his chest, giving a strong inhale that makes him chuckle, seeing the expanse of his chest jiggle slightly with the massive pecs she wanted to bury her face in. “You smell absolutely edible.” she adds with an amused hunch of her shoulders.

“I’m not sure if that’s the case.” he grins, a softer face pulling through.

She narrows her eyes playfull, chomping her teeth at him in an audible snap that makes his more goofy grin appear. “Don’t tell me what to do.” she retorts with a flip of her hair and turning back to the menu.

He laughs a chest rumbling and moving sound that made her ego inflate. He leans in and kisses her temple, a reward for reminding him why he’d pursued her in the first place. “Not one for being bossed around, huh?” he asks almost innocently. The back of his mind couldn’t help but wonder if her preferences carried over into the bedroom.

“I mean..” she shrugs and smirks, snuggling up closer to him. “For the right man who knows what I’d be into.” she doesn’t meet his eyes but the smirk on her painted lips is enough to make him let out a low growling laugh and give her a good squeeze, another kiss to the head.

“I think I might want to try giving you some orders sometime.” he says into her ear with a clearly intentioned voice that does its job.

Her skin blooms with goosebumps and she hums happily, moving her face to his. “Oh you’re welcome to try anything, Declan.” she purrs and kisses him softly with a wrinkle of her nose.

“Then I will,” he says grazing his nose to hers. “Later.” he says with more authority in his voice as they share another tender kiss.

They order, and they don’t hold back, as per his instructions. Their bodies couldn’t have been closer, a large hand rested on her bare knee, slowly running down her legs and back up again with fingertips teasing the hem of her dress as he spoke. She kept touching his tender jaw, soft and lingering chaste kisses when she couldn’t stand it any longer. Her hands for the most part behaving, but sinking into his collar to his neck, playing with the chest hair with the revealing unbuttoned top of his shirt. She played with his rings and hands while he told stories, but still listening. He would brush her hair back, lean in so close she could feel his breath on her neck and ears before he spoke. There was spoken and unspoken tension that they both knew was building to a peak.

They both get the best steak, a bottle of wine and a dessert to share. Picking the messiest on purpose, Bella demands only one spoon, and let’s playtime continue. She feeds him tiny macarons with her precise fingers. Both taking turns, deciding on which sweet to try next. The underlying lust between them fueled everything they did with all the flirting and wine between them. Her full lips puckered against his large fingertips while he paused and let her playfully bite them as he hand-fed her. He kissed and licked away rouge splashes of cream and chocolate, taking it from her lips with a slow passing of his thumb to suck it into his own mouth. She was utterly mesmerized. On the last bites, taking her finger and wiping the fruit purée from the plate she sucks on her fingers, looking into his eyes, being bold and humming with sexual energy. He couldn’t help but feel and be charged by it.

“Lemme try some baby.” He speaks so low and deep she feels her body thrum like a guitar string deep between her legs when he spoke like that to her.

She repeats the action and he takes her finger into his mouth, and she’s worried her legs would no longer work when he tried to stand. That and her panties were definitely ruined by the forward action. Her lashes flutter and her cheeks flush, licking her lips as he grins seeing her face be so transparent. She takes a deep breath and a tiny little noise escapes her.

“What is it babe? You like that or something?” He teases, nose on her hair and words traveling directly from his lips to her ears. Every time he’d call her some sweet pet name her insides quivered. A gentle affection with intentions that were anything but.

She gathers herself before speaking, moving her face back to his, forcing eye contact to prove he hadn’t won yet. “It makes me wish the ride back home was a whole hell of a lot shorter.” Her lips and taut and speak with articulation, tongue flicking for dramatic effect and it all worked seamlessly. “I wanna take you home, Declan.” She coos, fluttering her lashes and rubbing her fingers down his neck. “Let me show you what I like.” She adds before pressing another kiss to his lips.

“There is nothing else I’m more interested in doing, sweetheart.”

——————-

They were like two hormonal teens in the back seat of that cab in the dark. Cozied up close and every touch feeling electric and sending signals to every amorous part of their brain and thus, body. Flirtatious giggles and their quietening with kisses turns hot quickly. Her hand on his neck and jaw, his rubbing up the outside of her thigh up to the swell of her hip, dragging the hem of her dress higher. If they weren’t kissing their faces stayed close with sweet whispers and affectionate nuzzles the whole ride home. The well-lit city fades to more spaced street lamps of residential areas and before they knew it they were back at Bella’s and both covered in a sheen of sweat.

“Thanks. And some extra for having to deal with us.” He chuckles and gives a nod to the driver. “Kept it strictly PG-13 don’t worry.” He grins and joins her in readjusting their clothes as they stand on the curb for a moment.

“C’mon handsome.” She says with a smile that was more happy than sexual, taking his hand and walking up to her door.

He puts his hands on her hips as she finds her keys in her purse and kisses the rounds of her shoulders. She was finding it very hard to concentrate. With hands almost Misbehaving and roaming up to just under her bra, they felt like they could wrap around her entire torso they were so big. Although that was far from factual, the fact that he was making her feel like something dainty that could be taken and overpowered had her nipples standing at full, sensitive attention from thought alone.

“Movin’ a little slow there baby.” He grins against the bend of her neck, lips hovering by her ear.

“You’re doing a very good job of distracting me.” She huffs out a laugh and finally gets the keys in and the door open. He hangs her coat first, then his as she enters the security codes. Lazily tossing her purse onto the small bench by the standing lamp in the hallway that went straight from the front door to the kitchen, it gives the perfect amount of ambient light to the living room. It illuminates the warm-toned, retro and southwestern style room just enough to be alluring but not be clumsy.

After the chain leaves her hands from her bag, his are back on her. Snaking around to her lower back and into her hair at the nape of her neck which gave her a thrill all the way down into her stomach. He meets her eyes, her face lit by the lamp but his shadowed, he looks over her expectant expression of slightly parted lips and doting eyes.

“Would you think less of me if I told you I was tired of taking it slow? ” She unexpectedly whispers as his thumb traces her bottom lip, getting an intimate look at her up close.

His eyes threaten to roll back in his head at her words, he could feel his pulse in his throat and lets out a low masculine grunt at her confession. He takes her face into both of his, entirely encapsulating it in his grasp. “I don’t intend on rushing with you baby. But I promise I won’t make you wait too long.” He promises in a rasping whisper before joining their mouths.

The kiss slips over chest and light, her arms around his neck, pulling him close as his hands control her body, moving it back towards the living room couch. With deep, probing turns that had their tongues wrapped around each other, escaping their mouths as one would have to stop to pant or moan. Their eyes are rolled back behind their lids, their hands desperate and now free to roam as they pleased. Hers sank into that glorious mane of his, the almost black roots like her hair color fading lighter from his time in the sun as they traveled down to his collar bones. Her fists balled into it, and with the feeling of finally giving in to something he’d wanted to do for longer than she liked to admit, she moans as she gives herself over to the pleasure of it.

Showing her impatience she pulls him to the couch, one finger into his belt loop to tug him her way, and it didn’t take any more than that to have him follow her. With a strong hand moving self assuredly down her backside to her thigh, hiking her leg up and causing her dress to shimmy up in the process, he grabbed her tightly and with his strong arms and long legs he lowered her onto the couch on her back.

Him not even making it to the bedroom wasn’t lost on her. She said she didn’t want to wait and he wasn’t going to make her. Her muscular thighs latch ahold of him, small desperate noises escaping her as his hands finally grabbed her with purpose like she’d been daydreaming about. With a growl and a firm hand to her ass, his kisses start to travel and she sighs out helplessly against him. Buried in her neck she feels the suck and bite of him against her, shutting her eyes and fully indulging in it, her back arching off the plush couch involuntarily.

Her hands move between them to reach down and run her hand over his growing length, biting her lip and snarling at the hardness she finds there pinned against her.

In response, he bites the fullness of her breast over her dress and makes her let out a breathy chuckle. He kisses his way across her bare skin, nipping at her piercings that were now pushed prominently against the strained fabric. “Ugh, these are so fuckin sexy baby.” He noses against the bump of bar. “These, the tattoos…so fuckin’ sexy.” He groans and takes a big mouthful into his mouth.

“I like yours too ba- Oh!” She squeaks as his phone starts to vibrate against her in his pocket. With a shared laugh, he takes it out and silences it, putting it on the coffee table and moving back to kissing her. “Thought you’d bought some toys to the party.” She giggles as he kisses her cheeks and the sides of her mouth while she nuzzles against him. “Although I’m certain you won’t need them.” She purrs and reaches down to grab him gently, fingertips tapping and dragging over him sensitive length.

He grunts and starts in on her jaw, a muffled “Nuh uh.” A shake of his head against her, working back down to her chest again. His hand had worked its way under her dress, which was now around her waist revealing the black and mesh thong that makes him drag his tongue across the swells of her breasts to her mouth again. “Fuck Bella.” He exhales softly, looking down at her soft and thick thighs. A perfectly framed, chubby mound grabs his attention, proving every bit of her was soft, so he does the same to it. His hand cupping over her entirely, fingers feeling between her thighs and finding her already wet through her panties, cueing another deep, drawn-out “Fuuuuck.” as he rubs over her, propped up on one arm and sucking away at her neck as she lets him explore her body.

His phone buzzes again, the call goes unanswered and barely noticed with their noisy kisses and moans, her unbuttoning his shirt and him pulling the front of her dress down. Her hands are working on his belt, fumbling with the buttons. as he broadly licks over the mesh cups on her bra. They were in their own little bubble again, hands harsh and needy, kisses hard and biting. And his phone buzzes a third time.

“Looks like I’m not the only one who wants a piece of you tonight.” She jokes, kissing his ears, voice extra breathy in his ear as she takes his earlobe into her mouth.

“Well fuck ‘em.” He mumbles and she exhales an amused sound into his ear before taking a nibble. He retakes her mouth with his into a messy kiss with a hard grip to her thigh and she hums contently in his embrace. He shifts, hard cock herring against her middle with pants undone, her with her dress around her waist and his weight grinding into her making her swear and bury her hands in his hair again with a tight grip. But then the phone rings again.

With a pause from them both, Declan lets out a rugged sigh.

“Go ahead.” She says sweetly, understanding the cause for stopping for a moment.

“Shit.” He groans, running his hand through his hair. “It’s Mike.” He knew Mike wouldn’t interrupt him on this night, of all nights for no reason. “Baby I’m afraid I need to-“

“Take it babe.” She insists with a shake of her head, snuggling into the couch and her hands going back to roaming over him. A sneaking under the band of his boxers over his muscular ass, a hand running over his chest and into his hair where she began kissing as he spoke.

“Mike you better be dead you asshole to be calling me.” He growls out, face stern and intense as he stares into the darkness of the room to concentrate.

Bella continues on under him, rubbing her hips against his, palming him over his tight and now wet boxers with a serene face and bitten lip. The usual questions follow, who, why, when. But she knows the gig is up when he lets out a loud and annoyed sigh and buried his face in her chest, hair covering his face. “Fuck you man, yeah.” He forces out angrily. “Shut up I’ll be there.” He says hanging up on him and putting the phone back on the table. He sighs and touches her cheek, hips subtly moving with her still moving against him.

“You have to go don’t you?” She whispers as he runs his thumb across her lips.

“Yeah, baby I’m-fuck I don’t want to.” He lets out a frustrated laugh. “Some asshole is fucking up the bar and asking for me.”

“Your reputation precedes you.” She grins and gives him a soft and slow kiss they both allow themselves to get lost in for a minute.

“I hate this shit. I try to stay out of this bullshit and-“ She pulls his face down into a hard kiss and he moans into it.

“I get it. I fucking hate it but I get it. When you’re the boss these things happen. I know.” She says with a graze of her nose to his.

“You’re too good to me baby girl.” He says with a disheartened sigh and another lippy kiss with her center throbbing at the pet name. He pulls back and she watches him move, making no move herself to hide or change position, her hand only trailing between her legs to find the, even impressive to her, wetness that had seeped through the panties.

“You’ll be good to me later.” She winks and sticks out her tongue. He looked her over, biting his lip and latched his pants back up.

