Nott had been the one to suggest it, all those months ago.
It’s almost funny remembering now. Back before the pair of them had been at each other’s throats more often than not, when he’d still been nervous enough around them to be almost constantly polite and stiff, Nott had offered Caleb up like a particularly interesting token of friendship.
“Caleb knows lots of magic; maybe he could teach you some! He’s very talented!”
Even at the time, Fjord had agreed. Caleb was talented, even if he knew he was relatively easy to impress when it came to magic.
Fjord had always had a fascination with the arcanic arts. He’d even entertained the notion of really studying, applying himself to the trade, like it was clear Caleb had done, but… he’d never had the resources, and when he had, he didn’t have the time. An illiterate orphan didn’t exactly have the opportunity to go digging through spellbooks, and by the time he’d reached the age that he made it out on his own, he’d been with Vandran. Vandran had helped him learn to read, sure, but there wasn’t exactly a lot of time to sit around learning spells when working on a ship.
Learning to read was an acceptable skill, to a sailor. It could be useful, and the more literate people aboard, the more people could read a map or ledgers or documents. But spell-casting took time, and a lot of it. It was like a full-time job, and Fjord already had one of those.
Still, the fascination had never left him. He’d met wizards and sorcerers on his travels, and seeing the magic dance at the ends of their fingertips had always captivated him.
Caleb was just the first time he’d been able to see it up close without coming off as rude or intrusive; he was free to watch almost as much as he liked.
He’d got to see up close and personal as Caleb lifted his spindly, slender fingers and murmured softly to himself, pulled something from his bag and turned it into something else, something with sparks or ice or force. Fjord remembers every time Caleb unwound those claws and hissed something and a new spell had exploded from him, like watching an approaching wave finally break and smash against the port side. Caleb was a scrawny little thing, but the power he held in him was the exact kind of something that drew Fjord’s eye to him like a moth to a… well. To a flame.
He hadn’t ever really brought up the idea of Caleb teaching him magic again, not wanting to impose on a favor that hadn’t even really been offered by the man himself, but the idea percolates in the back of his mind every time Caleb does something that makes him want to blurt an unthinking compliment.
He’s managed to hold them back, recently, aware that every time he does it he gets a side-eye from at least one other member of the party, but he still thinks them.
That was incredible, Caleb.
That was amazing, Caleb.
The fact that the words embarrass even himself a little bit in retrospect proves that maybe he’s wise to hold his tongue.
Still, it’s fully something he intends on letting sit, even if he burns with curiosity.
That is, until Caleb is the one to come to him one evening by the campfire, right before they all bed down. Fjord’s on first watch with Beau.
Traveling together for as long as they have, it’s commonplace for one person or the other to approach him at random and start a conversation. You get bored on the road, and picking at each other for a chat is really the best way to pass the time. Caleb was a rare case in that he wasn’t really a talkative type, more likely to read if he wasn’t keeping watch, but it still wasn’t the strangest thing in the world to be approached by him.
Nevermind it was maybe a more mildly exciting thing than getting approached by, say, Nott, but that was neither here nor there. Caleb was generally not the type to talk about things that weren’t exciting, was all.
He looks up from quietly rearranging the red ropes that twine around his leather pieces of armor as a shadow passes over his work, and meeting Caleb’s blue eyes piques immediate curiosity.
“Howdy,” he greets, and Caleb tips his head to one side, scrutinizing him in that way that always makes him feel like he’s being second-guessed. He puffs his chest out as subtly as possible.
After a weighted moment, Caleb hums, and sits down beside Fjord on the log he has privately declared his work bench. Fjord decides he doesn’t mind the intrusion, turning to lean his elbow on his knee and cock a brow in the other man’s direction.
“Howdy,” Caleb replies belatedly, quirking a small smirk at him that reminds Fjord how little the man actually smiles.
He watches Caleb as the wizard turns to face the fire in front of them, can tell from the flit of his pale eyelashes that he goes half-lidded and thoughtful in the orange light. The flame, this close, makes his hair glow like curls of burning wood around his cheeks and temple. Fjord can see the flicks of freckles across his nose that have developed stronger and more plentiful in the months since they’ve been traveling in more open sunlight. Fjord remembers teasing him over the sunburns he’d also inevitably gotten, but it seemed like his skin was finally beginning to develop to the elements, now; instead of burning, Caleb just blossomed new spots.
Goddess kisses, he remembers a sailor calling them once, as he’d pointed them out on a narrow-eyed Sabien. Sabien hadn’t taken kindly to it.
Fjord wonders if Caleb would also be so callous about the term. He thinks about Caleb reading his romance novels, curled like a sleepy cat in dusty inn chairs late into the night, and tends to think he wouldn’t mind as much.
“When we met,” Caleb says, and Fjord snaps out of his thoughts with all the grace of an embarrassed teenager, “you expressed an interest in learning magic from the Academy.”
Ah. Fjord blinks completely out of his sleepy bedding-down thoughts, his eyes focusing as Caleb turns to meet his gaze again. It’d been so long since Fjord had thought of the Academy in any way that wasn’t they sound dangerous or Caleb really hates them. He reaches up to scratch the slowly growing scruff on his jaw, silently noting the way Caleb’s eyes follow the movement. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, I guess things kinda changed pretty quick.”
Caleb hums, and nods. His hair is messy and half out of the small ponytail he’d wrangled it into early on in the day; he reaches up and pushes a loose piece behind his ear in a practised gesture. If Fjord didn’t know any better he’d think his companion was nervous. “Ha. Ja, a lot has changed. But I was… thinking, I suppose. If you were still… well.” Caleb shrugs a knobby shoulder and Fjord has to restrain himself interrupting to encourage him. Caleb was a flighty thing. You couldn’t show you were too eager about him saying something or he’d clam up faster than an oyster with a pearl.
Fjord kind of, sort of, gets that.
“... Well, I am hardly the entirety of the Academy,” Caleb finally seems to settle on, and gives Fjord a self-deprecating smile before continuing quickly, “but that is… not a terrible thing, all things considered. My point—” He straightens, and with only a brief hesitation, turns and grabs the left book from under his chest holster, laying it flat on his lap and placing both of his long, pale hands on it. Fjord knows he probably looks way too interested as he peers down at the leather-bound tome, tracing the various scratches and engravings where he can see them, but Caleb continues as if he isn’t being painfully obvious. “My point, being… if you were still interested in learning a little magic, mein Freund, I would be… amenable to showing you a few things.”
Fjord blinks, staring across at the wizard as he smooths his thin palm across the leather of his book. He isn’t sure quite what to say; he had long ago put aside the idea of actually learning any magic, instead putting his energy into figuring out how to work the powers he’d just woken up with one stormy night. Other time was dedicated to swordplay, though the movements were so practiced at this point Fjord wasn’t really sure how much better he could get without guidance. He blames his surprise on his uninspired response: “… Really?”
Caleb doesn’t look up from his book, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. “I do not claim to be much of a teacher, so I’m not certain if I would even be any good at it, but… I have taught Nott a thing or two, and… though of course I understand if you’d prefer to learn from a professional–”
“What?” Fjord interrupts incredulously, sensing the way Caleb is retracting into himself and baffled at the implication. “Caleb, you’re like… as professional a magic-user as I’ve ever met.”
Caleb looks at him then, and even though it’s an unimpressed look, it feels like a step up from his uncertainty. “Fjord, I was there when we met Yussa,” he says, a lilting smile in his voice even if it’s not on his face.
Fjord blows a breath through his lips. “That guy has the personality of a bag of bricks.”
“And me?” Caleb responds, just as dry.
“Ah, you’re like… a bag of cats. Way more interesting, trust me.” Fjord flashes him a smirk, and Caleb smirks back, huffing his soft laugh.
“Not… an inaccurate description, I suppose, though I question your creativity. And your admittance of that after calling me ‘professional’.” Caleb turns back to his book, and Fjord peers across at him, before scooting a little closer, being as brusque about it as possible so Caleb is jostled a little. Maybe just to be an asshole, but also to make sure he came off as casual.
Caleb huffs, but does give him the entirety of his attention for a brief moment. It feels like being put under a beam of especially bright moonlight. Somehow, it’s nothing like the gaze of his eldritch god.
“Ah…” Careful what you wish for. “Um, but, yeah, Caleb, I’d be real interested in learning from you. If it wouldn’t be an imposition. I never really had the opportunity to before, and then I got these powers from Uk’otoa—” Fjord pauses on instinct, waiting for the reverent echo that never comes (Caleb wasn’t the type to give Uk’otoa any kind of reverence, Fjord has noticed) — “and… well. I guess it might be better to be safe than sorry.”
Caleb peers at him from the corner of a hydrangea-blue eye before turning away again. There’s a new, small curve to his mouth that makes something low and quiet in Fjord’s stomach go warm. “We will have to find time, then,” he says, in his quiet way, before slipping the book back into place under his arm. “For now, though, you should get your rest. We have a long day’s journey ahead of us tomorrow.” Caleb rises to his feet, taking the body heat Fjord realizes he was feeling with him. “Goodnight.”
Fjord clears his throat around a “‘Night!” and watches Caleb’s back as he slips under the veil of the hut.
But things aren’t as easy as just finding the time. Not for them. Traveling to Xhorhas becomes the priority, and Fjord doesn’t really have the time to think about it again.
And then one night he wakes up and Uk’otoa has ripped everything useful from him, emptying him out, flaying him with one firm whipcrack snap, leaving him like a wet cardboard box on the pavement.
He doesn’t know if he’s ever felt real panic like this before. There have been many times in these months with the Mighty Nein that he’s been scared: of the death of his friends, of dying himself, of something worse than either of those things.
But the accent is slipping away from him, everything is slipping away from him, this concoction of a person he’s built himself up to be, leaving just a man kneeling in the rain.
Not even a man, he reminds himself, staring at his reflection in the puddle and seeing every insecurity he’s been able to bluster away behind the confidence his power brought him.
