Lucretia’s the one who notices it, ten cycles in, after Magnus, Taako, and Barry come back from a mission to reclaim the light. The light has been shoved unceremoniously in Taako’s bag though, because both Taako and Magnus are holding Barry up. He’s barely conscious, and Lucretia stands back, dutifully writing everything down as Merle and Davenport rush forward, getting Barry onto the sofa. Taako and Magnus explain the situation—evil plants, apparently, merle don’t you dare try to go after them, they’ll try to eat your body—and once Merle pumps him full of healing magic, Barry blinks and sits up.
“Oh hey,” he says meekly. “Uh, guess I shouldn’t have jumped- I mean I didn’t jump, I more reached in and- and it grabbed me, but uh, next time I’ll cast a spell on it or something.”
“Or use fucking Mage Hand to get it out of the bushes, Jesus Fantasy Christ, aren’t you a wizard?” Taako says, rolling his eyes as he reaches into his backpack. “Anyway, we got the damn thing.”
“Taako’s right,” Davenport says, arms crossed. “Barry, this could have been a lot worse, and we’ve talked about it. I’m a little surprised it wasn’t Magnus but-” Davenport sighs and touches a hand to his forehead. “I’m just glad you’re alright.”
Barry smiles sheepishly. “Sorry Cap. I’ll remember next time.”
Lucretia looks between the two of them, frowning. Davenport is quick to remove his hand from his forehead, and to anyone else, looking irritated and concerned. A thought flickers its way into her mind. Lucretia spent time studying gnomish culture while learning the language. There are many words defining relationships between gnomes, to distinguish between a friend and family, a distant relative from a closer one, between lovers and spouses. More importantly though, Lucretia knows that the most common show of affection between gnomes is forehead-touching. This motion often translates to touching your own forehead while looking at someone else, similar to blowing a kiss.
Plainly, to anyone else in the crew, it looks like Davenport is exasperated with Barry. To Lucretia, well. She can’t help but wonder if there’s something more to the motion. She makes a small note in the journal reserved exclusively for information about her Captain. It’s emptier than the journals she keeps for her other friends, but Davenport closely guards his feelings, his actions. There are little bits here and there she’s got, but he’s perhaps the hardest person she’s ever tried to observe before. She can’t be certain.
She starts paying more attention.
Soon after the first time, she notices it again during dinner. She isn’t sure he’s aware he’s doing it. He touches his forehead in what does appear to be an annoyed manner when Taako makes an atrocious joke while serving dinner. He touches his forehead while Magnus once again pleads for a dog. He touches his head when Lup brings him a cup of coffee in the morning. When Lucretia meets his eyes across the room while writing one day—not about anything important, just some thoughts—he nods at her politely and touches his forehead, almost like he’s saluting her. Indeed’ she has mistaken it for a salute before.
Lucretia smiles widely and salutes him back, copying his motion, and is extremely fascinated and bemused when Davenport’s hears go bright red and he turns back to his book.
That confirms it, she thinks and gets up to write this down before she forgets.
She tells Merle and Barry on Cycle 15 while the three of them are on a mission to seek out the light. Merle looks at her blankly and frowns, scratching his chin. “Doesn’t everyone know that?”
“I don’t think so,” she says. “I mean, I completely forgot for ten whole years.”
“Yeah, humans… Well, some humans do that I guess, but it’s not so much a cultural thing as it is a personal thing,” Barry adds.
“Huh.” Merle scratched his chin, considering. Then, he shrugs. “Eh, whatever. He’s kind of a weird guy. Uptight, y’know? Everyone’s got their own way of showing affection. For instance,” he says, grinning as he reaches behind him to take a handful of leaves. “I personally enjoy-”
“Thank you, Merle!” Lucretia says loudly, picking up her journal as Barry laughs.
“What? I wasn’t gonna say anything weird!”
“Merle, I hate to break it to you,” Barry says, taking his glasses off and polishing them while grinning. “Almost everything you say is weird.”
