In the quiet of the van, Riz finds it hard to sleep. On any normal night, he tosses and turns, but here, he can only curl up and hold himself and pray for sleep. But every time he closes his eyes, he imagines Baron, pressed against the glass of that mirror, reciting his lies back to him.
He shudders, and holds himself closer.
The den that Tracker’s soul wolf created should be warm and comforting, a world of blankets and soft cushions, but instead it feels heavy, oppressive. If it weren’t for the want of protection, Riz would want to get out of the van entirely and go for a walk. Gorgug is asleep on the front seat, so he can’t even pace up there without having to talk to someone. And he doesn’t want to talk to anyone. Anything he says might be used against him by that horrible creature.
Besides, he doesn’t know if he created out of the lies, which would make him responsible, and how embarrassing for him to be found out in that lie. He only said it to impress them — one of them in particular, but he tries not to think about that. He ended up just humiliating himself instead.
He can hear Fig snoring somewhere within the blanket fort, and that sound is at least comforting, as is the occasional gurgle of the Hangman revving outside.
But then he hears something moving.
It's inside the van, whatever it is.
He stiffens up, swivelling only his head to try and see where the sound is coming from. But no luck, he can’t see anything. Just hear the swishing of fabric.
But then — there, he saw a blanket sway. He holds his breath. One hand, he reaches for the gun he’s put under his pillow, his breath shallow and weak. He can’t see it again, he can’t see Baron. If he does, he knows the terror will destroy him, turn him into a gibbering mess.
His heart hammers against his chest as the sound grows closer, ever closer, until its almost to him — and it’s definitely crawling towards him, whatever it is.
He pulls the gun out, trains it on the spot he thinks the creature might emerge, finger going to the trigger as the curtain of blanket is pulled back.
“What are you doing, The Ball?” Fabian says. He rears back, looking at the gun with a wounded expression. “Are you going to shoot me?”
Riz gives a shaky sigh of relief, lowering the gun. A small chuckle escapes even as he cheeks heat up.
“I didn’t know it was you,” Riz whispers back.
“Look, I know you don’t much like Gilear — I wouldn’t if he wasn’t the Chosen One — but you really can’t go around shooting a man,” Fabian says. He crawls closer in the dark. He’s too tall to crawl comfortably, and Riz can see his muscles strain.
“I wasn’t going to shoot anyone,” Riz says. His breath is coming back to him now. “I thought it might be — just, don’t sneak up on me.”
Riz sits up, and Fabian studies his face.
“Oh,” Fabian says, after a moment. “Did you think it was the thing again?”
Riz doesn’t say anything, but his cheeks get even hotter. Fabian gives a small nod. Riz tenses, waiting for the pity and the comfort he doesn’t want.
“How preposterous, The Ball,” Fabian sighs. “There are no mirrors in here, are there? Where would it come from? Besides, it would be pretty stupid to attack when all of us are here.”
Riz is simultaneously relieved that there’s not a single hint of pity, and annoyed about it too. He folds his arms over his chest.
“I get it,” Riz says. “But sneaking up on any of us in the dark right now might not be that wise, either. What if I had been Kristen? She can’t even see in the dark! What are you even looking for?”
Fabian rolls his eyes, flaps a hand at Riz. In the close quarters, it almost smacks Riz in the face.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be Kristen,” Fabian says. He points to the left. “She’s over there with Tracker, I could hear them making out from a mile away. I was looking for you.”
Riz bites down on some pithy remark, and tries to slow his breathing.
“Why were you looking for me?”
Fabian rolls his eyes again. In a flourish and a sigh, he throws himself onto the floor of the blanket fort, next to Riz. Riz resists the urge to lie down next to him. Besides, he likes looking down on Fabian for once, instead of looking up.
“I just wanted to check you weren’t freaking out,” Fabian says. “Which, clearly, you are.”
“I’m not freaking out,” Riz said. “I was doing just fine until you came at me in the dark.”
“Have you slept at all? Since it happened?”
“When? When I was being attacked by the mirror monster, or when Fig was trying to cut my heart out, or—“
“Cut your heart out? So dramatic, The Ball.”
“—when we were fighting off the Cambion, or when, or when…” Riz trails off, because he can feel his voice getting ragged, close to breaking.