“I’ll be the best to you later baby. I swear.” He says leaning over and taking her foot and kissing her ankle, then her calf, leaning in for another kiss to the lips. “God damn it’s hard to leave you looking like this.”

“You left me plenty wet for me to have some fun without you. I won’t be happy but I’ll live. I’ll be pretending it’s you anyway. Will you think of me later baby?” She playfully licks his lips as he raises again to separate himself, finding it hard enough watching her with her tits almost out, dress pulled away, her red nails rubbing circles over her panties, sinking into the glistening wet and softness.

“Every fucking minute until we’re back like this.” He groans.

“You go take care of business, boss.” She orders with pouty lips and a deeper turn of voice. “You ring him up by his fuckin neck for me baby.” She smiles wickedly and he takes a deep breath and exhales towards the ceiling.

“Fuck you are….well you might just be fucking perfect. Fuck.” He groans and mumbles.

“You’ll find out soon.” She whispers, hand disappearing down her panties.

“Fuck yes I will.” He says stalking with a still hard cock straining against his pants. “And I’m sorry baby, I couldn’t be more sorry.” He says with his hand on the doorknob.

“I know big guy.” She grins and moans. “You know where to find me.” She giggles, running a hand through her hair.

“Night baby.”

“Night.”

—————-

The number of people outside the bar told him something was wrong. Normally, when someone was raising hell no one would look twice, it happened, it was a bar. But as he stepped out of the cab, his impressive stature primed and ready for a fight, the men parted to let him through, their rubbernecking ceasing for a moment. He slung the door open with a loud and carnal growl, it slamming against the rubber stopper and bouncing, taking the attention of the man causing the trouble. He knew him or knew his brother anyway. Another abusive piece of shit he’d beaten up months ago because he’d hit one of his friends in front of her kid. Declan didn’t stand for that shit. He’d gone to jail recently, and he’s guessing this poor drunk bastard was acting out and looking for someone to blame. Well, he’d found him.

“There’s the mother fucker!” the guy drunkenly yells.

Once Declan sees who it is, no longer worried about a fight, he looks around to the damage done. Mike wasn’t joking. An end of the bar was still on fire, taps searing red hot and all the stools broken, a few booths had been knifed and gutted, a neon sign smashed, it was enough to make Declan want to wreck the guy, but he’d already fucked with him on the wrong night.

Throwing his jacket off he charges like a bull to the guy, ignoring the knife in his hand and putting one hand around his neck, and picking him up off her feet and slamming him into a wall. Hard. The other hand takes the knife while the guy was caught off guard and pushes it into his cheek, enough to let him know he was serious.

“You picked the wrong night to come fuck with me you little shit.” he barks in his face, spit flying as he growled from his gut, all his frustration into the guys face.

“I’m gonna fuckin’ keeeeel you, you mother fuck-” he begins but Declan squeezes his throat and he chokes, knocking his head against the wall again.

“You think you are? You stupid piece of shit?” he takes him and throws him into a table, stalking over him, leaning and looking while he struggled. “Is this what you wanted? Me to kick your fucking ass, huh?” he shouts, kicking him lightly with his boot. “Because I could fucking KEEEL you for coming in here. Fucking with MY shit. Ruining MY night with my girl? Fuck you!” he yells, giving him a kick to the ribs.

“Declan. Slow down.” Mike warms while trying to put out the fire.

“So I beat the shit out your brother? So what? He’s trash just like you. You wanna send the rest of the family down? I’ll kick their asses too.” he growls and stands over him now holding him by the shirt.

“HE went to jail because of you!” he drunkenly slurs.

“No. He went to jail because he’s a fuckin’ idiot who can’t keep his god damn mouth shut. Must run in the family huh?” he snarks, slapping the guy across the face.

“If you hadn’t-”

“If I hadn’t he would’ve kept beating Sasha and that kid would’ve seen it and had to live with that. You might not care, but I do. And your brother deserves whatever he gets, same as you. Now c’mere.” he yanks him up, the guy’s feet not even on the ground as he holds him to his face. “Now you can get the fuck out of here, or I can put your name on the fuck ton of paperwork this is gonna take to get the damage your little fuckin tantrum has caused and your ass will have to pay for it. And we’ll have to go to court, and you’ll have to pay for that and get a lawyer. So what’s it gonna be? You get the fuck out and stay the fuck away from me and mine? Or do I need to make you disappear?” he threatens with a low threat. He knew he could if he wanted. He’d done it before, he’d, unfortunately, have to do it again, he was sure.

“I’ll go-fuck-Jesus.” he sputters out of a bloody mouth.

Declan carries him like a battering ram and throws him onto the sidewalk. “You gonna come for me you best not miss mother fucker.” he says giving him one last kick to the ass and knocking him down again.

Declan whips back his hair, running a hand through it and letting out a sound of frustration, blood pumping fast and fingers tingling with anger.

“Get back in boys, before you start calling attention to us.” he calls out, stomping back inside. He slams his hand down on the non-burnt end of the bar. “Give me a fucking drink!” he shouts and Mike obeys, handing him an entire bottle of whiskey. He takes large gulps and closes it back. “God damnit.” he growls again, still angry, the burn in his throat fitting for how he felt.

“Yeah this is-”

“A fucking mess.” he says with his eyes shut. “And a week before the fucking show.”

“And on date night.” Mike mumble which he was the sorriest for. “Didn’t mean to interrupt ya mate.” His eyes lowered he throws a hand towel to Declan who is covered in smudges of red lipstick.

“YEAH! THAT TOO!” he yells and groans. “What?” He wrinkles his nose at the offering.

“Ya got a bit a-“ Mike motions to Declan’s neck as he turns to see the polka-dotted lip prints across his skin.

“Fuck.” he roars out in frustration, thinking about having to leave in the middle of the act of those prints being left. “Fuckin’ bullshit. Stupid mother fuckers. Goddamned idiot-” he mumbles walking into the back to get the folder for the insurance information.

Mike sighs and purses his lips. There wasn’t any way he could turn this to make it better. So he just let Declan boil until it all evaporated and went down to a simmer. Because a furious Declan wasn’t something you wanted to be in the sights of. Even if he wasn’t coming for you.

—–

Bella, not having heard from Declan becomes slightly worried amid her horniness. She takes pictures of herself, dimly lit room and not a stitch on.

When a lackluster response of “You’re killing me baby.” With radio silence afterward she goes to sleep mildly concerned.

A call to the bar just rang unanswered, and she didn’t have Mike’s number so she does the next sensible thing and goes to the bar after work.

She stands in the doorway with wide eyes. Men with clipboards and hard hats carrying out chunks of the bar and booths, and little Mike sweeping and looking rather forlorn.

“What the fuck happened?” she says with a frowning face as she steps aside for a man to get through the door.

“Oh hell, Hi Bella.” Mike says with a sympathetic looking nod. “The reason I had to call and interrupt last night happened. Sorry ‘bout that by the way.” he shrugs.

“Looks like you had a good reason.” she says with a hand running through her hair.

An exhausted looking Declan comes out the back room, hair tied back and in worn and dirty jeans and t-shirt. “Oh fuck.” he sighs out and rubs his face. “I still hadn’t called you back. Shit.” he groans and walks towards her, reaching out and giving her a hug. “I’m gross but-”

“Shut up. Are you okay?” she asks, patting him down with her hands and then holding his face.

“I’m fine.” he dismisses her worry. “But the bar…” he sighs.

“Yeah. Fuck dude.” she answers, still looking him over, putting loose strands behind his ears as she looks around the bar. “You sure you’re okay? No offense but you look rough.” she says with a kind, soft laugh, her thumbs rubbing over his cheeks as the softness makes the tension in his neck ease.

His shoulders slump and he finally focuses on her and her worried expression. “C’mere.” he says, taking her hand and leading her into the back, behind a door that led to a flight of stairs and a door with lots of stickers and banners on it.

“What’s?” she asks before he opens it, revealing a studio apartment. “Whaaa?” she says surprised.

“You didn’t know?” he chuckles, shutting the door and moving to wrap his arms around her.

“No I didn’t know this was here.” she laughs, feeling a bit dumb. “I didn’t wanna be nosey.” she shrugs.

“Well this is my apartment.” he says with a nonchalant shrug. The space wasn’t huge, but not small, all exposed brick and wood and industrial looking. It felt old, the wood worn and haggard, two walls to block off a bedroom, a bar for seating in the kitchen, a bathroom tucked away in the corner. It felt very him to be so bare bones.

“I like it. Very… rustic.” she says before he takes her face and kisses her. “Mmph. Oh okay.” she mutters into it and giggles, moving to wrap her arms around him and kiss him back. After a few rounds that were for comfort more than anything he parts, his forehead to hers.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t call you back.”

“Well, you’ve clearly been busy.” she says supportively.

“So fucking busy. No excuse. I’m sorry, okay?” he insists and she kisses him softly.

“Forgiven.” she says with a smile, reaching to give him a hug. “Don’t worry about me. You’ve got enough on your plate.” she insists, rubbing his back. How had he gone without this sort of comfort for so long? He grunts into it and she smiles, nuzzling into his hair and kissing his head. “You’re exhausted. Have you slept?” she pulls away and strokes his face.

“Not really.”

“That’s what I thought.” she nods. “Can I help?”

“You are helping.” he sighs out.

“Good.” she smiles and kisses his temples. They stay like that for a moment, her rubbing on him, easing the pain in his joints and muscles with the moment of recharge she was giving him. “Shit. What about the-?” she blurts out.

“Show. I know.” he shakes his head and groans. “I got the paperwork started last night for the insurance, then called these guys first thing this morning. We’ve been surveying and taking pictures and all that shit all day, so we’re getting out all the damaged stuff now. Insurance will be here in a few days, so that’s good. But the taps are destroyed, so’s the register and some of the stock. I can replace the booths and stools and shit no problem but the other things take time.”

“Do I need to cancel my stuff then?” referring to the walkthroughs she had scheduled for later in the week to set up the sound and lights.

“Nah. It should be fine. I’m helping the guys out, I’m a workhorse. We can drive out and get some shit from the supplier ourselves, it’ll be faster. I think we can manage.”

“You’re gonna be exhausted.” she responds with a pout of her lips, already seeing it on his face.

“Yeah but…gotta be done.”

“I can reschedule.” she insists.

“No, no. You’ve worked hard on it. I’m not gonna start this off with backing out. Don’t wanna jinx it like that.”

“It’s your call, babe.” she says with a supportive, soft smile.

“And it’s still on. It’ll be a shit week but by the end, it should be worth it. And if this works out then that money will be much needed to cover everything until the insurance comes through.”

“What’re you gonna do about the taps and everything? The POS?”

“A register is easy. The taps harder but doable.” he shrugs.

“Well, you could take this opportunity to upgrade a few things?” she says cautiously, not wanting to offend. “It’d cost more and I don’t wanna be nosey about your finances but a few upgrades could really give you an edge.” she offers with a face that was hesitant but honest.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean get some taps installed, some temperature regulated ones, keeps the head just right. A one-touch POS that you could program everything into, wouldn’t have to remember prices. WOuld really help with the temps. You get a report at the end of every day, you can manage everything from a computer. If you get volume in here it’ll really help you out. And if I have anything to do with it, you will.” she nudges her nose to his and he smiles down at her.

“You’re brilliant but I have no clue how to even go about that.” he chuckles in self-defeat.

“Lucky for you, you know a girl who does.” she beamed at him.

“I am lucky. You know that?” he hums and leans in and kisses her.

“Stop being so sweet I don’t know how to act.” she lets out a laugh that shook her shoulders.

“Get used to it.” he huffs out and kisses her again, squeezing her around the ribs. “How about you come down and talk to the guys? Before they tear too much up.” he grins.

“No problem.” she says cheerfully. “I’ll text my bar guys for prices and time frames and all that.” she says getting out her phone.

“Bar guys?” he says with a playfully territorial smirk.

“Oh yeah, I just collect you all. Didn’t you know?” she laughs.

“I did not!”

“They’re owners from when I used to travel and do shows and stuff. Some have done well for themselves over the years. I helped them with the manual labor to get some air time in the beginning.”

