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The Way I Tend To Be

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He swears that once, at least once in his life, he enjoyed being alive. It’s not that he wanted to die, or that he thought his life wasn’t worth something. He was perfectly fine being alive, but also at the same time, if he fell asleep for a few years, it wouldn’t make any difference to him. He just wasn’t excited about anything. He tried to be. He tried to keep his head up and wait for the next gig to land in his lap, or to make the next gig happen. There’s only so much you can do to will the universe into cooperating before you give up entirely, in all honesty. Creating music was exhausting, and so was his dead-end, soul-sucking 9-to-5, but someone had to put food on their table.   

Actually, Pike put food on their table. He can’t claim responsibility for that. Pike did a lot of things for them that they didn’t deserve, but she was made out of sunshine, spite, and inherent goodness. She would do anything for them, even if that meant doing a load of laundry after a long day at the hospital because Scanlan spilled pasta sauce on his last good office button-up and was afraid of staining it forever. Scanlan and Grog, in their own way, helped her out by not destroying the place while she was gone, and not getting the landlord (or the police) called to their apartment (again). They paid their share of the bills, and always picked up her tab at the bar when she finally had a night off. They took care of each other. With only each other as family these days, it was hard not to.  

The job, though, the soul-sucking, endless 9-to-5 from hell, it made Scanlan ache. Not physically, although sitting in a lumpy, uneven desk chair in front of a too-large, too-close computer monitor wasn’t exactly doing his body any favors. No, the ache was in the center of his being, where the music and passion he’d once felt came from. He tried to mask the ache with booze, and meaningless one-night stands where he never called again. Grog took him to the gym once when Scanlan mentioned feeling unfulfilled, but that had left him sore with that ache still lingering inside of him somewhere he couldn’t reach. Pike offered to take him to her church, she was a devout Everlight worshipper, but Scanlan had turned that down with a scoff, and then a respectful, polite “no, thank you” when he’d seen Pike’s expression sour for a moment. Nothing anyone suggested helped. He had even, in a moment of weakness and stupidity, tried drugs.  

A few moments.  

It’d been a brief problem, but there’s only so much suude he could smoke, and it didn’t exactly fix the problem when he came down. When he was high, he thought he could take on the world, the path before him was clear and defined for the first time in forever. Then, after the effects had worn off, he was left feeling lethargic and the ache returned.   

“Scanlan, you gotta get going,” Pike said, shoving at his shoulder at the dining table. “You’re gonna be late.”  

“And? What exactly would be wrong about being late anyway?”  

“Well, first of all, I’d beat your ass,” she reminded him. She bustled around their closet-sized kitchen in her dark blue scrubs, her badge bouncing around her neck, a full travel mug of the darkest coffee they had found so far in one hand while the other desperately shuffled things around on the table and counter. “Second of all, you need to give me a ride.”  

“Your car broke down again?” Grog asked, ducking into their kitchen. Scanlan and Pike were both short people, comically in Scanlan’s case and adorably in Pike’s, and their apartment was perfect for them. Grog, however, was well over six feet tall and had to stoop whenever he stood. They’d tried to find some place bigger, bedroom wise and ceiling wise, but nothing fell in their price range and Grog had insisted he was fine. “Do you want me to take a look at it?”  

“If you’ve got the time, I wouldn’t mind,” she said. “Where the fuck is my badge?”  

“Pike,” Scanlan started.  

“Get your ass up and get ready for work. We’re leaving in 10 minutes. And you’re going to be in that car with me.”  

“Pike.”  

“Scanlan, go.”  

Pike had a sharpness to her that people often overlooked. She was stunning, Scanlan had always thought so. He loved the contrast of her white hair against her brown skin, a harsh scar bisected one side of her face, cutting through her eyebrow, and extending up towards her hairline and down towards her jaw. She never talked about that scar, not in all the years they’d been friends. Only Grog knew from what Scanlan understood. People thought because she was short and kind, she was soft and gentle, and she was. She was also sharp, and harsh at times, shoving when nudges had done nothing, yelling when whispers had fallen short. She was all of those things, and she was so much more. She was a universe of combinations and contradictions, and Scanlan adored her.  

He’d thought, mistakenly, that he’d been in love with her, but what did he know about love. He used the word to get what he wanted, bantered it around like it was something worthless and fragile. He didn’t know what it meant, not really, and the day he’d sat down and realized that was that day he realized that he was not in love with Pike Trickfoot. He could be, someday, maybe, but he wasn’t. He adored her. He respected her, he trusted her, he loved her. He definitely loved her, but he was never in love.   

Pike and Grog, they were his family.   

Grog, with his awkward, intimidating bigness.   

Pike, with her faithful, misleading smallness.  

These were the people who had found him and accepted him, hole in his being and all.  

He did what Pike asked and went to get ready. He dressed in his uniform of khakis and a soft blue button-up, fixed his hair, brushed his teeth, and met a frustrated Pike in the kitchen at the 9-minute mark.   

“Have either of you seen my fucking work badge?”  

Scanlan reached out and tugged lightly on the lanyard around her neck, the small rectangle of plastic reading her hospital, her name, and her ID number clipped to the end. She sighed and shook her head at herself.  

“Yeah, no, that makes sense. Let’s go, Shorthalt. See you later, Grog. My keys are in the bowl by the door!” she shouted into the apartment. It wasn’t necessary to shout, it was a small apartment. She did it anyway.  

She hustled him into his car outside of their apartment, a truck that had seen better days, and urged him to hurry.  

"Come on. We're gonna be late. Come on. Come on, Shorthalt."  

"Pike, what's got you so wound up today? Take a breath, relax for a second."  

She inhaled audibly, and then slowly let the breath out before saying, "it's a really big day at work. We're getting our quarterly reviews and I'm worried I didn't do well. I need this job. This is all I've wanted to do. This is the path that Sarenrae put me on, and this is what I should be doing with my life."  

"You're a good doctor, Pike. They're not gonna fire you."  

"I heard that the hospital is downsizing."  

"I don't think that's true."  

"How do you know that?" she asked.  

"How do you know that?" he echoed.  

She sighed.  

"I just don't want to lose my job."  

"Then, put on that Trickfoot spirit, remember that Sarenrae has blessed you, and kick ass today," he said, pulling into the carpool lane leading into the hospital and following a mini-van with a series of stick figures representing a family with too many kids across the back windshield, into the drop-off zone. "You are Pike Trickfoot, granddaughter to Wilhand, and blessed of the Everlight. You will go into that house of healing and be the best goddamn doctor Emon has ever seen, and they will have no choice but to make you Head Doctor of Doctors, the chief of the doctor tribe."  

She was smiling, the first smile he'd seen from her all morning.  

"Thanks, Scan."  

"Go be bright," he said. "Blow them away."  

The last thing he saw was Pike's shock white hair disappearing into the hospital before he pulled away, heading towards his Soul-Sucking 9-to-5. He clocked in and sat down at his desk near two older women who always clucked around him like he needed a mother figure, despite being thirty.   

Scanlan worked for a growing company that sold various technological marvels that had woven arcana into their very make-up. They paid decently and had required the help of someone who had some background in the arcane. He'd applied because they'd been having trouble keeping up their rent payments after his record label had booted him before finishing production on his album. They needed the money. He took the job when it was offered to him.  

With a last, longing look out into the bright blue Tal'dorei sky, he logged into the Online Service and Customer Relations interface, or Oscar as everyone in the office had taken to calling it. He greeted the interface, who asked how he was feeling. He sent it back the green smiling emoji that indicated he was ready to work. Then, Oscar gave him the first query of the day, a customer who was having trouble with their tablet. Scanlan got to work. He troubleshooted problems with tablets, cell phones, and home network interfaces based on the boiler plates he'd been trained on.   

At noon, he logged out by sending Oscar a yellow half-asleep emoji which meant he was taking a short break and he'd return soon. It wished him a happy break, and it couldn't wait to work with him again.   

For his break, he ate his daily meal of a chicken salad sandwich and a yogurt while he flicked through matches on Tinder and Grindr. He wasn't ashamed that this was how he found his latest one-night-stands. He wasn't looking for love; he was looking for an orgasm. Pike had tried to get him to meet some of her friends from college, but he didn't want a connection, didn't want a significant other. He just wanted to get off with a stranger and then never see them again.   

Pike messaged the group chat with Grog just after noon with an all-caps message.  

I DIDN'T GET FIRED I GOT A RAISE I HAD A GLOWING REVIEW FROM EVERYONE INVOLVED AND I GOT A RAISE LET'S GO OUT TO CELEBRATE TONIGHT MEET ME AT THE BAR NEXT TO GILMORE'S AT 6  

He sent back celebratory party horn emojis and the praising hand emojis. That was his girl, rocking Emon Memorial without effort. Scanlan grinned, closed his hook-up apps, and went back to work, logging back into Oscar and taking clients' complaints for five hours straight. The work was tedious and one by one, each client drained that happiness he'd kept hidden until he was achy and felt dulled.   

 
 


 

  

At 6:10, he stepped through the door of The Laughing Lamia to find a full bar, yelling and laughing echoing from all directions. It isn't hard to find Pike, because it isn't hard to spot Grog in any crowd, even when you're a short man. He weaved his way through the crowd that pulsed, jostling him back and forth with every step. If he didn't know any better, he'd think there were a band playing, what with the almost mosh pit like crowd.   

"Couldn't you have found some place quieter?" he asked, sliding into the seat beside Pike near the bar.   

"Scanlan! You made it! Finally! You're late," Pike sang, ignoring his comment.  

"I'm always late, you should be used to it by now."  

She giggled, and it was clear that Pike had started early. There was a glow to her cheeks, a sparkle in her dark eyes. She'd tied her shock of hair into a crown braid like a halo and had come from work without changing from her dark blue scrubs. A tankard of ale almost as big as she was sat by her elbow at the tall table, nearly empty already.   

"I'm very glad to see you. You get to meet some friends of mine!"   

Scanlan didn't have the heart to tell her he was tired and didn't really want to meet her friends, but he turned to follow Pike's pointing, although it was obscured with the tankard she'd picked up. There was a group at the end of the point, three beautiful beings dressed impeccably. Scanlan's eyes were drawn towards them, particularly a tall, lean young man with sleek black hair tied back. He wore a black jacket over a dark grey shirt and black jeans, the illusion of edge that Scanlan could clearly see didn't exist. He couldn't have been any older than 24, his features still sharp, eyes carefully tracking everyone around him. Scanlan had never seen anyone so gorgeous in his life.   

The other two on either side of him, a girl about the same age with remarkably similar features and a braid of the same dark hair and a girl a few years younger with shimmering ginger hair, were chatting and laughing between the two of them. He couldn't focus on them, though. He could only see that man between them, and fuck, he wanted that man instantly. He tried not to, but his dick wanted what his dick wanted. He didn't control it.   

"Scanlan, this is Keyleth, Vex, and Vax," Pike said, waving unsteadily towards the group without specifying who was who. He had heard their names before, had heard stories from Pike, but had always been too busy in the studio or on the road to meet them when she offered.  

Scanlan looked away from the group, the man giving him a small wave, and looked to Pike who was glowing, cheeks ruddy already. It wasn't that Pike was a lightweight. He'd seen her drink men double her size under the table, himself included. She was happy, though, and Scanlan couldn't fault her for being on her third drink already after a long, stressful few days of worrying. "This is my boy, Shorthalt. He's gonna see the world for us, and he's going to make everyone fall in love with me by singing a beautiful ballad about how Pike Trickfoot is amazing, and maybe I won't have to sleep alone tonight."  

She smiled conspiratorially at him.   

"You're drunk," he said.  

"I am," she agreed. "Catch up, Shorthalt."  

He kissed her hair and headed for the bar for his usual. When he returned, the redhead was gone, leaving only the eerily similar man and woman across from Pike and Grog, both nursing beers.   

"I'm Scanlan, Scanlan Shorthalt," he said, introducing himself when he got back. "Pike didn't actually tell me which one of you is which, so I thought I'd do it myself."  

"I'm Vex," the woman said with a wary smile. "This is my brother, Vax."  

"Brother? I never could've guessed," he said wryly. The brother, Vax, with the sharp jaw and the calculating stare raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow at him. "It's nice to meet you. Pike's mentioned you guys before; it's nice to put a face to the stories."  

That wasn't bullshit, surprisingly. Just because he hadn't actually been listening to Pike's stories of these two doesn't mean she hadn't told him about them. Most things that came from his mouth were bullshit these days. It was a skill he'd honed and kept close.      

"Where'd, uhh, I guess she'd be Keyleth, then? Where'd Keyleth go?" Scanlan asked while taking a long pull from his beer, scanning the crowd for a tall frame and a head of long red hair, but everyone was just so tall that night. Scanlan wanted, he realized as he tried to enjoy the moment, to just go home and lay in bed.  

"Getting a drink," Vex said. "And she's my girlfriend, so don't think about hitting on her, or I will end you."  

Scanlan held up his hands and blinked innocently at her.  

"It didn't even cross my mind."  

Vex loomed closer to him, poking him in the chest.  

"I mean it. I know who you are, Scanlan Shorthalt. Pike talks about you, too. Don't go near Keyleth. She's too awkward and socially anxious to tell you off herself, so I'll do it for her. Don't."  