Fabian, eyes closed, reaches up and curls a hand around Riz’s upper arm.
“What about tonight, in the last hour?” Fabian says, and his tone is much more gentle now. “Have you slept at all since we got in here?”
Riz shakes his head, which, despite Fabian’s closed eyes, Fabian seems to see because he sighs in response.
“Lie down,” Fabian says.
Riz wants to resist, but not very much. So he settles down next to Fabian, there bodies only a hair breadth apart, so that Riz finds it hard to breathe normally. He hopes Fabian won’t notice, but Fabian always notices more than Riz is comfortable with. He used to think the boy was oblivious, but he’s since learnt that Fabian just choses to ignore things. He’s not like Riz, who can’t ignore anything, especially not the way his whole body thrums when it’s in close proximity to Fabian’s, much as he tries.
“Nothing can hurt you in here,” Fabian says. “Tracker’s spell will keep you safe.”
“I know that,” Riz says, with more bite than he intends.
“Do you, The Ball?” Fabian says. “Look how tense you are.”
Riz turns his head, finds that Fabian has turned to look at him, eyes glittering in the dark.
“I’m just tired,” Riz says, trying and utterly failing to relax his shoulders. “Long day.”
“I know,” Fabian says, oh so gently. “That’s why you should sleep.”
Riz closes his eyes for a moment. Then he opens them again, and he can’t quite hold in the words, not when Fabian is looking at him like that.
“I’m scared.” They were already whispering, but this comes out as a breath.
Fabian doesn’t scoff or tease him, doesn’t roll his eyes. He just nods, and gives Riz a small smile.
“If Tracker’s spell doesn’t keep you safe, then my sword will,” Fabian says.
“Mm,” Riz says, and he smiles. “I think I’d feel safer with Gilear actually.”
“Gilear?” Fabian says, loud enough that Riz has to shush him while trying to stifle his only giggle. “Excuse me, you’d feel safer with that excuse for a—“
Fabian finally notices Riz’s laughter, and he balls his face up into a scowl.
“Oh, you’re fucking with me,” Fabian says.
Riz nods, overjoyed to have riled Fabian up so successfully.
“Well, maybe then I won’t bother trying to keep you safe,” Fabian says. But the corners of his mouth are straining against a smile, Riz can see.
“What makes you think I need anyone keeping me safe, anyway?” Riz says, sticking his chin out.
Fabian flourishes a hand down.
“Look at you. You’re The Ball. Of course you need to be kept safe.”
Riz would be annoyed if anyone else said it, the implication that he couldn’t take care of himself. And yet, whenever Fabian says anything like it, a part of his chest fizzes with — with — with something though he’s too scared to examine what.
“And what about you?” Riz whispers. His voice is thick, and he knows he’s getting into dangerous territory but he can’t help it. “Who’s going to keep Fabian Aramias Seacaster safe?”
“Look at me. I can keep myself safe,” Fabian says. “And if I can’t, I think Ragh will probably have my back. Do you remember what he did after we killed Dayne? And I’m pretty sure he has a crush on me.”
“You think everyone has a crush on you,” Riz whispers.
“And I’m almost always right.”
Fabian winks, and Riz has to be very careful not to react.
“Why did you do it?” Fabian says, suddenly. He frowns, with that small crease in his brow, the way he does when he’s being deadly serious— a rarity, to be sure.
“Do what?” Riz says. It takes a lot of effort for him not to reach out and touch Fabian’s face, so close in the dark they are.
“Lie,” he says. “About Baron.”
Riz’s cheeks are on fire, and he has to look away from Fabian. Fabian’s eye contact is too intense at the best of times, but now it’s too much. Riz picks at the bottom of his jacket.
“I just… I wanted you guys to think I was cool,” Riz says slowly. He shrugs. He feels so small and dumb.
“None of us are going to make fun of you for not having a girlfriend or boyfriend, The Ball,” Fabian says. He ruffles Riz’s hair, which Riz tried to duck away from even as it feels good. “You don’t have to lie to us.”
Fabian stops talking, looking hesitant. Riz almost asks what’s up, when he starts to talk again.
“You don’t have to lie to me. I’m never going to think you’re cool.”
Riz shrugs. He doesn’t trust himself to speak.
