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your hands were making artifacts in the corner of my mind

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They make it into the privacy of their temporary quarters, discarding their packs near the door before Caleb’s knees finally buckle. He sags back against Fjord, hears the grunt of surprise from his friend as he braces against the sudden weight.

“Woah, easy now,” the half-orc murmurs, one thick arm coming up to wrap securely around his chest, other hand curling tightly around Caleb’s hip; he manages to lower them to the ground, and a hysterical laugh catches in Caleb’s throat at the care he is being shown, wheezing out between clenched teeth. Fjord tightens his grip on him, sturdy thighs bracketing his own where they kneel against the cold floor, and Caleb feels the rumble of his words, chest pressed along his back, as he asks, “You alright?”

“I don’t know,” he manages, another wheezing laugh crawling out of his mouth. His head is so loud, anxiety prickling under his skin, and Caleb clasps his hands together in an attempt to stop the shaking. He shakes his head, unable to stop the shiver that runs through him as the thoughts crowd further together, whispering insidiously in his skull. “I don’t know, are any of us?”

Fjord lets out a heavy sigh behind him, diaphragm expanding and falling, the breath ruffling through Caleb’s curls. “Yeah, that’s fair. Definitely not how any of us were expecting this to go.”

“It was the only thing I could think to do,” Caleb says weakly, bowing his head to stare down at where his nails are biting crescent moons into his skin, knuckles white. Fjord lets out a soft sound behind him, hand twitching on his hip, and Caleb tries not to focus on the warmth emanating from the other man, tries not to focus on the leather cutting into his neck when he swallows hard.

“Sure took us all by surprise, but I think you just saved our lives, Caleb.” The words are low, ringing with an honestly that he cannot bear to think of. He shakes his head, protest already in his throat, but Fjord hums quietly, shifts the arm around his chest enough so that his large hand is suddenly settling over Caleb’s heart. “We were in a bad fuckin’ situation, and you did what you thought was right. That was mighty brave, and mighty impressive.”

Caleb feels heat crawling up the back of his neck and thinks about this thing they have been dancing around, the two of them, stepping and stumbling around each other as they balance the fragile threads of something more. He shakes his head, sighing unsteadily as he murmurs, “Brave? I was terrified, I still am. What if I have just made it worse for us down the line, Fjord? This could be the ruin of us all, we don’t know what we are doing. What if--”

“Hey, hey, easy, it’s alright,” Fjord cuts in, voice gentle but firm, and Caleb finally sucks in a breath. He’s trembling again, he realizes faintly, and Fjord seems to notice as well, hands pressing the smaller man more firmly against him. “We’ll figure it out, we always do. Gonna make it work, I promise.”

“We’ll make it work,” and the words come out without permission, an automatic response, but Caleb cannot stop thinking that he has somehow damned them all, has made all of their lives even harder, more dangerous.

He cannot stop shaking.

“You did real fuckin’ good, Caleb,” Fjord murmurs, low and easy, words tinged with something like awe. Caleb feels his breath catch in his chest, traitorous heart skipping and beating unevenly against his ribs; he shakes his head, but the half-orc just hums lows, dipping his head down to nose along Caleb’s hairline. “You did, Cay.”

“Fjord, please.” He doesn’t know what he’s asking for, but Fjord slides one hand up, broad fingers and thick nails catching along the straps of Caleb’s harness before the palm settles heavy over the delicate skin of his throat, the slim leather collar. The relief that floods through Caleb is instantaneous, the thoughts that have been speeding through his mind falling silent, his muscles loosening as he relaxes back into the other man, and Fjord lets out a low rumble, fingers twitching against his throat.

“There you go,” the half-orc murmurs, lips brushing the shell of Caleb’s ear. “Why don’t we get cleaned up, alright? We can talk more after.”

“Ja, okay,” he agrees quietly, finally unclasping his hands, but making no move to pull away. There’s another beat, slow breaths in and out, in and out, before Fjord finally releases him, hands slowly dropping away, a loss that Caleb feels keenly but says nothing about. They rise together carefully, limbs stiff from the unforgiving floor.

The bathroom is simple in function but beautiful in structure, just as the rest of this imposing palace has been. A single shower lies ahead of them, a basin to the right of it, and Caleb falters for a moment before Fjord nudges him forward gently.

