Despite the late morning hour, their room is still dark as Fjord steps inside. He attributes this to thick curtains hanging in front of tall windows, blocking out any sun that might try to creep into the room and wake them up earlier than they want. Light snoring comes from the bed where Caleb has his face buried in a pillow, still as deeply asleep as he’d been when Fjord slipped out of bed earlier in the morning.
Fjord sets the tray he’d been carrying down and makes his way to the windows. He draws the curtains back, allowing sunlight to flood in, and the noise Caleb gives in response is nothing short of murderous. Fjord grins as he watches his husband burrow further under the covers.
“Five more minutes,” he hears, muffled by layers of blankets.
“You’ve already missed breakfast,” Fjord replies. “Were you planning on missing lunch too?”
Caleb sits up, scowling, and Fjord can’t help but laugh at the bird’s nest that is his hair. Despite how long he’s allowed it to grow, it can still stick up at some impressive angles after a good night’s sleep.
“You could have gone without me.”
“Oh believe me, I did.” Fjord busies himself around the room, nodding to the bedside table by Caleb as he unpacks and organizes their belongings. “I brought some back up for you.”
Caleb looks over and immediately reaches for the teapot on the tray, taking it in his hands and warming the ceramic with a whispered arcane word before pouring himself a now-steaming cup of tea.
“Caduceus says hello, by the way,” Fjord adds with a smile as Caleb takes a tentative sip. “He brought your favorite.”
“Bless him. I’ll have to let him know he gets first pick of our preserves this year.”
As Fjord unpacks he’s finally able to get a good look at their accommodations. They’d arrived at the manor so late last night that he hadn’t really cared about much besides there being a bed big enough for the two of them. Looking at it now, the bed is probably big enough for close to four people, with Caleb absolutely dwarfed by the amount of pillows keeping him propped up against the ornate headboard and the blankets pooled at his waist. The room is sparsely decorated, but still lavish. Every piece of furniture both ornate and comfortable, and as Fjord explores the suite he finds a little sitting room, a large bathroom, and a closet about the size of their bedroom back home.
“And these are the basic rooms?” he asks as he returns to the bedroom and Caleb nods.
“Beau said the family that initially built the estate was quite rich.”
“Clearly,” Fjord breathes out, looking up at the intricate crown molding of the room. “Only the best for the Ruby of the Sea’s little sapphire, I guess.”
Caleb takes a bite of a muffin, speaking with a half-full mouth. “I do remember Jester mentioning her mother had a preference for this venue.”
They spend the rest of Caleb’s meal in comfortable silence; Caleb finishing off his food and Fjord flipping idly through a history of the estate that he’d found in the drawer of the writing desk in their room. Caleb sets his tray aside and slips out of bed. He stretches, groaning just a bit, and makes his way to Fjord.
“Any interesting facts on the place?” he asks, hands on Fjord’s shoulders and chin resting on the top of his head.
“Apparently the fountain in the gardens is over two hundred years old,” Fjord replies. He holds the book a little higher to allow Caleb to glance at the pages. “And the chandelier in the ballroom is enchanted to never go out.”
Caleb gives an amused little hum and squeezes Fjord’s shoulders.
“Should we start getting ready for the day?”
“Oh, I’ve been ready to do that for hours.”
“You should know by now that mornings will never agree with me.”
“I’ve come to accept it.” Fjord closes the book as Caleb steps away from him, and before he’s even undressed he can hear Caleb beginning to draw a bath.
“This tub is big enough for the both of us,” Caleb observes aloud as Fjord enters the bathroom. He glances over his shoulder, quirking an eyebrow up as Fjord approaches the tub. He rests his hand on the small of Caleb’s back, leaning in close and dropping his voice to a low murmur.
“Is that your way of saying you’d like to bathe together?”
The slightest bit of pink colors Caleb’s cheeks and Fjord can’t help a little spark of pride at still being able to make his husband blush.
“It...might be,” he replies, and Fjord grins before leaning in for a quick kiss. They slip into the tub together and it really is big enough for the two of them. Fjord thinks they could sit on either end of it and their feet would barely touch, but Caleb still chooses to sit with his back pressed to Fjord’s chest. Fjord cups a bit of warm water in his palm and runs it over Caleb’s chest. He enjoys the feeling of Caleb relaxing against him in response.
They sit in the tub together, the sound of water echoing off the high ceiling as Fjord continues to run a palmful of water over Caleb every so often.
“Wash my hair?” Caleb asks suddenly as he pulls away and tips his head back. Fjord acquiesces with a chuckle, easing Caleb further and further down until the back of his head is submerged in the water. Caleb blinks up at him, the blush of his cheeks from the heat of the water spreading to his chest, which Fjord runs a hand over before moving to cradle the back of his neck.
