Actions

Work Header

The Dragon's Treasure

Chapter Text

Jeremy was rather proud of his work that week. He had repaired the mayor’s globe and enchanted it to light up for good measure, managed to sell one of his automatons to the apothecary to tend to some of the herbs, and sold a whole trunk’s worth of trinkets at the market. He’s managed to make well over seven-hundred and fifty gold, which put him firmly on his way to his goal.


Life was good, which was something rare for the half gnome, having had more than his fair share of hardships in recent years. Still, Jeremy wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. So he loaded up his wagon with the remains of his wares as well as the supplies he’d need for his journey to the next town over.


Once Gideon, his horse, was strapped up, Jeremy climbed on to his wagon and started on his way out. He made a note to stop by the next trading post along the way to send some of his bountiful haul back to his father in Rowanwood, since none of the shops in this town would provide that service.


Jeremy was halfway out of town when a figure, clad in a red hood and mask, dropped from the top of one of the buildings and landed in the back of his wagon. Jeremy was a little ashamed to admit he screamed a little.


Before he could question this stranger, they got right behind the driver’s seat of the wagon, hands on either side of him on the seat back, and spoke. The voice was deep, terrifying, and sent chills down his spine. “Drive,” the figure commanded, and when Jeremy looked back, he saw the golden eyes set behind an intricate mask, glowing in an intimidating manner.


A raven landed right in front of him, crowing right in his face, as if warning him to listen or else. As the raven crowed, however, he could hear the faint sounds of a commotion a ways away, slowly getting closer. “Now.”


Jeremy wasn’t about to argue. With a squeak, he snapped his reigns and set Gideon galloping down the Main Street. Luckily it was a straight road, so the wagon wasn’t at risk of tipping over, but Jeremy very nearly swerved into a building (and almost hit multiple townsfolk) when the stranger hopped up to the front seat next to him.


When Jeremy glanced behind him, he saw multiple figures chasing after them, all dressed in guards uniforms. If he stopped, he’d be caught and the stranger would leave, but something about this stranger compelled Jeremy to help him. It was something about the red hood and mask, a memory which was being forgotten due to his panic as they barrelled down the street.


The figure beside him huffed, seemingly looking through their bag. They were muttering in a language that instinctively sent more chills down his spine: infernal, the language of the devils. “Aha.” They took out a mini crossbow, quickly loading it before looking back.


The figure shot and Jeremy heard them curse under their breath before aiming and firing twice more. He heard a commotion behind him, seeing the banner hanging above to announce an upcoming festival suddenly drop down and ensnare the group of guards. “Be quick, while they keep tangling themselves up.”


Jeremy snapped his reigns once again and sent Gideon charging through the street. The gate up ahead was closing too fast for them to make it through. Thinking quickly (and acting without considering the consequences), Jeremy grabbed one of his stall posts and tossed it towards the gate. With a press of the button on the controller attached to his wagon seat, the pole extended and wedged the gate open. They dashed through it and out of the town. Behind him, he heard the pole snap a moment later as the gate slammed shut. He kept pushing Gideon onwards.


The figure beside him pointed to a forested area. When the stranger spoke, their voice was nothing like before. It was smooth and gave Jeremy a warm feeling in his heart. “Go that way, off the path. When we’re about to go off the path, take it slow so your horse doesn’t hurt itself and so your cart doesn’t get damaged or leave a trail.” Despite that slight bit of common sense that Jeremy had to not listen to random strangers who drop from the sky into your cart and somewhat threaten you, he listened.


Said stranger continued to navigate him through a good portion of the forest before telling him to stop. Gideon stopped by Jeremy’s command, and the masked figure let out a heavy sigh. “Sorry about that, but thanks for hauling ass and helping me out back there.” They got out of Jeremy’s cart then, but not before dropping a small sack of coins where they once sat. The raven that had been perched on the very front of the cart flew and quickly perched itself on the stranger’s shoulder. “Stay here for half an hour or so, you should be good to return to the trail and wherever you were going. Again, sorry for the trouble and thanks for the help.”


Jeremy nimbly hopped off of the wagon and grabbed the stranger’s arm. He was quite a bit taller than Jeremy but that was hardly a surprise, Jeremy’s gnomish features tended to make him quite a bit shorter than everyone.


“Wait! You’re... you’re the Red Hood, aren’t you? I recognize your mark on the bag.” Memories finally hit him as the panic from earlier faded to nothing. Awe and gratitude took its place very quickly.


A few years back, maybe three, he had helped him and his father. It had been near the start of Red Hood’s rise to infamy by taking from the rich and helping the poor. They had certainly been poor when his father, long divorced, devastated, and depressed, had been essentially tricked out of their glorious workshop and forge by the greedy young lord of Rowanwood. Red Hood had swooped in a week or two later and given them enough money to get off the streets. They had nothing left to their name, yet he had come in and gave them something to sustain themselves and easily get them back on their feet.


Red Hood just froze for a second before sighing. “Yeah, I am, which is why I need to make some distance. If you’re caught with me again, and I’m not forcing you in seemingly threatening manner to do stuff for me, you’ll be taken in or something.”


“I’ve had my fair share of run ins with guards.” Jeremy waved him off. The incident with the halfling bard and the sack of stink worm slime wasn’t worth going into in detail just yet. “Please, let me offer my assistance. You saved me and my father some years ago and I’d like to repay the favor.” He grinned up at the Hood, hoping he could tell how sincere Jeremy was about his offer.


He could see the other’s golden eyes looking him over past the mask. “I can’t risk you getting hurt or caught. I don’t do this to get repaid either, I just want to help those in need. If I helped you and your father out, that in itself is repayment enough,” Red Hood insisted, and Jeremy swore he could hear a smile in the other’s tone.


Jeremy smiled too, but he still shook his head. “You did more for us than get us out of a tight spot. You’re the reason I still have a father in the first place. The back streets of Rowanwood are... unkind to those of Gnomish ancestry and even worse to gnomes themselves. We were stuck in the stone quarter, with the more malicious characters. If you hadn’t gotten us off the streets, my father likely would have been killed within the month.” Jeremy sighed and shook his head again. “At least allow me to give you a ride to your next destination. For my own sake if not your own.”


He saw Red Hood’s resistance practically melt away as he spoke. “I... Alright.” The raven crowed then, and Red Hood sighed as he turned his head towards the bird. “Hush, Darling.” The bird crowed once more, but just seemed to relax then as the Hood looked back over at Jeremy, a fondness in his golden eyes. “I don’t want to be visible though when we’re on the road, I could put you in danger if any law sees me. I can take my hood off to help, but I’m not taking my mask off.”


“Of course, my good sir!” Jeremy chirped, letting his arm go. He took a step back and offered a courteous bow. “Jeremiah Heere, formally of Rowanwood Forge, at your service. You can call me Jeremy.” He grinned. It was strange, normally strangers sent Jeremy into a stuttering mess if he wasn’t talking about his skills or wares, but the Hood set him at ease. There was just something... gentle about him. It relaxed Jeremy to no end. Add the fact that he had saved his family and Jeremy may as well be his friend already.


The Hood seemed to hesitate at what to say then, which made sense. He probably never had anyone do something like this before, and if someone tried, he had probably gotten out of there before agreeing. “It’s nice to meet you formally, Jeremy,” the Hood said. “This is Darling, she is my raven.” Said raven let out a low noise. “Yes, hi there, Darling.” Red Hood scratched under her beak, and she seemed to relax thanks to his touch. “I uh... Well, calling me ‘Red Hood’ or some variation of that is really awkward, um...”


Jeremy giggled. “Don’t worry, you can take your time. I’m sure this is a bit unusual for you.” Slowly, he reached up and, after getting a nod from the Hood (who bent down to accommodate him), he hesitantly stroked Darling. She practically melted under his touch. “Hello Darling. My goodness, aren’t you beautiful?” he cooed. Darling croaked and hopped onto his hand. Then she flew over and perched on his head. Jeremy couldn’t help but giggle again, the tips of his pointed ears twitching a little.


“She, uh, she normally doesn’t take to people, especially not so quickly,” Red Hood said, seemingly awkwardly crossing his arms as he looked over Jeremy and his bird. “She probably remembers you from a few years ago, I’ve had her since I started this whole Red Hood thing, so uh... yeah,” he said, though there was something off about how the Hood spoke. Not in a bad way, but…


Jeremy shrugged it off for now. “Well there were a couple of ravens around who I used to feed back then. They were very sweet, and would bring me the occasional coin to buy some seed for them,” he recalled fondly, reaching up to stroke Darling. “They’re wonderfully intelligent birds, so I tend to like them.” He looked up at the bird on his head as best he could, gigging as she peeked down at him before flying back over to the Hood’s shoulder.


The Hood seemed to stand straight up then, that off feeling he couldn’t identify seemingly lingering and intensifying somewhat before he coughed. “Well, you’re certainly right about that. They’re very intelligent, and Darling is no exception.” He walked back over to Jeremy’s cart, hopping into the back with his goods before rifling through his messenger bag. “Uh, and... Well, you’re willing to do this for me, so I can trust you enough... My name is Michael, my real name. Don’t go tossing that around though, but I doubt you’d even consider that. Probably wouldn’t have even crossed your mind if I hadn’t said anything...” His voice trailed off at the end there.


Jeremy sighed a little, fondly exasperated by the Hoo- Michael. He was just so awkward, he didn’t seem to be able to figure out how to handle this situation in the slightest. “Don’t worry, I won’t,” he assured him.


“Also feel free to grab some food or anything you need from the back there, Michael. You’re welcome to it since we’re to be traveling companions for now.” He grinned, getting Gideon moving again. They started on a walk, following the faint trail for now.


“I... thank you,” Michael got out from the cart. His voice was soft, but he seemed to be recollecting himself from that situation. When Jeremy glanced back, he saw Michael taking off the actual hood and the whole coat itself, revealing features he hadn’t seen before.


Michael had somewhat unruly dark hair, very puffy and curly with a mix of waves. He could see the faintness of horns protruding from his temples, but in a ram’s spiral shape. There was also a tail that was wrapped around Michael’s waist before he quickly donned a traveler’s cloak and he reached up to fix his hair. The horns and tail were quickly hidden as Michael seemingly got comfortable.


Jeremy hesitated then nodded to himself. “You’re part tiefling, aren’t you?” he asked. The indicators were all there: the infernal language, the oddly colored eyes, the horns and the tail. Too much lined up. Jeremy could tell he wasn’t full tiefling, but he was at least a quarter.


Jeremy noticed Michael stiffened, and he instantly got to reassuring him. “Don’t worry, I’m not prejudice. I’m a firm believer of letting people’s actions dictate how I view them, not how they’re born. And your actions speak loud enough for me to know you’re a good person at the very least.” Jeremy’s cheeks heated up a little, his embarrassment about being so open hitting him, but he stayed firm with that he said.


Michael seemed to shift at that, wrapping himself up a little more in his cloak, but not because he was worried or concerned about Jeremy’s prejudice anymore. “I... thanks,” was all he got out as he shifted a bit in how he was settled in the back. Darling let out a small caw then, nudging against Michael’s mask-covered head before hopping up onto the back of the driver’s seat, against where both Michael and Jeremy were settled against, just from opposite sides. She seemed to look up at Jeremy curiously.


Jeremy wasn’t quite sure what she was after, but he reached out and stroked her anyways. “Do you want to know about me, do you? Is that it?” he asked, reaching over the seat into the bag next to Michael and grabbing a bit of bread. He offered it to Darling, who cawed and started eating it.


Before she could take a real bite though, Michael’s hand suddenly snapped into view, snatching the bread away. “Birds can’t eat bread. I’ve seen some birds eat too much from people. It’s not good for them, it hurts their stomachs,” he quickly explained. “You can feed her things like peas or bird feed or something like that.” After that, Michael quickly cleared his throat. “Ah, and sorry for snatching... I just don’t want her to get hurt, even if by accident...”


Jeremy blinked. “Oh, I didn’t realize. Sorry about that. And don’t worry about that, I don’t want her hurt either.” He thought for a second. “I have some sunflower seeds in the bag to your left. That would be okay for her, right?” Michael nodded and they both reached for the bag. When their hands touched, Jeremy froze and drew back quickly, cheeks flaming. He suddenly felt very flustered all of a sudden, probably because he was meeting someone who was basically his hero. “B-but yeah. In th-there,” he stammered out, turning back to the road.


“I- thanks,” Michael said, clearing his throat before Jeremy heard stuff moving around. When Jeremy glanced back, he saw Michael with seeds in the palm of his hand. The raven cawed, seemingly happily, before she started to eat. “I adore you, but you’re a little shit, Darling,” Michael said, huffing for a second, though there was a bit of an accent, similar to when he spoke in infernal. Did he mean to say that in common?


Jeremy had to face the front again, feeling something creeping up on him emotionally. He knew when he started crushing on people, it had happened enough times in the past, and from how cute Michael was with Darling and how flustered and awkward he was, Jeremy couldn’t help but feel the beginnings of a crush start to develop. He’d keep his head on, because he always did somehow, but it was good to acknowledge these things.


“I- er- wasn’t kidding about the offer to tell you about me,” he mumbled after a moment. “If- er- if you want anyways.” He shifted in his drivers seat uncomfortably. “I mean, we could always talk about other things, or just stay quiet if you like. I’m sure you have plans to make or something, you do so much for so many people. I wouldn’t want to get in your way of that.”


He saw Michael’s head practically pop up then, looking at him. Darling was completely unphased as she continued to eat her seeds. “Whatever you want to talk about, but I’d love to learn more about you!” Jeremy saw Michael rest his head against the top of the seat back, looking up at Jeremy with a somewhat lopsided smile. “It’s been forever since I’ve really gotten to talk to someone like this. Fire away with whatever, I’m all ears!”


Jeremy blushed again at the cuteness that Michael was radiating, but he also grinned. Michael was genuinely interested in Jeremy, which was a nice change of pace from people only wanting to know how fast he could fix their watch or something.


“Well I’m a half gnome. My dad’s a rock gnome from out west, but he moved to Rowanwood to serve the old lord as an engineer about sixty years ago. My mom’s full human, and she was a wizard, so I sort of got a blend of both my parents in every respect. I got my dad’s skill for tinkering and my mom’s knack for magic,” Jeremy explained, guiding the wagon around a bend. “I’m what you might call an artificer; I make magical things. And I sell them on my travels or I repair things and stuff like that. My real passion though is automations. I create automatons and self repairing machines, when I can get strong enough magical artefacts to power them anyways.”


Michael’s eyes were wide as he looked up still at Jeremy. “Oh my god, really? That’s so cool. I’ve seen some automatons around and they always amaze me. They look so cool and hard to make,” he said, hand still out as Darling seemed to be deciding if she wanted the last few seeds or not. “Normally, only the rich have them, but I’ve snagged one or two and been able to relocate them to better places and people. I’ve made sure they’re in good hands and can’t be traced back so those people get in trouble, but yeah. That’s so cool? How do you even make that kind of stuff?”


Jeremy shot a grin back at Michael. “Well my way is pretty unique from what I know, so my automatons are very different from most. You see, most automatons have a mechanical sort of power source, which lets them do repetitive tasks. My ones have a magical one, which gives them a limited sort of intelligence. You can set them to do a job and they’ll do it and deal with any issues which might stop them from doing it.”


He patted the bench next to him. “C’mon up, I’ll show you. Just grab me the uh- the small red box with the flame on it, it should be in the box directly to your left, and the um... damn, where was it? Oh right! The dagger from the bag on the right side, between the two crates.”


“Oh, uh, alright.” Michael got going after a second, after Darling took the last sunflower seed. He heard Michael scramble around for a second, probably to find the dagger, but climbed over and sat next to Jeremy in the next minute or so. “Got it,” Michael said, a smile able to be heard as he plopped the box into Jeremy’s lap. The dagger, which had its cover on, was held still by Michael.


Jeremy offered Michael the reigns and opened the box. The little fire starter he’d been working on, along with all the tools he needed to finish it, were tucked inside. “Okay, so you know how most fire starter tools tend to break within a few hours of being used?” Jeremy asked, starting to finish off the assembly. He put the flint and steel into their correct places. Michael nodded, Jeremy saw him out of the corner of his eye. “Well the way I make them, it repairs itself so that it can’t break, even after a thousand uses. All you need to do is occasionally replace the flint and steel, which can be accessed via these mechanisms here.” He held up the fire starter and pointed out the buttons for changing the parts.


Michael’s eyes seem to go wide at that, staring at what he held seemingly with awe. “Wait, what? I... that’s amazing, I’ve never seen a fire starter that didn’t break after, at most, a few days, let alone at all.” That offness from before was back, and Darling let out a more high pitch string of caws, which seemed to make Michael sputter for a second. “Oh you shut it, you.”


“Well for now it’s just a standard fire starter with changeable heads. The self repairing part comes from the next step.” Jeremy nodded. “Pass me the dagger please?” Michael did. “This dagger has a small enchantment on it, something about making the one who gets attacked by the dagger to smell like flowers or something like that.” He’d won it in the game of craps at the tavern. It was a good day.


“Anyways, it’s a minor enchantment which is perfect for what I need. You see, I realized magic is like energy, it can’t be created or destroyed, only changed. So I take the energy from a magical object like this one.” He touched his gyroscope necklace, exposing the crystal for his magical focus. Then he touched the dagger and muttered the spell. Pink energy suddenly buzzed around it and flowed up to cover Jeremy’s hand. “And transfer it over it here in the form I need.” He pulled the magic away from the dagger, which crumbled to ash, and touched his still glowing hand to the fire starter. The magic turned orange, then flowed down into the fire starter and vanished after a second. Jeremy dusted off his lap. “Unfortunately, the magic object I got the energy from is destroyed, but it’s magic is kept safe in whatever format I put it in.” His gyroscope crystal was hidden again as the focus closed itself.


He held up the fire starter for Michael to inspect, feeling a rush of pride. That was one of his most fluid and efficient transfers to date. He was glad it happened around Michael and that he didn’t embarrass himself.


Michael’s eyes seemed to light up (no, not in the glowing way like it did before) then, and he carefully took the fire starter to look over. “I... wow, that’s incredible,” he muttered out, seemingly taking the object and what just happened in. “This is truly incredible. I’ve never seen someone transfer magic before. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone even thinking about doing something like this. This... this is incredible, Jeremy. I know I’m repeating myself a lot, but... oh my god.”


Jeremy spluttered and turned bright red as he fumbled to put away his tools. “It’s- er- I’m- oh god- er, it’s no big deal?” he tried, suddenly hit full in the face with the intensity of this big hulking crush. No one had ever reacted so positively to his creations before. Sure, they were interested and shit, but never this excited or genuinely enchanted by them. It set Jeremy’s heart fluttering to have someone love what he made as much as he did.


“You can have it if you like...” he added lamely, barely over a mumble.


Looking back up at Jeremy then, seemingly thinking something over. “I... Thank you,” Michael said. “I’ll take really good care of it, I promise.” He quickly tucked it away into his bag, seemingly in a safe location, before smiling at Jeremy then. “You’re a really amazing artificer, Jeremy. Seriously, I haven’t seen stuff like that before.”


Jeremy’s blush darkened but this time with pride. “I... thanks, Michael.” He mumbled, relaxing a little from the honesty in Michael’s voice. He was so sweet, and Jeremy didn’t think he really wanted this crush to leave him. Maybe he’d be able to convince him to let Jeremy go with him for a while longer. “I’ve been studying really hard. Twenty years to get to the point I’m at now, but I’ve only been able to actually pull it off for the last seven.”


Michael looked at him for a second then, seemingly trying to figure something out. “Wait, how old are you?” As soon as he said it, his eyes seemingly widened behind his mask before he quickly waved his free hand, since one was still holding the reigns. “I didn’t mean to ask that, oh god, I’m so sorry! I’m not good with social stuff, oh god, oh no. I’m so sorry, oh no.” Darling looked over from where she had been watching then, crowing softly before hopping up onto Michael’s shoulder and nuzzling against his cheek.


Jeremy giggled and shook his head. “No it’s fine. I get it, my mouth tends to run ahead of me too sometimes.” He shot Michael a charming grin. “I’m twenty-seven, tuning twenty-eight next midwinter. Not even an adult by gnomish standards, so I’m still a baby in my field. And to answer the question that’s probably on your mind, no. I likely won’t live as long as a gnome. Half gnomes tend to live to about two hundred and fifty years, maybe up to three hundred for the really lucky ones.”


“I- uh- thanks for telling me. It still wasn’t the best to just blurt it out, sorry. Like I said, not used to much interaction with conversations lately, but still no excuse to me rude,” Michael said then as he saw his golden eyes glance to the side. “I... uh, well, to be fair, I’ll tell you how old I am.” He fiddled with the hem of his traveling cloak. “I turned twenty a week ago, so... yeah.”


“No way,” Jeremy blurted out, then quickly worked to amend. “I mean, you’ve been active as Red Hood for what, three, four years? You’ve been doing this since you were a legitimate child! Color me impressed, Michael, seriously.” He looked up at Michael with a small, probably smitten grin. “You must have a really big heart and a really strong will to pull that off.”


Michael just let out a small noise then, but quickly laughed it off. “I- uh- yeah, I guess so! My moms always told me that kinda stuff, even if I kept saying otherwise, hahah... I just, y’know, had the skills and built them up and wanted to help, so I did. I mean, I got to help out people like you, so...” Jeremy noticed that Michael pointedly wasn’t looking at him, but Darling was looking right at Jeremy.


As he looked into Darling’s intelligent eyes, something finally clicked. He finally figured out what was so off about Michael’s behavior. It was possible, and it was just a theory, that Michael might like Jeremy. Granted, no one else had ever shown interest in him before, so he didn’t exactly have a point of comparison, but Michael was acting almost just as flustered as Jeremy was when he liked someone. That had to mean something, right?


He wasn’t about to ask to court him just yet, even if the attraction was mutual; they had just met and Michael still was wearing the mask. There was one thing Jeremy could ask without consequence.


“Hey, um, Michael? Kinda odd question but... do you think we could keep travelling together once I’ve gotten your next location? I really like your company and I’d like to get to know you better. You seem like a rather wonderful person,” he tried, a little nervous but knowing it was the right thing to do.


Michael’s eyes seemed to widen behind the mask, and he was still fiddling with the hem of his cloak. “I... I’m still a threat if anyone sees us together though, like when I’m wearing the mask and cloak together and doing my Red Hood stuff. Are you really sure you want to hang around me? You... you’re a nice person, and I don’t want to drag you down with me, with the reputation I have with the law and all.” Michael looked over at Jeremy as he asked, hands stilling. “I don’t want to rope you into a life of being on-the-run from law enforcements... You seem too good and smart of a person, someone who could definitely help better and advance the world.”


Jeremy thought for a moment, considering this fact. Then he made up his mind. “The fact is, I can work on my creations anywhere so long as I have my wagon. And I have my guild who can bail me out if I get in any trouble, but I won’t. I’ll be careful, and make sure to disguise myself if we’re headed somewhere risky for me. You’re doing something good, Michael, and I want to do that as well. And I feel I can do that best if I traveled with you, for as long as you’ll have me,” he stated honestly. Something in his gut told him to stay with Michael, that it would be important to stay together. He normally would ignore that part of him (for good reason) but decided to listen to it for once instead of letting his anxiety get the better of him.


Michael was quiet for a minute, staring right at Jeremy, and he almost squirmed under the somewhat intense golden gaze. For a second, he thought that Michael might continue to say otherwise, which he’d continue to argue against, before he heard the other say, “Alright. Honestly, it would be great to be with another person again. Not that you’re not great company, Darling, you’re honestly amazing, but... Yeah... I’d love to have you, Jeremy.” Again, Jeremy could hear Michael smiling from behind the mask. “If you’re getting into this though, I should let you know that... that I’m sorta heading to do something, something that might not be the safest thing.”


Jeremy’s stomach flipped at that but he stayed strong. “What are you gonna do?” he asked after a moment.


“I had a dream last night. I was visited by a red spirit, though I know it was a representation of the Red Mountain Spring of the South’s guardian, Iconis, in my dream. He came and told me that he needed help. His brother, Tracz, the Green Mountain Spring of the North’s guardian, is in trouble. Some being called Squip is doing something, trying to harness his spring and bring harm to not just Tracz, but the citizens of this realm. It’s... honestly a bit terrifying, at least from what I was informed about.


“Iconis called on me to help, and he offered me a boon if I helped. Even if he didn’t offer the boon, I would have helped. I just can’t ignore something like that, you know?” Michael looked at him during this entire explanation. “I understand if you don’t want to continue journeying with me after this. It’s more dangerous than just my Red Hood stuff. I don’t want you to come and risk your life, Jeremy, not if you have any hesitations.”


Jeremy hissed at the mention of the Squip. “You’re fighting the Squip? The corruption demon? That’s not something small, Michael... but I’ll still stay with you. You’re right, it’s not something you can just ignore, not when you know and can do something about it. Plus, you’ll probably need a magic user to take the Squip down. I can help a little there at least.” He sighed.


Everyone who was trained in magic knew about the Squip, the horrible corruption demon. It was said that if you looked into its eyes, you would lose yourself forever. If it had somehow gotten to the Green Spring, the fate of the whole country, maybe the whole continent, was at risk. Jeremy couldn’t just sit idle if that was the case, even if he wasn’t necessarily the most patriotic citizen. Innocent people were more important than his own bias against the ruling class.


Michael seemed to relax a bit where he sat then. "I... thank you, Jeremy. Honestly, it's really a huge relief to have someone to count on besides myself for this, excluding Darling here." He reached up, scratching along the side of the bird's neck with a finger. "I honestly feel a lot better than I did after waking up this morning. Going across the continent by myself, well, wouldn't be that fun, so thanks for going along with my whole craziness after I literally got the drop on you. It... it means a lot."


Jeremy shot him a small smile, his cheeks heating up again. “Well it’ll be an adventure if nothing else.” He shrugged. “But it’s also the right thing to do. So I’m glad to be of service.”


Michael let out a soft hum then, glancing away to look right at Darling. He could hear some flustered (yup, he knew that from before he could really outwardly control how he was when he got crushes) tones in that hum. “I... thank you,” Michael muttered out. “I-I know I already said it, but yeah... You’re a really good person, Jeremy. I’m glad I ran into you again.”


Jeremy felt his own cheeks heat up further. What was it about this boy that made Jeremy so weak to him? Regardless, he blushed and nodded. “Me too. And I’m glad you dropped into my wagon and not someone else’s.” He took the reigns back and focused onto the road. “Now, let's get going. We have a spirit to save.”

Chapter Text

Michael wasn’t used to working with others. He also wasn’t, to go off of that, used to working with people who seemed to just... click and subsequently woo him those few times he did work with others. Granted, he was twenty and still fresh in this world, especially to those with lengthier lifespans than him, but still!

 

After composing himself, Michael felt at ease with Jeremy. He was nice, intelligent, and sweet. So far, he seemed trustworthy, enough for him to nap in the wagon (with the blanket over him, of course, he couldn’t take any chances in case guards came).

 

When he slept, he dreamt of home. He missed his moms, but he knew they were doing alright. They got back on their feet after losing most everything, Michael made sure of that before he left. It was how he got his start, after all, with that first time he went on a job.

 

About a week after joining up with Jeremy while he was recalling a more pleasant time, when he was learning how to play the handheld harp with Ina, he felt his body wake him up. Tense, even if he was a bit groggy, Michael recognized the voice that he could hear talking to Jeremy.

 

“Hey, excuse me. I’m sorry to bother you, but Red Hood has recently escaped us and we’re looking for him. Would it be alright if we searched your wagon? It’s just a precautionary measure.” How the hell did Rich always manage to find him? He never went away, like some insistent mosquito or lost puppy, except nothing like a lost puppy because he would love it and adopt it right away. The damn guard had been tailing him for almost a year at this point. It was starting to get annoying, and now it was frightening because oh god, Jeremy was getting involved now, god damnit.

 

“I’d really recommend you don’t, sir guard,” Jeremy replied, caution lacing his voice. “My uncle is asleep back there and he has a terrible case of Sewer Plague. Truly horrible variant, causes your eyes to rot out of your head and your stomach to leak through your skin. Highly contagious and very painful way to go,” he explained. “I’m taking him to Mercer’s Valley, a few miles west of here, so he can die at home in some semblance of peace.”

 

“And how is it that you can go near him?” Rich asked, suspicion lacing his tone.

 

“My uncle is human, and I myself have gnomish blood. It renders me partly immune, but it’s very contagious to humans and Dragonborn from my knowledge. So my good sir, look away but take great caution, even breathing the same air as the infected can render you infected yourself.”

 

Michael practically held his breath as he listened. He heard the guard let out a heavy sigh, obviously suspicious but letting it go to take the side of caution. “You better be careful then, and I hope that your uncle has at least as painless of a passing as possible.” He could hear the slight disbelief in his tone. Michael was glad that he sometimes aired on the side of caution. “Do not go through any towns though, some nearby have a lot of human inhabitants. If I heard of any of the Sewer Plague spreading...”

 

“It shan’t be from us, sir,” Jeremy replied solemnly. “If you’re looking for the Red Hood, I heard rumors he was planning to hit Rowanwood next, a town someways south of here. The young lord has offered a contest of strength there for ten thousand gold pieces.” That... was a clever idea. Send Rich off their trail for now at least.

 

“Mm, that’s a new one to me, but alright. Thank you for your help,” Rich said back, though Michael knew when Rich was doubting someone. Dealing with someone right on your ass for a year tended to get you familiar with someone. “Again, thank you for your help and I hope your uncle had as peaceful of a passing as possible.”

 

“I’ll try to ensure it, sir guard.” Jeremy’s tone was soft, weary. Michael heard the quiet snap of the reigns and the wagon began moving again. For a few moments, there was silence save for the sound of hooves on the dirt path and the rumble of the wagon. Then, after what seemed to be an eternity, Jeremy spoke up.

 

“He hightailed it as soon as we were out of sight. I saw him go over the last hill a moment ago,” he murmured. “It’s safe to come out now.”

 

Michael took a moment to try to calm himself down then. He felt the build-up of a panic attack in his chest, and it only subsided when Jeremy spoke up again. Alright, they were good, he didn’t screw over Jeremy. They were fine...

 

Taking a few deep breaths, Michael sat up then, and he heard the soft gurgle of Darling as he saw her fly up and perch on his shoulder then. Reaching up, he quickly fixed his hair, making sure his horns were covered before he looked at Jeremy. He could see the inevitable signs of a panic attack at the very least, and he felt his own stomach churn. Michael didn’t let that show, he would handle his own internal issues later.

 

“Jeremy, you handled that so well. I... thank you so much. You truly kept me safe then. If you need me to come up and take the reigns, even for a minute, I will. I can send Darling up ahead to scout and see if there are any incoming carts or passerbys as well.”

 

“I-er- yes. Please.” Jeremy nodded rapidly, holding the reins out to one side and offering them to Michael. “I just- he was intense. He almost caught on so many times. I was sure we were caught at one point but we made it through,” Jeremy rambled as Michael climbed up to the driver's seat.

 

“He’s been following me for a year. No matter what, he always pops up. He knows Red Hood too well,” Michael admitted. “Rich Goranski is a determined little shit. I’m truly sorry about that.” Looking to Darling, he let out a whistle that went quickly from low to high, which was their signal for her to go ahead and scout out. She responded with the same noise before hopping off and flying ahead.

 

“Th-That’s what I was afraid of! He might get you!” Jeremy’s voice sounded borderline hysterical as he climbed into the back of the wagon. He vanished into a small compartment under the driver’s seat and the door shut with a click. He could vaguely hear Jeremy’s breathing even out.

 

Michael sighed, at least glad that Jeremy knew how to calm himself down. He took the reigns fully, guiding Gideon along.

 

After a few minutes of listening to Jeremy, to hear him slowly calming himself down, he heard Darling. Looking back up, he saw the bird come back down, perching on the front of the wagon before letting out a string of her noises that let Michael know that there were travelers ahead. He frowned, glancing down at where Jeremy was hidden for a moment before making a decision, one of trust and of in-the-moment thinking, since he only had a minute at most before those travelers came into view.

 

Grabbing his messenger bag from the back, he quickly removed his mask, tucking it into a hidden side pocket before putting it back where it was in the wagon. He replaced his mask with his glasses that he slid out (the mask was enchanted to help fix his vision) before he continued to focus on the road.

 

Travelers came into view a minute later, and they called out in friendly nature. Michael called back and waved a hand, smiling and making small conversation. The people didn’t take note of anything, and continued to pass by them. Michael just let out a small sigh to himself at that before thanking Darling, giving her a quick kiss on her beak. “Helpful girl.”

 

Less than a minute later, Michael heard a shift in the back of the wagon. “Can I come out now?” Jeremy asked timidly. “I’m guessing since they didn’t recognize you, you’re not wearing your mask. I won’t look unless you allow it.”

 

He made his decision when he took off his mask then with how much he trusted Jeremy. Michael wasn’t going to back down now. “You can come out, and I’m not wearing it. You can most certainly look. Anyone who continues to stand up to Goranski, even at all, is able to see my face. I trust you, Jeremy.” Darling crowed then. “Darling does as well, but she may be biased because of you feeding her. She may seem all prim and proper, but she is truly a glutton.”

 

Jeremy’s giggle was a little watery but he slowly started extracting himself from the compartment. “Well that’s good to know. And sorry about needing to hide, I think it’s a Gnomish trait if my father’s anything to go by.” He chuckled, closing the mechanism on the door.

 

“And I’m glad you trust me, I really do want to help yo-“ Jeremy cut off with a squeak. Glancing back at him, Michael saw his face was totally red and his brown eyes were wide. “Holy shit you’re gorgeous!” he spluttered. “Wait, I mean- Damnit. Sorry, it’s just... you’re really attractive and I was just caught off guard?” he offered weakly, before what sounded like cursing himself in Gnomish.

 

Holy shit, did he call Michael gorgeous? And then just tried to recover by saying he was super attractive and that said attractiveness caught him off guard? Alright, OK, he wouldn’t freak... not externally at least.

 

Michael was sure his cheeks were a darker shade, showing more of his red undertones of his skin as he gave Jeremy a smile. “I... thanks. My moms said I was a cutie, but I guess they said it so often I thought it was just them saying that? So, uh, yeah... t-thanks.” Smooth, Mell, smooth.

 

Jeremy scratched the back of his head and hopped up to the driver’s seat. His skin was still a dark red with his blush but he was smiling at least. “Sorry, I just... people who look as lovely as you don’t often spend time around workers like me, regardless of how interesting my craft may be. I was just a little overwhelmed.” Well Jeremy seemed to be feeling better at least. “But yes, you are attractive. Your mothers weren’t lying.” He grinned, averting his eyes.

 

OK, alright, take deep breaths subtly. It’s alright, just his crush continuing to call him attractive, no biggie. “Ah, well, thank you. And I don’t know what you mean by that, with the whole workers like you thing. You’re interesting yourself, so smart, and very attractive yourself, so don’t go putting yourself down like that, Jeremy. Hell, you’re attractive as all hell, one of the most attractive physically and personality-wise that I’ve ever met in my years of travel. You are just as interesting as your craft, though I’d dare say even more... so....” Realizing that he let himself ramble a bit, Michael felt his cheeks flare up and he realized just how bad of an idea rambling on the topic of Jeremy was. Fuck. Oh god. Oh no.

 

“I mean... I...” Michael gave a grin, but he was sweating bullets. “Um... Heh...” He was shutting down socially, of course he was. Just his luck. Good fucking job Michael, you ruined everything.

 

Jeremy giggled, but it wasn’t malicious or ill meaning. Actually it sounded like he was a little flustered if anything. Michael looked away but quickly felt a small hand resting on his arm. Jeremy gently patted there, the gesture sort of soothing.

 

“Glad to see the feeling’s mutual.” Jeremy grinned up at him before his eyes widened and he flailed a little. His voice was flustered as he tried to cover his tracks, but in doing so he flailed a little too much and fell off the side of the wagon. Michael’s hand shot out and grabbed him, yanking him back onto the seat. There was a pause, then both boys broke out laughing.

 

“Be more careful there,” Michael managed to get out once his laughter calmed down, a smile on his lips even if his face was lit up like a holiday tree. “I know I’m quick with my fingers, bu- fuck, oh god, oh no, I swear I didn’t mean it like that,” Michael almost screeched out as he buried his face into the hand that pulled Jeremy back up. “I’m so so sorry, oh no, oh god.” And he thought he couldn’t get much worse, god damn!

 

Jeremy cackled. “Slow down there, tiger. At least take me out to dinner first.” He grinned and shot Michael a cheeky wink. “Don’t worry, those happen to the best of us. And thanks for saving me... again.” Jeremy’s tone went a little calmer, but still just as happy.

 

Wait... Jeremy just flirted with him... OK, this was actually happening. He couldn’t help but be flattered and find himself enjoying it. “Of course, I don’t think the wagon is that big of a deal though.” OK, if Jeremy was flirting, he could too... right? “If you want to repay me that badly though, maybe you can take me out to dinner.” Nailed it!

 

Jeremy’s grin widened a little and he actually scooted a little closer to Michael on the seat. “Maybe I will. But I can’t promise what I can afford will be up to the standard you grew up with.” Michael shot him an incredulous look. “What? Your accent and how you hold yourself are kinda obvious now that we’ve spoken for a while, you’re obviously from at least a decently wealthy family. I’m just a poor forge worker, a humble tinkerer, but I’ll still be glad to buy you dinner.” Jeremy’s grin was smaller and his tone light, but it was clear he wasn’t bothered by Michael’s background.

 

Michael couldn't help but smile, scooting a little closer to Jeremy then. Well, at least he wasn't bothered by that, and Jeremy was just as insightful as he gave him credit for. "Well, I can tell you that any dinner with you would knock any others that I've had out of the water, don't worry," he promised, smiling a bit more fondly down at Jeremy. "Anything with you would be grand, really. Hell, give me something you wouldn't want and it would be amazing just because I was with you."

 

Jeremy spluttered a little, but he didn’t shift away. “Y-yo-you’re re-really sweet,” Jeremy mumbled, tripping over his words.

 

The necklace Jeremy had been fiddling with earlier suddenly started buzzing and twisting all by itself. Jeremy jumped, obviously startled out of the moment as the orb flew up to buzz in his face. Jeremy muttered some more gnomish curses, as well as some dwarvish ones, as he grabbed the orb and yanked it back down.

 

Darling cawed at the orb's sudden action, but she calmed down once Jeremy had control over it. Michael looked at his necklace then, furrowing his brows a little as he let the nice moment they had pass. Hopefully they'd be able to revisit it... Yeah (the thought of that made him smile). "What's it doing besides flying in your business?" he asked then, glancing to make sure they were still following the trail. Gideon seemed to be reliable at following the path, so he wasn't really worried about that.

 

Jeremy fiddled with the necklace for a moment more before it finally fell still. “It’s my arcane focus, what I use to cast my spells and stuff. But the casing I made myself and my dad got it enchanted with a Detect Magic spell. Whenever a strong magical object is nearby, it’ll buzz like that.” Jeremy held it up for Michael to inspect.

 

It was small, a little smaller than a plum, but it was beautifully crafted. Rings of brass were connected by what seemed to be thin metal rods, surrounding a blue crystal in the center. As the necklace shifted, the rings moved and the crystal stayed perfectly upright, making the teardrop shape always dripping downwards.

 

"Oh wow... That's amazing," Michael muttered out, in awe again of Jeremy's craftsmanship. He was always interested by people who made things, no matter what it be. "So I'm guessing there's some strong object nearby..." Glancing around at their surroundings, he hummed for a moment in thought. "Well, there's a town nearby, we should get there before nightfall. We can find an inn, settle in for the night, and search around tomorrow. There's also a large cave nearby... I think it's gotten infested with goblins recently if I'm not mistaken."

 

“That can’t be good...” Jeremy frowned. “I have never been to this area before so you’re gonna have to guide me. Do- er, how do they take to... obvious non humans?” There was a layer of worry in Jeremy’s tone and his ears twitched nervously.

 

"Well, they're great with gnomes! There's a few gnomes and some half gnomes that live there," Michael reassured him with a warm smile. "With tieflings though... Yeah, they pretty much hate their guts, so I'll just have to make sure my tail and horns are well hidden." He'd been by there a few times before and saw some... pretty horrible tiefling treatment. Michael didn't like to stay there for long periods of time.

 

Jeremy’s frown deepened before he sighed. “We’ll only stay as long as necessary then. I’d rather not have you in danger if we can avoid it.” He nodded resolutely before diving into the back of the wagon. A second later, a soft weight settled itself on Michael’s heads. “This might make it easier to hide your horns.” Michael glanced up and saw a nice red cap perched jauntily on his head, covering his horns perfectly.

 

For but a minute, Michael took the hat off and looked it over. He couldn't help but feel his cheeks warm a bit at the fact Jeremy just let him have a hat (a cute one at that, he loved the style of baker boy caps), quickly putting it back on. "I-uh... thanks Jeremy," he muttered out, ignoring the teasing noises Darling was giving off. "And yeah, I... I'm not a big fan of that town, so that would be great." Memories of going through there when he was younger once came back, and he felt a bitter feeling churn in his gut. They only went through that town once, and once was enough.

 

Jeremy sighed and leant against Michael gently. He wasn’t especially heavy so it was more just a soft comfort than anything else. “They’re wrong to judge you on how you’re born, your actions speak much louder than any other aspect of your person,” Jeremy said firmly. “I- er- I understand the struggle there for you, though. As I said... Stone quarter isn’t kind to gnomes.” He sighed, but didn’t shift away.

 

"Yeah, I wish everyone thought like that," he muttered out, feeling his throat tighten a little. It was alright though, he had been a small child when he was last there, and Jeremy was here. Michael rubbed under his eyes, taking a deep breath before sighing. "But uh, yeah... Just quick in-and-out for that artifact would be good." He also melted a bit at Jeremy leaning against him. He was a soft comfort, warm, and just a soft, calming presence... that made him a bit of a flustered mess once he focused in on him. Instead of bringing that up, as he was sure his face showed that off nicely, he glanced away with warm cheeks.

 

Jeremy wrapped his arm around Michael, half hugging him. “We won’t even have to stay the night, artifact or not. You obviously don’t like it here, so we can leave quickly,” he assured Michael, giving him a gentle squeeze. When Michael glanced back, he saw that Jeremy was also blushing heavily, and he was looking down at his lap even as he rested his head against Michael’s arm.

 

"That sounds good, I have an idea on the town layout so I can help at least look. I should easily be able to hide my features, but... thanks." Outwardly, he was handling this well, but only because he was focusing on the town situation. Michael was a very tactile person, and everything Jeremy was doing was just making him, honestly, a huge gay mess. He felt his cheeks warm, and even his ears warmed up, as he focused on the road ahead because he definitely would implode if he kept looking at Jeremy.

 

Jeremy didn’t shift away either, so that made it doubly hard for Michael to focus. He just seemed intent of making Michael a gay, flustered mess! Still, he was warm and it had been so long since Michael had received any gentle, friendly contact, so he wasn’t about to give this chance up.

 

“So from what you said, we should be there by tomorrow's lunch. We grab some food, scout about for the artifact, and then skedaddle out of there by sunset.” Jeremy nodded, effectively nuzzling against Michael’s arm. Michael freaked out and just sort of let out a sort of spluttery whine. Jeremy giggled and settled against him with a small sigh, apparently happy with their configuration.

 

 

 

The rest of the journey to the town passed without incident, and as Jeremy predicted, they arrived the next day. Jeremy was at the reigns this time, with Michael chatting to him from the back of the wagon.

 

When he saw the town come into view, Michael couldn't help but feel his mood dampen a bit. He still kept talking with Jeremy, but self-consciously fiddled with his hat and checked to make sure his tail was tucked properly away (he knew they both were fine, but he was anxious). Michael couldn't help but feel a little bitter, but he just moved a little closer to the front of the wagon so he could be by Jeremy and talk, to try to distract himself a bit better.

 

Jeremy glanced over at him and shot him a bright smile. “Hey, there’s a small box next to the compartment under here. Grab the purple, oval box from it,” he instructed. Michael did as he was told, albeit a little hesitantly. “Open it and place it on the bed of the wagon. And make sure it doesn’t run off!”

 

When Michael did, a tiny, clockwork dragon, barely the size of a large frog, popped of the box and started walking around the floor of the wagon. It roared quietly and let out a small plume of smoke now and again as it wandered around. It’s tiny, fabric wings flapped and the pointed tail swished grumpily.

 

Michael watched the little trinket carefully, eyes wide as it went. He had seen bits and pieces from it over the past week of traveling since they joined this adventure, whenever he wasn't using the reins and helping to guide Gideon. Michael couldn't help but smile as he admired the adorable little dragon, leaning forward a bit as he watched it go.

 

It helped to relax him, and he found himself alright as they were entering the town. He wasn't even bothered when passing by familiar faces from the town that didn't recognize him since he was so young last time he came around. Michael just made sure the dragon stayed in a small, general area, and laughed a little as Darling watched on curiously, trying to mess with the trinket at first before cawing and flying back when it let out some smoke in her face accidentally. "Be careful."

 

Jeremy laughed heartily from the front. “The smoke is harmless, so don’t worry about that. But it will get cranky if you mess with it, Darling, so be careful.” He pulled the wagon to a stop a little way behind the tavern, where some other wagons and carts were parked. Then Jeremy turned around and to look at Michael properly. “So? What do you think?” he asked, still grinning brightly.

 

Darling let out a few more displeased sounds before settling in the little nesting spot she made for herself in the back of the wagon, getting comfortable. Michael smiled over at her before looking at Jeremy and feeling himself just melt. The smile Jeremy had, the pride in his posture, and the unadulterated joy he seemed to hold... He just couldn't take it. "You're amazing- I mean it's amazing and your work is amazing, just like you- I mean, uh, um..." Michael curled up a bit on himself, feeling his face flaring up. "I-uh... yeah... T-thanks." Well, that was just great.

 

Jeremy’s face went beet red at Michael’s praise and he covered his face with one hand for a moment to calm down. Then, eyes shining with pride and determination, he leant forward and pressed a quick kiss to Michael’s forehead, pulling back and hiding his face again as the tips of his ears turning a dark maroon.

 

OK, if his face had been warm before, it was sizzling hot now. Granted, it was amazing, and he couldn't help but smile, maybe a bit dreamily, though he wasn't sure if Jeremy saw it. Michael moved forward from where he was then, feeling a surge of confidence arise from the kiss as he leaned over, seeing a strip of Jeremy's cheek uncovered, and he quickly pressed a kiss to that area before pulling back. The warmth on his face promptly settled, and he felt his chest warm in the best of ways.

 

Jeremy squeaked and sort of half fell off the driver's seat, leaning against Michael and somehow making it cute. “I’m- er- I’m glad you like it,” he mumbled, slowly pulling his hands away to wrap around Michael in a hug. Michael could tell it was about more than just the dragon, who had hoped back into its box.

 

Michael just grinned, feeling a nice warmth fill him at Jeremy's somewhat flustered reaction as he happily wrapped Jeremy up in a hug, smiling wide. "It's amazing, Jeremy, of course I'm gonna like it. You made it," he said, feeling a bit bold before he pressed another kiss, quick this time, to his cheek.

 

As he quickly pressed a kiss, he glanced back at the tavern and knew he at least had no bad memories here. "Hey, there's a nice place to eat and it isn't when all the drinkers'll be out. Wanna get a quick bite before we look around for your magical artifact? My treat."

 

Jeremy spluttered a little but he nodded. “That does sound nice...” he mumbled again, nodding against Michael’s shoulder. He didn’t lift his head, but Michael could see how the tips of is pointed ears still hadn’t cooled in the slightest.

 

"Well, how about we go get something to eat then?" he offered, smiling down at him still. "It'll be a nice outing before we get to work." Outwardly, he was definitely dealing well, but seeing how flustered Jeremy was just made Michael's heart soar and his insides melt. He was only going strong because Jeremy just was happily going along with this. If Jeremy tried to take the lead, he would melt and happily do so.

 

Jeremy didn’t appear to be moving so Michael sort of shifted him so he was at least sitting a bit more comfortably. Even with the fact they were both sitting now, Jeremy was easily more than a head shorter than Michael, which meant Michael could rest his head on top of Jeremy’s should he chose to do so. He kept that in mind for later.

 

“Is... is there anything I should call you while we’re around here? Since I shouldn’t use your real name and everything,” Jeremy muttered against Michael’s chest after a moment.

 

"George Salamander, it's my fake identity," he told Jeremy then, keeping his flusteredness to a minimum. The identity stuff was serious business. "You can just call me George though. I'm just a curious traveler finding my way around, though I have a knack for playing the little harp I have hidden away and playing card games, as well as just talking people up."

 

Jeremy nodded. “I can work with that.” He paused. “Would it be worth me using a fake name too?“

 

"I mean, if you wanted to be safe, I'd recommend it," Michael said with a smile and a shrug. "It helps out a lot. I could find someone I know to help you get some paperwork and identification and stuff sorted out too if you wanna go that far into it."

 

Jeremy laughed awkwardly. “Well about that...” He slowly (reluctantly) detached himself from Michael and reached under the drivers seat. He pulled back a pouch and showed the paperwork from inside. It was a full, fake identity, complete with travel papers and a work permit. The name on the documents was listed as William Ronin.

 

Michael looked over almost every detail, and he couldn't help but be impressed by the detail. It was almost as good as his own forged documents and papers. He let out a low whistle as he gave them all back to Jeremy. "Those are honestly extremely well-done papers, Will."

 

“Thanks George.” Jeremy winked, taking the fake name in his stride. Michael would need to ask the story about why Jeremy had these fake documents, but that would wait for now. “So... lunch?” Jeremy stood and put the pouch into his messenger bag. He quickly got to securing everything on his wagon properly, expertly locking all the crates and tying the bags down.

 

"Of course. Like I said, my plea-" Michael caught his foot on the wagon's lip for the bench, and he tried to catch himself so he didn't at least fall on his face.

 

Before he could worry though, about eating dirt, he felt surprisingly strong arms catch and hold him. Looking up, Michael met Jeremy's concerned gaze and practically felt himself leave his body. "I- uh- thanks for catching me," he managed to stutter out, cursing himself when he heard his voice crack. He buried his face into one of his hands, ignoring the cawing laughter of Darling from the back of the wagon.

 

Jeremy smiled softly at him and in a smooth movement, he swung Michael around and placed him lightly on his feet on the ground. In this position, Jeremy was a little taller than Michael, which meant Jeremy had to lean down a little when he kissed Michael’s forehead.

 

“You need to be careful. You almost got hurt there,” he murmured before turning red and averting his gaze, as if realizing what he’d done. “Are- are you okay though?”

 

He felt his cheeks warm up at the kiss and everything that happened, but he managed to calm himself down enough to smile up at Jeremy. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just not used to the wagon yet, I guess," he said, offering a hand up for Jeremy to take then. "So... lunch." As he echoed Jeremy, Michael couldn't help but give a little bit of a little shit smile.

 

Jeremy took Michael’s hand with a grin and hopped down. He dipped into a low bow and pressed a gentle kiss to the back of Michael’s hand. He looked up at Michael with a flirty smirk and a twinkle in his eye. “Lunch,” he agreed softly.

 

Michael felt his face flame up then. Nevermind, he thought he was cool, calm, and collected but nope, scratch that, he totally wasn't. Instead of replying with something intelligent, he just nodded and let out a flustered, "Uh... yeah." Again, he ignored Darling's laughing-like crowing as he felt himself utterly charmed by Jeremy in that moment.

 

Jeremy held out his arm for Michael to take, and had to guide his hand over to it, and lead Michael in to the tavern. He passed the stable hand a gold coin and pointed out Gideon as they passed, and the young boy’s eyes widened as he nodded enthusiastically.

 

As they walked in, the scene was mostly calm since most of the townsfolk were busy with work and, like Michael said, most came later to drink. They quickly got themselves a table, and when someone came by to ask what they wanted to drink, Michael was able to recompose himself completely (instead of happily staring at Jeremy like he wanted to do) as he turned to the server, who seemed to be a half gnome. "I'll just have some water, thanks," he requested with a warm smile.

 

Jeremy grinned at the half gnome server as said something in Gnomish. She lit up, looked him over and asked him something, but Jeremy shook his head and gestured to Michael, eyes fond. His tone was still gentle, even as the server looked a little put out. Jeremy said something else, and she made a note in her notebook, leaving with a small smile.

 

Curiosity filled him on what just happened, but the gentle tone and fond look in Jeremy's eyes captured him. He felt his cheeks warm as he could figure out what happened (he wasn't the best with social cues, but he could get enough to know that Jeremy had been hit on). Yup, he was totally smitten. "So, um... what d'you wanna talk about?" Nice conversation starter, Michael. Why don't you just stare into his eyes a bit more and become a complete blubbering mess?

 

“Well outside you mentioned that you play the harp, didn’t you? Do you perchance have a fondness for music?” Jeremy’s eyes were mischievous but bright and fond. He rested one elbow on the table and leant his head in his hand, completely focused on Michael.

 

He felt himself grow flustered as Jeremy solely focused on him. Despite how engrossed he was in Jeremy, the mention of something he adored had him sit up with a wide smile, and he was sure excitement was dancing around in his eyes. "I do. Music is something that has always helped to relax and soothe me, and it's always made me feel good. Ina would always teach me new instruments whenever I felt the drive to, and she was the one who stayed home while Mom worked, so it was how we bonded. I can play a lot of instruments, but Ina charmed a handheld harp for me to shrink so it fits easily in my bag or pocket while I travel, so it's the one I'm the best at right now. It's really nice, and it's something I always keep close to me."

 

As he started to calm down from his rambling high, he felt his cheeks warm as he realized just how much and long he'd been rambling for. "Do you, um, like music as well?"

 

Jeremy nodded enthusiastically with a bright grin. “I love music! I can’t play anything, and my singing is mediocre at best, but I love listening to music. I have a friend, a traveling bard, who tried teaching me but to no avail. I did learn how to make a couple of tunes for my music boxes, but that’s about it.” He shook his head fondly, still smiling. And when the server brought over their drinks, besides what Michael assumed was a quick thanks, Jeremy largely ignored her, pretty much totally focused on Michael.

 

"Hey, I can try to teach you how to play. It all depends on the instrument and how you try to teach someone. If you can even play a note, then you can at least play. Plus, if you can make tunes on music boxes, you're at least somewhat musically inclined. And I'm sure you're a great singer. You end up being your worst critic, after all. When we're on the road, I'd love to help show you how to play something or hear your singing," Michael said with a smile, a wrapping himself back up into his love of music. He couldn't help it, he just loved to talk about it. He literally talked only about music one whole day, and Ina won a bet against Mom because of it.

 

When he realized exactly how focused in on him Jeremy was, however, Michael felt himself get flustered and practically speechless. He looked like he was hooked onto every word Michael was saying... Holy shit, those feelings were hitting him hard. He had to calm himself down by drinking some of his water, looking away before he buried his mouth against the palm of his hand as he leaned back in his seat a bit. "But, uh, yeah... I-I really like music... It's cool... You're cool." Damnit, Michael!

 

Jeremy giggled, but didn’t look put out. He leant forwards a little and grabbed Michael’s free hand, kissing the back of it again. “You’re pretty cool yourself.” He grinned. “And I would love to try to learn.” He let go of Michael’s hand and drew back but knocked it against his drink, almost spilling it over. For a second he looked panicked, then he just laughed and set the glass to one side so it didn’t happen again.

 

Michael laughed at first along with Jeremy as he got his drink set to the side, but felt his heart racing after that kiss. "I- uh... Yeah." He didn't know what he was saying that to, but he couldn't find it in himself to really care because god, he was really fucked with Jeremy.

 

The server came back over around then, seemingly asking what they wanted to eat. After making sure he was composed well enough, Michael asked for their roasted chicken and potatoes, giving a polite smile to the server. Even if she still seemed to hit on Jeremy, it didn't bother him. He wasn't interested in her at all. Somehow, Jeremy was interested in him. The thought still made him flustered, but he couldn't help but smile.

 

“The same for me, please.” Jeremy shot her a polite smile and got the same in return as she hurried off.

 

“You wanna see something cool?” Jeremy asked after a moment, leaning close. Michael hesitated, then nodded. Jeremy lifted his messenger bag on to the table and let Michael look. Now he got a better view of it, he could see magical symbols subtly sewn on to the leather. “It’s a bag of holding. They’re pretty rare normally but I made this one myself. And my dad enchanted the strap so it can’t be taken off my person with force, I have to be the one to remove it.” He grinned, opening the flap and reaching in. He pulled out a small, gold and blue cube with a small handle on the side of it. “For you.”

 

Michael instantly recognized it, how could he not know about music boxes? It was so intricately made and Michael couldn't help but smile as he opened it to see inside. His eyes widened as he saw a harp where the typical dancer would be. He started to crank the handle on the side, feeling himself relax at the soft lullaby that emanated from the music box. The whole gift made his heart soar as he looked up at Jeremy, sure he was giving extreme heart-eyes to Jeremy. "I... I love it, Jeremy. Thank you so much. You didn't have to give me anything, but... Thanks. I really do adore it."

 

“I’m glad you do.” Jeremy’s smile was soft and tender. “And this one is pretty cool, if I remember. It’s case is extra hard, so it should survive being on the road with us.” He closed up his bag and slipped it off the table. Then he quickly toasted with his drink and took a mouthful.

 

Michael returned the toast with a smitten smile before taking some of his water. "Yeah, that's good. I'd be devastated if anything happened to this," he admitted as he carefully tucked the music box away after it's song finished. "Really, thank you for the gift. It... it's really sweet, and the melody is very reminiscent of some of the stuff played often at home."

 

Jeremy flushed happily, as he often did when Michael complimented his creations. In fact, he went really red and the tips of his ears were twitching happily. “Well it’s one of my favorite lullabies I heard while travelling.” It seemed Jeremy’s calm collectedness finally wore off since he averted his eyes with a shy grin. Then he fumbled and knocked his spoon off the table, eyes going wide as he tried and failed to catch it.

 

With his quick reflexes, Michael caught it in the air by the handle, smiling before handing it over to Jeremy. "It's a great one. I'll show you some other ones when we find the artifact you're looking for and are back on the road," he promised before taking another sip or two of water. "There are a lot of variations even of that lullaby in the music box, and I'm sure you'd love to hear all of them."

 

As he thought about the long journey they had ahead, as well as the obvious flirting and romantic gestures they already had (well, Jeremy had shown him), Michael couldn't help but feel his cheeks warm. They needed to talk, though it was a bit soon after meeting to have this kind of talk, right? About what they could be? Michael thought he'd get to know the person for a while first before even thinking about that, but it just... felt right with Jeremy. He could ask him when they were on the road again, right? Or now? Ugh, indecisiveness was terrible.

 

Jeremy managed to stammer out a thanks, as well as a sort of agreement for hearing the other lullabies, his face totally red. It was cute how he had gone from so calm and flirtatious to so nervous and flustered. Even if Michael was younger than him, he sort of wanted to just take care of Jeremy.

 

The plates of food were placed in front of them as Jeremy took another sip of his drink. It smelled delicious, and Jeremy started eating as soon as the server left. He groaned a little in happiness, obviously enjoying the food. Well it had been a week since they’d really stopped to cook; this was the first hot meal they’d had in that time.

 

Michael couldn't help but smile and groan a good amount. He didn't dare stay in one town too long, so he never got to partake in too many meals that were hot like this that he didn't have to make himself (he was... alright with cooking). "OK, this is so good," the younger of the two said around a big smile as he happily ate some of the potato and chicken together. "I always forget how good tavern food can be."

 

Jeremy nodded. “It really is!” He took another mouthful and chewed thoughtfully. “I always have to bring my papers with me when I go to taverns since everyone thinks I’m a child and not old enough to drink.” He chuckled. “It’s a little embarrassing since I’m almost always older than the people asking.” He took another mouthful.

 

"Geez, I can only imagine. People always offer me drinks, but I keep turning them down since I'm not of legal age. I already have some problems I gotta deal with, I don't want the guilt of that on my shoulders," Michael said around a laugh after swallowing a bite of food. He then went into this story about some crazy time when almost everyone at the bar kept insisting he drank, even the guards who were sure he was way overage, and the craziness that transpired because of that.

 

By the end of it, he was done with his food. He was quite content, quickly getting the amount he knew the meal and drinks would cost, along with a tip for their server. "Thanks for the great meal, Will. You're really great company." He smiled fondly at Jeremy then as he put down the last coin for the bill.

 

“You’re not so bad of company yourself, George.” Jeremy grinned, but he flushed when Michael took his hand and lead him outside. He fumbled for his necklace, eventually grabbing it and squeezing the sides, revealing the blue teardrop crystal inside. It flowed and pulsed with a gentle light, and Michael could hear a faint whistle from it. “Shall we go look for the artifact?” he stammered out after a second.

 

"We shall," Michael said in return with a smile, and he kept himself from laughing at how adorable Jeremy's excited and somewhat flustered nature was making him slip up a little. "Lead the way, Will."

Chapter Text

As they went around town, which Michael really hated revisiting, Jeremy's focus started to whistle more and glow brighter. It got a little obnoxious with the constant whistling, but Jeremy made it a lot better. He made going around the town he personally hated a lot better too.

 

Eventually, after maybe an hour of walking and searching, the focus seemed to be favoring the sort of town hall that the place had. There were signs on the board near it, which Michael focused on for a second as they passed by it and went inside. They talked about livestock disappearances, as well as rewards offered by the mayor himself for those who solve the problem. Well alright, that would be useful.

 

Once inside, Michael couldn't help but grumble a little once he saw the mayor. Jeremy had to quickly silence his focus, and he saw Jeremy's glance go to... the horrifically ugly brooch the major wore. It showed off a lot of money for sure with the gems that didn't even go together, but were more so shoved together as a money status.

 

That had to be what they were searching for. It was ugly but Jeremy’s gaze was firmly fixated on it.

 

“What do you two want?” the mayor blustered, frowning at Michael. Luckily, he didn’t seem to realize what Michael was, but he did seem to take an instant dislike to him.

 

Michael subtly elbowed Jeremy, who was still focused on the broach. Jeremy jumped but finally focused on the situation at hand.

 

“Er, sorry sir. I was following a magical signal and must have gotten a little turned around...” Jeremy tried, but the mayor was having none of it.

 

“You’re after my broach, aren’t you?” He narrowed his eyes at Jeremy, seemingly contemplating something. Jeremy flushed and looked away, shuffling awkwardly.

 

Thinking on his feet, Michael bluffed. "No, we're trying to find the enchanted weapons that the goblins are rumored to have. We got misdirected, I think, but this gives us the chance to talk to you, mayor, about the problem you've been having."

 

The mayor, who seemed to have been on his way to go somewhere before, stopped and looked the two over. Michael, despite how much he despised being in the mayor's office, just gave an 'honest' smile that the mayor seemed to easily buy. Glancing to his side, he saw Jeremy give a more nervous smile, though the mayor seemed to buy it.

 

"Alright, fine. I'm very busy though, and you two seem competent enough. They are holed up in the cave near the outskirts of town, supposedly there are six or seven of them. If you two can get rid of those damn things, I'll give you whatever you want."

 

"Could you give us the brooch?"

 

"And why should I?"

 

"Would you rather your town's livestock be utterly decimated and have it all pinned on you, with people claiming you're too incompetent? We were passing by and had lunch earlier and already are starting to hear tell of that doubt, Sir Mayor."

 

The mayor seemed to buy Michael’s bluff, paleing a little before sighing. "Alright, fine. It was a crappy gift from my wife anyway, I'll just say it was busted or something. But I'll only give it after you two have completed the job and I can have guards inspect that the goblins are dead, got it?"

 

"Understood, Sir Mayor. Thank you so much for understanding." Michael managed to keep his cool with the man, smiling and leading Jeremy out, who politely bowed and thanked the mayor as well. Once they were outside and out of earshot of anyone in town hall, he let out an irritated groan. "Fucking hate rich politicians."

 

“Ugh, same,” Jeremy agreed, closing up his focus and letting it hang normally again. “Also thanks for the save back there. I wouldn’t have been able to come up with something like that.” He shot a glance up to the window where the mayor’s office was, obviously thinking about the broach and the task they were assigned so they could earn it. Even after only knowing Jeremy a week, Michael could already read him very well. He was a little surprised when he thought he saw Jeremy’s eyes glow for a moment, but he brushed it off for now.

 

"Of course. I saw the poster when we went by the post board," Michael explained as he glanced around, recalling where the cave was from hearing around before seeing the trail he remembered that went by it. "And even if the brooch was ugly, he was sure willing to give it up just for some fake rumors. Ugh, I just hated that guy and he hated me right away. Don't even feel bad." He stuck his hands in his pockets then as he walked along the trail with Jeremy. "The cave's this way."

 

Jeremy grabbed Michael’s sleeve. “Do you have any weapons or armor you wanna put on? If the rumors aren’t fake, I don’t want us to be caught off guard...” He started digging around in his bag of holding, rummaging for something in its depths.

 

"I always wear some armor on underneath my clothes," Michael reassured him. "Well, most of the time, but I am now." Regardless, he stopped and waited as Jeremy rummaged through his bag. "I have my hidden crossbow and my daggers and stuff." With the flick of his wrist in the right way, he slid out a hidden dagger that he had under his sleeve, flicking it between his fingers before brandishing it with a grin. "See. Always prepared."

 

Jeremy started walking again as they talked, still digging through his bag. He made an impressed noise at the sight of the dagger. “Good. I also wear the armor under my travelling clothes. But as for my weapons...” The were almost at the edge of the town already. “Ah!” Jeremy grabbed something and pulled out a long quarterstaff. It was easily bigger than he was but he twirled it easily and snapped it onto a couple of clips on the back of his bag strap.

 

He stuck his hand back into the bag. “Where is it? I normally leave it near the top...” Jeremy’s arm was half vanished into the bag as he dug through it.

 

Michael raised a brow, watching with slight awe at how far down Jeremy was reaching. "Don't fall in," he joked as they walked, though got worried as they reached the edge of town."Seriously though, if you can't find it, don't reach too far in and slip in or something. I don't know how I'll be able to explain to others that I lost you because of your bag." As he said that, he deftly slid the dagger back into it's hidden sleeve compartment.

 

“I’ll last ten minutes in there so you can dig me out,” Jeremy deadpanned, still rummaging around. They were now at the edge of town. “Also, what others?” he asked, arching an eyebrow at Michael with a grin.

 

Michael was about to answer when Jeremy let out a small sound of triumph. “Aha! Found it! Michael, time for you to meet my baby: the Thunder Cannon.” He pulled out a... something.

 

It was big and looked sort of like a gun, but it was... more somehow. Firstly it was made of brass and copper, and had blue detailing along the barrel. There was a large string of what looked like bullets on it, but they were much too long and pointed to be the same as the ball bearings shot with a musket. And then of course the fact that it was almost two feet long.

 

Jeremy handled it with ease and confidence, checking it over and loading up a round in seconds. “I made this thing from scratch. One of my best creations if you ask me. I can hit a target at one hundred and fifty feet if my aim is good. Two fifty if I’m being sloppy.” He held it up and looked down the sight for a second before holding it for Michael to inspect.

 

Still slightly panicked from Jeremy's deadpan comment, Michael carefully took the 'Thunder Cannon' and looked it over. He had only really seen some guns from those who hunted and some guards, as well as one or two rich folk (those times weren't pleasant to remember), so he was very careful with it. "You... made your own gun, a new kind, all by yourself?" Michael asked, tone still having awe in it, as he looked the fine craftsmanship over. "Wow... Don't ever sell yourself short, Jeremy." He carefully handed it back over to Jeremy. "Also, others as in your dad, people who I don't know yet who care about you, Gideon, Darling."

 

“Fair point.” Jeremy nodded as he held the Thunder Cannon down in a neutral position. “And don’t worry about this thing. I don’t shoot unless I have to and I’m the only one who knows how it works. You don’t need to worry about it ever being turned against you.” Obviously Jeremy picked up on his discomfort. “Also, a short joke? Seriously?” His tone turned teasing.

 

Michael's discomfort almost made him think Jeremy was serious. He laughed a little, even if it was a bit forced at first. "Hey, it was unintentional, I swear," he promised as he continued to walk along with Jeremy.

 

As they walked along the path to the nearby cave, Michael was sure to take in their surroundings. So far, there seemed to be no traps or possible ambushes nearby, as some goblins set up. "Question: have you ever done a mission like this before?"

 

“Once... kinda? Christine and I broke into a town full of rich assholes and we kinda hit the biggest tourist spots with stink worm slime. The guards were shooting at us and everything...” Jeremy shivered at the memory. “I can fight, either way. I’ve had to deal with my fair share of actually vicious bandits and such on my travels.”

 

"Alright, I just wanted to be sure. I don't know how smart the goblins actually are, they typically work under another stronger, smarter creature, so I'm sure there's gonna be someone leading them." He rubbed at his chin as he kept checking as they went, relieved but also worried when there weren't any traps or ambushes still. "So we're probably gonna fight something with at least some level of competency, especially if they're getting organized stuff done like livestock destruction."

 

“Great...” Jeremy sighed. “Well, let's get going. The quicker we’re into this, the quicker we’re out and back on the road.” He peered into the gloom of the cave. “Also can I just say? This place stinks. I think it’s fair to say that this is a goblin nest.”

 

Michael walked into the entrance of the cave, glancing in and frowning at the atrocious odor. "Oh yeah, for sure. This helps to keep people and any unwanted visitors out. It'll get better the further we get in, I promise. Also, uh... so you know, I do not have Darkvision, so I can't see in the dark like most would think, so we have to go the old-fashion way... Well, new-fashion." Reaching into his pocket, Michael took out the fire starter, grabbed a small torch from his bag, and lit it before glancing back at Jeremy. "Shall we?"

 

Jeremy nodded. “Sure thing. And if you want me to check things out, send me in. Because I do have Darkvision.” His face was set with some level of seriousness but there was a twinkle of excitement in his eyes. The torch light reflected off his glasses once they entered the mouth of the cave, making him look mysterious or troublesome.

 

“Okay, I’m seeing two possible pathways up ahead, the cave opens up to a decently big room. The paths are to the left or straight on. Which way do you wanna go?” Jeremy hissed quietly, indicating with his Thunder Cannon the directions he meant.

 

"Well, this is all just gut instinct," Michael muttered out as he glanced between the two directions that Jeremy gave. He tried to tune in and listen, hearing the sounds of goblin (the language) down the left path. "OK, nevermind. I don't hear anything down the center path, but there are goblins to the left. Do you want to face the goblins straight-on or go to the room where I can't hear anything? If we go to the goblin path, I'll have to snuff out the torch."

 

Jeremy thought for a second. “Let’s go deal with these goblins first. Then we can check out the other path,” he whispered, slowly stepping towards the room on the left. His footsteps were near silent as he walked, barely even shifting the loose pebbles on the cave floor. Michael was equally stealthy as he snuck behind Jeremy, quickly putting out the torch and grabbing his weapons.

 

They entered the back of what appeared to be a mess hall. Three goblins were sitting around a table, fresh meat on each of their plates, as they laughed and chattered. They didn’t noticed Jeremy or Michael at all.

 

Slowly, Jeremy raised the Thunder Cannon and took aim at the nearest goblin’s head. His breathing slowed and he pulled the trigger. One of the long bullets shot from the gun with a near silent pfft and lodged itself deep into the back of the goblin’s skull. It didn’t even have time to screech as it convulsed and collapsed in its chair, dead before it had even stopped moving. Out of the corner of his eye, Michael saw Jeremy reload his gun but then swap it out for his quarterstaff, the gun clipping to his bag straps just as easily.

 

Of course the goblin's companions started to freak once their friend fell forward, suddenly dead. As they looked around, while Jeremy hid back for a second with success, Michael slunk forward, underneath one of the tables and behind a mess of chairs that helped to block him from view. Taking out his darts he had for knocking out people, he quickly unwrapped his tail and took aim. One of the goblins was more stationary, and he took aim and quickly got them in the nape of their neck.

 

The potent poison of sorts took effect in a few seconds, the goblin slumping forward. Their friend, the last one conscious or alive, was about ready to scream. Michael wasn't going to let that happen.

 

Slipping out his knife, Michael poked out from the table, tossing his dagger straight forward. With near perfect precision, it went right through the goblin's skull, right between the eyes, and it slumped forward, lodging it further in, which wasn't needed since the goblin died before it hit the table top.

 

With a sigh and glancing around, making sure the rest of the hall was empty, Michael rushed over, removed the dart, and capped it. He then took the dagger out of the goblin's head and finished off the last goblin with a sigh.

 

Jeremy snuck towards Michael, still light on his feet and looked down at the dead goblins. He gave Michael a thumbs up but didn’t say anything, his face a little grim. Even if he was good with his aim, he obviously didn’t like that he killed someone. Still, goblins wouldn’t leave an area even if their boss is downed. The only way to deal with an infestation is to kill them, and they both knew that.

 

Jeremy pointed out another pathway that seemed to loop around to the other room, darting forward to Michael. “I think this’ll take us deeper in. Ready to get some more?” he whispered.

 

Taking everything in after quickly swiping the blood off of his knife, Michael nodded. "Ready," he told him, sneaking along with Jeremy as they went.

 

They both were quiet like before, and Michael trusted Jeremy to guide him. They made it quickly into the room, staying to the shadows as they darted out of the pathway between the two rooms. This room seemed to be a sort of makeshift room for sorting out the animals recently collected, with some cows, sheep, and pigs sorted already while some more were being worked on. One goblin poked around the animals in a somewhat unsettling way while another watched and kept the unsorted animals in check.

 

One was near them, who was watching over the makeshift cow pen. Since the goblin was so close and the other goblins seemed distracted enough with their work and trying to keep an eye on the two entrances, Michael was able to quickly grab and pull back the goblin, making a quick grab to catch the somewhat rusted spear that it dropped after he quickly killed it.

 

Jeremy pulled out his Thunder Cannon again, and took aim for the goblin keeping the animals calm. Once again his breathing slowed as he lined up the shot and fired. The goblin was caught perfectly in the temple, with the bullet lodging itself into its head. The goblin convulsed and collapsed on top of a particularly dazed looking cow.

 

Within seconds, Jeremy had reloaded and shot at the final goblin, catching it in the chest instead, probably because he didn’t have as much time to line up the shot. Once again, this one collapsed after convulsing for a moment. Jeremy lowered the Cannon, panting a little with a small frown on his face.

 

"I know it's not fun to do this, but we got it done and are helping people," Michael reassured. He didn't like killing either, it made his skin crawl and he got a little nauseous thinking too hard on it. "You're a really good shot though." Yeah, that also didn't help with the little bit of nausea he felt as he quickly went and checked over the animals, getting the now-corpse goblin off of the cow. "All these animals are good."

 

Jeremy’s frown persisted for a moment before he smiled and shook his head almost fondly, helping Michael look them over. “Doesn’t look like they hurt any of them too badly. We should leave them here for the guards to collect afterwards.” He nodded, grabbing some of the feed set to one side and dumping it in easy reach of all the animals. “I don’t think this cave is much bigger, so we need to be careful.” He glanced towards the final tunnel nervously.

 

Nodding along with that train of thought, Michael made sure he had all of his weapons on the ready before heading towards the cave. "Yeah, there's probably some bigger, leader-like goblin or maybe a bugbear or something. They like to lead goblins around," Michael thought out loud, patting the snout of one of the cows he went by before it ate some feed. He waited for Jeremy though, letting him sort of guide him since it seemed to be getting darker with no bright or clear light source the further they went in within the final tunnel.

 

Jeremy’s footsteps were still almost silent as he crept along, to the point where it was hard for Michael to even get a pinpoint on where he was at. This meant that Michael was a little less stealthy than earlier, but he was still making his footsteps as light as possible, and he was almost ‘almost-silent.’

 

The tunnel opened up to a big room. Michael could almost make out the shape of a goblin, but he wasn’t sure, as Jeremy raised his gun. Before Jeremy took the shot, though, he suddenly screeched and Michael felt something very hard and very heavy hit him from the side. He was knocked off his feet and thrown into a wall. He heard the telltale pfft from Jeremy’s Thunder Cannon and the sound of someone hitting the ground and rolling, but he couldn’t tell what was what. The roar of the bugbear was very easy to identify though.

 

Even if the wind was knocked out of him and it took him a good few seconds to recover, Michael was able to at least pinpoint where the bugbear approximately was. With his innate spell (thank you infernal heritage) of hellish rebuke, he quickly cast it and saw the cave light up with the hellfire that surrounded the bugbear, essentially trapping him (and Jeremy) in this ring of fire. "Motherfucker," he hissed out through his teeth as he held onto his side, pain radiating through it.

 

Jeremy, who had rolled over towards Michael, stood and took another shot. It hit the bugbear straight into chest, and electricity crackled over as it roared once again. It didn’t fall, but it’s movements were a little slower.

 

Instead of reloading, Jeremy squeezed his focus, and reached into his pocket. The focus spun and glowed blue. Jeremy tossed a silver mirror to Michael while chanting a spell and Michael tried to grab it but fumbled and the mirror landed in front of him. A shimmering barrier appeared around him, like light reflecting off crystals.

 

“You have one minute! Right yourself and don’t attack until you’re ready,” Jeremy ordered, dancing backwards and reloading.

 

"Thanks," Michael managed to get out as he took a few deep breaths, readying himself. From the corner of his vision, he saw the goblin from earlier seemingly get out of their state of shock before grabbing it's spear and aiming it. Oh no, it wasn't that stupid, was it?

 

The spear that bounced off of his barrier said otherwise. Yes, it really was that stupid. It almost physically hurt Michael to know just how stupid it was.

 

Regardless, he felt he was ready, reaching down and grabbing the mirror then the dropped spear before aiming and tossing, letting the barrier of the spell Jeremy casted down. The goblin let out a scream as it was pierced through the chest, falling down on the ground, dead by their own weapon.

 

With the goblin down, he quickly looked to see how Jeremy was facing against the bugbear as his own spell kept going.

 

Jeremy had stowed his Thunder Cannon and had his quarterstaff out. He was blocking attacks mostly, but Michael could see he was getting tired. Suddenly, the bugbear darted forwards, Morningstar raised and aimed straight for Jeremy’s head. He wouldn’t be able to block that.

 

Thinking on his feet (literally), Michael ran over, going through his hellfire ring (yay for his immunity) and managed to get in the way of the attack, pushing Jeremy out of the way as he aimed (and he hoped for damn sure he got hit here) to get where his armor was against his chest. As he did that, with one hand, he had a dart loaded in a shooter that was full of a heavy as hell dose of his sleeping poison, shooting it right into the jugular of the bugbear before he felt somewhere get hit with enough contact and force to knock him down into the ground.

 

Everything went black as soon as he felt his head bounce against the hard cave ground.

Chapter Text

Jeremy was furious. Not only was he angry with the bugbear for knocking out Michael, he was also pissed at the boy himself. Sure, he’d saved Jeremy from the Morningstar, but Jeremy was already primed to dodge that blow, not block it. And now Michael was unconscious and the bugbear was swaying as Michael’s dart took effect.

 

Jeremy didn’t hesitate. He grabbed onto the bugbear’s arm, swung himself up to the shoulders of the beast, and braced himself. Then, using both hands, he brought down the quarterstaff on the creature’s head with a sickening crack. The skull ruptured beneath his attack. Jeremy leant backwards and toppled the bugbear over so it wouldn’t land on Michael. It was dead. Fucking finally.

 

Jeremy climbed off, brushing off his clothes and flinching a little a he touched a couple of deep scratches. Those would leave scars on his arms. Oh well, worse things have happened. He hurried over to Michael, kneeling down next to him.

 

Michael was still breathing, thank god, but he was out cold, and growing paler by the second. Jeremy had to do something. He quickly rested his hands on either side of Michael’s face and focused. He muttered out the incantation and felt the magic flow into Michael. He regained his color, but he was still out cold. God damn it.

 

After retrieving and capping Michael’s dart, Jeremy reached down and slowly picked up Michael. It was a bit of a struggle but Jeremy had carried heavier in the forge. It was just his shape that made him difficult. He was longer than Jeremy, so he was being carried in some weird approximation of a bridal carry mixed with a fireman’s lift. It wasn’t easy. Lucky for Jeremy, there was a small tunnel with a breeze blowing through it, just big enough for him to fit through with his awkward companion.

 

He carried Michael outside and set him down at the entrance, just trying to get his bearings.

 

As he did get his bearings, he heard the sound of shrill noises and hisses accompanied by growls that sounded very similar to a wolf. He had a bad feeling that settled in his gut then and, seeing that Michael was fine and that he wouldn't get hurt while he was gone, went to investigate the noise.

 

The sight he saw almost broke his heart. There was a tiny weasel, it couldn't be more than a baby, with brown fur and a white underbelly cowering under a nightshade bush, staying as far away from the wolf that was practically keeping it cornered. The bush was pushed back against a tree, so it had nowhere to really go besides further back or into the wolf's maw, which was widening as the wolf got closer to the bush, ready to stick their head in and get a bite of the obviously scared baby weasel.

 

Jeremy pulled out his quarterstaff and started making noise to draw its attention. As soon as the wolf turned, Jeremy whacked it around the muzzle. The wolf whined as it went sprawling further away from the bush. It whimpered and scampered away, obviously deciding that Jeremy was too scary to deal with right now.

 

Once he was sure it was gone, Jeremy put away his quarterstaff on the clips on his back and put his Thunder Cannon back in its proper place in his bag. Then he sat down, opposite the nightshade bush and held out his hands face up. “Hey there little guy. Are you okay?” He kept his voice soft and soothing, trying to coax out the weasel so he could check it over.

 

The baby weasel seemed nervous, which made sense, though said weasel slowly creeped their way out, letting out soft, low chirps at first. They made their way over to the edge of Jeremy's hand, gently sniffing his skin before letting out a low whistle- a friendly noise of greeting, if he remembered correctly. The little creature seemed to be taking a liking to him, slowly but surely.

 

“Hey there.” Jeremy smiled, but he made sure to keep his teeth covered. He didn’t want to scare the baby. Jeremy tried to copy the whistle, and managed a sort of passable approximation. The weasel seemed to like the sound, anyways.

 

He heard the little baby let out a soft string of honks, and Jeremy couldn't help but feel his heart ache for the little one. It was a sign of a nervous or lost weasel, and the little glances around made that much very clear. Did the baby get separated from their mother, or- oh…

 

“It’s okay... it’s okay... I’ll look after you, you’re safe with me,” Jeremy murmured, and the little weasel looked up at him with sad eyes. Then, they slowly climbed into his palm and sat there, clearly waiting. “If you’re going to stay with me, you’ll need a name, little one.” He thought for a second. “Nightshade. I’ll call you Nightshade since you were hiding there. And you’re beautiful but you’ll grow up to be strong.”

 

The honking slowly stopped then before Nightshade curled up in his hand, fitting nicely in there even if the baby still seemed to be a bit saddened and upset. They whined softly for a second, but only a second.

 

“Hey, it’s okay, I’m gonna take good care of you...” Jeremy thought for a second, then held open his breast pocket, right over his heart and held Nightshade near it. The weasel looked at the pocket, then hopped in and curled up, poking their head out. Jeremy giggled softly.

 

Nightshade looked up at Jeremy, letting out the soft whistle like they had earlier, before seemingly flopping back and relaxing for now. OK, unexpected but pleasant save.

 

Jeremy headed back over to Michael, who was still out cold but looking healthier than he had a few minutes ago. Nightshade poked their head out of Jeremy’s pocket again and looked at Michael when Jeremy bent down. They whistled softly and looked almost offended when Michael didn’t respond. Jeremy giggled.

 

“He’s asleep, Nightshade. Don’t worry, you can meet your uncle Michael later, I promise,” he assured softly. Nightshade curled up and Jeremy lifted Michael. It was easier this time around for some reason, and it didn’t take him long to find the path back to the village. Just a few more minutes and he could dump this dumbass onto a bed.

 

By the time he did make it back to the village, he saw some of the village folk in the distance. Jeremy quickly made sure Michael's hat was still in place and that his tail was completely hidden (which both were, phew) as he kept walking over. One of the villagers noticed him, and quickly went over. "Oh my goodness, what happened? Are you both OK?" the human lady asked as her companion came over, a half gnome-half human.

 

“We’ll be fine, but my friend needs rest. We cleared out the goblin cave,” Jeremy panted. He might be stronger than he looked, but he usually only carried heavy things for a short time. And Michael was heavy. Or at least for Jeremy he was.

 

He continued to stagger to the tavern. “Could you ask them to set up a room for us? Two bed, please,” he shakily requested, shooting as charming of a smile as he could manage.

 

The two ladies quickly nodded. "Of course," the half-gnome said before hurrying on to the tavern. The human, however, stayed with Jeremy, worry evident in her eyes.

 

"Do you need help carrying him? You have to be exhausted after clearing out the cave."

 

Jeremy didn’t want to risk her carrying him and finding his tail or his horns (Jeremy could feel the start of the tail as he was holding him). As much as he wanted to accept, he couldn’t. “I can manage for a few more minutes, just please get the door for us? And help keep our path clear, thank you.”

 

"Oh, of course," she said, staying nearby and telling people to move as they made their way to the tavern.

 

At the entrance of it, he saw a familiar raven perched near the entrance, who cawed and flew down and landed on Jeremy's shoulder before looking down with worry at Michael. She stayed as Jeremy entered and the tavern owner, who was nearby, quickly gestured to a back hall. "I've already got the situation, go to the third room to your right, there are two beds free and the keys are set up on the bedside table."

 

“Thank you sir.” Jeremy nodded as he walked past him. The woman rushed ahead and opened the door for him. Darling flew in ahead of them and Jeremy manage to (finally) set Michael on a bed. With some quick rearranging, it was impossible to see any of Michael’s demonic features. Darling perched on Michael’s pillow worriedly.

 

“Don’t worry, Darling, he’s just tired at this point,” Jeremy assured her before turning to fact the two ladies who had helped him. “Thank you for your assistance. If it’s not too much trouble, can you let the mayor know that my companion and I are back and we’ve upheld our end of the bargain?” The women nodded, still watching Michael with worry. “I’ll take care of him, don’t worry,” Jeremy reassured them.

 

After a moment, the human woman nodded and left. The half gnome still looked concerned. “You let someone know if you need any help, okay, child? I’ll go talk to the mayor, just be sure to look after yourself and your boy there,” she instructed before closing the door. Jeremy locked it a moment later.

 

He slowly sat back on his own bed. Nightshade popped his head up out of Jeremy’s pocket and looked up at him. “Hey buddy. Don’t worry, I’m just tired.”

 

Nightshade let out a little trill, nuzzling against him as best as they could from the pocket he was situated in before looking over at Darling and Michael. The raven looked over, cocking her head to the side before letting out a gurgle. The weasel let out a small squeal before settling back into Jeremy's pocket, and he could guess the little baby let it out as a noise of excitement.

 

Jeremy chuckled and slowly reached up to stroke Nightshade’s head. He nuzzled into the touch. “You’re gonna get lots of friends now, aren’t you?” He looked over at Darling. “This is Nightshade. I’ll be looking after him from now on.”

 

As much as Jeremy wanted to sleep, he knew he would have to deal with the mayor at some point. So, slowly, he climbed to his feet, grabbed the keys, and headed out the room. He found the tavern owner quite quickly. “Hello sir, thank you again for the room.” He nodded with a smile. “At some point the mayor or some guards may come to find us, but I’ll be resting and patching up my friend. Could you let them know that I’ll stop by the town hall tomorrow at some point to discuss the rest of our agreement, please?”

 

“Oh, of course,” the tavern owner replied. “I’ll let them know so you and your friend can be. Thank you again for helping us out, by the way.”

 

Jeremy smiled, weariness hitting him properly. “Of course, sir. We were glad to be of assistance. I’ll come out and pay for the room later, once I’ve had a chance to recover.” With a wave, Jeremy headed back to the room and locked the door.

 

He started to dig through his bag and pulled out some healing salve and some bandages. With some difficulty, and more than a little awkwardness, Jeremy cleaned up his arms and bandaged them up. Then he pulled out some sunflower seeds and some dried meat for Darling and Nightshade. After setting them down, Jeremy pulled out his project and settled down to work on it. The red fabric was soft under his fingers, even if the needle stung a little when he pricked himself.

 

Nightshade watched him as he worked, trilling in a curious manner while staying at a safe distance away. Besides that, he never bothered Jeremy’s work. Darling didn’t either, staying by Michael’s side at his table as he slept.

 

 

 

After some time of working and Jeremy considering checking on Michael, he heard said person start to stir. A groan came from that side of the room, and Jeremy looked over to see Michael reach up and rub his eyes from under his glasses, though he hissed and lowered his hands. “Ugh...”

 

“Ah, finally awake I see.” Jeremy sighed, setting his projects aside. He stood and walked over to Michael’s bed, perching on the side. He peered down at Michael with concern and slight annoyance.

 

Michael looked over at Jeremy once he sat down, seemingly studying him despite the tired expression he wore. He seemed to get confused for a second at something he saw (probably the annoyance) before asking, “You’re not hurt, right?”

 

Jeremy sighed. He might have been annoyed but he couldn’t be mad, Michael had been trying to protect him. “I’ll live, it was just a couple of scratches,” he assured him. “What were you thinking, Michael? You could have died! You would have if I didn’t know Cure Wounds... you really scared me back there,” he murmured, brushing Michael’s wild hair off his face a little.

 

“I... I panicked when I saw what was happening and thought on my feet,” Michael admitted after a few seconds of silence. “I knew you had a spell left and knew Cure Wounds. The poison I used would’ve taken a minute for him to pass out, but it instantly immobilizes with the high dosage I used.” Michael glanced to the side them, frowning. “I didn’t mean to scare you though. I just didn’t want you to get really hurt...”

 

“I was ready for his attack, but thank you.” Jeremy sighed again. For as mature as Michael might have seemed to be, he was still pretty young. Jeremy was too, but he’d had a bit more experience in the world than Michael had. “Part of working with people means trusting them to be able to do things. You support but if you put yourself in harms way like you did today, you can just make things worse sometimes. Thanks for protecting me, but how about we work on not getting you knocked out so I have to drag you back to town?” Jeremy offered with a small smile. He still felt the annoyance in the back of his head, but Michael was just trying to help. He just didn’t know how to fight alongside others.

 

As he watched Michael, Jeremy saw him try to curl up a little within himself, though stopped and quickly hissed. “I... yeah, alright.” He was still looking away, a mix of emotions in his face (including guilt and frustration, but not towards Jeremy, towards himself). “I... it’s not that I don’t trust you, I’m sorry if I came off that way. I’m really sorry.” Even if Michael was over a foot taller than him, he seemed like the small one for once, especially when he started to tear up and tried to hide it.

 

Jeremy glanced up and saw the curtains were drawn, and he knew he locked the door, so he pulled off Michael’s hat and started stroking his hair properly. “Hey, it’s okay... it’s okay... We just need to learn how to work together properly. This was our first fight together, and I think we did pretty well. We just have to practice, is all.” Jeremy bent down and kissed his forehead. “Try not to move around too much, auglas. You’ve bruised a couple of ribs at the very least.” He couldn’t help the Gnomish nickname slipping out, but he wasn’t about to take it back either.

 

Michael leaned into his touches, seeming to relax a lot better that way. He let out a shaking sigh before glancing up at Jeremy with a sheepish smile and flushed cheeks. “I... OK. Thanks.” There was a curious look in his eyes, however. “What does... auglas mean?”

 

“It- I mean- er- it means... sunbeam ...” he stammered out, his voice partly trailing off as his face turned red. He glanced away, looking away so he wouldn’t see Michael’s response. He was regretting the nickname a little now.

 

He felt Michael’s hand reaching over for his free one, and he let him intertwine their fingers. Michael gently squeezed Jeremy’s hand before Jeremy felt the other gently tug said hand. Despite how flustered he was, he listened to the nonverbal request and looked over, seeing the absolute awe and adoration in Michael’s face. “How do you say ‘I adore you’ in Gnomish?”

 

“I-it’s- well, there’s not an exact translation but word for word it’s basically ‘Ni meleth fi’.” Jeremy was stumbling over his words and oh shit the syntax was wrong and he was freaking out a little. “That’s not quite right, let me try aga-“

 

“Jeremy, hey.” Michael tugged again on his hand, and he shut up long enough to look down at the other. He saw the slightly lopsided smile that Michael held before he spoke. “Ni meleth fi.”

 

Jeremy just about melted on the spot, even with Michael’s slightly skewed pronunciation. “Ni meleth fi arthi,” he murmured, awe coloring his tone.

 

He saw Michael’s face light up, though the other cocked his head to the side. “What does ‘arthi’ mean?” he asked then, his head cocked adorably to the side as he mispronounced the word somewhat.

 

Arthi means ‘too’ or ‘also.’” Jeremy giggled, shaking his head. “And melethli means ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’.” The raven cawed at the sound of her name. “That’s right, just like you.” Nightshade let out a small whistle and then a honk from the table where he had been napping and Jeremy glanced over. “I’ll be back in just a second, auglas, I just need to go help the baby.” He stood and helped Nightshade back into his pocket before heading back over to Michael.

 

When he came back over, Michael’s eyes were wide as he looked at the little weasel that stuck his head out of Jeremy’s pocket. The little baby let out a low whistle, and Michael couldn’t help but lift his finger carefully by his face. Nightshade reached over, sniffling his finger before butting his head and rubbing it against Michael’s finger. “Hi there, little guy,” Michael murmured out with a gentle fondness, like he had with the livestock in the cave. “Where did you find this little one? They’re normally clinging to their moms when they’re this young.”

 

“He’s coming with us now. He... I found him alone, cornered by a wolf. I couldn’t see any trace of him mom anywhere...” Jeremy sighed, reaching up and stroking Nightshade. The little weasel dooked happily. “His name is Nightshade because I found him hiding under a nightshade bush outside the cave.”

 

Michael nodded solemnly, looking up at Jeremy before back over at Nightshade. “Well, it looks like he really adores you,” he pointed out before cooing at the baby, who let Michael scratch under his chin while continuing to happily dook. “He seems like such a sweet, polite boy.”

 

“He’s very sweet. And just generally lovely,” Jeremy agreed, even as he felt him previous flusteredness creep up on him again. Michael interacting with animals was adorable.

 

“Going back to our earlier subject, I do have something for you. It should help you when you’re... thinking on your feet?” Jeremy still had one more patch to attach but... he could use that one to demonstrate.

 

Jeremy hopped up, careful of Nightshade, and grabbed his project, holding it up with a flourish. The red robes were soft and covered in many different patches. “It’s called a ‘robe of useful items’. I think it’ll be more useful to you than it would be to me.”

 

Michael looked it over with wide, curious eyes. “I’ve heard of those before and don’t know really much about them, but I know they’re rare to find and expensive...” His eyes darted around quickly before meeting Jeremy’s. “This looks... Did you make this? They’re not easy to make...” Michael’s eyes shifted down to one patch in particular, and his face scrunched up in confusion. “Why is there a patch of an iron door? And a rowboat? What?”

 

“I did make this,” Jeremy confirmed. “And it’s a robe of useful items. Those are the useful items.” Jeremy grabbed the third dagger patch from the table. He was planning on sewing it on but oh well. “For example.” Jeremy tossed the dagger patch into the air, and caught spinning blade easily out of the air. “You take off a patch to get the item.”

 

“Woah, holy shit, that’s so cool,” Michael gasped out, staring at the dagger before looking at the patches. “So... Wait, I can pull out two mastiff dogs? And that door? What? That’s insane.” His golden gaze shifted to look back at Jeremy. “You’re insane, but in a good way. In a great way. Oh my god Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy blushed and looked away, stashing the dagger (with sheath) into his bag he’d put on the side. “It’s no big deal... it’s just probably... useful for you?” He was feeling too flustered by Michael’s reaction to properly come up with a response.

 

“It is a big deal, don’t sell yourself short.” Michael reached over for him then, and Jeremy saw him making grabby hands. “Come back over here, I wanna give you a hug or something else... Maybe not a hug since I can’t really move without feeling like death is coming for me by stabbing my ribs if I do that too much, but yeah. Affection.” Even if he spoke, well, somewhat decently, Michael’s cheeks were flaring up while Darling seemingly laughed from where she was perched on the bedpost.

 

“You can stop it, Darling. He’s being very sweet, even if he is a self sacrificing idiot,” Jeremy teased lightly. He relaxed and, making sure not to disturb Nightshade who was still peeking out his pocket, Jeremy climbed onto Michael’s bed and curled up next to him. Nightshade shifted out of his pocket and climbed over to curl up on the pillow next to them. “Ni meleth fi,” Jeremy murmured with a giggle.

 

Looking over, Jeremy easily could read Michael’s loving expression as he reached his hand back over, intertwining their fingers. He was looking down at their interlocked hands before he spoke up, softly and lovingly. “N-ni meleth fi, Jeremy.” Michael squirmed for a second, though quickly stopped as he hissed softly for a second. “Geez, I need to remember not to really move right now.”