“After all this is over I’ve got some manual labor I’ll be needing you to do.” he gives her a goofy grin and she lets out that giggle he loves as he bites on her neck and growls, a handful of her ass in her tight jeans, the rough turning quickly to loud smooches to show his gratitude for her.

“I’d say so. You’ll owe me BIG time big boy.” she boops his nose and he smiles like a dope. “I’ll take my payment in installments over a long period of time if you don’t mind.” she snorts and his eyes turn to hearts as she lets herself go around him, her jokes being a way for her to be sweet without the vulnerability.

“No lump sum for you.” he shakes his head. “How long of a payment plan we talkin’?” he asks with a kiss to her cheek.

“I don’t know…” she pouts her lips in thought dramatically. “Depends on you doesn’t it?” she sass’s back.

“I have excellent credit I’ll have you know.” he retorts and she laughs and puts her head into his chest.

“I thought we were talking about something else entirely. Unless excellent credit is what you call your dick.” she holds in a laugh with a wrinkle of her nose, her front teeth showing as she hunches her shoulders.

“Nah that’s old faithful.”

“Also a good indicator of regularly scheduled payments being made!” she says with a beaming smile and a tilt of her head.

“You’re fuckin’ ridiculous.” he lets out a rolling laugh and gives her a good solid squeeze and kiss while they grin against each other. “C’mon. Work first. Then play.”

“Agreed.” she chirps and pulls him in for one last kiss before they return back to the world of professionalism.

Chapter Text

The week between their date and the first night of the music shows at the bar goes by quicker than either expected. Bella worked, then went to the bar after to help set up her end of this whole endeavor. The construction didn’t help matters when it came to testing a sound system, but they had the day to work out any kinks, and she suspected there would be a fair share. The rest of her time was dedicated to getting the word out about the show. She’d texted, called and messaged everyone she knew that might be interested. She put out ads online and in hard paper publishing’s, on the radio and hung flyers. She put in the footwork and the thumb work, putting blood and sweat into the success of the idea. Bella helped with building, cleaning, ordering and planning. Anything she could. They spent a lot of time together that week, but it was in a strictly professional capacity. Too tired, stressed and distracted at the end of the night to even think about moving their physical relationship closer. They were both thankful for the mutual understanding between one another. They’d both been exhausted by the time the crews left, sharing a kiss only after they were alone, which she appreciated greatly. They both had too much on their minds to think about much else except the bar and the show.

So the night of finally comes for the tired but excited entrepreneurs. A lovely sunny Saturday was quickly turning into a hot night in the newly renovated bar. Declan might’ve let Bella talk him into a bit much. Between his excitability about the idea and wanting to impress her, he’d made more changes in the past week to the bar than it’d seem in over a decade. He hoped this would be a success before, for both of their sakes but now covering the costs was another reason to worry. He did have to admit standing in thecleam and more modernized wooden dive , it looked good.

A new point of sales, the register now one touch and fast, the touch screen and metal out of place among the rest of the aged wooden bar. New temperature controlled taps finished bringing them into this century, everything cleaned and dusted and polished and up to code. She even talked him into buying snack food to sell. Small menus they’d curated and she designed were sat out on tables, a few new booths, black faux leather and new metal bar stools mixed with the old wooden ones gave it a touch of modernity but it still kept the vintage and dive feel. He’d appreciated her attention to detail during the process, not wanting to change what it was, just make things easier on him in the long run with technology and durability.

 

Bella trots about in heels and a tight dress, the same dress as she’d worn on her date. But this time in black, her comfort color. A sheer and flowing kimono covered with roses over a black background masked her curves and kept her flirty but professional. There was wiggle room when working in the music industry with what was considered professional and not, and Bella liked riding that line. She had a pen in her hair and a clipboard in her arms as she directed bands and their crews, turning what used to be the kitchen into a temporary green room.

Besides the physical bar, Declan hadn't had to worry about much else. He’d loved watching Bella work. Seeing her with her no nonsense expression, scolding men who weren’t performing up to her standards was really doing it for him, he admitted. He mused and polished the bar top, a nervous habit, and watched her with fondness in his hazel eyes. He felt his nerves for the night pass, replaced with a school boy like fascination as she moved around his space as if it was hers.

The stage was set, the boys tended to in the green room, some friends of hers from way back in her days of performing, and Declan’s part of the work was caught up.

“Bella! Can you come here when you get a second?” He calls out from the back room with the same casual tone he’d yelled it at her so many times over the past few days.

“Yeah just a sec!” She answers absentmindedly, checking off tasks on her thorough list. She sashays into the back to find him waiting, a smile on his face without anything in hand for her to address.

“C’mere.” He calls softly, taking her hand and pulling her behind the door to the stairs to his apartment. It was a brief moment of sanctuary he’d been craving. The hustle of the bar quieted by the door, a moment without prying eyes to decompress. “I didn’t think I’d get another chance to talk to you alone.” He took the clipboard from her hands and placed it on a stair gingerly.

“Is something wrong?” She asks with curious eyes.

“I hadn’t gotten a chance to thank you.” He answers in a warm, deep tone, leaning in to wrap his arms around her. She understood his intention with the way his mouth turned up in the corner. A soft smile she’d only seen on him with thru we’re alone. She let her guard down, having to slip out of boss mode to return the affection.

“Don’t thank me yet.” She shook her head as he leaned in for a soft kiss. “Still have to see who shows up.” She murmurs against his lips.

He could tell she was nervous, and granted, so was he. But he had total faith in her abilities after watching her all week. “Even if just a handful do I still need to thank you. For everything this week. You didn’t have to step up like you did.” A calm and reassuring tone matches his expression as she finds herself much more pliable and soft than had been since the last time she was in his arms.

“Of course I did.” She insists with a nod of her chin his way. “Not gonna let you look bad now am I?” She grins and kisses his cheek.

“I look bad standing next to you... lookin like this.” A brief but strong enough squeeze of her hips was enough to get his point across.

“Never.” The shake of her head sold her dramatic enthusiasm. ”You do look good though.” She smirks and looks him over, fingers trailing over the strong arms he was showing off with his deep side cut old Sabbath shirt and jeans that fit him suspiciously well.

“So do you.” A brief muzzle of nose to nose. “Very… sexy Stevie Nicks.” He praised.

“Just so happens to be exactly what I was going for.” She smiled proudly.

“I know there’s a lot going on tonight, but I had one more thing to ask you.” His eyes turn a bit soft and he fussed with a wild curl of her hair.

“Shoot.” She invites.

“Even if it’s super late… and we’re both too fucking tired to do anything… I’d like you to stay with me tonight.” He suggests with a sweet whisper, his posture almost sheepish.

“Like, sleep here you mean?” She clarifies.

“Yeah.” He pauses with a brief moment of questioned judgement. “Is that-?”

“No! That’s… fine that’s… that’s good. I’d like that.” She reassured him so casually he exhaled loudly in relief. “It’ll give me something else to look forward to tonight.” She beamed a killer smile, a genuinely affectionate one that makes him hum happily.

“Before I let you go… do you wanna make out?” He asked childishly, making her chuckle and wrap her arms around his neck. “I haven’t got to really kiss you all week.” He adds with more sentimental inflection.

“And I wanna thank you for not doing this or anything else in front of anyone else.” Her voice is deeper, her face relaxed. “Not that I’m like, ashamed or something I just prefer keeping work and play separate you know.”

“I assumed.”

“And I’ve went and mixed the two as much as possible haven’t I?” She grins and grazes his nose to hers.

“Fraid So.” He hums back with content, a small kiss to start and it grows hungry as it always does for them. A small moment to melt into each other, hands in hair and over needy bodies to hold off the hunger for another evening.

“Missed that.” She whispers when they part, his forehead to hers.

“So did I.” He gives her a less romantic, more playful smooch to make her smile.

“Hopefully we won’t be too exhausted to continue that after we close up tonight.” Her words were suggestive but her tone wasn’t convinced.

“One can hope.” He nods with high brows.

“Either way. We’ve got all day tomorrow together.” She happily adds with a kiss to his cheek.

“Mmm. That we do.” A few quick kisses to her cheek, jaw and neck make her give up that giggle for him. He gave her a squeeze before they parted, one last time before they were professional again. “Let’s go get em baby.” He mutters with a cheerful face before they break the seal on another little love bubble they’d created.

———

Declan, Mike and Bella Knick back celebratory shots for making it this far and to ease the pre show jitters. They all stand and look at each other, anxious glances and blinking eyes before
facing the truth.

“Let’s fuckin do this.” Declan booms loudly and slaps his hands on the bar top sudden to cut the tension.

Bella smiles at his enthusiasm. “Don’t scar em off before they even get in the door ya lion. Roarin and carryin on.” She teases as she walks to the half stained glass and barred door. “Here we go.” She whispers to herself to pass from her true self
to hostess before opening the door.

The bar wasn’t small by any measure, but the amount of people that showed up made it seem like it might’ve been. The speakers covering the music before the bands started cutting any awkward silence, the drinks and conversation going all mingle to create a good atmosphere.
Bella stepped in to help take out orders when she could, focusing on Directing people and handling hospitality while Mike and Declan were swamped at the bar.

Among the bumping of shoulders, the dull roar of music and voices, she realizes She’d missed this. The rumble and buzz of a crowded club felt
Nostalgic and comforting. The vibration of the music through her body while she moved about made her feel younger, more alive. She felt a moment of pride for her work and gratitude for having found the gem of a bar. She even felt Fond for the bad day that sent her there, and the drunken night that lead to all this.

It doesn’t take long for the tension to build between Declan and Bella. It was effortless on their part. As She was hovering and helping them, he kept getting sight of her and meeting eyes. They’d pass chest to chest, back to back behind the bar and she’d give him a wink no one could see while her tits dragged across his torso. He’d shoot her a look, and she knew exactly what it meant. An almost threat she felt like antagonizing. Both moving about the space they would pass each other, he’d give her a deep “hey baby.” In her ear when he could.

The crowd gets rowdy, as crowds do, and she ends up getting pushed around a bit and into him a few times. He was keeping work in mind but also, maybe staying near her unconsciously. He’s thankful when she gets shoved right into him so he can comfort her. “Hey, careful baby girl.” He warns with warm and sure hands to her body that make it react. Another low purr in her ear adds
weight in her chest as she tried to focus on work and not the huge, sexy bartender that was trying to get in her panties. Not that he had to try very hard. His swoon inducing genuine smiles and his flexing bare arms were cause enough to distract her. She kept it together as she always did, but it certainly did add a bit of spice to the evening she was more than excited about.

“Boys are taking a break after this song Bella!” An old friend who was helping with sound and stage yells at her and she felt the butterflies arrive. They break her steamy day dreams to give her another sort of tingle and rush. She hadn’t performed for a crowd in years. She’d always loved it, but there was more money in being the person running the machines for people who were on stage. It hadn’t stopped her from fantasizing about doing it from time to time. It was a high she had yet to find a way to replicate.

The boys announce their break and give her an introduction. An old friend and very talented woman who was nice enough to do a set and let them take a breather she was generously called. The crowd is fairly disinterested, as was standard, but there were certainly a lot of them.

“I’ll be filling in the down time for you guys, with my friends tonight. We’re gonna start slow, let you get your drinks and snacks, go take a piss, all that.” her on stage presence demanding and confident she fell right back into it with a calm Demeanor. “Be sure to try to the Ale special. It’s my favorite and The Trading Post is one of the few places you can get it in the city. So go hit up that hot bartender and he’ll give ya what ya want.” She laughs with a charm that all women react to. A few ‘woos’ and Declan grins broadly, waving his distractingly thick arms.

“Nice and easy, take a break yourselves, gonna start with some Kacey Musgraves.” She says with a bow, starting with an acoustic guitar first.
Slow Burn fades into Golden Hour and Declan is bewitched. He wished he could just sit and watch her, her voice was sweet but raspy, it melted him like butter with the sentimental words she sang. Every time she’d sing she’d surprise him somehow, and every time he was smitten.

“We’re going with the legend, the legs, Miss Tina Turner now. Kick it up a notch, wake the blood back up. Proud Mary.” She speaks the intro, “...gonna start this song out easy. Then we’re gonna end it rough.” And she delivers. A song most everyone knew, enjoying the soulfulness of her voice and then being taken into a double time, loud performance with her moving and dancing and singing, swinging her head and getting everyone’s attention again.