Scanlan frowned but agreed to not even look at Keyleth to assuage the viper before him. Instead, he ducked out of the conversation to talk to Grog who stood off to the side, keeping his eye on Pike. They'd grown up together in the same foster home for some time and were a package deal. If you hurt Pike in any way, whether she could handle herself or not, you found yourself answering to Grog Strongjaw. If you insulted, abused, or hurt Grog, you found yourself at the mercy of Pike Trickfoot. Scanlan was never sure which one was scarier.   

"Any fights happen at the garage today?" Scanlan asked, pulling himself up onto a stool near Grog. The man towered over Scanlan, so usually Scanlan found something to sit on up high that made their conversations more even. "I heard that someone hit on Zanror's girl and he beat the shit out of them on the front sidewalk?"  

"Oh yeah! It was bloody!" Grog said. "It was more that Zan and Worra, his girlfriend, are expecting, and someone said that it wasn't Zanror's, and it turned into this beef between the Rivermaw, and the Storm."  

"Amazing," Scanlan said, setting his head in his hand while he took a drink from his mostly empty beer. "Your job is much more exciting than mine. You know what happened at work today? Oscar said I did a satisfactory job."  

"Well, that's something."  

Scanlan smiled wearily.  

"Do you see anyone fuckable tonight? I kind of want to let off some steam," Scanlan said, but he didn't feel like he meant it.  

"There's always someone fuckable," Grog reminded him.  

"Yeah, I guess you're right."  

He closed his eyes, the ache sitting behind his breastbone, the beer weighing it down heavier. Most often, alcohol made him horny, made him want to bang anything. That night, though, he sat beside Grog and felt leaden in his seat. He should have skipped out, gone home to struggle to write, and then go to bed without consequence. For a moment, he considered coming onto that beautiful, lean man with the sleek hair and the intense eyes. For a moment, he considered how it might feel to lay beside him, stare into those eyes while they-   

While they talked.  

"I have to go," Scanlan said suddenly. "Tell Pike I'm proud of her, and I'll see her in the morning to give her a ride."  

"Scanlan?" Grog asked.   

"I'm fine, I just- I should get home. Buy her next one on me," he said, fishing out the money to hand over. "See you later, Grog."  

He weaved his way through the crowd back towards the door, only to be caught at the last moment on some dip in the floor. Even now, looking back, he can't be sure what exactly made him trip, and fall into a solid body. He was caught before he fell completely to the floor, and as if he was staring in one of those romantic comedies Pike made him watch, was held close to his savior's chest.   

"Well, that's one way to get a guy's attention," the smooth, accented voice said. Scanlan knew that voice; he'd heard that posh voice weekly for almost a year from Pike's phone. This was the guy who called Pike "Pickle" and talked about the Everlight with her. This was the guy who made Pike smile for hours after the end of their conversation. The guy that Scanlan wanted to lay with for hours without saying a word, the one that made his heart skip beats, the one that somehow, just the thought of him, made the ache disappear from his chest, this was the guy that Scanlan had teased Pike about being in love with. She’d always made sure to keep Grog and Scanlan away from the video. He’d heard Vax’s voice, but he’d never seen his face.  

"Oh, sorry. I didn't-"  

Gods, this man was even more beautiful up close. His eyes were dark brown, except for the light gold and green flecks that danced throughout, sparkling in the bar's dim lighting. He had dark smudges below his eyes like he hadn't slept in a while, but he was still gorgeous despite that.   

"Sorry for my sister," he said, letting Scanlan go to stand on his own. The absence of his hands on Scanlan's back burned; he wanted to pull Vax back to him and hold that sharp jaw in his hands and stare into his infinite eyes. "She and Keyleth are really intense, and she's defensive that anything might ruin that."  

"Right," Scanlan said. "You can tell your sister that I'm not interested in Keyleth."  

He couldn't look away from Vax. He couldn't admit to himself that leaving Vax now might kill him. But, with the way Pike spoke of him and smiled at him, he had to. He could leave, but only for her.   

"I should go. I- I need to go."  

"Let me walk you to your car? You seem a little disoriented," Vax said, voice kind.   

"I- sure."  

As if the gods decided to have some fun at Scanlan's expense, Vax broke into the most stunning smile that Scanlan had ever seen in all of his years on Exandria. He held the door open for Scanlan and walked with a small spring to his step that Scanlan was sure he wasn't supposed to notice. He'd heard Pike talk about, what she called, "soft boys" before, but he hadn't imagined they actually existed until this moment, watching Vax with the little jaunt in his step and the infectious smile.   

“Pike tells me that you’re a musician?” he asked.  

“Yeah,” Scanlan said. “I’m trying to be, at least. It’s the only thing I’m good at.” 

“I’m sure there’s something else you’re good at.” 

Scanlan ignored the reaction to tell him he’s really good at sucking cock, and moved on. 

“Not according to my boss, but I’m not sure how much faith you can put in artificial intelligence these days.” 

“You have an AI boss?” Vax asked. 

“Yeah, it’s name is Oscar, it’s a customer service engine. At the end of the day, it gives you a score of how well you did. I’m a solid b-minus.” 

“Well, my boss likes to tell me I’m an incompetent waste of space sometimes,” Vax said. “So at least Oscar is polite.” 

He tried not to, but Scanlan laughed in spite of himself.  

“Well, I don’t think you’re an incompetent waste of space. Which, you know, is definitely a more important opinion than the person who signs your paychecks.” 

“The feeling is mutual.” 

When they reached Scanlan's car, Vax paused at the door while Scanlan unlocked the truck. After Scanlan climbed into the driver’s seat, Vax leaned against the door.  

"Hey, this might be forward, but can I get your number? I feel like if we're both this close to Pike, we- I'm lying. I just want to see you again."  

Scanlan looked at him, and for the first time all night, they were eye to eye, and he took a moment pretending to consider this.   

"Yeah, alright."  

Chapter Text

Scanlan's day had become consumed with texts from Vax quickly. It'd started with a quick "hey it's Vax this is me" text, and somehow had evolved to "s i g h at least my finger guns will never betray me" in a matter of days. He wasn't sure how things had developed so quickly, but he spent his break texting Vax instead of trolling through hook-up matches, and at the end of the day, he usually debriefed with Vax about his day at work.  

"Are you still texting Vax?" Pike asked at breakfast the morning of their day off. It didn't happen often that Pike got a weekend off, so when they shared a day off, they spent the entire day together if they could. It was Pike's way, Scanlan figured, of getting stuff done around the house and making Scanlan help out. 

"Are you jealous?" 

"Why would I be? You're just glued to your phone, it's bizarre." 

"It's not glued to anything," Scanlan said defensively. "Here, see." 

He set the phone down in the middle of replying and pushed it away from himself.  

"Okay, so here's the plan for the day," Pike said, and Scanlan tried really hard to focus instead of thinking about Vax. He'd sent a selfie first thing that morning as he woke up for work, and Scanlan was ruined. His long, sleek hair was a bird's nest muddled up around his face, his cheeks were adorned with pillow creases, and he had a small, sleepy smile. He could not stop thinking about what it might be like to wake up beside that every morning and be blessed with sleepy morning kisses. Scanlan would give anything, including every song he's ever written, to wake up next to Vax in the morning.  

He instinctually reached for his phone, wondering if Vax had sent anything else in his silence. Pike slapped his hand away with a rolled-up agenda. She made agendas for their Get Shit Done Days every time, stock-piling errands for weeks if they could be put off specifically for these days. Grog, who worked at the Storm Mechanic every day except Sundays and Mondays, was exempt from these days, and Scanlan hated him for it. 

"I will put it in the lockbox and you will never see it again." 

"I'm sorry. I'll be good." 

Pike kept his phone on her throughout their first several bullet points, and only gave it back to him while she was at the dentist for a routine cleaning. Scanlan read and reread the messages Vax had sent during his time apart from his phone. He hated feeling reliant on technology like this, but Vax's messages were like a brand-new drug. 

Vax: Personally if Grog ever so much as looked too fiercely in my direction he'd snap me in half I'm pretty sure 

Vax: I'm a soft boy, I've heard Pike say it, she's not wrong 

Vax: I own too many cardigans, and I like my hair played with 

There was a gap in time between this message and the next, about an hour and a half. 

Vax: Is it a turn off if I own cardigans or something? Did I say something wrong? 

Scanlan breathed deliberately, planning each moment as to keep his fingers still. He was impulsive, often leapt without looking.  

Scanlan: This is going to sound fake but Pike literally stole my phone so I would pay attention to her instead of you 

He waited. There wasn't a response. He chose his next message carefully, writing and rewriting for five minutes before finally sending it. 

Scanlan: A cardigan as an object inherently is a turn off but I'd gladly peel a cardigan off of you anytime 

His hands shook, but he was glad he sent it. There was no way to know if Vax was interested until Scanlan took a chance.  

It took less than a minute for Vax to respond. 

Vax: Can I see you tonight? 

Scanlan: I thought you'd never ask 

 


 

Vax tasted like cinnamon and hops, a little spicy sweetness. It hadn't been Scanlan's plan to press Vax into the wall of an alley across from the bar they'd met up at, and certainly he hadn't planned to kiss him hard to keep him close. Kissing him was intoxicating, the kind of thrill that he sought after ever since the ache had appeared. Kissing him was the cure he'd been searching for, and fuck, it was addicting. 

Even the thought of kissing Vax made Scanlan giddy.  

He'd begged off the last few bullets of Pike's all day, into the night list by dropping her some money and then disappearing before she could protest. Instead, he'd gone to a café with his laptop and notebook to work on a song that had been roiling around in his head since that morning. It flowed from him easily, like he'd finally broken the dam and all of the thoughts and emotions he'd bottled up were free.  

Every line was about Vax, the way he made Scanlan feel, the little quirks that Scanlan was discovering in their conversations. Every note, every chord progression, they were all about Vax. 

They'd met up outside of the Laughing Lamia and headed inside for a few beers. Scanlan isn't entirely sure how it had quickly progressed to aggressively making out between shops, but he wasn't going to ruin this moment by questioning it. They'd talked for a while, sitting across from each other while they nursed their drinks.  

"How was errand day with Pike?" Vax asked. "Every time I talked to her recently, she was adjusting errand day." 

"It was alright. I'm basically her chauffeur because her car is the worst and Grog hasn't been able to get a part to fix it. We paid the rent and all the bills, and we picked up stuff for the party coming up. Pike went to the dentist, she hounded me about getting health insurance. It was a good day." 

Vax smiled at him. 

"I'm glad you had a good day." 

The way he said it, Scanlan sighed. 

"You've been talking to Pike, haven't you?" 

"Kind of, yeah. I mean, she's told me about you before. I, I'm sorry." 

"You don't have to be sorry. It's fine." 

"Pike just worries about you, and she was wondering if I had any advice for her." 

"Advice?" 

"My dad, he likes to pretend he's not, because he's a diplomat for Syngorn, but he's an alcoholic, and-" 

"Oh, this is about the drugs!" 

He said it too loudly, and a few patrons looked over at them.  

"What did you think it was-" 

"I don't, I'm not doing drugs anymore. It, they weren't what I needed them to be. I just- They didn't help. I've been clean, and sober for 6 months." 

Vax nodded.  

"Then what did you think Pike-" 

"It doesn't matter, honestly. It's something dumb, compared to a slight drug addiction. It's fine. What about you? How was your day? Work any less awful?" 

Scanlan bumped his foot against Vax's leg for emphasis. 

"Listen, you told me you wanted to peel my cardigan off of me, so it was great." 

He was blushing a little, the color dancing across his cheeks and to the tips of slightly pointed ears. Gods, he was wonderful to look at. Scanlan didn't want to look away, afraid that he might miss something so perfect.  

"Oh, I sent you that while you were at work, didn't I?" Scanlan said. "How was work after that?" 

"Stop," Vax said with a small laugh. "It was- fine." 

"Did you have a hard day at work, dear?" 

"Stop it, Scanlan." 

"What exactly do you do? I don't know if I've ever asked." 

"I'm just a waiter at the Diamond Nest Tavern," he said, and Scanlan could tell there was a small bit of reservation in his tone. The name tickled at the back of Scanlan's brain, but he couldn't place it exactly. "I'm trying to find something better, but it pays the bills." 

"An important part of a job. I certainly wouldn't be working for Alabaster if I could pay the bills playing music." 

"From what I've heard, you could." 

"I could, you're right. It's everyone else who doesn't want me," he said without thinking. 

"Well, that's just not true. want you." 

Scanlan's heart stuttered.    

"I'll just bring you with me to my next meeting with a record company and use you as a personal and professional reference. I'll bring you in and be like, this is Vax'ildan, he's an expert on Scanlan Shorthalt, and he thinks you should sign me so I don't have to work for Alabaster anymore." 

"I'm an expert on Scanlan Shorthalt, huh?" 

Scanlan shrugged.  

"Maybe. Someday, if you're tenacious enough." 

Vax had taken that as a challenge, aggressively asking questions for the rest of their drinks. Scanlan tried to volley questions back but Vax wasn't having any of it. He simply avoided answering and turned the questions back to Scanlan. He answered, because he liked that Vax was interested in his life, in his history. It wasn't every day that a beautiful man who looked like maybe a goddess had carved him from marble personally took an interest in Scanlan's street-rat life.  

