It wasn’t rare for people to get crushes on their friends. Riz knew that. He could live with that. It would be a rough few weeks, couple months, and then he’d be okay. Riz could survive feeling his breath hitch when Fabian smiled like that, or when he clapped him over the shoulder. It wasn’t ideal, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. He rarely allowed himself to indulge in the idea, to hypothesize about what his heart rate might do if they ever kissed, if Fabian’s lips might be chapped from the cold, if- that was enough. It wasn’t something to dwell on. He’d gotten a petty crush not that long ago, and he’d wait it out. Riz went back to his homework (“Identifying and Disabling Arcane Traps: Second Edition”) without a second thought.
The library was quiet. It was nice. Riz’s focus was broken by a ping from his crystal, sitting face-down on the desk. He flipped it over.
“Basrars at 4?” Was the text in the bad kids group chat. Right. It was Thursday. There was a chorus of agreement.
“I have a lot of homework,” Adaine ventured, but was quickly swayed. They’d do their homework there. They definitely wouldn’t just talk the whole time.
“I’ll need a ride.” Riz added, with full punctuation and everything.
“I got you,” Fabian texted.
With that, Riz got back to work on his arcana. There was no way they’d get much done at Basrar’s, especially not during the evening rush. As he looked out the window and saw bloodrush practice getting out, Riz began to pack up his things and starred thoughtfully into his undrunken thermos of cold coffee dregs.
Fabian Aramais Seacaster got out of bloodrush practice feeling better than he had in awhile. The team was finally coming together under Coach Gorthalax’s guidance, they were going to be hitting up Basrar’s; but best of all, the locker room showers had hot water. It was a miracle.
It was a great day- or it would’ve been, if Fabian could get his hair to behave. He hadn’t set off from practice yet. Dressed, in the locker rooms with still-damp hair in his face, Fabian cursed the lack of hair-dryers. It might be a bit cold, to go outside with wet hair, but that wasn’t his real concern. He’d made dumber choices in the past week. The real problem was that he was picking up Riz from the library, and he wasn’t going to look perfect rolling up on the Hangman with action-movie wind on his jacket and hair. He couldn’t look stupid in front of Riz with his floppy, wet hair and his wrinkled-from-being-shoved-into-a-locker jacket.
When he got it as dry as he could, he called the Hangman. It was no use walking to the school parking lot when it could come to him, regardless of how many sidewalks it scuffed on the way. Aguefort was an adventuring academy- it’s not like the sidewalks weren’t constantly scorched by stray fire bolts or besieged by mithril-toed combat boots.
The Hangman arrived with its usual fanfare- a rev of its engine, sending out a small burst of smoke and fire. After a short monologue about besting the mortal world and drowning it in flame, the Hangman was ready to go. With his wrinkled jacket slung over his shoulders, Fabian took off down the Aguefort sidewalks towards the library. He hoped- not so secretly- that it’d give him a Cool Dude kind of look.
He arrived at the library in short order- it’s not like the campus was all that big- just in time to see Riz descending the steps, taking a sip from a thermos of cold sludge that used to be coffee. Riz’s nose wrinkled as he downed it, and Fabian felt himself smile. It was a little cute, even if he wouldn’t admit it.
“Hey. Hop on, the Ball,” Fabian waved over to Riz, hoping it sounded casual. After a quiet protest from the Hangman, Riz hopped on the back of the motorcycle.
“I forgot it was Thursday,” he replies, “I started homework at the library.” Not getting enough sleep is a surefire way to forget what day of the week it is. With the most infuriatingly casual motion, Riz looped his arms around Fabian to hold on. They’d done this so many times before, but Fabian still felt the tips of his ears burn. Riz had always assumed Fabian just didn’t want to be seen with him around school- got to keep up that cool demeanor and all- but they’d hung out a lot more recently. People knew they were friends. They were part of the bad kids together. It wasn’t some social-life-ruining secret, anymore. Riz chalked it up to the cold. It was warm for early spring, but that wasn’t saying much, and Fabian still wasn’t wearing his jacket.
Flushed from more than the chill, Fabian kicked the motorcycle into gear and they headed off in the direction of Basrar’s. Now that they were picking up speed and on the road, Fabian was willing to admit the jacket over his shoulders was a dumb decision. Riz must’ve felt him shivering and hugged him tighter. Fabian, however briefly, forgot to breathe.