“And to wake you the fuck up the rest of the way!” She calls out, hair a mess and a sheen of sweat on her she roars right into Ace of Spades and the crowd eats it up. Her growling out and her rasp giving her the means to deliver the fast and hard song. She plays her guitar like a dream and Declan stops and stares. He’s never seen her do THAT.

“Holy shit.” He mouths with a slack jaw.

“Ya girls fuckin got it dunnit she lad?” Mike laughs with a slap to his back.

“Yes she fuckin does. God damn.” He answers in awe. “I’m gonna take a break, gotta ask her where the fuck this came from.” He mutters with open arms as her head hangs with her hair wild and waving, fingers picking and playing in a flash.

It ends with a hard note and the crowd now fully invested again gives her applause she happily takes. She hears a familiar loud voice by the front by the stairs.

“FUCK YEAH BELLAAAAA!” Declan’s large lungs scream out and she whips her hair to one side and gives him a disarming smile. She didn’t mind the support at all. She steps off stage after the other band returns and Declan is there to squeeze her so hard her feet leave the ground. “I’m buying you a drink! That was amazing! I didn’t know you could do that!”

“I haven’t in a very long time.” She responds with a beaming smile her self fulfillment clear in her eyes.

“Let’s get you sat down.” He offers over the noise of the crowd and uses his big frame to carve a way to a small booth you couldn’t see the stage from. To her surprise he sits first and pulls her in on his lap and she happily accepts. With the crowd now absorbed back into the showroom and their conversations of praise to her from strangers cease and they’re left with one another again. He motions to Mike to bring over drinks. “You were so fuckin good baby. Seriously. I mean it. Fuckin amazing.”

“Shots and an ale.” Mike says proudly. “Ya fuckin killed it out there, lass. Good on ya.” He gives her a happy nod she thanks him for.

Declan gives her a toast to the glass shot glasses that clink as they nod and throw them back. With an exaggerated exhale he wraps his arms around her, one on her hip to keep her in place, pulling her close so she puts an arm around him, face still content from the performance. The other hand rests on her bare thigh, his lap big enough for her to crawl into and bend her legs over his own. “You were so fuckin good up there baby.” he speaks in a deeper, slow tone that makes a more suggestive smile flare across her lips.

“Thank you.” she gives him a brief up and down glance. “You’d get a good uptick in sales from my little shout out?” she gives him a cheeky grin, her hand moving to push back a strand of hair that’d fallen from where he’d tied it back.

“Yes you sneaky little thing.” he gives her a happy low rumbling laugh, a tiny little pat to her ass that makes her nose wrinkle, giving in to her laugh. “What about not mixing business and personal? Huh?” he teases with his nose coming close to grazing hers.

“Eh. Me playing isn’t business.” she dismisses
with a shrug. “That’s just fun. Plus it got everyone's attention didn’t it?”

“I think that was you that had all that. They were loving it.” he adds supportively, both speaking soft and low and only to each other. “I know I did. You sing like a...horny angel.” he chuckles.

The explanation makes her shoulders shake in a laugh and gently touch the side of his face. “I like that description.” she nods. “Except for that angel part…” she shrugs. “Pretty spot on actually.” she gives him a sly smile that turns into a flirtatious one that covers her whole face.

“I disagree but I am VERY intrigued.” he wiggles his eyebrows and he hears that little giggle from her that makes his chest flutter.

“I don’t think you’ll be calling me an angel after tonight.” she speaks quietly and peeks her tongue out from between her lips.

“Mmm that so?” his voice swings low, she can feel a distinct rumble in his body under hers.

“Mmm Hmm.” she nods, her hand now tracing the outlines of his sleeves as she looks him over with a hunger in her eyes. “Keep these shots in me and it’ll be especially true.” she tilts her head in support of her statement and smirks. “Or hell…” she shrugs, “Who am I kidding? With you? Stone cold sober I’d be inclined to behave sinfully.” her voice is just loud enough for him to hear when he leans close, getting a wiff of her sweet perfume and the tickle of her hair against his skin.

“I”m hearing nothing I don’t fully support.” he coos at her, eyes gazing over her face and lingering at her lips set in a seductive pose.

She lets out a sigh that surprises him, her hand moving to his chest, running back up to his shoulder and neck and back again as she bites her lip. “Maybe it’s the performance high. Or that shot on an empty stomach but…” her eyes return to meet his that are deep and dark and only make the fire in the pit of her stomach burn more intensely. “I weirdly don’t feel at all shy to admit that watching you tonight has done nothing but distract and make me realize just how fucking sexy you are.” her lip snarls ever so slightly with her delivery, her fingertips light on his bare skin as he feels a tensing between his legs. “Or how every night since our date I’ve thought about how it felt with you on me on that couch.” Her voice is so soft and demanding of him.

“Everytime I look at you I think about that couch.” He admits with a quirked brow. “Everytime you get close I have to touch you.” They share lingering glances between them, his mouth slack and taking in her soft expression for him, her biting her lip and wanting to sink her teeth into him. The sexual chemistry between them was undeniable and they didn’t have to wait long. “God I wanna kiss you so bad right now.” He whispers and she reaches up to touch his cheek.

“Then do it.” She leans in and whispers.

“But there’s people, I didn’t know if-“

“I don’t care.” She shakes her head and gives him an approving smile. “I want you too.” A breathy confession from her as her thumb rubs over his cheek bone. “Fuck what they think.” She nods her head back towards the crowd. “They don’t matter.” Her lips ghost over his as she gives him permission and an alternative sweetness he was growing to really love.

It doesn’t take him a second longer before leaning in to take her mouth against his. His arms instinctually move around her tighter, a hand on her under her shawl feeling the soft jersey stretch of the fabric of her dress. The other on her bare thigh, the heat between them searing.

She doesn’t pull away, only deepens it as his eyes roll behind their lids for the public display of affection from her. Deep rounds with teasing tongues and tense hands that roam ever so slightly they give in and forget anyone else is around them. It does eventually end but not without their foreheads together, two aroused expressions shared that told them that no matter what they would be taking this further tonight.

—————-

 

Counting the money in the till, still sober enough to do so after celebratory shots on the raving success the night had been. Bella, who’s seen him shut down the bar so many times does it for him. Locking up, Turning off signs, sweeping and wiping down as he counts and figures out the new POS system he’d installed. He uses his personal laptop for now to do his spreadsheets, saying they’ll get a company one soon. It looks as if they would be able to afford it with how things went. Between easily remembered amounts, he watches her. In just her dress now, shawl forgotten, laid over her purse in the back on a counter he sees her body stretch and jiggle and finds himself quickly forgetting about the money in his hands and the numbers on the screen.

Bella only had a quick conclusion on her mind. Getting everything done as fast as she could to get back to being close with Declan. An excitement in her muscles, a tension in them that was exhilarating. Finishing, she moves to the bar top, lifting herself up and plopping down on it as he finished his part of the rituals.

“Does Mike usually stay to help you with all this?” she asks, feet swinging off the edge of the bar.

“Yeah. But I told him to get lost.” he grins, laying another stack onto the counter.

“Good.” she gives the same smile back, even though they don’t look at each other. “Looks like you did pretty well tonight.” she remarks, a supportive nod of her head his way.

“WE did VERY well actually.” he lets out a soft chuckle. He puts everything with the receipts and notes into the money bag, concluding the count.

“It’s not easy moving around behind this bar.” she keeps her eyes to the ground, letting him concentrate, not knowing if he was finished or not. “Especially with more than one person. Since you’re so ...big and all.” a grin with her clear intentions spreads across her face.

He stands with his head tilted slightly, looking her up and down, an expression that was dark, giving way to a subtle smile as he moved forward. His hand drug across the bar surface, not lifting when he meets the skin of her thigh. A rather cocky smirk on his face as he moves chest to chest, both hands now on her legs, a slow rub up to her hips and back, easily slipping into a more sensual mindset.

“Am I?” he gives a sarcastic remark that makes her beam up at him, a closed mouth smile and eyes that now had the same intention as his.

“Mmm Hmm.” she nods slowly, hands moving up his arms, feeling the flex of them under her fingers. “Must be really… hard. Doing this by yourself.” her voice has dropped a few octaves, same as his. Hands now to her backside, hers in his hair as he yanked her closer, now held on the edge of the counter.

“So fuckin’ hard.” he leans in and almost groans as he watches her chest rise, any innocent intention in her eyes now gone.

“Are you?” the same cheeky response as he had earlier.

He only nods, hand moving to her face before closing the space between them, his body wasn’t going to let him waste any more time.

 

The kisses grow at a feverish pace, deep and indulgent. Desperate to be as close as possible, her hips even out with his, feeling the friction they craved. Her legs swinging back before wrapping around his waist, her heels hits the control panel for the speakers and music begins to play. He makes no acknowledgement, kisses traveling to her jaw and neck as she lets out a small chuckle.

“Oops.” she shrugs and he grunts in response, pulling her closer.

He shushes her, taking her mind back to where he wants it with a biting kiss, and she eagerly responds with her own noises.

“We’ve even got mood music now babe, you gonna make me wait much longer?” she whispers in his ear before taking his lobe into her mouth.

“Ungf. No.” he responded in an almost animalistic way, hands sliding under her quickly, adjusting his grip.

“You gonna fuck me on this counter or are we gonna make it upstairs?” her voice a breathy exhale against his neck as she placed little sucking kisses, feeling him tense beneath her.

“Upstairs.” he grunts again, picking her up, her letting out a tiny noise of surprise at being lifted and carried.

“Mmm. What a gentleman.” she grins between kisses, a hefty bounce as he carries her, his boot opening the door as he stomps up the stairs. She was extremely impressed with him physically already and he wasn’t even naked. The sounds of Trampled Under Foot certainly didn’t hurt the rush of feelings they were both experiencing. Her suggestive words turn quickly to eager sounds between rounds of kisses as he kicks open his door, something that made her body tense with pleasure at the witnessing of it. With another boot to the metal door, slamming it shut, anything besides the raw sexual need they both felt for each other was forgotten behind it.

 

They had built the emotional chemistry, then came the sexual, and that they had in spades, and now they had the time. His apartment was all exposed brick walls, the only light outside the bedroom coming from the street lamp through a window in the kitchen. Once they passed the barrier to his bedroom, she found only a single neon sign on that cast the room in a mood setting red glow. The decor was minimum, his sheets black and soft, bed unmade and clothes strewn over an old worn chair in the corner by a closet with no door. It screamed bachelor pad but she rather liked the casual, rustic, industrial aesthetic.

She takes in the red glow, the faint buzz of a vintage restored sign above his bed as he wastes no time and lays her back, feet just dangling over the sides. He moves fast and yanks his shirt over his head, eyes hungry as they watched her sit up on her knees and peel off her dress. A low rumble from his rapidly rising and falling chest as he gets his first good look at her. Almost bare except for the black bra and panties, the low light still held plenty to see as her curves were backlit in a silhouette that made him reach down and readjust himself in his tight jeans.

She reaches out and gets her hands flat on his torso to run down his belt, practically drooling at the sight and feel of him. Before she can go further he takes her by surprise and knocks her onto her back, feet kicking up in the air as he returns to the greedy kisses they’d paused before. He had to feel her before she touched him, he hoped he would last and not disappoint after the painful build up to their first time together. He gets to feel her warm olive skin give under his harsh grip she only responds in favor to. But soon she gets impatient for him.

“Mmph Declan.” A panted out and needful voice makes his eyes roll behind their shut lids.

An “Mmph?” Of his own in response, giving her room to speak as his lips move to her chest.

Her hands return to his belt and begin the metallic noises that signal something good to come. “I just want you tonight. There’ll be time for slow later...” she whines and shifts her hips under him, “no waiting just… fuck me.” Every part of his body responds to her breathy and surprisingly polite request of him.

“You sure?” A deep groan that makes her muscles deeply twitch inside her. Fingers on her bra clasp as she nods quickly and gets her hands into his undone jeans. “Whatever you want Bella.” He coos as he raises and she finishes the job, quickly but not bashfully tossing her bra across the room, watching him toe off his boots and lose the jeans.