His mind quakes in the wake of his dream, leaving him staring down at himself for far longer than he’s perhaps done in years. It is with some alarm he realizes the luminescent glow his eyes had held ever since he woke up in the sand after Sabien’s betrayal is absent.
In its place, two irises, the color of the mud currently squelching around his fingers, gaze back at him. Plain brown, set in the jade of his sclera.
All at once, the stubble he’s been cultivating looks scruffy and unkempt on his jaw, a far cry from the masculine edge he’d believed it gave him. His grown-out hair hangs in wet black strands around his temples, scraggly, cut through with premature gray. He looks tired, and weak, and useless.
Just some half-breed sailor with a made-up voice and a lot of pride in something that, it turned out, was never even his.
It is a quiet five minutes he gives himself, knelt in an alley with his face buried in his dirty hands, coming to terms.
He hasn’t finished that last part before he is forcing himself to his feet, pressing against the brick wall to push himself up. “It’s fine,” he tells himself, quietly, “it’s fine,” and it is almost foreign to hear his actual voice alone in the quiet, and gods, he has really been lying about everything. He’s been lying this whole time. He just hadn’t really realized how much he’d been lying to himself, too. “It’ll be fine,” he says again, and the irony tastes like ink in his mouth.
He stumbles back to his room, almost forgetting that Caleb is also there until an instant before he reenters.
Fjord moves quietly to the bed, dripping with rainwater and looking over at the human as he tries to silently remove his sopping clothing. His darkvision grants him a clear view of Caleb, turned away from him, breathing quietly and rhythmically. His red hair is splayed across his pillow, a dull ember in the darkness of the room, and his bony shoulder peeks from under the blankets. He looks like he’s asleep, and remains that way as Fjord watches him throughout undressing and redressing.
By the time Fjord’s done, he’s shivering, and he shuffles under the blankets as stealthily as he can, curling his bare feet together underneath and trying to calm his shaking body.
He looks across at Caleb, watches his back expand and contract with his breathing, and before he can help himself thinks about the soft exchange between them only a few nights ago.
“I appreciate you.”
Despite his (rather embarrassing) misinterpretation of the following words, that phrase is what rings back to him right now. I appreciate you. Fjord clenches the sheets under his jaw a little, feels the way his claws want to spear through them, and wonders if that would still be true if he shook Caleb awake and told him the truth.
“I’m not okay, actually,” he could say, “I’m freaking out.”
Caleb would respond probably with… cool logic. Fjord can’t imagine Caleb being good at the comforting thing, at assuring him everything would be fine, but maybe that would be okay. Fjord didn’t believe it from himself, so he doubts he’d believe it from anyone else. But for Caleb to just look at him with those ice eyes, with all the power he held in his scrawny frame, a deceptively calm presence, and tell him… something. Tell him anything in that low, clever voice and maybe just say something like “we will figure it out” and that would be… enough. That would be something.
He lays awake and watches Caleb breathe, less than a foot away from him in the bed, his freckled shoulder the last image before the darkness takes him once more.
Months pass. Fjord exchanges one god for another. There’s a part in between that’s terrifying that Fjord tries not to think about too much.
No one can understand what that had meant to him. He’d spent so long wrapping himself like a tentacle around this pillar of an idea, and he hasn’t known what he was without it anymore. The man without this power was a nobody. He was someone Fjord hated; a mindless piece of shit that never did anything important his whole goddamn life. Uk’otoa has changed him. Made him an entirely new person — someone who could do something with his life, someone that had the agency to be someone else.
And he’d thrown that into the lava.
It’s an appropriate death. Uk’otoa’s power had always felt like the sucking, grasping cold that had clenched him in the depths of the ocean. To kill the ice with fire. Fjord had thought, inexplicably, of the scar on his palm, for just a moment.
But things were different now. Fjord had a loving god in the arms of Melora. She would never just chuck him into an alleyway with no way out, right? That’s what Caduceus seemed to imply.
Privately, Fjord longs for the self-assuredness Caddy seemed to carry about him. There’s a grace in every movement he made, a glow about him that appears to make him know, wholeheartedly, that there was nothing he could do that would leave him helpless. Fjord can’t picture Caduceus ever panicking and staring down at himself in hatred. Fjord can’t picture Melora ever wanting to be apart from him, what must be one of Her most loyal servants. He can’t picture Caduceus ever being without the embrace of the Wildmother; it was woven into the man’s very being, clung to him as easily as the lichen that glowed within his hair and along his armor.
Fjord… wants that. More than anything, he wants that. To be so certain of himself… really, it’s all he’s ever wanted. Still, he finds himself turning to Caduceus for guidance almost more than he turns to Melora Herself, watching and trying to learn from his friend on how to be a good servant.
Of course being under the Wildmother’s guidance was better than being under Uk’otoa’s. The magic that worked his way through him now is so different. No longer was there a sickly, freezing bite to every spell that sparked from him.
Now, it was more like the sea on a warm day. Memories of salted air from long hours on the dock rise to mind, the satisfaction of dipping his aching feet into the ocean as he sat on the beach. Vandran’s voice calling out to him, telling him to come back to the place he belonged.
It makes him think about that day they all gathered on the beach together, so long ago now. He remembers how happy he’d been, seeing the ocean again after months away from it. Caleb, laying backward in the water and gleaming white-skinned like a fish under the direct sunlight. The laughter that had come from surprising him. The quiet discussion about what he maybe wanted after all this; a beachside house, to be able to find peace in the ocean’s steady waves again. How he’d like to live here.
Caleb’s sea-blue eyes on him, the low thrum of his raspy voice telling him it sounded nice. White foam on pale skin, speckles of seaweed mingling with the freckles there.
Peace, he supposes. His magic feels like peace.
But, despite everything, it still did not feel like self-assuredness. There’s shame, deep in Fjord’s gut, that his faith has not brought it to him. His fingers clasp and grab at the pit in his chest, wondering why, even with Uk’otoa gone, he can’t forget that night in the alley. How afraid he’d been, how utterly hopeless and powerless. How certain he’d been that he was worthless now.
Fjord is pondering it silently to himself as they sail through the water, smoothing his claws over the worn wood of the wheel. They’re headed for Nicodranus, finally returning back to a home that feels almost leagues behind him, now.
It’s a relief when Beau approaches, yawning and slumping onto the railing beside him. “Hey, Cap-i-tain. Caleb says we should be about two days out. Or, well,” She rolls her eyes at him, a smirk betraying the fondness beneath it as she affects a Zemnian accent, “Approximately 2 days, 7 hours, 26 minutes, if we keep our current pace’.” She drops the accent, turning around to lean on her elbows. “He wanted to let you know.”
“Thanks,” he replies, smirking himself. “I mean, not that I didn’t know that, of course—”
“— but it’s always good to get the confirmation from our living calendar.”
Beau huffs. “Hey man, you’re the one that made him the navigator. You gave him the power to use it for evil.”
Fjord casts her a look. “You can’t deny it’s been helpful as hell a few times.” It still feels a little strange, not slapping Vandran’s voice on over his own. Just another little layer of protection he’s shed. It feels right, not having to lie to the group anymore, but it doesn’t always feel easy.
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t let him overhear you say that. Don’t want a repeat of the Caleb O’Clock.” She makes a face.
Fjord snorts, shaking his head. “Careful, you’re getting into dangerous territory. Don’t let Jester overhear you.”
Beau huffs a laugh, too. Strangely, a flush appears over her face, and she looks around as if making sure Jester isn’t nearby. “Haha, yeah, that’d be… bad.” She clears her throat, but before Fjord can poke at that bit of weirdness, she speaks up again. “You’ve been at the wheel like, all day, man. Want a break?”
He cocks a brow at her. “Sure you’re not gonna fall asleep again?”
“Hey, come on! That was one time.” Beau shoulders him away from the wheel forcefully, taking his position and ignoring his laughter. “Besides, it’s fuckin’... uhh… pretty much a straight shot from here, right?” She sounds like she’s trying very hard to be confident about it, and Fjord bites back a grin, reaching out over her shoulder.
“You see that? The big blue line of the horizon?”
Beau squints. “Yeah?”
“Just keep heading towards it, and if you see land, turn the wheel.”
Beau elbows him in the chest, not hard enough to actually hurt him but enough to knock his breath out a little through his snickering. “Asshole. See if I ask next time.”
Fjord butts his fist affectionately into her shoulder blade, eyes catching briefly on the new tattoo on her nape. Part of him wishes he’d snagged a tattoo when he had the chance; it looks cool as fuck. It almost seems to glow under his fist. He thinks, unbidden, of magic again, and that leads naturally, as it always has, to Caleb.
It’s been awhile since he and Caleb got to sit down and actually talk. He finds another little empty spot in him, though this one is less devastating. This is one he can fix.
Anyway. “Thanks, Beau.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Beau waves him off. “I’ll take night shift. I’ll come get you when I get tired.”
Grunting an agreement, Fjord turns and scans the bow. Seeing no sign of his wizardly companion above deck, he scratches his chin and starts wandering toward the steps leading below deck.
Along the way, he passes Caduceus, head tilted back and eyes closed into the breeze. His pink eyelashes have been set aglow by the sunlight, reflecting off him like beams. It feels… good, to see Caddy so comfortable on the ocean now. As he watches, Caduceus’ hair gets tossed by a bout of wind, and the cleric chuckles softly to himself, murmuring under his breath. Fjord can’t tell if he’s communing or not; it doesn’t really matter. The firbolg had once talked about how he felt like joining up with them was a mistake on this very ship. Now, seeing him so at peace sets a little light in Fjord’s chest.
This is his family. Seeing them happy makes him happy. These are his people. His crew. He’d be damned if he let anything happen to any of them.
Smiling privately, Fjord continues walking, nodding to Jester as she catches his eye in the middle of a conversation with Orly. She waves, but doesn’t break off, and Fjord slips down the stairs silently.
