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Your Ears are Burning

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They moved into the Strongtower Luxury Apartments when Riz was a baby. It’s a little cramped for a family of three, and in the shadiest part of Elmville, but they’re young parents with heinous work schedules and a shoestring budget, so they make it work. They’re goblins, they’re used to finding space for themselves in this big bad world. 

Pok comes home one night (or morning, he thinks as the sun starts to rise) from a five day mission in The Baronese. He didn’t sleep the whole time, kept awake by an endless supply of coffee and the adrenalin of being hunted the entire time. So when he gets home, mostly unscathed, blood on his coat but not his own, he just wants to drop into bed with Sklonda and sleep himself into a hibernative state. 

Outside there's the hustle and bustle noise of waking Elmville, those Helionic humans praising at daybreak, drunk elves heading uptown after partying all night, and some cannons firing at the Seacaster mansion. But there also seems to be some construction going on in the apartment building, maybe fixing a busted pipe or something, and it is making this awful, grinding sound that climbs up the walls. If Pok wasn’t so dead tired he might not be able to sleep with it grating in his ears. 

On his way to bed he kicks off his shoes at the door, leaves his coat and tie on the arm of the couch and stows his arquebus in the hidden office (where his curious toddler won’t find it). In the corner of the bedroom is the crib, and Pok glances over in passing to check on the baby. 

But the baby isn’t there. 

Oh fuck, Riz isn’t there. Don’t panic, don’t panic, dON’T pANIC. 

Pok rolls a pretty mediocre insight check, probably ‘cause he’s so tired, but that’s still embarrassing for a spy. Sklonda is asleep in the bed, undisturbed. No one else seems to be in the apartment. There aren't any signs of a break-in. Nothing seems amiss besides that terrible racket downstairs. But Riz is just gone. 

The goblin man resists the parental urge to rip the apartment to shreds with his bare claws until he finds his son, even if this whole building has to go up in flames. But he holds himself back. Riz sneaks off sometimes, he was born with an insanely high stealth bonus and penchant for getting into places he shouldn’t be. Pok and Sklonda had joked that they should put a bell on him when he started crawling and somehow got out onto the neighbors fire escape. But that thought isn’t at all comforting right now. 

Luckily, by the skin of that 12 insight roll, Pok hears the faintest scuffling and mewing below the crib, and he crouches down to look underneath. The little goblin toddler is curled up against the wall in the corner, sniffling and flinching as he tries to cover his large ears with his little hands. Another grinding pulse crawls up the building (are they like, jackhamming right into the foundation or something?) and Riz quakes with the noise. 

“Oh Riz,” Pok mumbles, heart heavy as his son looks up with big, watery golden eyes. “C’mere”

He gently coaxes Riz out of his hiding spot, the toddler shaking and hiccuping with sobs as he’s pulled to his father’s chest. He must have woken up recently, the construction beginning at dawn, and now he’s fussy and tired and his ears are twitching with irritation. 

“Yeah, I know buddy,” Pok says as Riz clings to his shirt with his dull little claws. He grabs a baby blanket from the crib and wraps the boy in it. “It’s too loud, isn’t it?”

Riz answers back with soft growls and hisses, typical goblin baby talk that just means he needs to be soothed back to sleep. Pok is used to the bustling noise of crowds, listening in for any misstep or codeword, but for a young goblin still growing into their senses all these city noises can be overwhelming. 

Pok gets his son bundled up so well that even a nat 20 couldn’t let the boy squirm out of it and walks over to the bed. Sklonda is fast asleep, curled up with a pillow clutched over her head to block out the noise. Pok can’t blame her, he’s been gone for five days and she works double shifts on the weekends. He climbs into bed with Riz tucked into his arm, rubbing his back as the baby finally starts to settle. 

Riz falls back asleep with an ear pressed to his father’s chest, lulled by the steady beat of his heart. 