With a bitten lip and hungry eyes she shimmy’s out of her panties, also wildly abandoned to the depths of his room. He palms himself over his tight boxer briefs and hums at the sight laid out beneath him. Every part of her was soft and silky and thick. Two muscular and hefty thighs framed a soft and chubby pair of pussy lips that her fingers disappeared into as she looked up at him.

“God baby you’re… fuck… look at you.” After the bra was tossed, and although it was a very sexy one, he was happy to admit, it’s disappearance revealed two natural and weighted breasts, even and bouncing, silver bars catching the light he thought the rest of her couldn’t also be as perfect. He was never more happy to be wrong. “You sure you don’t want any foreplay? Because FUCK I just want to bury my face between those thighs.” He rasps, hand now wrapped around himself through his boxers.

She gives him a seductive smile that makes his balls tighten, fingers in small circles, mostly hidden but he could see the light on the slick of her. “I’m sure.” She purrs, lifting the two previously hidden fingers and showing him the sticky remnants left. “I’m so fucking wet for you babe...” her long lashes bat up at him and he wants to eat her alive. He couldn’t have been happier she wasn’t being reserved or even remotely shy. She then put the fingers on display into her mouth, sucking them dry and he involuntarily releases a growl through a tight jaw. “Just fuck me already.” A playful nod of her head before sitting up and batting his hands away to finally have her eyes on him. And she was not let down.

“Fuck me…” She whispers, revealing a cock she would have written a song about. She takes both her hands to hold the heavy, uncut girth of him. Everything framed by dark thick hair. He was well over 6 inches, she could tell that much, possibly nearing 7, but what was even more impressive was how thick he was. She wanted to wrap her mouth around him and taste him, but she’d already proclaimed there’d be time later. She gets distracted, and who could blame her with a cock like his in her hands. Running over it before going to his balls which makes him emit a deep sigh.

Her silence and awe on her face clear he feels his ego rise. He’s never been insecure, for good reason, but seeing the lust burn clearly on her face filled him with a deep satisfaction. Taking himself into his hand and slowly pumping, a low and entirely confident voice purrs down at her. “Like what you see baby?” A smirk that made her want to smother him between her thighs rests on his face as she looks up at him.

“You know I fucking do.” She challenges him with snarled lips before reaching to yank his boxers off the rest of the way, scooting up the bed as he slips them off, seeing the animalistic prowl towards her before taking control of her mouth with his. His hands find her center quickly, and even though she’d proclaimed no foreplay, she didn’t fight him as his fingers explored how she was put together. Mapping out her clit and making her toes twitch before he sinks one, then two fingers into her. With a steady push behind them and an easy curve he gets to watch the first waves of pleasure pass over her face. She didn’t melt and sigh like he was used to seeing women do. Her eyes do roll back, but her lips snarl, teeth clenched as she moans for him with a tilted back head, legs splayed wide and welcoming. She was soaked, there was no denying the fact but he continues a few strokes before a third finger joins to test how she’d be able to take him. With a tiny whine, eyes returning to his with a more submissive cast to them he eats up her small moans as she adjusts. “Shit.” She swears out of nowhere fully grabbing his attention as he quickly removes his fingers and his eyes already full of apologies for her. “No, I’m fine. I forget the condoms in my bag downstairs.” She rubs her face with one hand, voice exasperated.

“Oh.” He lets out a snort of relief. “I’ve got us covered, don’t worry.” He shakes his head and she gets to see the great expanse of him reach into the bedside table and stretch above her. As it always went, he rolls it down over his length and she once again gets to marvel at him and how he can fill the tight cover.

It had been years since Bella had slept with anyone. She had plenty of toys and was no stranger to them, which helped in this particular situation, but her toys were not him. Even though not monstrous, and thank goodness for that, he would be the biggest guy she’d ever been with, and she knew there would be pain before pleasure. Luckily for both of them, she was a fan of both sensations.

“Ready baby?” He asks with a gentler turn to his low roar.

“Fuck yes.” She gives him a lusty glance that makes his heart react in a funny way, pressing forward with the winning attention his cock was demanding where it stood hard and proud and eager.

Settled between her legs, he raises to his knees to guide himself. An up and down over her thick pussy lips, glistening with wet for him she lays on her elbows to watch him, hand lowering to be helpful to spread her lips apart for him, his heavy head rubbing against her hard clit and revealing her soft pink center. As soon as he presses into her, he feels the resistance and knows he’s mentally going to have to prepare to go slow. He leans over her, still pressing as he can sense the discomfort she’s feeling. “If it hurts you-“

“Keep going.” She shushes him, fingers to his lips before pulling him flush against her, head notching in as her knees spread and fall back for him. With slow, deep kisses of intertwining tongue and moans it helps distract them for a moment, a slow push and in and out of himself.

With a few inches of progress she’s starting to relax, and is so appreciative of his patience. But she lacks that trait. “Fuck you’re so tight babe.” An almost defeated hoarse whisper escapes him as he hangs his head into her neck.

“And you’re so big.” She replies with a still happy sounding exhale. “Keeping goin, I want it all.” Her fingers dig into his back, no nails yet as she feels the pain and let it melt into pleasure as he sucks away at her breast. He fills her up so completely she feels as if he’s in her stomach when their hips finally meet again. A louder moan now, an exhale let out they didn’t know they were holding in. A slow drag out causes her to shudder beneath him. A moan that starts low and ends with a needy pitch makes his eyes roll back.

He’d imagined these sounds, and now he had them. more importantly he had her, skin to skin and nothing else between them, he had her all to himself and he felt a deep need to keep her that way. “You okay?” He asks against the bend of her neck, feeling her nod enthusiastically.

“Yes, fuck, more.” She whines, turning her head before crashing her mouth into his, hands in his hair as she gives over completely. With a masculine moan he pushes back in and causes her to interrupt the passionate kisses with an arch of her back and an open mouth. ”Oh my...fuck.” A guttural prayer from her lifted chin as her eyes fully roll back and he gets to soak up every bit of her animated reactions. He pauses again and she whines for more, her hand sliding between them to rub her clit. “Don’t stop anymore, just fuck me Declan, you feel so fucking good.” Her voice is hoarse and direct, her kisses much the same they follow, his hands now on her thigh to hold her steady, feeling them tense and shake with every pump. She was starving for his kisses, teeth tugging on his lips and growling in retort when he’d part from her. She was writhing under him, back arching and hips pushing back on him, there was nothing subtle about her like this. He felt bare with her in more than the physical way.

 

He met every buck of her hips and kiss of her mouth as she sought him out with growing desperation. She’d never felt so full before, physically or emotionally from sex. He was meeting her passion with his own matched, both arching and bowing against the other as the growing tension between them is fueled by their friction. With his hand gripped into the covers by her head, she raises her free hand to push the hair back from his face. She knew she wasn’t ending the night dissatisfied and found her mind wanting to focus on things besides her own pleasure for once. With guys before they were mostly there for themselves, but not Declan. He’d been there for her in every capacity thus far and she knew in bed he’d be no different. She uncovers his ruggedly handsome face. His pinked lips swollen from her assault on them, that heavy brow over shut eyes as he panted and kept the pace up with her needs and requests for more, faster, please harder. With every exhale they moaned and heaved together.

She feels a familiar build in her center. “Holy shit. I’m close already.” An almost laugh escapes her, a fully abandoned smile on her face as he opens his eyes to take in the view beneath him as he finds she’d been doing to him. She was caught off guard by him, hadn’t built up her expectations on purpose so she wouldn’t be disappointed but he was just...awesome. In the true sense of the word. Awe inspiring. With thickness she’d never had before, the pain she’d feel tomorrow was a world away, there was only right now for both of them, nothing else mattered.

Soon she couldn’t focus on anything but the growing tension between her thighs. He’s diving into his hips as she bucked up to meet him, elbow firmly planted into the mattress for traction as her fingers work quickly around her hard clit. “Yes. Just like that.” She praises through a bitten lip as she pulls her legs apart and back as far as she can, his hand moving from his hold on her thigh as he holds one of her knees back towards the bed and feels himself bottoming out inside her. He was determined to last through this, feeling her wave after wave tightening around him. “Fuck…” A groan that ends in a squeak, her mouth open and eyes not met with his. “Just like that.” She nods and her eyes stare fearlessly Into his. ”Yeah. Make me come baby. Make me fuckin’ come.” a challenging chin up at him and he feels a raw need to give her what she wants. A growl from his chest builds and she tightens at the sound alone. “That’s it Declan.” Another wicked smile and nod, her nose wrinkled in challenge to his low brow and tight jaw, hitting into her deep, causing her eyes to flutter back between rounds of her talking. “Make me come all over that big cock.” She moans, losing her composure.

“Fuck Bells.” An almost overwhelmed moan from him washes over her. He hadn’t expected her to have a mouth on her in bed but he’s wondering why he hadn’t now.

Her words give way to moans, then a more helpless voice that makes him want to end it all far too quickly begging him, “Fuck. Yes. Fuck me. Fuck me, baby.” She chants as it takes over her entire body bit by bit. Rapidly spreading from her center everything spreads like fire into her thighs and up her spine. Her stomach tenses and she draws up, shaking helplessly as it comes wave after delicious wave. Her thighs clamp around him and he’s aware of how strong she really is.

She looked him boldly in the eyes as long as she could, giving over and head tilted up and pushed into the bed as her back arched and her hips and thighs trembled. With big gulping breaths, a forced moan each exhale that followed the waves, watched her underneath him with a ravenous fascination. He was used to women going limp, to showy porn-like displays to acting meek after orgasms, but that was not his Bella.

She comes back with dark eyes and a roar. Feeling full of blood and energy pulls her mouth to his by the back of his neck before demanding, ”On your back. I wanna fucking ride you.”

He was left with no room but to obey, and he really couldn’t have been happier to switch roles for once. Women before her were submissive and delicate, but Bella was quickly making him forget any existed before her.

With a quick exchange, she leans in and kisses him with teeth and tongue, a noisy and messy exchange. She wastes no time, taking him in with a satisfying exhale and hum, a smile that told him she had only good things planned for him.

He lays in awe for a moment, feeling the weight of her grind and hit against him, an involuntary moan coming from him and sounding almost weak.

“Touch me Declan.” She commands softly, grinding down on him, putting one of his hands to her ass and the other on her chest. “I want those big hands all over me.” She shakes her head and snarls her lip, taking his fingers that rest on her chest into his mouth for a captivating moment. She grabs ahold of his headboard, hands gripped tight for traction as she really goes to work on him. That loud and satisfying skin to skin slap as she threw her wide hips and hefty ass against him. He felt himself giving over quickly. She was so tight around him, now totally soaked to her inner thighs and hot in every sense of the word. He got to watch her curvaceous body move fluidly over his, hands tracing the outline of bouncing tits to her waist to tease her hips before she demanded. “Fucking grab me.” And he sinks his calloused fingers into the soft meaty hips that had been teasing him for months. “That’s it.” She gives a wicked smile and a satisfied hum. “I wanted to make you cum but you might make me again, big boy.” She confesses, flipping her wild hair to one aide, revealing her face giving him a wink he wasn’t prepared for.

“God…” He exhales. “You keep this up and I’m gonna cum soon.” He admits with downturned brows, licking his lips.

“Good.” Is her bossy response. She moves her fingers back to her clit, that still intoxicating skin to skin slap as he grabs her ass and directs her pace as she rides him. “Fuck you feel so good. So fuckin...big.” She moans, feeling it build again as she gives direct attention to the still throbbing bud. “Fuck I’ve wanted to come on this cock for so long.” She shakes her head, eyes shut as she speaks in rolling moans and whines. She opens her eyes and leans closer, more attention grabbing eye contact he gazed up into as he felt himself getting so close. “I wanna feel you.” Words close to a whisper. “Want to feel you throbbing inside this tight little pussy.” She sneers and issues in an almost polite tone for the words being said. “Fuck me Declan.” An almost whine from her swollen lips. “I want it so fucking bad.” She groans and clenches her teeth.