“You take that first. You, uh, got it a little worse than me, I think,” he offers, a note of chagrin in his voice, and Caleb feels the corners of his lips twitch up. He turns to meet Fjord’s gaze, raising a single eyebrow as he reaches up to rub one of his hands over a cheek, mud flaking and falling from his beard and skin.

“You don’t say,” he drawls, and then Fjord is laughing, shaking his head and scrubbing a hand through his own hair. Caleb smiles, fondness catching and ballooning in his chest. He gives the half-orc a brief once over before saying, “Thank you. You should use that basin, salvage what you can of your clothes.”

Fjord sighs, glancing down at the blood and dirt smeared over his armor and tunic, his leggings and boots. “Yeah, not a bad idea. Be right over there if you need anything. Take your time”

The silence that settles over them then is easy, almost comforting; Caleb turns his back as he strips, coat and pants and shirt and smalls falling to the floor in a dirty heap. He takes more care with the collar and harness, even more with his holster and books, setting them aside with practiced ease. Fjord is in the process of filling the basin, armor and tunic discarded, when he turns around, and he takes a moment to stare; the other man is broad and sturdy, green skin dappled with freckles over his shoulders and neck, twisted with large scars along his back, and Caleb wants so badly to touch that he has to curl his hands into fists.

He forces himself into the shower instead, and the warm water that begins washing over him is forces a relieved sigh from his throat, muscles slowly beginning to untense. There is a part of him that wants this over as quickly as possible, the part of him that is screaming out against this vulnerability, but he pays it no mind.

Take your time , Fjord had said, so take his time he will. There is days-worth of mud and shit and blood caked into his hair, under his nails, smeared along his skin, and Caleb takes care to make sure it is all scrubbed away, using generous amounts of soap until he finally feels clean once more, until the water that sluices off his body is clear. He rubs fingers through the heavy beard along his jaw, wishes briefly for a blade but does not think he would have the patience to handle it tonight.

He is not sure what he has the patience for tonight, but, he thinks with a throb of heat in his stomach, perhaps that will not be up to him.

He shakes the thought from his head, willing away the dull blush he can feel spreading along his cheeks as he shuts off the water and pushes back the curtain. There is a towel hanging from a hook to his right and he grabs it quickly, drying off haphazardly before knotting it securely around his waist.

Fjord, when he finally looks to his left, is still at the basin, naked as he leans over to inspect a stain on a shirt that Caleb recognizes immediately as his own.

“You did not have to,” he says, feeling a little unsteady, and Fjord flashes him a gentle smile as he looks over, yellow eyes warm as they catch his gaze. Caleb swallows against his suddenly dry throat, fights the urge to cover himself further as he takes a few steps closer. “You didn’t, ah, have to work on mine, but danke.”

“I know I didn’t have to, but, I wanted to,” Fjord answers, smiling again before hanging the shirt over the edge of the basin, laid out next to his own tunic and leggings and smalls. “Sorry I couldn’t get the rest of it.”

“Please, do not be. I cannot imagine how long it took just to do this much,” Caleb says, smiling hesitantly, and it is a relief when Fjord laughs, shaking his head.

“Yeah, it wasn’t easy, that’s for sure,” and oh, Caleb’s heart aches as he watches the other man’s eyes crinkle up from his broad smile, slightly uneven from the tusks protruding beneath skin. Fjord’s smile gentles after a moment, voice more serious as he asks, “How’s your head?”

I’m fine, is what he almost says, but Caleb catches himself, takes a moment to breathe and consider the question. Fjord watches him patiently, no urgency in the lines of his body, his easy gaze, and it settles him a little more. It feels surprisingly good to be honest when he finally says, “Better. Not, ah, not particularly good, but certainly better. Thank you.”

“Nothin’ to thank me for,” Fjord murmurs, gaze soft, and  Caleb gives him another tentative smile, nodding once.

“Well, ah, it is all yours. I will finish the clothes.” There’s a buzz under his skin, adrenaline from what transpired in the throne room still not entirely faded, and he itches for something to do with his hands. Fjord says nothing as they pass one another, but one large hand curls briefly over his shoulder, squeezing gently before releasing, and it is enough to keep the nerves at bay.