There’s a glass bottle on the edge of the tub, some concoction Jester had given to Caleb a while ago with the instruction to use it “only when you want your hair to be super soft and super pretty!” Caleb had brought it along because liked to use it for special occasions, but the scent of lavender that began to drift around them as he tipped the bottle into his palm made Fjord wish Caleb would use it more often. He always smelled so nice when he did.
He sets the bottle back down as Caleb sits up, scooting back and bringing himself close to Fjord again. He runs his hands through Caleb’s hair, claws ever so gently digging in, and what begins as Fjord working the product through Caleb’s hair quickly becomes him massaging his scalp. Fjord watches Caleb slowly begin to relax as his hands move from the crown of Caleb’s head to the back of his neck.
“We should do this more often,” Caleb comments, his voice low and content.
Fjord chuckles again. “The tub back home doesn’t have a prayer of fitting us both.”
“Then we should get a bigger one. Isn’t marriage all about getting your husband whatever he wants?”
“I don’t remember that being part of the vows.”
“Perhaps we should do them again. Make some revisions to the originals.”
“If we get another honeymoon too, I could be convinced.”
As Fjord withdraws his hands, Caleb scoots forward again and tips his head back into the water. Fjord notices his eyes are still closed, and he takes the chance to lean down and press a quick kiss to Caleb’s lips. Caleb’s hand reaches up out of the water, taking the back of Fjord’s head and holding him there to keep the kiss going for a bit. When he finally lets Fjord pull away, his eyes open and he smiles.
“How about this?” he asks as Fjord washes his hair clean of the product. “I vow to love and protect and keep you until the end of my days, and I will build the biggest bathtub right in our house just for you.”
“Seems a little wordy to me,” Fjord replies as Caleb sits up and turns. He meets him in the middle for another kiss. “We’ll have to workshop it a bit before the vow renewal.”
Caleb responds with a kiss. And another. Before Fjord knows it they’ve been kissing for a while, and his hands are beginning to wander just as the water starts to grow cold. Reluctantly, he pulls back.
“We’re going to be late.”
Caleb has the decency to not look too disappointed, though he steals one last kiss before getting out of the tub. Fjord watches him the whole way and smiles at Caleb’s flush when he notices the staring.
“Can I help you?” Caleb asks as he slips on his dressing gown.
“Not until we have a bit more time on our hands,” Fjord replies as he stands, pulling the plug on the tub as he goes.
They set about on their own routines, getting themselves ready for the evening. It’s always been a marvel to Fjord how comfortable they’ve become with each other, moving in and out of each other’s space in an easy rhythm.
Domesticity will do that, Fjord thinks. He hardly minds it. The years they’ve gone without adventuring have softened them both to the point where if a job was proposed to them, Fjord doesn’t think he would want to take it. Not unless Caleb did. He’s grown too used to being in one spot, to waking up curled up in his husband’s arms and in their marriage bed before spending his days doing whatever needed doing around their little home. To give that up now was unthinkable to him.
“Would you like some help?” Caleb asks when he sees Fjord pull his razor from their belongings. “Since you washed my hair.”
By now he’s grown used to Caleb’s system of give and take. It had annoyed him a bit at first, how Caleb could never simply accept a bit of kindness without thinking of it as a transaction. As if every nice thing Fjord did for him came with the condition that Caleb now owed him something in return. But telling Caleb everything was fine only seemed to make things worse, until he became withdrawn and unsure with every little kindness Fjord showed to him. It wasn’t until he finally talked about it with Beau that Fjord understood.
“You show him how you love him by doing that stuff, so by doing stuff in return he’s saying he loves you too.”
Fjord had frowned, peering at Beau over the edge of his cup of wine. “It can’t be that simple.”
“Sometimes he’s simpler than you think. You wanna ask him to marry you, right? I would’ve thought you’d know him pretty well by now.”
“I do.” Fjord sighed. “I think I do, anyway. I just...he’s done so much for me. He shouldn’t have to do any more.”
“Tell him that. I bet he feels the same about you doing stuff for him.”
Beau, as always, was right.
It’s easier to reconcile the favors now that he realizes what Caleb is trying to say. Fjord washed his hair, so Caleb’s way of thanking him is to offer to shave Fjord’s face. He nods and holds the razor out to Caleb, who takes it with a small smile.
Fjord sits on the edge of the tub and Caleb gets to work. It’s been a few days since his last shave, and it shows in the stubble that Caleb lathers up with soap before beginning to carefully work the razor over Fjord’s face. His hands, still deft as ever from his days as a spellcaster, turn Fjord’s face to the proper angle that he needs for a clean, smooth shave. The process is so methodical and relaxing that Fjord closes his eyes and allows his mind to wander as Caleb works.