He makes a decision, and luckily it’s the right one. He pulls her by the back of the neck to his lips and growls. “Fucking come for me.” Into her mouth, forehead to forehead as he plants his feet into the bed and pounds into her. Her hand trapped between them and the other pushing on the headboard she bounces on him as she pounds upward and he sends her over the edge again. “Fuuuuck.” He growls. “Fucking feel you baby girl.” He moans and sees her mouth hanging open, small gasps as she shakes above him.

 

“Shiiiit.” She moans as both hands clamp onto her hips and he gives her exactly what she asked for. “Yes. Yes.” She nods and takes him like she was made for him.

“You fucking want it baby girl?”

A helpless and desperate “uh huh.” From her in response.

“Fucking take it.” He growls before her hands smack to either side of his face as she kisses him hard. Through moans and roars she keeps her lips on him. She wanted to eat him whole, to sink her teeth into him and taste blood. Just wanted everything from him in the moment of hearing him curse and say her name, watching his face go from lion to lamb.

They come down together, both trembling and bodies heaving as they tried to remember how to function normally again. He moves his hands gently, up her back and her hair to hold her and kiss her properly. Deep and slow, the sounds of wet lips together becomes louder than the moans eventually. The kisses are soft and dare she admit it, sweet. The love hormones were reaping havoc on their brains as they stayed suspended, him inside her and nose to nose. She tries and loses her nerve to speak her mind, resting herself on top of him, head to his chest. He lovingly rests a hand on her head and another on her back, holding her there.

“I don’t know if I can’t move.” She lets out a soft laugh against him.

“Lemme…” He grunts, moving them both to their side, her legs still wrapped around him and now on her chest partially, her almost on her back.

“Much better.” She sighs out, feeling her hips shift back into place.

“It was.” He lets put a deep hum and she finally meets his eyes after the deed.

She nods and finds herself brave enough to give him a smile that says more than her words would let her. “Yeah. It was.” He leans in for more of her lips. He couldn’t help himself. She looked so soft after being so hard for so long. With hands in each other’s wild hair, the kisses take longer and longer pauses until they both feel sleep coming for them.

She apologizes and says she gotta get up to pee. Always pee after sex. Those are the rules. So they finally part, even though neither want to. He throws away the very full condom after watching her waddle to the bathroom with a grin.

“Don’t like it when you leave but love to watch you go.” A deep sleepy voice teases as she crawls back into bed, him on his back and holding up the covers.

“Cornball.” She snorts, But cuddles right up to him anyway. “We gonna sleep in?”

“We earned it.” He says leaning down to kiss her forehead as he speaks against it.

“I’d say we most certainly have.” She agrees and lets out a yawn, followed by a fully satisfied sigh.

“Night baby Belle.” He gives another kiss after wrapping his arms around her.

“Night Declan.” She mumbled against his chest. “You were great tonight.” She adds sleepily, lips smacking as she snuggles into him again.

“So you were you baby girl.” With it all said and done, they both felt tired down into their bones, but how could they not feel fully relaxed after the week they had, and add the night and the sex on top of it. It was the deepest and best sleep either had had in as long as they could remember. Bella felt safe and satisfied. Declan felt whole and accomplished. And both felt far more than they bargained for for the other

Chapter Text

Unlike times before when Bella had woken up in a bed that wasn’t hers, she didn’t have to think about where she was or who she was with. She most certainly knew. She quickly killed the flux of panic that instinctually rose as she opens her eyes and comes to. Instead of wondering how to find her clothes in a dimly lit strangers room and how to try to do it without waking them, she only had to worry about needing to pee and leaving the comfort and warmth of Declan’s tan, space heater, demi sun god body that was wrapped around hers. When she first met him she wouldn’t have pegged him for a cuddler but she was quickly growing more fond of its practice than she’d wanted to admit.

They were in their usual entangled position but unlike times before they were both completely naked. The sunbeams through the black curtain on his window, just barely dampening the light. She could hear the noises of the street, cars, and dogs barking, mumbled conversations as they passed by the bar on the sidewalk. With his room lit, she could see the aged and worn brick of the walls, the minimal approach he had to decorating if you could even call it that. A tomahawk on the wall, the same neon sign he must’ve turned off at some point, or perhaps it was on a timer. She takes a deep breath to kick start her brain, knowing the weight in her bladder needs seeing to. She was hungover just slightly, an ache in her body that wasn’t caused by him. The adjusting of her hips told her there was plenty of ache from the waist down to recall the night before fondly. Still wet between the legs, a simple shift makes her nose twitch as she’s aware of the physical need she still harbors for him. Looking at him in the golden light was doing no favors to make her want him any less.

She pushes away and it causes him to wake. With a roar of a yawn and a rub of his face, he looks over to her with one open eye as she sits on the edge of the bed, fluffing her wild, sex bed head hair and giving him a sleepy smirk.

He grunts and watches her body move and jiggle towards the bathroom door. He didn’t have to ask what she was doing, he was becoming quickly aware he had to do much the same. Catching her by surprise as he stands outside the door. She jumps and gives him a wrinkled nose of playful warning at his sneaky greeting. Still no words, none were needed, a kiss to her head before she found her clothes and put them in one spot and pulled on her dress to trot quickly down the stairs, scurrying back up just as fast with the overnight bag she’d very wisely packed. She wipes the remnants of the night before's makeup off as he walks through the door and sees her in her dress already.

“You...leaving already?” She could hear the hurt in his voice and she would be lying if it didn’t feel good in a manipulative way to hear it.

“No,” She shakes her head and throws the wipe away into a small wastebasket by his bed. She peels off the dress and moves back to the bed. “Just wanted to get my makeup off.” She says and yawns. “Had to get my bag. Didn’t know if anyone was downstairs so I put on clothes.” She explains and he slides in next to her.

Instead of words he pulls her into him and kisses her. Thanking her for staying with him. The kiss lingers, hands slow on each other’s bodies and lazily sucking away at their skin. “Mmph.” She lets out with a fully content sigh as she lays on her back and pushes her hair back, sleepy eyes focused on his soft expression. “Guess this makes it official huh?”

“What?” He asks with a lowered brow and moving to lean over her, a soft kiss to her lips.

“This.” She breathily exhales. “Us.” With her hands lightly scratching his shoulders as she smiles up at him, a hand gently pushing back his hair and gazing at the handsome face that looked as happy as she’d ever seen it.

“Mmm.” A happy noise of approval comes from his smiling lips. “Does it?” He kisses her softly again.

“Does to me.” She answers quietly as his lips move to her jaw.

“We’re official?” He asks rhetorically. “You’re mine now?” He innocently asks with a press of his lips to her ear.

She hadn’t expected the words to hit her so hard, to fill her chest up with warmth and butterflies but it did. “Yeah. Yours.” She gives a soft closed mouth smile only for herself as she was the only one to see it as he hummed and kisses her shoulder. “That feels weird to say.”

“Why’s that?” He asks with a nod of his head as he laid back and stretched, both hands scratching into his dark curly hair.

“It’s… been awhile.” She admits and sits up on her elbow looking over the parts of him that weren’t covered with the soft and worn grey plaid comforter. “I’ve been a loner of sorts for years and being...a duo, a partner to someone changes things.” She doesn’t sound sad about it but her face looks it as sleep still holds to her.

“You don’t have to change. I'd prefer it if you didn’t actually. Kinda like you.” He comforts her and keeps his dark sleepy eyes on her with her hair flipped over to one side and the sunlight gleaming off her shoulder.

“I like you too.” She grins and leans over him for a kiss. “A whole hell of a lot more than I ever intended to.” She adds with a playful jab and runs her hand down his chest. “I mean you’ve always been nice but...all this?” She quirks a brow and walks her fingers down his stomach.

He grins like a kid getting praised. Eyes closing as his cheeks rise. “Aw Bells.” He lets out and rubs his face with a chuckle.

“Really. I’m serious.” She insists. “So much of you and it's all good.” She lets out a sight giggle and kisses his chest. “Let me get a good look at you in the light this time.” She says moving to her knees and pulling the cover down his naked body slowly. She watches every dip and divot appear, all with a slight layer of fuzz at the least. “Declan, Declan, Declan.” She tsks and shakes her head, pouted lips in tease soon used against his collar bones. “You’ve been working out haven’t you?” She grins and meets his eyes, throwing her hands and knees on either side of him, kisses slowly going down his torso.

“Mmm.” A low pleasurably groan comes from him first. “Yeah.” He nods and reaches down to push back her hair to see her naughty smile she was giving him. He gets to see her thighs, soft against him and looming, her ass shifting and up in the air as she makes her way down his body with her mouth. His cock stirs at the attention, her chest a slow drag with her hard nipples and their decorative bars across his half-hard length.

 

“Look at you baby…” she whispers and plants single kisses down his almost lean stomach. “Gonna be hard to keep my hands off you.” She gives a genuine smile, the intentions were clear as her mouth pressed against the very base of his heavy cock where it lay thick and full, aroused but not hard.

 

A groan escapes the back of his throat as he watches her kneel and kiss her way down his hips to his thighs. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to look at her ass swaying in the air or her mouth and tongue aa she lightly christened the soft fur of his upper thighs. He’d never been treated so...well before. She treats him as if he’s a gift she’s opening, a kiss before every touch, nuzzling her way to him, Laying with wide parted legs and her between them.

She lets out a moan, her mouth watering at the sight of him before her, now twitching and bobbing and slowly becoming unsheathed she makes him squirm with playful kisses to his inner thighs, teasing by his balls. “I wanna taste you.” She whispers, hovering over his most sensitive parts as they react to every exhale against them. “Wanna feel this thick cock in my mouth…” she places one kiss as he swears, his fingers shifting and picking at the covers by his sides. “....in my throat.” She smirks and gives one long line of tongue from his head to his base and it causes his nose to twitch, and lip to snarl for a moment like an animal. “Can I show you how I like it, baby?” She looks into his eyes and gently kisses his growing length.

“Fuck yes you can.” He almost moans out to a slyly smiling Bella.

Without a word she takes him into her hands, a soft back and forth fondle to rouse him fully before light and loose strokes. “Such a nice cock Declan.” She coos up at a strung-out looking creature who is breathing had already picked up. “I’d ask if you could handle me again but….” she kneels again, a long lick to his balls as she gently stroked him. “....these heavy balls say you could fuck me all day and still want more.”

His toes twitch, a soft “Fuck.” Under his breath, as she starts the process. Bella’s mouth becomes well acquainted with the weighted set of balls between his thick thighs. One in her mouth, then two and tongue bathing him like a cat makes his feet twitch and legs bend and pull back at the contact. He’d never had this sort of attention paid to him. Her noises of enjoyment and shut eyes lead to him having a throbbing and leaking cock that demanded her attention next.

With a slow tease, relishing in small gasps and twitches she plants a simple kiss first. Slowly she kisses his exposed head with tongue, him panting at the sensitivity of the veined underside of his cock. Bit by bit she takes him into her mouth and sucks gently. Precum and saliva mix to make him glisten. She knows she can almost take him, but if she wanted a good face fucking she’d have to get used to him. The thought of more already had her drooling. Which actually helped in this instance.

She introduces the combo of her hands and mouth, working in a rhythmic tandem and making him give up and lay his head back on the pillow with a moan. “Good baby?” She asks with spit running down her lips, her hands still working him.

“Fuck Bella you...yes.” He rubs his face and nods.

She smiles with a sense of triumph. She transitions now and places her hands on the bed next to him. She takes him down deeper each time and hears him moan as he watches. Her eyes shut and lashes fanned, hair flipped to one side to give him a full view of her work as she took him down. She pushes until she can’t, her throat closing around him as he grunts at the feeling. Then she readies herself and does it again, and again until she’s gagging and shaking her head, then gasping as she slides him out. The look on his face was worth any discomfort.

“You don’t gotta..”

“Shhh.” She says, pouted lips to his head. “I like it.” She gives sloppy kisses up and down the side of his cock.

“You...like…? Fuuhhh-ck.” He whines and looks at her with enchanting dark eyes.

“Mmmm Hmmm.” She nods. “Use your hands.” she requests. “I like em in my hair, hold my head, I’m a big girl I can take it.” She grins before taking him down in a noisy wet slurp.

“Fuck Bella you’re… too much.” He chuckles out a breathy laugh.

