Chapter 1: Salted caramel
It wasn’t rare for people to get crushes on their friends. Riz knew that. He could live with that. It would be a rough few weeks, couple months, and then he’d be okay. Riz could survive feeling his breath hitch when Fabian smiled like that, or when he clapped him over the shoulder. It wasn’t ideal, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. He rarely allowed himself to indulge in the idea, to hypothesize about what his heart rate might do if they ever kissed, if Fabian’s lips might be chapped from the cold, if- that was enough. It wasn’t something to dwell on. He’d gotten a petty crush not that long ago, and he’d wait it out. Riz went back to his homework (“Identifying and Disabling Arcane Traps: Second Edition”) without a second thought.
The library was quiet. It was nice. Riz’s focus was broken by a ping from his crystal, sitting face-down on the desk. He flipped it over.
“Basrars at 4?” Was the text in the bad kids group chat. Right. It was Thursday. There was a chorus of agreement.
“I have a lot of homework,” Adaine ventured, but was quickly swayed. They’d do their homework there. They definitely wouldn’t just talk the whole time.
“I’ll need a ride.” Riz added, with full punctuation and everything.
“I got you,” Fabian texted.
With that, Riz got back to work on his arcana. There was no way they’d get much done at Basrar’s, especially not during the evening rush. As he looked out the window and saw bloodrush practice getting out, Riz began to pack up his things and starred thoughtfully into his undrunken thermos of cold coffee dregs.
Fabian Aramais Seacaster got out of bloodrush practice feeling better than he had in awhile. The team was finally coming together under Coach Gorthalax’s guidance, they were going to be hitting up Basrar’s; but best of all, the locker room showers had hot water. It was a miracle.
It was a great day- or it would’ve been, if Fabian could get his hair to behave. He hadn’t set off from practice yet. Dressed, in the locker rooms with still-damp hair in his face, Fabian cursed the lack of hair-dryers. It might be a bit cold, to go outside with wet hair, but that wasn’t his real concern. He’d made dumber choices in the past week. The real problem was that he was picking up Riz from the library, and he wasn’t going to look perfect rolling up on the Hangman with action-movie wind on his jacket and hair. He couldn’t look stupid in front of Riz with his floppy, wet hair and his wrinkled-from-being-shoved-into-a-locker jacket.
When he got it as dry as he could, he called the Hangman. It was no use walking to the school parking lot when it could come to him, regardless of how many sidewalks it scuffed on the way. Aguefort was an adventuring academy- it’s not like the sidewalks weren’t constantly scorched by stray fire bolts or besieged by mithril-toed combat boots.
The Hangman arrived with its usual fanfare- a rev of its engine, sending out a small burst of smoke and fire. After a short monologue about besting the mortal world and drowning it in flame, the Hangman was ready to go. With his wrinkled jacket slung over his shoulders, Fabian took off down the Aguefort sidewalks towards the library. He hoped- not so secretly- that it’d give him a Cool Dude kind of look.
He arrived at the library in short order- it’s not like the campus was all that big- just in time to see Riz descending the steps, taking a sip from a thermos of cold sludge that used to be coffee. Riz’s nose wrinkled as he downed it, and Fabian felt himself smile. It was a little cute, even if he wouldn’t admit it.
“Hey. Hop on, the Ball,” Fabian waved over to Riz, hoping it sounded casual. After a quiet protest from the Hangman, Riz hopped on the back of the motorcycle.
“I forgot it was Thursday,” he replies, “I started homework at the library.” Not getting enough sleep is a surefire way to forget what day of the week it is. With the most infuriatingly casual motion, Riz looped his arms around Fabian to hold on. They’d done this so many times before, but Fabian still felt the tips of his ears burn. Riz had always assumed Fabian just didn’t want to be seen with him around school- got to keep up that cool demeanor and all- but they’d hung out a lot more recently. People knew they were friends. They were part of the bad kids together. It wasn’t some social-life-ruining secret, anymore. Riz chalked it up to the cold. It was warm for early spring, but that wasn’t saying much, and Fabian still wasn’t wearing his jacket.
Flushed from more than the chill, Fabian kicked the motorcycle into gear and they headed off in the direction of Basrar’s. Now that they were picking up speed and on the road, Fabian was willing to admit the jacket over his shoulders was a dumb decision. Riz must’ve felt him shivering and hugged him tighter. Fabian, however briefly, forgot to breathe.
An idiot. That’s what he thought he was. In all of his wildest dreams, he was a cool guy. Cool guys didn’t overthink their friend hugging them on a motorcycle. Cool guys especially didn’t overthink how soft their friend’s flannel jacket is and how it smelled (like coffee. Black, something cheap but strong).
Fabian was all too quick to pull into Basrar’s lot. It was busy- Thursdays after 4 meant 20% off milkshakes- but not crowded. He was suddenly thankful they’d texted their orders ahead. Kristen and Fig had already set up in a small corner booth, trapper-keepers and pencils spread out across the white table. The glaring linoleum edges and teal booth seats evoked a classic diner feeling. There was music playing in the background over some kind of old speaker that gave the place an indie teen-movie vibe.
Standing between the round stools at the counter, Gorgug scooped up the groups’ orders and Adaine counted out some change before the duo returned to the table.
“Alright, who got the strawberry?” Adaine asked.
“I did, but with whipped cream. Gorgug’s is without the whipped cream,” Fig reached out to take the glass, and Kristen’s vanilla milkshake to pass it down. She jokes and passes another to Fabian as they get situated in the too-small booth, “Salted caramel is for the fancy boy.”
“The salt balances out the sweet,” Fabian defends, “It makes it better.”
“Which one of you got a root beer float? It’s 20% milkshake day, come on,” Kristen said, faking incredulousness.
“I did,” Riz takes the mug, “I texted Adaine to get me coffee and she said no.”
“Six cups a day isn’t healthy,” Adaine sat down last, at the edge of the booth. She picked at her cookies-and-cream milkshake with a spoon rather than the straw, giving an apologetic look to Gorgug, who was nearly falling off the other end of the booth. They really should’ve sat somewhere bigger, but the larger booths were taken. This one was meant for four people. Fig was practically on Kristen’s lap.
Riz wasn’t a touchy person, per se, but he was used to being picked up, carried, and put in backpacks. He went about quietly sipping his root beer float, looking unfazed. Fabian, however, is acutely aware of being elbow-to-elbow with Riz. There’s a bizarre staticky feeling to the touch. He’s used to having his space. His usual pose- relaxed, spread out, feet kicked up- is sacrificed in favor of desperately squeezing smaller so he isn’t crushing Riz and Fig. Fabian takes a long sip of his milkshake to avoid explaining himself. He can’t help but feel a bit pathetic, drawn into his thoughts just by their arms touching.
“You good?” Gorgug asks, one leg fully hanging out of the booth.
“Yeah,” Fabian blinks and leans back, holding his straw between two fingers and stirring his milkshake, “Brainfreeze,” he lies, and immediately knows from the way Kristen tilts her head that she doesn’t believe him. He thinks about making another excuse, but the conversation starts back up, leaving no room for awkward silence. Only moments later, Fig is using her straw to shoot a spitball at Gorgug, who refuses to fight back.
“I don’t want us to get in trouble,” he holds up his hands to block another spitball.
“Fine,” Fig relents, and fires her next spitball at Riz, “You gonna fight back?” She chides.
“Hey!” The ball lands in Riz’s mostly-empty rootbeer float, and he returns fire. Fig cackles and readies another volley, but Adaine snatches her straw.