Caleb focuses on cleaning his coat and trousers of all stains, lets the repetitive scrubbing and rinsing force his energy into something productive, and the mindless task is enough to calm him further still. He drains the basin, leaves the clothes hanging around the edge to drip-dry as he carefully gathers up Fjord’s armor and ropes, his own pile of leather.

He retreats to the bedroom, placing everything in a heap in front of the fireplace; a muttered word and quick gesture later, the logs are alight and crackling, small flames bursting to life. Caleb does not pause, moving on to retrieve a few clean rags and a bottle of oil from his pack near the door, double checking the lock as he does. He leaves the oil and two of the rags near the fire, hastily dampening the other two in the sink of the bathroom as quietly as he can, loathe to disturb the peace that he's sure Fjord desperately needs.

The towel, thick as it is, does very little to protect him from the chill of the bedroom floor as he carefully sits near the pile; the heat from the small fire at his back warms him quickly, and Caleb allows himself a brief moment of respite, shutting his eyes as he revels in the feeling of being warm and clean, of being safe, perhaps, if just for this one night.

The thought almost makes him want to laugh; he opens his eyes and gets to work, instead. He uses the damp rags to gently remove the dirt and muck from the rope, the armor, the leather, his books laid carefully to the side away from the fire. He goes over all the pieces with small amounts of oil next, rubbing carefully until the leather is soft once more and the armor is gleaming, until he can coil the rope easily. He undoes his towel without second thought, lays it out a safe distance in front of the fire and places the clean equipment on it.

If his fingers linger along the collar and harness before he stands to walk to the bed, well. No one is there to comment on it.

Caleb sinks down onto the edge of one of the beds, closing his eyes as he tries not to think about the events of the day. He hears the water suddenly shut off in the other room, and a wave of relief washes over him, grateful that he will not be alone for much longer.

He is not sure how grateful to remain when Fjord wanders in, a towel tucked loosely around his waist, hair tousled and skin still damp, and gods above, the man is more handsome than Caleb can stand. He murmurs a greeting at the other man’s nod, watches as his attention is caught by the items on the towel. Fjord crouches down next to them, reaching out to trace his fingers along the edge of the collar, and Caleb feels his breath catch in his throat as his companion picks it up.

“You looked good in this.” He looks back at Caleb as he says it, standing slowly with it held loosely between his hands. There is a dull heat in his cheeks, curling in his gut, but he says nothing, stays relaxed on the bed as Fjord asks, “How would you feel about putting it back on?”

“Favorably,” he answers immediately, maybe a little too fast, but Fjord does not laugh, does not sneer or mock him. He looks a little relieved, Caleb thinks, as he walks over to stand in front of him.

“You say stop at any point, say no, push me away, and it's over, okay? I'm not gonna push you.” He unbuckles the collar as he speaks, reaching out to carefully pass it around Caleb’s neck, and there’s an almost instantaneous sense of relief as the leather slides across his skin.

“I trust you,” he murmurs, because he does, he has for ages, now, and he needs Fjord to understand that. The half-orc sucks in a breath, hands stilling as he stares down, expression inscrutable.

“Caleb--” he begins, but he falls quiet as Caleb shakes his head, swallowing hard.

“Fjord, please.” He hardly dares to blink, needs his companion to know how much he wants this, needs this, needs to give everything over to someone that will understand.

Needs to give everything over to Fjord, if just for this night.

“Alright, darlin’, I got you.” He finishes latching the buckle on the collar, tucking two fingers under it to test the give before letting it lay back against Caleb’s throat. The leather feels smooth against his skin, slightly cool, a blessed reminder that he is not in charge, does not have to be in control right now. Fjord looks him over slowly, a heavy exhale leaving him as he brings one hand up to thread his fingers through Caleb’s hair; his voice is awed, near reverent as he murmurs, “Good boy. Gods, you are beautiful.”

Caleb can't hope to muffle the whimper those words pull from him, shuts his eyes instead and lets his head tilt forward, shuddering as Fjord’s fingers curl and tug at his hair. He opens his eyes as he leans forward a little more, giving into his earlier desire and pressing a kiss to the soft skin just above the perilously low line of Fjord’s towel. There's a sharp inhale above him, another gentle tug at his hair, and Caleb presses his moan to Fjord’s stomach, pressing a line of wet kisses over to the thick trail of hair that disappears below the towel, leading down to where his cock has begun to form a visible bulge underneath the fabric. He doesn't hesitate before tilting his head down, nuzzling his cheek against the cloth just above Fjord’s cock.