“Oh, like you’re one to talk, Bluejeans.”
“It’s science jargon! They’re real words! It’s not weird in context!” Barry rolls his eyes. “Back to you though, Lu, that explains why Davenport wants us to salute over the heart instead of the usual, you know,” he salutes her with two fingers to his forehead. “I know we haven’t, we don’t really salute very much anymore, but that was- he brought that up fairly early on. That it bothered him.”
Lucretia nods and starts writing. Doesn’t like to be traditionally saluted, perhaps because it reminds him too much of cultural significance from home? Doesn’t want us to do it without knowing how much it means to him. Going back to the time I did it back, it likely means a lot.
When they get back to the ship, Lup drags her into her room for some spa treatment. When Lucretia tells her, her ears stand straight up, and she snorts, pressing a hand to her mouth to suppress a grin. “He could just tell us he loves us,” she says, no small amount of humor in her voice. “But no, he’s gotta do this instead so nobody knows.” She frowns then, her ears falling lax. “He… does know we love him, right?”
“Maybe? I hope so, it’s been fifteen cycles,” Lucretia says, drawing her knees up to her chest. It’s just the two of them in Lucretia’s room, sitting on the floor. Lup’s doing Lucretia’s nails, and Lup makes a disgruntled noise when Lucretia moves her hand.
“Stop doing that, I’m gonna get polish all over your fingers. That’s neat though, I didn’t know that. Elves do something kinda similar, I guess? Except instead of headbutts it’s just poking. Actually, I think that’s just a ‘me and Taako’ thing.” She pauses in polishing Lucretia’s nails, frowning a little before shrugging a shoulder. “Whatever. Anyway.” She takes Lucretia’s other hand to put a second coat on. “I’ve got a plan.”
“Oh no,” Lucretia says automatically, and Lup pauses to poke her leg, drawing out a small smile.
“Hush, my plans are magnificent. Just let me…” She finished polishing Lucretia’s hand and said, “Okay, come on, let’s go.”
“Wh- Right now?” Lucretia says, watching as Lup stands up. “Lup, I can’t write with wet nails!”
“Then do it later, come on!” Lup opens the door and heads out without her. Lucretia sighs and gets up to follow behind, minding her nails as she goes.
Every two weeks, Davenport goes out to check on the bond engine. It’s not hard, per se, and there’s rarely much he needs to do with it. Still, he’s the only one small enough to fit inside and make sure everything is functioning properly, so he goes in to grease some of the gears and make sure they’re working properly.
Sometimes, he works on it just… because. The hum of the engine is soothing, like the sea or like rain falling. It relaxes him, and usually he’s left alone.
Lup’s voice breaks through his thoughts, calling him, and he sticks his head down to peer out. “I’m in here, Lup. What’s wrong?”
“Oh, hey Cap!” she says, striding across the deck towards him. “Nothing wrong, I’ve got something to tell you. ‘S really important.”
He narrows his eyes. Even from here, he can see her smile, but it’s only a touch mischievous. He sighs and climbs out of the engine and grabs a towel to wipe the sweat and grease off his hands and face. She comes closer and then crouches down to his level.
He frowns at her. “Lup, please don't bend down,” he says. “It’s demeaning, and you know it.”
“I wanna give you something,” she replies, grin still in place and beckoning him. “It’s really super important!”
Davenport narrows his eyes in suspicion, but she doesn’t budge. Finally, he sighs and rolls his eyes. “Alright, fine.” He walks towards her, hands on his hips. He stops directly in front of her. “What’s so important?”
She beckons him closer and he raises his eyebrows. She beckons him more urgently. “Closer.”
He frowns and leans in a little closer, arms crossed mow. “Lup, I really don’t see why-”
Before he can finish, Lup leans forward to close the gap between them and ever-so-gently bumps her forehead into his, saying softly, “Boop!”