“Guys,” she sighs, and doesn’t elaborate. Riz puts his straw back in his drink. An armistice has been reached, however temporary. Adaine slowly gives Fig her straw back. They sit in a short silence, the group waiting for the battle to resume.
“My papa always said; why do you draw steel? For gold or for blood,” Fabian jokes of the spitball skirmish, “Today it was for blood.”
“I didn’t start it,” Riz takes a quick jab at Fabian’s milkshake with his spoon, stealing a bit of caramel off the top. His nose crinkles at the sweetness, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to steal another bit. Fabian grabs his arm.
“The Ball!” Fabian protests, easily disarming Riz of his spoon. He keeps a firm grip on his wrist, though. There’s no telling if Riz would grab his straw- or Fabian’s spoon. For a second, Fabian feels Riz’s pulse in his wrist. Then, the rogue wriggles free and sinks farther down in his seat, still squished within easy grabbing distance of Fabian’s milkshake, “You could’ve asked.”
“Tastes better stolen,” he says back with the toothy little smile that makes Fabian have to force himself not to blush. In a calm facade, he leans his (unused, except for stirring) straw towards Riz and goes back to eating with his spoon. Riz politely ignores the silent offer for all of a minute before his root beer float is fully gone, and then he takes a cautious sip. He’s made record time on his float, and Fabian half-wonders if he should ask him to slow down.
“So anyways,” the conversation picks back up. Kristen struggles to fill in her notes around Fig, “My AP Healing lab yesterday was wild. We’re not supposed to talk about specific gods or anything since everyone heals differently and believes different things, but this guy who I was supposed to work with kept asking about how I can still do magic. But like, he was weird about it.”
“Sounds like a dick,” Fig cuts in before Kristen can continue.
“Yeah, that guy sucks,” Adaine agrees.
“Curiosity is one thing, being rude about it is another,” Riz agrees.
In an incredible display of discipline, the bad kids continue to talk and occasionally work on homework. It isn’t much, but the progress is more than expected. Gorgug frowns at his arcanotech elective work, doodling in the margins of his notes. Adaine struggles to help Riz with his arcane traps work from across the table, and Kristen- while unable to help- pats Gorgug on the back and gives him a speech that might count as inspiring. Fig continues to ignore her homework in favor of chatting, and Fabian drums his fingers on the table while skimming an assigned section on looking heroic while sword-fighting effectively. It’s nothing new, so he just glances over the page and writes down the bolded keywords.
At some point in his reading, Fabian registers Riz’s head leaned against his arm. When he tries to move it to turn the page of his textbook (“The Dashing Fighter: Battling with more than steel.” It’s a thin but inordinately glossy book) a small, deep sort-of-grumble comes from Riz. It’s a sound he’s only ever heard goblins make, but he assumes it’s discontent.
“You okay?” Fabian asks, not wanting to move Riz.
“Uh-huh,” he says, “Drank too much root beer float. Stomach hurts.” Fabian doesn’t know how to comfort Riz without it being sappy and weird. He can’t make it sappy and weird.
“I’m gonna need my arm,” he says, instead, and immediately feels like an idiot. Riz shifts, putting his chin on his arms on the table. Fabian misses the contact as soon as it leaves, but he’ll be at gunpoint before he’ll admit it.
“It’s getting late,” Adaine checks her watch as she closes up her notebook.
“They don’t close until 12,” Fig points out.
“Yeah, but I have to get up early tomorrow,” Kristen whines.
“We have morning practice,” Gorgug reminds Fabian, who groans. Once he’s at practice, he’ll be in his element. He’ll be running, sweating, and feeling great. Before that, though- Fabian shivers. Waking up early is such a slog.
“G’night,” Kristen waves to Basrar as the group cleans up their glasses and puts them in the dish bin. Out in the lot, the Hangman bursts to life and Fig starts up Gilear’s car. Fig, Kristen, Adaine, and Gorgug pile into the car- they’ll drop off Gorgug and then head back to the manor. It would’ve been easier for them to take Riz, too, but Fabian insisted it wasn’t an issue. It didn’t matter that Strongtower Luxury Apartments were right next to the Thistlespring Tree. Really, it was no problem. Fabian waves as the car pulls out- it takes a couple times reversing and then going forward to get out of the cramped lot.
“Just you and me, the Ball,” Fabian hops onto the motorcycle, “Let’s get you home.”
“It’s a little out of the way,” Riz supplies, getting on the back and wrapping his arms around Fabian’s chest. Fabian won’t admit that he’d rather go out of his way- he’s rather drive through Elmville at night with Riz’s arms around him than go home to his mostly empty house and sleep until he had to wake up ungodly early.
“It’s not a problem,” Fabian looks out over the Marigold River as it comes into view, the night air cold but a different kind of refreshing. Street lamps flicker past, and the red and green of the stoplights all blend together. For the first time, Fabian thinks he’s lucky to have Riz on the back of the Hangman, driving him home on a quiet Elmville night. They couldn’t talk if they tried over the wind and Fabian speeding, but he’s grateful for it.
The Hangman arrives at Strongtower Luxury Apartments, where many lights are out and curtains are drawn. Faintly, Riz registers that their apartment’s lights are on- his mom must be home, and awake. He turns to wish Fabian a goodbye.
“See you,” he calls over his shoulder.
“See you,” Fabian nods, a dumb grin coming to his face. Despite the chill, his messy hair, and the dawning threat of waking up early, it’s a nice night.
Chapter 2: Space opera
Fabian lets himself get lost in daydreaming. Kristen goads Fabian about his crush. The Bad Kids have a movie night on a Monday like the irresponsible teenagers they are.
Fabian was going to be an amazing kisser. He wasn’t about to give up kippers but he was going to carry around mints and a little travel toothbrush. There was no way he was going to screw up a kiss by having it taste like fish.
Brain flipping through kisses he’d seen in movies and heard about in gossip, Fabian tried to formulate a plan. It was all so confusing. It was like when he was a little kid and he didn’t know what to do with his feet while sword fighting- he’d got the parries and the swings down but couldn’t for the life of him put it all together with the footwork.
He felt like he didn’t get it.
“You’re a natural, as any Seacaster worth being called a Seacaster should be,” his papa had said of sword fighting. He didn’t feel like a natural. Maybe kissing would be like that, too.
He tried to imagine how it would go in his head. How he’d lean against a doorway or something and look so cool and suave that Riz would just have to kiss him.
Fabian balked for a moment. Riz of all people, just falling into his arms? He was doomed. Ugh, the kiss would probably taste like cold coffee and cereal, too. Riz probably didn’t think he was going to be kissing. Riz probably didn’t put on chapstick or pop mints constantly like Fabian. He mentally kicked himself for falling all over the Ball.
He was the captain of the Bloodrush team. He was a member of the Bad Kids. He was Fabian Aramais Seacaster. Surely he could date anyone in the school. So why was he pent up and nervous about the Ball? There were plenty of cute, funny, and smart people at Aguefort; but only Riz had that dumb, crooked smile that showed his sharp teeth and made Fabian stare at his lips for a second too long.
It briefly occurred to Fabian that maybe Riz doesn’t like kissing. He’d never talked about it. Fabian scrambles for his mental plans. That’d be okay- some people don’t like to kiss. Instead they’d just hold hands, or cuddle, or something. He hoped he didn’t sound too desperate.
“Sire, you’ve fallen into thoughts of courting the Ball, again,” the Hangman grumbles at the corner of his thoughts- it couldn’t read his mind, not when he wasn’t messaging to it, but somehow it knew. Was he that obvious? Fabian snaps his attention back.