The grunt from above, the fingers tightening in his hair, are gratifying beyond words.

“You want this, Caleb?” Fjord asks, using the grip in his hair to tilt his head back, other hand curving along Caleb’s jaw. The human sees the heat in those amber eyes when their gazes meet, and he has to swallow to his suddenly dry mouth.

“Right now, more than anything,” he admits, voice raspy, and gods, Fjord looks as though he wishes to devour him whole. Caleb licks his lips, watches the other man’s gaze drop to his mouth as he does. The half-orc slides his hand over a little, thumb budging up against his lower lip, and Caleb dips his head down to wrap his lips around the offered digit with a groan, tongue catching faintly on the dulled tip of his claw. He hears Fjord give a soft swear, gives a firm suck before drawing off with a pop, lifting his head until their gazes meet again. It is a relief to finally know what he is asking for when he murmurs, “Fjord, please.”

“Alright, darlin’. Open that pretty mouth for me,” comes the gentle order, and Caleb is quick to comply, watching with rapt attention as Fjord releases his jaw to quickly pull away the towel, letting it fall to the floor by their feet in a heap. His cock is nearly fully hard, and gods, but Caleb wants . It's longer than his own, thicker as well, with a subtle bump at the base and a flared head, deep green, and he leans in without thinking, stopped only by the tight hold of Fjord’s hand in his hair. His eyes flick up to meet the other man's gaze, uncertainty prickling at the back of his neck, but Fjord hums soothingly, loosening his grip. “Easy, easy. You don't gotta do a thing, Cay. You just let me, alright?”

“Ja, alright,” and then he's dropping his mouth open again, tip of his tongue resting against his lower lip, last of the tension sweeping away from his muscles. There's a flash of something like pride in Fjord’s gaze, but he doesn't give Caleb the time to worry over it; the head of his cock nudges against his lower lip and Caleb’s world narrows down to the faintly salty tang it leaves behind. He keeps his mouth open, waiting, waiting, finally rewarded with Fjord sliding his dick in slowly.

He stops halfway, breathing loud but controlled, and Caleb lets out a soft moan, tongue fluttering against the vein running underneath. Fjord lets out a rumble of approval, free hand coming to rest once more on his cheek as he murmurs, “You want this to stop at anytime, we can. Push me, pinch me, shove at me, whatever. This stops when you want it to, understand?”

Caleb curls his hands into loose fists in his lap, makes a soft sound of acknowledgement before bobbing his head forward, enough so that the head of Fjord’s cock nudges into the clutch of his throat. There’s a growl above him, fingers tightening in his hair as Fjord’s hips jerk forward, driving his cock forward another few inches before he withdraws, and Caleb groans, suckling at the tip.

“This what you need, huh?” Fjord rocks forward again, cock sliding over his tongue; he waits until Caleb lets his jaw go lax, until he breathes through his gag reflex and Fjord can thrust forward into his throat. He swallows around the other man’s cock, savoring the clean, bitter taste, the rumbling moan that it draws from the half-orc’s chest; Caleb blinks against the moisture gathering in his eyes, takes a deep breath in through his nose as Fjord pulls back. There’s a beat of silence, everything still, and Caleb chances a look up through his lashes, meets Fjord’s inscrutable gaze, pupils blown wide. He holds the gaze for a long moment, and then Fjord nods once, rocking his hips forward once more. “Alright, Cay. I got you.”

He starts a slow rhythm, and Caleb loses himself in it, the heavy weight on his tongue, the thick girth stretching his mouth and pushing into his throat. Fjord doesn’t keep an even pace, thrusts in and holds, pulling back just enough to let the other man breathe before he pushes back in again; Caleb accepts it willingly, waits to be allowed breath as Fjord continues to fuck his face, and it is so easy to just be , to shut his eyes and let it happen, to float and stop thinking about anything other than the man in front of him.