 

Jeremy giggled softly. “I’m out of magic at the moment, but I can give you another heal tomorrow. But we’re gonna have to spend a couple of days here to get you back up to travelling,” he murmured, regretful that he had to break his promise.

 

“It’s alright, don’t worry,” Michael reassured him with a warm smile. “I’m gonna sorta be stuck in here until we can go, so it’s fine. It’s not like I have to go out and mingle and stuff. I can have the company of you and the animals. That’s the only company I want.” He spoke sweetly, though glanced away as he shyly smiled, fiddling with Jeremy’s fingers after he finished talking.

 

“Ni meleth fi arthi, Michael.” Jeremy practically melted, grinning softly. “Does... does this mean we’re boyfriends?” he asked quietly, still letting Michael fiddle. It was cute, and sort of relaxing in a strange way. It meant they were getting stretched out and almost massaged (that’s how it felt anyways) and considering how much delicate work Jeremy did, it felt like heaven.

 

Michael looked up at Jeremy then. “I-I... I would really like that, b-but don’t you need to ask?” Before Jeremy could open his mouth to say anything, Michael waved his free hand, still massaging and messing with Jeremy’s held hand. “No no, wait, let me- uh...” He cleared his throat before looking up at Jeremy, bearing that lopsided smile Jeremy was learning was a trademark of when he was very happy. “Jeremy, will you be my boyfriend?”

 

“I would love to be your boyfriend, Michael.” Jeremy grinned. True, they hadn’t known each other too long, but they could take it slow. As it stood, Jeremy had never met anyone that he clicked with as quickly or as well as he did with Michael. This step didn’t feel rushed, it felt right.

 

Nightshade dooked happily from his place on the pillow, scooting to quickly nuzzle first at Michael’s cheek, then Jeremy’s. He perched himself right by Jeremy’s forehead, curling up and falling asleep quickly. “I think Nightshade approves of this too.” Jeremy chuckled, glancing up at his weasel before grinning at Michael happily.

 

Michael let out a laugh then, sounding positively giddy before snorting. Both of them were taken aback for a second before they both just burst out laughing, which ended with Michael continuing his somewhat snorting laugh. Nightshade didn’t wake up, but Darling crowed along with them.

 

 

 

Jeremy waited in the tavern the next day, the mayor of the town apparently on his way (though he was supposed to arrive ten minutes ago). Finally, in walked the mayor, sighing as he made his way over to Jeremy once he saw him. He seemed to relax once he locked eyes with just Jeremy. “Ah, thank you so much for helping, brave traveler,” the mayor said with a smile, taking Jeremy’s hand and shaking it.

 

“Of course, sir. We were both glad to do it.” Jeremy’s handshake was firm but not too hard. He couldn’t help the way his eyes wanted to naturally drift to the broach, but he resisted for now. Thank goodness he had some control over his nature from the years of practice. He was much more reasonable than people with his… affliction. They sat at the table by the window. “How did the animals fair once they were rescued?”

 

“They were a bit shaken and stressed, but otherwise they were good. The livestock have been returned to their owners, though we are working on trying to compensate those who weren’t as lucky to get back their goods.” Looking outside, Jeremy could see one family going by with their own livestock, seemingly heading back home.

 

“For your compensation, it will be paid back in full. Your stay here and anything you have eaten will be covered, so you don’t have to worry while you get back on your feet to keep on going.” The mayor smiled at Jeremy as he said this.

 

“Thank you sir.” Jeremy nodded. “And for the broach?” The mayor hesitated. Jeremy could tell that he wasn’t gonna give it up easily. Time for the Gnomish knowhow.

 

“I understand if you’re unwilling to part with it, it is rather lovely, but I think it’s only fair to warn you. The gems are fakes, and the metal is cheap. It’s just been gold plated. And the enchantment is actually a curse. It creates a feeling in others, gives them less confidence in the wearer. Now, I understand the emotional attachment and everything, but you may want to consider just who gave it to you.”

 

Jeremy arched an eyebrow, looking down at the broach. The fakes were easy for him to spot, and he already knew the enchantment thanks to his focus. He looked up at the mayor, eyes concerned.

 

The mayor took off the broach then, looking it over and feeling everything over before cursing under his breath. “Damn woman.” There were a string of curses that escaped the mayor in a language Jeremy didn’t know before the broach was quickly given over. “Now I know why that wench was so insistent on me not giving it away.”

 

Standing up then, the mayor quickly brushed himself off. “I shall be on my way then if our business here is done. I have some other matters I need to attend to, as well as some new ones that I need to get done now.”

 

Jeremy stood and shook the mayor’s hand. “Thanks again sir, and good luck with your business.” With a small grin Jeremy scooped up the broach into a small bag and headed back to the room. He unlocked the door and found Michael sitting up in bed with Nightshade curled up on his lap and Darling watching protectively from the headboard.

 

“How you feeling, auglas?” Jeremy asked as he locked the door behind him.

 

“I’m feeling a bit better, my ribs ache a bit if I do any sudden movements, but the pain if I do that isn’t as bad as the pain yesterday,” Michael explained as he scratched along Nightshade’s head. He looked up at Jeremy then with a warm smile, glancing down at the small bag. “How was the meeting?”

 

Jeremy grinned as he perched on his own bed. He held up the bag. “I got it. And we’re staying for free so that’s a double bonus.” He leant back, flopping sideways so he was lying on the bed while still facing Michael. “The animals made it back okay as well, just a little shaken. And the whole town is celebrating a little from what I heard. We did good.”

 

“That’s good,” Michael said around a sigh, glancing over at the curtain-drawn window. “Even if I don’t have the best feelings towards this town, I’m still glad we helped them out.”

 

Jeremy nodded with a sigh. “They’re innocents, even if they’re ignorant.” Then he peered up at Michael. “Do you need another burst of healing? Or you think you’re okay for now?” he asked. Jeremy hadn’t done one today because he didn’t want to use up all his magic for now, but he was happy to do so if it was needed.

 

“I think I’m good for now. I’ll be ready to leave tomorrow morning,” Michael reassured him with a smile then, looking over at Jeremy before looking down at the weasel. “Thank you though. If anything, I could go for some good conversation. I’ve been sleeping a lot and I need to get my energy out somehow.”

 

Jeremy chuckled, sitting up. “Sure, but do you mind if I work while we talk? I need to extract the enchantment from this thing and store it somewhere until I need it.” He held up the bag with the broach again and grabbed his bag of holding, starting to dig through it.

 

“I don’t mind at all. Your work is always so intriguing to me,” the other reassured as Jeremy dug through his bag. “How did you figure out all of this stuff anyway? The enchantment extraction and all that, because that just... I never even thought about thinking about magic exactly like energy until you pointed it out.”

 

Jeremy shrugged as he pulled out a large piece of medusa quartz. “I can’t quite explain it, it just... made sense to me. I saw how my mom would get tired after casting a large spell but she’d be energetic when she dispelled something. And then I sort of realized that it was the same for all magic users.” Jeremy opened his focus and began the transfer. “After that it was just about finding how to best isolate the energy. And wasn’t too hard, just took a few experiments and a whole lot of burned fingertips.” He chuckled, pulling the magic into his hand. It was a sickly looking green. He turned it dark blue, for neutral power, and started channeling it into the quartz.

 

“That’s still amazing. Hopefully your fingerprints are still intact though.” Looking up, Jeremy saw Michael attentively watching him and his whole process, as if entranced. When he saw that Jeremy caught him staring, he just smiled fondly at him. “Sorry, it’s just really interesting to watch the whole process.”

 

“It’s fine, it’s nice to have someone who’s so genuinely interested. Most artificers are a little... old fashioned, I guess. They don’t think it counts as a proper infusion since I didn’t cast the spell totally myself and they’ve all denied my research because it doesn’t work how they think it should.” Jeremy finished the transfer and held up the quartz for Michael to inspect. “But you see? This quartz is now charged with magical energy. And I can change the shape of the energy as I need to, even if I don’t know the exact spell I need. It’s just about knowing the form of energy needed to work it.” The quartz didn’t look different at all, but Jeremy could feel how charged it was. “And every type of magical object, and even living creatures, have their own magical energy. It’s just a matter of finding their signature.”

 

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Michael muttered out, looking genuinely interested as he seemed to be taking in and thinking over everything Jeremy was saying. “Even those who can’t tap into that energy or choose not to still have it too, right?”

 

“Exactly!” Jeremy beamed, sticking the quartz into the box of stored energy crystals in his bag. “Which is why almost every creature can learn some magic, or be used to assist in spells. It’s just their energy being channeled.”

 

“But everyone can manipulate or channel their energy in different ways,” Michael added with a warm smile. Darling crowed. “Yes, exactly. Thank you for the contribution.” The raven almost looked offended with how Michael spoke to her, and the half tiefling just laughed. “Sorry, girl.”

 

Jeremy sniggered and Darling sort of glared at him for a moment before she cawed and flew over to his shoulder. Jeremy stroked her feathers and she settled happily.

 

“But yeah, you’ve got it. Different people just use their energy in different ways, and we can swap around the energy for objects using our own.” Jeremy pulled out a small project from his bag, another little special toy animal and settled himself on the end of Michael’s bed. He pulled out his tools and started fiddling with some of the mechanism. It wasn’t clear what the toy was yet, but he knew Michael and especially Darling would love it.

 

“That’s really amazing,” Michael concluded from his bed. “And you’re the only person who knows about this? No one else believes you or has tried out this themselves?”

 

“Nope, not as far as I can tell.” Jeremy sighed. “If they have, it’s been ignored by the rest of the artificer community. And no one I’ve spoken to about it believes me.” It was a little depressing and disheartening really, but Jeremy had proven his theories were right. So he just used them quietly, despite the papers he had published about the subject.

 

“People are just ignorant about the good you’ve done. They refuse to change and think their way is the best way. All of those in the community are just ignorant to your intellect and ingenuity,” Michael insisted from where he sat. “I’m sure others who aren’t in the community have read it and believe you. I know I certainly do, and Darling does as well as Nightshade. Isn’t that right, little baby?” Nightshade just snored from where he was napping. “See.”

 

Jeremy giggled, fitting in a few new gears and testing to see if it worked. As expected, it did. “Nightshade is a very smart boy,” Jeremy agreed, before looking up at Michael for a second, shooting him a small smile. “And his dad isn’t too bad either. He’s understood a decently complex theory in the space of a few minutes and he boosted Nightshade’s papa and made him feel listened to, for once.” Jeremy blushed and got back to working.

 

While he took that in, Michael’s eyes widened as he blinked. His cheeks gained more color then when Jeremy glanced up to look at him. “I- uh... T-that’s good t’hear,” the other stuttered out, and he could just hear how loved Michael felt from his tone alone, let alone his body language. Jeremy then watched him curl up a bit, though he held Nightshade close, carefully making sure the little weasel stayed comfortable and ensured he stayed asleep.

 

Jeremy tried to say something else, but the sheer adoration pouring off Michael was a little overwhelming, so he sort of just squeaked, turned a deeper red and curled around his project a little, reconnecting some of the gears with the main mechanism. Now the internals were all set he could start on the casing.

 

He heard Michael laugh then from where he was settled, as well as the crowing laughter from Darling from where she perched. Glancing up, he saw Michael shift and place Nightshade down on the pillow beside him. “I’m gonna nap actually, I’m just really tired. You aren’t boring or anything, but I’m just exhausted. Can we keep talking when I wake up?”

 

Jeremy smiled and nodded, quickly packing his things into the box. Then he set the box on the bedside table and bent over Michael. “Of course, Auglas,” he murmured, kissing Michael’s cheek gently. “I’ll be just sitting on my bed instead, so I’ll be here when you wake up.” Then Jeremy scooted back and grabbed his box, pulling out the metal pieces and fabric he’d need got the casing of the toy.

 

He heard Michael happily hum. “Alright. Goodnight then- well, good morning, I guess? Geez, that’s so weird that ones automatically a greeting and the others a sort of farewell...” Jeremy couldn’t help but laugh as Michael grumbled as he got settled, hearing his breathing slowly even out as he eventually fell asleep.

 

Darling peered curiously down at Jeremy, and he just smiled fondly up at the bird as he continued to work. This environment, just working along with company, even if they were sleeping, was different than what he had a few weeks ago. It was nice and comfortable, a nice change of pace that he wouldn’t trade for the world. He just hoped that, despite the more fearsome journey ahead of them, that things would only get better for them.

Chapter Text

The honeymoon phase that Michael was constantly told about was supposed to last two weeks. For him and Jeremy, it was only a week at most. They just fell into this comfortable sort of vibe with one another, and once they got past the initial head-over-heels moments, more of their personalities began shining through. For example, Michael loved how snarky and sassy Jeremy could be while also having a lot of ticks and fidgets. Michael also showed more of his bright, boisterous personality, as well as a lot of his infodumps. He also just had to get used to having more company than just Darling, someone who shared a lot of his interests and was an intellectually compelling conversationalist.

 

Plus, Jeremy also finally found his weed pipe. That was another great thing, because he lost his own a week or two before getting the drop on Jeremy, so he could finally get to use some of the weed he’d been practically sitting on since.

 

He was happily sitting on the bench of the wagon with Jeremy, taking a load off and relaxing as he lounged over a good portion of it. Michael rested his legs across Jeremy’s as he let smoke billow out of his mouth in rings. “Yes, I swear that I am not shitting you when I say that I managed to sneak a boar into my room as a kid and practically tame it. I did have to let it back out into the wild and help it resettle back out there when the neighbors got too uppity about it, but Marley was such a sweetie. May he be prospering wherever he may be.” Michael gave a salute to the sky above then in a dramatic manner.

 

Jeremy chuckled and rolled his eyes. “I’m sure him and his children have flourished, especially since it’s you and you were probably leaving food and such out for them.” Michael blew a smoke ring at Jeremy for that, who simply sucked most of it up and let it curl lazily out of his mouth.

 

“I may have from time to time, but I haven’t seen him in seven or eight years,” Michael whined out as he rested his head back against the bench’s back. “Who knows how long boars live for. Fifteen years maybe? He could be an old boar and could be a grandfather to his boar grandchildren at this point! Or some asshole could have hunted him!”

 

Jeremy shrugged, he must not know either. He had opened his mouth to say something else, but froze midway, ears pricking up. He looked out, further along the road, and grinned brightly. “No way... it couldn’t be, could it?” he muttered, sitting up a bit straighter and peering out as far as he could.

 

“It could, whatever it is,” Michael muttered out, sitting up a bit straighter (heh) as he looked ahead at where Jeremy was seemingly peering out at.

 

Well, there was no way he could miss the brightly-painted wagons. There were six of them, all covered, with two carts as well. There seemed to be a lot of people, almost two dozen, and they seemed almost too distracted to notice them. It made sense, they were quite loud (and dampening his chill mood he had with Jeremy, but it was whatever). He saw that there seemed to be the name of this group painted along the side of each wagon.

 

“Well, y’can’t miss them, they’re so bright,” Michael muttered out, flopping back against the bench, lying down before he pulled the hood of his robe up to act as a cushion under his head. He felt the sleepy part of what was always his best highs finally start to hit him, and he wasn’t going to try to stay awake when the high compelled him to nap. “They’re loud too. ‘M gonna try t’sleep them off ‘till we get past them. Wake me up in an hour, yeah?”

 

“No fair, you had height advantage on me!” Jeremy whined, before his voice became very excited. “And don’t go to sleep! I know these people! They’re friends of mine!” he cried, his voice filling with joy and... something else. Affection maybe?

 

“I haven’t seen them in over a year, but we used to travel together. C’mon, I really want you to meet them, especially my best friend Chrissy,” Jeremy half begged. Well... when Jeremy was sounding so excited, how could Michael not at least let him do a little?

 

“Mm fine, but y’owe me. I’m missing my amazing high nap,” he muttered out, sitting up with a slightly over-exaggerated huff (for comedic effect, of course). “Also, is it the best idea for me to meet these friends of yours while I’m high? Because I am. High, I mean.”

 

Jeremy giggled. “It’s fine. They’re the ones who gave me the pipe in the first place, and got me hooked on the stuff.” He turned back to Michael. “Just to be clear though, most of them are people you’ve likely helped, so they may be familiar to you in some way. Most of them come from shitty backgrounds and started travelling to escape that. We won’t tell them who you are, but would it be okay if I used your real name? I trust them, but you make the call.”

 

Michael thought that over quickly before nodding. “Yeah, as long as they don’t know I’m Red Hood, we’re golden.” He gave a quick ‘OK’ hand sign before shifting himself so he was leaning a little against Jeremy. “Would it be OK if I told them I’m your real boyfriend?”

 

“Oh yes please,” Jeremy cooed, giggling a little still. He kissed the top of Michael’s head before getting Gideon to speed up a little, from a walk to a trot.

 

Within minutes, they were spotted by the caravan, and a couple of riders detached and started towards them while the rest of the wagons and carts slowed to a stop. “Sit up for a minute, Auglas,” Jeremy prompted as he spotted one of the riders, much smaller than the others, heading straight for them.

 

As soon as Michael had shifted, Jeremy stood up, still holding the reigns. “Hey there!” he called, making a dramatic pose, one arm out as if reaching for the rider. “Christine~!” Did Jeremy just sing that?

 

Jeremy~!” a female voice replied in the same sort of singsongy way. Jeremy burst out laughing, almost falling off the side of the wagon but righting himself last second. He sat down before he actually fell off.

 

Michael let out a small yelp when Jeremy initially fell off, though he couldn’t help but laugh as he got out and helped Jeremy to his feet. “Be more careful with the dramatics, Jeremy. You’re gonna hurt yourself or actually break a leg,” he teased before turning his attention to the small rider that made her way over. She was laughing a bit as well.

 

“He’s right, you need to learn to stick the landing better!” She then hopped up onto the bench of the wagon so she was at equal height (almost) to Michael and taller than Jeremy. “I’m Christine, it’s nice to meet you, stranger!” Christine held out her hand to Michael then as she beamed a smile that he swore could blind him.

 

“Nice to meet you, but my name isn’t Stranger. I’m Michael,” he said with a teasing tone, taking Christine’s hand and shaking it.

 

“I’m just out of practice,” Jeremy grumbled, but he was grinning. As soon as Michael had let go of Christine’s hand, Jeremy dashed forwards and wrapped his arms around her, grabbing her just below her butt, and spinning her around. They were both laughing happily. “God, I’ve missed you, Chrissy! It’s so good to see you!”

 

Jeremy set her down after a second, back on the seat of the wagon. She reached down and swatted one of his ears affectionately. “It’s good to see you too, Remy! Who would have guessed we’d cross paths on the road like this. You’re never this far north!” Christine wasn’t pressing for answers, which sort of surprised Michael but he wasn’t going to ask yet. “Oh, you two have to come over and say hi to everyone! They’ve all missed you, Remy, and I’m sure they’d love to meet Michael!”

 

At that, a feeling of dread creeped up in Michael at the loud, bodacious group of travelers that were coming closer, waving and hollering. While he might deal with crowds and a lot of people for his Red Hood duties... he was still an introvert, and an anxious one at that. Plus, the loudness wasn't helping with his chilled-out vibe that was being pushed aside. "I don't want to interrupt a reunion, I can, uh, stay back here for now. Thanks though. Maybe before you guys go I can pop over and say 'hi' quickly," he said, hoping his nerves and anxiety didn't show. He hated meeting new people, but he really hated the small talk that came along with it.

 

Jeremy took Michael’s hand gently and squeezed it, shooting Michael a small, understanding smile. Then he turned to Christine. “Chrissy, he’s uh, he’s like me. When I first met you,” he explained and Christine seemed to understand since she hopped onto her pony and quickly rode over to the caravan. They quieted down after a moment, falling to a much more relaxed and manageable state.

 

“It’s okay, Michael. These are good people, and a lot of them have anxiety too. They’ll do what they need to help you relax, just... give them a chance? Please? And if it’s too much, you’re welcome to go and hide if you need to. It’s just that these guys are kinda like my family, and I’d really love for them to meet someone who’s so important to me as you are,” Jeremy murmured, kissing Michael’s cheek softly. “You don’t have to, but I promise these are probably the best and most understanding people you’ll ever meet.”

 

Feeling his heart warm and melt at what Jeremy just did, Michael couldn't help but smile down at Jeremy as he squeezed his hand. "I... Alright. If you think so highly of them, they at least deserve a chance, especially if I'm so important to you." Grinning a little then, Michael leaned a bit against Jeremy. "Would you go as far as saying... I'm your favowite pewson?"

 

Jeremy wrapped his arm around Michael, laughing happily. “Yes I would. But don’t tell Christine, she’ll get jealous that you’ve stolen that spot,” he whispered jokingly.

 

Within a minute, the caravan was upon them. All the members came over to greet Jeremy, and he greeted them all by name and with a hug or a handshake or, once or twice with the oldest members (they were a couple of old ladies who he called ‘Auntie’), a kiss on the cheek. He made sure to filter each and every person, introducing them to Michael carefully and with adoration in his eye. Everyone was warm and gentle and quiet, which really helped to settle Michael a lot. They were all sweet and understanding, just like Jeremy said.

 

There was a wide range of everyone in the group; from halflings like Christine to gnomes to half-elves and humans to a couple of half orcs and even two full tieflings. They were at the end and when they reached Michael, their eyes lit up (literally).

 

“It’s nice to meet you, Michael. I’m Melech, and this is my sister, Hope. We’re the leaders of this troupe of performers,” the taller of the two said, bowing low. His horns curved back toward the back of his head, and his tail swayed gracefully. The young woman also bowed, but she giggled too. She had spiral horns similar to Michael’s and her skin was a lovely dark red, like her brother’s. They both had long purple hair and white eyes and something about how at ease they were around everyone also set Michael at ease. He wouldn’t be rejected here for his heritage at least.

 

"It's nice to meet you two," Michael said, recognizing the two from a few years back when he saved them from some racist elitists. "You all have a lovely trou-"

 

When he went to bow, a dog ran by, tripping him up and he almost fell forward, keyword being almost. He felt hands quickly grab him, pulling him into a quick dip with the reaction time as he looked up to see Jeremy smiling down at him. "Be a little more careful there, Auglas," he teasingly sang out before helping Michael to his feet.

 

Feeling a mix of embarrassment at messing up in front of the twins as well as a warmth in his chest from Jeremy catching him, Michael coughed and gave an awkward smile back to Jeremy and to the twins. "Hey, it wasn't my fault, it was the cute little dog, who I instantly forgave."

 

“As you should. Petunia is delightful.” Jeremy nodded, glancing over to where the dog had vanished behind a wagon before turning back to the twins. They were smiling softly.

 

“It’s nice to see you have finally found someone, brazmyr. You two look good together.” Hope giggled, reaching down to ruffle Jeremy’s hair. Wait, she called him brother?

 

Looking the three over, he could see the twins giving Jeremy an older sibling sort of treatment, and Michael couldn't help but find it endearing. However, the statement about them looking good together tripped him up, and he couldn't help but stutter as he looked away. "I-uh-um... I mean, what gave it away?" he asked, glancing cautiously back over at the twins.

 

Melech laughed, a deep, warm sound. “He called you ‘Sunbeam,’” he replied after a moment.

 

“And the way he looks at you, like you hung the moon and stars, sort of gives it away too,” Hope added. Jeremy started stuttering out a retort, but he looked a little too overwhelmed (in a good, fun way) to come up with one. He also turned bright red and the tips of his ears turned maroon. Hope and Melech laughed harder. Jeremy couldn’t respond and just settled for swatting at Melech‘s hand when he reached over to mess up his already messy hair.

 

"Aww, you do?" Michael asked with a soft smile, looking back and down at Jeremy then before bringing him into a hug. "Aww Jeremy, you sap. I want to see you look at me like that, don't keep that from me. I want to see how sweet and happy you look when you look at me like that." He pressed a lingering kiss to his cheek, pulling back as he held that soft smile and ignored the soft chorus of 'aww' from the twins.

 

Jeremy spluttered and flailed a little, but didn’t try to actually escape Michael’s arms or his kiss. If anything, he leant into it. When Michael looked at him properly, he was pouting.

 

Melech finally got Jeremy’s hair while Jeremy was distracted by making sad puppy eyes up at Michael. Instantly, Jeremy’s pout shifted to a good natured scowl directed at both the twins. “Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you get to push me around,” he grumbled, leaning into Michael’s embrace.

 

Hope smiled softly. “It’s like you never left, Jeremy.” Jeremy’s pout turned to a bright grin. “And if it’s not too much trouble... think you could fix up those machines you made us before we part ways once more? They’re in need of some maintenance since some people-“ She shot a glance at Melech, who shrugged and blushed. “-keep getting drunk and trying to climb on them. No one else can figure out how they work, so you’re the only one who can repair them.”

 

Jeremy looked up at Michael, who nodded, before looking back to the twins. “We’re headed north for now, so if you’re going that way, I’m sure we can follow for a bit while I work.”

 

"We weren't heading that way originally, but we're not in a rush to get anywhere right away, so sure," Hope said. "Plus, we can catch up that way and we can find out more about Michael here."

 

Michael gave a smile to the twins then. "Sure, that would be lovely. Plus, being around fellow tieflings for a bit'll be nice," he said, though neither of the twins seemed surprised.

 

"We were wondering why you were keeping it tucked away," Melech said before Hope glanced over at him again. "What? I'm being honest. It's not like we can't tell."

 

"It's just a habit, I guess," Michael admitted, scratching his neck with his free hand before tugging his hat off, plopping it down on top of Jeremy's head before letting his tail come loose. He let out a content sigh then before smiling down at Jeremy. "That looks cute on you."

 

“Well it was my hat.” Jeremy cheekily grinned up at him, even as his face turned red again. He looked really happy right then, and it made Michael’s heart skip a beat. Hope giggled, but it was quickly cut off by a small smack from Melech, which started a small, playful argument.

 

“If you grab your tools, we can get someone to take your wagon while you work. All three could use some maintenance, but we still have the extra parts you left, and they’re still running beautifully.” Melech grinned, wrestling his sister’s hand off his face. “And I’ll send Chrissy in to help if she can.”

 

Jeremy nodded and grabbed Michael’s hand. With a quick round of ‘see you later’s, Jeremy pulled Michael into the back of the wagon with a heavy sigh. “Sorry if they were a bit much... both Melech and Hope practically adopted me when I started travelling with them, but that means they act as embarrassing as older siblings too.” He was smiling as he rummaged through his crates for his bigger set of tools as well as his fine tuning ones. Michael recognized the bags.

 

"They're both very nice. Everyone in the troupe is nice," Michael admitted with a soft hum as he sat nearby, knowing he'd be no help with looking, especially while he was still high. "What machines did you make them though?" As he asked, he felt a weight on his shoulder, and he instinctively reached up and scratched along Darling's neck. "Hi there, pretty lady."

 

“A programmable shadow puppet machine with a built in music box, a ballet dancer automaton, and...” Jeremy thought for a moment. “Oh yeah, a musical lightning generator. They were all pretty awesome machines and they took months to make. But even big repairs should only take a day or two each since I have the blueprints for them now. Before I was making them from scratch.” He pulled out three rolls of paper and Michael could spot Jeremy’s neat yet spiky handwriting on parts of them already, along with just a sliver of schematics. “Anything you want to grab before we head over?” Jeremy asked once he had picked up everything.

 

Looking around in the cart, Michael hummed out before gaining a devious grin. "I know what."

 

Before Jeremy could ask or question anything, Michael reached over and picked Jeremy up, hands below his butt like Jeremy had done with Christine. "I wanna grab you," he declared proudly. "Oh, and also this." Reaching down with one hand, he picked up his own bag, which held his stuff. "That's it though."

 

Jeremy yelped when he was initially picked up, and he flailed a little as he tried to get his balance, but started giggling after a moment. “Michael! You dork!” He cackled before running his fingers through Michael’s hair affectionately. “Okay if you’re gonna carry me, let's head over to the yellow cart first. That’s where Auntie Vola and Auntie Natali keep the puppet theatre.” Even as he said this he was still giggling, having to wiggle a little now and then to keep his balance.

 

“Alright, sounds good to me.” Michael was careful as he got out of the wagon, carrying Jeremy with both hands now holding him up. “Also don’t worry, I won’t drop you.” It helped that Jeremy was relatively light.

 

He walked over with Jeremy to the yellow cart then, humming softly all the while. “How long did you stay with these guys for? I know you said it took months to build these machines.”

 

Jeremy thought for a second, still gigging. “About fourteen months? Something like that. I would sell my stuff when they were performing, and they’d pay me to maintain the machines, even if I told them they didn’t have to,” he hummed, his voice fond.

 

“Oh damn, that’s a long time,” Michael muttered out as he stopped outside of the yellow cart. He heard a soft caw and looked back to see Darling land on Jeremy’s head. “Oh, she wants to feel tall. Hi Darling.” She let out another caw then.

 

Jeremy chuckled and stroked Darling before Michael let him down gently. He kissed Michael’s cheek on the way past.

 

“C’mon Auglas, lemme show you something special.” Jeremy waved at the old human and half orc couple perched on the driver's seat before he unlatched the door to the covered wagon and stepped inside.

 

Michael gasped at the interior of the wagon. For one thing, it was bigger than it looked. Easily enough to fit the double bed at the front end of it and the contraption he saw before him. It was made of brass, as most things Jeremy made were, but there were also dark shapes of all manner of mechanical arms, which seemed to be made of glass. No doubt they wouldn’t show up easily when the puppet theater was in use. A small, glowing orb and different colored lenses sat on this side of the canvas screen, and there were a number of knobs and levers by the orb. A metal cover hovered over the orb, but the arm for it appeared to be damaged, as well as a few bits and pieces that just looked worn or damaged.

 

"Holy shit," Michael lamely muttered out as he walked over to the contraption, taking it all in as he heard Jeremy laugh at him. "This is... You made this a few years ago, right?" Jeremy let out a soft hum of affirmation. "Holy shit Jeremy, this is insane. I know you can easily make small little trinkets on-the-go, but this kind of craftsmanship... I don't have the intellect or vocabulary to describe how cool it is. You gotta show me how it works after you fix it up."

 

Jeremy blushed and gestured for Michael to come over. “Look, I’ll tell you now and I’ll show you later. And you can help me fix it up!” He crouched down next to the orb, looking over the damaged arm on the metal covering. Michael didn’t move for a second, still looking over the machine. “C’mon. I wanna teach you.”

 

"I don't know if I could help and not ruin things," Michael admitted, though he walked over and sat down beside Jeremy then, leaning against him as he looked over the damaged arm. "But I'll be happy to learn! Doesn't mean I'll be a good student 'cause you're a literal genius with this shit."

 

Jeremy turned even more red and spluttered a little, as he always did when Michael complimented his creations, but he looked really excited. After a moment, he calmed down and started pointing at the orb.

 

“This is both the light source and the power crystal. I made it from about five really powerful objects they gave me so it would basically never run out. This thing here-“ Jeremy tapped the cover. “-is supposed to cover it when it’s not in use, but the arm is busted. Look see? The joint here has been damaged and the actual on-off mechanism has been jostled loose.” Jeremy ran his fingers nimbly over the different areas, eyes focused but still glancing up at Michael occasionally.

 

Even if he was high, that didn't mean he couldn't focused. Michael smiled as he listened and nodded, following along to where Jeremy pointed. "So they're, so far, easier fixes? They seem like easier things to do at least," he said before Darling cawed from the top of Jeremy's head. "Thank you for the insight, Darling."

 

Jeremy beamed and nodded. “Yup, these are really easy. We just need to realign the mechanism and replace the joint.” Jeremy sat up on his knees and pointed to some of the mechanism controlling the glass rods. “These are how the puppets move. You can change them out like this-“ Jeremy pressed a button on the back of one black figure and it popped off. He reached over and replaced it with a different one from the bag next to the machine, clicking it into place. “Their shadows are sent on to the canvas screen, which shows through a panel on the side of the cart, which can be opened or closed with the lever on the wall over there.

 

“Once you have the puppets you want on the machine, you program it up with this control panel.” He pointed to the knobs and levers. “Each set controls a particular rod, and you can move them around manually.” Jeremy reached over and moved one of the levers. The puppet followed his movement. With a twist of the knob, the puppet went higher up the screen and then further down. “You can set them all to follow a certain set of movements, which you set when you press that button. It taps into the energy and holds a memory of what your movements were until you press it again.” He indicated to the button on the side of the console. He lay down onto the floor and looked under the control panel. “It looks like the button has worn out and some of the mechanisms underneath need replacing. I’ll need to remove the power source for a bit while I do that, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. Just a long process...” His voice was a little muffled as he slid out from underneath, but Michael could still hear him well enough.

 

"Well I'll be here with you as your handy-dandy assistant, good looks and charm included," Michael teased as he looked over the tool bags that Jeremy put down. "Also to keep you company besides Darling." He looked at said bird, who was perched on the bedpost now since Jeremy went underneath the machine a minute ago. She crowed from where she was perched. "Also besides Nightshade. How's he doing in your pocket?"

 

“Curled up and comfy. He’s still asleep, somehow, but he’ll be up soon enough for his lunch.” Jeremy stood up and put down his two bags of tools. “Okay, so can you hold the light cover while I undo the joint, and then put it to one side so it’s out of the way?” He pulled out a screwdriver.

 

"Yeah, of course," Michael said, managing to be able to do that, as well as everything else Jeremy instructed him to do as he worked on the machine. He happily did as Jeremy asked while he talked to him, feeling the pleasant high beginning to go away all the while.

 

He only stopped when Nightshade popped out and started to politely ask (he was always a polite boy when asking for anything) for food. "I think that's our sign for you to take a break. Hi there, little guy," he cooed at Nightshade, who happily dooked in response from where he stuck his head out from.

 

Jeremy looked a little torn, but he nodded after a second, looking down at Nightshade with a small smile. “Heya Nighshade, let's get you some food,” he cooed, stroking the weasel’s head gently and Nightshade dooking happily in response. Then Jeremy looked up at Michael, still grinning.

 

“If it’s lunchtime for him, that means it’s lunchtime for us. And the caravan will stop for lunch soon, since I still keep the same sort of schedule as these guys did.” As if prompted by Jeremy’s words, the wagon slowed down to a stop. A gentle knock rapped on the door.

 

“Boys! It’s lunch time and we have a lovely chicken soup for you.”

 

“Thanks, Auntie Natali! We’ll be out in just a second!” Jeremy called, standing up and stretching. “Don’t bother trying to escape Auntie Natali and Auntie Vola feeding you by the way, they’re determined old ladies.” He chuckled.

 

"That sounds a lot like how my moms were," Michael said as he stood up and stretched as well. As soon as he dropped his hands, he felt Darling perch on his shoulder. He reached over, cooing softly at her as he scratched along the side of her neck, which she melted into. "Plus, I'm feeling a bit hungry since we didn't snack before. You also owe me a huge nap later, I missed a really good one." As he said that, he poked Jeremy's face before heading towards the door of the caravan.

 

Jeremy followed after him, chuckling. “Of course, Auglas. I might even nap with you, if we get this first project done. It should only take a few hours more.” He grabbed Michael hand and pulled him around the side of the wagon where a small fire was set up with some soup bubbling merrily away in a cauldron. It smelled delicious.

 

Before he could comment further on what Jeremy said, the scent of the soup hit him hard. His stomach growled loudly, and Michael felt himself have the decency to be a little bit embarrassed (hey, he got hungry when he was high, sue him). No one seemed to mind though, those already settling down taking it as an invitation for Michael to hurry over.

 

He sat down next to Christine, Jeremy on his other side. She handed each of them a big bowl of soup, and with how the soup's smell hit him like a truck, he didn't feel embarrassed at all as he thanked the halfing girl before happily digging in.

 

After Jeremy fished out a piece of chicken for Nightshade to munch on, Jeremy dug in with as much vigor as Michael, earning a round of laughter from everyone else.

 

“Good to see you haven’t lost your appetite, Remy,” Christine teased. Jeremy scowled at her but he didn’t stop eating. “Also who is that little guy in your pocket and why haven’t I been introduced?”

 

Nightshade seemed to recognize he was being talked about, looking over at Christine with a soft, curious noise. "He's Nightshade. Jeremy here rescued him from a wolf. He's a very polite and lovely boy," Michael said as he stopped eating. "Isn't that right, little boy?" The baby weasel dooked, letting Michael reach over and scratch under his chin then.

 

“That’s right. He’s my baby and he’s very polite and smart,” Jeremy agreed, and Nightshade dooked louder, then got back to eating. Jeremy also got back to eating his soup.

 

“He’s lovely.” Christine stood and wandered over and peered at the little weasel. “Remy, I think I’m in love. I’m stealing him from you,” she deadpanned.

 

Jeremy squawked. “You will do no such thing! He’s my son!” He stroked Nightshade’s head protectively. Nightshade nuzzled into his touch but didn’t stop eating.

 

"Christine, please don't, he's our adopted son," Michael whined out as he wrapped his arms protectively around Jeremy, holding a hand over his breast pocket in the same manner. "We love and adore him and I promise that I will cry if you do."

 

Christine arched an eyebrow at the two, before grinning brightly and sitting on the floor in front of them. “Fine, keep your son. It’s clear you love him a lot. But I expect to be made his god mom or else I’ll riot! I’ll pull out all my Bardly powers on you guys.”

 

Jeremy laughed and looked up at Michael. “Well I’m okay with that. What do you say, Michael?”

 

"You don't even need to ask," Michael reassured with a smile, giving Jeremy a quick squeeze before letting go so he could keep eating. "And by that, I mean it's definitely OK with me, don't worry."

 

Jeremy snorted and got back to eating. So did Christine.

 

“So how long have you and Michael been together, dear?” Natali asked, waving her spoon between them. Vola agreed with the question, or Michael assumed she did from her nods and the way her fingers formed the sign language quickly and with great excitement. She looked really proud of Jeremy, honestly.

 

Caught a little off-guard, Michael almost choked on his food before he quickly swallowed. He wanted to ask how they knew, but the twins could tell easily and one of them probably told (probably Melech if he had to guess). Instead of being flustered about it, he quickly coughed and recovered. "Uh... Not long, a week," he said with a soft smile.

 

His reaction prompted a string of chuckles as well as a few murmurs. Natali looked a bit surprised, and so did Christine. “Only a week? Well I’ll say I’m a little surprised, you two are just so sweet together and so comfortable with each other.” Natali’s eyes softened.

 

“I’ve never seen Jeremy so relaxed with anyone else outside this group. You must have really charmed him, Mikey.” Christine arched an eyebrow at him again, smirking mischievously as Jeremy spluttered but made some vague noise of agreement.

 

Michael just shrugged as he kept smiling, though glanced down to look at his soup. "Well, we sort of just clicked, I guess? I dunno," he said around a soft hum before taking another spoonful. "It's easy to talk to him and it feels like we've known each other for years at the very least."

 

Jeremy nodded but didn’t say anything. He was bright red and his ears twitched a little with how flustered he was. He didn’t look upset or uncomfortable, which made his reaction cute.

 

“How the hell did you manage to find yourself someone so sweet, awwmady?” Hope teased, and Jeremy shot her a rude gesture.

 

“Just because I don’t speak infernal doesn’t mean I don’t understand your insults, graug.” He scowled, but his eyes were fond.

 

"Just because he can be a snarky asshole sometimes doesn't mean he isn't great," Michael pointed out before quickly giving Jeremy a peck on the cheek. "He can be super sweet too, you know. Like, cavity-causing kind of sweet."

 

Michael! Don’t out me like this!” Jeremy squawked and smacked Michael’s arm playfully. Everyone started laughing. “And you all shut up! Stop laughing at me! You’re all traitors!” he cried dramatically.

 

"You should have told me, how was I supposed to know?" Michael asked just as dramatically. "I'm so sorry! Please, forgive me somehow! I beg of you!" He reached in an over-the-top manner, trying his best to keep himself from grinning with how stupid they were being and with the troupe continuing to laugh at them.

 

“My reputation is ruined! Ruined I tell you!” Jeremy flopped against Michael for a second before he sat up and tugged Michael’s shirt, pulling him down to quickly peck him on the cheek. “I might forgive you.” Jeremy released him and fell to the side in a false swoon.

 

"No, I need your forgiveness! Please, tell me how I can get you to definitely forgive me!" Michael dramatically wailed out, ignoring how Darling was looking at him like he was (read: is) a complete dumbass.

 

Jeremy sat up and thought for a second, then pulled Michael down once more. His eyes glanced down to Michael’s lips. A question. Michael barely nodded, his heart suddenly pumping in his ears.

 

Jeremy quickly pecked his lips, just a gentle touch, but it was more than either of them had done. It was special. When Jeremy pulled back, he was grinning dazedly and he looked beyond happy. “I think I can forgive you properly now.”

 

Michael couldn't help but smile down at Jeremy then, sure that the smile was dopey, but he didn't care. "T-that was good- I mean th-that's good that you can forgive me," he stuttered out, feeling his ears warm up, especially when he heard the chorus of 'aww' in the background. At that, he quickly flipped up the hood of the robe Jeremy made him and busied himself with eating his soup.

 

Jeremy chuckled and went back to eating. Melech looked at Michael a little more carefully, eyeing the mastiff patch on the hood. “That’s quite the rare item you have there, Michael. A Robe of Useful Items is a very powerful creation indeed. How in the name of Tymora did you come across something like that?” he asked, sounding very impressed and probably expecting an exciting story or something.

 

At that thought, Michael just gave a nervous smile as he glanced over at Jeremy again. "Well, uh... Someone made it for me after I was a bit reckless. I'm not used to the whole team-effort thing after doing stuff by myself for a while, but said someone's helping me out there. This is a part of that help so I'm more prepared next time I'm thinking on my feet." He reached down and rubbed the red fabric. "Also, it's very comfortable and I think the red color suits me well."

 

Melech grinned and nodded. “It looks great on you, truly,” he agreed, nodding enthusiastically. Hope squinted at Michael, then brightened and looked over to Jeremy.

 

You mean to tell me he finally figured it out?! He spent so long trying to figure out how to actually create the patches and he wasn’t even close when he left us!” she babbled away in Infernal, gesturing at Jeremy wildly.

 

“Hey, if you’re gonna talk about me at least do it in common,” Jeremy grumbled, hunkering down around his soup bowl.

 

“If it was anything bad, I would tell you, don’t worry,” Michael reassured with a soft smile, patting Jeremy’s shoulder before looking over at Hope. “Well he did figure it out and he is doing lots of great work. I owe him a lot for making this for me, truly. He’s a smart one, that’s for sure, with magic and mechanics and even sewing.

 

Hope nodded. “He’s got quite the talent. But he also spent so many years studying, he didn’t have any breaks or any friends when he was growing up. We were the first for him. He loves what he does, and he’s amazing, but he worked hard to get where he is now.” Melech nodded as well, looking at Jeremy fondly. Meanwhile, Jeremy was feeding Nightshade another piece of chicken.

 

Looking at the other with a smile, Michael just let out a soft sigh. “Yeah, from when I first helped him years ago, before I really met him, I could tell that much. I’m glad to know him and the fact I can keep learning more about him. He’s really something, a good kinda something.

 

He is. He has a good, kind soul, even if he can seem a little... misguided at times. And we’re both glad you helped him all those years ago. We’re glad you got him and his father off the streets,” Melech agreed.

 

Before you panic, we knew from the moment we saw you but your secret is safe with us, Michael. And we’re the only ones who speak Infernal,” Hope reassured him.

 

Michael felt himself relax, and he didn’t even realize that he was tense before. “Oh, alright, that’s good. And yeah, I noticed he seems to be a bit... hyper-focused, but not on the best of things. Like he was persistently staring at and focusing on this magical object he wanted. I figure it’s something he’s working on but... yeah,” he lamely ended.

 

Hope shook her head. “Unfortunately he inherited his mother’s greed, not learnt but by nature. His mother was a partially corrupted wizard, and she made a deal with a demon, a real one. It cursed her with dragon’s greed when Jeremy had barely been conceived. He got it as well as a result. He does his best to control it, but he can’t always pull himself away from it entirely.

 

Melech looked over to Jeremy, who was in an intense conversation with Natali and a gnome that Michael couldn’t remember the name of. He seemed so happy and carefree around these travelers. “Never doubt his heart is in the right place though, even in his greed. He always uses the magic he collects to benefit others, even if it’s just to make them smile. But if you are going to be travelling with him from now on, you’ll need to help him. He doesn’t like that he’s been cursed as he has, and it’s left some... mental scars with him.

 

That’s understandable, I have some stuff that has scarred me from my own past. He always has good intentions, I know that much. He’s gone out of his way to do so many things to make me happy, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do the same for him. I hope so.” Letting out a sigh, Michael tugged his robe a little. “And I know there isn’t a way to fix someone, but you can always help however you can. It’s part of why I do what I do. I can’t just stand idly by when I can help.

 

It’s good to know that you’re just as good and kind outside the mask as you are in. Your actions have made you a hero to many people, so you really have helped a lot.” Melech grinned. His tone was light but he looked proud and happy; he obviously meant what he said.

 

And as for making Jeremy happy, I can tell you that you already have. He’s practically glowing, he’s so happy. In all the time he traveled with us, it was rare to see him so relaxed and joyful, but it seems to be a constant state around you. I don’t think you need to worry about if you can ever make him happy in return. You already do.” Hope’s voice was honest and sweet, and her eyes looked over at Jeremy softly, then back to Michael. She stood and grabbed Michael’s now empty bowl with a smile, ruffling his hair as she went past.

 

At that moment, Jeremy flopped backwards into Michael’s lap. “I’m so full and it’s glorious.” He sighed happily, grinning up at Michael. Nightshade climbed out of his pocket, sat on his chest, and dooked happily in agreement.

 

Somehow not surprised by this, Michael looked down and smiled fondly at Jeremy. “Is that so? That’s good,” he mused out, reaching down and running his fingers through Jeremy’s short hair. “Dooo you think I could convince you and your full belly to take a nap now?” he tried, giving his best smile and trying to give good puppy dog eyes down to his boyfriend then. “It would be so refreshing.”

 

Jeremy relaxed, sort of nuzzling into Michael’s hand. “I... I guess we could nap. But then we need to get back to work.” He sighed, relaxing even more under Michael’s touch.

 

“Of course, but a good nap will definitely help us have more energy when we go back to work,” Michael promised him as he kept running his fingers through Jeremy’s hair. “Where can we nap right now? Anywhere is fine, but-“

 

“The red wagon is perfect to nap in. We use it for storytelling, so itu’s filled with pillows and blankets,” Christine suggested.

 

Jeremy looked over to her sleepily, and grinned. “That’s still set up?” He turned to look at Michael. “It’s really cozy in there. And warm.”

 

“Thanks Christine,” Michael said, smiling at her before looking down at Jeremy. “Let’s go there then.” Before Jeremy could get up, Michael adjusted his arms and picked Jeremy up bridal-style as he stood, smiling down at him as Nightshade let out a surprised noise before relaxing again. “You better be ready for some hardcore napping, mister.”

 

Jeremy was already half asleep by the time they made it over.

 

 

 

Hours later, after the repairs on the shadow puppet theater were finished and every had eaten a hearty stew for dinner, Jeremy had gotten dragged out for drinks at the nearby village. He had put up a little resistance, but in the end he had given in. Now, some time later, Michael heard the group stumbling back to camp. They were all chatting loudly and some of them were singing very off key. Jeremy was one of them, and he was leaning heavily on Christine and was being partly supported by Melech.

 

Michael looked up from where he was settled to the side, where he had been messing with his enchanted handheld harp. Seeing the state Jeremy was in, he raised a brow at the two who were helping him before putting his harp back into his bag, which shrunk so it could easily fit.

 

“What happened? I thought Jeremy handled his alcohol very well,” Michael asked as he stood up, taking Nightshade, who had been settled resting on his leg, and placing him into an interior pocket in his robe to rest. Darling just seemed to let out a laugh from where she was perched on the tree branch behind him.

 

“He usually drinks very weak cider since he likes the flavor,” Christine explained, her cheeks looking a little rosy. “But this one decided that it would be funny to get him totally smashed. Again.” Christine shot Melech a glare who just shrugged grinned drunkenly back at her. He was obviously very intoxicated, but it seemed like he was using his tail to help keep himself upright.

 

At that moment, Jeremy’s drunken singing cut off as he spotted Michael. “Mikey! You’re here! I missed you, idril!” He hiccuped, taking a swig from the bottle he was still carrying as he pushed off from Christine and stumbled over to Michael, collapsing in a giggling heap next to him.

 

“Idril means sweetheart, don’t worry.” Christine sighed. “I’ll grab him some water. Sorry for not keeping a closer eye on him. I should have known better than to leave him with Melech, he finds drunk Jeremy hilarious.”

 

Despite his warm cheeks, Michael knew he could deal with this. He had dealt with drunk people before, and Jeremy just seemed to be a giggly, happy mess right now. He wasn’t aggressive or anything, which wouldn’t make sense for Jeremy anyway. “It’s fine, don’t worry,” he reassured as he settled back down on the ground, looking at Jeremy with worry and care. “Hey, Jeremy, how are you feeling?” As he asked, he kept his voice lower and softer for Jeremy.

 

Jeremy stopped giggling but kept hiccuping softly as he looked up at Michael. “I feel... awesome!” he slurred quietly. “Everything is just... fuzzy and you’re looking extra pretty right now.” He clumsily reached up and cupped Michael’s cheeks. “Everything’s even more awesome now you’re here. Everything’s always better when you’re around.”

 

Christine sat herself next to Michael’s other side and offered him a fresh water-skin for Jeremy. She smiled sort of bemusedly down at Jeremy.

 

Ignoring how he just wanted to curl up at the compliments Jeremy was giving him, Michael thanked Christine for the water-skin. He took it and smiled fondly down at Jeremy. “Then drinking some water for me’ll be even better, right? You need to drink some. Please.”

 

Jeremy nodded and obediently gulped down some of the water. “S’at good, auglas? Did I do that good?” he asked, his voice taking on a heavily Gnomish accent. Normal it was barely present but it seemed that the more drunk Jeremy was, the more noticeable it became. Jeremy shifted a little and laid down over Michael’s lap, looking up at him. “What d’you think, Chrissy? Did I do good?”

 

Christine nodded, stroking his hair a little before taking a drink from her own water-skin. “You did great, Remy,” she assured him.

 

“Of course you did Jeremy. I’d say you did better than good actually, you did great like Christine said,” Michael reassured him, running his hand through the hair at the nape of his neck. “You always do great though.”

 

“Well not always. I get distracted. And greedy sometimes. But I do try to be good, really,” Jeremy mumbled, closing his eyes before they flew wide open. “S’like how I did good when I met you. I did good convincing you to let me give you a ride. And now we’re doing adventures together and I love it and I love you so it’s all great. I did good with that.” He nodded, letting his arms (which he had been using to gesture wildly with) flop back onto his chest.

 

Christine giggled at that. “Well I’m glad you’ve been having fun, Remy. Sounds like you’ve had a brilliant time with Michael already.” Jeremy nodded, looking up at her with earnest but bleary eyes.

 

Michael had to clear his throat then, feeling a bit sentimental as he kept running his fingers through the short hairs. “You did good because you’re a good person,” he reassured Jeremy. “I wouldn’t have agreed to go with you if I didn’t think so, and I wouldn’t be dating you if I didn’t think so either. We can all have our bad moments, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t good in the long run, Lajy.” With that, he pressed a kiss to his boyfriend’s forehead, letting it linger before pulling back.

 

Jeremy’s eyes went wide. “What does... lajy mean?” he asked, his drunken slur and heavy accent making the word come out mangled but in a sort of adorable way. He scrunched up his nose a little as he seemed to realize that too.

 

In an effort to keep himself from laughing at how adorable that was, Michael coughed a few times before answering. “It means love. I was, uh, calling you that. You know, sorta like the ‘my love’ line but without the ‘my’ part.” God, Jeremy was going to be the death of him.

 

“Oh...” Jeremy sounded almost in awe of that fact. “You can call me that whenever you like then, idril. ‘Cause it means you love me as much as I love you. I already knew that but it’s a reminder whenever you say it!” Jeremy muttered a few more things in Gnomish, none of which Michael recognized besides ‘ni meleth fi,’ before he sighed and closed his eyes. He let out a quiet snore a moment later.

 

“He passes out as soon as he’s comfortable whenever he gets this drunk.” Christine chuckled fondly, looking down at Jeremy. “I’m impressed, Michael, not only have you charmed him, you’ve also made him feel safe.”

 

“I mean... I’m glad,” he muttered out as he looked down at Jeremy as well, feeling his heart fluttering at Jeremy’s words moments before he passed out. “I would hope I could make him feel safe. I’d be upset with myself if I didn’t, you know?”

 

“Yeah, I understand.” She smiled. “Y’know, once he got going with the cocktails Melech kept giving him, he wouldn’t shut up about you. You and his most recent creations, that’s all he talked about. Which is kinda a big deal considering before it would be only his creations.” Christine shook her head fondly. “He’s a right mess sometimes, but he’s head over heels for you.”

 

That sort of took him aback, and he felt his stomach fill up with metaphorical butterflies. “I- uh- he did what? A-are you sure? I mean, I know he was all gushy mushy right now with me, but, uh... What was he saying about me?” Michael couldn’t help but ask, he was curious!

 

“He kept gushing about you. Your personality, your looks, how funny you are, how kind you are, and he even talked about how you were willing to help people even when they’re not nice to you. He didn’t give any specific events for that last one, but he seemed certain.” She shrugged. “He basically told everyone how much he loves you and every way he thinks your awesome.” Though her tone was light as she counted off the list on her fingers, Michael could hear the mischievous smile in the halfling’s voice. She obviously was enjoying this.

 

“I- um, well I’m glad to hear he thinks so highly of me,” Michael said as he glanced away, unable to look at Christine as she was enjoying how flustered he was. As he did glance away from her eyes, he looked down at Jeremy, feeling his heart swell happily. “We should get him into an actual bed though so he can rest properly.”

 

“No one actually sleeps in the storytelling wagon, so you two can sleep there. Unless, of course, you’d rather sleep in your own wagon, just thought I’d offer.”

 

“I think that would be nice. Napping in there was heavenly.” Michael carefully moved himself so he could pick up Jeremy, cradling him close. Looking over at Christine, he noticed something off in her look. “Do you wanna come with? It looks like there’s something on your mind, and I’d like to think I’m a better conversationalist than Jeremy at the moment.”

 

“Uh- yeah! I would!” She nodded, standing up and leading the way to the red wagon. “You’re awfully perceptive Michael. It’s good, since Jeremy tends to miss things.”

 

“I’ve always been like that. I’m quiet and sort of... people watched when I was younger. Still do sometimes, but not in a creepy way, I promise,” Michael assured as they made it into the red wagon.

 

With the blankets and pillows everywhere, Michael felt so at ease. He made his way over to the little alcove he and Jeremy made earlier, placing Jeremy down and tucking him in. After a second, he placed a lingering kiss to his forehead.

 

Nightshade was taken out of his robe pocket, and he let the baby weasel curl up on one of the pillows in the corner. Darling perched herself in a little makeshift nest Michael made for her earlier. Once all the animals were settled, Michael plopped himself down in a pillow pile. “So, I’m guessing Jeremy said something more than you let on, or you have something you figured out?”

 

“Figured out,” Christine said, flopping heavily down on a pillow pile of her own. “Even with how loose his lips were tonight, he refused to tell any specific details of anything.” She sighed and propped herself up on her front, head resting on her hands. “You and Jeremy are heading north, right?” Michael nodded and Christine’s expression turned worried. “I’ve heard horrible rumours about what’s been going on up there. People suddenly turning violent or lustful, animals becoming aggressive, everything. Apparently it’s the work of an evil sorcerer but I’m not so sure. I just... why in the world would you be heading up there?”

 

Michael debated for a second on telling Christine, but then he remembered how close she and Jeremy were. This was his secret to tell after all. If Jeremy trusted her so much...

 

“Because I was asked by Iconis to help.” As Christine’s eyes widened, Michael explained how he was visited and how that was the purpose behind their journey. He explained how Jeremy agreed to come along, even after he warned him. Then he hesitated for a second before he gave away his biggest truth, even reaching into his bag to show off his Red Hood mask.

 

“I know it’s dangerous, I don’t want to bring Jeremy into harm’s way, but I can’t say no. Even if Iconis didn’t give me the boon, I would have said yes, especially since he visited me and asked. He thought there was something about me that would let me be able to stop Squip and save Tracz... That’s what I’m going to do.” He stored his mask away in it’s hidden sleeve of his bag before looking back up at Christine. “That’s why I’m heading up there.”

 

“And Jeremy knows all of this? About your identity?” Christine asked slowly. Something was dancing in her eyes; she was considering something.

 

Michael nodded. “He met me first as Red Hood. I didn’t take off my mask at first, only when I trusted him,” he explained as he fiddled with the fabric of his robe. “But yes, he knows.”

 

She looked thoughtful. “I’m glad you trust me with this too, then. Thank you.” Christine nodded. Her tone was sincere and honest and she was smiling. “And... if you’ll have me, I’d like to come with you when you leave the troupe.” That was a little hesitant, and sort of nervous, but she sounded resolute. “It’s like you said, I can’t just sit idle if I can help.”

 

He wanted to ask her if she was sure, but she already knew the risks. Hell, she listed out things earlier about the dangers and now knew everything their quest would entail. Instead of asking her again, Michael said with a grateful smile, “I’d love to have you, and I know the same goes for Jeremy.”

 

Christine smiled and reached forwards, offering her hand to shake. Michael took it; her hand was so much smaller than his, almost like a child’s, but her grip was firm. “It’s a pleasure to join your traveling party, Michael.” She grinned.

 

“It’s a pleasure to have you, Christine,” he said with a warm smile. He meant it too. Even if he only knew her for a day, he got a good feeling from her. Plus, she seemed to be best friends with Jeremy, so that just reaffirmed it.

 

Christine sat up and grinned mischievously. “So now we’re traveling together, would you like any juicy gossip on Jeremy’s past? I know it all.” Her tone was light and teasing, and her bright eyes were twinkling.

 

The idea ran around in his head before he shook his head. “Nah, he can tell me it himself,” Michael decided. “I’d like to know more about you though, or I can tell you more about me.”

 

Christine arched an eyebrow at Michael and he suddenly felt like he had passed a test. “I like you, Michael. Alright, I’ll tell you a bit about me first.” She launched into an impressive tale of her life, how she was born on the road with a different troupe and all the adventures she had with them before she joined Melech and Hope’s troupe three years ago when they formed it. “But yeah, thirty-two years of performing, since I was three. It’s my life, but so is my magic, so that works out well for me.”

 

“That’s pretty crazy that you’ve been performing for so long. I’d love to see some of your stuff,” Michael admitted with a smile as he held one of the pillows in his pile to his chest. “And you said you’re a bard, right? What instrument do you play?”

 

“Flute and lute, but my favorite is my lyre.” She grinned and Michael felt himself get excited. That’s what he played!

 

He held up a hand then before reaching into his bag and pulling out his hand held harp (hey, he knew the proper name, he was just a sucker for alliteration). “That’s what I’m the best at. Have any requests, my dear Christine?”

 

Christine reached into her bag and pulled out her own handheld harp, grinning broadly. “Do you know The Song Of Other Times and Places?” Michael nodded, preparing to play. Christine counted them in and they began playing together, with Christine singing softly along. The melody leant itself beautifully to the two instruments, and Christine was clearly a master at work, twisting in her own notes. Michael managed the same, and Christine looked just as impressed. Jeremy barely stirred from where he was, simply sighing happily and nuzzling deeper into the pillows.

 

Michael couldn’t help but give a somewhat sheepish smile as they finished. “I played all the time growing up before I started my Red Hood stuff, and I always practiced in my spare time,” he told her before yawning.

 

“You’re quite talented, Michael. Maybe we could practice together some time in the near future.” She smiled softly as she put away her handheld harp. “Now, it’s late. We can chat more tomorrow while we help Jeremy fix the Tessa. You need some rest, young man, especially since Jeremy seems to love having you help him.”

 

“Hey, I’m sure if we all made our different ages based on our different races the same, we’d all be around the same age and I wouldn’t be the youngest out of all of you. Did that even make sense? Ugh, I need sleep,” Michael muttered out as he put his own harp away.

 

“Probably.” Christine grinned, curling up on the pillows. “G’night, Michael. Sleep well.”

 

Michael got up then, going to lie down with Jeremy in the alcove before he shut his eyes. “G’night Christine. You too,” he muttered out around a yawn, wrapping an arm around his waist as he nuzzled close to Jeremy. He felt Jeremy move closer then, and he smiled as he felt himself fall asleep.

Chapter Text

With how long the repairs would take, Jeremy and Michael decided it would be better to stay with the troupe until they reached the next town. After all, they could spend more time with the troupe (who Michael was happy to learn more about and bond with) and Jeremy could sell some trinkets at their next stop and restock whatever he needed.

 

That was how they spent the next nine days with the troupe. It was a bit sad to know that they'd be leaving troupe, but Michael knew Christine and Jeremy were excited to be traveling together. Christine was super nice too, and her sort of weirdness that she had melded well with his own, which he let show more with the troupe as he got a bit more comfortable with them all.

 

That comfortableness didn't stop him from blinking in surprise at what he was asked. "Wait, you want me to what?"

 

“Play the Musical Lightning.” Melech grinned, hanging upside down from the top of his blue wagon. “It’s the machine you fixed with Jeremy. You know it’s safe, so why not? You’re brilliant on your lyre and this isn’t so different.”

 

Jeremy, who was perched on the bed of the cart just ahead, giggled at Michael’s stunned look but didn’t offer any input. Nightshade just dooked happily from Jeremy’s pocket at he munched on some chicken Jeremy had given him.

 

Yeah, Michael could go around and be Red Hood, but that was him behind a mask. No one (besides a select few) knew who he was. That was completely different than performing in front of a crowd anyway. A crowd of strangers who would judge him, especially if he messed up. The only 'crowd' he was used to playing in front of was Jeremy, the pets, and now Christine.

 

"I mean... I-I don't know," he muttered out as he glanced away, fiddling with his fingers. "I've never played it before... And it's gonna be in front of a crowd."

 

Jeremy looked over and shot Michael a small smile. “Hey, auglas, it’ll be fine. I promise. You will be almost invisible inside the cage, and you have a natural talent for music. Even Christine agrees, and she’s a trained bard.” Jeremy reached into his pocket and tossed something at Michael. He was caught off guard, so he fumbled, but it landed in his lap. It was another music box. “Why not play that tune? The set up is similar to how that works, you press the keys in the same order they are plucked on the music box.”

 

Picking up the music box then, Michael looked it over before hesitantly opening the box. He let it play, listening to the somber ballad of a song that was plucked, and it really struck a chord in him, but he didn't know why. Reaching up, he quickly rubbed at his eyes to keep himself from crying because of how powerful this was to him, even in the soft music box tune. Michael quickly shut the music box then as the tune ended before nodding. "Yeah, I could do that, I guess..."

 

“You’ll be fine, idril. Besides, if I can perform, face fully shown, I know you can. I believe in you!” Jeremy cheered.

 

Hope was grinning. “We convinced Jeremy to do his old routine with Christine and the Tessa.” That was the nickname for the eight foot tall dancer Jeremy had made. “So you won’t be the only one out there today.” Jeremy ducked his head and turned red.

 

"Oh, Jeremy has an old routine? I definitely need to see this," Michael said with a cheeky grin as he tucked the box into his robe pocket. "Do I get to know what kind of routine it is, or is it a surprise?"

 

Jeremy looked ready to deny it all, but Melech cut him off. “It’s a mixture between a dance and a comedy sketch.” He was grinning mischievously.

 

“And it always brought him extra patrons at his stall afterwards,” Hope added before Jeremy could argue. Jeremy flopped backwards with a huff, but he didn’t look too upset, more just embarrassed.

 

"Ooo, I definitely need to see this," Michael said before he went over to Jeremy, flopping down next to him. "I want to see how great you are. You never told me you had a routine and that I'm also dating an actor!"

 

Jeremy grumbled something in Gnomish, the tips of his ears turning maroon, before he looked over to Michael. “It was just a stupid thing Christine wanted to try, and those two made us do it in every town since. But it’s embarrassing if I think about it too hard, especially since I’ll need to check if my costume still fits. I haven’t worn it in over a year.”

 

"It can't be stupid if other people like it." Reaching over, Michael pressed a quick kiss to Jeremy's forehead. "I'm sure it's great, Lajy. Don't downplay yourself or Christine."

 

Jeremy sighed and melted from that little affection, as he always seemed to when Michael used that nickname for him. Apparently he didn’t really remember anything past the third drink, but he did like the warm feeling the name conjured up.

 

“You’re right, idril. It’ll be fine,” he agreed softly. In the background, Michael could hear Melech and Hope jokingly grumbling about how they could have used Michael all that time ago when Jeremy used to travel with them. “And Michael, you’re going to need to go to the Aunties. They’ll get you something to wear over your robes so you’ll be less recognizable afterwards. It’ll help you relax when you’re performing.”

 

A tenseness Michael didn't realize he still held escaped him when Jeremy told him that. "Thank you, Jeremy. You know me so well," he hummed out, pressing another kiss to Jeremy's forehead before he sat up. "You're great, really." He reached over and held Jeremy's hand then, gently squeezing his boyfriend's hand with a tender smile.

 

Jeremy smiled back and then stood and tugged Michael up. “C’mon. Let’s get fixed up.” He looked towards the yellow wagon where Auntie Natali and Auntie Vola were chatting together in sign language. (They had insisted that Michael call them Auntie as well, after he helped fix the shadow puppet theatre.)

 

"I mean, I don't think you need to be fixed up, but OK," Michael teased, poking Jeremy's side with his free hand before heading over to where the two older women were.

 

Jeremy cackled and blushed, but didn’t stop pulling Michael along.

 

“Oh, hello boys. What can we do for you?” Auntie Natali grinned.

 

“I’ll need my old outfit since the twins have got me performing, and we’ll need something for Michael to wear since he’s also going to be performing. Lightning Machine,” Jeremy explained proudly.

 

"Yeah, he somehow convinced me," Michael said with a smile. "Just something to put over my robes so I'm not as recognizable after. I'm still a bit nervous about performing since I've never really done it before and I'm not the best with crowds."

 

“Oh, I understand sweetie. I’ll see what we have for you.” Auntie Natali smiled and tottered off into the wagon. Auntie Vola stepped forwards.

 

“I understand too,” she said. Her voice was deep and scratchy, and her words were slow and half mangled as she spoke. “I do not speak well, so I do not speak mostly. But I do other things to perform. Music. And puppets.” She smiled sort of shyly, the crows feet around her eyes crinkling happily.

 

Nodding along to what she said, Michael just smiled and said, "I really cannot wait to see your handiwork. Jeremy has spoken highly of you both, so it's hard to not want to see what you can do, as well as what Auntie Natali can do."

 

Auntie Vola blushed, her green skin turning much darker. Auntie Natali came out carrying a bundle of cloth.

 

“Here you go, sweetie. Let me know if you need any alterations.” She handed Jeremy a blue and gold bundle. Then she turned to Michael. “This should be just right to help you get more comfortable.” He was handed a black cloak with green decorations, as well as a full black and green mask which only let his eyes show. “The cloak should cover your robes, so it’ll completely hide your identity.”

 

Auntie Natali looked over to Auntie Vola, and started cooing over her. “Did they make you all flustered, dear? My goodness, you’re still so cute after all these years.” She pinched Auntie Vola’s cheeks and got a small swat and a kiss on the cheek in return.

 

At the adorable sight, Michael almost melted. They were so fond of each other, and their dynamic was something truly special. He couldn't help but smile as he took the mask and cloak. "Thank you so much, Auntie Natali and Auntie Vola." Giving a little bow, Michael quickly let the two be, taking Jeremy with him since he saw they were about to be real sweet with one another. He didn't want to ruin their forming moment.

 

Jeremy took Michael’s hand and sort of leant against him as they walked away. “They’ve always been like that, for as long as any of us have known them. They met when they were teenagers and have been together ever since,” he explained fondly. He looked up at Michael after a moment. “So- er- what do you think of your costume?”

 

"That's adorable," Michael muttered out before looking over the bundle in his other arm. "I think it looks nice. Definitely not what I'm used to wearing, but the darker, cooler colors are really nice. The decorations are really nice on the cloak too, and intricate in some ways." He took a closer look at the mask. "The green designs near the eye area will help to pop out my eyes I think... Well, I hope so at least. Not like anyone'll really see since it'll help hide who I am, but y'know."

 

“I think the green will look lovely on you,” Jeremy beamed, then held up his own costume. He wrinkled his nose a little at it. “I guess I’d better go try this on. Meet me back here in a couple of minutes?”

 

Michael nodded, patting Jeremy's shoulder as he looked over the jester-esque costume. He got now why Jeremy was a bit embarrassed by it. "Meet you back here." He bent down and pressed a kiss to his head before going to get changed.

 

Michael found the cloak fit easily over his robes, and the mask was comfortable on his face. He headed back to the midpoint where he was supposed to meet Jeremy, and had to hold back a laugh.

 

The costume fit Jeremy very well, and it looked good on him, he wasn’t about to deny that. The colors complimented his skin tone nicely, and it fit perfectly. It just was... goofy. It was silly and was obviously supposed to be silly. And Jeremy, though awkward, was obviously comfortable and used to the costume.

 

“You look awesome, idril.” He grinned awkwardly.

 

"Why thank you, good sir. You also look amazing, Lajy," Michael said, bowing gracefully to try to help lighten the mood a little. "I cannot wait to see you perform, truly."

 

“Prepare to laugh, my good sir!” Jeremy bowed dramatically, playing up the costume a little. When he stood he was grinning, obviously getting more into character and getting more comfortable. “You’ll be going after Melech and Hope’s act. Chrissy and I will be directly after Venzyre’s shapeshifting thing, which is after your act.”

 

Taking that in, Michael nodded. "I'll be sure to be watching during your act. There's no way I'd miss it for the world," he assured before leaning over and kissing his nose.

 

Jeremy giggled, wriggling his nose a little. “And I’ll be right there for yours,” he assured. “The machine will be set up in a few, so let’s get some good seats while we wait. It’ll be fun!” Jeremy’s mood seemed to only be getting better and better. He grabbed Michael’s hand and pulled him over to the blue wagon and climbed on top, taking a seat and patting the space next to him.

 

Going over, Michael tried to hoist himself up. Of course, he realized just then that he wasn't the strongest and that he wasn't... light. He huffed, getting a little frustrated with himself, but watched as Jeremy reached down and offered a hand. Feeling a little embarrassed but also feeling a bit better now that he was getting help, Michael tried again and managed to get up with Jeremy's help. "Thanks," Michael said, sure his ears were red as he finally got settled down.

 

Jeremy leant over and kissed Michael’s neck gently. “It’s okay, idril.” He settled himself close to Michael, half curling up as Michael wrapped an arm around him.

 

Michael felt his cheeks grow warm after the kiss, which was so intimate yet so delicately done. "How long does the show normally last?" he asked then, looking over at where the stage was being set.

 

“About an hour or so. Our stuff is nearer the end, so you don’t need to think about it for a while. My act is the last one.” Jeremy sort of nuzzled against him and relaxed. “Look! It’s starting!” Jeremy pointed to the crowd forming on the other side of the semicircle of wagons, there had to be about a hundred people gathers, but they were all smiling and chatting happy. They quieted down when Melech walked out, clad in his black ringmasters costume.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen and anyone in between, children and adults alike! Welcome to our show! Please, wait here and enjoy the show, but please do not pass this line, for your own safety.” Melech pointed to the ground and a glowing golden line appeared on the ground. “Now, to begin let me introduce: our tumblers!” A group of acrobats flipped into the ring and begin doing all manner of tricks. The audience ‘ooh’ed and ‘ahh’ed appreciatively.

 

Michael watched with a smile, appreciating each and every act after knowing what went into each and every person's act as well as the performers themselves. He clapped when he was supposed to with each passing act, asking Jeremy questions all the while. It was nice to hear him talk more about every act and just give little stories, sharing laughs with one another.

 

Only when Christine hissed out for him did he look away from the stage. "Hey, we need to get you set up, Michael! C'mon!"

 

"Well, I guess it is time for a star to make their debut," Michael jested, hopping down once Jeremy was off of him. He saluted jokingly up at Jeremy before following Christine.

 

Christine lead him into the green wagon and opened a box. Inside was a ladder leading downwards into the ground.

 

“This is a special enchantment to keep the Lightning Machine safe when we’re about to use it. It’ll rise up from the ground dramatically and it’ll be awesome,” she explained, sliding down the ladder and looking up at Michael with a bright grin.

 

"Ooo, fancy fancy," he almost sung out before he quickly descended the latter, sliding down it before landing next to Christine with a smile of his own.

 

“Exactly!” she cheered. The lightning machine was indeed right in the center of the circular room. Christine skipped over and opened the door to the cage. “Time to put on your mask, Mikey! And just get familiar with the controls. You’ve got seven minutes to warm up. Just... trust your gut. I know you’ll have no problem playing this. It’s easier than you think.” She grinned before hopping back to the outside of the machine.

 

It was a lot bigger than any instrument Michael had encountered, easily twenty feet across. There were eight, tall pillars, made from large coils, surrounding the small cage in the center. There were sixteen keys set into a control panel, and there was enough space for Michael to place the music box on top of them.

 

Michael looked over what he saw, taking a deep breath as he walked in. After taking it out of his inner robe pocket, he placed it in the space where it fit. He let out a soft hum of the first few notes, testing it out on the keys that he thought would work based on his knowledge of similar-seeming instruments.

 

The notes played exactly as he expected, hitting they cage and being dispersed into the ground. It was just like Jeremy described to him. He tried a few more and found he could play some basic chords. Okay, this was easy enough. Christine was right, he could do this.

 

As he felt his confidence rise, Michael played along with the melody he found himself remembering as he practiced. He went through the song once and felt confident, pulling down his mask as he grinned. Yeah, he totally could do this, nail this even!

 

“Ready, Mikey?” Christine called from where she stood.

 

“Ready, Chrissy!” he yelled back. She pulled a lever and the machine began to rise. It phased through the ground and appeared in the centre of the circle. The crowd was silent. Michael spotted Jeremy, still on top of the blue wagon, shooting him a thumbs up.

 

Jeremy's support as well as the confidence in his own abilities helped him. After a beat, he started to play the song from the music box, starting with the softer tones and letting it build to the more intense part of the song. He let it swell and fill him, and he felt his chest tighten along with the appropriate times in the song, and even felt a few tears fall (it was OK, no one could see it).

 

Somehow, the song just resonated with him, and he didn't know why it was so powerful. It was beautiful yet heartbreaking, and he hoped the audience liked it as he finished the song with the last few taps on the keys and pulled his fingers back.

 

There was a beat of silence. Then someone began clapping. Then another and another and another until the whole audience was cheering wildly. Michael looked around and saw that everyone else was as well, even the troupe. He bowed from his place in the cage as the machine sunk out of sight. Within seconds, Jeremy had slid down the ladder, thrown open the cage and grabbed Michael into a tight hug. “That was brilliant, Auglas. You did that beautifully!” He murmured, squeezing Michael softly.

 

Michael took a second to steady himself, still calming down from the emotional trip of playing that piece. He wrapped an arm around Jeremy then, smiling as he wiped under his mask at the tears that fell. "I know it was a huge contrast to everyone else, but I'm glad everyone liked it. I just tried to show what I felt when I listened to the song and how I felt while playing it."

 

“Somehow it came through,” Jeremy murmured. “You took a... machine. And you gave it life and emotion and- god I’m so proud of you.” He squeezed a little tighter.

 

He couldn't help but laugh a little as he held Jeremy closer, scrubbing more at his face as more tears came. "I... thank you, I'm glad I did your machine justice and all that. Sorry," Michael muttered out before he wrapped his other arm around him then, letting more tears fall. He really wasn't sure why he was so emotional about this song and performance. Maybe because he poured his soul into it, though he wasn't sure why he felt the need to.

 

Jeremy just held him gently and murmured sweet nothings for a moment more, letting Michael calm himself down. He seemed to understand that Michael needed to experience this, that it wasn’t something that could be rushed. A couple of minutes later, Jeremy pulled away and lifted Michael’s mask. He quickly kissed his lips.

 

“I need to go get ready, I only have a few more minutes before my performance. Let’s head up, and you can come watch me make a fool of myself, and then we can cuddle while Chrissy sets up my stall. She’s already offered, before you say anything.” Jeremy chuckled.

 

Gratitude washed over him as he sniffled and nodded, feeling a lot better than he did before. Michael pulled off his mask and neatly tucked it away before he pulled back, taking Jeremy's hands and squeezing them. "Alright, I won't deny it then. I can't wait to see you go," he murmured out, quickly capturing Jeremy's lips in a brief yet loving kiss before letting go. Then, he gestured for Jeremy to head up the latter. "Ph lajy.”

 

Even if Jeremy didn’t know the translation totally, he obviously pieced together what it meant, because he shot Michael a lovestruck grin. He quickly shimmied up the ladder and was out the wagon before Michael had even finished climbing up.

 

Michael found him behind the wagons, stretching and chatting with Christine as she put on the metal rod suit that connected to the dancer. After doing a once over with the suit, Jeremy climbed up the dancer, somehow scrambling up the smooth metal and porcelain, and pressing the switch hidden in the Tessa’s hair. The automaton whirred to life and Christine pressed a button on her side too. Within seconds the Tessa was copying her movements. She helped Jeremy to the ground and started testing out her joints.

 

“Seems like you guys did an awesome job. She’s not groaning or creaking anymore! And the crack on her face is almost totally gone.” Christine sounded impressed but not surprised. Well, she obviously knew Jeremy was awesome at this stuff.

 

Jeremy put on his hat and mask combo. “Thanks Chrissy. You ready for this?” he asked. Then he spotted Michael. “Hey, why don’t you give Michael a lift to the top of the wagon?” Chrissy giggled, then walked over to Michael. Or... the Tessa did. Christine seemed to be encased in some sort clear cube that floated up to be just higher than the wagons. The Tessa held out her hand, offering for Michael to get on.

 

Michael looked over the Tessa then with wide eyes, impressed again (he didn’t see it in action before now, though he did have a new and improved sense of admiration now that he understood how she worked). He took her hand, letting her help him get on. “Now, I know it might be funny to mess with me, but I am an emotional mess already so be careful with the baby.”

 

Christine laughed. “Jeremy would probably kill me if I did, so don’t worry about that.” She carefully lifted Michael back on to the blue wagon. He hopped off and the Tessa and Jeremy made their way around to the front of the wagons. Jeremy already looked comical next to the ten foot high woman in the tutu, but the costume just added to that effect.

 

Venzyre just finished, changing her shape from a panther back into a gnome, and had taken her bows when the music started up. The Tessa danced gracefully into the center of the circle, pirouetting with a controlled grace that was all Christine.

 

For a moment it seemed like Jeremy might not come on, but then the music changed to something similar to how it was but somehow more comical. Jeremy half stumbled in, clutching his heart dramatically as he looked up at the Tessa. From there, he danced around her, mimicking her movements somewhat, apparently trying to ‘win her affections’ if what Michael was understanding was correct. He was constantly being rebuffed or ignored, falling on his butt and throwing silent hissy fits every now and again. He somehow made his clumsiness work, as he managed to still perform all the actual dance moves, maybe not as accurately as the Tessa but still done well.

 

Just when it seemed like Jeremy wouldn’t win the Tessa’s affection, and he started to turn away dejectedly, he was picked up, swept off of his feet, by the Tessa. Somehow, the Tessa emulated the look of adoration, and it was clear that she had been charmed by his clumsy attempts to woo her.

 

With a look of glee, Jeremy leaned forward, kissing the Tessa on the cheek. The crowd cheered, some people whooping over the cheesy yet romantic ending. Both Christine (read: the Tessa) and Jeremy bowed before quickly leaving the stage, the twins both coming on to end the show.

 

Michael, however, hopped off as soon as the bows were finished. He raced over to where he knew Jeremy would be. Once over there, he caught his boyfriend off-guard, picking him up and whirling him around with a big grin and laughter escaping him. “You were so great! Both of you were! Oh my god!”

 

Jeremy, who was clearly surprised by Michael’s grab, squealed before laughing happily. Christine gigged at the both of them.

 

“Thanks auglas, but it was Christine who was the real star. I just had to half copy her.” He chuckled, leaning into Michael’s embrace as he was set down.

 

“But you also made and renovated the automaton. Also, to be clear, I am not invalidating your skill or work at all, Christine, I’m just complimenting the hell out of my talented boyfriend,” Michael said, to which Christine laughed and waved it off, which the Tessa did as well.

 

“I completely get it, don’t worry. He always tries to play it off that he didn’t do as well.”

 

Jeremy turned a dark red, his ears going maroon, as he pulled off his mask and hat and turned in Michael’s arms so he was properly facing him. Jeremy buried himself into the black cloak Michael was still wearing, hiding his face and mumbling something out in Gnomish.

 

Christine, who had somehow gotten out of the tube and had set the Tessa to sit on the ground, wandered over while giggling.

 

“Yes of course we mean that, Jeremy. You really need to have a bit more confidence in yourself, you’ve got quite the talent,” she chastised lightly.

 

“You honestly do have a talent. Well, you have many, this is just one of them, and you are very good at that act,” Michael stated before pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “Also, you said we were going to cuddle after this. I demand cuddles.”

 

“The red wagon will be used for storytelling now the main show’s over, so let's head over to our wagon instead. And we can go look at the Auntie’s puppet show before I go to man my stall.” Jeremy nodded.

 

“That’s right, you two. You’ve both been working really hard and you both just performed. Go cuddle and spend some time together. I can run your stall for as long as you need, Remy.” Christine made a sort of ‘shoo’ing motion with her hands, then lightly shoved the two over to Jeremy’s wagon, which had been parked to one side and the fabric roof and walls had been assembled.

 

“Okay, Chrissy. We’re going.” Jeremy chuckled. “Oh, and just remember I’ve got the torches I’ve been working on as part of the stock now. Don’t forget to push those,” he called as he was dragged away by Michael. Michael glanced back and saw Chrissy salute before bounding over to the wooden stand which had already been assembled and beginning to put up the merchandise.

 

"OK, now you focus on cuddling time, not any of your stock or selling, Christine's got that covered," Michael said as he dragged him over to the wagon. Once they made it over, Michael scratched along Gideon's neck with his free hand. "Hi there, Giddy. How're you doing today?"

 

Gideon turned to look at Michael, looking as happy as he ever had. Then he snorted and nudged Jeremy affectionately. Jeremy giggled and stroked the horse’s nose. “I’ll buy you some sugar cubes later today, okay? You’ve been so wonderful, boy,” he cooed. Gideon whinnied softly and shook out his mane.

 

They made their way around to the back of the wagon where Darling and Nightshade were. Nightshade was trying to escape the little pen Jeremy had set up for him, and Darling kept nudging him back into the center of it. “Hey sweetie? How are you doing?” Jeremy climbed into the wagon and reached down to stroke Nightshade. Then he stroked Darling along her back. “Thank you for looking after Nightshade, Darling.”

 

Nightshade happily dooked, clearly glad to see Jeremy again while Darling just let out a content gurgle. She then went and perched on Michael's shoulder, and he scratched under her beak. "Hi there, Darling." He pressed a kiss to her neck, then watched as she went back to perch in her makeshift nest in the back of the wagon. "I think she can babysit, but she doesn't enjoy doing it. She's more of a free spirit and not used to that kind of responsibility."

 

“Well she does it beautifully either way.” Jeremy grinned. “Do you mind if Nightshade joins our cuddles? I think he missed us in the hour and a half we’ve been gone.” He reached down and stroked Nightshade again, who melted under his touch and sort of curled around Jeremy’s fingers as best he could. Jeremy giggled softly.

 

"Nope, don't mind at all. He's a polite boy," Michael proclaimed before reaching down and scratching along Nightshade's back while he stayed curled around Jeremy. "A very sweet and polite boy. I'd be honored if he joined in our cuddles actually."

 

Jeremy held out his hand for Nightshade to get onto, and the little weasel dooked happily as he scampered up Jeremy’s arm and perched onto his shoulder, nuzzling at Jeremy’s face. Jeremy pushed Nightshade’s pen to one side and pulled out their few pillows and blankets and made a nest for them to cuddle in. “After you, auglas.” Jeremy grinned after a moment.

 

"Why thank you. You totally aren't offering for me to go first so you can get the best cuddling position, totally not doing that," Michael teased before he got comfortable in the little nest. He then held out his arms for Jeremy, going as far as making grabby hands at him.

 

“Of course I’m not! I’m just smaller than you and I don’t want to be squished underneath your awesomeness,” Jeremy replied cheekily as he climbed into Michael’s lap and wrapped his arms around Michael. He sort of nuzzled against Michael’s chest and Nightshade did the same while staying on Jeremy’s shoulder.

 

"Mhmm, for sure," Michael hummed out, wrapping his arms around Jeremy. He made sure to scratch along Nightshade's neck before settling both hands around Jeremy in a comfortable manner. "I will always be the holder, never the held. It is sad, but it is the burden I must carry."

 

“I’d hold you if I were bigger,” Jeremy grumbled playfully, relaxing totally against Michael. “Besides, I can carry you if the occasion calls for it. It’s not easy but I can. So you can be held sometimes.”

 

"But not like this," he whined out before nuzzling his head against the top of Jeremy's before flopping his head back against the pillows. "Oh, woe is me!"

 

“Last time you sat on my lap, my legs went dead in thirty seconds,” Jeremy pointed out. “We’ll figure out something eventually. Until then, you must hold me.” Nightshade began a string of happy dooks as Jeremy relaxed further against Michael.

 

"I mean, I'm all good with this, but I guess I'll manage," Michael said, tone teasing before he shut his eyes, relaxing further as well.

 

Jeremy sighed contentedly. “Hey Michael? I’m really proud of what you did this morning, idril. You not only faced your fear but you did it beautifully and created something magical.” Jeremy sounded relaxed and quiet, almost blissed out. “You were amazing and I couldn’t be prouder.”

 

The compliments had his heart racing for a minute, and he just ran one of his hands along Jeremy's back as he let out a soft hum. "Thank you, Jeremy... It... That means a lot, really. I'm not too good with saying how I feel, but... yeah, it means a lot to me that you're telling me this."

 

Jeremy smiled up at him. “I mean every word of it,” he assured. With another gentle sigh, they all got comfortable and settled down for some proper cuddles.

 

 

 

A few hours later, the boys were both back in their normal clothes. Jeremy had restocked his supplies and he, Chrissy, and Michael were ready to head out. “Are you sure you can’t stay? There’s plenty of room for you both with us,” Melech asked with a gentle yet slightly sad smile.

 

"Unfortunately, I'm sure. It was great meeting and spending time with you all. I know this won't be the last time we see each other either, so don't worry. Maybe we can perform together again," Michael offered, smiling himself as he stood with his fellow party members in front of the troupe. He knew this would be hard for Christine, and it was hard for Jeremy too. This troupe was their family. He was grateful to have met them all and spent as much time together with them as he did.

 

Melech nodded understandingly, and he held out his arms for a hug. Michael accepted it and found he was quickly squished between Melech and Hope.

 

“You are always welcome here, Red Hood,” she murmured by his ear in Infernal before they both squeezed him and let him go.

 

You’ll take care of our brother. Good luck in your endeavors.” What Melech said sounded less like a question and more like a statement.

 

A few feet over, Jeremy was saying a tearful goodbye to the Aunties. He was clinging to Auntie Vola and Auntie Natali was hugging him from behind.

 

Michael couldn’t help but fondly smile over at Jeremy, though he looked back at the twins quickly. “Thank you, that means a lot. Good luck with your amazing show.” With that, Michael went over to Jeremy, still smiling as he looked him and the older women over. He didn’t say anything though, not wanting to interrupt.

 

“We’re so proud of you, Jeremiah. You’re doing so well and you’ve become such a wonderful young man,” Auntie Natali murmured, kissing the top of Jeremy’s head. A few seconds later, they pulled away and turned their attention on Michael. “And you, Michael. It’s been a pleasure meeting you. I’m so glad you and Jeremy met.” They both held out their arms, offering Michael a hug.

 

He couldn’t help but take the hug, letting the women wrap him up in a hug. The warmth the two radiated almost had him melting. “I’m glad we did too. You two are both lovely. Thank you so much for caring for Jeremy.”

 

“Thank you, Michael. Jeremy is an easy boy to love, he’s got a good heart. But he has his quirks, so thank you for loving every part of him.” Natali kissed Michael’s cheek in an almost grandmotherly way. Vola nodded.

 

“You are a special boy, Michael. We are both glad you and Jeremy love each other,” Vola added softly. The fact she said this herself, rather than getting Natali to translate her signs, made it even more meaningful somehow.

 

His heart was swelling in the best of ways. “Thank you so much Aunties, that means a lot to me... After all of this, I would love for you two to meet my moms. I think you guys would hit it off,” Michael offered with a warm smile as he looked at the two older women.

 

They let him go and held on to each other, smiling happily at Michael. “We would love that, Michael. Er... here.” Natali dug around in her pocket and pulled out a small bronze medallion. “Jeremy has one of these too. If you ever need us, or any member of the troupe, you press the sun symbol here. It’ll tell us your location and we’ll get to you as soon as possible. And if you press the sun three times, we’ll know it’s an invitation instead.” She handed the medallion over.

 

Warmth enveloped him as he took the medallion, inspecting it and turning it over in his hands as he knew he smiled wide. “I... Thank you so much, really. You guys are the best,” he muttered out before tucking the medallion away in his bag.

 

“You’re as much family as Jeremy is. We might not have known you as long but we want you safe and happy.“ Auntie Vola and Auntie Natali both stepped forwards and pressed a kiss to either cheek, then Natali made a ‘shoo’ing gesture. “Off you go now, or I’ll never let you leave.” She chuckled wetly.

 

The phrase made his chest ache a little, it being something similar to what his moms told him before they left. Instead of saying that, Michael nodded and smiled before hurrying to where Jeremy and Christine were at the wagon.

 

They were both scrubbing at their cheeks a little but they were smiling.

 

“I’m gonna miss them, but at least I have you and Michael. And I’ll come back once we’re done.” Christine sighed, stroking her black pony. “And Angel is happy to spend time with Gideon of course.”

 

Jeremy chuckled at that. “Gideon is still trying to woo her. He doesn’t seem to get that she’s not interested in romance.” He fed Gideon a sugar cube and stroked him fondly. Nightshade nuzzled against Jeremy’s cheek, licking a little there to clean up his tear tracks. “Awww, Nightshade. Thank you so much,” he cooed.

 

Michael couldn’t help but smile fondly down at Jeremy and Christine, reaching over and scratching Gideon’s neck. “Thank you so much for coming Christine,” was all he could say right now. He felt himself getting a bit choked up, though he wasn’t getting teary-eyed. Farewells were normally not an emotional thing for him, but it was for once and he didn’t know how to deal with it.

 

Jeremy shuffled over to his side and wrapped an arm around him, offering silent comfort.

 

“I’m glad to be here, Mikey. I want to help, and it seems like you two could use as much as you can get with what you’re facing off against.” Christine nodded, looking determined. She had a longsword strapped to her side and her handheld harp on her backpack. “Besides, this isn’t forever. I’ll be coming back home after we’re done with all this.”

 

“Still, thank you. I know it’s not easy leaving home.” Michael wrapped an arm around Jeremy in return, relaxing a little thanks to the comfort Jeremy was providing him.

 

Christine shook her head. “That’s just it. When you’re leaving home to save it, it’s easy.” She smiled up at Michael. Then she climbed up onto Angel. “So, we’re still headed north, right? To the green spring?”

 

Jeremy nodded. “Yeah, we’re headed to Lerwick next. It’ll be a good place to stop off and rest and resupply since it’s a good few weeks to the north east.”

 

Michael nodded. He remembered talking with Jeremy and plotting their overall course to the Green Spring. “It isn’t too bad of a journey, at least by foot. I’m assuming it’s gonna be better by wagon and by pony.”

 

“Three times as fast if the calculations are correct. From there it’s gonna get harder though since we’ll need to traverse the mountains. There are trails according to the maps, but it’s not gonna be easy.” Jeremy sighed, then tugged lightly on Michael’s waist. “C’mon. Let’s mount up and get going.”

 

Michael nodded then, sparing a glance behind his shoulder to see the troupe waving. He waved back with a somewhat sad smile as they got mounted and the three (and all of the animals) left the troupe and the town to continue the journey to stop the Squip.

Chapter Text

Lerwick was supposed to be a very nice town. Even as far south as Jeremy had stayed during his travels, he knew that much. It was welcoming and bustling with traders and visitors who were headed to the mountains, and people from the mountains too. It was supposed to be large but somehow cozy.

 

It didn’t seem like any of that. Jeremy couldn’t see a single market stall or a single person on the streets. The town had an abandoned air, and the smell of sickness and decay hovered low around its borders.

 

Jeremy didn’t like this one bit.

 

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this...” he muttered, eyeing the wide streets warily as Gideon navigated the wagon through the town, with Christine and Angel just to their left.

 

“Yeah, an abandoned town that’s supposed to be bustling and lively is never a good sign,” Michael echoed, looking around from where he was perched. “Be on guard and on the lookout for anyone.” There was an air of caution in his tone, as well as a subtle tenseness. It seemed like he was going a little bit into his Red Hood mindset, at least in terms of handling situations.

 

Jeremy nodded and made sure his quarterstaff was at the top of his bag. “I... can you feel that though? There’s something else in the air...” Jeremy asked, looking around. Something was deeply unsettling about this place, more so than it’s abandoned streets. It was almost like there was a whirlpool of honey and they were the ants. “I think we should head back...”

 

"I mean, it's definitely creepy," Christine added, glancing around from where she was. "I don't know if it's that bad that we need to head back."

 

"It is. Something bad's happened here, we don't want to be around for this," Michael said, voice serious as he hopped into the back of the wagon, looking through his things. "Something bad happened here, something... innately bad. I think it's something Squip related."

 

As soon as Michael said that, Jeremy was struck by an intense pain shattering through his skull. He yelped and collapsed in his seat, clutching his head in agony. It only lasted a second. For a moment, as he tried to see what was going on, seeing the blurred shapes of Michael and Darling hovering over him, his vision swam and changed. He could see what was almost clouds of color, sparking and shifting, like the magic he would extract to power his machines.

 

There was a cloud in Michael, a rich, deep red, and in Darling, a majestic purple. And there was a sickly green fog hanging over everything else in the town. Jeremy bolted upright, looking around as fear began to grip him. Everywhere was a sickly green with pale blue sparks dancing through it. Christine and Angel seems alright (her’s was a more natural grassy green and Angel was lavender) and so did Nightshade and Gideon (dark blue and lavender respectively) but everything else was cloaked in this horrible mixture of green and blue. He curled up and shut his eyes, trying to block it out.

 

Suddenly, there was a comfortable weight around him. He didn't even panic when he felt it settle around him (no, not an it, but him). He felt himself slowly coming back to, being able to hear the soft humming of Michael, feeling the soft, deft movements of fingers carding through his hair. The weight around him of Michael's arms was loose, in case he wanted to move away, but tight enough that he felt himself to be properly held. There was no impatience or hurry in how Michael was comforting and holding him, but concern, love, and patience.

 

Slowly, Jeremy’s breathing calmed and the sickly green fog he’d seen faded away. He leant into Michael, eyes shut tight, as he tried to ground himself. What the hell had happened? What has he just seen?

 

“Are you okay, Remy?” Christine asked softly after a few moments, and Jeremy felt Nightshade nuzzle against his cheek. Jeremy shook his head slightly.

 

“I-I don’t know wh-what the fuck just happened,” he stammered out.

 

"It has something to do with where we are, I think," Michael said, and Jeremy felt him rubbing his back. "I'll take the reins and lead Gideon out of here, but we can't stay here." There was an insistence in his tone, which was softer than before but still just as serious.

 

Jeremy nodded. ”We cant. I... I saw something about this place... Everything was covered in sort of a green and blue fog. It felt... sick. Wrong.” He handed over the reins. “We need to get outside of town, now.” He reached up and stroked Nightshade, the gentle touch helped relax him minutely. Nightshade was perfectly free of that horrible cloud. He was a lovely dark blue.

 

He saw Michael nod as he took the reins then, sitting in the bench and starting to redirect Gideon. Jeremy tried to relax, but Michael only led for a minute before he had Gideon stop. "There's someone in the middle of the road... But they're not acting like a person, if that makes sense."

 

Jeremy opened his eyes and sat up. The person most certainly wasn’t acting normal. They were sort of shuffling aimlessly around the street, and they looked so... dirty. Like they hadn’t washed in weeks. Jeremy felt an instant repulsion to them, like they were something wrong and unnatural.

 

“I’m... they give me the same feeling as the green fog...” Jeremy mumbled as he reached into his bag. He wanted his quarterstaff, just in case.

 

"Should we go around or confront?" Christine asked, clearly unsure. It made sense, she wasn't too used to this kind of stuff.

 

Michael, however, was used to it. "We confront, take down, and investigate. Something's happened to this person, to this village, and this could be a valuable lead as to what happened to everyone. We aren't going to hurt them, just knock them out."