Guessing where Caleb is is no small feat. He’s caught Caleb in various places around the ship, some of which it doesn’t seem physically possible for him to be. Still, he knows him well enough now to check his bunk first; a bird always returns to its nest, no matter where it flies.
Indeed, Caleb is sitting in the hammock he’s claimed, legs folded and surrounded by his golden orbs of light. Comically, every time the ship lurches on the water, he attempts to move with it. The result is Caleb, frowning thoughtfully, seated and yet still kind of swaying on a beat. He’s also attempting to read a book, holding it up close to his nose and jerking his elbows to keep it steady.
Fjord attempts to stifle a snort, but the noise carries, and Caleb looks up from his book immediately, brow creased, before recognizing him. “Ah. Hallo, Fjord.”
“Howdy,” he replies, and Caleb’s eyes still crinkle slightly at the corners even though it sounds all wrong in his real accent. “What’re you reading today?”
Caleb huffs, tilting the book back to show Fjord a deep purple leather book with silver engraving. There’s no title, but there are little carvings of stars inlaid on it. “The history of astronomy and the study of how magic can be implemented into its study, and vice versa.”
Fjord plops himself down in the hammock opposite Caleb, settling into the sway as naturally as ever. He spent most of his life in these things. “You just can’t not know something, huh?”
Caleb tilts the book up further, peering over it with a gleam of mischief in his bright eyes. “Of course not. If it is there to be found, I will find it.”
Before, it would’ve been a little unnerving, hearing about Caleb’s endless drive for knowledge. To be honest, it’s still not entirely comforting. But it is Caleb, the most Caleb thing he ever does. More than anything else, it’s something Fjord admires in him. The passion he has is appealing, useful, even endearing at times. It’s something he and Fjord tend to have in common: curiosity.
Plus, he seems to be in good spirits despite his difficulties reading, so Fjord just smiles at him and shakes his head. “You let me know when you find a book that tells you how to ask a dragon-turtle to fuck off.”
“Alas, not everything is in a book. And if it was, it’d be in a sailor novel. You should be more equipped than I.” Caleb smirks when Fjord chuckles, and slips the little ribbon bookmark in place before setting the book aside. “Did you need something, Captain?”
“Nothing in particular.” Fjord watches Caleb readjust on the hammock, folding his legs to one side. The stance offers no stability; the ship bucks, and Caleb scrabbles a little to right himself. The look he cuts Fjord threatens him if he laughs, so he manages to speak instead, only rumbling a little bit around the snort. “Aha, ah… just. Wanted to check in. See how the ship was sailing.”
Caleb shifts again, draping his legs over the edge of the hammock to put his feet on the ground. The narrow eyes he gives Fjord tells him he heard the laughter, but he doesn’t mention it. “Oh. Well. I am… doing as well as I am able, I suppose. The group seems to be much the same. Mostly just glad we are still breathing after encountering said inarticulate dragon turtle.” Some of the playful derision slackens out of him, and he looks at Fjord more carefully. “And you, Fjord? You… died, only a few days ago.” Ice is there and gone in his expression. Caleb’s jaw tightens minisculely, noticeable only because Fjord finds himself unable to look away, as it always is when the human’s voice takes this particular cadence. Private. Unguarded. “How… how are you doing, mein lieber Freund?”
Seeing him, dressed down, concerned and gentled in this environment, does something to Fjord’s chest.
Back when he was just a sailor, the people closest to him were his crewmates. He can remember long nights at sea where the only conversations he had were murmured ones after their shifts were over, sinking into opposite hammocks, talking about what they wanted to do when they hit the next dock. Sabian cleaning out his fingernails with a jackknife, his blond hair haphazardly falling from the tail he kept it in, peering at Fjord from the corner of a green eye, only visible by the pale moonlight filtering in through the slats in the wood. “First thing I’m doin’ is findin’ a pub. Shit Vandran keeps aboard ain’t even worth dumpin’ in the water. It’ll kill the fish.”
Those conversations feel like a lifetime behind him. But something about being here, seeing Caleb with the unavoidable scruff a few days on the water gave you, reminds him of when he was a nobody. He hadn’t really had any friends then, even if he’d believed he did. Sabian had never asked him how he was doing. Hell, even Vandran was sparse with the checking in.
These little conversations with Caleb remind him that he’s got people, now. People that care. It’s funny how Caleb ended up being this person for him, when the wizard tended to be rather tight-lipped about anything besides business most days, but… he just always had been. Ever since that first handshake, they’d been partners. Now, they’re friends. Real friends.
Fjord flexes his fingers against a sudden urge to take Caleb’s hand again. He’d never been super great at initiating that sort of thing. “I’m fine. Mostly. I don’t know if you ever get over dying, really. It’s… certainly not something I’m eager to try again. It just… I suppose I’ve been thinking lately. About all of it.”
Caleb is watching him quietly. There’s something in his expression that seems knowing, and careful. Fjord wonders why that makes the skin along his shoulders tingle. “‘All of it’? Death?” He fiddles with the fabric of his pants. Always moving, never ceasing, constantly needing some kind of stimulation. “Life?”
Fjord sighs. He flicks through the people in his brain, wondering if there’s any way he would feel comfortable exposing this insecurity to any of them. In all likelihood, he should be up on deck with Caduceus right now, talking this all out with him. But it feels… like a failure to him, somehow. That Fjord is still so afraid of being abandoned that he can’t even really fully trust his new goddess. He supposes he should count himself lucky she hasn’t thrown him to the wolves for having doubt at all.
Ah. Probably not a healthy thought to have about your god, is it? Sorry, Melora, he thinks sheepishly. I know you’re nice.
It’s probably his imagination, the tickle of amusement that brushes across his nape.
As if sensing his hesitance, Caleb leans closer, dipping the hammock. He looks lean and pale in the golden light of his spell, steepled fingers casting shadows against Fjord’s boots. “What troubles you?”
Fjord finds he cannot lie to Caleb, not when he looks so earnest. “... Sometimes… I. I don’t know if it’s something you were even really awake for… something you remember. But there was one night, back in Xhorhas… we were rooming together, and I…”
Caleb’s eyes widen infinitesimally, gleaming blue.
Fjord clears his throat. “... that’s when I lost my powers, for the first time. Not my choice.”
Something in Caleb’s shoulders slacken, and Fjord wonders what he thought he was going to say. “Oh… ja. I was… I was awake, but I did not think you wanted me to be.”
“Yeah, well. You were right about that. I didn’t want anyone to know I’d become something… useless. Tried to keep it secret the entire next day, before Uk’otoa gave me my powers back.”
Caleb’s shoulders lower some more, but now it’s like there’s been a weight settled there. “Oh. I… I must admit I have regretted several times not turning to make sure you were alright, that night. When you returned, you sounded so… frightened. Panicked. I wanted to turn, but… I figured if it was something you wanted me to know, you would’ve woken me.” He smooths his palms together, dry and calloused. “I am sorry I did not help when I could’ve.”
Fjord remembers how he used Caleb to calm himself back down that night in bed, staring at his back and trying to time his breaths to the wizards. “No, Caleb… you’re right. If I’d wanted you to know, I would’ve reached for you, but... Just you being there helped me. I thought about what you’d say.” He lightly accents his voice, hoping he sounds better than Beau’s imitation. “What a mess you have put yourself into, Fjord. Luckily, I have read a book about what to do when a hugeass snake decides to throw you out like old bathwater. Just… thinking the way you might’ve thought, even if I was totally off… logicking myself out of the panic ended up being more helpful than you’d think.”
He doesn’t receive the laugh he was hoping for. Instead, Caleb looks pained, though he forces up a smile like it hurts. “You and your accents.” He sighs, before reaching and pressing just two of his fingers to Fjord’s wrist, a there-and-gone touch. “Still. It would have been good to assure you that you were not useless. I am still sorry.”
Fjord looks down between them, turns his hand over to look at the spots Caleb had touched, like he could see some kind of marking there. “It’s okay. I thought about you saying that to me, too.” The lines around Caleb’s eyes are deeper when he peeks, and so Fjord bullies himself onward. “In any case, that night has haunted me ever since. Even though it seems I’ve finally removed the vestiges of Uk’otoa’s influence, I… I still have nightmares. About waking up one day and just… being some guy with a sword. Powerless and… just dragging everyone around me down.”
It startles him, when Caleb’s touch returns, now closing completely around his arm. His fingers are so long and fine, but there is a strength to them that makes them almost look natural around Fjord’s slender wrist. “Fjord. Look at me.”
When Fjord does, Caleb’s jaw is tight. He looks fierce, a loose strand of hair lit up in bright orange where it curls around his cheekbone. Fjord thinks, as he so rarely allows himself to, of that night by the campfire, where the wizard was glowing with the flame he seemed to hate so much. Caleb is a different man, now, but there was always this passion in him, this identifying line of power. And he always looked so leonine in the light, regal and handsome and golden. Fjord’s pulse jumps and he hopes Caleb can’t feel it in his palm.
“You could wake up tomorrow, and as long as you wake up at all, you are not useless. Not to me… not to any of us. You are a man that has come from nothing and has made something of yourself. You gained magical abilities, but it is not because of those abilities that you are here with us. You are a strategist, a quick-thinker, and… and charming. There have been so many times when you have single-handedly saved one of us.” He swallows. “Do you recall when you put yourself between me and the succubus, down under the well? I was barely conscious when you did it, but if you had not, it is not unlikely that I would have died in that fight. You are… so brave. I think of you in that moment, and there was no man possessed by a god there. It was simply you, wanting to protect a friend, and putting yourself in the most dangerous place to do so. Even after I had attacked you.” He shakes his head, and his hand slides down just a little further, clasping around Fjord’s and biting his nails in. “Even if all you had was your sword, I would stand beside you in any fight, liebster Freund. Surely, you must know that. I should have said so, before, when you needed it. That night.”