An idiot. That’s what he thought he was. In all of his wildest dreams, he was a cool guy. Cool guys didn’t overthink their friend hugging them on a motorcycle. Cool guys especially didn’t overthink how soft their friend’s flannel jacket is and how it smelled (like coffee. Black, something cheap but strong).
Fabian was all too quick to pull into Basrar’s lot. It was busy- Thursdays after 4 meant 20% off milkshakes- but not crowded. He was suddenly thankful they’d texted their orders ahead. Kristen and Fig had already set up in a small corner booth, trapper-keepers and pencils spread out across the white table. The glaring linoleum edges and teal booth seats evoked a classic diner feeling. There was music playing in the background over some kind of old speaker that gave the place an indie teen-movie vibe.
Standing between the round stools at the counter, Gorgug scooped up the groups’ orders and Adaine counted out some change before the duo returned to the table.
“Alright, who got the strawberry?” Adaine asked.
“I did, but with whipped cream. Gorgug’s is without the whipped cream,” Fig reached out to take the glass, and Kristen’s vanilla milkshake to pass it down. She jokes and passes another to Fabian as they get situated in the too-small booth, “Salted caramel is for the fancy boy.”
“The salt balances out the sweet,” Fabian defends, “It makes it better.”
“Which one of you got a root beer float? It’s 20% milkshake day, come on,” Kristen said, faking incredulousness.
“I did,” Riz takes the mug, “I texted Adaine to get me coffee and she said no.”
“Six cups a day isn’t healthy,” Adaine sat down last, at the edge of the booth. She picked at her cookies-and-cream milkshake with a spoon rather than the straw, giving an apologetic look to Gorgug, who was nearly falling off the other end of the booth. They really should’ve sat somewhere bigger, but the larger booths were taken. This one was meant for four people. Fig was practically on Kristen’s lap.
Riz wasn’t a touchy person, per se, but he was used to being picked up, carried, and put in backpacks. He went about quietly sipping his root beer float, looking unfazed. Fabian, however, is acutely aware of being elbow-to-elbow with Riz. There’s a bizarre staticky feeling to the touch. He’s used to having his space. His usual pose- relaxed, spread out, feet kicked up- is sacrificed in favor of desperately squeezing smaller so he isn’t crushing Riz and Fig. Fabian takes a long sip of his milkshake to avoid explaining himself. He can’t help but feel a bit pathetic, drawn into his thoughts just by their arms touching.
“You good?” Gorgug asks, one leg fully hanging out of the booth.
“Yeah,” Fabian blinks and leans back, holding his straw between two fingers and stirring his milkshake, “Brainfreeze,” he lies, and immediately knows from the way Kristen tilts her head that she doesn’t believe him. He thinks about making another excuse, but the conversation starts back up, leaving no room for awkward silence. Only moments later, Fig is using her straw to shoot a spitball at Gorgug, who refuses to fight back.
“I don’t want us to get in trouble,” he holds up his hands to block another spitball.
“Fine,” Fig relents, and fires her next spitball at Riz, “You gonna fight back?” She chides.
“Hey!” The ball lands in Riz’s mostly-empty rootbeer float, and he returns fire. Fig cackles and readies another volley, but Adaine snatches her straw.
“Guys,” she sighs, and doesn’t elaborate. Riz puts his straw back in his drink. An armistice has been reached, however temporary. Adaine slowly gives Fig her straw back. They sit in a short silence, the group waiting for the battle to resume.
“My papa always said; why do you draw steel? For gold or for blood,” Fabian jokes of the spitball skirmish, “Today it was for blood.”
“I didn’t start it,” Riz takes a quick jab at Fabian’s milkshake with his spoon, stealing a bit of caramel off the top. His nose crinkles at the sweetness, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to steal another bit. Fabian grabs his arm.
“The Ball!” Fabian protests, easily disarming Riz of his spoon. He keeps a firm grip on his wrist, though. There’s no telling if Riz would grab his straw- or Fabian’s spoon. For a second, Fabian feels Riz’s pulse in his wrist. Then, the rogue wriggles free and sinks farther down in his seat, still squished within easy grabbing distance of Fabian’s milkshake, “You could’ve asked.”