“Right,” Fabian says, almost absentmindedly. The Hangman grumbles, “Is it that obvious, Hangman?”
“I know you quite well, Master,” the motorcycle hums, “Nothing escapes my infernal gaze.” Fabian gives a tiny scoff, and turns to survey Aguefort Academy’s lawn. School has been out for a while, so there’s only the occasional student sitting around, studying. It’s a Monday, and there’s no practice, so Fabian is just waiting for Kristen to get out of a meeting with a teacher. Adaine and Riz are doing nerd stuff over at the AV Club (it’s shaped up a lot since Biz graduated), and Fig and Gorgug are doing band practice.
“Alright, movie night, let’s go,” Kristen whoops as she descends the stairs, “What’s it going to be this time?”
“We could watch more episodes of that space pirate one,” Fabian vouches as Kristen climbs onto the back of the Hangman.
“No, we have to do that when everyone’s there,” Kristen says, and the duo heads off towards the manor. Kristen is saying something, but Fabian can’t catch it over the wind, even though he isn’t going very fast in afternoon traffic. The drive passes idly, with Fabian mulling over movies and deciding they can’t watch that one noir one they almost watched the other week because Riz would kill him if they watched it without him.
The wrought iron gates of the manor loom over them, ever-imposing near the edge of Cravencroft. The long gravel drive kicks up under the Hangman’s wheels as Fabian drifts to a spot and Kristen slips off with an ungainly hop.
They get situated on the couch with a bowl of cheese snacks and flip through awful b-list movies for a few minutes before deciding on the weirdest one they come across. It’s about a rat-catcher on a weird, sci-fi planet and an anthropologist who fall in love- but there’s also a rat writer who might be the narrator but is also in love with the main characters? It’s a confusing movie that tries to call itself “challenging to perception” but is really just a jaunty space movie with bad special effects.
“This is the kind of movie you have to watch high,” Kristen says at one point, munching a cheese puff. Neither are the type to stay quiet during movies, especially the bad ones. Fabian has already huffed about the dumb character decisions more than once.
“Oh, come on,” Fabian groans, “I get wanting to look good but that’s just such a horrible outfit.” He waves a hand, “Like, I’m all for looking great, clearly, but you can’t just wear a low-cut shirt and cargo-pants made into a skirt to a rat swamp. Even the rat catcher looks better, and she’s just wearing baggy space clothes.”
“On one hand, I feel like it’s objectifying,” Kristen ponders, “But as a lesbian, I’m also kind of grateful.” Fabian deadpans at her, “What?” She tosses a cheese puff at him, “She’s hot! Not as hot as Tracker, obviously, but.”
“We get it,” Fabian’s smile quirks in the way it does when he’s making a friendly jab, “You get your kisses in.” The movie’s bad laser sounds become background noise between the chatter.
“You don’t get yours in?” Kristen says between crunching on snacks. She pulls her blanket further up.
“I do!” He insists, but Kristen raises her eyebrows at him.
“Oh! So you haven’t kissed him yet?” The strange space-ship sound effects fade into white noise behind Kristen’s words. Fabian feels his cheeks burning.
“Kissed who?” He pretends not to know, even when lying to Kristen is useless. At the very least he’ll look dumb instead of disingenous.
“Kissed Riz!” Kristen jabs him with her foot. The sound of an explosion and a screaming rat monster come from the movie, and Kristen turns down the volume by two without looking.
“No!” Fabian shoves her foot away, “I mean, I don’t like him!” He earns another one of Kristen’s signature ‘yeah, sure’ looks, “Okay! Maybe I like him, but you’re not telling anyone. And we haven’t kissed.”
“Sure, not telling anyone,” Kristen retracts her leg across the couch, the threat of another jab gone, “But like, it’s not that hard to tell.” Fabian groans.
“Kristen, it’s so bad,” he throws his head back, exaggerating, “People are going to think I’m so lame.” He turns to look at the movie just so he doesn’t have to look Kristen in the eye. It feels better to not have all of it inside, but for Fabian releasing emotions was also so draining. Dancing helped, and he’s certainly better, but he’s not about to explain to Kristen what he was doing lying awake at 1 am last night wondering if he should ask the Ball on a date.
“I get that!” Kristen puts a hand on his elbow before he fully bundles into a cocoon, “You’re a lame nerd and I’m not going to let you live it down, but we’re friends, ok?”
“Is this going to get inspiring, soon?” Fabian jokes, deflecting his embarrassment. His crystal buzzes in his pocket and he ignores it for a moment.
“I’m trying to help,” Kristen rolls her eyes.
“Okay!” Fabian reaches for his crystal, then reminds, “You can’t tell anyone.” The text is from the group chat, so sure enough Kristen’s crystal buzzes a moment later.
“AV club is out,” from Adaine, “Movie night still going?”
“Yep,” Fabian responds, “The rat one is almost over.”
“You watched the rat one without me?” from Fig, “Band practice is cancelled we’re not missing movie night.”
Fabian is silently thankful for the other Bad Kids. He won’t have to have this conversation if it’s not just him and Kristen. She shoots him a knowing look. It isn’t long before they hear Jawbone’s car out front. The werewolf gets out, ushering the kids inside.
“You watched the rat one without me!” Fig repeats from her text, “I wanted to see that one!” She throws her hands up, “Come on, guys.”
“It wasn’t a very good movie,” Fabian scoffs, “The space pirate show is better.” He remains splayed out over the couch. Between him and Kristen, there isn’t much room. She gets up to help Jawbone with snacks, and Fig takes her spot before Kristen can protest.
“The whole point is that it’s bad! It’s so you can make fun of it,” Fig pouts, “Fine, let’s catch an episode or two of the pirate show. Heard there’s a new season soon and we’re not caught up.” She worms her way into the cushions, stealing the blankets. Gorgug plops down in a too-small armchair after tossing its pillow on the floor. Adaine takes the other chair. Riz gladly takes the pillow and lays on the floor.
“Can you turn on subtitles?” Riz asks, and Gorgug grabs the remote to oblige. Kristen returns with more snacks, followed by Jawbone.
“You kids let me know if you need anything,” he smiles. The Bad Kids give their nods and he leaves to go make some tea. Now displaced from the couch, Kristen flops down on the floor in a pile of blankets. Fig and Fabian shift a bit.
“I’m more than happy to have my space, but if anyone else would like to join us on the couch,” Fabian offers to the Bad Kids on the floor, and Kristen looks like she’s about to start laughing.
“No, I’m good,” she waves it off with a wink, and Fabian almost winces. She couldn’t be any less awkward about it, could she?
“Well, if there’s room,” like a cat shown a cardboard box it can fit in, Riz hops up onto the couch and nestles between the two. It’s not much space, but it’s enough, at least until Fig stretches out her legs to kick them up on the coffee table and Riz is forced halfway onto Fabian’s lap. Bewildered by how his plan could backfire so spectacularly while going right, Fabian hides his blush by sinking further under the blankets. Thankfully, no one is watching him as Gorgug pulls up the show.
“I wish I could make that,” Gorgug remarks at the spaceship’s replicator. There’s no clear response but a couple of acknowledging hums.
Riz shifts and his elbow is digging into Fabian’s stomach. As much as he wants to make it a cute moment and not awkward that Riz is half-laying on him, the jab hurts. He shifts, Riz makes a surprised noise, and now Riz’s arm is trapped under Fabian instead of in his gut. He’s thankful for the swell of music in a dramatic, panning scene across the megacorp spaceship as he wriggles his arm free. Riz settles for shifting onto his back and crossing his arms to keep his elbows out of the way. Fabian, without thinking, wraps an arm over Riz and then feels his gut drop. He feels like his blood is ice.