Fjord blinks, feeling his heart thud painfully in his throat, and heat crawl into his face at the way Caleb is staring him down. He feels like a hare being stalked by a tiger, for just a moment, and blushes with the fact that he doesn’t exactly hate it. Intense feelings always felt all the more overwhelming when they came from Caleb, and when that feeling is admiration, Fjord finds himself floundering when it’s directed his way. His body aches to return the favor, but his tongue feels heavy in his mouth. “I— Caleb, I…” Now he’s thinking about that night again. Why had Caleb had to say it like that? That night.
Sometimes you have to get a little bit crazy.
Caleb blinks, and seems to come back to himself. He lets his eyes fall away. It feels like stepping out of direct sunlight. “But. I can understand your fear. It… brings to mind a conversation we had, once upon a time.” He lets Fjord’s hand go, and rubs his own together again. Fjord silently notes how he presses his thumb to the scar across the palm. “Do you think… perhaps, you would feel better if you knew some magic of your own? Something that… that no one could take from you?”
Fjord clears his throat, quickly clasping his own hands, trying to ignore the fact that they’re trembling a little now. “I don’t want you to think I don’t trust the Wildmother, or Caduceus, or… or anything like that. I know they wouldn’t… that She wouldn’t… it’s just. I just keep thinking about it. About… those days where I felt like I couldn’t keep you safe.” He blinks. “All of you, I mean. The group. Before Melora found me.”
“Ja, I… I understand.” Caleb leans back to grab another book, this one from the holsters he usually keeps on his person. They’re sitting on a nearby barrel; now that Fjord has a short break from looking at him, he feels a twinge of amusement noticing that Caleb has brought almost every available surface on this part of the ship over to be used as makeshift tables for his things. “But sometimes, it feels better to just… know. To have something that is only yours. Personal.” His voice lilts gentle around it, like it means something to be saying it.
Fjord feels some of the tension roll off him. Caleb does understand; there’s no judgement in his face, only a kind of sad comprehension.
Caleb leans a little farther to undo the strap holding his book in place, exposing a long line of white throat and unshaved stubble.
Fjord look away, takes a deep breath, realizing how he’d been holding it for the majority of the conversation. He feels another flush rise to his face.
Gods, it’s been some time since he and Caleb spent time alone together, and this is reminding him a bit why. His palms always got a little sweaty being under Caleb’s direct attention, and he likes it a little too much to be able to wave it away as just ‘being around a good friend of mine’ kind of sweaty.
Caleb had this way about him that kept drawing Fjord’s eye to him. At first, it had been mostly just his prowess with magic, of course. But as time had developed, Fjord had had to stop himself from staring when Caleb emerged with new clothes, when Caleb stopped speaking and it would be normal to look away… when Caleb smiled, which was becoming less rare but no less priceless. Especially then.
He’s pretty sure the wizard’s kinda got some kind of something going on with Essek, maybe, and it was easier to ignore the twinges of jealousy that burned in his stomach if he just ignored his own feelings about it altogether. He’d been busy! Working with a new god, getting a new hold on his powers, spending more time with Caduceus… he wasn’t pining or any nonsense like that.
Still… it was… maybe kind of good that Essek didn’t travel with them all the time. That some of Caleb’s time was just for him. Them. Whatever.
Sweatiness and all.
Caleb comes back with his book and Fjord politely gives him his outward attention again, looking down at the cover with him. It’s that same rugged spellbook from the campfire night, a little more dusty and the leather a little more scratched, but when Caleb opens it, the pages are neat and pristine. Fjord wonders how its survived underwater treks, flying in the open air, and its owners’ fiery tendencies, but then, well. It was magic, and it was Caleb who owned it.
He is frowning, when Fjord looks at his face again. He splays reedy fingers across the page, underneath which are neat black lines, careful explanations and diagrams. “There was a time… after I left the asylum, I had forgotten all the magic I ever really knew. But I could feel it, within me. Do you understand?” He pulls his eyes up to Fjord’s, and Fjord realizes how close they are, how close you have to be to look at the same book together. Caleb’s breath just touches his chin. “Once you know magic, know it in the way only people who do it with their own practice and hands… it never truly leaves you. My mind was broken, my… body weak. But it is a force that is in your very blood, in your bones, so deep that when a wizard dies, it leaves their skeleton with a trace of it within the marrow. It cannot leave you. You can always learn it again; even if you lose it all, it is never gone completely.” Caleb traces his eyes over Fjord’s face, then down his body, back to the book. “You will always be magical, once you begin your training.”
Fjord feels like he’s already got it in the blood, with Caleb looking at him like that. If you cut his arm right now you’d find a hell of a lot of fire magic, he’s certain. “That’s… comforting.”
Caleb smiles, less pained this time, more sincere. “Gut. I have also found some semblance of peace, thinking about it this way.” He turns another page, then settles, looking up at Fjord. “We can begin with cantrips… how about message?” He peers up at Fjord, something sparkling in his eye, and Fjord feels a different kind of blush rise to his face. His earnestness about teaching and learning attracted Fjord in a much more butterfly, giddy type of way. He’d only ever really seen it directed at Nott, but that had been enough to make him feel his face go into that stupid smitten smile every time. Now, the idea of that being turned on him… The taciturn, focused Caleb should never look so… endearing. Embarrassing.
He bolsters past it. “Is that the first one you learned?”
Amazingly, Caleb actually looks a little shy about it, a little smile tucked in the corner of his mouth as he fiddles with the page. “Ha, well. One of the first.” He lifts a slender shoulder, lets it drop. “Despite everything, I can still remember using it when I was a child.”
Fjord smirks, standing up so he can start shimmying his way to sit by Caleb’s side instead. “I’m gonna be as talented as a kid Caleb.”
Caleb stands, too, probably to make room for him. “You should be so lucky,” he teases, and then looks up at him.
They are very close, Fjord notices; there’s not a ton of room between the hammocks, anyway, and with them both standing, they are suddenly inches apart. Fjord can smell Caleb’s hair soap.
They look at each other, both apparently surprised by the proximity, and before he can help himself, Fjord opens his stupid mouth.
“Did you want to start… right now, then?”
Caleb tucks the book between them a little closer to his chest. He reaches up to pull a piece of hair behind his ear, as if to keep it out of the way. Fjord’s eyes track the movement. “... Unless you are busy…?”
Fjord leans just centimeters closer. “Don’t wanna interrupt your reading,” he says back, quietly, and despite himself feels just a touch of Vandran’s deep, throaty rasp creep into his tone. It’s his flirtatious voice, he realizes, and would start kicking himself if it weren’t for the fact that Caleb actually seems to color a little in the face and break eye contact. Something deep in Fjord’s chest purrs; Fjord finds himself subconsciously showing off as much of his biceps as he can, now that they’re (albeit magically) a little broader than before. It’s only because he’s looking so closely that he catches Caleb’s attention flick over them just before he looks up again.
“Well… it is already interrupted, is it not?” His voice is pitched low, too, and Fjord feels pleasure and faint arousal snake its way down his spine. He doesn’t back off when his friend gently lifts the book and presses it to Fjord’s chest, almost playful, a reminder, and almost like a substitute for his own hand. Fjord reaches to take it without even thinking, closing his claws around the leather as delicately as he can. Caleb’s eyes go half-lidded, like a satisfied cat, like he somehow knows that if he asked nicely Fjord’d do just about whatever he wanted right now. “If you can spare the time—”
The ship lurches again, and abruptly Caleb is thrown forward into Fjord, stumbling over himself and crashing them both into the hammock Fjord had just been sitting in. They sway wildly, Fjord just managing to pull Caleb against him before the hammock unceremoniously craps out underneath them, twirling them around once before spitting them onto the floor.
Fjord lands hard on his back, huffing all the air out of his lungs with the double-punch of Caleb collapsing on top of him. He can feel the book jamming into him. Unconsciously, he’s cradled the back of Caleb’s head; when his friend attempts to lift it, Fjord’s palm stays glued there, caught in the loose locks of his hair for a moment before he catches himself and lets go.
“Oh, Scieße, I am sorry, Fjord, I—”
“No, it’s alright, I—” Caleb pushes up onto his knees, sinking back to sit on Fjord’s thighs while he rubs his temple. Fjord clears his throat, willing it to open back up. “Uh, it’s a… ship’s a rockin’!”
Caleb blinks down at him for one perfectly silent moment. Fjord watches his mouth wiggle before it eventually breaks into a little snort. “Was?”
Feeling incredibly hot in the face and somehow bolstered at the same time, Fjord pushes up onto his elbows. “You know… when the ship’s rockin’... don’t come—”
“Oh. Terribly sorry,” comes a mild voice to their left.
As one mortified unit, Fjord and Caleb whip to see Caduceus halfway through struggling down the stairs, peeking between his fingers. “Didn’t mean to interrupt. I heard a thump.”
Caleb looks somewhere between stunned and a hysterical laugh, so Fjord snaps his jaw open before he thinks about what he’s going to say. “He’s teaching me magic!” No!
Caduceus pauses, stares, blinks once. “... Is that what you call it?” He frowns seriously to himself. “I think I’ve been missing a metaphor whenever we talk to people. Hmmm.”
Before either of them can correct him, Caduceus retreats up the steps, walking backwards in a way that would be comical if it weren’t this particular situation. He stumbles a little on the way up, and does the equivalent of a curse, only audible because he and Caleb are still shocked into silence.
After an uncountable number of seconds, Caleb turns to look at him. Fjord blinks back.
“‘He’s teaching me magic?’ Really?”
“... Well. At least it was not Jester.”
Fjord huffs, and lets his head thump back down on the floor. “Indeed.”
Before he can continue, the ship lurches once more, and Caleb’s body rocks where he is on Fjord’s lap. Caleb rumbles a curse.
It is very important that Fjord stand up, right now. He pushes back up, pulling his arms underneath him. Caleb catches the hint and zips backward, dusting his front off. Fjord sits up with the book in his lap, and takes Caleb’s hand when he offers it. They both stand up, now at least a foot apart. Fjord coughs, clears his throat, rubs his thumb against the leather of the spellbook.