 

Jeremy nodded, hoping down from the wagon. He held out his quarterstaff.

 

“H-hello?” he called, slowly stepping towards the person, ready to strike if they became dangerous.

 

Michael followed right behind him, and Christine trailed at the back. The person didn't seem to react at all besides a groan.

 

"Hello?" Michael called. That got them a reaction though.

 

The person's head whipped around then, and Jeremy got scared that they would snap their neck with how sudden the movement was. They let out a loud gurgle, and Christine gasped. Jeremy did too when he saw the hollow eyes of the person, their eyes an all-encompassing cyan that was too bright, too unnatural (a brighter version of the color he saw dusting the murky green).

 

Those eyes were honed in right on Michael, who held his own despite all of this with his dagger drawn.

 

Jeremy watched carefully as the person shambled towards Michael. He quickly grabbed the end of his quarterstaff with both hands and slammed into the person’s gut, sending them sprawling backwards. The person got back up and continued towards Michael, barely seeming to notice the attack.

 

Christine moved forward, swinging the blunt end of her longsword against the person's gut again. Again, they sprawled back but got back up, still honed in on Michael. Glancing over at Michael, he could see something dancing in his eyes, though he wasn't quite sure what as Michael took a cautious step back. It looked as if he was analyzing the situation, that much he could get, but not anything else right now.

 

Jeremy darted forwards and smacked the person in the back, knocking them forwards and onto their stomach. Then he did a swift strike to the back of the person’s head and they fell limp. A quick using the metal of Christine’s sword check confirmed they were still breathing (he didn’t want to touch them if they had that green fog in them) and Jeremy and Christine scrambled back.

 

Michael, however, moved a little closer, but not in touching distance. He took out his own short sword, carefully using the handle end to roll the person over. His eyes were scanning, and he seemed to be in deep thought as he took the person in. "OK, yeah," he muttered out loud, quickly wiping his handle where it touched the person on the ground before holding it properly again. "Let's get out of here and set camp up outside, I have an idea on what happened."

 

Jeremy nodded and quickly climbed back onto the wagon. Christine seemed a little frozen. “Chrissy, c’mon. Let’s go, then we can all freak out.” That seemed to break through since she nodded stiffly and jumped onto the back of Angel. She half cantered out the town, with Jeremy and Michael following behind on the wagon. They parked the wagon on the top of the nearby hill.

 

Once they were settled with their position, Michael hopped out of the wagon and sat down. Jeremy and Christine quickly came over, waiting for answers that Michael apparently had.

 

"This is Squip stuff, I can tell that much. That person... they were sick, but also looked like they were infected by Squip magic I think. It didn't look like something Squip would do, that's too dirty and messy for its taste from what I know. There's a middle man."

 

Jeremy felt his stomach twist. That- they weren’t supposed to encounter Squip stuff for a while longer. But that did explain something.

 

“You saw that person’s eyes? That’s their same color as the sparks I saw in the fog. I think that’s what’s influencing the actions, and the green fog is causing the sickness.” He nodded. It made sense.

 

“But does that mean we’re infected? Since you said it was all over the town...” Christine added, eyes going wide.

 

"I don't know. It all depends on how well our immune systems can handle it." Michael was silent for a moment longer. "You guys are probably fine, I'm more at risk."

 

"What, why?" Christine asked with furrowed brows.

 

"Didn't you see how the person just had tunnel vision for me? Squip seems to know about me already. It would make sense, since Iconis contacted me. It probably got that information, but it doesn't know about you two yet." He pointed at both Christine and Jeremy, each with a pointer finger. "Knowing Squip and how thorough it'll want to be, I'm more likely to be susceptible to sickness stuff, but I don't know enough about magic to know how it could do that..."

 

Christine sat down and scrunched up her face a little. “It’s possible to adjust things to target a specific type of person. Most likely it would have made the disease most effective against tieflings since you guys are pretty rare around these parts, you’re more common to the east. But to do that, it would need to be less effective against a different species. What does Lerwick not have a lot of...” She hummed.

 

“Gnomes,” Michael supplied. “Lerwick has one of the smallest gnome populations in the country thanks to the Dwarves in the mountains.”

 

“Then I’ll go back in and try to figure out how to stop this.” Jeremy nodded. “You can’t go back in there if they’re targeting you, auglas. It’ll put you more at risk.”

 

"You shouldn't go alone though. Christine, you should go with him. I can stay here with the animals and, if anything happens to me, I can send Darling over," he said, reaching up and scratching against the bird's neck from where she was perched on his shoulder. "This'll be the most efficient way and you'll both be able to protect each other. I also still have a way to contact you both."

 

Jeremy nodded with a sigh. “That sounds good, just be careful. Stay in the wagon so you’re out of sight in case any of the people wander out of town.” He fished Nightshade out of his pocket and handed him gently over to Michael. Nightshade squeaked in displeasure, obviously wanting to go with Jeremy. “No you need to stay here, baby. It’s not safe.”

 

"What, am I chopped liver now?" Michael teased as he took the little weasel, running his thumb along Nightshade's head. "I'll hide out, don't worry." He got up then, pressing a soft kiss to the top of Nightshade's head then before going over to the wagon. "Please be careful guys."

 

“We will be.” Jeremy nodded.

 

“I’ll keep him out of trouble.” Christine grinned, and Jeremy shoved her lightly.

 

“See you soon, idril,” Jeremy called as he started walking towards the town. Christine scrambled to follow him, waving at Michael as they left.

 

Michael waved at them before he ducked into the wagon, hiding as he lay down and out of sight.

 

"Well, this is... unexpected, but we can handle this," Christine said with a bright smile. "This'll be a great scouting mission. You sure you can stealth though, with how you stumble." As she teased him, she gently shoved him.

 

“Oi! We can’t all be ballet dancers,” he grumbled. “Besides, there’s more to this than just stealth. We’ll need to figure out who is patient zero or the middle man, and we’re probably going to need to break into wherever said person is.” Jeremy rolled his shoulders confidently. “Good thing I have plans for both. Which is why I’m useful, Miss Ballet.”

 

"You direct me then, Mr. Genius Pants," Christine said with a grin. "I am your actress to guide and direct in this scene." As they walked, she bowed overdramatically before standing back up.

 

Jeremy chuckled, then beckoned her towards the entrance. “We need to get to the town hall. There’ll be records there of every person who got sick, and most likely containing the details of patient zero.“ He peeked around the edge of the gate into town. “It looks clear for now, but let’s make sure we’re quiet. Oh! And-“ He reached into his bag and pulled out a mace. He offered it to her. “-you might want this. It’ll be easier to attack without killing with a blunt weapon.”

 

"Thank you, good sir," she said, taking the mace and testing its weight in her hands before seemingly settling on it. "Yeah, this'll be good." Christine looked ahead then, narrowing her eyes. "I think I see maybe one or two people wandering around, but the way to town hall seems clear for the most part. Hold on though."

 

Before Jeremy could question what she was doing, she quickly climbed up the gate's column and settled up there. She looked around before quickly and quietly sliding back down. "I know how to get to town hall, and the way's mainly clear. I think I saw movement inside there that wasn't like the townsfolk, not as sluggish and sickly."

 

“Well done, little acrobat.” Jeremy grinned, following Christine into the town. He wasn’t quite as graceful and stealthy as she was, but he managed to avoid detection all the same. Very soon they were outside the town hall, and Jeremy wasn’t surprised to find it locked.

 

He knelt down, peering at the lock suspiciously. “Make sure none of the walking gas clouds come after me, I’m gonna break us in,” he whispered, reaching into his bag. He almost screeched when his hand came into contact with something furry.

 

“Nightshade! What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be with Michael!” he hissed. Nightshade just cocked his head and nuzzled his hand. “Fine, get on.” The weasel scrambled up his arm and nuzzled against his cheek happily.

 

Jeremy reached into his bag properly this time and pulled out his thieves tools. He grabbed a lock pick of about the right size and the other tools he’d need before getting to work. Christine made a small noise of surprise. Oh yeah, he had never really told Christine about this particular skill, he knew it would convince her to make more trouble if she knew.

 

"I feel jipped, you never told me about that," Christine whisper-whined from where she was keeping guard. Yup, exactly how he expected her to react. "Let me know when you're done though. We're clear for now, but I know there are a lot of wanderers right now."

 

Jeremy nodded and within a few seconds, he had the door open. Quickly packing away his tools and slipping them into his bag, he stood and turned to Christine. “We’re in. And I never told you because last time I told you that I could do something, I was banned from ever entering the town of Ecrin for life,” he complained as they slipped inside, his voice barely a whisper.

 

"Fine, I'll just let Michael help me then since he has those kinda skills too," she said, playfully sticking her tongue out at him as they continued. Jeremy paused to listen, hearing someone talking further in.

 

Jeremy gestured for Christine to be quiet, and crept closer. There, in the mayor's office, sat a rather greasy looking human man and pretty young woman. The woman was obviously a wanderer, judging by the blank expression, cyan eyes, and the fact she was tied to her chair, but the man seemed to be totally in control of himself.

 

“You know, when you rejected me, Miss Ridraz, I was utterly devastated. But now, thanks to Squip, I not only have you, but your entire town.” He perched himself on the desk. “And you were finally granted to me when Iconis’ chosen hero was infected. Isn’t that wonderful, Lis? Soon there will be no one who can stop the Squip, and you’ll be mine forever.”

 

Jeremy felt sick. So not only was Michael sick, but the whole town had been turned into wanderers because some asshole had been rejected. That was so messed up.

 

They could take this creep out, get a cure, and fix this, right? He looked over to Christine to confirm this, but he saw a look of nausea passing over Christine's face. She shook her head, seeming to understand what he was going to ask, before pointing to outside. She needed fresh air (well, as fresh as it could get out there).

 

He listened to her, going over and walking out with her. He felt a headache starting to come on, but not any actual sickness as he walked outside with her. He knew it was all from worry. Jeremy watched as Christine took a few deep breaths, seeming to barely manage to keep herself from getting sick before letting out a weary sigh. "He said Michael's infected... We need to get to him as soon as possible. He might be affected differently since this is sort of targeting him."

 

“Chrissy, you look like you might be infected too. Let’s get back to the wagon and see how he’s doing, but you need a few minutes to rest at least.” Jeremy felt his worry double. Now both his best friends were ill. Before he could say anything else, Darling swooped down. Jeremy held out his arm and she landed lightly on his arm. She looked worried and she cawed, looking out to where the wagon was parked.

 

“He needs us. We need to get going,“ Jeremy stated, looking over to Christine. “Think you can move alright?”

 

She nodded, taking a deep breath once more. "Yeah, it was just the nausea. I'm fine for now at least, I promise."

 

With worry settled in his core, he went as quickly as he could with Christine to the wagon and animals. When they finally made it over, he felt his chest tighten when he heard Michael's fervent whines. Gideon and Angel both looked over at them when they came in view, Gideon letting out a worried whinney and snort as he looked back to the wagon. Darling quickly flew over, leaving Jeremy's arm as she disappeared into the wagon.

 

Jeremy dashed over and climbed into the wagon, hovering near the entrance. “Auglas, I’m back. How are you feeling?” he asked gently. Michael looked a mess. His skin had taken on a deathly pallor and he was drenched in sweat. Probably from a fever or something. His eyes, though still a beautiful gold, already had flecks of cyan in them and they were dazed and unfocused. Michael broke out into a vapid grin when he saw Jeremy, weakly making grabby hands at him as he whimpered. It seemed to be every time he moved, so maybe sore joints?

 

"Lajy, y'back," he whimpered out, still making grabby hands even if it hurt him in the process. "I missed you. Where'd y'go?" Darling let out a worried caw, and his gaze shifted over to her. "Oh, you're back too! I missed y'Darling." The bird hopped down to be next to him, and he reached over with a hand and patted her. "Good girl..." He didn't seem fully present, and it was only proven further when he looked back over at Jeremy and that vapid grin returned. "Jer'my! Y'back!"

 

“I’m back, Auglas,” Jeremy murmured worriedly. He carefully scooted and perched on the top of some crates near Michael. Michael instantly grabbed his leg and hugged it weakly. Jeremy chuckled sort of wetly. They hadn’t even been gone an hour, how had the sickness progressed so quickly? “How are you feeling?”

 

"I'm feeling.... feelings, like missin' you," Michael muttered out, nuzzling against his leg. "I'm feeling with my hands, I feel your leg... It's nice." Darling let out a worried caw again from where she went ignored.

 

Jeremy hesitated, then reached down and stroked Michael’s hair. “And I bet this feels nice too, doesn’t it? Why don’t you take a nap while I do this and help you relax?” he offered, barely containing the worry in his slightly shaky voice.

 

"Mm... Y'll be here and keep doin' this?" Before Jeremy could even answer him, Michael was already passed out (not asleep, he passed out, a big and scary difference).

 

“I’ll be back soon, ph lajy.” Michael had taught him how to pronounce the phrase properly. Slowly, Jeremy untangled himself and stumbled out the wagon, scrubbing at his eyes harshly to stop tears from falling. Michael looked so weak and seemed so out of it. He wouldn’t have long before he became like the others, a wanderer.

 

Jeremy was going to kill that greasy little man. He felt his curse begin to flare up, the possessive side of dragon’s greed demanding that what was his be protected, and for the first time ever, he didn’t try to stop it. His pupils were likely going to slits soon but he didn’t care. He shot a glance at Darling. “Make sure he stays safe, and follow him if he starts walking around. I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Jeremy instructed as he stalked back towards town.

 

Before he could take more than a few steps from the wagon, however, he felt a hand grab him. Jeremy turned around quick, seeing Christine there with a stern and concerned look. "I know you're angry, I am too, but we can't just rush into this blindly. I know you want to help and protect him, but this isn't the way to go about it, not blindly and not with the curse fueling you." She squeezed his arm, a little harder than normal. "Come on, Jeremy."

 

“I’ve got to protect what’s mine,” he growled, and yeah, that was he curse speaking. He shouldn’t be getting upset with Christine, even if she was trying to stop him and-!

 

Jeremy blinked harshly. Then again. Christine was right, going out in what would amount to a suicide mission wasn’t the way to do this. He shut his eyes and with a deep breath, Jeremy forced the curse back down inside his head. “Sorry. You’re right.”

 

"Let's just focus on making a quick plan of attack, yeah?" Christine offered with a soft smile, seemingly not really phased. Well, he could see the sudden split-second reaction when he initially snapped at her, but otherwise, she seemed fine. "Because I think, from what I saw, he had on this gaudy necklace with a green gem in the middle. I saw flecks of that blue dancing around in it. I think that's what we need to break in order to stop this."

 

Jeremy thought for a second. “Think I could siphon the magic out? That would destroy it and give me a better understanding of what sort of magic Squip uses.” He shrugged.

 

She nodded. "Yeah, and whatever enchantment and sickness Squip's been spreading," Christine added with an encouraging smile.

 

“I gotta say, it does explain why my focus was going wild a couple of days ago.” He picked up his necklace and studied it. “I’ll just check the rating for the object so we can figure out what to expect.” He opened his focus and stared into the gem. For a moment he focused in on the necklace he’d seen, trying to picture it in his mind, before the focus started whizzing. He was overwhelmed by a flash of power, more intense than anything he’d siphoned from before. Jeremy actually had to force himself out of the feeling just to stop himself getting lost into it.

 

He dropped his focus, panting harshly. “That’s- that’s really strong. I’m gonna- nngh- gonna need your help to make sure I don’t get lost in it, Chrissy.” The energy was stronger than his own. Much stronger. It would be a fight to contain it in himself for even a moment without his own energy getting sucked in and absorbed instead. He’d need something to ground him.

 

A hand rested on his arm then, and it helped ground him right then and there. "Of course, Jeremy. You know I'm here for you." He felt himself begin to calm down, and he nodded along with Christine. "Now let's go back in there, stop that weird creeper, and save the town and Michael."

 

Nightshade screamed in agreement and Jeremy chuckled. “C’mon you furry noodle. Let’s save your other dad.”

 

 

 

Jeremy lead the way to the gate once again, but didn’t like what he saw. There were at least ten wanderers in the street now; they’d be spotted in an instant.

 

As he tried to think of something to do, he felt Christine gently tug on his hand. Before he could ask what she had planned, he heard a loud noise sparking away from where they needed to go. It sounded almost like Michael’s voice. The wanderers looked over, slowly making their way towards it. She tugged again on his hand, and he followed her.

 

They both snuck past the wanderers, waiting when they needed to and staying dead quiet before moving on, sticking to the shadows. Every second that passed just made Jeremy even more anxious, even more worried. It would be fine once they got the corrupted necklace and removed the energy. Michael would be fine.

 

Finally, they made it back to the town hall, and Christine peered inside, doing a quick scan, before waving for Jeremy to follow her in.

 

Jeremy darted in behind her and quietly closed the door. It made a slightly muffled click that was barely noticeable over the groaning from outside.

 

He made a motion forward. They needed to stop this as soon as possible.

 

Christine followed him along, trailing behind him as they made it back to the office they were at before. The guy was still there, talking to the woman again, but in a more hushed and private tone. He was now off of the desk, in front of her.

 

Jeremy was getting ready to attack as he moved closer, while he was distracted, but the sudden rampant coughing from Christine broke the silence. It was the kind that racked and hurt the chest, almost wheezing, and it looked like she was barely able to keep herself from collapsing with how painful they sounded. Her eyes were wide as they both froze in their tracks, the man flinching at the sudden sound before turning around, his gross robes swinging behind him as his eyes gleamed, albeit a bit madly.

 

"Wh- I mean, I've been expecting you two." He obviously didn't if the darting, searching look was enough to go off of. No, he had been expecting Michael, but he was trying to seem all big and tough.

 

“Cut the tough guy act, asshole, and let everyone go. We don’t want to have to hurt you but we will.” Jeremy scowled as he brandished his quarterstaff.

 

The guy tensed up, obviously a bit freaked out, before letting out a somewhat hysterical laugh. "Well that's funny, 'cause I don't really mind it." He pointed his staff that he grabbed over at them, and Jeremy managed to dodge out of the way of some Magic Missile spells.

 

Christine, however, wasn't as lucky. She was slammed back into the wall after the darts of magical force hit her, which didn't help with the sickness overtaking her, causing her to fall to the ground with a groan.

 

Jeremy launched himself at the man, spinning his quarterstaff and smacking him around the head with it. The man was tossed to the ground and he looked dazed but still scrambled to his feet. Jeremy dodged another round of Magic Missiles, rolling to the side and righting himself quickly.

 

“I can do this all day, ilbrin, but you have limited mana so why not just give up and let this end quietly,” Jeremy taunted.

 

The man seemed unphased by this, though a glimmer of something appeared in his maddened eyes. "You know what? Fine. I have my love, that's what matters." Jeremy managed to catch the necklace that was tossed to him, certainly caught off-guard by how easy this was.

 

When the man collapsed, his eyes flashing that cyan color, he knew he had been right with it being too easy.

 

The moment Jeremy made contact with the necklace, he felt his limbs freeze. Lightning zapped through him, or so it felt, and he was forced to his knees by the sheer intensity of it. His quarterstaff dropped harmlessly to the side.

 

"Oh, so this is who is traveling with Iconis' chosen hero? Interesting." The voice made Jeremy stiff, and he could easily figure out whose voice it was. "Well, no matter. You won't be helping him for long."

 

“Like hell I’m leaving him,” Jeremy gritted out, switching to Gnomish as his brain was mildly overwhelmed by something. He knew it had to be the Squip, but he couldn’t figure out what it was doing. Either way, it made it hard for Jeremy to recall Common, as it was technically his second language, so he defaulted to Gnomish.

 

"I never said you were leaving him, Jeremy, don't put words into my mouth. Just relax and let your desires take over." As the Squip spoke to him, he felt that overwhelming feeling starting to take over, making his mind buzz and ache. "Let me in, Jeremy."

 

“N-no...” Jeremy tried to hold out against it, he really and did, but slowly he felt himself begin to slip. He felt the peace having the Squip inside him brought. He felt how easy it would be to just relax and let it happen. He didn’t want to but he started to fall into it. He let the Squip in.

 

"There we go, see. It was easy, wasn't it?" He felt himself nod, but he wasn't sure if it was him doing it or the Squip helping him do that. "Now, I told you that you weren't leaving Michael. Why don't we go find him for you, yeah? And you won't have to leave him then."

 

That felt right, to go see Michael. Jeremy needed to go find Michael, see him, and-

 

And he felt a fuzzy sensation against his cheek. Honking filled his ear, loud and right next to his ear actually, holy shit.

 

Nightshade sounded scared. Wait, why was his baby scared? All Jeremy was doing was-...

 

He was listening to the Squip. The same Squip who had caused Michael to lose himself in that horrible sickness and delirium. Jeremy couldn’t do that!

 

Before Squip had a chance to counter his thoughts, Jeremy focused. He thought about Michael, how hurt and in pain he was. He thought about Christine, who was wheezing and barely conscious by the wall. And he thought about how powerful the object in his hand was, about how much magic he could take from it. Jeremy might not be strong enough to fight off the Squip, but his dragon might be.

 

He felt the snap in his mind. He needed to protect what was his. He refused to listen to the creature responsible for damaging them. And he wanted the magic, the power, contained in this necklace. He would take it. It would be his. It was his.

 

There was that annoying buzz in his mind, and he felt himself snarl a little. This was his and no one else could have it, especially not the creature that hurt his Michael.

 

"You don't want to take the power from there, Jeremy. Just listen to me-"

 

“It’s mine,” Jeremy growled. “And you hurt what’s mine. Why would I listen to you?” He’d be a little freaked out at how powerful and angry his voice was later, but for now it was just right. He was furious. Not only was the creature hurting his Michael and his Christine, it was also denying Jeremy his power. It belonged to him, he wanted it, and he’d take it for himself to prove it.

 

Jeremy opened his focus and reached for the necklace with his free hand. Nightshade hissed angrily at it, and Jeremy felt a surge of pride. Nightshade was strong. Nightshade showed no fear. His child was growing up well.

 

Silence for a beat. "I see. Well, this is certainly insightful. I did not think the published Jeremiah Heere has such a side to him, but it appears I was mistaken. If you're so adamant, enjoy it for now. I look forward to our next encounter." With that, the buzzing was gone. Finally.

 

With the annoying voice of the creature gone at last, Jeremy grabbed onto the necklace and began pulling the power from it. He instantly recognized what type it was, even through this overwhelming intensity. It was changing magic, the same sort that Jeremy used to convert magical objects into power sources.

 

He could barely think, the magic becoming more and more intense with every passing second. Everything Jeremy was, everything he had ever become, was slowly being absorbed by the power he had started taking. This was his power now, no one could take it from him because he was becoming a part of it.

 

Suddenly, he felt something else pressed into his hand as his necklace was taken away. "Focus on this, Jeremy. You took the power from this, now keep it in your gem so it's always yours and with you," he heard a voice say, his Christine say. "This is empty now, it has nothing you want. Put it away."

 

His Christine was right, the necklace would crumble to ash in a moment since it was empty. Jeremy just had to change the magic and no one could take it from him. He focused on the medusa quartz in his hand, it was large and beautiful and his.

 

Jeremy focused and felt the power bubbling away inside him turn away from what it was, away from what his own magic was, and into the neutral energy he loved to use. Then he channeled it into the medusa quartz, feeling it almost fizz in his palm. The bubbles of color inside it seemed to dance as it got fuller and fuller until it could hold no more. Jeremy needed another gem to contain all this delicious power. “Give me another,” he croaked out, holding out his other hand.

 

He felt another gem quickly pressed into his hand. "How many more do you think you're going to need?"

 

“One more after this. Get it ready,” he instructed. Huh. His voice was weaker than it should have been. He had so much power, all for himself, it should be strong and powerful too. No matter. What mattered is that Jeremy had the power from the necklace and his Christine seemed unharmed. Once he had gathered his power properly into the crystals, he could go and collect his Michael and then his treasures would be all together again.

 

He heard a small hum then, and Jeremy knew his Christine was doing as he asked. She was always good. He also heard Nightshade dooking again, though not like he did earlier. Why was his child upset?

 

Jeremy decided he could deal with his child afterwards. For now he just had to finish collecting his power properly. He filled up the second crystal and almost entirely filled the third. So much power he had collected, all from him to use.

 

Jeremy swayed a little. Then again. Oh, he felt lightheaded. That probably wasn’t good, was it? He fell to the side, the one not with his Nightshade, and felt his consciousness waver. What... what was going on? Why did he suddenly feel so weak? And his head hurt.

 

He felt a hand move through his hair, a soft hum that was familiar filling the air. "Hey, Jeremy, you got everything now. Can you try coming back to me? I need you, Nightshade needs you, Michael needs you. We aren't your treasures, we're your friends and people who care about you."

 

No that wasn’t right... was it? He was right there, he never left. And his treasures... no... his friends. That was right. They were his friends, not objects to be hoarded. He had fallen to his curse again, and even if it was intentional this time, Jeremy still felt the curl of shame in his gut. He dropped the crystals and let them lie on the floor. He could pick them up later, right now he needed to distance himself from the dragon struggling to break free again. He whimpered softly as he fought against the strong instinct to hoard and take everything for himself.

 

Christine's arms wrapped around him then, holding him close and pulling him away from the crystals. "You're Jeremy Heere, you're an artificer, not a hoarder. You have friends who love you, not treasures you hoard. We're here for you, we care for you." As she spoke, voice soft and soothing as he felt the fuzziness of Nightshade nuzzling against him, softly and cautiously dooking.

 

Jeremy let himself be held, let himself be taken instead of doing the taking. The dragon didn’t like it, but Jeremy could fight it now. Christine was holding him, keeping him away from the power that the dragon had been so desperate for. Christine was helping him. She was his friend. She wasn’t for him to take but for him to enjoy as she was her own person.

 

Slowly, Jeremy reached up and started stroking Nightshade’s head. The little weasel’s dooking took on a happier, more relaxed tone. Jeremy felt more himself and less dragon. “Hey sweetheart. You’re such a sweet little furry noodle. Thank you,” Jeremy cooed through his aching throat. Then he turned his eyes up to Christine without moving anything else. “Thanks Chrissy. Are you okay?”

 

"My head and throat are killing me and my body aches, but I'm good besides that," Christine reassured with a tired smile. "Are you alright though? How are you feeling?"

 

“Half dead,” he replied, still stroking Nightshade. The gentleness of the action helped to ground him. “I have no more magic left in me today, only maybe enough for one spell in an emergency, and my head is aching and so is my throat. This... the Dragon hit hard this time. Probably because I encouraged it. At least I know it’s strong enough to chase away the Squip to some degree.” He sighed heavily. “Are my eyes at least back to normal? They’re stinging like they’re still slits.”

 

She peered right at his eyes before humming and nodding. "Yeah, they're back to your beautiful eyes now." Christine looked around the room then. "I think the lady, uh... I don't remember her name, but I think she's gonna wake up soon. Should we untie her and then go get Michael?"

 

Jeremy tried to think past the dragon’s desire and found that he could. “Yeah, that sounds good. Can you put the crystals away for me though? I don’t think I can do that myself right now. You know the box in my bag.” He struggled to sit up himself. “And can you tie up the guy? I don’t know how influenced he will be. There should be ten feet of hempen rope in my bag somewhere. If you can’t I’ll do that as soon as I can move properly.”

 

"No, I got it," Christine reassured as she patted his shoulder. "Just stay here and keep talking with Nightshade. He was very worried." He let out a dook after she spoke and as she helped Jeremy sit up properly. "Exactly."

 

With that, she got up, grabbed the crystals, and grabbed his bag, turning so her back was to him and he couldn't see her work.

 

Jeremy felt the dragon flare up in rage because Christine was touching his things! He squashed it down and instead focused on the furry weight on his shoulder. “Hey buddy. I’m sorry for worrying you, Nightshade. But thank you very much, you helped wake me up twice, baby boy. You’re so lovely,” he cooed, stroking Nightshade along his back. The weasel dooked happily, still nuzzling against him.

 

Keeping himself entirely focused on Nightshade, he only looked away when he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. Looking up, he saw Christine wearing Jeremy's bag and the man from before tied up. He also saw the woman from before, who he gathered quickly from what he overheard earlier as the mayor or someone related to the mayor, untied and seemingly starting to come to her senses. "Let's get going and get Michael."

 

Jeremy nodded, then paused as he climbed to his feet. He stumbled over to the woman. “Hello. Ma’am? Are you alright?” he asked softly. The woman blinked and focused on him properly.

 

“I-yes... you’re the one who defeated Asorin, aren’t you?” Jeremy nodded, undoing the loose rope around her middle.

 

“I am. Listen, we need to go check on our friend but we’ll be back soon. May we talk then?” Jeremy asked. The woman, Lis Ridraz if he remembered correctly, hesitated then nodded.

 

“I would like to talk to you properly. I’ll be here trying to minimize the chaos Asorin caused.” Jeremy nodded with a small smile before he made his way back over to Christine.

 

“Okay, now let’s go.”

 

He saw a fond yet proud look in Christine's eyes as her panic seemed to settle a bit. She nodded, taking Jeremy, and hurrying out with him. As they went through the town, they saw some people unconscious and some waking up, everyone varying levels of sick but at least themselves. None of their sicknesses seemed to be as bad as Michael's when they left.

 

 

 

It took twenty minutes to make their way back to Michael thanks to Jeremy’s shaky limbs and Christine’s aches. Still, Jeremy felt confident that everything would be fine, since the rest of the townsfolk were recovering.

 

Michael was still in the wagon, lying down. His breathing was still labored but he was awake again. His eyes had lost their cyan coloring. “Idril? Are... are you okay?” Jeremy asked slowly as he climbed into the wagon. Michael lit up when he saw Jeremy, just like he had earlier. He didn’t seem any worse, but he wasn’t any better either. And he made grabby hands at Jeremy again.

 

"You're here, Jer'my," he said, that vapid smile still there as Darling let out a crow of worry. "I missed you. Where'd y'go? I thought y'came back but you weren't here when I woke up, so that must've been a dream 'cause you said you'd stay." As Michael babbled, Nightshade let out a worried noise from where he was perched on Jeremy's shoulder.

 

“M-must have been,” Jeremy agreed, crawling over to Michael and curling up next to him. He wasn’t worried about getting sick now, since the enchantment was gone. He was just worried about Michael. “Well I’m here now and I’m not leaving you,” he promised, gently lifting Michael’s head to rest on his chest as Jeremy wrapped his arms around him.

 

Normally, Michael radiated a nice, pleasant heat. Right now, he felt hot, too hot, and he was still soaked in sweat. He was shaking too, though Michael didn't seem to notice or care. "Well that's good. 'Missed you a lot," he muttered out, nuzzling against Jeremy's chest. Michael's hands weakly held onto his clothes, barely holding on.

 

Christine popped her head in barely, but Michael looked to her and gasped softly. "Oh my god, Christine, you're here. H'lo," he slurred out at the end, eyes still hazed over with sickness and seemingly not noticing the slightly dampened mood she had as she climbed in. "Where'd you come from?"

 

Jeremy stroked Michael’s hair lightly, feeling tears of worry and frustration start to build. He was always emotional after his curse flared up, and this was hard enough even without that aspect.

 

“It’s not over. Why didn’t it end, Chrissy? It’s supposed to be over now.” He tried to hold back his sobs but one or two made it through.

 

“I’m not entirely sure, but this is something the Squip did, so maybe he did something in his magic to make sure Michael stayed sick. Try to stop Iconis’ chosen hero for good or keep him out of commission for a long time maybe,” Christine offered, frowning as she sat down beside the two. “I’m not too familiar with this kind of magic, so I’m not too sure... That’s just my hunch though.”

 

“Lajy, why’re y’crying? Don’t cry,” Michael said, reaching a shaky hand up to Jeremy to presumably try to wipe his tears away. “Unless it’s good crying, then it’s fine.”

 

Jeremy helped Michael reach his face and leaned into the touch. “I’m okay, idril. Just a little overwhelmed,” he assured Michael before looking up at Christine. “Chrissy, I don’t know how to help him. We need a Doctor. Can... if you tie Angel to the back of the wagon, can you drive us into town? Maybe someone there can help.”

 

“Yeah, of course, you just stay here with him and make sure he doesn’t get worse.” Christine quickly got up, grabbing what she needed to do that before getting out of the wagon.

 

“We don’t need a doctor, ‘m fine,” Michael reassured him, trying to swipe away some tears and failing. Even the palms of his hands were way hotter than normal, though Michael shivered. “Y’don’t need to worry. Please don’t be worried, ‘m fine.”

 

“I know you don’t, Auglas. But I just had a bit of a bad thing happen, so I need to be checked over, and you were hit by the green fog so you and Chrissy need to be checked over,” Jeremy assured him, looking away a little as he lied. Hopefully it would be enough to convince Michael to see the doctor.

 

Michael’s unfocused eyes stayed on him regardless, his gaze never straying. “If y’won’t be worried, I’ll get checked over,” he muttered out, dropping his hand back onto his chest (it was shaking too much, it had to be too much of a strain). “I didn’t see any green fog though... Did I miss it?”

 

The wagon started moving and Jeremy sent a silent prayer of thanks, to every god he could think of, for Christine. “Yeah, you did. It was invisible, but I saw it and it was everywhere.” He could do this. Just act happy. “And I got like three more power crystals and everything. They are all... mine...” Focus, Jeremiah. Don’t let the dragon out again, it’ll exhaust you. “Anyways, it was cool.”

 

“That sounds really cool,” Michael muttered out, awe prominent in his voice. “You’re always cool though. Super cool. Cooler than cool. You’re so nice too, and smart and caring and nice. Did I already say you were nice?”

 

Jeremy chuckled as he felt himself blush. “I’m not so cool. Or so nice.” He thought back to his behavior earlier, when he was thinking of Michael and Christine as... objects. Treasures. Not his fault exactly but he still felt guilty. “But thank you, Auglas. That’s very sweet of you.” Jeremy kept stroking his fingers through Michael’s hair.

 

“Yes you are, Jer’my,” Michael almost whined out as he looked at Jeremy. “I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. Y’believe me, right?” As he asked that, he tried to reach up to hold Jeremy’s hand, one of them, as his hand shook.

 

Jeremy sighed but he grabbed Michael’s hand and squeezed it. “I believe you believe that, idril. But you don’t know everything about me, and there is a part of me, a big part, which isn’t so nice. I try to be nice, but that’s still a fact whether I want it to be or not.” Jeremy was too emotionally exhausted to really consider the implications of his words. He hadn’t told Michael about his curse yet, he’d been too scared. Scared that Michael would reject him totally if he knew.

 

“Then tell me so you can believe me. Please. I-I’ll tell you more about me too, so it’s fair. Like how m’moms we’re rich and successful but they got robbed ‘f everything ‘cause of who they were, or- or- or uh...” Michael was tearing up, though he seemed to be trying really hard to focus.

 

Jeremy quickly squeezed Michael’s hand and kissed his forehead. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay... I’ll...” Michael probably wouldn’t remember much of this, right? He was delirious. “I’ll tell you. I’m- I-“ Jeremy took a shaky breath. The tears fell harder. “I was cursed. Or I got a curse, from my mother. She was cursed with Dragon’s Greed when she was pregnant with me, and I have a version of it. I can control it most of the time but sometimes it gets too much and I lose myself to it and I hate the fact I can’t control it but it’s- it’s... please don’t hate me...” He whispered that last part. It felt good to confess about it, but scary as well.

 

The silence that passed scared him more, even when Michael weakly squeezed his hand back. “I already knew ‘bout that, the twins told me. I could never hate you, Jer’my, I love you,” Michael told him, squeezing his hand some more. “I told ‘em how I saw you lookin’ in the window for the mayor’s chest thingy and they told me. That doesn’t make me hate you, ‘just means you’re a lot tougher ‘nd stronger than I first thought.” He nodded to what he was saying, though it just meant he was nuzzling against Jeremy’s chest. “I don’t hate you, I love you. I really do.”

 

“You- you knew?” Jeremy asked, eyes going wide behind his glasses. Michael knew, for a while already, and he hadn’t acted differently at all. He didn’t hate Jeremy, and he still loved him apparently. Jeremy squeezed Michael’s hand and pressed a kiss to the back. “Thank you...”

 

“Y’dont need to thank me...” When Michael spoke, Jeremy couldn’t help but feel his worry rise again, but for a different reason. His breathing was starting to become more shallow, his voice weaker. Looking down at him, he saw Michael’s eyes not even on him anymore, but staring blankly at the side of the wagon. Reaching down to feel his forehead, Jeremy had to pull his hand back. It was dangerously hot, scarily hot. “Why... why’re you thanking me?”

 

Jeremy felt a fresh wave of worried tears hitting him but he held them back for now. Michael needed him to be strong, he could break down later. “Just thanking you for being you, lajy,” he stammered out. Then he looked over towards the driver's seat. “How close are we? Chrissy? He’s getting worse.”

 

"We're about to be in town," Christine told him from the driver's seat, glancing back for a second. A pained expression overtook her face. "We'll get him someone, I'm sure someone can help him Remy."

 

"Who's getting worse? What's happening?" Michael asked, his gaze shifting back to Jeremy but it was still blank and feverish.

 

“Michael you’re sick. You’re burning up and you’re barely conscious and I’m worried.” Jeremy scrubbed at his eyes for a second before going back to stroking Michael’s hair. It was a sweaty mess and Jeremy could feel the heat radiating off of him but he wasn’t going to stop. It was helping to keep Michael calm.

 

"No, 'm Michael," he weakly said back, no joking tone present, just complete seriousness. "You're not worried, you're Jeremy... right?"

 

Jeremy felt the wagon stop. "We're here, so I'm going to go inside and see if there's anyone that can help. Keep watching him, alright?"

 

“Right.” Jeremy nodded, then he looked back down at Michael. “That’s right, I’m your Jeremy and you’re my Michael and you’re gonna be fine,” he murmured. He pressed a gentle kiss to Michael's forehead again, almost flinching at how hot Michael felt. It was almost enough to burn him, probably because tieflings could take so much more heat before feeling any repercussions.

 

"But I can't be fine if I'm Michael," Michael muttered out, seemingly getting confused. "And I can't be your Michael if I'm Michael..."

 

Darling let out a crow then, finally breaking her silence to hop on Jeremy's shoulder, looking down at Michael. When she appeared, Michael's gaze shifted over to her. "Oh, hi there," he murmured out, giving her a vacant smile.

 

She gurgled worriedly at Michael, and Nightshade let out a couple of quiet honks in agreement. They were as worried as Jeremy it seemed. If the animals were actually worried too, this was actually serious.

 

Jeremy figured he had to do something, so he reached into his bag and pulled out a scrap of cloth he’d normally use to make the wings on his dragon toys. He wet it using his water skin and placed it on Michael’s forehead. That might help with the fever, right?

 

Michael seemed to relax a little (he just realized how tense Michael was, even if none of them seemed to notice) at that, letting out a soft sigh. "Oh, that's nice, it's very nice," he muttered out, shutting his eyes as his smile got bigger. "It's nice like you, lajy."

 

“That’s sweet of you to say, idril.” Jeremy sighed softly and trickled a little more cool water onto the cloth (it seemed to be almost drying out already... how hot could a tiefling actually get?).

 

He heard someone get back on the wagon, felt the slight shift. "Hey, so no one here can help, but there's a Druid in the forest nearby that can help. How's he doing? Can he keep going for a ten-minute ride?"

 

Jeremy glanced back at Christine. “I think this is helping his fever, so yes. Let’s just be quick, I don’t know how long it will help for.” He trickled a little more water on the cloth and Michael sighed happily.

 

"Yeah, of course," Christine said before he felt the wagon begin to move at a quicker pace, closer to the speed Gideon had gone when Michael first hopped into his wagon.

 

Jeremy kept topping up the cloth, making sure to keep it nice and cool, and it did seem to be helping somewhat. That would be brilliant if it wasn’t for the fact that Michael was getting restless. He was muttering out things in Infernal, and Jeremy didn’t know what he wanted. The only thing he could think of that might help was Michael’s music box Jeremy had given him. It was a lullaby after all.

 

Jeremy carefully reached into Michael’s robes to the button up pocket he had added at Michael’s request, pulling out the music box and winding it up. Michael seemed to relax even more with the gentle melody playing.

 

The time to get to the Druid's house seemed to drag on forever. Finally, the wagon stopped and he heard Christine say, "We're here. I'm coming back there to help you get Michael, or do you want me to get the Druid and bring them out here instead?"

 

Jeremy thought for a second, peering down at Michael. “Get the Druid. I don’t think we can move him when he’s like this, moving seems to hurt.” He nodded, glancing up at Christine for a moment.

 

Christine nodded before he saw her vanish, presumably to get the Druid. Meanwhile, Michael whined softly from where he was lying down and muttered something out in Infernal again. His eyes were shut like he was in pain, and his breathing was definitely getting more labored.

 

Jeremy wet the cloth again, and started humming softly along with the music box. “You’re gonna be fine, auglas.”

 

Just then a woman, short but somehow holding a much bigger presence than any of them at the moment, appeared at the entrance to the wagon. Christine hovered a few steps behind her, shuffling nervously.

 

The woman appeared to be of elvish decent, if her beauty and slightly pointed ears were any indicator, and she had no hair on her head. Her clothes were shades of green and yellow, making her almost blend in with the surrounding summery forest, but Jeremy found himself want to hyperfocus on her. She had a lot of magical potential inside her, and with his dragon still so close to the surface, he felt the desire to ‘collect’ her. He forced it back down.

 

“Please, he’s really sick and we don’t know how to help him,” he begged instead. The woman looked him over cautiously.

 

“And why should I help you, cursed one? What allegiance do I owe you or your tiefling friend?” Her voice was gently but somehow scornful. Darling hopped down from Jeremy’s shoulder, on to the bed of the wagon and crowed softly up the Druid. It almost sounded like she was begging for help too. The Druid looked surprised.

 

The Druid looked as if she wanted to say something, opening her mouth to respond to what Darling said, but something stopped her. Glowing from the back of Michael's hand was a mark, one that was a bright red and held the symbol for aqua viate, the fountain of youth (it looked like a red trident almost, with a cross and circles on the end of the prongs and in between the prongs). It was bright and vivid, demanding attention, and the Druid gasped softly. "Iconis' mark..."

 

She seemed to contemplate something before letting out a heavy sigh. "If he is the hero who is to stop Squip, I will help." As soon as she said that, the mark's glow dimmed but stayed present on the back of Michael's hand.

 

Darling let out another soft crow, and the Druid reached over and gently scratched her head. After, she knelt down by Michael's side, quickly looking him over. "What happened to him?"

 

“Squip released a sickness through the town nearby, turned all the people into basically mindless wanderers. They were all hyper-focused on Michael and then he got hit by it himself a few hours ago, but it’s progressed faster than anyone else,” Jeremy explained, stroking Nightshade to keep himself calm, and trickling some more water on to the cloth.

 

As he spoke, the Druid continued to look Michael over, humming softly as she did so. "I was keeping the sickness from going past my home, so I know which sickness you're referring to." Her hand ran across Michael's forehead when Jeremy stopped trickling water, hissing as she did so. "This is a nasty one, a huge hodgepodge of illnesses specifically targeted towards humans and tieflings mixed together. A concoction designed specifically for him, with magic inflaming it and making it worse, but I can help. It'll take time, and I'll need you two to get me some things, but I can fix him."

 

Jeremy felt his heart unclench and he released a breath he didn’t even realize he was holding. “What do you need, ma’am?” he asked.

 

"I can write down what I need and where to find them when we're in my home. Let's just move him inside for now. I know it's going to hurt him to move, but it's better for him to be in a more comfortable environment than the interior of a wagon."

 

Jeremy nodded and gently scooped Michael up into his arms. He found he didn’t struggle at all under Michael’s weight, and found that Michael could weakly cling to him. He moved slowly, so as not to jostle Michael too much, and Christine scrambled to open the door to the Druid’s house. At her request, Jeremy set Michael down on the low cot. After pressing a quick kiss to Michael’s cheek and trickling some more water onto the cloth, Jeremy turned to the Druid.

 

“Thank you, ma’am. I am Jeremy, and this is Michael. Please, tell me what you need so I can go get it?”

 

The Druid was looking through an impressive shelf on her wall full of jars and other containers, looking over some things and taking some jars down. "I need some cold Pink Berries, some enchanted water, and an enchanted slush mixture. There is a town close by that can sell those things around this time of year, it should be half an hour ride there. If you tell them I sent you, they'll give you a huge discount." Once all of the containers were placed down, as well as any tools she needed, the Druid looked over at Jeremy. "I'm Brooke, by the way, Brooke Lohst. Not 'lost,' 'low-st.'"

 

“What is the name of the town?” Jeremy asked, and Brooke sort of smiled.

 

“Runsworth. It’s on the other side of the forest from where you came in.”

 

Jeremy bowed low. “I’ll get them as quickly as possible. Thank you, Lady Lohst.” With that, he hurried out the door. “You coming as well Chrissy, or will you stay and assist?” he asked as Christine followed him out. Jeremy began unstrapping Gideon from the wagon and preparing the saddles, reins and stirrups.

 

Christine glanced back for a second before looking back over at Jeremy, helping to unstrap Gideon. "I think I'll come with you. If Lady Lohst needed help, she would have asked, I think... Plus, we can split and cover more ground if we both go to town."

 

Jeremy nodded with a small smile. “Thank you, Chrissy. Go grab Angel, I’ll finish off Gideon.”

 

She nodded, though hesitated for a moment before resting a hand on Jeremy's arm. "Are you alright though, Jeremy?"

 

“I-“ Jeremy sighed and shook his head. “It’s still hovering close underneath. I’ve never triggered it on purpose before... and I’m still worried about Michael. I know he’ll be fine, thanks to Lady Lohst, but... everything is just... a lot. Between the wanderers, the Squip being in my head-“ He shivered at the invasive feeling still lingering. Was Christine even aware that had happened? “-and knowing my name, the Dragon, and Michael being sick, I... I’ll be needing a nap after this. Maybe a week long nap.”

 

Christine seemed to think what he said over for a minute before nodding. "That's understandable. After we get this, you're taking a nap. I've made the executive decision and that will be what happens." She patted his arm then, quickly giving him a hug before letting go. "I'll detach Angel from the wagon and she's pretty much ready to go, OK?"

 

Jeremy melted into the familiar hug for a moment before he stood properly and nodded. “Yes boss.” He chuckled, giving her a mock salute. Then he turned to Gideon and finished off his preparations.

 

Once he was satisfied that the dun horse was all ready, he mounted up and turned to Christine. She was on Angel. “Ready?”

 

"Of course," she said, Angel trotting up right beside Gideon. Even the horse himself knew the kind of mood that was lingering because he didn't try to do anything to impress Angel. "Let's get shopping."

Chapter Text

Jeremy could barely relax enough to ride properly. His body was stiff and everything about him was tense. Everything was too much. The dragon was still roaring just below the surface, squirming and coiling under his mind and trying to shift him to that mindset. And Michael was still sick, even if he was going to get better.

 

Christine was a godsend, the halfling bard rambling and keeping him present. She stopped Jeremy from freaking out entirely. It was nice. Comforting.

 

"-and she seemed really cute, so I couldn't just stay around and fumble and mess up just because she's really pretty, you know? That wouldn't be fair to anyone," Christine rambled on. Oh yeah, she thought Brooke was cute, which in itself was cute. He had been there plenty of times to see her crush gush, so he was no stranger to this. "I'm not gonna say or do anything with her right now though, 'cause she's helping us out, helping Michael, but oh my god is she pretty."

 

Jeremy chuckled a little at that. “Yeah I hear you. She is really pretty.” He shook his head lightly. “Why is it you always find the pretty girls? You have a talent for it. Like- you remember Lia? The ranger lady? If she wasn’t over two hundred and us barely children, you would have won her over no problem.”

 

"I dunno, but they never end up liking me or there's some problem," Christine whined out as she flopped forward against Angel's neck, who didn't mind nor care. "Or Rebecca, the pretty fighter. She was so sweet and nice and kind until she took that quest and never came back." She fiddled with the mane of Angel with a huff. "And she didn't come back because she found a hot orc girlfriend I think."

 

“Considering Becca was a nymphomaniac and you’re ace, it would have been awkward anyways.” Jeremy shrugged. “Besides, they’re all stupid for not realizing how amazing you are, Chrissy. Anyone would be lucky to have you.”

 

"But no one wants me," she dramatically cried out. Jeremy knew she was playing this up a bit for him, to help distract him, though he knew this was a true problem for her under the surface. "Why does no one want my romantic love when I want to give it to them?"

 

“Because they’re stupid,” Jeremy reiterated. “You’ll find someone, Chrissy. You just need to let it happen and not force it,” he added wisely. As tense as Jeremy was, he wasn’t about to be an ass to Christine. He wanted her to have her happy ending too. If anyone deserved a happy ending, it was Christine.

 

His friend sighed before lifting her head up. "Thanks Jeremy." She gave him a genuine smile before looking ahead. "Well, I guess I rambled for half an hour 'cause we're here."

 

Jeremy looked forwards in surprise. Runsworth was a small town, but there were several market stalls Jeremy could spy, with a wide range of products. What they needed had to be in them somewhere.

 

“Okay, so Lady Brooke said we needed to get Pink Berries, enchanted water, and some enchanted slush, right?” he asked, listing the ingredients off on his fingers.

 

Christine nodded as they rode into town, people passing by normally and going about their business. “Frozen or chilled Pink Berries,” she added. “I’m gonna think the slush and water would be together, or the Pink Berries and the slush would be.”

 

Jeremy nodded. “Okay, let's leave these guys at the stable and look around. Hopefully we’ll find what we need quickly.” He gestured over to the stables and started steering Gideon over.

 

Once they were in, Jeremy called over the stable boy and gave him a gold piece, as he always did. Gideon deserved to be well looked after since he worked so hard all the time. “We’ll be back soon. Please take care of them, they’ve been through a lot today.”

 

The stable boy’s eyes widened as he took the gold coin, nodding quickly. “Oh, o-of course. I’ll give them lots of care,” the boy promised with a big smile, waving them off as they left the stable.

 

“OK, let’s split up. I take the left side of the marketplace, you take the right. We meet back by the stables after?” Christine offered as they went back over to the hustle and bustle of the market.

 

“Sounds like a plan. I’ve still got a large sum I’ve been saving up, do you need some extra cash to make sure you can afford everything?” he asked, checking his coin purse before tucking it back away into his bag.

 

She shook her head then before holding a small coin sack up. “She gave us money. Well, me since you left so quickly, but she followed us to the door and gave me this. She said it should cover everything.”

 

“Fair enough. I’ll take whatever I use from there to make it easier.” Jeremy scratched the back of his head sheepishly before bending down and kissing Christine’s forehead. “I’ll see you in a few, Chrissy. Good luck and be careful.”

 

"Same to you, Remy. Make sure trouble doesn't find you first," she teased before quickly vanishing into the crowd, using her smaller size to her advantage no doubt.

 

Jeremy headed over to the first stall on his side, browsing through the wares and finding nothing. The same was to be said for the next two, but the fourth had one of the ingredients they needed.

 

“Hi there.” Jeremy shot the merchant a charming grin (he was a salesman at the end of the day, he could be charming if he had to be). “I’m running an errand for Lady Lohst, the Druid in the forest not far from here. How much for the enchanted slush?”

 

The older lady lit up at the mention of Brooke, sitting up a little straighter. "Oh, alright. The enchanted slush sell normally for forty-two gold pieces, but since you're here for Lady Lohst, it's thirty. How is she doing, by the way? I haven't seen her in quite some time and I miss her wit."

 

“She’s in good health from what I could see, ma’am.” Jeremy smiled, handing over the money. “She was just assisting the town of Lerwick with some trouble, but she is doing well enough for herself.”

 

The merchant nodded as she took the money, quickly glancing it over before putting it away. "She's a kind and tender soul," she mused out before bending down behind her stand, popping up less than a minute later with a filled sack. When Jeremy took it, a refreshing breeze seemed to come over him. "Be sure to not open the bag until you need to use it, otherwise it will slowly start to melt."

 

“Thank you very much, ma’am. Have a lovely day!” he chirped, tucking away the sack into his bag of holding. He made a point to ignore the lovely, large chunk of pure quartz sitting on the table. Pure quartz worked better than medusa quartz, and it could hold more magic, but Jeremy knew him wanting it was all Dragon. He mentally slapped the beast before focusing back on his mission.

 

As he continued to go along the stalls, he didn't see any that had the Pink Berries or the enchanted water, at least not for a while. By the time he was about to give up, going through almost every stall his side of the market, he saw a younger merchant with some enchanted water. He was talking to someone at the moment, probably finishing up an exchange.

 

Jeremy had to dart behind a stack of crates because he recognized that person and not in a good way. That was the guard he’d managed to outsmart on their way to the town with the goblins, the one who apparently followed Michael over hell and high water to try and bring him in. Half dwarf, half Dragonborn if Jeremy recalled correctly... shit.

 

He tried to calm his breathing as he tried to figure out a plan. He couldn’t risk being seen. If he was caught, the guard (was his name... Rich? That sounded about right.) might recognize him. If Rich recognized him, he’d know Jeremy was lying and then Jeremy wouldn’t be able to get back to Michael and Lady Lohst for ages and then Michael might-

 

No. Breathe. Don’t have a panic attack, that would let out the Dragon. (It sucked having the dragon so close to the surface, normally he didn’t need to worry about it this much.) And it would just make things worse in general since Jeremy was already a mess. He just had to listen and figure out a plan. He was smart... sorta. He could do this.

 

As he chanced a quick glance over, he saw something that made him hold his breath. Christine was walking over to the stand, eyes lit up as she saw the enchanted water (and of course she didn't know Rich, so she would be fine). She made her way over, hopping up on one of the stools (every stall had them for those who were shorter). He strained his hearing to be able to listen in.

 

"I'm sorry to bother your conversation, but I'd like to make a purchase."

 

"Oh, I'm sorry," Rich said, giving a smile over to Christine then.

 

"It's fine, I'm just running an errand for Lady Lohst," she explained with her warm, bubbly smile.

 

"I'll be on my way then." The guard looked towards the merchant. "Thank you so much for the information on Red Hood, I'll be going." With a quick handshake between him and the merchant, Rich left. Thankfully, the two men were too preoccupied to notice Christine's ever so slight shift, the tenseness that flashed through her, before she quickly talked with the merchant and made an exchange for some enchanted water presumably.

 

Jeremy flipped up the hood on his cloak before darting around the crate stack to try to avoid Rich. Or well, that’s what he was trying to do. Instead he almost stepped on a cat, which hissed angrily at him, and stumbled backwards, crashing into some metal pots that were hanging up and landing face down at Rich’s feet.

 

Shit.

 

He was going to be recognized. He was going to get caught. He was going to lose Michael! In his panic, Jeremy almost missed that his focus opening as it would when he was readying a spell. A spell! There was one he’d been studying for ages, but he hadn’t made it work yet. Still, it was his best chance!

 

Not even a second had passed. With some focus, Jeremy poured in all of his desire and desperation into this one spell. And, for the first time ever, he felt his features and body shift. The Alter Self spell was working!

 

Jeremy made himself slightly taller, just subtly, and changed his facial features to be totally different. His nose was made slimmer, pointer, and he just shifted everything to make himself sleeker. Prettier. And he shifted his voice to be smoother too, even if it was still kinda squeaky. He didn’t try to change his hair much, or else it would be suspicious, but he did add a subtle curl to it all. When he was finished, Jeremy was unrecognizable. And he looked sort of elvish too, so that was a bonus. Not even two seconds had passed, and Rich had apparently recovered from his shock to finally help the ‘stranger’ on the floor in front of him.

 

"Oh hey, sorry about that. Are you alright?" Rich asked him, taking Jeremy's hand and helping him up to his feet. He dusted Jeremy off, worry evident in the guard's features. "You gotta be more careful around here, there's a lot of kids and animals running around."

 

“Th-thanks. I wasn’t expecting that cat to be there,” Jeremy stammered out, scratching the back of his head. Evidently the spell worked, somehow. “I appreciate the help, sir guard.”

 

"Of course. There are a lot of cats that like to linger around here for free scraps." Once Rich was done making sure Jeremy was alright, he gave a bright smile to him. "Have a good day," he said, waving for a second before hurrying on his way.

 

“You too, sir!” Jeremy called, trying to sound cheerful as he waved back. Obviously he was successful since Rich shot a happy grin over his shoulder. Jeremy paused, then decided that he’d keep the new face for now. So long as he wasn’t especially startled by anything, he could maintain this form and shift to look however he wanted for the next hour. Might has well keep it up because god knows if he’d be able to pull it off again any time soon.

 

As he finished his interaction with Rich, he heard the sounds of Christine wrapping up at the stall. Glancing back, he saw her holding a black flash full of water, putting it into her bag before stepping off from the stool. She checked over her things, humming to herself before hurrying off, probably to go back to the stables.

 

Jeremy followed her. She waited, looking relaxed and calm so of course Jeremy had to mess with her a little. It was his right as a best friend.

 

He walked over and tapped her on the shoulder. “Umm... excuse me miss? You wouldn’t happen to know where I could find a half-gnome merchant, would you? I’m looking for an Artificer named Heere,” he asked quietly, putting on a timid act.

 

Christine looked at him then, head cocked slightly to the side. "I'm sorry, I don't know where to find him. If you come with me though, I could try to help you find him. I think I saw him somewhere around here," she said, holding her hand out with a friendly smile on her features. "May I ask why you want to find him? Are you interested in some of his wares?"

 

Jeremy nodded. “I heard he’s selling a sort of mechanical torch and I would very much like to learn about it.” He hesitated, then took her hand. Something was up here, Christine was being too helpful, especially since they were in a rush, but he wasn’t going to question it. Just see where it took him.

 

She took him around the corner, closer to the stables. "Yeah, that's very new. He only recently showed it off," she mused out, taking him to where the animals were. Christine brought him over to where Angel was, running her hand along her pony's snout before checking in one of the pockets. "I think I have something that'll help you." She waved him over, and he decided to hesitantly entertain her, looking in and having his head shoved in, right into some of her makeup and a pastry she must have bought. He felt it cover his face, some even getting into his mouth as he heard Christine snickering behind him.

 

Jeremy flailed and spluttered, spitting out the makeup and scrubbing at his face with his sleeve. It he hadn’t been expecting some sort of retaliation, the shock would have been enough to make him drop the spell, but it wasn’t this time. He turned and pouted at her, his face making his puppy eyes even more effective. “That was mean, Chrissy. What gave me away?”

 

"First, the clothes. Second, no random person's gonna come up to me asking for 'an Artificer named Heere.'" As she spoke, she mimicked Jeremy's altered voice quite well. "No one has ever asked for you like that and you know it. No one can call you Heere with a straight face."

 

“Rude,” Jeremy grumbled, before a devious idea hit him. “Let’s see how you like someone mimicking you.” He smirked. With a little focus, Jeremy suddenly shrunk almost two feet and felt his features shift and rearrange. He also changed his voice, pushing it higher and more feminine. It was done in barely a second.

 

“Wow, Chrissy. You’re really short.” He chuckled, looking down at himself. Jeremy’s usual clothes hung off him, but he was certain about one thing: every aspect of him perfectly mirrored Christine (or well, as much as he had seen. He wasn’t about to peek on his best friend after all). “Also being a girl feels weird. The balance is totally different!”

 

"Wow, OK, so rude. You can't even imitate me properly, you're so off," Christine playfully huffed out, gently shoving him. He barely managed to keep himself from falling from tripping on his own clothes since they were so big on him (he did stumble though, he knew he wouldn't be able to deny that). "Why are you even using Alter Self?... Wait, since when could you perform that?"

 

“I almost got caught by that half Dragonborn guard. Sort of panicked and tried it and it somehow worked. I’ve never managed it before,” he explained, shifting back to his usual features and everything. It was nice to have everything back in place, but he wasn’t dropping the spell just yet, it was fun to use. “That guard is called Rich. He’s been hunting Red Hood for ages, and I ran into him over a month ago. Didn’t want to risk him recognizing me.” Jeremy checked over Gideon. The horse looked happy and well cared for.

 

Christine's eyes widened at that, and she quickly nodded. "Ah, I get it. He seemed nice, but... yeah." She ran her hand through Angel's mane. "Well, good to know that much. I think though that we're all good, he was leaving town when I sort of took you away. Also, I got the water and Pink Berries."

 

“And I got the slush. Let’s get going.” Jeremy grinned as he mounted up. Now they had everything, Jeremy felt a lot more relaxed. And that brief interlude with Rich and trying to mess with Christine helped push the Dragon back down deep, which only helped his stress levels drop even further.

 

He heard Christine hop up onto Angel before a hum of affirmation escaped her. "Let's go!"

 

 

 

After another half an hour of hearing Christine rambling (she was going on and on about the different kind of people she met at the market), Jeremy saw the house of Brooke in the distance. The chimney was going now, smoke billowing from the top as his wagon rested where he left it.

 

Jeremy hopped off Gideon and pet his nose gently before going to tie up the stirrups and reins so Gideon would be okay to roam about by himself. “You stay close now boy. And keep out of trouble, I’m trusting you.” He stroked Gideon’s nose and pressed a gentle kiss there. Gideon whinnied softly and nudged Jeremy, which he took as an agreement. With a practiced motion, Jeremy swapped out the bit for a nose band so Gideon could be more comfortable and have a little more freedom.

 

“Chrissy, can you go find a good place for them to graze while I take everything in?” he asked, since Christine hadn’t dismounted yet.

 

"Yeah, of course. Oh, and take this." Jeremy managed to catch the sack of coins Brooke had given her. "I'll be back soon!" With that, Christine went with Angel and Gideon, humming a tune as she went.

 

Jeremy pulled out thirty coins for his purchase and tucked them into his own purse, then headed inside.

 

“Lady Lohst? I have everything you needed,” Jeremy called softly as he pulled out everything from his bag. Christine had suggested Jeremy carry it since his bag just removed the weight (he suspected it was because it actually calmed him down).

 

Brooke looked up then from where she had been sitting next to Michael. "Oh, thank you Jeremy," she said with a soft smile before gesturing over to the table where her ingredients were lying. "Set it over there, and then could you take over with keeping Michael's cloth cool?"

 

"Jeremy?"

 

Jeremy nodded and did as he was told before heading over to Michael. “Hey, auglas. How are you feeling?” he asked, kneeling down next to Michael in the cot. Jeremy quickly kissed his cheek, and was glad to feel that Michael, though still hot, was no longer burning up. He added a little water the cloth and flipped it over so the cooler side was on Michael's forehead,

 

"I'm feeling better than before," he muttered out, looking up at Jeremy with eyes that weren't blank or vacant. He was still sick, very sick, but he was a lot better compared to before, especially since he wasn't just speaking in Infernal. "I was very confused when I woke up here without you or Christine, but Brooke explained what happened."

 

“You’re looking better too. And we got the stuff to help you get better.” Jeremy smiled softly, then giggled when Nightshade, who had been curled up by Michael’s other cheek, sat up and dooked happily. “Hey sweetheart. You’ve been looking after your dad, right?” he cooed and Nightshade nuzzled Michael’s cheek as if to prove it.

 

"He's been good to me," Michael reassured him, reaching over and weakly taking Jeremy's hand. "Darling's been watching over me too." Darling crowed softly from where she was perched on the windowsill.

 

“As I knew she would.” Jeremy shot the raven a fond smile and vowed to give her some fresh meat when they next had some. He squeezed Michael’s hand. “That was quite the scare you gave us, auglas, I was so worried. I’m glad Lady Lohst agreed to help or else I don’t know what I would have done.”

 

"I didn't mean to. I barely remember any of that except for anything involving you," Michael explained softly as he squeezed Jeremy's hand back. "Like with the important talk about your thing with the broach."

 

Jeremy knew he probably paled, and his face fell, but he quickly settled himself. “Yeah.” Okay, his voice cracked a little there. “Well... now you know most of it. I- er-... it. Kinda came out... properly. Earlier today when I was...” Not the best time. Michael was still sick and barely conscious. “You know what? This can wait for a while until you’re feeling better.” Jeremy trickled some more cool water onto the cloth.

 

"Yeah, I want to know how you're doing," his boyfriend muttered out, looking up at Jeremy with soft, present eyes. "You have to be worrying. Don't get white hairs from stressing too much."

 

His spell was still active, Jeremy could feel it. He probably had ten, maybe fifteen minutes left at most. He could have a bit of fun with Michael. Maybe make him smile. “Hmm... it might be too late for that. Look!” Jeremy chuckled as he slowly turned a few hairs white, then the rest within a few seconds.

 

Michael's eyes widened at that, watching as his hair transformed before his eyes. Jeremy watched as he reached up, running his fingers through his hairs in a testing manner. "You... look really good with white hair. How'd you change it like that?"

 

“Thanks.” Jeremy blushed a little before he grinned proudly. “I somehow managed to cast Alter Self earlier. And I’ve got it for a few more minutes so any requests? I can make myself look like anyone so long as it’s not like, becoming a full on animal or something. So no turning me into a puppy unfortunately. Although...” Jeremy focused, turned his hair back to normal and made his ears slip up his head, becoming longer and velvety as they flopped over. “Wanna pet me, idril?” Jeremy asked teasingly, his now floppy dog ears twitching slightly.

 

Laughter escaped Michael then, though he had to stop after a little bit when he winced. "Geez," he said around a quick cough before reaching up and ruffling Jeremy's hair. "You're silly. I don't want a dog person as a boyfriend. Maybe it's more what you're into, but not me." Michael seemed to be thinking over what Jeremy offered before shaking his head. "I can't think of anything, my brain's overheating. Surprise me."

 

Jeremy changed his ears back in an instant, then sat back to think. As he thought, he made his nose grow to a comical length, then acted surprised when he noticed it and pushed it back to its normal shape.

 

Then he shook his head and turned his entire face into Melech, red skin, horns and all. “How do I look?” he asked, mimicking Melech’s voice perfectly.

 

"Oh my god, no, the horror," Michael joked, waving his hand that wasn't still holding Jeremy's in front of his face. "Get away, heathen! Begone!" He was laughing as he pretended to shout, though stopped as he winced and coughed again. "You're gonna kill me, Jeremy."

 

Jeremy switched over to Christine. “No, don’t die, Mikey! Jeremy needs you and I really like you! I’d be sad if you died.”

 

"I'll stop dying if Jeremy stops trying t'kill me! I call sabotage and treason of the highest order!"

 

Jeremy thought for a second, then shifted over to Michael's face. “It’s like looking in a mirror.” He chuckled, poking Michael’s nose and turning into the fake person he used to escape Rich earlier. “And hey, check it out. I can even be a pretty elvish boy now! Even if I like being half gnome...”

 

Michael reached up, scooping one of Jeremy's cheeks into his hand as he looked Jeremy over. "Seeing myself? Horrifying? This face? Pretty. The real you though? Stunning, and I wouldn't want to have anyone else. I adore you as you are."

 

"Sorry to interrupt this heart-felt silliness, but I have what should help Michael break this huge mix of sicknesses," Brooke said softly, and Michael looked over before his eyes lit up.

 

"Oh my god, my moms would always make me these when I was sick! Yes!"

 

Jeremy blushed, both from Michael’s compliment and being caught being so silly, as he let his face slip back to normal and he dropped the spell. It was almost out anyways. He peered curiously at the pink, icy slush Michael was now slurping on. “It actually looks really tasty,” he noted with a small smile.

 

"They are so good," Michael said after taking a proper long sip. "The enchanted slush is expensive and are typically used for tiefling stuff because, y'know, hot temperatures and everything, so it's normally only used for medicinal purposes and that's the only time I get to have this kinda stuff."

 

“Cool. And this’ll cure him?” Jeremy asked. Brooke nodded and Jeremy felt the last of his worry melt away. He held out his hand for Nightshade to climb up before he felt a wave of exhaustion hit him. He had been suppressing it for some time now, but with the stress mostly gone it was finally getting him full force. He tried not to let it show.

 

"He'll need to sleep once he's done for it to take full effect. He'll be asleep for at least half a day minimum," Brooke informed him as Michael kept sipping away. "You should try to sleep too. It looks like you need it."

 

Jeremy chuckled weakly. “Is it that obvious?”

 

"Very. I don't have another bed, but there's enough room in the cot to share," Brooke offered as she took Michael's cup as he finished the last bit, slurping loudly.

 

"Sorry 'bout that."

 

"It's fine, Michael, don't worry," the Druid reassured with a smile before walking to where her stuff was still set up.

 

“You happy to share?” Jeremy asked, very much liking the idea of cuddling with Michael, especially after all the emotional torment he’d been through that day. It seemed like he just couldn’t catch a break. He had already climbed on to the cot before Michael could answer.

 

"Geez, you didn't even let me answer, y'asshole," Michael yawned out as he shifted so Jeremy could have enough room. "There you go, god."

 

“Like you’d mind. Besides, I’m exhausted. I’ve had a very emotionally taxing day, thank you very much,” Jeremy grumbled playfully as he settled in, curling against Michael with a happy sigh.

 

"I don't doubt it, but still. If you ask, wait for an answer. I also had a very emotionally taxing day, I think. I know it was very physically taxing." After saying that, Michael yawned as he rested an arm over Jeremy's waist.

 

“We can compare trauma later. Sleepy time now,” Jeremy murmured, nuzzling against Michael happily. Michael was going to be okay, and Christine was fine too. They would both be fine. That was what mattered. Jeremy could sleep. And he was halfway to sleep within seconds, finding himself totally relaxed against Michael.

 

He felt Michael running his hand against his waist slowly, and he could tell Michael was falling asleep quickly as well. "Mm... Fine. 'Love you," the other muttered out, and he felt Michael's lips press against his forehead, though they only moved back a little. He heard Michael softly begin to snore from where he was, lips ghosting against his forehead.

 

“Love you.” Jeremy was out like a light in seconds.

 

 

 

When Jeremy awoke next, he found that Michael’s grip on him was stronger, even though he was asleep. He also found that he was still exhausted, which either meant he hadn’t been asleep long or he had been more tired than he thought. Jeremy was about to settle down again to sleep, loving the soft feeling of Michael’s breath fanning over his forehead, when a soft voice broke the near silence.

 

“I can make you a sleeping draught if you like? It might help you get a bit more rest.”

 

Trying to not move too much so he didn’t dislodge Michael, Jeremy looked over to where Brooke was working on some needlepoint. Jeremy couldn’t help but smile at the much more familiar and less magical side of the Druid. It was kinda nice to know someone with so much magical potential could also do such... mundane and normal things. That not everything she did was magical.

 

“That would be very nice, thank you. I’m still exhausted... how long have I been asleep for?” Jeremy whispered back.

 

“Maybe an hour and a half, one sleep cycle,” Brooke murmured out, staying quiet as she finished the current section of her work before settling it down, needle in a pin cushion as she got up. “You’ve had a calm sleep though, which is nice. I was worried it was going to be fitful, but you didn’t move at all.”

 

“I’m comfortable. He makes me feel safe so I pretty much always sleep well next to him.” Jeremy sighed happily, enjoying the feeling of Michael wrapped around him, especially since he was back to a normal temperature.

 

“I can tell. You two acted a lot different when you were just focused on each other. It was... nice and refreshing to see.” He saw her move to her shelf, where all her stuff was now placed back, as she grabbed three things from its contents.

 

“Really?” Jeremy asked softly, looking over to Michael then back to Brooke. “I would have thought you’d get to see this sort of thing a lot, considering how beloved you are in Runsworth.”

 

“That’s only because people see me as a Druid first and not as a person,” Brooke clarified as she started to mix something together. “They don’t see me for me, but what I can do for them. I don’t like going out if I don’t have to.” She glanced over at Jeremy then, as if contemplating something. “Michael treated me like a person, even if he was really out of it at first. So did your animals. It was... nice.”

 

“He’s good like that.” Jeremy grinned. “He’s... gentle. And he only ever wants to help.” He thought over what Michael had told him, about already knowing about his curse and never treating him differently because of it. “And he’s... he can see past it all. He just sees the person and not all the extra B.S. that everyone layers on. Like with me...” Brooke had already figured out about Jeremy’s curse. “He already knew about me and he never said anything or judged me for it. And he’s putting himself on the line to protect everyone.” Jeremy was sure his voice was layered with adoration but he didn’t care. Michael deserved it.

 

“From what Darling and Nightshade have told me, that’s pretty much true. He spoils all of them too, even if you try to get him to stop. He’s a kind soul.” She let out a hum from where she was. “I know Iconis, he wouldn’t choose someone who wasn’t kind as his chosen hero. I didn’t think he’d be able to find someone so... genuinely kind though. Not like how Michael seems to be. It restores a little bit of my faith in people.”

 

“Michael deserves that faith, if anyone,” Jeremy agreed. “He’s... amazing. And he’s so strong and brave and just so... good. He does so much for everyone he meets.”

 

Brooke hummed from where she was, and he heard her soft footsteps come over. “He is. It’s quite impressive...” Looking up, he saw her face shifted, like she was thinking something over, before she handed over a cup. “I made it into a drink with some Pink Berries, your sleeping draught,” she explained.

 

“Thank you, Lady Lohst.” Jeremy smiled up at her, accepting the drink.

 

“You can call me Brooke, really,” she insisted as she went to clean up her things. “Lady Lohst is too formal. Even your friend Christine is calling me Brooke.”

 

Jeremy blushed a little as he grinned. “Well thank you, Brooke. And thank you for everything you’ve done, I really appreciate it.” He took a mouthful of the drink and found it was delightfully sweet. “This tastes lovely, might I add.” He downed the rest and set the cup aside. After a moment, he felt the tiredness hit. “And- uh- when I wake up, could we talk more? I really enjoyed chatting with you, even if it was brief.” Jeremy yawned as he snuggled down against Michael, who squeezed him slightly in his sleep.

 

“Of course, Jeremy. I enjoyed chatting with you too. Just sleep for now though, I’ll talk to you later.” He didn’t need to be told twice, the draught hitting him quickly, though not in an overwhelming way. Jeremy was asleep as soon as he finished his next yawn.

 

 

 

The next time Jeremy awoke, it was slow and gentle. He was warm; there were gentle fingers running through his hair. Vaguely, he could hear voices talking quietly above him, but he wasn’t really bothered by them. He felt so relaxed and warm and just... happy.

 

He only tuned in when he heard Michael's voice. "Yeah, that's what's sort of happening," he said, voice soft and hushed, probably because he didn't want to wake Jeremy. "I don't know about Christine, but it has to know about Jeremy now too. I wish I hadn't been out of-"

 

"Michael, you did what you could. You don't need to be so hard on yourself," Jeremy heard Brooke reassure him. "You guys will be fine. Iconis wouldn't send people to do something if he didn't think it wouldn't work out."

 

"You know him?"

 

"Well, we've run in enough times to be close to each other, so yes."

 

“S’not your fault, Auglas. You fugur’d it out. Wha’ was goin’ on in the town. S’why we could fix it,” Jeremy slurred out, nuzzling closer to Michael. The fingers in his hair hesitated, then continued their gentle stroking.

 

"Thank you for boosting my self-esteem," Michael mused out then, voice still soft before a kiss was pressed against his forehead. "How're you feeling?"

 

Jeremy hummed happily. “Good. Really good, actually. And happy, and you’re sounding so much better so that makes me feel even better too.” He was more awake now but not enough to really have any sort of cohesion in his thoughts.

 

"Yeah, I am better so that's why I sound so much better," Michael said in a somewhat teasing tone. "And that's good. You slept longer than I did, and I slept for fourteen hours, so I think that's why you feel better too."

 

“I did a lot... whenever it was. Yesterday? I used loads of magic, turned into a dragon for a bit, and got possessed. I was tired,” Jeremy grumbled, hiding his face against Michael’s stomach, since he was sitting up and Jeremy was still lying down.

 

"I'm not trying to take what happened away from you, Jeremy, I'm just stating facts," Michael said, laughing a little as the fingers kept moving through his hair.

 

Jeremy heard Brooke quickly dismiss herself, and the front door opened and closed after. "But uh... are you feeling well enough to explain what happened yesterday? Since I sorta missed it?"

 

Jeremy nodded and shifted so he was lying across Michael’s lap. “M’okay enough for that. Yeah...” He sighed heavily. “S’not a nice thing but it’s what happened.” For a moment he was silent, trying to organize his thoughts.

 

“You were right. It was the Squip. It was acting through this slimeball who got rejected or something. And he had this necklace thing which had the connection to the Squip.” Jeremy rubbed at his eyes. “He... Chrissy got knocked out or something, and I fought him. Then he threw the necklace at me and... Squip was in my head, Auglas. It was in there and it already knew me and I couldn’t fight it.” Jeremy felt shame coil in his gut again, chasing away the relaxed feeling he had prior.

 

Fingers ran along his neck then, gently rubbing and squeezing as they went, between moving through his hair. "Squip is powerful, that's understandable. What happened to get you free from Squip though?"

 

“I-“ Even if Michael knew. “I-“ It was still scary to admit. “I made my curse surface. Let the dragon out and... I got mad because...” Jeremy ended up mumbling that last part. The shame only grew, as it always did when he thought about his actions under the curse.

 

He felt hands gently rest against his face then. "Hey, Jeremy, lajy, look at me." Jeremy did just that, looking into the honest eyes of Michael. He looked better, but he clearly was just sick with his sweaty hair and his flushed cheeks. Despite that, his eyes held an honest, genuine look as he stared at Jeremy. "You can tell me anything, I'm not going to judge you. You know the difference between yourself and the dragon side of you. You're not the dragon even if it is a part of you."

 

“I... I got mad because the Squip w-was trying to keep the m-magic in the necklace from me and i-it hurt my tr-treasures,” Jeremy stammered out, unable to look away from Michael’s eyes. They were just so sweet and concerned and Jeremy couldn’t help himself. “S-so I started t-taking the magic and S-Squip left. But the m-magic started overwhelming me...”

 

"Christine helped you out of it though. She told me that much," Michael finished, rubbing his thumbs against Jeremy's cheeks. "It was probably some of Squip's magic, which makes sense when since it overwhelmed you. It's powerful, and any magic from it has to be too." A lingering kiss was placed to his forehead then. "But you were able to rid yourself of the Squip, and Christine helped you out. We're all fine now, and you're going to be better because of it."

 

“Yeah, Chrissy got me out of it, but still. The dragon doesn’t... doesn’t care beyond the fact that you’re mine. That’s all that part of me cares about, and that’s why it could focus past the Squip. It couldn’t offer me anything or manipulate me because that’s all I could focus on. That my treasures were damaged.” Jeremy hissed out the last part, bitter at his own thoughts and admission. He never agreed to this curse like his mother did, and yet he was stuck with some of the worst aspects of it.

 

"You heard what you just said though, yeah? It's the dragon, not you. It may be a part of you, one your mom forced on you, but you're dealing with it and handling it better than I think anyone else could. It's amazing, really. You know that we aren't your treasures, you know we're people you care about." A kiss was gently pressed to his forehead then, and when he pulled back, he felt like some of the bitter thoughts were pulled away. "You are not the dragon. You're Jeremy Heere, Artificer that has made amazing breakthroughs. You're your own person who has friends, a boyfriend, and a little fuzzy son. You aren't a dragon that hoards their treasures in a cave, isolating yourself. Even if those thoughts pop up and the voice can be loud, your voice is the loudest in your head and it's yours."

 

Despite the part of himself still thrashing and screaming about how wrong he was, how cruel and undeserving of this sweet attention he was, Jeremy couldn’t help but believe what Michael said. It was true after all, he almost always was in control. He could almost always choose to listen to his own voice rather than the voice of the dragon. And when he couldn’t chose, he could listen to someone else’s voice until he could choose again.

 

Jeremy nodded and offered a small shaky smile. Then another thought hit him once again.

 

“The Squip knew about me, Mikey. It knew about my work and addressed me by full name, saying how I was published... and it’s magic is the same sort as mine... What does... that mean for me?” He couldn’t help but ask. He was still... shaken from everything. He still felt a little lost and was needing to listen to Michael until he could find his own voice in his head again.

 

“It just means it knows of you and has similar magic. If you work similar to it, then you could figure out how it works and reverse his magic in your head, at least if I understand magic correctly. You can figure out what makes it tick and stop it. You’re the smart one, and if it knows of your work, that makes it even easier to counter it,” Michael offered before pressing another kiss to Jeremy’s head. “What it means for you is that you can be the brainiac that you are and help stop it.”

 

Jeremy giggled a little, just from the compliments Michael piled on him and the way he managed to shift Jeremy’s mood totally, and reached up. He wrapped his arms around Michael’s shoulders and half lifted himself up, half pulled Michael down into a sweet kiss. “Thank you, idril,” he murmured before kissing Michael’s lips again.

 

The kiss lingered, soft and sweet and everything Jeremy didn't realize he needed nor wanted. It only ended when Michael pulled back, laughing a little as Jeremy's cheeks were gently squished. "Of course, lajy. If anyone's gonna figure this stuff out, it'll be you. I'm good at strategy, but not magical stuff like you."

 

Jeremy giggled and let himself lie back, relaxing once again. Michael was right, Jeremy now could figure out how to beat Squip’s magic, which meant Michael could take it down. There was really only two more things to talk about from yesterday.

 

“I collected all the magic from the necklace so even if it’s now neutral it’ll still have some memory imprint to work with. I’ll figure out how to beat it.” He nodded resolutely.

 

"Ooo, you go Jeremy," Michael said teasingly, snapping his fingers along with it before lying back down with Jeremy. "I'd also rest my head on you but I'm gross and sweaty and need to really clean up... How can you stand being next to me right now?"

 

Jeremy sniggered. “You’ve never seen me when I’m really into my building. You saw how I was when working on fixing the Tessa? Yeah, multiply that by about ten and cover me in grease for lubricating the moving parts.” He shook his head. “You’re a little gross right now, but I’ve been worse and I love you enough that I’m willing to brave it.”

 

"Aww, you love me enough to deal with sickness sweat. You're so sweet," Michael cooed out then, reaching over in a teasing manner before pulling him close and smothering him in playful kisses on his face. "So sweet and so brave."

 

Jeremy giggled and squirmed. “You’re sweeter, Auglas,” he cooed back, kissing Michael on the end of his nose. “And you’re very brave. I’m so lucky you fell into my wagon.”

 

"I'm lucky that your wagon was there for me to fall into," Michael said in return before pressing a lingering kiss to his forehead. "I can't imagine doing all this by myself, let alone without you by my side."

 

“Well you won’t be alone any longer. You’ve got me and you’ve got Chrissy, and of course Nightshade and Darling-“

 

“And you’ve got me, if you’ll have me that is,” a voice added from the door. Brooke was smiling at the two, eyes firm but excited.

 

Michael looked up then, and Jeremy saw that his eyes were wide. "Wait, what? I mean yeah, totally, we'd love to have you! But I thought you liked being away from people."

 

“I do, most people suck. But you two... you’re something special, the both of you. So I’m willing to give the rest of the world a chance and help out some friends while I’m at it.” Brooke grinned as she walked to the shelves and started packing things into a backpack. “Plus, your animals are lovely so I want to make sure they’re always being well looked after as they have been so far.”

 

"Thank you Brooke, that means a lot," Michael said then, sitting up slowly. "Uh... before we go, do you know where I could go to clean up? I don't want to stink the area up and upset the animals 'cause I reek."

 

“I have a natural hot spring out back, and you’re welcome to use one my jars of soap.” Brooke gestured to the shelf by the back door. “And Jeremy, it’ll be good for you to go and soak too. So why don’t you both head out there and Jeremy can help you clean up, Michael?”

 

Jeremy saw Michael's cheeks color at that, and he nodded. "Thanks Brooke, I appreciate that." He shifted against Jeremy, sitting up and getting out of the cot before holding his hand to him. "You OK with that?"

 

Jeremy blushed and took Michael’s hand, standing up slowly. He found his legs were actually a little sore, so a soak in the hot water would be heavenly.

 

“Towels are by the soap. Feel free to grab one,” Brooke called as she was digging through a deep basket.

 

Jeremy was still blushing but he found himself naturally relaxing. He was actually looking forward to this. “Thanks Brooke,” he called back before he looked up at Michael, smiling shyly. “C’mon. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

 

"Yes mom," Michael joked as he walked over with Jeremy to the back, grabbing two towels and some soap. He opened the door for Jeremy, bowing a little with a teasing smirk as he did so. "For you, my good sir."

 

“Thank you, dear one,” Jeremy replied snootily, holding himself a little straighter as he strutted past. They both burst out giggling once Jeremy was out the door, and Michael wrapped himself around Jeremy, sort of. It was sort of because it was actually just him using his tail, but it was still holding Jeremy firmly around his waist.

 

“As much as I love being held by you, Auglas, I do need to take my clothes off if we’re both to get into the hot springs. And I can’t do that with this around me.” Jeremy chuckled as he lightly tapped Michael’s tail then pointed to the pool, about seven feet in radius, which was bubbling away merrily. Sweet smelling steam curled softly into the air, offering a very pleasant and relaxing time should someone indulge and climb in.

 

"Aww, but I can finally use my tail without anyone seeing and calling me out in a bad way," Michael whined, though his tail quickly released Jeremy. "You're lucky I need to do the same, or I wouldn't be letting you go."

 

“You could have used your tail with the troupe,” Jeremy pointed out, slipping his shirt off. “But if it means that much to you, feel free to hold me again once we’re done.” He slipped off his pants and folded them, leaning them on the same rock as his shirt. He hesitated when he got to his underwear. “Would you prefer that I keep these on?” Jeremy asked, tugging at the waistband of his boxers.

 

He saw Michael glance over once his shirt and pants were off too, his cheeks seemingly flaming at that, but for a multitude of reasons. "I... it wouldn't bother me, but... Whatever you think's best." He seemed to be tongue-tied for multiple reasons.

 

Jeremy nodded, thought for a second, then slipped out of his underwear. He left them on the rock with his other clothes before turning and grabbing a towel, holding it in front of himself. He wandered over to the pool and stuck a foot in, testing the water. It was beautifully warm without being hot, so Jeremy put the towel to one side and slipped in.

 

“Oh this is lovely.” He sighed, relaxing on the natural stone shelf in the water. “C’mon, idril. It’s so warm...”

 

Michael tested the water with his foot, humming softly before getting in, not taking his underwear off. He let out a soft hum, clearly enjoying the water as he left the jar that held the soap within reach as he sat down next to Jeremy on the shelf. "It's perfectly warm. Not too hot," he murmured out before Jeremy felt Michael's tail wrap gently, loosely around his waist again, but not before being flicked in the face with some of the water.

 

Jeremy spluttered a little and giggled, then rested his hand on Michael’s tail. “P-pass me the soap. I’ll help you clean up,” Jeremy instructed, but his tone was slightly shyer than he would have liked. He really did want to help Michael, but he also didn’t want to pass any boundaries that Michael might be uncomfortable with. Jeremy just wanted to look after his boyfriend.

 

“Alright.” He saw Michael reach over to the jar, unscrewing the jar and holding it out for Jeremy. The soap was a nice, creamy substance, and it seemed to be a pale pink in color. When Jeremy looked at Michael, he saw trust in his eyes and a soft smile resting on his lips.

 

Seeing the trust and calm Michael held relaxed Jeremy as he dipped his fingers into the soap. It was surprisingly warm to the touch and it had a nice, sweet smell, almost rose-like.

 

Jeremy began gently massaging the soap over Michael’s torso, his fingers not used to the way Michael’s body had a subtle give under his touch; he was more accustomed to working with much colder and more solid materials. Still, he did his best and seemed to be doing alright as the soap started foaming slightly and Michael relaxed further.

 

After a minute though, he felt the soft end of Michael’s tail gently poking at him. “Hey, you don’t have to be so hesitant when you’re doing this. I promise I don’t bite,” Michael said, tone teasing as he held the jar still. “I might annoy you and poke the shit outta you, but I don’t bite.”

 

Jeremy giggled and blushed. “It’s... not that. I’m just not used to... normally what I’m dealing with doesn’t move, and isn’t soft. I’m just... doing this to someone else is something totally new to me.” His blush deepened but his movements gained a little more confidence.

 

“Oh, so I’m soft, am I?” Michael asked, leaning towards Jeremy, clearly on purpose as he smiled wide. “Just how soft am I?” After he asked that, Jeremy felt and saw his tail reach up, gently booping Jeremy’s nose as Michael continued to innocently smile.

 

Jeremy wiggled his nose a little as he tried to figure out how to put his feelings into words.

 

“You’re very soft.” He nodded after a moment, still lathering the soap over Michael’s torso and back. He focused on his task so he didn’t get overwhelmed. “Softer than the brass I use... softer than velvet... or silk... and you’re warm. Soft and warm... like magic,” he murmured, finally looking back up to Michael’s gaze.

 

When he met his gaze, he saw surprise. Michael’s eyes were wide, and he seemed a bit shocked (in a good way) by that comparison. His cheeks seemed to color and he quickly glanced away once their eyes met. “I... uh... I-I didn’t think y’were gonna answer seriously... Um...”

 

Jeremy giggled and stood up a little to kiss Michael’s nose. “If you ask me a question, I’ll do my best to answer it. Besides, you already know I constantly talk about you.” Jeremy looked over Michael’s torso and moved the jar out the way. Then he rinsed off his hands and cupped them under the water, then began to wash the bubbles off Michael.

 

As he started to wash off the bubbles by pouring water over Michael, he saw the other’s face definitely color a bit more. “Yeah, but... I-I don’t know, that was really intimate and... and really sweet, I dunno,” Michael muttered out, staring into the steaming water.

 

Jeremy giggled and blushed again, but didn’t back down. “Well of course, you’re my boyfriend whom I adore. I like making you feel loved in any way I can.” Once Michael was rinsed off mostly, Jeremy paused for a second. “Quickly do a full body dunk to get the rest of the soap off. And get your head under too, I wanna wash your hair. You can sit on the step in front of me so I can reach.” There was a ledge lower in the water that would put the water around Michael’s shoulders.

 

“Are you sure you don’t just want me to dunk so you get a quick break from me?” Michael joked before quickly undoing his tail from around Jeremy’s waist. He held his breath and shut his eyes, quickly submerging himself under the water for a few seconds. He came back up, reaching over and grabbing the towel nearby to quickly wipe his eyes before sitting down where Jeremy told him to before. When he settled, the tail returned around Jeremy’s waist, and it gently squeezed there. “Done and done. How were those few blissful seconds?”

 

“Blissful? They were agonizing without you,” Jeremy cried dramatically, wrapping his arms around Michael’s shoulders. He pressed a quick kiss to Michael’s cheek before he sat up and got some of the rose soap and began massaging it into Michael’s hair. “How’s this feel?” he asked gently.

 

Jeremy could feel Michael leaning into his touch, as well as the tail around him relax. “Mm... it feels nice,” he muttered out, voice soft and serene. “Like... really nice, holy shit...”

 

“Your hair is really nice. It’s sort of curly but not overly curly where it’s hard to run my fingers through,” Jeremy quietly mused as he continued massaging in the soap. This felt really special. Intimate. But not overtly sexual like some might think, it was just... gentle. He was careful to rub around the base of Michael’s horns, feeling the point where they came from his head. Michael sort of gasped when Jeremy touched there, but it didn’t sound like a bad sound.

 

“That...” Michael sounded almost blissfully relaxed as well as surprised. “That was really nice. I’m not used to anyone touching near my horns,” the other admitted from where he sat. “It’s... it’s new, but really really nice.” His tail was mostly lax around his waist, showing just now relaxed and blissed out he truly was from this. This all had to feel even better after being so intensely sick too, now that Jeremy thought about it.

 

Jeremy made a point to massage around his horns a few more times. Once he was satisfied and sure that Michael’s hair was clean, he shifted back a bit. “Lean back, Auglas. Rest your head on my knees, I’ll rinse you off,” he murmured, not wanting to break the gentle atmosphere by being too loud.

 

Michael softly hummed, and he watched him lean back and end up resting his head on Jeremy’s knees, just like he asked. Looking at his face now, he saw how relaxed he looked. There was no point of tension anywhere on his features, and his eyes were shut as he relaxed. He had never seen Michael so truly relaxed before.

 

Jeremy bent over and pressed a quick kiss to Michael’s lips before he got to work. He slowly rinsed out Michael’s hair, still massaging it as he did, making sure to get all the bubbles out. Jeremy’s motions were slow and gentle; he was enjoying this as much as Michael was.

 

The quiet was accompanied by the sound of water and Michael’s content sighs, nothing else. A serene bubble seemed to form around them, keeping them separate from the rest of the world. The thought of leaving this almost hurt, so Jeremy made sure to take in every little piece of this moment: the steam curling around them, the warm touch of the water and Michael, how Michael’s lips were barely parted as he was completely relaxed under his touch.

 

Jeremy was so relaxed and happy, and they could afford a little more time here. Brooke needed time to pack, and Jeremy was just... after everything that had happened yesterday, he needed this.

 

He didn’t even think about it when he softly started singing a gnomish lullaby his dad would sing to him when he was little. He sat there, running his fingers through Michael’s hair, watching it fan out in the water, and sang softly. He wasn’t sure how good his voice was and he didn’t really care, the gentle melody seemed to fit this peaceful atmosphere. They could get out in a minute or two, when he had finished.

 

As he sang, Jeremy noticed Michael’s eyes open for a moment to watch him. His eyes lingered as he listened before shutting again, his body still as relaxed as before, so his voice couldn’t have been too bad, right?

 

When he finished, Jeremy figured it was time that they got out. He didn’t want to, but they needed to head off before it got too late in the day. They’d spend a good few weeks traversing the mountains, and Jeremy needed to stop back in Lerwick to talk to the mayor.

 

“Auglas, it’s time to get out.” Jeremy pressed another kiss to Michael’s lips, lingering despite the slightly odd angle.

 

“Mm... alright,” Michael grumbled out once Jeremy pulled back, slowly sitting up and stretching his arms above his head. He let out a content sigh as he did so before looking over to Jeremy, eyes open now and smile wide.

 

Jeremy grinned back, still feeling that soft feeling bubbling away inside him. “We should do this again sometime. Maybe you could wash my hair next time or something,” he suggested, his tone light but also totally honest. He really liked how sweet this was. Jeremy stretched himself out as well, then splashed his face with some water.

 

“Yeah, then I won’t have to worry about you sitting lower in the spring just so I can wash your hair,” Michael teased, getting out of the water. He was soaked, and Michael seemed to think something over as he stood there in sopping wet underwear. “... Maybe I should’ve grabbed a change of clothes since my clothes are soaked either in sweat or spring water before we went in...”

 

“Wrap yourself up in a towel and go grab some clothes inside. There was a changing screen I’m sure Brooke won’t mind if you used.” Jeremy chuckled as he stood and quickly wrapped himself in his own towel.

 

“You brought our stuff in?” Jeremy nodded, and Michael smiled before leaning down and kissing Jeremy’s cheek. “Thank you.” With that, he wrapped himself in his towel and quickly hurried inside, though he was sure to grab his dirty clothes as he went.

 

Jeremy took his time getting ready, loving the warm air and the coverage the thick forest offered. A couple of minutes later, Jeremy was all dressed in his shirt and trousers. His jacket and cloak were still inside, and when he entered, Michael was ready and holding onto Jeremy’s missing items, including his bag of holding. “Thanks idril.” Jeremy grinned, accepting Michael’s help with slipping his jacket on.

 

“Of course, lajy,” Michael said with a soft smile before he felt a kiss pressed to his cheek. “Brooke said she was ready to go, and Christine is too. Brooke just needs to lock up after we leave.”

 

“Well I’m ready now too.” Jeremy nodded as he did up his cloak and slipped on his bag. “You got everything?”

 

“I do now,” Michael said as Jeremy felt his tail slip back around his waist and gently squeeze there.

 

Jeremy chuckled and rested one hand on Michael’s tail and wrapped the other around Michael’s waist. “Then let’s go.”

Chapter Text

After some time of traveling, Michael felt himself to be at-ease with the little group he managed to gain. Brooke was a real sweetie, and she was so nice to talk with, especially when they were sharing a pipe. Christine was a bundle of energy and insight that Michael loved to chat with (and also go and harmlessly mess with others with). And Jeremy... well, Jeremy was just as amazing as he always was, but was happy to see more of himself coming out (including more of his snark and sass).

 

Currently, the four were going through a richer area. Michael felt his skin crawl, keeping his tail to himself (he had been using it to mess with everyone since the woods were more isolated) as he sat with Brooke in the driver's bench area. She was currently taking the reins, though she wasn't the most fond of this, which made sense since she sympathized so much with animals. Thankfully, she was just talking with Gideon, who seemed to have a great time talking with her. Christine was talking with Brooke as well, and Jeremy was tinkering in the back with something or other, so it left Michael to just watch their surroundings and take it in as they went.

 

“Y’know, Jere-bear, Gideon really likes the fact that you usually leave him with a nose band instead of the bit,” Brooke called back to Jeremy, who glanced up briefly to shoot her a thumbs up. He was back to work a second later, Nightshade running around the bed of the wagon to bring him what he needed from the different boxes and crates.