She hums contently around him and he gives in, growing from gentle strokes of her wild loose curled hair to two of his big hands on either side of her head as she moaned around him in contentment. She loves the feeling of fullness he gave her like she could get lost in the act with him and let herself get overtaken by it. He was a bit shy in body language and words at first but the longer she moaned and insisted he could go harder the more vocal he became. Bella loved it when a man moaned. A deep rumble and whine that no one else got to hear. The panting and heavy breathing giving the feeling of her being in control of the pleasure despite his hands on her made her wet. She knew he was loving it and she was getting off on the deep, delicious sounds coming from his mouth.

He pistons his hips, ass tending to push into her mouth, hands holding back her hair, and watching her lips wrap around him, her dark lashes flitter as her eyes rolled every time he swore at her. “I’m gonna come if you-“

“Come.” She says in a single breath as she slips off and onto him seamlessly.

“You su-?” His voice cracks as his lower stomach twitches in preparation from her insistence.

“I said I wanted to taste you.” She gives a smirk as she sucks along the underside of his cock, hand working him as she speaks. “Come in my mouth Declan.” She moans with her tongue out and mouth wide open over his exposed head before taking him back down and forcing a moan out from deep within in.

“Fuck Bella….shit…” he whines as his hips give over to their natural called rhythm to do what he was made to. There had always been something about a woman insisting he come inside her that would make him want to do just that as soon as possible. His balls tense and he wants to tell her how good she is, how good it feels but the orgasm takes his ability to do so away. “Fuck baby...gonna-“ was hard enough to manage through the growing tension.

“Mmmm Hmmm.” She nods and keeps working him, faster still and every gulp and wet sex sound makes him release into the warmth of her mouth. She hears the first guttural moan. A low and forced grunt that turns almost sweet as it goes on and fades with each pulse of his cock against her lower lip. He sounded so lost in it, so masculine but not messy that her thighs tensed in reaction to the sounds. She moans and hums, giving him more enthusiasm for something so effortless from him than he deserved. He knew that, and soon after he was a few ounces lighter he felt those love hormones swimming around his brain and making her glow in his vision for being an angel for doing this with such vigor for him. He wanted to repay the favor.

She opens her mouth and sticks out her tongue before a gentle kiss to his head. “So much for just having fucked last night.” She smirks and rises to her knees.

He moves fast and wraps his arms around her waist. Pushing her to her back and kissing her throat. “Fuck baby.” He exhales and hums against her skin. “You’re fuckin’- ung.” He grunts and takes a handful of her teardrop-shaped breast and begins kneading.

“I was hungry.” She lets out a playful laugh that makes his eyes shut and feel the vibration in her body from it. God that sounded nice.

“Wait-are you hungry?” A quick perk of his head up to look at her makes her laugh and shakes her head at him. What his earnest inquisitiveness failed to notice was the sparkling of her green eyes up at him for the endearing and deadly charming care he was trying to give her.

“No.” She gives him a soft smile. “Not what I meant you big…” She sighs and wrinkles her nose at him, her hand brushing his cheek and tucking a piece of hair behind his ear. “You’re being sweet. Stop it.” She smirks and deflects.

“I’m surprised I can form words at all after that.” He gives her a lazy smile and she rolls her eyes. “But maybe IM hungry now.”

“You want brunch?” She asks with a tilt of her head. He gives her the same laugh she’s just given him.

“Not what I meant.” He grins and begins kissing down her sternum and she snorts a small laugh at him.

“How about a shower first?” She asks while grabbing his face by both his tanned and freckled cheeks. “Then we have a snack before brunch?” She rises to pop up and kiss his lips.

 

“You are snack.” He snarls back and she groans.

“Why did I ever teach you that word?” She chuckles.

“Because I am painfully out of touch. Your words.”

“How about you get painfully touchy with me then?” She wiggles her eyebrows and now its his turn to roll his eyes. “I thought you wanted a shower?”

“I meant with you. Duh.” She shakes her head at him.

“Ah. Well, that I can do.” He grins proudly despite his smushed cheeks between her hands.

She watches him move to the doorway first, lust still apparent in her eyes as she watched his tall and broad body move. The muscles just under a layer of fat in all the right places to make him soft and not hard. Bella likes soft, she was herself.

“Comin’?” He asks after turning the water on.

“I mean I hope so.” She jokes and he gets to watch her feminine form move towards him, his hands already wanting to touch her again.

“Get in there you smart ass.” He gives her a slap to her cheek, a glorious loud sound with a rippling wobble following it. She grins and lets the water hit her neck and chest as it warms. A blanket of goosebumps wash over her body, her tits getting taut and hard. A tiny shiver following the blooming path. He stares for a moment at her, every part of her as soft and warm looking as the next. She was a landscape of rolling, round hills, and valleys. Strong shoulders set to equal width as her wide hips, Curbing outward and framing the valley of her thighs that was home to a delightfully full and soft mound the protruded past them. A soft fuzz of black hair covers her, full soft lips pressed together by the weight of her legs like they were puckering for a kiss. He wanted to oblige them.

“It’s warm.” She offers, standing to the side of the long installed shower-bath. She assumes he’s waiting for the water to be less fridged but he’d gotten distracted by finally being able to fulfill his fantasies of seeing her naked.

He doesn’t answer with words. He only slides in front and she scoots to the back as he pulls the curtain shut. With the hairband she keeps around her worst she pulls her hair up to keep it from getting too wet. After splashing and rubbing his face, not caring about the dampness of his hair, he turns to see her smirking and checking out his ass. “Getting a good show?” He jokes and helps her move back towards the water by holding her shoulders in the narrow tub space.

“I have no complaints.” She gives him a rather cheesy smile. She watches him stretch and moves to reach outside of the shower and grab a washcloth from the shelf. With focus on the task at hand, he grabs the soap out of the shower caddy hung under the head and looks down at her as he soaks everything in his hands.

“You get yourself wet and I'll do the rest.” He grins and leans down to kiss her with a playful peck.

“Done.” She laughs before turning and actually using her hands to rub down her body.

She feels his hand graze down her back and over the arch of her ass before making its way between her legs to look for proof. She hums happily and spreads her legs, bending forward slightly to welcome the touch. “You aren’t lying.” His voice takes a deeper turn that was less playful than before.

“I typically don’t.” She snarks back and wiggles her hips his way as his finger tease just inside her lips.

He grunts, wishing he could just bend her over and have his way in the moment but he wasn’t about to go at it without a condom on the second round. “Turn around. Let me get my hands on you.” With a rather amorous face, she smiles and watching his expressions shift as she lets his hands slide over her body, his breathing slow and deep as his large hands squeeze every soft bit of her. “At this point can I say I like your tattoos without it being gross?” He smiles and meets her eyes again, rubbing his fingers down her sternum where a dagger with a crystal heart in the hilt sat.

“Yes,” She nods and gives another soft smile. “You get to see all of them now. No one else has ya know.” She begins rubbing down her stomach past older nautical stars at her hips and down to he half-hidden filigree that decorated her mound.

“Really?” He says surprised, hands over her shoulders where her roses sat.

“Mmm hmm. I’ve been getting more the past few years and... well... I’ve not been with anyone so...” She gives a small shrug as her hands take soap from her body and begin to rub on his chest.

“Lucky me.” He says with a sweeter tone for the vulnerability and honesty she was giving him, leaning in to give her a kiss to her cheek before moving slowly to her lips. Their hands kept moving, spreading the slick suds as their kiss grew deeper. His hands slid over her arms, over the glowing lantern on the back of her arm and to her back where multiple others lay including a moth on her shoulder that paired with the lantern. “Turn around and let me see the rest.” He whispers into her mouth, hands never leaving her body. “That’s cute.” He chuckles, thumb rubbing into the heart on her ass.

“Yeah it is.” She chuckles.

“And this…” hands at her hips and running over a lipstick print under the heart.

“Fairly obvious.” She rolls her eyes and he leans in to kiss her neck near her hairline.

“Is it a target or a threat?” He smiles into the soft fluffy bun of hair.

“Mmm...for you? Both.” She laughs as he moves one hand between her legs to distract her as he sees the naked and bound woman, a female Baphomet on her back.

“This one isn’t cute though.” He coos at her.

“Mmm mmm.” She shakes her head no. “That one is most definitely my sexiest.”

“A horned demon bound in those strategic ropes...you projecting there at all?” He grins but she can’t see it, only hears it in his voice.

“Guess you’ll find out huh?”

He gives her a low hum and makes her muscle tense where he’s teasing between her legs.

“Yeah, you might need to brush up on your knots.”

“I already know plenty.” She can feel the cockiness in his voice as it croons her way.

“Ah. Are you a rigger?”

“A...What’d you call me?”

“Oh my god Declan!” She turns and slaps him in the chest before she leaves her mouth open and laughs, reaching back and giving his cheek a slap. “A RIGGER. You know, rope bunny’s and riggers?”

“I sadly do not.” She can tell she’s piqued his interest. “Whats that?” He nods a single time with his chin towards her to coax her.

“Rope bunnies like getting tied up. Riggers do the tying to put out it simply. There’s usually a power play with dominant and submissive to it.”

“And you’re a submissive?” He quirks an eyebrow at her.

“I’m a switch. A verse.” She shrugs with her explanation. “I like both roles.” She dumbs it down for him. “I would like to see you bound up.” Her hands squeeze his lean arms as she slides down them. “It’d look so good on this big body of yours.” He sees she means it in her eyes and how her chest sighs as she looks him over.

“I’ve never been tied up.” He admits and reaches back to cup her ass, giving it a slight massage.

“I’d love to be the first to do it.” She practically purrs up at him. “I’d love to make a mess of you, baby.” She wrinkles her nose in a cute bunny-like way to show her support. Her hands reaching down to fondle his balls and wrap around his length were even more convincing.

“I think you’re going about talking me into it the right way.” A breathy voice confesses as she bites her lip and continues using the soap to her advantage.

“Not too hard to talk you into sex.” She smirks. “Unlike this cock.” She begins a slow stroke of him with both hands up her stomach. She bites her lip and watches his face, eyes shutting as he slumps and lets out a soft breath. The bow of his upper lip captivates her as they open and close before his dark golden eyes flutter open and meet hers. He was almost always warm and inviting, especially towards her. But when he was in the moment with her, pleasure clear on his face with the softness to his heavy brow and defined pink lips he was truly gorgeous. He caught her off guard for a second, eyes fully connecting and catching each other at a moment of weakness and reflection. The slow rise and fall of her chest he notices, seeing the facade fade away from her face as he sees her soft, lips parted and no hardness or attitude across the olive-toned planes, only darling freckles, and bright green eyes giving away the woman she was underneath her hardened exterior.

“Let’s wash this off baby, I wanna take you back to bed.” He tells her with a soft kiss that makes her eyes flutter shut. He drips water onto her back with his hands, and she does the same for him. In silence, they run their hands over each other as they explore the new playgrounds they get to call their own.

As she steps out of the shower and dabs a towel to herself, him following suit, she walks slowly backward out of the room and towards the bed. “You’ll have to start slow with whatever you plan on doing. You left me sore from last night.” She says with a smile that wasn’t the least bit scolding about the fact.

“I plan on it.” He nods and drops his towel to the side haphazardly. “Don’t wanna give you any reason to run off.” He grins and walks proudly to the side table and takes another condom out and lays it on the corner of the bed for later. “I’ve still gotta repay the favor from earlier...remember?” He leans in and kisses her, she sat on the bed as his hands rest at her sides, lowering himself to his knees.

“Wasn’t a favor.” She mumbles into his mouth as they share a connected kisss.

“I’m reciprocating then.” He chuckles back at her fuss over the words. “Gotta taste you too. Only fair.” He moves to kiss down the bend of her neck. “I d thought about my head between these big thighs more times than I’d like to admit.” He whispers against her shoulder, eyes shut and hands roaming her hips and the thighs he spoke of.

“So have I.” A smirk grows on her face, head tilted to the side to give him access to her neck, “Except I’ll admit it.” A huff of a laugh escapes her as he gives a small and playful bite to her neck that draws a relaxed moan out of her.

His hands cup her breasts and bring them together for his mouth to admire. Sucking and lapping at her pierced and hard nipples, taking them into his mouth forcefully then teasing with pink and puckered lips made her rest on her hands and sigh, head falling back as she enjoyed herself.

