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“I don’t drink,” Roza says, careful and slow, as if he is either absolutely, patronizingly certain of the fact, or isn’t quite sure at all.

They are in Lion’s Arch, belatedly celebrating their victory over Kralkatorrik in one tavern among many. Braham had grabbed some Pact soldiers to go tavern-hopping and get shitfaced, but the rest of them have settled in here. Canach has a wager of two gold with Logan that he’ll come back and cry on Roza at the end of the day.

“Is that why you’re so cold and humourless?” Canach drawls. “I thought that was just your personality.”

Roza glares at him. Caithe, who has been cradling some tasteless human ale for the past ten minutes without taking so much as a sip, frowns. Doubtless she doesn’t approve of Canach’s bullying of their little brother, but he would like to see her tell him to shut up.

“Would… you like me to ask if they have nectar?” Caithe sets her mug down on the table. She stares at Roza with sympathy that is yearning to be seen. He isn’t even looking in her direction. “I know the tavern was the only part of the Grove that you felt comfortable being in for more than five minutes.”

“I don’t feel comfortable anywhere in the Grove.” Roza pushes his own untouched drink away from himself. “And no amount of nectar will change that.”

This close, Canach can feel his discomfort itch like a healing wound. Apparently Caithe can, too. She presses her lips together and looks at Canach, that cloyingly empathetic expression still on her face. But her comment has pinched his curiosity, and his annoyance gets temporarily put on hold as he fixes his attention on Roza.

“I can’t believe what I'm hearing. Our inscrutable Commander got nectared on a regular basis.” A slow grin stretches across his face. It only widens when Roza huffs in annoyance and looks away.

Caithe looks uncomfortable. “Not on a regular basis, I would say, but every time he visited—”

Caithe,” Roza says pointedly. The word is crisp.

Canach steeples his fingers together, still delighted with this new information. “Is that where your smile lies forgotten, then: at the bottom of a bottle? Scared of finding it again and ruining your image?”

That gets Roza’s attention. He stills, but his eyes shift like he is moving them—usually a disconcerting thing to observe, since it is nearly impossible to tell to where—and surely enough, his head tilts towards Canach.

“I am not scared,” he says frostily. “And not that I have anything to prove to you, but I’ll have you know I’m perfectly capable of keeping my ‘image’ intact even while drunk.”

“I’ve never met an uptight drunk before,” Canach ponders, adopting an exaggeratedly thoughtful expression. Caithe shoots him a wary look, which he gleefully ignores. He starts to tick off his fingers. “I’ve known happy drunks, sleepy drunks, idiotic drunks, loud drunks… I doubt you’d be the ‘life of the party’ drunk.”

Strangely enough, that seems to hit a nerve. Roza stiffens, straightening his spine. Caithe exhales tiredly, apparently losing whatever small motivation she had of stopping this dialogue.

“Well maybe you’re just narrow-minded,” Roza sniffs. He glares, and Canach raises his eyebrows dramatically. “It’s not like you have an accurate perception of me in the first place.”

“Is this because I called you uptight? Roza, my dear, you are upt—”

Before Canach can finish his sentence, Roza snatches his drink and chugs it in one (rather impressive) go. Canach feels his eyebrows arch in genuine surprise this time, but smooths his expression by the time Roza slams the mug back down on the table.

“See?” Canach says to icy black eyes. “Don’t you feel better now?”

~*~

 Canach is beginning to think that this perhaps wasn’t the most effective way to lighten Roza’s mood. It turns out that he is neither an uptight drunk (although that would have been fascinating) nor the life of the party. Instead, he seems to have simply turned into a worse version of himself on his broodiest days.

“Through the eye sockets,” he is telling Logan, jabbing two fingers into the skull of a newly-killed rat to make his point. “Easiest way to all the,” he waves broadly with his entire arm, “mush.”

“Uh. Uh-huh.” Logan’s expression in the past five minutes has shifted from disgruntlement to pain to tired resignation. “I’ll, uh, take your word for it.”

“Nostrils. Seriously,” Roza mutters to himself, tone implying that the very concept itself is offensively amateurish. He pauses to gulp down the remainder of his drink.

Logan looks as if he is ready to jump at the opportunity to shift the topic of conversation to something less nauseating. Canach isn’t.

“’Mush?’” he questions with false interest, leaning forwards. Logan shoots him a look, which he promptly ignores. “Is that the official term?”

Roza lets his head fall back, and then gestures with his mug, barely avoiding hitting Logan in the face. “Mush… for sylvari too. It’s… inclusive. We have mush! Rytlock told me.”

Canach glances around for Rytlock on instinct, and spies him sitting by himself in a corner, surveying the free-pouring revelry. Their eyes meet. Rytlock looks pointedly at Roza, flares his nostrils, and nods. Canach nods back.

“Why was Rytlock telling you about sylvari mush?” Logan seems puzzled. “Was he trying to scare you back when you first met?”

“Nuh-uh.” Roza points to himself. “He was talking about me. My mush.”