It grows sloppy quickly, drool and precome sliding down his chin and soaking into his beard, tears spilling over and dripping down his cheeks, and Caleb is rapturous with it. He lifts one hand to curl around Fjord’s thigh, the desire to touch overwhelming, and Fjord groans at the contact.

“Look at you,” he pants, nails scraping over Caleb’s scalp, and oh, this man will be the undoing of him. “Fuckin’ beautiful, Cay, god, takin’ it so well.”

He soaks in the praise, moaning low, and Fjord swears, thrusts faltering for a brief second before speeding up. Caleb can tell he is nearing completion; there is precome leaking steadily along his tongue and down his throat, Fjord’s hips moving erratically, panting breath interspersed with moans and growls, and he wants , desperately, feverishly. He looks up through tears and damp lashes to find the half-orc staring down at him already, perhaps having not looked away, and the thought sends a shudder down his spine.

“Pretty boy, fuck, doin’ so good for me,” Fjord rasps, and Caleb chokes out a whine, hand tightening involuntarily on the half-orc’s thigh, nails biting into his skin. He feels the muscles tighten under his hand, Fjord stilling suddenly with a loud groan, and then his come floods Caleb’s mouth, cock twitching against his tongue.

He swallows eagerly what he can, the rest spilling down his chin, and Fjord pants heavily as he watches, finally loosening his grip on Caleb’s hair and jaw as he draws his softening cock out from between Caleb’s lips. He swipes through the mess on the human’s chin with two fingers, pushing them into his mouth, and Caleb sucks them clean clumsily, mouth swollen and used, jaw pleasantly sore.

His own arousal has been an afterthought, a low heat spreading through his body, but when Fjord curls his fingers enough to drag his nails over Caleb’s tongue it flares to life, makes him whine around the thick digits.

“Easy, sweetheart,” Fjord murmurs, breathing still a little heavy as he pulls his fingers away, dropping both hands to gently nudge against Caleb’s shoulders. “Lie back on the bed, now, I’ll take care of you.”

“Please,” Caleb croaks, shuffling up the bed, and Fjord crawls forward after him, presses one hand to the center of his chest until he falls back against the pillows. The half-orc settles over him, knees planted between Caleb’s spread legs and one arm braced next to his head. His other hand skims down the human’s side, warm and gentle, and Caleb cannot help the way he trembles, aching for more contact. He licks his lips, ignores his broken voice as he tries again, “Fjord, please.”

“I told you,” the other man murmurs, dipping his head down enough to brush their noses together, breath mingling together, “I’ll take care of you.”

Fjord punctuates his statement by curling fingers around Caleb’s cock, hard and weeping against his stomach, and the human lets out a shocked moan, hands flying up to grip at the half-orc’s side. Fjord’s grip is loose as he strokes his dick, thumb sweeping over the head to smear precome down the shaft, and Caleb groans hoarsely, head tipping back.

“There you go, beautiful, jus’ let it happen.” Fjord noses at his cheek, kissing the corner of his mouth as he continues to jerk Caleb off slowly. He can feel his orgasm building in a rush of heat, stomach coiling tightly and thighs trembling, but he has no breath to speak, can only gasp and moan brokenly, clutching at the other man. Fjord shudders once before pressing a wet line of kisses down his throat, growling low and biting at the collar on his neck, tonguing the skin underneath, and Caleb shatters.

He shakes apart under Fjord, crying out as he spends over his own stomach, the half-orc stroking him through his orgasm as he kisses back up the taut line of his neck. He stops when Caleb begins to whine, oversensitive to the point of discomfort, and he releases his cock gently, shushing the other man as he leans their foreheads together. Caleb smoothes his hands up Fjord’s sides as he tries to catch his breath, slides one hand up to palm the back of his head, needing to keep him close.

“I’m not goin’ anywhere, Cay,” Fjord murmurs, as though he knows exactly what Caleb’s thinking, and it should scare him, will later, perhaps, that he can be read so easily by another. Now, though, it is just a relief to be known, a relief to hear the reassurance. Fjord must see something else in his gaze; something soft flickers over his face, and he swallows hard, uncertainty entering his voice once more when he asks, “It alright if I kiss you?”

“Yes,” Caleb replies, chest warm and aching, something he is not yet ready to name whispering in the back of his mind, “Fjord, yes.”

