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An Understanding

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Gilmore's bed is inviting, but Vax knows he's not there yet – not ready for the implication placed in front of him with the bold, yet open-ended invitation. Instead, Vax sits comfortably in front of him and lets go of what needs get out.

 

The story unfolds in hushed whispers behind the beaded curtain, for the first time the whole story. He couldn't stop himself if he tried, the words spilling off his tongue without need for honeyed charm; the Underdark, the horn, his brush with death, the plane of fire, and now this worry with the Briarwoods. Gilmore's hand gently holding his forearm feels like the only thing holding him in reality.

 

"Shhh," Gilmore whispers, a ghost of a smile on his lips. "You needn't..."

 

Vax cuts him off; "No, I need this. I need someone to know."

 

Gilmore clasps his fingers together and with a flick of the wrist, he produces a small pink blossom and holds it out to Vax as he give a gentle squeeze on the strong forearm under his other palm. "No worries, darling..." he coos; "allow me to worry in your stead."

 

"I..." for the first time in many years he finds himself at a loss for words, how does one respond to such open adoration? After a long moment, his tongue loosens and he manages a soft; "I'm not one to worry, as you know."

 

"No, no... but when one faces death so often..."

 

"Don't remind me," Vax sighs, raking a hand through his dark hair before reaching almost instinctively to trace his fingertips over the familiar coarseness of Gilmore's beard – the closest to physical affection he can allow himself in the moment. He takes the blossom and wordlessly tucks it under the leather fitted against his body.

 

"So, allow me this one small thing."

 

Still, silent a long moment, Vax finally nods – eyes closed. "Vox Machina has just been through so much, I mean the Underdark..."

 

"I understand, Vax."

 

"It was terrible," Vax clasps his hand on top of Gilmore's, returning the fond squeeze with a wan smile. Sometimes it's easier to keep things to just business.

 

***

 

The keep buzzes with mounting tension and anticipation the eve before the dinner, even well after dark Vax can still hear the sound of Percy's furious crafting in the basement above the hollow din of Grog's snoring. Sleeping at home is so different from being on the road, or moving through town under cover of darkness – but he is no less mindful of his surroundings. He feels the presence in the room well before the familiar scent of oils and spice catches his nostrils and rouses him from sleep.

 

"Do you make a habit of wandering into strange bedrooms in the middle of the night?" Vax asks, rolling toward the solid shape cloaked in darkness. "Or am I just the exception?"

 

"Always exceptional," Gilmore's voice answers and Vax can picture the smile on his face well before a small twinkle of light flickers next to his bedside candle before twisting into a sparkling flame that gives barely enough light to see the wizard's robes slide closer to his bed. "You did say I could call any time."

 

"You're welcome here." Vax pushes himself up on the bed, his blanket sliding off his bare shoulders and chest to pool at his waist. "However, the late hour is a bit disconcerting."

 

"Well," Gilmore coos; "leisure time is at a premium. And when one has something on his mind it's worth a little nighttime travel."

 

"Fair enough," Vax answers, gesturing toward the open bedside; "Come, sit."

 

With a nod, Gilmore follows his lead and sits close enough to speak in hushed tones but with enough space to allow Vax the unspoken comfort. "Your open candor when you visited surprised me," he starts, looking past Vax and toward the candle; "I feel that I too owe a note of honesty."

 

"No... no..." Vax starts, leaning in closer only to have Gilmore silence him with a raised palm.

 

"You are a man of secrecy; I understand you're not one to trust perhaps even those closest to you. I also understand that with trust comes the fear of betrayal... of being used in the way you have used others."

 

"Gilmore... I think I know where this is going." Vax whispers, licking his lips as a guilty look crosses his face.

 

Continuing undaunted in a slightly tense but no less adoring tone, Gilmore says; "I know you took me for a fool, Vax'ildan. Please don't patronize me with excuses." He looks up with a softened face, drawing his fingers over the striking braid of his beard before adding; "It was business, and no fault of yours that I saw through the ruse."