Canach turns back to him. Roza frowns, mouth opening, and flexes his fingers in the air as he seems to consider something. “Ah,” he mutters after a few seconds. His expression clears.

He holds up the dead rat with one hand, and extends the other towards the centre of the table. “Knife?” he requests, apparently to either or both of them.

Logan and Canach exchange glances. Neither of them move.

With a shrug, Roza takes the rat in both hands. The pause in which he experimentally presses his fingers to different areas of its body is all the warning they get before he suddenly, violently, rips it in two. Viscera and blood drip onto the table and Logan recoils, snatching their drinks away.

Roza holds both crudely torn halves of the rat up for inspection. “My hands… are the knife,” he enunciates.

“Why in the name of the Six did you just do that?!” Logan covers his mouth with an arm. “Ugh, gods.”

“That’s what Balthazar did to me,” Roza says.

Neither of them respond.

Roza shrugs. “So, mushhh.”

Canach swallows around the beginning of bile in his throat. He catches Roza’s wrist. “I think you’ve had enough,” he says.

He glances at Logan, who raises his chin in acknowledgement before getting up and leaving with their drinks. Hopefully he’ll get a bucket and a cloth as well—Canach has no wish to get kicked out of this place permanently because Roza spilled a dead animal on their table.

Roza is staring at where their bark is touching. Canach releases his wrist with a start, and Roza flinches before drawing back into his chair. He carelessly tosses the rat onto the table.

A minute passes. Roza’s eyes shift when the silence is starting to stretch into awkwardness, and he scowls. “What?” he mutters defensively.

It is only then that Canach realizes he’s been staring. He clears his throat, oddly self-conscious. He does not like the feeling; it is too clumsy and blind, like a flesh infant grasping in the dirt. He should probably drop the subject now, move on to greener and soberer pastures. But maybe the drink is getting to him as well, because…

“You remember that?” he finds himself asking.

Roza’s jaw shifts. He looks away, pressing his fingers into the table before retracting them, cradling his hands to his chest.

“’Course I remember,” he mutters. He is talking to Logan’s empty chair. “You think I’d forget being cleaved in two?” He makes a face at the chair, glaring as if it had just offended him and not Canach.

A stupid question. Another one wants to escape Canach’s fool mouth. “Did it hurt?” he says.

This time, Roza turns to look at him. His black glare has a wary, if drunken, edge to it. “Yes,” he grits out. “It was excru…ti-a-ting. It needed to be, to draw Aurene.”

His gaze falters, breaking off, and he swallows. “Why are you asking me this?” he says to Canach’s chin. “You trying to… make fun of me? Hm? ‘m not giving you fodder.”

Canach frowns. “I am just asking, Roza,” he says. The urge to “make fun” isn’t there now, no longer itching beneath his skin like it usually is. “Besides, you never told us.”

“Never…” Roza looks at him in disbelief. “What, did you want details? Do you want to test my pain tolerance personally, so you can pick me apart and mock every little piece of me?” His voice is rising in volume, although thankfully the din of the tavern still covers his words.

“I would never hurt you,” Canach says, shock painting his voice in a much softer tone than usual. His mind stutters as it tries to catch up—always catch up to Roza, keep his wit sharp, match tease to tease and taunt to taunt and jab to—

The look Roza is giving him could kill him, Canach is certain for one startling moment. Kill him and then reanimate him and then kill him again. Then it fades, and Roza’s shoulders slump.

The slow, persistently negative roil of feeling Canach has long since come to associate with Roza is shifting into something more tumultuous, he notices now that he gives it his attention. And for the first time, he finds himself wondering why it is there at all. When had it even started? When Balthazar had killed Roza? Before that?

Canach tries to think back on when their mental guard had been inexorably ruined by Mordremoth, and when they had both begun to tentatively accept the burgeoning deeper empathetic connection some sylvari shared. Brother, Roza had called him then, and it had been right. Had fit. Canach remembers shared trust, fear, and then finally hope, relief, joy…

“Fuck you,” Roza spits out of nowhere, venom flashing in his eyes. His voice begins to tremble. “You know what? Fuck. You. A-and your…”

To Canach’s horror, his eyes glisten. He shakes his head angrily, looking away.

Canach licks his lips, not quite knowing what to say. What do you do when your friend is having a drunken meltdown?

Roza’s hand is lying limp on the table. It is shaking lightly, quivering through quiet tremors that he isn’t bothering to suppress. Or… that the alcohol isn’t letting him.

So this is why, Canach realizes, Roza hadn’t wanted to drink.

He has always been distant with his emotions, even the ones he cannot help but share with other sylvari. Now there is nothing blocking them, not from his mind, his mouth, nor his body. It is a vulnerability, Canach realizes as Roza tries to move even further away from him, that he is terrified to expose.

“Roza,” he tries, but then nothing else, because he does not know what to say. Canach doesn’t do words. Not for things like this. Not for anything too personal for dramatics, any goal too small to be grand.

