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you, by the campfire

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There’s a commission that’s been up on the board for weeks, one everyone’s been kind of avoiding. It’s not even that high of a difficulty, just a mundane, B-rank acquisition mission. It’s something Bennett could easily do, if only he had someone else to back him up. Even just one person would be enough.

But no one wants to. It’s kind of a given that no one would want to, even if you factor out Bennett’s, ah, less than stellar reputation in the Guild. After all, only the hardiest of adventurers would even chance at something so deep within the Stormterror’s Lair, even now, months after the Traveller had dealt with the seals keeping people out. Besides, the safest route to get there is covered in hilichurls and slimes; even if one would theoretically be willing to complete the commission… getting there alone was a mission in and of itself!

So there it stays, waiting on the commission board for someone to take pity on it and pick it up. Bennett can sort of sympathize.

He waits a whole month for someone, anyone, to try and pick it up. Nothing ever stays on the commission board for long - A-rank and S-rank commissions get snapped up in days. B-rank commissions in hours. C-rank and D-rank commissions in minutes. To Bennett’s memory, the only other thing that’d taken this long to get fulfilled was the commission to go into the Stormterror’s Lair itself to deal with the dragon, and that was only because people kept failing.

Maybe Katheryne had noticed Bennett staring, because eventually, she asks, “You’ve been looking at that commission for a while now, haven’t you, Bennett?”

“Oh!” Bennett startles, scratching the back of his neck in his embarrassment. “Y-yeah. I was just, y’know. Wondering why it’s taken so long for anyone to notice it.” 

“Hm,” Katheryne hums, consideringly. He doesn’t think she believes him, but it hadn’t exactly been the best of cover-ups, truth be told. “Would you be interested in claiming it? It’s been up so long, I’ve considered adding a bonus to the job.”

“Haha, well, you know me,” Bennet laughs. “I’m so unlucky, no one would even think about coming along if they saw my name on it.”

“Perhaps we can make arrangements, then, if you could find someone outside of the Guild to accompany you.” Katheryne offers, her smile sweet and not at all scheming, as she walks over to the commission board and unpins the flyer for Bennett. “Think about it.”

It’s the first time Katheryne’s ever personally entrusted a commission to Bennett. Bennett can’t help but feel a surge of pride as he clutches the flyer to his chest and nods. Even if he has a few misgivings about her faith in his ability to drum up any sort of support.

With a determined grin that’s a little more confident than he feels, he says, “I… I won’t let you down, then!”

“Good,” Katheryne says, as she graciously waves Bennett off. “Ad Astra Abyssosque.”

Bennett nods, offering her the Guild motto in turn, as he runs back to the dormitories to talk to the Dads.

 

--

 

It takes about three days of preparation for the trip - and really, it’s less about preparing for the trip and more about looking for others to help the Dads out for a week or two while Bennett’s gone. He still hasn’t found anyone to help him with the mission itself - Barbara’s much too busy with her work at the Cathedral, and Fischl is still out on her own commission on Starsnatch Cliff - but at this point, his mind’s made up. Katheryne had asked him to help, so what else could he do but try his best?

It’s with this mindset that Bennett resolutely heads out of the city.

Just as Bennett is making his way down Mondstadt’s main street toward the southern gates, Katheryne calls out to him, prompting him to come closer.

“All ready for the trip, I see?” Katheryne says with a smile.

“Yes! I didn’t exactly manage to find anyone to help… but I’m gonna try!” Bennett promises, giving her his best thumbs up. He’s excited, of course, because how could he not be excited? But he can’t help but be nervous, too - after all, it’s a long way off, and a lot could go wrong on a long trip, even if he is careful.

“I was going to give this to you as a reward bonus,” Katheryne says, setting a small box on top of the ledge of her kiosk window, “but perhaps it could be better used on the mission itself. Would you like to have it?”

“R-really?” Bennett asks, staring up at her with big eyes, his heart squeezing tight in his chest at the thought that - that maybe, even if he didn’t always come out triumphant, Katheryne had seen him give his all every time. That maybe, she thought he deserved a reward, or at least a little push. “It’s really okay for me to have it?”

