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friendship up against the ropes

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Riz had a plan. He always did, or at least he liked to think that he always did, but as he found himself curling up into Fabian’s backpack he was sure that this time he had a good plan. 

Fabian had gone to the bathroom and left his bag unattended and undefended - never a smart move - so Riz, ever willing to take advantage of the opportunities put in front of him, scrambled his way into the fancy backpack. 

It really wasn’t as comfortable as he had hoped. Fabian was the type to carry around a folder for each of his classes, and some of them had metal triangles on the corners so that they wouldn’t bend, because, as Fabian would always say, he was a man of class , thank you very much. 

He also had dozens of papers just lying around, begging to get crumpled, because for some reason being in the Bloodrush team meant that he couldn’t act like he practiced basic organization. It went against the “image” or something. Fabian had tried to explain it more than once, but Riz still didn’t really get it.

Despite the cramped space, though, Riz was still able to squirm around a bit until he was comfortable. Hands curled against each other on his knees, he prepared to be in this for the long haul. 

The plan: Riz was going to burst out of Fabian’s bag just as he was leaving the school, startling him into making one of those signature flustered noises, and it was going to be hilarious. 

Riz didn’t do most things for the humor – see: him always having a plan, and how those plans were usually about a case, and those cases were usually fairly serious or had the fate of the world resting on them.

Not always, though, because he was solely doing this for the humor. Of course.

Not because of how comforting it was to be held and carried, or how Fabian looked when he blushed. It definitely wasn’t because Riz had feelings about that stammer Fabian did when he was trying to act cool, even though they both knew that he was as much a nerd as the rest of them. 

Riz kind of wished that he wasn’t the kind of nerd who carried at least six sharp folders at any given time, though. 

He squirmed around a little more, easing the cramp in his leg as best he could, and eventually he managed to curl up in a way that was actually kind of comfortable, legs tucked to his chest and forehead pressed against his knees. He’d rolled very well with his sleight of hand and had managed to zip the zipper up around him so he was in darkness, and the pressure of fabric pressing in around him was kind of nice. 

He was a goblin; it was so much more comfortable for him to be in a confined space than the wide open Bloodrush field that some of his friends preferred. 

It felt safe, just a little bit, even though it did also kind of smell like vomit that Fabian had never been able to wash out.

Riz had plans, but he also hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep the night before. He sat there, waiting for Fabian to come back, thoughts spinning down the possible paths that this day could take and all the things that he was going to do later, and he was awake , but.

The backpack was dark and warm and, against his better judgement, his breathing began to even out. 

By the time that the backpack got lifted up and slung over one very cool shoulder, Riz Gukgak was fast asleep. 

Fabian had gotten caught up in talking to a girl on his way back from the bathroom because he was, ah, popular , and of course all of the lovely ladies on campus found themselves enamoured with him. It didn’t really matter that he didn’t quite find himself so enamoured with any of them, though, because that wasn’t the point of any of it. Riz has asked why he kept up with the flirting even though he had admitted that he didn’t plan on following through with any of it, and Fabian had huffed because excuse him, the point was that he was popular and cool and people knew that, thank you very much. 

Riz had looked somewhat skeptical, and for a moment Fabian didn’t quite know who he had been trying to convince. 

That wasn’t the point, though, and that wasn’t what was going on at the moment, because he was going to head home and pretend to work in his homework and do precisely none of it. He was a highschooler, that’s what high schoolers did .

When he got back to the abandoned classroom that the Bad Kids had claimed as their own, he refused to admit to himself that there was a small twinge in his chest when he realized that Riz wasn’t there anymore. It wasn’t like he was the keeper of the Ball, he didn’t care what the other boy did when he wasn’t looking, but. Well. He had sort of been hoping that they would leave the school together. 

It had become something of a habit, was the thing, nothing more or less heartfelt than that, but still. 

Fabian liked chaos as much as the next son of a world-class privateer - sorry, pirate - but sometimes it was nice to have little rituals. 

Not that he would ever tell the Ball that. 

He was Fabian Aramais Seacaster, though, and he wasn’t going to be brought down by such a mortal thing as seeing that your friend abandoned you for no good reason, so he hefted his bag, turned on a heel, and sauntered out of school. 

His bag was just a smidge heavier than normal, but he was strong, he was powerful, he was the son of William Seacaster, and he wasn’t going to open his bag in the middle of the hallway just because he apparently wasn’t as swole , as his peers would say, as he had previously thought. 

Striding down the steps of the school, he flashed a confident smile at anyone he passed, because he wasn’t upset, he was fine and dandy and clearly popular. It didn’t matter if Riz had decided to leave him in the cold, because there were obviously plenty of others who would want to spend their time with him. 

It didn’t quite matter how much he wanted to spend his time with them . He may have been a luxury that few could afford but he was a commodity nonetheless, and he had always known that.

The Hangman rolled up to the curb with a growl, and Fabian could almost taste the looks that people were shooting at him. Having a demonic motorcycle possessed with the bound soul of a devil was a gift that kept on giving, apparently. 

Hello, master, the Hangman purred into Fabians head, sparking a shiver from the base of his skull.