When the weight of Fabian’s arm rests on his shoulders and over his chest, Riz thinks he doesn’t know how to breath. He glances at Fabian out of the corner of his eye but says nothing, and hurriedly goes back to watching the show. With any luck, no one has looked at him and seen him struggling to maintain composure. Riz couldn’t help but think this was ruining his “just ignore it until it goes away” approach to having a crush. Fabian probably put his arms around his friends all the time. I mean, he wrapped them up in sheets sometimes to remind them he believed in them. It didn’t mean anything.
Arm numb, Fabian knew it was too late for him to move without it being awkward. He watches the show’s dashing hero- an intergalactic pirate- march down the hall of his spaceship, coat sweeping behind him. He wishes he were that cool. Fabian is half aware of Riz prodding him, passing him a goblin-sized handful of pretzels since he can’t reach the snacks, anymore, without displacing Riz. He takes them, maybe letting his hand linger a bit long, and mumbles a thanks. Riz’s toothy smile looks back up at him, his hair falling into his face.
His silent sigh not unlike the pirate hero’s, Fabian realizes he’s really deep in it now.
The space opera show the Bad Kids are watching is a little reference to a fantastic fic by the-flail-snail, Pirates and Prototypes! And the rat movie is a reference to a Drawfee episode.
Chapter 3: Paperback
Riz makes a case board for his emotions. Fabian makes a move. Adaine and Boggy help
Riz couldn’t pinpoint when the crush had started, and it was freaking him out. Infatuation- per his research- typically lasted between one and six months. He wanted to scream. That long? Well, it was possible he had already been through a part of it.
He drew out a timeline on the back of a newspaper, from the first day of Freshman year to today. He made sure to code names and important phrases (especially the word “crush”) so if someone found it in his office trash they wouldn’t be onto him. It became increasingly difficult to see where the crush started.
Was it spring break? He had been more vulnerable with Fabian, and Fabian had been more vulnerable with him. Had it started because of that connection? Because of seeing Fabian genuinely grow? He felt like it was earlier. Could it have been the first day of school? That wouldn’t make sense, it would be too far back for the infatuation. He paused- what if he was some weird fringe case, destined to be falling over Fabian forever?
No, it couldn’t be the first day of school, either. He had liked Fabian. He thought he was cool- he wanted to be friends with him, earn his attention, and respect- but it wasn’t a crush. Was it? Crushes meant you wanted to like, kiss them or date them. Right? He hadn’t wanted to kiss or date Fabian on that first day, but he was certainly clamoring for his attention.
At what point had calling Fabian his best friend gone from wishful thinking for attention to a desperate plea that he wouldn’t see something else in it? Fabian was his best friend, now. Saying it, though, had started out as a way to get Fabian to notice him, as a way of asserting himself into the role of best friend because things were so much clearer when you just said them like they were. In other words, he’d just been honest and open and hoped Fabian would reciprocate it. The crush shouldn’t be different, but somehow it was.
Riz always felt like he and Adaine were out of the loop on something when it came to dates, kisses, and all that. It wasn’t that Riz didn’t want to kiss Fabian, he did, he just didn’t think about it. Whether it was repression or something else, he couldn’t tell. Some crushes were probably different from others. Just because he wasn’t vocal about wanting physical affection didn’t mean it wasn’t a crush.
Maybe he should talk to Adaine about it. He liked to do things on his own, to figure things out, but an outside perspective could help. As of now, he knew very few things about this case:
A motive: He has a crush on Fabian Aramaris Seacaster.
A timeline: It started somewhere between the first day of freshman year and now.
The victim: His heart. He was going to cry about this.
Finally, Riz gave in, looking at his pathetic case board for his emotions. He had it bad. It might not be something he could shove down and ignore. With a heavy sigh, he dialed Adaine on his crystal. She picked up after two rings. His throat feeling tight, he prepared to explain everything. He didn’t want to have this conversation over the phone, and was grateful when she immediately offered for him to come to the manor.
Fabian was his own man, and he didn’t need to rely on Bill Seacaster’s advice for everything. Sometimes, though, it was no use reinventing the wheel. His papa had given him quite a bit of dating advice- in the form of anecdotes about his conquests- and while most of it could be disregarded (“Papa, you can’t just kidnap people and claim you were rescuing them.”), there were a few workable options.
Which is how Fabian found himself plotting a dramatic duel against Riz (it needed to be on a weekend, in the field by the highway. Sunny weather was ideal, but if it was windy it would be more cinematic.) that he would pepper with elements of dance that would be too obvious to ignore. When he bested Riz- rogues didn't fair well in open fields- he would dip him, and then they would kiss. There was no way the plan could go wrong, but Fabian was still doubting it. It was dumb.
Riz had to have noticed by now. He was the most observant person Fabian had ever met. Of course he would’ve connected the dots that Fabian was into him. The lack of reciprocation either meant Riz wasn’t into him but was too polite to let him know- which was unlike him- or he was truly so dense he hadn’t picked up on it- also unlike him.
Something had to be up. Fabian crumpled up his romantic duel plans and shoved them in his backpack. He would start by inviting him to a bloodrush game. Wait, no. Riz wouldn’t like a bloodrush game- too many people, too much noise. Riz wouldn’t get the message if they just hung out- that was already something they did. A sleepover could work. It wasn’t unusual for them, but it was more notable. They hadn’t had a sleepover with just the two of them in a while.
Riz has just finished explaining his predicament to Adaine, out of breath and wondering if it would be weird to cry, when he gets a text from Fabian.
“Shit,” he mumbles. They’re in Adaine’s tower room of the manor. It’s very much her room- every corner is filled with books and cute trinkets, many resembling frogs. Everything is organized on the shelves. It smells of old books.
“You can cry,” Adaine reminds him for the third time, “It doesn’t make you weak.” Riz sighs. He doesn’t know if he feels like crying or not, but he does. It’s just a quiet weep for a moment, and then it’s gone. He knows Adaine will probably tell the other Bad Kids about this- not the crying part, the crush- but he’s long past that worry. Figuring things out and hiding was kind of his m.o, and right now he’s not doing either very well.
“It’s Fabian,” he checks the text. Something about a sleepover. He leaves it on read for a moment and looks at Adaine, “He, uh, wants to hang out. Tomorrow, not now.”
“He’s into you,” Adaine teases, “He’s always picking you up, making excuses to hang out more with you.”
“Is this from an oracle perspective or a friend perspective?” Riz asks, half-joking. Adaine’s smile is soft. He feels himself smile a bit, too.
“Just objectively,” she waves a hand in a gesture that looks like a somatic spell gesture, but is really just something she does while talking, “He gets you gifts.”
“He gets everyone gifts,” Riz interrupts, “Not that I don’t appreciate them, just that I’m not the only one.
“I think he’s trying to drop hints,” she shrugs, “You’re good at picking up hints. You’ve clearly noticed.” Boggy croaks affirmatively from her lap.
“I have, but I can’t,” he pauses for a long moment, “It’s hard for me to believe he could feel that way about me.” He sort of gestures to himself and then goes back to wringing his wrists.
“Listen, I’m not a licensed therapist,” Adaine sets a hand on Riz’s shoulder, “You might want to talk to Jawbone. Not necessarily about Fabian.” He never had the best self-confidence. It’s part of why it was a miracle when he boldly asserted himself as Fabian’s best friend and it worked. Confidence issues aren’t something Fabian reciprocating his feelings would fix- not that it would hurt, per se.