Katheryne nods, offering him an encouraging smile.

“You - oh, oh wow…! Katheryne, are you really, really sure?” Bennett asks, as he carefully, gently takes out the brilliant blue silk flower. Bennett can tell right off the bat - it’s an extremely high quality artifact, the sorts of things you’d find in only the most dangerous of domains. “This thing is incredible. I don’t think - I don’t think I’ve ever held anything so expensive. I’m scared I’ll break it.”

Katheryne laughs and gestures for Bennett to get closer. When he does she takes the flower and pins it to his shirt, before smoothing it out over his chest and pulling back. “Something like this wouldn’t break so easily,” she assures him. “Be safe out there, Bennett. Ad Astra Abyssosque.”

Bennett nods, his lower lip wibbling a little as a flush of emotion overtakes him. “Same to you, Katheryne! Ad Astra Abyssosque!” He chokes out, touched. He can already feel the heat prickling at the back of his eyes as happy tears threaten to drip out. Before she could catch them, Bennett quickly turns away and dashes off, waving goodby eas he goes.

 

--

 

For all that the start of his day had been amazing, the rest of Bennett's day had been admittedly pretty par for course. Maybe he'd been sort of hoping Katheryne's present would be something of a good luck charm, or at the very least, keep him from avoiding the more preventable of incidents, but no dice.

Well, all in all, it's not the worst of days. At least a few of his troubles had been boons in surprise - instead of a rock, he'd been pelted in the head by an apple somewhere just outside of Springvale, and not even hard enough to damage it. Sure, the thing was a little bruised, but you can't exactly say no to a free apple! Of course, accidentally falling into one of those freezing little puddles on the way towards Dawn Winery wasn't so great, but hey - it'd saved him from one of those hilichurl archers' arrows, so, like, win some lose some. However, given that he is Bennett, he had run into one of those rare electro crystals along the way, and, well - 

That's definitely one way to dry off. Not that Bennett would recommend it.

And then, just when he thought he was in the clear, an angry boar comes out of nowhere and sends him flying! Even hours after, once he'd caught the boar, dressed and bled it, and set it to roast, he's still sore.

It'd been a while since he'd been able to go off on his own. He'd forgotten just how exhausting adventuring can get - though true to form, that flower Katheryne had given him really helped, keeping him going long past when he'd normally have stopped for a break. He'd still have to make a stop at the Statue of the Seven before he headed north, which would set him back a few hours, but as far as Stormterror's Lair was concerned, it would be well worth it.

Hopefully.

If nothing else happened to him on the journey there.

The universe must be listening in on his thoughts, because the moment he even thinks about it, he hears the snap of a twig behind him. It rings loudly in the silence of the evening, immediately setting Bennett on edge.

There's a number of things it could be, but knowing Bennett's luck... he wouldn't be surprised if a few hilichurls caught scent of his dinner and wanted a cut for themselves. He'd be happy to share, of course, but it's not like they'd be interested in talking first.

Slowly, carefully, Bennett sets the cut of meat he'd been eating down atop the rock he'd been sitting on. That way, hopefully, the scuffle wouldn't send his food flying into the dirt - assuming he’d still be around to eat it afterward.

The sun is deep in the horizon, now, casting everything into a soft, dim fuzziness. Not exactly what you’d call ideal for spotting an ambush, but Bennett resolutely manifests his blade, warily scanning his surroundings for enemies. The world goes completely still between one breath and the next, and then -

The bushes to his right rustle ominously, and immediately, Bennett moves for the kill. That is, until he spots the wild mane of white hair that pops out - too pale to belong to a hilichurl. Bennett only barely stops himself from lopping the boy's head off, dropping his sword the moment he realizes - he knows this person.

"Razor!!" Bennett cries out, clutching his chest with relief. His heart had been thumping so hard with adrenaline it nearly hurt. "You scared me!"

Razor stops his curious sniffing long enough to tug his hair (and the numerous belts on his coat) out of the bush, eyes softening as he offers Bennett a sheepish smile. "I'm sorry." And then, "Bennett... eat now?"