But Roza isn’t any good with feelings either. And he is also hopefully drunk enough to not remember this in the morning. So Canach decides to take a page out of his book and speak honestly, if perhaps more tactfully.

“You don’t have to be so jumpy,” he says. “I’m not going to…” He searches for words, and finds the ones Roza had used earlier. “Mock you. Or pick anything apart.”

Roza’s glower doesn’t lose its intensity, but he is listening, at least. “Won’t you?” he mumbles at last. “That’s the only thing you ever do, Canach.”

Canach’s name should not be so sharp on his tongue. He briefly debates getting Roza more ale, but then glances at the pieces of dead rat on the table and changes his mind. Where in Tyria has Logan vanished off to?

“I am here to support you,” he tries, “first and foremost. We’re friends, right? Like…” he searches for a name, and lands on a very convenient one. “Braham! We’re just having a Braham moment.”

Roza looks at him suspiciously, but seems to be considering his words. “A Braham moment,” he repeats to himself. He rolls his head, tipping it from one side to another. Then he nods, slumping down into his chair.

 “You’ve been… so mean to me lately,” he mumbles to the reeking mess of viscera on the table, “And I don’t know why. I didn’t do anything wrong. Or at least… I don’t… think so.”

Canach feels a twinge of guilt despite himself. “I am sorry,” he says honestly. “I’ll think more about how you’ll take what I say in the future. Or how much you can take.”

Roza glares at him. “I can take a lot,” he declares. He straightens up, squaring his shoulders. “Hit me.”

“I’d rather not,” Canach says lightly.

Roza’s glare intensifies; apparently he is taking this as a challenge. “We can take this outside,” he threatens. He squints.

“Roza, I’m not challenging you to a fight.” Canach rolls his eyes. Logan had better return with the bucket before Roza decides to reanimate the rat and make it bite his nose off.

“Norn only fight drunk!” Roza exclaims loudly. He slams his fists down onto the table.

His words are slurring more than they were five minutes ago, which is… strange. Canach frowns, leaning forwards to get a better look.

Roza’s mouth is set in an obstinate line that says yes, he is very convinced that norn only fight drunk, and he is willing to get physical with Canach if he disagrees. But there is something carefully constructed about his expression, the set of his lips, and when Canach looks, his eyes shine almost as sharply as usual. Roza looks back at him calmly, gaze unwavering.

Canach leans back in his chair. “And you think you’re a norn now, is that it?”

Roza twirls his wrists theatrically. “I grew up in the Shiverpeaks!” he reveals out of absolutely nowhere. “I am, actually, a hon-u-a-ry norn.”

He is exaggerating his words a tad too much, but Canach will not point it out. “I see,” he replies.

Logan strolls over to them, carrying a bucket and a washcloth. “Sorry I took so long,” he says easily. He bends down and begins to nudge the rat into the bucket. “Took some convincing to agree to clean instead of get kicked out.”

His hair is falling in front of his face and blocking his expression, but Canach knows a shit-eating grin when he hears one. Bastard is lying through his teeth.

“I’m sure,” Canach says drolly.

Roza sighs, picking up a bit of rat intestine and tossing it into the bucket. “I think I’m done drinking for the evening. I feel half dead,” he announces. He bites his lip before adding, seemingly to himself, “This wasn’t as fun as the oozes…”

Oozes?” Canach doesn’t know what in Pale Mother’s name he is mumbling about. A drunken tongue is a strange one, to say the least. “… Never mind. Why don’t you ask Rytlock to take you home? You can sleep in his soft, fluffy arms if you’re feeling tired.”

Across the room, Rytlock’s head raises. He shoots Canach a withering glare.

Canach smiles back sweetly, inwardly turning over the fact that he had been speaking at a regular volume. Had Rytlock heard—

Logan chuckles. Canach glances back at his table, and sees Roza staring at the wood grain, pale cheeks tinted gold as he flushes. Canach can see the hints of lavender beginning to pulse from beneath his bark as well; it is getting late.  

“That w—that was one time,” Roza says. “And… he is…”

He trails off. Logan heaves a dramatic, chivalrous sigh before slapping a hand onto his shoulder.

“I’ll walk you to the inn,” he says. Roza opens his mouth, looking grateful, but then he continues, “No need to demand anything from Rytlock’s fur it isn’t willing to give, right?”

Roza’s mouth shuts with a snap. His jaw works for a second, and then he flexes his fingers.

The hand Logan has clutching the bucket is tapping against it idly. Canach watches with a detached amusement as the remains of the rat begin to twitch, then move…

A second later, Logan yelps and drops the bucket. The now-undead rat screeches at him and lunges for his hand once more. Roza watches this all unfold with a familiar smarmy smile. Canach just hopes this means he can keep his gold, since Braham is nowhere in sight.

“I’ll go with Canach,” Roza murmurs, tilting his head. His eyes slide until their gazes meet. “Even if I do fall asleep on the way, I trust he’ll get me to where I need to be.”

Canach’s lids lower, but he nods.

“I will,” he confirms. “Always.”

~*~