 

“So, what are you working on there, Jeremy?” Christine asked, slowing Angel down enough to walk nearby. Jeremy ignored her, which wasn’t that uncommon when he was focused like this. “Mikey, your boyfriend is being rude and ignoring me!” she whined, pouting over at Michael.

 

"I'm sorry, I can't help that he's being a rude little shit," Michael said with a shrug. "I cannot control him, he is his own wild beast, untameable by even the best of the Beast Masters." He ignored the bird he surely got from Jeremy.

 

"I mean, you aren't wrong," Brooke added before she reached over and gently patted Gideon's flank, who let out a soft whinney in response. "You're welcome, Gideon."

 

“You guys are mean,” Jeremy grumbled, but he didn’t look up from his work.

 

“Then stop ignoring us!” Christine pouted. “What even is so important that you’re working on, anyways?”

 

“Something to assist me with... things. Help out with Michael’s side job,” he explained vaguely, waving his screwdriver around a little before getting back to work. Nightshade brought him back the screw he dropped and Jeremy gave him a small stroke and muttered out a small thanks.

 

"Aww, you're sweet," Michael cooed out as he looked to the side, seeing a large mansion approaching to his side of the wagon.

 

It was large, gated, and heavily guarded. Whoever owned this place had a huge surplus of gold, and they used it to show off to everyone else how much they worshipped capitalism and screwing people over. While disgust made his gut churn, he couldn't help but subtly observe the place as they went by. He took in the many gaps in security despite the guards, the many ways he could enter if he was on-duty, as well as a number of other things.

 

“You okay there, Mikey?” Christine asked, arching an eyebrow. She had a slightly mischievous look on her face as she glanced over to the mansion too. Michael sort of remembered that she was the one who had convinced Jeremy to cover a rich town down south in Stinkworm Slime. She was probably thinking of something similar here.

 

"Yeah, just looking," he said, trying to imply in his tone that he wasn't planning anything, at least not yet. Maybe on the way back and when it wasn't so heavily guarded he'd try something. The mansion gave off an air of arrogance and, honestly, douchiness.

 

“Gotcha.” Christine winked and focused back on the path. They rode in silence for a while longer, all feeling uncomfortable in the obviously affluent area. Eventually, they made it out and back on the open road of the mountain path.

 

“Hey, what’s that up ahead?” Christine piped up after a moment. “Looks like a campsite or something.”

 

"That would be because it is a campsite," Michael said, ignoring the look he got from Christine as he feigned innocence.

 

"I'd prefer we just keep going," Brooke muttered out, obviously sensing Christine's innate curiosity bubbling.

 

“No, something’s wrong. Look!” Jeremy suddenly appeared just behind Michael, head peeking between him and Brooke. “There’s some people there and they look upset,” he commented, frowning. Christine squeaked, surprised at Jeremy’s sudden appearance.

 

Brooke jumped for a second, obviously surprised, but Michael wasn't phased. Instead, he looked over at the camp. He saw two women sitting there, one of them being an elf who was furiously scribbling something while the other, a human, was grumbling as she was seemingly cooking some food at the campfire.

 

Darling landed, slurping something in her mouth from hunting, before she let out a gurgle. Brooke's face shifted then as she looked over at the two women. "Apparently they're talking about being robbed of something."

 

“I think we should at least see how they’re doing,” Jeremy suggested. “If they’ve been robbed, they could be in a really bad way.”

 

“I agree. No one deserves to have what’s theirs taken from them,” Christine added, nodding in agreement. Both she and Michael knew about Jeremy’s past of being basically robbed of his forge, so it made sense Christine was in agreement.

 

With everyone speaking up, Brooke sighed before she said something to Gideon through what Michael quickly figured out was Animal Speak. "Alright, but I'm staying here in the wagon," she said, glancing over at the others, particularly Michael. Well, he had to tell her about the Red Hood business, so that made sense.

 

"Of course, we're not gonna force you to socialize," Michael assured before they made it over to the camp.

 

The elf didn't look up from where she was scribbling, pushing her obviously-dyed hair back behind her ear as she grumbled in a bitter tone. The human, however, looked over at them with a raised brow. "Um... can we help you?" she asked, tone confused and a little annoyed.

 

“Umm, actually, we were coming to see if you needed any help,” Christine explained, somehow appearing sweeter than normal. “We were just passing and well... it just seemed like something was wrong here and we wanted to know what happened, and if we could be of any assistance.”

 

“We don’t mean to be a bother...” Jeremy added from where he stood, partly behind Michael. Obviously he was feeling awkward even if he wanted to help.

 

"Unless you can fucking turn back time so I could kick the ass of the douchebags who stole our work, then no!" the elf almost yelled out, almost screaming in frustration as she flopped back. The human, however, let out a sigh.

 

"Sorry, we're not in the best of moods. We just got robbed of the hard work we've been working on for a few years, so yeah." They were given a strained smile from the human.

 

"That's such a fucking understatement, Jenna! We've been working so hard, especially you, and then just as we're going to get your ideas patented, we get robbed, and it was obviously planned! Our whole livelihood is screwed!"

 

What the elf was saying struck a chord with Michael, sounding familiar (granted, a bit more angry than when he heard this years ago, but the essence of what she was saying hit him). "Your work got stolen? Can you tell us anything about it?"

 

"Why should we trust you?" the elf asked, eyes narrowed up at him. If he wasn't so sympathetic to what happened, he would have been intimidated.

 

"Chloe, calm down," the human, Jenna, said, before looking at Michael curiously. "Why should we trust you all though?"

 

Michael made a split-second decision then, holding a finger up (which seemed to infuriate Chloe) before he reached into his bag, put on his mask, and turned around with it on. "The hood's back in our wagon, but... I can help."

 

“You’re-“ Jenna started.

 

The Red Hood.” Chloe calmed down instantly, shock and awe in her tone.

 

“You- you actually are gonna help us?” Jenna asked hesitantly and Michael nodded. “Okay then, I’ll tell you what got taken. So for the past few years, Chloe and I have been working on making enchanted prosthetics using a theory from a seriously underrated artificer.”

 

“We had just gotten them working-“ Chloe stuck out her right leg, which Michael saw was actually made of brass. She wiggled around her foot as easily and as fluidly as a normal limb. “-and we were on our way to get it patented when some rich asshole stole the plans. As soon as he saw it worked, he told his goons to take them.”

 

Jeremy was silent for a moment, then quietly asked. “Whose theory did you use?”

 

“A half gnome called Jeremiah Heere. His understanding of magic is just... revolutionary,” Jenna gushed. Jeremy squeaked and stepped forward properly.

 

“That’s me! You used my theory to develop something so awesome? You gotta tell me how you did it! How did you manage to link up the latent magic in the brass with the magic from a living being?” He started rambling, eyes going wide as he went into more technical terms Michael still hadn’t properly learnt yet.

 

Jenna started rambling along with him, her eyes lighting up. The two seemed to get wrapped up in their own little world of technical talk, but Michael took his mask off before he sat down next to Chloe. “What can you tell me about this rich asshole and his goons?” He had a feeling he knew who, at least in terms of who was nearby, but he needed more details.

 

“He lives in the big manor in the through way you guys just came from,” Chloe started, frowning a little in thought. “There were two big goons with him, and he was in a sort of carriage. Said he’d heard about our work and wanted to know how we were doing. We thought he might be an investor or something.” She huffed angrily. “Oh, and his name was something like Lord Vesk. Lord Adgin Vesk.”

 

At the mention of him, Michael felt himself tense for only a moment. Of course it had to be that scumbag, the one who scammed his mothers out of their livelihoods. He couldn't let that happen to anyone else, not if he could help it.

 

"I know him, he scammed my mothers out of most of their money, inventory of goods, and their shop in Moonbright," he said, letting out a soft sigh. "I won't let you guys get screwed out of the hard work you guys put into this life-changing idea."

 

“You both have made such amazing progress with everything. What you’ve managed is literally decades ahead of its time, none of us are going to let that be stolen,” Jeremy agreed as he walked over with Jenna. Michael had never seen Jeremy looked so determined before, and there was something else in his eyes, something akin to possessiveness but not quite.

 

Christine nodded in agreement from where she plopped down next to Michael. "Definitely not."

 

Jenna looked touched at all of this, smiling as she was clearly trying to not cry. "I... Seriously, thank you all, this means so much. God, today's been overwhelming."

 

“I’d expect so, you’ve been through a lot.” Jeremy nodded as he gave her a half hug. “But don’t worry. We’ll get those plans back for you. And then you can get them patented and set up shop to help so many people!” Jenna leant into the hug, resting her head on Jeremy’s.

 

“So- er... how did Jeremiah-“

 

“Call me Jeremy, please.” Jeremy grinned as he comforted Jenna.

 

“Right, how did Jeremy end up travelling with Red Hood and a bard?” Chloe eyed Christine’s handheld harp on her back with a sort of curious pride. “I would have thought he’d be working his own forge or be on the Council of Artificers by now.”

 

"It's a huge mess of reasons, but we're working to stop some big bad and help people along the way," Michael settled on, even if he knew it probably wouldn't satisfy the two women. "That's all I can really say right now, especially if we want to get going and get your plans back as soon as possible."

 

Jeremy chuckled. “He’s right when he says it’s a mess,” he agreed, settling Jenna down onto a different log near the fire. “But trust me, I’d love to have a proper in-depth discussion with you both when we have the chance.”

 

“So, what's the plan, Red Hood?” Christine asked. “I know you were scoping out the place earlier when we went past.”

 

"Well, that douche is probably going to have some party to unveil his new shit. He did that with my moms' shop, and it would make sense with all those guards around his estate," Michael said, letting out a sigh. "I can easily sneak into his place though. I know how he thinks for the most part, so I have an idea on where he'd be likely to stow his stuff."

 

“And what about the rest of us?” Jeremy asked, hands on his hips. “We’re not standing around like chopped liver, and I’m sure as hell not letting you go in there alone, bodruithni.” Christine looked a little shocked at Jeremy’s word choice but she nodded.

 

“Yeah, we knew what we were getting into when we joined you. You’re not doing this totally alone anymore.”

 

Michael blinked a little in surprise at their insistence before sighing and going along with it. Well, it would be easier with help anyway. "Well, I'm not used to the help... Christine, you could work with a distraction, Brooke can help be a getaway driver of sorts with her shifting." He looked over at Jeremy then. "And I know you won't let me sneak in there alone, but do you have something to help keep your identity hidden?"

 

Jeremy rolled his eyes and reached into his bag of holding. “I wouldn’t have suggested that I help unless I did.” He pulled out a dark blue set of robes with a hood and a matching mask with white details. It looked to be made similarly to Michael’s. “I’ve been working on these since we met, idril.” Within seconds, he had the robes on and the mask, and it was near impossible to tell his identity. There was nothing identifying, not even his build or his even his actual height, which was sort of modified by the hood. Then he strapped on what looked to be two leather bracers with a small chunk of medusa quartz set in each. “So will this do?”

 

At the sudden transformation, Michael let out a low whistle before resting his hands on his hips. "Well damn. You're hired," he said, tone only a little teasing. "As long as you can keep up, that is."

 

Jeremy rolled his eyes again, and Michael noted the lack of glasses under the mask. “Can I keep up? Chrissy, please tell our dear Red Hood exactly what happened when we had to escape from our little... excursion?” He was clearly proud of whatever happened.

 

“He climbed up the town wall and let down a rope for me. While being shot at with crossbows. Plus he ends up climbing on his bigger automatons... I don’t think you need to worry about him keeping up...” Christine shook her head, chuckling slightly.

 

Another low whistle. "Well then, sorry for underestimating you, Mr. Heere. I still need to see how well you perform in the stealthy sense," he said, patting Jeremy's arm with a grin. "You know, quality assurance and all that, but you can do that on the job."

 

Jeremy grinned down at him with a playful sort of flirtiness that Michael hadn’t seen much of since they started dating. “You’re just gonna have to find that out, idril. But rest assured, I can most certainly perform.” He winked and started back to the wagon. “I’ll go let everyone else know we’re making a detour.”

 

“I- er...” Christine poked Michael. “What did you do to Jeremy?! He’s never acted like that before!”

 

Chloe had shifted to sit next to Jenna. “I gotta say, there’s something attractive about that. I get he’s taken but damn.”

 

"I don't know!" Michael said, raising his arms in faux frustration. He knew why Jeremy was so confident though, as well as flirty. He was finally taken seriously with his work by people in his field, and his work was being used to help people. Plus, he was a very dexterous person, so stealthing should, in theory, be good for him. "But I'm liking it."

 

With Brooke on board and the wagon and animals (except Darling) tucked safely away with Jenna and Chloe, Michael and his group were set a little ways out the back of the mansion.

 

“So I’ll head to the east wall to cause the distraction when you guys are leaving,” Christine confirmed.

 

“And I’ll be by the west wall in dire wolf form to get you both out,” Brooke added.

 

"Exactly," Michael said with a nod, staying hidden for now. "You two be careful and don't take shit from the guards. They may seem big and tough, but they're major pushovers most of the time."

 

“We’ll be careful.” They both nodded before heading off to their respective posts. Michael felt a rush of appreciation towards them; no one had ever really helped him as Red Hood before, not that Michael would let them, so it was nice to actually have back up for once.

 

“How are we getting in?” Jeremy whispered as he scooted closer to Michael, dressed in his robes and his mask. Michael knew he had his focus tucked away in his clothes to keep it from being noticed, and he’d set it to not buzz even if magical objects were close.

 

"There were a few ways, but I'm going to send Darling to scout." He whistled a particular tune to her, and the raven echoed it back before taking off and flying. Michael watched her go before quickly taking his mask out of the pocket in his robe, as well as his cloak, getting himself changed in an instant.

 

“Aww, it’s just like when we first met,” Jeremy cooed playfully, he eyes only looking over Michael for a moment before they went back to scanning the mansion and its defences. “Except I’m not terrified for my life anymore.”

 

"And we aren't running away from guards," he pointed out, gently poking Jeremy with his tail as he glanced around. There were some unprotected spot, some blind spots thanks to the extremely extravagant and unnecessary architecture that Vesk just had to have. Good thing his need to flaunt what he had would be his undoing.

 

“Is it just me or is this guy just overly... showy?” Jeremy deadpanned as he looked over the statues and ostentatious pagodas scattered around the grounds of the mansion. Before Michael could answer, Darling landed in front of them.

 

Michael held his arm out, and she hopped up before letting out a specific string of caws and gurgles. "Alright, thank you, Darling." He gently scratched under her beak then. In return, he let out some more whistles, letting her know to patrol around and warn them while sneaking in about any possible guards coming their way. She repeated the tune before flying back. "Let's get going," he said, sneaking his way over (while making sure Jeremy followed along) to where there was currently a lapse in guards on the perimeter.

 

Jeremy followed along no problem, staying low and close to Michael as they got to the fence. Michael easily climbed up the cobble wall and metal beams, and was ready to let down a rope for Jeremy to follow him up when he reached the top. Jeremy was already two thirds of the way up the wall behind Michael and perched easily on the top alongside him.

 

Feeling both impressed and proud of his boyfriend, Michael jumped from the wall, landing a graceful flip on the way down. Jeremy‘s shoulders shook with suppressed giggles, before he looked around and hopped down himself, landing lightly and silently on the ground. He was back by Michael’s side in an instant and neither had been spotted yet.

 

Instead of saying anything, Michael gave him a quick thumbs-up, pointing with his thumb to the direction they needed to go (one of the long, unneeded expanses of the estate to get into the main manor) before quickly making his way over. On the way, he managed to stop with Jeremy a few times, the tell-tale crows from Darling warning him of any unforeseen guards that went by.

 

When they went by one of the many statues made in Vesk's likeness, Michael was so tempted to do something to deface it. Jeremy's hand holding his and tugging him along, however, kept him from doing that... at least for now.

 

They stayed low and close together, avoiding the patrols and random guards as they navigated the dangerous grounds. A could of times, Jeremy would pull him back from the path of a guard, and he did the same for Jeremy. They really made an excellent team, even for this.

 

When they finally reached the wall of the manor, Michael wasn’t surprised to find the back covering in flowering ivy. It was pretty standard for rich people to grow this stuff and it was great to climb up... except Michael was a little allergic. This was gonna be awkward.

 

Together, he and Jeremy began scaling the ivy up to the open window that Michael had spotted. They were almost there when Michael got a sudden face full of pollen. He fumbled a little with his grip as he sneezed a couple of times, repressing the sound but losing his footing. He was certain he’d go tumbling down to the ground, except a strong hand grabbed his arm and yanked him back up. With Jeremy’s help, Michael grabbed the window ledge and pulled himself in, and Jeremy followed him a second later, stretching out his arms a little and panting harshly. The guest room they were in was entirely empty.

 

Michael caught his breath, losing it with almost falling. He also made sure to suppress any sneezes he had, even if it hurt his chest a little to do so. After doing so, he listened quickly, hearing that the hallway was empty before checking on Jeremy. "Are you alright?" he asked. "And thanks for saving my ass back there."

 

“It’s fine, auglas. And don’t worry, I’m a little sore but I’ll be fine. I’ve gotten much worse working in the forge.” Jeremy nodded, rolling out his shoulders. “You okay too?”

 

"Yeah, just hate that stuff," he muttered out, sniffling and making sure he got that out of his system as best he could. "From the guest wing, most layouts like this keep their important documents in the basement. We need to head down there, even if we're on the third story. There should be a stairwell that leads down there on the end of the hallway, furthest to the side of the house."

 

“I’m guessing that’s the workers’ stairwell? We’ll need to be careful, even if they’re mostly occupied with the party.” They could both hear the laughter and chatter and music echoing from the probably obnoxiously large ballroom below them. “The stairwell will go right past the kitchen.” Michael shot Jeremy a surprised look. “What? I’ve built a lot of automatons for rich people, even if I hate working for them. I always had to use those stairwells.”

 

Well, that made sense. "I'm sure the workers will have a chance of seeing us, but as long as they aren't the guards, we shouldn't worry if we get caught. All of this guy's workers are basically forced to work for him for one reason or another, whether it be paying off a debt or something similar. They won't rat us out. Only the guards will," Michael explained, listening again against the door to hear if the coast was clear.

 

“Good to know.” Jeremy nodded. He followed after Michael into the empty hallway, still staying low. They were almost to the stairs when Michael tugged Jeremy back into an alcove, crouching them low into the shadows and using Jeremy’s robes to help them blend in. The guard passed without noticing anything.

 

They started down the stairs, and almost ran straight into a halfling maid. She looked up at them, blinking in surprise before she nodded and let them past, making a small thank you gesture at Michael.

 

Michael gave her an 'OK' hand gesture then before hurrying down the stairs with Jeremy. As they went down, it got darker and more dimly lit, which the mask helped with. It adjusted to help him see like if he had inherited actual Darkvision.

 

After checking around, he saw that the coast was clear to start looking. Michael waved Jeremy along with his tail, sneaking along. Both were deathly quiet, and he peered into one room through a window pane, seeing it empty. He kept checking, the next room not having anyone in it nor the plans (Vesk would leave it in a case, he knew how this fucker worked, to display it arrogantly).

 

There was only one guard patrol going around, but they seemed to go upstairs to go guard the entryway on one side of the basement. Of course the cocky ass would think no one would come down here.

 

Finally, Michael found a room where many of the grand treasures were laid out, including his moms' deed to their shop. He dug his fingers into the inside of his palm when he saw that, but took a deep breath and then proceeded to work on unlocking the door with one of his tools from his sleeve. He was able to do it in under three seconds, even if it was a complicated lock. After making sure there were no traps inside, Michael slipped in, letting Jeremy follow in right after him before silently shutting the door.

 

Michael noticed there was something... off about all the treasures displayed. They were all enchanted by something, and each of them were powered by a chunk of Medusa Quartz. Somehow, this asshole had managed to get ahold of some of Jeremy’s power stones.

 

“Those... I gave those cases to a kind old couple in Mirewood for their traveling mementos... How does he have them? This is not what my work is for,” Jeremy whispered, his voice having an almost snarl to it. Glancing back, Michael saw that Jeremy’s eyes had shifted to have slits for the pupils and they were a bright shade of green, almost glowing.

 

Quickly, Michael took Jeremy’s hand and caught his attention. Jeremy looked up, his face turning from a sneer to something more akin to a lost puppy under his mask. For a few seconds, Michael stared him down, and subtly shook his head, and Jeremy’s eyes shifted back to normal in a few blinks.

 

“I... I can disarm the case we need, just direct me and then you can crack it after.”

 

Michael nodded, letting out a soft sigh as he inspected over everything quickly. He pointed over to the case where he saw the files in, though he felt his stomach churn as he kept glancing back over to the case with the deed to Shining Shores. It would be too suspicious, it would only cause trouble for his mothers since Vesk claimed it and added it to his 'empire.' He had to dig his nails into his palms again after pointing to the case where the plans were to calm himself down enough to keep going.

 

Jeremy nodded and shifted over to the case. He began siphoning off the magic from the medusa quartz, his hand glowing a lovely gold, but kept glancing around. Obviously he was nervous. After a moment, he’d finished siphoning and he quickly removed the stone and began channeling the magic back. Surprisingly it didn’t show any sign of crumbling to ash. Maybe it was a property of the quartz or something. As he worked, Jeremy gestures for Michael to get to unlocking the case.

 

Michael went over then, taking out his tools and quickly unlocked the case. He used his tail to lift the container, and he reached in and carefully grabbed the plans before putting down the case.

 

As soon as it clicked down though, he heard the sound of something. He didn’t react fast enough, still right against the case, so the sudden weight of the chain net that wrapped around him and weighed him down to the ground. He only had the time to hide his tail, but that was it.

 

Jeremy, on the other hand, managed to dodge to one side, but was quickly grabbed and held at sword point by a very familiar figure.

 

“Oh, Red Hood! Got yourself a little sidekick, have you?” Rich taunted, holding the sword along Jeremy’s neck. He looked scared but he hadn’t frozen, struggling as much as he could without getting cut. “I knew you couldn’t resist crashing this party. It’s nice to see I still know you best.”

 

Jeremy bit out something in Dwarvish, which was so much more rough and guttural than his common or gnomish tones. Rich scowled.

 

“Quiet you, you don’t get to speak, I was talking to your boss.”

 

“There’s a reason,” Michael said, using the same voice he had when talking to Jeremy the first time. He was so thankful for his enchanted mask. “These plans don’t belong to Vesk, but two genius innovators and inventors. He’s having this whole party to cover up that fact and so they would never be able to stand up to him if they tried.” He knew Rich was determined to get him behind bars, but he still had a sense of justice. If he could at least appeal to that and Jeremy could get away, he’d be fine with it (he’d be able to get out of that jail anyway). “Don’t you find it weird that a man all about money, capitalism, and showing off his money is suddenly able to have such advanced, innovative plans?”

 

Rich scowled and was obviously making an effort not to listen. Jeremy added something in dwarvish which made Rich hesitate further before he tightened his grip on Jeremy and glowered at Michael. “I might be more inclined to believe you if you didn’t have a minimum of fifty accounts of theft on your record, Hood.” In a swift motion, Rich removed his sword from Jeremy’s neck and cuffed him in heavy iron manacles. Then he shoved Jeremy to the ground next to Michael. Jeremy looked up at Rich and grinned, saying something in Dwarvish which earned him a kick to the gut, leaving him prone and coughing.

 

Michael kept himself from calling out to ask if Jeremy was OK, instead looking back at Rich. He opened his mouth to say something else until the door opened, and any sense of calm left him.

 

Lord Adgin Vesk, a human in his forties, stepped in, his somewhat attractive face uglied by everything he’s done to ruin people and the prideful grin he had. “Well, it looked like you were right, Goranski. Pardon me for doubting the expert.”

 

You motherfucker, you are so lucky that I can’t grab you and give you what you deserve,” Michael hissed out in Infernal, unable to control his anger when he was finally able to see that face again.

 

Jeremy struggled to get up to his knees, but he shot Michael a look of concern.

 

“It seems the Red Hood is a demon worshiper too. Should have known,” Vesk scoffed. Rich actually looked ready to correct him but stopped himself.

 

“I told you, Lord Vesk. He wouldn’t be able to resist a prize like those plans. He’d even come up with some ridiculous story about you stealing them.” Rich laughed, but it sounded forced. “Anyways, I think we should unmask him and his little lackey and get them both off to the executioner's block.”

 

Before Vesk could reply, Jeremy shouted something in Dwarvish. Vesk looked thoughtful.

 

“The boy is right. Let’s unmask then in front of our guests, that is why I threw this party after all.” He smirked evilly.

 

Michael managed to calm himself down enough to see where Jeremy was going with this, but he acted as if he didn't and gave Jeremy a look of shock before narrowing his eyes at Vesk. "Wh- Oh, you asshole. Why do you want to do that? To get all of the people rioting against you for getting rid of me and unmasking me? Your empire is going to fall if you do that, you son of a bitch."

 

“Umm... sir? Maybe it’s not such a good id-“ Vesk cut Rich off.

 

“Silence, Goranski. You are working for me right now, and I say we unmask him at the party. Now move them!” he ordered. Rich sighed then nodded. He worked quickly, undoing the chain net enough to take all of Michael’s tools from him and then to cuff him with his hands behind his back, like he’d done with Jeremy. Then Rich forced them both to their feet, connected their cuffs, and pulled them along.

 

“Oh, and I can’t forget these! The real plans,” Vesk cooed and held them out in front of Michael. Then he started out the treasure room, cackling as he went. Rich followed behind with Jeremy and Michael on a sort of lead connected to the join in their manacles.

 

Jeremy squirmed a little, maybe trying to get comfortable before sighing and just ducking his head and following. Michael did the same but didn’t bow his head at all. He stood tall and proud, ready to face what was coming even if he was terrified because he didn’t have his tools.

 

If this was at least his last chance to do something, the only thing that Michael could think of was to talk. Even if he was irritated and angered, he knew that Rich could see that this wasn't right. Maybe he could at least do something about the plans since he couldn't even think about reaching and snagging them with his tail at this distance.

 

"Rich." The guard glanced back then. "I just... OK, you're getting what you want with getting me, but at least make sure those plans get to their rightful owners. Two women, Jenna and Chloe, who asked us for help. Chloe'll have a brass prosthetic leg that matches some of the schematics in that plan. If you aren't going to do it for me, do it for them. Their livelihood is on the line, and I want them to at least not suffer the same fate as other people who were scammed and screwed by this man."

 

Rich looked genuinely surprised, and for a moment he looked genuinely upset, but then his face was schooled into something more professional. “I’ll... I’ll ensure the rightful owner of the documents gets the credit,” he said, not promising anything but somehow saying everything. Despite all they’d been through, Michael knew Rich wasn’t a bad person, he was just loyal to a corrupt system.

 

They walked in silence for a moment longer before Michael thought he heard a subtle click of a lock opening. Jeremy squirmed but said nothing, but then he tripped, falling against Michael. Rich turned to see what happened, but Jeremy just shook his head and said something in dwarvish. Rich turned forward again and just tugged on the chain and Michael followed without complaint. Because somehow, Jeremy had not only gotten his manacles undone, he’d also managed to slip Michael the lockpicks he’d need to undo his own.

 

Michael couldn't help but feel happy, though kept his prideful, head-held-high exterior up as he worked to quickly unlock his manacles. "Thank you Rich," was all he said as he unlocked them, his voice masking the subtle click of his own locks coming undone. He knew Rich wasn't looking back at them, shooting Jeremy a look and glancing between Jeremy himself and Rich, then between himself and Vesk.

 

Jeremy wasn’t obviously looking at Michael, his head still bowed, but he was watching and he nodded subtly. Jeremy sped up ever so slightly and Michael could see him counting down using his fingers.

 

Three.

 

Two.

 

One.

 

Jeremy launched himself at Rich, wrapping the chain around him and cuffing both his arms and legs using the two sets of manacles. Rich struggled and Jeremy muttered out something in dwarvish. Rich fell still, and Jeremy said something else, smiling. He stayed pinned on top of Rich while Michael went for Vesk, who had plastered himself to the wall in fear.

 

Taking this opportunity, he got right up into Vesk's face. He felt bitterness and anger swirling around inside him, and he barely managed to keep himself from outright clobbering the guy. Instead, he let out a deep, "Boo," and caught the plans that Vesk tossed with his tail, grinning a little madly.

 

As he caught the plans, he couldn't help but look at this pathetic whelp's face, feeling anger at all of things he knew he did. Not just with his moms or the girls, but the couple who he stole those cages from along with the dozens upon dozens of other treasures. His blood was boiling, and he couldn't control himself (why couldn't he control his anger? He had always been able to, what was happening?) as he reached in, grabbing one of the dagger patches and pulling it away underneath the robe, and moving to hold it against Vesk's neck.

 

A hand grabbed the back of his clothes and yanked him back, before golden light exploded in front of him. A glowing, clear golden wall appeared between him and Vesk and Michael felt his rage grow further. That is until the hand holding him back shifted and Jeremy got in between him and the wall.

 

No, my love.” he murmured in Infernal, cupping Michael’s face and looking him right in the eyes. It cut though the rage like a hot knife through butter, letting the common he switched to sink in. “That isn’t who you are. You do not hurt people, you help them.” Jeremy had pitched his voice a little, making it harder to identify if Rich heard, but all Michael could hear was JeremyJeremyJeremy ringing in his ears.

 

The anger that enveloped Michael seemed to calm then, and he felt his head ache as he tightened his grip on the dagger. What had he been thinking? Why was he going to hurt Vesk, even if he was a life-ruiner? Even if he was that, Michael wasn't a life-ender. (Why had his brain wanted him to end Vesk?)

 

"I..." He groaned as he shut his eyes, leaning into his hands as he dropped the dagger like it was searing hot and burning his hands, quickly reaching up and resting his hands on top of Jeremy's. "Thank you... I-I don't know what got into me..."

 

“I do. I’ll explain later, for now we have what we came for. Let’s go.” Jeremy kept his voice soft and in that weird pitch, but his eyes were warm and understanding. He stood up on his toes and pressed a quick kiss to Michael’s nose, hiding their faces from view with their hoods before pushing both of their masks down. Then he looked over to Rich. The half Dragonborn was watching in both confusion and awe, but was silent. Jeremy said something in dwarvish, and Rich responded after a moment, sounding grudging but resigned.

 

Michael just nodded, looking back at Rich. He hoped he could display how apologetic he felt before looking back at Jeremy (though not without giving Vesk a well-earned glare, not caring if the cowering and crying man didn't see it). "Yeah, let's get out of here."

 

Jeremy scooped up the dagger and grabbed Michael’s hand, tugging him to the nearest window. He reached into the robes and pulled off a rope patch, tying it to a pillar and letting the rest fall out. “We have five minutes before Rich will call the guards, so let’s move,” Jeremy explained as he worked. “You go first, getting away from the stimulus will help your headache.” Wait, how had Jeremy known about that?

 

"I- alright," he said, deciding not to argue for now. Instead, he grabbed the rope, letting out a whistle (the signal for both Christine and Brooke) as he managed to quickly climb himself down. The further down he went, the less pain his headache caused him, which was seriously tripping him out as he made it down to the ground.

 

Jeremy slid down the rope a moment later, cutting it off and saving maybe thirty feet of good quality rope. Then Jeremy grabbed Michael’s hand again and tugged him towards the wall where Brooke would be waiting on the other side. This part was just iron bars, so they could squeeze through easily enough. Michael struggled a little more than Jeremy did, but made it out and hopped onto Brooke’s back. She dashed off away from the mansion, the estate quickly vanishing from view. The further they got, the less Michael’s headache hurt until it was entirely gone.

 

Letting out a heavy sigh, Michael took the plans he still had his tail holding onto (he tucked it back under his cloak though) and looked through. He let out another sigh, this one of relief, to see it was the correct, original plans, with Jenna and Chloe's signatures still in tact.

 

Looking over his shoulder then, Michael gently prodded Jeremy. "OK, now you need to spill."

 

Jeremy, who had wrapped his arms around Michael’s waist, nuzzled against his back then looked up at him properly. “It was your tiefling side. Demonic blood acts similarly to a curse, triggering when angry or seriously wronged. You were losing yourself to it, so I stopped you by putting myself between you and the trigger, since I knew you wouldn’t hurt me.” Jeremy nuzzled against him again as Brooke slowed down from a run to a sort of trot. “It used to happen to Melech and Hope from time to time. Not often but enough that I knew how to deal with it.”

 

Michael let that sink it, and realized that it sort of made sense, even if this was his first time experiencing it. He ran a hand through his hair, letting his hood drop since he knew they were far enough away (Darling's crows as she was swooping down told him they were in the clear). "I... thanks, Jeremy," he muttered out, removing his mask. "And thank you for carrying our heavy asses, Brooke. Well, my heavy ass and Jeremy."

 

Brooke chuffed out a laugh but continued on. She did shoot them a cheeky grin over her shoulder but that was about it.

 

“It’s fine, auglas. You help me with my issues, I help you with yours,” Jeremy murmured, clinging tightly to Michael as soon as his own mask was off.

 

 

 

Once they were back at camp, Michael felt some exhaustion begin to hit him. He wasn't going to go pass out until Jenna and Chloe got their stuff back though.

 

Chloe hopped up as soon as they were back, eyes wide as Michael made his way over. He handed over their plans, smiling up at them. "Here you go. Every page should be in there unless I forgot about a whole new number being invented."

 

“I... we can never thank you enough, Red Hood.” She sighed, clutching the plans tightly to her chest. Jenna stood and bowed low.

 

“Thank you all for your assistance. This is our livelihood and you just saved it for us. If you ever require anything of us, please just ask.”

 

“Well, I wouldn’t mind having lunch with you two after we’re settled again, but that’s a while away. For now, just... thank you for believing me,” Jeremy offered with a grin. Then he turned to Michael. “Oh yeah, what happened to my lock picks, by the way? I kinda want those back so my set isn’t incomplete.”

 

Michael blinked. “Oh, right.” He reached into his sleeve and pulled it out before giving it back to Jeremy. “Where did you even keep that? It appeared out of nowhere.”

 

Jeremy grinned as he took the lock pick, holding up his left arm. He clenched his fist and a panel on the bracer popped open and span. Jeremy moved to hold the lock pick in his left hand and it slid into place and the panel closed.

 

“The crystal powers it and creates a mild telepathic connection. I think of what I want-“ he closed his fist on his right hand and held the dagger out. It slid into the bracer before a small pair of tweezers popped out. “And the bracers give them to me. It's what I was working on earlier.” He put the tweezers away.

 

Michael’s eyes were wide at that, and he was about to compliment him before Jenna beat him to it. “Oh. My. God. That’s- holy shit, that’s amazing, Jeremy!” she almost cried out as she hurried over. Her eyes were wide and shining with intrigue, like she wanted to study it all over. “How did you make this? What went into it? I... how?”

 

Jeremy blushed and started stammering about how it wasn’t that impressive. But he took off the bracers and started showing her the interior, which was actually lined with brass and more leather to stop the mechanics rubbing on the skin.

 

“And the biggest thing is the power stone. It’s the magic I’ve taken and shaped to what I need, see?” He pulled out another medusa quartz from his pocket and made the magic visible for Jenna to see. She took the stone and began studying it.

 

She was gasping and muttering under her breath as she seemed to be making some sort of mental notes. Her eyes were glittering and practically sparkling.

 

“I think you made Jenna the happiest person on the planet right now, Jeremy,” Michael said, tone slightly teasing as he gently nudged his side.

 

Jeremy hesitated, his eyes going a brighter green for a second before he shook his head. “Y-you can keep that one. So you can study it, we kinda need to get going again.” He pressed himself against Michael’s side, wrapping an arm around his waist.

 

Jenna stared at him like he had just told her she was voted the best person in the world. "You... Oh my god, thank you so much. W-we won't keep you held up anymore," she said, quickly bowing while Chloe came up, laughing a little before doing the same, holding the file close.

 

"Again, if you ever need a favor, you can find us in Fallkirk. Get going, don't let us hold you up any longer."

 

“It’s been a pleasure, ladies.” Jeremy bowed back, and Christine (who had arrived a minute earlier) also bowed and waved. “Thanks for looking after the animals!”

 

Brooke shifted back to her normal form and hesitated before approaching and offering a shy smile. “I’m glad we were able to help you both. Keep- er- keep up the great work.” She hurried over to the wagon and started assisting Gideon in getting strapped up again (using the noseband, Michael noted).

 

Chloe looked surprised by the sudden appearance of Brooke, but waved at her as she went while Jenna was still in awe of what Jeremy gave her. "Thanks for helping!"

 

With that, Michael waved as well before going back to the wagon, checking in on Nightshade in his little caged play area (read: baby prison).

 

Jeremy let Nightshade out and the little weasel scampered up Jeremy’s arm and settled on his shoulder, dooking happily. Then Jeremy tugged lightly on Michael and pulled him to lie down on his lap. His head was resting on Jeremy’s thighs. “Hey Brooke, Michael and I are really tired. Are you okay to drive for a bit?” he called, already stroking his fingers through Michael’s hair.

 

“Sure thing, Jere-bear. One can take over when you wake up or whatever. Gideon, Darling, Angel, and Chrissy can keep me company.” Brooke chuckled.

 

“Glad to know I rate so highly,” Christine teased as they started off.

 

“Now... you went through a lot. You need to rest, ph lajy,” Jeremy cooed, rubbing lightly around the base of Michael’s horns.

 

Michael felt himself melt at those touches, relaxing almost instantly as he looked up at Jeremy. "You did too," he muttered out as he reached for a blanket to pull over both of them with his tail.

 

Jeremy leant against a sack full of cloth, which Michael knew was comfortable to lie against. He kept stroking Michael’s hair and the base of his horns. “I did,” he agreed after a moment. “So let’s both rest together, okay?”

 

"I... alright," he muttered out, finding himself to be a lot more agreeable as he felt both the relaxation and exhaustion hit him as he shut his eyes. Michael felt Jeremy removing his glasses, pausing in his movements involving his head before continuing.

 

"Xe dajy haf," Michael murmured out in Infernal, feeling himself too relaxed to remember to say it in Common before he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Michael felt himself a bit shaky and lacking any sort of confidence as he stood a few yards away from Jeremy, who was setting some targets to practice shooting from Jeremy's Thunder Cannon. He wasn't even holding the thing yet and he was feeling his stomach drop. He purposefully stood a few feet away from it as well, arms uncomfortably tucked away and crossed as he fidgeted. Not even Darling was making her usual teasing crows at him, she knew how he felt about anything with guns and why he felt that way.

 

When Jeremy turned back, his face grew concerned and he hurried over to Michael. He gently took Michael’s hands in his own, looking up with worried eyes. “Hey, idril, what’s the matter? Are you okay?” he murmured softly.

 

"I just..." He glanced over to where the Thunder Cannon rested, shifting his feet all the while. "I really really hate guns. I can't do target practice, I'm sorry."

 

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Jeremy soothed, rubbing his thumbs over Michael’s knuckles. “Can you tell me why you hate them? We don’t have to practice if it scares you that much, but I’d like to understand so I can help.”

 

"I..." Michael let out a heavy sigh, and he needed to sit down to talk about this. Jeremy was glad to join him on the ground as he kept up the soothing motion of his thumbs across his knuckles. Michael felt a tiny bit better as he exhaled through his nose. "When I was younger, playing in the woods and everything, there were some people from town going through to hunt for animals. I was with some of them, hidden behind one deer, and they went to shoot it and it ran away before it could get hit. I didn't." He knew his breathing was shaky at best as he squeezed Jeremy's hands. "And I got shot again during one of my first jobs, right in the leg. I almost made it out, but then I got shot again before making it out. If it wasn't for a kind doctor nearby that time, I would've been dead. Once was fine, two times shook me to my core, and the third time sort of... yeah."

 

“Oh Mikey...” Jeremy didn’t stop his gentle motion. “That is a more than reasonable reason to be scared. But... could I show you how mine works? It’s still my main weapon and I want you to know that you’re never in danger when I have it. Would that be okay with you?”

 

"I trust you, Jeremy," Michael reassured him, voice soft and frail. "I just... I can't touch it again, I'm sorry."

 

“I understand, auglas. I’ll be right back.” Jeremy kept his movements slow and he kept the Thunder Cannon pointed at the ground as he walked back. When he sat, he rested the gun on his lap and made sure it was pointed over towards the target off to one side.

 

“See, look. The power crystal right here-” Jeremy lifted a panel to reveal a large chunk of medusa quartz. “-is what I call the second safety. Every gun has a safety you need to turn off before it can fire. This quartz makes sure that I only can fire at things which I genuinely want to hit, so even if you ran into the way of my shot, the gun would stop it before it fired so you can’t accidentally get caught. And it also checks to see if the person trying to fire is someone I’ve approved. So you’d be able to fire this because I trust you to. But someone else who I don’t know wouldn’t even be able to get a spark,” he explained gently, pointing out the safety trigger and the actual trigger on the gun before closing the panel properly.

 

As he listened, Michael nodded along in understanding. He still felt anxious and tense, but felt a little better with Jeremy's explanation and reassurance. Nightshade climbing up his arm and lying across his shoulder, nuzzling against him helped a bit as well. He reached a hand up and gently scratched under his chin as Jeremy finished up. "Well that's good to know, I was wondering how it worked," he admitted with a shaky smile.

 

“You won’t ever have to touch it, so long as I have any say in the matter. But know it can’t be used against you and if you ever need it to, it’ll work for you,” Jeremy reassured before he tucked the Thunder Cannon back into his bag. “If you ever decide you want to try, let me know. And if that’s never, that’s okay as well.”

 

Michael nodded in understanding then, very relieved once the Cannon was tucked away. "I... yeah. Thank you," was all he could really get out then as he let out a shaky exhale.

 

Jeremy moved to take Michael’s hands again, but waited for Michael to nod in agreement. He resumed his gentle stroking.

 

With that, Michael felt a bit more at ease. He thought for a second, not hesitating as he looked at Jeremy. "Do you... I know you haven't really seen me, uh, really uncovered, and you didn't really get to see it in the spring but..."

 

“Whatever you’re comfortable with, idril. I’ll accept all of you, just like you’ve accepted all of me, but you don’t have to show me anything you’re not comfortable with.”

 

That confirmed what he wanted to do then. Michael gently pulled his hands back then, reaching down and pushing down the side of his pants and underwear a little to show Jeremy the marked and scarred over area of the bullet from when he was a kid. "This was from the hunters." He moved the clothes back up, reaching down for the bottom of the opposite pant leg and pulled it up to reveal another on his lower leg. "This was the first wound from that mission." Letting go, he then hesitated before lifting his tail up for Jeremy to see, revealing it and showing one wound, half a foot away from where it met his lower back side. "This is the other wound from the mission."

 

“Oh, idril... you’re so brave. And much stronger than you give yourself credit for.” Jeremy scooted closer and, with the permission given in the form of a nod, wrapped his arms around Michael. “I’m so proud of you, for not only being able to talk about this but also going out and doing what you do even with the risks.” Jeremy ended up going up on to his knees so he could kiss Michael gently only the cheek.

 

Michael felt himself melt under the soft touches, almost feeling himself tear up. "I... Thank you," he muttered out again, shaky as he wrapped his arms around Jeremy in a somewhat tight manner.

 

“It’s okay, idril. It’s okay. You squeeze me as tight as you need, and hold on as long as you like. I’m quite happy to stay all day if you want.” Jeremy’s tone shifted from serious to light, but he kept his arms wrapped firmly around Michael. It was nice. Comforting.

 

"Don't say that 'cause I'll be tempted to actually do that," Michael told him around a watery laugh before resting his head on Jeremy's shoulder.

 

“You’d have to carry me if you wanted to move, but I’d be alright with that,” Jeremy agreed with a chuckle.

 

"I will literally do that, don't challenge me," Michael half joked before pressing a kiss to his covered shoulder.

 

His ears perked a little as he heard someone coming. Michael made sure his tail was tucked away and hidden from view because he didn't hear Brooke and Christine chatting (they went to the nearby market in the town close by for pastries). He glanced over his shoulder then to the approaching form. "Hello?"

 

“Hello there!” the figure called amicably but there was a touch of... something in their voice. Michael decided to figure out what he could. They were male, and had quite a deep voice. Michael could hear the slight clink of heavy armor as the figure moved. “Hello travelers! You need to be careful, it’s not safe here!”

 

"I mean, anywhere isn't safe if you think about it," Michael joked as he sat up, detaching himself a little from Jeremy as he tried (and somewhat succeeded) at calming himself down. "What do you mean by that though?"

 

“There’s a sorceress in these parts. She attacks people on the road and steals what she pleases from them,” he explained. Now the figure was closer, Michael could see his rich, dark skin and gentle expression. He seemed to he a good soul, or at least Nightshade seemed to think so considering how relaxed he was.

 

Jeremy was sort of stiff in Michael’s arms. “What kind of sorcerer... human?” The figure nodded. “And... cursed... by chance?” He nodded again. “...Dragon’s greed?” Jeremy asked quietly.

 

“Yes, how did you know?” the figure asked. “Oh, and I’m Jacob, by the way, Jacob Dillinger, but you can call me Jake.”

 

“I know her. Mikey, we need to get out of here. Quick.” Jeremy sounded a little panicked as he scrambled to his feet, tugging Michael up with him.

 

Michael took a second to put the thoughts together while he was calming down. His eyes widened as he realized who Jake was referring to. “Sorry Jake, we do need to get going.”

 

“Why, what’s wrong?” Jake asked then, coming closer as Michael managed to get to his feet. “I’m sure I can help.”

 

“No, but thank you, we just need to get going, she’s-“

 

“And just who do we have here?” a feminine voice purred from behind them. Michael and Jake spun around to fine a woman somewhere in her fifties maybe, walking over. She was dressed in flowing blue robes, lined with black decorations along the hem. Her hair was a chestnut brown, just a few shades darker than Jeremy’s, but her skin was paler somehow. Two ghostly wings sprouted from her back, not totally there but not quite an illusion either, and her bright green eyes looked identical to Jeremy’s when he was fighting off his curse.

 

“A paladin, a thief, and-“ Jeremy pushed past Michael and Jake to plant himself firmly between them. “J-Jeremy?”

 

“Leave them alone, mom. Just go back to your hoard.” Jeremy scowled, glaring up at the woman. She looked torn between delighted and shocked.

 

“Jeremy, what are you doing?” Michael almost hissed out as he took a step closer to him. As he did, Jeremy’s mother grinned in a horrible way that sent chills down his spine.

 

“Oh, gladly.”

 

All hell broke loose.

 

With Jeremy so close, her arms were easily able to reach over and grab him. Jeremy was caught off-guard and only started to struggle when it was too late. His mom’s wings flapped a few times then, lifting them both off the ground as Michael ran over, trying to reach up and grab Jeremy, but he just barely missed him.

 

Jake also tried to stop Jeremy’s mom, but she flew out of the way and up high as she held Jeremy close, protectively and possessively so. “Time for you to come back home with me.” With that, Jeremy’s mom flew off with him, further up the mountain they had just been descending.

 

“She’s never taken a person before. Did he say that was his mother?” Jake asked, his voice shaking a little. Then he took a breath and straightened up. “I’m actually heading up the mountain to banish her. I can bring your friend back.”

 

“She’s his mom, but I’m going with you. Our friends should be coming back any second too, they’re coming too,” Michael told Jake, trying his best to not freak out. Jeremy needed him, he couldn’t afford to flip out right now.

 

“How well can you handle yourself in a fight?” Jake asked, looking Michael over. “I can’t promise she’s going to go down easily...”

 

Just as he said that, the girls came back down the path, chatting happily. Brooke looked over and as soon as she saw Michael’s expression she sprinted over. “Mikey? Where is Jeremy? Who’s this? What happened?”

 

“His mom happened and swooped him away,” Michael explained as Christine hurried over. Her eyes were wide as she heard this.

 

“Oh god, we have to get him back.”

 

“Yeah, I know. Jake here is gonna take us there, he was looking for her before and can take us to her den.” Michael looked over to Jake then. “We can handle ourselves, all of us. Just help us get Jeremy back, please.”

 

 

 

Jeremy stumbled as he landed on the floor of the cave, falling against a mound of gold pieces. He tried to catch his breath as his brain began to throb. His dragon writhed just under the surface, thrashing at being surrounded by so much magic and his mother’s curse.

 

“W-why take me?” Jeremy growled, unable to suppress everything of his curse. “I was happy back there. And you left. You left me and dad.”

 

His mother landed with practiced grace in front of him, kneeling down in front of him then with a tender gaze. It looked so odd on her, he rarely ever saw it when he was young, before she left. “Because I realized something, Jeremy. I left to find my greatest treasure, looked for fifteen years, but realized I knew exactly what it was.” She was right in front of him then, her hand carefully resting on his face. “It’s you, Jeremy. And I can’t let anyone else have you.”

 

Jeremy felt himself torn. For one thing, this was his mother saying that she wanted him. That she loved him, which he hadn’t heard in so long. Not since he was a child. But then the bigger, more knowledgeable part knew differently. The Dragon’s Greed curse removed love from the equation, replaced it with desire. Jeremy being his mother’s greatest treasure was no better than him being her favorite clock or necklace.

 

“N-no! You can’t keep me here. I won’t let you!” Jeremy cried, stumbling backwards and falling against another pile in the hoard. His head throbbed harder. His mother was trying to force his dragon out. “Stop it! I won’t let it out! I won’t!”

 

She just stayed close, moving along with him and kneeling beside him again after he fell. The look she held was prideful as well as extremely possessive as she cupped his cheeks, running her thumbs carefully against the skin there. She hovered above him as she gave him a terrifying grin. “You’ll be safe here. I’ll even help you start your own hoard. We can be together Jeremy. It’ll be amazing, I promise.”

 

“No! I had a life out there! A sort of family! A boyfriend! I need to get back to them...” Jeremy’s protests were growing weaker as he himself started to weaken. He was fighting as hard as he could, but the voice of the dragon was overpowering his own. He wasn’t being the loudest voice in his own head anymore, even if he was trying to be. “I care about them so much... I t-treasure their friendship.”

 

“Shh, there are many better things you can treasure. I can help you find the best things for your hoard, Jeremy. Only the best for my special treasure,” she reassured him as she leaned down, resting their foreheads together. “You can have everything you want, can keep it safe with me. You can keep it safe from everyone. That sounds amazing, right? I even have a section up here for your hoard and an area below here for your special treasure once you find it.”

 

Jeremy closed his eyes, trying desperately to fight it off but he couldn’t. “I found him already. I was with him,” he sobbed, his head pounding to strange wingbeats from nowhere. “I... can we go get him soon? I want him back...” That sounded right. He wanted Michael back. Michael was special to him, the most special to him.

 

“Of course, my treasure. We can go get your special treasure soon. We need to build up your own hoard a little though, don’t you think? You need to have something before you get him,” his mom mused out before a kiss was placed to his forehead. “You want to impress your special treasure before you take him as your own forever.”

 

Jeremy hummed in agreement. “Yeah. I want him to know he’s the most special to me.” Jeremy opened his eyes and looked up at his mom, finding it a little strange that they were stinging a little but not thinking much of it. That would fade soon enough. The throbbing in his head lessened and his dragon coiled appreciatively. Jeremy felt the distinction lessen. “And... I really like magic things. I got some with me in my bag... Should... should I go put them in my spot?” he asked, needing the guidance. His head still hurt and he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing besides getting ready for Michael.

 

“Yes, you should. I’ll show you where your spot is and you can get it all ready,” she told him, taking his hands then and helping him up to his feet as she stood. “I made sure to leave you a good sized one. The one below here for your special treasure is very nice too, I think you’ll like it for him.”

 

Jeremy smiled shyly as his mother, not used to her being so gentle and caring but enjoying it all the same. “Thanks mom.” He let her lead him over to where his spot in her den was, feeling a pleased rumble build up in his chest as he thought of all the crystals he had. And for the first time, it actually escaped. At last, for the first time, Jeremy felt whole.

 

 

 

“-been robbing any and every bank in the area, stockpiling only the gold coins and taking them. She’s also hurt many innocents in her search for something, though I know now who she was looking for,” Jake said from beside Michael, though he was only half listening. If Jake wasn’t leading the way, he’d be running ahead to go and find Jeremy.

 

“It sounds like she has the worst case of the Dragon’s Greed curse that I’ve heard of. Well, in the past few centuries,” Brooke murmured out from where she was walking a few steps behind the boy’s, with Christine at her side. “They’re never as intense as you’ve described them, Jake. She’s completely lost herself to the curse. She probably lost herself ages ago, if I’m going to be honest.”

 

“Jeremy said she left fifteen years ago. I always thought his curse was stronger than most, but I never realized how badly it could affect him...” Christine added. “Do... do you think he’ll be okay?”

 

“It’s likely she’s try to activate his curse to keep him compliant. Since he’s got his bag, he’ll have plenty of things to add to his hoard for a while, so he’ll be happy where he is. At least until he has to add to it and find his ‘special treasure,’” Brooke explained. “Every real dragon has one, and so does everyone with Dragon’s Greed. They just lack the wisdom that a real dragon has from experience, so they get a little out of control.”

 

Michael listened and nodded so Brooke knew that he was at least hearing and understanding what she was saying. “But the best way to get him out of that... Would you say it’s trying to get him out of her den? I’ve only had to deal with it almost activating and stopping it then, never when it was already active.”

 

“I genuinely don’t know.” Brooke sighed. “There isn’t any real record of two people with a curse this intense. I think getting him away from whatever he’s hoarding would be good though.”

 

“That might be a bit of a problem then...” Christine sounded almost guilty. “Because when he’s in that mindset he considered us his treasures. It’s as close to love as he can express when he’s like that. The only way I’ve managed to get him out of it is reminding him of who he really is, but if he’s in too deep, I don’t know if it’ll work.”

 

Michael remembered how Jeremy explained that to him, feeling his gut churn a little. “Getting him away from his mom might help then, since she’ll be encouraging his curse and stuff,” he offered.

 

“If you guys want a game plan, settle on one now because we’re about to be at where her den is,” Jake interrupted.

 

“I think we sneak in, get Jeremy out, then deal with his mom after. He’ll be a random element otherwise,” Christine suggested, looking over to Michael and Nightshade. “Maybe get him Nightshade since he usually helps Jeremy ground himself.”

 

The weasel honked, and Michael nodded before rubbing the top of his head. “For sure. I think that’s a good plan,” he said before Brooke nodded in agreement.

 

Christine smiled sort of shakily before she pointed to the cave entrance, which was glowing dimply with flickering firelight. “Good luck in there guys. And try to stay together,” she whispered, leading the group up with Jake. They both had their swords drawn.

 

With that, they all carefully took in their surroundings as everyone walked in. Michael noted the abundance of gold, though just tried to focus in on just finding Jeremy past all of the money, finding it worthless compared to him.

 

Eventually he spotted Jeremy, tucked away in the only clear section of the cave. It was right near the back, and seemed to only have Jeremy’s power crystals and the start of a project he was working on spread around it. Something about the placement of everything was almost... disturbing. Like it had been positioned very carefully and even a slight shift would set it all out of alignment.

 

Jeremy himself sat in the middle of the organized chaos, peacefully tinkering with that looked to be a ball joint for an automaton. He looked perfectly fine, no bruises or scrapes in sight, but he just seemed a little off. Too peaceful, even when he was working. And Michael could have sworn he saw some sort of weird white fabric fluttering occasionally behind him. He didn’t seem to notice the group yet.

 

Michael took the initiative, taking a few steps forward as he knelt down in front of Jeremy, being slow and careful. “Hey, Jeremy, we need to get going,” Michael muttered out, being on-guard as a bad feeling settled within him. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

 

Jeremy looked up slowly, and Michael’s heart clenched when he saw that Jeremy’s eyes were that almost glowing green once again. He was most certainly under the sway of the curse.

 

“Michael?” Jeremy blinked slowly, his expression melting from surprise to joy. “You’re here! You came for me!” Very carefully, Jeremy set down what he was working on before he wrapped his arms around Michael. What had looked like a piece of fabric spread out wide to become two large spectral wings. Just like his mother had.

 

Michael kept himself from tensing up as he came to that realization, gently squeezing him as he pulled back, cupping Jeremy’s cheeks for a moment. “I did, but now we have to get going,” he softly insisted as he reached down, taking Jeremy’s hands and standing, tugging Jeremy up to his feet.

 

Jeremy frowned a little. “No, you’re here now. Why would we go?” Jeremy tugged him closer. “Everything we need is here. See? It’s not much yet, but it’ll grow, I promise.” He showed off his collection a little proudly before beaming back up at Michael.

 

Before Michael could respond, there was a growl and suddenly he was being yanked away from Jeremy. “What are these people doing here, treasure? Are they here to take you from me?” Jeremy’s mom hissed, wrapping an arm tightly around Michael’s neck. Jeremy looked at her and growled, pulling her arm away before Michael really could register it properly.

 

“No, they’re my treasures, mom. They’re the ones I told you about, and this one is my special. He’s my Michael.” Jeremy’s arms were gentle around Michael but they were strong, holding him in place.

 

Instantly, Jeremy’s mom’s tone seemed to shift and she quickly darted behind the group, blocking them in. “Oh I’m sorry, Jeremy. I didn’t realize. Here, lets get them inside properly.” Before anyone could react, she began herding them all towards Jeremy. Everyone but Jake complied, obviously too shocked to really react.

 

His sword was still out, and he had it pointed right at Jeremy’s mom, refusing to budge. “We aren’t going anywhere with you,” he insisted, a protective aura radiating off of him as he put himself between the girls and Jeremy’s mom.

 

“Oh, the little paladin come to slay the big scary dragon...” she mused, malice and humor lacing her tones. “I don’t believe you mentioned this one, Jeremy. Do you still want to keep him or would you rather I deal with him?” Jeremy’s mom asked sweetly, apparently unbothered.

 

Jeremy detached himself from Michael and walked carefully over to Jake. His movements were all wrong, too smooth and fluid. He slowly circled Jake, looking him over as if appraising him before nodding. “I think I’d like him too.”

 

Before Jake could react, Jeremy was right in front of him, wings spread, and he yanked the sword away from Jake with surprising strength. The sword clattered to the ground and Jeremy gently patted Jake’s wrist. “No need for that, you’re not in any danger here.” He dragged Jake over towards the girls, then returned to Michael’s side.

 

Michael stood stock still, just shocked by Jeremy’s behavior and surprising strength and feats before he was held again. “Jeremy, we can’t stay. We have our quest to go on, remember? To stop Squip and help out Iconis and Tracz,” he reminded Jeremy, glancing at Nightshade as he stayed present on his shoulder. The little baby was letting out worried honks.

 

Jeremy shook his head and smiled softly up at Michael. For some reason, despite the heat Jeremy’s skin was giving off (seriously, it was like he was burning up), there was no warmth in it.

 

“No we don’t. Out there doesn’t matter, my mom will keep us safe here. And no one else matters because what matters is right here in my hoard and my mom’s hoard,” Jeremy explained. It wasn’t any comfort, it just served to make Michael more worried.

 

“Yes we do Jeremy, and more matters than right here. We aren’t your hoard, we’re your friends, I’m your boyfriend. You have a life outside of here, work you have done, and you have people you want to help,” Michael reminded him, trying to keep himself still and stationary as Jeremy tried to move them forward, as Jeremy’s mom tried to usher everyone further in.

 

A look akin to annoyance flashed across Jeremy’s face before he sighed. “I can see we’re gonna disagree for a bit about this... Could I just... talk to you? Alone, just for a minute? I wanna explain things and then you can decide, yeah? And I’ll go with whatever you choose,” he suggested, looking over to his mom then back to Michael, glowing eyes pleading.

 

Michael felt his gut churn a bit uncomfortably, but he knew this might be his only chance to talk to Jeremy. Even if he had a bad feeling, he had to try. He glanced down at Nightshade, who let out another sad string of honks before he looked back over at Jeremy. “Alright.”

 

Jeremy quickly peaked over at the group. “You guys will wait here, right? We won’t be long, we just need to talk and then I’ll leave with you if Michael still wants to.” Everyone else hesitated, then one by one they nodded.

 

The sinister grin on Jeremy’s mom’s face made Michael feel even more unsettled as he was lead down a passage to a small cave underneath the main one. It had a large, soft-looking bed in the center and was lit by flickering torchlight. Jeremy pulled Michael over to the bed and sat him down.

 

“If we’re gonna talk, Michael, you need to look me in the eyes. It’s only polite.” Jeremy poked him playfully, and Michael just about caught that Jeremy’s eyes were glowing brighter as he looked away, as though he were looking around the room.

 

The fact of how they were glowing made his stomach churn. His fight-flight-or-freeze was acting up then, and he felt himself freeze because he wasn’t going to leave Jeremy, he couldn’t. Looking down, he focused on Nightshade, nodding to him before reaching over and took his hands, letting Nightshade start to move over. “If you look at me then sure, but you’re acting like you’re playing hard-to-get,” Michael teased, unsure on if it fell flat or not.

 

“Just preparing myself. I’ve never done this before after all.” Jeremy’s tone was light as he finally turned back to face Michael. The moment Jeremy’s eyes met Michael’s, Michael froze. Jeremy’s eyes were just so... beautiful. And kind and gentle and loving and staring into them made Michael feel so safe all of a sudden. Any other thoughts, about leaving or doing anything without Jeremy suddenly faded away. Michael stopped any movements, just content to keep staring into Jeremy’s eyes.

 

He barely even registered the feeling of Nightshade running down his arm as he kept holding Jeremy’s hand, getting off of him. Why would he want to focus on that when he could focus on JeremyJeremyJeremyJeremy. He wanted to hear what Jeremy had to say, because nothing mattered more than him and what he wanted. Jeremy and his wants were all that mattered.

 

 

 

This was going perfectly. Michael was just so sweet and allowing Jeremy to collect him. Once he was finished with Michael, the others would be easy. Of course, even if they weren’t, Jeremy didn’t care too much. He would have his Michael, his favorite and most special treasure with him always. And when this ritual was complete, Michael wouldn’t leave Jeremy ever. He wouldn’t want to, he’d only want what Jeremy wanted him to want.

 

The initial entrancing would be almost finished by now, if the blissful smile on Michael’s face was anything to go by, so Jeremy began murmuring the spells out in draconic. True, he didn’t know draconic before, but he did now and it was going to help him keep Michael.

 

As he started muttering the spells though, an insistent furry nudging against his cheeks begged for his attention. Saddened honks filled his ears, incessant and not stopping. It was distracting, so distracting, and he looked to the side when he started to feel his cheek being bit with enough pressure to make him lose focus.

 

Nightshade was there, continually nudging at him and honking at him. Why was his son distracting him? Why would he want that?

 

“Why would you do that, Nightshade? Now I have to start all over again,” Jeremy scolded gently. He wasn’t actually mad, Nightshade was only a child still after all but children had to learn eventually. “I’m just making sure your dad doesn’t want to leave papa ever again.”

 

Despite him trying to teach him, Nightshade continued his saddened honks and continued to nudge at him. Something about how he was doing his seemed familiar though…

 

Nightshade had been doing this last time Jeremy wasn’t himself. Back when he was possessed by the Squip. But that was stupid! Jeremy was totally himself, wasn’t he? There wasn’t any voices in his head besides his own... and his own. It was quiet, this other one of his voices, but it was thrashing in a panic. Jeremy chose to ignore it, not liking the feeling coming off of it.

 

“Don’t worry, little one. I’m still me, I’m still your papa and you’re safe here,” Jeremy cooed, stroking Nightshade before gently picking him up off his shoulder and moving him into Jeremy’s lap. He held him there lightly with one hand as he turned his attention back to Michael.

 

Nightshade continued to desperately honk from where he was being held as Michael was rubbing at his eyes, groaning all the while. “God...” He hissed as he seemed to roughly rub at his eyes, though they were shut. “What... Ugh, what happened?” His voice was somewhat slurred together as he spoke.

 

“Hey, it’s okay, Mikey. You’re fine. Just look at me and I’ll explain everything,” Jeremy cooed sweetly. It wouldn’t take more than a few seconds of prolonged eye contact for Michael to fall back under. This would be easy, especially since Michael was already half collected and therefore had to do as Jeremy said. He just didn’t want the same things yet, but he would.

 

Just as Michael stopped rubbing his eyes and was getting ready to look at him, he heard the sudden sound of wings flapping. As he looked back, he was suddenly tackled down by Brooke as she transformed back into her normal form, off of the bed as Michael was still dazed. “Nope, you aren’t going to collect him. I refuse to let the curse claim you both.”

 

“He’s mine,” Jeremy hissed, scrambling to his feet and spreading his wings to make himself seem bigger. “And I won’t let you keep him from me. Michael-“ Michael perked up automatically upon hearing Jeremy’s sugar sweet tone call his name. “Stay safe on the bed and don’t let anyone move you until this battle is over,” he instructed.

 

Then Jeremy grasped at his focus and cast Alter Self, finding it easier to do with all the latent magic in the air. He grew himself some claws and fangs. He might not have any weapons down here with him, but he could become the weapon himself.

 

This, admittedly, was all new, and Brooke knew what she was doing when she swept his feet out from under him with a tail she made form as she turned into a dire wolf, at least in terms of her claws and fangs as well, before she tackled him down and pinned him. “We aren’t trying to keep you from him, we’re saving you from losing yourself forever! I know you’re still in there, Jere-bear, come on!”

 

“I’m not losing myself! I’m trying to keep what I can!” Jeremy cried, suddenly feeling very overwhelmed with wrongness. He wasn’t sure where the words were coming from, but they spilled from his lips nonetheless. “Can’t you see? The dragon’s too strong so I’m holding on to what little I can... I don’t want to disappear...” He struggled against Brooke’s grip but to no avail.

 

“Claiming and collecting Michael will make you disappear,” Brooke told him as she kept him pinned down. “Your mom already lost herself by doing that with you, by claiming you and losing herself over the years. If you let us do this, let Michael go and help us stop your mom, we’ll save you, I promise.” Her tone was worried and sincere, and her eyes echoed the same as she kept him down.

 

Jeremy shut his eyes and whimpered, that same ache from earlier pounding in his head again. His struggles stopped as he tried desperately to figure out reality. “Don’t take him from me. Please,” he begged. “Just let me stay with him.” Before Brooke could reply, Jeremy pulled his arm free, reached up and grabbed his focus. Normally he didn’t know this spell, but he knew its energy and he knew the word thanks to Draconic.

 

Sleep.” He cast it on himself, feeling his consciousness slip and the voice screaming in his head finally stopping.

 

 

 

Michael watched what happened, worried but finding himself unable to really help but listen to Jeremy still, even if he was unconscious. Well, the battle was over, so he could move, right?

 

He got up, feeling Nightshade crawling up his arm before he did. The soft honks from him helped ground Michael to reality as he walked over and knelt down beside Brooke, looking Jeremy’s unconscious form. “Is he OK?”

 

“He was fighting it really hard, so I think he’ll be fine. He just cast Sleep on himself... I don’t know how he knew it...” She looked up at Michael, expression worried. “How are you feeling though, Mikey?”

 

"I... I feel..." He rubbed the side of his head as he thought it over. "Weird. Like... I felt myself until Jeremy said he wanted me to do something. I just lost myself then, just wanted to do what he said, though I was vaguely aware of how I should be feeling once the 'battle' ended," Michael explained as best as he could, letting out a soft sigh after. "Sorry, I'm still sort of coming back to myself."

 

“No, it’s okay. He was using a very old, very powerful ritual on you. It’s what dragons would use to bind humans and elves to them.” Brooke sighed heavily. “I’m just glad he stopped before it was complete.”

 

Michael nodded then, reaching up and scratching Nightshade's head. "We have Nightshade here to thank for that," he muttered out before a heavy thunk could be heard from above. He glanced up then, then at Brooke. "Are Christine and Jake up there fighting his mom?"

 

“Sounds like it.” Brooke’s face was grim. “They were just supposed to distract her for a bit, damn it.” She grumbled as she climbed to her feet. “You can come if you think you can fight, otherwise just try to get Jeremy out of here. The further he is from her and her hoard, the better.” With that, Brooke dashed up the stairs, leaving Michael alone with Nightshade (who was curled on Jeremy’s chest and nuzzling his chin) and Jeremy.

 

Taking in what Brooke said and the noises above, Michael figured it would be best for Jeremy to get away. If he woke up before the spell wore off, it would be best for it to be when he was away from his mom. With that in mind, he picked Jeremy up, carefully getting him over his shoulder after making sure Nightshade got off and rested on his other shoulder. "Come on, let's get him out of here," Michael muttered out as he snuck up the stairs, quietly trying to get out of the cave once he made it into the den.

 

Jeremy remained sleeping peacefully even as the sounds of the battle grew louder. He simply nuzzled closer to Michael, and murmured out something in gnomish as he slept.

 

Michael saw Jeremy’s mom fending off both Christine and Brooke while Jake was setting up something to one side. When Jeremy’s mom spotted him, she smacked both the girls away and swooped over.

 

“Jeremy wants you to wait here, Michael. Just stay right here with him, sit down. That will make him happy.” She ruffled his hair affectionately before swooping back into the battle. Michael found his feet suddenly stuck to the ground. Damn it.

 

He felt himself sitting down, against what he wanted to do, though felt more clarity in his head as he settled Jeremy down, off of his shoulder. Maybe it was because it was Jeremy's mom telling him to do this and not Jeremy himself. There was still that want to do what Jeremy wanted, but not as strong as earlier.

 

Looking over at the battle, he saw Christine and Brooke getting back up and continuing to defend Jake and keep Jeremy's mom back. He peered closer at what Jake was working on, seeing it was a banishing ritual. That made sense, Jeremy's mom was a lost cause. If the root of the problem was gone, it would solve thing-

 

He heard a loud slam, and would have cringed if he was in control of his body. Michael was able to look over at the source of the sound though as he saw Brooke hit the cave's wall, head knocking against the wall before she slumped forward, unconscious.

 

When the same thing happened to Christine, Jeremy sat up in Michael’s arms and woke up. His eyes were wide, and they were colored differently than earlier. One was a dragon eye, the other his normal eye, as though his brain couldn’t decide where it was at. For a moment, he focused on Michael, watching him with some confusion, before he dashed out of Michael’s grip and flew over to plant himself firmly between Jake and his mother.

 

“No. No more. Leave them alone, mom,” he croaked out, his voice hoarse but firm.

 

Jeremy's mom stopped in her tracks, halting the attack she had ready to presumably take Jake out with. She stared at Jeremy for a good few seconds before speaking. "He's harming our family, treasure, he's trying to separate us. I cannot allow for him to do that! Then you can take your treasures and your special treasure and be happy here with me!"

 

“Mom, you’re the one who separated us. What about dad? You left him. And you left me, even if you decided it was wrong later.” He took a shuddery breath. “I won’t let you hurt them, any of them, any more. You’ll have to kill me first. They’re my treasures.”

 

Michael saw Jake try to cast the spell, seemingly done prepping, but his exhaustion was clear as day. He would hiss through his teeth in sympathy if he could.

 

“They’re going to separate us again though! I came back for you, searched for the past few years for you! I missed you, I need you.”

 

“And dad? Did you know how broken you left him, and left me?” Jeremy asked quietly. He glanced back at Jake, then over to Michael. “Michael, please.” He felt himself listen even if he didn’t want to. “Grab a crystal from my hoard and bring it to me please.” That was unexpected.

 

Even if it was unexpected, it was what Jeremy wanted. And he wanted what Jeremy wanted, so he got up, focusing on hurrying over to Jeremy's hoard and picking up a crystal. Yes, perfect.

 

Ignoring the other voices, he looked only at Jeremy as he walked over to him, giving him the crystal with a smile. This was what Jeremy wanted, he had done well!

 

Jeremy smiled softly at Michael and wrapped his free arm around him. Then he took the crystal and started taking the magic from it. His mother looked stunned, she’d obviously never seen Jeremy in action before. Once Jeremy had taken all the magic from the crystal, he looked over his shoulder.

 

“I hope you’re ready for this, paladin.” His grin was wicked sharp as he reached his hand out behind him and grabbed onto Jake, sending the burst of magic into him.

 

"Wh- my treasure, Jeremy-"

 

"Nope, you aren't trying that anymore,” Jake said from behind them, Michael managing to hear him despite relaxing into Jeremy's touch since he didn't need to do something else for him right now. Glancing back, he saw the sigil circle Jake made glow, a wicked grin on his face as he placed both hands down against the sigil in the center.

 

Jeremy's mother screamed then, clutching her head as she glowed the same red as the mark. A portal opened up underneath her, and she fell into it. As she did, her eyes looked up at Jeremy, lost and stuck in the dragon slits as she cried out for Jeremy once more. Her hand was the last thing to vanish into the portal before it shut with an audible whir of sorts, magic swirling in the air before suddenly vanishing a few seconds later.

 

As soon as the magic vanished, Jeremy shivered and collapsed, falling limp in Michael’s arms. Michael barely managed to catch him. He seemed to be unconscious again.

 

Michael checked him over to make sure he was alright otherwise, relieved to see that was the case. He let out a sigh before feeling a hand on his shoulder, making him flinch. "Oh, sorry about that," he heard Jake say.

 

Looking back, Michael saw him standing back at full capacity, grinning as he let go of his shoulder. "I'm gonna go wake the girls up and make sure we can go. Do you think you'll be able to carry him out of here?"

 

"Oh, yeah, for sure," he muttered out, holding Jeremy a little closer, a little better.

 

"Alright. Maybe collect his things for him too?" Michael nodded, and watched him go before going over to Jeremy's little pile of things.

 

He tensed when he started, seeing the Thunder Cannon lying out in the open as he grabbed Jeremy's bag of holding after lying him down. After a moment, he managed to collect himself enough to pick it up, carefully putting it into Jeremy's bag before putting the rest in there. A surge of pride filled him as he kept going, hearing the girls waking up as he diligently worked.

 

Michael slung the bag over his shoulder once done, picking Jeremy back up, bridal-style this time before heading over to where the others were now awake and ready to leave. "Let's get going."

 

 

 

They began to head back down the mountain, everyone strangely silent. This was a victory, but it felt hollow somehow. Maybe it was because of what happened to Jeremy, or how badly affected Michael was. Whatever the reason, even Christine was quiet as they walked.

 

When they were about five minutes from where the horses and wagon was hidden when Jeremy began shifting. For a moment his eyes opened up, and Michael saw that they were totally back to normal before Jeremy slammed them shut and curled up, covering his face with his hands. The wings, which had still lingered until now, finally faded.

 

"Hey, lajy, what's wrong?" Michael asked him, tone soft and worrying as he gently squeezed the shoulder he was holding onto. He wasn't stuck in his dragon form anymore, so he was better, right? There was also a lingering feeling in the back of his head, telling him that he needed to know what Jeremy wanted, to know what to do for him.

 

Jeremy whimpered and half turned away from Michael, almost as if he was trying to get away from Michael, but that was stupid, wasn’t it?

 

“Maybe you should sit down with him?” Christine suggested softly. Jeremy relaxed a little at the sound of her voice but was still very tense and still whimpering and sobbing softly.

 

"Yeah, alright," Michael muttered out, sitting down with Jeremy then, slowly moving him to sit in his lap. He didn't force him to stay there though, hands off of him as he watched over Jeremy with worry.

 

"Hey, it's alright Jeremy," Brooke reassured him as she squatted down nearby, Christine following her lead as Jake awkwardly did the same. "We're all here, out of the cave. We're almost back at the wagon."

 

Jeremy’s sobs and whimpers started to take some shape, actually forming some words. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

 

“Hey, it’s okay Jeremy, it wasn’t your fault,” Christine soothed, gently resting her hand on his shoulder. Jeremy flinched away from the contact, but he didn’t try to escape Michael’s lap. Christine pulled back.

 

“Is though. S’my fucking fault. I knew better and I still almost-“ He devolved into incoherency again.

 

“Jeremy, that was your mom who influenced you, who forced you into that mindset. You were still able to break free and the ‘almost’ didn’t happen,” Brooke told him, voice soft and as soothing as she could be right now. Meanwhile, Michael had to keep pushing back that want to know what Jeremy wanted, what he could do for him. “You’re here now, not in the den.”

 

“It wasn’t her though,” Jeremy murmured. “It was all me. She just forced it forward. And almost is bad enough. He’s still got a bit of it and I don’t know how long it’ll last.”

 

“The curse is only on you because of her. You were able to fight it back though, Jere-bear,” Brooke told him. “And we’ll just take care of him until it passes.” Wait... Oh, they were talking about him. “Please don’t pin this on yourself. You did amazing, especially since your mom had the worse case I think ever recorded of Dragon’s Greed.”

 

Jeremy shivered and his sobs died down in intensity. Now it was just soft whimper. And while he didn’t uncover his face yet, he did curl closer to Michael again. “I’m still just so fucking sorry. To all of you. Especially Michael, and Jake.” He took a breath. Jake looked surprised at being mentioned at all. “I was acting almost like you were a piece of meat. And I’m so sorry for that. I hope you can forgive me, even if it wasn’t who I am normally...”

 

“Don’t worry, I know that you normally aren’t like that. Your friends told me enough about you. I know your work thanks to two of my friends who found your stuff,” Jake told Jeremy then, seemingly trying to reassure him. “I’m glad I got to help you. Jenna would have maimed me if I let anything happen to you because of what happened. If you want me to actually say it though, uh... I forgive you, Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy relaxed further upon hearing that. And then he paused, slowly uncovering his face but not opening his eyes yet. “You know Jenna? And Chloe too?” he asked quietly but with a hint of pride in his voice. He was getting back to being okay again.

 

“Yeah, I knew them growing up. Well, Jenna mostly, Chloe came in a little later. They’re great and are actually using some of your theories and stuff to make prosthetics. Chloe’s got one that’s fully functional, like a normal limb,” Jake explained, seeing that this was helping Jeremy. Good. If he couldn’t help Jeremy right now, Michael was glad that someone else could.

 

“We met them. Kinda recently actually, so that’s really awesome. I... I really liked talking to them both.” Jeremy moved to be sitting up. “Auglas? Would... you’re allowed to hold me if you want. You don’t need to wait for permission,” he tried. It sounded like he was thinking hard as he spoke, and Michael could see he still hadn’t opened his eyes yet.

 

Michael focused back down at him then, humming softly as he held Jeremy. “Alright, ‘cause I do wanna hold you,” he muttered out, nuzzling close to his shoulder with a sigh. “Are you feeling any better though?”

 

“Sorta.” Jeremy sighed. “M’scared to open my eyes now. Because they’re still stinging like they’ve got slits even if the dragon is buried deep down again,” he mumbled, leaning back gratefully into Michael’s touch.

 

“Well... how about you look to the side, and someone that’s not me can see if your eyes are slits or not?” he offered with a soft smile, pressing a gentle kiss to his temple.

 

Jeremy nodded slowly. “That sounds good...” He turned his head and slowly opened his eyes. Christine peeked around, grinning at him as she popped into his line of sight.

 

“Look at those lovely brown eyes! Totally normal and gorgeous!” she cheered, and Jeremy giggled slightly.

 

Brooke popped her head in as well and hummed in a pleased manner. “Yeah, they’re quite the lookers,” she said in a somewhat teasing manner.

 

Jeremy giggled a little more, and Michael could feel Jeremy’s cheek heat up in a blush (he wasn’t so hot that he felt burning anymore, thank god).

 

Jake scooted around and arched an eyebrow. “Yeah, I gotta say, you got some lovely eyes.” He grinned and Jeremy giggled properly, hiding his face against Michael’s shoulder.

 

“You guys are just teasing me now!” he whined, shifting so he could wrap his arms around Michael.

 

“Jeremy, you have some pretty peepers, no one’s teasing you,” Michael reassured him before pressing a kiss to his head again. “Just accept the truth.”

 

“You’re the pretty one in this relationship,” Jeremy grumbled. “Pretty and charming and friendly. I’m the tinkering hermit who can just about manage a conversation.” It was clear he was joking a little, which was much better than he was before. Go back to when they first started dating and Jeremy would be totally serious. And it was especially good he was joking now after dealing with such a bad experience. Michael felt himself relax a little where he didn’t realize he was tense.

 

“No, I’m the reckless one who ends up getting himself into lots of trouble with good ol’ Lady Law,” Michael joked. “You’re the genius who thinks up new stuff and is sweeter than sugar.”

 

Jeremy sniggered and nuzzled against Michael. “Xe dajy haf,” he mumbled.

 

“Y’know, if I wasn’t so sure you’re a good person, I’d be tempted to arrest you about now, Michael. Since you get into trouble a lot, by your own admission.” Jake flopped heavily onto the floor. “But you see, with the sorceress gone, I’m sorta between work and I was wondering what you guys are up to. And Michael mentored something about helping Iconis and Tracz, so I’m definitely interested.”

 

“We could always use the help. Against Squip, the more help, the better,” Christine almost sung out before looking at Michael. “I mean, if you’re alright with that, Michael. This is your quest after all, and you’re Iconis’ hero.”

 

“Yeah, way to go trying to act like the leader when it’s technically my position,” Michael joked before looking down at Jake. “But yeah, we’d love to have you, Jake. Just don’t go arresting Iconis’ chosen, I have a title protecting me.”

 

“Yeah, and you’ve got a Jeremy protecting you as well.” Jake chuckled. “He saved my life a few times today, and he’s the reason I managed to complete my quest, so I wanna help him out. Somehow I doubt he’d be very happy with me if I arrested his boyfriend.”

 

Jeremy looked over, obviously confused. “Wait, you’re joining us because of me?” he asked incredulously.

 

Jake shrugged. “Well yeah, among other things. You’re the main reason though. You fought so hard against what you couldn’t control and you saved me in spite of it.”

 

“See, look at how inspiring you are, Jeremy. In your work and how you fight,” Michael mused out then, gently squeezing his shoulder. “First Jenna and Chloe, and now Jake.”

 

“Shut up.” Jeremy stiffened. “Oh wait, no! Don’t shut up? Gah! Just- do whatever it is you want, ignore that mess, please!” Seeing him freak out was a little funny, even if Michael’s head felt a little buzzy from everything he was just told to do.

 

“You’re silly,” he muttered out before resting his head against Jeremy’s shoulder. “This good?”

 

Jeremy nodded, whining a little. Nightshade, who had been riding on Brooke’s shoulder for a while, hopped down and scurried over. As soon as he was able, he started nuzzling against Jeremy’s other cheek and dooking softly. Jeremy relaxed again.

 

“I’m just glad you’re better, lajy,” Michael muttered out before shutting his own eyes. “We all missed you.”

 

Brooke chuckled softly. “I know you’re both tired, so let’s get back to the wagon. We can camp out until tomorrow so you two can rest for a bit,” she suggested. Jeremy nodded but didn’t say anything, obviously starting to doze off. It made sense. According to Christine, Jeremy always got exhausted after having his dragon surface for even a few minutes. Still, Jeremy was back and he was safe. That was what mattered.

Chapter Text

It had been a few weeks since the encounter with Jeremy’s mother, and Jeremy himself was admittedly still a little rattled from it. True, everyone had forgiven him for it, and Michael’s affliction had worn off after a day, but Jeremy was still on edge. His dragon seemed a lot more present since then, and he had just been stressed.

 

Which is why he was riding in the wagon, walls up, working on his latest automaton. It was just a basic service one, for personal use, but it was in the shape of a large dog. It was just... nice to work on something certain which he knew wouldn’t stress him out. Michael, however, had noticed his reclusive actions and had set them on a path to somewhere which would apparently help Jeremy a lot. And he was sitting right next to him now, chattering away as Jeremy worked.

 

“-and there’s a lake near there that’s super nice to take a dip in, especially since it’s getting hotter out,” Michael rattled off, looking back at Darling before whistling a singsongy tune. “Isn’t that right, Darling?” The bird gurgled in response from her makeshift nest.

 

“You still won’t tell me why we’re headed to this mystery spot.” Jeremy sighed, fiddling with some of the more delicate components for a second. “I get you’re really excited to go there, but you won’t tell me why besides the fact that it’s awesome.”

 

“I did, I said it would help you out, Jeremy,” Michael pointed out before gently poking his cheek. “Trust me, you’re going to love it. Everyone will, but I know you will, especially since I know I love it so much. Plus, telling you about the surprise would ruin it!”

 

Jeremy put down his work and actually looked up at Michael. “Xe dajy haf.” He smiled, wrapping his arms around Michael and pressing a gentle kiss to his neck. “You’re so cute, auglas. It’s delightful,” Jeremy cooed, just nuzzling a little closer.

 

He could feel Michael warm up a little then. “You’re cuter, but alright,” Michael muttered out before Jeremy felt his boyfriend’s arms wrap around him in return. “Ni meleth fi.”

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but giggle. This feeling, of loving Michael and of being loved, it kept him grounded. It reminded him that he was okay, and that he wasn’t a dragon. It was a feeling of being home, in an abstract sort of way. It was something Jeremy had lacked over the past few years, ever since his dad had lost the forge; he’d found something akin to it with the troupe but nothing quite as solid as what he had with Michael and their little band of misfits.

 

As they held each other for a good while longer, talking and relaxing, Michael shifted when Darling let out a new string of noises Jeremy had never heard before. Michael almost bounced to his feet then, but seemed to calm himself down enough to not do that. “OK, I need you to close your eyes.”

 

Jeremy chuckled but decided to humor Michael because he seemed so excited. He made a show of closing his eyes and covering them with his hands, which made Michael giggle more.

 

After a minute or two more, the wagon stopped. “Alright, I will need you to follow me, and keep those eyes shut.” He felt Michael’s tail wrap around him then, pulling and urging him to stand in a gentle manner as he heard Michael get up.

 

“Okay, okay.” Jeremy giggled, shifting so his eyes were still covered but he had one hand on Michael’s tail. He let Michael guide him out the back of the wagon and down to the ground. Jeremy almost tripped a couple of times, but Michael kept him upright. “Is it much further, Auglas?” Jeremy asked around a laugh.

 

“Mm... Nope,” Michael said, slowing to a stop, seeming to be making sure that Jeremy did the same before coming to a complete stop. “Now, open your eyes.” The pure excitement Michael had in his voice was honestly pumping up Jeremy, almost making him bounce on the balls of his feet.

 

Jeremy opened his eyes and gasped. The house in front of them was small and cozy, with roses growing around the doors and windows. It was quaint and gentle and Jeremy just loved it, and the two people standing by and now rushing out the door struck him silent. He might not know them personally, but the resemblance was too stark to miss. Those were Michael’s mothers.

 

He felt Michael's tail let go of him before he hurried over, letting his moms capture him in a loving hug as he seemed to try to wrap them up in a hug as well. "Hey Ina, hey Mom, sorry for being gone for so long this time," Michael said around a laugh, a fond one. "A lot sorta happened since the last time I visited."

 

“It’s okay, Michael, you’re doing so much good in the world. We understand,” the tiefling lady cooed. The human nodded. Jeremy didn’t know Michael’s parents’ names, just small bits and pieces about them, but something about the sweet reunion and the motherly energy just radiating from the couple was so relaxing to him. A reminder of how things are supposed to be with mothers. He stayed back for now, not ready to interrupt Michael’s moment without permission.

 

Michael said some things in Infernal then, looking up at his moms before glancing over his shoulder, right at Jeremy. The two women looked over at him then, both holding their arms open in invitation to Jeremy, the human of the couple even waving him over with her free arm.

 

Jeremy hesitated, and made his way over awkwardly. He... he wasn’t used to such a warm reception. Yes his dad would normally hug him (very enthusiastically) whenever he visited home, but something about this felt so much more tender, more intimate. He didn’t want to mess this up, whatever this was. “H-hi. It’s nice to mee-!”

 

He was yanked into the hug by the human, and he felt another hand, presumably Michael's other mother, patting his back. "Just shush and enjoy the hug. No need for the formalities and to be so nervous. Anyone who won our Mikey's heart is already apart of the family," Michael's other mother said.

 

From where he was being held, Michael almost squawked and whined. “Ina!"

 

Jeremy chuckled, still feeling awkward but relaxing into the hug quickly. He needed this, in a way he didn’t realise. After a moment, Jeremy decided to try out some Infernal which Michael had been teaching him. “Tmilc haf.” Judging by the delighted reactions, he’s said it correctly. (He knew he had a bit of an accent when speaking Infernal, so he was always careful when using it.)

 

"You're welcome, Jeremy," Michael's human mom said then, patting his back this time. "I'm Michael's Ina, and my wife here is his Mom. You can call us that, or our names, Kathleen for me or Lerissa for my wife."

 

Jeremy blushed a dark red, the tips of his ears probably going maroon (Michael liked to comment on that) just because they were just... so nice. And accepting of him, despite only having met him less than five minutes ago. It was just a little overwhelming but in the best ways. “Thank you... Ina. Thanks mom.”

 

They already felt like they could be his moms, it was strange. Maybe because his own mom had been... as she was. (Don’t think about it. She was bad, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t still hurt.) Maybe Jeremy just needed this sort of motherly interaction. Either way, Jeremy practically melted into the hug at long last.

 

"Of course, hun," Michael's mom said then, scratching his back for a second before glancing back. "Are those your friends back there, Michael? By the wagon?"

 

"Yeah, it's a bit of a story," Michael said around a laugh, to which Jeremy watched him get playfully flicked in the forehead by his ina. "Ow!"

 

"What kind of a mess did you get yourself into now, Mikey?"

 

“A big one,” Jeremy supplied with a shit eating grin, earning himself a betrayed look from Michael. “But it is what brought us together to start with, and it brought us friends to travel with, so it isn’t too bad,” he amended.

 

“Well, lets get them all inside, and you get the animals out back. Darling, you’re welcome to join us inside,” Mom called to the raven, who gurgled happily and landed onto her shoulder.

 

“Would it be okay if my baby weasel joined us? He’s still young, and I’m kind of his papa, so he doesn’t like being separated from me.” Nightshade only left Jeremy’s side these days if Brooke or Michael was looking after him. He was currently watching Jeremy carefully from the driver's seat of the wagon, making sure Jeremy didn’t disappear again.

 

"Oh of course," Mom said, patting Jeremy's head before letting him go. She kept an arm wrapped around Michael though, teasingly poking along his sides with her tail. "You can tell them they can come in, I need to have a talk with our son about what mischief he's gotten himself into."

 

"Mooom," Michael whined out between his giggles from all of the poking, his own tail trying to stop hers as he was brought inside.

 

Jeremy smiled softly after them for half a second before he headed back over to the group. He quickly told them what was needed and everyone scrambled to get it done, eager to be out of the heat and inside for once. Once they were finished, everyone was ushered inside by Michael’s mom.

 

Jeremy found Michael and Mom sitting together on a low couch, and the moment he was spotted, Michael held out his arm for Jeremy to come join them. He did instantly, curling himself around Michael and peeking out from behind Michael to pay attention to what was being said. Everyone else just settled on the random chairs in the living room, and Ina grabbed the spot next to Mom, ending up in a similar position to Jeremy.

 

After everyone got comfortable, Michael reaching over and intertwining his fingers with Jeremy's, he started to explain how everything happened and how everyone joined. He touched on everything in a perfect amount of detail, not taking too long and not being too quick. By the time he was done, he was leaning back a little against Jeremy, resting his head onto the other's shoulder.

 

"Well damn, that's quite an honor for Iconis to choose you, but Squip isn't to be taken lightly," Ina said, going from soft to solemn as she reached over, taking Michael's free hand and squeezing it before looking around at everyone. "Really, so you all are doing admirable work, but please be careful."

 

“I’ve been doing my best to look out for him Ina,” Jeremy assured her, with a small round of agreements from everyone else. Everyone had seen just how protective of Michael he could be. “And everyone else seems to be too, considering he’s the baby of the group, bedside little Nightshade here.” Jeremy teased as he stroked the weasel, who dooked happily but quietly.

 

"I know I'm the youngest, but I'm not the baby of the group-"

 

"Yes you are," Brooke simply said with a teasing smirk from where she was sitting with Christine on the loveseat, who just nodded along with him. He tried to feign a look of betrayal.

 

Jeremy chuckled and kissed him on the cheek softly. “You won’t get much more of an answer from them, auglas. You know this,” he teased only for himself to suddenly grow nervous as Michael’s mom asked about Jeremy’s job. “And er, yeah. Automatons and stuff. Been making them for as long as I can remember.” He grinned awkwardly, any confidence melting away as Jeremy was quizzed about his work.

 

"What kind of stuff have you made?" Ina asked then, eyes perking up in a curious way, and it reminded him a bit like how Michael's eyes lit up when he got excited about something Jeremy had to say. "Do you think you could show us something, if it isn't too much trouble?"

 

“Erm, sure!” Jeremy reached into his bag and grabbed onto a project from ages ago. It was the raven toy that Jeremy had made but never actually given to Michael. “Actually, this is perfect since I made this for Michael.” He held out the toy. It began wandering around his palm, cawing and gurgling, before flapping and flying around, just a few inches from its starting height. Jeremy had to say, the combination between black silk and brass was pretty stunning. He was really proud of this piece.

 

“No wind up key?” Ina asked and Jeremy shook his head.

 

“Nope, just the small magical infusion I’ve created. It’ll run for as long as I like, as loudly as I like.” The bird landed back on his palm and settled down, as though going to roost to prove his point.

 

Darling, from where she was perched on the mantle of the fireplace, perked up and cocked her head to the side as she obviously stared at the toy. From in front of him, Michael laughed a little before reaching over and running his finger along the back of it. "Oh wow, this is amazing, lajy," he mused out, Jeremy seeing his eyes lighting up in the way he thought of before. "When did you make this? It looks a lot like the craftsmanship you had a few months ago, you've made some subtle improvements since then and these don't have those small touches."

 

Jeremy blushed proudly. “I made it after Darling got a beakful of smoke from the dragon toy.” He chuckled, ducking his head a little. “I forgot about it when I was finishing off on your Robe of Useful Items.”

 

"Yeah, I can get why," Michael said around another laugh, though heard it stop with the flutter of feathers and when there was a caw coming from behind their heads. "Hi Darling. Yes, this is a raven, just a toy one."

 

Jeremy turned and held up the toy raven for Darling to look at. “See? It’s a little friend for you.” The toy raven hopped up and walked towards Darling before gurgling happily and flying in circles around her. She looked startled but curious as she cawed softly back.

 

Michael seemed unable to help but laugh a bit at the sight. “She will love this little thing by the end of the day at the latest, I assure you.” He looked over at Jeremy then before giving him a kiss to his cheek. “Thank you.”

 

Jeremy blushed and leant into the kiss, grinning proudly. Nightshade squished himself against Jeremy’s other cheek, dooking happily. Jeremy giggled. “Well, I like spoiling you a little, auglas.”

 

From just next to them, Jeremy heard Michael’s moms both cooing at them. His blush darkened but he didn’t try to hide. He was proud of his work and of how much he adored Michael.

 

“I like spoiling you with love when I can, lajy,” Michael said in return before pressing another kiss to his cheek and pulling back. “Like I say, you’re sweet enough to give me cavities.” Again, more cooing from Michael’s moms, but Michael’s cheeks flared up this time before he turned and hid his face in Jeremy’s shoulder.

 

Jeremy giggled again and stroked Michael’s hair, running his fingers softly through the curly strands.

 

“So how long have you been together, Jeremy?” Mom asked gently, her smile soft and warm. Jeremy kept stroking Michael’s hair.

 

“About... four months? But I was sort of courting him a little for a while before that. We kinda met by accident when he landed on my wagon and demanded an escape from the job he was doing that day,” he explained around a laugh. “Gotta admit, he freaked me out at first but when I realized who he was, I asked if I could help him out. Well, kinda insisted actually. He helped me and my dad a few years ago, back when we lost our forge, he got us off the streets. So I wanted to at least offer some assistance.”

 

Mom hummed before Jeremy felt himself gently poked by her tail (hers was not completely soft like Michael’s, a little less blunt of an end). “Well, I think you’ve done more than offer some assistance, so good on you. It’s still weird to think that our little Mikey can be scary, he’s such an angel.” Michael whined a little more from where he was, shifting to hide his face in the crook of Jeremy’s neck then.

 

“He is,” Jeremy agreed, and he got a small whine of protest from where Michael was hiding. “But he has the act down. And now he has us backing him up too.” Jeremy gestured to the group, who were all relaxing in the soft chairs. “Except Jake because we’ve only known him a couple of weeks, we actually all helped Michael on his last job. Getting some plans back for two women who are making magic prosthetics.”

 

“Yeah! And they’re using Jeremy’s theories on magic to do it! It’s really cool,” Christine added and Jeremy blushed.

 

“Oh wow, that’s impressive,” Ina said with wide eyes as Mom nodded. “I’m not the best at understanding those, but I’d love to hear about those theories and how those are possible. Maybe in simpler terms.”

 

“Yeah, since that sounds revolutionary,” Ina agreed. “I’d love to know how someone could use your theories, as well as know what the hell the theories are.”

 

Jeremy grinned and ducked his head a little, hiding partly in Michael’s hair. “Y-Yeah, I can totally explain it for you. It’s about the nature of magic and everything, but... yeah. It’s how I manage to make the infusion for my creations.” Jeremy glanced over to where Darling was sort of helping the raven toy fly over to the perch by the couch. “It keeps them moving and gives a sort of limited intelligence.”