 

Riz doesn’t know if his ears are too big. Of course he knows they’re big, but are they too big? Goblins have big ears, and big golden eyes, and his big permanent fangs are growing in and his claws are getting longer too, but the rest of him is pretty small. Smaller than the rest of the kids in his class, no other goblin kids go to this elementary school. Some of the halfling and gnome kids are about his height, but they don’t have green skin and fangs and big ears that stick straight out from their heads. 

The other kids seem to think his ears are too big, ‘cause they keep teasing him about them. At first it was just some unkind words that he could ignore after a while, but now when people pass him in the hall they flick his ears and it sends him jumping three feet in the air. He can’t help that they’re so sensitive, even a light touch can make him shudder and loud noises make him want to hide under his desk. 

But it’s fine, his stealth bonus makes it easier to hide, and his dodge rolls aren’t terrible. And at night, when he brushes his teeth and looks in the mirror, he wonders if his ears really are too big. 

But then one day a dwarvish boy from the grade above pushes him down at recess, and before Riz can scurry away, the kid grabs onto one of his ears and yanks. Riz doesn’t think, can’t think of anything but ow ow oW OW, as instinct takes over and his head snaps back and sinks his fangs into his meaty hand. 

The kid lets go with a scream, pulling their hand away so fast that Riz’s fangs carve deep gashes in his skin. Riz tastes the blood, hot and bitter on his tongue, and he tries to rub the stinging tears out of his eyes. His ear hurts so bad, like it’s been set on fire, and all the yells and commotion sound like a garbled roar in his head. 

The dwarf kid moves to hit him, and Riz just goes to cover his head, protect his ears. 

A teacher breaks them up, grabbing both kids by their arms and dragging them off to the principal’s office. Riz stumbles behind, the teacher is a human, he can’t keep up with her long stride. 

About an hour later he’s still in the office, curled up on a chair in the corner, waiting for his mom. The dwarf kid got reprimanded for starting it and then went to the nurse for his bleeding hand, but otherwise got sent back to class with a grumble. 

Riz doesn’t get to go back to class. He bit someone. He’s never bit someone before, not like that. Goblins nibble on each other sometimes, especially younglings, as a sign of affection. But Riz bit like goblins do in those old fairy tales, the ones that his mom says are racist and aren’t allowed in schools anymore. 

The principal calls his mom, even though Riz says over and over that she’s at work, and the staff make him stay at the office until she gets there. His ear still hurts, edged with a ugly mottled green bruise. He’s still rubbing his eyes, trying not to cry. 

He hears his mom before he sees her, all 3 foot 11 inches of her storms into the principal’s office, kicking open the door still in her uniform, halfway through her shift. She tears into the principal in that unflinching, no-nonsense tone that could make even the toughest orc barbarian quake in fear. Riz has never heard her so angry, and he buries his head in his knees. If she’s this mad at the principal, she must be furious with him. He bit someone. 

The yelling stops after a while, some kind of tense agreement reached, and the door opens and closes. Steps come toward him.

“Riz, honey?” His mom says softly, and he peaks up over his knees. She doesn’t look angry anymore, just kind of tired and irritated. 

“Hi mom,” he mumbles miserably, fiddling with his claws absently. “I- uh, I’m-”

She takes his face in her hands, checking over for damage, and then sees the big bruise on his ear. “Oh kiddo…” 

“I’m sorry,” he finally stutters out, eyes down at his lap. 

“What?” She says, running her thumb across his cheek. “No, Riz don't say that. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But- but I bit him- and-” He says, words broken by the sobs rising in his chest. 

“Hey, no look at me,” she tilts his face up. Her eyes are set in a strong conviction, leaning in so their foreheads touch, speaking only to him. “No one ever has the right to touch you without your permission. And if they try, you do anything you have to to get away.”

Riz tries to swallow down his sobs, leaning into his mother’s touch. 

“Bite, scratch, scream, fucking fight them, I don’t care, ” She says with an intense protective instinct. “Do whatever you have to do, okay? Do you understand me?” 