“Mmph, That mouth feels so good on my tits I bet it’s even better on my pussy.” She revs him up as he bites into the meat of her for a moment, feeling her approval as she shifted her hips in anticipation.

He moves quickly to keep her on her toes, not linger too long even though he could focus on the feeling of the cold bars against his tongue for far longer than he’d gotten to yet. Shifting her back, he spreads her legs and pushes into the bed to open her up to him. She was soft and round everywhere it seemed. A thin layer of black hair barely masking the olive, plump lips that just barely hid an already hard clit at their peak, insides wet and pink and hot. He considered how every part of her that he’d seen hasn’t been disappointing in the least, and how he’d gotten so lucky as to be chosen to see any piece of her.

She catches his attention, leaning up on one elbow and reaching down to slide her fingers between her lips and spread them for him. She teases her clit, well-manicured nails circling it as she bites her lip at him. “You be nice to this fat little pussy, Declan.” She coos and gives the bouncy lips that encased everything a firm little slap that made him groan. “Get her nice and ready before you give me that big cock again.” Her tone was so confident and lusty he moans as he watches her face deliver it to him.

With a low growl and a hoarse “Fuck…” he kisses her inner thighs. Not wasting much time he begins with a broad lick up her center, his pointed tongue grazing over the full bud that makes her let out an audible exhale.

 

As he moves between her lips, his strong nose nuzzling above her slit and clit, he finds the spot he’s after easily as it twitches and throbs under his touch. She watches as his dark eyes close and he focuses, sucking and lapping away at her. He wastes no time in centering his efforts on her clit, seeing his hands on her thighs to hold her apart as she reaches up to tweak her nipples, watching his lovely head of hair calling out for her hands to be buried in it.

She can feel the mixed juices dripping down her center, a faint tickle as his lips attach to her and she moans out again, head falling back and chest heaving as she whines for him. With a slurp he finds his place on her, a spot she’s trembled at every time and goes in on it, one hand moving to around his twitching cock and the other fingers now teasing outside her soaked entrance.

With a whine she pleads, “Declan, baby, yes, use your fingers.” Her hips buck as he gives her what she asks of him. Slowly adding one and two more to ease the ache from the night before and have her shaking beneath him. He wanted to finish her off with a bang, give her something to show he was more than what they’d done the night before.

As she calls out his name, now fully giving over to the feeling with breathy moans and pleas for more he pulls away. She barely has time to whimper for the loss, nearing orgasm she wants to swear at him, but when she meets his eyes she sees them dark again and knows he’s not abandoning his goal but only going about it in a different way.

He grabs her roughly, which is how she preferred, and flips her to her stomach. He lifts and moves her with ease which only adds to her hunger for him. Yanking her hips up she feels the heavy heat of him being slapped then rubbed on her pussy lips and she wiggles her ass at him, biting her lip and moaning for more.

“Yes, fuck, please.” She groans for her favorite position to be connected. He hurried rolls down the condom over himself and goes back to teasing her.

“You want it like this baby?” He growls with all playfulness gone and she tries to back up on him herself.

“YES!” She snarls back, turning to look at him, “I want to bounce off that big cock, I’m close, fuck me, hard.” She slurs out with a tight jaw and he notched inside her, watching her mouth fall open. A tiny squeaked “Yes.” And a fast nod as he pushes in deeper and he watches her fall apart in front of him. Something his whole body reacts to as she moans and lets her head fall down, swearing and hips bucking as each breath became louder than the last.

He filled her up so completely, the stretch no longer pain but pleasure and hitting deep inside her from the vulnerable position she was in. She gives herself over to it and he gets to really watch her fall apart. Her head the side, hair flipped wildly and eyes rolling and fluttering.

“You want me nice and hard baby?” He almost coos at her, leaning over her as she grips into the sheets and pushes back on him.

“Fuck yes. Harder. Make me come. I want you to make me come.” An almost helpless whine as she writhes for him, being so close she just needed the extra push.

 

With a hard slap to her ass first which made her let out a pleased hum and bounce it at him, he grabs her wide-set hips and pushes himself against her fully. “Fuck Bells…” He exhales, watches her body shift and wiggle with a need for him. “Here it fuckin is baby girl.” A deep moan comes from her half-collapsed body, face now on the bed.

“Fuuuuck.” She groans, eyes still rolled back.

“You o-“

“YES! Fuck me hard Declan.” She scolds and pushes back into him with a slap. Soon the skin to skin thud is at a fast rhythm and she’s calling out for him, various dirty praise for how well he fit inside her and moaned orders for more. He couldn’t hold back with her, and he didn’t want to. He was used to being too much for girls both in and out of bed, too big, too loud too rough but not for Bella. He got to grit his teeth and slam that fat ass of hers against his hips over and over, watching her ripple with every hit. His hands fit so well on her hips to keep her close and hitting fast as she only wanted more from him. He got to let go, to grunt and growl and her praise only grew the more he lost himself. He tests her threshold, a firm spank to her ass that makes her let out a delighted squeal.

“You like that big fuckin ass baby? Like it bouncing off your cock like this?” She asks with a burst of faint laughter to her voice, pure happiness in the moments before she finally came where he was giving her exactly what she needed. She didn’t have to tell him, hold her hips, harder, slap her ass, he just did it and the freedom in that was something she’d never had before. No one had kept pushing, listened to her body language. She found herself nearing her peak and wanted to take him down with her.

He couldn’t form words but only growled and pulled her cheeks apart after another sharp slap. She rose up on her hands again, pushing back and moaning with every deep thrust, one hand out back on his on her hip to new him close.

“I’m so close.” She cries, him moaning at the sight of her chest bouncing and her eyes met with his and blown with lust. “Want you to come too.” She insists through broken breaths. “Wanna feel you come inside this tight little cunt Declan. Fuckin fill me up baby, I need it.”

“God damnit.” Be moans and it turns to a rumble as his balls tighten. He grabs a handful of her hair and she lets out a maniacal laugh.

“Oh fuck yes baby, just like that. Fucking take it.”

He gives her another sharp spank and he feels her tighten around him. “So fuckin good Bella.” He growls and grits his teeth. “Fuckin come for me, baby girl. Fuck me I wanna feel this wet pussy come around me. So fuckin bad.”

She’d gotten him to give in and talk back. Exactly what she wanted. She liked it filthy and rough and this second round was even better than the first. Any hesitation she’d had of them being sexually compatible was lost and she squeals again at his words.

 

“Fuckin make me.” She snarls and he yanks her hair back, her mouth falling open and crying out as the angle hit deep and hard, his hands so hard on her as he hit harder and faster, just like she needed. Every rough pound was punctuated by a higher-pitched moan than the last. He feels the shaking begin in her thighs and he lets her hair go, putting all his energy into fucking her as hard as he could and he’s rewarded with loud shouts of swearing and his name, her telling him he’s going to make her come and he wants it so bad at that moment he cries out when he feels her let go around him. She comes like an animal, all gnashing teeth and growls and groans. Words he couldn’t understand as she tried to breathe and shout and speak at the same time. She collapses again, her body shivering and he yanks her up by her hair.

“That's it you fuckin beast. Fuck me. Fuckin come you big mother fucker.” She barks out he leans over her, arm around her stomach as he shoves into her slower but harder as she eggs him on and he comes as she’s demanding, and loudly. Which is exactly how she liked it. She wanted a man that used sex just like she did, to get lost and forget everything else. To explore each other and pure pleasure. And he was panting, gasping, sweat plinking onto her skin he grunted and groaned as his body spasmed and shook over her, feel the faint jump of him cock inside her.

“Fuck.” He gasps and it comes out much higher than he anticipated. “Ugh, fuck.” A lower groan accompanied it as his hands shook and he pulled out of her body after releasing the rest of her from his grasp. “God damnit, Bella.” He moans as he ties and tosses the condom and collapses with a loud racket to the bed on his front. “Gonna fuckin kill me with that mouth.”

She’s left smiling and panting just the same, laying on her side and looking at the fine specimen next to her. “You’re good Harp. You bring it out in me.” She hums happily and lets her body lose its tension. She lays on her back and basks in the afterglow. “ I like it when you try to kill me with yours.” She grins and runs her fingers down his back and he shivers.

“Mmm.” He says in a reflecting way. “You seem to like the dirty talk a bit.” He smirks and puts his cheek against the bed and faces her.

“A bit.” She keeps the same satisfied smile on her face, fluffing her hair and glowing as she gets that long missed satisfied tiredness in her body he’d left.

“Should I say you’re a slut for it?” He snorts, a playful delivery so he didn’t get slapped.

"I think you’re into something there big guy.” She snickers and gives his ass a good smack.

“Christ. Let me be woman.” He commands dramatically and half-assed swats at her hands trying to touch him.

“I am hungry now.” She says and lays back again, hands to herself. “After I come back down to earth the hangover will start settling in.” She rubs her face. “I’m too old to drink like I do.” She groans.

“I got Gatorade in the fridge.” He mumbles.

“You are a saint.” She rolls over and kisses his shoulder.

“Nah. Just an alcoholic.” He chuckles, a lazy smile on his face as she pushed back his hair.

“Guess we’ll go to AA together then. Because I just think having electrolytes around makes you proactive.” She nods approvingly.

“You grab me one?” He asks after she sits up.

“Yeah.” She answers with an obvious tone. “Then we get brunch?” She asks and plays a drumbeat on his bare butt cheeks and laughs.

“Yes. You’ve got me fuckin starving.”

“Same.” She leaves with one final slap. “Man you’ve got a great ass Declan.” She says with sincerity as she stands in the doorway with two cold drinks as she takes in the sight of him.

“You’d know.” He grins and rolls over.

She tilts her head and stands at the edge of the bed. “Front ain’t too bad either.” She winks and creases her nose at him playfully.

“You must be hungry, you’re being suspiciously nice.” He takes a drink, mirroring her.

“I am, but I’m actually a lot nicer when I’m getting fucked on the reg.” She wags her bottle at him in a toast.

“Ditto.” He groans and lays back after downing half the bottle.

She snorts at his dated answer.

“You’ve always been nice.” She teases.

“To you.” He snarls back.

“Just me? You’ve been treating me special?” She smiles and crawls towards him over his stretched out body.

“Maybe.” He smirks.

“I still get special treatment now? Since I’m your girlfriend and all?” She quirks a brow and leans down to give him a kiss.

“More special treatment if anything.”

“Ohhh.” She says with overplayed impressed.

“Like I’ll take you to brunch.”

“Mmmmm.” She hums and gives him another kiss.

“And pay.”

“Oh my…” she gasps and follows with another kiss she laughs into.

“And insist you get whatever you want.”

“Ugh. Stop it. You’re making me horny again.” She teases.

“As long as I can try whatever you get.”

“ALWAYS A CATCH!” She says moving away and sitting on his stomach.

He laughs and pulls her back in for more rolling and laughing kisses as they both settle into a new rhythm with each other. It should’ve concerned her how easy it was with him, how she didn’t have to stop picking and teasing and he didn’t have to hide his goofiness. The compatibility should’ve scared her, but in the moments of affection and play it was far from her mind.

For him, it was front and center. But there was no fear or worry, only a warm and growing feeling in his gut about this grumpy hellcat of a woman now a purring kitten in his arms. He only felt good. Deep down a wholeness, he’d been missing. This rambunctious woman who was never afraid of him or his past was quickly becoming his favorite thing. And he couldn’t have been less worried about it. Maybe he should have been, but the way she smiled at him, all soft and literally bare to him he couldn’t bring himself to think of a single bad thing that could come from this new pairing.

The only problem he’d found so far was that he couldn’t get enough of her. And he didn’t mind having that be the biggest problem in his life at all. Their back and forth was the easiest thing in his life. Her laugh made him laugh, her smile did the same.

As they sat and had brunch, her in one of his T-shirt’s and both in oversized glasses of hers, he could only think of one thing. Her hair was wild like his all curly and unkempt, both in flip flops and in no way looking as impressive as they had the night before. There was no cue or moment to cause the constantly recurring thought, but it happened just the same for both of them. How’d they’d get so lucky?