How many siblings did he have? None. 

Where was he from? A small village at the edge of the Ivyheart. 

What was his favorite book? A trashy romance novel about a musician having to make it as a crime boss in Marquet. 

What was his favorite instrument? The flute. 

Did he go to college? Didn't even finish high school, really. 

How did he end up in Emon? Travelled with a troupe of musicians, and they ran out of cash in Emon. 

Who was the troupe? He wasn't sure if Vax would know them, but Dr. Dranzel's Spectacular Traveling Troupe. (Vax had, but had never heard their music) 

Was he religious? Not actively anymore, but he went to the Knowing Mistresses' temple around Winter's Crest, and certain anniversaries. 

How did he end up with the Knowing Mistress? His mother believed that stories should be shared. It's part of the reason Scanlan wrote songs the way he did, like he was sharing his experiences with the world. 

When the bar started to fill with Saturday night partiers and they had to shout to be heard over the crowd, they departed, Vax peppering him with curiosities while they went.  

"What are your parents like?"  

The question struck something in Scanlan that he couldn't describe, not entirely. Defensiveness, maybe. It didn't sit right, and Scanlan, a man of impulse-control issues, kissed Vax with all the force he could muster. The kiss wasn't what Scanlan had pictured when he imagined it. He had to stand on his toes, for one, which he somehow never factored into the equation, and even then, Vax still had to stoop a bit. His dumb brain had pictured Vax walking him to the door of his apartment building after a romantic date night and Vax wishing him a good night without a kiss, and then as Scanlan turned, disappointed, to head back inside, Vax would come back and sweep him into his arms for a passionate, knee-weakening kiss. This was not that kind of kiss. But gods, Vax was soft against him somehow. It was messy, and imperfect, and Scanlan loved every second of it. He walked him backwards towards the shadows of the alley nearby. Nothing could convince him that, in this moment, he shouldn't be doing this right now. He was entirely enthralled in how Vax responded to even the slightest of touches. The taller man practically purred as Scanlan held his hips against the brick.  

Gods above, he'd never had such fun kissing someone before. Just the warmth of Vax along his body was driving him crazy, the steadiness of Vax's hands on his jaw, and the ease of their lips moving in tandem.  

He was writing about this when he got home. 

The words were swirling wildly in his head even then, and he had to pull away before the rhythm building in his chest burst out. 

"This is going to sound flaky and like I'm blowing you off, but I have to go write a song," Scanlan said, setting his hands flat against Vax's chest and staring up into those infinite eyes.  

"I'll forgive you this one time," Vax said teasingly, "as long as you promise you'll write about me favorably. I can't have the whole of Tal'dorei hearing about me being a bad kisser." 

Scanlan laughed unexpectedly, the sound bubbling up through him. He kissed Vax, a soft, quick kiss, and stepped away. 

"You'll just have to wait for it to top the charts to find out." 

 


 

He stayed up all night and well into the next day working on this song, tweaking wording and rearranging verses. Whenever he thought he was done, he'd play it through and it just didn't feel like the message he was trying to send. It wasn't pure enough yet. 

He kept working. 

Pike peeked her head into his room sometime around dawn as she rose and got ready for work. 

"Have you slept yet?" she asked, coming in and tugging at the headphone over his ear. 

"I can't, it's not done yet." 

"Well, just take care of yourself, okay? Do you need something to eat? Have you been drinking water?" 

Scanlan lifted up the mostly empty water bottle he'd brought into his room with him. He hated creating after drinking, the music never felt quite right and would often get scrapped.  

"Okay," she said slowly, unsure. 

"I'll be fine, Pike. I'll take a nap in a little while." 

"Okay." 

He kept working, tinkering and singing softly to himself. It had to be perfect, had to hit just the right notes and tug on the right strings. He'd been creating for years, ever since he was a small child, but it'd never felt like this. If he were honest with himself, which he rarely was, it was exhilarating, and it was terrifying. There was an edge here that he was walking along, one foot delicately in front of the other, and if he weren't careful, if he made one wrong step, he might tumble down into the darkness again and never claw his way back out. The other edge threatened something far, far more paralyzing. He could fall deeply, irrevocably in love with this man, and would never be able to let him go. 

And Ioun only knows, Scanlan wasn't ready to let himself have that.

Chapter Text

Scanlan could not stop thinking about Vax, especially because he was working on this song that was specifically and explicitly about him. Just when he thought he had finished, when it was perfect, he'd hit a snag, and every time he hit a snag, he'd just have to text Vax a question. Which was a burdenof course. He started with the questions that Scanlan himself had answered for Vax and then moved on from there.  

How many siblings did he have? Two, his twin sister that Scanlan had met at the bar, Vex'ahlia, and a half-sister who lived in Syngorn named Velora 

Where was he from? Byroden, a small village in the Rifenmist Peninsula, but he'd also grown up in Syngorn for 8 years 

What was his favorite book? He didn't really read, so he didn't have a recent favorite. 

What about a childhood favorite, then? His mother used to read them a simplified history of the gods.  

Was he religious? He belonged to the temple of the Raven Queen, a recent development in his life.  

How'd that happen? He had a scare with death, and the Raven Queen had been so kind leading him back to the material plane.  

Did that scare him? No, she was kind and promised that it wasn't his time yet, he still had stuff to do, and a life to lead. 

How was being in the presence of a goddess? Nothing compared to being with Scanlan.  

Scanlan: Fuck that's a good line my pants are off I am yours 

Vax: Don't tempt me, I will skip work right now 

Scanlan: I'm writing a song don't be distracting 

Vax: You said your pants were off, you're being distracted 

Scanlan: Keep your thoughts clean you're at work  

Vax: It's fine, I think my boss is fucking his mistress in the pantry right now 

Scanlan: Scandalous 

Vax: oh I got in trouble for texting, you're a bad influence, keep your pants on please 

Scanlan went back to writing, finally pulling out his guitar to start plotting out the chords. It started to flow really well, tickling his ears just the right way. 

"Break time," Pike said, swinging into the room after she got home from work. "We're going to dinner. Get changed, we're meeting Grog at the restaurant." 

"I-" 

"I actually don't care about your excuses, my dude. Get dressed. We're going out to dinner." 

She left the door open behind her, leaving him with a lingering look.  

Scanlan: I kissed you yesterday 

Vax: Yes, you did. 

Scanlan: Do you want to do that again but like after a date? 

Vax: That's the worst way to ask me out, you know that, right? 

Scanlan: I recognize that 

Scanlan: Is that a yes? 

Vax: When? 

Scanlan: I get out every day at five so whenever you want 

Vax: Tuesday 

Scanlan: Tuesday it is 

"Scanlan, let's go, chop chop, I'm hungry and I want to eat. Let's go." 

 


 

 

On Tuesday, Scanlan showered after work because you always shower before meeting the hottest man in all of Exandria for dinner, dressed in his nicest, non-work clothes, actually brushed his hair, and spritzed the tiniest bit of the fancy cologne he got as a secret Winters Crest gift a few years before. He wanted to impress Vax, because he was hot and Scanlan, who was confident enough to know he was more attractive than an average Exandrian being, was not Vax'ildan-level hot.  

No one had returned from work yet except for him, so he had the apartment to himself. He turned his Pump Up Playlist up loud and danced around the apartment while he got ready. 

Vax: Okay I don't want to wait to meet you at the restaurant for dinner to see you 

Vax: Can I pick you up? 

Scanlan: Absolutely, I'm ready to go when you are 

Vax: Good I'm outside 

Scanlan couldn't stop himself from laughing and swiping up his keys. He sent the apartment group chat (aptly named Tol and Smols) a message that he was going on a date, he'd be late, not to worry, while he walked out of the apartment, locking it behind him. He was so ready for this. Pausing in the lobby, he took a couple breaths and then stepped out into the fading sunshine. Vax was waiting for him against an old two-door coup that was more rust than red, dressed in pressed black slacks and a neat black button up left open to leave the tip of a chest tattoo playing peek a boo. Scanlan couldn't wait to trace that tattoo with his tongue. 

He greeted Scanlan with a smile, and a small kiss on the cheek. 

"You look nice," Scanlan said. “Really nice.” 

“Same to you, mister,” Vax said, pulling Scanlan in by the belt loops on his pants. “Can’t wait to take this off of you.” 

“Scandalous,” Scanlan whispered as Vax leaned in to kiss him properly. It was just as magical as Scanlan remembered it was. After spending the time between kisses worrying if it had been as good as he built it up in his head, Scanlan was relieved to find that it was, if not even better. 

Vax buried his face into Scanlan’s shoulder and they stood embraced like that for a beat. 

“What if we skip the date and I take you back to my place?” Vax offered. It was tempting, the most tempting offer that had ever been put before him, even more than Dranzel’s offer to travel with him. Scanlan considered it, picturing the way Vax would feel against him, the hot of his mouth tracing Scanlan’s skin, the sound of Vax’s purrs as Scanlan went down on him in the dark… 

“I want to do this right,” Scanlan finally managed to say. “I like you a lot, maybe too much, and I don’t want to skip anything. If that’s what you want too.” 

Vax brushed his mouth everywhere he could but muttered, "that's really sweet. That's the best thing I've heard. I want that." 

Scanlan stepped the smallest step backwards but kept his hands on Vax, too afraid to let go. He almost didn't want to stop kissing him, wanted to invite him inside where he could lay him out on the bed and mark him up as his own. Maybe if Scanlan could make fucking him unforgettable, he would never leave. But fuck, Scanlan also just wanted to listen to him talk, about his sister and Keyleth, and how he met Pike, and how he ended up working at the Diamond Nest when he could have been an international male model. He wanted to watch as Vax laughed and study the way he interacted with the world until he knew that man better than he knew himself. 

It terrified him. It scared the absolute motherfucking shit out of Scanlan. He'd never felt this way about anyone. He thought, maybe- but no, it had been passing, simply a fleeting obsession with the first person who was truly kind to him without seeking something in return for the first time in years. He was thankful to Dr. Dranzel for pulling him off the streets where he begged for scraps with a charming smile and his soaring tenor voice, but it was Pike, ultimately, that gave him a home.  

How was it that he barely knew Vax and he already felt like- 

Scanlan stopped the thought in its tracks, not ready. He may never be ready for that.  

"We should go to the restaurant, then," Scanlan heard himself manage to get out. "You're too pretty for no one to know that I'm definitely gonna hit that later." 

Vax laughed. 

It was a really good laugh.  

He wanted to know how it tasted. Reluctantly, Scanlan finally stepped all the way back and let their hands fall away from each other.  

"Restaurant," Scanlan stated, having to stop himself from chasing Vax's mouth. "We have reservations." 

"We sure do," Vax said with a smile.  

"And some bitches to make jealous." 

"Of course. We cannot forget about them." 

"I have to show you off, of course," Scanlan said. "Who is gonna believe me that I landed a date with the Vax'ildan unless everyone sees?" 

Vax laughed and it was emptier. Hollow. Scanlan wanted the joyous windchime laugh back. 

"You'll find that I'm not the anything," Vax said. 

"Well, you'll find that I am very convincing," Scanlan said, reaching out to grab his hand, "and to me, you're the everything." 

Scanlan and Vax stared at each other for a few moments, daring the other to make the next move. Vax moved first finally, crowding into Scanlan's space and dropping his head down to kiss him hard, holding Scanlan's jaw in a firm grasp. And Scanlan was into it. He'd tried a little bit of everything over the years, everything from age play to zappers, but just being held by this tall, lanky motherfucker with a shimmering sheet of black hair that hung around them like a curtain was enough to get Scanlan hard. 

"Aye, get a room, will ya? It's the middle of the street," a passing stranger shouted, jolting them from the moment.  

"I plan on it," Vax said and he stepped away. "Get in the car, Scanlan." 

 


 

 

Scanlan lay against Vax's bare chest, tucked under his arm, tracing the large black raven with its wings spread out against the soft pale skin. He kissed wherever he could, wanting to document and categorize every inch of this man. Their breathing was slowly returning to normal, their limbs loose, the scent of cum and sweat still hanging around them.  

"I don't normally do that," Vax said, kissing Scanlan on the forehead when he moved to trace the top of the raven's head with the tip of his fingers.  

"Which part?" Scanlan asked, looking up to kiss him on the chin and then along his jawline, soft, butterfly kisses, fleeting and airy against Vax's sweat-salty skin. "The fucking on the first date- before the first date, really, or all of the dirty, dirty things you did to me?" 

Vax's laugh started in his chest, Scanlan could feel it before he heard it.  

"A little bit of both. I've fucked on the first date, but not before it. And I will gladly do all of those dirty things again but only for you, if you're interested." 

"I would be honored," Scanlan said. "Just give me a few minutes. I'm not sure I have any bones in my legs right now." 

"Good, I don't want you to move yet." 

Scanlan dropped his head down to kiss the center of Vax's chest where the tattoo covered a raised scar. 

"What is this?" He asked tentatively.  

Vax was quiet. 