He doesn’t, not really yet, but he files it into his mental list of Important Things to Remember and nods.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Sklonda says again, kissing the crown of his head and pulling him into a hug. 

She takes him home after that, saying that he doesn’t have to go to the last hour of school. When he asks if she has to go back to work, she says that she can stay until Penny comes over to babysit. She gets him an ice pack for his ear, which feels weird but helps the bruise go numb. 

 

After their epic defeat of Coach Daybreak Fabian has settled into his rightful place as the most popular kid in school, but he finds the position somehow… lacking. Being captain of the bloodrush team is great of course, and so is getting invited to all the upperclassmen parties, this is exactly as he envisioned his freshman year (besides all the corn). But he realizes that most nights he would rather be at Basrar’s with the other “bad kids”, or hang out at Fig and Gorgug’s band practices, or listen to The Ball rant about conspiracies and cold cases. 

Speaking of The Ball, Fabian catches a glance at the twitchy little goblin as they pass in the hall. He seemed distracted, and definitely not heading toward his next rogue class (not that Fabian knows Riz’s schedule. That would be weird, right?). 

The missing girls case has gone cold since the Daybreak incident, but The Ball is still searching. One more lead, one last clue, something he missed. Fabian can see it on his face, that high insight sparkling in his eyes, the way he bites his lip in deep thought, how his ears lift and flick to each side, always listening. 

Not that Fabian sits around thinking about The Ball all the time. Not at all. He just notices things like that sometimes. Nevermind that his perception bonus is shit and he couldn’t roll over 9 if his life depended on it. 

Somehow between passing Riz in the hall and sitting down in his History of the Hero’s Journey class, Fabian finally notices that his backpack feels a little bit heavier (fucking 7 perception roll). Not that he had any chance to catch Riz in the act anyway, he’d need a nat 20 to beat the goblin’s stealth bonus. 

But a killer stealth roll doesn’t mean much when you beef it on a hide check, because when Fabian sets his bag down, he sees two big goblin ears poking out of his bag. Riz must be distracted with something big if he forgot to close the zipper. 

Fabian doesn’t really mind that Riz takes refuge in his backpack sometimes, whether he’s mulling over evidence or avoiding those loud drow douchebags in his rogue class. If it bothered him, Fabian supposes he could just get a smaller backpack, or tell Riz to take a hike and find another bag to hide in. But even the thought of him in someone else’s backpack makes Fabian inexplicably angry (he was never good at sharing) (and he’s not going to examine why he feels that way about The Ball, absolutely not).

So the half-elf just slides his bag underneath his desk, between his feet so he can (gently) kick it if Riz gets too squirmy. If anyone in class notices his stowaway, they don’t have the balls to say anything about it. 

Riz must be really cracking a case open, because Fabian can see his ears twitching with barely contained energy. It’s kind of distracting, but Fabian doesn’t really pay attention in this class anyway, so he sits back and watches passively. They’re so expressive, like how The Ball talks with his hands to emphasize how vitally important this is, Fabian listen, but his ears are less deliberate. More alive, alert and independent as they flick towards every noise. It must be instinctual, a goblin thing. 

Fabian knows that there are some High Elf ways of posing your ears, like his mother does when she wants her idle remarks to be just a bit more biting, but he doesn’t really get it. It’s not in him, not some kind of deep rooted reflex. 

It’s kind of cute, Fabian thinks, and then immediately chokes on his own spit. He hacks and coughs to catch his breath and oh fuck people are noticing, be cool. 

The Ball is not cute, he corrects himself. Except maybe he is (...?) in some abstract, dorky kind of way. With those wide, glistening gold eyes and big twitching ears, and the ivy green freckles across the bridge of his nose, and the way he fidgets while solving a problem, and how he curls up in Fabian’s backpack for a nap sometimes. 

One of Riz’s ears flicks up, a noise that Fabian doesn’t hear, and the half-elf has the urge to touch. They look delicate and velvet soft, and sensitive. Like even just the lightest brush would make them flutter. 

