"I want to sail with you. I want to- to go around the whole world and explore it all. With you."
In the brightness of day, with the sun far overhead, Davenport is sitting at a table with Merle Highchurch. A gnome and a dwarf, respectively, though it would be clear from their height differences. A red and white umbrella above them shielded them from the worst of the sun's might as a flag stationed on top of it fluttered in the breeze.
Davenport was dressed akin to a pilot, with aviator goggles around his neck and a cap atop his head along with he tugged at the scarf in his lap. With the heat, he couldn't wear it without feeling like a fish in the oven, much like his fur lined coat. He had succumbed to wearing shorts and light shoes today despite the strapping boots and cargo pants he kept in his closet. He really wanted to impress Merle, even if he had to sacrifice the better parts of his outfit for it.
Said dwarf paused to think about it (something the Tres Horny Boys- his boys- would have ragged on him for). He turned his head to the waves lapping against the shore. The beach here had become an ordinary part of life for him, the soft sounds of the ocean being a constant background to his day to day. It was a blessing to Merle, for Mookie and Mavis loved it. Just now, in fact, Mavis was sitting in a lawn chair with a book open in her lap, poring over every detail she could find. Merle watched as one of the new friends she had made here- a dryad, it looks like, though it wasn't Sloane or Hurley- pulled up a chair right next to her and opened a binder to a bundle of pages. He could hear sounds of conversation from where he was sitting with Davenport and smiled.
He'd forgone wearing anything formal today for an open Hawaiian shirt and shorts with sandals. He said it "helped with the beach vibe" whenever he was asked about it by one of the kids he taught. For beach dwarves, it was a common clothing style, though most wore shirts significantly less tacky than Merle's. He was fine with that, though; despite his clothing choices, everyone looked up to Earl Merle Highchurch-- to him-- and that made him feel good. It was like when he pulled off that Mass Heal back during the fight with John. He had done something right, something important, and he's never told anyone how much he loved it.
His thoughts drifted back to the question- well, less of a question and more of a plea. Davenport was looking at him with a soft expression, his eyebrows turned ever so slightly up as he kept kneading the scarf in his lap with restless hands.
They'd been... together, Merle thinks? Back in that century of time that time itself forgot. Merle had proposed on the beach, a ring made of everlasting, intricate seaweed with a pearl resting atop it given to the one gnome that had made him happy to no end. They'd stuck together for decades after that.
Merle remembers that sense of loss that he always felt on his left ring finger. Even the ring that Hekuba had given him didn't make it feel whole, though she never did, anyway. Not really. No harsh feelings for the girl, of course, but it just didn't work out.
When they all remembered their stolen century together up in the BoB base, the revelation didn't come immediately to Merle. Aside from the fact that there was a hell of a lot of things happening and he couldn't just stop and think about it, the more specific memories had come to him slowly, like the plants from drastically different biomes that he had grown in his room and the card games he'd play with Davenport (and occasionally, the rest of the crew) every night.
He had remembered the cedar oak ring Davenport gave him a month or two after the Hunger was defeated.
Davenport said, one night in the Bureau of Balance lounge (at Merle's request, they had met up there for some herbal tea (Davenport had a coffee instead)), he had gotten Magnus' help on making it while they were at the Legato Conservatory.
"It was tough work juggling my choir studies with Magnus teaching me how to whittle wood, but I'm still proud of it," he had said with a chuckle.
Merle rubbed his thumb against the ring, now in place on his left ring finger once more (as it should've always been). As soon as he had slipped it on, he felt like a piece of him that had been missing rejoined its whole. That nagging emptiness of space left him, and he himself was left with a sense of contentment.
That was partly why the only answer he could think of was yes, yes, a hundred times yes.
The other part was that it would make travelling a hell of a lot easier. Renting a caravan was nice, but eventually it's just not a productive means of travel. (When he asked for suggestions on his Stone of Far Speech network of friends, Avi recommended using the Bureau's orbs, which was immediately vetoed by the dwarf. He hated those damn things and how floaty they made you feel inside. Blegh.)
"Hell yeah!" Merle grinned. "It'd be one hell of an adventure, don'tcha think?"
Davenport beamed right back at him, his moustache raising with his cheeks. "I know so," he responded.
... the gnome was handsome as hell. The red hair, those dazzling blue eyes, that brushy moustache and beard... Pan above, Merle could see why he had married him so long ago.
"Plus, there ain't no one else I'd rather spend time with. I mean, look at you, ya casanova! You're lookin' pretty freakin' good!" The dwarf winked with a fingergun at Davenport, whose face was getting increasingly red with every word Merle said.
"Aww, gosh, this is just my normal outfit nowadays..." Davenport scratched his cheek, though his smile was as evident as ever.
Merle raised his eyebrows. "If that's what you wear every day, I'm surprised I haven't said yes before!"
"Well, I haven't asked before," the gnome coughed. "I didn't think you'd have the time for it."
"I'd still have to do my X-Treme Teen Adventurers skit, but it'll be easier with your boat around! We could even get Taako to tell us what the best food is in each place and shit!"