 

"Why did you go with it?" Vax looks down at the edge of Gilmore's robe – Glorious Robe – with a puzzled frown.

 

"At first?" He shrugs; "I was intrigued. You were a brash, arrogant, and I'll admit a handsome fellow... with a drive for adventure no less. Not to mention a good customer." Reaching forward, past Vax's frozen form, Gilmore grasps the crushed blossom neatly resting on a discarded boot, then teases a finger over the delicate petals to bring it back to its previous beauty before slipping it behind Vax's ear. "Things changed... we changed."

 

The silence is uncomfortable, Percy's work and Grog's snoring reduced to only the barest of tones. Vax knows that's his cue to say something, but the words are lost against the unsaid thoughts that he has no prepared response for. "Thank you," he says awkwardly, his voice catching on his words; "for telling me. I feel quite the fool."

 

"Not at all, opportunistic at worst... and I can't fault you for that."

 

Leaning forward, Vax lets his hand find supple fabric and grab hold to steel himself for what he knows he will later blame on being overly worried and tired. "You're a good man, Gilmore. Probably far better than I deserve the affections of."

 

"I think we'll have to agree to disagree on that," Gilmore chuckles, never one to be caught off guard even as Vax leans in and brushes his lips on his cheek. "That said, I do hope in time you'll trust me."

 

"I want to try..." he answers softly, closing his eyes once more only to open them in shock when the beard under his lips is suddenly warm skin, Gilmore's tongue sliding across his lower lip with subtle suggestion. They've danced circles so long it was hard to know when the deception began to hold truth, but as he opens himself to the sensation he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that there really is something more to their flirtation.

 

"I... I'm sorry, I just..." Gilmore stumbles over his words, clearly a little surprised himself.

 

Vax doesn't let him finish, instead he pushes up on his knees in the small bed and leans into him. Pressing fevered kisses against Gilmore's cheek, Vax finds his mouth and allows himself to be lost in the long forgone sensation of desiring and being desired. "Don't you dare," he murmurs, sucking a deep breath. It feels right, in that moment, his skin flushed and mind racing with a hundred worries about what he's doing. Both hands find purchase in Gilmore's opulent robes and push toward warm skin under his palms, not even sure what's underneath the softness.

 

The cue is enough for Gilmore's hands to shift around Vax's shoulders and stroke tenderly down the tense expanse of his back – drinking in the new skin he wouldn't touch otherwise. His fingertips stop at linen braies, following the leather cord to its knotted conclusion.

 

There is a gentle tug and Vax stops, breathing deeply before exhaling a soft word; "Vex..."

 

"Something I should know?" Gilmore laughs breathlessly, tugging again.

 

"No!" Vax's voice creeps up a little louder, flustered at the implication and more than a little terrified of what they're doing – of what he wants to do in the heat of the moment. "My sister could hear if we... go further."

 

Pressing another firm kiss on Vax's lips, he answers; "Then let her."

 

"I..." Vax sighs, his weight leaning fully into Gilmore's surprisingly strong frame, letting his hands linger on his waist longer. "Not here. Not tonight."

 

Gilmore nods against Vax's flushed cheek, offering a much more sedate kiss. "For you..." he breathes, leaning back to watch him with a hungry gaze; "I'd wait a lifetime."

 

For a moment, the temptation is almost too much – that release of understanding nearly enough to break down the walls stopping him from giving in. Still, he whispers; "Tomorrow, after dinner I could slip away."

 

A smile stretches Gilmore's lips and he nods; "Then it's settled, tomorrow night – no pretense... no witnesses."

 

"I like the sound of that," Vax purrs, reaching out to clasp Gilmore's hand a long moment as he rises from the bed. "Thank you, I mean for waiting..."

 

"Don't thank me yet, Vax..." Gilmore licks his lips before pressing them against Vax's one last time. The shimmering flame snuffs itself out and just as mysteriously as he appeared, he vanishes.

 

"Thank you," he repeats in a near whisper to himself before sliding back down against the bed for a night of fitful rest.

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