Their morning routines are often separate, with Fjord getting up at the crack of dawn most days to get to work while Caleb stays in bed long after the sun has risen and begun to creep into their bedroom. It’s not uncommon for Fjord to come back from his morning chores to Caleb still curled up under their covers on Fjord’s side of the bed. By the time he’s washed up and changed his clothes, Caleb is finally ready to start his own day (sometimes, anyway. Other days he pulls Fjord back into bed and they don’t emerge until well into the afternoon).
By the time Fjord comes back to reality Caleb is sweeping a wet towel over his face, cleaning off the last of the soap and leaning in for a quick kiss.
“Handsome as ever,” he murmurs.
“You just like it when I shave,” Fjord replies and Caleb grins.
“Braid my hair?”
Fjord helps Caleb with his hair once it’s mostly dry. He sits on the edge of the bed, Caleb with his back to Fjord and sitting on the floor between his legs. The smell of lavender still drifts from him as Fjord gently brushes his hair and Fjord smiles every time he catches a bit of it. With deft, practiced fingers he works Caleb’s hair into a loose fishtail braid. He ties the end off with a black velvet ribbon, letting a bit of hair artfully remain out of the braid to hang loose and frame the side of Caleb’s face.
It’s been a long time since Fjord saw Caleb in any kind of formal wear—probably their own wedding, he realizes once he thinks about it—and he remembers how much he’s missed that the moment Caleb is done getting dressed. Caleb’s suit is a rich dark purple, the long coat and slacks tailored to fit and flatter every inch of him, and a perfect compliment to the deep blue of Fjord’s own suit. Fjord steps up behind his husband as he smooths his lapel down and meets his eyes in their reflections.
“You look dashing,” he says, his hands on Caleb’s hips. He smiles at the blush that tints Caleb’s cheeks a bright pink.
“People will hardly be looking at me when I’m on your arm.”
“Considering most of the people there will be our friends, I’d hope not.”
Caleb laughs as Fjord steps back from the mirror.
“We should be on our way.”
They begin to make their way from their room to the ceremony space. Fjord watches Caleb look around the manor as they walk and admires the small, content smile on his face. Caleb has looked more at peace in the past few years than he ever looked before.
Fjord would like to think he contributed to that. At least a little bit.
He feels far more regal than he ever has before as they descend the grand staircase, dressed in the finest clothes they’ve bought for themselves in a long time.
“Imagine living here,” Fjord mutters as he glances around at crystal light fixtures and finely carved marble bannisters and fancy oil paintings hanging from the walls in golden frames, presumably of people who once lived in the manor. Caleb follows his line of sight and quirks an eyebrow up.
“It would certainly be more...luxurious than the farm.”
“More expensive too,” Fjord adds. “And somehow it seems like more work.” With his free hand he gestures to one of the paintings of a human man. He’s old, with ramrod-straight posture and a serious expression on his face. “Have you ever noticed how rich people never look happy?”
Caleb huffs out a little laugh. “That’s because they can afford to get upset over minor annoyances. The rest of us have to find joy in our inconveniences.”
Fjord gives a considering hum and looks back at Caleb. “I’d like to think we’ve found joy in ours.”
Caleb looks at him in return as they come to a stop at the bottom of the staircase. His smile softens, and he gives Fjord’s arm a little squeeze before letting go.
“I believe we have.”
Fjord opens his mouth, about to say more, when a lilting voice interrupts him.
They both turn to see Marion Lavorre, dressed in a beautiful green gown with a plunging neckline that seems to drip with jewels. She approaches them, smiling, and when Fjord reaches a hand out to take hers in greeting she takes his hand in both of hers.
“Perfect timing,” she says. “Jester would like to speak with you. She is nearly ready.” She glances at Caleb. “And I believe Beauregard is already outside.”
Caleb nods at that, meeting Fjord’s eyes. “I’ll see you when we walk down the aisle?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Fjord replies. Caleb grins, gives Marion a polite little bow, and turns on his heel to leave. With that Fjord finds himself whisked away and led down a long hallway to what he assumes are dressing rooms. His assumptions are proven correct when Marion ushers him through a door and he takes in the sight of Jester, standing on a small platform in front of a row of mirrors, turning this way and that and smoothing her hands down the front of her dress.
She looks like a cupcake , is Fjord’s first thought the moment he sees her. If cupcakes could be covered in glitter and gold and have little blue tieflings poking up out of them. The bodice of the dress is tailored to fit her perfectly, hugging every curve until it hits her waistline and the dress explodes into skirts packed with tulle. The tattoo that stretches across her chest and shoulders is accentuated perfectly by the neckline of the bodice and the little straps that hang down the sides of her shoulders.
“Fjord!” she exclaims when she sees him, face lighting up as she hurries over to hug him. He hugs back just as hard, stepping away to let Marion fix her skirts once Jester pulls back.
She smiles up at him. “Thank you so so so much for coming.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.” He grins. “You look incredible.”