 

“Wait, you’re able to give them intelligence? Holy shit,” Mom said with wide eyes, looking over at Darling and the toy raven. “That’s... Holy shit.”

 

“We get it, you’re impressed,” Ina teased, gently pinching Mom’s side. Mom pouted, gently whapping away Ina’s hand with her tail.

 

“I- yeah. Not much, since sentience could be dangerous, but they can react to their environment or be taught specific tasks.” Jeremy felt Nightshade nuzzle against him to help keep him calm. “It’s just... magic and machines have always made sense to me. People... less so. But travelling with Michael and everyone else has really helped me with that. And it’s helped me get a grip on myself too, particularly the parts I’m... not so comfortable with.” It was easy to gush about the little family they had made, but it was also easy to find himself heading towards topics he didn’t want to even admit to, let alone discuss.

 

“That’s good. You always need to have a big journey in your life, whether it seems exciting or not, to help you learn more about yourself. For me, it was moving away from home to start up my own shop,” Ina said with a smile. “For my wife, it was coming to this plane and leaving her home as well. We met each other and helped one another out, and now we’re here and happy.”

 

“I was already on a bit of a journey when I met Michael. I’ve been travelling and selling my machines now for about... three years? Almost four? Something like that.” He half shrugged, careful not to dislodge either Michael or Nightshade. “But the journey I’ve been on with Michael so far has had a much bigger impact than those past few years, even if things haven’t always gone the best.” He meant that too. He’d grown a lot already and helped people too. It was different, but good different.

 

“Sometimes the best things are unexpected,” Mom offered with a smile before Ina squeezed around her shoulders, “Even if they aren’t the best in the moment.”

 

“Like Michael landing on my wagon and almost making me pee myself in fear,” Jeremy agreed with a laugh. Michael snorted a little from where he was curled up and everyone else also giggled a little. ‘Or my mom finally being gone,’ Jeremy added silently. He was genuinely glad that his mom was banished from this realm, since she had been hurting people, but he also felt really guilty about everything still. She was hurting people while looking for him after all.

 

Michael seemed to know what he was thinking from where he was curled up, as Jeremy felt a gentle squeeze from where Michael was hugging him. A gentle, quick kiss was also placed into the crook of his neck before Michael buried his face closer to the skin.

 

Jeremy found himself relaxing as Michael’s warm breath fanned over his skin. He didn’t even realize how tense he’d been up until then, so it was nice to just let it all go. He lightly massaged the base of Michael’s horns as a small thanks before he got back to just stroking his hair.

 

Everyone continued to talk all the while, and Jeremy could help but find himself at ease. This is what coming home felt like.

 

 

 

“Come on, I know you can go faster than this!” Michael insisted as he tugged Jeremy along. The others had already gone on ahead, were already at the lake near Michael’s house. In the distance, Jeremy could see Jake swimming around already while Brooke was seemingly lying nearby, Christine talking happily next to her.

 

“I can but maybe I don’t want to!” Jeremy was certainly not going at his top speed like Michael wanted him to. Mainly because Michael wanted to go swimming and Jeremy had a vague skill of that at best. Yes, he could go in water and not drown, but that was about it. And the fact that everyone else could swim and he couldn’t wasn’t really comforting to him. It was just embarrassing.

 

Sensing the discomfort he wasn’t sharing, Michael slowed himself to a stop. “OK, sharing is caring, and you aren’t sharing right now. What’s wrong?” he asked, looking at Jeremy with no judgement, only concern, care, and love.

 

Well shit. “I- er... I can’t exactly... swim,” Jeremy admitted quietly.

 

Michael looked him over for a second before giving a soft smile. “Well then, if you’re alright with it, I could teach you. If you want, of course. If not, we can just sit nearby or dip our feet in.”

 

Jeremy blushed and ducked his head a little as he thought about it. Everyone else seemed to have a really great time swimming, so maybe...?

 

“Could- could you teach me please?”

 

“If that’s what you want. I’d love to teach you,” Michael told him, gently squeezing his hand before walking the rest of the distance over to the lake with Jeremy.

 

Jeremy found himself relaxing. He knew Michael would take care of him and this could actually be fun. After all, he wasn’t afraid of the water or anything, he just never learnt how to swim properly. He was always working in the forge or studying when he was growing up, and he didn’t have any friends who would drag him out to learn either. This would be good for him. And besides, worst comes to worst, Jeremy could use Alter Self to give himself gills for a bit so he didn’t drown.

 

When they made it over to the lake, Brooke waved and gave them a smile before focusing back all of her attention on Christine. Michael waved back before sitting down at the edge of the lake, dipping his feet in. “So, do you know how to keep yourself afloat, or do we need to do that too?” His tone held no bitterness or judgement, only genuine questioning so he knew where to start.

 

“I can float,” Jeremy confirmed, sitting down next to Michael. His feet didn’t quite reach the water, it just sort of lapped at the soles of his feet.

 

“OK, well let’s start with doing that for a minute. I can keep my tail around you so you’re more secure, and then we can go through the motions of strokes, paddling, etcetera. Sound good?”

 

Jeremy nodded and slowly lowered himself into the water at the same time Michael did. He spread himself out like a star and giggled a little when he felt Michael’s tail wrap lightly around his waist. It made him feel much more secure and he found it easier to relax in the water.

 

For a while, Jeremy just floated with Michael next to him, enjoying the sunlight on his skin and thanking the gods that he didn’t have to worry about burning. Gnomes tended to have darker skin, and so Jeremy just turned gold, then brown, when he stayed in direct sunlight for long enough.

 

After however long of just floating there, he felt a gentle squeeze around his waist. "Alright, are you ready to practice stroking?" Jeremy hummed out in response. "Alright, so just move your arms in circular motions. I'll be keeping you stationary, but just try that out."

 

Jeremy did as he was told, moving his arms around and around. Michael giggled at his attempts a little and gently adjusted his movement so they were correct. Apparently what he’d been doing was a little closer to flailing.

 

"There you go, now you don't look like a dying animal," Michael joked, and he just laughed when Jeremy splashed him. "Hey, stop denying the truth and just keep practicing, you nerd."

 

“You love my nerdiness,” Jeremy pointed out as he kept up the movements. This wasn’t so hard. It was kinda like his hands were being scoops, or paddles. He could work with that.

 

"Unfortunately." Jeremy just rolled his eyes at the shit-eating grin Michael held as Jeremy kept practicing.

 

"Alright, so you've got that down, you can stop that," he was told a little bit later. "Now, I want you to try kicking your legs, but in the way I'll show you." Instead of demonstrating with his legs, he used his hands to show the sort of motion he wanted Jeremy to attempt.

 

Jeremy tried it, and after a couple of awkward attempts, managed to do as Michael showed. He found it was tiring on his legs but he worked through it. The motion was just a little awkward.

 

After he worked for a bit longer on that, Michael hummed in approval. "OK, now try them together and work a rhythm to make the motions sync up with each other."

 

That took a little more focus and a bit more work. Jeremy could manage it for a few strokes, but ended up messing it up after a minute. Still, he persisted and kept trying, eventually managing to sync up his movements. “Like this?” he asked, looking up at Michael hopefully.

 

Michael's eyes shone with pride then before he nodded. "Yup, just keep practicing that for a bit more. When you're ready, I'll let you swim around a little, and then we'll move further into the lake, away from the edge."

 

Jeremy felt a little nervous at that prospect, but he trusted Michael to look after him. So he kept moving, doing the motions and everything. And he might have sunk a little when Michael let him go, his body tensing from panic, but he got himself floating and managed to swim for a bit.

 

Even when he did sink, he saw Michael's tail nearby, ready to grab him if he really did need help. He didn't though, and Jeremy felt pride swelling in his chest. "You're doing great Jeremy," Michael cheered, and he heard the distant cheers from further into the lake and back on land.

 

This was kinda fun actually, and it felt good to be able to just move through the water so easily. Even if his technique was messy or his kicking made big splashes, he was still swimming and that was an awesome feeling. He actually stopped for a moment and turned to Michael, his feet firmly planted on the bottom of the lake (it was a shallow part). “I did it.”

 

"You did, and you did an amazing job," Michael told him, bending down a little so he could cup Jeremy's cheeks and squish them before giving him a quick kiss. "I'm so happy for you. Do you wanna stay over here or go further in or even get out?"

 

Jeremy thought for a second. “I’m actually feeling a little tired after that, so I think I’ll get out for now.” He sighed, reaching up to kiss Michael back. His arms and legs actually ached a little from moving in such a different way, but he wasn’t about to complain, he had managed to swim properly!

 

Michael happily kissed him before wrapping his arms around him in a hug. "Sounds good. You did so well. Do you wanna wrap your legs around me? I can go to the edge of the lake and carry us out."

 

Jeremy nodded and clung to Michael quite happily. He actually quite liked it when his tall boyfriend (he was tall compared to Jeremy, shut up) carried him. So he just wrapped himself around Michael and nuzzled close, sighing happily as Michael began to wade through the water.

 

He was adjusted as they walked, shifted so that his head could rest on Michael's shoulder as they went. Michael's tail wrapped around him to help keep him close as one arm held him under his butt (not in a sexual way, but an intimate way). "You wanna sit out here for a bit or go back in and relax?"

 

“I’m happy out here, Auglas, you go swim for a bit. I know you were excited for that.”

 

Glancing up, he saw Michael grinning as he got out of the lake, still holding Jeremy close. "Well, where do you want me to put you down? With the girls or?"

 

“Somewhere I can watch you from.” Jeremy grinned back, pressing a quick kiss to Michael’s cheek.

 

Michael nodded, setting him down nearby in a seemingly cozy spot. After he was put down, Michael kissed the top of his head before running back over to the lake, cheering before practically cannonballing in. Christine squealed when she got splashed, though Brooke looked playfully unamused.

 

Jeremy giggled and watched Michael as he began to power through the water. He was a really great swimmer, but that made sense considering he would go swimming with him mothers every summer and Moonbright was a coastal town. He shouted out encouragement and cheered when Michael and Jake started racing each other around the lake. Michael won, but just barely.

 

"Hah! Take that," Michael gloated, though only in good spirit, before he got dunked under the water by Jake. Before he could count himself victorious in that regard, though, Michael's tail popped up and dragged Jake under as well. Both of them popped up a second later, spitting out water but laughing at each other.

 

Jeremy cackled from where he sat, loving both the playful, happy atmosphere and how well Jake just seemed to fit with everyone. The family felt almost perfect, if Jeremy were honest.

 

 

 

As it was starting to get dark out, everyone started to head back in. They all had a perfect dinner with Michael's moms, which Michael helped to make while everyone else relaxed. After that though, everyone was given access to the guest rooms (there were two, so Jake took one and the girls took another) and Michael brought Jeremy to his own room. "I haven't stayed here in awhile, and I'm not here often enough to keep up with updating it, so sorry if it's plain or anything."

 

There wasn’t much in the room, just a bed and a desk and a couple of hand drawn pictures tacked to the walls. A small chest sat at the end of the plush bed, and it seemed to be full of old toys, and a chest of drawers with a mirror attached to the side was set in the corner. It was plain, but it was perfect. Jeremy almost teared up a little because this bedroom felt like home, and Jeremy hadn’t slept in a place like home in a very long time. He just pressed himself closer to Michael. “It’s awesome.”

 

Michael held him close then, gently squeezing him as Jeremy heard him let out a soft sigh. "Good to know." He was lead over to Michael's bed, and he sat down with his boyfriend before said boyfriend sighed. "I was thinking... I noticed how tense you were earlier, when I was holding you while swimming, and I wanted to treat you and help you relax here... Would you be alright with a massage? I mean, I'm not the best masseuse, and if you're uncomfortable, just tell me, bu-"

 

“I would love one. I trust you, idril.” Jeremy grinned and pressed a quick kiss to Michael’s cheek. He was sure he was blushing a little, but he really would be up for a massage. And the fact it would be Michael doing it and he had offered, well that just made it more special.

 

At the kiss, Michael hummed softly before nodding and getting up. "I'm gonna go ask Ina for some oils and stuff, so just... Yeah, get ready however you want and let me know where you want me to massage when I get back," he said before leaving his room, shutting the door behind himself, probably so Jeremy had privacy.

 

Jeremy just sat there and mused for a moment. He’d never had a massage before, so he didn’t really know how to ‘set up’ for one. He supposed if Michael was getting oils, he’d need access to Jeremy’s skin at least, so he decided to start there.

 

He pulled off his shirt and, after a moment’s hesitation, his pants since they’d likely go to sleep afterwards. Then he grabbed a towel, one of many fresh ones set out on the side, and spread it over the bed. He didn’t want to ruin these lovely soft sheets with dripping oil. After he was satisfied everything was set, Jeremy flopped down on to the towel with a happy sigh, lying face down on it. The bed was delightfully soft, but not overly so. It was just perfect, like everything else had been today.

 

After a few more minutes, he heard the door open again. He glanced over to see Michael cradling some different bottles close, shutting the door carefully behind himself with his tail before coming over. From where he could see, Michael's cheeks still got a little colored at seeing Jeremy like this, but he didn't freak like the first time this happened. "I have some different oils with different scents. Could you sit up and smell them and tell me which ones you like best if I open them for you to smell them?"

 

“Sure.” Jeremy scooted to sit upright and leant towards the first bottle offered. There was lavender, rose, sandalwood and a couple of other smells he didn’t recognise. Eventually, though, Jeremy settled on one that was warm and had a subtle spice to it. According to the label, it was scented with Amber. “I like that one most. What do you think?”

 

Michael sniffed it, humming softly. "I mean, I'm bias toward certain smells, but I don't not like this one. Not my favorite, but it's not bad," he said, putting the other bottles to the side before sitting down on the chair he brought over from his desk for now. "OK, now get comfortable."

 

Jeremy laid back down on to the towel and settled down, shifting until he was comfortable before falling limp. “Y’bed is really comfy, auglas,” Jeremy mumbled, jumping a little at the initial contact of Michael’s hands. The oil was still a tiny bit cold.

 

"Sorry," Michael quickly amended before his hands started to just slowly move, gently massaging in a more general way, probably to warm him up. "Thanks though. I always love sleeping in it when I get back and visit. Nothing beats it."

 

Jeremy just hummed in agreement as he stared to relax under Michael’s touch. It felt really nice, and despite what he said, Michael was certainly doing a wonderful job already.

 

He noticed how Michael’s fingers lingered over the small scars Jeremy was covered in from his apprentice days when he was learning how to work the forge. Metal was dangerous. So were new automatons for a young inventor. Michael had already seen these though, and he seemed to linger over the two, thick, vertical scars on either side of his spine on his upper back. They were new.

 

“S’from... the wings. They weren’t properly real but they weren’t not real either,” he explained softly.

 

"I... yeah, I get what you mean," he heard Michael say before Michael felt a kiss placed to the side of his face, letting it linger before pulling back and focusing on massaging. Jeremy felt Michael gently run his thumbs over the area, massaging it out before moving further out on his back. He dug deep, getting at any knots that were wound up in his back (wow, he had so many, and even if it hurt, it hurt so nicely).

 

Jeremy would occasionally groan or sigh as a particularly tight knot was released and he had to reassure Michael they were good sounds the first few times they happened. He was becoming more relaxed than he had ever been, or at least in his memory. He felt muscles he didn’t even know he had being released as Michael worked his thumbs into each and every tight spot and bringing it to a blissful state of relaxation. This just felt so... intimate. And gentle. Jeremy loved it.

 

After every knot was released, Michael would gently rub out the area so the pain from the knot and it being released just became a nice, relaxed area instead. He went and seemed to get so many knots out, going slowly throughout his back until he almost felt boneless. Once all the knots were out, Michael rubbed his whole back out then, humming softly as he did so before gently rubbing along his shoulders and his neck, being careful especially with his neck. "How're you feeling?" Michael asked then, after the long interlude of a comfortable silence.

 

“So good,” Jeremy mumbled, riding the bliss from being so relaxed. He felt beyond amazing, and maybe his words were a little slurred, but so what? He was happy and relaxed and Michael was there. Perfect.

 

"That's good. I'm going to start wrapping up and doing some gentle stuff to make sure you aren't really sore tomorrow, then I'm gonna wipe you off," Michael told Jeremy before he started doing just that.

 

“M’kay,” Jeremy agreed softly. “This was really nice, idril. I feel really good.” He tried to keep his Gnomish accent down. It would surface sometimes when he was drunk, or really tired, and apparently when he was really relaxed too. He knew Michael didn’t mind, but Jeremy did find it a little embarrassing. Or he would, if he wasn’t so relaxed and happy right now.

 

"I'm glad," he heard Michael say before Michael's hands pulled back. Jeremy felt a towel gently cleaning off the oil from his back and shoulders then. "I tried getting tips from Ina so I'm glad they worked and paid off."

 

“Yeah.” Jeremy sighed. “Really did.” He felt a little fuzzy in the head. Jeremy had never felt so good physically before and his brain didn’t really know how to function with it. He wasn’t about to complain, it matched his soft, floaty mood really well.

 

He heard Michael laugh a little before hearing him get up. "Do you think you're able to move so I can take the towel under you, or do I have to tug a bit 'cause you're too blissed out to move?"

 

“What is movement?” Jeremy giggled softly as he sort of half rolled off the towel, just enough for Michael to get it. Then he returned to his previous position and melted into bliss all over again.

 

"Oh god, you drama king," Michael teased. Glancing over, he saw Michael put the towels into a hamper and quickly got changed into some nightwear before standing by the bed, gently poking his side. "OK, I do need to get into my own bed though."

 

Jeremy giggled again and sort of scooted to the side, making enough room for Michael to lie down too. He held out his arm to try and grab Michael, making grabby hands and everything while telling how much he loved him in Gnomish. Maybe Michael didn’t understand the language, but he certainly got the message if his soft smile was anything to go by.

 

Once he got into his bed, Michael made Jeremy scoot a little before he felt the other's arms wrap around him. One rested under his head, like another pillow, and the other rested over his side, gently running along his exposed back. "You know, you better translate for me what you're saying in Common because I want to know every single word you're saying to me right now."

 

Jeremy sighed happily and melted into Michael’s hold, feeling perfectly content. “I love you so much. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and no matter what trouble we may find ourselves in, I’m glad to have met you. And you’re so beautiful and smart and just so amazing.” Jeremy translated his ramblings without any protest, struggling to find the words and finding them less precise than Gnomish, but working nonetheless. “Your skin is almost like copper, with the darker tones and the red mixed so subtly in. And your eyes are golden like sunlight and they’re so beautiful they’re almost hypnotic. And your lips are soft and just-“ Jeremy leant over and pressed a lingering kiss to Michael’s lips, which were slightly parted in shock. He probably wasn’t expecting Jeremy to translate without a fuss. “Just so perfect. You just make me so happy. You make me laugh and just feel and it’s genuinely amazing just how much I love you. I love you more than anything.” Jeremy really just wanted to kiss Michael more, but he also didn’t want to overwhelm him.

 

Michael just seemed to be taking this all in now, eyes wide and sparkling like earlier, except even more so as he stared down at Jeremy. "I... you..." Before Jeremy could try to say anything in response, he felt Michael tenderly reach down, lips brushing against his in question. Jeremy happily leaned forward, breaking the distance so he could kiss him more, just like he wanted.

 

Jeremy wrapped his arms around Michael’s neck, pulling himself as close as physically possible, and slowly started moving his lips. He hummed happily when Michael hesitantly did the same, the kiss naturally deepening as Michael clung tighter. It didn’t feel any less tender or loving, just more intimate and it was making Jeremy’s head spin.

 

They continued kissing like this, slow and deep and loving for a few minutes, Michael’s hand slowly tracing patterns up and down his back, and one of Jeremy’s hands moving up to Michael’s hair and tangling there, holding him close. When they finally pulled apart, they were panting, both short on breath, but Jeremy was more than happy to continue if Michael wanted it. He knew this might be a bit much for him, so Jeremy was happy to take it at his pace. He was just happy to get to have Michael in any way.

 

Michael seemed to be content enough then, resting his head down against the pillows, though the hand on his back kept tracing those patterns. Looking up at Jeremy, Michael smiled warmly and lovingly, even if he seemed to be a little dazed from the kissing. (It made sense, it was their first time ever kissing like that before.)

 

Jeremy laid back, feeling that same sort of happy dazedness present in his own expression. He gently stroked his fingers through Michael’s hair, loving how he relaxed further under the gentle ministrations. “Wow,” was all he could manage to say at first, then, “I love you. And that was amazing.”

 

"Xe daji haf," was all Michael muttered out then, gently squeezing around Jeremy's middle before he shut his eyes. Jeremy could feel just how relaxed he was under his touch, from everything, and it made his heart soar.

 

Jeremy pressed a quick kiss to the end of Michael’s nose before he snuggled close and closed his eyes too. This, being wrapped so closely to Michael and just feeling relaxed and warm and safe, and having every other voice in his head silent for once, this was what home felt like. This was perfect.

Chapter Text

The month since Michael and everyone had left his home had been good. They managed to keep up a good pace and help out a good few people they came across too, both as themselves and the Red Hood. The biggest issues to date had been the fact that Myrewood forest had been labelled as too dangerous to pass through. It was by order of the local Lord that no one enter, and he had guards stationed at the only path through to ensure it. Apparently it had become a breeding ground for all manner of dangerous monsters, and so (since they didn’t want to leave the wagon) the group was forced to traverse around it. Myrewood was the largest forest in the land, so it would take a good month and a half to get back on track, but it was going well so far.

 

That had been two weeks ago and now everyone, Michael included, needed a break. Luckily, according to the map, there was a town not too far away called Mystvale. And from what Michael could see as they rounded the hill, Mystvale was a very quaint and gentle town, perfect to rest up in. There just was... something odd about it. Like a cloud of strangeness hovering just over its wooden buildings. Michael decided that it didn’t feel dangerous enough to not go there, but he’d just keep his guard up, just in case.

 

As they got closer and eventually right by the town, Darling started letting out gurgles of discomfort. Michael gently pet her head then, reassuring her, though it only ensured his need to keep vigilant. It was strange that he needed to feel like that though, because the town seemed perfectly normal as they entered. People were going about their business, shops were open, and it seemed like the quaint and gentle town he perceived it to be.

 

“Hey, there’s a tavern over there, let’s hole up there and stay for the night,” Christine suggested, pointing to the place she meant. There was a stable and an area near the back for animals and traveling wagons and carts to be safely stored.

 

Jeremy nodded, and so did Jake and Brooke. After stowing the wagon and the animals (Darling and Nightshade stayed with Jeremy and Michael), everyone headed into the tavern.

 

“Okay, so I have an excess at the moment thanks to that lovely man we helped out back near Gunmar, so I’m buying the first round,” Jeremy insisted. “You guys pay for refills, but I’m buying the first set.”

 

In the end, Christine and Brooke bought themselves some lovely smelling cocktails, Jeremy had a weak cider, as usual, and Michael and Jake both just had some water (apparently Jake couldn’t drink because of his vows as a paladin). Food came and went, and it was just a very lovely affair. There was a lot of laughter and joking and by the time they settled into their two rooms (one for the girls, one for the boys) to sleep, everyone was exhausted but happy.

 

Michael still couldn’t help that feeling as he got himself ready for bed that night. Even with the exhaustion and how happy he felt after having such a good night with everyone, there was that bad feeling lurking in his mind and gut. As he finished getting ready for the night, Michael got into his and Jeremy’s bed, looking with worry at the two others in the room.

 

 

 

The next morning, Nightshade nuzzled at Michael, pulling him out of a heavy sleep. The little weasel (not so little anymore) was honking worriedly, and nudging Michael into a state of consciousness. When Michael finally sat up and got his glasses on, he found why Nightshade was so panicked. Jeremy was gone. His side of the bed was empty and neatly made, and his bag, glasses, and clothes were missing. The only thing that remained was his quarterstaff, still propped up in the chair next to his bed.

 

Instantly, he tensed. Looking around, he saw Jake still in bed, asleep, so he felt a little better. “Jake, wake up,” Michael hissed as he quickly got out of bed, letting the little weasel rest on his shoulders. He started to get changed as panic began coursing through him.

 

Glancing back and seeing Jake still asleep, he picked up his gloves and chucked them right at Jake, along with a pillow or two. “Wake the fuck up, Jacob, Jeremy’s gone!”

 

“Whuzap?” Jake slurred as he sat up, looking around. “Wait, where’s Jeremy?” he asked, rubbing at his eyes but instantly switching into paladin mode. “Are the girls okay?”

 

“I don’t know, I’ll check,” Michael said as he finished getting changed, Darling perching onto his shoulder then. “You get ready though and get our shit. I knew I had a bad feeling about this place.”

 

Grabbing Jeremy’s quarterstaff as he left, he went to the girl’s room and knocked. “Brooke, Christine, wake up. Jeremy’s gone missing.”

 

There was no response, not even the groan of Brooke waking up. Michael knocked again, and when he got no response, he hesitantly opened the door. The girls were gone as well, and so were all of their bags. Just like with Jeremy, the only sign they had been there were their weapons left to the side of their beds. Michael felt his heart start pounding double time; where were they?

 

He grabbed Christine’s sword and Brooke’s wooden scimitar and rushed back to the room, only to find Jake looking out the window. His dark skin was ashen as he peered through the curtains. “I found them. Look.”

 

Michael looked out the window and saw Jeremy, Brooke, and Christine all dressed differently. They were in similar clothes to the townsfolk, not their own traveling clothes, and they seemed to be hard at work. Christine and Brooke were working in the park, weeding, and planting flowers, and Jeremy seemed to be taking scrap metal over towards the blacksmith. And most unsettling of all, Michael could have sworn they all had cyan irises.

 

“They’ve been enchanted by something evil...” Jake murmured, still looking pale.

 

“Those cyan eyes... The townspeople in the town with the wanderers had eyes like that,” Michael recalled, feeling his stomach drop as he realized why he had that bad feeling. “The town’s infected by Squip. We need to get them out of here, but we need to play along for now to get a better read on the situation.”

 

Jake nodded, then hesitantly held out his arm. Nightshade looked at him curiously, then scrambled up on to his shoulder, nuzzling his cheek before settling down. “Now we both have someone who can ground us in case whatever Squip used hits us.” Jake grinned, giving Nightshade a scratch under his chin.

 

A few minutes later, the two boys headed out into the park opposite the tavern, where Brooke and Christine were still working and chatting happily. Christine looked up as they approached and grinned.

 

“Hi! Are you new to town?” she asked cheerfully. “I’m Christine, and this is my partner, Brooke. If you get a little lost, you can ask one of us.”

 

Brooke smacked Christine’s arm lightly. “Don’t go talking to strangers, love,” she scolded lightly. “You don’t know what sort they might be.”

 

“Oh, yes, we’re new to town,” Michael said with a warm smile as he took in the situation. “I promise we aren’t the bad sort.” He even held up his hands in mock surrender as he gave a friendly smile to both. Even if he knew this was some Squip magic, it hurt to know they didn’t recognize them.

 

Christine poked Brooke. “I like him, so be nice sweetheart,” she teased before looking up at Michael again. “Well we’ll be here all day, since we’re the park wardens and such. Just come find us if you need anything.” She nodded.

 

“Umm, actually, there’s something you might be able to help us with.” Jake offered a sort of hesitant smile. “We’re looking for the blacksmith?” Christine quickly rambled off some directions, and after giving them a quick wave, Jake started dragging Michael away. “C’mon. We need to find Jeremy since he’s the only one who has any idea of how the Squip’s magic works. We have to find a way to wake him up or something,” he whispered.

 

Michael nodded in agreement then, remembering how Jeremy had mentioned he was starting to understand how Squip’s magic worked. “Maybe taking him out of the town would help?” he offered as they walked through town, going to where the blacksmith was supposed to be. “We could even say we have something out of town that we need inspected, like our wagon or something to get him out of bounds.”

 

Jake nodded. They quickly found themselves outside the blacksmiths, and the small cart Jeremy had been pushing was parked outside. Before Michael had a chance to call out, Jeremy wandered out, probably to collect some more of the scrap left in the cart. He froze for a moment when he saw Michael, eyes flickering with something, before he grinned and sauntered over. He leant on the cart.

 

“And what can I do for you fine gentlemen today?” he asked, shooting Jake a grin before very obviously looking Michael over, his smile turning somewhat flirty. “I’m Jeremy, and I run this forge, but I can do a whole heap more than just that. So what’ll it be..?” He paused, clearly waiting for a name.

 

“Michael, I’m Michael,” he introduced with a warm smile and an aching heart. “My friend Jake and I need some help. We were going by and our wagon sort of broke down, and we can’t go anywhere. We walked here, it was the closest place. Do you think you could come and help us out with seeing what the problem is? Neither of us are really inclined to even have a clue what our issue is,” Michael explained, hoping to whoever was listening that this would work.

 

Jeremy listened intently, before grinning and nodding. “Sure, I can come take a look.“ He pushed off the cart and started to walk around it. “But I’m not sure how soon I can get it fixed by, so you might be s-“ Jeremy’s sentence cut off abruptly and he clutched his head in pain, groaning a little. It seemed to pass as quickly as it started.

 

“What just... what the fuck am I wearing?” he muttered, tugging at the apron a little before looking up and around. His eyes had lost their cyan coloring and instead were back to their usual brown. “Hey Jake? Michael? What’s going on? Where are we and why am I dressed like this?”

 

Relief spread through Michael then as he bent down a little to whisper into his ear after glancing around to see if there were any nearby villagers. “This town is influenced by Squip. You were caught up in it, and Christine and Brooke are caught in it. Just follow us out of town, we need to figure out some way to reserve this, but we can’t do it in town.”

 

“I- what?” Jeremy sounded really dazed. “I mean... that explains the clothes and everything, but...” He shook his head, rubbing at his temple. “Just lead the way, I have no clue where we are or anything. And my head is pounding like I’ve got a killer hangover...” He flailed a little blindly for Michael’s hand, squeezing it gently when he grabbed it. “Wait, where’s my bag?” Jeremy’s head shot up and he looked around, before quickly tugging Michael over to the door of the forge and grabbing the bag from behind it. A piece of paper fell out and Michael picked it up. In Jeremy’s messy handwriting it just said ‘Go to the Wizard’s house.

 

Michael frowned as he looked it over, though thought it over and decided he should ask when Jeremy wasn’t so confused and rattled. He stuck it into his pocket then and tugged Jeremy along, out of the forge. “I’ll explain as we go,” he promised, quickly placing a kiss to the back of Jeremy’s hand.

 

Jeremy nodded, placidly following after Michael. Jake shot them a small, reassuring smile before leading the way out of town. Michael noted that they stuck the backstreets, avoiding as many of the townspeople as possible. The occasional one they did pass greeted Jeremy cheerfully. Jeremy did his best to reciprocate, and it got stronger and stronger the longer they walked for.

 

By the time the time the edge of town was in view, Jeremy seemed totally back to normal. Still, when they reached the sign marking the edge of town, Jeremy stopped abruptly, almost tugging Michael back by accident. “I... I don’t think I can go past here.” He sounded sort of scared.

 

Michael looked back at Jake, who frowned and looked between the sign and Jeremy. “Jeremy, it’s just the edge of town. You can go past here,” Michael insisted, voice soft and reassuring as he walked past the sign, still holding his hand as he gently tugged him along. “Come on, Jeremy, it’ll be OK.” He gave as reassuring of a smile as he could, gently squeezing his boyfriend’s hand.

 

“No Michael, I can’t! I ca-“ His voice cut off as Michael gently guided him past the town limit and he grabbed his head again. “What the hell?!” he screeched as he fell to his knees, letting go of Michael’s hand. For a minute, Michael could only watch helplessly as Jeremy screamed and writhed in pain, before two things seemed to happen in quick succession.

 

Firstly, Jeremy’s scream turned into a growl, and the spectral wings appeared behind him. They spread wide as a warning, and Jake yanked Michael backwards as soon as they were visible.

 

Then they faded and Jeremy’s growl turned to a whimper before dying off entirely. He was left panting slightly as he remained knelt where he was. Michael and Jake hesitantly approached, and Nightshade started honking again.

 

Michael was the one who took the few steps forward to bridge the gap. Kneeling down beside Jeremy, he reached a tentative hand over, resting it gently onto his shoulder. “Jeremy?” he asked, voice soft, tender, and careful.

 

Jeremy’s hands dropped from his head, falling limply by his sides as he turned his gaze upwards. His face was totally slack and his eyes were totally cyan and blank. He slowly started to climb to his feet, his motions nigh on mechanical.

 

Michael tensed as he stood up with Jeremy, still keeping a careful hand on him to make sure he didn’t turn back into town. “Jeremy? Hello?”

 

Jeremy didn’t turn back to town, instead he took a mechanical step forwards. Then he stepped around Michael, eyes still blank and almost unseeing. He took another step down the path, away from town but towards the forest.

 

Michael looked back over to Jake then, who just helplessly shrugged. “Well, he’s not going back into town, so let’s follow him?”

 

“I mean, I guess,” Michael muttered out, feeling panic still building in his chest as he reached down, making sure to grab Jeremy’s hand as he went so he wouldn’t lose him. Darling let out a soft crow, nuzzling against Michael’s head, and he let out a soft sigh. “Thanks, Darling,” he muttered out, waving for Jake to follow with his other hand as he walked after Jeremy.

 

Jeremy continued his slow march for about twenty minutes until the forest was in view once again. They’d been skirting it, so it made sense it was close, but Jeremy seemed to be headed straight for it. Michael also noted a rather large cottage just to the east of them, but he ignored it for now. Jeremy was about to head into the forest, and it was too dangerous normally, let alone when he was barely conscious!

 

Michael tugged him back then, wrapping his free arm around Jeremy’s middle as he did so. He felt someone behind him do the same, and he relaxed when he recognized it as Jake. “You are not getting yourself hurt or killed by monsters, hell no,” Michael almost grumbled out as he worked with Jake to pick him up, slugging him over his shoulder when he seemingly kept insisting to go into the forest.

 

“You need to let me go,” Jeremy insisted, his voice monotone. It was the first time he’d spoken since leaving town. “I need to go. I need to be made whole.”

 

“I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, but no,” Michael insisted back as he kept holding onto him. “We’re getting you and everyone else fixed.”

 

“I’ve been chosen. I need to go to be made whole. Better. Perfect.” Jeremy started struggling weakly, but he couldn’t escape Michael’s grip.

 

“That has to be Squip influence talking,” Jake told Michael, which helped with the panic of not knowing what the fuck was happening, though not with his overall freakout. “I’m not sure exactly how, but it’s doing something with him.”

 

Michael let out a heavy sigh as he kept holding onto Jeremy, looking back at him. Last time, Michael had been the one under Squip’s influence, so he honestly had no idea what to do to help Jeremy. He just held him as best as he could and spoke again. “Jeremy, you aren’t any chosen. Being made whole or better or perfect is a crock of shit, you’re already perfect and whole. Please, you can shake this, you did before!”

 

“I need to go,” Jeremy said again, apparently not hearing Michael. “I need to go and be m-“ He cut himself off again, falling limp against Michael’s shoulder for a moment before he groaned a little.

 

“Okay, so I love you dearly, Michael, but why the hell have I been thrown over your shoulder like a sack of flour?” Jeremy grumbled out a few seconds later.

 

“Oh thank fuck,” Michael muttered out then, quickly putting him down and holding him close. “You’re back, thank god, I didn’t know what to do.”

 

Before Jeremy could ask, Jake stepped in and explained what just happened in a brief explanation. “We’re trying to figure out what’s happening, but it’s something with Squip. We don’t know exactly how it’s doing what it’s doing, but you know the most about it’s magic.”

 

“You also left a note, I think, before you went off the first time,” Michael muttered out, finally letting Jeremy go to pull out the note and showing it to Jeremy.

 

“I didn’t know I’d left?” Jeremy squeezed Michael’s hand as he read over the note. “Well I don’t remember writing this, but I also don’t remember changing into this caricature of a blacksmith’s outfit either, so I’m guessing whatever Squip’s doing is messing with my mind...” he mused as he pulled his focus out from under his apron. He studied it for a minute, fiddling with the dial on the gyroscope and occasionally squeezing Michael’s hand reassuringly.

 

“Okay, so apparently before I got fully affected, I managed to do something. This has been essentially recording the changes in my mental patterns, as in using its link to me to make notes of the changes,” he explained, looking up. “Apparently, I wanted to be made ‘whole.’ And I think that means becoming the next most concentrated vessel for the Squip, if my understanding is correct. I’ll explain more as we go to that house over there.” Jeremy pointed to the cottage. “It’s got a high concentration of magical objects, so I’m guessing it’s the wizards house.”

 

Michael nodded, and he saw Jake do the same as he squeezed Jeremy’s hand back. “Well, we aren’t letting the Squip do that. I’m gonna guess that wizard must be able to help somehow,” he thought out loud as he walked along with them to the cottage.

 

“I’m not sure what I was thinking, I guess I just forgot what it was I knew?” Jeremy shrugged. “I do know it had something to do with Jake, somehow, but that’s it.” He held out his other hand for Jake to take, which the paladin did after a moment of surprise.

 

“Anyways, in terms of what Squip wants with me... we have a similar magic style, converting magical energy from one type to another. So I think it wants to convert me into it. Then stick as much of itself into me as possible. Since it’s so powerful, I likely wouldn’t be able to contain it all, but I would essentially become the Squip myself.” Jeremy shivered at the thought.

 

“But surely it doesn’t work like that? You said you only can convert magic objects’ energy,” Jake asked. Jeremy nodded.

 

“Yeah, but it’s similar to what Chloe and Jenna do to connect the prosthetics, they mess with the natural energy of a living being and change the object to match. This is just changing one living being to match another,” he offered, scrunching up his nose a little. “I’ve never tried it, but I guess it could be possible from what I’ve seen recently.”

 

“Yeah, I don’t want that to happen though sooo we’re not going to try that,” Michael said around a small, somewhat nervous laugh before gently squeezing Jeremy’s hand. “This whole weird mindset thing is enough for me, I don’t want to see you become it.”

 

“Okay, so… I know got I affected in some way, but I don’t know how... what was I acting like? Because I honestly can’t remember anything of today, just going to bed last night and getting an odd feeling in the middle of the night,” Jeremy asked quietly. The cottage was a lot closer now, and was even larger than Michael had first thought. And it gave off a weird vibe, sort of chaotic, but not malevolent.

 

“You were acting like you lived in the town, like you were the smith there, and then you came to but you don’t remember that. Then you went all weird and tried to go to Squip or something,” Michael explained. “I think you might keep going in and out of it since you did that before, but I really hope not.”

 

“Squip will probably try to keep re-establishing control, so this’ll be a huge song and dance until we fix this. Hopefully this wizard’ll help,” Jake said with a shrug as they made it to the cottage. He took a step forward, towards the door, and knocked.

 

The door swung open on the first knock and a very eccentric looking elf poked his head out. “Ah! Mr. Heere, Mr. Mell, and Mr. Dillinger, I’ve been wondering when you’d arrive!” He grinned, flinging the door open. “Please, come in and make yourself at home!” he called over his shoulder, his bright pink and green robes swaying merrily behind him. Jeremy sort of curled himself closer to Michael, looking a little green.

 

Michael just held Jeremy closer then. If this wizard was as loud magically as he was vocally and to the eyes, this had to be a bit much to Jeremy in his fragile state. “So, uh,” Michael started off as he walked in with the others, seeing the loud colors and artifacts of different magical calibers decorating the cottage, “You said you were wondering when we’d get here. Why have you been expecting us, and how’d you know we’d be coming?”

 

“Oh I saw it. I did a little divination and all that when Squip decided that the nearby town was up for grabs for it’s little happy hive mind,” the wizard explained, pottering his desk before grabbing a tray filled with a tea set for four seemingly out of nowhere. “I knew I wasn’t the right person to stop it, so I found out who was. Iconis’ chosen hero, his boyfriend, and one of the most loyal paladins ever certainly seemed to fit the bill.” He placed the tea set onto the table and beckoned them over. “Now come. Drink. It should help Jeremy a little, at least he’ll be able to remember this when he next wakes up.”

 

After glancing and shrugging at each other for a second, they all decided to sit down. Everyone sat in a different kind of chair, Michael in a too-soft seat that he practically sunk into, Jeremy on a bright stool, and Jake in a wobbly wooden chair, though they all took their tea cups and saucers and drank. “So, how exactly are we supposed to stop Squip? You have to have some idea how, right?” Jake asked since Michael was struggling to even really sit up properly in his chair.

 

“Naturally.” The wizard nodded, hovering on what appeared to simply be a raised bit of carpet. “But I’m afraid I cannot tell you. If I do, you won’t be able to do it. It has to happen naturally. Oh, and my name is Reyes by the way. Carric Reyes.” He sort of bowed, then sipped his tea again. “Drink up, Jeremy, you only have about ten more minutes of clarity. This should also speed up the- er- less manageable side of the infection.” Jeremy instantly downed the rest of his tea. “All I can tell you is that what you’ll need can be found in the basement. I’ve got a collection of magical objects down there, and you’re welcome to take any and all of them if you like. Only one will actually be useful to you right now, and the rest are charmed with fun pranks. So just... be warned.”

 

Michael frowned as he tried and finally managed to sit up. “I’m guessing we’ll know when we aren’t pranked or whatever. Why can’t you tell us though? That seems a bit wasteful, and like you just want to screw with us and want to get some entertainment from watching us struggle,” he muttered out, ignoring how Jake was hissing at him to basically shut up. “What? You know that’s what basically gonna happen.”

 

“I can’t tell you or else it will alter how this works out,” Reyes explained. “That’s the problem with divination, it’s a delicate subject. For example, I can’t tell you about how you’ll defeat the Squip, or else it won’t happen. You know it’s possible, which is fine, but if I gave you the method, each action would lose its value and be rendered useless. Each piece has to flow naturally, and links to the present must be established for the future to use. Everything you do and get brings you closer to that future, so if I tell you how, you might end up making the wrong choices.” It didn’t make sense to Michael, but Jeremy was nodding along. Apparently he understood.

 

“So it’s like, something we find and take with us today might be useful later, but if we know exactly the one thing we’re looking for our current mission, we might leave that other object behind by accident?” he tried and Reyes nodded.

 

“Exactly.” That made more sense.

 

“OK, that makes sense,” Michael muttered out. “So... Is this still going to enjoyable and amusing for you to watch us bumble around, get pranked and messed with?”

 

“I won’t be here, I’ll be headed off to make myself an interdimensional Hot Pocket.” Reyes shrugged, putting down his tea cup. “But I suppose it would be rather amusing to watch, yes. And don’t worry, besides Jeremy phasing out for a few minutes here or there, no one will really have to worry at all. And you can use these to prank your friends later, or turn the objects into power crystals if you like. As I said, take whatever you like. Take it all if you so desire.”

 

Reyes pulled out a pocket watch and squinted at it, then pointed to Jeremy. The stool morphed to wrap around his arms and legs. “This will undo when he wakes up next. Just sit him in it if he falls under again.”

 

“HEY! I-“ Jeremy protested before he blinked slowly and his face fell slack again and his eyes turned cyan.

 

“Sorry about that, Mr. Heere.” Reyes shook his head.

 

“Damn. Well, good to know,” Jake muttered out as he looked over at Jeremy.

 

Michael sighed as he put his tea cup down as well, standing up with a little difficulty before brushing his hands off on his pants. “So, we’re looking for whatever will help us in your basement? Could you, uh, show me before you make yourself a... hot pocket?”

 

“The most I can do is show you the door. You’ll have to walk through it and find out for yourselves. And... Jeremy seems to be good at identifying enchantments. Just wait until he wakes up, then you can ask him what each does.” Reyes stood and waved his hand, and Jeremy and his stool floated into the air. When Jake stood as well, Reyes walked over to a door Michael could have sworn wasn’t in that room a moment ago. And where did the table go all of a sudden? “Down here is where you’ll find it. Good luck boys. Oh, and don’t worry about Jeremy. He’ll follow you down.”

 

“I- uh... Thanks for all of your help, Mr. Reyes?” Jake shot Michael a questioning look at the addition of ‘Mr.’ Michael just shrugged in response, not sure how to really react to the eccentric man. “He called us by our last names like that, I dunno!”

 

“It’s been a pleasure, gentlemen.” Reyes bowed and vanished in a swirl of bright blue smoke.

 

“Well, er, shall we go down?” Jake asked. “Also, did the table vanish or did I imagine that?”

 

"It did vanish, you're not going crazy," Michael said around a sigh before taking out his fire starter, using it to light the way (he didn't know what they'd find, some light might help shed something on the situation). "And yeah, let's get going, especially if Jeremy's going to apparently hover after us? I dunno, this is a bit out there."

 

“Reyes certainly seems like quite the character.” Jake chuckled, opening the door and starting down the stairs. They seemed to be lit by some torches, but the light didn’t go all the way down. Michael followed after him, and Jeremy, still staring blankly ahead, hovered behind him. Jeremy seemed to be murmuring something, but it wasn’t clear enough for Michael to make out.

 

When they reached the bottom of the stairway, they stepped into a dark room. Michael flicked on the first starter and lit a small cauldron of oil next to him. The flame raced around the oil track around the room, illuminating the tables filled with objects. From necklaces to staffs to a couple of crowns, there seemed to be innumerable magical objects scattered across the ten wooden tables. And Michael spotted another bag of holding hooked up on the side of the wall, so Reyes seemed to be serious about them taking as much as they wanted.

 

"I get why Reyes wanted us to choose whatever and not mess with the way of the future and whatever, but this is insane," Michael muttered out as he shut his starter and tucked it away. "I'm seriously worried about whatever random spells he was talking about. I know they're probably not going to be harmful, but still." As he said that, he walked over to the bag of holding, looking it over very carefully before picking it up with his tail.

 

Nothing happened, but Michael did note that this bag didn’t seem to be as nicely crafted as Jeremy’s one (just there seemed to be less detail done with the stitching). He felt a small rush of pride for his boyfriend.

 

“Well, I guess we’d better get started.” Jake shrugged and headed over to the nearest table. He looked over all the objects for a moment, then grabbed a necklace with a feather made from what looked to be gold.

 

Jake giggled a little as he looked it over. Then the giggle turned into a chuckle. And then it turned into fully blown laughter, which left Jake hysterics and doubled over as he tried to get ahold of himself. It didn’t seem to be working.

 

Michael just blinked, taken a bit back before he went over and looked over the feather necklace before putting two and two together. "Tasha's Hideous Laughter," he muttered out before helping Jake sit down enough so he wouldn't fall down and possibly hurt himself. "You'll be fine in a minute," Michael reassured Jake before looking over at the other objects.

 

He saw a queen's crown that caught his eye. If it wouldn't help them, it could at least be sold for a high price with the gems in it. Reaching over, Michael picked it up and inspected it. Before he knew it, he felt himself starting to tap his foot, though he couldn't stop. "Wh-"

 

Michael started to move in place then, unable to stop himself from dancing as his grip on the crown stayed tight, unwavering. He was shuffling, capering, and just moving around like a dancing machine (a really good kind, he noted, but he wished he could stop) in the same spot. "Oh my god, damnit Reyes!"

 

“-don’t need to be tied- Wait what?” Out of nowhere, Jeremy burst out yelling before trailing off in confusion. The stool released his limbs. “Okay...?” He stood and looked around. “Jake? Are you alright?” Jake just giggled at Jeremy, nodding but unable to answer. “Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, got it.” He nodded. Jeremy turned to look at Michael.

 

“And you’ve been hit by Otto’s Irresistible Dance.” He giggled, watching as Michael was forced to dance himself into embarrassment. “I never knew you were such a dancer, love,” he cooed before he started looking through the objects. “I guess we’re looking for a useful one, right? I’ll see which are the most powerful.”

 

Grumbling under his breath as he felt himself unable to stop dancing, Michael called out to Jeremy, "I really hope you get something worse than either of us for teasing me, you little shit." He didn't really mean it, but he was flustered and he could only react with his words to get that flustered energy out.

 

Jeremy chuckled, and stuck his tongue out at Michael before picking up a belt. Nothing happened. “Huh, this one is pretty powerful, though...” He hesitated for a moment, then Jeremy wrapped the belt around his waist and did up the buckle. In an instant, his skin became darker and his hair and fingers started turning green. Within seconds, Jeremy had completely turned into a miniature oak tree, complete with acorns and a pot. All that was there to indicate that he was a person were his glasses and the belt, which had both grown to fit this new form.

 

"Well hello there, acorn," Michael teased, though glanced over at Jake when he saw him seemingly calming down from his fits of laughter induced by the necklace. "What, was that not funny? I thought it was pretty good."

 

"No, no, it was, but oh my god, I do not want to laugh for a while after this," Jake almost wheezed out as he coughed and groaned, rubbing his face out after. "My gut and cheeks hurt like hell, ugh."

 

Jeremy didn’t react, which made sense since he was a tree. Jake shakily stood and hobbled over to Jeremy’s stool, leaning back on it. “So how do we get him back?” He groaned, eyeing the next table of objects carefully. “Because I don’t want to waste time on the not powerful ones. Let’s just get this over with.”

 

"I don't know, he only turned once he put the belt on. Try taking it off? I would, but I'm sort of busy dancing my heart out here," Michael joked, though groaned as he felt himself doing a pretty ridiculous dance of flossing his arms back and forth in a weird way. "Ugh."

 

Jake snorted and stood up after a second, heading over to Jeremy and unbuckling the belt. After a moment of nothing happening, Jeremy shrunk back to normal, with the exception of having a few leaves in his hair and still holding an acorn, which he tossed at Michael without much force.

 

“Ha ha ha. The acorn joke was so funny,” he deadpanned, heading over to a table. He pointed out a jade bracelet. “This one’s pretty powerful.”

 

"I'll take the brunt of that one," Jake said, going over and taking the bracelet. He looked it over before putting it on, and as soon as he did, Michael felt himself free of the spirit of dance, which he was quite happy about.

 

Jake, however, quickly transformed before their eyes. Michael blinked and practically missed the transformation, only seeing Jake and the bracelet glow before he was replaced with the glowing form of a leopard. Instead of responding and staring like Jeremy was, he picked up the acorn quietly, snuck behind Jeremy, and quickly dropped it down the back of his shirt. "The joke was funny, and nice new look, Jake. It really suits you."

 

Jeremy squealed and struggle to get the acorn out his shirt, the apron making it so it wouldn’t just fall out. “That’s cold, asshole!”

 

Jake, on the other hand, looked down at himself then looked to his shoulder where Nightshade was still riding. The weasel still looked quite content, even when Jake let out a sort of rumbley growl, which Michael supposed was him trying to say thanks or something.

 

“If it doesn’t wear off soon, we’ll start looking for a solution. But these are prank items, so I don’t think it’ll last.” Jeremy sighed before he pointed out a ring. “That one’s really powerful too.”

 

Michael let out a sigh as he went over, reaching for and grabbing the ring. He inspected it, seeing it having a large garnet gem in the center of the ring before placing it on. "Well, it's really pretty," Michael admitted as he looked it over, not really feeling any different after putting it on. "Are you sure it's really powerful? I don't feel different or anything..."

 

“Yeah it’s really powerful. Are there any sensations at all?” Jeremy asked.

 

Michael’s mouth was moving before he had the chance to stop it. “No, none.” Then he paused and groaned. He had an idea of what it might be.

 

“Oh, I know that look. What are you thinking?”

 

“It’s a truth ring. And I can’t take it off,” Michael admitted, somewhat unwillingly as he tried and failed to pull the ring off. Jeremy’s grin turned devilish as he sauntered over to Michael properly. Jake just rumbled out what might be a laugh and sat down to watch.

 

"Oh Jeremy, I know that look, don't you dare abuse this and please just help me take it off," Michael whined out, ignoring the cawing laughter from Darling from where she was now perched on the table. Little assholes, all of them (well, except Nightshade).

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you take it off.” Jeremy nodded, his nerve wracking grin not fading. “After we’ve had a little fun with it.” Well shit.

 

“So, auglas, what’s the most recent embarrassing thing you’ve done?” Jeremy practically purred.

 

"The dance I just did, I don't mind dancing in front of others if it's a dance I want to do, but those dances were awful and not my style at all," Michael felt himself say before he could stop himself. "Jeremy, come on, what did I do to deserve this?"

 

“Acorn, which is still stuck down my shirt might I add.” Jeremy snorted, before his eyes lit up mischievously. “What’s one bizarre thing about you that we don’t know?”

 

"I had a phase around when I was five when I was really into using my tail where I'd pretend to be a bat and would try for a month to sleep upside down outside, but Ina and Mom had to keep bringing me in. I only stopped trying after I snapped a branch, hurt my head, and almost cracked it open." As he said that, Michael grumbled a little about it. "I don't really think anything about me's really weird, but that is since I've never really had a fascination with bats or anything, just the aspect of sleeping upside down. I don't know why. And please don't ask me anything else, just help me lajy, please. I'll take out the acorn."

 

The look in Jeremy’s eyes shifted a little and his smile dropped to something almost neutral. Almost insecure. “Just... just one more,” he murmured, stepping close to Michael. “Just... tell me this. What thought about me is the most common in your head? So, what do you think about the most when it comes to me?” His voice was soft, intimate, and Michael noted that Jake got to busying himself by looking on the tables again, even in leopard form. Nightshade started scampering around them too, giving them some privacy for this one.

 

"How I'm just better overall with you around and how I don't know how I lived without you until now, like... You're my best friend, and I'd be devastated living without you," Michael admitted, voice softer as he took Jeremy's hand in his own, gently squeezing it as he gave his boyfriend a tender smile. "My second most common thought about you is how you're so smart and kind and a boatload of other things, all wrapped up with how I'm lucky to have you, to know you, that you deal with me and put up with me." He kissed the back of Jeremy's hand then and smiled.

 

Jeremy’s sigh sounded smitten, and when he looked up and met Michael’s eyes, there was the slightest glimmer of tears. They didn’t fall, and Jeremy smiled softly up at Michael, shifting his grip and pulling the ring off. He put it into his own bag carefully, without a word, then grabbed Michael down and pulled him into a searing, lingering kiss that left Michael’s head spinning.

 

When Jeremy did pull back, Michael had to hold onto Jeremy's shoulders to keep himself steady. "Oh my... hot damn Jeremy," Michael muttered out, glancing away with warm cheeks and seeing his tail flickering in a happy yet flustered manner.

 

“I love you,” Jeremy murmured, releasing Michael’s shoulders and getting back to work. He shot Michael a wink over his shoulder though, both flirtatious and sort of a promise for more later.

 

There was a sort of yelp, and Jake was suddenly standing in his human form again. Nightshade screamed at that, obviously started by the sudden change, and tried running through a bracelet only for it to get caught around his head. Instantly his motions slowed to less than a quarter speed, his little legs all in the air, caught mid leap. Jeremy chuckled and pulled the bracelet off him, letting Nightshade go back to normal speed. Jeremy pocketed that item as well with a giggle before he grabbed a sapphire circlet.

 

“There’s only two really powerful objects left here, and this is one of them. I can’t feel anything yet, but it does say true love’s kiss on the inside.” Jeremy shrugged, flipping the circlet in his hands a few times before he put it on.

 

As soon as it had settled on his head, Jeremy’s eyes fluttered and he half fell sideways. Luckily, Michael managed to catch him, with Jeremy landing neatly in his arms. He seemed to be almost asleep, but also not. And he didn’t seem to have any magical presence at all. Normally, he’d have at least an aura of energy about him, even when he slept, but it was as if it had all been muted entirely.

 

"For fuck's sake, Reyes," Michael grumbled out as he cradled Jeremy in his arms, looking down at him. Jake fretted over him too, coming over and checking him over. "Well, the thing said true love's kiss but I'm guessing it's just a kiss to break this?"

 

"I mean yeah, I'd hope so, but he'll probably slip back into the mindset once he wakes up? It feels like it'll happen again, I don't know," Jake muttered out as he and Michael both walked over to Jeremy's weird enchanted stool. "Just get ready to sit him down, just in case."

 

Michael nodded then, looking down at Jeremy and pressing a soft, chaste kiss to his lips as he kept Jeremy cradled close.

 

Jeremy’s eyes fluttered open and he shot Michael a small smile. “Hey. How’d we end up like this?” he asked softly before his eyes widened in a panic. “Sit me down. Now! Please!” Michael shifted Jeremy into the stool, which wrapped around his arms and legs again. “Gold staff, green decorations with the wings coming out the top.” Jeremy barely managed to finish his words before he blinked slowly and his voice died out. His face fell slack once again.

 

"God, I hate seeing him like that," Jake muttered out, looking over Jeremy from beside Michael. Michael just sighed and nodded, crossing his arms then and rubbing along them. "He gave us what we need though, hopefully." He felt Jake pat his shoulder a few times before he went to find what Jeremy mentioned, and Michael just looked down at Jeremy as his stomach churned a bit uncomfortably, listening to what Jeremy was saying.

 

“I need to go to it. I’ll be perfect. I need to go to it. I’ll be perfect.” Like a mantra, Jeremy quietly repeated those two sentences over and over again, eyes empty and face slack.

 

“I found it.” Jake walked back over, holding the staff. Jeremy’s focus glowed a lovely emerald green for a second when Jake got close. What did this thing do since it didn’t have any immediate effect?

 

Michael glanced at the staff then, taking it in and sighing before focusing back in on Jeremy. "It's what we need, but how are we supposed to use it? This is just... I just want Jeremy to be better, to help everyone, but we can't seem to fix or cure this shit, even with the supposed object Reyes was talking about. If it's so powerful, how come it hasn't worked yet?" He groaned then before giving Jake an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I'm just... anxiously rambling and venting."

 

“No it’s okay, I get it. As a paladin, I got a special blessing which makes me immune to diseases and stuff. I’d share it with him if I could.” Jake nodded toward Jeremy and sort of tapped the bottoms of the staff on the ground. The staff glowed green, and then green small bubbles appeared around Jeremy. The popped after a second.

 

Jeremy blinked slowly, the smallest hint of a frown crossing his face. “Was I... saying something?” he asked slowly before his eyes widened. “Holy shit! It worked!” The bonds from the stool undid, and Jeremy pulled off the circlet and tucked it away in his bag before making grabby hands at the staff. “From what I can tell, this staff let’s you copy characteristics from yourself to a group of people. So like Jake’s disease immunity blocking out Squip’s disease.” He grinned and passed the staff back to Jake before launching himself at Michael, hugging him tightly.

 

Michael laughed for a second as he held Jeremy close then, looking over at Jake who was looking over the staff then with wide eyes. "Holy shit, well now I get why you said it was important for me especially to come here," Jake muttered out as he rolled the staff around in his hand. "That's amazing though."

 

"Well, let's say I wanted to copy my tail... Would I be able to give everyone in a certain area or certain people nearby a tail?" Michael asked, gently scooping Jeremy up by his legs, getting him to wrap his legs around his waist then before he kept one hand cradling his butt to keep him comfortable and there. His own tail even went around and wrapped around Jeremy's waist, keeping Jeremy even more stable.

 

Jeremy seemed quite content to cling as he wrapped his legs around Michael’s waist. He giggled and shrugged. “In theory? I’m just going off what my focus told me, but I guess that’s a possibility?” Jeremy nuzzled against Michael, burying himself in the crook of Michael’s neck with a happy sigh. “M’just really glad it worked... that was... not nice.”

 

“I can only imagine,” Michael muttered out as he used his free hand to rub up and down Jeremy’s back. “Some of the stuff I was hearing wasn’t fun or cool or anything.”

 

But you’re free of it now, and we can go back to town and save everyone else,” Jake pointed out, and Darling crowed in agreement to that before flying over and landing on top of his head.

 

Jeremy nodded, and pulled away from Michael for a second. “I’m pretty sure the staff has a range of up to sixty feet, so you’ll need to get a few locations. And we need to figure out how people got infected in the first place too, to make sure it doesn’t happen again, since the effects of the staff are temporary I think...” Jeremy curled up again, and Nightshade climbed up Michael’s leg and up to his shoulder, climbing onto Jeremy nuzzling what he could reach.

 

“Well, what’s something you, Brooke, and Christine did last night that Michael and I didn’t do?” Jake offered then, reaching a hand up to try to pet Darling. She reached forward and playfully nibbled on his finger before letting him run his hand along her head and neck.

 

“There’s not much.” Jeremy mumbled from where he was. “We all ate dinner together then went to bed, that was about it…” Michael thought about it for a moment, then realized.

 

“You all drank alcohol. Jake and I didn’t. And you only had weak stuff, so that could be why it only half worked on you!” Jeremy paused, then nodded.

 

“So Squip tampered with all the alcohol. That makes sense, a small, quaint town like that has to get enjoyment out of something, and most towns like that do drink a lot. So we just have to get rid of their supply and find out where they’re getting their alcohol from?” Jake offered.

 

“Let’s wake them up first,” Jeremy suggested. “Then we can explain to the mayor. Since... I think they’ll remember when they wake up. I know m’starting to remember now.” He held onto Michael a little tighter. Nightshade nuzzled his chin.

 

“What exactly do you remember?” Michael asked, his tone comforting and reassuring. If he didn’t want to say, Jeremy didn’t have to. He gently squeezed around his middle with his tail to remind him of that before they started to leave the basement, though Michael stopped when he saw a wand. He looked it over, seeing it was labeled ‘Wand of Telekinesis.’ Ooo, handy.

 

“Everything,” he mumbled. “Like I remember thinking I lived in the town for years. And being the blacksmith. And flirting with you.” That got a little giggle but Jeremy’s tone turned somber after. “Then I remember you pulling me out of town. Squip tried to force its way into me as soon as it realized who I was, but the dragon got angry and kicked it out. So it just wanted me to go to it. It was gonna protect me until I got there, because my magic would make it easier to influence the world.”

 

While Jeremy was talking, Jake took the wand from Michael and waved it. Everything in the room started floating into the bag of holding Michael still had strapped on, including the tree belt and the dancing crown. He was glad when they were all put away, out of reach, into the bag.

 

Michael shot Jake a look of thanks, taking the wand and sliding it into one of the little pouches on the side of the bag before shutting it with his free hand. They really started to leave the basement then, and Michael’s free hand returned to rubbing Jeremy’s back. “Well, we aren’t going to let Squip ever get you. We won’t let Squip use you like that, not ever,” Michael promised him, letting Jake lead the way back upstairs before he squeezed Jeremy again by the waist with his tail.

 

“We’ll look after you, Jeremy. And we’ll kick the Squip’s ass while we do it,” Jake added cheerfully, obviously trying to bring up the mood. Jeremy relaxed a little. When they made it back upstairs, Reyes was still nowhere to be seen, so they just decided to leave.

 

“Hey, auglas. Now you know that I’m attracted to you even without you having saved me.” Jeremy squeezed him lightly, his tone a little playful.

 

“I mean, I’d hope so,” Michael mused out, though his cheeks got a little warm at that. “You were a lot more forward than you were before though. While we head back, would you mind entertaining me and tell me how Blacksmith Jeremy would have gone about flirting with me?” Jake groaned from in front of them, but Michael ignored him for now.

 

Jeremy giggled. “I don’t think I really knew either, I just knew I was really attracted to you.” He nuzzled against Michael as they continued walking. “I’d probably have found out how long you’d be around for, maybe taken you out for a friendly lunch while I figured out if you’d be open to my advances since you just seemed really tense. I get why now but at the time I was just confused. I didn’t know if it was me showing interest or something else that had you tense,” Jeremy explained.

 

“Aww, Blacksmith Jeremy is such a gentleman, good to know,” Michael cooed out before pressing a few kisses to the top of Jeremy’s head. “I’m glad you’re here though, even if Blacksmith Jeremy was a little more suave. Not that you aren’t now, I love your sass and snarkiness.”

 

“I can be suave. Blacksmith Jeremy was basically me, just with different memories,” Jeremy grumbled. “Be nice or I’m putting that crown on you again.” There was no heat behind his words. “And... I’m glad to be back. I love you too.”

 

Michael just relaxed at his words, pressing a few more kisses to Jeremy’s head. “Good to hear, it would be awkward if you didn’t love me back after all of that.”

 

“Oh my god, your love is suffocating me,” Jake playfully said from in front of them. “Can’t you spare me from this and show a little mercy?”

 

“Nope.” Jeremy grinned. “We’ve been through an emotionally harrowing time, we’re gonna be sappy.”

 

Jake groaned at that. “Why me? Why must I bear this burden of being suffocated by your love?”

 

“Oh hush up, Jake,” Michael said. “I’ll use the necklace on you again and you’ll think this is hilarious.”

 

“You wouldn’t dare, Mell.”

 

“Try me, Dillinger.”

 

Jeremy giggled, and squeezed Michael a little just as the edge of town came into view. When he spotted it, he instantly went serious. “We might want to start the process here. If we go back, we’ll probably get attacked since Squip knew about me and therefore knew you were here too, Michael.”

 

Michael nodded, and Jake did too as he rolled the staff in his hand before he seemingly did what he did in the basement. The staff glowed with green bubbles around it, and it stayed consistent as they started to walk to town.

 

Every person they passed who was in the range of the staff (sixty feet, just like Jeremy had said) got green bubbles that popped around them before they shook their head, their cyan eyes turning back to normal. It took a little while, but soon they had navigated the whole town, coming to an end at the park by the tavern, where Brooke and Christine were still working.

 

They both blinked harshly, their eyes turning back to normal before they leapt to their feet and ran over to Jake, Jeremy, and Michael.

 

“What happened?” Christine asked, gently going to fuss over Jeremy as he was still being held in Michael’s arms. She gently patted his leg. “I remember waking up last night with Brooke and Jeremy and we just... became part of the town?”

 

“Yeah, because of the alcohol you drank last night. Squip infected it all,” Michael explained as he squatted down, hugging Christine while still holding Jeremy. “I’m glad you’re back and you’re alright though, we were so worried about you guys.”

 

“I’m sorry for not recognizing you when you came over.” Christine grinned sheepishly. “But is Jeremy okay? He seems more shaken than the rest of us...” Jeremy stayed silent, still clinging to Michael.

 

“Yeah, he went through a lot,” Michael explained as he pressed a kiss to Jeremy’s head. “And it’s fine, you still thought I was nice so that counts for something.” He gave Christine a big smile before gently squeezing Jeremy’s middle with his tail. “I’m just gonna go check on the animals with him, they were where we left them last time I checked.”

 

“Okay, Brooke and I will catch up with you in a bit. We need to go to our house and pick up our things, so we’ll be back here in about half an hour.” She waved and wandered over to where Brooke and Jake were talking. After shyly taking Brooke’s hand, Christine led her away. Jake wandered over and handed Michael the staff.

 

“I’ll check the blacksmith’s for anything else of Jeremy’s, so I’ll be back soon.” He grinned before jogging off.

 

Michael thanked him, holding the staff now in his freehand as he made his way to the tavern with Jeremy. He looked down at Jeremy, pressing another kiss to the top of his head. "Hey, how are you feeling, lajy?"

 

“A little overwhelmed...” A pause. “Okay a lot overwhelmed. This was the second time I’ve had the Squip in my head directly, and I just... it’s a lot.”

 

"I can't even imagine," Michael muttered out, making it to the stables and waving over at Angel and Gideon before going into the wagon. "What I can imagine is how you're better now at least, or will be. You're free of Squip, it's not there anymore." He sat down on the bed in the back, where they had cuddled many times in the back, and grabbed the blanket there and wrapped it around the two of them after gently lying down the staff at his feet. "I promise that, as long as I'm here with you, I won't let that happen to you again. I swear."

Chapter Text

After traveling for another month and a half after saving the town from Squip, they were back on the path before the huge forest detour. Well, they had been back on the path for a little over a week, but still, they were making progress to get to Tracz. Besides some small little run-ins and one or two Red Hood mini missions, everything had been smooth, calm, and great.

 

They were heading into the town of Colchester, though, when something started up. The people who were going around seemed a bit more down, and Jeremy couldn't help but frown as he tried to figure out why. Passing by one of the posters on the town's message board clued him in to what was wrong: the Baron of the town had raised the taxes to an insane amount, so everyone was seeming to suffer because of it. Not even a minute after reading the sign, Jeremy heard Michael mutter something in Infernal under his breath about it from beside him on the bench of the wagon.

 

Jeremy frowned and didn’t say anything yet, it was too crowded where they were, but he knew that tone and he recognized some of those words. Michael was already planning a mission.

 

“Hey everyone!” Jeremy called to the rest of their party. “Let’s head over to stables and stay here for a bit. I need to resupply.” They had initially planned to continue on for another week to the next town, Brinchester. Everyone shot him a look of surprise, but nodded and began diverting their path to the stables.

 

Michael glanced over at him, and Jeremy saw the smile he had that was almost blinding. He managed to calm his fluttering heart and smiled back at Michael as they all started heading towards the stables.

 

As they got settled in, away from most people, Michael leaned down and whispered to Jeremy. “I’ve already got a plan in my head, we can talk about it more in private.”

 

“Let’s get a couple of rooms and I’ll set Alarm so we can all talk uninterrupted.” Jeremy nodded, quickly catching Michael’s lips in a kiss. He knew that Michael doing Red Hood stuff was always risky, but he was just so proud that his boyfriend was so good and willing to put himself out there for the good of others.

 

Michael nodded back, his smile beaming after the kiss as they pulled back. He happily got out then, helping to get Gideon settled. Jeremy saw him slip a few sugar cubes out into his hands and let the horse eat them, which Gideon whinnied happily about before nuzzling against Michael.

 

“You spoil him, you and Brooke,” Jeremy teased, giving the stable boy two gold coins (one for each of the animals, as usual). “C’mon. Let’s get some rooms. We need to all talk before I can stock up, I’ll need help getting everything,” he called to the others and got a range of nods in return.

 

Michael nodded and walked over to Jeremy, taking his hand and kissing the back of it before heading into the tavern with him.

 

When they got in, Jake managed to talk and get them three rooms, per Jeremy’s request, and they all separated to get their stuff put down. Michael sat down on their bed after settling down, looking at Jeremy. “We going to get all settled and talk or wait a bit?”

 

“Let’s talk. You can run your plan past me first and we can make sure it’s all good for everyone else first.” Jeremy sat next to him, curling up and against his chest. “I know you’re all good, but I want to make sure I know my role as well so I can help properly.”

 

“Before I say anything, you gotta set Alarm up,” Michael told him as he twirled his finger in the air, in a circle motion as if referencing the whole room. His free arm wrapped around Jeremy, holding him close.

 

Jeremy nodded and pulled out his focus. He opened the gyroscopic rings and quickly set Alarm for the area just around their room, including just outside the door and windows so he’d know if anyone tried listening in. When he was finished, he closed the focus and gazed lovingly up at Michael. “It’s definitely just us now, auglas.”

 

“Alright, good.” Michael pressed a soft kiss to the top of Jeremy’s head before running his hand up and down his shoulder. “My plan is to have us go and sneak in, get money for the town folk from the treasury, freak out the Baron a little, and then return it back to the town. I wanted you to come help me, as well as get your insight for this mission. You’ve helped me out a lot with these Red Hood missions, I trust you.”

 

Jeremy nodded and hummed. “We’re gonna want to know layout for the place. If it’s a manor, it’ll be different from if it’s a castle. The scaring the Baron part should be simple enough,” he mused, leaning into Michael’s touch. “How do we want to integrate the others, if at all?” he asked, trying to figure out any holes in the plan.

 

“We can go by and scope out the place, I highly doubt this asshole has a castle. I have an idea for how the layouts of manors of these rich people tend to go though,” Michael told him. “After scoping out the place, we can decide if we want to and need to integrate the others into the plan, I think.” After saying that, Michael pressed a kiss to the top of Jeremy’s head.

 

“Sounds good.” Jeremy grinned. “We can do that while we send the others out to do some shopping.“ He turned his head and pulled Michael down enough to kiss his cheek. This was a bit of a strange conversation for such a quiet moment, but Jeremy was used to it. This was common place when dating the most wanted thief in the country.

 

“Sounds good,” Michael agreed and echoed, grinning down at Jeremy before kissing his cheek in return. He brought him into a quick kiss after that, resting his head back against the headboard after. “And after all of that, when we leave town, we can ask Brooke to drive so we can rest in the back.”

 

“Yup. Cuddles are a necessity after a job,” Jeremy agreed, nuzzling against Michael. For a moment they were silent, just enjoying their quiet time together, then Jeremy felt it.

 

“The others are about to knock on the door, so we’ll give them a basic rundown?”

 

“Yeah, and we can work with them to make the best plan,” Michael offered then before placing a kiss to his cheek. “Sound good?”

 

“Sounds good.” Jeremy agreed as a gentle knock echoed around the room. “Come in, Chrissy.”

 

Christine opened the door and everyone trailed in after her, looking varying levels of confused. “So, Jeremy. Why’d you call to stop here really?” Brooke asked, sitting on the end of the bed once Jake closed the door.

 

“We have a job. Michael spotted the notice about raised taxes, the people are starving and the local Baron is about to get a little...visit,” Jeremy summarized, grinning mischievously. Christine’s eyes lit up, Jake looked uncomfortable, and Brooke looked kinda bored.

 

“You guys don’t have to join if you don’t want to, we’re just going to do the quick job then get out of here,” Michael told them, sitting up a bit more with Jeremy then.

 

“The only thing I’ll do is getaway, like normal,” Brooke said, arms crossed over her chest.

 

“That’s fine, we appreciate all of your help,” Michael responded with a warm smile. “You don’t have to do anything either, Jake, especially if it makes you uncomfortable.”

 

“As usual, thanks, Michael.” Jake relaxed a little. “I get what you’re doing is good, but it goes against some of my vows so I can’t really help.”

 

“Well I want to help. Just tell me what I need to do, Mikey!” Christine chirped, and Jeremy giggled.

 

“Calm down, Chrissy. We need to scope out the place first, see what we’re up against.”

 

Jeremy saw Michael nod then before they got up and off of the bed. “Jeremy and I are going to go do that while you guys go shopping, yeah?”

 

“Sounds good,” Brooke agreed, reaching over and gently taking Christine’s hand. “We’ll get going. Come on, Chrissy, and you too, Jake.”

 

“Chrissy, if you can, grab my usual stuff from the smithy too, please.” Jeremy called and got a thumbs up as Christine left, with Brooke and Jake following closely behind.

 

“Now, idril. Shall we get going?” Jeremy grabbed Michael’s hand and squeezed gently.

 

“Of course, lajy,” Michael mused out, smiling down at Jeremy and squeezing his hand a few times. Jeremy happily walked out, making sure that Nightshade was across his shoulder and that Darling landed on Michael’s shoulder before they left.

 

 

 

The Baron's manor was easy to find. The grounds were clean and neat, with a very light patrolling force. The house was well taken care of, and overly grand for what little this Barron would own. Apparently someone had a superiority complex.

 

Jeremy and Michael lingered by the edge of the grounds, hidden by the nearby line of trees as they looked it over. “Seems to be a similar style to our first mission together,” Jeremy hummed as he tried to take in the details.

 

“Yeah, I think so,” Michael muttered out as he looked over at the estate from where they were perched. “The treasury is probably the entire basement from how this guy seems to be. I don’t know if it’ll be organized or not, but it’ll be downstairs. Probably some light security at the very least, but this dude’s ego is too big for bigger security.”

 

“And the people are too poor to try anything. Probably don’t have the time.” Jeremy nodded, making notes about where the guards made their rounds. “We gonna go in through the top or from the servant’s stairs this time?”

 

“I’d say we should try going through the servant’s stairs if we can, the top is too risky with what I can see right now,” Michael said, pointing out one of the areas near the roof where there was a single guard there near the stairs to the garden on the top of the mansion.

 

“So we’re going in through the back. Got it.” Jeremy made a mental note. “Anything else, or are we good to head back?” he whispered. Michael did a once over, then nodded in the direction of town. Together they crept away and made it back to the tavern to plan some more.

 

As they walked back to the tavern, Michael swung their hands while they walked back. “Seriously, I need to thank you for coming and helping me with all of this. It means a lot,” he admitted to him, pulling his hand up to kiss the back of it.

 

Jeremy smiled up at him. “What you do is so important to so many people, Michael. I’m glad to help,” he murmured, squeezing Michael’s hand and leaning against his arm. “I’ve always wanted to make a difference to people. You do that, and now I can too. Besides, what sort of boyfriend would I be if I didn’t help?” He chuckled a little, shooting Michael a loving look as they walked.

 

He heard Michael scoff a little at that. “I mean, I wouldn’t blame you for not joining me. It can be dangerous and risky, but it makes me really happy.” Michael shot Jeremy just as loving of a look, maybe even more so. “I just... Yeah, you’re amazing. Thanks a bunch.”

 

“You’re welcome, idril,” Jeremy cooed, nuzzling against Michael’s arm. “Oh, and when we’re done, I’ve got some stuff to show you. Might help us in the future, it’s just a little too untested right now.” He thought of the spells and the machine he’d been working on recently and felt a burst of pride. They’d really help out in the future with these jobs.

 

“Aww, you can’t show me now? You jerk, keeping secrets from me in our relationship.” Michael playfully gasped, tossing his free arm over his face with a dramatic groan. “The betrayal!”

 

“If I show you, you’ll get distracted. I was planning on showing you next time we stopped anyways.” Jeremy giggled, rolling his eyes. “Besides, you’ve been keeping secrets too. The other night, I woke up with a tail. But it vanished a few minutes later,” he whispered, shooting Michael an amused grin.

 

“You never asked me about that, so I never said anything until now. I was practicing using the staff and wanted to see if I could give you a tail. I did, so my experiment was a success,” Michael admitted with a sly smile.

 

“See? You’ve been experimenting on me! Without permission!” Jeremy cried dramatically, keeping his voice down. “How could you?”

 

“I asked you one time and you said you wanted to know what having a tail’s like, I thought that was free game,” Michael said with a playful pout. “If you want payback, you can try something with the staff back to me.”

 

Jeremy pretended to think for a moment. “I might take you up on that-“ Jeremy was gonna make Michael short, like him. “-but you also have permission to practice with the staff on me. But only when I’m awake. If I’m gonna get magically changed, I wanna at least enjoy it.” He chuckled, shaking his head a little. They were both such children sometimes, and Jeremy loved that fact.

 

“Mm... alright, fiiine,” Michael said with a playful whine, smiling down at him a little mischievously. “We’ll ask each other what we wanna practice before we do it though, right?”

 

“Of course, auglas.” Jeremy grinned innocently. Payback didn’t count as practice, and the effect only lasted about an hour anyways. Michael was finally going to understand Jeremy’s pain.

 

By this point they had reached the tavern, so they headed back to their room to wait for the others and prepare. Jeremy hopped up onto the bed as soon as they were inside, pulling Michael close and kissing him firmly on the lips, lingering for a moment. “I love you,” he sighed happily.

 

Michael’s eyes were wide, and he leaned over and quickly wrapped his arms around Jeremy’s waist, keeping him close as he swept Jeremy into a deep kiss for a little bit. When Michael pulled back, Jeremy felt himself following after Michael’s lips, which said half tiefling grinned about. “I love you too, lajy.” Michael bent back in to rub their noses together.

 

Jeremy grinned, mostly likely looking a little dazed. He still got butterflies after kissing Michael, even if they’d been together for about half a year now. He just adored his boyfriend. “C’mon, let’s get ready, I’ve finished the sheath for the dagger in you boot now, so we can attach that before we head off.”

 

“Ooo, yes yes yes,” Michael almost cheered out, eyes sparkling as he quickly made sure the curtains were shut, hopping and having a skip in his step. “Let’s do that first!”

 

Jeremy giggled. “You always get so excited when I make you things. It’s adorable,” he cooed, reaching into his bag of holding and pulling out the sheath a moment later. He specially designed it so it should blend in perfectly when the flap was closed, covering the handle of the dagger. “Put your boot on the box over there.”

 

Michael quickly hopped onto one foot, taking off his boot. He almost fell over, but used his tail to keep himself balanced before he placed his boot down where Jeremy told him. “OK, there.” Even if he only had one boot on, Michael bounced in his spot, which made how he stood a little weird but adorable, especially as he bounced.

 

Jeremy giggled as he jumped off the bed and pulled out his tools as well. This should be nice and quick. Jeremy buckled on the sheath, adding a little paint to the actual buckles to make them vanish essentially. Then he brushed the edges with a little liquid fire to stick it together properly. After a quick polish and a rub over with a medusa quartz to hold the enchantment, Jeremy held up the boot. The sheath was almost entirely invisible, no matter what angle you looked at it from.

 

“There we go. You’ll still be able to feel it, just not see it.” He demonstrated by clipping the popper on the lid, closing it up and having it vanish. When he popped it open, the sheath was just about visible.

 

When he looked to see Michael’s expression, he saw awe and adoration in his eyes. Even if they had been together and traveling for so long, Michael always seemed in awe of his skills, even if it was something simple like the toys and trinkets he made or the automations he repaired. Jeremy couldn’t wait to show him what he made after all of this.

 

“This is amazing, Jeremy,” Michael almost gasped out as he took his boot then, trying it on and following along with Jeremy’s earlier demonstration with ease. “Wow!”

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but puff up a little at the compliment. Honestly, with Michael always getting so excited about what he made, it was hard for Jeremy to ever think poorly of his creations anymore. Sure, some might be simple enough for any artificer to make, but they were special because he put his time and love into each and every one.

 

“Try putting your dagger in it. It should give you a little more maneuverability since you don’t need to worry about your arms as much.”

 

With that, Michael took his dagger, putting it into the sheath and humming happily. “Yeah, that’s true. Thank you so much, lajy.” Jeremy felt Michael pick him up and spin him a few times before setting him down. “I do have a little more maneuverability with this.”

 

Jeremy giggled and grabbed Michael’s shoulder, tugging him down. “You’re very welcome, my heroic outlaw,” he whispered teasingly, kissing Michael’s nose before kissing his lips gently.

 

Michael smiled wide then, holding Jeremy closer before there was a knock on the door. “We’re back from shopping, can we come in or are you two busy canoodling?” Brooke asked from behind the door.

 

Jeremy rolled his eyes and let go of Michael, grinning all the while. “You’re clear for entry.”

 

Everyone filed in, and Christine handed Jeremy over some of the parts he’d asked for. Once again it was Jake who remembered to close the door. Jeremy reactivated the Alarm from earlier, the effects still lingering.

 

“The bigger parts will be loaded onto your wagon within the hour. Now, tell us what the plan is,” she demanded playfully.

 

 

 

The plan was ready. Christine was set to distract the guards up front, Jake was by their wagon, and Brooke was ready to be their get-away animal. Michael was sneaking in with Jeremy, getting just into the servant’s stairs with him then, silently shutting the door behind him with his tail.

 

So far the plan had worked perfectly. There had been no close calls, no incidents, nothing. And though Michael insisted on entering every room before Jeremy, it seemed to be for naught since the Barron was indeed very lax in security and there was barely anything between them and the treasury. Jeremy had the second bag of holding strapped close to him, empty and ready to take as much gold as it could carry.

 

Michael held a hand up as they were about to exit the servant’s stairway, listening through the door with his ear against it. “Alright, I’m going in to check first. I’ll knock with my tail when it’s good for you to come in,” Jeremy was told, and after Jeremy moved out of the view of the doorway at Michael’s insistence, Michael walked inside of the treasury.

 

There was a beat of silence, then Michael yelped as the sound of metal clattering down echoed around the room. Jeremy stiffened. That was the sound of a chain net dropping, and Michael was probably trapped under it. Should Jeremy go grab him and risk himself, exactly what Michael told him not to do if he was ever captured, or did he run back to the group like he was told?

 

“Seems like I got you again, Red Hood,” a familiar voice called. Rich sounded more subdued this time round for some reason, but still just as victorious. “Where’s your sidekick from last time?”

 

Before Michael had a chance to respond, the door began to open. In a panic, Jeremy quickly cast Invisibility and pressed himself close to the wall. Rich’s head poked out the door hesitantly, and he seemed almost relieved to see no one else there. The half Dragonborn, half Dwarf guard ducked back inside. “Seems he either abandoned you just now or he left you some time ago.”

 

The door was left open, so Jeremy was able to glance back in to see the scene. Michael was pinned against the floor with the chain net ensnaring him, Rich staring down at him with a grin that didn’t seem as bright as the last time he caught Michael. In the guard’s hand was a set of manacles to bind Michael’s wrists that had what Jeremy could tell was a truth enchantment.

 

Looking to see Michael’s face then, Jeremy saw a determined look set on his face. “He left me after what happened last time. It’s just me, Rich. It’s not like Red Hood is ever really seen with anyone except with guards chasing after him, you know.” Despite the cockiness and Red Hood persona that Michael was keeping up, Jeremy knew how nervous and tense his boyfriend was.

 

Jeremy knew he had an hour before the spell would wear off naturally, so he silently slipped into the room, making a mental note of the layout for later. He could only watch as Michael was easily yanked out of the net and cuffed in the heavy iron manacles, both hands behind his back. Michael was glaring up at Rich, but Jeremy could tell he was terrified he was under the facade.

 

He wanted to help, but he didn’t know how. Looking the guard over, Rich didn’t seem to have the key the cuffs on him anywhere obvious, and something enchanted like they were wouldn’t be able to be picked. And Jeremy didn’t have anything to get Michael out with on him. Sure he had some basic tools in this bag of holding, but nothing special. He... the only way to help Michael was to leave him for now.

 

Rich seemed distracted for a moment, fiddling with a thick chain which would probably go around Michael’s cuffs so he could be lead around, so Jeremy took his chance. He closed the distance between him and Michael and leant as close as he could manage.

 

“Xe dajy haf, lajy. I’ll come for you as soon as I’m able.” Michael didn’t react but Jeremy knew he was heard, and that Rich hadn’t. With that, Jeremy snuck back out the door and began the journey back to the meet-up point.

 

It didn’t take long, especially since after he got out and managed to sneak out, he saw some of the guards turning from their guard positions and coming back into the manor after being called for. Jeremy felt his gut churn as he knew why, but focused on getting back to where Brooke was.

 

When he made it over, Jeremy saw the surprise in Brooke’s features of her dire wolf form, glancing back to look for Michael.

 

“Get the others. I’ll meet you back at the tavern to explain,” Jeremy instructed, his voice sounding dead and hollow. He was sure his expression wasn’t much better.

 

Brooke nodded and shifted back to her normal form, probably moving to comfort Jeremy or something, but Jeremy had already started walking. He needed to think. He needed to plan. He didn’t know how he was going to do it, but he was getting Michael back.

 

 

 

Michael felt his chest tighten, though it had been happening since he got caught in Rich’s trap. It was almost unbearable now, to the point of an almost panic attack. He couldn’t do that, not now, not when he was being brought by Rich into a room for interrogation.

 

Feeling himself forced to sit down in a chair, the chain around his manacles tied back, he looked up at Rich as he stood above him, just managing to tower over him. “So what are you going to do? Bore me until I tell you a fun fact about myself? Well, I’ll get it out of the way now- my favorite color isn’t actually red, it’s actually blue, woah!”

 

Rich didn’t seem amused, but he looked almost uncomfortable. Weird. “It’s nice to know that the sass isn’t just for show, Hood. But I’m afraid you already know what I’m going to do, don’t you?” He sighed heavily. “Well, the plans from last time have changed, I’m sure you’d be pleased to know. I’ve ensured there’s no death sentence on your head, but you will be locked away for a very long time, along with any cohorts or conspirators you may have.” The guard was pacing in front of Michael’s chair, refusing to look at him for now.

 

Michael knew it was best not to speak about certain things right now, since the manacles were enchanted with a truth charm. He couldn’t say no one worked with him because it would force him to tell the truth. “I’m very glad to at least hear that much. What made you change your mind? You were so eager to get rid of me last time.”

 

Rich hesitated, then sighed again. “The plans you stole last time... I knew the creators. Found them just outside the village and they showed me the plans. Signed and ready, and they had the exact same story as you. They’re friends of mine, and after you helped them retrieve their life’s work... well let’s just say you earned yourself some favor with me.” He shook his head. “No one who puts themselves out there like that for someone else could be entirely a bad person.”

 

Michael hesitated for a moment before nodding. “I just want to help people who have been wronged by the powerful who use their power wrong,” he admitted, not letting his gaze from Rich. Even if his chest ached and he felt nauseous, Michael couldn’t afford to keep himself from breaking, not right now. He had to keep some dignity in tact by the end of this.

 

“Which is why I pulled some strings to ensure they do not kill you.” Rich nodded before sighing again. “Look, after your last big stunt with Vesk, the authorities are calling for your head, and the king is calling for your arrest. You’re lucky that it was me who caught you and not someone else.” He turned away before sighing again and looking at Michael properly. “And you’re lucky because I’m willing to keep this part private for now. Save you some dignity.” He started reaching for Michael’s mask.

 

Michael couldn’t help but jolt his head back as Rich reached forward, even if he couldn’t move it back much. He felt his heart threatening to leap out of his throat then, and he couldn’t help but whimper. “Please, just... don’t let my family be brought into this. Just me, only me. I’ll go with you compliantly if it’s just me.” He hated how he sounded scared, but he was and couldn’t help himself from letting the truth of how scared he was out.

 

Rich hesitated. “I’ll ensure no innocents get caught in this. That’s part of my duty,” was all he said before he pulled off Michael’s mask and let the red hood fall back. Michael stared up at him with angry yet scared eyes. “You’re... you’re just a kid..?!” Rich muttered, almost dropping the mask as he staggered backwards.

 

“Twenty isn’t considered being a kid,” Michael muttered out, even as he felt tears forming in the corners of his eyes. His true voice came through as well, no longer masked by his enchanted mask. He also couldn’t help but squint since he didn’t have his glasses on and the world became a bit blurry.

 

“But you’ve been active for... you’ve been doing this since you were, what, sixteen?” Rich asked and Michael couldn’t help but nod. He felt Rich’s eyes looking him over, but he couldn’t tell exactly where his gaze was focusing. No doubt Rich could see his horns too, even though they weren’t very big. “You can’t see, can you. You need glasses.” It wasn’t a question, more of an observation.

 

“I don’t need my glasses when I wear my mask,” Michael told him as he kept his gaze away from Rich. “I can’t see right now though, no.” He couldn’t look at Rich as he felt more tears slowly falling.

 

There was a pause, then Michael was surprised to find his mask being replaced. “Your family will be left alone, Hood. I swear it,” Rich murmured, his movements slow and surprisingly gentle in contrast to their usual interactions.

 

“That’s all I ask for,” he muttered out, managing to keep his breath calm and even as he tried to calm himself down. “Thank you, Rich.” Michael sniffled a little as he sat up a little straighter, not wanting to make himself look any less any longer.

 

Rich didn’t say anything. He just walked to the sealed door and opened it, leaving Michael in the chair. “The Barron wants to see you in two hours. I’ll ensue your anonymity will remain in tack until your trial in a weeks time, Hood. That’s all I can offer for now.” He left the room and shut the door behind, leaning Michael alone for now.

 

His eyes lingered on the door for a few moments longer before he allowed himself to cry, leaning his head forward as he let the tears freely flow. His chest ached, and he let himself truly feel scared. Michael was scared for himself, but everyone else would be safe.

 

That was what mattered now.

 

 

 

“He got captured and there was nothing I could do! And now he’s probably on death row and I literally am having a breakdown because I don’t know what to do.” Jeremy was hyperventilating as he worked over a toy octopus. When he was panicked, really panicked, he worked. He had to always be doing something or else he’d lose it properly, hence why he was tinkering as he talked and not looking at anyone’s concerned gaze. He had certainly wound the octopus’ spring too tight. He could fix it later.

 

“They aren’t going to do that, at least not right away. He’s going to be put on trial or at least shown publicly to have his mask removed,” Jake told him. “After what happened with Vesk though, I heard talk of him being locked up, so we have time. Lots of time compared to last time you two got caught.”

 

“Okay, good. Brilliant, even,” Jeremy muttered, cross-threading a screw and having to undo it three separate times before it went in right. “But we still have no way of getting to him, or getting him out the cuffs. They need a key to undo, they’re enchanted.”

 

“Well, we just need to get them. The guard who caught him has to have it,” Christine offered, arms crossed as she tapped her foot. “Rich will have it hidden somewhere on his person.”

 

At the mention of Rich, Jake tensed up, though he tried hiding it (and failed at it). “Rich, as in Richard Goranski?”

 

“Yup.” Christine nodded, and Jeremy did too. He fumbled with the gears for the first leg a little but managed to attach them.

 

“Rich has been hunting Michael for over a year now. Half Dragonborn, half Dwarf. How do you know him?” Jeremy didn’t have the patience to deal with any sort of sugarcoating bullshit right now.

 

“Used to date him, but broke up because of a miscommunication during one of my missions. He broke it off and went off to his guard duty job and followed his assignment,” Jake explained, voice shaky. “He... really likes to focus on his work to distract himself from his emotions.”

 

“You still like him,” Jeremy observed, his tone blunt. “Well since you knew him so well, tell us where he would likely keep a key this important.” A couple more gears in place, and the mechanism for the first leg was finished.

 

“Jeremy-“

 

“Christine, it’s fine,” Jake said with a heavy sigh. “It’s fine for right now, we can talk about this later, after things are better.” Jeremy heard him take a deep breath. “It would be on a chain he wears around his neck and tucked under his shirt, hidden away.”

 

“Okay, good. And if I can’t get that away from him, I’ll need something else as a backup plan.” Jeremy began the second leg’s mechanism, fighting off the headache which was building. The dragon was roaring in his ear and it was not helping his mood or his social interactions.

 

People were hard. They weren’t easy to understand like machines, or magic. Though Jeremy had gotten better at dealing with people, at the end of the day they still scared him, even ones he knew well like Chrissy. They could be intimidating. And the one person he could always deal with, regardless of mood or mental state, was missing. So Jeremy just fell back into old habits to cope, it was safer for him this way.

 

He heard Nightshade make a soft noise of worry, nuzzling against his head as Jake sighed. Christine reached over to Jeremy then, but Jake stepped forward. “I... I can only offer so much. I want to help Michael, I really do, but going to help would be against what I stand for-“

 

“What you stand for, Jacob, is helping people.” Jeremy looked up from his work with a glare. “Upholding what is good and right and just. Michael helps those in need, and only takes from those who have done wrong or abuse their power. He never hurts anyone and only ever takes what can be spared or what has already been stolen. So you tell me if his cause is righteous, Dillinger, because if you believe it’s not, you don’t deserve to be in this room,” he growled out before getting back to the third arms mechanism.

 

Jake was stunned into silence then, as he should have been. “Jeremy, that is going too far,” Christine said, taking a few steps forward. “I know you’re upset and scared, we all are, but that doesn’t mean you can take it all out on Jake.”

 

“Try telling that to the dragon in my head, Christine, I’m sure he’d love to talk it out nicely and not burn this whole godforsaken town to the ground,” Jeremy replied sweetly. His tone dropped back to factual straight after. “What I said is true though. Jake’s vows mean he swears himself to the path of righteousness. If he doesn’t believe what Michael is doing is right, or at the very least good, he doesn’t deserve to travel with us. None of us do if we don’t have faith in what Michael stands for, myself included. I do believe in what he stands for, though, which is why I’m getting him back, with or without help.” Jeremy snapped a gear by accident. He grabbed another in its place.

 

“We never said we wouldn’t help,” Brooke said after a second. “I didn’t, at least. I’m not letting Michael get trapped forever, not in wherever they stick him or letting them unmask him. Whatever you need me to do, just tell me.” She took a few steps closer then, arms crossed over her chest as she stood by him.

 

Jeremy almost dropped the octopus in shock. He looked up at Brooke, feeling some of the dragon’s rage dissipate and some of his own shame bubble up. He’d need to make sure to apologise to everyone when people weren’t so... scary. He wasn’t exactly being nice, but Brooke was still willing to help.

 

“I- thank you, Brooke.” Slowly, Jeremy set down the octopus and shot her a small, shaky smile. “I know it’s for him, but thank you.” He picked up his project again, fingers unable to remain still while there was still so much stress coursing through him.

 

“It’s for you too, but mainly for Michael,” she told him before sitting down beside him on the bed.

 

Christine and Jake both looked between each other before Christine stepped forward. “I just don’t want you to be angry in an unhealthy way, Jeremy,” she muttered out, all as Nightshade softly honked beside Jeremy’s ear. “I’m going to help too, I can’t let Michael be hurt and locked up.”

 

“Thank you Chrissy,” Jeremy mumbled, glancing up at her. “I’m trying to keep my anger contained, I really am. But its hard with so many bad and scary things going on, and with my own issues besides the dragon.” Fourth arm was fixed, so Jeremy could afford to reach up and stroke Nightshade soothingly as he actually looked at Christine apologetically.

 

Christine gave him a soft, understanding smile. “You can apologize later for this, I know you don’t mean all the things you’ve said right now,” she reassured him.

 

Jeremy heard Jake clear his throat then, and he looked up as he stepped closer. “My value is to focus on the greater of everyone instead of the few, but you’re right. Michael helps out many. If I didn’t come help you save him, he wouldn’t be able to help many as Red Hood, let alone as Michael and as Iconis’ chosen hero. Tell me what I can do to help.”

 

Jeremy shot Jake a small smile as well, still stroking Nightshade. “I’ll do my best to make it as palatable as possible, Jake.” He nodded.