“Well,” says Caleb, looking admittedly a little mussed from his fall. His hair has fallen more out of his ponytail, and as Fjord watches he looses it all to start retying it. “Maybe, ah… we begin whenever we make port.”
Fjord chuckles, willing the heat in his face to die back down. Watching Caleb gathering all his hair in a tail is, strangely, not helping. “I dunno… you said we had 2 days, 7 hours, and 26 minutes to kill. Might be better to just find a place that’s not gonna throw us around.”
“It is 2 days, 6 hours, and 59 minutes now,” Caleb corrects him blandly, and smirks at Fjord’s automatic groan. “... But you make a point. Where do you suggest?”
“Well… maybe you could come to my quarters with me.” It slips out of him as easy as anything, but the pause that’s just a split-second too long in the interim makes every hair on his body stand up. Being flustered always made him an idiot. “Uh, I mean. It’s private— and near the top of the, the ship, so the sway’s not as bad. So no one would bother us— not that. I mean. They’d knock. Before any kind of assumptions could be made—”
Caleb’s expression has changed from startled to sympathetic amusement, and he laughs — a tiny, raspy thing that slides down Fjord’s spine like trimmed, sooty fingernails. He holds up a hand and places it on the book between them. “Fjord.”
Fjord’s jaw clicks closed. “Yeah, sorry.”
“Your quarters sound like an excellent idea. You have a desk and everything.” Caleb’s mouth twists in what Fjord approximates is a fake scowl. “I bet you hardly even use it.”
Fjord’s hindbrain is still chewing on Caleb moving in his lap, and must quickly flip past a cascade of images on what he means by using his desk before realizing. “Yeah, well. You can come in and use it anytime, you don’t have to ask.” He begins moving past Caleb just so he can get away from the playful, knowing eyes of his friend. As he passes, he butts Caleb’s back with the book, wiggling it at him when he turns. “Besides, that may be about to change.”
A smile, more genuine now. “How fortuitous. A desk unused is a sad thing.”
It’s a shining moment, when he gets Caleb the first time.
Caleb pretends to be unimpressed with the desk, but does immediately beeline for it. He puts down his bag of materials, and then his other bag of materials, and then a third bag. Fjord hides his smile, perking when Caleb turns to him and plucks the book away.
Fjord straightens and props himself like a soldier at attention when Caleb turns to him, and whatever he was about to say flits away with a huff. “Ridiculous.” When Fjord salutes, fist on the chest, Caleb rolls his eyes as he approaches, and takes Fjord’s hand, unfurling it palm up.
“Being the class clown will win you no points with this teacher.” He spreads Fjord’s hand with his own, and pauses, for a moment. Fjord looks down with him, already knowing what he’ll see.
The scar from their pact gleams as blatant as ever. Neither of them had gotten it healed; both had been a little too cagey about the entire thing to bring it up to either of the clerics, even if Jester seemed to know already. So it’d had to heal on its own.
Another scar to add to his collection of them, but this one… a choice. A reminder.
Caleb looks for just another moment before seemingly shaking himself out of it. He places a small piece of copper wire in Fjord’s hand. It’s looped once, in the center.
Caleb taps the wire with his finger, then looks up at Fjord. “So. Surely you have seen me slinging all manner of things about when we are fighting.”
Fjord nods, furrowing his brow. “Propensity for a lot of gross shit, if I recall.”
A smirk. “Get used to it. Casting your own magic means making use of nature’s most fantastic properties. Including gross shit.” He looks privately amused. “Particularly bat shit, for some reason.”
“You stop thinking about it after some time,” Caleb assures him. “In any case. Different spells require different things. Some, you need only to speak the correct word. For most, however, you need some kind of property, an accompanying body motion.” His eyes are starting to do that thing again, a little sparkle glowing behind the clinical blue of his irises. Fjord feels the whisper-touches of butterfly-fondness begin percolating in his stomach again. “I chose Message because it is both useful, and because you need to make use of all three manners of casting: verbal, somatic, and material.”
Fjord nods, looking down at the little piece of wire. “So this is the material.”
“Yes. ‘Somatic’ just means the body motion. For message, you just need to pull your hands upward and in; simply twirling the wire and bringing it to your mouth.” He nudges the bottom of Fjord’s hand up, and Fjord obeys, trying to mimic the times he’s seen Caleb or Nott cast message in the past. The wire coils around each forefinger, and he brings it to his lips.
Caleb’s eyes tighten around the corners in a bitten-back smile, and he nods his approval, moving a little closer. “The spellcasting language… at its base, it is an altered form of ancient draconic. Learning how to read it is important, but…that all depends on how much you want to learn. For now, I can simply tell you the words you will need.” He tups Fjord’s hands a little closer to his mouth, then steps back. “The word for message is ‘audite’.” His voice crackles around the word; there’s a harsh accent there that puts Caleb’s natural Zemnian to shame. He’s heard Caleb muttering things like that in the midst of a fight, but it’s different when he’s close enough to actually hear what he’s saying.
“Audite,” he tries, and frowns.
“Harsher,” Caleb says, and makes a sweeping motion up his throat to his mouth. “Like a snarl. Remember, it is a draconic language. They do not have lips; much of the noise is produced from the throat. You can do it, accent man.” He gestures with detail. “Again, as one. The word, the motion, the component. Direct your energy at me. You will feel it, if it works.”
‘Direct your energy at me,’ he’d said. As if it’s been anywhere else that whole time.
A couple of hours together in the study had resulted in a little dark ring around each of Fjord’s forefingers with the strain of having a wire wrapped around them, a sore throat, and a sympathetic wizard. Caleb had smiled reassuringly, even patted his hand in a manner amusingly gentle for him.
“I studied for many weeks to become proficient with magic. If you were able to do it first try, I imagine I would be quite jealous.”
Fjord’s smile had been irrepressible, if tired. “Don’t threaten me with a good time.”
“Ha.” A glance between them, a few more words of encouragement, and Caleb had quietly bid him goodnight and departed, taking all of the tension from Fjord’s spine with him.
It’s been a few weeks since then. They’re off the boat now, back on dry land, much to the relief of one half of the gang and to the mild disappointment of the other half. Fjord twines the wire around and around his fingers now in moments of peace, finding the movement comforting and almost mindless. His practice is consistent, and Caleb has met back up with him on a few occasions to try and teach him other things to work on, as well.
But Message is the big one.
Fjord has taken to muttering random things into the wire every time after he attempts the spell, squinting at Caleb intensely from across the room.
What if your hair had stripes like Frumpkin? Would that be fucked up or what?
Hey, what do you want from the stores next time we go?
Check it out. Caduceus hasn’t blinked in 5 entire minutes. Look.
Frumpkin’s in my lap and I can’t move. Can you get me a drink?
Half the time, Caleb catches him staring a hole into his head, and the private, fleeting glimpse of a gently rounded tooth he receives is all the motivation he needs to keep going. Fjord’s random mutterings usually get a little sillier or more complimentary or both, after that.
Your shoelace is untied. Might wanna bend down and fix that.
I can see how blue your eyes are all the way from over here.
Your hair is so long now. It looks nice when it’s down.
When you talk with your hands like that I listen way better.
Did you mean to touch my arm, earlier?
I wanna go down to the beach with you, again.
Truth be told, he should probably watch his tongue on a couple of them, in case it ever works. The idea of Caleb actually hearing Fjord murmur some of these things to him from as close as inside his head actually makes his palms break into a sweat.
Still, it’s kinda nice to be able to vent it. A little thrilling, thinking what would happen if Caleb actually heard him, and knowing it’s actually a possibility.
It keeps him going, anyway.
They’re walking around Nicodranus when Fjord spots a little traveling cart over the top of Jester’s head. A hanging sign off the side says ‘Books’ in a curling, painted gold font. There’s a gnomish man sitting behind it, puffing on a pipe and smiling at passersby. There’s a cat sitting there, too, a fat stripey thing.
Turning, Fjord tries to catch Caleb’s eye, but his friend is in conversation with Beau, frowning seriously with his eyebrows knotted. He steps a little closer, inconspicuously flicking an ear their way.
“I do not think those kind of piercings would be… productive for a lot of movement,” Caleb is saying, but he looks like he’s willing to debate it.
“Says you.” Beau’s expression is smug, and Fjord quickly decides he can safely interrupt this conversation, taking the step away with a burn fluttering to his face.
He moves to the other side of Caduceus, who gives him a bemused, interested look.
Fjord lifts the copper wire demonstratively as he twines it between his forefingers. “Magic.”
Caduceus’ lazy purple eyes widen a little. “Here?”
Fjord blinks at him, not comprehending, before his ears flick down as he remembers. “Actual magic, Deuces, I told you it was just actual magic—”
The firbolg’s laughter doesn’t leave his mouth, but it rumbles around in his chest like quiet thunder. “Right. Silly me.”
Fjord has the distinct impression Caduceus is fucking with him, but it’s literally impossible to tell with him. He just huffs and leans around the scrawny beanpole of a man to stare a hole in their resident wizard’s head.
Caleb is scratching the stubble forming on his chin as he talks. Totally clueless, for once.
Bouncing a little on his toes as he walks, Fjord ignores the way he can feel Deuces watching him and brings the wire up to his mouth. He pulls up as much energy as he can, trying to like… summon it from within or whatever. Caleb’s gotta know about this book place. There’s a cat there. He would love it. Gotta tell him. Impress him.
Make it work.
The well-worn wire strains between his claws as he presses his lips to it, snarling the word as quietly as he can. “Audite.”
And it feels like every hair on his body raises. For just a moment, there is no one else in the entire city aside from himself and Caleb, the world washed in black and white, stricken through with the firebrand blue of Caleb’s eyes, the wave of his red hair. Fjord’s breath catches and clicks in his throat. Between his fingers, the wire grows warm.