"The Raven Queen has been kind to me ever since I met her," he finally said after a long pause. Scanlan had started to worry that he shouldn't have asked. "She is so beautiful, and so sad, and when I asked her if it was my time to go, she held out her hand and told me that I was meant for something more, that it was not my time." 

"Wow." 

"It was a pretty big deal. She said she would see me again when it was my time to go, but if I ever needed her, I could find her where the ravens roost." 

"That sounds exactly like the godly kind of vague that drives me crazy." 

"There's a temple, Raven's Roost, dedicated to the Raven Queen that I once travelled to, and afterwards, I got this," he said, reaching up to tap his chest. "A reminder that I have someone in my corner." 

"The way Pike talks about you, I'm sure you have more than one person in your corner. I'm pretty sure that you have someone in every corner in every room you walk in looking out for you. Especially Vex." 

"And what about you?" Vax said. 

"Well, I'm certainly in your corner. It's not every day a beautiful man eats you out like a buffet, so-" 

There was tinges of pink blooming across Vax's chest and neck, the blush even tipping the top of his almost-elven ears.  

"I meant, you mentioned Ioun once," Vax said.  

"Oh. Yeah. That's a thing, I guess. My mom," he said, and the words started to falter. He didn't talk about her. It hurt too much. It was his fault she was gone, that he hadn't been home to protect her, and it hurt every day to think that maybe his life would have gone differently had he stayed home with her instead. He wasn't sure he had ever talked about her with Pike, either. Everyone had such shitty childhoods that it was assumed you didn't ask about it and they wouldn't ask you. "My mom." 

The sound was strangled, the words choking him. 

"You don't have to talk about it," Vax said soothingly, and ran his hand down Scanlan's back to rest at the small of his back.  

Scanlan took a long breath that shook and rattled its way down into his chest, giving him no relief, and then another. 

"I don't talk about her. No one really asks, so I don't talk about her. She was, she was magnificent," Scanlan said, voice unexpectedly thick. The tears made his head feel heavy so he tucked himself into Vax's side and rested his head against his shoulder, then continued. "Her name was Juniper. She was a single mom, my dad is this nobody who took off after he found out she was pregnant, I never really asked, but she was so good, you know? She always had time for me, even after working two jobs back to back and being exhausted. She'd let me climb all over her and she would read to me anything I wanted, and she's the reason I started playing music. She used to sing to me, because she always had these big dreams of being a country artist travelling Emon, so she taught me how to play guitar, and I was really good at it, so I picking up others. I can play the flute, and the shawm, and the piano, and the list is actually really extensive. But my mom, she's the reason that I'm in love with music. But I'm the reason she never got to go fulfill her dreams. She was pregnant, and then she had a newborn, and she couldn't just travel the world with me, so she never got to sing in front of a huge festival crowd." 

"Did she tell you it was-" 

"No, no, she never made me feel like I was the reason she was working so many hours, and was always so tired, but it's hard not to pick up on it. She never said it, she never implied it, but it was there. She had this closet full of instruments and notebooks, songs that she was working on, that she never really got to open." 

"What happened?" 

Scanlan took another long, slow, quaking breath. He barely knew Vax, and to tell him this, it might scare him away. He didn't want Vax's pity when he found out.  

"She was murdered. I was with Dr. Dranzel, you know, travelling to try and earn some money so she wouldn't have to work so hard. I got a message from the police chief, an old friend of my mom's while I was in this little middle of nowhere town playing a tavern I wasn't even old enough to drink at. There was this gang that had moved into the town; they called themselves the Goblins, and they had this initiation for new members. My mom was walking home from work because her car was always breaking down, and they fucking shot her in the back from a bush." 

"Oh, buddy," he said softly.  

Scanlan hid his face, the anger and grief still bubbling in his chest, tears pooling against Vax's chest. 

"They didn't know her. They didn't know how beautiful, and wonderful, and good she was. It was senseless. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I could have stopped it." 

"Scanlan, no." 

"I could have. It's my fault that she's dead. If I had stayed at home-" 

"Scanlan." 

"No, it is. If I had stayed at home, instead of leaving her alone, she wouldn't have been walking home." 

"Hey," Vax said, shifting so Scanlan couldn't hide anymore, forcing him to look up at Vax. "It is not your fault." 

"I could have-" 

"No, you don't know that. There are so many what ifs in life that we can't possibly account for what could have happened. What if you had stayed; maybe you would have died instead. Maybe she still would have died. Or maybe you would have both been fine. You don't know what would have happened, and you can't go back and change it. It hurts to think you could, but you can't, and that hurts even worse." 

Scanlan looked up, the cracking in Vax's voice singing the same note as his own grief. 

"Who died?" He asked. 

"My mother," Vax said softly. "She got sick, really sick. She couldn't take care of us, so she sent us to live with our father in Syngorn, and we weren't there when she died. Every day I wonder if I could have convinced her to let us stay so she didn't have to go alone, but- It doesn't get you anywhere. You can't fix the past by fixating on it." 

He kissed Scanlan's face everywhere he could, feather soft touches. 

"Thank you for telling me," he whispered. "Your mother would be so proud of you." 

Scanlan let himself smile, because he was right. Juniper would be very proud of him. He had travelled. He had played songs all over the continent. She wouldn't have loved the drugs, but she would have still loved him and encouraged him towards his dreams. Their dreams. He would stand in front of a large crowd someday and sing with the voice his mother gave him. Ioun stood behind him, his stories and tales spread out before the world, and with her, Juniper. 

"Thank you," Scanlan said. They settled there for a while, listening to the sound of Vax's neighbors move around in their apartment through the paper-thin walls. It occurred to him suddenly that they had definitely heard every dirty thing that had come out of his mouth as Vax fucked him before. He chuckled. 

"What?" Vax asked. 

"I wonder if your neighbors appreciate hearing you fuck me a little while ago." 

The blush returned, crimson blossoming across his skin. 

"Also if they appreciate knowing that you eat ass really, really well." 

"Stop it," Vax said with a small laugh. 

"I have an idea," he said and he kissed Vax hard, pushing him back against the mattress.  

He swung his leg over Vax's hips and straddled him, leaning over to keep their kiss connected. Vax's cock pressed against the curve of Scanlan's ass, stirring with interest as Scanlan rocked back against it, threading his hands through Vax's thick black hair. Vax moaned into Scanlan's mouth, his own hands dropping down to Scanlan's hips, one finding Scanlan's half-hard cock to stroke him in time with Scanlan's rhythmic rocking. 

"Fuck," Vax groaned, his head dropping back against the pillows. Scanlan trailed wet kisses down Vax's chest, pausing to trace the tattoo delicately with his tongue. He continued, running his hands across the expanse of Vax's bare skin, reveling in it. Someday, he swore he would lay Vax out in his bed in the patch of sunshine that comes in the midday and would explore every inch of him. He would see where he was ticklish, and what turned him on, and just how hard he could get him before ever touching his cock. He would see how many times he could bring him to the edge of orgasm without letting him go completely over before there was no stopping it. He would explore every bit of Vax's sexuality. He made that promise to himself. But that wasn't his mission. He wanted to see just how loud he could get the man to be. For the sake of social experimentation. 

And his own enjoyment. 

 


 

 

He stayed longer than he had intended, but just lying next to Vax was too good to get up and leave. But he forced himself up and to get dressed, periodically stopping to lean over and kiss Vax, still sprawled out naked against the bedsheets. Vax beckoned him down for another kiss as he finished lacing up his shoes.  

"I'll talk to you tomorrow?" he asked softly. 

"Nah, thought I'd hit it and quit it," Scanlan said, and then smiled. "I'll text you when I get home. Promise." 

"Do you need a ride?" 

"I think you've given me plenty of rides for the day." 

Vax laughed. 

"I'm actually going to go write because fucking you is apparently inspirational," he said and kissed Vax again. "See you soon." 

He grabbed his keys and wallet from where he'd dumped it while they were undressing each other before heading towards the door. Vex and her large dog sat on the couch, tracking him across the living room. 

"You better call him tomorrow," Vex said as he opened the door. She said it quietly.  

"I'd be stupid not to," Scanlan said. 

"You're right about it." 

And the conversation was over. He turned and let himself out, pulling it shut behind him. He had so much to write about. Once outside, he stood underneath the stars and looked up towards the brightest one. His mother had once said that the realm of the gods could be found behind the brightest star in the sky, and if he ever wanted to make wishes, that's where he would send them.  

"Thank you, Raven Queen," he said, almost a whisper. "I'll take care of him. I promise."   

Chapter Text

It takes a while to get a small set of songs ready for public. They grow from pieces of him into something strong, something unbreakable. At least, that's how he feels. He can't know that until he puts them in front of a crowd and lets them be judged for what they are. Not for the first time, he wished he had a group of musician friends to sit down with and workshop at least once before stepping out on stage, but he's confident enough that he won't be destroyed when he performs.  

Still, he sat Pike down in his room one night. 

"I want to play you some songs, and I just need a thumbs up or down." 

"Okay." 

He started to play, a soft acoustic melody that was almost entirely about Vax and what had been developing between them from the very first time they looked at each other. It was an intense feeling that scared Scanlan. That much he could admit. He didn't know how to harness the feeling or how to get rid of it, but being around Vax was fun, it felt good. He didn't even need the promise of sex to want to hang around him. Holding his hand and playing video games with him was enough.  

He didn't like it. 

He loved it, but he didn't like it. 

When he was finished, he opened his eyes and looked at Pike. Two thumbs up.  

He played the next song, a slightly more upbeat song that was more about the first time he saw Vax at the bar and how he immediately wanted to take that boy home, but not just to hook-up. He wanted to show Vax around what made Scanlan who he was now, except maybe not where he met up with his dealer. No one wanted to see that. It felt good to say it, though, that he wanted to show someone who he was, and where he came from. Maybe someday he would take Vax back to that little town at the edge of the Ivyheart Forest.  

Two thumbs up. 

He kept playing, one song after another until he had run out of new material. Pike gave thumbs up for every song, one with only a single thumb but she gave a little bit of feedback to help bring it up to two thumbs.  

"I think at the end you should repeat the last line of the chorus, because it's a really powerful image, and will resonate with your audience if you leave them on that," she offered before her phone started ringing. She reached for it and sighed. "Work. I gotta go. I'm so glad you're creating again, Scanlan. It's good to see you this happy." 

"Hey, Pike?" He said before she disappeared out of the room. 

"Yeah?" 

"Do you have feelings for Vax?" 

She let out a laugh, an honest, surprised laugh. 

"Not a single one. What makes you think that?" 

"He calls you Pickle, and talks about religion with you, and you always light up around him." 

"He's a good friend, one of the best, but that's all. We're just friends. I don't have feelings for him," she said, and came back to put her hands on Scanlan's shoulders. She leaned in. "It's also a little late to backpedal if I did. You're already deeply in love with him, even if you wanted to take a step away from him. No, I don't have feelings for him, and he doesn't have any for me. He's all yours, Shorthalt." 

She kissed him softly on the forehead and then left to go deal with her work emergency. Scanlan messed around with the songs that had only gotten one thumbs up, and then decided maybe it was time to get back out there. 

 


 

He didn't tell anyone what he was doing. He didn't want Grog and Pike there in case he bombed. He definitely did not tell Vax that he was going to an open mic night to grovel for attention and praise. Gilmore, of Gilmore's Glorious Goods, also ran a café attached to his store that hosted a bi-weekly open mic night for aspiring and struggling artists. He allowed them to set up tip jars and sell their merch if they had any without taking a fee.  

Shaun Gilmore was an ally that without him, Scanlan wouldn't have gotten even anywhere near the recognition he had scraped together over the years. When he was down on his luck, somehow Gilmore always had a spot in a show for him. He was indebted to Gilmore in a way that made him uncomfortable sometimes, and grateful always. Without his unerring kindness and willingness to make some money off of Scanlan, Scanlan would be an urchin begging at the feet of passersby on the street still. He still wanted, sure, but he was never destitute the way he once had been. 

And that had almost everything to do with Shaun Gilmore. 

So, when Scanlan found himself ready to step back into the limelight, he found the warmth of the stage at Gilmore's Glorious Goods and Café ready to welcome him back. He called Gilmore the day before the open mic on his break from work. 

"Gilmore's Glorious Goods, this is the glorious Gilmore," he answered in the silky voice that anyone would fall in love with.  

"Gilmore, hey, it's Scanlan." 

"Ahh, hello. I wondered if you had died it's been so long." 

"No, I just, I hit a bit of a rough patch. It's a long story. I was hoping, though, that you'd have an opening left in your open mic night for an old friend." 

"It's a little last minute, Shorthalt." 

"I know. I'm sorry. Like I said, rough patch. I have some new material, and I wanted to try it out. If you'll allow me to slide into the line-up." 

"I'm sure I can make some adjustments. One of the acts has been playing cat and mouse with me for weeks, calling to schedule a slot and then not showing up. I'd rather you took the spot, honestly. If you want it, it's yours." 

"You're the best, Gilmore." 

"Yes. I know." 