She giggles and twirls, skirts swirling around her. “Oh, thank you.” When she comes to a stop, she looks to her mother.
“Mama, could we have a moment?”
Marion glances between them and nods. “Of course, dear. Don’t take too long, it’s almost time.”
Jester nods and watches Marion leave the room before turning back to Fjord. In an instant, her smile cracks. She wrings her hands and bites at her bottom lip and seems to be on the edge of saying something but can’t quite get it out. Fjord is about to ask what’s wrong, but she finally speaks before he can.
“Fjord?” She asks. “Did you, um. I mean. How did you...feel? When you got married?”
His smile fades and a look of realization takes its place. “Honestly?” he asks and she nods in return.
Her eyes widen in surprise. “Really? But you two...you were so happy!”
“Once it was done, yeah.” He reaches up, scratching at the back of his neck. “But that whole morning before the ceremony? I was kind of a wreck.”
He shrugs. “A lot of reasons, I guess. They all seem kind of silly now. But at the time I didn’t really know what married life would be like, and I was…” He shrugs. “Scared that we would regret it. That it would change things for the worse. That we were making some huge, horrible mistake.”
“And...how do you feel now?”
A smile, small and sweet, stretches across his lips.
“I don’t think I’d change a thing.” He stops after that, thinks for a moment. “Well. I’d probably change a couple of things if I could. It’s impossible to get him to do anything before noon, but once he gets going it’s impossible to get him to stop until about midnight. And he’s very particular about where I leave my things, but somehow his boots always being right in front of the door is totally fine. And sometimes he-”
“Fjord,” Jester interrupts, raising her hands. “You’re kinda freaking me out now.”
He shakes his head. “Sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean to… I mean, it’s just…” He searches for the right words. “I guess I thought I knew what I was getting into, you know? We’ve travelled together for so long. He knows my habits, I know his. But settling down together did change some things.”
Her face falls. “It did?”
“For the better!” Fjord quickly amends. “Yeah, Caleb’s got some habits that I’m not fond of. But I’m sure he could say the same for me.” He takes her hands, gives them a small squeeze. “But I wouldn’t change them for the world, because I get to wake up next to him every day. And I finally feel like I’m...in the right place, you know? Like my life is finally going the way I want it to. So yeah, some days are less than perfect. But I didn’t go into this thinking it would be perfect. I didn’t want perfect. I just wanted him.”
He falls silent then, Jester blinking up at him with wide, wondrous eyes.
“Oh Fjord,” she coos. “You love him!”
“I would hope so,” he replies with a shy smile. “And you feel the same way about Beau?”
She nods. “I’m still scared shitless. But… I love her. I don’t care where we go or what we do, I just want her to be with me. And she’s the one who proposed, so…”
Fjord finishes her sentence after she trails off. “So she feels the same. I’d bet any amount of gold that she and Caleb are having this exact conversation too.”
Jester still looks a tad unsure, but she nods. “Fjord?” She gives his hands a squeeze in return.
“You’ve been a really great friend.” She blinks up at him, eyes growing wet. “I’m so glad I know you. And Caleb, and Nott, and Yasha-”
A tear rolls down her cheek and she hurries to wipe it away, rushing over to the large vanity in the room and grabbing for a handkerchief to dab at her face, swearing under her breath in what Fjord recognizes as Infernal.
“Mama will have to fix my makeup…” She turns back to Fjord, still wiping at her eyes. “Did you really feel like this much of a wreck when you got married?”
He laughs. “I think I cried way more than that.”
Jester laughs in return, still wiping at her eyes, but the frantic energy she’d had when he stepped into the room is gone. “Thank you, Fjord.”
“Any time, Jester.”
Jester calls for her mother and Fjord takes that as his cue to slip out of the room, giving a little nod as Marion closes the door behind him with a grateful smile.
Hands in his pockets, Fjord wanders back out to the main hall of the manor. The place is bustling, with waiters and workers all dressed in fine uniforms hurrying this way and that, putting any last touches in place before the ceremony. Fjord is just about to give up on searching and ask one of them for directions before he finally finds the entrance to the gardens, spotting Caleb and Beau standing on the patio just outside the large glass doors. He opens a door and both of them turn to look at him as he peeks out.
“Am I interrupting?”
Caleb looks to Beau who shakes her head. “Nah.”
“Pre-wedding jitters?” he asks as he takes his place next to Caleb, who immediately reaches to link his arm around Fjord’s. Looking out at the gardens Fjord can see rows of chairs set up facing an ornate, flower-covered arch next to a tiny band of string instruments. A familiar head of pink hair stands out even among the bright blooms. When Caduceus looks away from the band and waves up at them, Fjord waves back.
“You could say that,” Beau answers. She reaches to run her hand through her hair before pausing, probably remembering that she didn’t want to mess up the elaborate braiding. “Caleb’s been helping.”