He’s reaching down, not thinking. He’s impulsive, but he moves slowly, trying not to spook the little creature that’s burrowed into his life. He’s almost touching, can feel the subtle body heat on his fingertips-

And then Riz pops up and peaks out of the backpack.

“Uh, Fabian?” 

Fabian is suddenly very very aware that he is slouching halfway under his desk, reaching out to pet Riz’s ears what the fuck-

“The bell rang, class is over,” the goblin says plainly, paying no mind to Fabian’s outstretched hand. 

“I-ahg-,” Get it together Fabian. Make words happen. “Oh. Okay.”

Nailed it. 

Riz doesn’t get out of his backpack, just ducks back in and remembers to zip it up this time. Fabian can feel him twisting around inside, getting settled as he slings it over his arm. 

“You puke in there again and I’ll let Rahg use you for kick-off,” he says, face feeling stupidly hot as he leaves the empty class. 

Riz kicks him in the shoulder blade. 

 

“You should get your ears pierced The Ball,” Fabian says, much too close, while Riz is halfway through his second glass of mead. 

A few weeks after spring break Fabian lets some of his father’s friends from The Laviothon have a party at the mansion. But like, a chill party, he insisted. Something lowkey. 

Pirates don’t really do lowkey, and the commotion up on the deck is evidence of that. Someone might have started a brawl, who’s to say? Riz sent his mom a pin on the crystal an hour ago. 

But below deck, in the third most formal foyer, The Bad Kids & Co. are having a pretty chill hangout. Fig and Gorgug are jamming but the amps are only at half volume, Adaine is beating Rahg and Tracker at Fantasy Mario Kart, and Kristen isn’t too drunk yet. 

Honestly Riz doesn’t mind it down here, it’s much better that the ragers his friends have dragged him to in the past. He loosens up enough to accept the drink Fabian pours him, some extra sweet vintage mead Gathy O’Brien sent over. Against his better judgement, he lets Fabian refill his glass, and by then his best friend has already drank most of the bottle and finished off Fig’s flask. 

At least there’s no snuff powder , Riz thinks with a shudder. But even if he’s not high, he does feel kind of… fuzzy. Warm. Giddy. Maybe this honey wine is stronger than he anticipated. Or maybe it’s ‘cause Fabian is leaning all the way over into his space, arm around the back of the couch, cornering Riz into the cushions. Saying something about earrings. 

Fig has set her bass aside to get matching septum piercings with Ayda, from a pirate with a needle set and a strong cleansing charm from Adaine. Kristen is talking about getting her eyebrow pierced next, lamenting that she wasn’t allowed to get earrings as a kid. High elves apparently don’t get piercings, some purity thing that Adaine explained once. Gorgug has a cartilage piercing that Zelda did last summer, in her bedroom with a sewing needle. Riz has never seen a goblin with pierced ears. 

“I don’t know…” Riz says, because he really knows nothing right now. Nothing besides how sweet this wine is and how Fabian’s skin glows in the low light, his good eye stormy grey and hazy , and his lips are glossy and probably taste sweet too-

“C’mon, it’d look badass,” Fabian insists, but his usual loud enthusiasm is replaced with a soft, sultry musing. Talking only to Riz, like there’s no one else to listen in.  

Fabian’s ears are pierced with a pair of heavy square diamonds that probably cost more than Riz’s rent, and a set of rose gold rings above those. They look good, emphasizing the elegant shape of his elven ears. 

Jeeze, why does he have to be so pretty? 

If Riz thought coming to terms with his sexuality ( Ace? Aro? Demi-? Ace for everyone except Fabian?) was stressful, he absolutely wasn’t ready to fall for his best friend. It crept up on him slowly, everyday just liking Fabian a little bit more, until the dial was turned up to an 11 and he doesn’t think he could get through the day without hearing Fabian say “The Ball-”

“You think so?” 

“Yeah,” Fabian mumbles, gaze far off and flushed. But then he sits up a bit, puts some of his usual formality in his voice, “If you want to, of course.”