He feels like he’s just been tossed fifty feet into the air, free-falling, gut in his feet, heart in his mouth, and completely stockstill. It’s unlike anything he’s experienced. It feels like his blood is sparkling and foaming inside him.
“Caleb… there’s a cat,” he manages, and the words rasp out of him in the same tone as the draconic, like boots on gravel.
Just like that, the color slams back into the world, too much, like a punch, and Caleb trips over himself.
Fjord must’ve stopped walking without realizing, because when Caleb turns, he’s ten feet ahead. Fjord knows because when Caleb crosses the distance, he takes 4 really long strides to reach him, coat flapping behind him like wings. He doesn’t hesitate at all, reaching up to cup Fjord’s face in both of his hands, and his eyes—
They’re seafoam bright, looking up at him, crinkled in maybe the biggest smile Caleb has ever directed at him. Fjord doesn’t even have the time to react or flinch, still too stunned from actually casting magic, his fingers still twisted up in the wire between them.
“Fjord,” Caleb says, so quiet and low compared to the boldness of his actions, and if Fjord thought the effects of the magic had faded, maybe he was wrong, because it feels like fire zips down his spine and grabs him by the tailbone. “I heard you. You did it.”
How on fuck did Veth deal with this? Caleb’s palms feel calloused on his face, but the fingertips are burned smooth, curling gently around the hook of his jaw, scraping along the stubble Fjord has accumulated there. Fjord swallows loudly, and he can feel Caleb’s knuckles brush against his throat with the movement. His grin is striking, so unusual on his face, revealing a dimple on one side. It’s like standing directly in front of a roaring bonfire.
Caleb’s hands move, but not off of him. They readjust so his thumbs touch on Fjord’s cheekbones, and give him the gentlest shake. “You did it,” Caleb says again. There’s so much pride injected in those three words that Fjord feels warmth unspool like honey into his stomach, slow in his chest and then, like getting caught in a water current, up into his face until he feels it break against his mouth, cracking a smile of his own.
“I did? I did. You heard me?” He would be embarrassed about how many octaves his voice has risen if Caleb didn’t seem to completely ignore it.
“I heard you,” Caleb says instead. “Fantastic. It was perfect. I heard every word. Well done, Fjord, very well done. I am so very proud of you. You did it all on your own. All of it, within your own power.”
Fjord’s ears are getting hotter and hotter with every word, and he squirms a little, breathless and unable to break eye contact. The praise is threatening to swallow him whole; he suddenly feels very overwhelmed. In the best possible way, maybe. “It only took a thousand weeks or something, but—”
Caleb laughs, (laughs!!!), and lets his touch slide down to Fjord’s shoulders. “Don’t downplay it, mein Fruend. It takes everyone time, and you were on par with everyone else I studied with.” He leans a little closer, peeking up at him with mischief written across his features. “Truth be told, you were faster than Veth.”
Fjord laughs too, and is mortified to hear there’s a nervous edge to it. He might combust any second, adrenaline racing through his veins twice as much with the double punch of magic and… Caleb’s pride. Fjord wants to bite into something and scream, and still, he doesn’t want it to stop. The very telling implication of it all isn’t lost on him, and he grits his jaw against acknowledging it in the middle of the fucking street.
“What did you say?”
Caleb takes a step back and redirects his attention to Veth, who has seemingly teleported beside them. Taking a breath for the first time in two minutes, Fjord steps back too. He takes the opportunity to hide his face by scrubbing at it, warmth suffusing over his skin like steam. Maybe he’s steaming. Is he steaming?
The oversaturation of the world slowly fades as Caleb plays innocent in the background, and by the time Fjord can manage to catch his breath and look up again, the rest of the Nein appear mostly normal.
Mostly. They’re all staring at him and Caleb with varying expressions of confusion, amusement, and far too much knowing. Beau’s stare is particularly hard; the quirk of her mouth is all Fjord needs to quickly turn away.
Caleb draws himself up and seemingly composes himself, as the bouncy energy that had briefly and bizarrely taken him over for a moment slinks back inside him. He pushes hair back off from his face, and turns to the group; he’s still smiling, but it’s his more natural one now. “Fjord has learned how to cast Message. A prodigy, as it were.”
The crew lets out various exclamations of pleased surprise, barring Caduceus. The firbolg’s eyebrows lift and he flicks his long tail behind him. “Oh, you were learning magic that day,” he rumbles. “Huh.”
Before anyone can decide to latch on to whatever that is, Jester pipes up. “I didn’t know you still wanted to be a wizard, Fjord!”
Fjord frowns a little, scratching the back of his head. “It’s… not that, really, it’s… complicated, I guess. Just… trying to see if I could, I guess.”
Jester’s brow furrows.
Smoothly, Caleb steps forward. “Fjord. You said there was a cat.”
Relieved to not have to maybe pull out all this on the spot, and also strangely flustered at Caleb being close to him again, Fjord clears his throat and gestures over to the gnome’s cart. “Also, books. That, too.”
Caleb goes. Fjord stares after him.
Normally, Fjord would walk over, too, and try to playfully beat him into paying for whatever he picked up. But his heart is still ricocheting sporadically around under his ribcage, and so instead he watches as Caleb approaches the shop alone, and welcomes the brief respite.
The wizard lets the chunky brown tabby sniff his hand before eagerly scratching between its ears, talking animatedly. The cat pushes up into his palm, even standing so Caleb will pet its back, and Fjord feels a stab of longing so poignant it’s legitimately embarrassing.
Went and sailed right into the thunderstorm, you moron, he thinks.
He stares until at some point Caleb glances at him over his shoulder, low eyelashes over bright eyes. Fjord snaps his gaze away so fast he tweaks his neck and has to bite back a bark.
The amusement that flutters through his body is not his own. He can almost feel Melora brush the hair off his forehead, Her melodic laugh warm in the wind that tosses his cape.
In a way, that’s a relief. Privately, he’d been worried that doing magic without Her would be the catalyst for Melora getting angry with him, wiping him from Her slate as easily as chalk in the rain. To feel Her here, even if she seemed to be teasing him, lifts a weight from his shoulders that he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding. He tilts his head back and closes his eyes, inhales, exhales. The breeze smells like sea salt and roses and the crispness of new paper, and it feels like understanding.
Fjord keeps his head up and hovers near a mercifully quiet Yasha, until Caleb eventually returns, weighed down with two thick tomes and a thin layer of short brown cat hair.
His friend seems to know Fjord needs a breath, and so just lifts the stack, smiling softly. “Keen eye, Captain.”
For the rest of the walk back to Lavish Chateau, he can feel eyes on him, but can never manage to catch the look before one by one his friends finish their inspection.
It’s fine. It gives him the time to look down at his little copper wire. If he concentrates, it feels like maybe he can feel the magical remnants sizzling in his nerve endings, sinking deeper and deeper, like a campfire when you’re chilled to the bone. What had Caleb said? In your marrow.
It might be his imagination. He doesn’t know how all this stuff is actually supposed to work, aside from the poetic way Caleb had put it. And he’d been a little distracted, then.
Either way, it feels like… potential. And, for once, that word doesn’t make a fear like drowning cloud his lungs. For once, there’s a confidence surging through him, as the actual weight of what he did begins to wash over him.
I did that. No god guided my hands. It was all because I just kept fucking trying.
He’s so… grateful.
For Melora, and Her grace. She is so new to him, and still so kind. Her every touch is the welcoming pull of the ocean, the brush of a petal on his cheek. She stands beside him even now, when his fear has shaken any potential faith to the core. He can feel Her guidance in his hands, and Her maternal gaze laying across his shoulders like a cape, watching even when he attempted something without Her.
In some twisted way, he is grateful for Uk’otoa, too. There was no way to avoid the fact that he wouldn’t be here at all, if not for that monster throwing him from the ocean onto the sand, for putting the blade in his grasp. For allowing him to travel alongside these people. He’d be dead, a thousand leagues beneath the sea, having never made anything of his life, if not for it. The beast had shaken him to his core, and continued to haunt his nightmares, but despite it all, Fjord could not completely hate it. He’d needed to learn the lesson Uk’otoa had taught him.
Fjord rubs his thumbs over the smooth copper between his fingers, and thinks of the gleam of red hair. This metal twine, so unassuming and so powerful. Bent, again and again, twisted over and over between his clumsy claws, but never snapping, never breaking. Always ready to try again.
He smiles privately to himself.
He has a lot to be thankful for.
The walk back is a quiet one, after that. The rest of the group seems content to leave him to his pondering, for now, and he’s grateful for that, as well.
The room he shares with Caduceus is lowlit and cozy.
His friends are all downstairs, last he’d seen. Fjord had told them he’d be right down, just needed a second to decompress, but in all honesty he knows he’s lingering in here to avoid the questions. He’ll go to them, just… in a minute.
Fjord removes his armor piece by piece, shucking himself like a crab. He’s left in the black shirt and cropped leather trousers that kept him decent, and that feels… okay. There’s a calmness in his movement, a kind of contentment that he doesn’t usually have.
He sits down on his bed once he’s done, and just feels his chest expanding and compressing with his breathing. Can he feel the magic there, within him now?
He wants to go find Caleb. He doesn’t know what he’ll say, or what he’ll do, but there’s got to be some way he can express his gratitude. Something he can give him back. Anything.
He’d give him anything.
But in the back of his mind, he can feel the slightest pulling. A draw, that lures him into instead folding his legs and closing his eyes. His goddess is, now that he is alone, asking for his attention. It’s the least he can give Her.
This is still… kinda new to him. Caduceus had explained best he could about the idea of meditating, and Fjord was getting better at it, he was pretty sure.
Still usually felt kind of silly. Now, though, the urge isn’t entirely his own.
As he lets himself try to follow Caduceus’ instructions, to open himself up to the world around him, he can see the room grow brighter behind his eyelids. He doesn’t peek, unsure of what he’ll see, but there is an undeniable presence in the room with him. He can almost hear Her breathing, though the closest thing to that is a breeze swirling in through the cracked window.