“Thanks. Sorry,” Riz, suddenly aware he’s left Fabian on read, turns on his crystal.
“Hey. Sleepover tomorrow? Just us.” Fabian’s contact name has a little wave next to it. Riz added it. A while back, he had encoded all of his crystal contact names, but his friends had persuaded him to change it back when they needed to break into his phone to call his mom, once.
“Sure,” He responds. He almost asks if it’s a date or something, but that sounds dumb, “Where at?” Little ellipses flicker for a moment.
“My place works.” Riz takes a deep breath before typing out a response. He’s keenly aware of Adaine looking over his shoulder.
“See you, then,” is all he can manage. Adaine raises her eyebrow at him.
“So is it a sleepover sleepover or a smooch-central sleepover?” Adaine says, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
“I, uh, I don’t know,” Riz flushes teal, “Uh, thanks for the talk.”
“I’m here for you,” she says, and pats him on the back, “Now, you should head home. Your mom might be worried.” Riz almost says that his mom is used to him vanishing for extended periods, but he knows that Adaine knows that.
“Oh, almost forgot,” he sorts through his briefcase, “Here are the books. Sorry. They’re a bit annotated.” He passes over a few battered mystery novels, covered in scrawled, blue annotations. He used one of them to make a book-cipher at one point.
“Thanks!” Adaine takes them, “This is for you,” she upholds her end of their weekly ‘book club’, passing him a pristine storybook. He tucks it into the briefcase slowly, carefully. She received it from Jawbone, read the entire thing in one night, and was itching to share it with Riz ever since. The metaphorical, whimsical fantasy wasn’t exactly his genre, but it was richly detailed and she hoped he’d get something out of it.
The two say their goodbyes and Riz hurries back to Strongtower Luxury Apartments. It’s a walk he’s done many times before- his feet can walk it, automatically- but his heart is hammering. He shared a secret. He opened himself up. He’s trying. He’s trying his best.
Fabian lays on the floor of his room. It’s a cloudy Friday afternoon, and he rolled off the bed after sending the text to Riz. He’s currently in the process of overanalyzing being left on read when a response pings. Alright. The sleepover is on. He lets the tension in his shoulders drop and just lays back. Before he can start getting jittery, he starts to thumb through music on his crystal. The speaker on the crystal isn’t good, but after a few times he gets it to connect to a little speaker on the cabinet in his room.
He can’t bring himself to choose his workout playlist or his party mix, and scrolls all the way down to a ‘secret’ playlist of cheesy love songs. It’s so dumb. He feels so dumb, but it all fades when he starts doing leaps and dancing in his room. When he’s sweaty and laughing at himself, he turns off the music and flops back on his bed.
This is his chance. Chest heaving with the exertion of dancing, he shuts his eyes. Tomorrow night, he’s going to tell Riz.
Chapter 4: Video games
Riz is anxious before the sleepover, Fabian is bad at video games but won't admit it, and things go unsaid.
“Promise me you’ll sleep at least 5 hours,” Sklonda finishes wrapping up dinner and putting leftovers in their sparse refrigerator. The door still has a drawing Riz did when he was seven, held up by black magnets. It is, allegedly, a drawing of the neighbor’s cat (which “went missing” and he tried to find it. It was under the neighbor’s couch).
“I will,” Riz says, not entirely sure if he means it. He washes out a pot in the sink, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Between his school and her work hours, family dinner was a rare occasion. He had let Fabian know their sleepover would need to start later than planned. Riz almost felt bad changing plans, but it was only a delay of an hour or so.
“Pack your meds,” Sklonda reminds, and Riz nods. He starts packing his briefcase.
“Got it, mom,” he acknowledges. He doesn’t mean to be speaking in clipped sentences, but he’s increasingly aware of how anxious he is. He tries to remember what Adaine told him, but it’s not helping right now. He sighs, internally. He doesn’t want to ruin his friendship with Fabian. The crush he can do without, in due time- but if he screws up their friendship? They’d have to awkwardly be in an adventuring party, together, for the rest of high school. Everyone would know. He would hide in his office forever and never come out and urban legends would get written about the goblin that you can still hear yelling at himself if you walk by at night.
“Who’s going to be there?” He knows his mom is trying to help him calm down, trying to make him focus on plans, which is good. Right now, though, he doesn’t want to have to admit to his mom that the sleepover might be a gay thing and it might not and he’s not sure.
“Just Fabian and I,” he says, “We’re finishing up a video game we started the other day.” It wasn’t a lie. They had been meaning to finish the main storyline of Legend of Kris.
“Have fun,” Sklonda kisses him on the forehead at the door, “Don’t get into trouble.” He knows that she means the dozens of times she’s found him and the Bad Kids at crime scenes, but he still feels a pit in his stomach. Not that his mom would care if he and Fabian got up to some mild debauchery, as long as everyone was safe and happy. Riz knew that. His mom knew he was gay, and she was smart as hell. She probably knew he had a crush on Fabian.
“We won’t,” he hugs his mom, says goodnight, and heads down the stairs of Strongtower Luxury Apartments. Outside, he hears the infernal hum of the Hangman.
“Hey,” Fabian calls out, turning to look at him in a way that makes his hair fly dramatically in the breeze. Riz feels plain by comparison. His mom insisted he wasn’t wearing his typical dress shirt and pants to a sleepover. His baggy hoodie and jeans were an uncommon sight, but not an unwelcome one. He’d gotten more used to wearing casual clothes, lately.
As much as Fabian likes Riz in his suit- though it does look a bit ridiculous at school- he can’t help but think Riz looks cute bundled up in a too-large Fig and the Sig Figs hoodie (gifted to him by Fig and Gorgug).
“Let’s get this show on the road,” Riz climbs on the back of the Hangman and wraps his arms around Fabian’s chest. It would be weirder if he didn’t, at this point, since he’s been doing it since when Fabian first got the Hangman.
“Hell yes,” Fabian revs the engine for effect- or maybe the Hangman does it- and takes off down the road towards downtown Elmville. Streetlights flash past, and between Fabian’s blatant disregard for the speed limit and lack of traffic, they arrive at the Seacaster manor in record time. They flip off Biz’s house as they pass it, even though he isn’t there. It’s just a tradition. Riz thinks that the Hangman is saying something to Fabian, judging by his expression, but he can’t gauge what. He files it away into the section of his brain labeled ‘things that aren’t my business that still worry me.’
“And we’re here,” Fabian drifts into the garage in a smooth motion and hops off. He twirls his keys on his index finger. Riz swings his leg over the Hangman and scrambles after him, hearing it grumble something.
“Hangman,” Fabian says, raising his eyebrows at it. The motorcycle stops grumbling. Riz is left wondering whether it’s the Hangman’s normal distaste of him or something else, but he doesn’t dwell on it. Fabian leads him inside- literally, by a hand- and to his room.
“I brought Legend of Kris,” Riz pulls the case from his briefcase, “If you want to play.”
“I’ll start,” Fabian flops down on a beanbag in his room and puts in the disc. He grabs the back of Riz’s hoodie and pulls him down in a heap, next to him.
“Don’t spec into philosophy major this time,” Riz groans as Fabian reloads the save and immediately starts messing with Riz’s control presets and resetting stats.
“It’s not my fault you made Kris a beemaster,” Fabian jabs Riz with his elbow, “It’s the worst class.” Riz huffs to avoid going on a rant.