Oh, Riz wants. Riz wants everything. This is why he shouldn’t drink.

“Okay.” 

One dizzy moment later the rogue is sitting on the bar, feet dangling as the pirate pulls out a fresh needle. 

You can do this, it’s not a big deal , he tells himself while his claws dig into the wood grain. His mom was pissed after he got all those tattoos , but these are just earrings. That’s normal right? Normal teenagers get their ears pierced. Maybe not by a pirate while they're tipsy at a house party, but- 

Oh damn, Riz can’t even reason with himself right now. Fuck his metabolism. 

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Adaine telepathically messages him, while still playing video games. She sends out the blue turtle shell and Rahg cries out in defeat. 

“No, it’s okay,” Riz thinks to her, but as the needle comes closer to his right ear he hunches into his shoulders reflexively. If someone even brushes his ears it feels like an electric shock, a strong gust of wind can give him shivers from the sensitivity. Plus, his constitution saves are bad, so he might get an infection. And then his mom will be mad and worried and Fabian will think he’s lame-

When a hand, thankfully gloved and clean, touches his ear to hold it steady Riz flinches. 

“Deep breath laddy,” the pirate says. 

Oh shit, Riz feels his ear fluttering helplessly. He’s starting to spiral here. 

And then suddenly Fabian is at his other side, prying his clenched hands off the bar and holding them tenderly. “Riz,” he says with some intent that the goblin can’t decipher. His hands are warm, calloused from fighting but also soft from all that fancy moisturizer he uses. “I believe in you. Spring break.” 

“Spring break,” Riz breathes out. 

The needle slides through his earlobe and all Riz can think of is the way Fabian is looking at him. He’s spiraling. 

An hour or so later he’s in the ensuite bathroom of Fabian’s room, splashing water on his face to sober up. The rest of The Bad Kids are lying across the giant bed or dozing on the bedroom floor. With a little more clarity, Riz looks up in the mirror and sees the small black rings in his ears. His ears are sort of tender and they keep flicking unconsciously, very aware of the weight and sway of the hoops. 

Fabian was right, they do look badass. 

 

They had been playing crystal games on Fabian’s massive tv, a pizza box precariously balanced on a stack of homework they abandoned, Riz talking about his latest case while kicking Fabian’s ass at Fantasy Smash Bros. The other Bad Kids had been invited to the sleepover, but they all either had plans or joked about letting Riz and Fabian get some alone time. 

“Get those kisses in,” Fig said with a wink, making Riz choke on his lunch. 

Riz beats Fabian for the fourth time in a row and with a dramatic cry of anguish the half-elf tosses aside the controller and tackles Riz into the mattress. Riz could evade him, if he really tried, but then Fabian digs his fingers into his sides and tickles him into submission. 

“You cheated The Ball! Admit it!” Fabian says, grin splitting his face while he’s grappling the squirming goblin.

“N-no!” Riz chokes out between belly-aching laughs. 

“You have made a fool of me for the last time Riz Gukgak-”

“Last t-time?! Ah-hah- You wish!”

“That’s it,” Fabian says, and damn him, knows right where all his worst tickle spots are. 

“AH! Haha- oh, ah Fabian! Sto-op!”

Fabian is crouched over Riz, straddling his skinny hips, but Riz could get away if he really wanted to. He leans in to whisper in his ear “Say mercy The Ball, say mercy and I’ll stop.”

Riz is still howling with laughter, twisting and kicking futility, but then he feels Fabian’s mouth near his ear, breath hot and voice sending goosebumps across his skin. 

“AHhg-” Ris gasps around a moan that’s definitely not a getting-ticked noise. 

And Fabian doesn’t have the best insight, but he’s still pressed up against every inch of Riz’s body. He’d have to roll a nat 1 to not notice what just happened. The fighter-bard pauses in place, hands still on Riz’s ribs, mouth still by his ear. Every time he breathes, the appendage will flick and tremble, flushing dark green. 

“Is th, um- is this alright Riz?” he asks softly, and just that sends another rattling shiver up Riz’s body. 