“As much as I can,” Caleb interjects.
In lieu of messing with her hair, Beau settles for fidgeting with her clothes. The ceremonial robes of the Cobalt Soul are as elaborate as they are beautiful, and Fjord thinks she still manages to cut an intimidating silhouette.
“If it helps,” Fjord says, “she looks amazing. And she can’t wait to see you at the end of the aisle.”
Beau bends her head and smiles at that, a private little grin, before looking up at Fjord and nudging him with her shoulder.
“Let’s get this over with. I want to party.”
Fjord laughs at that, watching her bound down the steps of the patio and out into the gardens to begin greeting guests.
“So we wait here for our cue?” Fjord asks and Caleb nods. They stand together and Fjord takes the time to admire the grounds of the manor around them, sprawling and green. Paths run from the ceremony site to other areas of the garden, lined with bushes of flowers. What he thinks must be an orchard sits in the distance, a tall line of trees on the edge of an otherwise flat expanse. The sky above them is a cloudless blue, sun shining down and the slightest breeze carrying birdsong along with it.
“Much nicer weather for their wedding than ours,” Fjord comments.
“Rain brings good luck,” Caleb replies.
“So you said about two hundred times that day.”
“And I maintain that it did.”
Fjord laughs. “At least we ended up wanting to have an indoor ceremony.”
“See? If that’s not good luck I don’t know what is. The best luck was us deciding not to do a beachside wedding.”
“I just thought it would be nice. The two of us standing in the water, saying our vows…”
“Tourists staring,” Caleb says in a flat voice. “Sand everywhere.”
Fjord sighs. “Maybe it was more romantic in my head.”
Silence settles between them before Caleb breaks it again, clearing his throat.
“Is that...really what you wanted?” He looks over at Fjord, who looks at him in return. “Because I would have… If I’d known…”
Fjord silences Caleb with a soft kiss pressed to his forehead.
“It didn’t matter to me where it happened,” he replies. “Just as long as it did. As long as I got to marry you.”
Caleb looks up at him with a fond smile.
“Always such a romantic,” he says.
“Maybe weddings just put me in a romantic kind of mood,” Fjord replies. He’s about to lean in for a proper kiss, when he hears footsteps approaching from the stairs behind him and sees Beau when he turns, perfectly cool and collected aside from her white-knuckle grip on the railing.
“It’s almost time,” she says just as Fjord hears the band begin to play.
The ceremony is beautiful, but then again Fjord expected nothing less. Blessings are given and vows are exchanged and there isn’t a dry eye in the crowd by the time Caduceus finally announces that the marriage is complete, and that Jester may now kiss her bride.
As members of the wedding party Fjord and Caleb are among the first back inside, following close behind Beau and Jester as Jester throws her arms around Beau and picks her up, spinning around in a flurry of white skirts.
“We did it!” she cries, and Beau laughs.
“Yeah. We did it.” She glances at Fjord as Jester puts her down and gives him a thumbs-up. Fjord gives one back.
The reception is being held in the grand ballroom of the manor, and the moment they step inside Fjord realizes it’s called “grand” for a reason. One side of the room is nothing but tall windows letting in the late afternoon sun and giving a stunning view of the gardens, while an intricate chandelier hangs from the high ceiling over the center of the room. Tables around them are covered in fine linen and sparkling china and grand centerpieces bursting with flowers and candles. Music is already playing and before Fjord knows what’s happening a server has offered him a glass of wine and Caleb is leading them to the head table.
“And here I thought our wedding was a bit much,” Fjord comments and Caleb huffs out a laugh.
“For the small crowd we had, maybe,” he says as he takes a sip from his own glass of wine. “Though I’m told we had one of the more modest venues on the Menagerie Coast.”
Fjord looks around as they take their seats. “I think that entire building could fit in this room.”
“And still I maintain ours was the better wedding,” Caleb looks to Fjord with a slightly conspiratorial grin. “Though the party tonight might prove otherwise.”
Fjord laughs. “Just make sure I don’t have to carry you back up to our room?”
“I make no promises.”
The room gradually fills with people until the din of conversation and clinking glasses fills the room along with the music. Yasha is already sitting when Fjord and Caleb reach the head table and she gives them both a pleasant smile. Veth and her family take their own places at the table, and Fjord is happy to listen to Caleb chat with them. When Caduceus arrives Fjord greets him with a smile and a hug, and it’s only when Beau and Jester take their seats that Fjord realizes the Nein are all back together again.
It’s still strange sometimes—to go about his day without Beau or Jester by his side, to miss hearing clever asides from Yasha or pray without Caduceus to guide him. He’s even grown to miss Nott’s constant ribbing. They keep in touch of course, every week or so Jester will send a message checking in on them and they’ve visited each other’s homes plenty of times. But nothing can replace the closeness brought on by travelling together.