Friday night, he rushed out of work late. He was 5 minutes from clocking out before the longest call he had ever taken came in and he could not get the old lady off the phone. Oscar the interface gave him a satisfactory rating but clucked about how he could do better with his talk times, and then let him clock out. He was supposed to clock out at 5 o'clock, he clocked out a 6:09 and had to rush home to change before flooring it to Gilmore's shop across town. He was well past twenty minutes late and had to slip in quietly into the small backstage area that was a break-room for Gilmore's employees. Sherry, who had always had a bit of a thing for him smiled at him and Gilmore, dressed in extravagant purples and golds, shimmering gold eyeliner lining his dark eyes, rolled his eyes and shook his head. 

"You're late." 

"An old bitty named Betty didn't understand why that when she had a cleaner Dispell magic around her house, that would make her tablet stop working, as if her state of the art, arcana-infused piece of technology will work without the fucking magic that keeps it running. Honestly, Gilmore, please, shoot me before I have to go back." 

Gilmore laughed. He had a good laugh, and it made life seem a little more bearable if Gilmore was able to laugh in the face of it.   

"Well, you're actually in luck, Shorthalt. There might just be a talent scout here tonight, as a favor to an old friend, who is looking for someone to play over in Marquet for a while. If your new stuff is half as good as your old stuff, I'm sure I could put in a good word for you." 

"What do you want in return, Gilmore?" 

"Nothing. Or if you wouldn't mind, maybe, you take a package overseas for me and see that it gets into the proper hands. It's precious cargo. I wouldn't leave it to just anyone." 

"That's extremely sketchy, but I'm into it. Count me in." 

"Thank you. I-" There was a crash out in the store and Gilmore sighed.  "I must go attend to that. Get ready, you're up next." 

Scanlan didn't have a pre-show routine the way most of the musicians he'd met over the years; he was confident enough to not believe in superstition. He did, however, take out his guitar and played a few chords, and then kissed the neck of the guitar.  

He was willing to try something new.  

"Thank you, that was Amir Pesco. Give Amir a good round of applause. Next up, a local favorite and no stranger to this stage, please welcome to the stage, Scanlan Shorthalt!"  

Scanlan ducked out of the store room and headed towards the stage, the crowd clapping enthusiastically. It was such a boost, the crowd excited so Scanlan was excited, the energy feeding back and forth between the two halves. This is the performance high that every musician, actor, and performer has ever spoken about. 

The kind of high that, maybe, if you can't write a new song and perform that song, you might chase down with chemical substances. 

When he climbed onto the makeshift stage, everything disappeared, and he felt at home. It was just him up there, nothing holding him down, not even the weight of the audience's expectations.  

“I’m Scanlan Shorthalt,” he said into the mic. The crowd cheered. “Ahh, so you’ve heard of me. It’s good to be back up here. I can’t wait to show you some new stuff. This first song is, well, it’s about a boy. I was trying of think of something clever, but it’s true. And it goes a lot like this.” 

The song flowed easily from him, the sweet acoustic of his guitar filling the space between his heartbeats. This is what he was searching for, the confidence in his songs, confidence in his voice, and the lov- 

No

Just the confidence in himself. That was enough. This was enough. He didn’t need Vax or emotions to keep him going. Staring out at the crowd's darkened features, this was enough. 

 


 

“Scanlan Shorthalt, just who I was looking for! My name is Pierce, I'm with the Hand of Ord, a record label based in Ank'harel,” a man in a suit too nice to be a casual music fan said, butting through the crowd to get to him as he stepped off the stage. “That was quite a set.” 

“Thank you,” he said, slinging his guitar over his back to rest. “Are you the favor Gilmore mentioned?” 

The man was too fair to be from Marquet, not the same dark skin Gilmore had, nor did he have a Marquesian accent. But he looked exactly like all the record label suits he’d seen over the years, trying to look hip with the latest watch strapped around their wrist, their sleeves rolled up halfway and their suit jacket thrown haphazardly over a chair like it didn’t cost more than Scanlan made all year. He knew exactly which audience member was the “talent scout” even in the dark. They were the ones taking notes, critiques, suggestions.  

“So Shaun spoke of me,” the man said, his eyelashes fluttering wildly. A blush spread across his fair skin. It was almost endearing. 

“Sure,” Scanlan said.  

Of course, he thought, the favor Gilmore was trading in was sex. He was the Glorious Gilmore; there weren’t many that could resist having at least the teensiest crush on him. Even Grog had thought about taking that gorgeous bastard to bed. They’d been drunk and horny at the time, listing off who out of their friend’s list they’d fuck and where, but it still counted.  

“He said that you were looking for someone to play Marquet?” 

“What? Oh, yes. Our market in Marquet, mind the rhyme, isn’t doing as well as some execs would like, so they’re looking for something fresh, something new. Gilmore said that you had some small-time fame in the area and were looking to get back into performing. And you are exactly what the Marquet circuit desperately needs. We can hammer out details later, but I would like to offer you the opportunity to travel to a new country and become a rock star.” 

“That’s very kind of you,” Scanlan started. 

“I know the start of a no when I hear one, so let me sweeten the pot before you finish. Not only will you get to travel the world, we will be able to offer you a contract with our record label if the shows go well." 

If the shows go well. That was the catch. There was always a catch. He didn't like being this pessimistic- or realistic, either way- but the world just kept proving him right. Here, with this Scanlan had to prove he was a good cash-cow before they would sign him. It was a step in the right direction, more of a step than he'd ever gotten so far. The strings, the hoops, the conditions? He was willing to do that. He wasn't getting anywhere avoiding them. 

Dr. Dranzel would have jumped at the chance of money and exposure the second Pierce had appeared in the crowd. Scanlan couldn't blame him, being signed to a label was a big deal. It was a paycheck, it was an income more than tips flicked from passersby. There was a safety net in an unsteady profession. It didn't, couldn't, and wouldn't catch you 100% of the time, but it was still better than being out on your own. There were times when Scanlan didn't have anyone who would miss him if he disappeared, literally, so having even the smallest bit of security from a company who wants to make money off him was probably the nicest feeling he'd had. The thrill of music with the security of a job, maybe he could have it all.  

Maybe he didn't deserve it, but there was something Vax said before.    

They were laying in Vax’s bed after some round of sex, foreheads resting together. The room was hot, stunk of their own sweat, and their skin was tacky against one another. It was the closest thing to the blessed fields of Elysium that Scanlan was ever gonna get. 

"I think you're the best thing that's happened to me," Vax had whispered. 

"Was it the multiple orgasms?" 

"No. Well- yes. Not entirely. You make my day brighter, Scan, and I- I think my world is better with you in it. I can't wait to hear your songs, or to listen to your stories. I would give everything just to listen to you breathe." 

I would give everything just to listen to you breathe.  

"I think you deserve everything you want, Scanlan, and I want to help you get it. I want to be with you to see it happen." 

A gorgeous man had laid naked in a bed with him and promised him the future.  

"Do you mind if I take a beat to think about it?" Scanlan asked. He wanted Vax's opinion on this. He wanted to step outside and call him, just to hear his voice and bounce the idea off of him. He'd never wanted a sounding board this way, but he had one and it was thrilling.  

A business card appeared in front of him. 

"I'm leaving for Marquet in three days. I need an answer before then." 

Pierce peeled off and headed into the crowd. Scanlan headed off into the other direction to sit by the wall, his back against it so he could survey the room. The energy was electric, the kind any musician would feed off, and they were. The acts following Scanlan were energetic, bouncing. He cheered for them and tucked away some of his extra cash to drop in their tip jars on his way out.  

Somewhere between a folksy blues song and an upbeat folksy pop song sung by a short pixie cut girl with a ukulele, Scanlan's eyes caught on a familiar figure ducking into the shop across the crowd. He knew that sheet of sleek black hair, the slope of the shoulders, the way the figure walked.  

Vax. 

He waited, frozen in his seat. Vax beelined for the counter, straight for Gilmore who was- 

Absolutely beaming at Vax.  

Who leaned in to kiss Gilmore on the cheek lovingly. His hand rested on the curve of Gilmore's bicep and he leaned intimately into the older man's space like he belonged there, like he wasn't a visitor but a seasoned roommate. 

Fuck.  

There was probably a series of thoughts that passed through his mind, but later he would never be able to follow that same series of thoughts and end up with the same conclusion. 

Then, though, he stood, gathered his belongings and hurried between tables until he found Pierce lounging near the exit with a bottle of ale half-empty on the table before him.  

"I'm in," he said without sitting down. "When do I leave?" 

Chapter Text

He packed, his thoughts racing in dizzying circles, with Pike helping him in a matching silence, redoing the work that he did but better. She had tried to talk him out of leaving only once but he had shaken his head firmly and she had let it go.  

“What,” he started but paused, laying his guitar in its case gently. “What are you and Grog going to do about rent?” 

“I don’t know,” Pike admitted. “But we’ve always survived before. We can survive now.” 

“I’m sorry to do this to you but,” he started but she hit him with a shirt like a whip. 

“Don’t be sorry. Don’t you ever be sorry for following your dreams, Shorthalt.” 

“Yeah, but I promised-” 

“You’ve made me a lot of promises, Scanlan. You told me you’d write a song about me, and you didn’t. I can handle the rent by myself. I’m a doctor. I’ve got this.” 

Scanlan, upon coming home that night, had started the packing by himself and had almost stopped when thinking about his friends. About Vax. He could let Vax’s whatever with Gilmore slide. He could let Marquet and the chance to play in front of a crowd that cheered his name slip from his grasp because Vax kissed like he actually meant something. He had paused, bag half full, and sat down with a pair of jeans in his hands. He had been ready to call Pierson and rescind his acceptance when Pike came through the door with her chipperness aglow around her. If it hadn’t been for Pike, Scanlan might have changed his mind and missed out on this opportunity.  

He owed Pike Trickfoot the world. 

“It’s not a cool thing to say, but I’m excited,” he said softly. “This is what I’ve been working towards since I was a kid, you know? This is the very thing that I’ve always, always dreamed about. Traveling. Playing my songs every night. Going to a new town and meeting people who want to meet me. That’s always been the dream.” 

“Then you have to go. Regardless of what’s here in Emon. Emon will be here if you need someone to catch you. Emon will remain standing while you explore the world. It’ll welcome you back home and someone will always have a place for you to sleep. But, it’s important to get out of Emon for a while. When I left to go traveling and I ended up working on the Broken Howl? It was the best thing that could have happened to me. And for you? I think Marquet is your Broken Howl. So, you have to go. You have to. I won’t take no for an answer.” 

Scanlan smiled and closed the lid on his guitar case with a sense of finality. He leaned over and kissed Pike gently on the cheek. 

“You’re wrong, you know.” 

“I’m never wrong.” 

“You are,” he pressed. “I did write a song about you. I’ve written a lot of songs about you, Pike.” 

“No, you haven’t! I would have heard them.” 

He smiled and gave her a small nudge. 

“You’re just gonna have to wait for the album to come out, then.” 

 

 


 

He left on a red eye that boarded when the sky was at its darkest. He had met Pierson at the airport as he was getting ready to board, his carry on strapped carefully to his back. He had chosen to carry his guitar; he didn’t trust it in baggage by itself. 

“This is from Gilmore,” he said, holding out a package. Scanlan took it from him and inspected it. It was heavy, a perfectly square box wrapped in brown paper that rattled gently when shook, with an envelope taped against the top of the box. “He said there’s instructions in the envelope. Your payment, he said.” 

“Thanks? Aren’t you coming with me?” 

“I don’t fly commercial,” Pierson scoffed. “You have my business card. When you get to Ank’harel, after your errand, give me a call. We’ll book you on a small tour, test you out.” 

“Okay, yeah. Cool. Thanks.” 

Pierson nodded once, turned, and left Scanlan standing near the gate as the worker called for his flight. He headed towards the line of two sleepy families forming nearby to board his flight. His first flight. He’d never flown before. He wished he had a hand to hold, or a reassuring smile to glance at when his heartrate was reaching critical speeds. Instead, he had himself, a mystery box, and no real plan. Quickly, out of instinct, he closed his eyes and said a quick prayer to Ioun.  

He felt her with him, something he hadn’t felt in years. He felt her soft, knowing presence, the unmistakable feeling of her hand resting on his shoulder. He felt the trace of an eye along his forehead, and then she was gone. 

“Thank you,” he said, and then he stepped up to the desk to board for Marquet. 

 

 


 

Gilmore’s favor was a package that Scanlan had to deliver, according to the envelope, to a house in the middle of nowhere in Marquet. A sense of unease washed over him as he carried his package up to the front step of a small single-story house set in a town that wasn’t big enough for two of anything, the house leaning to one side a little, a faint cover of sand against the brick siding. It was nondescript and looked like a palace compared to the shacks that Scanlan lived in before Pike and Grog. The mailbox that sat on the worn fence wrapped around the yard read Geddmore in delicate, familiar script, although it was fading.  

“Huh,” he said as he stepped through the gate at the front, the hinges giving a mild squawk of protest. “Geddmore. That’s interesting.” 

He knocked firmly a couple times and waited, and heard the rustling of fabric. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a face peaking at him from the window nearby. The door opened and a wiry, dark-skinned man stared at him. 

“Can I help you, sir?” he asked. 

“Yes, I’ve come as a favor to a friend of mine. Maybe you’ll know him. Shaun Gilmore?” 

The old man laughed wryly.  