“Uh, I ah-,” he tries, but all the words are gummed up in his mouth because Fabian is still right by his ear, lips a hair’s breadth away from his skin. He gnaws on his lip in indecision, thoughts firing off in his brain like fireworks. “N- I don’t kn- um- I, ah- ”

While he flounders for words Fabian pulls back, not by much, but enough to let Riz think. The half-elf leans in and pecks a kiss on the corner of his mouth, where he’s biting his lip too hard, making him take a breath.

“Riz,” he says, absolutely no judgement in his voice and face open and curious. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah. I’m okay,” Riz thinks about leaving it at that. Squirming out from under Fabian and starting a new game, or finally starting that homework they are avoiding, act like he didn’t just completely spaz out over Fabian whispering in his ear-

But he doesn’t want to pretend it didn’t happen. He’s still getting used to this, wanting *cough-sexual-cough* things, and knowing when and how he wants them. Still figuring out how to talk about those things, instead of crumbling them up and shoving them inside where he can ignore them. It feels weird and tender and vulnerable , but not bad. Not bad with Fabian at least. 

“I won’t do that again, if it made you uncomfortable,” The other boy says sincerely, waiting patiently as all these thoughts fly through Riz’s mind. Fabian’s always been so willing, eager, to listen and wait for him to be okay, to take things slow and experiment, and to let Riz figure it out at his own pace. 

So it’s not that hard, compared to the first awkward intimate moments he stumbled through, for Riz to say “No, I, um- I liked it. I like it. Is that weird?”

Fabian smiles, a little smug, but mostly kind, and says “No, it’s not weird Riz. In fact it was pretty hot.”

“Oh jeez,” the goblin says, hiding his face in his hands as he blushes. Whenever Fabian says stuff like that, cute or hot or sexy - Riz always gets debilitatingly flustered. “Shut up,” he mumbles bashfully.

Fabian laughs and kisses his boyfriend on the cheek, knowing that Riz is smiling under his hands. He trails kisses up to his temple, the mood shifting from playful to intimate. Riz peaks out from his fingers to see Fabian looking at him, unabashed and wanting, and his ears twitch unconsciously. 

“You will tell me if you want to stop, right?” Fabian says, gently easing one of Riz’s hands down to lace their fingers together. He trusts Riz, just like Riz trusts him, and that feels so, so important. 

“Yeah,” he says, squeezing Fabian’s hand. 

Then Fabian leans in and kisses the shell of his ear, drags his tongue along the edge and nips on the soft skin of his earlobe. And Riz shudders so hard he has to grab onto Fabian’s shoulders, to steady himself in the absolute earthquake of sensations coming at him. The noise he makes must be embarrassing, going by the smug laugh Fabian breaths against his ear, but Riz can’t even hear it. He can only ride the sensory waves of having his ear played with, overwhelmed with the feeling of wet and hot and tingly and Fabian-

The bard-fighter switches sides so quickly that Riz can’t even catch it, just suddenly feeling Fabian nip his other ear and suck- 

It should feel gross, Riz would think, if he could think right now. But his ears are so sensitive and Fabian knows just the right mix of teasing-pleasure-pain to make Riz feel like he’s coming apart at the seams. Riz has his eyes shut, just letting all the sensations wash over him, biting his lip and hands clenched around Fabian’s shirt. 

Fabian traces his tongue down to catch the small ring pierced there and tugs, and Riz squeals so loud that he’s afraid Cathilda will come to check on them.

The boy on top huffs a laugh, still mouthing around Riz’s earring as he mumbles “So is this like, a thing for you?” 

Riz opens his eyes to see his boyfriend, grinning and flushed like he’s having fun taking Riz apart. The goblin reaches up and pokes one of his claws into Fabian’s dimple, saying “Maybe it’s a you thing . You were the one with your tongue in my ear.”

Fabian laughs, loud and unrestrained, and dips down to kiss him again. 

Maybe it’s a you thing.