 

He began explaining what he saw at the Baron's manor, including the positioning and number of guards as well as the layout. “Chrissy, I’m going to need you and Brooke to go in and complete the mission we initially were going to do. The path should be totally clear now that Michael’s been captured, but be careful anyways.” He looked up at Jake. “I’ll be needing you to be ready on the forest path, with the wagon, but also I’ll need your help with the guards. They’ll likely be hired from the local village, so we can probably convince them to let me past, especially with my... well you’ll see. You’re better at... people than I am. Can you talk to them and just ask them to stand aside for twenty minutes?”

 

Jake nodded then as Christine grabbed the two bags of holding that Jeremy put down (well, tossed) when he stormed in earlier. “I got you, Jeremy. Thank you for letting us help. We’ll get Michael back, especially if you’re coming up with the plan. You’re his second-in-command, I don’t think any of us could match what he could do better than you.”

 

“So you’re saying his criminal ways rubbed off on Jeremy?” Brooke asked before looking Jeremy over. “Yeah, he did, but that’s alright.”

 

“Chrissy made me a criminal first. She’s got that privilege,” Jeremy pointed out with a weak smile. The plan quickly forming in his head was most certainly going to give him a chance to rid himself of some more anger, but for now it needed to be repressed.

 

“Aww, I’m glad I have that honor,” Christine almost cooed out with a warm smile, all while Nightshade continued to gently nudge against Jeremy with a soft sound or two.

 

Jeremy sort of nuzzled Nightshade back a little, still stroking him. His fuzz was helping a bit. “Okay, so I’m getting a plan together properly but I still don’t know what to do if I can’t get the key from Rich,” Jeremy admitted.

 

“Bring Darling and Nightshade in and have them help,” Jake offered before he looked around. “Wait... where’s Darling?”

 

“She’s upset. Darling’s in the wagon in her makeshift nest right now,” Brooke said near instantly. “She’s very upset.”

 

“She won’t leave until Michael’s back. She’s... she doesn’t do well without him.” Neither did Jeremy apparently. “Nightshade will be helpful but...” Jeremy rubbed at his temples as the dragon roared again. “Ugh, shut up. I’m not burning shit, even if I want to,” he grumbled quietly.

 

Christine’s eyes lit up then, and she hurried over to Jeremy’s things. Before he could speak up about it, he saw her perk up with a jar in her hand. “If you can’t get the key, you can still burn something and get Michael out of his cuffs with liquid fire.”

 

Jeremy paused and thought about it. Michael was immune to fire, and it would look good for the final stage of his plan. He accepted the jar from her, looking it over. “That’s actually perfect.” His grin got bigger and more solid. He looked down at the mess he’d made. “Let me just clean this lot up, then head to the stables. I wanna show you guys something. How I plan on getting him back.”

 

“Please show us, I’m very excited,” Christine said with a grin, bouncing a little where she stood. She got up and took Brooke by the hand, gently leading her out of the room.

 

Meanwhile, Jake stayed with in the room and shuffled where he stood before walking over. “I... I’m really sorry for not helping sooner, and for being so hesitant,” he muttered out as he looked over Jeremy’s workspace mess.

 

Jeremy looked up at him, shame bubbling in his gut. He was glad for Jake’s help, but Jake also didn’t deserve the treatment Jeremy had given him. His own issues were no excuse to be horrible to someone, regardless of how scared or upset he was.

 

“No, I’m sorry for being so harsh.” Jeremy said with a sigh. “I stand by what I said, but there were better ways I could have said it. Better ways we could have sorted it.” Even if his insides were weird from being so... exposed, at the moment, he focused on his words and tone to make sure Jake understood he was being sincere. “I’m still very glad for your help, Jake.” He tried for a small smile before he got back to cleaning up.

 

Jake let out a small hum from where he stood before he took a small, shuffling step forward. “Is there anything I can help with in terms of cleaning up?” he asked, and when Jeremy looked up, he saw Jake looking over his mess.

 

Jeremy hesitated, then nodded. “If you could put the parts I’ve finished into the blue box? I’ll sort out the other stuff. Just be careful, it’s fragile.” This was a big thing, and as much a show of trust as an apology. Jeremy never let people handle his half finished projects. He started packing away the gears and tools, glancing up at Jake and shooting him a small, shy smile.

 

Jake gave him the same sort of smile back as he carefully handled the parts of his project that were done. He managed to put them into the blue box with lots of care and gentleness, making sure everything was properly placed before pulling back. “If that’s all, I’m going to go see the girls.”

 

Jeremy closed up his finished parts box and nodded. “I’m done too. So... let’s go? And thank you.”

 

“Of course, Jeremy. Let’s go and save Michael.”

 

 

 

Michael wasn’t sure how long he’d been locked up, alone in this room, but he knew the monotony was starting to get to him. That combined with the fear of what was going to happen left Michael in an anxious mess.

 

Which is why when the door opened to reveal a very subdued looking Rich, Michael was almost grateful. “The Baron wants to see you now,” he murmured, his tone surprisingly gentle. It was weird and it unsettled Michael to no end.

 

Michael watched Rich as he came over, starting to free him from the chair. “Why are you being so soft and gentle now?” he couldn’t help but ask, refusing to look back at Rich right now. Maybe because he didn’t want to see the look on Rich’s face when he answered. “Why are you only acting like this now?” He didn’t tell him that it hurt more to be treated so gently when he was about to meet his judge, jury, and executioner.

 

“None of your business what’s going on in my head, Hood,” Rich snarked back, but with barely any of his usual heat. “Perhaps it’s because I understand things a bit better now. And I understand you a bit more.”

 

Michael felt his throat tighten up at Rich’s response and lack of the usual bite in his tone. “I... Alright.” He couldn’t find it in himself to come up with any sass or quip right now, not to Rich. To the Baron? Oh yes, that would be when he’d have to put his facade back on and he’d have some choice words for him. He wasn’t going down in the face of the public quietly.

 

Rich helped Michael stand and guided him to the door. “You might like to know that you’re not going to be unmasked for again for a week, so you can enjoy the anonymity and insult the Baron as much as you like. God knows he deserves it,” Rich muttered as they headed towards the main foyer where the Baron had set up a sort of throne room (how pompous could this guy get?).

 

Instead of saying anything for now, Michael hummed in agreement and got himself composed. He couldn’t afford to be weak in front of the Baron, even if he was exhausted and freaked. Michael had no idea where Jeremy or the others were (Jeremy was probably freaking out or trying to come up with a plan). If he and everyone else stayed safe, he’d be fine.

 

Thinking that over, he took his last deep breath to compose himself before he walked in with Rich to the main foyer.

 

The room had a large throne of sorts in the center, surrounded by pieces of art displaying the Baron in a wildly inaccurate light. There were piles of gold, and it reminded Michael of the hoard that Jeremy’s mom had (though it was nothing compared to the treasury downstairs). The Baron sat in his ornate throne, lounging without a care in the world as he held a goblet of wine. Michael felt himself revolted, finding it easy to get back into his Red Hood persona when he met the greedy eyes of the Baron.

 

“Ah, the prize is revealed at last!” the Baron, a fat, balding man, cried. “I was wondering if my little trap would lure you in.”

 

“Actually, sir, you didn’t want to lay the-“ Rich began, but was cut off.

 

“Shut up, Goranski.”

 

“Yes sir,” Rich gritted out, glaring up at the Baron. He gently guided Michael to a few feet away from the throne and forced him to his knees. “Sorry,” he whispered.

 

“Ah, the Baron who is overcompensating for everything is revealed! You are just as miserable and pathetic as I thought you were,” Michael almost sung out, grinning behind his mask. “Your throne room reminds me of a dragon’s hoard, but it’s a lot more pathetic since it’s a weak, sniveling man hoarding all of this instead of someone who can be respected. How disappointed are your parents of you?”

 

Michael could have sworn he heard Rich snort out a small laugh, but when he glanced back, Rich was as stoic as ever.

 

“My parents are dead,” the Baron retorted. “I had them killed after they tried to contest my taxing.” He didn’t seem all that concerned by this fact. “And you’re lucky that Goranski has insisted you get a proper trial or else you’d be joining them.”

 

“Oh wow, you’re an even worse human being than I thought,” Michael flat-out told the Baron. “It’s sad that the one without common sense is the one who is in charge. I am so sorry that they had you and not a good child.”

 

“What does it matter now? They’re dead!” The Barron chortled. “Now, tell me Red Hood. What’s your real name, hmm? You’re wearing truth cuffs, you have to tell me.” He leant forwards, apparently impressed with his own ‘intelligence.’

 

Michael just kept himself quiet, leaning a bit back. As he stayed quiet, not talking, he could see the redness appear on the Baron’s face and become bright in it’s shade as he stayed quiet. “You have to tell me your real name, Red Hood! Tell me it!” More silence except for the Baron’s irritated huffs and pants.

 

“The enchantments only mean he cannot lie. Not that he had to speak,” Rich offered quietly. The Baron looked ready to explode and had just opened his mouth when a very real explosion sounded out behind them all.

 

Smoke poured from the doorway, obscuring the entrance save for the two large wooden panels hanging off their hinges, barely staying upright as they were blown open. Something fast and metallic streaked in, with a figure cloaked in blue riding atop it. The metal creature ran along the floor, then gripped the walls and spiralled its way around the room, climbing along the walls and the ceiling. The blue figure didn’t even shift in balance.

 

Finally, the creature came to a half just next to Michael, right in front of the throne. The figure, who Michael suspected was Jeremy, stood atop the great metal tiger, for now it had stopped it was clearly a tiger. He was dressed in his blue robes and mask, but he seemed taller somehow, and two great blue dragon’s wings spread out behind him. His eyes glowed green, but they seemed different somehow to when he was struggling with his curse.

 

“I believe you have something of mine.” The smirk was evident in Jeremy’s voice, even in its much deeper tones, too deep to be his normally.

 

The Baron practically screeched, falling off of his throne and stumbling back to hide behind his seat. Michael couldn’t help but be prideful, especially when Rich jumped at first before he kept his hold on the chains around Michael’s manacles. “You aren’t getting anything, sidekick.”

 

“Sidekick? Is that what you’ve been telling everyone?” Jeremy tutted, shaking his head almost in disappointment. “I’m hardly a sidekick, Goranski. Perhaps the body I hold is, but not I.” He sneered, looking down at Rich from where he stood. The wings, very real and very tangible, spread out wide behind him.

 

“Well if you’re not a sidekick, than who are you?” The Baron peeked out from behind his chair, frowning but watching both Jeremy and the tiger warily.

 

“I think you’ll know me as the Blue Dragon of the West.” Was it Michael’s imagination or did Jeremy just grow a few inches? “I’ve taken this form so I can come collect what’s mine, promised to me by Tracz himself. And I must say, I’ve never had such a... willing host before. This body was willing to give himself up entirely to rescue my prize,” Jeremy mused in that too deep voice of his. The tiger growled and rumbled at the Baron but didn’t move for now.

 

“Well, if your prize is Red Hood, you’ll have to look for something else to take,” Rich told Jeremy, holding onto his chain and tugging Michael closer to Rich. “You can take anything else, but not him.”

 

“But-“

 

Baron, please, just listen to me,” Rich almost growled out, and the Baron shut up right away. “You can take anything else but him.”

 

“I think you’ll find, Richard Goranski, son of Ulysses the Giant Killer, that I can take him. He’s already been spoken for; it is you who has no claim to him.” Jeremy sneered, looking down at Rich. The guard paled at his full name being used. How had Jeremy known that detail?

 

Jeremy pulled a jar out of his robe and opened it, waving his hand in a sweeping motion. Liquid fire sprung from the jar and curled it way through the air, causing everyone except Jeremy to flinch back. It began pooling on Michael’s cuffs, melting them and causing a slight sting from the sheer intensity of it all.

 

“You will not keep him from me, mortals,” Jeremy roared, sending the fire and the melted metal from the cuffs swirling through the air towards Rich and the Baron. The tiger roared along with him. Rich backed up and fled the room, and the Baron cowered behind his throne.

 

Michael felt himself tense up as Rich ran, looking over Jeremy. He wasn’t sure if this was a bluff or not, since those dragon wings were real and this definitely seemed plausible. Plus, he was too panicked from earlier to really think this over. It all started to pile up, but he still had to stay calm, he could panic later.

 

He stepped forward then, to Jeremy and his mechanical tiger, keeping his tone even. Michael reached a hand over to Jeremy, for him to take.

 

He took Michael’s hand and pulled him up easily, showing no strain at all from this all. “Hold on to me,” Jeremy instructed, his tone too gruff and demanding to sound like Jeremy at all. Michael clung to him, terrified of disobeying.

 

Without prompting, the tiger walked forwards and roared right in the Baron’s face. The fat man cowered, curled up tightly on himself. “I don’t like you, mortal. If I hear of your greed again, I’ll wipe your pathetic little hovel off the map once and for all,” he growled. Without waiting for an answer, the tiger turned and began dashing out of the manor.

 

Michael buried his face into the back of Jeremy’s shoulder as they dashed out. He could feel them moving, further away from the town, and he felt his heart leaping back into his chest. Despite that, he tried so hard to keep it together, but everything that happened before and just now hit him like a truck, and he couldn’t help the tears that fell behind his mask.

 

Eventually, the tiger slowed down and stopped. Michael felt Jeremy’s form shift beneath him, getting smaller and... something else. Then he turned and guided Michael to the ground, getting him to sit down on what felt to be a forest floor.

 

“Raja, guard. You know who’s safe,” Jeremy said as he sat down, his voice his own. When Michael looked up, through his tears, Jeremy had his mask off and he looked totally back to normal. “Are you alright, auglas? Can I touch you, or would that be too much right now?” he asked gently.

 

Michael felt himself relax when he saw Jeremy back to normal. That had probably all been an act, yeah, it would make sense. He had just been all caught up in everything that he didn’t see it... and Jeremy had been very convincing.

 

Gasping softly, Michael nodded, feeling his hood slip off as he tried to catch his breath. Now that he knew he was safe, he could cry it all out and not worry about his pride and image being ruined.

 

Jeremy scooted closer and guided Michael to his chest, letting him curl up there and just... feel. He felt Jeremy undo the mask and take it off. Then his arms just wrapped around Michael and they rocked ever so slightly as Michael sobbed and shook, and Jeremy gently hummed a Gnomish lullaby, the same one he would sing during their quiet moments.

 

Michael just let himself cry it all out, hiccuping and sobbing and letting it all just happen. He didn’t know how long he cried for, but by the time he was done, Michael felt a lot better. He didn’t want to leave this moment though, to admit what he did wrong, that he let his identity be known, so he just curled up tighter against Jeremy as he whimpered.

 

“Shhh, it’s okay, auglas. You’re safe. You’re okay now,” Jeremy murmured, running his fingers through Michael’s hair. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get you sooner.”

 

He couldn’t help but lean into Jeremy’s gentle touch as he caught his breath. “I-I... Rich took off my mask, he saw me, b-but just him. I couldn’t stop him...”

 

“Hey, it’s okay, lajy. You’re gonna be fine. Rich might be trying to catch you, but he won’t hurt anyone else in the process. He’s too honorable for that. Your family will be fine, and we’ll all be fine,” Jeremy soothed, massaging just around the base of Michael’s horns. “You’re gonna be just fine. I’ll make sure of it. I’m the Blue Dragon of the West after all, aren’t I?” His tone was light and gentle, but Michael could hear the small smile in his voice.

 

“Y-yeah,” Michael hiccuped, arms snaking around Jeremy and holding on tight to him, fingers clutching tightly to his shirt. “I-I just... That was terrifying, lajy, so terrifying. Thank you so much, Jeremy, oh my god.” He didn’t really know how to get his thoughts out so he just curled up and let himself calm down, he relaxed against Jeremy and in his hold.

 

“I know, I know. It’s okay, idril, it’s okay. I got you,” Jeremy murmured, still massaging around his horns. “You’ll be okay.”

 

Michael nodded along with what Jeremy was saying, trying to take deep, soothing breaths as he sniffles. “I... yeah.” He clung on tighter to Jeremy still, needing him to calm down and ground himself. “You’re helping so much, thank you.”

 

“It’s okay, idril. Just follow my breathing.” Jeremy kept his breathing slow and gentle and deep, and Michael felt himself relax. Jeremy’s head lifted when the sound of paws padding through the leaves began approaching. “The others are coming on the wagon. We can go and relax back up there for a bit, yeah? Just curl up in the blanket?” he offered.

 

He didn’t need to be told twice. Michael just nodded, letting one hand go as he rubbed his eyes a little violently with the palm of his hand. He hiccuped softly as he did that. “Y-yeah...” After a sniffle, Michael looked up at Jeremy, vision somewhat blurry since he didn’t have his glasses on. “How are you though? I’m so sorry for leaving you like that, I am.”

 

“It’s not your fault, idril. You did your best,” Jeremy soothed, still stroking his hair. “I’m okay for now.” Jeremy reached up and into the bag attached to the large metal tiger who had just approached again. He pulled out Michael’s glasses and offered them to him. “Here you go. Raja was looking after them for you.”

 

He took them with a thanks before putting his glasses on. “Raja? Is that the name of the new scary tiger?” Michael asked, voice soft and a little teasing before resting his head back against Jeremy’s chest, nuzzling close. “Very nice, very scary.”

 

“He’s a good kitty,” Jeremy agreed, and Raja rumbled out something akin to a purr. “I’ve been working on him for a long time, so he’s pretty much the best thing I’ve ever made. And he got some upgrades to make sure he can help with future missions too, hence why he came with me today.”

 

“Yeah, he definitely helped to sell your whole thing. I even believed you for a minute,” Michael admitted as he sighed and adjusted himself. “I’ll gush and admire him later, when I’m not exhausted... How long until everyone’s here and we gotta get up?”

 

“About thirty seconds.” Jeremy sighed, squeezing Michael. “Let’s get up now so we can just climb into the wagon straight away, yeah?” Michael could hear the sound of the wagon by now, as well as the sound of a few people walking through the forest. The rustle of leaves wasn’t comforting exactly, but it was actually great to help him calm down. It reminded him of where he was.

 

“Yeah, sounds good,” Michael agreed as he took a few deep breaths and stood up with Jeremy when prompted, holding onto him and trying not to lean too heavily on Jeremy. “After this though, I’m gonna be giving you lots of comfort and cuddling back.”

 

Jeremy did stagger under his weight a little but stayed strong. “I... yeah. But after everything else. I’ll... I might need to... I’ll just have to hide a bit first,” he admitted quietly, and Michael didn’t exactly understand what he was getting at.

 

“Just let me know where you’re going so I know you’re safe,” Michael muttered as he gently squeezed Jeremy with the arm around him. “OK?”

 

Jeremy nodded. “I’ll just be in the wagon, and you can even sit with me and everything, I just have to... yeah. Chrissy can explain it better than I can.” Said halfling just popped into view, dashing over to Michael and Jeremy and stopping short just a few feet.

 

“Are you guys okay?” she asked gently, and Jeremy gave a tired nod.

 

“We’re both wiped and just need to sit in the back,” Michael told her. “When we’re feeling better, we’ll explain what happened and you can explain what happened while I was gone.”

 

“Yeah, of course.” With that, she led them to the back of the wagon, letting them climb in while Jake and Brooke stayed peacefully quiet. Darling crowed from where she was in her nest, and Nightshade honked from where he was on the wagon’s bed. Michael smiled at the two, letting Darling land on his shoulder as he went with Jeremy over to their bed.

 

Darling nuzzled against him before flapping back onto her perch by the bed. Nightshade ran rings around his feet before climbing up his leg and resting happily on Michael’s shoulder, the one closest to Jeremy.

 

Together, they climbed into bed and Jeremy didn’t waste any time in bringing Michael’s head back onto his chest, holding him close and letting Michael hear his steady heartbeat.

 

Michael let his heartbeat calm him down, relax him as he felt the wagon begin to move. He felt Nightshade nuzzle against him then. Michael let out a soft sigh as he, with Jeremy’s nonverbal permission, wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s waist, his hands resting gently under his shirt as he felt himself start to relax, to be grounded, and to be brought completely back to reality.

 

Rich knew who he was, more than likely, but he promised it was fine. He wasn’t going to hurt his family, his loved ones. Rich has promised, and Michael knew that above everything else, Rich was a man of his word.

Chapter Text

After the incident (that’s what everyone referred to it as. Michael didn’t know if it helped or made things worse... It made it worse, he just didn’t have the heart to tell them), things were somewhat tense. Michael couldn’t help but feel paranoid, like he’d wake up and Rich and a million other guards would be there, hauling him away and no one could save him this time. Jeremy was stressed still, couldn’t handle being near people or talking for long periods of time before he’d hide. Everyone seemed tense, but Jake especially so for some reason.

 

They had all been taking a break, making camp for the night, and everyone talked for half an hour. Things seemed to be better.

 

Jeremy excused himself abruptly and went into the back of the wagon. Michael watched, felt Christine’s saddened gaze, and followed to the end of the wagon. He watched as Jeremy hid back in a compartment under the driver’s seat, only accessible through the back of the wagon.

 

Michael waited for another half an hour before he checked on Jeremy. He knocked, called softly for his boyfriend, and opened the little compartment to see him there, curled up with his eyes shut. “Lajy?”

 

Jeremy’s hand slowly popped out, but he didn’t open his eyes or move to get out yet. Still, the hand out was an invitation for contact, and was more than the others got when they checked on Jeremy. It was better than nothing.

 

Michael sat down then, right beside Jeremy, and took his hand. He intertwined their fingers, gently squeezing his hand before pressing a lingering kiss to the back of it. If Jeremy only wanted to do this right now, he was more than alright with that.

 

It was probably another ten minutes or so before Jeremy climbed out of his hiding space and into Michael’s lap with a sigh. He curled up there, hiding his face against Michael’s shoulder and not saying a word. One hand reached up to gently hold his shirt, the other remained intertwined with Michael’s.

 

Michael let him settle however he felt the most at ease before wrapping his free arm around him, holding him close. He shifted and pressed a few kisses to the top of his head, though said nothing. His thumb gently moved along Jeremy’s hand, rubbing against his knuckles as best as he could as well.

 

“M’sorry for running off again,” Jeremy mumbled, the words somewhat muffled by Michael’s shoulder. “Just got to be too much again. Haven’t re-calibrated myself yet.”

 

“It’s alright. I get it,” Michael reassured him before pressing another kiss to his head. “Can you explain to me what happened later, when you’re feeling better?”

 

Jeremy nodded. “Gonna need Chrissy’s help too, since she’s better at words.” Jeremy clung tighter. “She understands the whole thing sorta better than I do.”

 

“Alright, that’s fine. Whatever you need,” Michael muttered out before pressing a few kisses to the free space on Jeremy’s face. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

 

“This is good.” He hummed softly. Jeremy finally opened his eyes and looked up at Michael properly. “You’re the only person who doesn’t get too much. So even just being around you helps.”

 

“Well I’m glad to know that I help that much. You help me out that much too when the world gets to be too much for me too,” Michael reassured him before resting his forehead against the top of Jeremy’s head.

 

Jeremy sighed, the sound happier than the last one, and relaxed against Michael, only to tense up a little again when another figure climbed into the back of the wagon.

 

“Hey guys, just thought I’d come check on you guys. You’ve been here for a while, even for one of Jeremy’s hideaways,” Christine murmured, perching herself a little distance away from the boys, showing respect for Jeremy’s boundaries.

 

“Since you’re here, can you explain this for Mikey please, Chrissy?” Jeremy asked quietly. Christine looked a little confused.

 

Michael looked over then, shifting how he was positioned. “What happened when I wasn’t here and what keeps making him need to be re-calibrated and stuff,” he explained, nuzzling against Jeremy’s head with his own.

 

Christine’s expression shifted to one of understanding, then to an almost sheepish look. “Well to understand what happened when you were gone, you need to understand what Jeremy was like when I first met him. He... wasn’t nice.” Jeremy didn’t react beyond getting a little more tense. “Not to say that he was mean or anything, he just... he didn’t get people. He grew up only really around his dad, his mom, and machines and magic. The last two he understood, and his parents were hardly normal. So he had no idea how to interact. He was blunt and factual and struggled with dealing with emotions and people in general. I think he might have been scared of almost everyone, if I’m honest.” Surprisingly, Jeremy nodded and just clung to Michael.

 

Michael looked down at Jeremy then, pressing a soft kiss to the top of Jeremy’s head before looking back at Christine. “I... I get that, to an extent, though I can’t fully get it. He didn’t know or understand, and he needed time and people who were patient enough to help you learn, right Jeremy?”

 

Jeremy nodded, and so did Christine. “That’s where we came in. Me and the troupe. Melech, Hope and I sort of found Jeremy on the side of the road, hiding in his wagon. He’d just ‘escaped’ town because it had been too chaotic for him to even attempt selling anything, so he needed to calm down. Hope and Melech managed to convince him to travel with us, and we all taught Jeremy about how to deal with people. He’d still need to hide in his wagon sometimes, but he got better as time went on,” Christine elaborated, shooting Jeremy a fond look. “It eventually got to the point where you couldn’t tell how isolated Jeremy had been, and everyone else had already adopted Jeremy as family by that point. Even with his issues with people, he still wanted to help everyone, and that resonated with so many of the troupe.”

 

“That makes sense,” he murmured out before pressing a few kisses to the top of Jeremy’s head. “What did he do though while I was gone?”

 

“He worked himself up into a panic and sort of... reverted. Between his own panic and worry about you, his guilt about not being able to help, and his dragon getting upset about you being taken it was just a bit much for him to take.” Christine looked a little guilty. “I can’t say I played a big part in helping him out, and he ended up snapping at Jake. He said some factually true, but insensitive things to him, and was just generally... not nice. He realized that later, and apologized, but he hasn’t been able to get a grip on everything properly since.”

 

“That makes sense, things are hard to get a grip back on after big snaps,” Michael admitted. “I... I’m having some issues after what happened.” He hadn’t said anything about what happened, so he sighed and explained everything before resting his cheek against Jeremy’s head.

 

“I think if I had another bad thing like that happen again, or worse, I’d get freaked out and sort of recluse myself up a bit worse,” Michael added before gently squeezing Jeremy.

 

“Yeah, I don’t blame you. That sounds horrible to go through.” Christine sighed before climbing to her feet. “Dinner should be ready soon. I’ll put some aside for you both, just come out whenever you’re ready.” Her tone was infinitely gentle and understanding. Michael was glad to have such a genuine friend. Jeremy was too, if the mumbled goodbye and the small wave he gave her were any indication.

 

Michael waved a little as well before pressing a kiss against the crown of Jeremy’s head. He waited until Christine was gone to ask, “When do you want to go out and try to eat? Or do you want to get someone to bring it in for us and we stay here?”

 

“I’ll be okay soon, I think. Just need to... hide for a bit when I’ve talked to people too much, need to re-calibrate,” Jeremy explained, nuzzling against Michael with a small sigh. “I’ve been pushing my limits back further and further but I’ve still got some time to go before it’s back to where it was, when I didn’t have to hide.” His stomach growled loudly. “Might be a bit hungry.” That was a genuine joke, that’s always a good sign, even if it was a little weak.

 

Michael couldn’t help but laugh at that. “That’s fine. Instead of pushing your limits again, let me help next time if I’m around. I don’t want you to push yourself like this, at least not if I can help it. That sound like a plan?” He gently squeezed Jeremy before poking his stomach with his tail. “Also, I can go get us our food and bring it back in for us.”

 

Jeremy’s face was almost expressing awe as he looked up at Michael. He just blinked owlishly for a moment before surging forwards and capturing Michael’s lips in a burning kiss. His arms wrapped around Michael, pulling him close, one reaching up to tangle in Michael’s hair and the other around his waist, slipping just under his shirt where he gently rubbed along Michael’s spine.

 

The sudden kiss took Michael by surprise, but he quickly melted into it, eyes shutting as he returned the passion put into the kiss, giving as much fervor as Jeremy did. He kept an arm around his waist as well, the other that was previously holding Jeremy’s hand moving to rest against the base of his neck. Michael tried his best to give as much into the kiss and little movements as possible; it was hard when he just melted and felt like putty under Jeremy’s experienced fingers.

 

Eventually, Jeremy broke the kiss and just rested his forehead on Michael’s shoulder, his warm breath fluttering against neck lightly. “I love you so damn much,” he murmured. “I’ve... I’ve never had anyone tell me not to push before.”

 

Oh, so that’s why Jeremy did that. Looking for at Jeremy then, he blinked a few times as he recomposed himself enough to speak (he was surprised that the kiss caught him off-guard that much, holy shit... though he definitely enjoyed it). “Well it’s true, I don’t want you to push yourself. It’s not right for you to do that, especially if I can help it.”

 

“I-... thank you so much, idril.” Jeremy sighed, curling up happily against Michael. Then his stomach growled and he giggled a little. “Could you grab dinner and we both just cuddle back here for a bit longer?” he asked, climbing out of Michael’s lap but still keeping as much contact as possible.

 

“Yeah, of course,” Michael said, gently poking his growling stomach with his tail. “I’ll be right back, don’t miss me too much.” He pressed a quick kiss to Jeremy’s cheek, making it a wet one, before getting up and quickly hopping out of the wagon.

 

 

 

A few days later, things were looking up. Michael was feeling more solid in himself and Jeremy stopped hiding as much. Occasionally he would duck away for maybe ten minutes, but it was getting to be less and less often. Michael couldn’t be prouder.

 

Everyone had stopped for lunch, just something small so the animals could have a bit of a rest for a while. And Jeremy was looking happier and more mischievous than he had looked in days. He was planning something, Michael was sure of it.

 

Michael knew not to ask, he’d see what Jeremy was planning soon enough. Instead, he just enjoyed the time that they had right now as he happily munched on his food.

 

“-and then we ran away from the town after I helped Jeremy get over the wall! It was amazing,” Christine sighed out as she recounted the story of how she got Jeremy into crime to Jake. Jake, meanwhile, had a mix of horror and awe on his face as she finished.

 

“Hey, I helped you up the wall, Chrissy. And to be fair, we didn’t do anything too bad, just some... vandalism I suppose?” Jeremy added, clearly enjoying reminiscing. “Those rich assholes clearly had it coming though.” He hopped up, and started walking around the group, almost pacing. “Speaking of having things coming, though...” When he was halfway across the circle, Jeremy pulled out the staff from behind his back and banged it on the ground with a smirk, triggering it.

 

Michael saw the emerald green bubbles pop merrily around first the staff, then him. He blinked and suddenly everything seemed quite a lot bigger and Jeremy was laughing his ass off. “Here’s the payback you promised me, idril,” he cooed out between giggles.

 

Michael looked around everywhere and at everyone, surprised by how everyone seemed so much bigger compared to him. He was barely taller than Christine, and Jeremy was over a foot taller than him at least. Looking down at himself, he saw that his things seemed to get smaller with him. “Oh, you’re such a little shit,” Michael muttered out as he got up after putting down his food, which he had to hold different before going to Jeremy. It felt weird having to look up at him. “Why?”

 

“Tail. You promised I could get payback before you practiced normally,” Jeremy deadpanned before he burst out laughing again. He bent down, pressing a kiss to Michael’s forehead before picking him up. Michael squawked, not used to being manhandled like this, and wrapped his legs around Jeremy’s waist. “So how does it feel to be the smaller boyfriend for once?” Jeremy cooed, kissing Michael’s cheek affectionately. He was very clearly enjoying this a bit too much.

 

“It feels pretty nice,” Michael had to admit after thinking it over for a few seconds. “I have to get used to it and everything, this is so weird, but I really want to be able to be held like this sometimes.” He rested his head on Jeremy’s shoulder, still a little disoriented as he wrapped his tail around Jeremy’s waist and himself to keep himself steady. “This isn’t a bad thing at all. Now you have to carry me and let me do all the smaller things you’d normally do.”

 

“You say that as if it’s a bad thing.” Jeremy grinned, moving to sit back where he was earlier. “If you like it that much, we can do this more often,” he murmured, pressing a quick kiss to Michael’s temple and placing the staff in the middle of the circle. “Anyone else want a go? You all know how it works, right?”

 

Michael happily sat in Jeremy’s lap, looking back to see everyone else shaking their heads. “Thanks, but no thanks,” Brooke said with a small smile.

 

Christine hopped forwards before anyone could stop her and tapped the staff on the ground. Bubbles popped around both Jake and Brooke, and suddenly they were both around Christine’s height. Their clothes shrunk with them luckily.

 

“Christine! How could you!” Jake cried dramatically, looking down at himself. Brooke just sat there and pouted while Christine burst out laughing.

 

“Did... I just become I tallest person here?” Jeremy asked incredulously.

 

“Yeah, enjoy that responsibility,” Jake chided with a loud huff, arms crossed over his chest as he grumbled. “What did we ever do to deserve this?”

 

“Chrissy’s chaotic, it was to be expected to happen at some point,” Brooke pointed out around her pout.

 

“I’m fine with it, I still get to be the small boyfriend for now,” Michael muttered out as he nuzzled closer to Jeremy, sighing happily. Well, this was certainly unexpected, but Michael was so not upset about this.

 

Jeremy chuckled and held Micheal closer. “I’m quite happy with this set up too, I finally get to hold you properly and you’re just so cute when you’re smaller than I am,” he cooed.

 

“Those two are adorable, and you two are really getting way too worked up about this. It’ll wear off in an hour anyways, enjoy the short life while it lasts.” Christine grinned, leaving the staff back in the middle of the circle.

 

“You did it without asking! I’m just- you- Christine!” Jake whined out while Brooke rolled her eyes and went over, taking Christine by the hand and having her sit down with her and Jake.

 

“Aww, so I’m not cute normally? You’re breaking my heart, lajy,” Michael teased before pressing a kiss to Jeremy’s cheek. “I demand lots of love as the little spoon for that.”

 

“You’re always cute, idril. You’re just extra cute when you’re fun sized,” Jeremy teased right back, quite happy to ignore the drama going on with their other friends. Michael vaguely noticed that Christine was hiding behind Brooke as Jake chased her around, yelling about consent. “And you said that as if I’m not going to totally spoil you with affection. Not only can I pick you up easily now, I can also have you in my lap. How could I not shower you in love?”

 

“Aww, Jeremy,” Michael cooed out, glancing over to see both Brooke and Jake tickling Christine before focusing back in on Jeremy. “Can we start now though? I think Christine’s busy with the others. She might’ve given them more than just her small stature.”

 

Instead of replying, Jeremy stood up, taking Michael with him. He cradled him close, peppering his face in gentle kisses as they headed into the back of the wagon. Darling and Nightshade both looked up from where they were playing together, confused but apparently getting a feeling of the peace and gentle mood both Jeremy and Michael were experiencing, since they just shifted away from the bed and out to go watch the others.

 

Jeremy sat down on the bed and laid back, letting Michael lie on top of him for a moment before turning and curling around him. He was a little awkward at first, not used to being the big spoon, but Michael found that they both quickly relaxed into their new positions. Jeremy kept showering him in kisses, gentle and sweet.

 

Michael happily kept his tail around Jeremy, letting himself relax into the position with ease as he leant up into Jeremy’s kisses. He rested a hand on top of Jeremy’s that moved to wrap around his middle in turn. “You’re so sweet,” Michael couldn’t help but hum out as he ran his hand along Jeremy’s, smiling all the while. “I love you so much.”

 

“I love you too, auglas. Xe dajy haf,” he cooed, before sighing happily and capturing Michael’s lips in a gentle kiss. Being small and being kissed like this was almost totally overwhelming. It was like everything else just vanished, it was only him and Jeremy, and Michael loved it. By the time the kiss ended, he was dazed and just so happy. They would definitely be doing this again.

 

 

 

Sitting inside the wagon with the curtains drawn and the lights on, Michael took the staff from its place under Jeremy’s bench. They talked about experimenting, and Michael was all for it... He did take the ring out from his bag of holding as well before heading to the bed in the back.

 

Jeremy sat there with Nightshade, who was growing every day, across his lap. The not-so-little weasel happily dooked when Michael sat down, ring in his shut hand. “So, we’re going to experiment. I’ll go first since I know you want a tail, but I want you to do something for me first, lajy.”

 

“I’m just curious to see what it’s like!” Jeremy protested grumpily, eyes betraying his humor, before he relaxed and leaned back. “What is it I can do for you, idril?” Nightshade climbed up to Jeremy’s shoulder and leant over to nuzzle Michael’s cheek, dooking happily and settling across Jeremy’s shoulders, which his head near Michael.

 

Cooing at Nightshade first, Michael pulled his hand out that held the ring and opened it. “You wear the ring and answer three questions for me, and then you get a tail. My payback and then we move past any more payback. Sound fair to you?”

 

Jeremy looked down at the ring with apprehension before he just sighed. “Yeah, that’s fair.” He held out his hand. “But you need to put it on me. I’d be too nervous to put it on myself.” The look of trust in Jeremy’s eyes was sweet as he gazed up at Michael.

 

“Aww,” Michael cooed out, though carefully put the ring on then, kissing his hand after the garnet-stuffed ring was on. “Alright, so... you asked two silly questions and then a serious one, right?”

 

“That’s right,” Jeremy answered immediately, looking a little surprised. “Okay that's a weird feeling. It’s like I couldn’t help but answer, the words just forced themselves out... that’s really interesting...”

 

“Yeah, I know, and sorry about that.” Michael gave Jeremy a somewhat apologetic smile before leaning forward and kissing his cheek. “Alright, so one silly question... What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done just because?”

 

“Made everyone leave footprints for a whole day. Mine were blue. They faded after a few hours, but all our neighbors in Rowanwood left a trail. Everyone thought they’d stepped in paint.” Jeremy shrugged, blushing a little. “It was fun to watch.”

 

The idea of that made him laugh, though Michael just thought for a moment longer before coming up with his next question. “What’s the stupidest thing that you want to do in your lifetime?”

 

“I really want to turn all the trees in a town rainbow for a week or two, around the start of summer when they’ve all got all their leaves,” Jeremy answered immediately, grinning. “Green is good, but rainbow is so much cooler. I just haven’t learnt the spell to do that.”

 

Again, the idea made Michael laugh before he glanced to the side, trying to think about the next question as seriously as he could. Jeremy’s question hit hard, but Jeremy was so happy after he heard Michael’s... Hopefully his question would help make them closer…

 

“What do you imagine our life is going to be like together after we finish Iconis’ quest and stop Squip?”

 

Jeremy’s jovial mood dropped and was replaced by a small smile instead, the ring forcing the words out before he’d calmed down normally. “I don’t know for sure,” he admitted. “But I like to think we somehow settle down. I get a forge and work in it, and you run the shop out the front or something. And... we’re just happy. We have a life together. We grow old together, somehow. I’d find a way, I know I would. But even if that never happened and we spend the rest of our lives on the run with you as Red Hood, I know I’d still be happy. Because we’d be doing it together.”

 

Well, he didn’t know if this was exactly how Jeremy felt, but Michael felt his throat tighten and his eyes sting in the best of ways. He couldn’t help but smile wide as he wrapped his arms around Jeremy, bringing him close and into a warm, loving kiss (only once Jeremy gave him a look that showed he was alright with this did he truly close the distance between their lips). He was sure it was burning and full of a lot of intense love, but that was what he felt right then and there with Jeremy’s answer. It was threatening to overtake him with how powerful it was, but Michael didn’t mind it. He hoped Jeremy didn’t mind it either.

 

Judging by the way Jeremy grabbed at him, letting Michael move and touch as he wanted, he didn’t mind either. If anything, he loved it and was entrapped as much as Michael in the intense feelings. He whimpered a little as Michael’s hand snuck up the back of his shirt, pressing him closer, but Michael could tell it was a good sound. Jeremy was just getting overwhelmed with good feelings, and he wasn’t pulling himself away at all.

 

In fact, Jeremy kept making a lot of small noises with every touch and movement and breath, practically turning to putty in Michael’s hold. He climbed on Michael’s lap, not disconnecting their lips.

 

Michael happily held him closer, wrapping his tail around the back of Jeremy and keeping him closer, pushed closer against him and safe, secure. Only when he needed to catch his breath did Michael pull back. He got yanked back down into another long string of kisses as soon as he caught his breath, though Michael wasn’t upset or anything.

 

His hand rubbed along Jeremy’s lower back, trailing his thumb along Jeremy’s spine as he moved his other hand to cradle Jeremy’s face. Running his thumb along the softer curves there, he happily hummed against Jeremy’s lips, letting the noise get lost in all of Jeremy’s happy noises. He liked hearing all these noises. Hopefully, Jeremy’d let them out more often.

 

When Jeremy pulled back to catch his breath, he didn’t move far. Instead he tucked him into the crook of Michael’s neck, panting and kissing there. His small noises and gasps grew less frequent but didn’t stop entirely. Michael was sort of glad of that fact, since they made him happy. And the kisses felt really nice against the sensitive skin of his neck.

 

Michael just continued to run his hand along Jeremy’s lower back, though the hand on Jeremy’s cheek shifted. He placed it carefully against the nape of Jeremy’s neck, massaging there as he couldn’t help but gasp when Jeremy kissed and sucked at one particularly sensitive spot on his neck. He let Jeremy keep going though, enjoying when the other kissed the area he just worked on. “God, Jeremy...”

 

Jeremy’s sigh was almost a whine as he kept kissing that spot gently. And god, when he spoke his voice was almost hoarse from desire and just the sheer intensity of what just happened. “There’s a light mark there. M’sorry, should have asked first. I just-“ He kissed there again, a little more firmly. “-I couldn’t help myself.”

 

"No, don't apologize, please don't," Michael quickly said, surprised by how hoarse his own voice was from his own desire, as well as the overwhelming love that he felt towards Jeremy right then and there. "I love it, I love you, just- oh my god, Jeremy."

 

“I love you so much, Michael, so much it almost hurts. I don’t think I could ever go without you again, you’ve changed me for the better.” Jeremy breathed, before pulling back and arching his neck, exposing it for Michael. “Please. It doesn’t need to be dark, or big. Just... please,” he almost whimpered out, eyes falling shut.

 

Michael didn't need to be told twice. Bending down, Michael carefully took the skin of Jeremy's neck, sucking carefully and lovingly as he heard Jeremy gasp and moan softly for a moment. After he was sure there was a nice mark, Michael carefully let go before pressing a plentiful amount of kisses against where he just left a bruise. "I hope that's OK, that's my first time really trying that..."

 

“It’s perfect.” Jeremy sighed, massaging around Michael’s horns. “So perfect. ‘Cause you left it. And it’s sorta like proof that I’m yours, and you’re mine. Even the dragon’s happy right now,” he mumbled, and Michael could feel Jeremy’s throat vibrating against his lips. “Love you so much, idril, so so much.”

 

Michael pressed a few kisses against Jeremy's neck, pulling back to nuzzle against Jeremy's shoulder. "I'm so glad that you both like it." He said it in a teasing tone before reaching up and capturing Jeremy's lips in a slow, sweet kiss, which was just as good as the more intense kiss they shared moments ago, even if it was quite different. "You're amazing."

 

You’re the amazing one,” Jeremy murmured against his lips, his touches a stark contrast to their passionate ministrations before. “You’re the only person who could tame me, the dragon part of me. I think I’d listen to you even if I lost myself to it again. And you’re just so wonderful and good and loving and- god Michael, how did I get so lucky to have you?” Every compliment was punctuated with another tender kiss. It was clear Jeremy was calming down, but he was still very dazed and happy from the intense feelings from before.

 

"I don't know, because I'm just as lucky to have you," Michael muttered out before carefully reaching down, taking Jeremy's hand. Specifically, he took Jeremy's hand that had the truth ring, looking at Jeremy before pressing a kiss to the palm of his boyfriend's hand. "Sorry for not taking this off sooner, I sort of got... swept up in your answer. Ready for me to take it off now though?"

 

Jeremy nodded, and he sort of glanced away, embarrassed. “I didn’t actually mind it. Just the sounds. S’embarrasing. Couldn’t stop them like normal.” Jeremy’s cheeks heated up as he spoke. “I don’t mind being totally honest with you, though. I like it, kinda. ‘Cause I trust you.”

 

"Well I love you being open and honest with me like that." He gently held onto the ring, carefully taking it off before putting it back into his bag of holding. "I liked hearing the sounds, I knew you were enjoying everything then." Michael pressed a quick kiss to the tip of Jeremy's nose before resting their foreheads together. "I trust you too, and I like being honest with you too."

 

Jeremy’s cheeks darkened and but he looked right into Michael’s eyes. He could only see trust and love and a layer of sweet desire in their brown depths, and he couldn’t help but smile. “If you like my sounds, I’ll try not to censor myself so much.” Jeremy chuckled, rubbing their noses together.

 

“Thank you very much,” Michael said around a smile before pressing a quick kiss to Jeremy’s forehead. “Now, tail time?” As he asked, Michael held up the staff he had set down up, waving it teasingly as he held a warm smile.

 

Jeremy giggled and nodded almost shyly. “I am kinda curious about having a tail...” He grinned. Nightshade, who had jumped down onto their pillows some time ago, dooked excitedly, jumping around a little. “Ready when you are, auglas.”

 

Michael laughed a little at Nightshade's excitement before lifting the staff up, the idea of Jeremy having a tail in mind before he tapped the bottom of the staff to the floor of the wagon. He watched as green bubbles formed around the staff, as well as around Jeremy.

 

Jeremy shifted a little uncomfortably for a moment, before a tail snaked out from under his clothes and sort of swayed just behind him. It looked to be of a similar build to Michael’s, with the soft tip and the general flexibility, but it was also shorter, matching Jeremy’s size a bit better.

 

“Well would you look at that...” Jeremy sounded a little shocked, and Michael guessed it was from suddenly having a whole new limb attached to his body, which he could move himself. “My clothes seemed to have adapted too, but god if this feels weird...” Jeremy’s tail twitched, then shot up and smacked him in the face. It didn’t seem to be too hard of a hit, judging by Jeremy’s small squawk of surprise.

 

Michael couldn't help but burst out laughing. It reminded him of the stories his moms told him of how he first reacted to having a tail. After catching his breath, Michael reached over and gently tapped Jeremy's tail with his own. "It's weird, but you'll get used to it if we do this more and more, I guess. I'm going to have to recall of Mom's old stories of what she'd have to tell me to help me get used to my tail."

 

Jeremy jumped a little at the touch, but he stared at the tail with a slightly furrowed brow, beaming when he managed to get it to clumsily wrap around Michael’s. “It’s surprisingly sensitive,” he noted, squeezing Michael’s tail with his own. “And still so weird. But fun too.”

 

"It's literally your fifth limb," Michael pointed out, wrapping his tail a little more surely around Jeremy's temporary tail and squeezing back. "It is really fun."

 

“It is,” Jeremy agreed, unwinding his tail from Michael’s and looking at it for a moment. Slowly, he brought it towards his face and managed to use it to push up his glasses. “I think I’m getting the hang of this!” His tail wiggled a little, then poked Michael’s nose, slowly and gently still.

 

Michael smiled fondly down at Jeremy before using his tail to squish one of Jeremy's cheeks, then the other. "You're doing great. It's reminding me a little of baby Michael when he was trying to figure out his tail, but you really are doing great."

 

“I bet you were an adorable baby.” Jeremy grinned, wrapping his tail around Michael’s waist and holding him with a surprisingly strong grip (not uncomfortably though; it was surprising because that was a lot more accurate than before). “Also can I just say having a tail would be so useful! Like when I’m working on projects and stuff, it would be so useful to have a tail since it’s just so dexterous.” A pause. “Could I actually try using the staff on you? I want to know if knowledge and skill can be mimicked or if it’s just normal attributes.”

 

The idea Jeremy offered made Michael honest to god curious, so he couldn't deny him that as he handed over the staff. "I mean, go for it, but I'm not sure how it'll work since it isn't something like immunity or a physical trait."

 

Jeremy thought for a second, then reached over with his tail to grab his bag of holding. After digging around in it for a second, he pulled out a red box. “It takes me twenty minutes to make a fire starter, using a pre-made power crystal, from a kit like this.” He put the kit on the bed and scooted off Michael’s lap. “I want to see if you can do the same,” he instructed, picking up the staff, focusing for a moment, then tapping it down.

 

Michael didn’t feel any change in himself or his head, but he did open the box when Jeremy prompted him. “I’m gonna head outside and practice with this-“ He wiggled his tail a little. “-because if I stay here I’ll influence the test. Come out when you’ve either finished it or if you give up, yeah?” With that, Jeremy kissed his forehead and left.

 

Michael reached into the box and spread out the contents. The tools were already set next to the box, and he was surprised when he realized he knew where to start. He began fitting the pieces together.

 

Granted, he knew he wouldn't take only twenty minutes to make the fire starter, he didn't have the fine motor skills that Jeremy did or the practice. Instead, Michael let himself take his time, going slow and steady to make a fire starter. He knew how to do each step, and even how to transfer the energy from the power crystal over (he was honestly surprised he could do it, and he cheered a little when he finished doing it).

 

After testing it out, Michael grinned, feeling proud of the first ever thing he made. It worked just as well as Jeremy's fire starter that Jeremy gave him did. Feeling the pride and overall giddiness taking him over, Michael hopped out of the wagon. He saw Christine and Brooke napping together, curled up with their hands held and Christine practically resting on top of Brooke. Jake was reading something, looking up and waving for a second at Michael before focusing back on his book.

 

Jeremy was nowhere in sight, but Jake seemed to realize his conundrum since he looked over again and pointed up. Following Jake’s finger, Michael looked up to the tall trees of the forest and felt his heart almost stop. Jeremy was climbing up near the highest branches, swinging through the trees like a freaking monkey or something!

 

He nimbly leapt from branch to branch, sometimes over or undershooting them and using his tail perfectly to grab onto it and continue his swinging. He was laughing happily as he went around and around the treetops, finally stopping when he noticed Michael down a good twenty feet on the ground.

 

“Oh hey, Mikey! You finished already?” he asked, hanging upside down by only his tail. With surprising grace and accuracy, Jeremy climbed down the tree he was in and jogged over to Michael, looking down at the first starter curiously. “This looks great! Well done, idril!” he cheered, seemingly oblivious to Michael’s worry still bubbling beneath the surface

 

“You also... My god Jeremy, you almost gave me a heart attack when I came out here. You picked up on using your tail so quick, it’s almost scary,” Michael muttered out as he showed Jeremy the fire starter, letting him look it over and examine it. “Like... oh my god...”

 

“Sorry, auglas. Didn’t mean to worry you or anything.” Jeremy grabbed Michael’s hand and kissed the back of it, before focusing on the fire starter. “I promise I was practicing on lower branches before heading all the way up.” He wrapped his tail around Michael, holding him close before looking up at him. “And this fire starter is great! Some of the gears could be a little straighter, but honestly that’s about it. Even the crystal has been transferred just right. I’m so seriously impressed right now!”

 

"You're lucky you're so good at it or I might have had an actual heart attack," Michael partially joked before bending down a little and kissing the top of Jeremy's head. "And I'm glad. I don't know if I'll remember how to do it after the hour's finally up, but I'm glad I made it. I tried my best and took it slow. I don't have all of your practice and fine motor skills with this kinda stuff."

 

“But now we know that base skills can be transferred,” Jeremy pointed out, putting the fire starter into his pocket and grinning up at Michael. “Which means you might be able to help me on projects, and wonderful stuff like that.” He used his tail, then his arms, to tug Michael down to kiss him properly on the lips, intertwining their tails. The contact felt strangely intimate, maybe for the same reason Jeremy touching the base of his horns felt intimate: no one really touched his tail, especially not with another tail.

 

Michael happily kissed Jeremy back, pulling back to let out a content sigh and gently squeeze Jeremy's tail back. "You're... I'm... This is really nice, our tails and stuff," he muttered out. "It's like with the base of my horns. I just... Yeah, it's really nice."

 

“You wanna head back inside and cuddle for a bit while I still have this?” Jeremy squeezed Michael’s tail with his own, his grin soft.

 

"Hell yes I do," Michael managed to get out before walking back and tugging Jeremy along with his arms and his tail.

 

 

 

A few hours later, Jeremy was still clinging to Michael as much as possible and Michael had to say, he really didn’t mind. Said clinginess is how they found themselves laying on their backs, with Jeremy half on Michael’s chest, in a circle with everyone around the dying campfire.

 

“Hey Mikey?” Christine asked after a while of staring up at the stars. “Iconis promised you a boon for completing this quest, didn’t he?” Michael nodded. “Do you think we’d all get one? Because if we do, I know exactly what I’m wishing for. Things for the troupe, just to make their lives easier. Like a couple more wagons so no one ends up sleeping outside, and maybe some more horses and stuff to help out the old ones. And some magic gear to make performing safer and easier,” she rambled happily, sighing a little when she was done. “I miss home.”

 

Listening to Christine, Michael couldn't help but feel his heart ache for her. She had such selfless goals in mind, and he wanted her wish to come true. He hadn't really thought much about the promised boon from Iconis, just the end goal of helping people and stopping Squip.

 

Glancing over, he saw a thoughtful look overtaking everyone else's faces then. "I... I miss home too. What would you guys wish for though, if you had a chance to have a boon too after all of this?"

 

“I’d probably wish for a chance to make things right with my... former partner. He misunderstood something that happened during a mission, thought I was cheating on him, and he left me for it. I want to make things right with him, without needing to worry about him trying to strangle me or something.” Jake chuckled, almost fondly. Michael wondered who Jake’s former partner was and how they could ever misinterpret Jake’s actions as anything but loyal and one hundred percent genuine.

 

“I... I would wish for people to think of me for more than just my skills, like you guys did. I don’t want to just be liked and used for my abilities, but for people to see me for me, you know?” Brooke asked, letting out a soft sigh. “Maybe I’d have more faith in people if they did that...” Michael remembered her talking with him about that when he was still sick, when it was just the two of them in Brooke’s home. He knew how badly it made her feel, and she didn’t deserve such poor treatment. His heart ached even more then. All of their wishes... They all deserved to come true.

 

Jeremy didn’t say anything for a minute, instead he just stared up at the stars. “I don’t know what I’d wish for... maybe my dad getting the forge back and going back to how he used to be. Before mom left.” He sighed eventually. “What about you, Mikey? What would you wish for?”

 

His old wish seemed stupid by comparison now. “I... I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it,” Michael muttered out, which wasn’t completely wrong. He didn’t think much on it... until now. “Sorry that I’m a bit more boring and indecisive.” He let out a small laugh. “I like all of your wishes though...” He’d wish for everyone else’s wishes to come true. They deserved it, more than he did.

 

Everyone else got chatting between themselves, but Jeremy turned to look up at Michael. “I know what you just said wasn’t the full truth. You don’t need to tell me it, but I know your wish is valid and you deserve it just as much as any of us,” he murmured as he pressed a small kiss to Michael’s chin. “I know you. And you deserve it, maybe even more than us. So don’t put yourself down, idril.”

 

Michael glanced away then, letting out a small sigh. “I... It was just to not have a bounty as Red Hood, but I don’t want that anymore,” he admitted. “It was just the only thing I could think of before and I just stuck with it. All of your wishes are better than mine though, I’m not wrong there. You all deserve your wishes more than I deserve that half-assed wish.”

 

“And you deserve to be able to go home, to not need to worry about being caught.” Jeremy kissed his chin again. “If you come up with something better, tell me about it. But I think it’s a perfectly fine wish, and you deserve it.”

 

Michael still didn’t look at Jeremy as he softly murmured out, “I want all of your wishes to come true...”

 

“And that is exactly why you deserve a wish more than anybody.” Jeremy sounded like he was smiling. “C’mon, lets go get some rest. We’ve still got a long way to travel tomorrow to reach the next town.”

Chapter Text

As the days got shorter and the weather colder, travelling started to get harder and harder. Luckily, Jeremy had made sure to keep a good supply of warm clothes and blankets in his wagon at all times so no one froze before the snow had started even started (it would be starting any day now).

 

They were approaching a town, Hyswater according to the map, where they could spend the night. Jeremy had to be honest, he was looking forward to having a nice warm fire, a warm meal, and all his friends in a soft bed of their own (his wagon bed was great, but it wasn’t very big or very soft).

 

“Something feels wrong here, not from the town itself but something nearby. We should be careful,” Brooke called from the back of the wagon, studying the town intently. There was a round of agreement, and Jeremy felt his stomach twist with worry. Last time they had a bad feeling about a town, half their group ended up under the Squip’s control!

 

From where Michael was sitting beside him in the driver’s bench, Jeremy felt him move from just having his arm around him. His other hand reached over, gently resting on top of one of the hands holding Gideon’s reins. Michael gently squeezed his hand before kissing his cheek. “Whatever it is, we’ll be fine by the end,” Michael reassured him, seeming to know what Jeremy was thinking. He was getting so good at doing that (it warmed his heart like it warmed him physically, especially since Michael was like a portable fireplace at all times).

 

Jeremy scooted as close to Michael as possible, burying himself in the emotional and physical warmth of his boyfriend. “So long as we stick together, we’ll be fine,” Jeremy agreed softly, still gently steering Gideon, not that the horse really needed it.

 

“Even if we get separated at some point for a stupid reason, I’ll be right back with you as soon as I can,” Michael reassured him. Jeremy felt Michael’s tail, which had been wrapped around his waist, slowly retract as they got closer to town. It made him sad, but he understood why Michael was so cautious.

 

Jeremy moved the reigns into one hand and reached up, adjusting the red cap he’d given Michael all those months ago to ensure his horns were properly covered. “There you go, entirely ordinary, if extremely handsome,” he cooed, trying to lighten his own mood. He was still worried. “Hmm, maybe that’s a give away that something’s up. You’re almost ethereally beautiful, Auglas.” His words were quiet, just for Michael to hear. Mainly because he didn’t want to get the annoyed (playfully so) groans from his friends.

 

It was all worth it to see Michael glance away in the flustered manner he always did when he got complimented. “Lajyyy,” Michael whined out then before burying his face into the crook of Jeremy’s shoulder, though not enough to mess up the hat adjustment. “You’re gonna be the death of meee.”

 

“Naturally.” Jeremy giggled, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Considering gnomes are technically of fey decent and you’re of demon decent.” He poked Michael’s stomach. “Our ancestors would be thrilled if I got you. So I’ll smother you in love instead.”

 

Michael whined at the prodding to his stomach before both arms wrapped around Jeremy. “I guess that’ll work... I dunno, I feel like your teasing is enough to satisfy your ancestors.”

 

“I’m a tease, am I?” Jeremy nuzzled against the top of Michael’s head, being careful of the hat. “Well what are you gonna do about that, idril? How are you gonna get back at me?”

 

Before Michael could respond, Jeremy heard Brooke groan. “You two are nauseating. At least Christine and I are subtle about it and do our mushy stuff in private,” she muttered out while Christine beamed from where she was riding beside the wagon.

 

“This is my wagon. I’m allowed to be mushy with my boyfriend if I want to be.” Jeremy grinned right back, his tone wicked sharp but also playful. “You knew what we were like before you decided to travel with us, Brookie. This is your own fault.”

 

“But at least be considerate of others, Jere-bear,” she huffed from the back, and Jeremy could hear Jake trying to contain his laughter from back there as well.

 

Jeremy giggled at the general happy mood of the group, feeling his spirits lighten a little. They’d be okay. They always were, even if things were difficult. He shot Brooke a cheeky grin and started heading into town.

 

They managed to get checked into the tavern with no problem, and they settled down to have some dinner before heading to bed. Jeremy made double sure to not drink any alcohol, just to be safe, and besides a general weird feeling in the air, everything seemed fine.

 

“I hope they don’t hit again tonight. My purse can’t take much more of a drain,” he overheard one man grumble. “And they took Bobby last week, so I’ve barely been able to work the farm.”

 

“They already hit this week, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Jeremy heard a woman reassure. “They took Lisa a few nights ago, poor little thing. I helped console her papa the past few nights about losing his little girl.”

 

Jeremy nudged Michael and nodded towards the two talking. Even if they had their own quest to be following, they still tried to help out where they could. This sounded like it might be a bit of a bad situation the town had found themselves in.

 

Michael looked up from what he was focusing on (his food) and glanced over towards the two talking. Jeremy could tell he was listening in now as they talked about the missing folk.

 

“We just have to hope that things get better. No one who has tried to help has been able to, either they’re beaten down or go missing themselves.”

 

“We stick around and find out more tomorrow? See if we can help? ” Jeremy whispered to Michael, listening in the conversation carefully. At least twenty people missing, of all ages and even a couple of different races too.

 

Glancing over, Jeremy saw Michael nod before taking another bite of his food. “Of course,” he muttered out after he swallowed down a bite of his food. “Whatever we can do.”

 

Jeremy nodded and got back to his food, his stomach sinking again. Something told him that this was going to go badly.

 

 

 

He’d just finally settled himself to sleep when it happened. Michael had long fallen asleep next to him, arms and tail loosely wrapped around him, when three figures burst into their room. Jeremy could have sworn they looked like their friends, but he knew they couldn’t be. Still, the three figures grabbed him and started pulling him out of bed. Jeremy yelled out and struggled, but he found he couldn’t escape their grasp. “Michael! Help!”

 

Michael woke with a start, eyes wide as soon as Jeremy started yelling. His eyes locked on the figures, and as soon as he moved to get up, halfway to sitting up, Jeremy heard one of the figures next to him mutter something (the Sleep spell). Michael’s eyes fluttered for a second before he dropped, going right back to snoring softly in bed. Nightshade, who started to freak out and was about to hop off the bed, also fell asleep, along with Darling who was about to crow.

 

Jeremy fought back as hard as he could, but he found that the spell was hitting him as well. He struggled and thrashed (both physically and mentally) but he quickly found that he slipped away. The last thing he saw before Sleep claimed him was Michael’s peaceful form.

 

 

 

It took Michael a few seconds to remember what happened when he woke up. As soon as he remembered Jeremy being grabbed, taken away, Michael hopped out of bed, barely managing to toss his clothes on before he ran out, knocking loudly on the doors of Brooke and Christine as well as Jake. “Get up, you need to get up, Jeremy’s been kidnapped!” Michael called, panicking too much to properly think. “Wake up!”

 

There was a sort of grumble and the girl’s door flew open to reveal a very disgruntled looking Brooke. “What they hell is going on, Mell? It better be important, it’s six in the morning,” she growled. Michael saw Christine peeking around her, and Jake’s door opened slowly as well, the paladin rubbing at his eyes.

 

“Did you not hear what I said?! Jeremy’s been kidnapped! I woke up and before I could do anything, someone cast Sleep and I just woke up,” Michael managed to explain, trying (and failing) at keeping himself calm. He felt a fuzzy long noodle climb up him and stretch across his shoulder with ease, but even Nightshade wasn’t helping him. Jeremy had been kidnapped and he couldn’t do a thing to stop it.

 

Christine pushed forwards, eyes wide and very awake all of a sudden. “Jeremy’s been kidnapped? By who?” she asked. Jake’s door opened properly and stepped out into the hallway, alert and worried.

 

“Did you see who took him? We might be able to find him if we know that,” he stated, going straight into business mode.

 

“T-they looked like you guys, but I know it wasn’t you guys,” Michael managed to get out, though he felt himself start to hyperventilate at the sudden questions being asked. He didn’t know anything, he just let them take Jeremy.

 

Nightshade nuzzled at his face gently, and Michael felt two strong hands clasp onto his shoulders. His hands were guided to a solid chest. “Follow my breathing, Michael,” Jake instructed firmly. He exaggerated his breathing to help a little.

 

Michael tried his best to follow along, but it wasn’t the same as when Jeremy helped him. He teared up as he kept trying. “‘M sorry, I’m sorry,” he managed to almost whimper out as he held onto Jake’s night shirt, clutching the fabric tight.

 

“It’s okay, it’s okay. We’ll get him back, I promise,” Jake murmured, being surprisingly gentle.

 

“He’s gonna be fine, Mikey. Jeremy’s tough and we’ll get him back in no time,” Christine added, not touching him but also not leaving him alone.

 

Michael wanted to just be fine, to listen and believe them, but his panic was too big. He could’ve stopped this if he was just a little faster. If he was just a bit better.

 

Michael felt harmless tremors shake the ground a little. He couldn’t even control the little magic he had. How could he help Jeremy if he couldn’t control that or his own panic or his own breathing- oh god, OK, he was having a panic attack at the very least. Great.

 

Michael was lost in the panic for who knows how long when suddenly a song cut through the chaos. He let it take him, embrace him, and pull him from the panic. A dazed sort of happiness passed over him and he relaxed.

 

“Michael, let’s go sit down, yeah?” Christine murmured, lowering her lyre and taking his hand. He nodded and let her lead him back to his room. She sat next to him and held both hands. “Now just breathe slowly, Michael. We’re going to get him back, he’ll be fine,” she reassured him, and he couldn’t help but believe her. Barely a moment later the dazed calm faded but the panic didn’t return. Christine had just Charmed him.

 

Michael nodded then, letting a soft sigh escape him. “Thank you. I-I don’t know why I got so freaked,” he muttered out, gently squeezing Christine’s hands back. “I’m sorry about all that too, just... thanks.”

 

“It’s okay, Mikey. I’m sorry I had to use it on you.” She squeezed his hands again. “But we are gonna get him back. Look, Brooke is already finding a trace for us to follow.” The half elf was indeed already in the room, grabbing a cyan thread of glowing light from the air.

 

“Jeremy taught me how to do this. We’ll be able to follow this, it’ll last maybe another hour before it starts fading,” she said, tugging the thread.

 

Michael nodded then as he took a few more deep breaths, calming himself down mostly. “Yeah, alright. We have to be careful though, the people who took him really did look like you guys. They’re either shapeshifters or know Alter Self.”

 

“It’s Alter Self. And this magic... it feels familiar...” Brooke studied the end of the thread carefully.

 

“But we have a heading. We’ll get him,” Christine repeated. Jake walked in, fully dressed and ready.

 

“I’ll take that, Brooke. You and Chrissy go get dressed, then we’ll follow this to get Jeremy back.”

 

Michael let out a hum of agreement as he stood up, rubbing his face before remembering to grab his glasses and his hat, putting both on. “We’ll find him, and we’ll kick the asses of whoever took Jeremy.”

 

 

 

When Jeremy woke up, he felt... different. Wrong. Like something was... missing. He slowly opened his eyes, finding his glasses were already perched on his face. He was in a cave of some sorts. Tied to a chair. Rope, not chains. It wouldn’t be too hard to break out of, he kept a power crystal on a bracelet just in case ever since Michael had been captured. But... he could feel the weight of the bracelet but not the calming pulse of magic... What was happening?

 

As he kept on trying, Jeremy realized that he couldn’t feel any of his magic. Jeremy did his best not to panic, struggling for a few seconds against the ropes before sighing. Well, this was just great.

 

As he stopped struggling, he swore he saw familiar faces come in. Brooke, Jake, Christine, along with some other random people... but their movements were wrong, how they walked and held themselves and they didn’t hold the same feeling of familiarity. “Ah, so you’re finally awake,” Fhristine said (what? He might be a genius in some regards, but it didn’t mean he was in all regards).

 

Jeremy found that without the comfort of magic, he couldn’t muster any sort of snark or strength to stand up to these fakes. It was like being cut off from one of his senses, like having a limb removed. “Wh-What do you want with me?” He tried to put in some strength, but he couldn’t stop the stammer.

 

“It’s not what we want with you, it’s what it wants with you,” Frooke said with no warmth, the ‘familiar faces’ taking a few steps closer.

 

That struck a sort of anger in Jeremy, but he couldn’t place why through his panic. “It? What do you mean It?” He scowled, feeling something familiar start to bubble up in his chest. A dragon’s rage. And then, as soon as it surfaced, it was gone. Like it had been snuffed out, and suddenly Jeremy was alone in the panic again.

 

“You know exactly what we mean, Jeremy,” Fake (Fake Jake... that one wasn’t as clear) said as he stepped closer, hands resting on the back of Jeremy’s chair as he moved behind Jeremy. “Will you be calm and compliant, or will you be difficult?”

 

Squip, they had to be talking about Squip. And that made Jeremy actually angry. “Like hell I’m joining it quietly,” he growled with as much heat as he could. “How about you stop looking like my friends and stop being such assholes? Because that would be really nice.” It didn’t matter how scared of these people Jeremy was (or people in general), he wasn’t about to just stay quietly for the Squip to take him.

 

“I guess that means you’re going to be difficult,” Fake said from behind him before he saw some of the unfamiliar faces start to take some things out and set something up. “Well, we have ways to make it easier for you to join it. Whether you want to or not, you will join it.”

 

Jeremy snorted, trying to figure out what he was seeing. It looked to be a sheet of some kind, hanging from the wall in front of him, and a helmet. “You guys better clear out before the others wake up or you’re gonna regret taking me,” he warned. “If you put that thing on me, I can’t promise any mercy.” It was an empty threat, but he wasn’t just going to sit there quietly. Even without his dragon pushing back, Jeremy could be pretty damned stubborn.

 

Everyone seemed to just ignore his threats, either not listening or not caring about the threats as he felt the helmet being put on by Fhristine. As soon as it was put on, Jeremy expected for something to happen... but nothing was happening (or at least not yet) as the people he did not recognize were finishing setting up the sheet on the wall. No one said a thing to him.

 

Jeremy started at the sheet, confusion bubbling away inside him. Then, suddenly, an image resolved itself on the sheet, showing the outside of the cave. Michael and the group were all out there, and Brooke looked to be holding... something between her fingers. Jeremy couldn’t see anything, but everyone was staring at whatever it was intently.

 

Joy burst through him for a split second, he was going to be saved! But then it changed to pain a moment later. Like he was being struck by the Lightning Machine, electricity burst through his veins and his head in powerful waves, and he couldn’t help his screams if he tried. He saw, between shocks, that the group outside hadn’t seemed to move.

 

Hello again, Jeremy,” Squip’s voice rang out clearly in his head. Oh, nononononono! He had to stay strong, even as another wave of pain burst through him.

 

On the screen, he saw the group slowly start to move in, Brooke leading the way with Michael beside her. More pain shot through him as he continued to watch, making Jeremy tear up as he held on tightly to the arms of his seat. “Things would be a lot easier if you just let me in, Jeremy. If you do, I won’t have to make things harder for you. Don’t you want things to be easy?

 

‘Yes, so just leave me alone,’ Jeremy shot back mentally, even as another shock ran through him, leaving him panting and slumped forwards for a moment.

 

He noticed, vaguely, that he was alone in the room. Where had his captors gone?

 

Your captor is here, don’t worry, Jeremy,” Squip reassured him as the wave of pain subsided for now. “Now, just watch and let me in when you realize that it’s the right thing to do. It may hurt until then, so give in whenever you’re ready.

 

‘Like hell I will,’ Jeremy growled, panting from the pain. He watched the sheet, his heart suddenly stuttering.

 

On the sheet was a copy of Jeremy, even wearing his sleep clothes (copies since he was still in them), looking worn and beaten as he staggered towards the group. No, that was a fake! Don’t trust it! But everyone looked so happy... except Michael. Even if it was a fake, why didn’t Michael look happy to see Jeremy? Another round of pain distracted him for a moment.

 

By the time he was able to focus in, by the time enough of the pain subsided to allow him to do that, Jeremy saw Michael yelling at his copy. His heart sunk. Did Michael hate him that much? No, he saw the others seem to focus in, their happiness turning away as the copy turned back into some random person he didn’t know, right before everyone moved in to attack. Before he could try to think about how this all happened, another wave of pain overtook him again, Squip’s voice still in the back of his mind.

 

Don’t you see, Jeremy? They don’t like you, really. It’s an act. He doesn’t like you. Doesn’t want you. Doesn’t love you.

 

Jeremy shook his head as the pain subsided. ‘That’s a lie. He loves me. And he’s my best friend. I won’t turn against him.’ Jeremy bit back another scream as another wave of pain hit him.

 

Look, if you don’t believe me. He’s found another you. And he looks even more upset than before...” Squip sounded almost apologetic.

 

Managing to look at the screen, Jeremy saw Michael with evident frustration as he went up to the fake Jeremy. His tail pushed the Jeremy back, onto the ground, and the fake turned back into another person. Before he could do anything, the person scurried back and ran. “If he really loved you, would he treat you like that, even a fake you?” The Squip actually sounded apologetic now before another wave of pain almost toppled Jeremy. He didn’t know how much more of these intense shocks he could take.

 

Jeremy whimpered as shock after shock, he was forced to watch Michael get angrier and angrier at every version of Jeremy thrown at him. He finally tore his eyes from the sheet, blinking back tears, as Michael had to be pulled back from actually hurting the most recent version of Jeremy. The copy had been pinned to the wall, knife to his throat. Michael must really hate him for some reason.

 

I just want to make the hurting stop, Jeremy. I can make it all stop, and Michael will love you. I promise.” Squip sounded so tempting, and he was about to actually consider the offer properly (it hurt too much, physically and emotionally) when the door burst open.

 

Another shock ran through Jeremy just as his eyes fixated on a furious looking Michael, and he couldn’t help but cringe away in fear even as the shock continued. He held back his scream of pain and terror as best he could.

 

As soon as Michael saw Jeremy though, he seemed to relax, no more anger in his expression as he hurried over. “Oh my god, Jeremy!” he cried out with worry (why would he be worried about him, didn’t he hate him?) as he made it over, the rest of the group managing to come in after Michael. “Oh god, OK, let me get this helmet off.”

 

Jeremy closed his eyes and half curled in on himself, pain and fear still running rampant in his system. He bowed his head, half offering the helmet just to make sure he didn’t accidentally antagonize Michael. Squip seemed to approve. “We can continue this later, Jeremy. Just put the helmet back on when you’re ready to talk.” Jeremy couldn’t help the small whimper when he felt Michael’s fingers gently brush against Jeremy when he was grabbing the helmet.

 

“It’s alright, don’t worry, we got you,” Jeremy heard Michael say as the helmet was slowly removed from his head. “It’s finally you, thank god. The other copies all were too off, they only looked like you. They didn’t act like you or move like you, they were terrible copies,” Michael rambled a bit as he put the helmet down before squatting in front of him. “I’m going to remove the ropes around you, alright?” The entire time he spoke, Michael’s voice was soft, careful, and loving.

 

Jeremy’s head hurt with the conflicting information, so he just weakly nodded. In either scenario, where Michael hated Jeremy or loved him, it was just better to do what Michael wanted. Because it would either mean less hurt or more safety for himself. Either way, that was good. He didn’t dare speak until he was more certain of what was real, just in case he Michael was going to do something.

 

With the affirmation, he saw Michael carefully move, gentle with how he took off the ropes. Once his wrists were free, Jeremy felt Michael’s fingers gently rub the area all while his tail went to loosen and remove the rope around his feet. “You’re gonna be alright, lajy, I promise.”

 

Michael must have then noticed Jeremy’s hesitance, and silence, since his gaze turned to one of concern. “Are you alright, Jeremy?” he asked softly. Jeremy didn’t say a word, instead his eyes (involuntarily) glanced back up to the sheet which was showing all Michael’s reactions to the different Jeremys. He did his best to focus on Michael instead, not wanting to upset him. Maybe Michael didn’t notice.

 

Michael glanced back then, and he seemed to understand then. His golden eyes looked back over at Jeremy, the look there apologetic. “I knew those weren’t you, Jeremy. They didn’t talk like you, act like you, move like you. I was just getting mad because they were messing with us. I would never do any of those things to you, I promise that on my life. I’ll even put on the truth ring and let you know that.”

 

That... that sounded right. It sounded accurate to what Jeremy knew of Michael before all this. And he was willing to put on the truth ring to prove it, Jeremy knew how potent that was. Maybe... no certainly. Squip was lying, again. And it had almost gotten Jeremy again too.

 

As soon as that connection had been made in his head again, Jeremy practically threw himself at Michael and sobbed against his shoulder. Everything hurt and he’d been so scared and alone and he didn’t know how he even made it through this.

 

“They took it, Michael. They took my magic, and I can’t feel any of it and I just don’t know anymore. I don’t know what’s real and everything hurts so much.”

 

“Brooke said she felt a Dispel Magic spell cast in here, I think they used that on you. It should wear off soon, I promise,” Michael muttered out as Jeremy felt his boyfriend rub his back. “I’m so sorry I didn’t get to you sooner, but we’re here and we’re getting you out.”

 

Jeremy nodded weakly against Michael, letting himself be held and clinging to him desperately. “It was Squip. It was in my head again. But it was shocking me and lying about you and- and-“ Jeremy sniffled and just buried his face against Michael’s neck.

 

“Hey hey, it’s alright. I told you I’d always find you if we got separated, didn’t I?” Jeremy nodded, essentially nuzzling against Michael’s neck. “That’s what I did. Now let’s get out of here.”

 

Jeremy felt Michael shift to look back then before he tensed. “You three aren’t my friends, even if you look like them. Where the hell are they?” As he spoke, Jeremy felt Michael’s tail wrap around him protectively, one arm around him as the other moved, probably to grab a weapon.

 

“You’re not leaving with him, Michael,” Fristine said, sounding almost dazed.

 

“It needs Jeremy. It told us to get him the moment you came to our territory,” Fake added, sounding just as dazed.

 

“Your friends are safe, they’re just being initiated. Soon they’ll be like us: a part of it,” Frooke sounded the least dazed of all of them, her voice sounding like she was grinning happily.

 

“Yeah, I don’t think so.” Michael pulled a little away from Jeremy only to blow a dart into Frooke, and Jeremy saw her drop, presumably asleep. Michael stood up, moving back with Jeremy, before Jeremy felt Michael being yanked at. “Let go of me, you fucking copies!” Michael hissed, only holding onto Jeremy now by his tail as his arms were grabbed by Fake.

 

Jeremy knew he was too drained to put up a physical fight, but there might be something else he could do. He reached down and grabbed Michael’s dagger from the boot sheath he made, then held it up to his own neck. “Let him go! You need me, right? Well there won’t be a me if you don’t let us go quietly,” Jeremy yelled as loud as he could. It was a massive risk, and probably not his smartest idea, but he was exhausted, out of magic, and out of options. And he sure as hell wasn’t letting Michael get Squiped like these people were, like he almost was.

 

The two fakers were quiet for a second before Fake let go of Michael, purposefully pushing him a little and almost making Michael stumble. Michael glared back before looking at Jeremy with worry. “Are you OK?” he asked, voice only loud enough for Jeremy to hear. Fake nor Fhristine said a thing.

 

Jeremy didn’t remove the dagger from his neck, but he gave a small, almost imperceptible nod. “Walk us out of here. And get ready to run,” Jeremy hissed back. He knew this would only work if they ran straight after. The Squip was tricky like that.

 

Michael did as Jeremy instructed, still holding him close and actually picking him up as they went. The dagger didn’t leave Jeremy’s neck, and he felt a small sting where his shaking limbs twitched a little too much and the dagger pressed in a little. He could deal with that later.

 

The dagger almost dug in deeper when he was suddenly hit with a wave of pure magic. It warmed him, rushed through him like those shocks but infinitely sweeter and it made his head spin a little. Michael’s grip on him tightened as Jeremy half collapsed against him, the blade still on his neck.

 

“Holy shit, Jeremy, are you alright?” Michael asked as they made it near the exit, not leaving the room just yet. It made sense, he wanted to make sure Jeremy was alright before he had to book it and try to find their friends. Fhristine and Fake were staring at them from where they stood in the room in an eerie manner.

 

Jeremy nodded, panting harshly from the sudden influx of magic hitting him, and he reached to the chain around his neck, pulling out his focus. “Magic’s back. When we leave, run for the opposite wall, don’t stop for anything. And hold on to me tight,” Jeremy muttered, quickly whispering out the spell and casting it on Michael. Oh god, that felt good. He never realized how essential magic was to him until it was ripped away. “The walls are curved, so just keep running.”

 

“I... Alright, I trust you,” Michael muttered out, taking a few steps back before bolting for it. As Jeremy expected, Fake and Fhristine ran after them. Despite the worry and fear and exhaustion Jeremy had, he held on tight to Michael, even when he felt them move up the wall and onto the ceiling. “Woah, holy shit!”

 

“Spider Climb. It lasts an hour, so it should give us an edge against the fakes. The others probably all have helmets on like me. Could be getting shocked or something...” Jeremy muttered, reaching out with his magic senses (it felt amazing, like he could finally see again after being blinded). He grabbed a grassy green thread from the air and pointed down a side tunnel. “Chrissy’s that way. She cast Prestidigitation as she was being taken I think.”

 

Michael quickly nodded, holding on tighter to Jeremy as he ran. Glancing back, Jeremy saw Fake and Fhristine initially confused, seemingly having lost track of them as they ran down a side tunnel.

 

“We have a minute maybe before they figure this out,” Jeremy whispered as they ran. He gave the thread a little shake and the line lit up more clearly, hopefully enough for Michael to actually see.

 

Apparently it was since he made the next turn without any guidance. Jeremy just clung tightly and nuzzled against his neck, kissing there lightly. It helped him ground himself, remind him what reality was, since Michael just gave him a gentle squeeze in return.

 

Jeremy felt the world shift, the blood no longer flowing into his head once they entered a room. Looking up, he saw Christine sitting in a chair, a similar helmet to his own on her head as she hissed and whimpered.

 

“It’s shocking her,” Jeremy whispered as Michael jogged over to her side. Jeremy reached out and pulled it off her, tossing it away. “Are you okay Chrissy?” She hadn’t been hooked up as long as Jeremy had. And the shocks had been more manageable nearer the start, so she should hopefully be able to walk still.

 

Christine gasped and coughed as she shook her head, her braids and loose hair almost flailing around. “Yeah, ugh, I’m fine. That was terrible. I’m gonna taste copper in my mouth for a week.”

 

“Me too,” Jeremy agreed quietly, before casting Spider Climb on Christine as well. He poked her forehead gently as he did, making a little ‘boop’ sound as he did and earning a playful glare from her. “You can do the wall climb thingy too, now. Let’s go find Brooke and Jake.” Michael and Christine nodded and left the room, both walking up the walls as easily as walking across the floor. Jeremy grabbed a gold thread from the air. “Brooke. She used Detect Magic.”

 

“You better explain what the hell you’re doing later,” Michael said, still holding onto Jeremy and keeping him close before they snuck into a bigger area. They kept quiet when they saw a bunch of people milling around, quietly moving across the ceiling as they followed Brooke’s golden trail.

 

Jeremy nodded and just nuzzled close, feeling his exhaustion hit him even harder than before. He was just so tired. He’d probably fall asleep as soon as they were safe, and maybe not wake up for a week. That sounded good. That sounded really good.

 

Finally, they came to another door where Brooke was presumably being hidden. A quick peek insides showed that she was tied to a chair, same as Jeremy was. And the helmet was visibly sparking. Brooke must have been putting up one hell of a fight.

 

Jeremy watched as Christine hurried down, climbing up the chair and tugging the helmet off of Brooke. She chucked the helmet before quickly hugging Brooke, looking a little teary-eyed. “Oh my god Brooke, are you alright?” she asked softly.

 

“Yeah, I’m alright. Are you OK?”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Christine softly whispered before quickly untying her.

 

Jeremy stayed clinging to Michael, readying the spell to cast it on Brooke. As soon as she was in range, Jeremy cast Spider Climb on her. There was a little resistance, but as soon as she realised it was Jeremy’s magic, she let it in. Jeremy felt the exhaustion hit even more keenly now, but they were still a member short.

 

He reached out and found no trace of Jake’s magic nearby at all, not even his latent magic. He whined, unable to properly articulate the fear pulsing through him, when he felt a burst of magic. He reached out and grabbed a silver threat, holding it up for Michael to see before falling limp against his shoulder, not quite passing out but not far from it. The thread remained clasped firmly in his fist, and the gentle shake was enough to highlight it for Michael. “Jake. He used his Holy Symbol to fight back I think.”

 

“Do you think you can stay awake long enough to get Jake to have Spider Climb too? You can pass out right after, I won’t let you get hurt or taken,” Michael promised him, starting to follow the silver trail as the girls climbed up the wall to the ceiling, following after him.

 

“I can try,” Jeremy whimpered, barely clinging to consciousness. He had to though, so they could get Jake and get out. The magic flowing through his system felt so good to have again, though, which wasn’t helping. He needed to focus, not be rocked to sleep. Even if Michael was really warm, and he felt so secure in his arms, and Jeremy really was tir- no. Focus.

 

“That’s all I ask, lajy,” Michael muttered out as they kept going, staying quiet as they tried to make it to where Jake was.

 

When they went in, Jeremy felt his stomach churn. Jake’s helmet was sparking almost as bad as Jeremy knew his was. He was screaming and hissing, gripping on tight to the arms of his chair. It was bad, he had to be fighting really hard.

 

Christine hopped down then, carefully taking off Jake’s helmet and tossing it as well. “Jake, are you OK?”

 

“I... I’m... y-yeah,” Jake stuttered out, seemingly a bit dazed and stunned (which made sense) as he groaned and shut his eyes. Christine quickly helped remove Jake’s ropes as Brooke kept guard near the doorway, watching from the ceiling.

 

Jeremy conjured up Spider Climb, reaching out and touching Jake’s shoulder. As soon as the spell slipped out of his system, he couldn’t stay awake anymore. He just hoped Brooke would be able to lead them out.

 

 

 

When he next awoke, Jeremy was in a soft bed, with plush sheets wrapped around him and Michael wrapped around his smaller frame entirely, almost shaking as he clung. He felt less sore now, but still very tired and there was a subtle ache in his limbs and his head. It wasn’t fun.

 

Glancing around, he saw Nightshade curled up next to Jeremy, fast asleep. Darling was perched on the bed frame, crowing softly and looking down at Jeremy and cocking her head to the side. Her noises didn’t seem to wake anyone else, as she hopped down and rubbed her head against his.

 

“Hey girl,” Jeremy croaked. His voice felt shredded, probably because he screamed a lot during his... kidnapping. And a part of him was currently very scared for the fact that Michael was clinging to him; his brain kept showing him things Michael did to the other Jeremys. It was easy enough to silence, and he knew once he was more awake he’d be able to properly set it straight.

 

Darling crowed again, continuing to nuzzle against his head before Michael started to groan softly. The raven hopped back then, perching back, as Michael gently squeezed Jeremy and his tail wrapped gently around his waist. “Mm... lajy...”

 

“Idril.” Jeremy turned as best he could to face Michael and he clung to him gently. The gentle, loving points of contact were just what Jeremy needed, relaxing him and helping him wake up a bit more. Jeremy couldn’t help but press a few kisses to Michael’s cheek, trailing them over to his lips, which he captured softly in a lingering kiss. Any fear that might have been present was instantly swept away as soon as he felt Michael sleepily kiss back.

 

When Jeremy pulled back, he felt Michael stir before his eyes opened, sleepy and somewhat bleary. “Mm...” His eyes focused in on Jeremy then, and his eyes lit up. “Oh, you’re awake,” he mused out, both of his arms wrapping around Jeremy and keeping him close. “How’re you feeling? Are you OK?”

 

“M’sore. And tired. And still freaked. But m’doing better now,” he replied honestly, holding on to Michael with as much strength as he could muster. His limbs still felt kinda... noodley. Limp and weak. It must have been a result of the extended period of shocks he got.

 

“That makes sense after what you went through,” Michael muttered out before Jeremy felt kisses pressed gently against his face, the shell of his ear, and the underside of his jaw in slow, lazy kisses. “Jake, after you passed out, broke the helmet and used some holy mumbo jumbo shit and dispelled Squip from everyone. All the possessed people are free and came back. We’re back now, and they gave us their nicest rooms to thank us for what we did. Well, what Jake did, but... yeah.”

 

With all those gentle kisses Jeremy was receiving, he found himself growing weak for other reasons. Much nicer reasons. Being loved so sweetly always made him feel so fuzzy and warm and a little dazed and all he could manage was to squirm a little closer and sigh happily. It turned to a small groan when Michael kissed a particularly sensitive point just under his ear, where his neck and jaw met.

 

When Jeremy groaned so softly, Michael seemed to let that particular kiss linger before pulling back, smiling sleepily up at Jeremy. “You like those kisses?” he asked sweetly before bringing his hand up and covering a yawn. “I’ll give you some more in a minute. I just wanna really make sure you’re OK...”

 

“M’mostly just tired and sore. My arms and legs ache,” Jeremy replied after a moment. “And... I feel kinda weird. Not bad or anything, but not brilliant... I don’t know.” He shrugged. “I just really feel like I need to be close to you right now.”

 

“Mm... Well, it’s probably ‘cause of everything you were going through earlier when we were coming to save you. I’m still sorry that I couldn’t stop them at first,” Michael murmured out before pressing a lingering kiss to the underside of Jeremy’s jaw. “Maybe you just need some time and sleep to feel better?”

 

“Probably?” Now that Jeremy was actually thinking about it, there was a lingering bad feeling in his head. And now the dragon was back, it was just being very present in his head. “Can you just keep holding me, please?”

 

“Of course, lajy,” Michael muttered out, holding Jeremy close as he pressed a few more slow, lazy kisses along his face and neck. As he went, Jeremy could feel them getting slower until Michael’s lips were resting against where he had left Jeremy’s first hickey. After a few moments, he heard Michael begin to softly snore.

 

Jeremy wanted to squirm, Michael’s soft breaths and gentle lips felt so sweet against the faint mark, but he also couldn’t fathom the idea of being any further away from Michael than he already was. Maybe it was because he had been taken from Michael while he was asleep. He wasn’t scared per say, but he wasn’t totally comfortable.

 

Jeremy felt his dragon coiling inside his mind. Rage at the Squip, and from being cut off, flooded through him but so did satisfaction. Michael was holding him close, Michael had rescued him. His treasure wanted him back, had come to help him when Jeremy was helpless. The Squip has rendered him useless and his treasure, his boyfriend, his love had come to rescue him. The echoes of the Squip bounced around his head, even as he drifted off to sleep. They only grew fainter as Michael gently squeezed him, and the dragon roared with pride.

Chapter Text

After staying close with Jeremy for the next few weeks as they traveled, Michael noticed that the winter weather was creeping in. Thankfully, they were able to stay in taverns when snow started coming in, but not today. They were too far away from any town that they passed to go back before the snow came, but the pass they were supposed to go through would let them go through a day. They’d be able to avoid the snow…

 

That is, if the pass wasn’t closed. There were signs, and there seemed to have been an avalanche that blocked the path full of snow and some rocks. The pass apparently wouldn’t be open until spring. Well fuck.

 

“What are we supposed to do? It’s supposed to be a bad snowstorm,” Brooke muttered out from where she was bundled up in the back of the wagon. “There’s no way we could survive, except for maybe Michael.”

 

Jeremy, who had been peering over a map, let out a small groan and closed the large piece of parchment. “I might know a way...” he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It’ll be faster than going around but it’s not going to be fun or easy.”

 

“Anything to keep up from turning into icicles, please,” Brooke said from the back (winter made her miserable).

 

“What is it, lajy?” Michael asked then, pressing a quick kiss to Jeremy’s cheek as he leaned over in the driver’s bench from where he’d been leading Gideon.

 

“There’s an entrance to the Underdark about a mile south of here,” Jeremy grumbled. “And I happen to have a key.” There was a round of gasps. The Underdark was almost always locked up, and very few people actually knew the locations to get in. How did Jeremy have access?

 

“Jeremy, how do you have a key to down there?” Jake asked then, peering over from where he was bundled up next to Brooke in the back.

 

“My uncle Devon. He was a researcher and ended up marrying a deep gnome. He gave me the locations and his key in case I ever wanted to visit.” Jeremy squirmed a little. “He was nice enough, but my cousins are beastly. But I can get us in, so long as we’re careful.”

 

“How have I never heard about this Uncle Devon?” Christine asked curiously.

 

“It’s not considered a topic for polite company. Or any company. Even telling you guys could get me in trouble with my dad’s family, not that they really care about me, but still. Deep Gnomes are honestly fine, and they’re quite friendly, but a lot of gnomes avoid them and look down on them for who they share their territory with. The Duergar and the Drow,” Jeremy explained, looking almost ashamed. “I’ve visited him a few times, but it was always a tense thing.”

 

Michael reached over, taking one of Jeremy’s hands and gently squeezing it. “You don’t have to explain anymore than you have. We’ll just go in, get through, and avoid what we can on the way.”

 

“Yeah, for sure!” Christine added in from where she sat on Angel. “Don’t push yourself, Remy.”

 

“We’ll have to be careful.” Jeremy nodded after a moment. “Most of the Underdark runs on a slave trade, and us topsiders are the prime cargo. So we can’t risk fires or anything or else they might find us.” He groaned. “And we’ll need to be as quiet as possible so the drow don’t find us. They’re generally worse than the duergar, even if the grey dwarves can turn invisible. The most the duergar would do is take you as a slave, the drow would likely sacrifice us to Lolth if we’re not good enough for their slave standards.”

 

“Well, that sounds like a fun time, but I think that’s better than Michael being the only survivor in the blizzard,” Brooke grumbled out bitterly.

 

Christine let out a small sigh in sympathy to her girlfriend before nodding in agreement. “It’s our best bet since we’re going to freeze to death if we don’t go down there. We’ll just all have to be careful like you said, Jeremy.”

 

Jeremy nodded. “Let’s turn this thing around, back the way we came. There’s a small turn off about half a mile back.” Michael began getting Gideon to turn, taking the lead in the group so Jeremy could point it out. “And thinking about it, you guys don’t really have to worry about the Drow beyond the whole slave thing. You’re all pretty enough to qualify at the very least,” he added under his breath, barely loud enough for Michael to catch it.

 

“Aww, thank you for calling us all pretty,” Michael said, softly enough for only Jeremy to hear before pressing a long, warming kiss to Jeremy’s cheek.

 

Jeremy’s spluttered reaction indicated that he didn’t intend to be heard. He sort of pouted at Michael. “Well you are! All of you guys are easily some of the most attractive people I know. You’d all be kinda safe if anything happened down there... me on the other hand. Well let’s just say I don’t qualify apparently.”

 

“Well they’re fucking morons for not thinking you aren’t attractive enough,” Michael told him, letting his tail wrap around Jeremy before gently squeezing his waist. “You’re one of the best people. You’re not stereotypically pretty but uniquely attractive, basically a genius, and one of the craftiest people I’ve ever met. I’m lucky to even know you, let alone date you.”

 

Jeremy ducked his head a little, and Michael was certain his rosy cheeks were from more than just the cold. “I swear, auglas, you’re trying to kill me here.” He leant against Michael a little more.

 

“If I was trying to kill you, I’d do a better job at it but then I wouldn’t have you to be around and to talk to and love! That would be such a terrible idea!” Michael playfully wailed before pressing a few kisses against Jeremy’s head.

 

Jeremy chuckled. “Dork,” he cooed, leaning up and quickly capturing Michael’s lips in a gentle kiss. It was small and sweet, but Micheal could feel the love pouring through it.

 

They rode in silence for a bit more and turned down the path when Jeremy pointed it out. It was a dirt trail, barely visible and marked with an overgrown signpost written in a language Michael didn’t recognize. It looked sort of like Elvish, but the words didn’t look familiar at all. It had to be Undercommon.

 

Jeremy studied the sign for a moment before nodding. “The entrance is set into a hill just this way. And it’s not frequented by traders, so we’re in luck, it seems to be just a researcher’s entrance.”

 

“Well that’s good, less likely chance to run into anyone,” Jake muttered out while Michael let Gideon keep going.

 

“Before we get there and go down though, we need to try to have a way for the animals to see, let alone us,” Michael pointed out. “Jeremy, where’d you put the staff last?”

 

Jeremy reached into his bag and pulled it out. “Er, I don’t want to accidentally give everyone my terrible eyesight too, so maybe you should take the first round, Brooke?” He laughed sort of sheepishly.

 

Brooke sighed and took the staff. “This might be a little overwhelming at first. Just relax and take as long as you need to adjust,” she warned before she tapped town the staff. Michael watched the bubbles pop and suddenly the glare from the snow was much more intense. It was almost blindingly bright out here, and Michael had to cover his eyes just to stop himself from getting a headache. Judging by the sounds of it, everyone else was having the same issue, but the animals seemed to be fine with it.

 

"God Brooke, this is what you deal with all the time? Bless your soul," Jake grumbled out from the back as Michael rubbed his eyes hard, to the point where he started to see color spots when he pulled his hands away.

 

"Eh," was all Brooke said, accompanied by a shrug before Michael focused ahead of them, gently guiding Gideon to keep moving until they reached the direct entrance to the Underdark, which was kept away from the topside with a large, grand door with a lock about three feet off the ground.

 

Jeremy hopped down and pulled out a large, heavy iron key. With some difficulty (the lock seemed stiff), Jeremy turned it and opened the door. Looking at it as it swung open, Michael wasn’t sure that it would be big enough for the wagon to fit though. He was about to voice his concerns, but then Jeremy spoke up. He said something that sounded like a mixture of dwarfish and elvish with almost a hiss to it, like the sound a giant spider might make (he hoped they wouldn’t have to deal with those, even if they lived down here), and the door somehow expanded to be twice the size, easily enough for the wagon to fit through. Jeremy cleared his throat and gestured uncomfortably to it.

 

“Here we are.”