“Oh, yes. I know him. I know him well. Come in. Come in.” 

Scanlan was bustled inside where he met the man’s wife, and seeing them side by side, the pieces clicked into place. These were Gilmore’s parents. He had known that Gilmore was not originally from Tal’dorei, but he hadn’t expected that he had changed his name.  

Shaun  Geddmore .  

Geddmore’s  Glorious Goods.  

“You’re Shaun’s parents, then,” he said. “I was wondering what was so important he’d send me into the middle of desert for.” 

Mr. Geddmore laughed and offered Scanlan a seat at the dining room table. He and his wife had just started dinner when Scanlan had interrupted.  

“Oh, no thank you. I’m really just a messenger. I didn’t mean to come during dinner.” 

He offered the package wrapped in plain brown paper to Mr. Geddmore. The old man wrapped his hand around it and brought it close to his chest like it was something beyond precious to him. 

“It smells just like him,” his wife said from his side. She looked up. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay? Any friend of Shaun’s is welcome here.” 

“Thank you, truly. But I have to get to Ank’harel. I just wanted to make sure I delivered that to you. I owed Shaun a kindness he showed me. This is the least that I can do for him.” 

“Please, let him know we are doing okay, if you see him again. Everything he is doing, it is more than enough. Tell him that we love him,” Mr. Geddmore said. “And thank you. What was your name, again?” 

“Scanlan,” he introduced. “Scanlan Shorthalt.” 

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Shorthalt.” 

 

 


 

It was hot in Marquet, the kind of hot that Scanlan wasn’t used to. It wasn’t the kind of summer heat from Tal’dorei with heavy air filled with moisture, the kind that made Pike’s hair curl at the ends. This was dry heat. It sucked the moisture from Scanlan’s mouth and he swiped an arm across his forehead and came away with a thick layer of sweat collected against his skin. The Hand of Ord building was beautiful, a towering gold and bras giant in the business district. Scanlan looked up and felt the quake in his stomach. He shook his head. Instead, he took out his guitar on the street corners in Ank’harel, and strummed carefully.  

With the guitar case open before him, Scanlan played. The song filled his heart and the nerves melted away. Passing strangers flipped some coins and dollars into his case, but most ignored him. That was fine. The tips were an added benefit, although the state of his bank account wasn’t ideal. It could use the robust refilling of some generous tips.  

He played to forget the distance he’d travelled with little to no plan and no safety net to get back home if this didn’t pan out. He played to forget the warm, guaranteed bed and the comfort of a friend waiting for him. He played to forget the familiarity of having a schedule and a 9-to-5. Mostly, he played to forget a callused pair of hands holding him by the hips and the unbelievable set of lips that kissed him mere days ago, though it seemed so far removed now. He played to forget that there was an ocean, a desert, a world, and now an old friend between them. He played to forget that he still would give everything up if those perfect eyes asked him to. He played and he played, the song of his heart and his sorrow growing as he continued.  

He had gained a crowd, a semi-circle of people watching and taking video of him while he played. It wasn’t unusual for him; he had been performing since he was old enough to stand up on his mother’s table and belt out the alphabet. She had always applauded like he had just finished a full length set at The Palace, Emon’s premiere stadium for up and coming, and stage-weathered musicians alike.  

Juniper was more than likely the reason that Scanlan thought so highly of himself.  

It’s not as if his father had any hand in who he had become, anyway. Scanlan wasn’t even sure of what his name was, just that Juniper had loved him deeply for a short time and then he was gone, and she was pregnant.  

Still, he played. He played for her. He played the way she had taught him. He always played for her, so that he could carry her dream inside his song and keep her alive even though she had long since passed.  

When he stopped, he looked up. A rush of adrenaline and relief poured through him looking out at the crowd. They cheered and applauded, and to Scanlan’s surprise, dropped money into his case and came up to shake his hand. 

“Thank you,” someone said, clasping his free hand in both of theirs. “I haven’t heard music so honest in years.” 

Someone else came up and complimented him on his skill. Someone else squeezed in to get his name and ask if he was interested in playing a wedding (he wasn’t). Someone else-  

It was almost endless and Scanlan adored the attention. 

“Mr. Shorthalt,” a sleek voice said over the crowd. Scanlan looked up and found a beautiful human being that stopped the air in his chest for a moment. They were slender, and had deep reddish-brown skin, and the most gorgeous golden-brown eyes. Their hair was sleek and fell down to their elbows in a shimmery brown sheet. They almost looked extraplanar, as if there was fey in their lineage somewhere. “I thought our first meeting would be in my office, not on the street, but-” 

“Our first meeting?” Scanlan interrupted, the thought bursting out of his mouth.  

“Yes, Mr. Shorthalt. I am J’mon Sa Ord.” 

“Ord? As in-” 

They let out a quiet laugh. They were ageless, almost otherworldly so.  

“Yes, Mr. Shorthalt. As in.” 

“Holy shit. You’re the head of the Hand of Ord.” 

They laughed again, the sound delicate on Scanlan’s ears. The crowd gawked at the two of them, but Scanlan kept his eyes and attention focused on J’mon Sa Ord.  

J’mon. Sa. Fucking. Ord. 

THE J’mon Sa Ord. 

He tried not to let himself fangirl and stare at them, but J'mon Sa Ord was smiling at him.  

“I was losing faith in Pierson’s ability. He kept bringing me these musicians with no soul, no heart. They were all in it for the money or the fame. You could see it in their eyes, this dead hunger. Then, his last chance, he tells me he found a new talent, fresh, a step in the right direction. I didn’t believe him, and yet-” 

“And yet, the title of my eventual autobiography.” 

J'mon laughed.  

“Come with me, Mr. Shorthalt. Let’s talk in my office.” 

 

 


 

The video call was choppy, the WiFi in his new apartment not being able to keep a solid connection across the ocean. Pike looked beautiful like always, her hair plaited down over her shoulder. 

“Scanlan,” she cheered, her voice jumping around. “How’s Marquet! Do you have a tan already! I can’t tell.” 

“Oh, Pike. I can barely see you. Can you see me?” 

“I can. Oh my God, Scanlan, it’s so good to see you! I thought Marquet had swallowed you whole! You went there and vanished.” 

“Oh, I need to get you my new phone number. Mine fried on the way over here so I had to splurge for a new one.” 

“How is it?” 

“Fucking hot. But I met J'mon Sa Ord and they want me to play a couple small shows as an opener. Test the waters. If it goes well, they want me to sign with the Hand of Ord.” 

“That’s amazing!” Pike squealed, her voice going robotic towards the end. Her joyful expression pixelated and froze.  

“Pike? Pike? Are you still there? Pike, hello?” 

He sighed and got up to reset the router. 

“Scanlan?” 

He rushed back to the screen. 

“Hi! I thought I lost you. Sorry, I live in a basement apartment and the WiFi is atrocious here. Nothing compared to the free WiFi my old job provided.” 

“Yeah, hi. Give me that number in case I lose you again!” 

Scanlan laughed and happily read the number to her three times to make sure she got it correctly.  

“Scanlan, can I ask you something?” 

“You can ask me anything any time, Pike.” 

“Did you tell Vax you were leaving? 

There was an awkward silence where Scanlan's heart that longed to hear Vax’ildan’s name again stuttered followed by the crashing berating of his mind reminding him of the intimate kiss Vax had shared with Gilmore. 

“I don’t want to talk about him,” he said, and prayed to Ioun that Pike would drop it. And someone, somewhere, listened. 

“Okay, then. Tell me everything before the call cuts out. Tell me about Marquet, about the music, about your apartment, about your new roommate who is vastly inferior to your old roommates in every way. I want to know everything.” 

He smiled, and in the time they had in this other space, he told Pike everything he could. 

Chapter Text

Scanlan had gotten used to the heat. His skin had taken to the sun well, despite what he had initially thought. He loved it in Ank’harel, and he was surprised to see that Ank’harel loved him. He had monthly video calls with Pike, and sometimes Grog, and he sometimes missed Tal’dorei. Those days, though, he stepped outside into the perpetual warmth and remembered what he was here for. 

His roommate, Lionel, wasn’t the brightest bulb he’d ever met, and he was good as a deterrent for nefarious people who ran in the same circles as he did. It was hard not to fall into social circles where there was at least one mob boss looking to make some money off of him, especially with how charming and talented Scanlan was. They were always looking for a guy like him. 

He adjusted to the culture, and he wrote his songs in a sunny coffee shop around the corner from his apartment. It was run by a suspicious man named Aes who didn’t seem to like Scanlan unless he was buying something. You had to buy something. He had learned that from watching a poor sleep-deprived grad student get grabbed by scruff and dragged out of the shop. Just before he was tossed to the curb, Scanlan swore he heard Aes murmur, “the meat man gives nothing for free. Come back when you have money to rent a table.” 

You rented a table with croissants and cups of coffee.  

Scanlan liked it there, even if some friends called it scary and unwelcoming. He said that it had character, and he’d bought drugs from seedier places.  

He couldn’t think about those times, though. It was only after he had settled in to his routine in Ank'harel that memories from that time, clouded in suude and desperation, came back to him. He’d met Vax before the bar, just once, at the Diamond Nest Tavern where Vax worked as a waiter. Scanlan had stumbled in looking for his contact, and Vax’ildan had directed him without a thought to the man in the corner who was undoubtedly and well-known to be a drug dealer. 

Scanlan avoided the thought that followed as actively as possible: Vax’ildan knew he was, at least at one time, a drug addict, and he still walked him to his car that night at the bar.  

He couldn’t think about it when the same man had walked into Gilmore’s and- 

He played the moment of Vax sidling up beside Gilmore with a softness in his expression that Scanlan had become familiar with in his head over and over. It was the face Vax made before he leaned in to kiss him, the look he had in the middle of sex where time would slow and it was just the two of them in the space, endless possibilities stretching out on either side of them. It was the face of affection and attraction; the expression of someone who felt something deep and indescribable. 

Scanlan lived in that moment for too long, playing it over and over when he was alone. He couldn’t find it in his heart to pick someone up from the bar to try and cover up his loneliness. The one time he had tried, all he could see was Vax and all the ways this beautiful Marquesian man was not Vax’ildan.  

“Scanlan!” Lionel yelled as he came in the door of the apartment one late summer afternoon. It had been a year since Scanlan had left Emon, and as luck would have it, in a few days, on the anniversary of his arrival in Marquet, he would be headlining a major festival in the desert just outside the city. After that, he was slated to go into the studio to finish his album. 

He could feel the excitement, and the corresponding nerves, vibrating in every cell in his body. He was practicing in the bathroom of their apartment, the guitar resting on his thighs, when Lionel came home.  

“What’s up?” Scanlan called without rising.  

“I brought home a new friend! I met them on the street!” 

Scanlan stopped strumming, and set the guitar aside.  

“Lionel, we’ve talked about this,” he sighed, standing up. “We don’t bring strangers home, no matter how charming or good-looking they are.” 

He swung out of the bathroom, ready to shoo the strangers from their home, and found instead Pike and Grog. Pike squealed and rushed through their small apartment to throw herself into his arms. He caught her and pulled her close, burying his face happily into her neck. She smelled of sweat and travel, and the ever-present honeysuckle scent of the Everlight on her skin. She was warm against him, and he never wanted to let go.  

“Don’t I get a hug?” Grog asked, and Scanlan gestured him over. Grog happily swept Pike and Scanlan into a huge hug that lifted them up off of the ground a bit. It felt like home. He’d been out of this little circle for too long and this embrace shoved all of his loose pieces back together. 

“What are you doing here?” he asked as they broke apart, reluctantly. 

“Well, we aren’t going to miss your first big festival, Scanlan! Plus, vacation! I finally got a vacation! I got to go! Places!” Pike said, her voice echoing in the barren living room. It wasn’t a home. It wasn’t decorated the way his apartment in Emon had been; he didn’t have Pike to frame and hang up art prints or care about a rug that matched the couch. 

“I mean, I love that you’re here, but you didn’t tell me,” he said.  

“It’s a surprise! Happy birthday!” 

He laughed and leaned in to kiss her on the temple.  

“It means so much to me that you guys are here,” he whispered into her skin. “Thank you, Pike.” 

 


 

“Are you nervous?” Pike asked as they waited in line for their burgers and fries at a Marquesian fast food place that Scanlan had frequented late at night recently. He had some sleepless nights where he just wanted to go over his songs until they were perfect. He distracted himself with curly fries and a soda larger than himself. It helped. 

“No.” 

“I don’t think I believe that.” 

“I don’t get nervous,” he explained. 

“Yeah, well,” she said with a shake of her head. “I’m nervous for you.” 

“See? That’s why I don’t have to be nervous. You’re there for me.” 

“Double trouble wubble bundle?” a tired employee called out from the counter, holding out a tray laden in burgers and fries. “I have a double trouble wubble bundle.” 

Pike skipped up and took the tray from them with a smile and a polite thank you.  

“Are you excited?” she asked, leading them to a booth that Grog had claimed. No one had chosen to sit near them, his size and overall demeanor frightening to anyone who didn’t know him. He had a temper, that was for sure, and Scanlan never wanted to be on the other side of Grog’s fist, but overall? The man was a sweetheart. Scanlan saw the way he cared for Pike. Scanlan saw how he tried every day to learn something. Scanlan knew that Grog was fiercely loyal, and had a great sense of humor, even if most jokes went over his head. He was encouraging and kind.  