“Tastes better stolen,” he says back with the toothy little smile that makes Fabian have to force himself not to blush. In a calm facade, he leans his (unused, except for stirring) straw towards Riz and goes back to eating with his spoon. Riz politely ignores the silent offer for all of a minute before his root beer float is fully gone, and then he takes a cautious sip. He’s made record time on his float, and Fabian half-wonders if he should ask him to slow down.
“So anyways,” the conversation picks back up. Kristen struggles to fill in her notes around Fig, “My AP Healing lab yesterday was wild. We’re not supposed to talk about specific gods or anything since everyone heals differently and believes different things, but this guy who I was supposed to work with kept asking about how I can still do magic. But like, he was weird about it.”
“Sounds like a dick,” Fig cuts in before Kristen can continue.
“Yeah, that guy sucks,” Adaine agrees.
“Curiosity is one thing, being rude about it is another,” Riz agrees.
In an incredible display of discipline, the bad kids continue to talk and occasionally work on homework. It isn’t much, but the progress is more than expected. Gorgug frowns at his arcanotech elective work, doodling in the margins of his notes. Adaine struggles to help Riz with his arcane traps work from across the table, and Kristen- while unable to help- pats Gorgug on the back and gives him a speech that might count as inspiring. Fig continues to ignore her homework in favor of chatting, and Fabian drums his fingers on the table while skimming an assigned section on looking heroic while sword-fighting effectively. It’s nothing new, so he just glances over the page and writes down the bolded keywords.
At some point in his reading, Fabian registers Riz’s head leaned against his arm. When he tries to move it to turn the page of his textbook (“The Dashing Fighter: Battling with more than steel.” It’s a thin but inordinately glossy book) a small, deep sort-of-grumble comes from Riz. It’s a sound he’s only ever heard goblins make, but he assumes it’s discontent.
“You okay?” Fabian asks, not wanting to move Riz.
“Uh-huh,” he says, “Drank too much root beer float. Stomach hurts.” Fabian doesn’t know how to comfort Riz without it being sappy and weird. He can’t make it sappy and weird.
“I’m gonna need my arm,” he says, instead, and immediately feels like an idiot. Riz shifts, putting his chin on his arms on the table. Fabian misses the contact as soon as it leaves, but he’ll be at gunpoint before he’ll admit it.
“It’s getting late,” Adaine checks her watch as she closes up her notebook.
“They don’t close until 12,” Fig points out.
“Yeah, but I have to get up early tomorrow,” Kristen whines.
“We have morning practice,” Gorgug reminds Fabian, who groans. Once he’s at practice, he’ll be in his element. He’ll be running, sweating, and feeling great. Before that, though- Fabian shivers. Waking up early is such a slog.
“G’night,” Kristen waves to Basrar as the group cleans up their glasses and puts them in the dish bin. Out in the lot, the Hangman bursts to life and Fig starts up Gilear’s car. Fig, Kristen, Adaine, and Gorgug pile into the car- they’ll drop off Gorgug and then head back to the manor. It would’ve been easier for them to take Riz, too, but Fabian insisted it wasn’t an issue. It didn’t matter that Strongtower Luxury Apartments were right next to the Thistlespring Tree. Really, it was no problem. Fabian waves as the car pulls out- it takes a couple times reversing and then going forward to get out of the cramped lot.
“Just you and me, the Ball,” Fabian hops onto the motorcycle, “Let’s get you home.”
“It’s a little out of the way,” Riz supplies, getting on the back and wrapping his arms around Fabian’s chest. Fabian won’t admit that he’d rather go out of his way- he’s rather drive through Elmville at night with Riz’s arms around him than go home to his mostly empty house and sleep until he had to wake up ungodly early.
“It’s not a problem,” Fabian looks out over the Marigold River as it comes into view, the night air cold but a different kind of refreshing. Street lamps flicker past, and the red and green of the stoplights all blend together. For the first time, Fabian thinks he’s lucky to have Riz on the back of the Hangman, driving him home on a quiet Elmville night. They couldn’t talk if they tried over the wind and Fabian speeding, but he’s grateful for it.
The Hangman arrives at Strongtower Luxury Apartments, where many lights are out and curtains are drawn. Faintly, Riz registers that their apartment’s lights are on- his mom must be home, and awake. He turns to wish Fabian a goodbye.
“See you,” he calls over his shoulder.
“See you,” Fabian nods, a dumb grin coming to his face. Despite the chill, his messy hair, and the dawning threat of waking up early, it’s a nice night.