“It pays off in the late game,” he whines, “The resistance to poison damage is crucial for the-” He’s immediately cut off by Fabian’s arm around his shoulders.
“You’re such a nerd,” Fabian continues to play- or try to- with an arm wrapped around Riz, “It’s about the fun.”
“At least I’m good at this game,” Riz teases as Fabian restarts the zone after yet another death by falling into a pit.
“Why don’t you try, if you’ll do so much better?” Fabian retorts, and jabs the controller towards Riz. He takes it and frowns at the challenge ahead. Fabain sees his pupils narrow in focus. Goblins have weird eyes, he decides. It’s fascinating, though. He’s thought about asking Riz about it, but he doesn’t want to sound like he carefully watches Riz’s eyes even though he never carefully watches anything.
Riz goes quiet in focus, already passing the part of the zone Fabian was having trouble with. Fabian would normally be a sore loser about it and make some excuse about how he cleared out most of the enemies already, but he doesn’t. He watches Riz focus. Watches how Riz bites his lip on a particularly difficult dodge.
Fabian glances away and suppresses a weird feeling in his stomach, trying not to think about if he was biting Riz’s lip. He wants to do it. Not now, obviously. He can’t just spring that on Riz. That would be weird. You have to get permission to kiss people; but at some future date when everything works out, Fabian wants to be the one biting Riz’s lip. He feels dirty for thinking about it.
Fabian remembers that he’s going to tell Riz, tonight. His chest hurts at the thought. There needs to be a good moment. What if there isn’t a good moment? He could surprise Riz, tell him now, but it wouldn’t have the impact. He can’t talk things out. He has to make some sort of astounding gesture. He checks his crystal for the time. It’s already later than he thought. Riz probably promised his mom he’d sleep.
“Yes!” Riz whoops as he clears the zone and gets up into the mountains. He fist-bumps Fabian, looking proud of himself. It only took him two tries.
“Nerd,” Fabian says, unable to think of anything cool to say, being wrenched out of his thoughts, “I bet I could’ve done that if you let me try, again.” Riz hands the controller back in silent challenge, eyebrow raised.
An hour or so passes, and Fabian has not cleared the level. At last, he’s given up with protests about how the game is rigged, but Riz knows he’s joking- or at least hopes he is. They watch that detective noir movie that Riz wanted to see and it isn’t quite as good as they’d hoped but Riz got a good rant out of it. Fabian patiently listened to him go on about the inaccuracies, gently teasing with Riz about how it’s just a movie. They sit around and talk, and Fabian almost wishes they could play some kind of party game like ‘truth or dare’, but it’s just the two of them and it wouldn’t work well.
Finally, after games, movies, talking, and more talking, it’s midnight. Riz doesn’t want to sleep, but he promised he would and Fabian is getting tired.
“I’m going to go take a shower,” Fabian yawns, and opens the door to his bathroom. Riz sits around, first looking around the room, then opening drawers, and then finally deciding that going through people’s drawers is weird and he shouldn’t do that if it’s not a case. In order to keep himself from turning over every paper, blanket, and cabinet in the room, Riz sits on his crystal.
“How is it?” From Adaine, two hours ago. Then, forty minutes ago, “Still going ok? ;)” He knew she was worried now that she knew about the situation, but the winking face was throwing him off.
“Okay. Played some video games. Watched that noir, wasn’t as good as I hoped,” he typed, then added, “No kissing. Yet.” There was no response, and he tucked away his crystal. From the other room, he could faintly hear Fabian singing in the shower. He stopped to listen. Fabian had repeated the same verse four times and completely forgotten about another verse, but Riz thought it was perfect.
A few minutes later, Fabian reemerged into his room in shiny, silky pajamas. His hair was artfully tousled even just out of the shower. He flopped down on the bed, “You taking a shower tonight?”
“Sure,” Riz wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to have hot water. Their apartment has 2 minutes of hot water on a good day. It would take all his willpower not to stand in the shower and spiral into his thoughts for some thirty-or-so minutes, “Come save me if I’m in there for more than ten minutes.”
He earned a tiny laugh. Stowing his briefcase under an arm so that he could grab his change of clothes, Riz slunk into the bathroom. The shower was big, with frosted-glass walls and a menagerie of shampoo and soaps. Riz showered quickly- despite his subconscious telling him to kneel on the shower floor and stay there until he solved the secrets of the universe- and wrapped himself in the softest towel he’s ever felt.
Only digging through his briefcase for his clothes does he realize there’s a problem. He has his pair of gym shorts that he refuses to wear to gym and instead sleeps in, but he can’t find a shirt. Rather, he can’t find his shirt. There’s been a bit of a laundry mix-up, and the shirt in his briefcase is one of his mom’s blazers. He could theoretically wear it, but it’d be uncomfortable and just a bit small. The hoodie would be fine if it wasn’t so awfully hot to sleep in- he’d tried it, before.
He takes his nighttime meds before having to process his clothing situation.
“Fabian,” he groans, “Can I borrow one of your shirts?” Fabian looks up from where he’d been scrolling, idly, through his computer.
“It’s not going to fit you,” he says, as if Riz doesn’t know, and he goes to sort through a drawer. He finds an Aguefort Owlbears t-shirt that he rarely wears- he has his varsity jacket for team spirit, it would look bad to double up.
Riz opens the door to the bathroom, holding his towel, and catches the t-shirt when Fabian throws it to him. It shouldn’t be weird to see your friend shirtless. He shouldn’t make it weird; but Fabian is so surprised that he can’t stop his ears from tinting pink. Even when they would go to the river to swim, Riz wears a swim shirt.
The moment is gone immediately as Riz shrugs on the far-too-large shirt, and Fabian is left with the embarrassment. He still hasn’t told him.
“Should we go get an air mattress?” Riz says like there’s nothing wrong- like he’s not driving Fabian crazy.
“Nah, the bed is big enough,” Fabian wasn’t making excuses- the bed was legitimately big enough that if they were on opposite sides, Fabian couldn’t even reach Riz. It wasn’t like they hadn’t shared the bed for sleepovers, before. They had, and it was fine. Back then, though, Fabian wasn’t crushing on Riz like his life depended on it.
“Sounds good,” Riz sounded so casual. Internally, he was fighting to make it just a friend thing. He was going to have to tell Adaine a ‘told you so’. Not that it was a bad thing, that they were friends having a sleepover. It was fine. Adaine was wrong, though, about this particular sleepover being a smooch-central sleepover.
The lights were out, and Riz still didn’t feel like sleeping. Fabian was tired, but he also didn’t feel like sleeping. They laid on opposite sides of the bed- so it wasn’t a thing- and chatted in the dark.
“I had fun,” Fabian says into the pillow, “You’re better than me at video games.” He admits, instead of admitting what he wants to admit.
“I had fun, too,” Riz rolls over to look at Fabian in the dark, more than an arm’s length away, “I’m glad you’ve finally come around to it.” Even though it’s a dumb compliment, to say he’s good at video games, Riz feels his heart beam.
“Don’t get too cocky, the ball,” even with his darkvision, it’s hard to see Riz. He blends in among the mountains of fluffy blankets.
“I won’t,” he says. Then, softer, “Good night, Fabian.”
“Good night, the ball.” He falls asleep without telling Riz.
I've been super busy with work this past week, but I've finally been able to catch a break. Thank you all so much for all of your comments, truly. I know it sounds silly but the comments have kept me motivated to keep at it with this story! Chapter five is also finished and will be up shortly. I think chapter 5 is going to be the end for now, but I may write a continuation of this story at some point!