Fjord enjoys having his own space, his own home, and he enjoys feeling like he and Caleb finally have a bit of privacy. But the Nein will always be his family. And no matter what Fjord will always feel just a little homesick for those days when they adventured together, even if the future promises new adventures he and Caleb could explore.
Maybe. Someday. Fjord has yet to broach that subject.
Dinner is as delicious as Fjord anticipates, dessert even more so, and Fjord is not surprised at the sheer amount of cakes and pastries and cookies that are presented to their tables on shining silver platters. By the time Beau and Jester’s first dance begins, the sun has set and the room goes from being lit by the sun to being lit by the candles around them. The chandelier above the dance floor glows with enchanted flame and globules of light dot the ceiling. The room is cloaked in a dim, romantic atmosphere and it’s what compels Fjord to stand when Beau and Jester separate and Jester beckons to them.
“Shall we?” He asks. Caleb looks up at him, smiles, and takes Fjord’s offered hand.
“I’d be honored.”
Fjord leads them to the dance floor and a number of other couples join them. He keeps his hand in Caleb’s, his other settles on the small of Caleb’s back and pulls him close. Caleb’s free hand rests on Fjord’s shoulder. Fjord looks down and marvels for what must be the millionth time at how beautiful Caleb’s eyes are.
As they dance he thinks of the first time they danced together, drunk in a tavern, Caleb leaning against him and pulling him along and singing in slurred Zemnian with his head on Fjord’s shoulder. He thinks of their first dance at their wedding and all of the worry and stress of the day melting away as he looked into Caleb’s eyes and realized he was dancing with his husband. He thinks of pushing the furniture aside in their little living room and Caleb singing in much more polished Zemnian this time, a fire crackling away in their fireplace as they huddle close in their little home and slowly sway together in the middle of a cold winter’s night. Fjord thinks of Caleb and the life they’ve built together, and in that moment he’s more sure than ever of what he wants.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Caleb asks.
As much as Fjord would like to share them, it’s not a conversation for the middle of the dance floor. Instead he leans in and presses a kiss to Caleb’s forehead.
“I’ll tell you later,” he murmurs.
Caleb gives him a curious look at that but drops the subject. Before long the slower songs end, and the band begins to play livelier selections. Dress coats are abandoned and sleeves are rolled up as guests spin partners around the dance floor. It’s not long before Caleb excuses himself, needing a bit of a breather, and Fjord is about to join him before Jester pulls him into a dance. Fjord glances back at Caleb in hesitation but Caleb waves him on with a smile.
“I’ll watch!” he calls and when Fjord glances at their table a bit later he sees Caleb and Veth, wine glasses in hand, doing just that.
By the time Fjord takes a break from dancing it’s been several songs, but Caleb is still sitting at their table.
“Done for the night?” he asks as Fjord approaches, munching on a cookie from the dessert tray.
“Getting close,” Fjord replies, taking a cookie of his own. “Just needed a minute.”
Caleb nods. He reaches out and takes Fjord’s hand, and it never fails to amaze Fjord every time Caleb will casually take his hand or give him a kiss or touch him as he passes by. At one point in his life Fjord thought his hopes of ever having someone love him enough for casual intimacy were foolish. That worry still didn’t go away when he and Caleb started...whatever their arrangement had been before they’d properly gotten together. Fjord was reluctant to say ‘friends with benefits’ but the more he thought about it, that's really what it was. Friends trying to pretend they weren’t emotionally invested in their benefits.
But even when they admitted their feelings to each other and became a committed couple, Fjord didn’t expect Caleb to be the affectionate type—which was fine, he made his peace with it and was more than happy with whatever affection Caleb wanted to give. But the closer they grew and the more comfortable Caleb became the more frequent the touches became, until a day came when Fjord was surprised that Caleb didn’t brush his fingertips over his shoulder when he passed by Fjord.
Caleb scoots his chair closer to Fjord’s and leans in, head resting on Fjord’s shoulder, and Fjord grins as he watches their friends dance together.
“Wanna get back out there?” He asks.
Caleb sighs. “I probably should. Jester demanded I save a dance for her.”
“Wouldn’t want to disappoint the bride on her big day.”
Caleb chuckles at that. “No, I certainly wouldn’t.” He sits up and looks at Fjord. “Join me?”
“Of course,” Fjord replies. He lets Caleb pull him up out of his chair and back towards the dance floor. At some point in the evening Jester’s bouquet was tossed and landed in the waiting hands of Caduceus, who has been distributing flowers to anyone he passes, and smiles from the edge of the dance floor as Caleb and Fjord approach.
“Having fun?” he asks, tucking a pink rose behind Fjord’s ear and offering a yellow rose to Caleb. Caleb accepts it with a small smile, tucking it into the front pocket of his shirt.