Fjord stutters out a breath, smile breaking over his face like the sun on a stormy day, and then he’s catching Caleb’s mouth in a slow kiss. There’s no urgency, no real heat, and Caleb sighs into it, threading fingers through the half-orc’s hair as their mouths move together. They part after a moment, Fjord leaning their foreheads together as he sucks in a breath, and Caleb can’t help the smile that pulls at his mouth, sated and content. Fjord smiles back immediately, almost helplessly, eyes crinkling as he does. “Feelin’ alright?”

“Ja, very,” Caleb murmurs, weariness beginning to sink into his bones; he nudges their noses together, smoothing his hand down the back of Fjord’s neck. He clears his throat once, swallowing just to feel the press of the leather against his skin. A thread of anxiety curls in his stomach, and he glances to the side as he asks, “Was that-- did you enjoy that, too?”

“Did I-- Caleb, sweetheart,” Fjord starts, sounding a little taken aback; when he says nothing else, Caleb risks looking back at him, hesitant but needing to know. There’s a soft look of understanding in the half-orc’s eyes, and his voice rings with honesty as he says, “I enjoyed that very much, Caleb, believe me. Thank you for letting me.”

“Ah, no, thank you. I needed that,” he admits, feeling a little more settled, and Fjord quirks a gentle smile at him.

“I think we both did,” he says softly, and Caleb hums in quiet agreement before tilting his head up, pressing a gentle kiss to the other man’s mouth. They should talk of this more, he knows, but sleep is threatening to take him; he does not have much more energy left in him. Fjord seems to know this already, kissing him back for just a moment before pulling away gently.

“Let’s get you cleaned up. I’ll be right back, okay?” He waits for Caleb to nod before carefully moving away, gathering his towel from the floor and padding back into the bathroom; Caleb hears water running briefly, and then Fjord is back, one knee braced against the mattress as he uses the damp cloth to carefully wipe away the come from the smaller man’s stomach and chest, the semi-dried mess of saliva and jizz from his beard. Caleb marvels quietly at it, the gentleness that radiates from this large man after all the cruelty the world has shown him; Fjord catches his gaze with a curious look, but he doesn’t press when Caleb just shakes his head silently. He drops the towel back on the floor, settling his hand on Caleb’s clavicle, fingers brushing against the leather strip around his throat. “You want--”

“Leave it, please,” Caleb interrupts, lifting his own hand up to skim his fingers along the collar. He meets Fjord’s gaze again, sees no judgement as he repeats, “Leave it. Just-- for the night, please.”

“Okay.” They don’t speak again as they shuffle around, arranging themselves in the bed until they are comfortable, curled towards each other like parentheses, Caleb’s head pillowed on one of Fjord’s arms. Fjord’s other hand clasps the back of his neck, palm warm against leather and skin, and Caleb hums with contentment, reaches out until he can feel the steady beat of Fjord’s heart in his chest.

“We will figure this out, right?” He asks quietly into the space between them, eyes flicking up to meet his bed-mate’s sleepy gaze. Fjord squeezes the back of his neck gently, thumb stroking gently against the delicate skin.

“Y’mean us, or the bigger situation?” Comes the soft reply, and Caleb sighs, shrugging as he presses his palm more firmly against the other man’s chest.

“Both,” he answers, gaze flitting away before meeting Fjord’s again, and the other man squeezes his neck again.

“We’ll figure it out,” he murmurs, gaze honest and open. “I promise, we’ll figure it out.”

“Together,” Caleb promises, and Fjord sighs softly, nodding in agreement. Something cracks open in his chest, and he has to shuffle forward, until he is close enough to brush a kiss to the other man’s jaw. “Together, we will.”

Fjord hums quiet acknowledgement, resisting when Caleb makes to pull away. The human stills immediately, relaxing as Fjord presses a kiss to his forehead, voice tired and a little uncertain as he murmurs, “Just-- stay right here. Please, just stay.”

“If you will, I will,” he promises, and is granted another kiss in answer, soft affection that he wants to never let go of.

If this all goes right, he muses sleepily, tucking his head beneath Fjord’s chin, perhaps he will not have to. Perhaps he will be allowed to keep this happiness, too.