Bennett blinks at Razor once, twice, and then bursts into laughter, walking up to Razor on his post-adrenaline-wobbly legs to help him get the twigs out of his hair. "I seriously thought you were a bunch of hilichurls! Warn a guy next time!"

"Not hilichurl." Razor looks distinctly offended at Bennett's assumption, even as he leans into Bennett's careful hands. Bennett laughs easily, carefully unspooling a lock of hair where it's tangled around a little piece of bark. He always laughs easily around Razor.

"What are you doing out here anyways? We're a little ways away from Wolvendom," Bennett says conversationally, trying not to fluster at just how easily Razor lets him touch. Bennett knows, logically, that being raised by wolves makes a guy a little less conscious of human social norms, but it’s still - 

It’s hard, remembering that he ought not look too far into it. Not when, y’know, he’s liked Razor for ages. 

Razor takes a second to come up with his words, as he often does, but just as he opens his mouth to speak - a loud gurgle wells up from Razor's stomach instead. “Smelled something good. Hungry,” Razor says, without an ounce of shame. And like that, the nearly overwhelming longing gives way to a bright and giddy fondness.

Bennett barks out a laugh, gesturing at the pork roasting over the fire and says, "You want some? I don’t mind sharing."

Immediately, Razor perks up, nodding eagerly as he settles down next to the fire. Razor doesn’t usually carry a mess kit, but that’s just as well - Bennett keeps spares on him, in case his own get lost or broken or stolen.

While he’s carving into the side of the cooked boar, Razor startles the shit out of him, running a gentle hand down Bennett’s arm, where he’d been grazed by the boar’s tusk. “You are hurt,” he says quietly, his brows pulling down into the most somber look Bennett’s ever seen on a person.

“Oh, that? That’s nothing. This guy put up a real fight is all,” Bennett says, gesturing at the boar. Seeing a good opportunity for a story, Bennett hands the plate and the thick slab of pork steak to Razor and eagerly starts, “He just didn’t want to go down! I was honestly just minding my own business, when...”

Maybe, the story is really, really good, because instead of ravenously devouring his meat like he always does, Razor stares intently at Bennett. He doesn’t stop chewing, of course, because like any good adventurer, Razor knows just how important it is to eat and stay energized, but for once, he doesn’t tune Bennett out the way he usually does.

It’s… kind of encouraging! Flattering, even, because Bennett knows Razor’s attention span for stories is pretty minimal. Bennett can’t help the fluttery, giddy feeling that wells up in his gut, knowing that Razor’s interested in what he has to say.

Or, at least, he thinks he is. Razor doesn't really react the way most people do, when told a story, but Bennett also sort of figures there's a kind of cultural barrier there on top of the language barrier. He doesn't really say anything after Bennett's done - he just kind of solemnly nods, as if deep in thought, and says, "I'm happy you are safe. I'm happy you hunt boar, have much to eat."

At that, Bennett laughs good-naturedly and says, "Yeah, I'm sure you're happy about the boar. Does it taste good?"

Razor looks down at his plate, almost completely finished at this point (slower than usual, if you'd believe it! Bennett himself's got a huge appetite, but it's nothing compared to what he's seen Razor eat in one sitting), and then nods. "Tastes good."

Bennett can't help the flush of pleasure that blooms in his chest. For all that the bar is... generally pretty low, given that Razor isn't exactly what you'd call a gourmet, the fact that he's made someone happy is reason enough to put Bennett in a good mood!

There's a pause, as Razor reaches out and gently touches Bennett's arm again. It almost sort of tickles, raising goosebumps on Bennett's arm as his finger gently traces a wide circle around the scabbed-over gash. The edges of it are puckered and a little red in a way that tells Bennett it’s probably not infected, but it’ll definitely leave a fun scar. "Bennett... does it hurt?"

Bennett blinks down, trying to will away the heat in his cheeks at being touched so carefully. "Oh, that?” he chokes out, mustering up as best a smile as he can when there’s a pretty boy frowning down at his scrapes. “Nah, it's not that bad. The one on my side is way worse."

Oops. That's the wrong thing to say, based on the way Razor's brow tugs down even further.