"That does sound fun..."
Merle peeked back at where he saw Mavis last. Just as expected, she was still in quiet discussion with that schoolmate of hers, the both of them hunched over their notes and their textbooks. As Merle heard Mavis laugh at a joke the other had quipped, the dwarf sighed and ran a hand through his beard.
"Before you ask," the dwarf looked back to Davenport, who was smiling in the distance at Mavis as well. "I would love to bring Mavis and Mookie along. I know that's usually your deal breaker with most folk, but I know you and your- our- family, and they know me." Davenport shrugged. "But if they don't wanna come along, I'm sure Magnus can look after them."
"Ah, yeah, he's a real stickler for kids," Merle laughed. "He'd bring Ango over and everything."
"He still has Angus at his place?"
Merle nodded. "Kid's still goin' to magic school and all that, but Magnus kinda sorta adopted him a while back anyway."
"Oh! So I've heard."
"Yup. It's one big happy family." Merle chuckled, stretching his arms into the air with a grunt. "Wouldn't have it any other way." He brings back down his arms and sighs with a smile, his left arm resting on top of the table.
Davenport shuffles his feet. Merle raises a brow at him.
"Merle, I just..." He sighs. "I wanted to thank you." He looks straight into Merle's eyes, his brilliant blue peering into dark green. "I know you've gotten a lot of thanks and gifts and stuff over this past year from everyone in the world, but-" He reaches over and grabs onto Merle's hand. "I wanted to thank you personally." He squeezes it as tears start forming in his eyes, a soft smile on his face. "So... thank you, Merle. Thank you for everything you've done. For fighting off the Hunger, for saving the Bureau of Balance with the others," he raises the dwarf's hand to his mouth and delivers a quick kiss as a tear falls from his eye, "for saving me. Everything."
He sniffs as he brings his hand back to wipe away the tears falling down his cheeks, but before he can, Merle grabs his hand back. The dwarf quickly walks around the table and embraces Davenport in a hug before he has much time to be confused. This happens to be the last defense still weakly standing before Davenport's floodgates opened, and the gnome chokes out a sob as he leans into the dwarf's embrace, tears wetting Merle's chest as he quietly pats the gnome's back.
He wasn't used to Davenport crying.
Usually (or at least usually in Merle's memories) he was the strong focal point of the mission. The confident and spectacular pilot and leader that always kept them on task and got the IPRE crew where they needed to go as fast and efficiently as possible. Merle never truly appreciated how much he did before he had fallen in love with the gnome, but hindsight's 20/20, as they say, and he felt as if he was feeling the full brunt of it now with this trembling man in his hug.
He held the gnome tighter.
They stood there together for a time, the sea in the background splashing at the sand as Davenport's sobs simmered down into light sniffles and hiccups. Merle pulled back to let Davenport wipe an arm over his eyes and clean up his face. Even when his eyes were puffy and his facial hair was in a mess, he was still the best gnome Merle had ever known.
Davenport's eyes widened when Merle delivered a kiss to his forehead with a soft smile. He soon relaxed as Merle laughed and rested his forehead against Davenport's head, embracing him once again.
The salty sea feels good on Merle's face as he stands on the deck of Davenport's ship, the Seablaster (courtesy of the Tres Horny Boys).
The horizon has never looked bigger nor stretched on for forever, and yet has also never looked more surmountable, but here it is. The sun slowly rises from behind it, creating beautiful, shimmering waves where the light touches the water.
They had set out almost at once after Magnus graciously accepted the request to watch over Merle's home and Lord Artemis Sterling was alerted he was going out and that Merle assigned Magnus and Angus the task of house-sitting while babysitting Mookie and (surprisingly) Mavis. Mavis had stated that she wanted to "catch up with Uncle Magnus and Angus" and "study for school", which Merle figured she just wanted to talk to that dryad again. It was fine by Merle! He loved seeing his pumpkin make new friends, especially since she used to be quite the introvert. After the Day of Story and Song, though, she had grown more socially adept, always being the first to initiate conversations and seek people to talk to.
Merle didn't consider himself too great at either, if he was being honest, though Davenport always seemed inclined to disagree.
"It's a great day today!" Davenport beams as he steps out of the room hosting the pilot's deck. "Sun's out and everything!"
"Barely a cloud in the sky," Merle laughs, raising himself from the ship's railing. "And it's got quite the view, too."
Davenport walks to Merle's side at the front of the ship and leans on to him. Merle smiles warmly and wraps an arm around Davenport. "'Course, every place with you in it's a view."
"Gosh, Merle," Davenport chuckls, his face aflush. "Save some flirts for me to use."
"But I give all of them to you already." Merle pretends to sound hurt, although the grin on his face betrayed his disguise.
Davenport shakes his head with a laugh. "Then save some for other people."
"There's no one else I'd rather give them to," He whispers, kissing the top of the gnome's head. With an exhale, he lays his head on top of Davenport's and, with the sunrise in the distance and the ocean's waves clashing softly against the side of the boat as he held onto his Davenport, closed his eyes.
"I love you, Dav."
"I love you, too."