Chapter 5: Breakfast
Fabian decides it's time for a grand, romantic gesture. It results in both Fabian and Riz fumbling around their feelings. All is well in the end, and our beloved heroes get their kisses in.
Fabian woke in the warm morning light, rolling off the bed after a few moments. His gaze followed the sunlight of the porthole window- casting a perfect halo on where his head had been. He pulled the blinds down so that it wouldn’t wake Riz.
Still in shadow and shrouded by sleep, Riz slept. The tension in his face from suspicions, thinking, and worries had faded. He lay, crumpled into a ball, on the other corner of the bed. It appears as though Fabian- in his usual starfish-like ways- had spread out and stole the blankets. Riz was left clutching a sheet with his little claws, holding it bunched to his chest.
He was so small. That’s what struck Fabian, first. He was so small and precious. He was scrawny, lanky, and tiny, covered in patches of dark green freckles. Beautiful was never a word Fabian would’ve thought to call Riz. He was charming and smart, but he was not beautiful- not like statues and sunsets and gardens are beautiful. Seeing him in a little heap, though, seeing him in his loose gym shorts and one of Fabian’s t-shirts, he was beautiful. Not in spite of being gangly and freckled and scrawny, but because of it. He was Riz, and that made him beautiful to Fabian.
His heart was in his throat, looking down at the slumbering goblin. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen Riz asleep. In their past sleepovers, Riz had woken up first or he hadn’t slept at all.
Fabian wanted nothing more than to hug the sleeping bundle, to wrap him up in the sheet. He felt so sappy. He didn’t know how to handle things when they were tender feelings and soft looks instead of sudden, intense kisses. He wasn’t sure he could handle kisses, either, as much as he told himself he could.
Riz was snoring. A soft, almost unnoticeable snore. Fabian smiled. Now came the real reason he had elected to leave the porthole open and wake up at this unholy hour.
Fabian rushed down the stairs and into the kitchen, a place he had seldom been in all his years. He could ask Cathilda to do this, but he resolved not to. It wouldn’t be the same. This was his grand gesture. He’d manage the romantic duel another time. For now, he was going to find a recipe on his crystal and try his damndest to make breakfast.
After a few particularly vulgar, creative swears, an egg cracked on the floor, and nearly catching the sleeve of his silk pajamas on fire, Fabian accepted Cathilda’s help. It was too late to start over, but she could at least play damage control. The result wasn’t the best, but it was edible. Fabian beamed with pride at his fried egg on a (slightly burnt) croissant, complete with slices of sausage, some kind of fancy cheese from the fridge, and an orange on the side.
He had only technically made the egg. The sausage only needed to be cut and microwaved, and the croissant had no need to be toasted again. Of course, he also brewed up a fancy cup of coffee in a stein that looks like a tiny barrel. It took him a couple tries to work the coffee maker.
Cathilda snatches a bayleaf off of the egg-and-sausage sandwich and Fabian pouts.
“It was for garnish, Cathilda,” he waves his hand at his crystal’s recipe, “It makes it look fancy.”
“Yes, my darling boy,” she chuckles, “Many herbs are used as garnish. The bay leaf, I’m afraid, is not one to be put on breakfast.” Reluctantly trusting her judgement, Fabian puts his dish on a little wooden tray and carries it back to his room. The coffee spills a bit on the stairs.
At the top of the landing, Fabian pops a few mints, just in case.
When he arrives, Riz is stirring. He rolls over in his nest of sheets and makes a surprised chirp as his eyes slowly open. He bolts upright in an instant, not allowing himself any vulnerability.
“What’s that?” He glances at Fabian’s tray, his voice rough from sleep. His ears twitch- ever expressive, even if Fabian doesn’t know how to read it.
“It’s food, the Ball. You eat it,” Fabian sets the tray down on the bedside table. An amused smirk forms on his face.
“You-“ Riz glances between Fabian and the food and lowers his guard, “You made this for me?” He blinks. The food smells good, if a little burnt, but Riz can’t imagine Fabain cooking.
“Well, yes,” Fabian remarks, “But if you don’t want it-“ He straightens out his pajama top. Was it too much that he unbuttoned the top couple buttons? He hoped it looked casual and not purposeful. Riz’s eyes hadn’t left the food, or his face. He swallowed hard, suddenly worried. He shouldn’t be scared like this.
“No, no,” Riz interrupts, “I’m glad.” An awkward silence settles, broken by Riz reaching for the coffee. He picks it up between both of his hands, taking a gulp and then holding it just to feel the warmth.
“How is it? Perfect, right?” Fabian sits on the edge of the bed. This is his moment. Riz’s pupils are dilated. It’s a weird thing with goblins. He knows their pupils expand with interest and to see in low light, but he can’t for the life of him figure out what it means right now. He’s not sure if Riz is nervous- his claws are scratching the side of the mug- or if he’s in awe- he watches Fabian like that when he dances.
Riz doesn’t know what to say. Truthfully, the coffee isn’t that good. It’s some fancy fruity stuff that’s supposed to have “notes” of cherry or some shit like that. This is about the gesture, though- and he would feel ungrateful saying no. Despite it not being dark and unbearably strong, Riz likes it. Not for the taste. It warms part of his chest, that Fabian thought to make him coffee.
“It’s good,” he manages, voice unsteady. He starts to eat- though not with his usual speed- to avoid elaborating. He picks apart the sandwich with his hands, ripping off pieces from the croissant. He catches Fabian staring and startles, snatching up the fork. Right, it was impolite to eat with his hands.
“Is something wrong?” Fabian asks, leaning away to give Riz some space. He wasn’t eating much- was it that bad? Riz loves a good meal, he’d never seen Riz any less than devour his food. He was staring at the pieces of croissant like it was an investigation- picking up pieces delicately like they were clues.
Riz wants to tell him not to lean away, that everything is ok, but his mind is running through evidence right now. Breakfast in bed is supposed to be a romantic thing. It’s a couple’s thing- maybe even like, a married thing. Not that it was weird to make breakfast for your friends. That would be sweet and thoughtful. Generally, though, it has some kind of romantic intention.
It would be fine if it was a friend thing, too. Sure, Riz had finally got the crush off his chest and admitted it, but he’d still be glad to be best friends with Fabian. It didn’t mean anything less than the crush did. Right now, though, this felt like a deliberate gesture- one that could mean Fabian liked him.
The food wasn’t bad. It wasn’t the best he’d eaten but Riz was so thankful. He wished he could stomach eating it. He was too overwhelmed by thinking through the gesture, too panicked about what this meant to actually have an appetite.
He remembered something about love languages that he’d found in his fervent research. Judging on his friendships, Fabian was definitely big on giving gifts and dramatic gestures. Riz didn’t know what his was. He could read a crime scene in minutes but this? It wasn’t his strong suit. What he did know is that he appreciated Fabian doing something for him, and he felt like melting every time Fabian compliments him.
“Y'know, breakfast in bed is usually seen as a couples thing,” Riz says, just in case this is one of those weird cultural things Fabian doesn’t get (like maids being normal people). Fabian turns red. He runs a hand through his hair and laughs.
“Oh, the Ball! You’re funny.” Why is he backpedaling? Why is he backpedaling? Fabian felt the fear grip him at Riz’s level tone. Oh no. He screwed up. He isn’t the most perceptive person, but he thinks he sees something sad on Riz’s face, for a moment.
“So it’s not?” Riz puts down his fork, “I mean, it’s not like. A couple thing?”