Davenport stands completely still and looks at her with wide eyes, words dying in his throat. He can feel the tips of his ears turning red and he searches her face quickly for any hint of a joke. He sees none though, only her smile widening as she giggles.
“I love you, Cap,” she says and stands up, walking back towards the common area, apparently oblivious to his internal crisis.
He opens his mouth and closes it a couple of times in rapid succession, but words fail him other than an indignant, “What?”
“I said I love ya, Cap’nport!” she says, turning and walking backwards, saluting him.
He splutters. “I- Lup! You could just salute, it's the- It's the same- It’s is the same thing!”
“I know!” Lup says, still walking backwards. “That's why I did it again! Twice the love, Cap, twice the- FUCK!” Lup trips over the hatch leading back to the common room. Davenport puts his face in a hand, and Lup calls from her place on the floor, “Aw, Cap, I know you love me too!”
Davenport rolls his eyes and turns back to the engine. “Sometimes a facepalm is just a facepalm, Lup,” he says, his voice surprisingly steady, considering he’s still trying to piece together what just happened.
Behind him, Lup cackles as she presumably picks herself up off the floor. “It’s okay Cap, you don’t have to say it!”
The hatch closes behind her and he looks up at the engine properly. The light emanating from it glowed brighter, the hum growing a little louder as if laughing at him.
“Oh, shut up,” Davenport muttered at it, pretending that the heat on his face was from working so hard.
He reached up to absently touch the place where Lup had touched him every once in a while, a small smile coming to his face before he realized what he was doing. He tried to shake himself out of it, but when he went to bed that night, his mind kept going back to it. He huffed and rolled over in bed, wondering whether or not Lup knew the significance of what she’d done. It wasn’t like the gnomish forehead touches were common knowledge. Part of him wonders if she does know and she’s just joking around.
Except it’s Lup, a part of his brain says. And as much as she and Taako mess around, this isn’t something they would take lightheartedly, right? Of course not.
He feels somewhat lost, like he’s back to being new at the IPRE and not yet aware of the intercultural differences between the significance of toughing your forehead. He huffs and rolls over in bed again.
But if it is a joke, if Lup doesn’t know anything and it’s just a joke…
Davenport tries to ignore the heaviness in his heart. It’s been fifteen years since they all left home, and yet the more he thinks about what Lup did, intentional or not, the more homesick he feels. The loss of his home feels like it’s been unearthed once more, and he wants nothing more than to walk out to the deck and scream into the night.
He doesn’t do that. Instead, Davenport takes deep breaths and tries not to think of home. But the more he tries not to think of home, the more the thoughts are determined to worm themselves into his mind, once again ripping the clumsy stitches he’s made in that wound. He remembers the scrunch of his brother’s nose when he laughs, his cousins’ games of tag and hide-and-seek. The hug his father gave him when he left the warren, handing him a compass with his chosen name, with Davenport engraved inside the lid. The tears on his mother’s face when she squeezed his hands, pressed her forehead to his and said, “You come home safe to me, Dwimly Drew, you hear me? You come home sound.”
“Of course, I will,” he replied, smiling and squeezing her hands back. “It’s only two months, Ma. I’ll be back before you know it. I love you.”
He should have held her for longer. He should have told her he loved her again, and again, and again.
Davenport presses his lips together, determined not to make a sound.
He ends up casting Silence over his room, and finally releases a scream.
Davenport wakes up to the sound of his alarm feeling raw as an exposed nerve. For a few minutes, he lays in his bed and stares at the ceiling. Then, after a couple of deep, heavy sighs, he gets up and dressed.
Taako’s already in the kitchen when he walks in, scrambling eggs and humming to himself. He glances over as Davenport walks in and smiles. “Oh hey, mornin’ Cap. Coffee’s up.” He winks and presses two fingers to his forehead before looking back at the eggs, and Davenport stares at him.