“In the interest of truth-telling, there is something I should probably tell you,” Fabian says. He flaps a hand about as he talks. “I’ve been keeping it a secret for a while now, and it seems only fair that I would tell you, if there are to be no secrets between us.”
“Oh yeah?” Riz says, and immediately hates the hope that is so obvious in his voice. His heart is fluttering.
Fabian leans in, so that their faces are mere inches from each other, and Riz can smell the blood and sweat in Fabian’s hair.
“I have kissed the Hangman,” Fabian says, then leans out and gives a little chuckle. “Just once. Not like, making out, of course, nothing like that. Just a peck… But if you tell anyone about this, you’ll have no mirror monster to fear because I will gut you like a fish.”
Riz chuckles, relief flooding his body as his heart breaks a little. He wants to ask — is that all you’re keeping from me? Is there anything else we should tell each other? But he’s nowhere near brave enough, and far too sure that Fabian has no interest in him. Fabian only has eyes for Aelwyn, doesn’t he?
He knows this is the time he should use to tease Fabian, but his heart isn’t in it. That’s okay though, because tomorrow morning, when he’s properly rested, he’ll be ready to make fun of him endlessly.
“Now I’ve made that little confession, it’s time for sleep,” Fabian says. “I mean it, The Ball. You’ll be collapsing on us if you don’t get some sleep.”
Riz opens his mouth to argue, but then closes it. It’s true, and he is so very tired.
“Goodnight, Fabian,” Riz whispers.
“Goodnight, The Ball.”
Riz closes his eyes, thinks that this might be enough to send him off, but he can’t. He curls up again, but his brain is still firing on too many cylinders, and while Fabian’s presence has eased some of the fear, he’s still a little worried about every sound he hears, especially when he hears the van doors open, and then close again.
Riz sits up.
“What was that?” he says.
“Probably someone going to piss,” Fabian says lazily, as if he’d already started to drift off. “Don’t worry about it.”
But Riz is already scrambling up.
“I’ll just go check—“
Fabian grabs a hold of his wrist.
“You’re going nowhere, The Ball,” Fabian says. “Gorgug is up there, and Sandra Lynn and Adaine are outside. And I’m beside you. It’s fine.”
Riz tries to shrug Fabian off, but his grip is too strong.
Riz growls as he flops back down. “You’re torturing me.”
“Oh stop whining,” Fabian says, “You’re torturing me.”
As he says it, he gets a hold of Riz’s arm, and drags him closer, turning him around as he does so, until Fabian is spooning Riz. Riz’s whole body stiffens, and he’s not sure what is happening.
“Go to fucking sleep,” Fabian growls, though not unpleasantly.
Fabian has cuddled him once before, of course, on one of Riz’s sleepovers at the Seacaster Manor. But Riz was pretty sure it had been in Fabian’s sleep, and it had been just a loose hold. Now, though, Fabian throws a leg over Riz, and puts an arm under Riz’s neck, so that he is fully enveloped in the fighter’s body, which is warm and soft behind him.
Riz gulps. His whole body is on high alert now.
“I’m not going to let anything get you, I promise,” Fabian says, his voice still thick with sleep. Certainly, it’s not something Riz imagines he’d say if he was fully awake.
Fabian’s lips brush the back of Riz’s neck, and it takes everything for Riz not to jump in reaction — but whether it’s a kiss, or just an accident, Riz isn’t sure. And if it is a kiss, perhaps it’s just like the ones he gives the Hangman — after all, isn’t Fabian affectionate as a person? This is just affection between friends, obviously, it’s just Riz has never had friends before so he isn’t used to it, because he’s a loser and that’s also why Fabian would never be kissing him in any other kind of way—
“Stop thinking,” Fabian whispers in his ear. “I’m not going to be able to sleep either if you think that loudly.”
Riz smiles, takes a deep breath, trying to relax his mind. This time it works, sort of, if only because it’s easier — and more pleasant — to think only about the warmth pressed against him.
“Okay,” he whispers back into the dark.
For a time, it’s hard not to stay awake so he can feel every one of Fabian’s breaths against the back of his neck, to hear the soft little noises he makes in his sleep, to stop trying to remember every inch of Fabian’s body pressed against his as if it were a fingerprint he were making a copy of.
But eventually, wrapped in the tight embrace of his friend, Riz falls asleep, and sleeps deeper than he has in a very, very long time.