“We are, Mister Clay,” he replies. “Have you made your way to the dance floor yet?”
Caduceus shakes his head. “I’m afraid this is as far I’ll go. Never been the best dancer. I’ll probably be heading up to my own room soon.”
“We’ll be doing the same soon,” Fjord says. “Caleb was just begging for one more dance.”
Caleb rolls his eyes at that, giving Fjord’s chest a playful slap. He opens his mouth, but whatever comeback that’s on the tip of his tongue is interrupted by Jester calling his name and breaking free from the throng of dancers around her.
“Come on!” she says, grabbing Caleb’s hand and pulling him along. “I want my dance, Caleb!”
Caleb gives a wide-eyed look back to Fjord, who simply shrugs and stays beside Caduceus.
“It’s been a while since we last talked,” Caduceus says as they watch Jester lead Caleb in a dance. “How have you been?”
Fjord sighs. “Good. Things...have been good.”
And they really have. Fjord’s surprised with how easily they’ve settled into both retirement and married life.
“And the farm?” Caduceus asks.
“Going as well as it can. I don’t know if we’ll have enough to sell or anything like that. Caleb seems more intent on giving it away anyway, and I agree with him on that. But what we have now and what we preserve later will get us through winter no problem. I already know we’ll have plenty of jam, if you’d like some of that.”
Caduceus gives a pleased hum. “I think I might.”
“And how’s the grove?”
Caduceus sighs at that, a bit less pleased. “Progress in healing it is...slow. But it’s still progress.”
“Is there anything I can—”
Caduceus is already shaking his head before Fjord can even finish his sentence. “You already have plenty to do at home, I’m sure. Just...keep it in your thoughts, if you could?”
“Of course.” He watches as Caleb and Jester continue to dance. “Let me know if you need me for anything.”
Caduceus gives a low, fond chuckle. “I’ll make sure to do that, Fjord.”
When Jester finally lets Caleb go he returns them, a little more ruffled than before but with cheeks flushed from exertion and a smile on his face.
“Ready to go?” he asks. He reaches out and Fjord takes his hand with a nod. “We’ll see you tomorrow?” he asks Caduceus.
Caduceus nods. “I never pass up a chance for someone to make me breakfast.”
“Neither does Caleb,” Fjord says, earning him another slap on the chest. They bid Caduceus a good night and make their way out of the ballroom, still holding hands.
The walk back to their room is mostly silent. Fjord is tired after a long day and he’s sure Caleb is too, as evidenced in the way he leans against Fjord more and more the longer they walk. By the time they reach their room, Fjord is pretty sure he’s the only thing keeping Caleb upright as he unlocks the door. He’s hardly surprised when the first thing Caleb does is kick off his shoes and throw himself face-first down on the bed.
“You’ll hate yourself in the morning if you don’t get undressed before you sleep,” Fjord chides gently as he begins undressing himself. From the bed Caleb groans, face still in a pillow. He turns his head to the side to speak.
“Come undress me yourself, then.”
“You really have the energy for that tonight?” Fjord asks, doubtful.
“Hardly,” Caleb says as he rolls over onto his back, now sprawled out in the middle of the bed. “But undressing me doesn’t have to end with sex.”
Fjord huffs out a laugh at that. “You’re right, it doesn’t.”
Once he’s stripped down to his smalls Fjord stands at the end of the bed, looking down at Caleb. The curtains to their room are still open and the moon is high and full in the sky and while Fjord doesn’t need the aid of the moon to see in the dark, it’s certainly pretty to see silver light spilling over Caleb.
Fjord kneels on the bed between Caleb’s legs, undoing the buttons of his pants and beginning to ease them down his thighs. He bends down and presses a kiss to Caleb’s hip, then a line of kisses down his thigh, and relishes the content noises Caleb is making. A hand runs through his hair once, then twice, and he realizes Caleb is petting him.
“Are you expecting me to purr?” He asks as he slips Caleb’s pants completely off, tossing them aside. Caleb gives a low, soft chuckle as Fjord’s hands begin to push up under his shirt and over his stomach.
“You do it sometimes,” is all Caleb says. He runs his hand through Fjord’s hair again, scratching ever so slightly with his nails, and when he hits the back of Fjord’s neck it feels so nice Fjord can’t help but feel a gentle rumble in his chest.
“See?” Caleb says, amused, as he props himself up on one elbow. “It’s adorable.”
“I’ll show you adorable,” Fjord grumbles in mock-annoyance, pushing Caleb’s shirt up and exposing his bare chest. He wastes no time, moving immediately to press his mouth against Caleb’s stomach and blow a huge raspberry.