“Yeah, that, that I am. You know how hard I’ve worked. How much I’ve sacrificed. Being able to finally play for thousands of people? That’s the absolute fucking dream.” 

“I can’t believe I’m friends with a rock star!” Pike laughed, sliding in beside Grog leaving the other bench for Scanlan. He took his seat and they divided up the party size meal deal. “No one is going to believe me when I tell them I used to wash your socks.” 

“Laundry is, objectively, the worst, though.” 

“Doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it, though. Have you been doing your laundry or just buying new clothes when you ran out?” 

Scanlan looked down at his Burger sheepishly. 

“I actually had to learn, since Lionel doesn’t know and stinks up the whole place if I don’t. And like, he always smells like wet bird. Like a duck. How is that possible in the desert?” 

They laughed. He smiled at his friends, the found family he’d been lucky enough to stumble into. Even if the show the next day lead nowhere, he would always have them. 


 

Pike was driving Scanlan up a wall with her nervous energy. She was constantly moving. Tapping. Twitching. Scanlan adored everything that Pike Trickfoot was, worshipped her like she herself was Sarenrae, but he had to get out of the house. He snuck out after breakfast while she was  donning a light hooded jacket and disappearing into the crowds of a Marquesian Saturday morning. The anonymity felt like home.  

He ducked into a coffee shop across town, brushing by a tall blonde man dressed in a shimmering golden shirt and followed by a dark-skinned, well-dressed man, racing stripes of white hair fell from his temples amongst his dark hair. They were holding hands and smiling at each other. Scanlan wanted to be happy for them, but at the sight of their hands intertwined so innocently and so intimately made his heart ache. 

“What can I get you?” the barista behind the counter asked, her eyes falling on him.  

“Any specials?” he asked. 

Her face lit up. 

“I thought no one was going to ask! We have a barista special, I made it, called the Suncut Bizarre!” 

“The bazaar?” 

“No,” she laughed. She had a nice laugh. “Bizarre. Like, strange. Unusual.” 

He nodded. 

“I’ll try it.” 

“And your name?” 

“Scanlan.” 

“With an O or an A?” 

“Both As.” 

“Okay, cutie. I’ll get that started for you.” 

She rung him up, a new spring to her actions. He watched as she set to making his drink with a careful yet somehow relaxed rhythm. It was some kind of spiced iced latte with cinnamon dusted across the top. Some of her coworkers watched with a mild disgust mixed with interest. She was beautiful, just younger than Pike and- and Vax. She was the kind of girl that Scanlan would’ve seduced and taken home before Vax, but now all he could see was all the ways she wasn’t that stupid boy with the Raven Queen blessing and the softest skin. This girl was dark-skinned, her skin was clear and radiant under the fluorescent lights overhead. She set it on the counter in front of him with a smile. 

“Enjoy! If you wanna do the survey on the back of your receipt, you can get a free drink with the purchase of a sandwich! Let us know if you like my special!” 

Scanlan smiled at her and she smiled back, a glow about her. 

He took a sip from his drink. It tasted like how the desert made him feel: warm, welcome, bathed in sunshine, and a little bit spicy.  

“That’s really fucking good,” he said to her. A mother with a young child shot him a dirty look, pushing her hand into the child’s ear and the other side of their head into her hip.  

“Watch your mouth,” she hissed at him.  

“You’re right, I’m sorry. I do need to fucking watch my goddamn language.” 

He headed for the door without another glance at the mother, only stopping at the counter to take what was left of his cash and stuffing it into the tip jar with a tip of his cup to the barista. She blushed and kept working. He ducked out of the door, and outside, alone with his iced latte, he strode out alone. He didn’t have a direction in mind. He didn’t know how long he’d be gone, or when he’d return back home. All he knew, all he wanted, was to walk until he wasn’t thinking about his nerves or the show tonight.  

Tonight. 

It was the biggest thing he’d ever done, and hopefully it would just be the beginning. It still, somewhere inside of him, unnerved him. Ioun grant him strength to share his stories to such a large crowd. He followed where his feet wanted to take him, and found himself outside of a small temple not to Ioun, but to the Raven Queen. He took a deep breath and entered.  

It was dark, made of obsidian and slate, and in the middle, a pool of dark liquid waited. He skirted around it, the very look of it sending shivers down his spine, past a pair of young attendants, and settled at a bench set against the wall. He bowed his head, and not really knowing what to do, started to pray. 

He thought of Vax, and of the dark raven tattooed across his breastbone. The scar that showed how he had survived what should have killed him. He thanked the Raven Queen not for the first time for letting him return to Exandria just because they had the chance to cross paths. For the brief amount of time he got to be with Vax’ildan, he thanked the Mother of Ravens.  

He wasn’t used to this kind of prayer. In all of his life, especially since he’d taken to the stage, he just kind of felt Ioun with him, if not physically but supporting him. He didn’t have to think about his connection with her. She was there when he didn’t think about it, and he didn’t have to try to contact her. He knew that she could hear him when he called to her.  

The Raven Queen was new to him. He didn’t know how her worship worked.  

He thought of his mother, then.  

He wanted to think that the Raven Queen had taken good care of her and delivered her to the world’s biggest stage. If there was any place she would be happiest, it would be on a stage singing her songs for the dead to hear, he wished that the Mother of Ravens had the kindness to deliver her there.  

In the space between breaths, a plan formed in his head. He looked up at the temple, to the pool of dark liquid, and he thanked her again.  

 


 

The festival was out in the desert, not too far from the edge of the city but far enough that there were shuttles from the city to the festival for those who couldn’t drive. Scanlan rode in a car provided by the record label with Grog, Pike, and Lionel. The band was driving their instruments over in their trailer and would meet Scanlan there.  

“Okay, I want to be in the crowd for the show,” Pike said. “But I’ve also always wanted a side stage experience.” 

“Up to you, Pikey Pants.” 

“What do you think, Grog?” 

“I can always sit you on my shoulders if you can’t see from the crowd,” Grog said, which wasn’t an answer. But Grog was always down for what Pike wanted anyway. They both were. Pike leaned over and whispered to Grog who smiled and nodded. 

“Hey, secrets,” Scanlan said and kicked at her. 

“We’re allowed our secrets,” she responded easily. “Besides, this doesn’t concern you.” 

“That is where you are wrong, Trickfoot. Everything concerns me.” 

She rolled her eyes. 

“You’re such a diva,” she stated. “I can’t wait to see what stardom does to your ego.” 

“It’ll be the size of my dick!” 

She chuckled. 

“So weird and cube-shaped.” 

“Don’t disparage the cube like this, Pike. Grog, are you gonna let her talk about the cube?” 

“I’m not very smart,” Grog said. “But I know not to get in the middle.” 

“Good job, Grog.” 

He grinned at Pike and she returned the smile. It seemed so long ago that they used to sit at home together or go out drinking together, joking around and just enjoying each other’s company. They were so far away from him most days, and even if they were to leave that night after the show, Scanlan was glad they got to spend some time together. He would keep this with him like a buoy until the next time he got to see them.   

 


 

The stage lights felt like the full afternoon sun, heavy and comforting. He felt safe and when he stepped up to the microphone, he was ready to share this part of himself. He’d gone from a nobody on the street singing about his heartache to the headliner of Ank’harel’s famous and longstanding festival. Bands played all day on this stage, artists who had more reputation and a longer history than him. And yet, him, with his backing band, were the main event. People had paid the entry price specifically to see him.  

That was absolutely wild. 

“Hello Ank’harel!” he called into the microphone. He was met with roaring applause. What an unneeded boost to his ego. “Thanks for coming out! Are you ready to have some fucking fun?” 

The songs spilled past him, somehow. 

Halfway through, he stepped back up to microphone. 

“Hey guys. What’s up? Are we having a good time?” 

The crowd yelled their response. He grinned.  

“Now, I’ve lived in Ank’harel for a year and you guys have been so good to me. I’m so glad you are here with me tonight! Look at that fucking sky! Have you ever seen something so beautiful?” 

A good majority of the crowd looked up at the sky on cue, this endless sky full of stars even with all of the festival lights. He let out a soft sigh. 

“Alright, let’s do what we’re here for. Let’s do what we’re here for! Let’s listen to some fucking music!” 

He let the band finishing catching their breath and grabbing their drinks.  

"At seventeen, I started to starve myself," Scanlan sang into the microphone, his voice amplified out over the crowd. His band waited for their cue, letting his lines settle on the crowd with their solemn heaviness. Scanlan could feel the audience holding their breath, waiting and feeling with him. This is the high he sought, replacing drugs with the stage. "I thought that love was a kind of emptiness, and at least I understood then the hunger I felt and I didn't have to call it loneliness." 

He paused for a breath, and looked out at the sea of faces.  

"We all have a hunger," he sang, and the band kicked in with the backing instrumentals. It thumped in his chest, and he felt alive on that stage. The words poured from him, the song filling him to the brim and spilling out. He hadn't performed this in front of any crowd and his hands shook slightly. He felt Ioun with him, though, urging him to keep going. The song kept flowing. 

"Oh, but you and all your vibrant youth, how could anything bad ever happen to you? You make a fool of death with your beauty, and for a moment," he sang. He felt the warble almost take his voice as the smiling face of Vax'ildan crossing his mind. "I thought that love was in the drugs but the more I took, the more it took away. And I could never get enough." 

He stepped closer to the mic and looked out into the crowd. 

"I thought that love was on the stage. You give yourself to strangers, you don't have to be afraid." 

He swore he saw a familiar flick of dark hair out of the corner of his eye at the edge of the crowd. He tried to track it while letting the muscle memory of playing this alone in his bathroom carry him to the end of song, but whatever he saw had vanished into the crowd.  

"You make a fool of death with your beauty, and for a moment, I forget to worry.” 

The crowd exploded as his voice faded from the air. He broke into a grin, the applause causing his heart to become bouyant in his chest. He could float away on it, take and deep breath, let go and just rise above the world.  

"Thank you," he said, and exited the stage followed by the thunder of applause. 

Backstage, he high-fived and congratulated the band. Lionel met him with a bottle of water. He chugged half of it and poured the rest over his head. It felt so good, the cool liquid drenching his hair and streaming over his skin. He got so sweaty performing, the lights overhead like ovens baking him. His stomach growled, reminding him that he needed to grab something to eat on the way home. Behind him, the crowd started up with their traditional chant of "ENCORE! ENCORE! ENCORE!" 

He grinned at Lionel.  

"Literal music to my ears," he said, taking another bottle to drink from. "Let's go blow them away." 

Walking back out onto the stage alone, he carried his guitar and swept the strap over his head.  

"Thank you so much for coming out tonight! It's so nice to see all your sweaty, sweaty faces. You're so beautiful, and I love you all." 

They cheered. 

"So I have a couple of old songs that even my friends from Tal'dorei are gonna know. I played this song my last night in Emon for a small coffee shop that treated me real well. This is for you, Emon, and all the people that deserve better." 

 


 

"Alright, it's time to say goodbye, Ank'harel. We've had a lot of fun. We've had some laughs. I'm going to wind things down with something special to me. This song is not a Scanlan Shorthalt original. No, this song is even more special. This was written by a wonderful woman named Juniper. So, Mom, this one's for you." 

He stepped away from the mic to take a breath and settle himself. His nerves were racing. He was never nervous on stage. This was the home that he had grown up on after his mother had died- the thing that had welcomed her had in turn raised him. He felt whole and warm and home here. But standing before a crowd of strangers who didn't know Juniper Shorthalt, about to sing her song for them, this love song she had written for him.  

He strummed the notes that she had put together.  

She was there with him, the way she hummed and swayed to the song in her head while she washed dishes, the way she would put on her favorite folk artist after a long day at work and even though she was dead tired and could barely stand, she would sweep him up into her arms and waltz him around their small living room.  

"It's a little bit funny," he sang, and he could still hear her singing it to him at night, "this feeling inside. I'm not one of those who can easily hide." 

He closed his eyes and pictured her. Every time he did, she got a little less clear. He used to be able to see her so clear, as if she stood right before him. Now, she was blurry around the edges. He was forgetting the precise color of her eyes, the way she laughed, the quirk of her lips when she was trying not to laugh while disciplining him. 

"I don't have much money, but boy if I did, I'd buy a big house where we both could live." Her words, her emotions, her dream. This is for her. And yet, at the back of his mind, he imagined singing this to Vax one night with the Tal'dorei rains pouring outside their window. "So excuse me forgetting, but these things I do; see, I've forgotten if they're green or they're blue." 

He pushed Vax away, the thought of him crowding in where it didn't belong in this song. 

"Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean, yours are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen." 
Fuck you, Vax. Fuck you for taking up his brain, invading his heart, shoving his way into Scanlan's life. Fuck you for being in his thoughts during a song for his mother. 

"And you can tell everybody, this is your song. It may be quite simple but now that's done, I hope you don't mind, I hope you don't mind that I put down in words how wonderful it is that you're in the world." 