Before Razor can say anything else, Bennett laughs, glancing away as he says, "Besides, I was going to stop by the statue tomorrow before I head off again, so it'll be fine!"

There's a long, awkward silence, before Bennett hears the clatter of Razor putting down his plate and utensils.  "You stay here. I come back, bring wolfhook."

"Wh - Razor, it's fine, you really don't have to - " Bennett says, something in his gut squirming at the thought of Razor going out of his way to do something so sweet for him. But before Bennett can actually stop him, Razor's dashing off into the underbrush, too fast for Bennett to try and stop him, even if he wanted to.

"Ah. Okay," Bennett says into the open air. "That's, y'know. Awesome."

Bennett waits a few minutes to see if Razor will come back for more meat, but evidently, he’s serious about the wolfhook thing. Bennett’s grateful, for sure, but - well, he prefers eating dinner with a friend to eating alone. With a resigned sigh, he cuts out another chunk of roast pork and tucks into it.

 

Razor's gone long enough that Bennett's managed to clean off their mess kits and set up camp, cutting off the already-cooked hunks of meat and storing them as best he can for the journey ahead. He's gone long enough for the sun to settle under the horizon, long enough for Bennett to get a little worried. But just as Bennett resolves to get up and look for Razor, the boy bursts right back out of the bushes, practically skidding to a halt in front of Bennett's camp. In his arms is a small pile of wolfhooks, the tips carefully snapped off, along with some other supplies - pinecones, potatoes, sunsettias, and a bag slung over his shoulder.

"What's all this?" Bennett laughs, watching as Razor carefully sets everything down.

"I come with you," Razor gruffs, as he quickly, clumsily organizes his things on the ground, setting aside the wolfhooks for use. "I protect you. You don't get hurt."

He sounds like he won’t take no for an answer. Not that Bennett would turn down company on his journey, but also, surely, Razor has better things to do than this, and - 

Well, it feels selfish, to be monopolizing Razor’s time like this. Even if he really, really wants to say yes.

"I - " Bennett chokes out, a helpless little fluster welling up in his chest at even the thought that Razor would offer. "Razor, it's okay, you don't really - "

Razor shoots Bennett a look, and says, "You have big journey. Go alone, many danger. With pack, more safe."

"A-are you sure? I'm going all the way to Stormterror's Lair. That's.... pretty far from home for you, isn't it?" Bennett manages in the weakest of protests. He tries, and fails, to swallow back the overwhelming feeling of, of giddy excitement and genuine joy that blooms inside him at the fact that Razor wants to travel with him. That he wants to... to go out of his way to keep Bennett safe.

Solemnly, Razor nods, tugging off his gloves and grabbing one of the wolfhooks. With his other hand he gestures to Bennett to hand over the offending arm. "I come with you," Razor says resolutely, as he carefully splits open one of the berries.

It’s cold and sticky on Bennett’s arm, but Razor makes him promise not to wipe it off (well, the actual term he uses is “lick,” but Bennett figures the sentiment is there), before demanding, “Where else?”

It takes a bit of badgering, but Razor eventually bullies Bennett into taking off his shirt, and, uh, wow. “It wasn’t that big the last time I saw it, I swear,” Bennett laughs, as Razor forces him to keep his arm up, pawing at him to turn this way and that with a displeased look on his face. The bruise across his ribs aches something fierce, now that Razor’s brought attention to it, and feels even worse, still, when Razor’s a little too rough smearing berry guts onto it.

“Is good, but don’t lick,” Razor warns him again when they’re done - even as he licks the residual berry juice off his own fingers.

Bennet huffs a laugh at the sheer hypocrisy and says, “Okay, but when can I put down my arm?”

Razor pulls a thinking face, before he says, “Wait for dry.” And then, with a huff, he worms his way under Bennett’s arm, allowing Bennett to use his shoulder to prop his arm up.

“Oh,” Bennett says, blinking at Razor. Slowly, in steadily growing waves, he becomes distinctly aware of the lack of distance between them, of the heat of the fire reflecting off of Razor’s body, of the feathery length of Razor’s eyelashes.

