Caleb stared into the firelight, lost in thought. Every person he had ever killed floated to the front of his mind, staring at him, asking why.
“ich musste,” he murmured, over and over again, running his fingers over the pages of his spellbook.
A loud clatter startled him out of his musings, and he glanced up to see Fjord and the plateful of food he’d set in front of him. “Eating time,” the half-orc grunted, tilting his head to the side, where the rest of the party sat around a table.
Caleb smiled and sat down, patting his friend’s shoulder.
Fjord gave a pleased chuff and pushed the plate closer.
Caleb tried not to read too much into it. “Meal time is sacred in orc culture, ja?”
Fjord shrugged. “Not sure, to be quite honest.”
“Eh?” Caleb asked, shoving food into his mouth. “You did not grow up among orc-kind?”
“Not really.” Fjord gave a pained smile. “Some things are just instinct.” He scanned through the room. “Keep your pack safe,” he muttered, almost to himself, “keep your pups happy and your mate secure.”
Caleb nodded. “You have done a good job so far.”
Fjord huffed, but smiled more genuinely as he glanced over. “Pleased you think so. Touches me right here.” He tapped his chest.
Caleb rolled his eyes. “Now you are just being dramatic.”
Fjord grinned as he shrugged. “It’s been known to happen.”
ich könnte dich küssen, Caleb thought.
Caleb scowled and glared at the horizon, what little could be seen in the dark of the night. He kept his back to the fire, for sanity as well as to preserve his night vision.
One of his companions tossed and turned into their sleep, and then he heard Fjord get up, move behind him, rubbing his shoulders and looking up at the stars. “It’s past your watch.”
“I’m not tired,” Caleb said simply. “I did not see the point in waking you.”
Fjord stepped away, then came back with a thick blanket, wrapping it around Caleb’s shoulders. “You’re freezing.”
“ja,” Caleb snorted. “That is what happens in the winter.”
Fjord rolled his eyes as he sat down next to Caleb and pulled him close, resting his head in the crook of his shoulder. “Go to sleep, Caleb.”
Caleb sighed. “I told you I can’t.”
Fjord hummed and scraped his nails over Caleb’s scalp. “Just try.”
Caleb soon found himself drifting off to sleep. ich könnte jede Nacht so einschlafen, he almost said.
The body was still burning, in fact, it had only just stopped writhing in agony.
“Come on,” Fjord said, leading Caleb away.
“Where are we going?” the wizard demanded.
Fjord shrugged. “Away from here.”
Caleb sighed and let himself be pulled along.
Eventually, they emerged in a different tunnel. The sounds of the rest of the party drifting in and out as they finished off what few enemies were left and began to uncover what treasure could be found.
“Are you alright?” Fjord asked. “I know you that gets to you some times.”
Caleb brushed him off with a wave of his hand, turning to walk back. “I will be fine.”
“But you’re not right now.” Fjord sounded painfully earnest.
Caleb bristled. “Why is that any concern of yours?”
Fjord seemed to shrink in on himself. “You’re – you’re… pack,” he said.
“und?” Caleb asked, not understanding.
Fjord shook his head. “Pack,” he repeated, firmer this time.
“Saying it again the same way won’t make me understand.”
Fjord growled and stalked up to him, jabbing him in the collar bone with a finger. “You’re important to me, you piece of shit. So let me make sure you’re okay.”
Caleb blinked in shock. “Okay,” he murmured. “I’m not okay.”
Fjord dismissed his falchion and wrapped his arms around Caleb’s shoulder.
The wizard buried his face in his friend’s neck. “I’m not okay,” he repeated. aber solange Sie hier sind, glaube ich, dass es mir gut gehen wird, he did not say.
Caleb picked at his food, feeling worn out at best, utterly drained at worst. It did not help he had taken up his courage and ordered a traditional Zemnian dish from the bartender. It only made him think of home.
Fjord sat next to him and very pointedly ate large bites of his own food. “Eating time,” he said softly.
Caleb took a large bite, chewing carefully. “My mother used to make this,” he said, shoving it around his plate a little more.
Fjord’s silence was heavy. He set his plate down. “I grew up in an orphanage,” he said. “I never knew my mother. I still miss her. But how can you miss what you never had?”
Caleb glanced up.
Fjord smiled sadly. “Will you tell me about yours?”
Caleb thought for a moment, then he nodded and started to speak. was ist es an dir, das mich dazu bringen will, dir alles zu erzählen, he wondered.
Caleb carefully copied his spells from one book to another, paying careful attention to every rune, desperately trying not to think of his father watching him with pride, failing miserably. He lifted his pen from the page, it was better to give in now and try again later, when the chances of mistakes were much lower.
As he packed his books away, Fjord came behind him, wrapping his arms around his waist and carrying him from the room.
“was ist!” Caleb shouted. “Put me down!”
Fjord laughed and ran into the nearby bathing chamber, dumping him in the water, clothes and all.
Caleb hissed and stood, dirty brown rivulets – more of mud than water - streaming down his face and from his clothes. “You’re going to pay for that.”
“Now!” Nott called, and she locked the door as Jester pounced with rags and soap.
“Fjord!” Caleb begged.
Fjord grinned and shook his head. “Sorry, Cay, it was getting to be time.”
“Yes,” Jester agreed, smiling widely. “You are getting very stinky, much more than normal.”
Caleb sighed and resigned himself to his fate, watching the inordinately pleased half-orc out of the corner of his eye. “ich hasse dich,” he spat. He didn’t mean it.
Fjord stared in the water, his usual smile gone from his face.
Caleb put a hand on his shoulder. "alle ist gut?"
Fjord nodded and scrubbed a hand down his face. "Yeah, just taking a minute."
Caleb sat down cross-legged on a nearby crate. "I will be here."
He sat still, glaring at passersby, until Fjord sighed and moved back from the edge, coming to sit near him. He rubbed his shoulder and leaned close, breathing in the smell of his leather armor and the salt woven into his skin after so many years at sea. "alle ist gut."
Fjord shivered and pulled his knees up to his chest.
"You miss the sea so much," Caleb said. "Do you think you will stay?"
"To be honest," Fjord sighed, "I don't know. The sea is home, but...." He turned and looked down at Caleb.
All it took was a tilt of the head.
They pressed their foreheads together, breathing slowly and deeply.
Fjord smiled. "I think that was a long time coming."
Caleb hummed softly. "ja, me, too." He grabbed Fjord's broad and callused hand, turning it over, threading their fingers together, and said out loud "Wherever you go, I will go with you."