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To Another Man

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Caleb had been gone all night. It wasn't that big of a deal, Fjord knew he could do what he wanted. Sometimes the man had nightmares, sometimes he just needed a night away from the group, maybe he found an engrossing book in a library and fell asleep there. Fjord worried, but he didn't think about it too hard. If offered the chance, his mind would conjure tormenting thoughts that would leave him restless and resentful.

Which is why, when Caleb came slinking through the front door the next morning, Fjord's stomach dropped to the floor. Caleb looked hastily put-together. His hair was in a messy ponytail and his outfit looked rumpled, notably missing his scarf, which exposed very visible hickeys dotting his neck. He glanced bashfully around at their party assembled at the dining table - most of whom were openly gawking - but pointedly avoided Fjord's gaze. He nodded and made to turn down the hallway to his room, but was waylaid by Nott and Jester. Caduceus chuckled and sighed into his fourth cup of tea that morning while Beau watched Fjord out of the corner of her eye.

His eyes roamed over Caleb - taking in every bit of wrinkled fabric, every loose hair, every shift in posture. There were a few small hickeys across his neck, but Fjord caught onto a particularly large, dark mark resting just below Caleb's collar that peeked out with every twist of his head. Small indentions still remained along with a few drops of dried blood. Fjord felt like the world had shattered beneath his feet.

His chair squeaked loudly across the floor as he abruptly left the table. His blood pounded, his chest burned with, and his eyes blurred relentlessly. He wound his way up through the house until he reached his room. He carelessly slammed the door and flopped onto his bed, making a low sound between a growl and a sob.

Fjord laid there for a good while, tears soaking into his pillows, muffling every raw noise that ripped from his throat, and barely restraining himself from shredding the fabric with his sharp nails. His mind was a raging storm. He couldn't stop seeing the mark, couldn't help imagining how Caleb's night had gone and the man he had spent it with. He wondered if Caleb knew what it meant - if it was a true mark or if the bastard hadn't told him. His heart ached for the awkward, calculating, fierce man he'd fallen so deeply in love with, and it clenched with the idea that he would never feel the same. And a deep, primal part of him - the most shameful part of him - howled with jealousy and rage and betrayal.

His tears eventually ceased, though his breathing still came in shuddering gasps. It was as if a flood had swept through his body and washed away all of his fight. Fjord closed his eyes and let himself sink even further into the soft fabrics. After a while, someone rapped at his door then opened it a moment later. The soft sound of careful footsteps stopped in front of his bed and a soft thunk followed. Fjord opened his eyes. Beau sat watching him with a solemn face.

She didn't speak for a long time, just studied him. Fjord almost closed his eyes again before she cleared her throat and, in a remarkably gentle voice, said, "So, do you want to talk about it?"

A long moment passed. Fjord sighed softly, feeling drained. "Not particularly." Even to him, his voice sounded wrecked.

Beau winced and nodded. "I know how much he means to you, Fjord. And I know how much you mean to him. He wouldn't have done this if he knew how bad it would hurt you. But he did it for a reason. Said it was the same as what you did with Avantika - to get information."

Fjord closed his eyes then, and ran a hand across his face. A long, withering sigh escaped him and his spent heart managed to hurt just a little more. "He didn't need to do that. He put himself in danger."

"So did you."

Fjord shook his head, but said nothing. Beau shifted, then spoke again. "The others are worried about you. Especially Caleb. I think he thinks...he did something wrong." Beau's tone was carefully questioning and her gaze was sharp.

Fjord groaned and sat up for the first time in what felt like hours. His joints protested but the pain was barely noticeable. "He didn't. He has every right to do...that, with anyone he pleases." Bitterness crept into his voice at the end.

Beau sighed. "Look, I don't want to know about the details of your sex life, but it feels like there is more to this. I mean, sure, Caleb just fucked the Shadowhand, but you act like something really bad happened. What made this...special?" Though she was slightly crass in her words, her tone was was gentle - prodding for an explanation, but still full of concern. Fjord's heart swelled.

Another long moment passed. Fjord pictured the mark again in his mind - that dark reddish-purple blot against Caleb's pale skin. He knew it probably wasn't official, and it would probably fade soon enough, but it still struck something raw within him.

"He was marked."

He could sense Beau's curiosity and concern as he stared at the ceiling.

"Marked? What, like, as a target or...?"

"No," he sighed. He dragged rough hands through his hair and cleared his throat. "It's an orcish thing - to claim a mate through a bitemark on their neck, right where that bite is on him. It's not well-done, but it was deliberate. It was a message."

Beau was silent for a long time - long enough that it made Fjord look to her for a hint at her silence. Her face was deep in thought, but dark. Fjord fiddled with his nails and prodded at his tusks with his tongue, which felt like rocks in his mouth.

Finally, "I don't think he knew, Fjord."

He huffed a laugh.

"...you should tell him."

Fjord whipped to stare at Beau's firm expression. "Why would I tell him? He doesn't need to know. He's already chosen who he wants-"

"He did it for information!"

"LIKE HELL HE DID!"

Beau's mouth snapped shut.

Fjord took a ragged breath and put his head in his hands. "I've seen the way they look at each other, how they touch. Whether it was real or fake, he didn't choose me, and he won't. And I'm not about to challenge the Shadowhand for him."

A deafening silence stretched for a long moment.

"I think you're wrong, Fjord. And I think you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself." And with that, Beau stood up and promptly left Fjord laying in his bed, drowning in his thoughts.