Razor is so pretty. He’s so pretty, and he’s so cool, and in the quiet moments, when Bennett’s got nothing to distract him from these two incontrovertible facts, he can’t help but ache with the sheer and sudden understanding of just how much he likes Razor.

Rather than, y’know, doing something about his ridiculous crush, though, Bennett swallows hard and simply says, “Thanks.”

“Mn,” Razor hums, staring off into the fire as if he can’t hear the way Bennett’s heart is screaming I like you, I like you, I like you from just a few inches away. And then, he glances in Bennett’s direction and asks, “You have more meat? I’m hungry.”

 

--

 

Over the course of the next hour or so, Bennett watches as Razor systematically takes apart comically large amounts of meat. He’s seen it all before, of course, because sometimes they just hang out and eat together, but it’s still kind of astounding.

It doesn’t take more than a few minutes for all the berry guts on Bennett’s side to have dried, leaving his skin feeling weird and tacky (and surprisingly less achey!). But either Razor doesn’t notice, or doesn’t mention it, because he lets Bennett hang on him the entire time, without complaint.

Honestly, Bennett can’t help the giddy little thing welling up in his chest. Every time he so much as glances over at Razor, sedately picking over the remains of the meat, he’s reminded of the fact that Razor wanted to come with Bennett. He’d chosen to join along on the mission, simply because he thought Bennett could use the help.

Really, he ought not to get too excited, because Razor might get scared off by Bennett’s bad luck, just like all of the others that’d come before him. But It’s hard to really imagine Razor doing that at all - the guy is just… so cool. Unphased by anything that might come his way. Ready to take anything on at a moment’s notice.

Bennett likes him so much. 

It takes a while, but Razor does eventually get full. It’s kind of cute, watching him muzzily glance around camp, looking for a place to settle in for the night, before inching a little closer to Bennett’s warmth. “Do you want to sleep? I’m not tired yet, so I can take first watch,” Bennett says, shifting to make room. “I don’t mind if you use my bedroll… but well, I can’t really promise a good night’s rest. As long as I’m awake, it’s hard to turn off the, y’know, bad luck thing.”

Razor blinks up at Bennett and scowls. “I keep watch. Protect you.”

“You sure there, buddy?” Bennett laughs, smoothing Razor’s long bangs out of his face. “You look like you haven’t been sleeping much. I mean, I know you can’t help it, since you’re so pale ‘n all, but you’ve got some serious circles under your eyes.”

Razor makes a face, shaking Bennett off. But he doesn’t move away from Bennett - if anything, he worms in a little closer, mouth splitting open in a loud yawn. “I made a promise,” Razor says carefully, like it’s something he’d learned and rehearsed. “Klee says, if you make a promise, you have to do it.”

Bennett laughs and nods. “Yes, yes. You’re right,” Bennett says, patting Razor’s hair like he’s a particularly good dog. Razor leans into it, soaking in the physical contact. It’s cute. “You’ve gotta keep your promises. But you’ve gotta take care of yourself, too. If you’re too tired, you won’t be able to protect me, right?”

“Ah,” Razor says, frowning hard, like Bennett had just introduced a particularly difficult conundrum. “Right.”

“So it’s okay if you sleep right now. I’ll wake you up when I get sleepy, okay?” Bennett says. “And then you can protect me after.”

Razor looks very much like he’d like to protest, but he doesn’t quite have the words to express his displeasure. With a huff, he stubbornly reasserts himself next to Bennett and says, “I won’t sleep.”

“Alright,” Bennett says. “But if you do, I’ll be awake for a while longer.”

“I won’t sleep,” Razor repeats, as if repeating it would make it any more true.

“Alright, buddy, I gotcha. Stay up with me a while, then,” Bennett grins, poking the fire a little.

 

--

 

Razor nods off against Bennett’s shoulder not even ten minutes later, slumping his weight against Bennett’s side as his breathing evens out.

As the night wears on, Bennett doesn’t quite have the heart to wake Razor. It’s surprisingly clear out, good weather. Suspiciously so, but Bennett isn’t going to complain. Even if, between the fire and Razor, he’s getting pretty warm.