Melora is a goddess of few words. Caduceus had explained as such.
One lowlit evening, he had lifted his hand to perfectly accommodate a moth fluttering to land atop his wrist. His friend had smiled. “The Wildmother can tell you what she needs you to know. It may not be spoken, but it will be heard.” Fjord remembers the moth floating gently to land on his palm, instead, crawling daintily over the scar splitting the skin in the center, and settling. “When she calls for you, it may take some time for you to interpret what she means, Mr. Fjord. That’s alright. Just be open to what she’s saying… with patience, Her knowledge will be gifted to you.”
The look Caduceus had given him had felt almost divine. He was all pink and silver and purple and green, like the otherworldly jellyfish and coral Fjord had seen once on the banks of an island. “You were chosen for a reason, my friend. You’re still finding your path, but She understands. I have faith in you. We both do.”
It was an entirely different experience than Uk’otoa, who spoke to him exclusively in orders, in one word bites of anger and command. The thought had been intimidating, once. He was so used to having every desire of his god spelled out for him, laid out for him on a platter.
Now, Fjord squeezes his eyes closed and thinks. … Hello? Melora? Er… Miss Wildmother?
Again, a wash of fond amusement sweeps him from the bottom up. The breeze curls around his ears, tickles across the back of his neck.
He laughs softly, unable to help it. Hi. It takes him a moment, composing himself, before he releases a long sigh. I’m glad you’re here. I was afraid… you might not want me, anymore. I’m sorry, for not… for not being as faithful as Caduceus. I want to be. I promise you I want to be. I’m trying, and I do believe in you. He twists his hands in his lap, nervous and ashamed. I’ve seen your work, I’m just… I was… I was so scared. I don’t know if you… I don’t know how all this works, so I don’t know if you know about… the god I had before, but…
An overwhelming sense of soothing comes over him. Wind rushes through his clothing, ruffles it around him and tosses his hair; it feels like he’s slow-falling through the air, light as a feather and with the assurance he’ll land safely on the ground. A profound sense of what is – for once completely undeniably – love washes over him. The mother he never had, wrapping him in Her arms, and pulling him to Her chest, bending to cradle him, kissing the crown of his head.
Tears spring forward in an instant, uncontrollable. All at once he’s choked up.
It’s alright. A touch almost physical cups his jaw, soothing. Comfort. Shhh.
It settles over him like slow-falling snow on a statue. He thinks of that night in the alleyway for what must be the hundredth time, of how terrified he had been. The punishment that was so fierce and so unforgiving for his disobedience. Digging his fingers in that mud, looking back at himself in the grunge of a dirty puddle. Feeling filthy and old and ugly and useless and weak, weak, weak.
But now, the feeling that is welling up inside him is like an overflowing cup, a pit inside him he had spent so long looking away from now flooding the floors. Pride. Forgiveness. Earnest care, and hope. Hope for the future. His chest is filled with light.
There is more to your story still. There is more to you. There will be more beyond me. Look around yourself. Look inside yourself.
Fjord bites down against the urge to open his eyes. Beyond you? What do you mean?
A windchime laughs from somewhere outside on the street below him. As the presence lets him go, the saltwater balm of the ocean fills his lungs, bringing back another memory that has stayed with him for the months it’s been since it was created.
And then, gently, behind his eyes, a new voice, real this time. Fjord… if you’re amendable, I’d like to talk to you.
Fjord blinks, greeted by an empty room and the lingering view of flecks of seaweed mingling among bright orange shoulder freckles. He scrubs at his eyelids hastily, takes a breath, then huffs quietly to himself. Yeah, Caleb. Where are you right now?
Fjord hesitates. So an alone-kinda talk. He stands up and turns to his armor, debating putting it back on as nerves grip him. It feels silly, thinking maybe he’d need some kind of protection against his friend, but the little pitter-patter of his foolish, newly racing heart tells him it’s not a fireball-type of damage he’s really scared of. Especially after today.
So much for meditating calming him down. Fjord paws at his chest and the loose, open fabric of his shirt, considering, before steeling his jaw and leaving the armor on the floor.
Headed your way.
Fjord walks down the hallway across to Caleb’s room. It takes eleven steps, not that he’s counting.
On a flit on maybe-stalling fancy, Fjord pulls the wire out of his pocket where it’s been staying for the past few weeks. He quietly clears his throat, adjusts his footing, and makes an approximation of exactly where Caleb is before muttering the spellword as quietly as he can.
It’s no less thrilling, the way he can feel the blood pounding through his veins as the magic activates, but at least it doesn’t completely stop him in his tracks this time. More delighted that it had actually worked a second time, that this really was a thing he could do now. Fjord is smiling when he says a soft ‘I’m outside’ into the wire.
It isn’t fully faded by the time Caleb opens the door. His fellow looks gentled, too; his red hair is down, brushing his shoulders with the length now, and he’s down to his undershirt and an unstrapped chest holster. Beyond him, his room is lit with several candles.
He is smiling, too, in a rueful kind of way. His eyes betray him, glowing blue ice in the sunlight of pride. “I’m beginning to think you’re just showing off, now.”
Fjord’s throat wants to close up, but he doesn’t let it. “I think I’ve earned it.”
The corner of Caleb’s mouth quirks. “Perhaps.” He opens the door the rest of the way, and Fjord steps inside, closing it behind him with a click that seems entirely too loud.
Caleb’s room is the same as his own. One side of the queen sized bed is in disarray, with the sheets tossed down and apparently never made back up; the other has a book atop it, with a purple bookmark poking out of the top. Amused, Fjord runs his claws along the lacy blanket laying at the end as he follows Caleb out onto the small balcony.
The wizard goes all the way to the railing and leans against it. Fjord follows suit, propping his elbows up and taking a deep breath of the cool night air.
Below them, the streets are mostly empty. Fjord looks out into the city and sees the occasional person with their collar turned up against the chill, making their way back home. Sounds from the performances downstairs trickle up to them; if he concentrates, Fjord can almost imagine Veth’s squawking. For the most part, though, it feels as if the two of them are in their own little bubble out here, beneath the star-filled sky.
Fjord peeks over to see Caleb with his hands folded atop each other, gaze on some distant horizon line. His mouth is pulled into a thoughtful moue. His hair is gently disturbed by the steady breeze, and Fjord itches to push it from his face.
“Sometimes… you are so frustrating, Fjord.”
Fjord pauses where he is. That wasn’t exactly what he’d been expecting. “... So I’ve been told. Though I fail to see what I did, this time.”
Caleb turns to him now, arms coming up to wrap around himself. “... Ja, no, maybe ‘frustrating’ is the wrong word. Just… you are incredible, you know?”
Oh. Fjord swallows and makes himself keep his casual pose. “I mean… I could say the same about you. Have, in fact, I think.”
“Ha.” His friend smooths his palms up and down his upper arms, like maybe he’s beginning to feel the cold out here. It’s endearing, to someone like Fjord, who’s had so many bitterly cold nights aboard ships that this is nothing to him, even dressed down. Of course Caleb would be a man more accustomed to heat. Their opposition in this twinges something in Fjord’s chest, even as Caleb continues, “I simply mean… every time I think I have you figured out, you do something else to keep me… attentive. And yet you present yourself as a simple man, without much depth to him… just happy to be along for the ride, you know. You do it so well, I think you might even believe it.” Caleb’s eyes set on his face. “That is what is frustrating.”
Fjord straightens up and leans his hip against the railing, just so he can free his hands. “But I am, Caleb. I mean, I’m not a hard guy to get to know.”
“One would think so, upon first meeting you. You seemed so solvable, at first.” The silence between them stretches as Caleb looks out once more into the city. Fjord waits, knowing that whatever he’s going to say, it will come if he gives Caleb the time to puzzle it out. The moons dip them both in silver, and for a long minute Caleb almost seems like a spirit. Finally, he seems to sigh. “I have never pretended to be a man content with surface level understanding. If something is presented to me, I want to know it to the core of its being. What is the point of partial knowledge? Information is the key to survival, the key to growth, the key to moving forward. It’s so easy to make mistakes when you don’t know the entire depth of a situation.”
Caleb looks down at his hands. Fjord follows his eyes to the scars on his forearms, jutting and short and concise and numerous. “I have learned one thing in my 34 years, and it is that being wrong about something, or someone, can be life-changing. Life-ruining, even, if you aren’t careful. When you first surprised me with another facet of who you were, I was concerned because I thought I had pinned you down. Instead, you were someone besides who I had believed you to be. I thought you had been tricking me, or perhaps it was some kind of… long con. Each subsequent reveal you gave me made me reconsider things about you. Made me reconsider who you were, and what else you might be hiding.” Fjord watches as Caleb turns over one of his hands, looks down at the palm intently. “Because in a way, it was something I was doing as well. Or what I thought I was doing. But as time has progressed, I… it became clear there was no intentional deception. You weren’t hiding from me. You have simply been hiding from everyone. Cloaking that person from sight wasn’t about us, it was just something you had been doing for some time. Even to yourself.”
Fjord can hear his blood pumping in his ears as Caleb turns to him. His friend steps closer, one, two, and stops, looking up at him.
“I wonder about you,” he says, with a kind of reverent admittance reserved for kneeling on hallowed ground. “Almost every day. You inhabit my thoughts more than I could have ever believed, when we first met. I’m a cruel man, sometimes, you know? In that tavern so many months ago, I looked at all of you and I put you into little boxes of how I could use you. Jester was a naive young woman searching for someone to guide her. Beauregard was an opportunist, someone good in a fight. Mollymauk wanted adventure and a good time. Yasha was simply clinging to the only social connection she had. Even Veth had helped me before I was really willing to see her as anything more than a fellow criminal. And I looked at you and I thought you were just a simple mercenary who had picked up some help. Polite, but with a soft heart. You could have handled yourself on your own, and yet you were carting around two other people who might not have done as well if you hadn’t lent your assistance.” Caleb’s smile is a touch bitter. There is warmth in the space between their bodies. “I was wrong, of course. About all of them. Everyone is deeper than they first appear. But I don’t know if I have ever met someone who changed so consistently from my first assumption as you. Except, I suppose, for your kind heart. I was right about that.”