Fuck Vax'ildan with his beautiful eyes and soft lips. Fuck the way his mother's lyrics fit around his feelings for that dumb boy. 

"If I were a sculptor." 

He would carve the exact shape of Vax's lips and smash them, maybe that would cleanse him. 

"But then again, no. Or a boy who makes potions in a traveling show. I know it's not much but it's the best I can do." 

He would paint a perfect likeness of Vax'ildan and light it on fire on stage so everyone knew he was ridding himself of everything it represented. 

"My gift is my song and this one's for you." 

And yet, despite his resolve to forget Vax, to burn away his feelings with determination, the words caught in his throat. He adlibbed a vocalization part in order to keep himself together. 

"And you can tell everybody this is your song. It may be quite simple but now that it's done, I hope you don't mind." 

He would never pluck Vax from his bones. 

"I hope you don't mind." 

He wasn't sure he wanted to. 

"That I put down in words how wonderful life is now you're in the world." 

The music faded and the crowd cheered and Scanlan felt heavy with love. 

Gods, he loved Vax'ildan. He wasn't supposed to, and he didn't want to.  

But Ioun knew, he could feel that too, that he loved him. He'd been hiding from it, thinking about everything but, but he couldn't deny it. It didn't matter, he had run away from any chance they'd had. He had put the chance to be hurt behind him and flew across the world to avoid it. 

"Thank you so much!" He said, and he heard the crack in his voice as it was amplified over the crowd. "I'll see you next time." 

 


 

Pike threw him into a hug as soon as he stepped into the wings of the stage. He caught her and despite being sweaty and gross, he held her against him without her shying away.  

"Okay, don't be mad at me," she said. 

"I- what? That's one way to congratulate me on a fantastic show." 

"I just think that you've run away from your problems for long enough," she said and stepped out of the hug. "And if you're not going to do it yourself, I'm going to fix it for you." 

She turned and that's when Scanlan saw him, a silhouette in the lights from the crowd. His heart stopped. It broke and reformed and shattered again a million times over in a single breath.  

"Okay. Well. See you at home. Bye!" Pike said and she dashed away, leaving Scanlan staring out across the crew and his band to Vax'ildan. He had to remember to breathe; somehow, over the past year, he had forgotten just how stunning he was. His hair was down, a sleep sheet that fell to his waist. He was wearing a soft silky black shirt half-tucked into black jeans, his shirt unbuttoned just enough for the raven's head to play peek-a-boo with Scanlan. 

"Holy shit," he said, probably too loud. He didn't mean to. He had pictured this day for months, and he wanted to come off as cool and sauve. But as usual, his mouth ruined everything. 

"Vax, what are you doing here?" 

"I could ask you the same thing," he replied.  

The accent! How had Scanlan forgotten the Syngorn accent! 

"I don't think you can," Scanlan said. "This is my show. I'm supposed to be here." 

Vax gestured him away from the stage and towards him. He was pulled like a magnet towards Vax. He tried to steady his breathing but every system in his body was on high alert. 

"That's not what I meant," Vax said. Scanlan was so acutely aware of everything around him. Lionel was hovering nearby, arms crossed over his chest in an attempt to be menacing. He was large and muscular, a brick wall of loyalty and, well, stupidity. He just wanted to keep Scanlan safe. 

"Hey," Scanlan caught his attention. "I'm good. Take the night off.” 

"Are you sure, boss?" 

"Yeah, buddy. Just don't get lost on the way home." 

"I'll try." 

"Call me if you get lost. Please." 

"I will." 

He lumbered away and Scanlan watched for a second longer to make sure he turned the right way off the stage. 

"We need to talk," Vax said. 

"Yeah," he agreed. "After, though. I'm gonna meet some fans. You know, tradition." 

He wasn't doing this to avoid having to confront Vax for kissing Gilmore, or to avoid being confronted for running away. 

"Sure." 

Scanlan headed for the steps and felt Vax following. The small hairs at the back of his neck standing up, so painfully aware of Vax's presence. 

"Just one thing," Vax said. Scanlan turned and Vax was right there. "Don't disappear again." 

Then he pushed a damp strand of hair away from Scanlan's sweaty forehead. It was a simple gesture that sent a chill through him despite the warm desert air. 

 


 

Vax was waiting nearby when Scanlan extracted himself from the crowd.  

“Come on,” Scanlan said, and lead Vax towards where the town car waited to take him back to his apartment. He wasn’t sure how Pike and Grog were getting back as they had disappeared. “Do you want to just-” 

“Scanlan, why did you run?” 

“Oh, we’re doing this here. Not even going to wait, huh.” 

“I don’t want to wait. I want to talk a year ago! I tried calling and texting, and Pike wouldn’t tell me anything. You had just up and vanished, and I had to convince myself every day that I didn’t dream you up somehow.” 

“I don’t think we should do this here,” Scanlan said, continuing towards the car park where all of the buses and vans of other musicians were. “Let’s at least wait until we’re in the car.” 

“Why? Don’t want to ruin your spotless reputation?” 

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Scanlan asked, still walking. He was determined to get to the town car. The drivers were paid to keep their mouth shut; his fellow musicians were not.  

“You think I don’t know what you got up to before we met? You think I don’t know what you got up after you left?”  

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

“Don’t I? Probably got up to it while we were together, too.” 

Scanlan felt the coil inside of him tighten and he shook his head without saying anything. He couldn’t speak. He needed to process this; in all honesty, he hadn’t expected to see Vax so soon. He hadn’t expected to see Vax at all, actually. When he left, he went with the intention of leaving behind the opportunity and chance of seeing Vax. The chasing his dream was a bonus.  

Well, some days, it felt the other way around.  

Some days, Scanlan wasn’t sure what was up and what was down. He just kept going because it was all he knew how to do. He’d been going since he was a child and now, decades later, it was his first instinct. He certainly wasn’t proud of it but it kept him alive thus far.  

“Scanlan, talk to me.” 

The coil exploded.  

He turned on his heel and jabbed his finger at Vax. 

“You can’t accuse me of cheating on you when you were still in love with Shaun Fucking Gilmore the entire time we were together.” 

“What the fuck are you talking about?” 

“You think you know everything about what I get up to, and yet you can’t even hide your feelings for Gilmore in public.” 

“In publ-” 

“Do you know I’ve known Gilmore since I came to Emon? He was one of the first shop owners to give me room on his stage. The night I left? I saw you. I saw the way you touched him and kissed him and made soft heart eyes at him.” 

“I still do-” 

“Look, it doesn’t matter where I saw you. You still are in love with him and I can’t compete with that nor will I. I’m not second best or the guy you’re with to forget someone else. That’s not who I am, and I refuse to become it. Even for you.” 

“You’re out of your fucking mind! I’m not in love with Gilmore! I don’t know where you got that idea but you need to leave that shit in the dumpster where you found it. Gilmore is a good friend who helped me and Vex’ahlia through some stuff, but I’m not- I don’t- I’ve never been in love with him.” 

“You should have seen your face.” 

“My face? What the fuck-” 

“Am I talking about, yeah, I get it. I know what I saw. You looked at him like you were over the moon for him.” 

“So you left. No note. No call. No smoke signal. Nothing. You didn’t give me a chance to explain. You didn’t want to understand. You were just looking for a reason to run, weren’t you?” 

“I was not!” 

“You ran to Marquet! To another continent! On the drop of a hat!” 

Scanlan shook his head.  

 “You flew across the world because you saw our relationship was heading somewhere and you fucking panicked by fleeing the country. Do you not see what is wrong with that?” 

“I see that an opportunity to follow a lifelong dream cropped up and I took it.” 

“With no word.” 

“Okay, so I didn’t stop by and give you a precisely worded letter. I’m sorry.” 

“You didn’t give me ANY letter!” 

“You broke my heart!” Scanlan didn’t mean to say it. He felt the words burble and explode in his throat, leaving him sore with shrapnel lodged inside of him. “Of course, I wasn’t going to write you a fucking letter, Vax! I was in love with you! I still am! And I saw the way you looked at Gilmore like any sane human being would, like he sewed the planes himself! And I was absolutely wrecked, and I had to get out there. Do you know how terrifying it is to know you for such a short period of time and be completely head over heels in love with you? I didn't want to. It went against everything about myself that I have worked for years to build. But the minute I looked at you, the minute I laid my eyes on you, I was fucking destroyed. I don't know what it is about you, but thousands of miles across the world, I still thought of you. I tried forgetting you, tried to move forward but every time, I just thought of you and I was helpless. It’s-” 

Scanlan couldn’t continue.  

Vax was kissing him.  

Vax’ildan, tall, slender, gentle hands, pillow lips, eager hips, was kissing him, hands pressed into Scanlan’s jaw to hold him in place. 

“You’re so stupid,” he mumbled into Scanlan’s mouth. “You’re so talented and beautiful and somehow you’re so, so stupid.” 

“Mixed messages,” Scanlan muttered.  

Vax pulled away but cradled his face in those wonderful hands nonetheless.  

“I love you, too, Scanlan. I can’t believe you ran away rather than tell me that you love me.” 

“That’s not-” 

“Yes, it is.” 

They traded quick kisses, unable to let each other go yet.  

“Get it, Shorthalt!” a musician walking by shouted and their companion wolf-whistled. “Great set tonight!” 

He waved them away without looking at them, too focused on Vax’ildan’s eyes and his nose and his mouth, the curve of his jaw, the bob of his Adam’s apple.  

“This will be all over the group chats in the next 10 minutes,” Scanlan said.  

“Then, let’s give them something to group chat about, huh?” 


 

Scanlan woke up the next morning tangled in Vax’s arms. They hadn’t gone back to Scanlan’s apartment, since that’s where Lionel, Grog, and Pike were headed and they wanted some kind of privacy. Instead, Scanlan had used the credit card that the record label had given him and booked a hotel in the business district for them. He woke with a bright stream of sunshine bathing their bare skin. 

“Good morning,” Vax mumbled as Scanlan moved to push hair out of Vax’s face.  

“Good morning, gorgeous,” he replied. His voice was shot after the night he’d had, and it came out with a croak.  

“I didn’t expect you to be here when I woke up.” 

“And why would I leave before a good morning quickie? Don’t be ridiculous.” 

“So, it’s just the sex that’s keeping you around, huh?” 

“No, but it’s a perk,” Scanlan said, kissing whatever bare skin he could reach. “Plus, I don’t know if my legs work yet to run away.” 

Vax playfully pinched his side.  

“We’re going to have to talk, seriously talk, about everything.” 

“There’s plenty of time for that. We’ve got the rest of our lives.” 

They laid together in silence for a while, the sun warming this other world they inhabited. Scanlan counted the breaths they shared until he couldn’t focus on anything other than the small freckles across Vax’s nose that Scanlan had never noticed before. He wanted to kiss every one. He wanted to count every mark and scar on his body, give them the love and attention they deserved, and catalogue them. He wanted to kiss every curve and corner on Vax’s body. He was content to share this space, share this time with him. If this is all he did for the rest of his time on Exandria, the Raven Queen could deliver him happily to his finally resting place.  

But if she could leave them be to have a full, happy life to grow and love and become new people together. 

“Do you mean that? Seriously?” Vax asked in the quiet of the morning sometime later. 

“What?” 

“That we have the rest of our lives?” 

“I’m not going into this with an expiration date. This is it. You and me, bud? This is endgame for me now. I tried not thinking about you this last year but you were always there. And I never want to go a day without you.” 

Vax had Scanlan on his back and had covered him with his own body.  

“You write such beautiful songs, and you know right where to get me.” 

“It’s my profession, and I’m very good at it.” 

“I know. I can’t believe you wrote a song about me.” 

Scanlan set his hands against Vax’s chest and pushed him up.  

“Vax, I wrote an entire album about you.” 

“What?” 

“Every song I sang last night, except for my mother’s song? Those were about you. I couldn’t write for a year and a half. I got into drugs. I was in this slump. I met you. And then in some amazing flash of passion, I somehow remembered how to write. You were sunshine and warmth when I had lost everything that had made me remarkable. I wrote that entire set for you, as a thank you, as a love letter, as a reminder to the world that love and beautiful people exist. Even the song my mother wrote is somehow even about you.” 

“Did she really write that song?” Vax asked. 

“Yeah, she used to sing me to sleep every night. When I cleaned out the apartment, I found this old box of her notebooks. I never opened them, it hurt too much. But the way you make me feel, it somehow makes the pain of losing her a little less strong. And I can remember the good things about her. So, I came home after seeing you one night and I opened her notebook for the first time, and I found the song she used to sing to me. It felt like fate. It took a year to get the nerve to sing her song, but it felt so right. And yeah, in some way, it was about you, but even if it wasn’t, it was because of you.” 

Vax kissed him.  

 He liked the way that Vax kissed, with all the careful passion in the world, with the intent on enjoying the moment they were in. When Vax kissed him, nothing else in the world existed. It was just them, the sunlight over them, and the bed beneath them. 

He could kiss Vax all day. 

And he planned to. 

He had a late afternoon meeting to discuss the festival and their next moves, and he wanted to see Pike and Grog before they left. He would also have to make sure Lionel got home safe.  

It could wait.  

Everything could wait. 

All he needed was right here in this bed – well, maybe some room service wouldn’t hurt. The world could wait.