“Good morning,” he replies after a moment, his voice coming out stiff. “And thank you.” He pours himself some coffee and settles down at the table, a sinking feeling deep in his stomach.
Yes, Davenport thinks, opening his book. Surely this is just… some sort of joke.
Except that two minutes later, Barry comes into the kitchen in his pajamas, smiles at Davenport as he sits down, and says, “Morning, Cap,” while tapping his forehead.
Okay, what the fuck, Davenport thinks, giving Barry a nod of acknowledgement as he tries to go back to his book. A familiar dark feeling starts simmering deep in his stomach, and he pushes it down.
“Ohh, are those scrambled eggs?”
“Listen, you’re gonna suffer if you eat these, there’s a bagel for you in the toaster and I’ll make you fried eggs or scrambled without milk.”
“I’m not that lactose intolerant!”
“Tell that to the fucking toilet, m’dude!”
The squabbling goes on until Merle walks in, half asleep still and ignoring everyone as he passes the kitchen and goes to the common room to water his plants. He comes back a few minutes later and grumbles something that might be a thank you when Taako places a plate of eggs and bacon down in front of him and Davenport.
Davenport still hasn’t touched his coffee nor his breakfast when Lucretia walks in, humming a little as she takes some breakfast. “Good morning, everyone,” she says, and there’s a general chorus of “Good morning”s in return (and more vague grumbling from Merle) as she sits down. Lup comes in in very much the same fashion, messing her brother’s hair and cackling as he complains, poking him in the arm before dancing out of his reach.
“Twins,” Davenport warns a bit more sharply than usual, and Taako only pouts a little bit as he takes his own food and sits down at the table.
Magnus comes in about ten minutes after everyone has settled, grinning widely as he grabs a plate and serves himself breakfast from the pan on the stove. “Which one cooked? Oh, thanks Taako.”
He hums to himself then walks around Davenport to get to his seat. Davenport goes back to his book and doesn’t even noticed Magnus has stopped walking right behind him until he feels a less-than-gentle smack to the top of his head. He jumps, shoulders hunched in surprise, and hits his head again on Magnus’s forehead, causing him to reel back, cursing.
“Magnus, what the hell are you doing?” Davenport demands, louder and angrier than he intends, rubbing the top of his head. Lucretia, Taako, and Lup all tense up and look away, and he immediately regrets the loss of temper.
“You okay there, bud?” Barry asks him, and even Merle seems to have woken up a little more, staring between him and Magnus.
“Ow,” Magnus repeats, setting his plate of breakfast on the table and sitting down next to Merle, who gives him a once over.
“Bah, you’re fine,” Merle says, waving a hand. “You good there, Skipper?”
Davenport looks around the table. “No, actually. I’d like to know what’s going on lately,” he says, and stands up in his chair, arms crossed. “Magnus? Would you like to start?”
“I’m sorry!” Magnus says, putting his hands up and looking like a kicked puppy. “Lucy said something about gnomes? And I was maybe half asleep when she told me, but I think it’s an affection thing? Uh. Sorry.”
Next to Magnus, Lucretia seems to sink into her chair, and Lup glares at him from across the table. She very obviously kicks him from under the table and he whines.
Davenport stares at him and then looks around the table. Lup glances up at him and winks as his eyes pass over her. Barry seems more fascinated with his bagel than with the current conversation. Taako, meanwhile, inspects his fingernails and doesn’t meet Davenport’s eyes.
Lucretia, though. Her hands are perched on the edge of the table, and although her shoulders are hunched over in a way that makes his own back hurt, she meets his eyes
Lucretia? Davenport thinks, frowning before it dawns on him. Of course, she’s studied gnomish culture and language, it’s her… third language, isn’t it? She must have learned head-bumping from her teacher. And then she told everyone else.
…Which is why this has been going on, his thought continues, and his anger slips away. He clears his throat.
“Ah,” he says out loud. “Well. For future reference, this, ah, also works,” he says, keeping his voice as level as possible before touching his fingers to his head.