“Well it is,” Fabian manages, voice a little more hoarse than expected, “I mean, in general. It doesn’t need to be. For us. But it can be.” Hearing his own floundering makes his ears burn and his heart hammer more than seeing Riz’s wide-eyed stare. He’s supposed to be charming. He’s supposed to be good at this kind of thing.
Fabian wishes he had gone with the duel plan. He could look dashing without having to rely on serious talking. He could make thinly-veiled quips about Riz’s form and how nimble he is until the tension was unbearable and they had to kiss. It would’ve been perfect. Again, no flaws in the duel plan at all. Except, of course, if Riz didn’t like him and then he’d be kissing him without permission based on an assumption and that would be awful. Riz must have such high standards. He’s never dated anyone, and he’s so smart. Fabian feels a pit in his stomach.
“It is?” Riz puts down the stein of coffee with a clank. He feels his ears burning, “You- You, Fabian, are uh,” he gestures at himself, “doing couple’s things for me?” He curses the awkwardness. He was always awkward- always. Riz could be clever and witty but he was never good at this kind of talking.
“I said if you want it to be,” Fabian tests, “I don’t know what you mean by,” he repeats the gesturing, “this. But, yes?” Fabian hears Riz take a sudden, quick breath.
“I do,” Riz feels everything in him screaming, “I mean, I do want it to be. I just meant- you, you’re cool and handsome and I’m,” he pauses, “I’m uh, I’m not cool. I’m a nerd, a loser, and a goblin and-“
“What does being a goblin have to do with it?” Fabian presses, desperately avoiding the implication of the rest. Riz wants it to be a couple’s thing?
“I don’t know. I just-“ he starts to stammer, looking anywhere but Fabian’s face. Unfortunately, his gaze drops to where Fabian’s silken pajama shirt is unbuttoned. His cheeks and his ears go teal. He’d seen Fabian in a tank top that covered less, but this was somehow worse.
“The ball,” Fabian tries to interject.
“Well I wasn’t meaning to say that you’d be, yknow, against goblins I was more so saying that in general-“ he rambles, and his insides feel like they’re boiling. He’s going to mess this up, isn’t he?
“Riz!” Fabian grabs his arm. Riz freezes. He’s been suppressing this for so long- trying not to make one of his best friendships ever weird, and here they are.
“Yeah?” He manages, after a moment of looking at Fabian’s concerned eyes. He’s vaguely aware his pupils must be like saucers.
“I like you, okay? I thought maybe you thought of me as a friend- which would be cool, too- because you’re always saying we’re best friends. I mean, we are,” Fabian blurts out, “You’re cool to me.” He realizes how dumb it sounds after he says it.
“I like you,” Riz breathes, “How could I not like you?” He’s all tangled up in the sheets, face burning from blushing, hair messed up from sleep.
“Hey, Fabian?” Riz says, softer.
This is it, Fabian thinks. This is the moment. His heart is hammering. He thinks Riz might be able to hear it, even though that would be impossible. Riz’s voice breaks the momentary silence, “How many mints do you have in your mouth?”
“The ball!” He gestures wildly, “I thought you were going to ask me to kiss you! Or date you!”
“So what’s with the mints?” He jokes.
“To make my breath fresh. For kissing! In case we kissed!” He starts to laugh, despite himself. Riz grins in the way that shows his fangs.
“Well, let’s not waste it, then,” Riz only has a moment to process how smooth he sounds- he sounds so cool for once! The next second Fabian is putting a hand under his chin to tilt his face up and another around his waist to pull him forward.
It’s clumsy and all sorts of awkward. Fabian’s lips are softer than Riz expects them to be. He can taste the almost unbearably strong taste of mint. He doesn’t know whether to close his eyes. This is his first real kiss. Kristen kissing them all freshman year didn’t count.
Fabian doesn’t expect to like the taste of coffee on Riz, but it’s halfway decent, maybe good if he gets used to it. Riz is a sloppy kisser. It’s fair. He’s never done this before. Fabian wishes he could say he was much better. For all his boasting, he hadn’t exactly been practicing.
“So,” Riz starts, but doesn’t elaborate. He takes a moment to catch his breath. It was a short kiss, but it took the wind out of him, “That was pretty good.”
“Of course it was,” Fabian feels his words returning to him, along with a sly smile, “Let’s do it again.”
“Getting our kisses in?” Riz jokes, to cope with his heart threatening to beat out of his chest. Fabian’s face is inches from his own. Riz wraps his arms around Fabian’s neck, unsure of what else to do. He tries to be wary of his claws, but when Fabian full-force kisses him again, his self control is gone. His fingers wrap in Fabian’s hair, claws gently scratching his scalp.
“Claws,” Fabian gasps after a moment, and Riz jerks his hands away.
“Sorry,” he whispers.
“No, it’s fine,” Fabian flushes darker, which he wasn’t sure was possible, “I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m up for it.”
Partially to avoid responding, and partially so Fabian can’t see his own darkened blush, Riz kisses him again. He’s gone from years of no kisses at all to three in quick succession, and he’s still trying to process that Fabian likes him.
Already high off of his plan working, of Riz being into him, Fabian feels weeks of emotion trying to come out. Fabian opens his mouth to say something but Riz is kissing him a third time and now it’s become an open-mouthed kiss and Fabian can’t feel his lungs. One of Riz’s fangs clips Fabian’s lip and he shudders. It’s a good shudder, he thinks. He pulls away gasping.
“Riz,” he steadiest himself and tries to calm his breathing, “This is happening.” He says it just so he knows it’s real. That this isn’t some wild dream like he’s had, before. He wraps his arms around Riz and squeezes him tight to his chest.
“Yeah,” Riz doesn’t know what else to say. He just lets Fabian hug him, “Ah, you’re crushing me.” Fabian rests his chin on the top of Riz’s head, suddenly grateful that he doesn’t need to make eye-contact.
“Wait!” Fabian’s eyes widen in realization, and Riz jolts.
“What?” Riz asks, craning his neck up to look at Fabian, who still hasn’t released him from the bone-crushing hug.
“You like me,” he says, as if it’s news. Riz laughs.
“Yeah? And?” Riz pointedly pokes Fabian’s chest, “I do, and you can’t make fun of me for it because you like me.” He wriggles a bit to get Fabian to loosen his grip.
“You know what that means?” Fabian says, conspiratorial, as if he knows a secret, “We could date.”
“I can’t believe Fabian Seacaster is my boyfriend,” Riz teases, but feels his grin widen at the words. He falters a bit, nervous, “First date at Basrar’s? Or is that cheesy.”
“We could get a salted caramel milkshake with two straws. It’ll be so romantic,” Fabian pushes his forehead against Riz’s. He can’t believe this is happening.
“I’ll drink the whole thing,” Riz’s voice drops to a whisper and he isn’t sure why, “You know it.”
“Then we’ll get two milkshakes with two straws,” Fabain whispers back, and Riz breaks down laughing.
“Next weekend?” He says when he can breath, again.
“You bet,” Fabian gives a peck of a kiss on Riz’s forehead, causing the goblin to bury his face in his hands in a flustered mess, “Speaking of dates, I have a great plan for a romantic duel...”
Thank you all for reading! This is the end of this story for now, but I will probably revisit it soon. I might write the romantic duel, if people are interested.
Like I said at the beginning, this is my first time posting anything to Ao3 so hopefully it's all okay. I haven't written much in a few years (and I've never really written romance) so I tried my best. Thank you!
If you want to see my fanart / other d20 stuff, my tumblr is @hoot-growl.