Like he’s waiting for Fjord to stop him, Caleb’s hand comes up and slowly, slowly fits itself under Fjord’s collarbone, a brand of heat over his thin shirt.
Fjord swallows past the lump in his throat. “Caleb...”
There’s something lurking in the shade of Caleb’s pale eyelashes, some expectation or some unspoken question. “You drive me to distraction. Here I am, rambling.” He laughs, but there’s a tinge to it that makes Fjord wonder if he’s about to cry. “... Today has been an exciting one, ja?”
Fjord stares down at him. One wrong step feels like he could break whatever this tenuous spell is stretching between them. “Yes. A lot happened.” He reaches up before he can stop himself, and laces his fingers through Caleb’s on his chest, keeping Caleb close, just in case. His own hand swallows his friend’s, and Caleb’s spindly grip tightens just so in the fabric. Nerves skitter up his spine. “Caleb… I’m not good with words, when it comes to… this kind of thing. I can lie to a stranger’s face no problem, I can talk up a shopkeep to save us a couple gold if I really want to, but… being honest, and straightforward, with… with someone I care about. It isn’t easy for me. Not because I don’t want to be, I just…” He sighs, looking down at the stubbly line of Caleb’s neck, summoning his nerve. “Before I met you all, I didn’t like myself very much. Hell, before I met Uk’otoa, I was a twobit sailor that knew how to lift things, how to loose a sail, and how to talk my way out of the pointy end of a pissed off pirate. On a good day.
“I’d grown up without a family, and the only way I ended up getting anything resembling one was by learning how to do all that shit well enough to hold a job. All I knew was that being useful meant I got to be around the people I gave a shit about for a little bit longer. Uk’otoa told me that maybe I could be even more useful. He gave me a taste of power and I suddenly got to be around people who were so interesting and fun and exciting… leagues better than my old life.” He manages to meet Caleb’s eye again, searching his face. “I got to be up close and personal with an actual wizard. To me… gods, there was nothing magical about being a good for nothing sailor. But you had a magic cat! You could summon lights out of nothing. You were a sour, dirty little thing, but you were fucking… incredible. I had to do anything I could to keep in the good graces of these people, because life with you all… it’s been the most amazing thing to ever happen to me. So, yeah, if I needed to play a part, I’d play that part.”
It’s his turn to make a move forward. Manifesting all the courage he can manage, Fjord lifts his free hand and cradles Caleb’s cheek, careful of his claws. He presses a smile up onto his face, even when Caleb does little else but stare at him.
“I’ve changed. It feels like I’ve worn so many masks I can’t figure out a way to undo the clasp, sometimes. The thing is, I don’t even think I knew who I was before I met you all. All I’d ever known was life in the orphanage and then life on that ship. I never had a choice, before. I’m 30 years old now, and it feels like this is the first time I’ve ever been able to even think about who I am, or what I want.”
Caleb’s voice is hushed. “And have you figured it out?”
“I think I’m starting to. Thanks to the Nein… Caduceus… Melora.” His voice, he realizes, is barely a rasp as well. “You. Today and so many other days.”
“I just taught you how to do a spell,” Caleb argues. “The effort, the practice… all of that was your own merit.”
“Caleb, no one’s ever tried to teach me how to do anything before I joined this group. I only learned how to read because Vandran decided he didn’t want to go through all his documents every time we went portside. Everything I’ve learned before now was taught to me so I’d be useful. You taught this to me just so I’d have some fucking agency. Because you knew it was important to me, and just that I’d like knowing how. And more than that… it made me realize that I had the ability to do it, without anyone making me.” He huffs. “You can’t look at me and tell me that just knowing you can do something all by yourself doesn’t change what it means to you. I know you know. I know you get it. That’s why you taught it to me.”
Fjord lets himself push some of the copper hair behind Caleb’s ear, letting the locks tumble across his claws. Caleb, at last, reacts, his breath leaving him so quietly it’s almost not even there.
“You taught it to me because you and I have always understood each other, haven’t we.” It’s not a question. “It’s not just about the magic. It’s about the way we’ve been since day one. Every time you got me alone, it made me feel like there was someone who got it, yeah? I look back on everything I know about each of us, and I keep finding places where we were both trapped in the same storm, sometimes worlds away from each other. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone else like that. Anyone else who would’ve understood the way you sometimes gotta cling to what’s kept you safe, even if you hate that part of yourself. Even if you’d give anything to just be a little dangerous, just once. I know you get that, too.” Fjord sighs. “You hide it all behind this own little mask of yours. Like it’s all so clinical. Why’ve you been thinking about me so hard, Caleb? Is it really just ‘cause I’m so hard to parse? We’ve always been on the same page.” He pitches his voice low. “I’d think a learned man like you would be able to read between the lines.”
“Fjord,” Caleb says, with a hint of warning.
“Why’d you call me out here, smart guy?” Fjord leans closer. “What were you hoping to find out?”
Caleb won’t look at him. “I just wanted you to know that you… that I think you deserve great things. Better things, than… than what has been available to you, before. That you should be content with who you are, beneath the masks.” A pause. “You may not know yourself quite yet, but… underneath it all, I know that you are undoubtedly… capable of anything. And you always have been. Without your gods, without the Nein… without my magic… you have always been worthy of everything you could have wanted, mein liebster Freund.”
He can’t deny the words warm him to the bone, fill him with the same kind of giddy lightness Melora had given him. Like he was free-falling through the air, only now he has to hope he’s going to be caught just in time.
For a moment, there’s just the sound of cicadas in the distance, the cheerful din of patrons beneath them, and the quiet breathing between them.
“Tell me what else you wanted, Cay.”
Caleb’s hand tightens in his shirt. “You’re the one questioning what you want. Why don’t you tell me?” At last, Caleb looks up at him, and the conflicted hunger becomes startlingly clear. Where the sunlight lit him up in golden fire, made him near godlike in his power, the night reveals the deepest and most uncharted silver-blue Fjord has ever seen on him.
All at once, the two of them are both clinging to the bow, and the storm on top of them is finally one they’re side by side to deal with. Fjord isn’t the only one scared it might all blow up beneath him, again; it’s obvious, now, that he never has been.
It feels like new magic, leaning down and pressing his mouth to Caleb’s. The slight pressure of his tusks against chapped lips is familiar as a fantasy, and despite himself Fjord cannot help but lose himself in it. Caleb responds immediately, his empty hand snatching up into Fjord’s hair and pulling him in, backing himself against the railing and nearly pulling Fjord on top of him. The chaste kiss turns deeper as Fjord tilts his head and Caleb opens his mouth like he’s been waiting for this. Maybe he has been.
Fjord’s heart is pounding beneath their joined hands on his chest. It almost aches, to kiss him, when it’s been the subject of dreams he’s pushed down so far and so often. Caleb makes a sweet sound against him and Fjord feels his knees weaken, has to pull himself away just to bury his face in his friend’s neck. He kisses him there, too, feels Caleb squirm underneath him and pant quietly into the chilly night air. “Fjord,” he murmurs, but doesn’t follow up on it, and doesn’t stop him when Fjord pulls him tighter to his body. There’s a breath of something like laughter when Fjord nuzzles beneath his ear, and it’s a thrill like nothing else he’s ever known.
This is uncertain territory. He feels clumsy and foolish in his eagerness, scrabbling into his paltry experience for help. Normally kissing is followed up by taking things inside, and while a part of Fjord isn’t opposed to that, the other feels reverent and special and different. His experience isn’t going to help him now; Caleb was nothing like Avantika or Sabien. That’s a little disconcerting, but more than that, something irrevocably right slots into his ribcage.
Yes. This. You.
Before he can figure it out, Caleb lifts slender fingers to cradle his jaw, arresting his attention completely. They peer at each other, then Fjord is kissed once, twice, three times, deep and satisfying and slow. Fjord can feel himself melting from the inside out, leaning into Caleb and pressing him just a little further into the banister. Every slow press of Caleb’s tongue weakens him further, further, until finally the wizard pulls away and Fjord is left leaning after him, chuffing.
They both breathe for a moment, bodies pressed together.
“Well,” says Caleb at last, “that was… certainly worth a thousand words.”
“Are we gonna have to use book metaphors for this from now on?” Fjord groans, playful and delighted and knowing there’s not a chance in the seven hells he’s hiding it even a little. Caleb’s mouth twitches with amusement, more noticeable now that it’s a little damp thanks to him. Deep, purring pride soars in Fjord’s chest.
“I love books, Fjord. Is that going to be an issue?”
Fjord thinks of himself a week from now, two months, six, twelve. Five years. Ten. Who knows where he’ll be, if he’ll be the same person he is now. If Uk’otoa will be dead. If Melora will still be guiding him. If they’re all still alive, if they’re all still friends. If he finds himself out on that little cottage by the sea, looking out into the water and feeling at peace.
If he’ll have got it all figured out, by then.
But it feels right, thinking about a little shelf tucked just inside the doorway of that home. Two or three or thirty thick tomes there, all lovingly magicked to keep them safe from the seasalt spray that permeated the air. Seaweed on pale skin. A hand wrapped in his own, scarred and certain, in agreement.
A warm flame to stoke; the ocean got cold, at night.
There is no version of him that wouldn’t want that. Past, present, future.
He looks at Caleb, and sees a man that’s still growing, too. Maybe neither of them have ever had themselves figured out, and maybe that’s why this thing between them felt so right. Beneath it all, they were both just fucking pushing forward the best way they knew how.
But they both wanted this.
Fjord sighs, and leans back in, searching for that spot again to make him do that snorty, wheezey laugh.
“I guess we’ll make it work.”