Caleb shrieks, flailing about in an undignified tangle of limbs before he manages to get his hands on Fjord’s sides. Fjord realizes what’s happening immediately as Caleb begins to tickle him in retaliation. Fjord gives a shriek of his own and rolls over, trying to get away. Caleb rolls right with him until he’s straddling Fjord, hands still at his sides. Fjord bucks his hips, trying to get Caleb off of him, but Caleb abates only to press his hands to the pillow on either side of Fjord’s head, looming over him.
They breathe heavily, the slightest bit of roughhousing taking more out of them than they care to admit. Fjord doesn’t like acknowledging it, but they are getting older.
And remembering that only reminds him of what he’d been thinking of earlier that day.
He stares up at Caleb. His husband. His everything. The man he will walk with until the end, come hell or high water. He thinks of the adventures they’ve had and the adventures that may be on their horizon.
“Do you want to start a family?” he asks, still breathless.
That stops Caleb up short, his smile quickly slipping away to be replaced by a look of shock.
“Do I...what?” He sits back in Fjord’s lap and Fjord sits up, his hands moving to Caleb’s waist.
“We’ve got the space,” he says, thinking of the spare room they have right now that’s just meant for storage. It could be a child’s room so easily. “We’ve got the time now, and the money and…” he trails off.
It’s something he’s wanted for the longest time. Something he’d never admitted to himself to wanting until very recently. After all, who would want him to be a father? He grew up fatherless. He knows almost nothing about the specifics of parenting, how to handle the endless amount of challenges that come with caring for another person that would depend solely on him for a good portion of their early life.
He doesn’t know how to be a perfect parent. But he knows what it’s like to be a child without one.
“You have so much love to give,” he says as Caleb blinks at him, silent and still shocked. “We both do. And I think we could make some kid really happy. Get them out of an orphanage and give them the life they deserve. I think...you could be a really great father.”
Caleb’s hand moves. He traces the line of Fjord’s collarbone with the tips of his fingers. He says nothing.
“Anyway,” Fjord says quickly, eager to drop the subject in the face of Caleb’s reaction. “I don’t need an answer now. Think it over, take any time you need. No pressure.”
“I-” Caleb starts and cuts himself off before starting again. “I just…”
He cups Fjord’s face in his hands, thumbs running over Fjord’s cheekbones. Fjord looks into his husband’s eyes and the shock is still there, but love is there too.
“I will think about it, Bärchen ,” he finally says. “I...will give it a great deal of thought.”
It’s so much better than the immediate ‘no’ Fjord thought was coming and he smiles and nods. “Thank you, Caleb.”
Caleb pulls Fjord’s face to him as he leans in, and when they kiss Fjord pulls Caleb further into his lap, until they’re pressed chest-to-chest.
“I love you,” he breathes when they part.
“And I love you,” Caleb replies. “More than words could ever say. More than I could ever begin to show you.”
“Really? Because I feel about the same.” Fjord ducks down, mouthing at the crook of Caleb’s neck. Caleb shudders against him as Fjord’s tongue traces the scar there, the evidence of the bite he’d given him on their wedding night. Caleb’s hand cradles the back of his head, keeping him there, but it’s still easy enough for Fjord to maneuver them back to laying down. He returns to where he’d started, settled between Caleb’s legs, and pulls the covers over them.
“You’re warm,” Caleb comments, eyes already closed and arms wrapped around Fjord’s shoulders.
“And you’re freezing,” Fjord replies. “As usual.”
In response Caleb presses his toes into Fjord’s calf, and Fjord whines.
“Should you be worried about your circulation?” he asks.
“It’s always been poor, no use worrying about it now. I’ve got you to keep me warm.”
“Ah, I see,” Fjord says. “Most people don’t go as far as to marry their space heaters.”
“Most space heaters aren’t as handsome as you.”
“Most,” Fjord replies with a grin. He starts to move, laying down against Caleb’s side as opposed to laying on top of him, and can’t help a laugh at Caleb’s disgruntled noise.
“You know if I fall asleep on top of you, you’ll wake up way too hot in the middle of the night and wake me up trying to get me off of you.”
Caleb sighs. “Must you always be right?”
“It’s a blessing and a curse.”
They settle into silence after that. Fjord closes his eyes, listening for the gentle beat of Caleb’s heart, head pressed against his chest. The gentle thump begins to ease him to sleep—so close, in fact, that he’s not sure if he’s dreaming when he hears Caleb speak into the night.
“A family. You beautiful man. You foolish man. You’ve given me more than enough already, more than I could ever deserve.”
Caleb has an arm around him and his hand moves, drawing little patterns against Fjord’s skin with the barest touch of his fingertips.
“A family. With anyone else I wouldn’t even consider it. But with you...a family with you? Ein traum wird wahr. ”
If Caleb says anything more, Fjord doesn’t manage to catch it. Instead he drifts off into dreams that will only be half-remembered when he wakes—fantasies of lullabies and laughter and the padding of tiny feet on the wood floors of their home.