“Aw dunk, I did it wrong,” Barry says, sounding disappointed.
“Well that’s- It was fine,” Davenport replies. He looks up to see Lup bent over, hands over her mouth as she tries not to laugh, and he feels embarrassment stir hot in his gut. He sits down and clears his throat again, half-praying to any god that will listen to swallow him up or give him an excuse to leave.
(For a moment, he thinks he can hear laughing at the back of his heart, and he firmly ignores it.)
Then, he catches Lucretia’s eye, and she very quickly, very subtly, very shyly, presses her fingers to her forehead. She doesn’t look away after though. She continues watching him, the ghost of her rare smile playing upon her lips.
“Thank you,” he finds himself saying, and his voice is quieter and less even than he would have liked it to be. He finds a moment later that he doesn’t mind at much when Lucretia’s smile grows, and her shoulders relax just a little.
“Hey, listen, no problem,” Taako says, shrugging as he gets up, taking his and Lup’s empty plates and dumping them in the sink. “Meaning, don’t make it a problem, okay?”
Merle chuckles, waiting for Taako to turn his back before adding a sprinkling of dirt onto his eggs like salt or pepper—both of which he also adds—and digging in.
“Yeah, so like, sorry for, uh, crashing? Yeah, crashing. Into your head, I mean,” Magnus says. Lucretia sits up a little straighter in her chair, allowing Lup to take her empty plate.
“I’m quite alright,” Davenport says, although he knows there’s going to be a lump on his head. In his peripheral, he can see Barry practicing the forehead touch, and is stomach does an odd sort of flip. “But thank you. I- Hm. Thank you.”
“Anytime, Cap,” Lup says, walking over. “You done with this?” she asks, reaching for his plate. “D’you want me to reheat this for you?”
“Oh, no, that’s quite alright-”
“It’s stone fuckin’ cold, toss the eggs and gimme the bacon, I’ll reheat that and make more eggs,” Taako says and before Davenport can protest, Lup’s whisked away his plate. She takes his coffee soon after, dumping it out and pouring him a fresh, hot cup.
“Here you go,” she says, and places a hand on his shoulder as she places it down. Magnus scarfs down his breakfast and is out again before any of them can say anything, pausing only to salute Davenport on his way out. Lup follows him out shouting, “Dibs on the bathroom!” And then also pauses to headtouch.
Magnus groans loudly and Merle laughs a little. As he and Barry leave, they also stop to touch their heads, smiling at Davenport. Once Taako’s placed Davenport’s new breakfast down in front of him, he follows suit before walking out and calling, “Second dibs on the bathroom!”
Magnus groans more loudly, and Lucretia gives a very soft giggle as a smile tugs its way onto Davenport’s face.
Lucretia, finishing her own coffee, gets up and sighs when she sees the dishes stacked in the sink. “You’d think,” she says to Davenport, “that after a decade and a half, they’d remember to wash their godsdamned dishes.”
“Don’t bet on it,” Davenport replies, and she snorts as she places her mug in the sink, balancing it on a plate. Before she goes, Davenport clears his throat and says, “Lucretia.”
Lucretia turns back curiously, and he turns in his chair to look at her properly, opening his mouth once to say something. Instead, after finding nothing to say, he places his fingers to his forehead.
She relaxes and smiles, hugging her journal to her chest. “Oh,” she says, sounding a little flustered. “Thank you. I, um. I love you too.” She hesitates a moment before glancing down and going back to the dorms. Once she’s out of sight, he hears her call out, “Third dibs for bathroom!”
Magnus shrieks, and Davenport chuckles as he finishes his breakfast, shaking his head. He, much like Lucretia, pauses when he sees the large mound of dishes, and sighs.
Well, they’re not going to clean themselves, he thinks, but there’s no irritation. He smiles as more noise echoes down the halls, touches his forehead, and gets to work.