“Ugh, terrible, thank you Hangman.” Fabian slung one leg over the bike, settling down into the seat that was just a bit warmer than expected, but not necessarily in a bad way, just a weird one. His backpack still weighed heavily across the one shoulder that he had thrown it over, despite him not knowing what he would have that would make it weigh quite so much, but he wasn’t weak. He also wasn’t a fool, though, and he didn’t want to lose his bag and anything in it, so he settled it more neatly on both his shoulders. It may have come at the price of looking like, horrifying as the thought may be, a nerd, but that was a price he was willing to pay. 

He was less willing to pay the price of having one of his fancy metal-tipped folders digging directly under a shoulder blade, but everybody had to make sacrifices. 

The wind blowing through his hair, though, the thrum of the Hangman underneath him, there was something that peeled back those layers of performative responsibility that kept him as the most popular boy in school after murdering the previous one. He was just a boy, son of a pirate who was conquering hell and all the devils it contained, riding a demonic motorcycle back to his home where his mother, the world-class swordsman, awaited. 

It was nice how simple things could be, sometimes. 

When he got home, he dropped his bag from one shoulder so that it was just hanging off of the other; he may have been in his own home but he still had an image to maintain. 

“Oh, there you are Fabian,” his mother said, almost before he had stepped through the door, and he lifted his hand in a greeting that couldn’t quite be called a wave, but it was in the vicinity thereof. 

“Oh, hello, Mama.” As soon as he saw her, sitting there on the couch, something similar to horror - but not quite, because Fabian Aramais Seacaster didn’t experience such base things as fear - made its way into his heart. 

The bags under her eyes were heavy and the coffee cup on the table in front of her looked like it had nail marks from her gripping it too tightly, but that was just how things were these days. What really was causing the grimace on his face was the fact that his dearest Mama had her legs sling over Gilear Faeth, who had what looked like pistachio dust covering the front of his white shirt. 

“Oh, my darling boy, how was school today? Were the other kids nice to you? Did you get to skewer anything like you’ve been practicing?” His mother’s voice was a simper at first, the concerned mom who didn’t care quite enough about what had happened so long as she pretended that she did, but underneath it was the steel of a trained swordswoman, so he knew that she really did actually care. He hoped she did, at least. 

He wished that she cared just a bit more and wasn’t dating the walking Cheeto stain that was Gilear, but that was a battle that he had lost too many times, so he would just have to continue throwing barbs at the man until he finally left on his own because he was not going to be the son-in-law of the Lunch Lad .

“Ah, it was excellent, Mama, but I have a truly dreadful amount of homework to do so I have to take my leave, and I’m not the only one who should.” He glared at Gilear to really get his point across, and for a wonderful second the man did look like he was considering it. Then, his mother, in an act of ultimate betrayal, leaned over and gave Gilear a loud kiss on the cheek. 

“We’re all good here, darling, but good luck with your homework.” There was a sharp glint in her eye that said she wasn’t going to let Gilear be bullied out of the house, and Fabian had seen that look enough to know that this too was to be a losing battle. 

Of course, that didn’t mean that he planned on giving up the fight. He was just going to back down now, hit them when they least expected it, but he was certainly going to win because, again, there was no way that he was going to be the stepson of Gilear Faeth. RIP to Fig, but he was most certainly different.

Fabian lifted his hand in another not-quite-a-wave and headed up the stairs, hiking his bag a bit higher on one shoulder. 

He did have homework to do, but he certainly didn’t plan on doing any of it. He was going to put his papers back in the folders that they belonged to, because he had to pretend to be a rough ‘n tumble Bloodrush player at school but he had taste and personalized folders and he wasn’t going to let either of those go to waste. 

Beyond that, though...he wasn’t quite sure. 

So much of his life was taken up by sports or sword fighting or hanging out with his friends, and having empty time felt strange. 

He was in high school, he could take care of himself, but he liked being busy. He liked having things to do, or people to impress - or, more recently and strangely, people to relax around - and he was so sure of himself and who he was in all of that. 

When he was alone, he didn’t quite know. 

He dropped his bag into the floor, opening the zipper while those unpleasant thoughts swirled around his head. 

“Ah, yes, hello, the Ball.” A pair of slitted yellow eyes blinked up at Fabian from his backpack. “Would you, ah, move?”

Riz felt himself wake up with a sharp shock as his entire body hit the floor and he tensed. He didn’t know where he was, and the walls - cloth? - surrounded him in a way that was a bit worrying.

He moved a hand to his holster before realizing that his Arcubus was back in his backpack, which was…

Right. It was back at school, because he’d been planning on running back inside to get it after he startled Fabian. 

Speaking of which-

Just as all the pieces started to click together - the plan, the bag, the fact that he must have fallen asleep despite said plan - a zipper opened above him and he saw a rather unimpressed face looking down at him. Fabian didn’t seem to be processing the fact that he’d accidentally kidnapped his friend, and instead just asked him to move. 

Riz was suspicious, because he didn’t know if this was all just one big plan to beat his plan, but Fabian didn’t look like he was actively plotting. 