 

“Woah, I didn’t know you spoke Undercommon, Jeremy!” Christine cried excitedly.

 

“Makes sense if you have relatives here. He’d need to know,” Brooke pointed out as Michael had Gideon move closer, stopping so Jeremy could hop back into the wagon. “Thanks though, Jere-bear.”

 

Jeremy shot her an awkward grin. “The door will lock behind us, so get ready to be plunged into darkness. Oh, and don’t expect any color, we’ll be in monochrome for a few days,” he warned. As soon as the door closed behind Christine (it did it automatically) they were indeed plunged into black and white and grey. It was less intense than outside, but Michael could see just as clearly as he could normally.

 

Michael let out a soft sigh as he glanced around, finding things... empty without color, but he could deal with it. “Well, at least I can see in the dark. I’m not doing my tiefling ancestors dirty right now,” he joked as he gently swung the reins to encourage Gideon to keep going (not enough to hurt, never enough to hurt because he’d be so mad if he ever hurt this sweet, dumb horse).

 

Jeremy squeezed his arm lightly, as they got moving. “You gonna be okay with this, idril?” he asked softly. “I know you struggle with repetition a little.”

 

Behind them, everyone else was adjusting and whispering quietly among themselves.

 

“Yeah, I’ll let you know if I start to struggle though,” Michael told Jeremy, smiling warmly down at him before pressing a quick kiss to Jeremy’s head. “If we’re only here for a few days max, I’ll be able to handle it like a big boy.”

 

“Yeah, the next exit isn’t too far away, but the terrain is kinda hard from what I saw on the map,” he murmured. “It’ll only be for a couple of days. And worst comes to worst, we can use the wagon and get you some light. Or...” He grinned and closed his eyes for a second, his nose scrunching up adorably. When he opened them again, his eyes were his dragon eyes, looking softer and more gentle than Michael had ever seen them before. And they were very clearly green, their subtle glow just enough to show some color. Another blink and they were back to normal.

 

Michael couldn’t help but smile at that, feeling his heart warm a little at the show Jeremy just put on, but for many reasons. He could control some of his dragon traits better from the curse, he stayed himself during it, and Jeremy went out of his way to do that for him. Jeremy knew him well enough to help him, to support him while he struggled with this. He had to keep himself from laughing happily, instead just opting to give Jeremy a somewhat lopsided grin before gently kissing the space between Jeremy’s eyebrows. “You’re sweet,” he murmured, sure he was looking fondly down at Jeremy all the while.

 

Jeremy’s grin was well and truly smitten. “You bring out the best in me,” he cooed back, rubbing their noses together. Then he moved to be resting his head on Michael’s arm, and Nightshade climbed up from the driver’s seat to perch on his other shoulder.

 

"'M glad I'm useful in that regard," Michael teasingly said, smiling down at Jeremy before pressing a quick kiss to Nightshade's head. He glanced back, reaching a hand back and gently patting Darling's head from where she was perched before focusing on the road ahead.

 

 

 

The next few hours basically passed in silence, with the only sounds being the horses as they walked and the rumble of the wagon wheels. And the sound of Jeremy tying up some rope... for some reason. He kept muttering things under his breath, too quietly for Michael to properly make out, but it sounded almost like he was listing things off on Gnomish.

 

Brooke finished refreshing everyone's Darkvision when Michael felt the need to ask. "What're you doing, lajy?"

 

Jeremy seemed a little startled as he looked up at Michael, but he frowned a little after a moment. “We need to stop, I need to explain something to everyone and set these things up properly.” He held up what looked almost like rope manacles, but that would be crazy right? “I need to check to make sure they’ll fit everyone’s wrists properly.” Not so crazy after all.

 

"Uh, alright," Michael said, gently clicking his tongue in a certain way that Gideon knew meant to pull to the side of the road and stop. He did just that, and everyone in the back looked over (Christine moved into the back of the wagon sometime during their initial descent into the Underdark, Angel was still walking beside Gideon though).

 

“Okay, you guys are gonna have to trust me on this one, but slip these on and tell me how well they fit.” He tossed the rope manacles into the back of the wagon. “Make sure you can get them on and off quickly, and that they’re not too tight since you might have to wear them for a while.”

 

The three in the back of the wagon seemed confused, and Michael let out a small 'oh' when everyone started trying what Jeremy asked them to do. "Is it because of the traders?" he asked then. "You're going to pretend we're your cargo basically and that you're our trader?"

 

“Yup.” Jeremy nodded, looking a little grim. “In the dark, I’m basically indistinguishable from a Deep Gnome. And I’ve been caught enough times by the traders that I know how to pose as one, so I can hopefully bluff our way out of it.” He held up some cuffs for Michael, the length of rope on them much smaller than the others.

 

Michael took them, quickly trying what Jeremy asked the others to do a few times. "Well, do we have a backstory for who we need to pretend to be? What do we have to work with, Remy?" Christine asked from the back of the wagon then.

 

“You guys don’t really know each other that well, you’ve just all been captured by me when I was up top. You came to investigate the wagon and got nabbed. I have a buyer in-“ He said something in Undercommon, probably the name of a place. “-who I’m selling you three and Angel to, and I’m keeping Michael for myself.” Jeremy looked supremely uncomfortable as he explained this all.

 

“That’s why he’s sitting up on the bench with you?” Jake asked, practicing getting the cuffs on and off. Jeremy nodded.

 

“As for your roles, you’ve all been with me for a while. Your background doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you’re scared of me. You’re quiet, obedient, and don’t speak unless spoken to. If you say anything if we’re confronted with traders, I’ll have to hit you to keep up the act. So please, just be quiet if it comes to that,” he half begged.

 

"Alright, we'll be quiet," Brooke promised as she leaned back against one of the walls of the wagon. "Even if we're investigated, we'll keep our mouths shut."

 

"Am I still gonna be guiding Gideon or should you take over then if I'm supposed to be up front with you?" Michael asked him, gently reaching over as he uncuffed himself and squeezing Jeremy's hand reassuringly.

 

“It won’t matter. Since you’re mine-“ He half choked on the word, looking a little sick. “You wouldn’t be up here unless you were already... trained. So you can keep hold of the reigns. Maybe even be less scared and more... blank? I’ll be using my curse as a backup plan, so if you act like you’ve been collected that might help sell the whole thing. The ropes would just be a precaution.”

 

Michael pressed a quick kiss to Jeremy's forehead then, nodding. Even if thinking back to when he had that mindset for that short amount of time made him feel nauseous, he had to go along with it. If it would help everybody, that was what mattered. "I get it, don't worry. I think I've gotten good enough at acting and know enough about my role to sell it, don't you worry."

 

Jeremy nodded weakly. He looked back at the others. “Just… play it by ear. I’ll do my best to keep them off you.” He sighed and shook his head. “How do they fit?” He sounded like he might be sick. It made sense since Jeremy said he’d been captured by slavers before, the idea of pretending to be one couldn’t be a very nice feeling.

 

"They aren't too tight, but they look like they're tight and uncomfortable," Michael told him then. "They're definitely convincing."

 

"Yeah, you did great with these," Christine piped up from the back, and Jake and Brooke hummed along in agreement.

 

"Seriously, you'll be fine. After all of this, once we're back topside and we're in an inn or a tavern, we'll just stay there and do nothing for a day and I'll pamper you. How does that sound? You’ll get a long, deep massage at the very least."

 

Jeremy snorted out a small laugh. “I think that would be very nice.” His smile was sort of apologetic, but it was better than what he had before. “Let’s get going. The sooner we’re out of here, the less the chances are that we’ll run into anybody else.”

 

 

 

Michael didn't realize how much he needed and loved color. It had only been a day and he felt like he was starting to get sick of the same old monochrome hues of black, grey, and white already. His stomach churned as he held onto the reins of Gideon, though he kept himself calm, cool, and collected externally. God, how could anyone stand living like this, with no color?

 

Jeremy had been doing his best to keep Michael relaxed, but Michael knew it was taking a toll on him. Between the worry about slavers and the general discomfort he had down here, Jeremy was certainly taking on more than he should. Which is why when Jeremy tensed up at first, Michael thought nothing of it.

 

“Cuffs on. Now,” he hissed suddenly, eyes focused on something ahead in the darkness. That was something Michael paid attention to.

 

Michael instantly put his cuffs on, and Michael heard the others shifting around in the back. He only glanced back to see everyone doing what Jeremy asked before focusing on staring ahead. He blinked a few times, trying to perfect the blank-ish look he needed to have. Once he was sure he got it, Michael just continuing to stare ahead as if nothing was wrong, tapping a little into that old mindset to do as Jeremy wanted, but not enough for it to come back. Showtime.

 

Jeremy patted his cheek, the motion almost condescending, and his smile was sickly sweet and poisonous. “Good boy,” he cooed, his voice taking on a slight accent Michael had never heard before.

 

Jeremy’s prediction appeared to be correct since, within a minute, they were stopped by a blockade across the decently narrow path. Five dwarf-looking people blocked the way, and their cart was set to be just behind them. There was no way past.

 

Jeremy called out something in Undercommon, his tone annoyed and somewhat bored. The figure in the middle replied, sounding commanding and threatening. Jeremy still sounded bored, but his tone did shift to sickly sweet when he patted Michael’s cheek again.

 

The middle figure seemed to grumble something out before saying something to some of his comrades. He waved for them to go somewhere, seemingly behind the wagon, with three of the dwarves going back there while the figure speaking and another stayed up front. Jeremy followed them. Even if Michael felt tense and worried, getting an idea of what was going on, he stayed placid and silent up front.

 

Despite that, he listened and kept his eyes forward, expression blank as he heard the dwarves saying some things in the back. Their tone... it seemed suspicious, hints of disbelief of whatever Jeremy was saying. Jake, however, spoke up, probably to save their hides from being caught and found out. "Get the hell away from me," he cried out, "Get back, god damnit!" His tone was panicked, and he sounded genuinely freaked out, tired, and horrified. It was frightening to Michael how accurate to a scared captive Jake sounded, and he felt his chest tighten for what he knew Jeremy would be doing next.

 

There was a pause. “Haven’t I taught you well enough?” Jeremy snarled, and there was the sound of his fist connecting with Jake, probably his cheek by the sounds of things. For a moment, there was silence, and Jeremy walked around the front to Michael. He ‘undid’ the ropes. “Treasure, get to cleaning up the boy. He’s no use to us dirtied, we’ll only get half the price.” It was almost scary at how well Jeremy was selling his role. He started towards the back of the wagon again, where the dwarves were muttering among themselves, without sparing Michael a second glance.

 

Michael walked by the dwarves, ignoring how the tone they were using made his skin crawl. He got into the back of the wagon, watching where Jake was whimpering, curled up with his hands over his cheeks. The girls were looking at him with wide eyes full of worry. They were selling this all really well, but that punch looked like it hurt. Jake was tough though, he knew Jake was fine. Despite that, he went to where their medical supplies were, methodically taking everything out before kneeling down in front of Jake.

 

He watched as the girls continued to play this up, Christine whimpering and muttering out a soft, "I'm so sorry he did this to you," to Michael. He kept going without batting an eye as he started cleaning Jake up, ignoring the genuine hiss from the sting of the cleaning chemical. Michael cleaned out Jake's wound, wiping off any blood and quickly bandaging his cheek up before putting everything away. As he did so, Michael listened in to the dwarves, feeling their eyes not just on the rest of his friends, but himself now as he hopped out of the back of the wagon, ready to head back to the front to resume his earlier position.

 

Jeremy grabbed him, and tugged him down. For a split second, he could see the apology in Jeremy’s eyes before he crashed their lips together. The kiss was short but it was rough and dominating, none of the usual gentleness or sweet feelings associated with kissing Jeremy present. Michael still reciprocated because that’s what he would have done when he was captured by dragon Jeremy.

 

“Good boy. Now wait here for a moment, with me, while I wrap this up,” Jeremy purred and turned back to the dwarves. He purred out something, expression smug and satisfied. The dwarves grinned, and pulled out their swords and that’s when Jeremy acted.

 

He let lose a growl and suddenly he had ghostly, glowing wings again and his eyes glowed dangerously. He hissed our something at the dwarves as they scrambled backwards, dropping their weapons in their mad dash backward. Jeremy turned to the back of the wagon, still in full dragon mode. The others cringed backwards. “Now not another word out of any of you unless I say otherwise, or I’ll be a lot less kind.”

 

He grabbed Michael’s hand and dragged him back to the front of the wagon and handed over the reins. The dwarves let them pass, too scared and shocked to stop them.

 

For a moment, they traveled in silence, then Jeremy calmed reached into his bag, pulled out his Thunder Cannon and took a shot, seemingly at the wall of the path they were taking. There was a scream and a dwarf suddenly appeared, clutching his stomach. “You’ll live, but only if you leave and go back to your boss,” Jeremy hissed, eyes narrowed. The dwarf turned tail and ran, whimpering as he went.

 

For another five minutes, there was silence, then Jeremy sighed and let his dragon appearance go. “We’re clear.” He sounded beyond tired.

 

Michael let himself finally relax then, and just as he turned to look at Jeremy, Michael heard scurrying and movement from the back. "Is it alright if I hug you, Jeremy? I'm not mad at you, I just needed to sell it to the dwarves, they were doubting us," Jake said, and Michael felt a little surprised at how calm and sure he sounded. Jake really did sell it well, but he went back to being himself relatively quick. He'd make for an amazing actor.

 

Jeremy nodded miserably and basically launched himself at Jake, holding him gently and sobbing out apology after apology. He shakily reached up and pressed his hand on Jake’s cheek. There was a small glow and a hiss and then Jeremy just went back to apologizing.

 

"It's alright Jeremy, it's OK," Jake reassured him, holding him close and running a hand along his back as Jeremy cried. Michael felt his heart ache, letting this happen. He knew Jeremy was upset the entire time, that he hated all of what he had to do, but the fact that Jeremy was so upset after made Michael's heart ache.

 

After a minute more, Jeremy pulled away slowly. He was scrubbing harshly at his face, tears still falling but they were less rapid now.

 

He glanced up at Michael and curled in on himself, bringing his knees up to his chest as he shook. “M’so sorry, Michael. I had to or they wouldn’t believe and I know it felt wrong and I’m just- I just-“ He devolved into incoherent sobs again, scrubbing at his eyes.

 

Michael let Gideon know to stop on the side again, and as the horse did that, Michael let go of his reins and moved to sit right next to Jeremy. "I know, you don't have to explain. Can I hug you, please? It's alright, I know you did it to have them believe us, just like what Jake and you did before."

 

Jeremy nodded, not looking up at him but his posture losing some tension.

 

With the confirmation, Michael wrapped himself around Jeremy. He made sure his tail gently wrapped around his waist as well, gently squeezing him before placing a series of soft, slow kisses to the side of his face. "It's OK, you're OK, we're all OK."

 

Slowly but surely, Jeremy stopped shaking and stopped sobbing. He just stayed curled up in Michael’s embrace. When he pulled away, he wasn’t smiling, but he looked a lot more relaxed. That is until he stiffened, as if hearing something.

 

In a fluid motion, Jeremy pulled out his Thunder Cannon again and turned to face the wall. He shot one bullet and it hit something fleshy off to the side of the wagon. The dwarf slid into view, apparently from invisibility, spasmed as he was shocked, then collapsed. There was a bullet hole in his head.

 

Jeremy was panting by the time he lowered his gun, putting it away and standing up. “That one was just to confirm I was serious about my threat. I was.” He climbed into the back of the wagon and slid carefully into his hiding spot under the driver’s seat, not saying another word. The panel closed with a soft click.

 

Everyone looked between each other then, obvious worry there. Michael let out a worried sigh, deciding to stop until Jeremy was calm (they couldn't go unless Jeremy was OK enough, so they had to wait anyway).

 

 

 

They waited there for a bit, taking shifts for who sat in the driver's seat, Brooke continually having to renew everyone's Darkvision all the while. At one point, Michael sat next to Jeremy's hiding spot, all of the curtains drawn with a small fire going so he could see color and not lose it (not having Jeremy there to keep him calm and centered made this a lot worse). Nightshade rested on his shoulder while he hid, as he normally stayed with Darling in the hiding spot when driving, honking softly and nudging him all the while.

 

After a good while of waiting, Michael bent down a little and gently knocked on the panel in a practiced rhythm. "Jeremy? How are you doing?" he asked, voice soft and worried.

 

There was a pause, then Jeremy knocked back. That was an improvement.

 

“Not good. But better than before,” Jeremy murmured. The panel slid open and Jeremy reached for Michael’s hand blindly. He squeezed it almost desperately when he finally grabbed it. “How are you doing?”

 

"I mean, I hate the monochrome or seeing nothing choices I have, but I'm fine besides that," Michael told him, squeezing Jeremy's hand back reassuringly. "I think Brooke and Christine are working to make us dinner."

 

“That’s good. It’s kinda late I think...” Jeremy mumbled. “M’sorry for leaving you like that, ‘specially after shooting someone. I know you hate guns.” He squeezed Michael’s hand again, and Michael saw his head pop out ever so slightly.

 

"If it's you holding it, I think I'm fine," Michael truthfully said. "Like, I didn't freak out at all. If anyone else had done it, I would've freaked. I've just been worried about you, really." He squeezed Jeremy's hand once more, smiling down at Jeremy when he showed up.

 

Slowly, Jeremy wormed his way out from his hiding spot. He stayed sort of curled up when he finally sat up, not touching Michael besides their connected hands, eyes focused on the fire.

 

“I hated everything that happened,” he mumbled after a minute. “I hated acting like that, I hated being near them, I hated hitting Jake and kissing you like I did, and I hated that I had to kill someone, even if it was a matter of survival.”

 

"If you liked it, I think something would be up with you," Michael admitted before letting out a soft sigh. "You're completely right to feel how you did, I wouldn't think you'd feel any other way. You're helping us though, because we all would've probably froze if we were topside right now. This is hard, and it's terrible, but... I think we're only going to be able to get through this because of you, lajy. I'm sorry it has to be you to do this, but thank you for helping us."

 

Jeremy scooted closer until their knees were touching. More progress. “If you could do the whole dragon eyes thing and put me into a trance, with or without the ritual, I’d take it in a heartbeat right now. I just wish I could disconnect from it all, even just for an hour. My brain just won’t stop and the dragon is one of the biggest reasons I’m not panicking. We’re... sort of working together right now,” he admitted quietly.

 

"Well, when we're out of here, I'll do my best to give you a relaxing day off from everything and anything," Michael promised him, gently squeezing his hand. "At least you two are able to work together right now, even if it might be stressful or even painful. I'll be right here though, to make sure that you're alright, I promise." He pressed a kiss to the back of Jeremy's hand then, humming softly as he did so.

 

Jeremy squeezed his hand back. “You’re the reason why I can work as a whole rather than divided.” Slowly, giving Michael plenty of time to even so much as twitch away (he didn’t), Jeremy crawled into Michael’s lap and curled up there. He rested his head on Michael’s chest.

 

Wrapping his tail gently around Jeremy's waist, Michael left lots of time for Jeremy to let him know to not do this (he didn't). Michael gently squeezed there before pressing a kiss to the top of Jeremy's head. "I'm glad to know that I have that apparent honor. Should I add that to my resume after this is all over? I think it's more important than this whole quest, it'll be put at my best quality."

 

“You do that,” Jeremy agreed softly, an almost giggle escaping his lips. “Cause you might be the first to manage it. My curse is a little different since I was born with it, but no one has ever tamed a dragon before as far as I know. Especially not their special treasure.” Jeremy nuzzled closer, relaxing minutely, moment by moment.

 

"Well then I'm a very special guy. Who knew?" Michael grinned down at Jeremy, pressing a few more kisses to the top of his head. "I mean, I thought I was special for being chosen by Iconis, but if I'm the first and it's super hard, especially with my circumstances? Hot damn."

 

“Well I already knew you were special. Moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you were special.” Jeremy nuzzled close with a small groan. “Still wanting to just grab the staff and give you dragon eyes though. Anything’s better than this feeling in my head. And I’d be quite happy to go into a trance for you.” That had a small giggle too. He was getting there.

 

Michael couldn't help but laugh a little before pressing a few pecks to his cheek. "I think the only thing I'd use my dragon eyes for would be to make my golden eyes pop a little more. I feel like my golden eyes are dulling out." Teasingly, Michael tried to crane his head around so he could look Jeremy in the eyes. "Are they? I feel like I'm dulling out here! Help!"

 

Jeremy looked up, giggling softly, as he reached up and grabbed Michael’s cheeks to hold him still. “Nope, they’re just as beautiful and golden as ever,” Jeremy murmured. “I was wrong, you don’t need dragon eyes to capture me. You can do that just fine already. Your eyes are like sunbeams. Bright and beautiful, just like the rest of you.” He gently pulled Michael closer. “Can I kiss you, Michael? Please, let me kiss you...”

 

"You don't even need to ask, lajy," Michael said, laughing a little as he gently tugged Jeremy closer with his tail. "Wow, I didn't even realize that my gaze worked so well, because that's what I was wanting you to do if you were up for it."

 

“You have me wrapped around your little finger,” Jeremy agreed with a small laugh, finally tugging Michael down enough to kiss him. It started just as an almost hesitant brush of lips, as though Jeremy were nervous, but he quickly relaxed into it.

 

One hand slid from Michael’s cheek into his hair, where he tangled his fingers and massaged the base of his horns. The other reached around to the nape of his neck, holding him close and playing with the shorter, finer hairs back there. It was clear Jeremy was in charge in this kiss as he lead Michael so sweetly, but it was totally different to the rough, bruising kiss from earlier. This was sweet and loving and gentle. It was Jeremy as he really was.

 

Michael couldn't help but melt into it, feeling a bit like putty in Jeremy's hands. He raised a hand up to rest against the curve of Jeremy's neck, his fingers gently rubbing over the faint area of the last hickey he left, before they left to try to traverse the mountain pass. The other rested carefully along his lower back, keeping Jeremy close in his own lap as his tail gently squeezed in a nice rhythm around Jeremy's waist. He couldn't help but hum and happily sigh into the kiss, loving all of the soft, tender love Jeremy was giving him.

 

When he pulled back for air, Michael couldn't help but laugh for a second as he rested his forehead against Jeremy's. "I have you wrapped around my finger? No, you have me wrapped around your finger, tail included."

 

Jeremy quickly kissed his lips again, genuinely smiling now, before he began trailing kisses along Michael’s jaw and down his neck. “Well you are pretty flexible,” he mused, kissing the place of his first hickey a bit more firmly than anywhere else. “That probably helps since my fingers are quite a bit smaller than yours.” Using the hand in Michael’s hair, Jeremy grabbed gently and tilted Michael’s head back to give himself more room, moving slowly and giving Michael plenty of time to resist or say something.

 

Letting out a small gasp at first with the motion Jeremy performed, Michael felt himself relax and hum, the closest to a groan he'd given during one of their more intimate sessions. "Yeah, both definitely help... Also, you're so lucky Brooke an' Chrissy an' Jake are outside the wagon right now, Brooke would be all over us for this," he muttered out, feeling himself trailing off as the kisses slowly got more and more passionate. He gasped again when Jeremy placed a specific kiss over one sensitive spot along the side of his neck, one he didn't know he had until now.

 

“Why do you think I’m doing this now?” Jeremy murmured against his skin, between small nips and kisses he was pressing so sweetly to that sensitive spot. “We’re alone. And getting to see you like this... it helps me so much. Reminds me that no matter what, you want me as much as I want you. It reminded me we’re safe together.” Jeremy’s free hand reached around and slid up the back of Michael’s shirt, tracing up and down Michael’s spine.

 

Michael tightened his hold on the back of Jeremy's shirt along his back, his hand along Jeremy's neck reaching down and bunching at the fabric along his shoulders as he gasped. Jeremy's thumb ran so gently and perfectly along the middle of his spine, perfectly cool to where it felt refreshing and amazing. "Y-yeah," was all he managed to get out as he tried to catch his breath, the amount of attention and affection the perfect amount of overwhelming to where it didn't actually feel like too much.

 

After a few more minutes of Jeremy’s gentle ministrations, he pressed one more gentle kiss to Michael’s neck (which had a couple of hickeys of varying strengths) before pulling back and looking up at him. “You wanna have some fun yourself or is that enough for you for now?” he asked, his tone flirty but also honest. The fact that Jeremy was always so considerate and always checking if Michael was comfortable never failed to warm his heart.

 

So much love and warm feelings filled Michael as he gently leaned forward, resting his head against Jeremy's shoulder. Despite the situation they were in, their little wagon felt like the only thing in the world, that nothing else mattered besides right here, right now, and Jeremy Jeremy Jeremy. "I... Y'wrecked me, lajy," Michael somewhat teased as he nuzzled against his shoulder, letting out a content sigh. "I feel like if I tried, I'd... I'd.... I dunno."

 

“You’d mark me up so pretty,” Jeremy hummed. “They’d probably all turn out dark, so everyone could see just how completely I’m yours. Because I am yours. And you’re mine. We belong to each other as much as we belong to ourselves.” He kept pressing gentle kisses to Michael’s face, helping him come down from a high that had nothing to do with the pipe they loved to share.

 

"Maybe once we're out of here and having your pampering day, I'll do that," Michael honestly suggested as he smiled, shutting his eyes as he enjoyed the plentiful amount of kisses Jeremy was giving him. "God knows you deserve it."

 

“I don’t know how I managed to deserve you though. I could live a hundred years, even a thousand, with all the treasures and magic and everything anyone could ever want, and it wouldn’t compare to this-“ He kissed Michael’s lips gently. “-not even close.”

 

"I don't know how I managed to deserve you either, but we both somehow got lucky enough, I guess," Michael muttered out, nuzzling against Jeremy's shoulder. "I'm never letting you go, Jeremy, not if I can help it."

 

 

 

Two more days in the dark and Michael was getting more than a little stir crazy. Everything was black and white, black and white, black and white, with only brief interludes of color when he could afford to go into the wagon and light up a small fire just to see some color. And those bursts only made him long for the outside more.

 

Jeremy was honestly a godsend, keeping him mostly calm and flashing him those green dragon eyes. He even made it a game to use Alter Self to change their color, to make sure Michael didn’t get bored. The green was still his favorite, but Jeremy with blue eyes, and with gold eyes, was pretty awesome too.

 

Michael tried his best to keep Jeremy in good spirits too, poking and prodding with his tail and trying to do tricks with it when he could. He even managed to, when the coast was clear, lift Jeremy up a foot by making a seat with his tail for Jeremy. Little things like that kept him from losing it with the continuous monotony, along with any little breaks they took for the night when Brooke and Jake and Christine would be keeping watch and making food. Jeremy was keeping him going, and he didn't know how to thank him for it.

 

He tried to think on exactly how as he was riding along, leading the wagon. Michael rubbed at his eyes with the palm of one hand, the other holding the reins as he yawned. "Mm, lajy?" He heard Jeremy faintly hum back in acknowledgement. "What's the best way t'thank you for basically being a godsend?"

 

Jeremy chuckled. “I’m not sure, how would I thank you? You’re helping me so much, auglas. You’re a literal sunbeam in this darkness,” he cooed softly.

 

"That's not what I was asking though! I was asking how I could thank you?" Michael said around a playful huff. "I'm glad I'm helping you though."

 

Jeremy snuggled closer with a soft hum and a happy sigh. “You can thank me by cuddling with me in a proper bed once we’re out of here. And sharing a hot meal with me.”

 

"OK, that's the least I can do, but OK," Michael murmured out, resting his head against Jeremy's head, his tail gently squeezing around Jeremy.

 

"Ugh, the mushiness you two have is so overwhelming, I can hear it from the back of the wagon," Brooke called out from the back, and Michael could only snicker at her whining.

 

Jeremy groaned dramatically, still keeping his voice quiet. “Ugh, let me live, Brooke.” He was grinning though so he didn’t seem to be actually upset. Before he had a chance to say more, he stiffened, eyes suddenly darting to the ceiling of the cavern. “Shit!”

 

From nowhere, a group of dwarves dropped down onto and around the wagon. One landed on the driver's seat and shoved Jeremy to one side, pulling Michael away from him and clasping Michael’s hands in iron manacles before he could even think of responding.

 

As soon as they shut around his wrists, Michael felt himself become exhausted and weak. He felt like he couldn’t do a thing, which the dwarf holding him took advantage of as he kept an arm around his neck. Another dwarf came on board, easily snatching the reins out of his hand as Gideon neighed and whinnied, obviously freaked.

 

From behind, he heard chaos. He managed to be able to glance back, seeing Jake being yanked and shoved out of the wagon with only his gear on. At the same time, the girls were pinned down, the same manacles put on him being put on the girls before he physically saw them weaken. They were still fighting and struggling, but nowhere near how they normally would. That’s when the charm popped into his mind, the one that these cuffs had to be enchanted with: Weakness Charm, which made you physically weak and susceptible to most any spell. Fuck.

 

Jeremy had yelped when he was forced off the wagon, and he had started yelling out something in Undercommon when there was a thunk and the sound of someone collapsing. Jeremy’s protests cut off abruptly. And so did Jake’s.

 

Michael was roughly shoved into the back of the wagon with the others and Michael felt it suddenly begin to move at a very fast pace. Michael could just about make out the crumpled, presumably unconscious forms of Jeremy and Jake as the wagon sped away.

 

One dwarf in the back yelled in Undercommon up at the person who shoved Michael, and there was a quick shouting match as he tried to calm himself down. A lot of things felt muted, probably partially due to the charmed manacles.

 

Glancing back at the girls, he saw them shifted to sit back against one of the walls of the wagon. As he saw this happen, Michael felt himself carefully handled and moved by two dwarves to sit beside Brooke, against the wall, before the dwarves moved back. Brooke seemed unable to help but lean a little against Michael, and he could just feel how exhausted she was in how she leaned against him. He glanced and saw Christine leaning against Brooke as well.

 

Michael heard as Christine started to sniffle, and so did Brooke, both sounding exhausted but utterly broken.

 

A figure climbed into the back with them and yanked at Christine’s hair, grunting out something in Undercommon. They squealed and shut up, but the dwarf didn’t instantly let go. Instead he let her hair run through his fingers almost... sensually? Oh fuck no, were these sex slavers? Jeremy had mentioned them but- fuck.

 

Michael gathered enough energy to sit up a little and glare at the dwarf that was in front of Christine. “Get... off of her...” The dwarves seemed surprised by that, the one carding creepily through Christine’s hair backing off and staring with intrigue up at Michael. He hated the look, but if they left the girls alone, he’d deal with it. With a great deal of energy, he managed to use his tail and carefully, loosely wrap it around Brooke and Christine, bringing them closer as he kept glaring at the dwarves.

 

Michael didn’t understand what the dwarf said but the leer he got, as well as the roaming eyes, told him more than enough. Their captors were smiling, looking almost excited. And... they were staring at his throat, at the hickeys Jeremy had left only days before. They didn’t touch him, but their gazes felt just as invasive.

 

He just kept his tail around the girls, trying his best to ignore the looks he was getting from their captors. No way would he give them any satisfaction, so he just focused on Brooke and Christine instead. “Are you two alright?”

 

“Y-yeah,” Christine said, sounding as wiped as he felt. “Thanks for that.”

 

“We’re not getting out of this one, are we?” Brooke asked quietly. “Jake and Jeremy are stranded, maybe dead, and none of us can break out of these.” She raised her wrists pitifully before slumping back down.

 

Outside, the sound of another wagon joined the already top loud rumble. There was the sound of a victorious greeting and the dwarves in the back with them hopped out the back of the wagon, cheering.

 

“I...” Did things look awful? Yes, this was definitely one of the worst, if not the worst situation they had ended up in. When things seemed bad though, things seemed to work out for them. Maybe it was because of Iconis choosing them or the sheer will Michael had to refuse to give up, but... “I think we will, just maybe not right away,” he admitted as he glanced to the back of the wagon.

 

Brooke sighed again. “I can’t... Jeremy had the staff. He was taking a turn doing the Darkvision stuff. You’ve got maybe twenty minutes left.” She shook her head wearily. “I’m sorry.”

 

That fact made Michael’s stomach churn, but he couldn’t fall to despair. Christine was miserable, Brooke couldn’t see the bright side. He had to try. “It’s alright Brooke, we’ll make it through this, I know it.” He didn’t know how, but they would.

 

 

 

Hours later, Michael was struggling to see the bright side. He was struggling to see at all, honestly. Without the Darkvision, the only light they had was the occasional glow of the bioluminescent mushrooms they passed on occasion.

 

The other two had totally given up hope by this point. Michael had to admit, he was not far off from the same conclusion.

 

The only bright side (hah...) about not really being able to see was that he couldn’t see the looks from the dwarves that had taken them. It made it a bit easier to cope, though he was still on-guard because he didn’t know when they’d try something. Still, he didn’t want to give up hope, even if he felt like he should have by this point. Michael had to keep some hope alive, right?

 

That hope made a sudden spike when something glowing sped past the window of the wagon. It was moving too quickly for him to really see, but Michael was certain he’d seen something. Whatever what it was, it had to be better than these slavers.

 

He tried to turn towards the window, to see if he could get a glimpse of whatever went by, but it was all dark again. But Michael knew he saw something, he knew-

 

The wagon came to a stop. He didn’t know why, but the sound of the dwarves speaking Undercommon made his stomach churn. They got louder, rounding the back, and he saw them come in when they had one of them start up a torch. Michael gave the best glare he could at the dwarves, even if he felt so weak and drained. He could barely even keep his tail wrapped loosely around the girls at this point.

 

One of the dwarves stepped forwards and grabbed Michael’s chin and turned his face this way and that. He bared his teeth in a weak snarl, trying his best to convey the hatred and contempt he felt for them. The dwarf just leered at him, grinning down at him nastily.

 

Before the dwarf could do anything, there was a yelp from outside the wagon. Then another. And another. The dwarves in the wagon looked up and around at each other in confusion. The glowing thing passed the window again, still too blurry to see. There was another yelp from outside.

 

Michael turned his head towards the window only to have his chin yanked, forcing him to face back towards the dwarf. He still tried to convey his utter disdain, though kept glancing around towards the window and back. From the corner of his vision, he saw Brooke and Christine doing the same.

 

The dwarf holding firmly onto Michael’s chin said something to some of the dwarves in the back, nodding his head towards the rear of the wagon with their weapons drawn. Reluctantly, they exited, leaving only the dwarf holding the torch, another who was eyeing up Brooke and Christine, and the one holding Michael’s chin.

 

There were a couple more shrieks, and suddenly a rumbling boom from behind the wagon. The explosion (?) shook the wagon a little, leaving everyone inside confused.

 

For a moment, there was silence. Then the three dwarves suddenly screamed and crumbled backwards, gasping weakly. Jeremy stood at the entrance to the wagon, splattered in blood and clutching two daggers. The Thunder Cannon was strapped to his back, between his large, glowing wings. His eyes were ice cold as he regarded the fallen dwarves, and he picked up the dropped torch, placing it in the holder on the wall of the wagon. He seemed almost disinterested, almost bored, until his gaze finally landed on Michael. In an instant he was down next to Michael and the girls, working on getting the manacles off.

 

Michael felt relief flood him, even if it wasn’t as nice since Jeremy was dripping in dwarf blood and looked so... dragon-esque. Still, he couldn’t help but be relieved that he wasn’t wrong to hope and believe. He looked up at Jeremy as he worked on getting his manacles off, though glanced to the side when he heard movement and someone climb in.

 

Jake quickly kneeled down in front of the girls, by Jeremy’s side, as he quickly worked as well. He had some blood on him, though he wasn’t as bad as Jeremy. His eyes weren’t cold, not bored, he was normal (and a little freaked and worried) Jake. “Are you guys alright? I’m so sorry we didn’t get to you guys sooner.”

 

“We came as soon as we woke up,” Jeremy added softly, finally just siphoning off the magic from the manacles. Jake took them off as soon as Jeremy took the magic away, pushing it into a quartz left up on one of the boxes. “Are you all alright? They didn’t hurt you, did they?” As he spoke, Jeremy reached over and clicked open his hiding spot, and Nightshade and Darling scampered out in a small panic.

 

“We’re fine, you stopped them before they could do anything to us,” Christine told Jeremy, and Michael saw her give a weak smile. He glanced over then to the animals, watching as Darling hopped up onto his shoulder and gurgled in worry. “The worst we got were creepy looks and some hair stroking, thank god.”

 

“They were just about to start inspecting us, I think,” Brooke added, her voice soft and frail.

 

“We’re not too far off from a camp. I already dealt with them before coming straight back here. Didn’t want to risk them calling for backup,” Jeremy explained, rubbing Michael’s wrists gently as soon as the metal was removed. His touch was still so gentle and sweet, even if his wings and eyes didn’t fade. As if he didn’t just admit to murdering an entire camp full of dwarves.

 

“I started taking them out from the back while Jeremy went up ahead,” Jake added, sounding more than a little worried and most certainly freaked. Jeremy didn’t seem to care. “He’s wicked accurate with the Thunder Cannon. And knives.”

 

"Yeah, he definitely can be when he needs to," Christine muttered out, and Michael could hear the worry in her voice despite how tired she sounded. He still felt wiped, probably from the charm, but he at least felt his strength and energy slowly returning. "Uh... Jake, do you think you could drive?"

 

"Yeah, of course. Jeremy, before I do that, could you, uh... recharge our Darkvision? Please?"

 

Jeremy pulled out the staff without a word and tapped it down. Michael saw the bubbles pop and the world became a little clearer. The shadows became less deep in the back of the wagon.

 

“Before we go, there’s another wagon we need to check. I think this one is from the surface, got nabbed a few days ago at least.” Jeremy stood. “Jake if you get settled, I’m going to check for any more captives. You’re all welcome to join me, but I should be quick.” He let out a sharp whistle and Raja slid out from the crate next to Michael. The mechanical tiger unfolded himself and stood, shaking out his plates and gears as they slipped back into alignment.

 

"I'll come with you," Michael said, slowly standing up as he watched Nightshade seemingly debate between who to go to before climbing up Jeremy and resting along his shoulder. "I need to walk before we keep going anyway." He took a few steps forward, gently reaching over and taking Jeremy's hand, even if he still felt exhausted. He was worried, Jeremy was still in a half-dragon form, even if he seemed more himself…

 

Jeremy shot him a small smile, his eyes softening even as they avoided the direct contact. Well at least Jeremy wasn’t trying to entrance him, that was a good sign. “Of course, idril. The exhaustion should wear off soon, a couple of minutes at most. The enchantments weren’t very strong, just well sealed.”

 

Jeremy carefully guided Michael around to the back of the other wagon, kicking the dead or dying dwarves out of the way to make sure that Michael didn’t trip. The sight sickened him, more due to the careless way Jeremy was treating them than the fact that Jeremy had practically slaughtered them. As much as he hated people dying, he wasn’t about to mourn their lives.

 

When Jeremy opened the back of the wagon, he let out a small growl. “Oh, it’s you. I should have known you’d be close by.” There, curled up in the back of the wagon, looking very pathetic, scared and exhausted, was none other than Richard Goranski. He cowered closer to the corner he was in at the sight of them, especially Jeremy and Raja.

 

Michael couldn't help but feel his gaze soften as he looked at Rich. Glancing down, he saw Rich had the same manacles on that he and the girls had on before. Even if Jeremy stayed where he was after he growled, Michael hoisted himself up into the back of the wagon. "Hey, it's alright," he said, voice soft as Rich seemed to relax, if only a little, as Michael came over. "We were both in the same boat, we aren't going to hurt you."

 

Rich looked Michael over then, but more with a look of worry and concern than anything else, even if he still was so exhausted and sad-looking. "I... I wanted to warn you... 'bout the traders... I sorta screwed that up..."

 

Michael's chest ached at Rich's words as he sat down next to Rich then. "It's alright. They didn't hurt you, right? Or do anything to you?" Rich shook his head. "Good." After that, he glanced over at Jeremy, not making direct eye contact. "Lajy, could you help him please?"

 

Jeremy crawled over to Rich and got to work, handing him surprisingly gently. “No one is going to hurt you, Rich. The slavers have been dealt with, and we’re heading back up to the surface.” Even his voice had softened as he spoke. He pulled off the manacles as they crumbled to ash, then gently rubbed Rich’s wrists. “If you’re okay with it, you can come with us until we get to the next town.” Rich nodded, looking scared and sort of suspicious but also grateful. “You’ll have to control your anger though. Jake is travelling with us, so if you want to come you’ll need to be civil.” Jeremy gave another whistle and Raja hopped up into the wagon and crouched down. A leather saddle popped out from his back. “Climb on if you’re okay with those terms.”

 

Rich seemed to take a second before realizing that their Jake was his Jake, and he glanced down into his lap before letting out a heavy sigh. "We need to take the horse of this wagon, he... he's technically our horse," he muttered out as he rubbed his own wrists then. "I'd be pissed at myself if we left Sbarro." Michael furrowed his brows at that name, and Rich seemed to notice. "Jake named him, not me..."

 

Jeremy nodded. “I’ll sort it out.” He helped Rich up on to Raja, where he slumped forwards, clutching the saddle with as much strength as he could. “Raja, home.” With that, Raja stood and carefully climbed down out of the wagon. “I’ll sort out the horse if you go get settled?” Jeremy suggested softly, taking Michael’s hands and squeezing them gently.

 

Michael gently squeezed Jeremy's hands back, sighing before nodding. "Alright..." He had more things he wanted to say, but he wasn't sure how to say them. Even if he had his energy back, was no longer weak, he was still exhausted from the same-old darkness and the now-returning monotony of monochrome. Really, he just wanted to get out of here soon. He had been so close to giving up, and he wasn't sure how much longer he could handle trying to be positive for.

 

Jeremy pressed a kiss to the back of his hands with a smile. “We’re only a day from an exit, the duergar were camped near one. We just need to make it through the webs and we’ll be out.” For a split second, Jeremy met his gaze and Michael felt relaxation and calm wash over him, pushing away the exhaustion. Jeremy broke the eye contact, but the soft feelings didn’t fade. “Don’t worry. I’ll be making sure we get out of here quickly.” Another kiss, just as gentle as the last.

 

Feeling better than before, Michael nodded, gently tugging Jeremy forward after he kissed the back of his hands so he could quickly kiss his lips, gentle and quick. "Thank you, Jeremy," Michael murmured, squeezing their hands before letting go. He watched as Nightshade gently nudged Jeremy's cheek then, and he leaned into Darling's gentle nuzzle as he quickly got out of the back of Rich's wagon and went back to their own.

 

Rich was curled up in the back of the wagon, away from everyone else. He still looked terrified. Raja was back in his crate, folded up again. Michael slipped over to next to Rich, feeling uncomfortable but also not wanting Rich to be so scared. He didn’t deserve that, even if he had been chasing Michael for so long.

 

“Why are you and Jeremy being so kind to me?” Rich asked softly. Wait, how did Rich know Jeremy’s name? Michael was certain he hadn’t said anything.

 

"Because you deserve it?" Michael posed back, a bit confused. "Even if you chased me for so long, you were doing what you thought was right. Plus, you treated me kindly last time. I'm not going to hold a grudge against you. You aren't a rich, selfish prick."

 

Rich snorted at that, uncurling himself a little. “I- thank you, Michael. And I’m sorry for... everything. You’ve been doing good with what you do, and I’ve secretly always believed that. I was just... looking for a mission so didn’t have to address some... issues of my own,” Rich admitted quietly.

 

There was a small squeal of joy from Jake out the front, presumably because of his reunion with Sbarro, as well a muffled discussion as the wagon began moving again. Jeremy didn’t reappear just yet, and the front of the wagon was still closed off from where the slavers had cut them off.

 

"That... even if that isn't a healthy way of dealing with things, I can understand that need for a distraction," Michael said before leaning back against the wall of the wagon. Glancing to the side, he noticed Brooke and Christine curled up close to one another, a blanket wrapped around them as they slept. They deserved it.

 

"Quick question though... I never told you my name or Jeremy's name. How do you know them?" he asked. He was a bit relaxed still from what Jeremy did, so he didn't have any worry or something similar in his tone as Michael looked at Rich.

 

“Once I figured you were part tiefling, I sort of just put the pieces together. What other tiefling had an issue with Lord Vesk? And from there, I just... I asked around to see if someone who matched your description was travelling with anyone. When I found out you were with a gnomish artificer, well Jeremy’s no stranger to me thanks to Chloe and Jenna. From there it was easy.“ He sighed, almost laughing. He sounded beyond tired, from more than just the manacles. “I didn’t tell anyone, don’t worry. And I quit my job before they had a chance to question me on my research. But when I realised you were traveling into slaver territory, I knew I had to at least warn you. Or... try to anyways.”

 

"I..." Michael wasn't sure what entirely to feel right now. There were a lot of things swirling around in his head, many conflicting memories and emotions, before he settled on something. "Thank you, Rich... Is it alright if I give you a hug? I just... You sound and look like you need one."

 

Rich blinked owlishly, then nodded. He practically melted into Michael’s embrace, as though he hadn’t had this sort of contact in a very long time. Michael was just glad his scales on his arms were covered by his warm, winter coat. Michael didn’t do so well with scales.

 

When they finally separated, Rich was blushing a little, and he looked away awkwardly. “I- er- just have one more question,” he stammered out. “Jeremy’s not registered as being given a curse. How has he got Dragon’s Greed so strongly? No wizard has detected anyone getting that curse in decades, and he’s not in any register. His mother was, but not him.”

 

"His mom got it when she was pregnant with him, so he was born with it. It's not a curse for him," Michael told Rich as he properly leaned back against the wall of the wagon. He glanced over at Rich as he reached up and scratched under Darling's beak, finding her soft crows soothing. "That's why."

 

“So it’s just- what?- a part of him?” Rich asked incredulously. “And he’s not consumed by it?”

 

“Not normally, no,” Jeremy chimed in, opening the front of the wagon long enough to slip inside. The wings were gone and his eyes were no longer so hypnotic, even if they were still dragon eyes. Rich looked like he might have a heart attack. “For the most part, the dragon part of my personality is something I can control. It only really surfaces if I really want something, or something or someone I value has been taken or is in danger,” he explained, hopping down and curling himself next to Michael as soon as he got some non-verbal permission. “It’s not separate for me like it is for most, it’s just a set of urges and thoughts to control mostly. I just tend to refer to them as a separate entity to make it easier to process.”

 

“That’s... legitimately fascinating. Do you think... we could talk some more about this? I- learning about curses is a bit of a hobby of mine. I almost went into curse breaking and everything.” Rich chuckled weakly, his voice bordering on shy. Jeremy shrugged.

 

“Sure, so long as Michael’s comfortable around you, I’ll be willing to trust you.”

 

Even if it was silly, Michael felt his heart race a little at that. At how much Jeremy trusted him. Instead of saying something about it, Michael wrapped an arm around Jeremy, holding him close and relaxing since he was back with Jeremy. He felt a lot safer. "I am," he muttered out, resting his head against Jeremy's as he shut his eyes. "Have fun with your nerd, in-depth talks."

 

Jeremy giggled a little and pressed a kiss to Michael’s hand before beginning to explain his curse to Rich. Rich listened carefully, asking questions occasionally, which Jeremy really seemed to appreciate. By the time Michael drifted off to sleep, he was feeling so much safer and more comfortable. And he decided that Rich, the real Rich and not the guard Rich, was a pretty cool guy.

Chapter Text

As they traversed along the Underdark, no one else came to bother them. Michael was honestly grateful, because he didn't think he could handle another group of slavers. He stayed in the back with Jeremy, and he stayed right by Michael's side, making sure he was alright for the rest of the journey back to topside. While he really did like it, he knew part of it was because of the little bit of his dragon side that was still out and about.

 

When they finally did make it out though, Michael felt a lot better. Even if a lot of it was muted because of the snow, there was color. He started tearing up, honest to god, and he rubbed at his eyes as Jake started to lead the wagon to head to the next town (which he reassured them was an hour's ride away). "Oh my god, I didn't realize how much I missed color until now..."

 

Jeremy, who was curled up on his lap still, pressed some slow, gentle kisses to Michael’s neck. Nothing teasing, just a small show of affection. “Mhm. You did so well, auglas. I’m so proud of you, you handled down there so well,” he cooed. For once, Brooke didn’t comment, and no one else did either. Jeremy had shot them a sort of glare, dragon eyes and all, last time they tried.

 

Michael felt his cheeks warm a little at the show of affection and praise he was given. He couldn't help but glance away a little as well, feeling a little flustered. "Thank you," he muttered out, gently squeezing Jeremy's waist, which was where his hands were resting. He was used to the slight teasing from their friends, so this uninterrupted affection made him feel a bit more... well, more about the praise he was being given.

 

“Not long now, and then we can finally have a nice hot meal and get some proper sleep,” Jeremy continued, still pressing gentle kisses along his neck, lingering a little on his hickeys. “And maybe then I’ll finally be able to relax a bit better.” ‘Enough to push down the dragon’ remained unspoken. Michael knew Jeremy was frustrated about still having his dragon so prominent, even if he was happily going along with urges it was apparently supplying.

 

"Yeah, I still have that massage I need to give you," Michael pointed out then, feeling himself relax even further at the kisses that lingered over his hickies. He squeezed around Jeremy's waist once more, as if to emphasize the massage point. "I'll make sure you're able to relax after all of this. You deserve it."

 

“So long as you’re enjoying it too, idril,” Jeremy added almost firmly. “I want you to relax and feel good too. We all deserve it after what happened down there. And I could probably use a bath too.” Jeremy had cleaned himself up after the massacre, but apparently he still felt very unclean after it all. Michael had to stop him from scrubbing his skin raw a few times (he suspected that was more from the normal Jeremy side expressing his displeasure about his own actions).

 

"How about we clean each other if the bath's big enough?" Michael offered, not wanting Jeremy to scrub his skin raw again under the pretense of just giving himself a good bath. As he offered, he glanced ahead to see Rich managing to talk with Christine as Brooke napped, her head resting in Christine's lap.

 

“That sounds really nice.” Jeremy sighed, sending his breath skittering gently across Michael’s collarbone. It was a sweet, intimate feeling. And it was delightfully settling too, helping to reinforce the safety he would take for granted up here before. Michael was safe topside, with Jeremy. And if anything happened, Jeremy would come and get him, like he did down below. Nothing would stop Jeremy from coming for Michael, and Michael was keenly aware of that fact now. He’d had it proven to him.

 

"Yeah, it does," Michael agreed, running his hands along Jeremy's sides as he took in this moment, the gentle intimacy of it something he'd never take for granted again. He knew this as he gently squeezed along Jeremy's sides again, at the gentle dips and slight curves he had.

 

The wagon rolled on, and Michael just enjoyed the gentle intimacy while it lasted. They’d be alone in a proper room soon enough and then he could properly pamper his boyfriend. When they approached the town, Jake called back to them as they sat on the outskirts.

 

“Guys? Something’s wrong.” Everyone poked their heads out, and Brooke sat up, awake at last. “The whole town looks totally abandoned...”

 

Michael looked around then, frowning as he saw it seemed to be the case. He got a bad feeling about all of this, something about how this was all familiar, but he couldn't remember exactly how (they had dealt with so much since this whole journey started). "We should be careful. Let's try to see if we can see if this was an accident or everyone just left, and if it's the latter, we just pass through and go to the next town."

 

Everyone nodded, but Michael noticed that Christine in particular looked uncomfortable. “It just seems familiar...” She sighed when she met Michael’s questioning gaze.

 

“It does...” Jeremy agreed softly, holding on to Michael a little more tightly. They started into the town, some on foot but everyone had their eyes peeled for any danger and finding none as of yet.

 

Suddenly, Jeremy fell forwards, clutching his head. He groaned as he blinked, eyes looking less focused on anything but somehow more focused on something else. “What’s going on?” he whimpered, eyes darting around. His gazed hovered over Michael for a second before he kept looking. “Everything’s covered in green fog! And it’s... sparking...” he trailed off, apparently remembering. “Squip! This is a Squiped town! We need to get out!” There was no way for the wagon to turn since the street they were on was so narrow.

 

Michael thought for a second and remembered the first town he, Christine, and Jeremy were in together. Jeremy mentioned the green fog before he got sick, when they saw that Squiped villager-

 

As soon as he remembered that, as he was ready to grab Jeremy and go as well as yell at everybody as they were now out of the wagon, he felt hands grab onto him from behind, from the alley he was near. "What the-"

 

"Michael!" Brooke cried, as she was the closest, and reached out to grab him since Jeremy was overwhelmed by whatever vision he was having. Before she could grab him, as she was inches away from grabbing his outstretched hand, he saw the world (except for himself and his captors) go into hues of grey, making him feel nauseous as Brooke went right through him. He didn't even feel her do that, as surprised as she was when she looked around and called for him (he could still hear and see her, as well as everyone else). "Michael?! Michael!"

 

Jeremy, obviously still overwhelmed and struggling, looked up and around for him. “Michael? Michael?!” He sounded so panicked and scared, but before Michael could really process any of this, three sets of strong hands tugged him backwards into a chair. He was quickly and efficiently restrained, even his tail, by three humans with blank, cyan eyes. He could only watch helplessly as one by one, all his friends were also grabbed. They all vanished, out of Michael’s sight, leaving Jeremy falling to his knees, alone and in pain by the looks of things.

 

Michael felt himself almost sick by how scared and frightened and hurt Jeremy looked. "Jeremy, I'm here!" he called out, though he quickly realized he couldn't be heard either wherever he was, even if he could see and hear Jeremy. He tried to struggle in his chair, but the tight and powerful restraints kept him firmly in place. "Let me go and let me out of wherever the hell this place is!"

 

“Where’d everybody go?” Jeremy sounded so small and scared as he half collapsed, curling in on himself as he looked around in a panic.

 

As he was forced to watch the painful sight, Michael felt something being fitted on his head. He struggled as best he could, but the helmet was quickly fitted on properly. Lightning ran through his veins for an instant, and suddenly a voice, not his own, was in his head.

 

It’s nice to properly meet you, Michael.

 

Even if he had never heard this voice before, Michael instantly knew who it was. He tensed up as he panted from the initial shock to his system. "Get the fuck out of my head and let me out of wherever you've had your mind-controlled goons take me!"

 

You’ll be freed soon enough, Michael,” Squip assured him, sending another painful shock through him. “In the meantime, why not have some soup?” Michael saw one of the goons step forward, a bowl and spoon in hand. It had to be laced with something.

 

Michael tried to get away, even as the shocks faded, but he was stuck. And when one of the wanderers pinched his nose, and he was forced to breath through his mouth, the other shoved a spoonful of piping hot soup into his mouth. He was forced to swallow before he could take another breath.

 

This continued for a minute more, between shock and having to listen to Jeremy’s whimpers and tears grow more and more intense, and the Squip’s taunting in the back of his head. “Once you finish the bowl, we can take a break,” it half cooed at him. He wanted to be sick.

 

"Fuck. You," Michael got out between his panting breaths, the sheer intensity of the shocks already a bit much combined with Jeremy's pain and suffering. As he finished the last of his words though, another spoonful was shoved into his open mouth, and he almost coughed at how it was done. He gasped and wheezed after he swallowed the spoonful, coughing before more shocks overtook him.

 

After what felt like an eternity, he was finished with the soup, and he was gasping and panting for breath from everything. He felt himself sweating from the sheer intensity of everything, and he never really sweat.

 

There you go, no more shocks for a bit. You did well, finishing all that soup,” Squip praised. Why did that feel good? Shit, the soup must have been laced with the drug from the alcohol when Jeremy, Christine, and Brooke all got caught. He had to fight it.

 

In the meantime, Jeremy had stood, scrubbing at his face. “Okay, I can do this. I just need to find them. Everything will be okay if I can find them,” he muttered to himself. Michael was surprised that the chair he was on suddenly started floating, just a little, and that it followed after Jeremy as he left that part of the street, still repeating that everything would be fine. He was obviously repressing a proper panic attack.

 

"Jeremy, I'm right here," Michael said in a tone close to begging. Why was he begging necessarily? Because he wanted Jeremy to know he was there so bad, so that Jeremy wouldn't be so upset? This all hurt his heart. He was so close, yet he couldn't comfort Jeremy.

 

From his peripheral vision, he noticed that the three humans were following behind him, but he couldn't turn his head with how he was strapped to the chair. He could hear their faint footsteps though, and he felt himself tense up as he looked back at Jeremy, wanting to cry. "I'm right here, lajy..."

 

Every now and again, Michael would see Jeremy stop and look around, as though still trying to locate everyone. He’d occasionally pick a thread of magic from the air, then shake his head as he dropped it and continued on. His little mantras he was using to reassure himself were starting to be punctuated with little groans here and there, and he started occasionally clutching his head.

 

This was all getting to be too much after a certain point. Michael knew he was tearing up, he didn't care if Squip knew or not (of course it knew). "Just let me go, let me out of here!" he cried out, worry and concern building up for Jeremy.

 

I will.” Squip sounded like it was grinning. “Once he asks me to.” Jeremy stumbled against a building, panting harshly.

 

“No, I don’t need you. I can find them myself!” he whimpered. Was Jeremy talking to the Squip? Wait, no. His wings slowly unfurled from wherever they went when Jeremy wasn’t in dragon mode. “I don’t need a dragon, I just need to think.” He sobbed, still panting and holding himself up against the building.

 

Fuck, his theory was right. Michael felt another sob be ripped from him as he tried to shake his head, unable to. "Fucking let me out of here, you piece of shit!" Michael practically screamed out, trying to kick and break out from his restraints with no success. "Please, just let me out and back to him!"

 

For a moment, Jeremy just stood there, shivering and barely able to stand. Then he punched the building he was next to, the brickwork cracking a little under the force. Michael saw a little blood on his hand when he pulled it away. “Where are they? I know you can hear me, you piece of shit! I know you’ve got someone watching me, somewhere!” Jeremy growled, looking around. His wings spread wide and his eyes were ice cold. He seemed to be a lot deeper in the dragon mindset now, much closer to when he killed the slavers. “I will find them all and when I do, you’ll be sorry for ever touching them.” Jeremy started walking again, his fear turned to anger.

 

It took Michael a second to recompose himself enough to think and realize what Squip wanted. If what he knew from Jeremy's story was correct... "You want to separate him and his dragon part, since it kept you from being let in and taking Jeremy over," Michael said, stiffening. "You're going to let him go full dragon and assert yourself then." There were flaws in that, he could see that much, but Squip really thought this through. With that little comment Jeremy told him about, the one Squip left him with before he took off the helmet from when Jeremy got kidnapped. The Squip-

 

You’re very perceptive, Michael. You really don’t give yourself enough credit,” Squip praised again, and Michael hated how that felt so nice. “Unfortunately, you can’t be collected by normal means, so you’ll have to wait until Jeremy’s split himself, at which point I can slip in, but that shouldn’t take too long. Look.

 

Jeremy growled as he stalked through the town, flying up to look in windows and everything. His frustrations seemed to be getting the better of him since he punched the corner of another building. A chunk flew off and hit the building across the street. “Dragon’s Greed can effectively turn most people into a dragon, upping their greed and desire and even their magic and physical strength. For Jeremy, since he was born with it, it can actually do it.

 

Michael felt a sort of horror pass through him when a spectral tail, covered in ghostly scales and armor plates, formed behind Jeremy as he walked. His movements became less stompy and more... serpentine. He was moving too smoothly, but with just as much anger and determination.

 

"Why are you letting me see this? Why are you telling me all of this? Why aren't you shocking me more and feeding me more food so I'm more compliant to you?" Michael asked as he couldn't help but watch Jeremy as he went and searched, feeling his stomach drop at how Jeremy was changing before his own eyes. "Is it just because you enjoy seeing me suffer since I'm Iconis' hero? If so, that's incredibly petty."

 

I never claimed otherwise but that’s not why.” Squip sounded like it was grinning. “As I said, you can’t be collected like everyone else. You’re special. Which means I just need to keep you suffering until I can collect you normally. Because the more pain you’re in, the worse it is for him.” A shock ran through him at that, and as soon as it stopped, Michael was surprised to see Jeremy’s ears twitch and for him to look directly where Michael was with suspicion. He didn’t see Michael. “He never told you, did he? When he tried to collect you, he left a little of himself inside your head. Not enough for anything, or for him to even do anything with it. But the more scared you are, the more you hurt, the more his dragon comes out to protect its treasure.

 

Michael tensed up at that, hands clutching onto the ends of the arm of his chair. "You piece of shit," he hissed out, trying again to break out of his bonds. "You are not using m-"

 

Before he could say anything else, he felt a spoon shoved into his mouth again. The same creamy soup filled his mouth as his nose was pinched. He gasped around his spoonful before he had to swallow, coughing when one of the Squiped townsfolk removed it from his mouth. "And why are you making them feed me so much? Is this to get me more connected to you or some shit-" Again, he was cut off by the same person, same mouthful, but this time, another person pinched his nose shut, making him have to swallow so he could breathe shallowly through his mouth. "Fuck."

 

Squip cackled in his head, it’s voice getting clearer with every mouthful. “Good boy, Michael. So obedient already! Maybe I should just let Jeremy collect you first, instead. He’s already fallen far enough that he would if he saw you now.” Jeremy was acting nothing like himself, breaking things and upturning whatever he came across in his anger. His green eyes glowed bright, even through the monochrome haze.

 

A shock ran through Michael, and he was positioned directly in Jeremy’s path. His eyes locked onto Michael’s for a split second, and Michael found that he couldn’t look away. He felt good again, for a moment, then Jeremy turned away and got back to his ‘search.’ Michael’s head buzzed and he barely resisted the next spoonful of soup, too out of it to register anything really for a moment.

 

He heard Squip coo compliments in his mind, and they all rattled around as he took another and another spoonful. Michael felt sick, but he felt good too. The conflicting feelings, both wrong and nauseating, kept him stuck in the chair. The next spoonful had him coughing, and he felt the hand of the third villager gently rub and pat his back. "It's alright, Michael, you're doing so good. Take it nice and easy, and everything will be alright." Michael knew it was wrong to listen, he still felt so sick, but he couldn't do anything as he was fed another spoonful and more tears fell.

 

There you go, that’s all the soup you need.” Michael felt another shock pass through him, but this one brought Jeremy to his knees as well, gasping and panting as he clutched his head. He... he was being used to hurt Jeremy directly, now.

 

Now it’s almost time for you to go back to him, Michael. Don’t worry, I’ll be with you the whole time. He’ll be ready for you in a moment,” Squip cooed. From inside a building, Brooke walked out. Her movements were slow, mechanical, and he face was totally blank. She was carrying a helmet. Christine was next to her, in a similar state, and so was Jake.

 

In an instant, Jeremy was by their sides. His tail twitched and thrashed angrily as he started checking them over, growing angry when they barely responded to him. “SQUIP! What have you done to them?” he roared, and Michael could barely pick out Jeremy’s voice from the sound. Jeremy didn’t move to harm the others, and Michael knew why from experience: he couldn’t harm his treasures.

 

Their friends advanced on Jeremy, Jake holding him back from behind and keeping his arms pinned to his sides as Christine held closer around his legs, keeping him from moving. Jeremy tried to struggle and move, but to no avail, because if he really tried, he'd harm Christine and Jake.

 

Brooke took the few steps forward that she needed before she placed the helmet she held, the one similar to the one Michael was still wearing, on his head. She worked along with Jeremy's struggling, making sure it was secure on his head before she stepped back. Jake and Christine both let go then, stepping away as well, but not before turning him to face where Michael was in the place he was in ("The Ethereal Plane," Squip helpfully provided). Michael felt more tears falling down his face as he watched the electricity start up in Jeremy's helmet. "Lajy..."

 

Jeremy spasmed and fell to his knees as the shocks ran through him, his eyes rolling up into the back of his head for a moment just from the sheer intensity of it all. When he blinked and focused again, Michael found that the world shimmered and regained its color. Jeremy looked straight at him.

 

He staggered to his feet and stumbled over to Michael, gently cupping his face. Michael felt how Jeremy now had talons on the ends of his fingers, but his touch was still gentle and sweet. In an instant, the helmet was pulled off his head, and the bonds holding him were broken.

 

Michael couldn’t move. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t even blink. He just was forced to stare at Jeremy as he staggered backwards, shocked again. “Give them back!” Jeremy roared the moment he was able.

 

“Let me in, then.” Michael found he spoke without his own input. Jeremy fixated on him, his eyes flashing dangerously.

 

“You want me? Come and get me,” he snarled. Another shock ran through him, and he fell forwards, looking to pass out, but instead of hitting the ground his body was encased in a pale blue glow. He was lifted off the ground, a good fifteen feet into the air, as the glow shaped itself to become..a dragon. A real looking translucent dragon, with Jeremy floating unconscious in his chest. The dragon threw back his head and roared.

 

Michael felt his chest ache at the sight and his heart shatter. Despite that, he felt a building strength in him, one that he could tell Squip did not expect. 'Get. The fuck. Out of my head!' He screamed as he felt Squip fight against him for a few moments... Then he felt control of himself. He could move. He could speak. He blinked harshly, feeling tears falling as he lurched forward, off of the chair and onto the ground. Michael gasped as he clutched onto his chest with one hand, the other helping him up, slowly but surely.

 

Glancing around, he saw his friends stuck to the sidelines, stiff like statues, as Jeremy's dragon roared. The air was deadly, and he felt it hard to breathe as he managed to stand up and started walking over towards the dragon, even if Squip said otherwise in the back of his head. "Jeremy! I'm here, please, wake up!" he tried at first, coughing a few times, his throat rough and sore from the screaming and coughing from earlier.

 

Jeremy didn’t seem to hear him as his dragon took a swipe at the building nearest to him. He cut through it easily, the claws ripping through the brickwork like butter. Still, as the rubble fell, the dragon turned and coiled, holding out his wings to shield Jake, Christine, and Brooke from the rubble. That’s when he spotted Michael.

 

He snaked his way over, ducking his head to rest on the ground in front of Michael. Two large, green, glowing eyes fixated on him, and Jeremy’s dragon shape huffed gently. His head was easily taller than Michael, and each eye was as large as a shield. He regarded Michael curiously, not moving from his spot just in front of him.

 

Being careful, Michael raised his hands up in front of himself, to show he meant no harm. "It's me, Jeremy, it's me," Michael reassured Jeremy, being sure not to mention anything of the dragon. If he only called to Jeremy, he could lure him out, right? That was what he thought of and he couldn't think of anything else, so he was sticking with it. "Please, Jeremy, stop this. This isn't what you want to do. You don't want to destroy or hurt people."

 

The dragon shifted closer, nudging Michael with his snout gently before pulling back. He looked over Michael carefully before making a decision. He flapped his great wings a couple of times before settling and reaching out with a large claw to Michael. Very carefully, he scooped Michael up and placed him gently on his back, just a few feet above where the real Jeremy was suspended in the dragon’s form.

 

Once Michael was securely on his back, the dragon growled almost playfully and launched himself at another building, causing the nearest wall of it to collapse from the impact. It seemed like Jeremy was just destroying the town for the hell of it now, which kinda made sense. Young dragons were known to do that, back when they were still around. They’d destroy entire countries if they were bored, before they matured enough to control their impulses.

 

Holding on tight to the spectral form of Jeremy's dragon, Michael tried to figure out how he could get in to Jeremy. The dragon form felt so solid, but there had to be a way to get in, to Jeremy. "Jeremy, please, I know you can hear me," Michael called down to Jeremy, still clinging as the dragon started to knock the next wall of the building down. "You love to relax in taverns and inns, lying in bed and enjoying the comfort, not destroy them and find fun in that! You love to make, not destroy." As he called to Jeremy, trying to reach him, he racked his brain to try to figure out how to get to Jeremy.

 

As he said that, the dragon seemed to slow to a stop, panting a little. The mark on the back to Michael’s hand glowed and suddenly, he pushed through the skin of the dragon, which was looking more opaque somehow. This was his chance!

 

Michael reached through the body of the dragon, finding that he could just follow the same path as his hand. The spectral body was like moving through thick mud, without the risk of suffocation.

 

When he finally reached Jeremy, he was scared to find him burning hot, as hot as any flame Michael had touched. Maybe even as hot as the liquid fire Jeremy used to work the metal for his projects on the go. He didn’t stir at Michael’s touch, his breathing didn’t even change from shallow gasps. Was this... killing him?

 

Moving to be right in front of Jeremy, Michael reached up, cupping both of Jeremy's hands with his own. Even if it was hot, to the point where Michael thought he'd get burned as someone with immunity to fire, Michael rested his forehead against Jeremy's, which was a stark contrast to the frosty scape outside of the dragon's form. "Please, Jeremy, I know you're still here," he said, surprised that he could talk without his voice sounding any different, or with any of the odd form of the dragon suffocating him when he opened his mouth.

 

"You said you imagined a future for us together. We'd live together, you'd work at a forge and I'd be up-front, selling your goods. We're going to do that, to live a nice life together after all of this. I can't do that though if you're going to die, Jeremy, die to the dragon. Please, I love you, don't leave," Michael almost sobbed out, feeling tears rolling down his face as he couldn't help but shut his eyes. "Please don't die... Please, Jeremy."

 

When he heard the small groan, Michael’s eyes flew open. Jeremy twitched. Then coughed a little. Then his eyes fluttered open, dazed and confused. The form around them faded slowly and Michael felt them both begin the fall to the ground slowly. When they landed, Jeremy felt totally limp, his breathing more normal and his eyes open. They were his normal eyes, totally fixated on Michael, even in Jeremy’s dazed state.

 

Glancing around, seeing that Jeremy's dragon form was entirely gone, he focused back down on Jeremy as he kept their foreheads pressed, his wide, stinging eyes staring right down at his best friend. "Jeremy?" he asked, voice aching as he gently ran his thumbs along Jeremy's cheekbones. He swore that his voice sounded like it would break too, and he was sure it wouldn't be the only thing.

 

“Michael? What’s going-?” Jeremy didn’t finish his question, his eyes rolling back as he passed out with a small groan. Michael caught him, sinking to the ground and cradling him close. His breathing was normal. He still had a strong pulse. And he no longer felt like fire, instead he was back to the gentle coolness of Jeremy’s normal temperature.

 

That was a brave move, Michael,” Squip commented. Before the damned demon could say anything else, a short figure darted towards Michael. Rich seems to be totally fine and himself, save some light burns on his wrists, as he grabbed the helmet still on Jeremy’s head and pulled it off. In a smooth moment, Rich crushed the thing under his foot, then sprinkled sand over it from a bag with Jake’s holy symbol on it.

 

"Rich? W-" Before he could finish his thought, he felt a shocking pain in his head. Michael cried out, holding onto his head with one hand, the other keeping Jeremy close as the rest of his friends cried out too. He didn't see them drop unconscious, just to their knees, but he felt consciousness leaving him as he felt himself falling backwards into the snow. As he did, he swore he could hear the faint sounds of Squip laughing in the back of his head.

 

 

 

Michael's head ached as he felt himself waking up. It was throbbing, making it hard to really think. He didn't even want to open his eyes, and he instead tried squeezing his eyes tight in an effort to will away the pain in his head (spoiler: it didn't work one bit).

 

He seemed to be in a bed, and there was a warm, soft weight next to him. Jeremy! Even with the pain, Michael’s eyes flew open to take in the sight next to him. Jeremy was asleep, peacefully curled up next to Michael and partially nuzzled against his chest. He looked more peaceful and better rested than he had since they entered the Underdark a week ago... was it? How long had he been out for?

 

Right now, that didn't matter. Jeremy was here, he was breathing, he was alive, he was alright! He clung carefully to Jeremy, slowly bringing him closer. Michael made sure not to wake Jeremy as he held him close, feeling relief blossom in his chest as he pressed soft kisses against Jeremy's head. Thank god that nightmare was over.

 

Not quite,” a voice hissed faintly in the back of Michael’s head. “I’m still here, Michael. Don’t forget about me.

 

Before he could address the voice, the door opened slowly. Michael couldn’t help his reaction to curl around Jeremy protectively, even when he saw it was Jake.

 

“Hey, you’re awake!” he cried softly but happily. “We’ve all been worried. Rich half wore a hole in the carpet from his pacing.” Jake chuckled fondly as he slipped in and sat down in a plush chair near the end of the bed. “How are you feeling?”

 

"Physically, I feel like shit," Michael honestly answered before he looked down at Jeremy, sure that there was fondness in his eyes. "Emotionally, I'm wrecked, but... I'm so glad Jeremy's alright, and that you guys are too... What happened?" His gaze reluctantly looked away from his boyfriend to his friend, brows furrowed. "I sorta passed out, so..."

 

“Rich destroyed the Squip’s connector to the town when he got the helmet off Jeremy. Used my holy magic since I was compromised.” Pride and fondness rung clearly in Jake’s voice. “When the connection was gone, everyone woke up back where they were. And they remembered what happened, and realised everything so they gave us the nicest rooms in the inn as both thanks and an apology. You’ve only been out a couple of hours.”

 

Michael nodded as he listened before looking back down at Jeremy. He carefully brushed some of his hair out of his face (he needed a haircut soon). "Well that's good... Rich did say he wanted to be a curse breaker, so that makes sense." Letting out a sigh, Michael rested his head against his pillow a bit more so that before, trying to relax (he couldn't, the Squip was still in his head, but how if Rich destroyed the connector? Was it because of all the food he was forced to eat?). "Are you guys all alright though? You were all fully under his control... It was scary, really."

 

Jake rubbed his face with a small groan. “It felt even worse, I’ll tell you that. I was totally aware of what I was doing, and it felt like the right thing to do, but acting like that made me feel physically sick. The girls are still sleeping it off, and I just woke up myself. We’ll all be fine with some rest. We’ve been told by Rich that we should stay at least a couple of days.” Jake paused, as if realizing something. “And the wagon and animals were all found and brought to the stables. They’re all fine. Nightshade and Darling are with Rich now, just until you’re ready for them to join you.”

 

"Thanks for letting me know, Jake. I think once Jeremy's awake and all there, I'll call for them." Hesitating for a moment, Michael reached a hand out, taking one off of Jeremy to do so. "Thanks for coming to check up on us, Jake. I'm glad you're feeling better now though, and that Squip's out of your head." He really wished Squip was out of his, and hated how it wasn't fucking talking and was just waiting like an asshole instead.

 

Jake reached over and squeezed Michael’s hand gently. “You get some rest, Michael. Just give us a shout if you need anything.” He shot Michael a small smile and let go of his hand, leaving the room a moment later.

 

He seems so nice, I wonder how he fell for my words so easily? Oh wait, I know. It’s because I’m right,” Squip hummed out, seeming to take pleasure in Michael’s discomfort.

 

Michael frowned at Squip's irritating commentary, huffing before curling himself back around Jeremy. 'How about you just leave, huh? I'm sure that's the right thing to do here, because your wrong opinions aren't welcome here.'

 

I’m quite comfortable where I am, thanks.” It sounded like it was grinning again. “Also you sure you want to be doing that with Jeremy of all people? You do realize what he is, right?

 

'I never asked for your wrong opinions, did I? No, I didn't, just to clarify and get it through your dense head. So get the hell out of mine and stop bothering me. Like I said, your wrong opinions aren't welcome here, and neither are you.' As he thought this back to the Squip, Michael carefully wrapped his tail around Jeremy's waist, squeezing softly as one hand reached up to rest against his cheek.

 

Jeremy sighed softly and leant into the touch, a small smile creeping on to his face.

 

He’s a compulsive liar. And he doesn’t really love you, he’s after the boon. I’ve seen it in his head. He doesn’t love you, it’s just an act because he can’t help but lie. He just needs you alive so he can get the boon from Iconis.

 

Michael rested his forehead against Jeremy's then, taking in his face to try to block out Squip. 'You know, I think if anyone's the compulsive liar, it's you. None of what you're saying is proof, Squip. Like I'd ever trust a thing you'd say.'

 

I’ve been in his head, like I’ve been in yours, Michael. I know how scared you are of losing him, but he doesn’t want you like you want him.” It sounded almost apologetic.

 

As it spoke, Jeremy’s face scrunched up a little, then his eyes fluttered open. “Michael?” He sounded confused but happy. “Where are we?”

 

‘There’s no way for you to prove it, and you have none of my trust.’ Despite that, he couldn’t help but feel a bit uneasy. Why was he uneasy? It didn’t make any sense, and he felt his throat tighten up as he tried to keep his focus entirely on Jeremy.

 

“Hey lajy,” he softly murmured, rubbing their noses together. “We’re in the village near the exit of the Underdark. After everything that happened, they gave us their best rooms. Now we can relax and decompress after the stressful week we’ve had both in the Underdark and topside.”

 

Jeremy sleepily returned the sweet gesture, but he looked confused. “Okay... but what happened? I remember going down... and... tricking the slavers... but everything goes a bit fuzzy from there. I don’t remember leaving the Underdark or how we got here at all,” he mumbled. His eyes looked hazy, as though he wasn’t fully there. “Why is my dragon so loud?” That came out as more of a groan and he shut his eyes for a second before refocusing on Michael.

 

He didn’t remember anything from the ambush from the slavers onward... That made sense though, with how the dragon started to take over. Michael let out a soft sigh, ignoring the doubts Squip was trying to plant in his mind as he explained everything that happened to Jeremy.

 

As he spoke, he could see Jeremy trying to understand. For a moment, he looked confused, then Jeremy’s eyes flickered to dragon for a moment and he gasped. The haze cleared and his eyes filled with tears.

 

“I- I almost lost you. Twice!” Jeremy reached up and cupped Michael’s cheeks, stroking gently. “I’m so sorry, auglas.”

 

He’s not. He’s lying. He’s just using you, you’ve seen how good an actor he is.”

 

‘He’s not using me, he agreed to help me even before I told him about the boon,’ he mentally countered. Jeremy did want to help before he told him about that... right? It was so long ago, he wasn’t entirely sure... But that didn’t change the fact that he wasn’t lying or using him!

 

“It’s not your fault, Jeremy,” Michael soothed, keeping his internal conflict from changing his outward expression. He couldn’t help but lean into Jeremy’s touch, sighing softly at the nice contact. “I almost lost you... I’m so glad you’re alright now though.” Michael reached a hand up then, gently cupping one of Jeremy’s hands and squeezing it softly.

 

“I- oh god, Michael. I-“ Jeremy stammered out, leaning up to kiss Michael’s lips quickly. “Marry me.”

 

“Wha-?” Even Squip was silent.

 

“I almost lost you, and I want you to always know that I will come for you. So when this is over, marry me. Or marry next year, or next week! Hell, marry me tomorrow if you want! But if you’ll have me, I want to marry you.” Jeremy kept pressing kiss after kiss to Michael’s lips, almost desperately as he rambled. His eyes were wide and honest.

 

The idea was crazy. He wasn’t even old enough to drink yet. His mothers always told him to wait a few years after dating someone to even think about marrying someone. But they went through so much, so many hardships. They already agreed to spending their life together after all of this.

 

He’s just saying that so you trust him more, so it’ll hurt more when he leaves you and steals your boon.

 

“D... do you really mean that?” Michael asked, breathless in awe and somewhat from the doubt that was tiring him out from Squip, that he felt pressed further and further into his mind. “Really and truly, lajy?”

 

Jeremy studied Michael for a second, then reached out to his left. He grabbed his bag of holding, and pulled out the Ring of Truth. Without any hesitation, he slipped it on. “I want to marry you, Michael. I love you more than anything, more than I thought I could ever love anything or anyone. And as soon as you’re ready, I want to marry you.” Jeremy’s gaze was level and his eyes were warm. He was smiling softly as he spoke.

 

Near instant, Squip’s voice shut up again as Michael felt his heart soar. He felt tears of joy starting to well up in the corners of his eyes as he cupped Jeremy’s cheeks. “I... oh my god, Jeremy,” he almost gasped out as he leaned forward, rubbing their noses together again before he laughed. “After all of this is over, once we’re done with all of this, please. I love you so much, I want to marry you too.”

 

“I want to spend the rest of my life with you. If that’s a day, a year, or one hundred years, I never want to live without you, ever.” Jeremy sighed, kissing Michael’s nose before resting their foreheads together again. “And I want you to know that I care about you more than anything. You need never doubt that.”

 

Michael couldn’t help but smile fondly, and he was sure his eyes were full of love as he kept his gaze trained on just Jeremy. “I feel the exact same way,” Michael promised as he milked this loving, tender, honest moment for all it was worth. “I know that I’ve stolen a lot of things, but you’ve learned from me and gotten better than me because you stole my heart.”

 

Jeremy giggled. “You’re so cheesy.” He pulled Michael down and kissed him softly. “I love it. I love you.” He rubbed their noses together, then held out his hand. “Could you take his off for me, please? I really just want to cuddle and nap some more without needing to worry that Chrissy is going to burst in and demand all my secrets.”

 

“She’s sleeping with Brooke right now, but sure.” Leaning down, Michael gently kissed Jeremy as he carefully slid the ring off. He held it in his hand, his thumb rubbing gently over the detailing of the ring before he pulled back from the kiss, smiling fondly down at Jeremy. “Does this, uh... Does this mean we’re engaged?”

 

Jeremy nodded slowly. “I’ll buy you a ring once I’m mobile again. Or better yet, I’ll make you one.” He giggled. “I just... I feel kinda noodley right now, or else I’d be getting right on it. I want you to be able to see that promise every second of every day.”

 

“After everything you’ve been through, I just want you to rest. I have that promise in my head that I can watch over and over,” Michael assured him before pressing a kiss to Jeremy’s cheek. “You need to relax first. We have that nice day I promised you, including the hot meal, deep massage, and nice bath. But first and foremost: cuddling and napping. We both need that, I think.”

 

Jeremy squirmed closer and he nuzzled against Michael. “Mmmm, we do.” He sighed softly, tugging Michael closer to wrap around him. “You deserve to be pampered too... gonna do that ‘soon as y’let me...” Jeremy trailed off, a soft snore replacing his words not a minute later. He looked content and at peace and just so damned happy, even in his sleep, being close to Michael.

 

Michael couldn’t help but smile as he carefully reached over, putting the Truth Ring on the dresser before holding Jeremy closer. Well, all of those doubts were instantly pushed out of his mind. Even if it was immature, if Squip was still listening, he mentally stuck his tongue out at the demon before shutting his eyes and wrapping his tail carefully around Jeremy’s middle.

 

The Squip was silent, even if Michael could still sense it. If anything, it seemed almost stunned by what just happened. And Michael couldn’t help but feel victorious as the presence slowly receded from his head entirely. Michael was alone in his head by the time he fell asleep, but he knew he could never be really alone so long as he had Jeremy.

Chapter Text

When Jeremy woke up, he found himself in a soft, warm embrace. Michael was holding him so sweetly, wrapped entirely around Jeremy’s smaller form, and had his face buried right against Jeremy’s neck. His breath was gentle on his skin.

 

Memories of last night (as well as the past few days) trickled through Jeremy’s mind, both good and bad. But the last memory, the sweetest one of all, was Michael agreeing to marry Jeremy. Jeremy didn’t like marriage when he was younger, he saw how much it hurt his father when the divorce papers finally came through (ten years late), and how it had done nothing to save his mother and father’s relationship. Marriage had never really been a consideration for him, ever. Marriage was dangerous.

 

And yet, here he was, proposing to a man he’d known for not even a year. Michael had said yes. Nothing had felt more right to Jeremy in his life.

 

So yes, despite everything, Jeremy was quite content to stay in this bed with his fiancé.

 

Michael shifted ever so slightly when there was movement on the bed, from neither Jeremy nor him. Glancing over, Jeremy saw Nightshade scurrying over on the bed, curling up next to him and dooking loudly. Darling also came into view, flying and landing on the bedpost. He glanced to the door when he heard it quietly close, but his focus was recaptured by Nightshade when half of his face was covered by the ferret’s furry tail.

 

Jeremy spluttered quietly, giggling as his furry son began nuzzling at his face almost in a frenzy. He even felt a couple of licks on his cheeks and nose as Nightshade smothered him in love.

 

“Hey buddy, it’s good to see you too,” Jeremy cooed, nuzzling back as best he could. Nightshade curled up on the pillow, right next to Jeremy’s head, and rested his own head on Jeremy’s forehead protectively, still dooking happily.

 

Jeremy watched as Nightshade’s long tail reached over, lying against Michael’s head. His fiancé didn’t wake up, just unconsciously shifted his breathing to have it be a little calmer, a little more sure. Nightshade seemed to notice that, dooking a little louder and a little prouder before giving one more kiss to Jeremy’s forehead.

 

“That’s right, sweetheart, you help me and your dad so much. You’re so lovely.” Jeremy sighed happily, tilting his head slightly to lean into Nightshade just a little. Darling hopped down to Jeremy’s chest and playfully nibbled on his nose before nuzzling at his cheek. “And so are you, Darling. You’re both so good to us.”

 

He looked up at the two animals, regarding them fondly as he felt a rush of happiness. Though it may seem strange to some, they were almost like his children with how much he loved them both. “Hey guess what? Your dad and I are getting married!” Jeremy whispered excitedly to them. “It means a lot to me and I’m really happy about that. What do you guys think, hmm?”

 

Darling cocked her head to the side before gurgling in a higher pitch, something Jeremy learned over the past almost year that meant that she was happy about what Jeremy said. She bent down, nipping at some of his hair, as if grooming him before nipping his nose again.

 

Nightshade chittered and dooked happily, his tail fluffing out against Michael’s face. Michael just made a soft noise in response as Nightshade just nuzzled against Jeremy’s forehead.

 

Jeremy giggled softly. “Now don’t wake him up, he needs the sleep,” he teased gently. “But I’m glad you both approve.” Honestly, Nightshade and Darling were some of the most animated creatures he knew, and he adored them both so much.

 

Nightshade let out his equivalent to a whine, glancing over at Michael while Darling gently cawed and nudged the ferret. He seemed to calm down thanks to her motions, and Daring looked back at Jeremy before nipping his nose once more. She hopped back up to perch on the headboard of the bed, gurgling once more.

 

Jeremy giggled once more, then relaxed into the gentle pressure of Michael and Nightshade. He let his mind wander, properly sorting through the memories of yesterday especially.

 

He’d actually turned into a dragon, a proper dragon. He’d started a rampage. But even through all that, he still recognized Michael, not just as his special treasure but as someone he cared for. That was virtually unheard of when the dragon aspect was in control. The Dragon’s Greed curse was supposed to eliminate feelings of love and replace them with desire. Jeremy was certain that the dragon had felt love for Michael. Love and trust.

 

‘We are one and the same. And both aspects of you love Michael. He’s earned our trust and our respect,’ the dragon, who so rarely spoke with a distinct voice, whispered. Jeremy silently agreed. If anyone had earned that, it was Michael. He’d earned everything Jeremy could give and more. He looked down fondly at where his fiancé was still buried against his neck, and couldn’t suppress the smile or the loving feelings welling up inside him, from himself and the dragon. He loved Michael in his entirety.

 

As he stared fondly down at Michael, he saw his form begin to move. The breath ghosting against his neck shifted, and he watched as Michael started to curl and stretch, his eyes slowly blinking open. Jeremy swore that the golden color of his eyes sparkled as he really woke up, even as Michael’s hand reached up and roughly scrubbed his eyes. “Mm...” Michael’s eyes focused in on Jeremy then, right at his eyes, and a sleepy smile overtook him. “Hi Jerm’y.”

 

“Good morning, gwant elf.” Jeremy pressed a gentle kiss to Michael’s forehead, unable to help the small slip into Gnomish. It happened when he was overwhelmed, and he was most certainly overwhelmed with feelings of love for Michael right then.

 

He saw Michael’s features scrunch up in what seemed to be (adorable) confusion. “Gw... what elf? I’m not an elf though,” he muttered out, sputtering for a moment when Nightshade’s tail flicked into his face, some fur getting stuck in his mouth. “What does that mean, because you definitely weren’t saying I’m an elf.”

 

Jeremy blushed a little. It was easy to forget that Michael didn’t speak Gnomish considering Jeremy’s usual nicknames for him. “Gwant elf,” he corrected softly. “It means beautiful heart.”

 

Looking up at Michael, Jeremy saw his face shift from adorably confused to adorably in awe. “I... You’re such a sap,” Michael almost cooed out. Jeremy felt Michael’s hands reach up, gently cupping his face before a slow, lazy kiss was pressed to his lips. It lingered for a few seconds before Michael pulled back, smiling happily and sleepily down at Jeremy.

 

Jeremy couldn’t help but chase his lips for a moment before he caught himself, blushing a little. “Well I’m your sap,” he cooed right back. “Your sappy fiancé.” Jeremy pulled out a hand from under the blanket to wrap around the back of Michael’s neck and pull him closer again for another kiss. He still kept it slow and gentle, since Michael was still a little sleepy, but with the promise of something more later on. What? Jeremy just loved kissing Michael.

 

When they finally broke, mostly to catch their breath, Jeremy felt Michael shift. Opening his eyes, he looked to see Michael shifting to rest back against the crook of his neck. “I still can’t believe we’re engaged... I mean, I never thought I’d be engaged at twenty, but the world is weird in how it works I guess.”

 

“I never thought I’d be engaged at all,” Jeremy admitted while stroking his fingers through Michael’s hair. “The idea of marriage used to scare me, but the idea of marrying you? Nothing feels more right.” He pressed a gentle kiss to Michael’s forehead, then giggled as Nightshade dooked happily.

 

“I can get why it scared you, but I’m glad the idea of marrying me doesn’t scare you.” Michael hummed happily at the kiss before he looked up at Jeremy. “How are you feeling though, after everything that happened?”

 

Jeremy paused for a moment to take stock of everything. “I feel alright, mentally and emotionally. I... I feel like I understand my dragon a lot better now, and vice versa. And I know you’re safe right now, so I’m fine in that regard too.” He shifted a little, or he tried to anyways. “I can’t really move though. My arms and head are fine, but everything else is kinda... floppy. I don’t think I could even sit myself up, even if I could manage to hold it.

 

“That makes sense, you exerted yourself so much and almost, y’know... How about I massage you later to try to help regain feeling for you?” Michael offered, looking him over quickly before focusing back on his face and smiling.

 

“I won’t say no to a massage. You’re so good at them.” He giggled, nuzzling against Michael’s hair gently. He pressed a curious kiss as low down on Michael’s horns as he could, just to see the reaction. They were surprisingly warm under his lips.

 

Michael let out a soft sigh, very close to a pleased groan, leaning into the touch of his lips. “Mm... You deserve it,” Michael muttered out sleepily, sounding like he was on cloud nine.

 

Jeremy really liked that reaction, it was so rare to get any sort of noises from Michael, so he kept pressing slow kisses against Michael’s horns. He hummed softly as he did. “Well you deserve some pampering too, idril.”

 

“Yeah, but y’need to be cared for first. How can y’pamper me if you can’t even sit up?” Michael offered after another sound close to a pleased groan. “Plus, I promised you t’do that once we were settled, as well as a nice bath and a hot meal...”

 

“Very true,” Jeremy agreed. He wrapped his free arm around Michael, cradling him close. “If you’re enjoying this, idril, let me know. I love making you feel good. You don’t need to hold back if it’s just us.” Jeremy massaged the back of Michael’s head as he continued kissing along his horns, loving how Michael was utterly melting against him. His small noises were almost certainly being partly held back.

 

“I am, I’m enjoying this,” Michael reassured him, letting out a small groan, the first one he’d ever let out. “I’m just so relaxed and feel so good.” Jeremy felt Michael’s arms shift, moving to rest along his back as his hands bunched up some of Jeremy’s shirt. “This is so nice, it feels so good...”

 

Jeremy hummed and didn’t let up. He loved that sound. He wanted more, so long as Michael was still comfortable. Just to be safe, he quickly and subtly cast Alarm, so they’d get a warning if anyone was coming so Michael wouldn’t feel self conscious about being caught.

 

“I’m glad I can make you feel so good, idril. You deserve to feel good, and you deserve to feel relaxed. I love the fact that I can give that to you. Makes me feel good too,” he murmured.

 

“Mm... After this, ‘m giving you a lot of love too, ‘promise,” Michael muttered out, letting out another groan. From the corner of his vision, Jeremy saw Nightshade follow Darling, heading into the connected bathroom, presumably to give them privacy but also to get away from all this.

 

“Well I feel very well loved already. The fact you’re comfortable enough with me to make such lovely sounds makes me feel all fuzzy inside,” he cooed, still pampering Michael. “If you really want, though, you can kiss where you are, if you can manage it. Even if you don’t, I’m already feeling good and happy and loved,” he reassured gently.

 

“God, you’re so sweet,” Michael said almost breathlessly. Feeling Michael shift, it was only a matter of seconds until Jeremy felt soft, loving kisses pressed against his neck, slow yet sure.

 

Jeremy let out his own small groan, echoing Michael just a little. There was something sensual and intimate about this moment, something Jeremy found himself longing to indulge in constantly. If he could stay in moments like this, he’d be forever happy, and he was so excited for the day when they could just steal to their own bedroom, in their own house, and just feel each other like this whenever they wanted.

 

As he let out a soft groan of his own, he felt Michael hum happily against his neck. His hands slowly moved, going from bunching his shirt to moving under the fabric there, his warm hands slowly moving up and down his sides. “God, I love you so much,” Michael said against the hollow of Jeremy’s neck before pressing a drawn-out kiss there.

 

Jeremy gasped softly as he found himself melting under the gentle kisses and touches. “I love you, Michael. I love you. I love you.” He pressed kisses between every declaration, unable to control the small sighs and groans that spilled between his lips. Jeremy’s head was a little fuzzy from all of this, having Michael so relaxed by him, the gentle kisses and touches and the small sounds they were both making.

 

Michael laughed a little now from all the kisses, and Jeremy felt him slowly move off of Jeremy, hands slowly drawing back until he just rested an arm over him. Jeremy whined for a second, grabbing carefully at Michael’s cheek to cradle it, before he heard someone coming and the Alarm spell going off. “More later, after everything else,” Michael promised, sealing it with a kiss on the lips. After doing that, Michael flopped his head down, resting it against Jeremy’s chest, presumably listening to his calming heartbeat.

 

Jeremy kept running his fingers through the hair on the back of Michael’s head, unwilling to stop entirely. Besides, this was perfectly innocent enough that even Brooke wouldn’t be able to argue against it.

 

A moment later, there was a small knock on the door. “Come on in,” Jeremy called, just as Nightshade and Darling hopped back onto the bed to curl up with them again.

 

Rich opened the door then, smiling shyly as Brooke stood behind him. “Hey, we wanted to check up on you two,” she said as she walked in, Rich trailing in behind her. “We also wanted to ask if you guys wanted some dinner. The cook at the tavern next door’s insisting on making it for us, and to ask what everyone wanted.”

 

“Dinner time already?” Jeremy chuckled, gently squeezing Michael a little. “I could really go for some chicken and potatoes, if it’s not too much trouble.” For a second, he tested out his legs and found them still as floppy and useless as they were when he woke up. “I can’t really move too much right now, but besides that, I feel good. Great even.” He grinned up at Brooke before turning his attention to Rich. “I also understand that you’re the one who saved us all, so thank you Rich. You saved all our lives.” Jeremy knew for certain that if Rich hadn’t gotten the helmet off of him, he would have fallen back to the full dragon again, possibly permanently. And the others would have all been stuck as Squip wanderers, just like the rest of the town.

 

Brooke nodded while Rich glanced away, obviously not expecting that. “I, uh... You’re welcome. You did save my life, repaying you was the least I could do,” he said, arms crossing over his chest while Brooke rolled her eyes.

 

“Just accept the compliment, Rich,” she said before tugging on his shirt, causing him to stumble for a moment. “Let’s get back to the tavern to let the chef know.”

 

“But you didn’t ask-“

 

“Michael always gets the same thing of either chicken and potatoes or something that at least has chicken in it,” she said with a wave of her hand, and Jeremy saw Michael lift a hand to give a thumbs-up before letting it rest against his side again. “You two deserve to rest, so just take it easy.”

 

“We’ll come out and chat when I can move properly again.” Jeremy waved after them as the two left the room, curling around Michael again. “So, auglas, do you know if the baths they have here are big enough for two?” he murmured, pressing a chaste kiss to Michael’s forehead

 

"I don't-" Darling crowed, hopping off and flying into the bathroom. She came back out a few seconds later, landing by Michael and letting out a string of gurgles and crows. "Yeah, there is, more than big enough according to Darling." Jeremy saw his tail reach up and pat the bird on the head a few times. "I'd need to go ask about the water though-"

 

“If you can sort out heating it, I can sort out the water.” Jeremy chuckled, still stroking Michael’s hair. Michael paused, then nodded. “Okay, perfect. If you can get me and my bag into the bathroom, I’ll sort out the rest.”

 

Michael detached himself and scooped Jeremy up bridal style, grabbing his bad as they went. He set Jeremy on a chair next to the large bathtub, and Jeremy found he could at least support himself. He dug around in his bag and pulled out one of his more recent creations. The flask looked normal and sloshed a little as he moved to unstopper it.

 

“Umm, Jeremy, that seems a little sm-“ Michael started with a chuckle, but Jeremy cut him off as he undid the stopper and aimed it at the bathtub.