If anything, he looked like he was rattling around in his own skull like a desktop crystal screensaver. Riz didn’t need a natural twenty to get the sense that he was distracted, but it was still strange to see Fabian like this. He was carefully piling his papers together, smoothing out the edges as he slid them into the proper color coordinated folder, and he kept glancing out of the corner of his eye at Riz. 

Well, if he was trying to play Riz, Riz could play him right back. He had plans, sure, but he could adapt. He was good at it.

“’s your day going?”

Just because he was good at adapting plans didn’t mean that he was any good at small talk.

Luckily, that didn’t seem to be an issue for Fabian, who snapped his folder closed with a click. “Well, the Ball, it was just wonderful. I ran circles around everyone on the Bloodrush field – obviously, I’m Fabian Aramais Seacaster , after all – and I skipped out on fighter’s class because I’m better than that – again, obviously – and now you’re here, so-”

A strange look crossed Fabian’s face and he snapped his mouth shut just as tightly as the red folder that his knuckles were beginning to turn white from gripping so tightly. “But yes, anyway, it was all well and good. Obviously.”

“Right.” Riz knew he was making the face that he thought of as investigative and his mom said was off-putting. He hiked himself up onto Fabian’s bed, which had no reason to be as tall as it was, and let his legs kick off the side as he talked. “Yeah, so, today was good. I broke into the police department and stole some of the evidence about all the weird missing statues around town because my mom wouldn’t get it for me and Professor Shadow said that it counted as rogue training-”

“Wait, your teacher gives you class credit for doing crime?” 

Riz shrugged. “Rogues, man.”

“That’s bullshit ,” Fabian said, but he didn’t seem angry, just justly offended by the state of the world, and for a moment Riz was caught up in how everything that Fabian was passionate about seemed so right and he found himself getting caught up in it as well, and then he physically shook himself to push that thought away. He had enough shit going on without getting into what it was like to have a charismatic friend who was cool, and seemed like he had his shit together, even though Riz had seen under the hood enough to know that wasn’t quite true. “Corsica would never let us do anything like that, she- wait. I- uh, the Ball, what?”

Riz just widened his eyes, but he felt a small smile starting to form against his best efforts as Fabian stammered out his confusion.

“What are you- excuse me? Who let you- you were in my backpack? What was- where were you- explain yourself, the Ball.” Fabian had his arms crossed tightly, but there was a blush creeping up to the tips of his ears, and Riz burst out laughing. “Ah yes, very funny, the Ball, laugh at the man whose house you invaded.”

“No, it was- uh. So I got in your bag, because I was planning on startling you, but then I fell asleep, and when I popped out of your bag after you kidnapped me – I didn’t invade, just want to point that out – you didn’t seem to realize what was going on, so I. I didn’t say anything to see how long I could get away with it.” Riz refused to let himself feel bad about it because, honestly, this whole thing had been fucking golden, but a little part in his chest twisted at the way Fabian’s face closed off. 

Fabian put on a sneer, but Riz could see right through it to the tensed shoulders and set jaw. “Of course. What’s a little mockery between friends, right? A little more, ah, playing of the unwitting fool ?”

“Hey, Fabian, that wasn’t what I meant-”

“Of course not, and I’m sure that you have a genuine reason for wanting to stay here too, and it wasn’t just because you wanted to see how long you could drag this whole- this whole, ah, debacle out.”

“Okay- no, wait, what? Bullshit.” Fabian’s eyes sliced over as Riz spoke. “Sure. I did get here because of the goof, but I do like hanging out with you. I- you know that, right?”

Fabian’s shoulders were tensed and his lips were pursed, spine straight and held away from the back of the chair. “Of course, I- well, who wouldn’t want to hang out with me. I’m Fabian Ara-”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re Fabian Aramais Seacaster, son of Bill Seacaster, but you’re also my friend. I- Fabian, I hang out with you because I like being around you, not because your dad was a cool pirate who gave us drugs that one time.” Riz drummed his sharp fingers against his knees, suddenly finding it difficult to look at Fabian but forcing himself to make eye contact. “I’m not mocking you. We’re friends .”

“Ah, well, that’s.” Fabian coughed, and he was still so tense and his eyes kept darting away, but they kept finding their way back to Riz’s. “I suppose that, ah, you are my friend as well.”

“I sure fucking hope so, dude, we took down a dragon together,” Riz said. 

Fabian huffed out a laugh before clapping his hands together. “Well, that’s enough, ugh, emotional honesty for the day. Why don’t I get Cathilda up here, get us some refreshments.” With that, he rung the little bell sitting on his desk, seeming intent upon moving past that moment of actual honesty. Despite his best efforts, though, Riz could see how his gaze kept clipping around, jumping towards him and then away out the window. His spine was held straight in that way that he did when he was trying so hard to act like if he looked like he had it together, he actually would.

Riz frowned, because even though he wasn’t Jawbone, he still wanted to help Fabian and he knew that all of this was just an elaborate way to avoid dealing with his issues. Then the door burst open and Cathilda bustled in, dagger at her hip and bright smile not fading when she saw Riz perched on Fabian’s bed, and he kept his mouth closed.

Fabian had gotten out of talking about his feelings. For now.