 

“Fountain.” Fresh water instantly began gushing out of the flask, much more than the small flask should be able to hold. A few more repeats of that command word and the bath was full enough. “It’s a Decanter of Endless Water. I found the blueprints in the town about two weeks ago,” he explained, putting the flask back.

 

Glancing over, he saw that slight awe Michael always had at Jeremy's inventions, especially new ones. "Wow. Well, at least we won't have to worry about water ever again," Michael mused out before kneeling down underneath the tub, and Jeremy saw him mess around for a minute or two. As he knelt down, Michael's tail gently flicked at him, messing with Jeremy in a playful yet innocent manner before his fiancé stood up, dusting his hands off. "Done." He turned around then, quickly passing Jeremy to grab some of the soaps and such. "Let me just set the rest of the tub out, then I'll help you get undressed if you need it." Michael sounded a little flustered at the notion, but not as much as he had in the past. More like he was nervous because it would be the first time he helped Jeremy in that way.

 

“I think I might need it.” Jeremy also blushed a little, shooting Michael’s a small smile. He trusted Michael, even more than the time in Brooke’s hot spring all those months ago. As he watched Michael work, Jeremy mused over how lucky he was to have someone so amazing love him.

 

It also was pretty awesome that Michael was absolutely gorgeous, something he commented on as Michael came over to help him get ready. Michael spluttered and turned red, but he was grinning and gave the same back, making Jeremy also stammer.

 

Michael made sure Jeremy didn’t scrub himself raw. And Jeremy couldn’t be more grateful.

 

 

 

After the nice, long bath, as well as a massage Michael gave him after that helped to return some feeling to his body, letting him move it, he was happily cuddled up in bed with Michael. Since Michael had given him so much love and attention, Jeremy wanted to return the favor, so he was trying to convince Michael to teach him how to give a massage. "Jeremy, I love you, but I don't know if you'd be able to," Michael teased, not really serious at all about that statement. "Are you sure you wouldn't dig into me too hard? You're very strong, lajy."

 

“I can be gentle too!” Jeremy protested with a playful whine. “Just because I can throw you around doesn’t mean I don’t know how to be sweet too. My work does require a lot of gentle attention to detail, after all.” Jeremy accompanied the statement with his fingers skittering up Michael’s side, under his shirt, tickling him.

 

Michael snickered at the motion, and he gently reached under his shirt, his hands carefully wrapped around Jeremy's wrists as he went. "Lajy, o-ho my god," he snickered out as Jeremy felt him gently squeeze around his wrists, a sign for him to stop shortly or he'd get overwhelmed. "You're such a little shit!"

 

Jeremy stopped after a second, grinning up at Michael. “You already knew that,” he teased, pressing a small kiss to Michael’s chin. He let Michael pull his hands away and hold them up above his head a little, as far from Michael’s sides as possible. “Are you putting me under arrest or something, Auglas? Gonna lock me up for crimes against you?” He stuck out his tongue.

 

"Yes, for tickling crimes," Michael told him, his tail poking Jeremy's covered stomach a few times. "The sentence is one massage, as well as a nice conversation during said massage. Do you agree to pay the fine or to be subjected to your own crimes as a more severe punishment?"

 

Jeremy giggled, squirming a little in Michael’s strong, yet gentle, grip. “I’ll pay the fine, good sir! Just please, don’t tickle me!”

 

"See? It isn't nice to get tickled," Michael said, sticking his tongue out at Jeremy before letting him go. "Let this be a lesson to you, good citizen."

 

Jeremy giggled again and wrapped his arms around Michael, pulling him down enough to kiss his nose. “I shall strive to do better then, kind sir.” They were both dorks, complete and utter dorks. He loved it.

 

Michael snorted as he laughed before gently reaching up and poking his cheeks. "Then do better by giving me a damn good massage, please and thank you."

 

“I will as soon as you give me the pointers on how to do it! Those precious tidbits of knowledge are why I committed the crime in the first place!” Jeremy cried dramatically, leaning back a bit as he kept his arms around Michael’s shoulders. He sniggered a little at how much fun they were having.

 

Just as Michael opened his mouth to give him those precious bits of information, there was a knock on the door before it opened. Rich was there, holding two plates of chicken and potatoes as well as two glasses of non alcoholic cider. "Sorry if I'm interrupting anything, but sorta not sorry since you guys weren't answering and your food would've been cold by the time you answered."

 

Jeremy giggled and released Michael, turning to face Rich a bit better. “Thanks Rich!” In all honesty, Jeremy had already become quite fond of the ex-guard in the time they’d been travelling together. Sure he had hunted Michael originally, but Michael had forgiven him for it, therefore so had Jeremy. It wasn’t Jeremy’s issue to forgive, after all.

 

"Of course," Rich said, striding over and placing down the plates and glasses on the side table. "There's a pitcher of this apple cider I could also bring up for you two if you ask nice enough-"

 

"Now, damnit," Michael said near instantly.

 

"Oh wow, that's the nicest anyone's ever asked me to do anything." Rich dramatically sniffled a few times and wiped away some 'stray tears.'

 

Jeremy rolled his eyes, grinning at how well Rich actually fit in their little group already. He was secretly hoping that he might stay on, travel with them for a bit. He was just a great person to have around, and it would make Jake so happy as well considering how they’d been slowly talking again.

 

“Please Rich?” Jeremy pouted, making his ears droop a little. He might only be half gnome, but he could pull off the cuteness of a full one easily enough. “It’s my birthday in a few days and I can’t move. Could you please bring up the jug?”

 

"As long as this is my birthday gift to you, sure." Before Jeremy could say anything else, Rich dashed out of the room, leaving Michael to just laugh as he flopped back in bed at the whole exchange.

 

“God he fits well.” Jeremy giggled, flopping back with Michael for a moment before sitting up again (thank you massage!) and getting into a better position to eat. As great as this was he was hungry, damnit. Now that he was aware of food, he needed to eat, and soon.

 

"He does," Michael admitted from where he was calming down before sitting up himself. Without being asked to, Michael reached over, grabbing and giving Jeremy a glass and his plate. "Here you are, ph lajy."

 

Jeremy grabbed them and pressed a quick kiss to Michael’s cheek in return. He left the drink on his bedside table and started to eat. It was good, really good, and Jeremy groaned a little at the flavor. “I forgot I haven’t actually eaten since yesterday morning,” he said as he fed some of the chicken up to Nightshade, who was perched along the headboard behind him.

 

"Shit, I haven't either," Michael said as Jeremy saw him grab his own plate and start to eat. Michael groaned at the flavor as well, a bit quieter than Jeremy. "God, this is good food."

 

"That might also just be because you two are starving," Rich pointed out as he came back in, placing the pitcher down on the bedside table.

 

“Maybe, but I’m not gonna try to figure it out.” Jeremy grinned up at Rich. “Thank you, Richard,” he chimed as he gave another piece of chicken to Nightshade. Jeremy exchange a quick glance with Michael, who nodded at the silent question. “Have you eaten yet? Because you’re welcome to sit up here and chat with us if you like.”

 

Rich seemed surprised by that offer, though he quickly recovered. "I did already eat. If you don't mind me crashing, I'll totally take you up on that," he said, hopping up onto the foot of the bed and getting comfortable there.

 

Jeremy grinned and took another mouthful as Rich got settled. “So tell me, Rich. How does someone with such magical talent end up becoming a guard? And chasing Michael of all people?” They hadn’t really addressed that aspect yet and Jeremy was honestly curious. And he actually wanted Rich to relax a little more around him (he wasn’t sure if Rich had really gotten past when he was in dragon mode back in the Underdark, or the last rescue mission for Michael from the Baron).

 

"Well, I, uh..." Rich's suave persona dripped away a bit at that question, and Michael quietly ate some of his food beside him. Wait, had he asked the wrong question? Shit- "Well, it was to distract myself from some of my own personal issues, it was a blind, irrational kinda choice... I'm past that now, thankfully. If I can, I'd like to go back to trying to be a curse breaker and all that once Squip's gone. It's influence... it's gotten scarily powerful and far, so yeah."

 

Jeremy really hated that he made Rich uncomfortable, so he tried to lighten the mood a little. “Well, you’d be great at it. You’ve got a lot of magical potential in you, almost as much as Brooke.” He grinned softly. “And as for the Squip, we’re going to stop it, so soon it won’t be a problem.” People were hard, but Jeremy was trying his best. He really did like Rich, and wanted him comfortable.

 

Rich nodded then, but not before raising a brow. "How do you know my magical potential? Like, I know you're great with magic and stuff, but like... how do you know that?"

 

Jeremy shrugged a little. “It’s kinda hard to explain, but it’s a feeling. I... I get magic, more than I get people-“ He waved his fork a little, as if he could physically point to how awkward he was. “-and I learnt how it feels from a young age. It’s how I can get a sense for a spell, or figure out how to siphon off the magic from a strong enchantment. It just... makes sense.” He shrugged again. “I’ve even seen magic before, like the actual potential and latent magic, a couple of times. Yours was pretty bright, like Brooke’s.” He hoped that made sense, since it was hard to explain. It was genuinely just a feeling, a sensation, which didn’t have any concrete words tied to it.

 

"Wait, really? You gotta tell me more about that, that really sounds amazing," Rich said, the uncomfortable atmosphere from before shifting to one of intrigue.

 

From beside him, Michael playfully groaned. "Ugh, nerd talk at dinner, really? Fine, I guess I'll allow it."

 

"It was gonna happen anyway, whether you allow it or not."

 

Michael gasped at Rich then. "How dare you. We invite you to sit with us, and this is how you repay us?"

 

“Considering how excited you were to learn about my understanding of magic, and how quickly you grasped it, you’re not really one to talk, Auglas,” Jeremy teased, nudging Michael with his elbow a little as he spluttered. “Anyways, I’ll summarize it now, and you’re welcome to read my papers on it if you like. I always keep a set with me.”

 

"Don't out me, Jeremy," Michael whined out while Rich rolled his eyes at the teasing before eagerly listening to Jeremy's summary. He happily discussed a few things with Jeremy, even taking the papers that Jeremy offered him (he had a few copies on hand, actually). As he skimmed them over, Rich's eyes lit up, and he put them on the side table as he seemed to think something over.

 

"So... you two look like stoners," Rich stated, looking them up and down as Michael downed some cider. Jeremy almost coughed on his drink, and before he could ask why Rich thought that, Michael spoke up.

 

"We are, what's it to you? Do you, by chance, have something to smoke? We haven't had a good smoke in a while."

 

“Michael!” Jeremy cried indignantly, swatting his fiancé’s arm. “Just because we’re engaged doesn’t mean you can just out me like that!” he grumbled before sighing. “He is right though, it has been a while. Pipe weed is much harder to come by this side of the mountains.” Rich grinned mischievously.

 

“I have some, as well as an awesome pipe, if you guys wanna have some. We can invite the others too, if they’re up for it. Jake wouldn’t, but he’d watch.” Jeremy nodded eagerly.

 

“That sounds like fun.”

 

 

 

The next day after lunch, Rich managed to get everyone round up in one of their rooms. It wasn't as chilly outside, so the window was open so the room could air out as they all (excluding Christine and Jake) could pass around and smoke some of Rich's weed. It was some good shit, with Brooke already zenned out, not worried at all about the weather, and Michael almost as chill, though he was resting against Jeremy already, starting to get a little sleepy.

 

Jeremy was only a little buzzed at the moment, but he was enjoying the affection a lot. He knew he’d get really clingy once the high kicked in.

 

“This pipe is really cool, Rich,” he observed, looking at it as he passed it over the half Dragonborn. “It’s got enchantments on it, right?” Weed also dulled the dragon a little, so Jeremy wasn’t even tempted to hoard the cool enchanted pipe for once.

 

"Yeah, it's enchanted to flush out all the bad shit from your body," Rich said as he took the pipe. "Well, more like it keeps your body pure from any negative enchantments and stuff, that kind of thing. It's one of the few permanent enchantments I've been able to cast onto an object. Adds to the good feeling of getting high, you know?" After posing that, Rich took another hit and let the smoke billow out.

 

Jeremy hummed in agreement. “Gotta say, that’s impressive. S’a really strong enchantment, you deserve to be proud of it. Plus it does good too.” Okay, maybe Jeremy was slurring a little, but he didn’t feel all that high yet. Plus he was comfy from Michael leaning against him, that couldn’t be helping him be focused.

 

"It does a lot of good, thank you for noticing," Rich said, beaming as Brooke took the pipe, fiddling with it before taking a hit herself.

 

"Well, just don't use up all of it yet, you'll probably want some more later," Jake pointed out from where he had his book out (how was Jake able to read with all this going on?).

 

“I’m used to dealing with high dumbasses, remember? Been with you guys for a while.” Wait, had Jeremy said that out loud? “Yes, you did, Jere.”

 

“Well, you got a good point, and I think Rich saved like three quarters?” He looked over to Rich, who shrugged. “Well he saved a lot for later.” Jeremy took the pipe from Michael and blew a smoke ring which settled just inside of Michael’s. His sleepy fiancé gasped when he saw that.

 

“S’like my one is hugging yours!”

 

Brooke just laughed at that while Christine rolled her eyes. "Yeah, it totally is. Don't you see it wrapping its arms around your ring?"

 

"Wait, really?... Wait, Brooke, don't mess with me like that," Michael whined, burying his face further into Jeremy's shoulder.

 

"You're easy to mess with when you're sleepy, Mikey. Can you blame me for wanting to mess with you a little?"

 

"Yes!"

 

Jeremy wrapped his arms around Michael and pulled him against his chest instead. “Be nice to him, he’s just a baby compared to the rest of us. Not proportionally, so it’s not weird that we’re getting married or anything... I don’t think, but still! I think... proportionally, I’m the youngest... since I’m only just over like... ten percent of my life expectancy. But Michael is only twenty, so he’s the baby we need to protect,” Jeremy proclaimed through his slur, nodding at his explanation. He was rather proud of that argument.

 

"So... he's the baby because he's the youngest out of all of us?" Jake pointed out from where he sat, glancing up from his book before what Jeremy said apparently hit him. "Wait, getting married? Did you two-"

 

"Yup, they're engaged!" Rich said, sniffling and tearing up, seemingly out of joy. "And you're right, he is the youngest, but it's still alright since, if you really think about it, Michael and Jeremy are the same age mentally and within their lifespans."

 

"What? Rich, that's not what-"

 

"Oh my god, you're engaged?!" Christine shouted, hopping up to her feet and bouncing while Michael whined, burying his face into the crook of Jeremy's neck now as he mumbled about the loud noise of one Canigula, Christine.

 

Jeremy giggled and squeezed Michael gently. “Chrissy, quiet. He doesn’t like loud noises when he’s high, you know this,” he pointed out, offering the pipe to Michael, who took a puff. Jeremy did the same and passed it back to Rich. “Oh yeah! I almost forgot!” Jeremy dug around in his pocket and pulled out two rings, one silver, one brass. “The silver one’s for you, since it’ll go best with your skin color.”

 

The rings were something he was very proud of, and he’d spent a good few hours on them last night. They consisted of three main pieces: the base, the top, and the bottom. The top and bottom curled around the base, leaving a big enough gap for a couple of small gears to fit between the teeth. They could be twisted easily, which made the cogs spin, and thy had a small magical symbol on them which glowed when one was thinking of the other. Jeremy figured having a physical reminder would be nice, for Michael to know that Jeremy was always thinking about him. And the ring would be perfect for fiddle with when Michael got nervous or needed a pressure release.

 

Michael looked as he let the rest of the smoke billow out, gasping as he took the ring and fiddled with it. Once he twisted it around a few times, his fiance giggled (god, he was so adorable) as he went to put the ring on. He stopped for a second, and Brooke told him which finger on which hand to put the ring on. "Oh, thanks." After the ring was on, Michael grinned, looking up at Jeremy with his eyes practically sparkling, and the symbol on Jeremy's ring was glowing a warm red hue. "Thank you so much, lajy, it's amazing," he mused out before clinging to Jeremy again.

 

"God, you two are too adorable," Rich almost cried out, and Jeremy saw Jake hesitantly reach over and pat his shoulder. Rich didn't back away from it, instead reaching over and clinging to Jake's arm. Jake's face warmed up, but he carefully brought the half-Dragonborn, half-dwarf closer and awkwardly reassured him.

 

Jeremy slipped on his own ring before wrapping his arms around Michael again. “Thank you, Rich.” He grinned dazedly. The symbol was still glowing and the one on Michael’s was glowing a powerful blue, like the neutral magic Jeremy loved to use. Because Jeremy was thinking about how cute Michael was. Then the thoughts shifted for a minute, still partly on Michael but also on Rich and Jake.

 

“You guys still like each other a lot. Why’d you break up when you love each other? ‘Cause I love Michael a lot, and we’re staying together because of it.” Jeremy didn’t have the best filters when high.

 

Remy,” Christine somewhat hissed out, giving Jeremy a look that he didn’t quite get. Why was she giving him one, really? He was being honest, it was obvious and he wanted to know why!

 

“Well...” Jake glanced to the side with discomfort. “I was helping out an empress with an important mission, and Rich happened to come in during an inopportune time. I had happened to trip, as did the empress, and Rich found us in a... compromising position, and he left before I could, uh, explain... His anger gets the best of him sometimes and he doesn’t see things clearly ‘cause of it... I, uh, never really had a chance to explain myself to him ‘til now...” By the end of his explanation, Jake had let go of Rich and shifted a little away from him, looking anywhere but at Rich.

 

Jeremy looked over to Rich in Jake’s place, and saw that he was crying. He launched himself at Jake, clinging to him and sobbing. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” He wailed. “I wanted to come back when I calmed down but I thought you wouldn’t want to see me anymore because I was so horrible to you!” Jake looked stunned, but quickly wrapped his arms around Rich and got to calming him down.

 

Jeremy nodded, and squeezed Michael. “See Chrissy? If I didn’t ask, they wouldn’t have talked. I was helping,” he explained proudly. Christine sighed and shook her head with a fond sort of exasperation.

 

“No, you were being nosy with no filters,” Brooke stated bluntly (heh) before taking the pipe and looking the bowl over. “Also, all done, so no more smoking.” She put it to the side then before leaning back against the wall, shutting her eyes before smiling a little.

 

“Wait, it’s all gone? Aw,” Michael almost grumbled our before nuzzling closer to Jeremy. “Ah well, I still got you guys so it’s fine, you guys aren’t gone.”

 

“As far as you know.”

 

“What does that mean, Brooke?!”

 

“You’re mean, Brookie,” Jeremy grumbled before tugging Michael closer to him. “It’s okay, auglas, we’re all still here. Brooke is just teasing you because she’s a big meany butt head.”

 

Suddenly an idea popped into his head. Jeremy scrambled with his free hand for his bag, pulling out the staff and tapping it on the ground. Michael shrunk down to be small again as the bubbles popped. “There, now I can hold you properly.” He grinned, pulling Michael onto his lap and holding him even closer.

 

Rich squawked when Michael got small. “What happened to Michael?! How’d he get tiny? Did my pipe do something to him?”

 

“No, Rich, he just used the staff and shared his short trait with Michael to make him tiny,” Jake clarified, seemingly relieved that Rich seemed to at least be a bit better now.

 

“Also, you should not be messing with this while high, it might not work right,” Christine said, taking the staff away and not messing with everyone for once with it? “I’m not going to mess with people when they’re high.” Wait, did he say all that out loud again? “Yes, you’re doing that right now.”

 

“Well I’m good at magic stuffs, Chrissy, so it’ll be fine. Besides, not much can get shared for an hour and I wanna cuddle my Mikey,” Jeremy complained before just squeezing Michael and wrapping himself around him. It was always nice when Michael was small but it was extra nice now.

 

“Jeremy, you might give someone a dragon,” she pointed out gently. Oh. Yeah, Jeremy didn’t like that idea at all. Dragons were hard to deal with.

 

“You don’t have a dragon in your head, do you idril? I didn’t do a bad, did I?” he asked softly, a little worried that he did do a bad.

 

“No, I don’t think so,” Michael said in a thoughtful tone. “Unless thinking about you counts, then yes. Otherwise, I don’t think so...”

 

“Just... don’t try to use magic while high. It could end badly. Don’t you remember what happened to the twins when they got high for the first time and tried to use their magic?” Christine offered as Michael got comfortable, nuzzling closer to Jeremy and properly resting his head against his chest, oh my god he was adorable- Wait, what was he supposed to remember?... Oh, right, the twins!

 

“Didn’t they end up stuck together? By their tails?” Jeremy asked, scrunching up his nose as he tried to remember. It was a very long time ago after all. Christine nodded and Jeremy giggled. That had been really funny. They twins were stuck together for a whole day before Jeremy managed to figure out the charm they used to connect themselves. Melech made a rule after that of no magic while high.

 

"Yup. They made up that rule of no magic while high, and that applies to all of you," Christine said as she settled back down.

 

"Chrissy, seriously, who would be, besides Jere-Bear, out of it enough to do th-"

 

"Aww," Michael whined then, pouting prominently from his place against Jeremy's chest. "So I can't give him a tail while high? Boo!"

 

“You can give me a tail some other time, gwant,” Jeremy cooed reaching up to play with Michael’s hair.

 

“Somehow, I’m not surprised,” Brooke sighed, rolling her eyes. Jeremy barely noticed, too wrapped with Michael in his arms.

 

He loved getting to hold Michael and being able to hold him when they were both high, and Michael was so sleepy and cute, was just like a dream he’d didn’t know about coming true.

 

“You two are adorable,” Rich commented softly before looking up at Jake. “Have we ever been that adorable? Or will we be like that one day?”

 

Jake sputtered a little from where he was sitting, looking down at Rich with wide eyes. "I-I mean... if you wanna be. But if you wanna, ask me again when you aren't high," he muttered out, glancing to the side. Jeremy couldn't help but smile at the sight, looking right back to Michael after.

 

"Lajy, are they getting back together?" Michael asked him, voice hushed and quiet, only loud enough for Jeremy to hear.

 

“I think so,” Jeremy replied happily, squeezing Michael softly. “I hope so. They should both be happy.” He nodded. Michael agreed as he pressed a couple of lazy kisses to Jeremy’s neck, pressing them especially on the hickeys from yesterday. Jeremy saw his ring glowed and felt a massive burst of happiness. Michael was thinking about him.

 

 

 

Several hours later, Jeremy, Michael, Rich, and Jake were all sitting in Jeremy and Michael’s room, chatting happily. The high had long since faded, but Jeremy’s cuddly mood had not, so he was sitting on Michael’s lap with his arms wrapped around his middle. He was very content.

 

“So, here’s what I don’t get: why is it you only get to see magic sometimes? Like, you said you could sense it normally, and that your focus helps with that. So why can’t you just... turn on that sight whenever you want?” Rich asked from a similar position on Jake’s lap.

 

“I...don’t know. I’ve never tried turning it on normally before... don’t know how,” Jeremy mused, leaning back against Michael.

 

"Well, what was different those times that you did see it?" Michael asked him as he ran his fingers through his hair with one hand, moving one hand from around Jeremy's middle to do so.

 

Jeremy thought for a moment. “Well they just sort of happened, but...” He tried to pull up similar feelings as to the last time he got the magic eyes. He blinked, then felt a spike of pain lodge itself in his head. He ended up falling forwards a little, curling up a little as it lessened. Things looked different when it had settled.

 

There was a sort of white, latent magic in the air, twinkling softly like fog a night. Nightshade, who was curled up on the sheets, had a sort of dark blue glow to him, overlaying where he was. The color wasn’t static, instead moving and curling inside his form as he stayed curled up. Looking up, Darling was a beautiful, majestic purple, but her magic was still.

 

Jeremy looked over to his friends. Jake was soft and silvery, not massively bright but still much brighter than Nightshade or Darling. Rich practically shone, his color a bright, energetic red. It was almost screaming with how strong it looked. Jeremy decided he liked the look of Rich and Jake’s colors together.

 

He didn’t realize he’d been silent, or that he’d been kinda staring, for a little while now.

 

"Uh, Jeremy?" Rich asked then, waving his hand in front of Jeremy's face as he leaned forward. "Are you alright? Hellooo, answer me, you twink-"

 

"Rich!"

 

"What? Provoking him'll probably get him to answer, Jake!"

 

As the two squabbled for a second, Jeremy felt a gentle squeeze around his waist. "Jeremy? Are you OK?" Michael's voice asked, soft and concerned, from behind him.

 

As everyone spoke, their words sort of hovered in front of them as little puffs of color; the potential to be magical, but not. “This is so fucking weird,” Jeremy mumbled, trying to take it all in without the panic for once. Jeremy’s word puffs were blue, like the neutral magic for his power crystals. “It’s like I’m high but on like, mushrooms or something.” He leant back against Michael a little more, eyes looking up at him. He saw the same sort of curling, spiraling magic inside Michael as he did with everyone. His was a lovely deep red, a sort of maroon, the same shade as his hood.

 

"How would you even know what that felt like?" Michael asked him then around a snort, looking down at him with a raised brow. "Wait, have you ever actually done shrooms before? Jeremy, I need to know this. Have you ever done shrooms?"

 

“Yeah, once, and it was fucking weird and I’ve never touched them again.” Jeremy found himself mesmerized by Michael’s natural magic. Even if it wasn’t as bright or as loud as Rich’s, or as gentle as Jake’s, there was a sort of elegance to it which captivated Jeremy completely. He couldn’t look away, even if he tried.

 

"Wait, really? I thought you were just making a reference on what you thought it felt like, oh shit," Michael said with slightly wider eyes. "Wait, do you feel really weird now? Is this bad?" As he asked this, his hands reached up and gently cupped Jeremy's cheeks. "Jeremy, is this bad for you?"

 

Jeremy smiled softly and shook his head. “No, it’s just strange,” he reassured Michael gently. “Everything’s sort of... glowy. Like someone has painted light over everyone and everything.” He tried to articulate what he was seeing but it was hard. Had anyone really seen anything like this before? “There’s magic in the air, and inside everyone. And it’s not static, it’s moving and shifting just under the surface. Even just speaking, not even spells, is letting out small puffs of color before they dissipate. It’s just... it’s weird but it’s beautiful.”

 

As he listened, Jeremy watched Michael's face scrunch up in slight confusion before coming up with some layer of understanding. "Oh... wow, alright, that sounds really trippy. What colors do you see for everyone?"

 

Jeremy did his best to describe it, from the white fog in the air to the animals and then to Rich and Jake, who had fallen silent to listen. “You’re red, the same color as your hood. And I swear, I’m seeing golden sparks almost, fizzling around in the red sometimes. They’re not much, just small potentials, but still,” he hummed, reaching up his blue colored hand (his natural magic was the same as the neutral magic!) and cupping Michael’s cheek gently. “Dai gwant, nabenn.”

 

He was sure that, if he had his normal vision, that he'd see Michael's cheeks warm up. "I- um... t-thanks, that sounds really pretty," Michael muttered out. "What do you look like? And, uh... what does 'dai gwant nabenn' mean? I know 'gwant' means, uh, beautiful, right?"

 

“That’s right.” Jeremy nodded. “Dai gwant, nabenn. Very beautiful, husband to be. It’s the closest translation for fiancé.” He was still so captivated by the beautiful magic spiralling inside Michael that it didn’t even occur to him to be embarrassed. He lightly rubbed his thumb along Michael’s jaw where it was resting (his hand was at a bit of an odd angle considering he was laying back against Michael still).

 

He felt Michael lean into his touch, humming softly, which he could feel and hear. "I... Well, thank you," Michael murmured out. "Yaf vory kyifzuofd, ph ouilty." As Michael said that, his tail gently poked Jeremy's stomach. "You also didn't answer my first question, numbnuts."

 

“I have no idea what you just called me, but I think it was nice. Also you speaking in Infernal sets off more sparks.” Jeremy giggled softly. Reluctantly, he tore his eyes away and looked down at himself. “You know when I take an enchantment and make the magic neutral? That’s what my magic looks like, that shade of blue. And there’s.... sort of a flame inside me too, right here.” He touched the center of his chest. “It’s got gold, light blue, and white in it, like it’s really hot. I think it’s my dragon part.” He could almost feel the heat coming from the flame, and he was certain he could feel the magic shifting around under his skin, and under Michael’s.

 

"Ooo, that sounds really pretty. I wish I could see it so I could properly compliment you," Michael said before Jeremy felt a kiss pressed to his forehead. "Also, uh, the translation for what I said is 'You are beautiful, my fiance.'" As he muttered that and Jeremy looked up to stare at Michael, he saw his fiance glance away, fidgeting a little with the ring with one hand, holy shit!

 

Jeremy grinned brightly, and continued to grin as a thought occurred to him. “Hang on, I might be able to-“ Jeremy focused on the energy he was feeling, the shape and color of the magic, and did his best to form it in his hands. Surprisingly, he found he could do it, but it didn’t last long. Maybe a minute, if he focused. Still, Jeremy focused and tried again. “Let me in, yeah?” he asked quietly, reaching up and pressing the magic against Michael’s neck. It sunk in after a moment, after Michael let it in. Jeremy focused, making sure to keep it up.

 

Michael blinked a few times before gasping, his eyes widening as he looked around. The sparks of gold flickered and started to shine a bit brighter as his fiance took in the room before focusing in on Jeremy, after looking at everyone else and the animals. When he took in Jeremy's form, he gasped softly, gently moving Jeremy around so their foreheads could press against one another, so Michael could properly cup his cheeks. "You... you look amazing," he murmured out, his eyes taking all of him in. "I see what you mean now, with the blue and the flame in your chest. Wow."

 

Jeremy squeaked a little as a strange feeling hit him. It was almost invasive, but it was so much sweeter than that. It was like Jeremy could feel Michael in his entirely. Every memory and feeling and sight and sound, it was all there even if Jeremy couldn’t see them himself. He was overwhelmed with the feeling of Michael Michael Michael and he loved it. “Idril, you’re going blue... look,” he murmured, his voice a little hoarse and he saw the small rifts of blue traveling up Michael’s arms, the same blue as Jeremy.

 

Watching Michael look down and gasp, Jeremy also saw Michael's eyes also gaze to look down at Jeremy again, smiling and laughing a little. "Well, you're going a bit red in the face there, lajy," he murmured out, and Jeremy did his best to try to get a look at some aspect of his face. "Just trust me when I say you are."

 

Jeremy giggled softly, but then felt a sort of loss as the feelings began fading. He watched as the blue pulled back from Michael, not leaving a trace, as the magic he’d been using faded as well. “That... that was new,” he muttered, feeling a little light headed for a split second as the magic he’d pressed into Michael to let him see shut off. He was fine a second later.

 

Michael blinked a few times, as if adjusting, before letting out a soft huff. "Well, that was fun while it lasted-"

 

"Wait, Michael, did you really just see the magic color vision thing?" Rich asked. Even if he looked a little confused at the question, Michael nodded. "Holy shit Jeremy, you just invented a new spell!"

 

“I did what now?” Jeremy asked as he turned to face Rich. “You’re kidding right?” That was new, even for him. Rich shook his head excitedly.

 

“You just made a spell! You gotta tell me how you did it!”

 

Jeremy spluttered for a second. He had made a spell? How the fuck had he managed that? Wait, don’t focus on that part, focus on what the spell was! It would be easier to explain if Rich could just see! “Get over here for a minute, Rich. It’s easier to show you.”

 

Jeremy pulled up the same shape of magic and pressed it into Rich’s hand. He felt it shift though him and settle, his red burning a little brighter. And in the back of his head, from the tiniest red that had slipped up his arm from contact with Rich, as well as from the flame in his own chest, he knew the incantation. Draconic was so useful!

 

Rich looked around then, gasping in awe at what he was seeing. "Holy shit Jeremy, this is- oh my god." Rich started geeking out a bit, Jake fretting a bit over him all the while, as Michael laughed a little at the sight.

 

"I'm sure Rich is going to write everything down after this," Michael told Jeremy before he took Jeremy's now-free hands, intertwining their fingers before he gently squeezed. "That's insane though. How the hell were you able to make a spell?"

 

“I just thought of what I wanted, and what I’m feeling myself, and just... shaped the magic already around for it? Change the color and just gave it the form I wanted. It’s kinda hard to explain. But I think I know the incantation now, since it’s in Draconic, and Rich knows Draconic,” Jeremy explained, gesturing vaguely towards Rich. “Hey, Jake? Can I try it with incantation on you?” he asked. Jake hesitated, then nodded.

 

Jeremy focused more. “Ocuir Arcaniss.” Nothing happened, but Jeremy could see that the magic puff from his words came out in the right shape and color. Perfect. He reached over and touched Jake’s hand, and saw how his silver glow shimmered a little more. “So it’s an incantation and physical contact. That makes sense. Especially since touch seems to do a thing...” Jeremy mused. “Hey Rich, go grab Jake’s hand.”

 

Rich nodded then, reaching over and looking Jake in the eyes. They seemed to have a silent conversation in the span of a second before they held each other's hands. The pair waited a few seconds before both gasped, and Jeremy knew that what he and Michael experienced previously was happening to them, if how their eyes lit up and how their colors seemed to travel and switch at the points of contact were any indicators.

 

It only lasted for ten seconds at most, as Rich blinked a few times, a bit harshly like Michael had done before. The red in Jake's form started to recede, and the silver followed after as Jake pulled his hands back. "I... oh my god," Rich whispered out in awe before fumbling around. "I need to write this all down!"

 

Jeremy let the focus drop and Jake blinked harshly as the sight wore off from him. “Don’t forget to mention that it takes concentration, and the spell only lasts a minute.” Jeremy might have slurred a little. He was suddenly feeling very tired. He pulled back from his own vision, blinking harshly as reality reformed back to normal.

 

He missed the glow immediately, but he didn’t really have the right words or the energy to say so at that moment. Instead he just flopped back against Michael and tugged his arms around Jeremy’s waist. He just wanted to be held for a bit.

 

"Geez, needy," Michael teased, readjusting his arms around his waist before lying back with him. "You didn't even ask, you just moved me. Rude."

 

"Yeah yeah, he's rude, but he just invented a new spell. Jake, come with me," Rich said, grabbing Jake's hand before tugging him along and out of the room. Jake could be heard yelping as he was tugged off the bed and out of the room, the door almost slamming shut behind them in Rich's rampant run.

 

“I literally just gave you a part of myself. I’m being needy because I really liked that feeling and I need to be close ‘cause I’m too tired to do it again. And I’m also sleepy now so words are hard.” Okay, Jeremy was definitely slurring his words now. And the desire to be as close as possible to Michael was so impossibly strong, and he wasn’t sure if it was a side effect of the spell or from just seeing his magic so clearly for so long. Either way, he would not be moved away from Michael for anything. He just shifted so he was lying face down on Michael’s chest so he could hug him at the same time.

 

Michael just laughed a bit at that, shifting a little underneath Jeremy. Even if he grumbled at the movement, Michael gently shushed him, his tail reaching up and patting his head. "Be quiet, duzzdy kikh," Michael murmured out before a blanket was tugged over the two of them, up to the base of Jeremy's neck. "There we go, just relax now."

 

Jeremy did relax. He was so relaxed he was practically purring, letting out small, happy sighs with every breath. “M’not gonna ask what you said, cause I feel really good now.” He clung as best he could with his quickly weakening grip as exhaustion overwhelmed him. It was the good type, the sort you get after getting something satisfying done. “Ni meleth fi.”

 

"I'll tell you later," Michael promised him, his voice softening as his tail wrapped around Jeremy's middle, letting one hand go to run through his hair. "Xe dajy haf, Jeremy."

Chapter Text

Although it was still chilly out, it was still perfect weather to get high. Since Jeremy was too busy restocking stuff and being responsible and Brooke was too busy steering the wagon, it was just Michael and Rich getting high. Michael found himself enjoying Rich's company when high, even if he got a bit emotional. His own chill-zen nature helped balance it out, or so he'd like to think.

 

"-and it'll be called 'moving pictures' but then get later abbreviated to just be called 'movies,'" Michael pitched before taking another hit from Rich's pipe, letting the smoke billow out in a cool pattern of circles with a swirl in the middle. "It'll change the world!"

 

“That sounds so fucking awesome, Michael. I wanna go see a movie now...” Rich sounded awestruck as he took a hit from his pipe, letting the smoke curl out from his mouth slowly.

 

“You guys are pretty high, are you sure you’re not having too much?” Jeremy asked with a small giggle from deeper in the wagon. He was putting together a couple of torches with Nightshade helping him. “I don’t want either of you to fall into a weed coma or something.”

 

"I'm sure we aren't," Michael defended as he crossed his arms over his chest. "You're just jealous that you're not the only one coming up with ground-breaking ideas now." His tail reached over and playfully prodded at Jeremy then, Michael giggling and snickering all the while.

 

Jeremy grinned and rolled his eyes. “Yup, you caught me. I’m totally jealous of your amazing brain and I just want to make sure that I’m the smart one in this relationship.” He was joking, right? “You’re the pretty one. Well, gorgeous more accurately.”

 

Michael popped his head up then from where it had been starting to droop to stare at Jeremy. "You're joking, right? You're the pretty one, you're so-" He waved his arms in a weird way at Jeremy, punctuating what he did with one final gesture to him with emphasis but into the motion.

 

Jeremy giggled gently and crawled over to kiss Michael’s cheek. “Of course I’m only kidding, idril. I love your creativity.” He rubbed their noses together before moving back and getting back to work, smiling softly.

 

“You guys are so cute together. I’m so glad I’m your friend now. I... I am your friend, right Michael?” Rich asked, sounding a little worried.

 

Moving over, Michael grabbed onto Rich's shoulders, looking him dead in the eyes. "Of course you're my friend, Rich. I wouldn't share a pipe with someone who wasn't. Oh, and I wouldn't let you come on this journey if I didn't trust you, and friends need faith, trust, and, uh... what's the last thing?"

 

"Pixie dust," Brooke called from the front of the wagon... Well, that sounded right enough!

 

"Yeah, and pixie dust!" Brooke cackled from where she was, so at least she was happy! And Jeremy’s small chuckle and groan sort of said that he was happy too, which was even better! And Michael could see the mark on his ring was glowing so Jeremy was thinking about him. He fiddled with the ring a little as he took another hit.

 

"OK, I just got another idea," Michael said after finishing his hit, giving the pipe and the last hit of the little batch Rich had set up to him. "Imagine this: wagons where you didn't need a horse to drive you around. It's propelled by mechanisms that don't need a horse, and it's called a... hm... what's a good name for that?"

 

“I don’t know... but Jeremy could probably make that! He’s made a tiger after all, what’s one little... thingy?” Rich asked as he took the last hit and began cleaning out the pipe. “Your fiancé is really good at stuff like that.”

 

Michael smiled wide then, looking over at Jeremy with what was surely heart eyes as he let out a dreamy sigh. "Yeah... Jeremy's amazing," he murmured out.

 

Jeremy didn’t hear him, but he did glance down at his ring after a moment. When he looked up, he grinned over at Michael and blew him a kiss before getting back to work. Nightshade gave Jeremy the next piece he needed.

 

Opening his hand up, Michael caught the kiss and held it close with another dreamy sigh escaping him. "God, I love him so much." Michael leaned back against the wall of the wagon, glancing over at Rich with a grin. "You're awesome too though, you have to be to be my friend! He's just his own realm of special since we're gonna get married."

 

“I get it. I feel the same about Jake. I’m just really glad he’s happy to try again after I messed up so badly.” Rich sat himself on the other side of the wagon, facing Michael. He was grinning brightly. “You and Jeremy are gonna get married. And it’s gonna be awesome. And I’m probably going to cry at the wedding because I always cry. When are you thinking of doing it?” Rich asked through his ramble.

 

The wagon scooted onto something more solid than the dirt road from earlier. They must be in town. Awesome, another proper bed to share with Jeremy again soon! It had been weeks since the last one. Wait- what had Rich asked? Oh yeah! The wedding!

 

"Oh, um... Well, I wanna do it after all the Squip stuff's over," Michael started as he continued to fidget with his ring. "Maybe not right after, 'cause we gotta plan things out and figure out where we wanna have it and stuff. But not too late after it happens, you know? And I want Darling to bring us the rings and all that cool stuff. I dunno who I want to toss the flowers and stuff though... Christine seems like she'd like doing that."

 

“Christine would be awesome at that,” Rich agreed, before coughing a little. Maybe the smoke hurt his throat? “And Brooke maybe. Or she’d just grow vines full of flowers to rain down on whoever walks down the aisle.” Michael head Jeremy cough a little too, but he didn’t seem to be too upset so maybe it was fine?

 

"Maybe they both could do it if they really wanted to," Michael mused out, though glanced back when he heard Jeremy start to cough a bit louder. He furrowed his brows at that, though felt something start to tickle in his throat that surely wasn't the smoke from the weed. Quickly clearing his throat, Michael focused his concern back to Jeremy then. "Lajy? What's wrong?"

 

Jeremy’s cough worsened as he dropped what he was doing and doubled over. “There’s something in the air,” he croaked, eyes watering as he blearily looked up at Michael. For a moment, they flickered to cyan. Squip colored, oh shit. But then he doubled over again and took a couple of gasping breaths. It sounded like he could breathe again, and when he looked up, he had dragon eyes. “We need to get out of here.” His voice was rough but he was still Jeremy, thank god.

 

"Oh shit, uh, yeah," Michael said as he started to get up, though stumbled when the wagon suddenly stopped. "Holy shit." He managed to catch himself by holding onto something on the wall, though looked at the back entrance of the wagon as Christine opened it, her eyes entirely cyan. The front of the wagon also opened up, with both Jake and Brooke's eyes completely cyan as well. Of course this had to happen while he was high and very uncoordinated, of fucking course.

 

Before anyone else had a chance to react, Jeremy launched himself at Christine, wings out and spread wide. He knocked her backwards, half smothering her for a moment. “Run! I’ll catch up!” he half growled, holding the halfling down as she struggled.

 

Rich didn’t need any further prompting. He grabbed his bag and grabbed Michael’s hand and tugged him back in the direction the wagon came from. Jeremy was behind them a moment later, grabbing them both by the back of their shirts and flying them out of the town.

 

Once they were a little way out, he placed them down gently and landed, wings vanishing entirely. “Are you both alright?”

 

"Yeah, we're fine," Rich said, eyes wide as he stared at the town, now a bit away. "I mean, I didn't expect for there to be some Squip toxin in the air or for everyone to get taken over, but yeah, we're fine."

 

"How did we not get affected though? It can't be because we're high," Michael was at least able to deduce, arms crossed over his chest as he thought on it. "Hm..."

 

"It's probably 'cause my pipe's enchanted, remember? Keeps all the bad crap out, and that includes Squip toxins. If we wanna keep getting the effects of it though, we gotta smoke some more before our highs wear off."

 

“Great, so you guys need to stay high and I gotta stay dragon for us to stand a chance at getting everyone back? Sure, that’s just great!” Jeremy groaned. Nightshade climbed up from where he’d been perched on Jeremy’s bag and he nuzzled his cheek. Jeremy relaxed a little. Darling swooped down and landed on his head, and he relaxed a little more.

 

Michael frowned as he saw that Jeremy was a bit stressed (and understandably so) before going over and gently holding one of his hands. "Hey, just try to relax and take deep breaths. We'll get everyone back. Just... try to stay positive." He gave Jeremy as good of a smile as he could before bending down and pressing a kiss to his cheek.

 

Jeremy sighed and squeezed Michael’s hand gently. “You’re right, we can do this. It’ll be challenging, but we can.” He twisted the ring on Michael’s finger a little, almost possessively (well, he was in dragon mode), before bringing Michael’s hand up and pressing a kiss to the back of it. Jeremy glanced over to Rich, who was pulling the pipe out of his bag again. “You two might struggle a little, but I’ll protect you. I... I can’t go against Squip directly myself in case it tries to turn me full dragon again, so I’ll just have to be the bodyguard this time around.”

 

"I mean... I'm sure we can do this," Rich said with a sheepish smile and shrug, taking the pipe fully out and inspecting it over carefully. "At least this defeat will hurt Squip's ego. Y'know, being defeated by two high guys... Heh, since we're gonna be higher than him when we beat it to the ground and we're both literally high."

 

Michael couldn't help but snicker at that (hey, it was funny!) before nodding. "Oh my god, yes. This'll be great! No way will it ever be able to live this down!"

 

Jeremy rolled his eyes with a small groan as he muttered something in Gnomish. Then he took a breath and shook his head. “Okay, so we know there’s something in the air. And every time, Squip has had to use either something or someone to transfer the toxin. I’d say it’s more likely someone since last time it was something in the air it was someone who was controlling it,” he mused out loud, giving Michael’s hand another squeeze.

 

Michael nodded along with that as he got the rest of his giggles out. “Yeah, that makes sense... Since it’s a toxin, maybe it’s a warlock. You know, since they typically have poison and necromancy if they have demonic patrons and stuff,” he thought out loud as Rich made sure he had his stash of weed on-hand.

 

“Squip would be their patron, so that makes sense.” Jeremy nodded, his glowing eyes glancing around nervously. “I... I’m not sure if I can do this. Not with my dragon out,” he mumbled. “But I don’t think I should smoke either, since someone needs to be sober.”

 

“We could try that staff thingy to give you the benefits?” Rich suggested. “You got that in your bag, right?”

 

Jeremy nodded and pulled it out, looking it over carefully. “That... could work. But you would really have to focus and you’re both much higher than I was when I used it.”

 

“We haven’t changed size, Jeremy.” Rich sounded confused.

 

“No, Rich, we might not be able to do it right since we’re high,” Michael corrected. He at least recalled that much and Christine’s little rule she instated. “I mean, we can try, but Christine said we shouldn’t try magic when we’re high... What if we do mess it up?”

 

“Then he gets something else from us, no biggie! S’not like we have to worry about giving him anything dangerous,” Rich pointed out, walking over and taking the staff. “I just tap it on the ground, right?” Jeremy nodded but he opened his mouth to say something. The bubbles already popped around him.

 

Soft looking, dark blue scales had appeared around Jeremy’s eyes and trailed down his cheekbones. Similar ones had appeared on the back of his hands, and Michael could feel that they were soft. Like they were just embossed on his skin, they didn’t feel scaly. “Rich! You gave me scales, not immunity!”

 

“Whoops.” Rich shrugged and Jeremy stole the staff back.

 

Michael couldn’t help but look at Jeremy’s eyes then, admiring the scales and noticing how they brought out his eyes a bit more. Oooh. Nice. “Well, let me try. If I can’t do it, then you’ll have to stay like this for now since Squip can’t get to you like this.” He held his free hand out for the staff then, patiently waiting. Y’know, like a good, patient person, Rich.

 

Jeremy handed the staff over with a moment of hesitation, handing his head a little. “Just- just be careful.” He sighed.

 

“I will,” Michael reassured him, taking the staff then as he tried to focus on what he needed to do. He tried his hardest, shutting his eyes even as he tapped the staff on the ground. He heard the bubbles form and pop, then he opened his eyes slowly, looking over at Jeremy.

 

Jeremy sighed and shook his head fondly. “Tail.” He held the offending limb up. He didn’t seem that upset. Rich on the other hand was staring at Jeremy’s tail in almost awe.

 

“You look even more like a dragon now. It’s even got scales on it!”

 

“I’m sorry Jeremy,” Michael apologized with a sigh before patting Jeremy’s tail with his own tail. “At least you can enjoy the tail for an hour.”

 

Jeremy wrapped his tail around Michael’s and squeezed gently. “It’s okay, idril. It was a long shot anyways. Besides, it’s useful, right?” He grinned a little.

 

“Why did I get in trouble and he didn’t?” Rich whined, pouting. Jeremy shot him a weak glare.

 

“Because you didn’t wait for permission and you didn’t apologize.” Rich ducked his head and mumbled out and apology. “You’re forgiven.” Rich perked up instantly.

 

Michael couldn’t help but snicker at the scene before looking back over at the town. “Alright, so we need to go back in there, kick the ass of the warlock there, and make them stop whatever spell. That should be easy enough,” he thought out loud before squeezing Jeremy’s tail back.

 

“We also need to avoid or possibly fight the townsfolk and our friends, and make sure I don’t slip too far into dragon,” Jeremy pointed out. Michael could see how nervous he was by the way he was fiddling with his ring, twisting it around and around.

 

“You won’t slip far into your dragon,” Michael promised him, giving him a smile as he took a deep breath. “And if we do have to fight them, we won’t hurt them, but I hope we just avoid them instead. I don’t want us to fight them.”

 

“That’s seconded,” Rich quickly piped up.

 

Jeremy nodded, relaxing a little more. He quickly put the staff away into his bag and pulled out his quarterstaff, slipping it onto the clips on his bag strap. Rich bent down to make sure the bag was still the same size. Jeremy also pulled out a mace and a mallet. “This isn’t the best for fighting, but it’s a decent weapon which is less likely to seriously hurt someone than a sword or spear.” He put them back. “If it comes to fighting, I’ll get you guys these.”

 

“Thank you lajy,” Michael said before bending down and kissing his forehead. “Plus, I don’t think us high will show off our refined fighting skills anyway.”

 

“Uh, speak for yourself,” Rich scoffed as he stood back up.

 

Michael rolled his eyes at that before looking at Jeremy. “You ready?”

 

“Almost.” Jeremy reached into his bag again and pulled out two scarves. “I can deal with the toxin while my dragon is out, but you two might start coughing again,” Jeremy explained, tugging Michael down and carefully tying the scarf around his face. Only his eyes were visible after he was finished, and Jeremy tucked the excess into Michael’s collar. He pressed a quick kiss to Michael’s forehead. “This should help filter out the stuff a little so it doesn’t hurt your throat.” He got to work on Rich, who waited patiently and let Jeremy work.

 

“Will we be able to quickly move this around to take a hit when we need to?” Michael asked as he stayed by Jeremy’s side, watching as he worked on a surprising patient and calm Rich. “Also, you are very considerate and I love that about you.”

 

“You can pull it out your collar to take a hit.” Jeremy nodded, shooting Michael a grin. As soon as Rich was all set, Jeremy nodded and patted him lightly on the head with his tail. Rich squealed and darted to hide next to Michael.

 

“Don’t do that! I’m not expecting you to have a tail since you never had a tail with me before,” he grumbled, clinging to Michael’s arm and peeking around him at Jeremy. Jeremy chuckled and held out his hands in surrender.

 

“Let’s get back to town,” was all he said.

 

Michael couldn’t help but snicker before nodding and taking one of Jeremy’s hands that he held up with the hand that wasn’t being clung to. As he did that though, a thought hit him. “Oh my god, we left the animals, Jeremy! Are they gonna be infected by Squip too? Oh no, our babies.”

 

“Wait, shit! Oh god, not Sbarro! He’s too young and precious, and so is Nightshade!”

 

“Nightshade and Darling are here, guys.” Jeremy pointed to where Nightshade was perched on his bag, and Darling landed on his head. “The horses, I don’t know about. But these two made it out. Darling flew up, out of the infected area, and Nightshade climbed into my bag when I started coughing.”

 

“They did? Oh thank god,” Michael said before pressing a kiss to Darling’s head, letting her gurgle softly before he gasped. “Oh no, the horses. Poor sweet, dumb Gideon! And Sbarro and Angel! They don’t deserve this, they’re innocents in this.”

 

“They don’t deserve to be in the crossfire of this,” Rich murmured out softly, reaching down and petting Nightshade. “Sbarro, I’m so sorry.”

 

“We’ll get them back once we get everyone else back too,” Jeremy reassured them, letting Nightshade crawl up to his shoulder and across Michael to settle on Rich’s shoulder. Darling hopped over to Michael’s head. Her weight was comforting as they all walked.

 

Michael reached up and gently patted her head, smiling as he did so. “At least you guys are alright... You’ll fly around while we go in, right Darling?” She cawed in response. “Good girl. What about Nightshade though?”

 

Jeremy frowned and his eyes lost focus as he looked over to Nightshade. Must be looking at magic. He suddenly started laughing. “I’m- oh my god! Nightshade’s got active magic. It’s cleansing him! Like my dragon does!” He sounded beyond proud as he refocused properly.

 

“Wait, he has what now?” Michael asked around a confused frown while Rich’s eyes lit up.

 

“Oh wow, that’s insane. I’ve never heard of that before. He’s been with you since he was a baby, yeah? Maybe your magic rubbed off on him somehow and that’s how? I’d have to be sober to fully think up the details, but that’s insane. You’re creating a lot of new things without even really trying to.”

 

“I’d say it’s partly thanks to Michael at least. He’s got Iconis’ mark, which has a lot of magic in its own right,” Jeremy mused, squeezing Michael’s hand. “But I think it’s also just Nightshade’s own potential. He’s always been especially smart, even as a baby. So I think he might have had active magic and we just helped shape it...” Nightshade dooked loudly and proudly, making everyone giggle a little.

 

Darling crowed lowly, and Michael just snickered. “He’s not saying you’re not smart, Darling. Maybe if you had been around since you were just hatched when I had this mark, you’d be like that. Sorry.” He pressed a kiss to her head then. “But we can bring Nightshade with us into town... Cool. We should get in though, while we’re still at the peak of our high.”

 

“It’s just over this ridge.” Jeremy pointed to the small hill they were climbing. “I wanted to get you guys away and as safe as I could.” He sounded a little sheepish. Rich waved him off.

 

“You grabbed us just as I tripped, so it’s no biggie.”

 

“Yeah, you helped us, Jeremy,” Michael reassured him, taking his hand and lifting it up so he could kiss the back of it, even if it was blocked by the scarf. “Thank you. Now we just need you to be our bodyguard as we trip and tumble like toddlers.”

 

“You both seem to be walking okay for now.” Jeremy chuckled, looking over them once more before looking ahead. They rounded the top of the hill and Jeremy dragged them both to the ground. Their friends were waiting by the entrance to the town. “We’re gonna need to find another way in,” he hissed, his tail twitching with frustration and his eyes flickering a little brighter in a way Michael knew meant he was feeling possessive. It only happened when one of his ‘treasures’ were in danger or being threatened.

 

“Hey, just take a few deep breaths and calm down,” Michael reassured Jeremy, squeezing his hand before looking over at the town. He glanced back at Darling, whistling softly for her to go scout. She echoed the whistle before hopping off and flying around town to survey. “Darling will be able to tell us the best way in.”

 

Jeremy’s tail kept twitching but he did take a few breaths. His eyes stopped flickering. “Y’know, when I have the chance, I’m punching the Squip in the face for all the shit it’s pulled,” he grumbled, scooting a little closer to Michael.

 

“Isn’t it just a sort of... floating consciousness? Like it doesn’t have a body, like most corruption demons?” Rich asked, frowning a little as he looked over to Jeremy.

 

“Then I’ll give it a body and punch that in the face.”

 

“But the body it’ll have didn’t do anything wrong,” Michael pointed out as he gently squeezed Jeremy’s hand. “I think that banishing it or purifying it will be better.”

 

“Then I’m getting Jake to teach me a purification spell which I can do. I just can’t sit around and just be... calm when it’s done all this shit to innocent people, and especially my... friends.” Michael could tell Jeremy was fighting the urge to refer to them as treasures. He was proud that Jeremy managed it. Rich seemed totally oblivious to Jeremy’s plight.

 

“I know it sucks, it’s hard, but getting mad about it when we’re trying to fix things right now won’t help,” Michael told him before reaching over and kissing Jeremy’s cheek. “Also, amazing job calling our friends what they are.”

 

“What else would he call them?” Rich asked innocently. Jeremy gritted his teeth and closed his eyes for a second.

 

“Treasures. That’s what... it’s what a dragon would call them.” He shuddered, then relaxed. He didn’t seem to slip any further into dragon mode than he already was. “But they’re not, they’re my friends. And I care about them,” he reaffirmed. Rich seemed to understand at that point because his eyes went wide and he nodded. Before anyone could say anything else, Darling fluttered down and nudged Michael’s hand.

 

Michael looked over at her then, and she let out a string of caws and gurgling before he pressed a kiss to her head. “Thank you, sweet girl.” He looked over at the others then gestured to the left side of town. “There’s an unguarded entrance down an alleyway that should get us past most of the Squiped villagers and our friends. She saw the warlock in a building, lounging.”

 

“You got all that from her?”

 

“Yeah, Rich, why do you think I always know the best places to enter? I wouldn’t be Red Hood without her.”

 

Jeremy nodded, relaxing further. “You’ll learn in time. Darling is the most amazing raven in the history of ravens. She is amazing even without any magic.” He grinned sincerely. If there was one thing that Michael knew Jeremy would always get excited about, it was the animals. Darling puffed up with pride, and Nightshade dooked in agreement.

 

“She doesn’t know how long that way will be clear, so we should get going now,” Michael added, giggling a little at how his precious bird companion showed her pride. “Let’s get going now, and on the way, could you set up the pipe for us, Rich?”

 

“You got it,” Rich said with a smile as he was slow and careful with setting up the next pipe. “I feel like we might fall into a weed coma after all this though, and be too high out of our minds to do shit after a certain point.”

 

“As long as it’s after everything is done, I can be comatose for a little bit.”

 

“I’m taking whatever is left in the pipe after you two are stoned out of your minds,” Jeremy half grumbled. “For putting up with your high asses.”

 

“I don’t know how much will be left, but sure, knock yourself out. Oh, but not literally,” Rich said while Michael couldn’t help but snicker.

 

“But you love us,” Michael pointed out between his snickering, standing up then and gently tugging on Jeremy’s hand. “And you especially love me for some reason.”

 

Jeremy followed behind him immediately. “Because you’re amazing.” He was sure that if it were possible for someone to have heart eyes, Jeremy would have them right now. Rich followed as well, giggling and sniffling a little.

 

“You guys are cute, but it makes me miss Jake,” he whined quietly.

 

“I’m sorry Rich,” Michael murmured out as he looked over at Rich. He frowned before reaching his other hand over, gently squeezing Rich’s shoulder since he didn’t want to mess with him setting up the pipe. “We’ll get him back soon, I promise.” He glanced over at Jeremy then as well. “Also, you’re the amazing one.”

 

Jeremy puffed up a little at that and his tail swayed happily, like Michael’s did sometimes. He still looked focused, and kept his gaze on the town even as they all headed towards the alleyway.

 

When they got close, Michael actually noticed the toxin in the air, leaving a sort of... staticky smell around. It made him want to cough, so he reset the scarf on and nodded at Rich to do the same. Jeremy’s eyes glowed a little brighter as his wings formed behind him, folded and ready to use. Apparently being in here made his dragon really come out. He seemed alert and ready to face whatever danger may come, pulling out his quarterstaff and getting into a more battle ready position as they walked.

 

Darling quickly left before they got too far in, circling around nearby. Michael held on a little tighter to Jeremy's hand, though quickly stuck his head out of the alley and scanned around. He didn't see any villagers or their friends except for some that had their backs to them, heading down another side street. Once he was sure the coast was clear, Michael recalled the directions he needed before gently tugging Jeremy and Rich (he had his tail around Rich's wrist right now). "This way," he said, pointing to a path that went further into the center of town. "This person isn't in town hall, but in one of the businesses near it that's at the exact center of town."

 

Rich nodded and put his hand on Michael’s tail, keeping it in place. Jeremy hesitated, obviously torn about leaving their friends even if he knew they couldn’t help them right now.

 

“C’mon, lajy.” Jeremy turned his slightly sad gaze to Michael but ducked his head and followed after him.

 

 

 

They made their way through the town near silently, with surprisingly stealth considering two of them were high. Admittedly, Jeremy did have to pull both of them away from (very newly) abandoned market stalls and shop windows with cool trinkets or food. Michael and Rich were both getting the munchies.

 

Eventually, he pulled them into a random shop that was left unlocked and pushed them into the back room. “It’s been long enough since your last big hit. Time to smoke for a bit, I’ll stand guard,” he instructed, shifting a little uncomfortably.

 

"Could you get us something quick to eat at least? Before we start," Michael requested as he sat down at the table in the back. Rich was quickly pulling out the pipe and weed, getting a quick set for them to smoke ready. "If there's something quick to grab nearby, at least."

 

“Sure.” Jeremy pressed a quick kiss to Michael’s forehead and helped him untie his scarf quickly before dashing out of the back room to the shop.

 

“He seems to be in a weirdly good mood, all things considering.” Rich noted with a small snort. “And he’s not trying to strangle the zombies we’re passing, even if he obviously has half a mind to.” He checked over the pipe, deeming it ready and setting it down until after food.

 

"Yeah. I guess he's listening to what I'm telling him about not fighting unless we have to," Michael offered with a shrug, crossing his arms on the table and lying his head in his crossed arms. "Which is good, it's making things better and easier for all of us... I also didn't think he'd actually go get us food, but I'm really happy 'bout that. We don't wanna be starving in the middle of kicking warlock ass and humiliating the Squip."

 

Rich started giggling. “Your fiancé is so whipped.” He couldn’t seem to stop himself, and Jeremy arched his eyebrow as he came back in, a box of pastries in hand.

 

“What’s got you so happy, Goranski? Also I brought pastries, it’s all I could get that wasn’t stale.” He placed them on the table and took a seat, rocking back and using his tail to stop himself from falling over.

 

"Rich is just being stupid, ignore him," Michael said, waving a hand over at Rich who was too busy laughing now to notice. "Thank you so much Jeremy, you're amazing." He leaned over then, pressing a big kiss to Jeremy's cheek before opening the box and happily taking an apple tart.

 

Jeremy flushed happily, making his scales look darker. His wings flapped a few times as he settled himself before looking around the room, almost flustered. Rich was still giggling, but he reached over and grabbed a vanilla custard slice. He squirmed happily as he took a bite.

 

Michael couldn't help but smile over at Jeremy, pressing another kiss to his cheek before eating some of his apple tart. He let out a loud hum as he ate, quickly digging in and eating it. "Oh, this is so good," he murmured out.

 

"Yeah, where'd you even find these, Heere? We can go there after."

 

Jeremy’s ear twitched a little, showing that he’d heard Rich, but he didn’t respond more than that. He just seemed to be awkwardly looking around the room, grabbing a small cookie for himself and nibbling on it.

 

“What gives? I asked you were you got these, Jeremy,” Rich grumbled. Jeremy still didn’t react beyond a small twitch of his ear.

 

Reaching over to grab a chocolate chip cookie from the box, Michael gently nudged Jeremy. "You know, you don't have to ignore him, I was just joking," Michael explained with a raised brow. "Were you, like, actually ignoring him 'cause I told you to?"

 

Jeremy blinked owlishly, his eyes wide as he thought. “Not consciously,” he replied after a minute, sounding confused and sort of small. “But maybe? I don’t know...”

 

"Hey, it's alright," Michael reassured him, wrapping his arm around him in a quick hug. "Let's just focus on right now. Rich, do you think you could get it started?"

 

"Let me finish my food first, Mell," Rich whined as he finished his slice before he snatched another and started eating that too.

 

 

 

After finishing off the pastries and smoking a decent amount (Michael was feeling most excellent... and sorta sleepy), the group was packing up to leave and go after the warlock. Unfortunately, as he stood, Rich half fell against a cabinet. He was giggling, so he obviously wasn’t hurt, but it was the now open door that caught Michael’s attention. Or rather it caught Jeremy’s attention entirely, which worried Michael.

 

Even from across the room where he stood, Michael could feel the magic radiating off the sword inside. Jeremy’s eyes were totally fixated on it, and his small movements had turned almost serpentine again. He was in full hoarding mode. Slowly, he started towards the sword, slipping easily and gently out of Michael’s grip, and Rich’s.

 

Michael had to think fast, not wanting Jeremy to get sucked into that mindset. They wouldn't be able to save everyone (also, how did they not notice that energy until now? Was the door that powerful? Woah- focus)! "Jeremy, no, don't get that and come back over here," he tried to command, feeling a bit weird to trying to be barking orders at Jeremy, but it was the only thing he could think of! No judging!

 

Jeremy stiffened and froze where he was. He obviously was having some sort of internal battle with himself before he ducked his head and slid back over to Michael’s side, head still bowed as if ashamed. Then he blinked harshly and looked up at Michael with confusion. “What just happened?” he asked as Rich shut the door again.

 

"I... Well, you listened to what I said," Michael said as he blinked in surprise. Honestly, he wasn't even sure that would work. Were his words really that powerful? "I mean, you listened to me earlier when I said to ignore Rich... I dunno."

 

Jeremy shifted awkwardly, thinking as he kept his gaze fixed on Michael. “You... I think my comment about taming my dragon was... accurate.” He turned a dark red and ducked his head again. “I know that part of me trusts you. And I know the normal part of me trusts you. Maybe it’s sort of... added together when I’m working with my dragon parts?” He squirmed a little and Rich bust out laughing.

 

“Michael, I so totally called it! He’s so whipped!” Rich cackled, and Jeremy shot him a glare and a small growl from deep in his chest. Rich shut up a moment later, looking a little freaked.

 

"No, he's not whipped, don't say that. Jeremy, don't growl at Rich please, he's high and his filter's sorta gone," Michael mumbled out, feeling his cheeks warming up somewhat as he reached over and wrapped an arm around Jeremy's shoulders. "It's good to know you trust me that much, so thank you."

 

Jeremy hid his face against Michael’s chest for a moment. His tail was twitching in a flustered manner and his wings just couldn’t seem to settle. It was honestly adorable.

 

Michael couldn't help but coo over him, pressing a few kisses to the top of his head before gently squeezing around his shoulders. "You're so cute," he murmured out before looking towards where Darling said the warlock was (hopefully the warlock was still there...). "We should get going though. I'll fawn over you some more later."

 

Jeremy nodded and stepped back, letting Nightshade crawl up his arm from where he was nibbling on an apple fritter. He seemed to settle a bit with the weasel nuzzling against his cheek. “Our path is probably less clear now, so do you want the weapons now just in case?” he asked softly, looking over to Rich in a sort of apologetic fashion.

 

Rich didn't seem as bothered, waving him off then and giving an understanding smile (well, he understood curses well, it made sense). "Yeah, weapons'll probably be a good idea," Rich said then as he stepped to stand on Jeremy's other side then. "I promise that I won't hit you if that helps."

 

"And I won't hit you, Michael… I might hit Rich though."

 

"Wait, what?"

 

"I'm joking, Rich, I wouldn't hit you either." Michael had to contain his snickering and giggling when he saw relief wash over Rich's face.

 

Jeremy rolled his eyes and pulled out the hammer and mace. “So, who wants what?”

 

"Assign us our weapons," Michael said before Rich could say anything, and Rich's eyes lit up as he nodded along.

 

"Yes, choose which suits us better!"

 

Jeremy sighed and rolled his eyes again. After a moment he gave Rich the hammer and Michael the mace. “Rich tends to get more momentum behind his actions, so the longer handle with the heavy end works well. You’re more about quick decision, so the more maneuverable mace is better for you,” he explained.

 

"See, he assigned us weapons better than we could right now, Rich," Michael added, to which Rich sagely nodded. "Thank you so much, you know us so well." As he thanked Jeremy, Michael tested how the weight felt in his hands, and it felt perfect (well, as perfect as he could while he wasn't the most coordinated).

 

“Come on, let's get going.” Jeremy grabbed Michael’s hand and Rich’s hand and tugged them out into the street, staying close to the buildings. Jeremy was actually really good at staying out of sight, and was able to pull Michael and Rich out of the path of any wandering zombies they encountered (Jeremy was right when he said that there were more around). As they went, Michael chattered quietly with Rich, making sure to not call attention to themselves but also not liking to near total silence either.

 

Michael was quite grateful that they seemed to make it by without any confrontation or run-ins with any of the zombies, making it to the house Darling surely had meant for him to find. He managed to peek in through the window up front (it was a quaint little cafe) and saw that someone was indeed inside.

 

The human girl sat behind the counter, rummaging through the little pastry shelves up front and grabbing a few snacks. She was somewhat obscured, but when she popped up and placed her finds on the counter, Michael saw cyan eyes (not fully encompassed like the zombies, but enough to replace her normal eye color with cyan). She seemed to motion, her curly red hair twirling as she looked back into the shop, and Michael had to quickly pull back when he saw Christine first turn around the corner.

 

"The warlock's in there, but she's influenced too, not to zombie level. Christine's in there, so Jake and Brooke probably are too."

 

“Of course they are,” Jeremy grumbled. Wow, he was really emotional when in dragon mode, wasn’t he? He was either grumpy or affectionate, there was no in between. “Well how are we supposed to stop her? As a warlock the Squip’s magic is inside her, there isn’t an object we can just destroy.”

 

"Well, they typically make a deal, right? If the deal can't be made anymore, it can be cut off, but on the patron's end," Rich mused out from their hiding spot in the alley between the cafe and another business. "So, what would Squip want? What would make it break off the deal with her? That's how it could work... right?"

 

“We know it wants me,” Jeremy answered quietly, folding his wings as his tail curled around his feet a little (that would be wearing off soon, wouldn’t it?). “It wants me and my magic.”

 

"Prove to it that it can't affect you this way then?" Michael offered, looking at Jeremy. "That it can't get to you. Then it'll fuck right off... right?"

 

“Hopefully...” Jeremy was still sort of making himself small. “I- I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my head in there though. I’m already furious at the warlock, and if I see her directly I may well attack.” He looked up at Michael, his glowing eyes looking big and worried. Damnit, when did dragon Jeremy perfect the sad puppy look? “Can you please help me? I don’t think I can trust myself with this...”

 

"H-how am I supposed to do that? Do I give your a command or... what do I need to do to help you? Tell me what I need to do," Michael said, not exactly sure what to do. He'd never fought a warlock before, much less fought high before, much less all of that combined and against the Squip.

 

Jeremy blinked and shook his head. “Just... don’t let me hurt her. We’ll need to fight her probably but if I start fighting her I can’t promise I’ll be able to... stop. You guys know what happened last time I got properly angry while like this.” There was a trail of carcasses and a camp full of corpses. Hey, that was actually really poetic. And dark. Dragons were kinda scary, even if Michael wasn’t afraid of Jeremy.

 

Nodding as he took that information in, Michael tried to think it over before fiddling with his ring. "Don't attack her, and don't look at her in the eyes. Only focus on defending and holding back our friends, but don't let yourself get overwhelmed," Michael said, looking down at Jeremy then before wrapping his arms around Jeremy. "We'll do our best to help and make sure all that doesn't happen."

 

Jeremy took a shaky breath and nodded. “I can do that. And it’s a good plan. Just... be ready. Just in case.” He leant into Michael’s touch before pulling away slowly. “Let’s get in there and see what we can do.”

 

"Of course." Michael peered out, making sure the coast was clear of any zombies before walking to the cafe. He glanced in, seeing that their friends were walking behind the warlock, who was seeming to head upstairs. She went up with Christine, both Jake and Brooke standing guard by the stairwell. Good, Jeremy could deal with these two down here while they went up the stairs... and got higher... Heh.

 

Michael quickly relayed this to the others before they nodded, and Michael could only open the door. The sudden ringing of the bell over the door had Brooke and Jake instantly facing towards the door. Whoops. Yeah, cafes typically had bells over their doors... So did most shops... Whoops.

 

In an instant, Jeremy was in front of Michael and Rich, twirling his quarterstaff in front of him to make sure Brooke and Jake stayed back. The two started circling Jeremy, both moving together to his left, and Jeremy turned with them before launching himself at them, wings spread.

 

“Go!” he called, boxing Jake and Brooke into a corner with his wings and knocking them off their feet. “I’ll sort them out and meet you up there!”

 

"Yeah, c'mon Michael," Rich said, quickly grabbing Michael's hand and tugging him up the stairs. Michael quickly followed along, though before they made it up the flight of stairs, Michael barely managed to duck as Christine jumped down the stairs, tackling Rich down and they tumbled down the stairs. Michael was stunned for a second, everything hitting him (and hitting Rich with each thunk down each step) before he quickly dashed upstairs, clutching his mace tight as Rich called for him to go up and get the warlock before she could escape.

 

He made it up the stairs no problem, trying to hone in his Red Hood skills as he glanced around, trying to figure out where the warlock would hide. Michael stayed silent as he slunk around, and he saw only one door shut. Listening in, he managed to hear footsteps from that direction through all the chaos somehow. He quietly snuck over, leaning against the wall beside the door and used his tail to slowly open the door, preparing for a blast of magic ('cause warlocks were primarily magic users, right?).

 

For a split second, he thought he saw a flash of light as he opened the door, but nothing further happened so he continued in. The warlock was facing a window, staring out of it as she panted and tried to catch her breath. Michael crept closer.

 

He was almost within swinging distance with the mace when the door burst open again. Jeremy staggered in, covered in cuts and bruises and looking half dead as he collapsed to the floor. He was bleeding heavily and his breaths were shallow and raspy.

 

Michael couldn't help but gasp, hurrying over to Jeremy and dropping the mace as he knelt down by his side. He didn't even hear the warlock say anything, nor move, so he chose to ignore her as he carefully shifted Jeremy. "Oh god, Jeremy, oh no oh no," he almost whimpered out as he tried to find out where the bleeding was starting so he could apply pressure. "You're going to be OK. I-I don't know what happened, b-but you'll be fine! Just stay awake and stay with me." It was hard to breathe, and he felt his panic not helping but it didn't matter because Jeremy was bleeding out and possibly dying.

 

“Auglas...” Jeremy’s voice was barely a weak groan. “You-... you gotta run. Get away from me.” He started shaking, eyes squeezing shut. The bleeding didn’t slow, and Michael was getting drenched in Jeremy’s blood, but he didn’t care. Jeremy had to be okay, and he couldn’t just leave him here to die!

 

"No, I can't, I can't and let you die," Michael almost cried out (when had he started crying) as he tried to find exactly where he was bleeding from (why couldn't he find where?!) to apply pressure. "Where's Rich?! H-he can come help! Rich! Rich, please!"

 

“Please!” Jeremy whimpered with as much force as he could manage. “You need to get away. Before I- before I- please just go!“ He started coughing, which was staining his lips red too.

 

"I'm not leaving you, damnit!" Michael looked over his shoulder, past the doorway. It was eerily quiet besides his screaming and Jeremy's heavy coughing. "Rich, goddamnit, this isn't funny! Get your ass up here and help, please!"

 

The coughing stopped abruptly. “It’s just us, idril.” Jeremy’s voice was barely a croak, but something else sounded off about it. He sounded almost... pleased. “It’s just us. The others... they fought so hard.” Had they gotten hurt? Was that what had gotten Jeremy to be so bad? “But I took care of them.” Wait, what?

 

Michael turned his head around there, confused at exactly what Jeremy was implying (he knew what, but the panic didn't fully register just yet). "You... you did what? Jeremy, y-you're fucking with me, right?" This couldn't be real (it explained why it was so quiet now). Jeremy was doing just fine (what had happened when he left Jeremy alone?). Their friends just needed help (Jeremy in his dragon form couldn't have killed them, they were considered his treasures and was working towards viewing them all as friends).

 

“They were trying to keep us apart, treasure. But don’t worry, they can’t do it anymore,” Jeremy murmured, his voice growing stronger every second. “And I’m finally strong enough to push past my weak morals and limitations.” Jeremy cupped Michael’s cheeks and looked at him curiously, his eyes glowing and... beautiful. No, focus! Don’t look there! “I do wonder, though. Why didn’t you run when I asked? Why didn’t you run while I was still weak? Could it be that you actually do want to be collected?”

 

Somehow, he managed to look away, and as soon as he broke eye contact, he shut his eyes tight. "N-no, I don't want to be collected Jeremy, please," he whimpered out, trying to pull back and out of Jeremy's hands (he forgot how much stronger he got when he was in-tune with his dragon side). "I-I didn't want you to die, I thought you were dying! Just let me go!" His dragon side trusted him, right? He should listen! Yeah!

 

“I was dying, but not anymore,” Jeremy cooed. “In fact, I’ve got a perfect idea to make sure it won’t happen again.” He slowly sat up, keeping one hand on Michael’s arm. “And you don’t ever have to worry about wanting anything, you’ll have everything you could ever want.” He forced Michael to lie down on his back and pinned him there, so Michael couldn’t escape. He hovered over Michael’s prone form, almost caging him in (he could feel his breath ghosting against his skin, could feel him hovering above him, even if he couldn’t see him). “It’ll all be perfect, just to two of us, forever.” He pressed a lingering kiss to Michael’s lips, and Michael almost gagged at the faint taste of blood.

 

Michael kept his eyes shut, not wanting to take this scene in. He felt more tears forming then, and when Jeremy pulled his head back, the smell and taste overwhelming him, Michael turned his head, gagging and coughing. "Jeremy, please, I know you're in there," he whimpered out, trying to worm his way out but being unable to. Everything was too much yet not at the same time, and he tried to control his breathing. This was all too much, too much, too much-

 

Michael’s glasses were shifted up and two gentle kisses were pressed to Michael’s eyelids. “You’re right. I am in here, which is why you need to open your eyes and guide me out, I’m stuck,” Jeremy explained quietly, almost whimpering as he placed Michael’s glasses back on his face properly. “Please, Michael. Run. Get out of here while you still have a chance to.”

 

He couldn't keep his sobs contained then, barely managing to keep himself together (dealing with all of this while still high was hell). "I-I can't leave you, Jeremy," he whimpered out between sobs. He didn't want to and he couldn't, not with how Jeremy was keeping him pinned down with strength greater than his own, especially in his current state. "Jeremy, lajy, please..."

 

Jeremy leant down and rubbed their noses together sweetly. “Just one look, then I’ll let you go. I won’t hold you down anymore. Just one glance. You can hold that long, can’t you?”

 

"You're going to collect me, I-I know how this works, you told me about this," he hiccuped out. "If I look, you're gonna have me a-and then you won't need to hold me down. Please don't make me look, please." All of the panic he was feeling was building up, spewing out of him as the feeling of wanting to curl up under his blankets like he was a child, against his moms, came to mind. He wanted to curl up against Jeremy, but he was gone, he failed Jeremy.

 

“It’ll be okay, Michael,” Jeremy cooed, pressing a sweet kiss to the shell of Michael’s ear. “It’ll make the hurting stop. And we can be together always then, I promise. You’ll never hurt again and you’ll never have to leave my side.” He trailed kisses back up to Michael’s lips, murmuring against his skin, “I’m right here, Michael. You’re safe. I’d never let anything hurt you.”

 

"I want it to stop, but I don't want to be collected," he whimpered out, trying to turn his head away so Jeremy had a hard time trying to kiss him (if that's what he was intending on doing again). "I just want you back, just... just come back, please. This isn't you Jeremy, this isn't what we wanted..."

 

“This is me. I understand you’re scared, gwant, but this is how it’s supposed to be. So I’ll help you be brave, okay?” Jeremy didn’t seem put out by Michael’s resistance. In fact, he almost seemed to find it cute.

 

Jeremy started murmuring a spell, one Michael had never heard him use before, but it was certainly in draconic. Jeremy didn’t speak draconic. It was just another reminder that this wasn’t Jeremy. He felt the spell burst, then settle over him.

 

“Michael, turn your head back up, please,” Jeremy murmured. Michael found that he automatically did it, and he couldn’t seem to resist. “Now relax. I won’t hurt you, I’m going to make sure you’re properly looked after. I’ll make sure you’re truly treasured.” Michael’s body fell limp, against his will.

 

Jeremy’s lips were on his again. “Kiss me back, idril.” Michael did, even as tears poured from his eyes. Jeremy was so gentle still, even if this was making Michael feel so wrong. He pulled back and Michael could feel Jeremy’s breath on his cheek. “Open your eyes and look into mine. Don’t look away.”

 

He hiccuped as he did so, opening his eyes as slowly as he could before he felt his gaze, even if he didn't want to, look right into Jeremy's-

 

Why did he not want to look into these eyes before? Those large, beautiful green eyes, staring right back at him... They were so captivating, causing his breath to catch in the middle of a hiccup. He felt Jeremy's hands move, one gently reaching down to rub against his chest as he finished coughing (when did he- no, it didn't matter, just looking into Jeremy's eyes mattered).

 

Michael felt his jaw go a little slack at he stared, and he heard Jeremy giggle a little, like he always did when he found Michael being cute. Was he being cute right now? If that's what Jeremy wanted, then he sure hoped so. It seemed to be so, since Jeremy's eyes moved side-to-side a little, and Michael couldn't help but keep himself trained and locked on those beautiful green slits that were Jeremy's dragon eyes.

 

Why was he so scared and nervous before? Why didn't he want to look before? Weird.

 

Jeremy leant closer and pressed another kiss to Michael’s lips, keeping his eyes open. Oh! He wanted a kiss! Michael could do that, he could kiss Jeremy, he loved kissing Jeremy. He returned gentle brush of lips eagerly, keeping his eyes locked with Jeremy’s. When Jeremy did pull away, Michael chased his lips for a moment, prompting another giggle from Jeremy.

 

“You’re doing so well, Michael,” Jeremy murmured. His wings turned blue and more solid than they had ever looked before, but Michael could only see that out of the corner of his eye, since he was still watching Jeremy’s beautiful eyes. He was very happy. He was being good for Jeremy, he was making Jeremy happy! “Now you listen carefully, okay? Soon you won’t have to worry ever again, because I’ll look after you.” He began murmuring in draconic, and the words made Michael’s head begin to spin in the best ways. He couldn’t think, he just listened and focused on Jeremy’s beautiful eyes.

 

Michael just nodded, keeping his eyes locked onto Jeremy's. Jeremy wanted confirmation, that nod was all he needed as he kept staring. He didn't even feel his eyes start to water or hurt because Jeremy told him to look into his eyes and to not look away. Michael had to listen carefully because Jeremy wanted him to, so he tried to listen carefully to Jeremy's words, even as his voice got a little different, his hands started to grow in size, as well as get scalier and grow talons. Even if scales normally bothered him, it didn't matter because Jeremy didn't want him to worry ever again. Jeremy was going to look after him.

 

As the words in draconic flowed through his head, feeling like it was gently hugging his brain, he couldn't help but smile as he felt like he could understand the words! Wow, he was really listening carefully if he could understand draconic. He... he wanted what Jeremy wanted. All that mattered was what Jeremy wanted. His wants were Michael's wants, and nothing else mattered. All of that was what the draconic words of Jeremy were telling him, and he could see it echoed in Jeremy's lovely, breathtaking eyes.

 

He only realized he was echoing the words when he felt a gentle talon gently bump the bottom of his chin, getting him to stop talking. Whoops. Jeremy wanted him to stop, so he did, but let out a dreamy, light sigh as he kept looking into Jeremy's eyes.

 

What... what had he wanted before this? He never wanted anything before this, nothing before wanting Jeremy's wants, right? Maybe... maybe the only thing he ever wanted before was to look into his beautiful eyes. Yes, that made sense! He just wanted to keep looking and listening and looking and listening and looking-

 

Another tap against his somewhat open jaw. Oh, whoops! He needed to be better about that.

 

Jeremy rumbled out a chuckle and Michael felt Jeremy’s talons let him go. Jeremy arched his neck back, but kept his eyes just in sight. He murmured out some more draconic, his now-deep voice rocking straight through Michael. Dragons were loud, but Michael was happy. Because Jeremy was happy. And he was saying that there was only one thing left to do. For this to all be perfect, all Michael had to do was-

 

Michael’s eyes slammed open and met Jeremy’s dragon eyes once more.

 

 

 

“Michael, oh thank god. You wouldn’t wake up, I was so worried! Are you okay? What happened, auglas?” Jeremy cradled Michael close to his chest, staring down at him with wide, worried eyes. When Jeremy had finally managed to get away from Jake and Brooke and get Christine off of Rich, they two had sprinted upstairs only to find Michael crumpled on the ground with the warlock crouched over him. Jeremy wasn’t exactly sure what happened next, but all he knew was that the warlock was now knocked out and Rich was letting their friends out the pantry downstairs.

 

Everything was just a bit much right now, and there was a sort of pinching in the back of his head for some reason, but Michael was awake and he didn’t have cyan eyes (but they did look dazed) so things were going to be okay. Jeremy hasn’t lost him.

 

Instead of responding, Michael just looked right into his eyes, and Jeremy had a bad feeling settle in his gut. The look wasn't the same one he had earlier when high, but something else, though he couldn't place exactly what. It was similar though, and not in a good way.

 

"Auglas, please, what happened? Are you alright?" he echoed, cupping Michael's cheek and trying to look in his eyes and figure out what was wrong. "Please, tell me."

 

A small little 'oh' escaped Michael then as he kept staring, unblinking into his eyes. "You were telling me how there was only one thing left to do, Jeremy, one thing I had to do before this could all be perfect, like you wanted. Tell me what I need to do. I want to know, 'cause it's what you want."

 

What was he- oh no. Jeremy’s eyes snapped shut in an instant as tears began gathering behind them. He ignored Michael’s small whine of distress.

 

Somehow, the warlock had simulated Jeremy collecting Michael via the dragon ritual. Michael was just one step away from becoming his dragon’s puppet, his special treasure who would never leave and only want what Jeremy wanted. He’d be perf- NO!

 

‘Shut up!’ he screamed to the dragon in his head. It hissed and coiled with satisfaction.

 

‘We both want it, we need him to stay with us. Just finish the ritual and he’ll be happy forever,’ it prompted and Jeremy hated that he was so tempted. He could just seal the deal, keep Michael to himself forever and never have to worry about anything ever again. Michael would be safe and happy and he’d adore Jeremy.

 

“M-Michael. Close your eyes please. Just for a minute, idril.” Michael was probably still staring and it would hurt his eyes. Jeremy needed to think, but the dragon wouldn’t let him. It was pushing him to say those final words. “M-m-mich-Michael.” Jeremy fought, but he was losing. Please, someone help. “D-d-d-“

 

Suddenly, he felt arms wrapped around him, yanking him away from Michael. At first, he panicked and fought, trying to reach out to Michael. He needed to hold him, to keep him close, to keep him safe from himself others. He screamed at first until a hand was brought over his mouth, muffling his screams. Faintly, he could hear Michael's whining in distress, calling out for Jeremy, and it got fainter and fainter as he was brought into a room, the door slamming shut before his mouth was stuffed with... something soft, some kind of fabric, and then more fabric was wrapped around his mouth.

 

"No, you are not sealing that," he heard Rich say with determination while he heard the door click. "You are going to listen to me, Heere, whether your dragon wants you to or not. Brooke and I aren't letting you leave until you've snapped out of this."

 

Jeremy whined and thrashed in Rich’s grip, but he was grateful for the intervention. He had almost said the words that would destroy him. He tried to beg for help, but the fabric stopped it. So instead he forced himself to fall still for a moment, even though the dragon was screeching at him, as he spelled out letters on the ground. ‘Help me.’ He hoped Rich or Brooke or someone has seen them as he lost control of his limbs once more and began thrashing,

 

"Shit, alright, so he's conscious enough to know and he's fighting against it," Rich said from where he held Jeremy. "OK, Jeremy, I need you to listen to me. I'm going to help you with a curse breaker spell, but I need you to handle the rest after that. We can't do anything past that point. Once you've got it under control, we'll let you go."

 

With that, Rich started to murmur something in a language Jeremy didn't even understand (maybe it was celestial, curse breakers normally had celestial blood). As he did, he felt the dragon in him fight less, slowly and surely. It felt a lot like when the dragon would be suppressed by weed but without any of the other effects of weed.

 

Jeremy grabbed the dragon and forced it back with more strength than he had ever managed before. His body spasmed and screamed in protest as he fought for control of himself. His dragon screamed and roared and Jeremy was certain some small part of himself shattered under the intense stress of holding all of that back but Jeremy didn’t care. He wasn’t going to let the dragon hurt anyone else ever again. Especially not his Michael.

 

Michael was Jeremy’s fiancé, and the dragon wanted to take that from him. He wanted to take Michael away. Jeremy used the Dragon’s Greed against itself as he shut it away inside his head.

 

His body fell limp as he started sobbing. Everything hurt in every way possible, but he was free for now. He had to go help Michael.

 

As soon as he started sobbing, the thing wrapped around him came off and the fabric in his mouth was taken out. He felt Rich's restrictive grasp shift into one of comfort, of care, as he felt Rich's arm rub up and down his arm in a soothing motion. Faintly, he heard Brooke mutter something in elvish under her breath before the bed dipped some more, and another pair of arms wrapped oh so carefully around him. "Hey, it's alright, you're alright now," Brooke murmured out. "Just take a few deep breaths, relax. I'll get Jake in here to heal you up if you're hurt and then we'll let you out to see Michael, yeah?"

 

“Need to see Michael first,” Jeremy insisted weakly through his tears. “The longer he’s alone, the more likely he is to accidentally collect himself. I gotta get him back first.” Jeremy didn’t matter. Only saving Michael mattered. Saving Michael from Jeremy.

 

Brooke hesitated before he felt Brooke's arms gently squeeze him. "I'll get Jake and Michael then, yeah? You can open your eyes now too, you're back in control," she told him before he felt her nice arms leave and felt the bed shift as got up, walked to the door, and he heard the click of it unlocking. As soon as the door opened, he heard Michael whimpering and Jake reassuring him, along with Christine's gentle shushing.

 

“Michael,” Jeremy called, holding his arm out blindly in the direction of the sound. He didn’t care if he was safe, he wasn’t risking opening his eyes. “Come here, auglas, it’s okay. You don’t need to say anything yet, just come here.” He scooted away from Rich a little and held out his arms, waiting for Michael.

 

Instantly, the whimpering stopped, and he heard the sound of shuffling and quick steps, along with Jake and Christine letting out noises of surprise. Jeremy heard Brooke quickly sidestep, and the footsteps of Michael quickly stopped as he felt warm arms wrap around him, holding on tight to him as Michael whimpered again. Other footsteps, presumably Jake and Christine's, could be heard rushing in.

 

Jeremy guided Michael to hide in the crook of his neck, shushing him gently and offering sweet comfort. Michael wouldn’t know what was going on, not without Jeremy guiding him. That was the biggest part of the ritual, it made the target totally dependent on the dragon. No thoughts, no desires, only what the dragon wanted and instructed. If Jeremy told Michael to stop breathing, he would until he passed out.

 

He shuddered at the thought.

 

“Hey, it’s okay, Michael. I’ve got you. You can talk if you need to, to answer my questions, yeah?” Michael nodded. “Good. That’s good.

 

“Now, you’re probably feeling really scared and confused, right? Well I know just how to fix that.” Jeremy started running his fingers through Michael’s curly hair. “You want what I want, don’t you?”

 

"Y-yes, I only want what you want," Michael muttered out against the skin of Jeremy's neck, sniffling and even hiccuping as his hands held onto Jeremy's shirt, bunching the fabric up in his hands. "W-what do you want, lajy? Please, I need to know what you want, tell me." He sounded so scared, lost, and freaked out, and it broke Jeremy’s heart to hear the desperation that started to overtake Michael's voice.

 

“It’s okay, Michael, you’re okay,” he murmured, pressing a kiss to Michael’s temple before continuing. “I want you to be yourself. I know that it’s hard to remember what that means right now, but it’s what I really, truly want. I want you to be yourself, with your own thoughts and desires. I know you can do that for me, can’t you? Tell me what being yourself is like. What is being Michael Mell like?”

 

He felt Michael hesitate, felt his body stiffen up a little as he seemed to try to figure out how to answer Jeremy's question, how to do what Jeremy wanted. "I... I want... I want what you want," he said, his voice small and frail. "I want you t'be happy and safe and comfortable, a-and I want what you want... Right?" Confusion overtook him as he curled up closer around Jeremy. "T-that's.... That's who Michael Mell is supposed to be, right? What you want. B-but I don't know... But you..." Michael gripped tighter to Jeremy's shirt, whimpering and whining and even panting a little. "I... But..."

 

“Push through it, idril. I know you can do it. Michael Mell wants what he wants, not what I want, and you are Michael Mell. You may choose to want me happy, safe, and comfortable, but if you want that it’s because it’s what you want.” Jeremy kept stroking his hair. “You may want to never see me again, and as much as that would hurt, if that’s what you want, that’s what you want. And I want you to want what you want.” He would. If Michael decided to leave Jeremy, he’d respect that choice. He only wanted Michael to be happy. “You get to choose for yourself what you want, auglas, not me. I can suggest, and so can anyone else, but you choose what you want. And you choose what you do.”

 

Michael's panting got louder, and his whining and whimpering started to sound painful as he held on tighter to Jeremy. "I-I'm trying to push through, but it hurts. It hurts so much..." Jeremy felt tears dropping down onto his shoulder as Michael cried. "I want it to stop, Jeremy. Please, make it stop, make it stop hurting. I want this to stop hurting, I don't want this hurt." As he begged, he leaned heavily against Jeremy. "I-I want this to stop, and I wanna stay with you a-and everyone, but it won't stop hurting. D-did I do something wrong to deserve this pain, lajy? B-because I can't tell you right?"

 

“I know it hurts, Michael, and I’m so sorry. You’re not doing anything wrong, I promise. You just need to push through this and it’ll all be perfect. That’s what you want, right? You want things to be perfect? Because as soon as you push through it, you’ll feel so good, and it’ll be perfect.” Jeremy was holding back his own tears from resurfacing. Still, he could use the dragon’s encouraging against it’s plan. If Michael wanted things to be perfect for Jeremy, then Jeremy would offer him just that. “You push through that block in your head, through the pain, and it will make me so happy and proud. Everything will be perfect.”

 

"I... O-OK." Jeremy could only hold onto Michael as he presumably tried to push through the pain, though Michael's increased panting and cries of what he knew as pain got louder. He was so scared that it would be too much, but before he could say anything, Michael went completely limp against him, no more crying.

 

Michael was panting still, but his grip on Jeremy's shirt lessened. Before the near-silence could suffocate him, Jeremy heard and felt the bed shift a little. He didn't dare look, but listened as Rich let out a soft sigh before he whispered into Jeremy's ear. "Try talking to him now. He's conscious, but barely. I think it worked."

 

“M-Michael? How’re you feeling?” Jeremy asked softly, almost too afraid to speak. “Are you back to wanting what you want?”

 

"I feel like I want t'nap until the end of time," Michael muttered out against his shoulder, sounding exhausted beyond belief but there, present. "I don't want whatever just happened t'happen again..."

 

“Me either,” Jeremy agreed. The sound came out like a mixture between a bark of laughter and a sob as his tears began to fall freely. Jeremy clung to Michael almost desperately, but also wanted to get away. He was dangerous. He hasn’t even done anything directly and Michael had almost ended up as his puppet. He didn’t deserve all of... this.

 

"Whatever happened t'me and me being high... Bad combo. Really bad combo, 'cause I thought y'turned all dragon but then you actually weren't, but I still got a bit collected... I didn't know a warlock could do that."

 

"No, it was just a bad combination of your high and whatever spell. It sounds like it was Weird that got cast on you, bringing your worst fears to the forefront of your mind," Brooke murmured softly. "Magic and being high is never a good combination, especially if Squip's involved... It probably mutated the spell in some weird way to make stuff happening in the Weird spell actually happen in real life thanks to all of its demonic, chaotic energy and magic. The whole manipulation of the spell probably also helped to weaken it's control and helped Rich to break the curse on Madeline, that warlock."

 

"Fuck Squip," Michael managed to get out as Jeremy felt Michael cling to him again. "I know Jeremy'd never do that. Stupid ass demon..."

 

“Never,” Jeremy agreed softly, still clinging. “But I- I almost did. I couldn’t fight it. I was trying so hard, Michael, I swear.” He sniffled, still keeping his grip tight but also loose enough to easily escape from.

 

"'Cause of the spell and all the weird shit that happened, but you didn't start it," Michael added. "You helped me. Thank you. You tried so hard and you got me out of that." As he said that, Jeremy felt Michael's tail slowly move, managing to get one wrap around Jeremy's waist before settling.

 

“I still won’t let that happen again,” Jeremy mumbled, pressing kiss after kiss to Michael’s forehead. “You will never need to be afraid of that. Or afraid of me. I’m- I’m stronger than that.” Even if he wasn’t, Jeremy was going to make himself stronger than that. He was never letting his dragon get so wild and unpredictable again. He was never letting himself become a danger to Michael.

 

“I know you are, lajy,” Michael murmured out as Jeremy felt him bury his face into the crook of Jeremy’s neck. “You promised you’d keep me safe, and y’did...” He felt and heard Michael yawn then. “I wasn’t afraid of you, never was. I was afraid of the dragon... but you’re working on it and when it’s not crazy, it trusts me...”

 

“It does,” Jeremy agreed softly, already coming up with plans to make certain this couldn’t happen again. “The only reason I was losing it was that ritual was so close to being completed.” Jeremy still didn’t trust himself. And the eyes were staying closed for now. “Normally I don’t want that with any part of me.”

 

“Which is why I trust you for it not to happen again,” Michael murmured out. “Both you and the dragon. I... I know you guys wouldn’t do that, it was my mind fucking with me a lot with that one.” He felt Michael shift a little then before he felt poking at his cheek. “Can I please see your eyes? It would help me, Jeremy, and it would help you.”

 

Jeremy took a deep breath. Then another. He knew any dragon features were gone, he could feel them gone, and he knew the staff things had long worn off. He looked like plain old Jeremy Heere, half gnome. But he was still scared.

 

Michael wanted him to, though. Michael thought he would be okay. Jeremy could trust Michael, even if he couldn’t trust himself.

 

Very slowly, Jeremy opened his eyes. They stung, like they always did after being in dragon mode, but he had them open. He looked dow